Saturday, March 31, 2007

How stupid drivers cause traffic problems

Here I was stuck in another jam on the Delhi-Haridwar highway. And why had this jam happened ? A very simple explanation. This highway is a 2-3 lane highway with no central verge, and there is a lot of traffic on this highway. So, many times, traffic gets a bit slow. And so, what do clever people do ? Seeing that traffic on their side is slowing down, they simply move to the other side of the road (no divider) so that they can move ahead of the idiots who stayed on their side of the road. So, eventually, the road is completely filled with people
all wanting to move to Haridwar.
Of course, these clever people forgot that there are people who also want to go to Delhi, and they will need some space on the road as well. Now what happens, gridlock ! I once spent 5 hours in such gridlock, and was resigned to spend the whole night on the road, since it seemed to be that the gridlock will only get worse as more vehicles arrive. It took the effort of around 10 policemen plus around 15 local youths with sticks and raw language to get vehicles into a single file so that these vehicles could move. There was only one set of people who profited. Roadside vendors on the highway did good business and stayed open for much longer.
This may go away when the highway is widened, but I never can understand how people can do such things, and inconvenience everyone. In some parts of the highway, I have already seen dividers being built, and while building a divider on a narrow road reduces the overall speed of the highway, I can see no immediate way of getting around the jams that happen nowadays.
The same thing can be seen when one is waiting at a railway crossing. People crowd all the space in front of a crossing on both sides of the road, so that even when the rail gates open, it takes some time for the vehicles on both sides to manage to cross to the other side.
Now I have started seeing this inside the city as well. I saw this very recently in the road leading from Ghazipur to Noida. This is a narrow road, and there was some holdup at one end, so traffic was moving slowly. So these smart people started moving to the head of the line in the same way as outlined above, such
that eventually there was no way for vehicles from the other side to advance, and this seemed to be an incredible gridlock. I was at the tail end, but could this mess starting to happen, so I turned around and ran from there (spending 45 minutes in a jam did not seem exactly pleasurable).
Such incidents cause an immense amount of frustation, and I have seen road rage in people who see this happen. I see cars in front of me swerve in order to prevent such vehicles from moving to the front on the other side like this, and seen heated words. It causes even more frustation because you know that you are driving right, and yet see others muck up the whole traffic.
Why does such a thing happen ? Do these people realy not understanding of what they are doing, or do they not care ? It may be that they think in isolation and do not see themselves as really being part of the problem, instead they are just saving themselves in time. This brings me to a related point. Are such people really in such a hurry that they think themselves above all others and can do as they like ? I struggle to think of a solution; the only solution that I can think of is more driver education as well as more fines. Driver education sounds difficult, why would somebody who really does not care for even thinking right while driving even attempt to get more educated ? More fines is difficult to enforce on the highway given that I hardly ever see anybody even remotely looking like a traffic policeman on our highways.
The only possible solutions are:
1. Try and make these roads wider with more central dividers so that such driving can be curbed.
2. Be much more strict with respect to traffic violations, in effect turning cities into zero-violation zones. If people see transgressions being fined often enough, they will be more respectful of the law (which is not such a bad thing at all).
I personally don't think that #2 is going to happen, requires too much effort from the police, and that makes it very unlikely.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:09 PM    

Friday, March 30, 2007

Supreme Court of India stays reservation for OBC's in education

The long awaited judgement in the case about reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBC's) has finally come, and it is not totally unexpected, but the case is not yet over. The Supreme Court had asked the Government during the case discussion about the basis of the data for deciding on 27% reservation, and that currently forms the basis for the judgement.
In layman terms, what does the judgement say ? The judgement stays the implementation of the OBC quota in education primarily due to two reasons:
1. There does not seem to be any basis for the Government to declare that 27% is the need for reservation for OBC's. Reading from earlier discussions, it seems like that the Government took the total quota available (50%), reduced the current SC/ST quota (22.5%) and came up with the figure of 27%. In addition, the only basis for the data right now is the census from 1931 (that is, a census carried out when the British ruled India (76 years ago)). Such old data cannot form the basis of any reservation percentage.
2. The Government, inspite of previous indications from the courts, has not implemented the concept of creamy layer while doing these reservations. What does this mean ? It means that these reservations should really be used only for the needy, and people who are already economically well-off should not receive the benefit of these reservations. For example, if a Member of Parliament's child was to receive these benefits, it is making a mockery of these reservations, and depriving the truly needy of the benefit of reservation.
These are both valid arguments. Reservations, are a very touchy subject. They promise a lot to one set of people and remove the same benefits from other people. One expects the Government, and indeed the whole political system to be much more careful when making such radical decisions.
However, the past movement on this area of reservations in the educational system for OBC's seemed like a highly rushed through case. There was an enabling law passed to care of a court judgement that prohibited reservations in non-Government aided institutions, and then one day Arjun Singh talked about using this law to introduce reservations for OBC's in education. Once he did this, there was no turning back. Parties that appeal to the OBC vote jumped on this bandwagon, and the implied political pressure on the Congress and the BJP promised that there would be a bill introduced quickly, and no political party in India would dare to oppose such a bill.
Now onto the political impact. The Congress will not get any credit for these reservations, since there a number of caste based parties that will credit themselves for this achievement. The Congress is only likely to move further away from the middle class.
What does the Government do now ? It cannot put this law into a Ninth Schedule that the court cannot touch, since surprise, surprise, the Supreme Court constitution Bench made all the laws in the Ninth Schedule subject to judicial review. For the current, the Congress will be forced to wring its hands in despair since all the parties will subject it to tremendous pressure to make sure that the law passes, and yet it cannot do anything for the present. Maybe this is a lesson for the Congress political managers that they should not try to be extra smart, since in the long run, any such measure tends to come back and bite them.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:27 AM    

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Some impact of the Indian team crashing out of the World Cup

The World Cup is turning out to have more surprises than anybody would have thought when the world cup was just going to start.

First, there was the shock about Pakistan getting eliminated from the World Cup, and then the heinousness of Bob Woolmer's murder that left a pall of shock and gloom over the World Cup. The subsequent stories emnating about the process of investigation and questioning are turning this into a crime thriller in the nature of a whodunit. The whole Pakistani team and a few others are investigated, and numerous other people come up with their own theories, and get their 15 minutes in the news.

Then, for us in India, the shock of India's departure from the World Cup is a shock from which I have yet to see people recover. There is a lot of heart-wringing in the media about how this is just a game, and so what if the Indian team lost, just get over it, it happens. For right or wrong reasons, cricket in India is more in the nature of a religion, and anybody who cannot understand why there is so much public reaction are just ignoring the immense popularity and fan following of the game (at the same time, people resorting to violence need to be condemned).

Unless the cricket team gets back to its winning ways, there is going to be a lot of repurcussions. Everybody wants some accounting for this performance, and asking for Sharad Pawar's resignation is not going to lead anywhere. Similarly, asking for Vengsarkar's head due to he being the head of the selectors is not going to do anything. People in the firing line are going to be the coach, and some players. For the first time, I have seen people seriously question about the utlity of retaining Sachin in the team, and even an year ago, such talk would have sounded like blasphemy.

There are going to be immense business decisions due to this loss as well. For some time now, the BCCI and ICC have been getting richer due to sponsors willing to spend more for the TV rights of tournaments, and there will likely be a real hit this time due to much reduced sub-continental viewership. In addition, there are daily reports about companies that have had significant adverising riding on the World Cup pushing for rate reduction, or for trimming their budgets. Already, a number of world cup related ads are now off TV.

Sporting sponsorship contracts for players are likely to get more performance linked as companies may not be willing to get locked into a 1-2 year contract, and then find themselves in a soup with the player under-performing and not having much utility in ads.

Other sports may find more money and attention depicted on them. For example, in the case of chess and golf, we have people who have had great achievements, and promise of much more, but there is hardly any focus, and the same for a number of other sports. These sports can definitely benefit from greater focus and public support.

This all comes with a rider, given the fickle nature of the Indian public, it can easily happen that the Indian team does very well in their next encounters over the next few months, and becomes the darling of the masses again.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:47 PM    

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Delhi summer ahead: Electricity and water ?

The summer season is almost on us, and boy, does this summer promise to be the season of discontent, in terms of basic amenities. In Delhi, last summer was a killer in terms of eletricity and water availability, and this summer would be no better.

Power cuts were a daily feature, with the only variable being the time and period for which power was not available. This actually spun off a whole industry with sales and maintenance of inverters and generators providing livelihood to a large number of people. There are so many things that can be done:
1. Delhi has a very high level of Transmission losses, and somehow Transco's are not being set tough targets
2. In many areas, equipments such as transformers are aged, but somehow the upgradation does not happen
3. How aggressive is the Government about buying electricity for Delhi's needs?
4. More incentives for setting up of power plants, and utilization of alternate sources such as solar and wind power?

Water availability in the city is anyhow a mirage to a large section of people. Water is not available enough for everyone, and the variables in this case are:
1. To those to whom it is available, what is the frequency
2. How many people get unsafe water due to low maintenance of water and sewage lines (and the inter-mingling)
3. How often will politics prevent Haryana and Uttar Pradesh from supplying water to Delhi ?
4. What about the large number of unauthorized colonies that are legalized by the political class, and which have zero or inadequate water supply
5. Can there atleast be some synchronization between the power and water department, and issues like last year where power was also cut to water plants prevented?
6. When will Delhi authorities actually do something to implement mandatory water harvesting to push up the water table (and utilize the rain water), as well as enforce the laws against the current practise of sinking as many tubewells as necessary?

These are all failures of the current Congress Delhi Government (as well as the BJP opposition). They get all united when there is any kind of movement on enforcing laws like sealing, but when it comes to doing some kind of actual governance, they are totally slack. The normal expectation is that a responsible Government keeps on having a lookout for what the needs of the city are, and plans for them in advance such that a situation like this cannot happen. But in our case, our totally incompetent politicans will not do anything like this, and now they come up with excuses such that they did not anticipate the growth, and hence the shortfall. And this only came up when they were asked by the court as to what they intended to do. Useless people. And as for other important stuff such as cleaning our rivers, as far as I can remember (which is atleast a couple of decades), there have been plans to clean the Yamuna and Ganga. These holy rivers remain as polluted as ever, but I am sure that some of the money for cleanliness made it to the right spots (diverted).

We are all equally to blame. It is true that people get the politicians that we deserve. How many of us ever ask the questions that we need to ask, why did our politicians not do the things that are expected out of good governance? Maybe the right thing to do is to ask this question of Delhi's Chief Minister, Madame Sheila Dixit. She has been chief minister long enough that all these shortcomings can be laid directly at her door. But is our polity developed enough that we have a medium where such questions can be asked and the politician made to feel responsible for their inactions? I don't think so, otherwise it would never have happened that we go to the courts through the PIL route for getting such answers.

But one sometimes feel totally powerless to do anything that could shake our politicans. What can a common citizen do? Any suggestions?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:17 PM    

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bob Woolmer's murder. Betting mafia ?

The story of Bob Woolmer is getting stranger and stranger. Cricket has always been known as a gentleman's game, with good manners, not much of uncouth behaviour, and mostly well behaved cricketers epitomizing all that is good about cricket. Even the people in cricket who were seen as bad boys such as Ian Botham, Shane Warne, etc, were not seen as bad characters as such, but more with a streak of irresponsibility.
And then the first saga of match fixing came onto the scene. With its immense popularity in the sub-continent, and the presense of the Indian diaspora everywhere, betting on cricket achieved astronmical proportions, with the mafia also getting involved. Cricket match-fxing was first seen as something that was simply not possible, and people hinting at this were people who had no idea, and such a thing could possibly not happen in this gentleman's game. And then the police and other official investigation started finding links that could just not be coincidence, and famous cricketers started falling to the chorus of guilty.
Some of the most famous ones have been icons in their own right such as Hansie Cronje, Azharudding, and Jadeja.
But if you read about the figures of betting involved on major games and tournaments, the amount of money involved is around the total sales of some of the major companies in the Indian sub-continent. Such money and the presense of criminal elements raises the stakes immensly. With such money involved, every game that turns the other way or happens in a way that causes upsets is seen with suspicion, and every inning that terminates suddenly with a rash shot causes those hidden thoughts to rise. It is after all a lot of money, and after the fall of great cricketers in the past, it is no major effort to think about money having swayed decisions.
Bob Woolmers death is all the more suspicious. His body was found in suspicious
circumstances, just after a shock defeat of Pakistan at the hands of a rank upstart like Ireland that pushed Pakistan out of the tournament. His room had signs of vomit and blood, and after his autopsy and further forensic investigations, his death has now been ruled as a homicide. In addition, the Pakistani cricket side has been asked to stay back for a bit more time, and there are reports that given that he was the coach of the Pakistani side, the team members have been questioned independently and may be asked to provide DNA samples. Read this news article:

The Pakistan team's stay in the West Indies has been extended by a day or two for reasons not known yet, sources in the Pakistan Cricket Board said on Friday.
They were scheduled to take a flight out from Jamaica on Saturday but now this might be delayed to Monday or Tuesday," a well-informed source said.
He, however, said he could not say for certain if the delay was due to the ongoing
investigations into the murder of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer, who was found dead in his hotel room on Sunday.
"I don't know if it has to do with the investigations but their departure is going to be delayed," the source said.

This investigation has now pushed the world cup into a lot of controversy, given that a murder investigation, with suspicions of the betting mafia being involved will overshadow every other event of the world cup, and people will find it hard to forget this horrible incident. One can only hope that this murder is investigated thoroughly so that all the hidden angles are also brought out.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:06 PM    

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Beneficial development of the Muslim community in India

Yet again the Congress party tries it out - why does it consider that the Muslim community will fall under its spell and vote en masse for them in the UP elections?

In a conference attended by Muslims, the Congress party made the same promises that it has been making for some time now: it will give Muslims reservations in jobs, will implement the Sachar committee report, and overall will work towards the upliftment of the Muslim community.

If the Congress was actually serious about bringing the community up economically, it would leave aside these gimmicks and try and take some serious measures. The Government knows that religion based discrimination is never going to pass court approval, and now that the cover of the 9th schedule has also been thrown away by the Supreme Court, there is no way that the Congress can pass a law without it getting challenged in court.

In addition, trying to split the OBC and Scheduled Castes reservation quota will be opposed by those who are currently gaining from these quotas (whether these quotas actually benefit is another question altogether).

What should the Congress be doing ? I should re-phrase this question - what should all concerned people be doing about trying to bring a community (that is a significant minority in the country and equal citizens) to be able to share in the economic growth and prosperity in the country?

What ails the community? In not too many words, the number one problem is education. Make sure that the Muslim community (actually all citizens) have access to good quality education for their children. However this entails making sure that there is a thrust on providing facilities for all, as well as making sure that education standards are followed, teachers are made accountable, etc. As this starts to happen, there will be an appreciable increase in the economic prosperity of the Muslim community as they will start to get a more proportionate share of the job market.

The next major issue that needs to be improved in overall improvement in the quality of the areas that they live in. Like all other depressed communities, a significant section of Muslims live in areas that do not have clean sanitation and healthy living standards. Now, this is primarily a matter of leakage of funds. Municipal authorities have enough funds to make a major improvement in living standards (as the example of Surat after the plague scare shows). It is more a matter of making sure that these funds are properly deployed and there is a good auditing (with citizen communities if necessary) to make sure that these funds are properly utilized.

Another major problem has been that a lot of Muslims have been self-employed in the past (artisans, small scale industries, etc), but with greater consolidation and industrialization, a lot of these sections have been badly hit. The Governments (central and state) need to take up the matter of making sure that there are alternative methods of employment available (easier loans, more training programs, etc).

Finally, as part of a policy framework, the Government has to inculcate a no-tolerance zone towards any kind of discrimination against Muslims. This includes acting against the kind of economic boycotts that have been seen in Gujarat against Muslims, making sure that clashes and riots are rigidly prevented and trouble-makers, no matter what the religion, are acted against.

What the Congress instead is doing is trying to take public, short term measures for political gain. It will not reap any benefits. Instead, if they keep on taking measures that start offending the majority community, they will be massive losers in the political space. After all, we do need to realize that this slow pace of economic growth of the Muslim community has mostly happened during Congress rule.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:42 AM    

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Avoiding Another Nandigram in the Push for Industrialization

The present Government is in a pretty bad situation when it comes to trying to jump-start industrialization. Everybody quotes China to the Government when it comes to attracting investments to the country; policies followed by the Chinese Government include making massive investments in infrastructure; providing numerous incentives to industries including land, resources, cheap labour and preferential tax treatments.
A lot of these are of course possible because the political structure of China is dictatorial whereby decisions are taken in a jiffy, and then enforced. There is not much choice about whether to agree with these decisions are not, if you disagree, you mainly keep quiet.As an example, if a project on the scale of the Rail line to Tibet was being planned, one could be sure that such a project would never take off in India. It would involve large scale environmental impact, and varied other concerns. Similarly, a mega-project such as the Three Gorges Dam could never come up in India. The environmental impact of the Three Gorges project is truly on a massive scale, and most of the impact is not positive. In India, the Sardar Sarovar dam project (which is on a smaller scale) has undergone massive delays due to concern about the impact, and due to state indifference about resettling of the refugees. This is the price that we pay for democracy. However, I have always felt that India's policies have always been inclusive to a fair degree, giving people an outlet to express their opposition, and this has often been compared to a pressure cooker situation, whereby if you don't give an outlet, the pressure will explode.
This is akin to something that is happening in China on a regular level, with around 80,000 reported incidents of peasant and rural clashes with the authorities over land acquisition (and other policies) in the previous year.
The current situation in West Bengal is threatening to break this inclusive discussion habit that we in India have. In the violent incidents at Nandigram yesterday, there is an eruption of discontent. The whole evolution of the situation shows the wrong policies that have been followed. The West Bengal government wants to bring about industrialization of the state, and that can happen only when agricultural land is taken over for setting up industries. One common myth in this is that taking over agricultural land this way will reduce the agricultural output of India. The truth is that the amount of land sought for such purposes is a miniscule fraction of the total agricultural and (much less than 1%). It is also true that agriculture is at the bottom of the economic scale, and societal income only increases when industrialization happens, with the setting up of ancillary units and more employment.
The problem is, such land acquisition needs to be thought out and done on the basis of the land owners and tillers agreeing to provide the land. What should happen is that the policy of land acquisition should compensate people who will be affected by this move (which means that in addition to land owners, others such as the landless tillers and those getting employment off the land should also be compensated). It is also important that the state not get into this business of acquiring land, instead land acquisition should be done by the private party (subject to the above policy). This will ensure that land compensation is more fair market, and reduce the political pressure that the state faces when a political opposition decides to oppose the policy.
In West Bengal, the CPM has been in power for so long that it believes that it is always in the right (the arrogance of the just). Hence anybody opposing their policy is always politically inspired, and in the wrong. Even when having to buckle down, as the West Bengal CM did when facing tremendous pressure, it has been a very grudging climb-down, and the feeling always has been that the backing down is only short-term. Yesterday's incident, when police fired to prevent a mob from becoming violent, is a result of that fear. It would have been more prudent for the West Bengal Government to user their political organization to convince people of the benefits, instead the cadre has always given an impression of being set for a confrontation. I have always felt that Mamta banerjee's agitation has been politically inspired (refer my earlier post), but the West Bengal Government has made it so easy with their ham-handed tactics.
What will be the net result of this agitation? Political parties, ever so fearful of public pressure and impact on 'aam admi' will try to slow down push towards SEZ. There will be more curbs, SEZ's that are not impacted by such agitations and problems will also get caught in such traps and slowdowns, and will give the impression of another flip-flop. And for the people of Nandigram, in the long term, they will be losers, since the benefits of industrialization and economic growth will happen in another district.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:03 AM    

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Media coverage of Arun Nayar's marriage

Finally the 'royal' shaadi is over. Most people will guess correctly that I am talking about the marriage of Arun Nayar and Liz Hurley. When the functions related to the marriage were ongoing, the media coverage was incredible. I am sure that it was very important to the couple to enjoy the marriage, and may have been important to cover in terms of gossip, but it never made sense to me as to why national newspapers cover this event on the front page. I know, I know, give the news that readers are interested in, and gossip is one major part of that, but that is what inside pages are for.

The Television channels are even worse; it can get pretty funny sometimes. Something happens during the marriage, and you browse the news channels, except for the stock market channels (and a couple of others), every channel will have the same thing on their top stories list. At such times, one wishes for some political event to happen, so atleast there will be some variety in the coverage.

I wonder why this coverage of celebrities rankles me so much, maybe it is because it seems so non-serious. So two important personalities who do not live in India got married in India (although one of them is of Indian origin), and the coverage they get is incredible. What would have been nice to see are some inward looking stories about why there is so much press madness over celebrities. There were only two issues related to the marriage that came out - what were the various events that were happening, and how the poor journalists were mistreated by the security arrangements. This second part always makes me smile. The media wants to cover such events as if it is their birth-right, and if the concerned parties want to prevent this wide coverage and hire security, of course there are bound to be clashes.

From what coverage I have seen outside India, there is also media madness about celebrities, so the international media is no different in that respect. The difference that seems to be is that there is a section of the media that concerns itself to be about serious issues, and will avoid all these celebrity events and other such non-events. In India, I am yet to see such a differentiation in our print and visual media. The only exception to this celebrity chasing that I have observed is from the weekly magazines such as India Today and Outlook.

Any guesses on what the next such item is going to be? You guessed right - the marriage of Abhishek and Aishwariya will be tne next such media explosion. From news about this marriage and the World Cup Cricket, you will not be able to get any other news in any detail.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:37 AM    

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Following traffic laws in India

Ever driven in Noida? If you have, let me know whether you feel an experience like the one that I feel quite often. I consider myself to be a fairly law-abiding citizen, including following traffic rules. So I drive to Noida through a route from East Delhi that passes via some of the older sections of Noida.
What are my experiences like ? I reach a traffic signal, and since it is red, proceed to stop. First time I did this, there was a screech right behind me, and the car behind me just managed to stop in time. The driver looked angrily at me. Now I admit that the signal was relatively free, which means that there were no vehicles coming from the side where the traffic signal was green, but I always believed that red meant that I had to stop, not try to figure out that red meant that you can decide whether to stop or now.
This happens on a regular basis. Sometimes I also get swayed by the moment, in terms of if a traffic signal is red, and cars on my side are proceedings to carry on, I get embarassed about stopping and also carry on, but I always feel guilty when doing such a thing.
Of course, now I have learned enough that I slow down before stopping completely at a red light, so that any vehicle coming behind me has enough notice that the fool in front of him is actually going to stop at a red light and he can move so that he can avoid me. The experience is incredible, you are stopped at a red light, and you feel so foolish since all the vehicles to your left and right are merrily proceeding through the signal.
The biggest problem that I see is that this is not the only case where a traffic signal is broken wilfully, people will drive down the wrong side if it is shorter for them, will use a mobile phone even when driving in peak traffic without a worry, and in some absurd cases will actually expect you to give way even if they are breaking a red light and you are driving safe. At such times, you would really love to have the ability to be able to give our traffic tickets to all such offenders; but far from that, the people who should be doing this duty idly stand by and watch it happen. There have been so many times when a person has broken a traffic light, and the traffic policement does not even make any attempt to stop such a person.
Now, the propensity to disobey a traffic signal is universal, but the reason why traffic is so law-abiding in developed countries is because the law over there is seen to be getting implemented. You break traffic lights, and at some point you are going to get prosecuted and charged an amount which will make you think twice. In India, the chance of getting caught is minimal, and even if you are caught, the charge is such that the inconvenience of the police action is more than the financial impact of the fine.
Getting people to obey the law is an important part of developing a society, and unless people know that the law is going to be implemented, and is going to have an impact on them, there will not be a respect for the law. It is a cornerstone of making a society that is based on laws.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:42 AM    

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Bofors case make a public presence again

This week Bofors raised its profile in the Indian media again. This is a case that keeps on
coming back again and again in the public profile, akin to the phoenix rising from the
ashes on a regular basis. The Bofors case has now been in the public arena for over 2 decades, but with every action, there seems like somebody (the Congress and its leader) has something to hide.

If you take the case of Mr. Q, he seems to lead a life blessed by the Government of India. He was allowed to escape from the country without being prosecuted against, then the BJP government let him escape from Malaysia by not contesting the court decision that went in his favour. And in the most disgraceful incident, the Additional Solicitor General in January of last year had told the UK High Court that money frozen in his accounts could be released, which promptly happened. There was an incredible furore when that happened, but as with all politics, when the issue ceased to be a hot issue, it was dropped from discussion.

The whole Bofors case has always stunk. Initial investigation by Swedish Radio and by The Hindu had revealed that comissions were paid, and the investigations and horror over the scale of this corruption contributed in no small matter to Rajiv Gandhi's defeat at the hands of VP Singh in 1989. It is another matter that VP Singh turned out to be an extremely divisive Prime Minister, and was not able to take any step forward in the Bofors investigation.

The Bofors investigation has gone through several ups and downs, but it can now be considered to be conclusively down. There have been numerous court judgements that have exonerated every body who was suspected to have been involved, and the major conclusion has been that investigating agencies have never followed up this case with due diligence, instead submitting to the whims and fancies of the political masters on this issue. Mr. Quattrocchi is the last person involved with the case who still has some manner of a case against him, but given that the CBI did not want to reveal that he had been arrested in Argentina for a number of days after his arrest, I am not too hopeful of anything really happening to move the case forward.

Another angle from this is that the CBI, being the premier civilian investigating agency of the Government, really needs to be independent in operation, and not influenced in thought and action by what a minister desires. I am sure that in some case or the other, the Supreme Court will eventually get the CBI to be independent, but till that time happens, the CBI will be hampered by political influence.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:28 AM