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

25 April, 2011

Tardy response to concerns

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

It was a bridge player who once said “Learn all you can from the mistakes of others. You won’t have time to make them all yourself.” Indian policy-makers too can profit from this advice. Across the country, concerns over nuclear and other hazards are erupting into protests. The government’s tardy response to them betrays an inability to learn from other people’s mistakes.

In Maharashtra, people are agitating against a nuclear plant being set up at Jaitapur in the Ratnagiri district. Last week police fired on protesting villagers, killing one. Two former high court judges and a former Navy chief who were to lead a three-day march from Tarapur, near Mumbai, where the country’s oldest reactor is located, to Jaitapur were arrested.

Kerala is observing anti-endosulfan day today (April 25) to press the demand for a countrywide ban on the pesticide which has ruined the health of a large number of people. The issue has become a bone of contention between the state and the Centre, and Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan has said he will fast during the day.

India, which has 17 operational atomic power plants and two under construction, plans to boost nuclear energy output from 4,000 megawatt to 47,000 megawatt over the next 40 years to meet the country’s galloping power needs. The civilian nuclear agreement with the USA, concluded in 2008, cleared the way for its implementation by ending the embargo on nuclear trade imposed on the country in 1998 following weapons tests.

As the tsunami strike at Japan’s Fukushima installations heightened concerns over nuclear safety across the globe, the anti-nuclear and environmental groups in India urged the government to reconsider its plan.

Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked nuclear scientists to review the safety systems but it soon became evident that a serious re-think is not on the cards.

The Indian government has repeatedly sought to reassure the public about the safety of the power stations. However, there are doubts about the wisdom of relying entirely on the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, which is under the Atomic Energy Commission and headed by one of its officials.

The government has ignored the demand to set up an independent body to oversee nuclear safety, as several other countries have done. The International Atomic Energy Agency has an integrated regulatory review service, which provides for peer review of member-countries’ nuclear and radiation regulatory infrastructure against international standards. India has not made use of this service.

The Jaitapur plant will have six reactors, each with a capacity of 1,650 megawatt. When completed, with a total capacity of about 10,000 MW, it will be the world’s largest nuclear power station. The estimated cost is Rs687 billion.

Anti-nuclear groups have questioned the viability of the project. According to them, power generated at Jaitapur will cost Rs5 to Rs8 per kilowatt/hour as against Rs2 to Rs2.5 for power produced at a thermal or gas plant. The Shiv Sena, a powerful regional party having entered the fray, the agitation against the Jaitapur plant appears likely to spread in the coming days.

The Kerala campaign for a countrywide ban on endosulfan coincides with the start of a meeting at Geneva where member-nations of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants are to consider the issue of a global ban on this pesticide. Endosulfan, banned in most developed countries, is still used in India and several other developing countries. It was sprayed extensively in a state government-owned cashew plantation in Kerala’s Kasergode district during 1976 and 2000, affecting at least 50,000 people. Many of them are still suffering from its after-effects.

A whole generation is growing up in Kerala with serious deformities attributable to the pesticide. The state government is faced with a demand for their rehabilitation. Kerala banned the pesticide six years ago but it is being smuggled in from other states as there is apparently big farmers want it. The state government, therefore, wants it banned all over the country.

The Central government, which is awaiting the findings of a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research, says that adverse effects have not been reported from any other state and that a countrywide ban of endosulfan is undesirable as no effective substitute is available. What is worse, at Geneva, it reportedly plans to oppose the proposal for a global ban.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 25, 2011.

18 April, 2011

Building BRICS of the future

BRP Bhaskarhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
Gulf Today

Foreign direct investment and development financing from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) to low-income countries are making a significant impact in some key areas, the International Monetary Fund said in a report released last week as leaders of these nations concluded a summit at Sanya in China.

The summit was the third in a series which began at Yekaterinburg in Russia in 2009 as an annual get-together of Brazil, Russia, India and China. In 2001, Jim O’Neill, head of economic research at Goldman Sachs, the global investment banking firm, had pointed out that these nations were doing better than the developed G-7 countries and predicted that the four would continue to grow faster than them in the decade ahead.

In a paper, titled “Building Better Global Economic BRICs,” O’Neill considered four different scenarios for the period and concluded that in all four the relative weight of the BRICs rises, with China in the lead and the other three also growing relative to the G-7 countries.

The acronym BRICs which he coined gained currency. With South Africa’s entry into the group at Sanya the last letter (‘s’) also got capitalised. Ahead of the five-nation meet, the Chinese Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily said the BRICS nations’ rapid economic growth, populations and contributions to the world made them “the anchor of the global economy and politics”.

BRICS hold 40 per cent of the world’s population. In 2010, they together accounted for nearly 20 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product. Thanks to their faster growth rate, the combined economy of BRICS is expected to overtake that of the European Union this year and that of the US by 2014.

According to the International Monetary Fund’s projections, by 2016 BRICS will have a combined GDP of US$ 21 trillion against $18.8 trillion of the US. A BRICS document says they are projected to pass the combined G-7 output by 2035.

A declaration issued at the end of the Sanya summit voiced BRICS’ hopes and concerns. Their hopes centred on a role in global financial decision-making commensurate with their clout as nations which currently account for 45 per cent of the world’s economic growth. Their main concern was the high volatility of commodity prices which posed a threat to the global economy.

They called for quick realisation of the IMF reform targets agreed to at the G-20 summits so as to ensure that the international financial institutions reflect the new economic realities. They sought increased regulation of derivates markets to stabilise commodity prices. They wanted the international community to work together to increase production and provide funds and technological support to developing countries to establish “a more equitable and fair world”.

Glossing over differences among themselves, the five nations agreed to use their own currencies in place of the US dollar while issuing credits or grants to one another and called for reform of the United Nations system and to restructure the Security Council by including more emergent economies so that it can deal with new challenges successfully.

China, which has foreign exchange reserves worth $ 3 trillion, is an ardent advocate of increased use of national currencies in global trade. Russia, which has used its own currency in bilateral trade since the days of the Soviet Union, also favours it. Others do not share their enthusiasm fully because of reservations over currency valuation. India wants high priority for UN reform, but China is inclined to go slow on it.

The reference to Libya in the Sanya declaration indicates the group’s potential to evolve into a political force. Opposing the Western air strikes in Libya, it said, “We share the principle that the use of force should be avoided.”

The IMF report in low income countries (LIC), released on Friday, said that while the industrialised countries remained their dominant development partners, their ties with BRICS had increased rapidly during the past decade and become new growth drivers. BRICS financing had helped boost LIC exports and productivity, it added.

Interestingly, China, which has outstripped Japan and is way ahead of the other emerging economies, explained that promotion of BRICS did not imply antagonism to the West. “China is a developing country and that fact does not change because of its rapid economic growth,” the party paper wrote. “Therefore, China does not want to be the leader or even replace some developed country.” --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 18, 2011.

11 April, 2011

Broad-basing democracy

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The issue of appointment of a Lokpal to deal with corruption, discussed off and on for half a century, received a new impetus last week with the Indian government constituting a committee with representation for the civil society to finalise a draft law.

The government’s hand was forced by Anna Hazare, a 73-year-old social activist from Maharashtra, who staked his life on the issue. Four days after he began an indefinite fast in New Delhi, it conceded his demands, yielding bit by bit in continuous negotiations.

With the New Media and private television channels playing up the Hazare campaign, it quickly caught the imagination of the people, especially the urban youth. Solidarity demonstrations erupted all over the country spontaneously. Shedding its proclivity to procrastinate, the government responded swiftly, apparently fearing the campaign may snowball into an Indian jasmine resolution.

The establishment of ombudsman-style mechanisms at central and state levels, styled as Lokpal and Lokayukta respectively, to look into complaints of corruption and maladministration was mooted in the 1960s by an administrative reforms commission headed by Morarji Desai. The Lok Sabha adopted a Lokpal Bill in 1969 but it did not become law as the Rajya Sabha did not pass it. Successive governments introduced similar bills in the Lok Sabha on nine more occasions only to let them lapse at the end of the life of the house.

Several states enacted legislation to set up Lokayuktas, headed by former high court chief justices, but the institution has not been a conspicuous state. Its main weakness is lack of authority to punish the guilty.

It can only recommend punitive measures to the government. For a long time the Lokpal issue was bogged down in a controversy over whether the prime minister must come under its authority. The governments were generally unwilling to allow the Lokpal to look into the prime minister’s actions.

Dissatisfied with the Lokpal bill drawn up by the government, India Against Coalition, a non-government organisation, drafted an alternative Jan Lokpal bill.

The government has now set up a committee comprising five ministers and five civil society representatives to study the two drafts and come up with one acceptable to both sides. While a minister is the chairman of the committee, a former minister, picked by Hazare and his backers, has been named co-chairman.

While Hazare hailed last week’s developments as a victory of the people, a government spokesman described it as a victory of democracy.

Hazare has put fight against corruption at the top of the national agenda through his campaign, which drew wide popular support because of the seething anger generated by the many scams reported in the recent past.

Ministers, judges and high civil and military officials are among those whose misdeeds came to light during this period. The electronic media played a big part in building up popular enthusiasm for the Hazare campaign by providing continuous live coverage. Its strident campaign lit up the screen with excitement during the short interval between the World Cup and IPL cricket matches.

The New Media’s role in the campaign has prompted some to dub the New Delhi venue of the fast as India’s Tahrir Square. Others, however, disapprove of any attempt to draw a parallel with the uprising in Egypt, insisting this was a movement of Gandhian vintage. Both viewpoints betray a tendency to romanticise the event and gloss over ground realities.

While the bill drafted by the government falls short of requirements, the alternative draft of India Against Corruption is based on woolly ideas like appropriating a role for civil society in the official mechanism. The law must have teeth but they must be in the right place. There is no ground to presume that civil society is lily white.

All those who jumped into the Hazare bandwagon cannot be accepted as credible crusaders against corruption. The Opposition parties and the corporate sector, both of which endorsed the campaign, fall in this category. Few parties active in power politics can claim a cleaner record than the Congress. Unscrupulous businessmen have contributed as much to the growth of corruption as unscrupulous politicians and officials.

Elimination of corruption is but a part of the task of broad-basing Indian democracy, now largely limited to holding elections once in five years. The content of democracy will be determined not by the televised battles fought in the cities but by the struggles waged by ordinary people all over the country which receive media attention only if they erupt into violence. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 11, 2011

08 April, 2011

What is this Jan Lokpal initiative?

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

Despite corruption being rampant in the country, India still does not have an independent and credible functioning legislative and institutional framework to deal with corruption. In addition, there are several other issues like the reluctance and often inability of the investigators to undertake a proper and time-bound investigation, poor prosecution and enormous delays in the courts that render making a complaint against corruption meaningless and often a demoralising experience in India. Above all, external interference and influences, both in the form of political and non-political interventions is yet another curse that any action against corruption would normally face in India at the moment.

Mr. Anna Hazare's fast, that started on 5 April and joined by hundreds of civil society groups across the country and abroad, and by even more number of ordinary individuals demands an end to the regime of corruption in India. A team of social activists, human rights defenders and ordinary people with extraordinary courage have come together and formed what is called India Against Corruption. The website of the group could be viewed at: www.indiaagainstcorruption.org (Due to overwhelming number of visits the server of this site might require multiple attempts to load.)

Details about who is this humble, but brave gentleman who has shown the extraordinary courage to challenge the regime of corruption in India through a most humble but extremely powerful form of protest of fasting is available at: www.annahazare.org

The Jan Lokpal Bill is a law proposed by the civil society in India, which they claim is a model law, if implemented is capable of dealing with corruption.

The salient features of this law as claimed by India Against Corruption are:

1. An institution called Lokpal at the centre and Lokayukta in each state will be set up;

2. Like Supreme Court and Election Commission, they will be completely independent of the governments. No minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations;

3. Cases against corrupt people will not linger on for years anymore: Investigations in any case will have to be completed in one year. Trial should be completed in next one year so that the corrupt politician, officer or judge is sent to jail within two years;

4. The loss that a corrupt person caused to the government will be recovered at the time of conviction;

5. How will it help a common citizen: If any work of any citizen is not done in prescribed time in any government office, Lokpal will impose financial penalty on guilty officers, which will be given as compensation to the complainant;

6. So, you could approach Lokpal if your ration card or passport or voter card is not being made or if police is not registering your case or any other work is not being done in prescribed time. Lokpal will have to get it done in a month’s time. You could also report any case of corruption to Lokpal like ration being siphoned off, poor quality roads been constructed or panchayat funds being siphoned off. Lokpal will have to complete its investigations in a year, trial will be over in next one year and the guilty will go to jail within two years;

7. But won’t the government appoint corrupt and weak people as Lokpal members? That won’t be possible because its members will be selected by judges, citizens and constitutional authorities and not by politicians, through a completely transparent and participatory process;

8. What if some officer in Lokpal becomes corrupt? The entire functioning of Lokpal/ Lokayukta will be completely transparent. Any complaint against any officer of Lokpal shall be investigated and the officer dismissed within two months;

9. What will happen to existing anti-corruption agencies? CVC, departmental vigilance and anti-corruption branch of CBI will be merged into Lokpal. Lokpal will have complete powers and machinery to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician;

10. It will be the duty of the Lokpal to provide protection to those who are being victimized for raising their voice against corruption.

The complete text of this model law could be downloaded here. Jan Lokpal Bill

The Government of India has also proposed a law. It is widely held as a week law, often also referred to as 'eyewash' legislation. The features of this law, once again provided by India Against Corruption are the following:

1. Lokpal will not have any power to either initiate action suo motu in any case or even receive complaints of corruption from general public. The general public will make complaints to the speaker of Lok Sabha or chairperson of Rajya Sabha. Only those complaints forwarded by Speaker of Lok Sabha/ Chairperson of Rajya Sabha to Lokpal would be investigated by Lokpal. This not only severely restricts the functioning of Lokpal, it also provides a tool in the hands of the ruling party to have only those cases referred to Lokpal which pertain to political opponents (since speaker is always from the ruling party). It will also provide a tool in the hands of the ruling party to protect its own politicians;

2. Lokpal has been proposed to be an advisory body. Lokpal, after enquiry in any case, will forward its report to the competent authority. The competent authority will have final powers to decide whether to take action on Lokpal’s report or not. In the case of cabinet ministers, the competent authority is Prime Minister. In the case of PM and MPs the competent authority is Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, as the case may be. In the coalition era when the government of the day depends upon the support of its political partners, it will be impossible for the PM to act against any of his cabinet ministers on the basis of Lokpal’s report. For instance, if there were such a Lokpal today and if Lokpal made a recommendation to the PM to prosecute A. Raja, obviously the PM will not have the political courage to initiate prosecution against A. Raja. Likewise, if Lokpal made a report against the PM or any MP of the ruling party, will the house ever pass a resolution to prosecute the PM or the ruling party MP? Obviously, they will never do that;

3. The bill is legally unsound. Lokpal has not been given police powers. Therefore Lokpal cannot register an FIR. Therefore all the enquiries conducted by Lokpal will tantamount to “preliminary enquiries”. Even if the report of Lokpal is accepted, who will file the charge sheet in the court? Who will initiate prosecution? Who will appoint the prosecution lawyer? The entire bill is silent on that;

4. The bill does not say what will be the role of CBI after this bill. Can CBI and Lokpal investigate the same case or CBI will lose its powers to investigate politicians? If the latter is true, then this bill is meant to completely insulate politicians from any investigations whatsoever which are possible today through CBI;

5. There is a strong punishment for “frivolous” complaints. If any complaint is found to be false and frivolous, Lokpal will have the power to send the complainant to jail through summary trial but if the complaint were found to be true, the Lokpal will not have the power to send the corrupt politicians to jail! So the bill appears to be meant to browbeat, threaten and discourage those fighting against corruption;

6. Lokpal will have jurisdiction only on MPs, ministers and PM. It will not have jurisdiction over officers. The officers and politicians do not indulge in corruption separately. In any case of corruption, there is always an involvement of both of them. So according to government’s proposal, every case would need to be investigated by both CVC and Lokpal. So now, in each case, CVC will look into the role of bureaucrats while Lokpal will look into the role of politicians. Obviously the case records will be with one agency and the way government functions it will not share its records with the other agency. It is also possible that in the same case the two agencies arrive at completely opposite conclusions. Therefore it appears to be a sure way of killing any case;

7. Lokpal will consist of three members, all of them being retired judges. There is no reason why the choice should be restricted to judiciary. By creating so many post retirement posts for judges, the government will make the retiring judges vulnerable to government influences just before retirement as is already happening in the case of retiring bureaucrats. The retiring judges, in the hope of getting post retirement employment would do the bidding of the government in their last few years;

8. The selection committee consists of Vice President, PM, Leaders of both houses, Leaders of opposition in both houses, Law Minister and Home minister. Barring Vice President, all of them are politicians whose corruption Lokpal is supposed to investigate. So there is a direct conflict of interest. Also selection committee is heavily loaded in favour of the ruling party. Effectively ruling party will make the final selections. And obviously ruling party will never appoint strong and effective Lokpal;

9. Lokpal will not have powers to investigate any case against PM, which deals with foreign affairs, security and defence. This means that corruption in defence deals will be out of any scrutiny whatsoever. It will become impossible to investigate into any Bofors in future. Whereas a time limit of six months to one year has been prescribed for Lokpal to enquire, however, subsequently, there is no time limit prescribed for completion of trial;

10. It does not deal with corruption of Bureaucrats. Corrupt bureaucrats continue in their job without any actions against them;

11. It does not talk of investigation of complaints against judges;

12. Speaker would decide which complaints shall be enquired into by Lokpal;

13. Our entire governance system suffers from inadequate public grievance redress systems, which force people to pay bribes. Lokpal bill does not address this issue;

14. Large number of people raising their voice against political corruption is being murdered. Lokpal does not have any powers to provide protection to them;

15. Nothing has been provided in law to recover ill-gotten wealth. A corrupt person can come out of jail and enjoy that money;

16. Under the present law, there is Small punishment for corruption- Punishment for corruption is minimum 6 months and maximum 7 years.

The text of the government's Bill could be downloaded here: Lokpal Bill, 2010

The AHRC joins hands with this monumental initiative. The AHRC along with some of its partners in India has issued a statement yesterday in support of Hazare's fast, entitled: A responsible government will listen to the people. The AHRC will continue providing more updates and analysis about the issue.

Please visit www.indiaagainstcorruption.org or www.annahazare.org, and express your solidarity by joining the campaign. You can send letters -- a draft is provided at www.indiaagainstcorruption.org -- and if you are outside India, like the AHRC, you could still join the campaign by organizing activities in support of the movement in your city.

07 April, 2011

A responsible government will listen to the people, says AHRC

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

Veteran human rights defender and anti-corruption activist, Mr. Anna Hazare has started an indefinite fast in New Delhi, on 5 April, demanding the Government of India to legislate the Jan Lokpal Bill without any further delay. The Bill is a model law against corruption, drafted and proposed by the civil society in India to the government. The Bill, if enacted by the Parliament, would create two independent institutions in the country, the Lokpal in the centre and the Lokayuktha in the states, mandated to accept complaints from the general public concerning corruption, and to investigate and prosecute persons suspected of corruption. The Lokpal and the Lokayuktha, if constituted, are conceived to be independent bodies like the Supreme Court and the Election Commission and to remain immune from any form of external influences. Several civil society groups in India have joined Hazare in his struggle.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) along with the above named organisations expresses solidarity to the struggle and joins hands with the rest of the civil society in the country in the fight to create an environment to constitute a corruption free India. We believe that the civil society initiative in India will lead the way and will form the bedrock of inspiration for similar movements in South Asia.

Dealing with corruption is a taboo for governments that holds fort in New Delhi and at the state capitals. For the past 42 years, a draft Bill to constitute a Lokpal has been pending before the Indian Parliament. No government was interested in dealing with the subject, or if interested, was unable to get the law passed. Even though the country's economy advanced to become the fourth largest in the world in terms of GDP dollar estimates derived from purchasing power parity, India still does not have an independent functioning mechanism to deal with corruption. In that, India is one of the alarmingly corrupt countries of the world, being ranked 87 consistently for the past nine years, by global corruption monitoring agencies like the Transparency International.

Corruption and the concept of a socialist, secular and democratic republic cannot go together. Corruption undermines justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, the core values of India's constitutional framework. Freedom and sovereignty has no purpose or meaning should corruption remain the central cord with which the social fabric of a country is woven and if corruption determines the balance of power in interactions among the people and between the people and their government. Social evils like caste-based discrimination can be only addressed adequately in a corruption free environment. Rightly conceived social welfare measures will deliver timely results should corruption be brought under control. Effective control of corruption could be the silver bullet with which poverty can be eliminated. Corruption undermines fair trial and thus sustainable development and progress. A corruption free environment is thus the dream of every aam admi and in that perspective Hazare's protest represents the whole of India, including those who have formed the government and those who opposes it.

While having a legislation that envisages the constitution of independent and capable institutions is a prerequisite to contain corruption, it will be devoid of legitimacy, should it lack adequate consultation in the process and if the law does not receive the support of effective implementing entities.

A good law must ideally represent the will of the people, for which they must be heard. The collective wisdom of Indians must be thus held supreme and the civil society must take the lead to therefore consult the people, gathering opinion of what they wish to have as a corruption prevention entity in the country. The Parliament cannot and must not be held the sole representative body for this purpose, since many members of the Parliament lacks moral and legal legitimacy as they have benefited from the existing corrupt environment. It is thus for the civil society of the country to take the lead, in consultation with the government, to decide upon a transparent and mature process through which an all inclusive and time bound consultation could be held to deal with the subject.

The AHRC is of the opinion that having a law unaccompanied by an effective implementation framework is destined to fail. To begin with, the present entities in India that deals with corruption must be thoroughly scrutinised. Of particular importance are: (1) the Central Bureau of Investigation, (2) the Central Vigilance Commission, (3) prosecutorial agencies and (4) the local police. In any jurisdiction of the world where corruption has been successfully prevented, the police have been kept away from the entire process. Within Asia, like in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, where the governments have been successful in keeping corruption relatively low, the corruption prevention framework has completely excluded the police from playing any investigative role on allegations of corruption. On the contrary, it was the police who have been brought under the scanner and prosecuted in the first phase of controlling corruption in all the four countries. Even today, these countries keep a watertight separation between policing and corruption prevention. If the success in these countries could be emulated in India, which has been the case also in some of the western countries, the presence of police officers on deputation, irrespective of their ranks must be prevented in the whole corruption prevention apparatus. Once the corruption within the police is controlled, it is relatively easy to deal with the failing rule of law environment, that must be revived to effectively deal with corruption.

A drive against corruption must also reflect its seriousness within the prosecutorial service. The hard work and labour of an investigation will be futile should the prosecutor fail in her job. The existing standard of prosecution in the country is not capable in discharging its legal mandate. The practice of appointing special prosecutors in selected cases must be dropped. Instead, the entire prosecution service must be reviewed and its standards improved drastically, to fit a justice system that guarantees fair trial. In the excuse of easing the job of the prosecutor, processes once suggested by shortsighted government committees like the one that was headed my former judge, Mr. Malimood, must not be adopted.

The appointment of the members for the proposed Lokpal and Lokayuktha must be open, transparent and practical. It must not be based on the sheer pleasure of the government or of seniority in service, as it is the case for the CVC, nor should it be cumbersome as suggested by the Jan Lokpal Bill. A simple, transparent process must be devised. In most jurisdictions where independent and capable corruption prevention agencies exist, such processes also have been devised. Similarly, both institutions must have its own independent staff to function, appointed not on deputation from other government services as it is currently the case concerning the human rights commissions, but selected on the basis of merits and trained and equipped to discharge their job.

Indeed such processes would entail heavy expenses, which could not become a tenable excuse for a country like India, nor can the government deny such spending since it would smother the very functioning of an essential institution that the country need for its very survival and if it respects democracy as one of its founding norms. Indians might be poor India is not.

In addition to the above suggestions, an effective law against corruption must also guarantee time-bound investigation and trials. One of the curses of India's justice apparatus is the inordinate delay in investigation and adjudication, which together can take more than 20 years. In cases concerning corruption, the experience so far is that the investigation itself could take more than two decades. The law could also consider providing a wider interpretation and definition to the term 'corruption'. In today's context, corruption need not necessarily be limited to financial corruption. The country's governments are notorious for formulating polices with corrupt or otherwise malicious intentions. In that, policies that illegally profits any government or entities therein implemented through corrupt means or with malafide intentions must also be brought within the scope of corruption. Contrary to the mistaken perception that such wider definition of corruption would defeat the law, it has been successfully implemented in many countries, that has helped to bring in added responsibility and accountability within governments.

Contrary to what has been repeatedly projected by some of the political parties in the past few months, corruption in the country and its magnitude today cannot be held as the fault of any single government. Every political party in the country has an unshakable responsibility in deteriorating the conditions in India to the levels as it is today. Those political parties that pledge support today to the movement led by Hazare, understandably for sheer political mileage, have their own rotten skeletons inside their wardrobes. Yet this does not mean that these entities must not be consulted during the people's consultative process. As a citizen of the country, everyone, including those who are part of the ruling coalition today, has a right to be part of the consultation, as individuals. Preventing corruption, for that matter is not the vested agenda of any particular political party. It is a decisive cause for the country, in which every political party that believes in democracy has a responsible role to play.

The AHRC wishes Hazare good health and supports him and his colleagues in this unique movement, which has the potential, not only to change the destiny of Indians, but also that of the region for a better tomorrow. It is also the responsibility of all civil society groups inside and outside India to join the campaign and extend support to Hazare and his friends.

The AHRC call upon the government of India to ensure that all necessary steps are initiated to ensure that Hazare's fast finds a meaningful end. By doing so, the government is not succumbing to the sloganeering of the political opposition, but is respecting its people and thus fulfilling its mandate.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

04 April, 2011

Opening up relations

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Days after the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan gave a kick-start to stalled relations between the two countries at a summit on the sidelines of the World Cup cricket semi-final at Mohali, a question is already in the air: can the spirit of camaraderie generated there prevail over the long-standing animosities?

Manmohan Singh took the initiative for the summit as soon as the semi-final fixture became known, unmindful of the jingoistic build-up which accompanies cricket matches between the two countries. Yousuf Raza Gilani’s swift, positive response suggests the Pakistani leadership shares his desire to put India-Pakistan ties on an even keel.

Relations between India and Pakistan have been on roller-coaster since they emerged as free nations as the British divided and quit the subcontinent in 1947. In the first 25 years of existence they fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir. Since then nearly four decades have passed without a war. Since 2003 the guns have been silent even on the icy heights of Siachen, which has witnessed skirmishes from time to time. The period of conflict has left more vivid memories than the period of comparative quiet.

A serious peace process, which began in 2004 with emphasis on trust building, was still on when Pakistan-based terrorists struck Mumbai on November 26, 2008. India was exasperated by Pakistan’s unwillingness or inability to meet its demand for action against terror groups which it believed were behind the attack.

While the situation precipitated by the Mumbai carnage — 166 persons, including several foreigners, were killed in the attack — was not conducive to continuance of the peace process, responsible sections on both sides knew all along that there can be no solution to outstanding problems except through talks. Accordingly, efforts to resume the peace process were initiated last year.

A new road map for dialogue was drawn up at official-level talks held in February. It provides for discussion of a number of issues including Kashmir, terrorism and trade. A meeting of Home Secretaries had already been scheduled when the prime ministers met and gave a boost to the process.

The Mohali summit is a personal triumph for Manmohan Singh, whom a US diplomat put down as ineffective in a leaked WikiLeaks cable. At a time when he is under pressure domestically in the light of exploding scandals, he has demonstrated that he has the capacity to act in a statesmanlike manner on a sensitive matter.

Credit is due in equal measure to Pakistan’s civilian government which took the proffered hand of friendship. The message from Mohali is that while internal problems may cramp the style of the political leadership on both sides and limit their freedom of action they remain committed to development of good-neighbourly relations.

Even as the prime ministers were meeting at the cricket stadium, Indian security personnel picked up a Pakistan high commission driver who was found in an unauthorised area not far from there. As word of the incident reached Islamabad, Pakistani security personnel picked up an Indian high commission driver in apparent reprisal.

While the matter ended with the release of the two men, the incident served as a reminder of not only the fragile nature of the ties but also the tendency towards knee-jerk reactions on both sides which can imperil the peace process at any time.

Although new generations with no personal experience of the traumatic days of partition have come up in India and Pakistan, the Establishment on both sides is weighed down by political baggage dating back to the years of acrimony.

As Prime Minister, AB Vajpayee, leader of the Hindu rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party was in a position to deal with Pakistan without fear of attracting the charge of appeasement, and he made a bold but unsuccessful attempt to improve relations between the two countries. The circumstances in Pakistan are more favourable now than in Vajpayee’s time inasmuch as the country has a civilian government which is not as dependent upon communal elements for survival as the militant rulers of the recent past were.

With the best of will, leaders on both sides can only hasten slowly. Carefully drawn-up measures are needed to reinforce the new-found faith in bilateral talks, which was evident at Mohali. Manmohan Singh’s reported offer to his Pakistani counterpart to evolve a cooperative strategy to deal with the highly uncertain regional and global environment opens up the possibility of fashioning the relationship between the two countries on a new basis. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 4, 2011.