Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Goa assembly vote shows clear bias

Goa has been going through a period of turmoil for many years now. Given that there are only 40 members in the assembly, and the 2 competing blocs of the Congress and BJP are not far away in terms of distribution of seats, there is the potential for a lot of horse-trading and governments getting over-turned. In the past, the Governor and the speaker would play key roles in fashioning a government as per their political affiliations. However, with the courts and the media getting more attentive on issues of horse-trading and bias shown by the speakers and the governor, the incidence of such misuse had decreased.
Well, no longer, since the current situation on Goa has turned all these beliefs upside down. In a test ordered by the Governor as the first business of the day, the speaker in an interim order disqualified 3 members from voting and with this change, the Congress managed to retain victory. Now, there was a hope that the Congress will provide a stable administration, but those hopes flew out of the window when 3 members moved out of the Congress side. But this action by the speaker on behalf of the Congress has just made things worse. This issue will be sure to go the courts for further decision-making:

Goa speaker Pratapsinh Rane has sparked a fresh controversy. That the speaker had not showcaused two MGP MLAs— whom he restrained from voting— was cited as a major infirmity in Rane’s case against them, and raised fears of judicial rebuff.
As soon as the House met, the speaker granted the petition of Congress MLA Agnelo Fernandes, who had filed a disqualification plea against two MGP members. Citing clause 2(b) of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, the Speaker restrained the Dhavlikar brothers (Ramkrishna ‘Sudhin’ Dhavlikar and Pandurang ‘Deepak’ Dhavlikar) from participating in proceedings, denying them voting rights. Yet, as MGP is not part of Congress and was only a member of the ruling coalition, it was unclear how the clauses were applied to it.

In the past, the courts have taken on the cases where bias has been displayed by either the governor or speaker, and have not desisted from harshly criticizing actions that they feel are with malice or bias. The action by Buta Singh some time back falls in the same category. When this issue comes before the courts, the politicians will no longer be able to even complain about judicial intervention in the legislature, since these actions show clear illegality.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:57 AM    

Court letting minors elope and marry

Sometimes the Indian legal system does things which make you wonder. Over the last few years, there have been a series of judgments that have changed the concept of age of marriage and age of consent of sex. My generic understanding, and I would think that of the public is the following:
A female cannot get married until the age of 18, and a male cannot get married until the age of 21. Linked, and yet somewhat separate is the age of consent for having willing sex, which is 18 for both. So a boy of 19 can have a sexual relationship and not yet get married. The corollary to that is the age restrictions, which is that a boy or girl under the age of 18 is considered to be not of the age of consent, and hence not qualified to agree to sex. Put another way, if a boy or girl under the age of 18 has sex, then the law would believe that even if they had agreed, because it is considered that such agreement could have been under an influence and hence invalid, a rape has occurred.
This is also a concept that a lot of parents will agree with, because except for those sections where child marriage is considered natural, parents would want their child to develop into an adult, have a certain amount of education, and then get into a romantic or sexual relationship with or without marriage.
However, over a period of time, this concept has been slowly eroded in court decisions, where the move seems to be that if a person has willingly agreed for a relationship, then the court should also consider those views. So, an example, read about this judgment:

It is not an offence for a girl under 18 to fall in love or desire to marry her beloved, a city court recently held while acquitting a man charged with kidnapping and raping a minor.
Additional sessions judge Kamini Lau held: "...The 17-year-old prosecutrix (the girl) has a right to protect her feelings from the onslaught of her parents and the society. If she had run away to save herself from such an onslaught with her love, this in the view of the court is no offence."

At a certain level, this case should seem to be fine, after all, if a couple in love run away and get married, then the parents will try all measures including levelling rape and other charges so as to penalize the boy and get their girl back. However, at a broader level, the force of such judgments will eventually change the logic currently used and allow all such relationships, including undesirable ones, to flourish.
An example is a case where a family pushes their 16 year old girl to marry a 22 year old boy, because they feel that she is now of age, and anyhow she does not have a future other than to be in a happy marriage. In such cases, if the girl agrees in court that she loved the boy and married him (under any influence), then these precedents can be quoted. It defeats the efforts that are being made to ensure that the girl has a chance to reach adulthood, and be able to take her own decisions.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:01 AM    

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Domestic Violence Law faces some fine tuning in a judgment

After the Domestic Violence Law was faced, there was immense controversy about whether the law would help save the fate of innumerable women who face dowry claims, who face abuse in their households over whether they they give birth to male children vs. female children, and about their overall status in the household. Sadly, a lot of this abuse is also directed at them from other females in the household; or whether the law would end up being misused. No clear answers, but 2 separate stories. As an example, read this article:

It is a horror story of sorts. Two Vadodara women, who could not bear the macabre torture meted out to them by their husband for not bearing a son, have escaped to Ahmedabad to get their gut-wrenching tale heard and dealt with.
"I was being forced to abort this child that I am carrying. I refused and was being put through hell," mumbles Sunita, who is weak from years of beating and torture. She says that she went to the Padra police station a couple of times to register her complaint but fearing her husband, who is a goon, the police did not take it. All hell broke loose for Kajal, who was tricked into marriage by Rajesh, when she too delivered a girl child.
He told her he was a bachelor. Rajesh hung the baby, Khushi, when she was just over a month old, upside down in an attempt to kill her! Narrating some of Rajesh's torture methods, Sunita and Kajal say nails were hammered into their ears and chilly powder mixed with hot spices forced into Sunita’s private parts - all because she had borne a girl. And the worse - Rajesh reportedly made them drink his urine!

Now, I am not putting the whole article here, so please read it from the link above. Assuming that all the facts of the case are true, this is a true case where the husbands and family members complicit in this act should be severely prosecuted under the act and when found guilty, sentenced for their misdeeds.

At the same time when this news came out, here is another news that seeks to define some fine-tuning that a court in New Delhi has done under the Domestic Violence Act. Read this story for more details:

A court here has dismissed a woman's complaint against her in-laws under the domestic violence law, saying she could claim right of residence and maintenance only from her husband. Metropolitan Magistrate Nirja Bhatia rejected the application on the ground that the woman's husband was maintaining a separate residence and a perusal of records showed that he was capable of providing a life of dignity and peace to her.
Neetu, a mother of three, however, did not implead her husband, who had been reportedly living separately from her for some time. She claimed he earned very little, a plea that did not go down well with the court. Citing an apex court judgement, the court held that the complainant had the right to claim residence and maintenance from her husband and not from her in-laws.

The court has taken a fair amount of care in the case, clearly taking the facts of the case into account and putting the relationship as one that exists only between the husband and the wife, and legally not being able to bring the rest of the husband's family into the dispute if they are not clearly involved.
This is a fairly complex case where the women prima facie seems to have used the strong rights vested in her to try and bring his family also under control. But, the good point in this case, (incidentally the judgment being delivered by a female judge), was to go into the merits of the case and not blindly go by the testimony of the complainant.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:16 AM    

Nurse uses RTI to penalize officials for delay

For some time now, people and organizations working to promote the use of RTI as an instrument to bring the babudom in check have been advocating the use of RTI by people in a more wide spread way. Frequent use of RTI for ferreting out information, along with penalizing officials for failure to carry out their duties is the only way to sensitize the bureaucracy towards their responsibilities.
The best way to do is to keep on bringing out success stories of the use of RTI, thus making sure that more and more people feel that they can also use this act if they are struck with something in government and they are getting the run-around or not getting satisfactory movement.
The below example is a fabulous example. It is the story of a nurse who was getting the runaround for getting her leave encashment settled for over an year; first RTI helped in getting her dues cleared, and a secondary RTI petition helped in identifying the babus involved in the delay and getting them penalized for the delay.

Vijaya S Mulay, a retired municipal nurse, filed a query under the Right to Information (RTI) Act which sought to track the movement (or non-movement) of papers pertaining to her retirement dues. The papers had been pending with the administrative department of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for more than a year.
The RTI response revealed the names of the officials who 'sat' on the file for months together. The format also gave a detailed reply which showed where the papers got stuck and for how many days. Following her RTI query, the civic authorities were forced to take action against the errant officials and penalise two BMC employees for the delay.

I ask people to read the story that is linked. It describes how this tenacious nurse, frustrated over the delay in her application, used RTI most effectively. And she was not satisfied only with getting her dues, but wanted to catch the babus who sit on such requests, not caring about this affects the people.
The amount that they were not penalized was not much, but the fact that a censure was made and their names highlighted in the newspaper is a public punishment. It is a reminder that people in government, no matter what their position, are meant to help the common man, the citizen of the country.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:20 AM    

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Supreme Court CJ proposes increase in judges

India has the distinction of probably having the largest backlog of cases in the judicial system. This backlog contributes to a common perception that using the legal system is a waste of time, people avoid the legal system and curse their luck if they get stuck in a case. Common perception is that there are innumerable delays with easy adjournments, that it could take a decade to clear a case. This is also the reason why people would do anything to avoid getting stuck in a case, including all means of corruption, of using muscle power, and so on.
The judiciary as well as prominent legal experts have been highlighting for some time that there are essentially 2-3 reasons for this huge number of cases;
- The Government is a ligitator in a large number of cases and does not try to do anything to clear this backlog or withdraw the frivolous cases
- India does not have the system of plea bargaining and the concept of out of court settlements that help reduce the number of cases in the system
- India suffers from a problem of a large number of judicial posts lying vacant at all levels, and somehow the overall impression is that the Government is not serious in trying to overcome this backlog
So, in a function to lay the foundation stone of a new court building, the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court laments the same issue about the vacancies judicial system, and the need to actually increase the number of judges in the system:

Laying the foundation stone for a combined court building in Chennai, the Chief Justice said he had received recommendations from various courts for increasing the number of judges and he has a proposal to increase the strength commensurating with the number of pending cases in each High Court.
The number of cases pending in the High Courts were 48 lakh and in the Supreme Court it was 31,000. The backlog of cases was the major problem faced by the courts in India. The reason for the pendency of cases was allocation of insufficient funds to the judiciary, he said. While the Delhi government allocated one per cent of the total budget to the judiciary, the average allotment in other states was zero point 78 per cent, the Chief Justice said.

This is a serious issue, but one that has remained open for a large number of years. Various law ministers have proposed solutions over a period of time, but no one has actually taken concrete steps to do something. The mess in the Indian judicial system is one that should be a high priority for the country, but nowhere do you read this being mentioned as problem of high priority. Occasionally it comes up, but there is just not the desired focus in a way that would prod the Government to actually do something.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:54 AM    

Friday, July 27, 2007

Man convicted of rape only based on victim's testimony

I was reading this article in the TOI today, and I read this article about a man being convicted of rape. Now rape is a very serious crime, and especially in Indian society where a girl's rape means that she suffers grave dishonour (inflicted by society) in addition to the attack on her self-respect and confidence. And rape is also seen as the subjugation of a women. It is a matter of such great shame that it is hidden many times with the lady left to deal with the emotional trauma on her own. The number of reported rapes per year are in the tens of thousands, and needs to be controlled. So I read the story as a case of a person having committed this attack being punished. Then as I read further on, things started getting troubling:

The Supreme Court, which has always treated the testimony of rape victims as sacrosanct, has gone a step forward in convicting a rapist solely on a girl’s statement even when medical evidence showed no intercourse or any injury to her.
‘Though the report of the gynaecologist pertaining to medical examination of the victim does not disclose any evidence of sexual intercourse, yet even in the absence of any corroboration of medical evidence, her oral testimony, which is found to be cogent, reliable, convincing and trustworthy, has to be accepted,’’ said Justice Panta, writing the judgement for the bench. The judgement reflects the reigning viewpoint that in the Indian context, where rape carries a huge stigma, no woman would like to slap a fake charge.
This view is the reason why the presumption of innocence, which is the defining feature of administration of justice in the country, does not extend to rape cases where the onus of proving his innocence is squarely upon the accused.

This decision was very troubling. Rape is a serious crime and needs to be punished, conviction levels need to be brought up, and potential molestors and attackers need to be shown that the law will have no mercy on them.
However, to put the onus of proof on the accused is a major problem. The cornerstone of justice is the presumption of innocence, until proved guilty, and this precedent setting judgment has ended up shaking this entire edifice. I do not know the details of this specific case, and whether the accused was guilty, but to convict a person just on another person's testimony is very troubling.
It will get even more troubling when this rule is extended to minors such that a testimony by a young child could be enough to send a person to jail for a long time. There is too much of a threat of mis-carriage of justice in this approach.
The court may be right in its belief that no women would like to take the stigma of rape, but the fact remains that one wonders whether this will be true 100% of the time. I guess not; just like any misguided person or evil person, it is possible that an adult women can, under the pursuit of a vendetta, accuse her enemy of rape and present a set of circumstantial evidence that will convict the other person.
It would also seem possible for the conviction to be based on the police force, in the sense that the rape happened in inadequate light, and while the rape happened, the victim is not able to clearly identify the accused, except for the fact that the police bringing forth a person and telling her that her attacker is the one.
What is needed is to improve the rate of conviction through old fashioned police work and forensic science.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:00 PM    

Changing portrayal of women in ICICI ads

Advertisements that we see around us are a good barometer of how society treats its members. The subject of fairness cream ads and their demeaning effect on women, especially ambitious ones who are dark skinned has been covered in numerous debates in the past. It is an accepted fact that those ads are meant to sell the concept of fairness being a desirable trait, and hence all ads will portray fairness in women in India as a desired goal, whether it be to get a better match in marriage, or to get a better job or a more glamorous job.
Something that is no so obvious is the portrayal of women in other ads such as the ads dealing with banking. One good example is the development of ads dealing with the selling of ICICI insurance products. The first set of ads portrayed women who were totally domesticated, without a voice, and who were shown as gaining assurance through the filling of their foreheads with sindoor. These first ads were criticized for a number of reasons such as the concept of showing a lady as totally dependent on the male for security, and who gets assurance only when her male is safe. The vermillion was extended to become the ICICI insurance mark, conveying the impression that ICICI was a way to make the status of women safer. Nowhere was it urged that even women could be insured, or that they were working in a job, or that their status in the family was such that it would be good that even they got insured. Mind you, ICICI has a number of senior executives who are female, and who doubtless are insured.
The next set of ads dealt with the need to save money, and had the catchline of why a person should save money. The prime set of requirements were to finance the son's education, and to get a good catch for the girl and have a good marriage. Again, the same stereotype, with the son needing to get a good education and the girl to get married. This ad was again criticized for the same reasons, and soon enough, it stopped coming. The inherent attitude about what is the priority in the life of a son versus a daughter was still the same.
And now the latest ads, these are somewhat better, but not quite. A wife is pestering her husband to sign the insurance papers, and to his question about what she will do in the event of his dying, the answer is about bringing up the girl child that they have and making her future secure. They cut a small section in the ad where she gave a flippant answer about going on a world cruise, something that seemed like harmless teasing, but apparently ICICI Bank did not think so. In this case, there are slightly more positive changes, in this case, they did not mention the words about saving money for the girl's marriage.
Of course, it will be real change when they start talking about arranging insurance for the working mother, but I guess that such things are still far away even though we have a larger percentage of the adult women working. I wonder whether this is something that other people have also seen?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:59 AM    

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Political turmoil in Goa

Goa has become the latest state to show the classic symptoms of horse-trading. With a total assembly size of 40, it has always been susceptible to horse-trading; after all, with the past election resulting in the parties being separated by only around 4 seats, it is always on the cards that things would change and with the switch of just 3-4 people, the Government in power will totally change, and this is what has happened.
So, in the latest from there, the Congress led Government lost the support of an ally and its sole women member, and automatically the BJP led opposition is now all set to form the Government. This is not a positive trend. Such Governments are inherently unstable, and hence unable to have the focus on good administration. As long as elections are not threatened, the Government does not care for good policies, all they want is to ensure that legislators are kept in good humour, else they land up in situations similar to this one:

The 49-day-old state government was reduced to a minority when one of its allies and an Independent legislator withdrew support and a woman Congress MLA resigned from the Assembly on Wednesday.
The late night development reduced the government's strength to 18 MLAs in the 40-member Assembly. The BJP-led Opposition has 20 legislators.

The other problem with such situations is that individual legislators realize their true worth (highly inflated), and will stop at nothing less than a ministership and all the perks associated with those. If those are not possible, then they will want other posts that carry all the perks of a minister, including an offical vehicle, good official house, gunman, and so on.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 4:21 AM    

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Railways generates huge profits, does not want to invest in saving lives

The Indian Railways has shown a major turnaround in the recent past, with having turned around from having huge losses to starting to show profit. Given the size of the Indian railways, the turnaround is a big plus for the finances of the Indian Government, and has lead to a tremendous positive news for the Railways Minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav, especially after his Government in Bihar and then the Government run by his wife dragged Bihar down into the depths of bad rule and non-development.
Because of the way that Indian Railways is designed in the country, (similar for most countries with some sort of rail systems, especially one that goes to every nook and corner of the country), rail tracks run throughout the breadth and width of the country. In India especially, given the history of the rail system development where the Railways is more than 150 years old, the Railways runs through a large variety of urban and rural areas. These intersect with major and minor roads.
These intersections are the areas where the majority of accidents happen. There are 3 types of crossings happen. The crossings where either the road traffic passes overhead or where the train track passes overhead. These are very safe, and there is no risk for road users. The next are the manned crossings where a railway employee will get notice of a train approaching, and accordingly lower the barriers when the train is about to cross. Here there are chances of accidents as most people are impatient, and will either try to run across or squeeze under the barrier. And then the most unsafe type of crossing is where there is no barrier and no employee to control traffic. The majority of accidents happen here.
These are the types of crossings that the Railways are being pressurised to man, and these are the ones that the Railways are resisting due to a claim of paucity of funds:

The fund crunch cited by the Railway Ministry to express its inability to man all unmanned level crossings drew a sarcastic response from the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
"On one hand you take a lot of credit for posting an impressive Rs 20,000 crore profit and on the other you say you do not have funds," remarked a Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishanan and Justices R V Raveendran and Dalveer Bhandari. It is a matter of concern that 73% of accidents concerning railways take place at unmanned level crossings, the Bench said wanting the railway ministry to take some urgent measures.

The real reasons seems to be the Railways seem to have made a balance between the benefits of manning these crossings and the cost required. The Railways has very ambitious targets regarding building up of a freight corridor and getting more trains as well as prestigious bullet trains. And what is involved if they don't do something about these unmanned crossings ? Nothing much, the current level of fatalities that are happening will continue to happen. In this matter, as long as the Railways can suggest a measure, they should be allowed to do so, but to leave the matter as is is not a solution.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:04 PM    

Blueline buses: Does the Government have a solution ?

This is a mess that is entirely of its own making. Everybody knows that the transport situation in Delhi has been a problem, and given the way that the Capital's population is growing, things are only going to get worse unless some radical steps are taken. And the answer from Delhi's popular Chief Minister, Shiela Dixit over the years? The Government has systematically crippled the Delhi Transport Corporation, letting its bus service deteriorate and basically formulating policies that have let private operators take the lead in running buses on the street.
It is only for the past 1-2 months that this entire mess of Blueline buses has taken hold, but even before that, they and their predecessor, the Redline buses, were known as killer buses. The Government is supposed to be a regulator, and if you take a simple instance of speed governors on these private buses, a special drive had to be launched to make sure that these buses had speed governors installed. Is it not that these buses need to be periodically inspected for safety and for compliance with rules, or is it that the Government looks the other way while the inspectors make money from the bus owners in return for giving them a pass certificate.
Read more »

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:36 AM    

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

States hesitate to obey Court orders due to populism

We all know the extent to which the politicians of the country are dependent on trying to woo their sections of voters. They would like society to be comprised of solid blocs of castes, and religious groups so that they can make policies to pander to these groups and aim to get their votes. No matter that this leads to them doing things against common sense, and against even court orders. Examples of this is the entire reservation drama, the Congress aim to woo Muslims in Andhra Pradesh by reservations despite court disapproval, and the BJP Government in Gujarat hesitating to crack down on people enforcing discrimination despite court orders to do the right thing.
This policy is exemplified by the response of states over the Supreme Court asking the states to bring in laws to make registration of marriages compulsory. And why had the court tried to bring in such a policy? Simple. There are a number of cases where women are fighting for their rights in marriage, for child support, for maintenance. In India, in a significant section of society, women normally are in a situation where they are stay at home, dependent on their husbands for financial support. In most cases, this is because this is the way society is constructed with the responsibilities being delineated in such a way.
Now what happens? With marriages not being registered, there are many cases when the husband could deny that the marriage happened, or make the girl fight for trying to prove such a thing happened. In addition, there are many cases where men commit polygamy, and a lesser number of cases where the girl commits polyandry. There is no perfect solution, but a simpler way to make this happen less is when all marriages are properly registered. In fact, that is the norm in a number of countries where the marriage has to be registered.
So what stops the government in India, whether the central government or state governments, to make registration of marriages compulsory. The Government believes that there is an influential section of the Muslim community, hardliners and the clergy, and to avoid rubbing them the wrong way, the Government will not push for compulsory registration of marriages. Even though the Government knows that poor Muslim women suffer from the inability to prove that the marriage happened in case of a dispute, and it would really help them if they had proof of the marriage.

State governments have been chary of compliance with the court's directive on registration of marriages for the fear of offending representatives of Muslims who have resisted the extension of law to their personal matters — that is, matters pertaining to marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance etc.
The court, moved by the plight of women fighting for their rights under marriage — like maintenance and custody of children, had last year asked the governments to amend the law or frame rules for compulsory registration of marriages and notify them within three months.

And of course, no such thing happened. The Governments have refused to bring any such laws and notify them for fear of alienating the Muslim community. Such a measure would help the community overall, but would provoke elements of the clergy to protest interference and hence the lack of movement on this issue. The issue is just politics, not any welfare.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:11 AM    

Kapil Dev negative on Sachin

The last World Cup broke a number of reputations. While the dismal performance of the Indian team turned away a number of people (including me) from being cricket fans to not being so interested in cricket, it also broke a number of taboos. The prime one was the breaking of the taboo of not criticizing Sachin. Sachin Tendulkar has been the god-like figure of the Indian cricket for the last decade and more, and without doubt, he has a been like a colossus on the Indian cricket scene. But, given the injuries that he has been facing, and the general slow-down in his performance has been noticed and commented upon a lot. In fact, his performance and public acclaim has been reduced to the extent that former cricketers such as Atul Wassan and Maninder Singh, not batsmen of any acclaim, have criticized Tendulkar as part of their job of commenting.
Over a period of time, even though Sachin was setting an incredible number of batting records, there were people who were carping about his abilities. And in the past 5 years, the criticism has only grown. He has been accused of not actually being able to deliver wins to India, and failing when he is most needed. And the latest person to make this accusation is none other than another great from Indian cricket, Kapil Dev:

"Every time people hope big things from Sachin Tendulkar but often it is only disappointment that we are left with. He is thought to be the backbone of the Indian team but many times he has not stood up to the ocassion," he said.
"Figures say that Sachin has not been able to perform uunder pressure. This will remain a blot in his career," Kapil Dev said.
"Sachin has big records to his name but until he wins matches for India in these conditions, people will raise fingers at him," Kapil said.

I can agree with Kapil to some extent. For a generation, Sachin has provided inspiration, but greats need to know when to gracefully bow out. After all, new blood can only come in when old blood makes its way out; even if that means admitting that a great has faded and should maybe make his exit rather than reach a stage where people ask for him to go out.
Of course, people will have multiple opinions on this, including ascribing ulterior motives to Kapil Dev for his utterances. After all, he is now trying to get people to join an alternative cricket league, and one way to do that is to create controversies.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:38 AM    

Saturday, July 21, 2007

An essential reform process: Police reform in India

India needs reform at many levels. There is the need to get away with the license Raj, where the Government believed that everybody needs to live by rules (so far so good), and they cannot be expected to comply with these rules and hence need regular inspection, resulting in incredible levels of corruption. This is slowly going away (slowly being the word). Another area is the need to reform the bureaucracy, the steel framework of India, which has mostly rusted. The bureaucracy in India is one of the most corrupt and tainted bodies, strongly supportive of the whims of the politician, where honest people either wither away or live a life resigned to not making much of a difference.
The biggest area in which Indian society needs to be reformed is the politician-police nexus. Unlikely would be the case of finding a citizen who is not either personally or indirectly been affected by the corruption of this nexus. A policeman is the force of law and order in our society, and has almost unparalleled power, being subject to only either a higher bureaucrat or policeman, or indirectly to the politician. However, this power brings with it a great responsibility, and this is where the police force falls flat. Historically, the police force has been the force of state rule, and this is now entrenched in India. A policeman decides who has done right or wrong, delivers immediate justice (in terms of punishment to some degree); and most importantly, decides whether a person can be spared (even if the person is doing a crime).
And this is where a politician comes into the picture. This power over society can be used to great personal benefit for the politician, and the proceedings shared with the policeman. How does a politician control the police force? Simple, through the power of moving a policeman to a good police station, or to one located in a bad area, or through the power of promotion. How many people have not heard of police posts in important areas not being sold (or policemen paying money to get these posts)? Or, whenever a new party takes over, it orders sweeping changes in the bureaucracy and the police force, so as to bring their own men into power. If the police force were impartial, where would come these concepts of mass transfers or 'own men' ?
Recognizing this, over a period of time, people, including the media and police reform committees have called for police reform. In the meantime, we have had numerous riots where the police force have shied away from their 'supposed' traditional role of law enforces or keepers of the peace, and have instead behaved as being from the same society, taking sides and being totally partial. The 1984 Delhi anti-sikh riots, 1992 Bombay riots, the Bhagalpur blindings, the 2002 Gujarat riots, all these are instances of the dismal failure of the police force bending to the
political masters. It is the army and paramilitary forces in India that are the final enforcers of the law.
In 1996, a case was filed in the Supreme Court by 2 former police heads (ex-DGPs Prakash Singh and N.K.Singh) asking for police reforms. Then a revolution. In 2006, September 22, the Supreme Court, recognizing that the Government and legislature was not expected to pass any accord on police reform that would affect the rights and powers of politicians, passed a sweeping judgment. It has some basic tenets, whereby the power of politicians to transfer police officers from the station upwards to the DGP was taken away (a single step to break away the nexus between the politician and police). This was an unprecedented taking away of the power of the executive and legislature, but enjoyed immense respect, and as you will read below, the court cared little for the screams from the politicians.
So what did the Supreme Court mandate? It ruled for:
- Setting up a State Security Commission to break the influence between the politician and police
- Ensure that police officers are appointed for a mandate of 2 years and also set up bodies to decide and nominate postings and transfers for police officers at different levels
- Set up independent Police Complaint Authorities to look into complaints against police officers for misconduct and serious crimes
It wanted to see compliance in a few months, with states setting up the required legislation to bring these into effect. Another first, with the court ordering states to create specific legislation, and the Central Government had created a nodal bill under the stewardship of Soli Sorabjee, and the expectation was that the states would create bills similar to this bill.
As expected, a number of states, especially ones where the nexus was all-important (yes, you guessed right, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, etc) screamed for a number of reasons. They screamed about the Supreme Court ordering something that was a state affair, they protested that this would make the police force no longer responsible to the people's representatives, they screamed that there are no complaints of political interference, and hence no need for such a measure, that fixed tenures will demoralize other officers, there is no need to bring the UPSC into recommending names for DGP posts, and that the complaints authority will demoralize the police and be outside the existing system. Essentially, what they were all moaning about was the cutting off of the police force selection process from the political system.
Anyhow, even though the states seemed to be getting their way of not following through the orders of the Supreme Court, eventually things seem to be on track. The Supreme Court has made clear that it does not care about the reservations expressed by the various states, and has over-ruled all the objections, and has been following through with the states about their measures for compliance. By May 2007, there were essentially 6 states that were still holding out, Uttar Pradesh being one of them. And then the Supreme Court threatened contempt:

The Supreme Court has directed the Chief Secretaries of six states to file their responses on a petition seeking initiation of contempt of court proceedings against them for not complying with the judgements of the apex court dated September 22, 2006, issued to improve the functioning of police in the country.
A bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices B P Singh and G P Mathur issued directions to the Chief Secretaries of Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh on a petition filed by former UP DGP Parkash Singh, based on which the directions were issued.

Contempt petitions have a great influence in getting the political authority to move ahead on measures on which they have been somewhat stone-walling. There is some amount of hope that if the political authorities do not try to weaken these new measures, we may get a police form that is truly one that can say 'For you, with you', instead of 'from you, against you'.

And in a measure of some progress, one of the states, Gujarat is discussing a bill to implement these measures. As the states start falling into order, one wonders whether it is possible to dream of a situation where the police force is a force for law and order (eventually) and with reduced corruption.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:34 AM    

Friday, July 20, 2007

India's anti-smoking nazi Health Minister

Our dear Health Minister, Dr. Ramadoss has 2 pet obsessions, one being to prevent tobacco from being displayed anywhere, the other being to prevent Dr. Venugopal to be there in AIIMS. The courts and now the cabinet have blocked the Health Minister from taking immediate action against Dr. Venugopal. No matter, he can still proceed on his inspired mission against tobacco.
Now, to make matters clear, I don't smoke, and I believe that cigarette smoking is harmful. The better objective would be to try and make the consumption of tobacco illegal, but that would harm political interests because of the supposed large number of people involved in tobacco cultivation (although the same argument could be be used if you had free-for-all opium cultivation; a large number of people would get involved in opium cultivation and you would not be able to ban it).
And of course, the Government is even less inclined to get proactive in the matter of beedis, which are more harmful than cigarettes.
However, having made my stand clear, I am even more inclined to also believe in the strength of privacy, and a man's/women's home being their castle; subject to no criminal activities taking place, a person can do what they want in their house. And so it seems ridiculous as to how easily a person inspired by the power of righteousness can take whatever action they want and not care about rights of other people:

Forget bars and restaurants, even smoking at home in the presence of a domestic help might invite action from the government. "We are going to take stringent measures against smoking in public places like hotels, bars and restaurants... in fact any place where there are employees," Ramadoss said, speaking at a ceremony here where he was awarded the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General's Special Award for Tobacco Control for the year 2007.
"Even at home, if you smoke and there is a maid present, action can be taken against you," he said. "If you have to smoke, then go to the roads."

This is crazy. To mandate more and more laws that control us, especially what we can do in our house crosses the line. And there is no end to what can happen if you use this law. Suppose you have a party in your house, you will then have to declare in the invitations whether the house is a smoking zone on non-smoking zone, so that you don't then get sued by some guest for the crime of second-hand smoking.
And following from what the minister said, suppose you smoked before the maid came; now smoke remains in the place of smoking for some time; so what would the law say about how often you should smoke before the maid or some other employee comes (maybe you can smoke 30 minutes before the maid comes, but if the weather is cold (<15 degrees) and there is no air circulation (less than 1 m/s) and your windows are not open for more than 5 cm, then you could be classified as still having second hand smoke in your house and hence the maid can get you to spend a night in jail.
This is written somewhat with a jocular nature, and smoking is a very serious issue. People die in large numbers, some in incredible pain due to cancer caused by long-term smoking or by direct tobacco consumption. However, the remedy needs to make sense. It reminds of Sanjay Gandhi's efforts to try to cut down population growth by trying forceful sterilization (a direct application of force that is not appropriate to achieve the direct results).
Western countries are more famous for anti-smoking measures, to the extent that the advocates are called anti-smoking nazis or health nazis, but even they stop at the entrance to a person's home. And of course, I never could understand why we create laws that are bound to fail (a trip in many trains and other means of public transport, especially in semi-urban areas could hell you understand as to how such laws are never followed).
Of course, this is not the first attempt. The Minister earlier tried to get all forms of smoking banned in films and TV, and even though there are chances of influencing youth with images of stars smoking; given the cinematic expressions and involved, and the need to show smoking when it happens normally in society, it is far better to have a voluntary restraint.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:45 PM    

The Third Front suffers a jolt

Indian politicians many times have illusions of grandeur, and in the biggest dreams, they believe that they can create a party that can take a national role. India currently only has 2 parties that play a national role, the Congress (with some support from others) and the BJP (that has the NDA of people opposed to the Congress). The Left can hardly be counted as a national party with stakes primarily in West Bengal and Kerala, and with some power in Tripura, but a has-been in all other states.
Now at a state level, the situation is totally different. Each state typically has a party that is fighting with either the Congress or the BJP, or with both, for power. In such a case, given political opportunism, the state parties will typically tie up either with the Congress or the BJP for elections. The only exceptions to these are mostly Uttranchal, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress and the BJP fight each other without a third party coming in between.
Now, if states have more than one major party, there will come a time when these parties are not aligned to the central party, and this is where the fun starts. Anti-Congress runs in the roots of many of these parties, and aligning with the BJP makes them worry about a drifting of the Muslim vote. If the Samajwadi Party in UP cannot align with either the BJP or Congress, it is Jayalalitha who has burned her bridges with both the Congress and the BJP, the AGP in Assam is anti-Congress and has had a tie-up with the BJP earlier, and so on.
The left parties really do not like the dominance of the BJP and Congress in the national arena since it denies them a voice (their lack of many seats anyhow prevents them from being much of a voice on their own), and they believe that a Third Front will give them more stature (very unlikely, given the mix of personalities involved in the Third Front). So, this time a third front started to form out of the SP, AIADMK, INLD, AGP, with them claiming that they would be equi-distant from the BJP and the Congress.
Looks like all this happened too early, and their own political instincts at state level will make it very different for them to maintain this posture. Indeed, if they really try to be independent, they will get a much reduced section of seats.

Presidential polls dealt a serious blow to a strong bid to erect a non-BJP, non-Congress platform when four UNPA components - AIADMK, MDMK, INLD and AGP - abandoned the alliance's decision to abstain and instead voted for NDA-backed aspirant Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. The political betrayal by crucial ally AIADMK, whose supremo J Jayalalithaa emerged as the face of the UNPA during the strategy sessions, comes only days after their new catch, National Conference, did a U-turn to join the Congress fold.
The unravelling of the fledgling grouping is disappointing for proponents of UNPA as it came at a time when the disparate outfits had begun to gel together. More so, it also came at a time when Left too showed signs of joining hands at a later date, with CPM general secretary Prakash Karat openly stating that he was looking at a "third alternative" for the next Lok Sabha polls. Political compulsions of regional parties appear to have trumped the larger considerations of erecting a non-BJP, non-Congress third front, a platform which Left could be lured to for 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

Any third front will have no common agenda, no common ideology (except maybe that each leader is supreme in his/her own party), and no shared belief other than the anti-BJP and anti-Congress slogans. In reality, such parties also base their support on attacking central parties, and find increased support very easily by joining hands with another third party. India has seen only one experiment work like this in the past, which was VP Singh's experiment, but even that worked only with the support of the BJP.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:50 AM    

Not enough power for Government hospitals

Sometimes one feels that the state of governance in India is really the pits, and we have a long way to go before we can claim to be anywhere near a developed country. We only need to take a look at our critical infrastructure (such as power, water, roads, ports, etc) that are necessary to develop well and provide a good standard of living to our citizens, and to provide a good jumping ground to our industries. It is only the satisfactory development of our industries and economy that can drive up the overall development of the country.
And what is the state of governance in our country? Good governance means being able to provide a good government to people, which in turn breaks down into a number of steps such as being able to provide basic amenities, law and order, and so on. Providing dependable medical care is one of these requirements. But does anybody really think that we are providing a good medical infrastructure to our citizens, especially those who cannot afford the luxury of going to private hospitals. Well, if you do believe that our Governments are behaving well, take a look at this report:

In a shocking instance of poor infrastructure in government hospitals, surgeons of the Tirunelveli Government Hospital in Tamil Nadu are often forced to use battery-powered torchlights during surgeries due to frequent power problems. At least 50 per cent of the operations were done using torchlights in between as lights provided at the operation theatre goes off due to power fluctuation, a senior surgeon of the hospital in Tirunelveli, about 150 km from Madurai, said.
Though the hospital had the latest gadgets for performing dialysis, heart surgery etc, power supply was a major problem, the surgeon said. Dean of the Hospital Dr Hemalatha admitted that there was power problem, but denied operations being performed using torch light. But most of the surgeons at the hospital said "torch light operations are being done.

Firstly, the Government is not able to supply adequate power, a common problem across the country. But this is a man-made problem, with successive Governments not caring to properly anticipate the increase in need for power, and not setting up the required generation capabilities. In addition, most State Electricity Boards (SEB's) are in the red because they have to supply cheaply to many sections of consumers such as farmers for political reasons, and hence are never in a good financial condition.
In addition to these, transmission and distribution losses are an incredible percentage (a criminal wastage), and yet cracking down on power theft is seen as a problem due to political repercussions, and hence we lose a massive amount of power from our generating capabilities.
In these cases, most private sector units have their own power generation capabilities, and hence use generator or bigger plants. And for a hospital, since there is no concept of accountability built into the government run system, a generator can get burnt or spoilt, and yet nobody is held accountable for their responsibility. This needs to change; and it's no wonder that private companies with their concept of setting expectations and responsibilities normally are much better. Anybody who has money will go to a private hospital rather than a Government one.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:36 AM    

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The 93 Mumbai blasts case moves into a decisive phase

Well, actually, make that into the decisive phase of sentencing. The court has already found people guilty or not-guilty, and is slowly moving into the sentencing phase. Till now, the special TADA court has been giving people sentences on the basis of their support to the actual blasts, and the sentences have seemed fairly proportionate. People accused of supporting the crime at different levels have been sentenced to various prison terms, and the gravity of the crime has been matched pretty fairly to the level of conspiracy. Even in that, there are nuances. For example, the police team that let the explosives and arms through for fines were sentenced to varying prison terms; the constables being sentenced to lesser terms than the inspector leading the squad who was sentenced to a much higher prison sentence due to greater complicity. Hence, people in the various gangs who supported the crimes in some way have been also sentenced.
And now the court is actually sentencing the people who have been directly implicated in the bomb planning and convicted of actually placing the explosive laden vehicles at the different locations where the bombs exploded and caused the numerous fatalities. So far, the court has sentenced 6 people to death for these direct crimes; although the fines are a joke. For a person sentenced to death, what is a fine and why would he actually pay the fine ? For opponents of the death penalty, undoubtedly these death penalties are something that could have been avoided; after all many argue that life in prison, with no possibility of ever coming out is far worse. For better or worse, our constitution supports the death penalty, and the court would have no option other than awarding the death penalty.
In addition, these people who carried out the crimes believed that they were avenging the Babri Masjid demolition and the Bombay riots that happened some time later. However, our society cannot accept the concept of people indulging in violence, especially when they have not been directly affected by the violence, and the bombings were carried out on innocents, thus making it clear that the death penalty was justly awarded. The bombings were meant to shake the nation, and hence they were actually an act against the state, thus leaving no grounds for mercy.
But this judgment has some disturbing signs. The fact that even for such a major case, it took 13 years to finally reach judgment was horrifying. A case is also meant to be healing for the victims (including families), and 13 years is a very long time. Our criminal justice system needs to react much faster, without compromising justice.
It was made even more a case of justice delayed due to the nature of the case. The case was filed under TADA, in a TADA special court, and should have got completed much earlier. The idea of a special law such as TADA and POTA was that the cases against terrorists would happen fast, and deliver justice speedily. That has obviously not happened in this case. In addition, this is not the end of the matter, with the convicts being able to appeal to the Supreme Court, and then a final appeal to the President. A delay of upto 10 years is not inconceivable. We need to move things much faster. I will strongly support the appeals system since every convict is entitled to an appeal where an injustice committed in a lower court can be reversed, but the system needs to act much faster.
The other major item pending so far is the judgment to be awarded to the actor Sanjay Dutt. He has been convicted under the Arms Act, and is due to be sentenced within the next few days. One can argue that he was stupid in getting an AK-56 and grenades, when he knew it was patently illegal and that he would be getting it from the mafia, but was he actually involved with the mafia or the bomb plotters? Very doubtful. At the same time, the court cannot keep the actor part or the famous part in mind when it awards the sentence, since it has to be impartial, and decide the sentence based on the actual case. I would expect that he would get around a 5 year sentence, less time actually served (around 2 years); which means some rough time for the actor.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 5:41 AM    

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Indian Muslims and the court system

In India, the concept of a Uniform Civil Code is a very controversial subject. Even though it is not mandated as per the Constitution, it is a Directive Principle to try and bring this about (as per discussions in the Constituent Assembly where it was thought that the aim should be that people of different religions will eventually converge towards a common law). So, in India, it is currently seen as impossible to try and bring about a common civil code for all. Civil code is the one dealing with family matters, with disputes, maintenance, marriage, divorce and so all. Each religion has their own traditions.
However, there have been many social movements in the past to deal with improvements in traditions, especially with respect to the Hindu religion. So, for example, reprehensible practices such as sati (which is actually not even a civil case, but a criminal case), the caste system and discrimination against the lower castes are all illegal, and not sanctioned in any way by the Government.
A 'uniform' civil code is in many a misnomer, one could instead call the steps to have equal rights for all as a common civil code, something that is agreeable to citizens, no matter what the religion. However, realistically, given the state of parliament right now and politics, no such movement could hope to succeed.
In some ways, especially when it comes to things such as adoption laws, rights of women in marriage and in divorce, it is difficult to justify differential treatment based on marriage. The courts are going a long way in this, with the lower courts and the Supreme Court stepping in from time to time to try and correct laws that end up reducing some of the rights that a women should have in a humane way. One example of this was the Shah Bano judgement which the Rajiv Gandhi government over-ruled through a constitution amendment in 1986 after tremendous pressure.
And then I read this article, and even though it was concerning the Muslim community, it was still something that seemed fairly shocking:

In a move to emphasise primacy of Sharia, the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board has sought a review of SC orders which have progressively enhanced safeguards for Muslim women in divorce, marriage and maintenance cases on the grounds that they conflict with Islamic law.
The Board's decision to set up a 11-member 'social reform committee' is born out of its concern over some recent SC judgments. Members point to SC's interpretation of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, in the Daniel Latifi and Others vs Union of India case in September 2001. The apex court has held the former husband alone as responsible for the woman's maintenance. But this seems to have drawn a conservative response from the board which maintains that such a ruling was not in keeping with Sharia laws. A more recent case is of Iqbal Bano in June 2007 where SC set aside an Allahabad court judgment and ruled that a Muslim woman who had been deserted could avail maintenance under section 125 of CrPC irrespective of provisions of the 1986 Act.

This is a very uncomfortable situation. The Board is recommending essentially that some hard-won rights that have been won by women should be kept aside because they conflict with Sharia. Now, it is not easy to condemn the practises of a religion, but many of the interpretation made by the Islamic clergy regarding the rights of women are retrogade, and not deserving the rights that they should have.
In fact, for a modern democracy, it would seem very impossible to have the case of 2 women having very different rights because of their religion. It should be within the rights of any women (or any man for that matter) to invoke the recent judgments and not have to defer to the clergy, After all, this is the same clergy that recently ruled that girls should not have mixed schools, but should study in different schools that are girls-only.
Once we move into this mindset of having religious courts in play, we start going down a slippery path. At some point, any religious practitioner will then be able to easily question the right of the courts or parliament to pass a law that affects them.
This sorts of reminds me of the situation of that lady in Malaysia who was stuck in a legal mire. She was a Muslim, and wanted to marry a Christian. But, she was unable to do so. She was not allowed as per religious law to either convert, or to marry outside her religion. Strange, is it not.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:42 AM    

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Government making reservation in contracts

The Government is really going the whole hog in terms of providing reservations, including in areas not mandated by the constitution. In a petition before the Supreme Court, it has hauled up the Government for mandating reservation in catering contracts allocated by Indian Railways. If you don't really believe this, read this reference:

The Centre’s policy of providing reservation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and minorities in commercial contracts has come under Supreme Court scanner. The apex court has asked the Centre to explain why preferential treatment was being accorded to such groups in awarding catering tenders of the Indian Railways. The court also directed continuation of its interim order. It had restrained the railway authorities from finalising the tenders.
“Article 16 provides for reservation in public employment. Article 15 (5) deals with policy of reservation in education. Similarly, the state is empowered to come up with special provision for the advancement for SCs, STs and OBCs,” the SC noted. “But does awarding of commercial contracts fall within any of the above-mentioned articles?” it asked. “Under which constitutional provision, you (Centre) are giving preferential treatment to minorities in commercial matters?” the court sought to know from the country’s top law official.

These are a series of cases in which the Government's political impulses are being challenged by the top court of the country. If this case continues, doubtless there will be more politicians who will come in and either ask the court to stay off, or ask the court to stay away from operational matters. So a little background in civics. The legislature (parliament) makes laws, the executive (government) is involved in operational details and essentially running the country as per these laws, and the courts (with the Supreme Court at the head) is the decision maker in terms of whether these policies and laws meet the test of being indeed lawful. These tests are done on the basis of using the constitution as a benchmark, as the basis for decisions. So, it is absolutely not necessary that just because the government makes a policy or parliament makes a law, it is absolute. Only a just law is a correct law, and like most countries governed by the constitution, we have the courts as the final decision making body (we need to have a final decision making body).
Now, in this case, the government set out a policy where it decided that a portion of the contracts should be decided on the basis of the caste of the groups applying for catering. In commercial contracts, that too put out by the government, there needs to be absolute clarity, with all entities involved being sure that they have an equal chance as per their abilities, and the current reservation policy is a clear violation of the honesty required in such contracts.
Secondly, from time to time, the courts have always held that reservations, even where held valid, should be held valid only when the creamy layer have been excluded. The creamy layer is the section of people in the caste who are of a significant socio-economic status (such as with quality of education, income, etc) that they don't need reservation to uplift them. Does anybody have any doubt that people applying for railways catering contracts don't already have the required social class and money with them that they don't need any special permission.
My guess is that in this case as well, the government will have no clear reason or statute of law that it can quote for having this policy, and eventually the policy will be declared illegal, along with some more stinging remarks at the political reasons behind such a policy. This policy, especially for something like the railways that is more prominent in smaller states and semi-urban areas, was meant more to be advertised as a political measure, notwithstanding the fact that it was actually discriminatory.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:50 AM    

Monday, July 16, 2007

Govt to try and get stay on reservation reversed

The Congress government is again going to make efforts to get the Supreme Court to remove its stay on the controversial issue of reservations in educational institutions for OBC's.

The Centre has sought vacating the March 29 order. The Centre said, it was approaching with the application for vacation of interim order of March 29 as certain facts and circumstances were discovered subsequently.
It submitted that in case the stay continues to be operative, a large number of candidates selected against the seats reserved for the OBCs would not be available to get admission and would lose precious one year.

The Government still has not answered the 2 main questions about where the data for the reservations that it has put in place is coming from. The last caste census was done in 1931, and the Government is hesitant to admit in court that it will use results from a census done in 1931 (76 years back), that too, done under the British India supervision and with doubtful accuracy, to form the basis for a sweeping educational reservation policy. The fact remains that the Congress has no basis except for political reasons to make these reservations. The figure was decided so that the total number can add upto less than 50%, the threshold that the court has used in the past as the total permissible limit. Crass intra-Congress politics decided the basis for this reservation, and the Congress will continue to pay for it. If it really cared for getting a good education to all, it would provide accountability in terms of getting a good educational system with facilities (not ramshackle buildings) and teachers who are present (rather than a large number of absentee teachers in rural areas); but these things do not pay politically.
The Government still has not answered the other question as well about trying to explain away as to why creamy layers have not been removed from those trying to get the benefit of reservation. The creamy layer, consisting of the privileged caste members tend to have a leg-up in terms of facilities, and corner most of the benefits anyway. So, if educational reservations for OBC's were available with the creamy layer intact, you would tend to find that people in cities, indistinguishable from anybody else (except that they have a caste certificate) will take most of the seats, leaving the poor OBC exactly as they were. Of course, most politicians belong in the creamy layer, so it is impossible to think that they will try and support the exclusion of the creamy layer.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:43 PM    

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Changing nature of India's terrorist threat

India, an exporter of terrorism to the world? That would be an incredible cross for the country to bear, and yet recent events have brought that question much closer to everybody's mind. There does not seem to be much doubt that the recent terrorists attempts in England were the work primarily of Indian Muslims from Bangalore, notwithstanding the Prime Minister's attempted confession of shock at this and his degree of concern over the condition of the families of those caught.
The trail of events seem to lead to the fact that a fair amount of the inculcation into jehadist and terrorist thought had been already there in the minds of the people already arrested. The fact that they were fully indoctrinated during their stay in England does not clear us of the need to ensure that this country does not come under the shadow of international terrorism. India already has too many home grown terrorists of all religions and types (ULFA, Maoists, Kashmiri, Naga, Sikh, etc).
However, and this is a very delicate issue, the type of mass death and destruction that can happen due to the terrorists taking inspiration from a hardline interpretation of Islam is much greater than any other that the country has seen. Kashmiri terrorists of the JKLF type are strong believers in the concept of liberating Kashmir from Indian control, but it is only when the more hardline Islamic inspired terrorism of the Lashkar and its like took control that we saw many more attacks all over the country, especially the ones aimed at creating discord between communities (attacks on temples and mosques).
There are many such organizations in the country that are inspired by a so-called Wahabi path of Islam which believes that non-believers eventually need to be conquered and all nations need to be under one God, Allah. An example of a terrorist organization is the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) that was banned, but even when it was being banned, Laloo Prasad Yadav was in support.
Even now, the Government will be very careful about a crackdown on the areas where such hardline thoughts are being preached, primarily the madrasas. This is rotten justice. If somebody is preaching separatism or jehad or terrorism, measures need to be taken to shut it down and bring such a person to justice, but due to politics, the Government will not take such actions. A case in comparison is the situation in Assam where there is widespread pressure on the Government to take quick and hard action against ULFA, with no concerns about it being an organization comprising primarily Hindus.
If we have to prevent the radicalization of the minority community (and we have already seen an example of how bad that can be in Punjab), then we need to take the required measures to ensure that there is no atmosphere where such breeding can happen, where people can preach jehad or terrorism or separatism and get away under the guise of being a minority.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:53 AM    

Will the Congress try to make a law for reservation in private sector

The private sector in India is one of the least caste or religious conscious sectors. The private sector, at least bigger businesses and not lala companies, are in the business of making money and want the best of talent and could not care less if the first appelation is Mr. or Ms., cannot care less if the last name is a Gupta or a Ahmed or a Yadav or a Das or any other name. I have first hand experience in that, having been on the interviewing and selection board for candidates, and I have never heard any discussion about the sex or religion or caste of employees. Now there can be many naysayers who complain that smaller companies are more discriminatory, or that the number of applicants is itself skewed in terms of ratios of these different castes such that equally qualified SC/ST candidates are harder to find.
These are all spurious reasons. Businesses are in it to make money, and for that, they need the best of talent. In addition, with anti-discriminatory laws so harsh, it does not seem possible that companies can have policies percolating down to the rank and file that promote discrimination. Now, I am sure that it is true that there are lesser candidates of SC/ST who apply, but that is a failure of the education system. We have had reservation of 22.5% for SC/ST candidates since after independence, and we should be generating enough candidates to make their percentage. The main problem is that the Government has not effectively tackled the discrimination that happens in our rural areas where such discrimination against SC/ST in terms of facilities do happen. I have seen numerous villages where SC's are on the outside, and to change things requires more education and strict application of non-discriminatory policies; which is something that the Government in most states as well as the central Government have failed to do. However, it is not a solution to insist on reservation in non-public companies as the minister Ram Vilas Paswan and earlier Meira Kumar were insisting on:

A day after industry leaders conveyed their opposition to job reservation to the PMO, union minister Ram Vilas Paswan said nothing short of a legislation would guarantee work for SCs/STs in the private sector. Saying India was firmly on the road of globalisation, he suggested that the private sector should begin by recruiting SCs/STs in class III and IV category jobs besides imparting training to class I and II employees.
His reaction came a day after the industry chambers led by their respective presidents and former presidents met Principal Secretary to Prime Minister T K A Nair opposed any legislation on job quota in the private sector.

Industry has a social commitment, but this social commitment falls in the nature of enriching its surroundings, its employees, the neighboring environment, the shareholders, and in general, increasing the wealth of the nation. A key way to do that is to marshal its resources in the best possible way. Forcing reservation on the industry, with its attendant problems regarding reservations in promotions (a merit-based system currently), backlogs causing increasing pressure due to need to fill backlogs tends to cause an incredible amount of pressure.
Whenever there is a discussion around reservation, it always falls to the following argument, 'what is the problem in reserving jobs for SC/ST's since they are equally qualified'? This is a circular argument, since if they are equally qualified, then why would they need reservation, and if they are not qualified in sufficient percentage, then industry should not be forced to take them. As always, the Government really has no answers as to why they cannot take the required long term measures that will really benefit SC/ST's and OBC's: namely, crack down on the educational system so that they get equal and great education, and ensure that any form of discrimination is investigated and punished if found true.
Instead, there is going to be a greater push for reservation in private sector, something that the courts will surely overturn if it is passed by parliament.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:38 AM    

Friday, July 13, 2007

Cong supporting Mayawati on Stadium land-grab

The Congress just does not learn. With Mayawati starting to show her true colors, with a transparent land grab that had to be stayed by the court, the Congress is on her side. They need to have as many people as possible on their side for the Presidential poll, and hence this tactic of supporting her. But it seems like doing political suicide. Mayawati seeks the support of Dalits, Muslims, and Brahmins; this was the original voting base of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and other states. Hence for the Congress to support Mayawati means that they have cut off their own voting base and any hopes of revival in UP. In addition, the BSP is liable to take this same vote bank to other states such as Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, and so on, eating away at the Congress vote base everywhere.

Lust for patronage threatens Congress’s revival in UP, with its leaders bending over backwards to appease BSP supremo Mayawati, even as it appeared that the Dalit czarina was milking Sonia Gandhi’s dependence on her. When Congress could have easily watched Mayawati’s tightrope walk from a corner, the voluntary help extended by UPOA has alerted the central leadership, which, however, wants to keep mum till presidential polls.
Congress failed to emerge as a serious rival to SP despite its untiring efforts. BJP also came a cropper for the same reason, leaving the field open to a highly motivated Mayawati to stamp herself as the sole challenger. Congress insiders attributed the party’s failure to pull itself back on the rails in UP, despite Rahul Gandhi leading the charge, on its state leadership’s failure to project itself as an opposition party.

Same issue. The politics of patronage are so strong in states like UP that people will do whatever is required to keep on enjoying the fruits of power, political morals be damned. Of course, this simply means that the long term plan of a Congress revival in the state is all the more difficult.
And of course, any hopes of a changed Mayawati coming to power this time are gone. Already there are numerous stories of transfers, naked requests for money, and now this. Notwithstanding the fact that Uttar Pradesh does not really excellent sports facilities, Mayawati, in a middle of the night operation ordered the emptying of the stadium in Lucknow and its inclusion in the Ambedkar Park, sports couldn't matter more. And the reasons for doing this, some flimsy reasons. And except for the media and parties like the BJP, other parties would not utter a word. The left were conspicuous by their silence. It was only the high court that came to the rescue of the stadium and budding sportsmen by staying the operation of the Mayawati Government. My fear is that the next 5 years will see many more such land-grabs and other outrageous happenings committed by Mayawati.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:18 AM    

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Indictment of the political leadership by Dr. Abdul Kalam

The political parties no longer care about him, and some of them will even condemn him, now that he has just a few days left in office. But, try as you can, you cannot dismiss the impact that Dr. P J Abdul Kalam has brought into the largely ceremonial role of President. Now, by statute, the Indian President is mostly powerless, with basically 2 independent powers.
- To select the Prime Minister in the case of a hung parliament. However, this is no longer a case where discretion can be used. With a vigilant media, and with the Supreme Court ready to take cases related to the appointment and dismissal powers of the President, the President can only take a logical decision.
- To return a bill that the President does not consider as right. This is also not an absolute power, since the legislature is capable of discussing the Bill and sending it right back to the President in the same form as it was received. As was seen in the Office for Profits case, when the President sent back a bill, many MP's reacted with fury, and essentially the same bill was sent back to him. In addition, the Congress leadership decided that this was an indication that the President is not a compliant President and has made a direct attack on Mrs. Sonia Gandhi (since she was the chief beneficiary of the Bill).
So, anyhow back to the topic. In mind of the fact that the President of India is a glorified figurehead, our current President has enthused a lot of people. He has done many tours around the country, tried to inspire children towards the future of the nation, and so on. He has done much better than the last several Presidents, who were mostly sinecures for the position, political people who could be trusted on to do the right thing and not make any waves.
Well, this President has given a speech that should be seen as an indicator of what a person in his position thinks. In a speech at the launch of the e-court system in New Delhi, the President actually spoke of the judiciary being a model of excellence, specially when compared to the other arm of the state, which is the executive / legislature.

“Our society is going through unique dynamics due to the shortage of leadership with nobility. The only hope the nation cherishes and looks to is the judiciary with its excellence and impeccable integrity... This casts a very heavy responsibility on the entire judicial system to live up to the expectations reposed in it and to maintain the sacred aura attached to it unsullied. Qualities of honesty and integrity are synonymous with each member of the judicial system,” he said.
Describing the country’s judicial system as “dynamic” and “throbbing with life”, Kalam said “as the ultimate protector of human rights and the final resort for dispensation of justice, the citizens of India look up to this institution with hope.”

Even though this is something difficult to accept, it is true. Our political system is rotten to the core, with corruption being stained throughout the system. It takes a person no less than the President to make such a point, and yet I don't think that anything can change so easily. We continue to elect people on the basis of caste, creed, religion, or political affiliation, and this is not going to change.
And the other thing which he said, about people looking to the judiciary with hope, totally true. Even though the judiciary has also been linked with corrupt practices, it is still a better institution than other state institutions. It has tried to reverse the trend of corruption, to put a break on laws that were implemented for crass political reasons, and numerous other activities of a similar nature. Eventually, if we continue to see our political system as unresponsive, people are going to go the courts more and more for salvation.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:42 PM    

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Police inaction in the Pooja case in Rajkot

Pooja Chauhan in Rajkot
Quite a few people would have seen this photograph in their morning paper (TOI) from a few days back, and been shocked by it. In a conservative city such as Rajkot, such a form of protest would be all the more shocking.
The facts of the case are about a married woman making allegations of dowry and harassment against her husbands and in-laws in her marriage of 3 years (that too, after a love marriage). She alleges that the police have not acted on her complaints, of course without adequate proof, it is difficult to confirm, but it is quite likely that such a thing would have happened. Read about this:

Conservative Rajkot went into convulsions on Wednesday when alleged mental and physical abuse by her husband's family drove a 22-year-old woman to strip to her underwear and walk through the city in protest. Pooja Chauhan said she had taken to this unique protest after being constantly harassed for not bringing dowry and bearing a girl-child.
Sources said police inaction on her complaints had driven her to stage such a protest. "When her complaint against her in-laws failed to evoke any response, she tried to immolate herself at the office of the police commissioner last Friday but police personnel stopped her," said a source in the commissionerate.

It is not hard to believe that such a thing could happen. The police force in our country has stopped being an effective instrument of law and order, acting only when they are prodded by the courts, or by massive public pressure. Left to themselves, they will act as per politicians, or as per whichever party to a case can provide them more benefit.
Just to say that nobody can really comment on the case till things are very clear, there was another report on the same issue, this time about a previous case where also the police did not act. This case was filed by her husband the previous year,

In what is being seen as a damage control measure by the police, an application against Pooja Chauhan, filed with the police on April 12, 2006, by her husband, surfaced on Saturday.
The 'freely' distributed application by her husband, Pratapsinh, however, had not evoked any interest then among the cops concerned, who had recorded his statement and then forgotten about it. It is the content of these applications, which have raised doubts among many here about the twist being given to the Pooja case.

Without going into details about the case, it is noteworthy to evaluate that such things would have been getting repeated on a periodic basis in police stations across the country, where police either do not file FIR's, or file them and take no action, or take action when they are either prodded to or paid to (although action could be a negative action).
How do we get out of such problems ? We need to make the police more accountable, and that is the crux of the problem. Currently, the police is not accountable except where politicians are involved or some major case has a media spotlight. We need to make sure that states are signing up to the Supreme Court mandated police reform as a first step, and then an oversight mechanism can be setup to make the police be more of a people's force rather than a law unto themselves.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:42 AM    

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Congress gameplan for Muslim quota in AP

The Congress government in Andhra Pradesh is at it again. After being rebuffed by the courts earlier in an attempt to implement a separate reservation quota for Muslims, they are trying again. The constitution is clear, reservations were only considered due to the centuries of discrimination against the Scheduled Castes and Tribes resulting in their being very repressed, and reservation could be one of the measures to bring them up. Because no one wants to be seen as removing reservation, it is likely to be with us for a very long time.
However, what causes a problem is when the reservations are seen as a pure political tool, and this is what the Congress is guilty of. The reservations for OBC's were also first implemented by V P Singh as a move to checkmate his ambitious deputy Devi Lal, and have been sought to be extended in the education area by Arjun Singh as a measure by the wily thakur to get a support base for himself. However, the Congress, being a broad based party has always suffered from not being able to fully tom-tom its reservation agenda due to fear of alienating other castes (as seen freshly in the Gujjar-Meena issue). In this case as well, the Congress will end up with egg on its face.

The Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to promulgate an ordinance on 4% Muslim quota, despite it having been struck down twice, is seen as part of Congress strategy to gamble on a clutch of double-edged issues to consolidate its support base for bigger battles ahead.
The Congress leadership is anticipating judicial intervention even though the state has repackaged religious reservation on Mandal lines, as passed by the AP cabinet on Wednesday. The insistence on Muslim quota, despite serious apprehensions, may confound observers but a senior AP leader said it was meant to prove its commitment to the community’s welfare. Having won the points with Muslims with three attempts, the state is unlikely to push it further in case of a fresh judicial roadblock.

This is pure politics , and nothing else. In order to show the Muslim community that the Congress is the one that is concerned about their welfare, the political party will try to do something that they know is not going to succeed. But as usual, these are short-term measures.
In order to get actual development of the Muslim community, the Government (Congress in this case) needs to take actual measures that result in development, such as providing good education, helping the artisans who are affected by rapid industrialization, providing good role models, and so on. The basic problem with reservations is that it provides a good handle to the political community to claim that they are working for the benefit of disadvantaged communities without having to do any actual work.
In addition, this move to separate the Muslim community based on reservation benefit available or not is deplorable. Hinduism has tolerated in the past severe discrimination among its adherents on the basis of caste, but Islam has severe strictures against any discrimination among its adherents, and the state should not try and implement some. It is time that the Muslim community saw through such pretenses and favor people who actually work for their benefit.
But the Congress will continue on this line, it needs to line up support for the AP next elections in 2009, and with its relations with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti on a nadir, it needs more measures; apparently just working for people and improving their lot is not enough.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:58 PM    

Friday, July 06, 2007

Buried infant rises from grave

No, this is not the story of a miracle. This is actually a very sordid story that brought out a lot of problems, none of which have immediate solutions that can prevent such a thing from happening again.
So what happened, well it's a short story of the tragedy kind. A farmer saw some dogs trying to dig a pit out of which a small hand was projecting. He must have been shocked, but he chased the dogs away and dug open the pit, and what did he find? He found an infant female (2 day old), alive and crying. He alerted the police who took her to a hospital.
Why was she lying in the pit ? Because she had been deliberately buried in the pit by her grandparents, as she was the 8th female grand-daughter and he would not have been able to take care of her. So he tried to bury her. Don't believe this ? See this link.
I really was stuck speechless after reading this. A child is the most precious thing in the world, and for a caring society, ensuring the welfare of children, especially when they are unable to take care of themselves, is one of the primary responsibilities. To attempt to take a life is a crime, and it is a morally reprehensible act to do that for a defenseless child. My indignation is not tempered by the fact that such things are reported to happen all over the countryside, either through getting an abortion after the sex of the child is revealed; or killing the infant after delivery. It is a shameful act, and yet it happens so often, with doctors violating their sacred Hippocratic oath (hypocritical) to help in such acts.
There are other avenues possible, such as giving the child for adoption. The question remains as to why a girl child is seen as a liability. Give her equal education, and watch her be an equal and responsible member of society. How can we prevent such things from happening ? What kind of society are we moving towards ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:10 AM    

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Couple killed because they were of the same 'gotra'

This was not incest. But because there is a feeling that a boy and girl of the same gotra could be blood relatives, they were killed after they were married. Does this ring a bell ? In a shocking, nay, horrendous event depicting the callousness of life in rural India, a couple was killed after they had legally got married and had returned to their village.

Residents of a Haryana village defended the murder of a couple for marrying within the familial gotra. "Humne theek kiya (we did right)," the accused said as villagers proclaimed before TV crews that the killings would be a deterrent to coming generations not to marry in the same gotra.
Babli and Manoj ran away from their village on April 6 and went to Chandigarh and applied for a registered marriage on May 31. Armed with a court order that provided them "protection", the couple came back to their village, knowing little what was in store.

The village, indeed their own relatives were the ones most involved in this horror. In this age, a couple, who are not direct blood relatives are killed most brutally for letting their most base of impulses, a love for each other decide their course of actions.
It is a matter of great disgrace that such things happen in this country. When we hear of honour killings happening in Islamic societies, it fills me with a great repugnance. And yet, the same things happen in this country of ours. Caste panchayats order people to be killed because a couple married each other since they were of different castes. It is also a reflection of the value held to women in rural areas. They need to follow the diktat of their elders, or else...
We need to change this culture. How can we do it ? Getting proper education to the villages that explains the value of life, liberty and the rights of the individual. But whom am I kidding? In villages, when schools are ramshackle single room sets and most teachers play truant, such an understanding is very difficult to bring about.
The other major problem is the concept of law and order. Symbols of state authority are present in most places of this country, but they do not do what should be done. It is their fundamental duty to propagate the Constitution and its ideals, chief of which is the rights of an individual, which encompasses the right of an individual to marry whosoever he / she likes (subject to a few constraints such as explicit familial links).

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:45 AM    

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Cleaning of drains: How to muck it up

Given that rainy season is likely to start in Delhi & NCR anytime, it is pretty essential to make sure that drains are de-silted and able to handle as much rain water as possible. But this is something that seems impossible for the municipal authorities to handle.
This year, yet again, due to their ineptitude, there are many many drains where de-silting has not happened and where water will start collecting. In fact, with the few rains that have happened, water collection has already been seen. One fears as to what would happen if it rains for more than a couple of hours.
Now as to what I wanted to mention. I have observed drains being cleaned of the rubbish, and other things that our responsible citizens keep on dropping in the drains. So what happens ? Well, there are these machines that they use for de-silting and which remove a fair amount of dirty looking and foul smelling rubbish from the drains. And what did they do with this rubbish? You would not believe it. They just left it by the side of the road, no doubt to be picked up when some rubbish collection service could be called (why this can't be synchronized is beyond me). And what were the effects of this open dumping of rubbish ?
Well, let me just list them out:
1. The road immediately shrunk in width since half the road was now covered in rubbish
2. There was a foul smell in the whole area for days afterwards.
3. Pedestrians found it difficult to walk, because of the stench, and because the rubbish was accompanied by equally bad drain water and the road was covered with slush
4. It rained a day after, and you can imagine as to how much of the rubbish that was removed went back inside.
And mind, these were drains that were cleaned. If you go to places in older parts of Delhi or crowded places such as Laxmi Nagar, you will see the small drains in front of houses that were supposed to have free flowing sewage, instead the whole drain has stagnant water and could be a ripe breeding ground for diseases and the like.
Fellow citizens, how many of you have seen such things and think that things can be improved?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:47 AM