Friday, November 30, 2007

Creating a law to target specific individuals - Dr. Venugopal

Everybody now knows about the ongoing dispute between the Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss and the AIIMS Director P Venugopal (who is an eminent cardiac surgeon). This has been an ongoing dispute that has been going on and on, with a lot of discussions and dispute being parlayed through the media, and with the gutless Prime Minister not doing anything to rein in this dispute or to prevent the washing of dirty linen in public.
And now the Government has decided that it will show the AIIMS Director as to who exactly the boss is. The AIIMS Director in the past has won the various court cases where he was at loggerheads with the Health Minister, a move no doubt that would have enraged the health minister even more. And with the DMK being a reliable partner and one providing critical political support, the issues about autonomy of institutions and non-interference obviously do not count.
So, in an incredible law, the Government brought in a law that was primarily targeted at the AIIMS Director, setting an age limit of 65. The net effect of this law was that as soon the President signed the bill, the Government could then order the removal of Dr. Venugopal. And there has been almost no major protest against this law, which when seen in context, is an incredible attack on the autonomy of an institutions:

Hours after the Presidential assent to a Bill enabling his removal, the government on Friday night sacked eminent cardiac surgeon P Venugopal as AIIMS Director with whom Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss was locked in a long-running turf war in the prestigious institution.
The dismissal of 66-year-old Venugopal came shortly after President Pratibha Patil signed the controversial Bill passed by Parliament two days ago fixing the age limit of 65 years for AIIMS Director, seen as a move to ease out the cardiac surgeon.

This action happened even after it was clear that the Supreme Court will hear a petition on Monday to whether this law is valid. In case the Supreme Court orders a reversal of the law or rules that it will apply only to future cases, then Government will face a humiliating reversal.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:04 PM    

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Taslima Nasreen affair and role of Governments

It is quite clear that Taslima Nasreen is a person from whom most politicians want to stay away from. So, while the Prime Minister feels for a terrorist's family suspected of involvement in a terrorist attack in Britain, he is absolutely quiet about the hounding of a writer all over India. This whole attitude is what leads to hardening of majority opinion against the kind of secularism practised in India.
I consider myself a moderate Hindu, not very religious, but aware to a large extent about what happens all around. And one keeps on watching what the Government does when faced with a ticklish issue, and invariably the Government keeps on failing to remain even-handed when dealing with the same issues but across different scenarios.
So, do people remember the case of M F Hussain? He is the most famous painter from India, but he has been massively criticized by many for the paintings he has done of Hindu goddesses in the nude. He was threatened by right-wing Hindu organizations, and there was an instant uproar at the threats, with the Government and many sections of civil society reacting sharply at such threats (my opinion of MF Hussain however changed when he withdrew his movie, Meenaxi - A Tale of 3 cities after there were some protests by fundamentalist Muslim organizations. This sudden capitulation to fundamentalism was not protested or criticized).
And back to la affair Taslima Nasreen. Her works are controversial, and she is essentially a refugee from Bangladesh (there is a strong chance that she will be killed if she goes back to Bangladesh). The Indian Government has never claimed that she will not be allowed into India, and has issued her a visa regularly. If she is a person under threat by fundamentalists, then she deserves to be protected.
And what does the Government do ? First, the Left Front essentially pushes her out of Kolkata under the pressure of religious Fundamentalists, then ties itself in knots when questioned about this action. And of course, the usual clutch of critics do not say much when it comes to either the Left or such actions. And now that the author has herself admitted that the Left pushed her out, it is a black mark on the Left and CPM:

Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen on Monday said that she had not decided on her own to leave Kolkata but chose to remain silent about her controversial departure. "Why should I take a decision on my own? It did come to my mind that someone would come and kill me. Many like my writings, many others don't," she told a Bengali TV news channel.
"I want to return to Kolkata. I have not received any green signal as yet. I wonder from where the green signal will come", she told the channel in a telephonic interview from Delhi.

Given how the CPM is unlikely to do anything to imperil its Muslim support, it is unlikely that she will get a call from anybody in the CPM Government that she can come back. As it is, the Congress Government in the center is unable to decide what to do. Ideally, they would like her to go back to Europe, but that does not seem likely. Pushing her out of the country would make the Congress come under too much fire.
And one wonders about the impact this has on the majority community. Given the highly politicized society that we have now, if there is a perception that the Government (essentially, everybody else except for the BJP) is pandering to minority fundamentalists, then there is an equal reaction against such thoughts. Almost all the media coverage that I have read till now in mainstream magazines and newspapers also points out this contradiction on the part of the Congress, Left, left-leaning intellectuals, and the like. Such an attitude only reinforces the feeling that the Government will cave in whenever it is pushed by the thought of losing minority vote; at the same time, there is absolutely nothing in this position that can provide some support to moderate opinion (moderate opinion in turn gets marginalized). It's a never ending spiral, and one can be quite sure that in the next campaign, there will be more political push about the Congress pandering to minority fundamentalism and atleast a section of people will be convinced.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:48 PM    

Saturday, November 17, 2007

High Court slams West Bengal on Nandigram police action in March 14, 2007

At a time when there is widespread condemnation of the going-ons in Nandigram over the last few days, there is a High Court direction to the West Bengal Government over the police firing on March 14th. That police firing was a widely condemned incident, and led to shockwaves through the country. The Left Front of course does not approve of anybody condemning any action of theirs, and so it was then. The Left Front claimed that this action was necessary to ensure the rule of law (sounds very familiar to the current series of incidents where the CPM sent in its goons to take control of the Nandigram area back to the hands of the CPM); and that is a normal policy of the Left. They claim to be conscience keepers of the nation, and are always ready to criticize the actions of others, but are totally unwilling to tolerate anybody else commenting on things they may have done.
In the incident of March 14th, a judicial line was breached that has not been breached before. Normally a CBI enquiry has to happen with the consent of the State Government, but in this case, the High Court ordered the CBI to start an enquiry; there was no way that the CPM would have ever agreed to such an enquiry (such enquiries only happen in other states and with other parties). Now, the High Court has given a further direction to the CBI for investigation and also ordered the State Government to pay compensation for an unjustifiable police action:

KOLKATA: The Calcutta High Court on Friday directed the CBI to continue the inquiry into March 14 Nandigram police firing and violence and submit a report within a month.
The court also said the state government should give compensation package to those killed, injured, raped and molested at Nandigram on March 14. It said that a compensation of no less than Rs 10 lakh be given to the next of kin of those killed, not less than Rs 5 lakh for those injured, not less than Rs eight lakh for those raped and not less than Rs two lakh for those molested.

It is pretty common knowledge that the Left Front and specifically the CPM regard West Bengal as their property, their area and do not brook any kind of opposition to them. They are liable to use arms against areas more sympathetic to the Trinamool Congress and the Congress. And the Congress is so beholden to the Left that it will not take any stand against the Left, or raise their voice against any such injustice.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:47 AM    

Mumbai attempts to clean the city

How many times has it happened that you saw somebody throwing garbage on the streets and wondered as to why they did it ? Did you sometimes throw a wrapper on the street and felt guilty about it, or not even feel a twinge of guilt ? Take all these individual acts, put them together and you end up with a city (and this is about each and every city in India) full of garbage. Sometimes it is easily noticeable, for example, when the weather is humid, the smell of garbage is all around. But mostly, we criticize the municipal corporation (and rightly so) for the mess.
Surat, after the plague had gone, went through a government enforced cleanliness program with a lot of public support. That program was a good example of how a city can be made clean and kept clean. There are numerous other examples on a smaller scale that show how cleanliness can be kept. Private offices are a good example, where there are adequate facilities such as garbage bins and moral pressure to ensure cleanliness. The Delhi Metro is another example of cleanliness where the Metro ensures that people do not litter, and they also ensure that the facilities are always kept clean such that if anybody tries to litter, they will be seen as the first people doing the littering.
However, we also know that in addition to self-discipline, some amount of enforcement is also required. Singapore is one prime example of strict rules ensuring that no one tries any amount of littering, and people who do, suffer. And enforcement seems to be the measure that the Mumbai authorities are trying to use:

MUMBAI: Getting away with spitting, urinating in public, throwing garbage on pavements or any other nuisance which spoils the cleanliness of the metropolis will be harder and even costlier now.
To supplement the work done by the few nuisance detectors (NDs), the civic body today appointed five private security agencies to look after cleanliness and sanitation in the city with powers to impose fines ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 20,000 on offenders.

If you read the article, there is a lot of talk about not being heavy on the fines initially, but trying more education and getting people to be more aware of their responsibilities.
At the same time, it cannot be all enforcement. There is a crying need to have more facilities. One good example is the availability of garbage bins or dustbins and public conveniences. In our crowded cities, such infrastructure needs to be available at regular intervals and well maintained (and that is the killer nowadays many of them are not well maintained). It is easy to blame people for urinating in public, but in winter months, when there is no facility available for long distances, what can a person do ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:28 AM    

Friday, November 16, 2007

Do people really know how to drive on the roads ?

When we are driving on the roads of our wonderfully congested cities, there are so many things you see that make one angry. You are driving on a crowded road, inching along, and see two-wheelers and three-wheelers darting among traffic with nary a care in the world; you give them some criticism, strive to control your road rage and brake or swerve to avoid hitting them, and so on. All of us must have seen such things happen often enough that they are not worth writing about. More scary is the concept of a big bus screeching right next to you, or chasing another bus and you are driving in the vicinity, and it is worth it to waste a couple of minutes and let these buses go on the way.
But these pale in comparison to what I saw one day. I was flabber-gasted to say the least, and the road was crowded enough that I could not do anything about it. And what did I see ? It was a buy driving a small car, wearing a seat belt, and driving perfectly normally. And what was scary ? Well, this guy had no other co-passenger except for one - his infant. Now, one really does not expect people in this great country to have too much concern about a car seat or other such requirement for a baby, but in this case, the baby was sitting on this guy's lap, right between the steering wheel and the guy.
I took a double-take, I have not read all the various safety articles that are available regarding how to carry one's child safely in a car, but I was pretty sure that having your baby between you and steering wheel is not one of them. In an impact, and in the case of a baby, even a slow impact, has the effect of pushing the driver towards the steering column (and that is what the seat belt and air bag try to prevent) and most of the injuries in such cases is due to the steering column hitting the chest and the ribs. And this idiot was carrying around his baby on the most dangerous possible location in the car.
I was unsure what to do ? Traffic was such that it was impossible to reach this driver, but even if I could have stopped him, what could have I done ? What would you do ? Given that he had no idea of the danger or did not care, would he care to even listen with a bit of patience about the danger if I tried any education ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:49 PM