New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
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?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

31 October, 2011

Civilian supremacy at stake

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A proposal to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from some areas of Jammu and Kashmir, mooted by chief minister Omar Abdullah, was http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifshelved last week as the military brass opposed it and the civilian leadership stood deeply divided. The chief minister’s suggestion was eminently reasonable. But he made the mistake of airing it publicly without prior consultations with the Congress party, the National Conference’s junior partner in the government.

State Congress president Saifuddin Soz opposed the suggestion. He may have seen Omar Abdullah’s statement as part of an attempt to shore up the National Conference’s sagging image by appealing to Kashmiri sentiments. He probably had another reason also to shoot down the proposal. The Central government is unable to formulate a clear position on the issue.

It is for the Central government to take a view in the matter after considering the situation on the ground. There are reports that the Home Ministry is in favour of partial withdrawal of AFSPA but is not able to go ahead because of the Defence Ministry’s opposition.

AFSPA is a colonial-era law re-enacted in 1958 to deal with insurgency in the predominantly tribal states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, all in the northeast. It confers special powers on armed forces deployed in designated “disturbed areas”. To begin with, the power to declare an area as “disturbed” vested exclusively in the state government. In 1972, this power was vested in the Centre as well.

The law gives the military wide powers of arrest and the right to shoot to kill and occupy or destroy property in the course of counterinsurgency operations. Although Kashmir has witnessed internal and external challenges from the dawn of Independence, AFSPA was extended to the state only in 1990 when foreign-backed terrorist groups wrought havoc.

National and international human rights organisations hold that the immunity the law grants to the security forces has led to human rights abuses such as torture, extra-judicial executions and unexplained disappearances. They believe widespread abuse of powers has helped the insurgents by aggravating the sense of alienation of the people.

The Indian Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, which has studied the working of AFSPA, has stated that there have been many instances of violence by security forces against civilians in Manipur. In one of the diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks, the US Consul General in Kolkata remarks that Manipur appears more like a colony than an Indian state. He also says the governor admitted to him that there have been human rights violations under cover of AFSPA.

On Nov.2, 2000, Irom Sharmila, a young Manipuri woman, began an indefinite fast demanding withdrawal of AFSPA. Eleven years later, she is still on fast in a hospital where she is kept alive through forced nasal feeding in police custody.

A campaign mounted by local civil society groups after the death of a woman in custody in 2004 forced the Centre to appoint a committee headed by BP Jeevan Reddy, a former Supreme Court judge, to review AFSPA and examine the possibility of amending it.

The committee, in its report submitted in 2005, recommended that AFSPA be scrapped as it had become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness. The government ignored the recommendation. Later, under pressure from domestic and foreign human rights groups, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised to amend AFSPA to eliminate its draconian provisions. The promise remains unfulfilled.

The government’s inaction stems from successive defence ministers’ unqualified support for the army’s stand that it cannot operate except under conditions of impunity. Their position puts at jeopardy the principle of civilian supremacy which underlines the provision in India’s Constitution that vests the powers of the commander-in-chief of the defence forces in the elected president.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party, in keeping with its jingoistic line, supports continuance of AFSPA, the Left parties want it to be repealed. Civil society groups are now striving to broadbase the anti-AFSPA campaign, which has been confined to the affected areas so far. In March 2010 a group of activists from Kerala took out a march from Cherthala, home town of Defence Minister AK Antony, to Manipur to express solidarity with Irom Sharmila. Last week a people’s caravan that set out from Kashmir reached Manipur after covering 4,500 kilometres.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 31, 2011.

25 October, 2011

An Appeal to the nation's conscience from the Death Row

Arputham Kuyildasan of Jolarpettai, mother of A. G. Perarivalan (picture on the right), who was convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and has been under the shadow of the gallows for many years, was in Thiruvananthapuram recently to present before the public her son’s case for mercy.

Speaking at the Kesari Memorial Hall, she said the members of her family were followers of EVR’s Dravida Kazhagam. Perarivalan, who had a diploma in Electronics and Communications Engineering, was working with the DK paper Viduthalai when he was arrested on June 11, 1991. He was actually handed over to the CBI investigators by his parents on learning that they were looking for him in connection with the case. That was before his 19th birthday.

In the 20 years he has spent in jail, Perarivalan has acquired new educational qualifications.

Earlier Arputham had called on Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer at Kochi.



Arputham Kuyildasan, mother of Rajiv Gandhi assassination convict Perarivalan, with former Supreme Court judge V.R. Krishna Iyer in Kochi. —Photo:Deccan Chronicle

The charge against Perarivalan was that he had made the belt bomb that the LTTE suicide attacker Dhanu wore. In the mercy petition sent to the President, he cites a 2005 interview to the Tamil weekly Kumudam in which Raghothaman, who was the chief investigating officer of the case, said: “We don’t know who made the belt bomb which was worn by the human bomb Dhanu.”

The text of the mercy petition and some other documents relating to the case are included in Perarivalan’s book “An Appeal from The Death Row”, published by Thruvalluvar Periyar Maanuda Ondriyan, Jolarpettai. It is, in fact, an appeal to the nation's conscience.

In a foreword, Justice Krishna Iyer writes, “Perarivalan is now under sentence of death in the Vellore Jail. His soul is precious, his values noble, his jail life has not made him a criminal. Indeed, he redeems his colleagues and his book is evidence of the noble work of the man.”

Arputham’s was the plea of a mother. Many political parties in Tamil Nadu have asked that the lives of the Tamils who have been sentenced to death be spared. They are essentially voicing Tamil sentiments. Similarly, in Kashmir, there are sentiments in favout of Afzal Guru, who has been sentenced to death in the Parliament assault case.

Perarivalan and Afzal Guru were not present at the scenes of the crimes. On the basis of this fact and other circumstances relating to the two cases many have expressed the view that they did not deserve the extreme penalty.

Cases in which persons were wrongly convicted are not unknown. There have been instances in which courts in many lands acknowledged the mistake and reversed their decisions in the light of fresh material which came to light after the conviction. The problem with the death penalty is that it does not leave room for correction if the conviction is subsequently found to have been wrong.

The cases of Perarivalan, Guru and others in the Death Row need to be viewed in the light of widely accepted human rights ideals. Capital punishment is an extension of the primitive concept oi a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye and a life for a life. It is actually not a punishment at all. It is an act of revenge perpetrated by the state in the name of the society. Many countries have abolished capital punishment or at least stopped awarding it. It is time India did the same.

24 October, 2011

Hurdles to communal harmony

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A Bill drafted by the National Advisory Council headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who is also chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, which rules India, to check communal violence has met with wide opposition.

Called the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, the measure seeks to enhance the state’s accountability and check discriminatory use of its powers in the context of attacks on religious and linguistic minorities and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The Hindu rightwing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has close links with it, are in the forefront of the campaign against it. They view it as one that targets them.

When the Bill was placed by the National Integration Council last month, the BJP leaders were joined by their National Democratic Alliance colleagues, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (Janata Dal–United) and Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal (Akali Dal) and by Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik (Biju Janata Dal).

Leaders of the Trinamool Congress, which is a UPA constituent, and the Left parties also criticised the Bill. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati (Bahujan Samaj Party) avoided taking a stand, saying the time was not opportune to comment on it.

Harsh Mander, a member of the NAC, later complained that when the Bill came under attack in the NIC, the government failed to defend it.

Few countries have as varied and complex a society as India’s. The Hindus who constitute 80 per cent of the population are divided into numerous caste groups with distinct identities. Hindi, designated as the official language in the Constitution, is spoken by only 41 per cent of the people. About 54 per cent speak a dozen other major languages. The remaining five per cent speak a large number of minor languages, some of which are facing extinction.

Sectarian conflicts, confined to specific areas, are quite common, and occasionally there are big conflagrations like the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 and the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat after the burning of RSS-mobilised volunteers in a rail coach at Godhra in 2002.

Those who instigate and perpetrate communal violence almost always go unpunished. This happens not because there is no law to deal with them but because the official agencies are in complicity with them or powerless to act against them as they enjoy political patronage.

Those indicted in the anti-Sikh riots were leaders of the Congress. The prime movers behind the Gujarat riots were RSS and BJP functionaries. An officer who testified that Chief Minister Narendra Modi had asked the police to let the Hindus wreak vengeance is now facing the wrath of the administration.

The law already has provisions to deal with sectarian violence. The Indian Penal Code has a section on “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.” It has proved ineffective for two reasons. One is that the punishment prescribed is only three to five years of imprisonment and fine. The other is that instances of successful prosecution are few.

The proposed law provides for a new category of offence, namely “communal and targeted violence”. It will apply when violence is directed against anyone by virtue of membership of a group.

It seeks to set up a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation (NACHR) and similar bodies at the state level. Apart from monitoring cases of communal violence and redressing grievances of affected people, it will have power to penalise officials for acts of commission as well as acts of omission.

Critics have raised two serious objections to the Bill. One is that it will undermine the republic’s federal character inasmuch as it will allow the Centre to proclaim ‘internal emergency’ and step in to deal with communal violence in a state. The other is that since the law will apply only to violence committed by a majority group against a minority group, and not to violence committed by a minority group against a majority group, in effect it creates separate laws to deal with similar offences by different groups.

Attempts to check communal violence must begin with meaningful efforts to eliminate communal thinking, which is sustained by cynical exploitation of caste and religious sentiments by political parties.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 24, 2011.

17 October, 2011

The cost of procrastination

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Mark Twain once said, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” The Indian administration has elevated the American humorist’s quip to the level of a principle of governance.

From Kashmir to Koodankulam, the administration has routinely pigeonholed several pressing issues. Some of them are coming back to haunt the nation, demanding a high price for procrastination.

The Manmohan Singh government cannot be apportioned much blame for the Kashmir problem, which is as old as the free nations of India and Pakistan. The problem has internal and external dimensions, and these aspects have been complicated by insurgency and cross-border terrorism.

The government cannot, however, escape blame for failing to douse the flames of discontent in Kashmir. A year ago, in a time-buying effort, it appointed a three-member team of interlocutors to talk to all sections of people and make recommendations. Last week the team submitted its report, which calls for “meaningful autonomy”, speedy development and withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which allows the army to act with impunity.

The report has not generated much enthusiasm in government circles. Few expect the central administration to push for autonomy as it is sure to invite strong criticism from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, not to mention Hindu extremists who have assaulted several persons for not toeing their hard line on Kashmir.

Kashmir is the oldest and most intractable of the problems before the administration, and Koodankulam the newest. It is also a simple one inasmuch as a decision can be taken without having to look over one’s shoulders constantly.

The Koodankulam issue relates to the future of a nuclear power station, the first phase of which is ready for commissioning. Worried by the Japanese experience at Fukushima, last month residents of villages near Koodankulam launched a mass movement demanding that the project be scrapped. They suspended the agitation after Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and the Tamil Nadu Assembly endorsed the demand.

Instead of using the time thus gained to remove the people’s apprehensions about their safety, the administration went ahead with preparations to commission the plant. The villagers then returned to the battlefield with renewed determination.

Procrastination on the Telangana issue has created an explosive situation in Andhra Pradesh. In the 2004 election manifesto the Congress party had committed itself to the formation of Telangana state and included it in the common minimum programme of the first United Progressive Alliance government.

An 11-day fast by Telangana leader K Chandrasekhara Reddy forced the second UPA government to announce it would “start the process” of state formation. It then constituted a committee to look into the issue. Early this year the committee submitted its report, which merely listed three possible ways in which Andhra Pradesh can be split.

A mass movement in support of the state demand, which began five weeks ago, has disrupted life in Telangana and hit other areas too. More than 120 passenger trains running through the region are cancelled or diverted each day. Thermal power stations in Telangana on which other states too depend for power are not able to keep up production. Yet there is no sign of a sense of urgency in the way the administration handles the problem.

The northeastern state of Manipur is reeling under the impact of a double blockade of national highways, which began in August. The first blockade was imposed by the Kuki tribe to press the demand for carving out a Sadar Hills district by splitting Senapathi. The Nagas, who oppose the Kuki demand, launched a counter-blockade.

The double blockade has affected flow of essential commodities to the region, leading to steep rise in prices. A cylinder of cooking gas now sells at Rs 2,000, which is five times the normal price. Hospitals in the state are not able to undertake surgeries due to shortage of medical supplies.

Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh met the prime minister in New Delhi on Thursday to apprise him of the situation in Manipur. However, so far there has been no central initiative to resolve the issue, which has the potential to precipitate ethnic strife in the entire northeast. The government’s indifferent approach has led some observers to speculate that it may be cynically looking for some political dividend from the worsening situation. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, Octoner 17, 2011.

10 October, 2011

Soni Sori tortured in custody, admitted to hospital in Chhattisgarh

Soni Sori photographed in police custody in Delhi

Soni Sori, a tribal woman from Chhattisgarh, who was arrested in New Delhi last Wednesday, could not be produced in the Dantewada court as she was admitted to hospital with grievous injuries after torture in police custody, according to reports reaching Human Rights Movement network (humanrights-movement@googlegroups.com.

Kavita Srivastava, General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, writes:
On Wednesday 5th October 2011, Soni Sori was arrested from Delhi in a joint operation by the Crime Branch and the Chhattisgarh Police. Fearing for her life, she was hiding from the Chhattisgarh police who has labelled her as a ‘maoist on the run’ and had mounted this huge search operation. After her arrest, when she was produced before the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) at a district court in Delhi, she and her lawyers requested the court to give her bail. She pleaded that she should not be sent back as she fears that the Chattisgarh police will kill her. Her plea was rejected and on Friday she wash handed over to the Chattiagarh police.

Today, on the 10th of October, 2011, we have learnt that Soni Sori could not be produced in the court in Chattisgarh as she was admitted with injuries in the District Hospital at Dantewada.

See Video which shows her groaning in pain in the hospital X-Ray room.

We have been informed that she has injuries on the head and on the back.

The police claim that ‘she slipped in the bathroom and has hurt her head’.

It is clear that the rights of the accused enshrined in the Constituoin and Delhi High Court orders of the 7th of October for protection and safety of Soni Sori all have been openly and blatantly violated by the Chhattisgarh police.

We pray that she be rescued from the hands of the Chhattisgarh polie, that Soni Sori be immediately examined by a doctor and provided medical help and that the report of her injuries is made public.

We also demand

- that she is immediately transferred to Delhi, and

- that the police personnel who tortured Soni Sori be immediately suspended and a high level enquiry ordered.


See also the Tehelka story Inconvenient Truth Of Soni Sori By Shoma Chaudhury

Game-changer in IT sector

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The significant presence of India’s software companies in the global market, particularly in the United States and Europe, has often tended to cloud the digital divide that the country faces. The digital divide poses a twin challenge to India. On the one hand, it has to catch up with the other emerging economies in web connectivity. On the other it has to cope with the wide gulf that separates sections within its own borders.

The International Telecommunications Union, in its report “Measuring the Information Society”, places India in the 116th place among 157 countries. China is in the 80th place. ITU puts the number of Internet users in India at 100 million, representing a penetration of 8.5 per cent. The corresponding figures for China are 485 million and 36.3 per cent.

The bulk of the Indian software industry’s earnings of $76 billion last year came from services provided to overseas clients. With the advanced nations badly hit by the global slowdown, the leading software companies could make only small additions to their clientele in the recent past.

However, the companies are expected to produce satisfactory results this year as they stand to gain from the fall of the rupee against the dollar. The rupee lost about nine per cent in the last three months. The companies’ hopes for the immediate future rest on inroads into new markets – China is among them – and acceptance of new technologies by clients.

Last week the Indian government took two new initiatives which, analysts believe, may turn out to be game-changers. The first of these was the unveiling of Aakash, a tablet computer to be supplied to secondary school students at a subsidised price of about $35. Currently the basic iPad tablet is priced at $499 and the Amazon Kindle Fire, which is to come into the market shortly, is expected to be priced at $199.

Aakash, developed by DataWind, a UK-based company owned by a Canadian of Indian descent, in co-operation with the Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur, runs on Google’s Android platform. It is preloaded with an Office Productivity suite and comes with a 2GB memory card on a slot that can support up to 32GB. It cannot download apps from Android Marketplace and the rated battery life is only three hours.

DataWind puts the basic cost of the device, assembled at Hyderabad, at $38. Its 800 components include US processors, Chinese memory and Korean touch-screens. The government has offered to buy 100,000 units initially at $50. The company plans to make available a new version with 3G access to the public at a price of about $60.

Notwithstanding Aakash’s limited capabilities, the government expects it to contribute significantly to the effort to bridge the digital divide. Its introduction is part of a wider plan to promote e-learning at 400 universities and more than 18,000 colleges across the country.

The second important initiative of the week was the release of the draft of a new information technology policy, which aims at boosting revenue from IT and IT enabled services from $88 billion to $300 billion and export earnings from $59 billion to $200 billion by 2020.

Communications Minister Kapil Sibal said the new policy, to be finalised in the light of responses received from concerned interests over the next month, would help India remain a global IT player on a long-term basis. It was expected to create a pool of 10 million additional skilled manpower in the IT and communication sectors.

With China and India split along hardware/software lines, tech-watchers have long been aware of the complementary nature of their IT sectors. However, the two countries are yet to make a serious effort to adjust their policies so as to benefit from each other’s strength.

Indian advance in IT was the result of the initiative of private software developers, especially those who foresaw the opportunity presented by fears engendered at the turn of the century by what was known as the Y2K problem.

Credit for the growth of China’s IT sector belongs entirely to former Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin, who, as Minister of Electronics in the early 1980s, identified it as ‘the strategic high ground in international competition’ and set the goal of making the country a global IT leader. Two years ago China, for the first time, published more research papers in IT than the US. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 10, 2011.

04 October, 2011

AHRC condemns intimidation of human rights defenders

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hing Kong, says in a statement:

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the intimidation by the state police/government of Ms Kavita Srivastava, General Secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) by undertaking a raid at her residence on Monday.

The PUCL is a social action group based in India. It is reported that at about 6.30 am (on 3 October) a large armed contingent of the Special Task Force, led by Superintendent of Police Mr Ranjendra Singh Shekhwat came to Kavita's house located in Jaipur, Rajasthan state, claiming that they had a search warrant obtained from the court authorizing the officers to conduct a search at Kavita's house. The officers reportedly claimed that they were looking for a dangerous Naxalite, allegedly harboured at Kavita's residence. The search reportedly revealed nothing and none were arrested. A search warrant, reportedly produced by the police merely mentions Kavita's name as the 'accused' and mentions her residential address.

Kavita was not present at the house at the time of the search. Kavita and her associates allege that the raid is an act of vengeance by the government against her since Kavita has been speaking up against the atrocities committed by the government against poor villagers in the name of combating Naxalite activities. It is further alleged that the house search, with show of force, is the direct consequence of the PUCL challenging the government concerning the controversial poverty line. Kavita is the Convener of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign and the PUCL is the petitioner in the Supreme Court case against the government on the question of right to food.

The police and the law enforcing agencies have every right to undertake the search of a house, provided they reasonably suspect that either a crime is committed or the preparations to commit a crime is made in the property, or persons or materials related to a crime is likely to be recovered from the property. This means that as such a search conducted in a house, irrespective of its ownership, does not constitute any breach of law. In this case, the search party reportedly had a 'search warrant' issued from a court. Sections 47, 93 and 94 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 cover these aspects. This line of legality in the process makes the raising of any objection about the incident legally non-tenable. However the fact that the police, in this case arriving in large numbers, at Kavita's house is indeed an intimidating factor, given the brute force the Indian police is notorious for. It is also reported that the police have allegedly misbehaved with the housemaids as well as with Kavita's 87-year-old father.

While more details, concerning the incident is yet to be obtained, it has to be assumed that the very reason for the search is to intimidate Kavita and her colleagues. It is only from the court records the grounds upon which the police have sought for and obtained a search warrant could be ascertained. Should the grounds mentioned in the petition appear false or concocted, it will not only reaffirm the perception that the search is an act of vendetta by the police/government, but will also expose the callousness with which the court issued such an order. It has to be borne in mind that Kaivta is a person known through out the country for her commendable work on human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country.

Arresting human rights defenders on false charges or otherwise interfering with force in their activities, like raiding their residences or offices on false pretences is a typical manner in which the country's police have responded to human rights activists or to the media, should their independent work annoy the government. It is a practice that has been used widely in states like Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir, a factor that is reflected in the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders vide report A/HRC/16/44/Add.1. This is a reiteration of the report, of formerly, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, in the report vide number E/CN.4/2006/95 and Add.5. Similar concerns were expressed by the Rapporteur on Torture during India's Universal Periodic Review on 10 April 2008 vide document number A/HRC/WG.6/1/IND/2. Kavita had met the Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights defenders during the Rapporteur's visit to India in January this year.

The AHRC condemns the act of the state government and views the incident as nothing but intimidating a human rights defender to deter her from work. The AHRC calls upon the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India to immediately take notice of the incident and undertake a suo motu investigation into the incident. The AHRC is of the opinion that it is in times like this when a human rights defender is threatened the NHRC must step forward and offer moral and physical support to the defender in threat.

The AHRC joins hands with the protest meeting organised by concerned individuals and organisations in India concerning the incident. The protest letter issued by the gathering is reproduced below.

RIGHT TO FOOD CAMPAIGN

October 3rd, 2011

Arbitrary Raid on Kavita Srivastava’s house:
Latest act of harassment of human rights workers


We condemn in the strongest possible terms the arbitrary raid this morning (3 October), in Jaipur, on the house of Kavita Srivastava, General Secretary of PUCL and convenor of the Right to Food Campaign’s steering group. This is yet another instance of harassment of human rights workers under the cover of fighting Naxalism. Kavita Srivastava is the convenor of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign and PUCL is the petitioner in the Supreme Court case on the Right to Food which has recently challenged the Government on the issue of the poverty line.

Around 6.30 am a large contingent of armed Special Task Force Police, led by Deputy SP Rajendra Singh Shekhwat, descended on Kavita’s house claiming to be looking for a “khatarnak Naxalite”. In Kavita’s absence, the police harassed her 82-year old father and two domestic helpers. The raid was apparently conducted at the behest of the Chhattisgarh police, with the help of a “warrant” that merely carried Kavita’s address and the word “abhiyukt” (accused).

Kavita Srivastava has been a tireless defender of human rights for many years and has already been harassed earlier for her fearless opposition to the criminal activities of the Chhattisgarh government (arbitrary detentions, encounter killings, false cases, and such) under the garb of fighting Naxalism.

This is a wholly reprehensible act of targeting of human rights activists as well as a totally unacceptable attack on civil liberties in general. We condemn it and demand an unconditional apology from the Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh police on this reprehensible action. We would like to remind the Government that such undemocratic and arbitrary actions will not silence human rights defenders and instead amplify their voices against injustice and state repression.

The Steering group of the Right to Food Campaign:

Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan), Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), Anuradha Talwar, Gautam Modi and Madhuri Krishnaswamy (New Trade Union Initiative), Arun Gupta and Radha Holla (Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India), Arundhati Dhuru and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of People’s Movements), Asha Mishra and Vinod Raina (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti), Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network), G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Binayak Sen (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Lali Dhakar, Sarawasti Singh, Shilpa Dey and Radha Raghwal (National Forum for Single Women’s Rights), Mira Shiva and Vandana Prasad (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan), Paul Divakar and Asha Kotwal (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights), Prahlad Ray and Anand Malakar (Rashtriya Viklang Manch), Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers), Anjali Bharadwaj (SNS), Jean Drèze and V.B Rawat (Former Support group to the Campaign), Harsh Mander, Ritu Priya (JNU), Dipa Sinha, Biraj Patnaik

Representatives of Right to Food (State campaigns):

Veena Shatrugna, M Kodandram and Rama Melkote (Andhra Pradesh), Saito Basumaatary and Sunil Kaul (Assam), Rupesh (Bihar), Gangabhai and Samir Garg (Chhattisgarh), Sejal Dand and Sumitra Thakkar (Gujarat), Abhay Kumar and Clifton (Karnataka), Balram, Gurjeet Singh and James Herenj (Jharkhand), Sachin Jain (Madhya Pradesh), Mukta Srivastava and Suresh Sawant (Maharashtra), Tarun Bharatiya (Meghalaya), Chingmak Chang (Nagaland) Bidyut Mohanty and Raj Kishore Mishra, Vidhya Das, Manas Ranjan (Orissa), Ashok Khandelwal, Bhanwar Singh and Vijay Lakshmi (Rajasthan), V Suresh (Tamil Nadu), Bindu Singh (Uttar Pradesh).

03 October, 2011

Ganging up against pro-poor law

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India Inc has started flexing its muscles in a bid to force the Central government to back away from its plan to make the poor people living in the mineral-rich backward areas of the country, most of them members of dispossessed tribal communities, stakeholders in the development process.

On Friday, the Cabinet approved a Bill which will require mining companies other than those in the coal sector to deposit 26 per cent of their net profits in a fund which will be used to help project-affected people in the tribal areas. Coal firms will pay what they already pay as royalty.

The Bill is expected to come before Parliament during the winter session. In all likelihood, it will be referred to a committee, and at that stage those concerned will have the opportunity to state their objections. But corporate India’s powerful instruments like the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries have already come out against it.

They term the proposed measure unviable and say it will make mining unattractive to domestic and foreign investors. They argue it will also create difficulties for existing mines.

The stock market echoed the corporate sector’s sentiments. The public sector Coal India Limited’s shares fell by 5.11 per cent, and private companies registered declines ranging from 1.09 per cent to 4.61 per cent.

Currently the mining sector is governed by a weak law enacted 54 years ago. The new law provides for the creation of a regulatory authority, charged with tackling illegal mining.

As many as 20,000 cases of illegal mining have been reported from the different states during the past few months. One of the worst-affected is Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Karnataka, where the Lokayukta (ombudsman) estimated that illegal mining had cost the state more than Rs160 billion. Following his indictment, the then chief minister and two of his cabinet colleagues, both of whom had risen in politics using illegal gains from mining business, had to bow out of office.

Much of the country’s mineral wealth lies in inhospitable terrain where hapless tribal communities ended up as they retreated from the plains under pressure from later waves of migrants. Mining and other developmental activities are now threatening to force them out from there too.

India’s tribal population, estimated at eight per cent of the total, is spread unevenly across the country. In Kerala, it constitutes only one per cent but in the Lakshadweep group of islands, off the Kerala coast, it forms the overwhelming majority.

Several northeastern states have more than 90 per cent tribal population. In the heartland states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand tribesmen constitute about one-third of the population.

The Centre has been earmarking funds for the welfare of the tribal population separately in the annual plans but middlemen often gobble up the money.

Social and economic backwardness render the tribesmen easy prey to forest encroachers and business interests.

The threat posed by mining to the environment and to the people assumed diabolic proportions as the governments issued a large number of licences to domestic and foreign companies in the wake of economic liberalisation. From Goa on the west coast to Meghalaya in the eastern hills, in almost all states where mining is going on tribesmen have been fighting corporate intruders.

In Orissa’s Jagatsinghpur district, villagers are up against the South Korean giant POSCO which has a contract to build an integrated steel plant at a cost of $12 billion. Even children are participating in the struggle, leading to accusations that the POSCO Prathirodh Sangram Samiti, which spearheads the agitation, is using them as a shield against possible police action.

The PPSS says children have joined the agitation as they realise their future is at stake. An 11-year-old schoolboy asked a reporter, “If our parents lose their livelihood, who will protect us?”

The London-based Vedanta Resources is another big corporation that is facing the fury of Orissa’s tribesmen. The Church of England, which had a stake of 3.8 million pounds in the company, sold its shares apparently to distance itself from the company’s depredations in the tribal belt.

Tribes everywhere have been victims of ‘development’ in all history. The new law aims at making them beneficiaries of development. But business interests are determined not to make its passage easy. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 3, 2011.