New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?

വായന

28 February, 2011

Crucial election for Left

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

West Bengal and Kerala, strongholds of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, are among four Indian states going to the polls shortly. For the Left movement, the outcome of the assembly elections in these states is crucial.

In West Bengal, the Left Front, headed by the CPI-M, has been in office continuously since 1977. The severe setbacks the party suffered in last year’s municipal elections and the previous year’s Lok Sabha elections have damaged its winning record.

The Left’s main challenger in West Bengal is the All India Trinamool Congress, founded by Mamata Banerjee after quitting the Congress in 1997 saying it was soft on the CPI-M. It quickly became the main opposition.

In 2004 the Trinamool Congress aligned itself with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha poll and became a partner in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government. Now it is a partner of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. Last week Mamata Banerjee, as Railway Minister, offered a bouquet of projects to West Bengal to woo the voters.

The Congress, which has had a troubled relationship with the volatile Mamata Banerjee, has reconciled itself to being a junior partner of the Trinamool Congress.

The CPI-M is facing the electorate with a severe handicap as the bitterness caused by its high-handed action in Nandigram and Singur against those opposing forcible acquisition of land for industrial projects has not subsided. Mamata Banerjee personally led the agitation in both places.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya lacks the charisma of Jyoti Basu, whom he had succeeded a decade ago, and the LF partners who unquestioningly accepted the CPI-M’s dictates earlier are now remonstrating.

The CPI-M national leadership is hoping for gains in Kerala to compensate for likely losses in West Bengal.

In the last three decades, Kerala has voted the Left Democratic Front, led by the CPI-M, and the United Democratic Front, led by the Congress, to power in alternate elections. The LDF, which will have to make way for the UDF this year if the trend continues, is making a bold bid to break the jinx and win a second successive term.

The poll season began, as usual, with ministers laying foundation stones for projects and the parties organising marches to enthuse the cadres. Away from public gaze, other strategies were also taking shape.

An estranged relative of Muslim League leader and former UDF minister PK Kunhalikutty, whose name had cropped up in a sex scandal in the 1990s, and a television channel spilt into the public domain information on how he had got away without even figuring as an accused in the case. The government promptly asked the police to investigate the matter.

It also sought the Vigilance court’s nod for further investigation in the palmolein case which Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan had been pursuing from the time he was Leader of the Opposition. The prime accused in the case, former Chief Minister K Karunakaran, died recently. The fresh probe is aimed at bringing Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy into the net.

The CPI-M had demoted Achuthanandan from the Politburo in 2009 as a disciplinary measure. But his image as a crusader against corruption has brightened with the Supreme Court awarding a year’s rigorous imprisonment to Kerala Congress (B) leader and former UDF minister R Balakrishna Pillai in another case which too he had been pursuing independently of the government. However, it is not clear whether the party is ready to restore his Politburo membership and give him another term as chief minister.

Responding to the revival of the old cases against its leaders, the UDF also tried to breathe new life into some old allegations. Its primary target now is Achuthanandan’s son, VA Arunkumar, not any of the ministers against whom it had previously levelled charges.

The re-floated scandals are unlikely to sway the fronts’ traditional supporters whose loyalties are primordial. Will they persuade the non-partisan voters whose swing from one front to the other leads to a change of government? The answer to this question must wait.

Although the CPI-M does not figure in power play outside Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, its decline has implications for the nation as a whole. It will further reduce the influence of the Left which has raised its voice against the evils of globalisation even though it has generally comprised with them where it is in power. --Gulf Today, February 28, 2011.

21 February, 2011

Curbs on poll spending

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Personal greed is not the only factor responsible for the spiralling growth of corruption in India. The high cost of electioneering also contributes to it. The efforts by the government and the Election Commission to keep poll expenses under check are, therefore, timely. However, there is room to doubt if any new measure will yield better results than earlier ones.

When the last elections to the 543-member Lok Sabha were held, the electorate exceeded 670 million, which meant that each candidate had to reach out to an average of 1.23 million voters. With the population rising and the number of constituencies remaining constant, the size of the electorate grows from poll to poll.

Some of the measures taken to limit the role of money power in elections actually did more harm than good. As contributions by the rich were suspect, political donations by companies were banned by law. This led to the corporate sector generating black money and channelling it to the parties.

The law has since been changed. Companies can now make donations but the parties continue to depend upon black money. Those who wield power have found ways to generate money, as the scams under investigation show.

There is a ceiling on the expenditure a candidate can incur. It is no secret that many exceed the limit set by law, which is Rs2.5 million for a Lok Sabha candidate and Rs1 million for an Assembly candidate.

There is no ceiling on the expenditure a party can incur. However, recognised parties are required to file statements stating how much money they raised and spent. The statements they give, like those that individual candidates provide, do not generally reveal the true state of affairs.

Going by the returns filed after the 2009 Lok Sabha poll, the Congress, which contested 389 seats, spent Rs3.80 billion but the Bharatiya Janata Party, which contested 383 seats, spent only Rs1.63 billion. While the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which contested 82 seats nationally, put its expenditure at Rs11.47 million, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which fielded 22 candidates, all in Tamil Nadu, admitted to an expenditure of Rs77.68 million.

With money power and muscle power emerging as crucial factors in elections, moneybags and musclemen on whom parties relied for victory, started stepping out and seeking seats for themselves either on party tickets or as independents. The present Lok Sabha has about 70 billionaires and about150 persons who have been involved in criminal cases.

The Election Commission has asked the government to raise the ceiling on poll expenses to Rs4 million in the case of Lok Sabha candidates and Rs1.6 million in the case of Assembly candidates. It is also reportedly considering a proposal to prohibit all forms of contact with the electorate, including door-to-door canvassing, during a 48-hour period before the conclusion of polling, in order to prevent parties and candidates from offering inducements in cash or kind to influence voting.

Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi has said the Commission is examining the possibility of checking poll-day advertisements in the print media. During the last Assembly elections in Maharashtra, some newspapers in the state had carried paid reports eulogising candidates.

A committee on electoral reforms is currently holding consultations at various levels on measures to strengthen the electoral system. After the process is completed, the Centre is expected to bring forward a bill to amend the electoral laws in consultation with the Election Commission.

Law Minister Veerappa Moily has hinted that the proposals under the government’s consideration go beyond the issue of election expenses. The possibility of barring persons involved in criminal proceedings from contesting elections and requiring all contesting parties to disclose their assets and liabilities is also being examined.

In recent years the Election Commission has made arrangements to monitor poll expenses on a continuing basis during the campaign phase. However, parties and candidates have been able to keep themselves out of the arms of the law.

Experience shows that tightening of controls is not enough. There has to be strict enforcement. The crux of the problem is the low level of honesty in public life. Two years ago, official complicity in the enrolment of a large number of fake voters in Kerala came to light. A case was registered againsr the erring officials but the state government has shown little interest in their prosecution.

14 February, 2011

Tracking corruption at top

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

There are hopeful developments on the anti-corruption front. Prodded by the Supreme Court, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is pursuing cases against political leaders with some vigour. For the time, a former state minister faces the possibility of having to spend a year in jail.

Corruption of different kinds afflicts traditional and modern societies. In India, where the old and the new coexist, both kinds of corruption exist.

The corruption stories making big headlines in the media these days reveal graft of the kind that is familiar in the modern societies. They involve siphoning off of resources to corporate entities.

Corruption of this kind has grown alarmingly since India, under prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, took to the path of economic liberalisation in 1991. Some captains of Indian industry who figure in the Forbes list of the rich are beneficiaries of this trend.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, the constitutional authority mandated to look into government spending, reported last year that the manner in which the government allocated 2G spectrum to mobile companies had resulted in a loss of Rs1,760 billion. He is now examining a deal between the Indian Space Research Organisation’s commercial subsidiary and a private company floated by a former ISRO official, which, according to media reports, has inflicted an even greater loss. The deal gives the private operator free access to costly S-band spectrum.

At government establishments, including hospitals and police stations, citizens often encounter corruption of another kind. This involves having to pay bribes to get services which they are entitled to get free of cost. This kind of corruption hurts the poor directly and immediately. Transparency International’s India chapter, which studied the working of 11 government services, including the police, three years ago, estimated that people living below the poverty line paid over Rs9 billion annually as bribes to get basic need-based services.

Throughout the country the police was thought to be the most corrupt department and primary school education the least corrupt, it said.

The burden of corruption at higher levels also falls mainly on ordinary folks since manufacturers and distributors routinely transfer their costs to the consumers. However, people do not realise that the bribe component is also worked into the prices they pay. When the government bestows concessions on companies, normally they do not pass the benefit on to the consumer.

Unlike the other major countries of Asia like China, Japan and South Korea, India has a poor record in tracking down corruption at the top. Narasimha Rao, who was tried after he laid down office, was found not guilty. A Supreme Court judge who was impeached got away as members of parliament, voting according to party dictates, gave a majority verdict in his favour.

Against this background, the ongoing CBI investigations hold out some hope of action. Former Central minister A Raja and senior officials who worked with him were arrested recently in connection with the 2G scam. The net is closing in on Suresh Kalmadi, who was chief organiser of the Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi, and his close associates.

Raja is a leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which is Tamil Nadu’s ruling party and a constituent of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance which wields power at the Centre. Kalmadi is a leader of the Congress party.

The CBI, the premier investigative agency of the country, is directly under the prime minister. Opposition parties have alleged that it is often guided by political considerations. The Supreme Court’s monitoring of highly sensitive cases has limited the scope for political interference in the investigation.

Last week, the apex court awarded a year’s rigorous imprisonment to Kerala Congress (B) leader R Balakrishna Pillai in a case relating to the period when he was the state’s power minister. He is the first minister in the country to be given a jail term by the highest court of the land. His party is a constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, which is now in the opposition.

Sukh Ram, a former Union Communication Minister, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on corruption charges by the trial court two years ago. The last word in that case is still a long way off. His appeal is now before the high court. If he loses there, he can go to the Supreme Court. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 14, 2011,

13 February, 2011

Police action against peaceful protesters in Mumbai

Students and human rights activists holding peaceful protests in Mumbai against the Chhattisgarh High Court’s denial of bail to Dr. Binayak Sen were dragged to police stations.

In a statement the Committee for the Release of Binayak Sen, Mumbai, unequivocally condemned the brutal and undemocratic police action against the demonstration at Churchgate and sit-in at The Oval Maidan, Churchgate.

The Committee said:

The demonstration was against the manifestly unjust decision of the Chhattisgarh High Court prolonging the incarceration of Dr. Binayak Sen, an internationally renowned physician, who is facing the persecution by the state because he spoke up for the oppressed and Adivasis.

Daniel Mazgaonkar, a septuagenarian Gandhian activist, along with others, mostly college professors and students, were jostled and dragged away to the Azad Maidan police station.

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a lawyer and human rights activist, was brutally assaulted by the police and dragged to the Colaba police station, along with student bystanders who protested against such high-handedness. Her crime: standing at Kala Ghoda silently with a poster proclaiming peace and justice!

If, in a democracy, the law and its guardians act with such impunity in throttling every voice of public dissent, then democracy and civil liberties and human rights are in grave peril.

11 February, 2011

Sedition: I plead guilty

Below is the text of a petition drafted by Arvind Kejriwal. Those who endorse its contents can sign it online. The petition will be submitted to all the persons to whom it is addressed and also possibly submitted in the court as an affidavit. Kindly note that, even though very small, there is a chance that some kind of action may be initiated by Government against the signatories but then the whole purpose of the petition is to provoke the Government to do so and challenge this sedition law.


To:

Dr. Manmohan Singh
The Hon'ble Prime Minister of India
South Block, Raisina Hill
New Delhi
India - 110 101
Telephone: 91-11-23012312
Fax: 91-11-23019545 / 91-11-23016857


Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil
The Hon'ble President of India
Rashtrapati Bhavan
New Delhi
India - 110 004
Telephone : 91-11-23015321
Fax : 91-11-23017290 / 91-11-23017824


Dr. Raman Singh
The Hon'ble Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh
Room No. 303
Mantralaya
D.K.S. Bhavan
Raipur,
India - 492 001
Fax: +91 771 2221206


The judgement in Binayak Sen case has raised several issues which are extremely critical for Indian democracy and important for every
Indian.

I am not writing this to defend Binayak Sen. I am sure that he willfinally be exonerated as the case rests on weak conjectures rather than on legally admissible evidence.

I am writing this because I am deeply concerned that the laws under which he has been convicted can be used against any one of us; and at anytime, pretty much anyone could be convicted and sent behind bars, if we become too inconvenient for our politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists.

After this judgment, I actually read all the sections under which Binayak Sen has been convicted. He has been convicted of "sedition". Section 124A of IPC defines "sedition" as

124A. Sedition - Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by
signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts
to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite
disaffection towards, the government established by law in India,
shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be
added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which
fine may be added, or with fine.

Explanation 1 - The expression "disaffection" includes disloyalty and
all feelings of enmity.

Explanation 2 - Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of
the government with a view to obtain their alterations by lawful
means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or
disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

Explanation 3 - Comments expressing disapprobation of the
administrative or other action of the government without exciting or
attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not
constitute an offence under this section.

Therefore, sedition is defined as an act which causes contempt or hatred or disaffection against the "government" - not against the "country" or the "constitution".

Most of us working against corruption and injustice in and by various governments could be easily prosecuted and successfully convicted under the above section because we often criticize various governments in the strongest imaginable terms. It's a fine line and completely open to interpretation as to what constitutes mere criticism and what amounts to "hatred". Going strictly by the language of this section of the law, one can easily argue that all our opposition parties no matter which party might be in power very often do everything possible to spread "disaffection" against the government in power. Therefore, all opposition leaders at some point or the other have been guilty of
"sedition".

While this section of the law can be fairly easily misused to suppress genuine dissent and democratic freedoms, it does not treat grave offences, which have the potential of destabilizing Indian economy, as "sedition". For example, take the case of the recent 2G scam which is believed to have caused a mind-boggling loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crores to our country. This is almost 25% of annual Gross Tax Receipts of
Government of India. Therefore, the individuals concerned almost threatened the economic sovereignty of India. Interestingly, this is not sedition. This is "corruption", which invites the same punishment as would be awarded to a Railway Ticket Inspector who takes Rs 1000 bribe to give a railway ticket. How ridiculous is that?

IPC was written in 1860 by the British! If you think back to the British times these laws made perfect sense as it suited their basic objectives. The intended purpose of these laws was to ensure that the British rulers could economically plunder India while ensuring that no native of India stood in the way of achieving these goals. Anyone who resisted these efforts was automatically a traitor in the eyes of the
British rulers and their activities were declared as "sedition".

Section 120B of IPC is another section under which Binayak Sen has been convicted. This Section 120B refers of criminal conspiracy. If anyone conspires in a crime, he is liable for the same punishment as is the person committing the original crime.

The Nira Radia tapes show how many of the journalists, several businessmen and a number of politicians were collectively involved in lobbying to plant their favoured person as the minister who will serve their vested interest, thus making a mockery of our democratic set up and threatening India's political and economic stability. The tapes indicate that our cabinet positions are effectively available for sale! Isn't this a fundamental threat to our constitution?

All these individuals are certainly guilty of criminal conspiracy under section 120B read with the Prevention of Corruption Act and should be tried as such, even under the present laws.

In the case of the 2G scam, wasn't the Prime Minister of India fully aware of the corrupt practices of the Telecom Minister in his cabinet? If so, wasn't it his constitutional duty to intervene? Did he turn a blind eye? Did he try to protect the Minister's misdeeds? Why did he stall on the request of Dr Subramaniam Swamy for more than eleven months seeking permission to prosecute the Telecom Minister? Why
didn't the CBI, which operates directly under the Prime Minister, investigate the case for almost a year after registering the FIR despite strong displeasure expressed by the Supreme Court on several occasions? Why did the CBI start moving only when the Court decided to monitor the CBI's investigations? Shouldn't such abetment and protection by the Prime Minister amount to sedition? Unfortunately,
the British laws under which independent India functions do not treat such serious charges as sedition.

At a minimum, the PM is guilty of criminal conspiracy under section 120B read with the Prevention of Corruption Act and criminal breach of trust and should be tried as such even under the present laws.

The reality is that the role of none of the above players would even be honestly investigated because the CBI, which is the agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting them, works directly under the command of the accused. Even if they were tried and convicted, they would be guilty of "corruption", which carries a punishment of six months to a maximum of seven years.

The media has been replete with stories of how Chief Ministers in power - Dr. Raman Singh, Yedyurappa, and Naveen Patnaik, to name a few - are responsible for the sale of minerals of this country at throwaway prices. They are apparently giving licenses for mining, not because these minerals are needed for India, but for exporting most of these minerals. On one hand, many countries have put restrictions on export of their minerals to preserve them for their own future needs, our politicians are facilitating exports of our minerals at throwaway prices. For instance, the state gets a royalty and cess of Rs 64 per ton of bauxite mined, cost of mining is roughly Rs 160 per ton and the mining company sells it in international market at more than Rs 1000 per ton. Likewise, cost of mining iron ore is Rs 300, the state has been getting a royalty of Rs 27 per ton of ore and the companies sell it in international market at more than Rs 5000 per ton. The economics of mining of almost all minerals is as absurd to say the least. Not just that, mining companies, with full knowledge of the government agencies, mine much more illegally than they are permitted. Illegal
mining is so rampant that it is feared that some of our mines would be completely depleted within the next few years. Royalty rates are fixed by the central government. Licenses and permissions are given together by both the central and the state governments. Sadly, even inter-party antagonism does not stand in the way when it comes to corruption at the expense our natural resources. Complete bonhomie is evident between the BJP in the states and the Congress at the centre in these
corrupt dealings.

Aren't all these honourable Chief Ministers, who are acting in collusion with the various ministries of the Central Government, guilty of sedition/ criminal conspiracy? They are doing precisely what their British predecessors did. Loot this country and take the wealth out of the country. Since we work under the same British laws, their loot is not a serious crime but anyone who dares to "hate" their
activities or resist them and incite "contempt" or "disaffection" against such open loot of the country is "sedition". How can one call himself an Indian and not "hate" such practices?

We fought against British not because of the colour of their skin but also because of the exploitative character of their government. Unfortunately, the character of the present governments has become far more exploitative.

The judgement in the Binayak Sen case clearly raises a larger issue about our legal system and its interpretations - what exactly is tantamount to a serious crime under the Indian law? Under our present legal system, economic plundering of our precious national resources and invaluable revenue streams is a petty offence called "corruption". But anyone who resists that or "hates" such practices is guilty of "sedition". Surely, while this makes no sense whatsoever.

The 2G scam, the Nira Radia tapes, and the mining scandal are just three examples from very recent times that highlight the fallacies surrounding our legal systems and the desperate need for complete reform.

These laws are no longer suited to modern-day India. It protects those in power and gives them the freedom to use these laws against innocent people when it suits their convenience or to stifle dissent when so desired. In fact, it helps those in power to continue the economic plunder of the country, as was done by the British, under the guise of "democracy". They need such complete overhauls that it would not be an
exaggeration if I say that we need to overthrow them and replace them with systems which are far more democratic and in tune with the aspirations of the people of an independent India.

While the Binayak Sen's case has hit the headlines, there are many lesser known people, some of whom are tribals, who have been unfortunately languishing in jails due to these laws. It is learnt that many of them are in jails for several years without any trial. Some of them have not been produced in courts even once.

We demand complete overhaul of this legal system. Plunder of economic and natural resources of India should be declared as "sedition". Having disaffection against such loot and human rights abuses should be termed as patriotism rather than sedition. And all the players mentioned above who have either looted the country or have abetted the same should be tried for sedition, criminal conspiracy and criminal
breach of trust.

I wish to declare that I have strong "disaffection" for the government of India, the government of Chhattisgarh and all other governments which indulge in corruption, human rights abuses and inflict injustices upon its people. I have "contempt" for many of their policies. I "hate" many of the systems prevalent in these governments.
I call upon the people of India to likewise have "disaffection" against these governments. I will do everything at my command and with all the energy, strength and resources at my disposal to resist such unjust and deprecatory systems. I "hate" this system and am doing everything to spread "hatred" against this system amongst public.

But I love my country - India. I love the natives of my country - my fellow Indians. In my own humble ways, I have been working towards fighting injustices and for the welfare of my countrymen. But I will continue to have strong "disaffection" against successive Indian Governments as long as they persist with their unjust and corrupt
practices.

Under section 124A of IPC, I am guilty of "sedition" and I plead guilty of the same. Jai Hind!


TO SIGN ONLINE PETITION kindly visit http://www.petitiononline.com/sen2010/petition.html

Mahasweta Devi proposes sit-in at Raipur jail for Binayak Sen's release

Demanding unconditional release of Binayak Sen, noted social activist and litterateur Mahasweta Devi has called for a sit-in demonstration in front of the Raipur Central jail, where the physician has been lodged following a life sentence allegedly for having collaboration with Maoists.

''I would suggest that a team goes to Raipur and stages a sit-in in front of the jail. I shall participate in it,'' she said at a press conference in Kolkata, according to a UNI report.

''The time demands that the protests raised across the country against Sen's unjust conviction spread further among the people,'' she said.

The Magsaysay award winner alleged that Sen was not given any scope to defend himself in the court and the charges levelled against him did not call for life imprisonment.

She said Sen, who was engaged in social activism in Chhatisgarh, had devoted himself to the service of the poor poeple without any self interest.

''But this was considered by the administration as the greatest punishable offence,'' she said.

The programme was organized by Bandi Mukti Committee (Committee with the demand for release of political detenus), a human rights platform with several luminaries drawn from different fields.

Among other speakers, noted poet Joy Goswami said Sen's conviction came to the people of the country as nothing but a 'gross unjust' act of the administration.

Prof Ashokendu Sengupta said the conviction was a part of the countrywide violation of democratic and human rights.

09 February, 2011

Nobel laureates express dismay over unjust sentencing of Dr Binayak Sen

Following the lead of Prof. Amartya Sen, India's only living Nobel laureate, an informal group of 40 other Nobel laureates from twelve different countries has raised their powerful voices on behalf Dr. Binayak Sen whom they refer to as "an exceptional, courageous and selfless colleague, dedicated to helping those in India who are least able to help themselves".

The following is the statement issued by them:


We, the 38* undersigned Nobel Laureates, respectfully express our astonishment and dismay at the unjust life sentence handed down last month in India to a fellow scientist and human rights advocate, 61-year-old Dr. Binayak Sen.

We note that, when Dr. Sen was on trial in 2008 and many of us appealed for his release on bail, a year later the Supreme Court of India concurred with our opinion and ordered his immediate release. Several months after voicing our concern about Dr. Sen’s detention, one of us traveled to Chhattisgarh; met government officials; consulted Dr. Sen’s family, lawyers, and colleagues; visited his remote clinic to learn more about his selfless work with the Adivasis; and, after a few days and many hours spent waiting in the Raipur prison yard, finally met with Dr. Sen himself in the presence of the prison warden.

We have seen that Dr. Sen is an exceptional, courageous, and selfless colleague, dedicated to helping those in India who are least able to help themselves. Yet his recompense has been two years in prison under difficult conditions, a blatantly unfair trial lasting two years in the so-called “Fast Track” Sessions Court, an unjust conviction of sedition and conspiracy, and condemnation to life imprisonment.

We earnestly hope that our renewed appeal is heard. We know that there are leaders in India who have the power, humanity, patriotism, and decency to speak out against this injustice. We entreat those leaders to act now, to urge Dr. Sen’s immediate release on bail, and insist that this time his appeal is heard without delay under the highest standards of Indian law.

Surely, those who would see the largest democracy in the world survive and thrive can do no less at this crucial time for both Dr. Sen and for the future of justice in India.

Respectfully,

Peter Agre, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2003

Kenneth J. Arrow, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 1972

Richard Axel, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2004

David Baltimore, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1975

Martin Chalfie, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2008

Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1997

Robert Curl, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996

Johann Deisenhofer, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1988

Richard R. Ernst, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1991

Edmond H. Fischer, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1992

Walter Gilbert, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1980

Roy J. Glauber, Nobel Prize in Physics, 2005

Paul Greengard, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2000

David J. Gross, Nobel Prize in Physics, 2004

Roger Guillemin, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1977

Dudley Herschbach, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1986

Antony Hewish, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1974

H. Robert Horvitz, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2002

François Jacob, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1965

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 2002

Eric R. Kandel, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2000

Lawrence R. Klein, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 1980

Roger D. Kornberg, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2006

Sir Harold W. Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996

Finn E. Kydland, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 2004

Yuan T. Lee, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1986

Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1986

Roderick MacKinnon, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2003

Sir James Mirrlees, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 1996

Joseph E. Murray, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1990

Douglas D. Osheroff, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1996

John C. Polanyi, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1986

V. Ramakrishnan, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2009

Sir Richard Roberts, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1993

Jens C. Skou, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1998

Jack Steinberger, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1988

Sir John Sulston, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2002

Charles H. Townes, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1964

Klaus von Klitzing, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1985

Torsten N. Wiesel, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1981


*After this appeal was released two more Nobel Laureates requested to sign it, bringing the total number of signatories to 40 as of 18h EST on Tuesday, February 8. Their names are included above.

07 February, 2011

Counting the numbers

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The massive operation of counting the people of India enters the final phase this week when 2.7 million trained personnel will spread across the country to enumerate all those whom they can find. Census operations have been a regular decennial exercise since late 19th century. Rising population has made every census a bigger undertaking than the previous one.

China and India are the only countries with populations in excess of one billion. China crossed the one billion mark in 1980. India followed 19 years later. Currently China’s population is estimated at more than 1.3 billion and India’s at close to 1.2 billion. Demographers say there is little possibility of any other country entering the Billion Club.-- ulGf Today, Sharjah, February 7, 2011.

A few years ago the UN Population Division estimated that by 2016 India will have a population of 1.22 billion, which will be larger than the combined population of the countries of Europe including Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and the United States.

It also said that by 2045 India, with a population of 1.501 billion, will replace China, with a population of 1.496 billion, as the most populous country.

The British Indian authorities scheduled the first census in the subcontinent for 1871 but it materialised only in the following year. Since 1881 census operations have taken place every 10 years.

Departing from the practice at home, the British included in the Indian census data on race, religion and caste presumably to fine-tune their divide-and-rule policy. Early in the 20th century, one U.N. Mukherji of Kolkata, citing census figures, claimed Hindus would be swallowed up by others in about 420 years. The fear that he kindled still animates Hindu communalism.

The census data helped the socially backward sections to understand their plight and demand justice. By the 1930s, progressive princely states like Kolhapur, Mysore, Travancore and Baroda and British-ruled Madras Presidency introduced reservation in the services and in educational institutions for them.

In 1941, the colonial administration, under the influence of the dominant castes already well entrenched in the bureaucracy, decided to stop collection of caste data. However, at the instance of an organisation of the Maithili Brahmins of Bihar, it gathered data about that community that year for a small fee.

The Constitution, as amended in 1951, empowers the government to make special provisions for advancement of socially and educationally backward classes. Absence of reliable caste data has hindered identification of groups which need such provisions. Conceding demands by some political parties and social organisations, the government has agreed to gather caste data this year. This will be done separately between June and September, after the census operations are completed.

Work on the 2011 census began on April 1 last year. By September, the enumerators completed listing of houses in all but some villages under the control of Maoist rebels. An attempt will be made soon to go into those villages too.

This time, besides counting all people in the territory of India and classifying them on the basis of gender, religion, occupation and education, the enumerators will gather data on a number of other subjects. These will include personal particulars like nationality and whether they have bank accounts and cell phones and whether they use the Internet.

On the basis of the data the government will prepare a National Population Register which will contain photographs and fingerprints of all persons. It will be sent to the Unique Identification Authority of India which has been authorised to generate a Unique Identity (UID) for each resident of India who has completed 18 years and issue a smart card.

The UID project, estimated to cost about Rs1,500 billion, has been entrusted to an independent authority headed by information technology expert Nandan Nilekani.

The government claims the data bank will help draw up focussed development plans. However, a section of civil society views it as an intrusion into civil liberties and has mounted a campaign against it.

“Let us not be naïve,” Jean Drèze, development economist with special interest in issues like hunger, rural employment and gender inequality, said recently. “This is not a social policy initiative. It is a national security project.”

Critics point out that India, which has no reliable data protection law, is not equipped to deal with problems like trading and selling of information which other countries with national identification systems have faced.