Thursday, May 31, 2007

TV sting shows unholy nexus between prosecution and defense

Maybe the media can do good in this country. There has always been talk of a lot of nefarious things happening in the justice system in the country, and yet, the courts have been seen as the one working system in this country (even with the backlog that is extreme). And now the media has blown the lid of a going-on that seems to pervert the justice system. The facts of the case are simple, Sanjiv Nandan was accused of running down 6 people in his big car in 1999, and ever since then, the case has been moving on and off. He is of a rich lineage, so you can expect realistically that he will eventually be found non-guilty because of hostile witnesses, and not enough police effort.
However, inspite of this cynicism, sometimes things do tend to shock, as for example happened, when one reads of the sting operation carried out by NDTV, where the public prosecutor and the defense lawyer seem to be collaborating in weaving away a witness. If such a thing happened in the US, both the lawyers would be facing serious charges of perversion of justice as well as taking away of their right to practice law. Here, there will be much more debate about whether the sting operation was valid, whether the tapes are genuine, and the crime committed by these 2 lawyers will be forgotten. In fact, the crime committed by the public prosecutor is incredible, given that he is supposed to be fully dedicated to getting the accused sentenced, and yet.. Refer to this article about what is happening now:

A Delhi court on Thursday ordered a probe into the sting operation by a television news channel that alleged collusion between the prosecution and defence counsels to help Sanjeev Nanda, accused of killing six people with a BMW car in a 1999 hit-and-run case.
Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Kumar summoned south Delhi's Deputy Commissioner of Police Anil Shukla to his court at 5 pm on Thursday to discuss the modalities and details of the court-monitored probe.
Khan, who has withdrawn himself as public prosecutor following the sting operation, also sought to substantiate his allegations by submitting several pieces of documentary evidence to the court.
Judge Kumar ordered the TV channel to submit to the court by Friday afternoon all the visuals and audiotapes recorded by it for the sting operation, apart from the names of all the reporters and journalists involved in the sting operation.

It is actually now very easy to believe that such a thing happened, because almost everyone believes that anybody can be bought, no matter how high. The only way to restore some sense of belief into the judicial system is to investigate the matter fast, and if these lawyers are guilty, to give them exemplary punishment. And since the defense lawyer belongs to the Congress party, it needs to be even more careful that he is not misusing this connection.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:12 AM    

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Center trying to get Shibu Soren off the hook

Sometimes, one is forced to believe that many despicable things can happen in the name of power, and that there is no honest politician, not even the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. One remembers how the Government undercut the move to block Quattrochi's money, how they tried to get Mayawati off the hook by getting the government's legal adviser to say that the case can be blocked (only to be blocked by the Supreme Court), and by keeping Mulayam on the hook by threatening to send the CBI after him. And now this; after Shibu Soren was convicted of involvement in the murder of his secretary, and sentenced, the Congress Government is actively trying to get him off the hook in the appeal. And unfortunately, since the appeal will have to be handled from the Government side, there is no saying if he can get off the hook. Refer this article, and see how the judge is having to get the government to present a good case:

The Delhi High Court on Monday slammed CBI for coming up with a sloppy rebuttal to former Union minister Shibu Soren's petition challenging his conviction for murdering his secretary Shashi Nath Jha.
The court pulled up CBI for not doing its 'home work' in a case which the investigating agency has touted as a major accomplishment and used to rebut the perception of its poor conviction record. In fact, the bench found evidence put up by CBI to defend its case against Soren so weak that it was forced to call it a 'fairy tale'.
The rebuke came during the final arguments on Soren's appeal in the Shashi Nath Jha murder case, with a bench comprising Justices R S Sodhi and H R Malhotra sternly telling CBI counsel R M Tiwari, "Don't give up your case like this. As a public prosecutor (PP), you fill the gap in the case."
It made the observation after Tiwari failed to answer a series of queries. "We are giving you a month's time," Sodhi said, "to read each and every line of the file and then argue the case." The case was adjourned till July 6. "No more fairy tale on the next date of hearing, we need hard evidence."
Since I have not heard more about this after this particular article, I don't think that it has been picked up. Shibu Soren was a good coalition partner, hardly making any waves politically. He was a disaster as a minister in terms of getting work done, but since he was a good partner, he deserves all the help.
There is an air of extreme cynicism regarding politicans in the country, and such steps do not help. It is very well possible that in the next hearing, the government side gives the same kind of reponse and Shibu Soren is let off for lack of evidence. In such a case, the judge will proclaim that the government did not do its job properly, there will be articles in the papers for some days, and then the affair will die down with the government having kept its head low. And once he is acquitted, he can re-join the cabinet as a free man.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:46 AM    

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ratan Tata advises Govt to help large projects

Ratan Tata is a pretty famous name in India, being head of a large business group that is well liked and does not have too many controversies around it. So, when he is appointed to be the Chairman of the Investment Commission, you would tend to think that the Government is somewhat serious about bring in investment in India. Unfortunately, bringing in investment in India is not something as simple as showing a rosy picture to investors and then waiting for money to flow in. Investors need assurance about stability of policies, and about simple procedures; no investor is in the game of playing how to beat the bureaucracy; they want preferably a single window clearance for processes. Given the number of countries liberalizing in Asia and other areas, such single window clearance is available elsewhere. Now, in a country such as India, there is a right to expect resistance, and to listen to people; but the present Government displays itself to be extremely weak willed. For one, there is an irrational belief that most measures of liberalization will adversely affect the aam admi (common man), and unless the Congress leadership (including the Madam) can
understand that building large manufacturing and infrastructure projets is a good way of economic development that will improve the conditions of the common man, there really does not seem a way ahead.
Unless they can get this belief and be convinced, they will be forever be held back by the likes of the Mani Shankar Aiyer and the central left (CPM) politburo. These gentlemen believe that all big industry is bad, that any move to increase liberalization is caving in to the Unites States and that our people are better off with the growth rates of the 70's and 80's, when everyone was suffering and hence united.
Anyhow, over with my rant, and back to the story of this article:

Leading corporate house Tata Group's chairman Ratan Tata has expressed concern over delay in various projects in the country in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
According to sources close to the development, Tata in his letter, written in his capacity as head of the country's Investment Commission, said that some government policies were coming in way of some of these projects. Tata in his letter mentioned the ventures announced by Lakshmi Mittal and Korean steel giant Posco in India.

This is actually an article in page 9 of the Economic Times of 26 May 2007. In the paper version, there are actually projects that are held up, such as the steel projects proposed by Posco, Mittal and Tata Steel, with investments of $45 billion. There are energy projects that are being help up due to worries about coal. Some loosening of restrictions in the area of banking and insurance could lead to more money flowing into the country.
Many projects have been held up on account of policy decisions between various ministries, and others have been held up on account of coordination with state governments missing the level of support required to get these projects going. No matter what the specific reason in each case, most people recognize the benefits that would flow in terms of getting such projects. If not here, many of them will go to China, or to other countries. It is incumbent upon the Government to take quick steps to clear these projects or reject them, not leave them hanging in such a manner that the investor finally threatens to quit, like Posco recently did. The Government's flip-flop on the SEZ matter is a good example of where policies keep on rotating depending on who is applying the pressure and what the politics are. We don't need to be like china in terms of absolute decision making, but on the other hand, we should certainly not spend too much time debating endlessly (another example was the time taken on the decision about airport privatization and the contracts).

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:19 AM    

Friday, May 25, 2007

Prime Minster advises frugality in speech to CII

Another attempt to appeal to the aam admi, or an attempt to play to the left gallery ? In a speech to the CII, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh advised that the business fraternity should display a simpler life, and avoid public vulgar displays of wealth, as well as be more careful with setting the salaries of CEO's such that these salaries are kept in control.
One wonders about such advice ? I wonder where the Prime Minister is when political leaders invite thousands for weddings and use state assets for such occassions; witness the marriage of Lalu Prasad's children where babus were galvanised into action, witness the birthday celebrations of Mayawati in the past where massive celebrations where held. Even more, witness the enormous amount of pomp and show that goes into functions held in government facilities such as Hyderabad House (meant for banquets for state guests) and Rashtrapati Bhavan (where money is spent to maintain a figurehead). At leas the money spent by companies is money that belongs to the company; the waste indulged by the governmet is money that belongs to all of us, it is the tax that we pay out of our hard earned money and watch some minister or MP blowing up on a state sponsored junket to escape the summer heat.
Further, in order to make India competitive, it is Indian companies and Indian business that is going to do it, not the Government or its fossil PSU's. The Government has to give up the feeling that it can control what people can do, or even more, do an introspection and recognize that lectures of frugality and dispay of wealth are least suitable when it comes from politicians. A company depends on its CEO to run the business, and the fact that CEO incomes are pretty high is a measure of the importance assigned to the CEO. It is the CEO who is trusted by the shareholders to run the business, and the success or failure of the business is
assigned to the CEO. Just like we pay lots of money to film stars and highly successful sportsmen, the art of guiding a business is a rarified art. After all, power with responsibility is something that does not come easy to politicians; while power without responsibility is something that they can do with their left hand. A CEO on the other hand shoulders the responsibility for successes or failures.
Refer this article to read some reactions as well:

India Inc is divided over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's advise to limit the CEOs' salaries, with CII and ASSOCHAM stating the remuneration should be left to companies themselves while FICCI said it would consider the issue.
"These things cannot be legislated. Shortage of skills in key areas at the top level is a serious and genuine problem specifically in the services industry, which is facing pressure of high salaries," the new president of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Sunil Mittal said.
Prime Minister in his address to the CII had said on Thursday that the industry should ‘resist excessive remuneration to promoters and senior executives and discourage conspicuous consumption’.

These are serious people, dependent on the government, and could not have afforded to laugh in the face of the Prime Minister when he made such comments. It would have been far better if they had used the occasion to question the Prime Minister about such things as the flip-flop over the SEZ issues, about the inability of the government to curb corruption in the country, about many ministries in the government that seem to be not doing anything, and so on. However, I guess when the Prime Minister talks about an issue seriously, they need to take heed.
Of course, industry need to have a social angle to their work and need to make sure society benefits as a measure of their progress, but modern industries have shareholders by the crores who have sunk their hard-earned money in these companies, and would rather that the company do what it can to make sure that it grows ethically; and if this involved paying to get the best person to run the company, then so be it.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:24 AM    

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mumbai Blasts: Life sentence to ex-cop

Finally, the wait is over. 14 long years after the Mumbai blasts, punishments have started coming through. Although, there will still be quite some wait since these judgements are by a TADA court, and will need to go a higher court on appeal, but there is finally some sense of completeness. These will also be testing times for Sanjay Dutt, who has already been held guilty, and is now awaiting judgement. His case is the most media disputed one, since very few people believe that he would actually be involved in terrorism; however, the truth is that since he is well know, people are ready to believe that. If he was an unknown, then the perception (and maybe the treatment would be different). The buzz is that he will not have to serve much more time over time already spent.
Now onto the main part. We have always heard that corruption is a disease, but that it extra money, and does not kill. Well, see one case where it killed. A former police sub-inspector who allowed the truck laden with arms and ammunition to move past his check-point into Mumbai for a chai-pani (consideration) of Rs. 7 lakhs was sentenced to life imprisonment. The TADA court established that V K Patil, who was supposed to check for the very thing that he allowed to pass through, misused his official position and can be counted as an accomplice. Hence no leniency, and truly, there was no reason for any leniency.
This will pass a signal judgement, police officers are meant to protect the law, and if they get corrupt, they can be charged as supporting the criminal act that they condoned. One is not sure whether such a message will get passed through, but if it makes even a few more policemen do their duty more honestly, there will be some good that will come out of all this. Refer this story:

In remarks tinged with sarcasm for his "high courage" for "personal gains", a TADA court on Tuesday handed down the harshest punishment so far sentencing to life imprisonment a former police sub-inspector for allowing a truck laden with arms and ammunition to move on to Mumbai city that was later used in the 1993 serial blasts.
Special TADA Judge P D Kode held that V K Patil did not deserve any leniency as he had misused and abused his official position as a police officer posted at the Srivardhan police station at Raigad and ordered him to pay a fine of Rs two lakh.
The court sentenced Patil to life imprisonment each on the two charges of criminal conspiracy and aiding and abetting a terrorist act and ordered him to pay a total fine of Rs two lakh -- Rs one lakh each for the two counts he was found guilty of.
The court had on Monday awarded 10 years imprisonment to Manzoor Ahmed Sayeed for accompanying gangster Abu Salem to actor Sanjay Dutt's to pick up arms and had on Friday jailed five persons to three years prison term each for their role in helping smuggle explosives arms and ammunition prior to the blasts.
There are a number of places where such a precedent can be used. For example, excise and inspection officials who allow poisonous hooch to pass through which kills and blinds people, policemen who allow a criminal to escape, transport authorities who certify unsafe vehicles and ships, and so on. If we start using such direct attribution where corruption leads to people suffering, maybe things will get better.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:34 PM    

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Indian man seeking maintenance money from wife

A tale of good intentions going amuck. We all know that India is a male dominated society, and the rights and obligations of women depend on geographic location and the societal norms in that area. As per all the reports and news that we read, the condition of women is our society in general is nowhere near a condition of equity. The number of dowry deaths, pressures due to dowry (seen as an entitlement), lower status as compared to males, etc all point to a point where conditions need to improve. These pressures are put on them by both males and other females (example of a mother-in-law putting pressure on daughter-in-law to fall in line, to get dowry, etc).
Now, there are a number of measures that are required to bring about an improvement in this status, some of them being social pressures through movements by NGO's, by the pressure brought forward by sections of enlightened people of both sexes, by people having religious and social stature, and by the government through advertisements, and through passing of measures designed to give opressed women a judicial protection. I have no doubt that there are large sections of women who need all the protection that they can get.
So, there are laws dealing with ensuring women are protected against dowry seeking money grabbing leechs (in-laws), with ensuring that women that are subject to domestic violence can fight back legally (and there are enough cases of women being subject to domestic violence), and with ensuring that women who are left high and dry by their partners don't have to suffer economically (through provision of a monthly maintenance (alimony) in the case of separation).
However, laws passed by the government (and the legislature) are blunt weapons, use them right and they can greatly improve the lot of opressed women, and use them in the case when both the men and women are roughly equal, and they give women a mightly tool that can wreak untold havoc on the lives of their male partners and their families. So let me present a case where a man is fighting back, petitioning the highest court in the land to give him justice, and to bring about true equality. One of the biggest drawbacks with the current laws is that they automatically favour the women (even if the judicial system does try to give a chance to bring families together), and in the case when the male is really not at fault, wreaks disaster on him, and violates the canons of justice, violating the cardinal concept of 'innocent until proven guilty', as well as the 'no discrimination test'.
Here is this man seeking the highest court in the land to get him alimony (maintenance) from his wife, who is placed better than him, and has apparently used the law to try to break him:

Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code has frequently been used by courts to ask men to pay maintenance to wives, children or parents dumped by them.
A petition in the Supreme Court seeks a role reversal — a man wants maintenance from his doctor wife who allegedly deserted him at a time when he was jobless. The Hindu Marriage Act does allow for the payment of maintenance to separated and divorced males who have no means to support themselves and whose estranged partners are better off. But Section 125 of has seldom been used for the purpose.
It was in 2002 that a Rajkot court directed Nagrecha to pay a monthly maintenance of Rs 1,000 to his wife and daughter even though she is working as a doctor. This order was upheld by the high court and the apex court, his counsel H A Raichura said. He said the petitioner was sacked by Reliance in 2002, as he had to take frequent leave to attend as many as 15 court cases in three cities filed against him by his wife.

This could be a test case where, if the facts of the reported case are right, the man deserves to get maintenance. After all, if the argument is that the law entitles the spouse in a weaker position to get maintenance, then the husband in this case (and every case like this) is equally entitled to alimony.
This is part of a larger question whereby misuse of the stringent laws by women who are actually in an equal position weakens the concept of justice; there needs to be amendments in the law made so that an automatic blaming of the husband and his family does not happen; I am sure that in a significant number of cases, they will be to blame, but incidences of misuse are becoming more apparent as women get more enlightened, and as lawyers see such misuse working without any control.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:25 AM    

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Stiffer fines for traffic violators

One of the ways to enforce traffic laws followed by a large number of countries is by making the fines for offences stiff, thus discouraging people from breaking such laws. So, as an example, if you are caught speeding in the US, you can pay a fine in the hundreds of dollars, and heaven can only help you if you are caught driving when drunk (you can face a night in the jail, a mark on your license or its suspension, and massive embarrassment). And you don't want to be in a country like Singapore if you are caught violating a traffic rule. India wants to join the club of countries where traffic offence related fines are so large that you will be scared to commit one. Read this report:

Your wallet will get much lighter if you are a reckless driver. The government hopes to put the brakes on indisciplined driving across the country by imposing stiff penalties. And for the purpose, it brought a Bill in Parliament on Tuesday that proposes to raise fines and penalties while providing a high compensation package for victims of road accidents.
This Act is now sought to be amended. Road transport minister T R Baalu has tabled the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2007, which proposes the following: While speeding could cost you Rs 400-Rs 1,000 (with a doubling of the fine for repeat violators), drunken driving could get your licence suspended for 3 months besides imprisonment of 6 months and a fine of Rs 2,000 for the first offence.
The proposed legislation also authorises state governments to compound the fines if required. With an increase in the number of hit-and-run accidents, the government plans to hike accident compensation to Rs 1 lakh for death
and Rs 50,000 for partial disability.

Sounds all good and noble, but I am somewhat cynical about whether this will work in the Indian case. There are a number of other measures that will need to be taken if this has to become a reality.
Right now, even with the traffic fines that we have, there is not much of enforcement. Even in major cities, incidents of drunken driving, using mobile while driving, not following traffic lights, and plan reckless driving are extremely common and are not fined. And as you move away from a metro, it becomes even more unlikely that such offences will ever be prosecuted.
Secondly, Indian traffic police are an extremely corrupt lot. How many of us would not have encountered an incident where when caught by a traffic constable, the traffic constable would have offered to take a smaller amount, but without a receipt. If you put stiffer punishments, then that just increases the capability of traffic cops to make money. This will reach a point where the rich will get away, while poorer offenders will get squeezed.
Nowadays, if you are caught, then a person invokes all sort of influences to get away scot-free; I am the son of this minister, or I am the son of this big babu, or my father is this rich guy, or I am this godlike cricketer, and so on. Unless we reach a stage whereby the traffic constable can fine a person without fear and without any worries about future retribution, traffic enforcement will be lax.
I am not suggesting that we do not take such measures, but just by saying that the fines will increase, and hence will result in better traffic (wihout taking measures to control the above tendencies) is a bit naiive.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:43 PM    

Karnataka Government to allow women to work in night shifts

Sometimes one wonders what our ministers are smoking. They believe that their words are like those coming from a god's mouth, being true and the right course of action. Then they feel the full impact of the public reaction to their words, and have to beat a humiliating retreat. One wonders how often ministers deploy their foot-in-mouth syndrome, and even though it makes enjoyable reading sometimes, it can stir debates that one would rather not start.
In the latest example, the Karnataka cabinet beat one such retreat when they announced that the Government would bring in an ordinance to scrap a recently passed amendment to the law that prohibits women to work in night shifts. This sounds confusing, so let me try again; Karnataka had a law since 1961 that apparently prohibits employing women in night shifts. In an amendment of the law passed last month (and ratified by the governor (wonder whether he reads laws that he signs?)), the government enhanced the penalty on those violating the law. The Minister for Labour and Wakf, in a May Day meeting to his party workers, had been exultant about the State Government passing a law that prohibited women from working in night shifts, no doubt anticipating praise for being women friendly. Refer this article:

Karnataka Government on Monday decided to promulgate an ordinance to scrap the law that bans employing women in night shifts, Minister for Labour and Wakf Iqbal Ansari said.
The cabinet on Monday held informal discussions in the face of women organisations demanding abolition of the provisions of the Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments Act 1961 which prohibits employing women in night shifts, Ansari said after the meeting.
In a clear somersault, Ansari said Karnataka had not imposed ban on night shifts for women as such a provision already existed under the 1961 Act. However, in the light of the government's decision to scrap the ban, the recent amendment which received Governor T N Chaturvedi's assent on April 27 and was notified in the Gazette on April 30 will be put on hold, he said.
Addressing JDS workers at the May Day celebrations in the city, Ansari had announced that the government had passed a legislation banning employment of women in night, stirring up big a controversy.

What neither he nor the Government had anticipated was the furore over his statement. Karnataka has a strong IT and ITES industry who have both men and women working in night shifts, and women workers were not easily likely to give up the ability to work in night shifts, a restriction that seems strange in todays world. In the light of such protests, the Government had to quickly rollback its plans and announce this changed decision.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 5:39 AM    

Saturday, May 12, 2007

2 highways and the contrast - Delhi-Jaipur and Delhi-Hardwar

This is a tale of 2 trips, not about the destination but the journey. The contrast is
between a trip on the Delhi-Jaipur highway and the Delhi-Hardwar highway. On 2 consecutive weekends, I went to a resort near Jaipur (called Shiva Oasis in Behror) and then to a relative's place in Roorkee (the last major stop on the Delhi-Hardwar road). The state of the highways could not be more of a contrast, and I was left to wondering that even though these are highways under the control of the National Highway Authority of India, are they symptomatic of the political administrations of these states. After thinking about this for some time, I realized that this connection is worth talking about on my blog.
The trip to Jaipur first went through the new under-construction Delhi-Gurgaon expressway. This is a delayed project, but now that large stretches of this expressway have been constructed, the experience is slowly coming to life for a large number of people. (One caveat: this highway is not meant for slow moving vehicles, cyclists, etc; so there is always a question of what good it means for poorer people. This expressway will have a dual goal, reducing the massive wear and tear and extra fuel costs for both commerical and personal vehicles, as well as making goods transport across states faster; making it easier for pedestrians is something that always seems to be a work in progress). Once you are past this highway, the wonder of the Delhi-Jaipur highway truly comes to life; even with a large number of vehicles traversing this route, the highway seems to be able to take such traffic easily. Even after passing through towns and cities such as Manesar, and others, the highway does not slow down significantly. And you can never compare this highway to a the scarred surface of a rough road, as the number of craters on this surface seems to be limited.
The Delhi-Hardwar circuit seems to be a much worse track. This is also an important circuit, given that this is the main route to the hill towns of Dehrarun and Mussorie from Delhi, as well as a major religious circuit. During religious festivals, the number of vehicles on this road are numerous. Some important towns exist on this highway such as Meerut (with a bypass), Modinagar, roorkee, and Muzzafarnagar (with a bypass). The distances of these two highways are not very different, but the time taken is very different. The Delhi-Jaipur highway would take less than 3 hours, while Delhi-Hardwar could easily take upto 5-6 hours, with a bone jarring ride in many stretches due to immense potholes. In addition, during the sugarcane season, there will be numerous tractor-trailers carrying overloaded loads of sugarcane, slowing down the whole traffic, and if one of these breaks down, the whole traffic soon comes to a grinding halt (in part because the road is very narrow in significant stretches).
Where do state governments come into this ? These highways are after all owned by the NHAI. The reason state governments are involved is because of the need to ensure that all other measures are taken to make these highways effective. In towns are allowed to build on both sides of the highways without control, soon the highway will be a criss-cross of local traffic; if slow moving vehicles such as these sugarcane transporters are allowed to move onto the highway, overall traffic will slow down; if towns such as Modinagar don't have an effective traffic management, it could take upto 1 hour to cross a town with not more than 10 kilometers. It is a state government that realizes the importance of good highways with fast movement of goods; this makes these good cheaper, reduces transportation costs in terms of fuel and wear and tear. One gets a strong feeling that the Rajasthan government gets this fact, while the UP government could not care less.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:40 PM    

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mayawati pulls of a stunner in Uttar Pradesh elections

So the results of the Uttar Pradesh election is out, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has made a stunner of a win. Mayawati has moved towards the half-way mark of 202 on its own, and with the Congress having declared outside support for the BSP, it is all set to form a stable Government on its own. In addition, with the way that political elements in Uttar Pradesh type of politics are, one can count on independents to swing the way of power, and provide more support to Mayawati. Further, splits in established parties to increase the strength is not ruled out.
For elections in states such as Uttar Pradesh, what really counts is the caste mathematics of the voting. The Congress used to have a combination of Muslims, Dalits, and forward castes when it used to win elections after elections. HOwever, over a short period of time, caste politics broke the party's winning ways, and reduced it to an also an after-ran. Now, in this election, the BSP has managed to stitch together a coalition of the Dalits plus a section of the forward castes (primarily Brahmins). This sort of voting on caste lines is not exactly something that we should be happy about, given that it tends to deepen the divisions of caste. But as a pure electoral gambit, her strategy of wooing Brahmins has really paid off; she always had the support of the Dalits, but with more Brahmins voting for her, she is now the next chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
What went wrong for Mulayam Singh Yadav ? It would be hard to say that it was just people getting tired of his administration - it was a general layer of dissatisfaction with the level of law and order in the state, and his inability (or maybe not even attempting to do much) about preventing local strongmen from taking over entire districts. Further, he did not exactly set the state on fire through development; the state's power situation was a mess, water is not exactly something that people are assured of at all times; and lots of earlier bright cities in the state are in a state of decay (with the exception of Noida). Further, he has the reputation of having a hand in every deal that happens - people talk about all these all the time, and a lot of them have been proved almost correct if you evaluate the various controversies that happen in the state over a period of time.
What can this state expect next ? One can be sure that the money making routine will continue in the sense of a large overhaul of the babudom and police services so that pliant people can be brought in. One really does not expect too much to happen otherwise, the only difference being that not too many expect Mayawati to not be corrupt, but she is the unquestioned leader in the party, and does not suffer even a second line in the party heirarchy. One can hope that she has learned from last time, and tries to make this most populus state of the country into an Uttam Pradesh, but with out current cynical level of belief in politicians, you will not find people who really believe that.
It is the unintended measures that could help. In her fight against Mulayam Singh Yadav, she could end up breaking his network of local goondas and make things safer for people, especially because her constituency of the dalits are the ones who are most affected by local bahubalis. One example is Raja Bhaiiya, who must be literally shaking in his boots.
Losers - the BJP and the Congress. The BJP has been stopped in its revival, and is more dependent on the elections in other states now to bring back the feel-good spirit. And the Congress, they lost their vote bank to the 3 other parties, and all the promised Rahul effect went for a toss (although they can still claim that he is building a party for the future). Now they can offer outside support to the BSP without being actually needed by the BSP.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:06 AM    

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A bahubali falls: Mohammed Shahabuddin sentenced to 10 years

Is this a blow for justice ? Maybe. Maybe the active nature of the judiciary in India, however imperfect, will somehow bring about a slow progress for change. We have positive acts by the higher judiciary such as the judgements passed on the Jessica Lal case, the Mattoo case, the probing and questioning by the judiciary on the various acts by the political class such as reservation based on religion, on caste, and so on. Even when balanced by some irresponsible acts by the lower judiciary, the overall movement seems to be positive.
In the midst of all this comes this judgement by the special court in Siwan to the bahubali MP Mohammed Shahabuddin. No one doubts that Shahabuddin is guilty of most of the things he is accused. He is a known terror in the region, a region he runs as his personal fiefdom. He is guilty of employing methods of pure terror to keep other people in check, and he used this terror to ensure that he became the elected MP from the region. And then, Laloo Prasad Yadav, recognizing his special capabilities for manpower and strength, took him in the party.
Further, if police files are looked at, he is guilty of a number of crimes in his native state, ranging from murder to robbery, and numerous others. Yet, he was never prosecuted by the administration of RJD (Laloo and Rabri) because of the benefits he brought them, thus ensuring that the state did not carry out its primary duty of ensuring a terror-free region. It was only under a new district administration and new police chief that his wings were clipped. It is essential that the arms of the state be seen as devoted to ensuring a crime and threat free region in order to bring prosperity to everybody.
Refer this article:

Announcing the quantum of punishment for the controversial RJD MP Mohammed Shahabuddin in the 1999 kidnapping case, a special court in Siwan has awarded him life imprisonment. Additional district and sessions judge Gyaneshwar Prasad Srivastava also slapped a fine of Rs 10 lakh on the MP, who is presently lodged in Siwan jail.
The judge had on May five pronounced him guilty under section 364 (kidnapping or abducting in order to murder) in the case relating to kidnapping of CPI-ML worker Chote Lal Gupta on February 7, 1999. Chote Lal has been missing since his kidnapping and the prosecution could not establish whether he was murdered.

Again, there are very few doubts in this case. The victim was last seen with the accused, and that was the last that the victim was seen. One hopes that higher courts also stick with this judgement, and this would be a landmark where a bahubali is punished for his misdeeds. This leaves out hope for further action against other such people such as the UP politician Raja Bhaiya, and numerous other criminal-politicians present in all parties.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:27 AM    

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Cricket enthusiasm dying down ?

Is the cricket boom over ? There is still wide-spread coverage of cricket in the media, with full length articles in the newspaper sports sections and somewhat there in the television channels, but I can see a massive lowering of interest in the field of cricket. There are colleagues of mine who used to swear by cricket, used to know everything, and when you ask them about the Indian tour of Bangladesh, they dismiss it and want to talk about something else.
Can it really be possible that the world cup debacle has left such a lasting impact ? One can certainly hope so. The Indian obsession with cricket has left a number of other games behind in its lurch. Games in which singular Indians do well to some extent such as chess, badminton, tennis, shooting, etc do well because of the effort put in by these individual sportsmen towards their training, and equally strongly, for arranging for funding by some corporate. Contrast that with cricket where corporates fight over each other for providing funding to a higher level each time a contract gets clear for negotiation.
And we are all responsible for all of this. If you read reports of how the other sports (and their people) are being treated by this country's sports administrators (poor food, bad staying places, horrible transport), and just for a second think that if such things were to happen to our cricketers, you cannot over-estimate the loud outcry's that would be heard. The media would be covering such news for days on end, picking up random people on the street to get their opinion on how such bad administration of cricketing affairs can affect the team.
To get a perspective of how badly this lack of focus on other sports can rankle, do just one thing. Listen to the commentary when the Indian contingent walks in for the inaugration of either the Asiad Games or the Olympics. The Olympics makes it even more clear - when the commentators try to speak about the Indian team, you just wish for the moment to pass. Typically the only thing that they can mention is that the Indian team used to win Gold medals in Hockey in the recent pass. As to this hockey team, it has been under the capture of the super-cop K P S Gill for so long that it is a wonder that the team even qualifies for some of the major tournaments. When a match happens, I really try to stay away from hearing the news because it will about some hockey defeat or the other.
One can only hope for a time when this nation of 1 billion people can come in the top 5 of Olympics medal-winners, or figure in the World finals of soccer; but as long as this country remains a one-sport country, fat chance of that happening.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:34 AM    

Friday, May 04, 2007

Failure at execution of large hydroelectric projects

Not having enough electricity, and criticizing the government for not providing a basic amenity such as electricity? Well, you are right to blame the government. In another sign that the government structure of babudom and its associated organs such as the electricity and power companies are not equipped to do things on time and in budget, a parliamentary panel has concluded that the country's hydroelectric projects have cost 388% to 2,532% more than initial estimates. Read this report:

In a scathing assessment of India’s attempts at building up its power-generation capacity, a parliamentary committee on energy has disclosed that the country’s hydroelectric projects have cost 388% to 2,532% more than originally estimated.
For instance, 35%, or 14,393 Megawatts (MW) of the 41,110MW of new capacity that was to be created in the five years from 2002 to 2007 was supposed to come from hydro projects. But only 7,886MW, or just over half of the planned additions, have come online.
The committee also blames the power ministry for the long delays. “The committee is surprised to note that, in spite of all the measures, there have been abnormal delays in the execution of some hydro projects...The committee is inclined to believe that proper assessment of certain foreseeable factors, such as (those relating to) geology and funds, is not done with due seriousness and recommends the ministry to take adequate steps in that direction.”
While the average lead time of a new hydroelectric power project is around five years, the projects have been hampered due to reasons as varied as delays in investment decisions, contractual problems, land acquisition problems, geological surprises and natural calamities, such as floods.

These are very serious charges. Electricity is the life-blood of a country, and in India chronic shortage of electricty has hobbled agriculture, and industries from the big and small.
Project management for such large projects consists of good estimations, planning to build, and taking care of all the issues that may emerge to slow down the project. Only dedicated people who are responsible for their actions can be depended on to do this.
However, in our structure, with the ministries being led by politicians, and with the amount of corruption and political influence that happens in the execution of such projects, these sort of delays are to be expected (although we should never accept this sort of thing). For such delays, one can be sure that no one will be held responsible, and things will continue as they are.
Large private industries have learnt to depend on their own captive consumption, most small enterprises pay for generator use, and urban areas of all sizes depend on inverters and generators to fill the gap. Unless we bring in more privatisation with such projects being executed by private contractors who are awarded contracts fairly and without political influence, not much sign of salvation can be seen.
Thankfully, such private work has started to happen, notably in the area of road construction, and with the recent award of the ultra-large capacity power plants, things should improve.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 5:02 AM    

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Judiciary versus the Government

There has been a lot of debate recently over the power of the judiciary vs. the power of the Government and the legislature and whether the judiciary is over-stepping itself. Such kind of statements have been made in measured tones by the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the legislature, and in much more shriller tones by the rest of the political class. Now this can be a highly legal discussion, but since everbody in the country will get affected by the shape of this debate, it would be good to take more of a citizen's approach to its. This is actually pretty easy since I am not a lawyer, and hence a legal approach would be beyond me as well.
What defines a country ? A country is defined by its people, and by their rights and obligations. These rights and obligations is what separates democracies such as India, the US, European countries, etc from dictatorships/monarchies such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran (also more or less a dictatorship since the clergy are dominant). Towards this end, we have seen that countries need to respect their constitution.
Now in India (as in most countries), the organs of the state are derived from the constitution. Hence, the legislature, the executive (government) and the judiciary are all institutions that took birth from the constitution. Their roles are different; the legislature makes the laws, the executive is formed from the legislature and is responsible to it. The executive is the one that governs the country, ensuring that development happens, that people's rights under the constitution are protected.
The judiciary plays a multi-pronged role. It is the one that actually enforces the laws, deciding the application of laws. They also play another role, which is that of being the custodians of the constitutions, deciding on whether laws passed by the legislature, as well as actions taken by the executive are compliant with the text and intentions of the constitution. For this, they refer to the actual text of the constitution as well as the proceedings of the constituent assembly where discussions about making the constitution were held.
This second role is all the more controversial. No legislature, puffed up with their own importance, can digest the fact that a court (comprising of unelected people) can overturn a law passed by a majority of the people's representatives. However, it is this very nature of the court that makes its actions necessary. This is the only structure that can protect the rights of minorities against a tyrannical majority. In the past, courts have been a major instrument for and against change. In the US, it were the courts who started the process of racial desegregation; it were the courts who gave women the right to have an abortion. Closer home in India, it is the courts who have been called upon to resolve major disputes such as the disputes about privatization, about the rights and powers of the Election Commission, about whether the actions of the government fit the definition of secular and so on.
In India, because of inaction of the executive, the courts have stepped in far more. Who would dispute with the court over its action in cleaning Delhi by pushing for CNG and removal of polluting industries (over the wishes of the executive); it is the courts who are challenging inaction by the executive in getting the major river cleaned, about getting traffic laws enforced, about taking action in the case of harassement, rape, dowry by defining judgements that act as defacto laws; the examples are numerous.
Where the courts leave themselves open to criticism is when they get party to frivolous cases; the cases against Tamil actress Khushboo, against Shilpa Shetty and Richard Gere, the action taken by Justice Chawla of the High Court in the Bofors case, etc. These are all disgraces, and need to be corrected. In addition, the judgement by the court in the case of the JMM MP's and their money induced voting gave a strong boost to corruption. The Public Interest Litigation is an important route, but it should not be allowed by the courts to be abuse. Similarly, since the executive does not seem to be taking much action on reducing the number of open cases in the country, the court needs to move further in this direction. The example of Gujarat where evening courts have been setup is a good example to follow.
In summary, it is absolutely essential that we stick to our current system where we have an independent judiciary that can prevent misdeeds on behalf of parliament and the government. Else, if the executive feels that the judiciary is a pliable instrument, then we face situations such as the emergency.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:37 PM