New on my other blogs

"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
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


31 May, 2012

Right to Food Campaign calls for end to harassment of rights defenders

The following is a statement issued by the Right to Food Campaign, India, against the continuous harassment and attempts to criminalize the work of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) and the targeting of Ms. Madhuri Krishnaswami by the Badwani District (MP ) administration and corrupt politicians, forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

The Right to Food Campaign condemns the continuous harassment, the filing of false cases and the issuing of show cause notice to extern (Zila Badar) Madhuri of (JADS) from the districts of Badwani and 6 nearby districts by the nexus of police, politicians and administrators. We were shocked to learn that the DM of Badwani had initiated proceedings of externment under section 8 (1) of the M.P Rajya suraksha Adhiniyamt, 1990, which have now been withdrawn after there was pressure from all over the country. We demand that the State Government of Madhya Pradesh take action against Mr Shriman Shukla, DM Badwani, who issued the show cause notices of externment to Madhuri.
Our stand is clear that such laws like the MP Rajya Suraksha Adhiniyam 1990 are un-democratic and un-constitutional and need to be repealed. Especially, when proceedings of externment in the last twenty years of the implementation of the Rajya Suraksha Adhiniyam in Madhya Pradesh, has been frequently used against activists, when it has not suited the local vested interests.

We believe that Madhuri, a renowned social activist, a member of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan and also an esteemed member of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign at the national level, has been selectively targeted by the political opposition and the bureaucracy to benefit certain vested interests who are being challenged by the work of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan in Barwani. Instead of honouring them for the good work the administration is trying to bracket their work as a threat to public order and security and issuing notices of externment. Madhuri and other members of JADS.
The Right to Food Campaign also demands that the State Government set up a high powered committee to review all the cases pending investigation against Madhuri and other member of JADS and close them. As in the past courts have exonerated them in more than 5 cases due to lack of evidence. In many cases the investigation is pending by the local police for the last five to six years and these cases are just a tool in the hands of the police and administration. We are demanding this as most of the criminal cases filed by the administration and police were after peaceful protests for legitimate demands for the implementation of the Government scheme.

It is well known that JADS has worked consistently through democratic and completely transparent means, advocating and campaigning for the proper implementation of Government schemes in order to ensure the delivery of entitlements to work, food, health services, forest rights act to the locals of that area. Their work in the area of the implementation of the law and the other schemes has made a difference not just locally to the entitlements of the poor but also nationally at the level of policy and law making. Some of their work has included ensuring the implementation of:
1. The hundred days employment Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA);
2. The Supreme Court order for all the food schemes like the PDS, ICDS, Old Age Pension;
3. The law on the rights of the gram sabha, PESA and the Panchayati Raj Act following the 73rd and 74th Amendment. The Forest Rights Act;
4. Against the sale of illegal liquor;
5. Ensuring proper health care delivery and taking up those cases where the health system has denied health care;
6. The prevention of the exploitation of Adivasis and violence against them by officials, traders, including rampant corruption and non-performance in government schemes.
We demand that the State Government urgently intervene and take action against Mr Shriman Shukla, DM Barwani, who issued these externment notices to Madhuri, close all the cases against her and other members of JADS and ensure that all members of JADS including Madhuri are able to work freely as provided under the Indian Constitution and repeal the MP Rajya Suraksha Adhiniyam.

The Right to Food campaign and other progressive organizations would be holding a protest outside the MP Bhawan against this unconstitutional act of the local administration.

The following are the signatories to the statement:

Kavita Srivastava, Convenor), on behalf of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign.
Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), Anuradha Talwar and Gautam Modi (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), Aruna Roy, Anjali Bharadwaj and Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People's Right to Information), Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network), G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Kavita Srivastava and 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 Kowtal (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights), Prahlad Ray and Anand Malakar (Rashtriya Viklang Manch), Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers), Jean Dreze and V.B Rawat (Former Support group to the Campaign), Ritu Priya (JNU)

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 Sameer Garg (Chhattisgarh), Pushpa, Dharmender, Ramendra, Yogesh, Vimla and Sarita (Delhi), 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).

29 May, 2012

The struggle for survival

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Belying dark prophecies of the likes of Winston Churchill, India has survived as a political entity. Overcoming the global economic downturn, it has survived as a vibrant economic unit. But the challenges it is facing on the environmental front are proving to be tougher than the political and economic challenges.

There has been large-scale destruction of forests since the country gained freedom 65 years ago, mostly due to illegal felling of trees by commercial interests enjoying political patronage. The verdant states of Jammu and Kashmir in the north, Assam in the northeast and Kerala in the south are among the worst affected.

The latest official figures put India’s forest and tree cover at 78.29 million hectares, or 23.81 per cent of the geographical area. The government’s current policy envisages raising the forest cover to 33 per cent.

According to Director-General of Forests PJ Dilip Kumar, structural changes in the economy are needed to achieve the target. When more people migrate from villages to cities the fallow agricultural lands left behind by them can be used to grow forests, he says.

The official’s calculations are too simplistic. The developmental process that will create jobs and attract villagers to the cities will actually shrink the forest cover further, widening the gap to be filled. Many mega projects now in various stages of implementation are based on exploitation of natural resources located in forests or other ecologically sensitive areas. People living in these areas are already up in arms against the projects saying they threaten their lives and livelihood.

According to the latest ‘state of the forest’ report, in the last two years there was a net loss of 367 square kilometres of forest. Half of it was in the Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh.

Environmental Secretary T Chatterjee attributes depletion of Khammam forests to felling of eucalyptus by the paper pulp industry and clearance of forests by Left-wing extremists. The explanation is specious. Replanting goes on simultaneously with harvesting in plantations serving the paper industry. More than Left-wing extremists, who want places to hide in, it is the security forces, who are looking for them, that need to clear forests. 

Large-scale destruction of forests took place in the colonial period as the British administration, while laying railway lines, felled trees to make sleepers. The depredation yielded some unexpected dividends: the ruins of the Indus Valley civilisation at Mohenjo-Daro, now in Pakistan, and the Buddhist relics at Sanchi, in Madhya Pradesh, came to light.

Recognising the need to preserve the forest wealth, the British later initiated conservation measures. After their departure, things became lax, especially at the state level, and vested interests caused extensive damage with the connivance of corrupt political and bureaucratic elements.   

Prime minister Indira Gandhi, on her return from the 1972 Stockholm summit, initiated legislative and administrative measures to protect the environment. Her son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, took steps to tackle the problem of pollution of the river Ganga, which sustains life in a large part of the country.

Globalisation threw out of gear even the weak implementation of the laws in force. The Report to the People on Environment and Forests, which the government released recently, paints a dismal picture of urban India, which is growing fast and expected to absorb millions of people from the villages in the coming decades.

The report admits that a critical deficiency exists in most cities in terms of facilities for collection, processing and disposal of waste. Existing facilities have the capacity to treat only 35 per cent of about 6.23 million tonnes of hazardous industrial waste generated annually. E-waste is currently estimated at 800,000 tonnes. Sixty per cent of it is generated by 65 cities. The Ganga continues to be a polluted river.

There is nothing in the report to indicate that the government has an action plan to tackle the serious urban problems it has identified. Much of it, of course, is beyond the power of the government at the Centre as the matter falls within the realm of the state governments and the urban and rural local bodies. They lack the resources to formulate and implement suitable schemes.

In the global debate on climate change, India, along with China, has been resisting the attempt by the rich nations to force reduction in carbon emissions, arguing it will hamper its developmental efforts. It has to look at the problem not only in terms of catching up with the developed world but also in terms of ensuring the survival of a large section of its own population.

Jawaharlal Nehru once asked, “If India dies, who lives?” Lopsided developmental priorities which threaten the environment invest these words with a new meaning.--Gulf Today, May 29, 2012,

24 May, 2012

UN body evaluatng India's Human Rights record

The Asian Human Rights Organization, Hong Kong, says: 

India will be evaluated at the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland today.

The three countries (Troika) involved in the review are Kuwait, Mauritius and Mexico. That these countries have worse records of human rights in comparison to the country they would collectively review suggests how firmly, and perhaps blindly, such processes are at the UN. Yet the UPR may still be considered beneficial because it at least presents recurring opportunity at the UN for human rights organizations to flag their concerns about the country under review.

India has submitted its National Report to the UPR Working Group, which is available here. Other documents concerning India relevant to the UPR process are also available here.

The national report places overwhelming emphasis upon the jurisprudence developed by the Supreme Court on human rights. In page 3 of the report, the government claims that the Court has initiated a "revolutionary interpretative evolution" of fundamental rights in India. It is true. What is false, however, is the affirmation that the Court's initiative is "fully supported by the overnment". The evolution of the Court's interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution encompasses the right to housing, against forced eviction, right to education, clean environment and against forced labour proves that on each occasion someone had to approach the Court seeking its assistance and writ jurisdiction to 'direct' the government concerned toward what that government had to do. Each one of these cases highlight the failure of the state to fulfil its duties. The Court has also reiterated its authority to review both legislative and executive actions. Within the Constitutional architecture, the government is legally compelled to obey with the Court's directives. Essentially, the government's 'concessionary' claim that it has 'fully supported' the Court's directives possess no inherent merit.

The absence of honesty in the government's claim as to its compliance of the Court's directives is visible from facts on the ground. The first case cited by the government is the Naga People's Movement for Human Rights (petitioners) against Union of India and others (respondents) reported in All India Reporter Supreme Court 431. The Court was called upon to decide the constitutional vires of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 in this occasion. While maintaining that the central government had adequate powers to enact the law now held to have had the worse impact on the protection of human rights, the Court drew comparison from the Reserve Forces Act, 1980 of the United Kingdom where the government is empowered to "call upon" its reserve forces when there is a threat to the security of the nation. The Court failed to recognise, however, that the conditions in the United Kingdom (UK) and India are vastly different. The UK could afford to have legislation such as the Reserve Forces Act because its justice institutions are far superior to those of India (in terms of transparency, accountability, resources dedicated to training, solid theoretical and philosophical foundation and an infinitely less corrupt bureaucracy), both then and now. The Court however could not be blamed in totality for this serious omission and disparity since it had not been requested to consider the misuse of the law in the infringement of human rights as it happened then and continues now.

Despite this, jurisprudential wisdom at the time warranted the Court to impose 10 'dos and don'ts', none of which has been followed since then. Given knowledge of the cases of human rights violations available today, one could argue that the Court failed to critically appreciate the nature of the threat the AFSPA was supposed to help diminish, the population upon which the law is thrust upon and the possibility of enforcing discipline upon the armed units which would be protected by the impunity provided them by the law. Today, AFSPA has not merely failed to reduce or contain this violence, but has instead inflamed it. The populations in places throughout India where this law is enforced have further alienated themselves from the national mainstream – this is also due to the discrimination practiced against them by the rest of the country. The number of human rights abuses committed by armed units under the protection of this Act as documented by numerous NGOs and civil society organisations is alarmingly high. This has substantially contributed to the considerable lack of discipline within the country's armed units.

Incidents left inadequately investigated due to the absence of an independent investigating agency in the country and the unwillingness of the government to create one has resulted in gross human rights abuses wherever this draconian law is in use. The unmarked mass graves in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the countless cases of rape, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions reported from states like Manipur stares balefully in the face of the Supreme Court's jurisprudential piety in issuing some obviously ineffective dos and don'ts while deciding the Naga People's case.

They are of such nature that it is worth reproducing here. 

1. Action … (b) Power to open fire using force or arrest is to be exercised under this Act only by an officer/JCO/WO and NCO. (c) Before launching any raid/search, definite information about the activity to be obtained from the local civil authorities. (d) As far as possible co-opt representative of local civil administration during the raid. 

2. Action during Operation (a) In case of necessity of opening fire and using any force against the suspect or any person acting in contravention to law and order, ascertain first that it is essential for maintenance of public order. Open fire only after due warning. (b) Arrest only those who have committed cognizable offence or who are about to commit cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable ground exists to prove that they have committed or are about to commit cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable ground exists to prove that they have committed or are about to commit cognizable offence. (c) Ensure that troop under command do not harass innocent people, destroy property of the public or unnecessarily enter into the house/dwelling of people not connected with any unlawful activities. (d) Ensure that women are not searched/arrested without the presence of female police. In fact women should be searched by female police only. 

3. Action after operation (a) After arrest prepare a list of the persons so arrested. (b) Handover the arrested persons to the nearest Police Station with least possible delay. (c) While handing over to the police a report should accompany with detailed circumstances occasioning the arrest. (d) Every delay in handing over the suspects to the police must be justified and should be reasonable depending upon the place, time of arrest and the terrain in which such person has been arrested. The least possible delay may be 2-3 hours extendable to 24 hours or so depending upon particular case. (e) After raid make out a list of all arms, ammunition or any other incriminating material/document taken into possession. (f) All such arms, ammunition, stores, etc. should be handed over to the police State along with the seizure memo. (g) Obtain receipt of persons arms/ammunition, stores etc. so handed over to the police. (h) Make record of the area where operation is launched having the date and time and the persons participating in such raid. (i) Make a record of the commander and other officers/JCOs/NCOs forming part of such force. (k) Ensure medical relief to any person injured during the encounter, if any person dies in the encounter his dead body be handed over immediately to the police along with the details leading to such death. 4. 

Dealing with Civil Court (a) Directions of the High Court/Supreme Court should be promptly attended to. (b) Whenever summoned by the courts, decorum of the court must be maintained and proper respect paid. (c) Answer questions of the court politely ad with dignity. (d) Maintain detailed record of the entire operation correctly and explicitly.

Don'ts 1. Do not keep a person under custody for any period longer than the bare necessity for handing over to the nearest Police Station. 2. Do not use any force after having arrested a person except when he is trying to escape. 3. Do not use third degree methods to extract information or to extract confession or other involvement in unlawful activities. 4. After arrest of a person by the member of the Armed forces, he shall not be interrogated by the member of the armed force. 5. Do not release the person directly after apprehending on your own. If any person is to be released, he must be released through civil authorities. 6. Do not tamper with official records. 7. The Armed Forces shall not take back person after he is handed over to civil police.

That the judicial logic behind these directions has failed, and miserably so, is proved by the D. K. Basu (petitioner) against State of West Bengal and others (respondents) reported in All India Reporter Supreme Court, 610. Ironically, the government has cited this case as well in its report to showcase the prowess of the safeguards provided by the judiciary to protect fundamental rights in India. The Court's intervention in this case was due to the repeated instances of blatant violations of prescribed procedures and fundamental by the state police. The argument that the legal guarantees even civilian police fail to provide in peaceful environments and times would be provided by armed units operating in hostile environments is naivety and nothing short of laughable. The present quality of life in places where the AFSPA is enforced is proof of this. That the Supreme Court of India has declared AFSPA constitutional in 1988 should not be an excuse for the government to review, and, if necessary, repeal it.

The government has claimed that it is considering a domestic law against torture. It is true that the law was passed in the Lok Sabha in 2010. The importance the members of the Lok Sabha attributed to this law and informed nature of the debate is apparent from the long discussion on the law in the Lok Sabha. Most members complained in jest that holding them back in the parliament at 9.30 pm is torture and requested that the law be quickly passed. The 625 words-long Bill that failed to even properly define the term 'torture' has today been placed in the Rajya Sabha's deep freezer for the past two years following a review by the Parliamentary Select Committee. Even the members of the parliament do not know the fate of the Bill. No government worthy of its mandate would go to an international body like the UN and state that even though the government is still not serious about this law, "the Supreme Court of India, through its judgments, has … laid down exacting standards on this issue". This statement about the Court laying down exacting standards is false. There is simply no such judgment.

The court has dealt with this issue on several occasions, most importantly in Kishore Singh (petitioner) against the State of Rajastan and on others (respondents) when the court said "...othing is more cowardly and unconscionable than a person in police custody being beaten up and nothing inflicts deeper wound on our constitutional culture than a state official running berserk regardless of human rights". This case is reported in 1981 All India Reporter, Supreme Court 625. Yet torture has not been defined as it is understood in international law. Neither does the offense carry significance particular to crimes against humanity that warrants serious investigation and prosecution. That the D. K. Basu case came 16 years since the Kishore Singh case proves this. Torture is endemic in India and there are painfully few means to change this reality at the moment.

The accolades showered upon the National Human Rights Commission by the government in its report need to be viewed with exceptional caution. Mr. K. G. Balakrishnan, who bears a tainted image concerning his integrity as a judge, heads the NHRC. This was reflected in the NHRC's own consultative process for the UPR. Many consultations were held where members of the army, human rights defenders and victims were invited to the same room. Then the human rights defenders and victims of rights abuses were asked to depose against the army, which they did not due to fear of reprisals. The very same insensitivity of the NHRC while adjudicating claims has attracted criticism so much so that during the accreditation review process the NHRC underwent in 2011, a considerable number of Indian human rights organisations appealed to the International Coordination Committee for NHRIs to degrade the NHRC from its 'A' status. The lobby did not succeed, yet it was one of the most embarrassing moments for the NHRC in its entire history. That the NHRC received near to 100,000 complaints is no surprise owing to the poor human rights standards in India. Admittedly, expecting the NHRC to deal with so many complaints with the present limited infrastructure itself is injustice. That the NHRC disposed off 87,568 cases in two years itself shows the quality of adjudication. This means that, excluding holidays, the NHRC has the unique capacity to adjudicate about 300 cases in each working day. This poses troubling questions about the quality of the adjudication being dealt out.

It is true that State Human Rights Commissions are constituted in 20 states. However, fewer than five among these twenty states possess adequate infrastructure for day-today functioning; these include independent Commissioners. Many Commissions have ceased to function as appointments to office-bearing positions critical to the commissions' operations have not made. That the NHRC has resorted to monetary compensation instead of proper resolution of the cases/grievances suggests that a meagre USD6020 has been used to "buy off" 583 victims. This fails to bring the investigations to the heart of the matter, where institutional failures have occurred and where systemic abuses of human rights have become the norm.
Similar claims made by the government concerning child rights, the right to food and the right to equality are equally questionable. That 42 percent of the children below the age of five in India are severely malnourished places India lower in living standards than all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is not a record that speaks well of any government that 42 percent of its future population might not even live their life to the fullest that already they have suffered substantial and permanent physiological damage that will prevent them from developing their intellectual and physical capacities. For a country to plan an estimated USD40.44 billion outlay not to have means to rescue its children from acute poverty lacks logic. The Supreme Court of India cannot supplement the provision of nutrition with its empty judgments.

Worse still are the accusations laid upon country's civil society by its government in a report concerning the Maoist issue. The government has placed the responsibility upon the civil society organisations to urge the Maoists to join the national mainstream. The question that needs to be asked is which side of the national main stream, whether the increasing number of rich upper middle class or the 42 percent who are destined to starve to death in the coming years that the Maoists are being asked to join. Indeed the country's civil society bears some of the responsibility to urge violent political forces to resort to democratic ways of participation. However this is not possible without the government undertaking to address the root cause of the rebellion. Legislations like the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 or private militias like the Salwa Judum – which the Supreme Court of India has also held illegal but the government continues to promote – provide no answer to the Maoist concern. If Maoism was the answer to Stalin's snubbing of China, what it fuels today in India is criminal neglect by the government of its people. The answer to this concern lies partially with the government, and it is the honesty, sincerity and humility of that admission which is lacking in the government's report.

The UPR, which will be completed today, will not address any of these concerns. It will remain a reduced space for the country's civil society to articulate and debate concerns about the people of India and their interests. What is required is action by the government on the ground. That would not come about through the government's voluntary pledge to the Human Rights Council or from the government's treaty obligations to international conventions and covenants. Neither can the administrative writ of a government, even supplemented by court judgements, result in improvement of the human rights conditions. In India, well-intentioned but hollow and ultimately ineffective judgements remain a desperately inadequate substitute for the good governance that will systematically and sustainably improve the mechanisms protecting human rights and standards of living.

22 May, 2012

Economy at a crossroads

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Is the Indian dream fading? With the growth rate sliding, the rupee falling and the stock market going for a spin, this question is being raised within the country and abroad.

Last week a foreign news agency quoted a spokesman of India Inc as saying, “We have a full-blown crisis on our hands.” In a report which painted a picture of a paralysed political leadership and a drifting economy, the agency also quoted former US envoy Tim Roemer as saying the American business community was “increasingly frustrated and fatigued by flip-flops and roll-backs and reversals of decisions.”

Both were batting for acceleration of the globalisation process which has been on hold for some time in the face of strong opposition from some of the Congress party’s allies in the ruling United Progressive Alliance. Foreign and domestic business interests argue that more reform is the answer to India’s current problems but the experience of the fully globalised economies does not bear this out.

India emerged without major injury from the global economic meltdown of 2007 primarily because reform measures had not gone so far as to draw it deep into the financial convulsions of the time.  Foreign investors found it an attractive market and the economy continued to grow at a fast pace.

The scenario has changed somewhat since then. Last month the global agency Standard & Poor’s lowered India’s sovereign credit rating outlook from “stable” to “negative”, citing concerns over rising fiscal deficit and debt burden and lower growth rate.

Officials point out that there has been no general downgrading of credit rating and that the outlook on long-term ratings has in fact been revised from “negative” to “stable”. However, fears that foreign investors may shy away persist.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who attributes the current difficulties to the Eurozone downturn, says the government has noted the concerns and is taking steps to strengthen and sustain robust economic growth.     

Advocates of accelerated reform attribute the government’s reluctance to move forward to differences between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Finance Minister. They believe Manmohan Singh, who, as Finance Minister, began the process of dismantling the controlled economic system, is willing to go forward but Pranab Mukherjee, who is a pragmatic politician, is holding the government back.

The country no doubt is facing a serious situation. At the end of the last financial year the fiscal deficit stood at Rs522 billion. While the government’s income rose by only 36 per cent in the previous five years the deficit shot up by 312 per cent. The trade deficit mounted to $185 billion. The rupee fell to 54.91 against the dollar, the lowest level so far.

Many believe a slight fall in the value of the rupee was necessary as a corrective measure but with importers buying up dollars to hedge against the global uncertainty the decline has gone way beyond the desirable level. Everybody is looking up to the government and the central bank to intervene and arrest the slide but they have to move cautiously lest they should add to inflation, which is already running high.

Foreign and domestic corporate interests consider the situation ripe to press home the International Monetary Fund’s proposal to cut subsidies. When they talk of subsidies, they have in mind the subsidies on food, fertilisers and petroleum products like diesel, kerosene and cooking gas, which by and large benefit the poor and the middle class. They overlook the subsidies that benefit the affluent, which are a bigger drain on the economy than those that benefit the poor.

In the most recent budget, food, fertiliser and petroleum subsidies add up to a mere Rs2,163 billion. The subsidies to the rich, which figure in the document under the head “revenue foregone”, total Rs4,373 billion. The figure includes customs duty waiver of Rs1,953 billion, excise duty waiver of Rs1,691 billion and corporate income tax waiver of Rs729 billion.

In 2008, corporate tax in India was only 17.3 per cent while it ranged between 20.7 per cent and 37.0 per cent in the other BRICS states and between 30 per cent and 50 per cent in the developed economies. Since then it has come down to 14.7 per cent. Is it any wonder that India is producing billionaires faster than any other country?

Emergent India is at a crossroads. It has to decide whether to follow the route that landed the developed economies in the throes of crisis or furrow a new path taking into account its special circumstances. It will be disastrous to let less than one per cent walk away with undue gains and heap new burdens and make life more difficult for more than 99 per cent.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 22, 2012.

19 May, 2012

Citizens' appeal to end intimidation of protesters at Koodankulam

Dear friends,

Eminent Indian citizens like Prashant Bhushan, Aruna Roy, Binayak Sen, Vandana Shiva, Lalita Ramdas, Partha Chatterjee, Praful Bidwai, Achin Vanaik, Gnani Sankaran, John Dayal, Meher Engineer, Sandeep Pandey etc. have endorsed an appeal urging people of India to demand that the government immediately stops intimidating and harassing peaceful protesters in Koodankulam.

The appeal has also demanded that the Indian government should put an immediate moratorium on nuclear energy projects and should engage people into widest possible consultation on safety, costs, environmental and other impacts of nuclear energy and its relevance for India’s energy future before embarking on a massive nuclear expansiondespite popular protests, objections by independent experts and the global trend of shift away from nuclear energy. 

This appeal is a reflection of our collective frustration and instead of being sent to the Govt, it will be presented before people of India.

Signatures in large numbers are being collected  and this appeal is being released in different parts of the country by concerned people.

In Mumbai, we invite you to the release event of this national appeal on Koodankulam, at 6:30 pm in Chaityabhoomi, Dadar on May 20, 2012 India Gate. The appeal would be released by prominent human rights activist Binayak Sen and film-maker Anand Patwardhan.

in soldarity
Coalition for Nuclear Disarmamment and Peace ( CNDP )
Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Samiti,
Konkan Bachao Andolan
Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, ( Mumbai Unit )

contact-  Anuj-9757475875, Kamayani -9820749204

17 May, 2012

Police as spoiler of criminal investigations in South Asia

Basil Fernando

The following is a comment from a reader to an AHRC Urgent Appeal on the issue of dowry deaths in India. We reproduce this short comment by the reader because it represents the general perception about the police in all South Asian countries in their role in criminal investigations:
"Police in maximum measure finds the wrong person because some unavoidable circumstance had made them bound to forget the proper code of investigation. Most of the officers are educated and trained but, lack of adequate personnel, lack of proper infrastructure, over burdened in duty hours, pre historic prosecution procedure, inevitable political pressure, every such things keep morality of the force downward. Intentionally, our police force was not updated and a discrimination within our public mind has been created against the force. Unfortunately, these personnel belong to the same society as ours, but, we don't believe in them and they don't believe on us. British era procedure of suing persons and torture them for confession is the common practice, which is uncivilized and unfortunate. But, if the respective Govt. is sleeping, who will make it?"
" .......we don't believe in them and they don't believe on us". That is exactly the way the relationship of police to the public is perceived both by the public as well as the police officers themselves. This may sound funny. However, the matter is too serious to be regarded merely as ludicrous.

It is on this very relationship between the police and the public that the functioning of any civilised society in modern day rule of law terms revolves around. A lot is spoken of today on public security has become rubbish in terms of this relationship between the public and the police. When people do not believe in their policing system what kind of public security can there be?

However, if we go by the statements from the heads of state or the top officers of the defense departments, we are made to think that these honourable gentlemen have not time for anything else since they are so preoccupied in trying to ensure the security of the public. After all, they tell us how seriously they are working on the elimination of terrorism, of organised crime, of the widespread drug industry, the issue of the trafficking of women and children and so many other terrible social evils. And of course, they also tell us how concerned they are about the elimination of corruption with which the public, in all South Asian countries, is disgusted with.

However, the people don't believe in the police and the police do not believe in the people.

When this is the case how are our presidents and prime ministers and the ministers in charge of security establishments and many other highly paid experts who have taken upon themselves this duty of ensuring public security are to keep their promises?

As long as the relationship of the police to the people and the people to the police is one of distrust any talk about public security can be nothing but pure bluff.

So the ludicrousness is not just about the public/police relationship but it is about the claims of good governance in South Asian societies.

If good governance is to become a seriously pursued objective the first issue to be dealt with in all South Asian societies is a fundamental police reform. Until this institution is reformed the distrust will remain.

The attention of the South Asian intellectuals, opinion makers and policy makers needs to be on the issue of police reforms and not on the so-called issue of public security. When the shift in attention from so-called public security to ways of achieving a fundamental police reform happens the social discourse in South Asian societies will become more sensible.

Basil Fernando is Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, a regional non-governmental organization that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights.

15 May, 2012

Kashmir: no lesson learnt

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

French statesman Talleyrand said of the Bourbon kings that they learnt nothing and forgot nothing. The same can be said of India’s rulers, judging by their inaction on Kashmir when the time was opportune.

The Kashmir valley, which witnessed several waves of violence during the past two decades, has enjoyed comparative peace for some time. However, the Indian government has failed to take advantage of the situation to promote the political process and ensure lasting peace.

The quiet of the recent past is partly the result of closure of the mountain passes following snowfall, restricting movement across the line of control. But there is reason to suspect that Kashmiri weariness has also contributed to the lull.

The Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organisation of parties which do not consider the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India as final, has not been very active. One of its leaders, Abdul Ghani Bhatt, recently suggested that the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir have lost their relevance. Its chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farouq, asserted that they remain the basis for resolution of the dispute. The conflicting statements of the two leaders indicate the group is clueless on the way forward.

The Kashmir issue is linked with India-Pakistan relations inasmuch as it is a remnant of the partition of the subcontinent. The process of normalisation of relations between the two countries remained slow and tortuous during the past year but some hopeful signs have emerged. There is, for instance, growing recognition that both the countries can gain from increased mutual trade and people-to-people contacts.

All this created a favourable atmosphere for the Indian government to take a new initiative to address the grievances of the people of Kashmir which have led to recurrent violence. It had before it the report of a three-member team of interlocutors which contained some ideas it could work on.

The team comprising Dileep Padgaonkar, a noted journalist, Radha Kumar, a well-known academic, and MM Ansari, a former Information Commissioner, was appointed in 2010 as part of a package announced to quell a wave of student protests which had led to brutal police action that left more than 100 teenagers dead and several hundred others wounded.

A 36-member all-party parliamentary delegation which flew into Srinagar on a fact-finding mission was greeted with stony silence. The Hurriyat leaders refused to meet the MPs. However, some MPs sought them out and held discussions with them. They also had talks with J and K Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik.

Unfortunately MPs belonging to the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which tends to view issues through a communal prism, adopted a recalcitrant attitude and blocked the emergence of a political consensus.

Following up on the parliamentary initiative, the government announced an eight-point package to assuage Kashmir’s wounded feelings. The appointment of interlocutors for a dialogue with political parties, groups, students and civil society was the first of the eight points.

The other points included release of all detained students and withdrawal of the cases against them, immediate reopening of educational institutions, an ex-gratia payment of Rs500,000 each to the families of those killed and review of the working of the security law and deployment of security forces, especially in Srinagar.

The government, recognising the need to address the problem of economic backwardness, made a special allotment of Rs1 billion for the state and decided to set up separate task forces to go into the developmental needs of the predominantly Hindu region of Jammu and the predominantly Buddhist region of Ladakh.

The Hurriyat leaders who want Kashmir’s representatives to be included in India-Pakistan talks on the state’s future were cool to the concept of indirect dialogue. However, the interlocutors held discussions with them. They also travelled widely in the state and met more than 700 delegations.

The content of the interlocutors’ report has not been made public so far, but it is widely believed that they have recommended grant of a measure of autonomy to the state and changes in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which gives the security personnel impunity. The government’s failure to consider its recommendations and formulate an action plan shows it gives a low priority to the political process.

The government’s inaction apparently stems from a lack of moral courage to take on the BJP, which, it fears, will not only condemn any accommodation of Kashmiri sentiment as appeasement but also use it to whip up communal passions with an eye to the 2014 parliamentary elections.--Gulf Today, May 15, 2012.

14 May, 2012

Koodankulam agitators' demands

The People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) has embarked upon the fourth round of indefinite hunger strike from May 1, 2012 at Idinthakarai with the following demands:
[1] The ongoing work at the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) must be halted and the following steps must be taken immediately.
[2] As the Central Information Commission (CIC) has instructed the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), the Safety Analysis Report and the Site Evaluation Report must be released to the public immediately. And the full and final post-Fukushima safety audit report must also be released to the press and the public.
[3] A new and comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report must be commissioned as the one that the DAE has released after 23 years of struggle is incomplete, erroneous and outdated. The Tamil and Malayalam translations of the new EIA must be shared with the local people and the Press in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
[4] The opinions and preferences of the project-affected people must be heard by a competent authority in an open, transparent and democratic manner to understand the fears and concerns of the people. 
[5] An independent national committee must be constituted to study the issues of geology, hydrology, oceanography and seismology involved in the Koodankulam nuclear power plant.
[6] Disaster management training and evacuation exercises must be conducted in the 30-km radius of the Koodankulam plants and beyond  in the wake of the recent earthquake all over Tamil Nadu and India.
[7] A Tamil Nadu State Assembly Resolution must be passed that the Pechipparai dam water from Kanyakumari District and the Tamirabharani river water from Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi Districts will not be taken for the KKNPP reactors.
[8] A copy of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) on liability secretly signed between the governments of India and Russia must be made available to the project-affected public.
[9] Complete and truthful information must be given to the local people and the citizens of India about nuclear waste that would be produced at the Koodankulam plants and its management.
[10] All the false cases against the members of the struggle committee and the common people must be withdrawn immediately and unconditionally. Our friends who are still languishing in prison, Muhilan and Sathishkumar, must be released immediately.
[11] The local people's right to protest peacefully and nonviolently against the KKNPP and other related issues must be respected and honored. And no more false cases and other intimidatory exercises should be used against the struggling people.

The Struggle Committee,
People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)

08 May, 2012

Youths' freedom struggle

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Sixty-five years after the successful end of India’s freedom struggle, young citizens are engaged in a freedom struggle of their own. The fight this time is to secure Internet freedom.

India’s Internet population, which crossed the 100 million mark last November, is expected to touch 300 million in three years if the present growth rate is maintained. There are more than 2.6 million domain names and about one million businesses are online.

Already India ranks third after China and the United States in Internet use and it is well poised to top the list as it replaces China as the world’s most populous country in the next few decades.

After the electorate rebuffed the Emergency regime of 1975-77, which resorted to rigorous censorship, successive governments have tried to live with a free press. With public opinion opposed to new legal curbs on the media, they have been watching idly as television channels under professionally weak leadership act irresponsibly.

However, they have been unwilling to view the new media’s irreverent conduct with the same degree of indulgence. Surreptitious attempts to gag Internet criticism have been on for more than a decade.  Shivam Vij, a Delhi-based journalist and active Internet campaigner, has chronicled the ham-handed and often counterproductive censorship efforts of this period.

According to Vij, the first act of censorship was in 1999 when the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, then the country’s biggest Internet service provider, blocked the website of Dawn to deny Indians access to the Pakistani version of the armed conflict on the icy heights of Siachen.  The VSNL had complied with the wishes of the government, headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, without any written instructions.

The following year Parliament enacted the Information Technology Act, which provided for the creation of the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) to deal with problems like hacking and malware attacks. Although the law does not authorise the agency to block websites, Vij says, it has been resorting to censorship since it came into being in 2003.

The clandestine operation came to light when the government, acting on CERT-In’s advice, asked the ISPs to block the Yahoo! Groups page of a small outfit of the Khasi tribe of Meghalaya state and they inexplicably blocked all Yahoo! Groups, leading to a public uproar. The resultant publicity enabled the Khasi group, which had only 82 members at the time, to reach a large audience through another platform.

A similar faux pas occurred three years later when the ISPs blocked all blogs in Google’s Blogger site. The New York Times reported the event and the embassy in Washington informed the government the report was an international embarrassment. Thereafter CERT-In asked the ISPs to block only specific blogs and not the entire Blogger platform.  By now the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power.

Since 2007 social networking sites have taken off hundreds of pages at the instance of the Indian government or courts following complaints that they contained defamatory material. The Google revealed 70 per cent of the material it removed between January and June last year in response to official requests was criticism of the government. 

New rules under the IT Act framed by the government last year made “intermediaries” like social networks and blog platforms liable for the content. Anyone can now lodge a complaint against what appears on blogs and social network sites and ask for that objectionable content to be removed.   

While the authorities, in demanding removal of material, claimed it was prejudicial to national security or might create enmity between different groups, most of it was criticism of Central or state leaders. A Facebook page critical of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was in the dossier Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal placed before executives of FB, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!, whom he summoned to demand that they evolve a mechanism to delete objectionable content.

Some of what the government considers objectionable material can be attributed to the immaturity of India’s Internet users, 75 per cent of whom are below 35 years. The social networks, which can be accessed easily, happen to be the only forums where they can express themselves freely.

P. Rajeeve, a Communist Party of India-Marxist member of the Rajya Sabha, has given notice of a motion for annulment of the new IT rules. An online petition in support of the move says the government is invoking national security and public morality concerns to undermine digital rights and exhorts Internet users to tell the lawmakers they won’t stand for censorship and unsupervised information sharing.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 8, 2012.