Thursday, February 28, 2008

CBI's report on Rizwanur Rehman says suicide

The case of Rizwanur Rehman, a middle class computer graphics teacher who married Priyanka Todi (daughter of a rich industrialist) and whose body was found soon after lying on the railway tracks was a major setback for the West Bengal Government. Initially the police and Government stonewalled, and it was only when there was a massive public outcry and a sustained campaign by the media that things started to happen. It were the reports about a relentless pressure on the young man by the family of his wife, coupled with pressure from senior police officers (who should have sided with the young couple who had broken no law, and instead, no doubt swayed by the money power and pull of the rich industrialist put pressure on Rizwanur) that caused the Government to eventually try to extricate itself from this mess by removing the Police Commissioner and handing the case over to the CBI (prodded by the Calcutta High Court).
And the CBI report is pretty clear - after some detailed investigation of all the people involved, and numerous interviews, the CBI has declared that it was a suicide, but caused due to heavy pressure.

KOLKATA: The much-awaited CBI report on the mysterious death of computer graphics teacher Rizwanur Rehman on Thursday said that he had committed suicide. The report also recommended action against senior police officers, including the then Kolkata police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee in that connection.
The report recommended departmental action against the former police commissioner, who is at present the ADG (Telecom) with the West Bengal police, while asking for major disciplinary action against the then DCP (headquarter) Gyanwant Singh and some officers of Karaya police station. The CBI also sought permission to file chargesheet against the then Deputy Commissioner (Detective Department) Ajoy Kumar and two officers of his department along with Priyanka's father Ashok Todi, uncle Pradip and maternal uncle Anil Saraogi and Mohiuddin alias Pappu for abetment to suicide, criminal intimidation and conspiracy.

This whole affair is an affair that would shock all those who believe in the rule of law. This is a young couple, struck by that most basic of human relations, love; they get married, and then the family of the bride declares that this is not a relationship that can be accepted. All this so far is something that can happen.
What happens next is the reprehensible part. Senior police officers are approached by the rich family, and they start putting pressure on the young man, while the girl is forcibly retained in the family home. Instead of restoring the marriage as per what their duty dictates, these officers put pressure on Rizwanur and eventually drove him to the step of suicide. They deserve the harshest of punishment, because when the instruments of law go bad like this, the maintenance of rule of law becomes distorted, and such bad elements deserve all the punishment that they get.
What is also a problem is when the West Bengal Chief Minister refused to initially acknowledge that there was a problem and thought that this was a routine matter, and would have got the police to investigate the matter. The police whose senior officers are involved ! And we don't have the independent investigating arms inside the police; but it is hard to go to the CBI for every such issue.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:11 PM    

The Mumbai Police gag order against Raj Thackeray

Maharashtra Chief Minister must be hoping and hoping that the problem posed by Raj Thackeray goes away in some way. He is stuck in a major problem, with the Mumbai for Marathis campaign a force that he does not want to try and put down in order to avoid making Raj seem like a martyr; at the same time, he is a Congress Chief Minister who cannot be seen to be pandering to regional forces and putting the Congress in a position where political parties from all over the country can beat upon it.
And this need for a balancing act is causing the compromise that he has effected; the police talks tough, but files an FIR and does a major drama in terms of arresting him in a way that he can be bailed out very quickly. Further, they try to stop him by issuing a gag order:

A sessions court on Thursday stayed the extension of the gag order imposed on Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray by the city police. Thackeray had filed a revision application before the sessions court on Wednesday, challenging the extension of the February 11 police order prohibiting him from holding rallies, public meetings and addressing the media.
The order was passed by the police in the wake of the MNS chief's provocative statements against members of the north-Indian community which resulted in incidents of violence across the state.

This is a very strange situation. The Government is shying away from using the normal legal and police process against Raj Thackeray (who is after all the leader of a political party); he can be prosecuted for incitement to violence, for preaching a form of sedition (the country's constitution guarantees the right to not be discriminated against based on sex or race or origin). The Maharashtra Government is equally guilty of not acting to protect the people of North Indian origin whose property has been destroyed or damaged, or to stop the outflux of people from the concerned cities.
And since the Congress is hyper-sensitive about political matters and election issues, one wonders whether it has thought about the impact of this issue on the remaining North Indian voters in Mumbai who form sizeable proportions, as well as in other states where this can be taken up as an issue.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:45 PM    

Friday, February 22, 2008

A horrific case of negligence

India's public hospital and medical system is in a mess. Government hospitals are in a mess, catering to a massive number of patients, having doctors who are not exactly enamoured of the low salaries and bad working conditions (in fact, many doctors work to get a good experience and then parlay this experience to pick up much better salaries in the private sector), with funding constraints. One cannot even begin to compare the conditions at Government hospitals vs. private hospitals, although there are many Government hospitals that still retain a good name. However, no matter what are the reasons that have led to this condition, one expects Government hospitals to cater to the poor, the needy and not turn away anyone in need:

Twenty-seven-year-old Hemanti could not be saved but justice might still be done. Serious action has been taken against three doctors held responsible for the shocking case of medical negligence in Swami Dayanand Hospital on February 16. Hemanti, who was refused admission by the doctors on duty on Saturday night, passed away after she was forced to deliver outside the premises of the MCD hospital. Her baby, however, is reportedly in good health, a hospital source said.
Following a departmental inquiry, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has terminated the contract of Dr Mamta Tyagi, senior resident gynaecologist, on February 19. Two other doctors on duty at the hospital — Dr Deep Sikha, senior resident casualty officer, and Dr D K Padhy, emergency medical officer — have been handed show cause notices.

This is horrific news. Catering to a pregnant lady, poor, needy, bringing a new life into this world, is one of the most important objectives of the health system, and it has failed when such things can happen. One can only hope that the inquiry goes into the root of the matter, and also figure out what caused such an incident to happen. Typically doctors do not let such a thing happen, but the condition of doctors in Indian Government hospitals in pretty bad. They are forced to work for long hours, dealing with a number of patients that would make a doctor in the developed countries run away, and are many times man-handled by relatives of patients, and even by the support staff.
It is better that the health minister, Dr. Ramadoss focus on making sure that the health system is over-hauled, with better allocation of funds, making hospitals responsible for apathetic staff, bad maintenance and cleanliness, and the like rather than trying to make a name for himself in the newspapers.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:36 AM    

Some amount of conflict within the Supreme Court

It appears that there is some amount of conflict within the Supreme Court of India, if one goes by recent judgments; there was the recent judgment where the 2 judge bench made scathing remarks about the tendency of the judges to stray into areas that are outside the judicial domain, and into areas where the legislature and executive should be responsible. They took numerous cases, such as the nursery admission case, sealings case, etc; cases where it is the responsibility of the executive to uphold law and do as per law (so, letting illegal constructions stand and creating a law to make them legal is the normal response of the executive and legislature, because there are too many pressure groups that will not allow them to act in another way).
This judgment and the comments were seized upon by politicians of all shades and hues as a vindication of their recent protests that the judiciary was over-stepping its brief; they could not care less that they are failing to respond as per law or not creating law where it is required (as another example, for handling sexual discrimination in the office-place, the current approach is laid down by the Supreme Court in a prior case, and not due to any law passed by the legislature). This judgment and the observations made were quoted in filings made by lawyers working for the Government in different cases. It is another matter that a larger bench struck down these observations as not valid, and said that the court will continue to work as it has before, helping the various junior courts that were affected by the observations of the court. Well, this seems to be happening again, although in a reverse way:

In a strong disapproval of a Supreme Court judge's direction, a Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan on Thursday held that courts should "desist" from issuing general directions affecting executive and legislative policy unconnected to a particular case.
The court must ensure that its orders and decision do not create any doubt or confusion on legal position in the minds of any authority or citizen, a three-judge bench, including Justices R V Raveendran and J M Panchal said. Justice Katju, in a concurring but separate judgement, had given directions to Uttar Pradesh government to issue an Ordinance for restoring the provisions of anticipatory bail in the state.
However, the three-judge Bench held that Katju's directions "are not directions to be complied with".

In an ironical twist, the statements made by the judge about directing the Uttar Pradesh Government were made by the same judge who had earlier bemoaned the way in which his fellow judges were trying to over-reach into areas beyond their domain. In this case, the observations made by the learned Supreme Court judge had no reference to the case in hand, and deserved to be struck down.
However, this whole matter leads itself to confusion, since different benches of the Supreme Court ruling on judgments made by another judge are unseemly, and the Honorable Chief Justice should step in and ensure that such divisions are resolved.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:14 AM    

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An honest politician ? hah

What do you call a politician who promptly declares her income and files tax ? Normally you would claim that such a politician is very honest and a credit to society, very different from other politicians. And what happens when you find out that the politician has no income source to justify such huge incomes (over Rs. 50 crores), and the only source is that 'this is a donation from the loving masses'. It is notable that these are the loving masses who are mostly poor, who could not care less about donating to improve society, but who donate for increasing the wealth of a politician. And when the Tax tribunal takes up the case, it actually says that the love and respect for the politician is great, it believes her and stops the case.
Well, this is India. Where a normal salaried individual has to worry about sources of income, about how to conceal some amount of money made from under the table or from the buying or selling of stocks and property, and a politician is able to brazenly claim massive amounts as donations and legalize them. And the Central Government (a proper shame they, the way that they condone all illegal activities) looks the other way and does not even think about the kind of example and precedent that they are letting set. No wonder the Congress is sinking lower and lower in terms of middle class approval. Read this article in the Times of India, and you will find out more:

NEW DELHI: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati is growing richer by the year. Last year, her income was estimated at an impressive Rs 52 crore, while she has already grossed Rs 60 crore and is expected to close the fiscal with an even bigger kitty.
Mayawati's explanation about the turnaround in her fortunes may appear a fairy tale to many, but was accepted last year by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal which legitimized her claim. The script is likely to remain the same this year as well. More so, she is in power now. Mayawati in her statements before the taxmen and to the CBI, which is investigating her in a disproportionate assets case, had claimed that her supporters had given her large amounts of cash and pledged their personal properties out of "love and affection" and for the welfare of the downtrodden and the Dalits.

This sets an incredibly bad precedent. A politician could claim that all the money that they hold is just due to donations from their supporters, and pay the normal 33% income tax on this. No wonder other politicians (not even the famous holier-than-thou left parties) are not objecting in any way. More likely, they are watching and will eventually join the fray.
One really does not expect too much from the Manmohan Government (remember Shibu Soren, Quattrochi, and many others), but this takes the Government's willingness to look the other way to an almost criminal level. And yet, there has hardly been any major news in the papers about this.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:18 AM    

Maharashtra Govt hesitant to act against Raj Thackeray

We are in an age of globalization, with Indians traveling all over the world. The Indian Government routinely takes it up when they see any country trying to put restrictions on Indian citizens working over there (as an example, witness the (though so far unsuccessful) attempts of the Government to get a reversal of the new flawed work permit system for medicos in the UK). It is taken for granted that this is our country, and one can go and live anywhere in the country. There are some exceptions to this, such as the inability of outsiders to buy land in Kashmir, Himachal, etc; but these were special exceptions to prevent these small places from getting swamped by outsiders and retain their character.
To argue a similar thing for a leading metro of the country, on the other hand, is incredible. What Raj Thackeray is doing is almost equivalent to sedition, when he argues that outsiders essentially have no place in Mumbai. Mumbai is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in India, a place that is sought to be converted by the Government into a leading financial center of Asia. Arguing that outsiders are not welcome, and provoking attacks on them is not just criminal, but is going against the whole oneness of the country, and is equivalent to sedition. Mumbai has developed, and continues to develop, because of the movement of talent and people to that city.
The sad part in all this is that even Raj Thackeray knows what he is speaking is gibberish, and due to political reasons. The Shiv Sena itself is one among the leading players in the state, and the political chances of a radical offshoot of the Shiv Sena (headed by a junior politician such as Raj) are very low. The only way to generate enthusiasm for one's party is by taking an extremist position, and trying to appeal to people who feel somewhat threatened by the influx of outsiders.
However, such sentiment needs to be met quickly, and not by treating it as a case of letting off steam. This is not a mass movement that needs to let off steam, this is a cold calculated position that has been taken in order to accrue political advantage, and the quicker that the state takes action, the better:

Raj Thackeray's supporters on Monday continued to carry out sporadic attacks on migrants on Mumbai's streets even as the state government sought to dispel concerns that it was not making a serious effort to quell the violence.
At Worli, taxis owned by Uttar Bharatiyas were stoned and their drivers attacked. In Dadar, hawkers were roughed up and warned against doing business in the area. The conflict even spread to other parts of the state as MNS workers burnt effigies of Raj Thackeray's detractors in Nashik, Beed and Nagpur. The government, under pressure to arrest Raj Thackeray and use tough measures to prevent the conflict from snowballing, sought to defuse the situation by booking him in a case of criminal intimidation.

It seems like the Government does not want to be seen as taking tough action and is hence giving Raj Thackeray a political lease by not cracking down. However, if this violence and action continue, it can have a ripple effect due to corresponding reactions in other parts of the country. The Government cannot afford to play politics with this case, it needs to take action. There will not be many people who will be offended by any crackdown and prosecution of Thackeray.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:54 AM    

Friday, February 01, 2008

Government denies biscuit manufacturers chance to get into mid-day meal scheme

For some time now, there has been a concerted push to get into the mid-day meal scheme for school children. The introduction of the mid-day cooked meal for school children has been a major factor in the increase of school attendance, especially in rural areas. Pushed and prodded by the courts and by large sections of educators, the Ministry of Education run scheme provides funds for meals in 9.5 lakh schools across the country. Overall, the scheme has been a great success in its stated objective of encouraging parents to send their children to school. Schools provide cooked meals to children as per the local diet, and this also enthuses children to attend.
However, every silver lining has a dark cloud behind it, and in this case, the money involved was too great to resist. And hence there was a concerted push by manufacturers of biscuits and pre-cooked meals to get into the scheme; what better way than to try and point out positives of not using cooked meals. There are logistical issues with the whole cooking process, there is scope for corruption in terms of the process of sourcing of material for the cooked meals being decentralized, and so on. Further, pre-cooked meals and biscuits would allow the exact concentration of nutrients to be served to children. Seem very convincing points, and all of these were actually enumerated in an article in a weekly that I read some time back.
And then I started reading some more, and found that there were many more issues with the proposal. There was a position by an institute that deals with nutrients that essentially blasted the proposal, claiming that biscuits were essentially empty calories and not capable of supplying the nutrients required. In addition, further opinion by experts were skeptical about how many children would be enthused by biscuits; further there was an easy likelihood of biscuits seeming to be strange food to many areas of the country or carried away and not consumed by the children. And then the ultimate; the industry actually got 30 MP's to write a letter to the Ministry of Education in favor of the proposal, and at that time, much more opinion started to come out against change of the cooked food scheme.
So, it is good that finally the ministry has decided against this proposal.

The biscuit manufacturers' and ready-to-eat food industry's attempt to make 12 crore children their captive consumers through the mid-day meal (MDM) scheme has come a cropper. The HRD ministry has shot down the proposal of the two industries to supply either biscuits or pre-cooked meals to more than 9.5 lakh schools under the MDM scheme.
"Replacement of the Mid-Day Meal programme through supply of biscuits would not be in the nutritional interest of children, since it does not fulfill the nutritional norms, dietary requirement and satiety of children and further it also deprives many intrinsic benefits that are being derived through the present pattern," the minister said in his letter to the MPs.

However, at one point of time, it seemed that the proposal was actually working its way through the approval chain. It required some pressure from educators, and from the few articles in the media that cared about the mid-day cooked food program (not too many did though, and this is a very important issue central to human development). One can only feel relieved that the proposal got terminated.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:11 AM