Thursday, August 30, 2007

Courts ordering Governments over policy matters

The separation of powers has the Government handling policy and day to day running of the country, and the Courts have interpretation of laws and the handling of civil and criminal disputes under these laws. So, normally you would not hear of courts getting involved in the matter of process of setting policy, or taking operational matters into their hands and providing directions to Governments. However, in India, the Governments have proved incompetent in so many matters that the courts have thought it fit to intervene using the basis of the rights of quality of life for citizens. Otherwise, who would have thought that a court would give directions to a municipal department to ensure that dengue protection steps are taken:

Delhi High Court on Wednesday ordered the city government’s health department and its civic bodies, MCD and NDMC to take all necessary steps to prevent the recurrence of dengue in the city.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice M K Sharma and Justice Sanjeev Khanna asked the agencies to comply with its previous directions to prevent mosquito breeding. At the same time, it directed the government to provide sufficient platelets in the blood banks in the city so that they are prepared to face any eventuality.

It sounded so strange when I read it; after all, these steps are something that a Government agency should be able to take on its own without having to be told to do so. But the situation is such that every year, one can see so many cases of dengue being reported that could be prevented through simple precautions by the municipal department that they do not do; and hence the court felt it necessary to order such steps. However, it still seems strange, and one can only hope that the Governments wake up.
We have had many cases in the past where court orders have forced Governments to take steps that have helped citizens, such as the implementation of CNG in Delhi and removal of polluting industries from cities (all policy matters but the Government was dragging its feet until the court intervened).

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:32 AM    

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Supreme Court changes stand on rape criteria

For quite some time now, the Indian Supreme Court has been taking the stand that if a man offers a pledge of marriage to a women, and then has sex with her, and then moves away from his pledge of marriage, he can be convicted of rape. This was always a surprise, because even if you accept that in a relationship in this country, with its societal emphasis of marriage for a women, consensual sex cannot be equated with marriage. Even with a relationship of unequals, as long as the act of physical relations was voluntary, to call it a rape would seem illogical. After all, the scope for misuse is tremendous, relationships can break up after some period of cohabitation. The existing understanding seemed to be heavily biased against men. Well, it seems that the Supreme Court has thought again about this stand, and wants to evaluate it on a case by case basis:

A man having sex with a girl after obtaining her consent on the promise of a marriage does not necessarily constitute rape even if he retracts on his pledge, the Supreme Court has ruled. Such retraction by the accused would amount to rape only if the consent was obtained by coercion or threat, a bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and D K Jain said while upholding an appeal filed by the accused Pradeep Kumar.
The apex court maintained that there was no straitjacket formula for determining whether consent given by the girl was voluntary or given under a misconception of fact as it has to be decided on the basis of the circumstances and surrounding factors which led to the alleged consensual sex.

This new interpretation also treats women more fairly. The earlier interpretation would assume that just because a lady was promised marriage, she would agree to have sex. This assumes that they don't have the wisdom to decide on their own whether to have a sexual relationship, just for the sake of the physical intimacy rather than as a prelude to a marriage.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:02 AM    

Turnaround by the BJP after Advani's statement

It has been fairly surprising to see the statements by the BJP over the nuclear deal when it was announced. If you refer to my previous post, it would seem that the BJP, for the sake of being in opposition, was going against a deal that it would have supported in all cases if it was in power.

If you consider the deal in all its points, there are many positive factors for the deal from the perspectives of the BJP such as
1. Closer engagement with the US,
2. Access to more dual-use technology that was restricted in the past,
3. Agreement by a number of experts in the nuclear field and strategic fields that this deal seems to be a good one,
4. Deal seems to be more in tune with what the middle class in this country wants,
5. Agreement with the Indian-American community that wants a closer relationship between the US and India
All these are factors that are valued by the support base of the US, and one would have expected the BJP to try to claim credit for the nuclear deal by claiming that the deal was following the path set by it.

Some of the negatives in the BJP opposition flow from the same points as above:
1. Seems to be more closely aligned with what the Communists want, and if the BJP desires one thing, it is not to be grouped with the communist parties
2. Disonance among believers as to why the party is opposing the deal (even after it seems that a number of national security experts are fine with the deal)
These factors would have caused a great disillusionment in the support camp of the BJP, and was difficult to understand.

Well, looks like Advani wanted to get the BJP stand back to where it would have made more sense, whereby the BJP would not be seen as opposing the deal and yet make a few noises about caring for national security. Refer this article:

Advani had told The Indian Express on Sunday that “there is no problem with the 123 agreement”, if the Government addressed the concerns of the party through amendments in Indian domestic laws. Advani’s statement has created a flutter in the party, as many leaders who were uncomfortable with the original positioning that closely aligned the party with the Left and regional outfits found encouragement to push for amends.
Advani will lead the parliamentary debate for the BJP and is expected to outline the possible amendments in Indian laws that could reassure the party that India’s right to test is protected and fuel supply for India’s nuclear power projects will not be disrupted. He will also elaborate on his party’s attitude towards the US.

This looks like a quick turnaround so as to reassure the constituency of the BJP that the party has not suddenly gone into a tailspin. Hopefully with this, the BJP will play a supportive role for this deal.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:21 AM    

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

BJP's opposition to nuclear deal puzzling

I have been a supporter of the BJP for most of my adult life, and I can right now visualize that this is unlikely to continue if the party continues to act like it has been doing. When it was in power, and doing good, it was still difficult to condone the violent and threatening doings of the zealots of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, but somehow one accepted this. And then came the riots of Gujarat that were a big shock; never in my dreams would I have believed that the party could condone riots that killed thousands of Indian citizens.
But the BJP has always seemed to be the natural choice for citizens of many urban areas, propounding policies that seem to be nationalistic and more liberal than the policies of the Congress and other emerging parties. However, in the recent past, they seem to be going down the path of destruction.
First, their fight in the game for the Presidential election was an unnecessary fight. The UPA always had a higher number of votes, and most of the others would not have supported the NDA choice because the return was not good enough, and they feared getting tarred with the anti-Muslim touch. Yet the BJP persevered and finally had a bad loss. The BJP seems to have never recovered from the loss of 2004, and at current levels, with the infighting, rivalry and corruption, it seems to have become a 'B' team of the Congress.
And now this. After initiating the discussion with the US over a nuclear deal, they are fighting the same deal. Most people even in the BJP would not admit that they could not have get a better deal, but they still seem to be opposing just for the sake of opposing. This is a good deal for India overall in terms of acceptance into the technology regime, into removal of many dual-control lists, and overall acceptance as a non-NPT nuclear power, and yet, for the sake of politics, the BJP wants to oppose the deal.
If they were to look closer into their vote base, they would find that a number of them have their lives and fortunes closely linked to faster development, more job growth, more amenities and civil facilities. Turning down the deal now because of politics has the potential to shake all of that. Seeing this short-sighted attitude by the BJP makes me very concerned about the path being followed by the party.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 4:53 AM    

What does the Left really want ?

The Indian Left is right now in the spotlight as they have never been before. Used to calling the shots with the Congress Government, including forcing humiliating about-turns on the various reform policies tried out by the Congress, they must have found it strange that that suddenly the Congress seems to have developed a spine and refused to do their bidding. And for days now, most analysts, a lot of public reaction and media analysis has accused the Communists of being China lackeys, being fossils, anti-development and progress, die-hard members of the anti-US coalition, etc. But what does the Left really want in all the discussion on the nuclear deal ? I found this article to be an interesting pointer to what their main objections are:

In a stern warning to the UPA government against implementing the civil nuclear deal with America, the CPM said it should decide whether it would go with the US or ‘remain firmly with the people’. "The Manmohan Singh government has to decide within a few weeks from now whether to go with the US or remain firmly with the people of India," CPM general secretary Prakash Karat told a public meeting.
Asserting that the Left parties were strongly opposed to any kind of strategic alliance with the US, he said it was a tragedy that the Central government had ‘compromised’ on the independent foreign policy stand enunciated by late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

And this is exactly what their bone of contention is. They do not want a foreign policy based on reality, based on what the country can get in terms of a realistic evaluation of its strength; instead they want to stick onto a policy that is essentially anti-US. It is no matter that their patron saint China has almost essentially junked the ideals of communism except for the name of the party and its repressive one-party rule; it does not matter that China has been promising such aid to Pakistan, a concept that is against India's strategic interest; it does not matter that in international affairs, most treaties involves give and take, and India could have negotiated for decades without getting a treaty that would have given everything that it wanted; it does not matter that the concept of India's nuclear program, something that the CPM and its allied parties are getting so worked over is a policy that they have been opposing from the start; it does not matter that India has been denied technology for long because of its refusal to sign the NPT, and this treaty promises to over-turn these restrictions; it does not matter that we are a energy-hungry country and nuclear energy that we can currently get domestically is not as advanced and has been shown to be delayed every time and expensive; it does not matter that most security analysts and nuclear scientists who initially were hesitant about agreeing to this deal are much more positive in the final version; it does not matter that the constitution enables the cabinet to be able to commit to such a decision and to go back now would mean a severe loss of Indian credibility.
None of these matter. In the calculations of the Left, a going back on this deal would hurt the emerging India-US cooperation and grant them what they want; and maybe India would be better served by the friendship of tinpot countries such as Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. In the end, a foreign policy is based on the true interests of a country, and at this time, this deal is the best deal that the country will get that promises to get most of what it wants.
And if the Congress goes back on this deal, it will be the end of all their credibility. Manmohan Singh will have zero credibility, and will most likely have to resign, with the media going hammer and tongs after him about his humiliation, and the Congress will have to live with the humiliation of being ordered around by a party that has 60 seats in Parliament.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:32 AM    

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Left and the Nuclear Deal

This is getting to be a comedy. The Left has defined the relationship between itself and the UPA in terms of marriage, divorce, separation, issue based support, and so on. It is just as well that they have not gone more personal and intimate in describing the relationship :-). That would have been unbearable to read about.
So, read the latest comments from the central group of the Left parties:

The Left parties put brakes on the controversial Indo-US nuclear deal by warning the government of ‘serious consequences’ of operationalising it, but stopped short of withdrawing support to the UPA coalition.
Turning up the heat on the government, the CPM Politburo passed a resolution describing the deal as ‘unacceptable’ and demanding that the government should not proceed further on it by commencing negotiations with the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA for safeguards which would bind India in perpetuity.
Karat summed up the Left stand in these words: "So, we are saying don't proceed (with the deal), discuss the matter, take into account all the objections and concerns and then we can take a decision."

Total bollocks, is what one can say. The Left Government in West Bengal seems almost divorced from the stand of the centre, it after all wants to attract investment by US companies, and going all out against the US Government is not what it would want.
Essentially, the Left is against a closer interaction with the US, exactly the same as the patron saint of the Left, the Chinese Government would want. There is not much scope for a Non Aligned Movement now, yet the Left would maybe welcome closer ties with such tinpot dictatorships such as Cuba, Iran and Venezuela (whose main stand is also opposition to the US).
The position before the deal was such that India was running short of nuclear technology and fuel, and under the current regime, since India was not willing to sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state, it would not have got any support. It is okay to protest against such a regime, but it would have done no good. So, both the BJP and the Congress, having been in power and not hypocrites such as the Left, realized that such a deal was necessary, and overall, the deal seems to be fine for India. It surely would not have got everything it wanted, and overall, seems to be in a decent state. There are no restrictions on the military development, except for the condition of doing a test, on which it is unreasonable to expect that states will stand by and not have conditions.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:01 AM    

Friday, August 17, 2007

The disaster over the case against 'Q'

It has been obvious for some time that Quattrochi is a favoured gentlemen in the current political dispensation, and even the orders of courts (including the Supreme Court) pale in front of the orders given by a higher court in the Congress party. For decades now, Quattrochi has been believed to be a favourite of the Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi led Congress party, and it is very easy to believe that this is true, given events of the past. The net result of all this is that the law ministry of the largest democracy of the world has been shown to be a biased agency, and the paramount investigating agency of the country, the CBI, has been shown to be a useless agency, totally subservient to the political dispensation, and then being mocked at by a foreign court in far away Argentina. The Argentinian Judge then declared that the case made by the CBI was very weak, basically labeling it as incompetent. And to top it all, the CBI was then kept in the dark by the law ministry as the appeal against the decision in the lower court was blocked. It would be funny to think of the CBI Director being kept in the dark, if it was not so shocking, and harbinger of the total moral bankruptcy of Manmohan Singh:

CBI director Vijay Shankar claimed yesterday that he had no idea whether an appeal had been filed or withdrawn in the Ottavio Quattrocchi extradition case in Argentina. He said this when asked by The Indian Express why the Government last week withdrew the appeal and, thus, allowed Quattrocchi to walk away.
On July 28, just over a fortnight before Quattrocchi flew home from Buenos Aires, the CBI filed a status report in the court of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Delhi — the court where the Bofors case is being heard and Quattrocchi is listed as an absconding accused— that an appeal had already been filed.
That Argentine Public Prosecutor hired by the government in March to press for Quattrocchi’s extradition, Lilian Delgado, also confirmed to The Indian Express today that the Government had decided to withdraw the appeal. Speaking from Misiones, she said: “It is the Government of India which said no appeal should be filed in the Federal Court. I don’t know the reasons why the Government of India did it. The Government of India has to answer the question why it said no appeal should be filed. I was all ready for the Federal Court case.”

It is confirmed that it was the law ministry of the Government of India that essentially withdrew the case in the Argentinian court, and the CBI was left in the defense that it did not even know. This is the condition of the premier CBI. Maybe it is time to take it out of the control of the Government, at least out of the control of this corrupt Congress Government that has no scruples, and no sense of what is right and wrong. Or maybe Manmohan Singh has been told to lay off, in which case he is like any other politician hankering for power, and equally to be held in contempt.
However, this is not new. Earlier as well, the Government had sent a law officer to London to get the accounts of Quattrochi unfrozen, they did not have any valid reason for doing that, but just brazened it out; which is exactly what they are doing this time. And the oh so moral Left parties could not care less, this is a compromise they are making to keep the Government in power and their own influence intact.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:55 AM    

Thursday, August 16, 2007

2 sides for a police action in Uttar Pradesh

There have been a lot of confusion regarding the alleged shooting of a dacoit by the Uttar Pradesh police in cold blood. Apparently when cornered, the police shot him even when he was being shot in cold blood. Now, this sort of action is something that a lot of people will be able to believe, after all, the police know that he is guilty, what is the point of bringing him in front of a court when there are chances that he might get off. Even a lot of movies, many of them top-grossing, propagate the same concept of police having the discretion of killing criminals in encounters. Refer this TOI article:

The Uttar Pradesh government has ordered an inquiry into the footage aired by a TV news channel purportedly showing an alleged fake encounter in which the police shot dead a criminal even though he was about to surrender.
The footage showed a criminal Pintu Mishra being chased by several policemen and purportedly gunned down in the civil lines area in Allahabad city on September 18 last year. State police chief Vikram Singh said that it was a very serious matter and was "not only a clear cut case of human rights violation but also of murder".

So, pretty clear that this was not an encounter, but a killing of a criminal. Now if I had been affected negatively by the criminal, maybe I would not feel bad. However, the rule of law is supreme, and the police are a law enforcer, not supposed to be a law breaker. They cannot just kill someone who is trying to surrender, not only for the rule of law, but because it will set a bad precedents for other criminals wanting to surrender. All these thoughts went through my mind, and then the shock of my life. I read this other article which turned my thoughts totally upside down. The article in fact was bylined by the same reporter who had written the first article on this subject. Read this article:

The alleged Uttar Pradesh fake encounter dates back to September 18, 2006, when, during a vehicle checking drive in the Civil Lines area of Allahabad, a police picket tried to stop three people on a motorcycle.
Instead of responding to the policemen, the motorcyclists allegedly threw a grenade targeting a constable, who died on the spot. The constable was later identified as Ashok Pandey. Meanwhile, the police launched a massive hunt for the two gangsters who had sped away from the site.
It was then that one of the gangsters appeared before the police holding his hands in the air. As the cops cautiously moved ahead to encircle him, the miscreant suddenly hurled a bomb while his associate began to fire indiscriminately at the approaching police. The exchange of fire left sub-inspector S K Sharma wounded and his right hand and legs suffered permanent disability.
The criminal allegedly repeated the act one more time before he finally appeared before the cops for a third time. But, unwilling to take any more chances by trying to arrest him, the police fired at him. The miscreant tried to run for cover but landed in a blind alley. It was there that he was shot dead by the police.

This changed the perspective of the situation totally. Even in a society much less tolerant of attacks by police or by any misuse such as the United States, attacks on policemen is seen as an attack on the authority of the state, and hence not easily forgivable. And if the cops here in Uttar Pradesh have seen criminals try to trick them by a surrender and then attack again, it is very easy to comprehend as to why the police finally did what they did. One can easily feel sympathy for the police in the end, after all, they did try to accept the surrender.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:00 AM    

Monday, August 13, 2007

Use of RTI to unearth bias by cop

There have been numerous instances now of people using the RTI Act to inquire about things of public interest, including cases of dereliction of duty, corruption in construction, the state of public spending under various development heads, and so on. For people used to a cold and secretive bureaucracy, the spotlight it shines on officials is an incredible asset, and can do wonders. The RTI Act has also been used by people to find out about the status of their files, and the very act of asking for this information normally leads to the file moving at a speed that the babus are unused to. But this particular application is one that I have not read about before:

Right To Information (RTI) query has exposed how a senior police inspector (now retired) allegedly favoured one businessman to settle scores with another in a civil dispute case.
Trader Jasmine Shah, arrested in a cheating case three years ago, has used RTI to prove that he was illegally arrested by then D N Nagar police station senior inspector M A Shaikh. The information Shah has obtained states that the departmental inquiry, conducted by then deputy commissioner of police (zone IX) Amitabh Gupta, found Shaikh guilty and resulted in disciplinary action against the officer for arresting Shah. Albeit, the department did not initiate any punitive measures against Shaikh as he had retired two years ago.

The acts of our police department, sans most means of accountability to the general public whom they serve, do not normally lead people to write about them in praise. But it is cases like these which lead to a clamour for reform, so that policemen cannot misuse their powers, and act with a bias. Given that the way that our police force has evolved, as a instrument used to control the Indian public during the British rule, it is no wonder that the police has an institutional trend towards behaving as they wish.
It is only when more people get enthused by this success that the use of the RTI Act will become more wide-spread. If we are to bring in more accountability and reduce corruption in our system, the RTI Act will be a major weapon in that.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:29 AM    

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Excellent article on the Taslima Nasreen episode

There is this excellent article by Jug Suraiya in the Times of India that took on the Taslima Nasreen episode, namely the attack on her (including by elected representatives of the MIM), and subsequent silence by most of our liberal class. Called 'Taslima and the soft underbelly of liberalism', do read the article:

Where have all the liberals gone, now that Taslima Nasreen, the outspoken Bangladeshi novelist living in exile in India, has come under attack from Islamic fundamentalists? Barkha Dutt and a few other media people have questioned the scant protest the incident has provoked among the country's liberalati who are, rightly, very vocal in condemning any flexing of Hindu fundamentalist muscle.
This is not an isolated case. Time and again, acts of violence and intimidation by Hindu zealots have been pilloried while similar instances of Islamic bigotry and intolerance have been received with an embarrassed silence and an averting of eyes on the part of self-professed champions of freedom of expression.
All this, of course, is gleeful grist to Hindu fundamentalists who point to this blatant example of double-standards to show up the hypocrisy of what they call 'pseudo secularism'. And they're right. Bigotry is bigotry, whether it comes from the majority or a minority community. So what's the liberal justification of its selective righteousness in the face of religious fanaticism?

Jug Suraiya writes on comedy, but he must have been moved enough to write this. And this is not an isolated problem. There was a vast under-current of shock when there was the furore over the Danish cartoons, and when a UP Minister (mind you, an important politician in the most important state of the country) spoke about an award to whoever gets the head of the Danish cartoonist, there was some media coverage; but no major criticism on the incitement to murder and no police action. Imagine if some Hindu (you know who, the Bajrang Dal or the VHP) put a price on the head of M F Hussain over the nude statues of Hindu gods, then imagine the furore there will be.
But when this happens in the case of Islam, there are very few people who speak up. In previous occasions, it has been people like Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar who have spoken up to denounce this, but none of the customary liberal apologists such as the Left parties and the intellectuals. Maybe they don't realize this, but they lose an important amount of credibility when this happens.
And not to talk about election stuff. How much do you want to bet that the BJP will not try to use this, creating CD's of the release of Madani in Kerala and his courting by the various parties, and also this current threat. To top it all, the Andhra police released the politicians involved very quickly, and then filed a case against Taslima over the charge of insulting religious feelings.
This puts very clearly, the attempt of Y S Reddy (Andhra Chief Minister) to not do anything against Muslim interest. This will no doubt backfire on him. The MIM retains a hard core Muslim loyalty, and this gambit might lose his some Hindu votes. But then thinking ahead is not the strong point of the Congress. The biggest losers among all this are the liberals who have been pointed out as bigots by even mainline newspapers.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:27 AM    

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The mess in Jharkand

Around an year back, the Congress won a major victory in Jharkand when they managed to topple the BJP Government and bring in a Government led by Madhu Koda. Now, Jharkand is not an easy state to manage. It is incredibly rich in resources, but at the same time faces many challenges. Being recently divorced from Bihar, there is the feeling that it will have shared the same Government apathy as was witnessed in Bihar. In addition, the state has a large number of tribals who are not exactly swimming in prosperity (in wretched conditions is more the term), and are a breeding ground for the naxalite movement, like other states nearby.
In such a situation, it is necessary that the Government and the Congress party provide good governance, especially since the Government is held up the Congress, and the Government is actually a UPA Government, just like the UPA Government at the center. So, in order to ensure good Governance in the state, one would have thought that the Congress would keep a special eye on the state; it seems like just the opposite though. Just like it tolerated Lalu's bad governance in Bihar and never raised its voice against it for political reasons, the same thing seems to be happening in Jharkand:

“The lack of ability of the Chief Minister to act on decisions of the ministers and his indifference have held up projects and created restlessness among the people.” The Chief Minister in question is Jharkhand’s Madhu Koda. And the comment is not from an Opposition leader but from one of Koda’s cabinet colleagues, Bandhu Tirkey.
Nothing seems to be moving in Koda’s Jharkhand. Files are stuck and projects are held up while money meant for development is lying unused. Less than a year after it was formed, the UPA coalition government in Jharkhand has developed cracks and the ministers are displaying their restlessness in public.
The mess is not just about development. For the first time in six years, the Auditor General, in an affidavit filed at the Jharkhand High Court last month, indicted the government for not furnishing financial records of more than Rs 40,000 crore. Worse, the state has failed to utilise funds meant for development. For instance, against the plan outlay of Rs 6,500 crore during 2006-07, it spent just Rs 2,714 crore.

This is a disaster in the making, and it seems even worse that such a mineral rich state is suffering because of the ineptitude or carelessness of its Chief Minster. If the Congress does not watch out, the BJP will come right back and dismantle the Government in the next elections, or even earlier. When Ministers in the Government moan the lack of development, one can be sure something is badly amiss. Read the referred article, you will get an idea of how bad things really are.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:49 PM    

Ragging in our colleges

Ragging in Indian colleges is a given. It may be better than before, but there is no reason as to why a student, entering a college for higher education, has to obey the wishes of a person just because the person is a senior. There is no legal reason, and given the number of cases of ragging which turn ugly, there is no moral reason to have ragging exist. It is talked about as being a good way to bring about a closer interaction between seniors and juniors, but that is possible through more mentoring (assigning a senior to a junior as a mentor), or through more cultural and other such programmes where cross-year teams are encouraged. It is a bogus argument that forcing a student to suddenly start singing, or to go and propose to a girl, or to do other such things are okay.
An activity being okay is from the perspective of the person being forced to do it, and from my experiences in college, most freshers are happy at doing this because they are relieved that it was not something more. There is no basic desire to do such forced events. In fact, many students have a dread about the first days of college because they fear as to what ragging will bring to them. I remember from college of more than a decade past that college authorities had anti-ragging squads, but these would not reach the classrooms or inside the hostels, which is where most of the ragging had shifted to.
So, the Supreme Court implemented a set of measures in the current year which made ragging an offense, instructed colleges to take it more seriously, and file police cases. Colleges did not take too kindly to this intrusion, protesting that ragging was not so bad in their campuses, or that police cases would harm the careers of students who are affected, and so on. So, let us take a couple of cases from this year:

The ragging complaint rocked the Government Dental College and Hospital on Monday when the father of a student told the college authorities that his son had been subjected to physical abuse.
A committee member said, "We are going to question all the senior students in the college, who have been accused of brutal ragging sessions which include physical abuse. We will also look into the letter submitted by the student’s father to college authorities."

When a committee is setup, you mostly know that there's not going to be any action. And here's another one:

The parents of a first- year MBBS student on Wednesday alleged their son was driven to suicide after being "severely ragged" in Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh.
They said Manjot returned home after being severely ragged by senior students at GCMH and committed suicide. Manjot joined classes on July 21, phoned home saying he was "upset" in Chandigarh and that he would come back as soon as possible. "The very next morning he returned," Milap said. When the parents returned after shopping on Sunday, they found him on the bed "motionless", he said, claiming the boy had ingested some "poisonous substance". "Later, friends of Manjot told us he underwent severe ragging in college and then went into a depression," he said.

It should be very clear that ragging is not an entitlement, and is a criminal activity. As long as it has social sanction, there will be people who will feel that they are entitled to torture their juniors and get away with it. They do not have any authority to do it, and should face the required action.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:57 AM    

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Supreme Court rules out OBC education reservation for the year

In a major blow to the Congress hopes of securing a vacation of the stay order on the reservation for OBC's in educational institutions, the Court has refused to vacate the stay. This is a continuing drama, given that a few months back, when the Supreme Court had heard this case, it had make its objections clear. There were 2 fundamental grounds for objections as laid down by the court:
1. There is no data to back up the decision to use a 27% reservation. It seems more like that the Government did not want to cross the 50% limit set in the Indira Sawhney case, and hence it used the difference between 50% and current reservation levels of 22.5%. One can be pretty confident that this was the reasoning used by the Congress. The last caste based census was conducted by the British in 1931, which was 75 years ago, and there is no guarantee that data from that was collected accurately; in addition, to use such data for current purposes would be useless because of the time gap.
2. In addition, the Government refused to set aside reservation for the creamy layer. The Court have made it clear from the beginning that they do not approve of the rich, upper sections of the reserved classes availing of quota, since they have equal opportunity as anybody else. This is something that the Government finally conceded to after so many months of refusal; primarily in order to try and get the court to remove the stay. However, it is difficult to remove the creamy layer as all the politicians will automatically get excluded and this would not be something that they would agree to.
The reservation game has been a pet project of Arjun Singh (the same one accused of harassing his daughter-in-law for dowry) in order to try and bring about a place for himself in the party. However, this does not seem to have worked, and has instead landed the Congress in a soup. Predictably, for any electoral benefits, there are a whole host of caste-based parties waiting to claim the benefits; the Congress, because it tries to preserve its pan-society appeal, will not try to win votes on the basis of this reservation to avoid pushing the forward castes against it. It's stuck both ways.
Recently, in the Gujjar agitation, we saw how a society, attracted by the promise of reserved jobs, will try to declare itself as a backward caste, and at the same time, a caste already claiming the benefits (the Meenas) will do what they can to try and prevent their share of the pie from reducing. Instead of trying to get away from caste based politics and development, we are doing the opposite.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:30 AM    

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Left opens salvo: Attacks nuclear deal

Things suddenly got more difficult for the Congress. The India-US nuclear agreement is one of the signature agreements signed by the Congress Government, one that took a large amount of complex negotiations, and eventually lead to an agreement where both sides have compromised their positions to some degree. However, upon reading the summary of the agreement released so far, it seems pretty clear that it would have been difficult for Indian to have got a better agreement. To get the US to agree to fight its internal opposition and give India a status of almost a nuclear power, with the promise of cheaper nuclear civil technology for energy generation is really a big deal. For a long time, it has been a corner-stone of US diplomacy to retain the NPT as a way of limiting the nuclear powers of non-nuclear states, and India has always declined to sign the NPT.
With all this, the Congress Government knew that this is a very sensitive deal, bound to provoke an incredible amount of political opposition, much of it to embarrass the Government on the grounds of compromising national security. So, the Congress Government first got the scientists on board and reduced their opposition, and then started to work on the left parties. It is a natural policy for the left to oppose any pact with the US, and to be very suspicious of anything signed with the US. From statements of the past few days, it seemed like they have succeeded, but now things have gone the other way:

The Left parties rejected the landmark nuclear pact between New Delhi and Washington on Tuesday saying it compromised India's sovereignty and imposed US influence.
The fresh opposition by the Left parties comes days after India and the United States unveiled the text of the nuclear pact which will govern nuclear commerce between the two countries if and when it is approved by US Congress.

This is a major setback for the Government. Normally, such stands are a gambit by the left parties, which is slowly overcome by the Government after meetings and negotiations. This enables the left to keep on appealing to its natural constituency of anti-US voters, while at the same time preventing the BJP from gaining ground. If the left sticks to its position, then it is very clear that the Government will be in a sticky position, and will have to expend a lot of political capital to resolve. As always, the left is the Congress supporter aways trying to extract its pound of flesh, maybe in some other policy decisions.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:55 AM    

Monday, August 06, 2007

Congress party supporting Sanjay Dutt

Imagine that you are located near the border, living in Punjab or Jammu & Kashmir. You have an idea of who the militants / mafia / terrorists are, although you have never assisted them in their work. One day, you think that you need some weapons to defend yourself and hence you go to the terrorists, ask them to lend you some weapons. They agree, and send you three assault rifles of the sort commonly used by terrorists and some grenades. You take your pick, and send the remaining back. Later when police call you, you realize that this could be something wrong, and you destroy the evidence. Remember, all this is illegal, with the case of actually keeping weapons banned under the Arms Act (minimum sentence of 5 years). Now, if you were a commoner, innocent in your mind, you would still have been prosecuted, with the chance of being included in the conspiracy and being racked up on terrorism charges. Sounds pretty legal so far. And now pretend that you are not a commoner, but a film star, but have done everything else the same. What should the sentence be, and should it be any different?

And this is exactly the case with Sanjay Dutt. he has been convicted under the Arms Act, and with the minimum sentence being 5 years, he has got 6 years. And once this sentencing has been done, there has been a high-profile campaign raised against this sentence, with people calling it unfair, that he has suffered enough during the time that the case was ongoing, and so on. Hogwash ! While I may sympathize with him, I cannot but feel that a country is the poorer if it treats people differently based on their social position and celebrity status. He broke the law, and got the punishment prescribed under the law. In fact, other convicts have protested at the better treatment that he is getting, after being out on bail for so long, and not even being sent back to jail after his conviction, but only after his sentencing.
Now, he has close connections with the Congress Party; after all his father was a minister and an MP for a long time, his sister is a sitting MP, and it is okay to plead for his betterment, and so on. At the same time, a party in governance is not expected to plead for differential treatment for him just because of his connections or because he is a celebrity. In such a case, the remarks by Kapil Sibal are totally unwarranted:

"We may be concerned or saddened. But any political party cannot do anything in such a case where the law has to take its own course," party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi replied to repeated questions about Sibal's support for the jailed actor.
His comments came after the Union Science and Technology Minister reiterated that the "Congress should stand by Dutt in this hour of crisis because of the long association his father had with the party and also because his sister is a sitting party MP."

Such statements are tantamount to asking for preferential treatment. However, the Congress would be careful about being too closely identified with the 'sentence is too harsh' lobby, since that would be a Public Relations disaster for the Congress; with the media and opponents criticizing it for not caring about the victims of the bomb blast, and for doing differential treatment based on his celebrity status.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:39 AM    

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Commoner stops govt official promotion through RTI

The RTI Act has typically been used to bring about information mainly about the status of one's own files that are being processed slowly by the bureaucracy, or to root out some matters of public interest, typically in cases where some sort of corruption is involved. But as more and more cases come about, it is clear that RTI can make information freely available to people, and information is power. In this particular case, it has allowed a non-Government official to ask details about the record of a official who was promoted, once revealed, the information was such that the promotion was withdrawn.

Ashwin Patel, who is a drug manufacturer himself, had asked whether the promotion of assistant depot manager of the Central Medical Stores Organisation (CMSO) RS Shah can be considered legal or not. Shah was chargesheeted by his own department and a vigilance inquiry too was pending against him. At the end of the exercise, Shah's promotion was withdrawn on Friday.
Patel procured under the RTI Act two letters—- one written by the under secretary dated October 30, 2001 and the other written by a vigilance officer on October 11, 2001, categorically informing the department that it had been decided to initiate departmental enquiry against him. So perturbed were the health department officials that they never allowed Patel to even inspect the files pertaining to Shah's vigilance inquiry under the RTI Act. On Friday, Shah's promotion was nullified.

Do read the link above, it shows the Government officials have used the garb of secrecy to stall enquiries and promote one of their own. But, once you have people willing to challenge this (after all, the Government is setup for the service of the citizenry and is paid out of the tax-payer's taxes), more and more of such cases will be rooted. In the end, if corruption in India decreases and more efficiency and honesty gets promoted, the RTI Act will be one of the leading reasons for such a thing happening.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:17 AM    

Corporal punishment in schools

There is an old saying, 'Save the rod, and spoil the child'. It has a simple premise, that unless you teach a child the right and wrong and what to do / not to do, and actually implement these instructions with some punishment from time to time such that the lesson is imprinted. You would also have heard of teachings in Catholic schools where the nuns would imprint morals into a person, and make sure that these are properly learnt through the use of corporal punishment. What actually is corporal punishment? It is the using of some form of physical punishment in an educational facility as an aid to learning. Sounds simple, does it not; it worked in the past, did it not.
Well, guess what, in the past, society had no problems with the usage of such punishment as drawing and quartering, cutting of the head, and other barbaric forms of killing as a death sentence. As society evolves, it moves away from barbarism, and learns better ways of doing things. As a part of this, there is a realization that letting teachers use canes / rods / slaps as a means of punishing a student is no longer acceptable; in fact, for every 2 students who improve from this experience, there will be many others who get scarred with this experience, especially if it happens on a regular basis. There are other ways of making sure that students learn, and usage of such punishment is unwarranted, and in fact, is illegal in schools.
Why such a fuss ? Well, here's one experience:

In a shocking incident, the principal of a school in Andhra Pradesh gave electric shocks to a 10-year-old student. Police in Tuni town on Saturday registered a case against the principal of a residential school run by a Christian mission. Police were on the lookout for the principal, who allegedly justified the punishment before escaping to evade arrest.
"The investigations are on to find out as to how many students were given electric shocks," he said. The incident came close on the heels of another one where a school teacher allegedly pushed a five-year-old student so hard that he injured his tongue badly. Parents of five-year-old K. Devi Vara Prasad, a student of lower kindergarten at St. Mary School in Nallakaunta, lodged a complaint with the police in this regard two days ago. Last month, the head master of a private school in Mahabubnagar district was arrested for allegedly chaining a Class III student as punishment.

Corporal punishment is also a short-cut to try and discipline rowdy kids, or in the above case, to use one's own logic. Once corporal punishment is seen as an easy solution, in effect you are depending on the logic of a teacher to practise the restraint; and this can have fatal effects. In a recent incident, a student was beaten by the teacher with a stick, and ultimately his lungs collapsed and he died.
Secondly, when students are small, they are easily impressionable, and using corporal punishment can make them retreat into themselves, and avoid school.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:32 AM    

Saturday, August 04, 2007

How to save your own skin in a corruption case

The slum land allotment case in India suddenly blew up. From initial results, some things seem clear. The man who made so much money through this morass of corruption and theft, Ashok Malhotra, made a lot of money through the active help of corrupt MCD and DDA employees, including senior people. But you know the Government and the legal system, it depends on proof. And since there has not been a good track record in terms of arresting and prosecuting Government employees for their various nefarious activities, it is assumed that such a situation will continue. Or at least that's what the employees in the MCD office think. Get rid of the documentation, and voila, there's no proof. And the sad thing is, it might work:

An audacious Operation Cover-up has been launched to save the skin of scamster Ashok Malhotra and his accomplices in MCD. Within hours of TOI front-paging the story of this roadside chhole vendor who created a business worth Rs 100 crore with the help of politicians and babus, at least 2,700 files containing proof of allotment of resettlement colony plots to fictitious entities have gone missing.
Sources said the MCD brass is rattled by the brazenness of the cover-up operation and has initiated a vigilance probe into disappearance of at least 2,700 files, reported missing at last count. Heads in the Slum and JJ Wing have started rolling. A senior official of the building department, responsible for allotment of plots by MCD, has been divested of his responsibility and shifted to another post.

It is impossible for the legal system to function if something as basic as retaining evidence is not maintained. Destroying evidence located at Government offices is a crime of the highest order, and for example, in the US, destroying such evidence can lead to very bad consequences. But as I was saying, nothing will happen here.
In the Indian system, how do you punish an official ? You order his removal from his current position, and get this, you move him to another position. This realistically could be a major problem for the individual concerned since he could be very well moved out of a position where he was making a lot of money. But it is very much possible that when the pressure dies down, he can make his move back to his older position and resume what he was doing.
And of course, our high profile Delhi politicians are totally silent. All this has happened under the reign of Madam Sheila Dixit, so she should be held culpable for this major crime that has been ongoing for some time. It is even more so of a crime because it impacts the housing for slum-dwellers, who are not a very well-provided lot anyway. But, will anything happen? Yes, more such attempts will be made by officials to cover their respective asses.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:46 AM    

Laloo, under fire for helicopter landings, blames pilots

Anything our politicians do is usually highlighted, and normally very reasonably. It is very easy to believe that our politicians are arrogant, act as if they know best, don't care about other people, treat everybody else as their servants, and overall are a pain. Well, if you wanted confirmation, here's confirmation. When Laloo Prasad was using an IAF helicopter for looking at villagers affected by flood, although he is the railway minister and not the home minister or the Bihar chief minister (although doing flood surveys and pretending to care looks very good on TV). And then what happened? Disregarding all norms regarding landing helicopters on places other than a helipad, and without an obvious need (such as delivering supplies, or dropping a doctor, or picking up injured people), he ordered the helicopter to land.
Obviously, in a heavily political sceanrio, such a violation of rules cannot stand, and hence a worker from another party filed a complaint that he was damaged by the sudden landing of the helicopter (could be easily true as well, a helicopter is a heavy machinery and also creates a massive down draft, especially helicopters used by the air force). And what does our embarrassed railway minister do ? He tried to shift the blame to the poor pilots:

"I don't know why they (pilots) landed, the decision was not in my hands," the Railways Minister said when asked about how the MI-17 helicopter had landed on the national highway near Manihari village, while he was undertaking an aerial survey of flood-affected areas of Bihar.
The incident of helicopter landing on the highway has come in for sharp attack from Opposition parties, who said this could have endangered civilian lives.
Meanwhile, the air force has sent a report to Defence Minister A K Antony about the unscheduled landing. IAF officials were tightlipped about the incident, but sources claimed that it was only on the insistence of the Railways Minister that the pilots landed on the highway, disregarding usual norms.

Only the very gullible will believe that the Railway Minister did not have anything to do with this. Does it seem possible that pilots, used to living a life bound by rules, and flying an expensive machine will suddenly land in violation of rules ? On the other hand, they are not easily able to refuse the order of a minister who seems to be a very powerful man in the government. India is not yet in a state where the officers can refuse and the minister would have to resign for trying to get government officials to do an illegal act. Laloo is a very valuable minister to the Congress and a firm ally; incidents like these will just get flicked off like a fly.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:29 AM    

Friday, August 03, 2007

Delhi land scam: Will there be any conclusion

The land scam in Delhi, where a poor guy made rich is picking up heat. For those who do not know, the canteen contractor of Delhi Vidhan Sabha, Ashok Malhotra was caught with an immense amount of money, something that no canteen contractor could ever make. What was the scam all about ? It was about the connivance of DDA officials with a man out to make money, and the people who were targeted were the poorest of the poor, slum dwellers.
Malhotra owns multiple houses, a large number of posh cars, and so on. And all out of corruption of the basest degree, through the creation of artificial documents with the cooperation of friendly (and presumably well treated DDA officials).

The CBI has recovered a number of incriminating documents suggesting connivance of officials at all levels within Delhi government and Delhi Development Authority (DDA). Though CBI officials remained tightlipped, they had made the aspect of larger conspiracy clear when they booked every politician’s favourite man Malhotra along with five DDA officials. A senior official said, "We will have to scrutinise the documents, including blank identity slips of Delhi administration, fake ration cards, official rubber stamps, original allotment letters of plots and registers maintaining details of sale of plot with amount before coming to any conclusion."
Under a DDA scheme, all slum-dwellers were supposed to be given a plot each (measuring 20.9 square metres) at Dheerpur, Phase-I in north Delhi. "However, the accused DDA officials allotted a number of these plots in the name of fictitious persons, using forged identity documents, allegedly at the behest of Malhotra, who subsequently sold these plots at exorbitant rates," said an official. According to the FIR, which was registered on July 24, the probe into the land scam began on the basis of information which revealed Malhotra’s nexus with DDA officials in grabbing the land worth crores of rupees. It was alleged that Malhotra entered into a criminal conspiracy with five DDA officials and filed applications for allotment of plots under the scheme using fictitious names, claiming to be erstwhile residents of Hudson Lines.

This is like stealing from the very poor, from slum-dwellers. Do these officials, supposedly to serve the citizens, have no shame. They deserve the punishment that they should get for such betrayal of jobs and their responsibility.
However, after seeing what happens in the Telgi scam, where a massive scam was portrayed and yet no official, politician, or policeman was sentenced, I really doubt whether something will happen in this case ? The Mumbai blasts case did sentence Govt customs and police for dereliction of duty and complicity, but that was an exceptional case.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:46 AM    

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Delhi Government trying to look at traffic discipline

Delhi to an outsider can seem to be a good place to drive. There are large roads, many of whom are maintained well (of course that vanishes when it rains, but that is a different issue). However, Delhi suffers from 2 curses:
1. Delhi has an extremely large number of vehicles, thus causing a major problems during peak time.
2. People in Delhi have the feeling that their time is extremely valuable, and wasting any of that time in traffic is an offense.

Why this talk about traffic? Well, for the past some time, the Delhi Government has been running radio ads calling for traffic sense and giving advice to people, and then having a small talk from the Chief Minister, Sheila Dixit about how it is so important to maintain discipline on the roads.
Now I would really like more discipline on Delhi roads. And when I talk about discipline, I am not only talking about Delhi proper, but the surrounding areas as well that make up the National Capital region, namely Delhi, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, and Noida.
I have also realized that due to a combination of reasons such as a feeling of self-importance, time pressure, the belief that there will be very few traffic policemen on the roads, or that they will not bother to challan, or can be bought off, so many of Delhi drivers could not be bothered less with obeying rules.
A few months back, Delhi police grandly announced a special drive to police Delhi roads and enforce all rules, combined with an order from the High Court on compounding that made all fines costlier by Rs, 500. These were reported by the media, and for a few days, one could see more policemen questioning people, or actually cutting off a challan.
But like so many other things, all this fizzled out. Now, you hardly see any traffic policemen actually doing the role of inspection. Drives such as checking for helmet wearing (and on the head, not on the hand as most macho young guys want to do), checking for illegal windows film, jumping red lights can be soon so often. The drive seems to have fizzled out, maybe a target collection was required and that has been achieved.
Things are actually worse off when you move to places away from the center of the city, with nobody caring about red lights, not about allowing pedestrians to cross (in fact, in so many areas where the metro or other construction, the side walks are all gone, with pedestrians jumping between moving traffic), weaving in and out of traffic, and so on.
The answer is a complex one. Just a radio campaign does not work. Traffic training is part of respect of the legal system and laws, and should start from school. A kid asking a question when seeing a traffic rule broken can be very effective at challenging the person who has broken the rule. At the time of taking of license, people should be thoroughly questioned about the rules, and should be taken out in traffic to check rule implementation.
There are many countries that have strict traffic rules, and an equally strict implementation, and these rules are not a violation of anyone's civil rights. As an example, both the US and Singapore have good compliance with traffic rules, and that happens only because the rules are backed up by a fear of fines and police. Unless, in India, we start to put more traffic cops on the road and ready to fine violators, we will continue to have a bad traffic sense and reputation.

posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:28 AM