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

30 July, 2013

Crunching poverty figures

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

No loud cheers greeted the Planning Commission’s announcement last week that the number of Indians below the poverty line fell significantly from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05 to 21.9 per cent in 2011-12. Instead, there were cries of foul play, with politicians, including some belonging to the ruling Congress party, and civil society activists deploring the unscientific methodology the government follows to determine poverty levels.

The methodology now employed was proposed by a committee, headed by Suresh Tendulkar, an economist, in 2009. Based on it, the Commission calculated that a per capita monthly income of Rs816 in villages and Rs1,000 in cities was all that was needed to ward off poverty. Accordingly, it reckoned that a family of five can meet its consumption expenditure with as ridiculously low a monthly income as Rs4,080 in rural areas and Rs5,000 in urban areas.

Following widespread criticism of the Tendulkar methodology the government had appointed another committee headed by C Rangarajan, a former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, to draw up fresh norms. Its report is not expected until next year. 

Brushing aside criticism, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said, “Whatever method you apply and wherever you keep the poverty line, poverty has indeed declined.”

Poverty may be declining but when we move from percentages to actual numbers we get an alarming picture of the ground situation. A poverty incidence of 21.9 per cent means as many as 270 million Indians are poor. This is much more than the total population of Indonesia (which was 237,641,326 in 2010), the world’s fourth largest country after China, India and the United States.

India and Indonesia both emerged from colonialism around the same time. India began its path as an independent nation with the British-built administrative apparatus intact and a fair body of educated personnel to run it. When Ahmed Soekarno took over the administration of war-ravaged Indonesia, it had only a dozen people with modern education. He asked every literate person to teach one, and in a matter of decades, Indonesia raced ahead of India in literacy.

India recently overtook Japan as the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. However the country is unable to pull its weight in the global scheme of things because it is bogged down by the huge backlog of poverty.

Pulapre Balakrishnan, an economist, writing in The Hindu, last week suggested that India is out of line with one central aspect of the Asian development model which is the wide-spreading of the fruits of growth. An official assessment made on the completion of India’s first five-year plan (1951-56) revealed that the benefits of development are not reaching the intended beneficiaries. Several subsequent studies have shown that substantial portions of funds earmarked for poverty alleviation are siphoned off by intermediaries and do not reach the needy.

Various measures devised to plug leakages have not yielded results, primarily because the intermediaries are men with political clout who can manipulate the system. While the poor figure prominently in political rhetoric at the time of policy formulation, they are often sidelined at the time of policy implementation. The long tradition of social exclusion appears to be the main reason why, unlike, say Japan or Indonesia, India lags in the empowerment of the weak.

The big states of the north, west and east top the list of the poor. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of poor people — nearly 60 million (29.4 per cent of the state total), followed by Bihar with about 36 million (33.7 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh with 23.4 million (31.6 per cent). They are followed by Maharashtra with about 20 million poor (17.3 per cent) and West Bengal 18.5 million (19.9 per cent).

The government’s own figures show that about 48 per cent of the rural population is below the poverty line. This shows that while the urban economy boomed in the early phase of liberalisation, the rural areas lagged behind. Several of the new policies now mooted to boost the economic growth rate are likely to impact the rural areas adversely.

In Odisha, the government-fixed minimum daily wage for an unskilled worker is Rs150. In Kerala, his counterpart can command a wage of up to Rs550. The evolution of a simple formula to determine the poverty line in a country with so much variety is no easy task. Regional variations have to be factored in.  --Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 30, 2013.

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28 July, 2013

Election season in South Asia

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

South Asia, home to one-fifth of the world’s population and half of the world’s poor, is experiencing the springtime of democratic elections. However, there is a long way to go to ensure that the exercise is genuine.

The region comprises eight countries. Among them are three of the five most populous countries of the world. Their progress along the democratic path, after many flip-flops, offers hope for the future of the region, which has witnessed much instability in the post-World War II period.

Pakistan, the second largest country of the region after India, and Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan kingdom, held parliamentary elections during the past few weeks. There was smooth and peaceful transfer of power from one party to another in both the countries.

The Pakistan People’s Party, which had won the first elections held after the downfall of Pervez Musharraf, was roundly defeated by the Pakistan Muslim League (N), and its leader, Nawaz Sharif, became the prime minister. The election of the new president is scheduled for next month.

According to Michael Gahler, who headed the European Union’s team of observers, the elections were not free and fair. The Election Commission did not fulfil its responsibilities honestly, he said. Asad Ismi, correspondent of CCPA Monitor, journal of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, described the elections as a political disaster.

Ismi pointed out that the PPP, the Awami National Party of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and the Muttahida Quami Movement of Karachi could not campaign because of the massive violence directed against them by the Pakistani Taliban, resulting in the death of more than 100 people, including several candidates. He added, “The Pakistani Taliban is part of the terrorist network created by the army, which helps it inflict horrendous violence on the country to destablise it, politically and economically, so that no strong counterforce to the army can emerge.” It did not attack Nawaz’s party.

Since his assumption of office, Nawaz Sharif has talked of the need to improve relations with India. However, few expect the army to share his enthusiasm on this score.

A British protectorate during the colonial period, Bhutan began its career as an independent nation when it became a member of the United Nations in 1971. In the first democratic elections held five years ago, Druk Phuensum Tshoogpa (meaning Peace and Prosperity Party) was voted to power. In the recent elections, the opposition People’s Democratic Party seized power, winning 32 of the 47 seats in the national assembly.

The new prime minister, Tshering Togbay, holds a master’s degree from Harvard University. Some observers believe the Indian government, which was not happy with DPT prime minister Jigme Thinley’s attempt to cosy up to China, helped the PDP by withdrawing the subsidies on kerosene and cooking gas supplies to Bhutan as the poll campaign was picking up.

In the Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed filed nomination papers last week for the presidential elections to be held in September. He had been elected president in the multiparty elections of 2008. Early last year his vice-president, Mohammed Waheed, ousted him in a coup with help from supporters of former leader Maumoon Abdul Qayoom and elements of the security forces.

Ahead on the poll calendar are Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was last re-elected in 2010, does not have to face immediate elections but provincial elections are due in that country.

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) came to power through democratic elections five years ago but was unable to put in position a new Constitution for the country. With the political spectrum too fragmented, the chances of a stable regime emerging appear to be slim.

With the five-year term of the Bangladesh parliament due to end in October, fresh elections have to be held before January next year. The atmosphere in the country is surcharged with a war crimes tribunal, constituted by the Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina, handing down severe punishment to several leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami for their role in wiping out many leading intellectuals of the country on the eve of its liberation from Pakistan. Early this year 18 opposition parties led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party had brought the country to a halt with a 30-day general strike.

Even more problematic is the transition in Afghanistan, from where US troops are due to pull out next year. A few days ago President Hamid Karzai signed a new law for the conduct of presidential and provincial elections.

The South Asian election scene certainly is not picture perfect but then the fact that the countries are able to move towards multiparty elections is a hopeful sign. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 23, 2013.

20 July, 2013

Cancellation of steel projects by POSCO and Arcelor Mittal has lessons for others

New Delhi: In quick succession two steel projects worth $18b have been cancelled after they failed to acquire land and other clearances. Many in government are saying its bad for investment, and environmental, labour and other guidelines need to be relaxed to attract foreign investment in manufacturing. As people's movements opposing many of these big infrastructure projects, we feel that these projects are nothing but resource grab and transfer to private corporations for nothing and in violation of constitutional provisions. We need stricter implementation of the existing guidelines to stop such loot of natural resources and stern actions against those responsible.
 
The POSCO Steel project in Odisha is infamous for several illegalities to date: tree-felling; grabbing forest-dwellers land; incomplete assessment and deliberate concealment of facts, seizing natural resources without requisite MoU and environment clearance; criminally beating, arresting and killing those resisting the project; and flagrantly violating fundamental rights to life and liberty of local citizens. Now the Central and State governments have connived with POSCO by modifying rules to continually extend its in-principle approval as multi-product SEZ and violating the requirement that there will be no forcible acquisition of land for SEZs.
  • On January 18, 2013 in the 56th Board of Approval meeting POSCO was given the 5th in-principle approval extension (Annexure 1)! A June 15, 2007 letter issued by the SEZ BoA to all state governments clearly states that no forcible acquisition should be carried out for SEZs. This was backed up by Instruction 29 guidelines on land acquisition for SEZs on August 18, 2009 (Annexure 2) to all state Chief Secretaries reiterating:
The State Governments would not undertake any compulsory acquisition of land for setting up of the SEZs. BoA will not approve any SEZs where the State Governments have carried out or propose to carry out compulsory acquisition of land for such SEZs after 5th April 2007.
  • While acquisition under Land Acquisition Act 1894 has been halted by the Odisha High Court for process violations, the illegal forcible acquisition of forest land continues in violation of FRA 2006 and despite intense local opposition. The villagers have taken several resolutions in their gram sabha not to divert their forest land for non-forest purposes in the years 2008, 2010 and 2012. In the gram sabha resolution of October 18, 2012 (Annexures 3 and 4) the Dhinkia panchayat gram sabha noted:
The Gram Sabha endorse [sic] decision taken by the Palli Sabhas to not give consent to the diversion of forest lands under its customary use and boundary for the purpose of the POSCO steel plant project, or for any other purpose, and directs the District Level Committee and the State government to ensure strict compliance with the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, the guideline issued by Ministry of Environment & Forests on 30.07.2009 and the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on 12th July 2012 in this regard. Diversion of forest land without compliance to the Forest Rights Act and the above mentioned guidelines is a violation of the Forest Rights Act and a criminal offence.
  • The POSCO area in Jagatsinghpur Odisha is the site of intense local resistance. The repression and violence that villagers in the area have been facing since the inception of the project are widely documented in the media, by state bodies and by independent NGOs (see Annexures 5 and 6 for brief overview of repression and links to key documents available at: http://www.forestrightsact.com/corporate-projects/item/12-the-posco-project).
  • The 1620.496 hectare POSCO-India Pvt. Ltd. multi-product SEZ was given its first in-principle approval on September 28, 2006 in the 5th SEZ Board of Approval (BoA) meeting. On December 15, 2009 in the 37th SEZ BoA meeting 11 SEZs whose 2nd in-principle approval term had lapsed, including POSCO SEZ, were given special de novo approvals to allow the developers to complete their land acquisition (Annexure 7)! At the time, the rules of extension of in-principle approvals did not allow for more than 2 extensions and the Board noted:
keeping in view the various difficulties expressed by the developers and also keeping in view that under the existing SEZ Rules, there is no provision for grant of third extension in respect of in-principle approvals, though there is a proposal for amending the rules which may take some time. After deliberations, the BoA decided to grant de novo approval… and will process them at par with the first and the second in-principle approval extension cases…
  • It is clear the in-principle approval extension rules were modified to aid SEZ developers like POSCO! When the BoA is itself acknowledging difficulties in land acquisition, which are primarily because locals have rejected the project, why is it continuously extending the approval for POSCO SEZ?
  • The Center is hiding behind false assurances by the state government of Odisha that no compulsory acquisition of land is being undertaken for POSCO SEZ! There are daily media reports and documentation of the struggles of the locals and the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti against the forcible and coercive land acquisition being undertaken by the state government. The MoEF/ MOTA committee constituted by the MoEF made explicit note of the copies of all palli sabha resolutions against the POSCO project in Gobindpur and Dhinkia undertaken by the panchayats. It was on the basis of this report that the MoEF withdrew clearance to POSCO but then renewed it on the state government’s false assurances!
  • In the October 2010 report of the MoEF committee investigating the implementation of FRA 2006 a majority of three committee members expressly took note of local opposition to the POSCO project and the violations and lapses in due process including suppression of facts; violations of the Forest Rights Act 2006; inadequate R&R provisions; violations in obtaining the environmental clearance; and compliance of CRZ regulations. The members recommended revoking the MoEF environmental clearance (see summary report, Annexure 8).
  • The National Green Tribunal has recently taken note of the series of lapses and violations in obtaining environmental clearance for the POSCO project and suspended the clearance of 2011. Based on the NGT judgment of 31.3.2012 the K Roy Paul committee was constituted and its recommendations are being considered again by the MoEF. Consequently, and given the 2007 clearances for the project have lapsed, the NGT has once again halted illegal land acquisition and tree-felling in the area (see latest order, Annexure 9).
  • The Centre and the State are colluding to violate laws and guidelines and the decision-making powers of the Panchayats to favour POSCO. With clear and documented evidence of opposition, how can the SEZ BOA claim that the land acquisition for POSCO is not forced? What is the reason for giving POSCO 5th in-principle approval extension in seven years?
  • There is no justification for giving POSCO land and tax concessions against the people’s will. Not only are the state and central governments violating laws, they are creating additional losses to the exchequer at huge cost to the local people!
  • The recent arrests of PPSS activists by the state are clear indication of the coercion and violence that the state is resorting to have its way with the rightful lands and resources of the local people. We demand:
  • Revoke the in-principle approval to POSCO SEZ and denotify it immediately!
  • Release all local villagers arrested for peacefully opposing POSCO SEZ immediately!
  • Withdraw all police force from the area and refrain from using force and intimidating people to push forceful land acquisition!
  • Conduct independent fact-finding and document the violence, repression and coercion that the villagers in the POSCO area have been facing since the inception of the project!
  • Provide clear compensation for the damages and losses of life and livelihood to the locals!
  • No further approvals should be granted to the project on environment and forest related grounds due to the gross undermining of regulatory processes!
Endorsed by:
  1. Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, Bhanwar Meghwanshi, MKSS 
  2. Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan - National Alliance of People's Movements
  3. Prafulla Samantara, NAPM  
  4. Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court Advocate
  5. EAS Sarma, Former Union Power Secretary 
  6. Sandeep Pandey, Lok Rajniti Manch
  7. Vidya Dinker, Citizens Forum for Mangalore Development 
  8. Ulka Mahajan, Sarvahara Jan Andolan 
  9. Mukta Srivastava, Anna Adhikar Abhiyan - NAPM
  10. Preeti Sampat
  11. Subhash Gatade, New Socialist Initiative
  12. Gabriele Dietrich, NAPM
  13. Arundhati Dhuru, NAPM
  14. Vimal bhai, NAPMKanchi Kohli
  15. Mahtab Alam 
  16. Usha Seethalakshmi 
  17. Simpreet Singh 
  18. Sanjeev Kumar 
  19. Mamata Dash 
  20. Asit Das, POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi
  21. Madhuresh Kumar, NAPM 
  22. Seela Mahapatra, NAPM
  23. Madhumita Dutta, Researcher
  24. Sandeep Kumar Pattnaik, National Center for Advocacy Studies
Organizational Endorsements: 
  1.  Citizens Forum for Mangalore Development 
  2. Karavali Karnataka Janabhivriddhi Vedike 
  3. Krishi Bhoomi Samrakshana Samithi
  4. Sarvahara Jan Andolan
  5. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
  6. National Alliance of People's Movements 
  7. Sanhati 

19 July, 2013

Gujarat ex-DGP deplores bid to save IB officers involved in crime

The following is the text of a letter written by R. B. Sreekumar, former Director General of Police, Gujarat, to the President of India deploring attempts to save Intelligence Bureau officials involved in crimes:
 
IMPORTANT / MOST URGENT

R.B. SREEKUMAR, IPS (Retd.)
Former DGP, Gujarat

“Sreelekshmideepam”
Plot No. 193, Sector-8,
Gandhinagar – 382008
Gujarat
Email : rbsreekumar71@yahoo.com
Tel (R.) 079-23247876
Mobile – 09428016117
Noida T. No. 0120-4284799

Letter No. 3. RBS/Encounter/3/2013 dated 15-07-2013

Sub:- An appeal to remedy elitist lobbyism against the Rule of Law.

Respected Rashtrapatiji,

I am a former DGP of Gujarat State and I retired form service on 28-02-2007. I have submitted a lot of evidence (9 Affidavits – 66pages and other documents) to judicial bodies probing into 2002anti-minority riots, on the genesis, course and aftermath of communal violence in Gujarat, subversion of Criminal Justice System (CJS) to deny, delay and derail justice delivery to riot victim survivors and fake encounters by Gujarat Police. Now I am engaged in assisting the riot affected and NGOs, as an Advocate, fighting for justice.

2/- Recent investigation by CBI into extra judicial killings of Ishrat Jahan and 3 others, had reportedly brought out substantial evidence on the culpable guilt of a few Central IB officials, in planning and
execution of this fake encounter, by teaming up with Gujarat police. The Sangh Parivar, Modi Government, self-appointed supporters and resource persons of IB have, of late, launched a vigorous campaign to
get the accused IB officials immunized from arrest and prosecution. Media reported various grounds advanced by these saviors of IB to pressurize and cajole the Union Executive – The Prime Minister and MHA – for restraining CBI from performing its duty of investigating Ishrat Jahan case, as per the stipulations of the Criminal Procedure Code (CRPC), without fear or favor. Reports also indicate that MHA officials had summoned the CBI Director and asked him to take care of sensibilities of IB in this matter.

3/- A few former Directors of CBI, IB and Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Shri ESL Narasimhan (former IB Director) had argued that arrest of IB officials, irrespective of availability of sufficient evidence against them, could jeopardize IB operations for internal security, besides affecting morale of IB personnel. They emphatically asserted that “the Government should have filed an Affidavit in the Apex Court stating that IB should not have been dragged into the matter”. The thrust of this argument is against the foundational principals of the Constitution of India, the canons of the Rule of Law and inviolable universal human rights and does amount to insulate IB functionaries from the discipline of legality, even though IB functions without any legal empowerment through enacted law.

4/- In the legal perspective, if any functionary from political and administrative bureaucracy of the Union Executive – The Prime Minister to Union Home Secretary – being pressurized by protagonists of IB,
does influence or instruct the CBI to take a particular direction in Ishrat Jahan case investigation, bypassing the truth and substantial evidence emerging in the investigation, they would be liable for an offence under section 186 IPC “Obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions”. The Central Government, being part of the Executive has only administrative authority over CBI and investigation of cases by CBI is done on behalf and under the direction of relevant judicial authorities. As per section 36 of CRPC, only hierarchically superior police officers of the Investigating Officer (IO), viz. SHO has authority to supervise investigations.

5/- Let us hope that nobody from the Central Govt. will venture to do the misadventure of intervening and meddling with the CBI investigation in Ishrat Jahan encounter case. Moreover, on the basis of evidence or reasonable suspicion or reliable information, or on a petition u/s 319 CRPC, if Court brings IB officials under the clutches of law, the authorities who influenced CBI investigation would be put in an indefensible situation.

6/- The argument that arrest of IB officials would demoralize IB personnel and damage IB operations sounds like tail (IB) wagging thehead (Government) and IB leadership indulging in soft blackmailing ofits bosses. IB’s charter is for collection of information, through human and material resources, on threat to internal security of India and any operation with this objective is acceptable and laudatory. In the case of the premeditated murder of Ishrat Jahan and four others and Sadik Jamal, in a different encounter, a few IB officials, particularly a Joint Director, in-charge of Gujarat State (posted in Ahmedabad from 2001 – 2005) and his staff, had gone beyond their call of duty and became abettors and collaborators, with a mafia of Gujarat police officers, for carrying out the hidden agenda of Modi Govt. to eliminate Muslim youth for enhancing the image of the CM Narendra Modi.

7/- These extra judicial killings were carried out by a selected group of Gujarat police officers (most of them are in jail since 2007 – four IPS officers – for their guilt in multiple fake encounters), who had direct extra hierarchical constant accessibility to the CM Narendra Modi and Minister Amit Shah, (arrested for the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and released on bail). It is relevant to note that Joint Director IB, Ahmedabad who succeeded the controversial Joint Director, Rajendra Kumar, is not facing any allegation for involvement in any such crimes, though the “encounter specialists” of Gujarat police continued to eliminate the so called “Muslim militants, planning to assassinate Narendra Modi” till their arrest in February 2007.
Strangely Jihadi groups DID NOT send anybody to attack Narendra Modi and other Hindu leaders after the imprisonment of policemen accused of fake encounters!!!

8/- Evidence before Justice Nanavati Commission (JNC) available in the public domain, revealed theb professional lapses of IB unit of Ahmedabad in failing to provide real time actionable, specific, pinpointed preventive advance intelligence about 1) the timing of return of Gujarat contingent of Kar Sevaks from Ayodhya on 27-02-2002 (thiswould have facilitated Gujarat police to keep special bandobast in Godhra Railway station), 2) the actual causes and course of Godhra train fire incident killing 59 Hindus – though IB agents reportedly travelled with Gujarat Kar Sevaks on their onward and return journey from Ayodhya, 3) location of extensive planned attack on Muslim settlements after Godhra incident by armed Hindu mobs 4) subversion of CJS by Modi Govt. against the riot victims and witnesses resulting in the Apex Court ordering a) constitution of Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe into 9 major carnage cases, b) transfer of trial of
cases to Maharashtra, c) reinvestigation of 2000 odd riot cases closed by Gujarat police, d) forming a special task force under Justice Bedi to probe into 17 encounter cases, e) investigation of a major mass rape case and encounter cases by CBI, observing that Gujarat police acted like modern Neros during riots and so on. Besides, Joint Director Rajendra Kumar persuaded DGP K. Chakravarti on 27-02-2002 forenoon to investigate Godhra train fire incident as an outcome of international conspiracy, without any valid evidence (to mobilise Hindu ire against Muslim community for political advantage and electoral dividends for BJP). The conspirators have been acquitted by the Court in this case, invalidating the conspiracy theory. Further,
this IB officer had also advised Gujarat State Intelligence branch to fabricate false reports against a political party.

9/- It is widely felt that a set of officers close to CM Narendra Modi in Gujarat police had carried out many fake encounters with the objective to 1) Enhance the image of Narendra Modi, the self-proclaimed Hindu Hridaya Samrat, as a person constantly targeted by the Jihadi groups, 2) Generate a sympathy wave among Hindus for Narendra Modi, 3) Silence critics of Modi in BJP and Sangh Parivar, 4) Project Gujarat police as an extra vigilant force successful in pre-empting any threat to VIP security and eliminating the cause of it in time, and 5) Generate a fear psychosis among the minorities.

10/- All these facts would establish that IB officials interrogated by CBI for Ishrat Jahan case had certainly not confined themselves to their ambit of duties and prescribed code of conduct. They had absolutely no authority under law to arrest or detain any person, on the pretext of interrogation also even if they were activists of Lashkar-e-Toiba. Even if the people killed in encounters were condemned prisoners by the court, Gujarat police and IB had no legal powers to eliminate them in cold blooded murders. After all, success
of Maharashtra police to arrest and secure Ajmal Kasab of 9/11 attacks on Mumbai, only had helped India to conclusively prove Pakistan’s involvement in this devilish assault on our country.

11/- Everybody knows that only armed forces are exempted from arrest and prosecution for their operations in areas where special laws are enforced i.e. Jammu and Kashmir and North Eastern states. Therefore,
the deviant acts of IB officials in joining Gujarat police in planning and execution of fake encounters should be viewed seriously and any laxity would be exploited by enemies of India, propagating that minorities are not getting proper justice. This would help internationally organized Islamic Jihadis to get recruits for
anti-Indian nefarious activities. Should we create a favorable ambience for such elements, within and outside India, for the mirage of IB personnel’s morale? Is the morale of IB functionaries more meritorious and valuable than the lives of Indian citizens?

12/- The Governor of Andhra Pradesh, as a former Director of IB is an interested party in this matter and so he should not have intervened with a letter to the Prime Minister, aiming at neutralization of any action by lawful authority of CBI against IB officials. The Governor had violated the constitutional constraints and legal framework within which he had to function and particularly the letter and spirit of Article 51(A) of the Constitution of India. In fact anybody including Director IB endeavoring to protect the accused IB officials, allegedly involved in extra judicial killings, should approach relevant judicial bodies instead of exerting pressure on Union Government – an Executive Authority having no powers over CBI under law, to guide and influence the course of any investigation. If CBI buckles down under such pressure tactics and de-professionalize the investigation for helping the accused, this agency would be committing an offence under section 217 IPC - “Public servant disobeying direction of law with intent to save person from punishment”.

13/- Repeated electoral victories had arrogated and energized BJP and Narendra Modi to continue with blatant violation of structured scheme of Law and its due process. The latest instance is the case of an IPS
officer – ADGP Crime, P. P. Pandey, declared by the Court as a proclaimed offender, in Ishrat Jahan case, remaining untraced since 5th May, 2013, and not being suspended by Modi Government, as per the legal requirements of Gujarat Police Manual and All India Service Rules.

14/- The IB’s guilty role in fake encounters in Gujarat is, perhaps, the only instance, in 125 years long history of this organization, of its misuse by a State Government, presumably with the consent of NDA
Government in the years 2002 – 2004. This is a dangerous trend, injurious to federalism, unity and integrity of India. The role of IB headquarters and MHA in this unholy affair should be probed deeper and remedial measures ought to be streamlined.

15/- The President of India is the senior-most servant, soldier, protector and Dharma Yodha of the Constitution of India. Therefore, I, humbly appeal to you to initiate appropriate steps to prevent and
neutralize any move from Government or non-governmental groups or persons, from impeding CBI investigation in Ishrat Jahan encounter case and other fake encounter cases in Gujarat. Any action to anoint IB officials, accused of collaboration in fake encounters, with the oil of innocence, violating the procedure established by law and through illegal extraneous pressure, would result in IB degenerating into India’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

The pivotal scripture of Hinduism – The Bhagwat Gita - emphasizes the primacy of law (Shastras) in Chapter 16, Sloka 24:- “Law alone determines what is to be done or not and so one should become aware of what is prescribed in law and perform duties accordingly.”

Tasmac chastram pramanam te karyakarya-vyavasthitam |
Jnatva sastra-vidhanoktam karma kartum iharhasi ||

With profound regards,

Yours faithfully

R. B. Sreekumar

To,

Shri Pranab Mukherjee,
Hon. President of India
Rashtrapati Bhawan
New Delhi - 110004

Copy with compliments to:

Shri. Manmohan Singh,
Hon. Prime Minister of India
152, South Block,
New Delhi – 110011

Extra-judicial killings: frightening administrative failure in Manipur

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

The Commission of Inquiry, constituted by the Supreme Court of India, in Writ Petition (Criminal) 129 of 2012 [Extra Judicial Execution Victims Families' Association and Another (petitioners) Against Union of India and Others (respondents)] and Writ Petition (Civil) 445 of 2012 [Suresh Singh (petitioner) Against Union of India and Others (respondents)] has filed its report to the Court on 30 March 2012. The investigation by the Commission, chaired by Justice N. Santhosh Hegde (retired Judge to Supreme Court and former Solicitor General of India), having Mr. J. M. Lyngdoh (former Chief Election Commissioner of India) and Dr. Ajai Kumar Singh (former Director General of Police, Karnataka state) as members, has categorically shown the true face of law enforcement in Manipur. The Commission's report, a summary of which is reproduced below, confirms the ugly reality of impunity behind extra-judicial executions in Manipur.

In the seven cases that were inquired into, the commission has found:
(i) that in all cases the security forces have blatantly violated the law and procedure and have engaged in cold-blooded murder;
(ii) the use of disproportionate force against the victims by firing at them even at close range, repeatedly;
(iii) the negation of the legal procedures, even by administrative officers like the Executive Magistrates;
(iv) the open and uncontrolled possibility for wanton use of authority, including fabrication of or destruction or tampering of the evidence and the crime scene; and
(v) the abysmal failure of the draconian law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), coupled with the perpetual imposition of emergency under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, that has perpetuated loss of faith of the people in their government and institutions and has in fact precipitated only more loss of life and violence in the state.

The Commission, however, has not dealt with issues like psychological trauma that grips the population, when scores of people have been shot dead often in full public view by the state, constitutionally bound to provide safety and security to every citizen. Though the subject does not fall sensu stricto within the remit of the Commission, per the order from the Supreme Court, it is however a subject that needs to be understood and addressed in detail should there be any discussion regarding the possibility of finding solutions to the problems of the people in Manipur arising out of state-sponsored terror. The report also misses a vital issue, the gender component, i.e. the problems young widows and mothers face when a husband or son is shot dead by the state and accused a terrorist. That the Commission itself is the result of cases filed, including those by young widows in Manipur; it is an issue that warrants close and careful attention.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) respects the effort of the Supreme Court of India, which has clinically exposed the flaws in state policy with regard to insurgency in Manipur. The AHRC also wishes to express its appreciation of the Justice N. Santhosh Hegde Commission for undertaking the enormous and complicated task of revealing the truth behind 'executive elimination' in Manipur. Both cases are pending at the Supreme Court, and it is expected that the Court will deliver its verdict ordering appropriate relief in the case so that Manipur and its people are no more at the mercy of gun-wielding security force officers, who shoot to kill without rhyme or reason, with impunity.

Extracts from the Commission's findings:

1. On the victims: "I did not know the identity of the deceased even after he was killed. I came to know the name of the deceased after the same was published in a newspaper." This is a witness statement in the inquiry, tendered by a state officer. The officer testified further: "… even if I had not made any enquiry I knew that he was a member of KCP."

The Commission has reported that there is no credible, organised, or satisfactory process through which the security agencies verify the information they receive about a suspect. In this particular case, concerning the murder of Mr. Akoijam Priyobrata, the officer deposed that he would assert that the victim is a member of the KCP since he was found in a place where members of the KCP allegedly reside.

This gross absence of reason or intelligence, against a person that the security agencies allege of terrorist affinities, underlines the common knowledge in Manipur that in a very high number of cases, the agencies shoot to kill persons for reasons ranging from mere suspicion to extortion and later label the incident as 'a terrorist killed in encounter.' This pattern of accusation of victims of murder finds support at the highest levels of state administration in Manipur, including by its Chief Minister, Mr. Okram Ibobi Singh.

Of the cases that the Commission has investigated, not a single case suggests that the murdered victim was, in fact, engaged in terrorist activities. Even high-ranking officers do not have information about the persons executed by their subordinates. In the case of Mr. Elangbam Kiranjith Singh, an officer deposed, "I was not told the name of the person who was to be encountered in the information given by Major Badoni." What is equally alarming is the fact that 'encountered' is a euphemism, used across India and in South Asia generally, for executive elimination. This illuminates the shocking reality that high-ranking officers issue orders to their subordinates to kill persons. Concepts like command responsibility have no meaning in such circumstances when the command itself instigates the crime.

Neither the Government of Manipur nor that of the Union have any data concerning the number of civilians killed or injured so far in Manipur in anti-terrorist operations. When the Commission ordered the government to provide such information, the government responded that there is no official record of such information. This suggests deep culpability of both the Union Government and that of the Government of Manipur in shocking events reported from Manipur. Such absence of information further indicates that the government has no policy in place to solve the Manipur crisis even today and is grossly irresponsible with regard to its constitutional mandate.

2. Concerning procedures: The Commission's findings clearly suggest that the security forces operating in Manipur negate all procedural mandates, including the various directives issued by the Supreme Court of India and the central command of units like the Assam Rifles. The instructions from the Court, first iterated in the D. K. Basu case, and further incorporated into the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 by way of a substantive amendment, are not observed at all. The Dos and Don'ts, spelt out in the Naga People's case by the Court and further transcribed as an operational manual by the Assam Rifles, have been violated, in each case investigated by the Commission. In fact, some of the high-ranking officers who deposed before the Commission even expressed complete absence of knowledge on this.

In the Naga People's case, the Court directed that Section 4 of the AFSPA is no carte blanche for the exercise of unlimited power. Considered along with other facts and in interpretation of the law, the ratio decidendi concerning Section 4 was that the power conferred by the section should be used with exceptional caution, and that the security forces must use only the minimum force necessary to undertake the job at hand. Yet, the Commission's investigation reveals that the officers on the ground do not follow this even as an obiter dictum.

Instead what has been revealed is the gruesome fact that the government is extending the operation of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, as required under Section 4(a) of the AFSPA, almost perpetually in Manipur. This is complemented with the increase in the number of armed forces stationed in the state and the number of extrajudicial executions and/or other violent incidents in which the state forces are involved.

The moot point would be whether this has led to any improvement in the situation in Manipur? With a government that is unable to provide even the number of persons having so far lost their lives in Manipur at the hands of security forces, the rationale, or rather irrationality, of extending the operation of AFSPA and Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Manipur is more than questionable.
Or, as the Commission's findings strongly suggest, is it the very policy of the state not to have a sensible plan for Manipur to address prevailing issues through dialogue? If this is so, it negates the constitutional legitimacy of the government.

The absence of policies and practices, on administrative, procedural, legal, as well as disciplinary oversight that any government concerned about the peace and security of its people and the integrity of its territory should have in place, is further illuminated in the Commission's report.

Dr. Ajai Kumar Singh, former Director General of Police, as well as a member of the Commission, summarises this concern in the report as follows:
"It would appear that successive Governments at Centre as well as State have treated the problem mainly as an issue of public order to be controlled by force through harsh provisions of laws like the AFSPA. If there are prohibitory orders under ection 144 CrPC for decades at a stretch with the AFSPA in force, how are people supposed to carry out their daily activities with a sense of security and peace? There is an overwhelming sense of discrimination in the mind of people and lack of faith in the honesty of intentions of Central and State Governments."

With regard to extremism and suggesting a sensible way of dealing with it, Dr. Singh has said:
"he extremists have succeeded in creating an impression that the Central and State Governments are not serious about solving the problems of the people and want to operate only through brutal force of Army, Para-Military and Police. They (the extremists) then use violence as "the language of the oppressed." Tribal insurgents are perceived as defender of the ethnic identities. People find it next to impossible to communicate with the Armed Forces or Police about disappearances of their kith and kin. The encounters enquired into by this Commission support the perception of the people about brutality of the Police and Security Forces. Extremism is often the outcome of perception (whether true or not) of injustice, oppression and discrimination."

Summarising the findings on the Assam Rifles, Dr. Singh noted that:
"n their write-ups about themselves, Assam rifles claim to be "Friends of the Hill people". They also claim to undertake "People centric projects and schemes". There was nothing in their presentation etc., that would support these claims. The thoroughly unsatisfactory functioning of the tate police has been brought out in the report itself."

The Commission further found, in terms of the procedures to be followed under Section 176 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, concerning magisterial enquiry to be conducted in all cases of death in police custody or police action, that enquires are being undertaken after the lapse of couple of years. The Commission’s investigation also found that judicial enquiries take years to be completed. Such exorbitant delay kills the purpose of the enquiry. The Commission further concluded that the absence of any procedural discipline provides substantial opportunities for state agencies to tamper with and/or destroy the scene of crime.

The Commission has highlighted the callousness with which the authorities deal with accusations against victims killed in encounter. To prove this, the Commission cited a case that it investigated, where the charge against the deceased was that he was suspected of unlawful activities. However, the charge was made after the execution of the suspect, and the case, according to government records is still under investigation against the deceased. The Commission concludes that the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, are abused in Manipur. Anyone shot dead or anyone authorities wish to investigate is charged under the provisions of this draconian law, without reason.

Concerning forensic examinations, the Commission concluded that it is routine practice for such examinations be delayed for days. In not a single case has there been an attempt to undertake a forensic examination of the crime scene. In fact, the state officers who deposed before the Commission were not aware that this is an investigative requirement in each case of extrajudicial execution. In most cases, autopsy examinations are undertaken after long delays.

3. Patterns: In all cases, the Commission found that the state officers did not have any credible, verified, and specific information concerning the identity of the victims. The encounters took place in such fashion that in all cases the security forces have received generic and vague information about a suspect, who, upon being approached by the state agencies, tried to escape and in the process fired at the officers, often one to three shots, using a 9 millimetre pistol, and in retaliation, the officers fired at the suspect thereby killing him.
Often, victims were found to have been fired upon from behind, at a close range, sometimes as close as within 2 feet. All victims have suffered multiple gunshot wounds, ranging from half a dozen to 32 gunshot wounds. In none of the cases, has any security force officer, their equipment, or their vehicle suffered injury or damage. In all the cases, the body has been sent to the hospital and a case registered against the victim, often under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

In not a single case has an investigation, as to the background of the firing that resulted in the death of a person, been conducted by the agencies. In at least two occasions, independent judicial enquiries have revealed that the story proposed by the state agencies was wrong and concocted. Yet, no officer or agency has been asked to provide explanation and no prosecution has been initiated against the officers involved. In all instances, high-ranking officers participated in the action, often sitting in their vehicle at a distance, not direct witness, with messages relayed to the officer through a constable or other low-ranking officer.

Read and understood in detail, these are more than just indications of state-sponsored terror, committed with impunity. It means that Manipur is under the grip of state terror, where executive elimination of citizens is rife. It is a consequential damage, to be expected from such a condition, that the people in the state have become alienated from their government, for which the Union as well as state government must be held answerable. At the very least, the government owes an apology to the people of Manipur for what its agencies have carried out in the name of security.

The state of affairs in Manipur is summarised in the following words of Dr. Singh:
"f one innocent person is killed by police or other security forces in a fake encounter, it creates tremendous upsurge of hatred… people always accurately know who was innocent. People even know whether an innocent person was killed by mistake or deliberately."

The findings of the Court, reflects the collective conscience of the people of Manipur. The deep trauma caused by extreme forms of violence in Manipur, will run through generations, for India and its people, including those who call Manipur home, will have to pay a price. A government that is honest to its constitutional promise has a heavy responsibility to end this violence now, and answer the questions posed in the report, to the satisfaction of the country.

For now, the case before the Supreme Court continues.

16 July, 2013

Flawed bid to clean up politics

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The judiciary, in two landmark judgements delivered last week, severely restricted the right of criminal elements to enter electoral politics.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court, while disposing of two public interest petitions, took away the privilege of retaining their elective posts which convicted members of Parliament and state legislatures had enjoyed all along, holding it unconstitutional.

Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act lays down that a person convicted and sentenced to imprisonment shall be disqualified from holding an elective office for six years from the date of conviction. It, however, permits a sitting MP or MLA who files an appeal against his conviction to retain the elective post until the legal process is exhausted. The court ruled that different standards could not be applied to those who hold elective posts and those who do not.

On Thursday, the court, rejecting an appeal filed by the Election Commission, upheld a Patna high court ruling that a person in lawful custody, whether convicted of a crime or not, cannot contest elections as he does not have the right to vote while in prison and has, therefore, ceased to be an elector.

“The Law temporarily takes away the power of such persons to go anywhere near the election scene,” the apex court said.

Both the judgements were delivered by a two-member bench comprising AK Patnaik and SJ Mukhopadhyaya. Both involve interpretation of provisions of the Representation of the People Act, passed in 1951, ahead of the first general elections to Parliament and state legislatures, held during 1951-52, in terms of the Constitution which came into force in 1950.

Political parties which cautiously welcomed the first judgement as a step towards checking presence of criminals in elective bodies were forced to rethink their position when the second judgement brought home the wide sweep of the cleansing process they have set in.

The judgements have put a question mark over the political future of thousands of politicians who are facing prosecution in criminal cases or awaiting decision on appeals against their conviction. The court has made it clear that the new ruling will only apply prospectively. Convicted MPs and MLAs holding on to their seats on the strength of bail granted by courts are, therefore, safe for the present.

Thanks to an earlier Supreme Court judgement, it is now mandatory for candidates seeking election to Parliament or to state legislatures to file two affidavits, one listing their assets and liabilities and the other disclosing involvement in criminal cases, if any. The Election Commission puts the documents on the web, and print and electronic media report their highlights.

Accordingly, voters have access to information about the antecedents of the candidates but their criminal records do not appear to adversely affect their choice. In the absence of any reliable studies, it is difficult to conclude whether the voters feel intimidated or favour those with criminal backgrounds on the basis of narrow loyalties based on factors such as caste and religion.

According to the National Election Watch and the Association for Democratic Reforms, civil society bodies actively pursuing the goal of cleansing politics of criminal elements, 1,460 persons currently functioning as MPs and MLAs have admitted in their affidavits to being involved in criminal cases. This constitutes a little over 30 per cent of the total of 4,807 elected representatives whose affidavits were analysed. The criminal charges against 688 of them (14 per cent of the total) are of a serious nature.

As many as 305 MPs and MLAs of the Congress party (21 per cent of the party’s total) and 313 of the Bharatiya Janata Party (11 per cent of the total) are involved in criminal cases.

Seventy-four per cent of the MLAs of Jharkhand state, 58 per cent of those of Bihar and 47 per cent of those of Uttar Pradesh have criminal records. The small northeastern state of Manipur is the only one with no tainted legislator.

While the Supreme Court may have acted with the best of intentions, it has unwittingly provided unscrupulous politicians belonging to more than a dozen parties which wield power in the different states a means to subvert the democratic process. They can keep inconvenient rivals out of the poll arena by arresting them on trumped-up charges. This was, in fact, what the Jammu and Kashmir administration did from 1953 to 1975 to prevent estranged former Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah and his supporters from making a bid for power. -- Gulf Today, July 16, 2013.

09 July, 2013

Modi wagon slowing down?

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Has the Narendra Modi bandwagon launched with fanfare weeks ago at Goa run out of steam? So it seems. That however maybe too facile a conclusion. Modi is a never-say-die politician with a record of fighting his way up. Since the parliamentary elections in which he is to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign is many months away, he can be expected to bounce back and reassert his claim to be recognised as the party’s prime ministerial candidate.

What can be safely asserted at this stage is that the Sangh Parivar’s calculation has gone wrong. While younger elements in the party have been enthused by Modi’s projection as campaign head, there is little sign of its old warhorses sharing their excitement.

There are about 10 states where the fight is essentially a direct one between the Congress and the BJP. A better performance in the contests in these states will not give the BJP a big advantage as they together only account for less than a quarter of the Lok Sabha.

Modi has already indicated that he will not spare any effort to fully exploit the double incumbency burden which the Congress is bearing. It is in these states that the BJP’s effort to convert the 2014 poll into a duel between Modi, an administrator with three Assembly wins behind him, and Rahul Gandhi, a virtual novice in the field of governance, may not yield the expected results. The willingness of traditional Congress voters to accept the heir of their dynasty cannot be overlooked. In some of these states, the BJP itself is facing an incumbency problem.

While the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government is vulnerable to attacks on grounds of corruption, it is not as though the BJP administration’s record in several states like Karnataka and Chhattisgarh is any better. With more than one fake encounter case under CBI investigation throwing up evidence of Modi’s political sanction behind the heinous crimes, the attempt to juxtapose the personalities of Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi may not yield the dividend that the BJP is looking for.

As yet there is no sign of any new partner being anxious to walk into the BJP’s parlour to make up for the loss of Janata Dal (United), which had been its long-time ally. The JD(U)’s departure, following Modi’s elevation in the BJP hierarchy, forced by the unseemly haste shown by the Sangh Parivar, has had two adverse effects. One it has reduced NDA to an alliance of Hindu and Sikh outfits, two, it has deprived the BJP of its role as a member of the Bihar ruling coalition.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who proclaimed Modi as a personal friend, has shown no inclination to build a political alliance based on this relationship. Parties like the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee and Biju Janata Dal of Navin Patnaik and the Telugu Desam Party of Chandrababu Naidu, who were partners with the previous NDA regime, are still talking of the Federal Front comprising the state parties. They are all reluctant to tie up with the BJP prior to the elections for fear of losing minority votes. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was not wrong in dwelling on the importance of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the context of the next elections. Together these states command nearly one-fourth of the seats in the 542-member Lok Sabha. The Congress and the BJP both have to contend with the presence of much bigger parties in these states.

There is little chance of the Modi magic in which the Sangh Parivar has placed excessive faith having any impact in these states as well as the ones where the small national parties and the regional parties dominate.

Some early pollsters have indicated that the BJP may have more members than the Congress in the hung Lok Sabha. Ordinarily in such a situation the BJP can claim the first opportunity to try its hand at ministry-making. At that stage it will have to reckon with the stark fact that in Modi it has a leader who lacks the veteran Atal Behari Vajpayee’s affability and appeal beyond the Hindutva frontier. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 9, 2013.

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02 July, 2013

Lessons of a Himalayan tragedy

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Two weeks after floods sowed death and destruction in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, studded with Hindu pilgrim centres, independent assessments suggest that official agencies are more adept at making disasters than at managing them.

The National Disaster Management Authority, established in December 2005 in the wake of the experience of the previous year’s Asian tsunami, is the official agency charged with the task of organising rescue and relief in times of calamity.

A high-powered body, of which the prime minister is the chairman, it has under it a National Disaster Response Force, which functions under the command and supervision of a director-general and superintendence, direction and control of the NDMA. Its vice-chairman, M Sashidhar Reddy, who supervises day-to-day management, is a political appointee. He is a Congress politician of Andhra Pradesh.

The NDMA’s unpreparedness to handle the tragedy resulted in the primary responsibility for rescue and relief operations falling on the armed forces, which have traditionally performed such tasks in times of adversity.

The NDMA has its excuses. It says it asked the Central government for Rs31.75 billion for the NDRF in the 12th five-year plan to train state government personnel and undertake research but was given only Rs12.50 billion. Also, as early as 2009 it recommended to Uttarakhand and other hilly states, located in seismic regions, certain preparatory steps but they failed to implement them.

However, lack of responsibility of the NDMA’s leadership appears to be a graver problem than scarcity of resources. It was only three years after the NDMA’s formation that its national executive committee was constituted. That committee has not met even once so far.

Bihar, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and Orissa have experienced floods and earthquakes in the past eight years. The NDMA’s weakness did not attract much public attention at the time as the fairly good administrative machinery of the state concerned filled the breach.

Carved out of sprawling Uttar Pradesh in 2000, Uttarakhand is a small state with a low population density of 159 per square kilometre as against the national average of 324. As much as 93 per cent of its territory is mountainous and 65 per cent under forest cover. The terrain rendered the rescue efforts difficult but the defence services rose to the occasion.

The air force deployed about 85 helicopters to distribute food and to fly out the stranded to safety. Army personnel quickly repaired damaged roads and erected makeshift bridges to facilitate rescue through land routes. Naval experts flew in to save those trapped in water.

Defence officials took over effective control of rescue and relief operations, making up for the NDMA’s failure. They worked according to a plan which accorded high priority to the sick and the aged in the rescue effort. However, they came under pressure to give special consideration to VIP pilgrims with access to the powers that be.

The Central machinery gave priority to rescue of pilgrims from other states trapped in the disaster area. Several states sent their own officers to Dehra Dun, capital of Uttarakhand, and they undertook separate operations, often using private helicopters, to take their own people home. In the process, the largely poor inhabitants of Uttarakhand, whose lives were wrecked, did not receive due attention for days together. 

Clearly there are many lessons to be learnt from this tragedy, the exact toll of which is still not known. Officials are now squabbling over why there was failure to act on the June 14 forecast of heavy downpour.

The most important lesson to be learnt relates not to management of disaster but to making of disaster. The floods were caused by cloudbursts, which usually occur when rain-bearing clouds rolling up barren hills suddenly collapse. Large-scale denudation of forests has rendered them a regular feature in all mountainous areas of the country. Extensive construction activity has disturbed the stability of fragile areas.

The Ganga and the Jamuna, the two major rivers that have sustained life in the vast plains of India, originate in Uttarakhand. Already there are 170 dams in the small portions of these rivers and in their tributaries that run through the state, and 680 more are said to be in various stages of planning or implementation. Official data indicates the state has lost 5,000 hectares of prime forest in the last 10 years.

Days before the tragedy struck, Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna had vehemently opposed the application of green norms to the state. There is, as yet, nothing to indicate that he and his patrons in Delhi, committed to development-at-any-cost, have learnt the right lesson. Unless they realise the virtue of development as a sustainable activity, such calamities may continue to exact a heavy price. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 2, 2013.