Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pressure on Gill to resign as Hockey Chief

By now, the reign of former Punjab top cop KPS Gill as headman (President) of the Indian Hockey Federation is acknowledged by all to be a disaster for Indian hockey. Coaches have been juggled up and down, players complain of ill-treatment and the national squad under-performs to an incredible degree. They did well in patches, but overall the performance has been roughly the same for the past many years: under-performing. The last disaster was the failure at the Olympic trials and the team failed to qualify for the Olympics, a disaster for Indian hockey of a very high level. And yet, when KPS Gill was blamed by a wide section of the press, former players and other people associated with the sport, he refused to take responsibility and kept on promising a better performance in the future.
The Government also shrugged its hands and claimed that it could not intervene due to non-interference in the activities of a sporting body, a claim that almost nobody believed. But this is how the matter rested, since Gill refused to step down and nobody else could force him to. This is how matters rested till a sting operation by a TV channel showed the powerful Secretary of the IHF (K Jothikumaran) accepting a bribe to get a player into the squad in a most shameful display; he was forced to step down. And this is when another Gill (MS Gill, the new Sports Minister) started applying pressure on KPS Gill to step down:

A day after Indian Hockey Federation secretary K Jothikumaran quit in disgrace, with a news channel showing him accepting a bribe for selecting a player in the national team, the heat turned on IHF president K P S Gill. With sports minister M S Gill and a host of MPs on Tuesday calling for his head following the fresh scandal, the IHF chief's stated desire to continue as the helmsman of Indian hockey at least till 2010 now seems to be a pipe dream.
Meanwhile, the Indian Olympic Association has convened an emergency meeting of its executive committee on April 28 to "take necessary action in the interest of sports". IOA president Suresh Kalmadi said he would meet the sports minister over the issue.

The claim is that the Federation is independent of Government control and hence the Government cannot force changes in the officialdom. This is hogwash, the Government can easily take action if a person is found to be non-performing and causing a game that we call the national sport to become a non-happening event in the country.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:29 AM    

The BRT corridor and an arrogant Government

The Times of India is really playing this story to the hilt. Refer this article:

The BRT corridor has gone bust. Yes, that's the resounding message from two days of chaotic trials on the Ambedkar Nagar-Moolchand stretch. What else can explain the decision of a panicky government to let in taxis and autos into the corridor dedicated to buses! If the BRT architects are willing to jettison lane segregation, then the corridor - on which about Rs 100 crore has already been spent - is as good as dead.

When the Government of Delhi started thinking of becoming serious about the scheme to implement a dedicated corridor for buses, there were mixed opinions. The concept of creating a special corridor for buses so that they can move smoothly and carry a large number of passengers sounded good; after all, many countries have such corridors and they seem to have worked. Then the Government said that the corridor will go upto Old Delhi and there were some worries - anybody who has traveled to Old Delhi areas such as Daryanganj, Chandni Chowk and the Red Fort would wonder about where would they find space on the road to create a dedicated corridor. But this was supposed to be the second leg, and the first leg would be from the comparatively wider section from Ambedkar Nagar to Moolchand, a section of road that is an important road for that region and is somewhat wide.
Okay, maybe this should work. However, there are certain things that such a project should follow, and just copying a concept from somewhere else would not work:
1. Need to explain such a radical plan to the people affected, and get some buy-in
2. Proper execution of the project including step by step work to minimize inconvenience to people
3. Enforcement of discipline
4. Proper feedback and rectification of problems
None of these are outlandish demands, all valid points for any project execution. Now let us see how the Government went about these:
1. Explanations: It was explained as to what the plan is through some media reports. There was no attempt to hold some public explanations, question and answer sessions, or other issues. Education of people is NIL - so bus drivers drive as they normally do without caring to stop at the required places, cars and other vehicles do not know which lane to go into. It is easy to blame bad driving, but a project needs to cater to the current situation, and not try to blame people for not behaving ideally.
2. Proper execution ? Could not be more problematic. Sections of the road would be blocked off when there was no work ongoing, dividers and material would be lying here and there, and unfortunately, these resulted in accidents that killed motorists.
3. Enforcement of discipline. Drivers in Delhi are known for their rash driving and inability to follow traffic rules. Generally, the enforcement of traffic rules is lax, and the same seemed to happen over here. People ignore traffic marshals who have no power and no time to spend enforcing rules, and jump from one lane to another since the dividers allow them to do so, and there is no fear of any fines.
4. Feedback: The traffic police had already been against this proposal, but they were not listened to. The media and other such services have been criticizing the bad execution, lack of education and bad planning, and yet the only reaction has been to criticize the critics as elitists who move in cars and do not know about buses. Maybe this was a socialist campaign to get more people into public transport, but that happens through inducements, not through scaring car users so much that they move into the bus system.
So far, the trial run has been a disaster, and the pointed out culprits are bad drivers, Blueline buses, bad lane changers, improper discipline, lazy traffic policemen, and everybody else. It is not that the Delhi Government and the whole of babudom has been arrogant in trying to implement a solution picked from elsewhere without trying to customize it to local requirements, without ensuring that discipline is enforced and the users are all educated. One can only hope that the situation gets better, but currently the situation is likely to remain in panic mode.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 4:35 AM    

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A ticklish situation - but not the correct action

A very simple case, but leads to a major moral dilemma. A girl, 15 years old, gets pregnant with the child of her boyfriend, hides this from her parents until it becomes impossible to conceal. When the father of the bride filed a complaint, the relatives of both sides decided to settle the complaint by getting the 15 year old girl and the 19 year old boy married off, and guess who helped in getting this done ? The police, who are supposed to help in enforcing the law that does not allow marriage below the age of 18 and 21 respectively for a girl and a boy.
There is always a certain amount of questions that one may have in such a case - after all, there is always a certain amount of problem in going by a purely legal framework where the boy could be prosecuted for statutory rape and sent to jail. Such a situation would be problematic in the case where the relation was voluntary and a child is involved.

CHENNAI: When a 15-year-old girl could no longer hide her pregnancy after she got too intimate with her teenager boyfriend and the girl's parents panicked, the Tamil Nadu police decided to play matchmaker, despite the girl not being of a marriageable age. The minor girl, who had been in love with her neighbour Deepan (19), had conceived around seven months ago. She had not told anything about the relationship to her parents, but they had got suspicious a few days ago as the girl could not hide her pregnancy.
However, the move to marry off the the underage couple has not gone down well with women's activists and legal experts either. "In the eye of the law, the marriage is not valid. Even if the girl had given her consent, it is not legally valid. Whoever arranged the marriage could be prosecuted," said Madras High Court lawyer Eswaradas.

It looks like the police took the easy way out by settling for this decision. There is a reason why the law is in place, and such actions by the police end up in weakening the law. Children of this age are not fully mature as yet, and would most likely have ended up taking this decision to marry to fight off social pressures and the pressure of the police.
For a 15 year old girl and now mother, the law recognizes that she is not capable enough of being responsible for her actions and to push her into the role of a 15 year married mother means that her life is now set. It is very much possible that both of these young people would regret this decision later, and the consequences could be pretty much problematic. In addition, given that the boy wanted to have a DNA test to prove that he was responsible, he would already be having second thoughts.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:49 PM    

Supreme Court gives relief to commercial landlords

For decades, the Indian Government and the legal system has been lopsided in favour of tenants, with the Rent Control Act being one-sided to protect tenants. The Act has reduced property rights, not letting landlords get their property back when they need the property for their own use, and not letting them raise rents in accordance with annual inflation trends. The Rent Control Act has scared landlords so much that there are many property owners who cannot envisage letting out their currently vacant properties for fear of not getting these properties back, or who let out properties on 11 month leases and get them vacated within 2 years so that properties do not get tenants who refuse to let go.
This situation had prevented the healthy growth of the market for tenancy and led to an artificial scarcity; so there was a great jubilation among property owners when the law was weakened some time back; the change allowed landlords to get their property back when they could demonstrate that they needed the property for their own needs, however, this was only for residential properties. Commercial properties were excluded. So you had the case where prime properties in commercial centers such as Connaught Place were on rent for decades old rentals of Rs. 100 per month; the landlord could only watch as their properties were used by tenants to make big money and they themselves got a pittance as rent. This would lead to a situation where the landlords would not invest anything on maintenance for these buildings. Finally the Supreme Court has corrected this, letting owners of commercial properties evict their tenants when they could prove that they needed the building:

For 50 years, tenants in shops and commercial premises in many prime areas of Delhi have had the upper hand over landlords. They lived without fear of eviction and paid a paltry rent as they were protected by laws that froze the amount negotiated decades ago. This special protection was because the law said that a tenant could be asked to vacate only residential premises, and not commercial property even if the premises were required for personal use. But all this has changed.
The court said the restriction on eviction of tenants from commercial premises was inserted in the law 50 years ago mainly because of the limited commercial space available in the city at that time. But that was a long time back. Now the scenario has undergone a sea change and a fairly large number of buildings and premises were now available on rent for non-residential and commercial purposes. Restricting landlords from seeking eviction of tenants from shops was no longer justified, the Bench said.

This is a judgment that was long awaited by landlords. There is no equitable reason why a landlord cannot get his / her property back when they need it. This judgment does not go all the way, given that it still does not give a way for a landlord to get rents raised to reflect current prices; one byproduct of this judgment however will be that landlords will try whatever tactic that they can to show that they need this property for their personal use and get the tenants evicted.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:25 PM    

Couple abandon girl child

In a shocking incident that portrays how parents have a quest for male children, a couple abandoned their girl child under the pretext of claiming that their child had been switched with another baby, and that their actual child was a boy. They even demanded a DNA test, and when the DNA test proved that the lady was the mother of the girl child, they refused to accept the DNA test. In the end, the police arrested them for deserting the girl child:

MUMBAI: A couple from Dharavi's Rajiv Gandhi Nagar slum was arrested on Friday for abandoning an infant girl at the civic-run Sion Hospital. The parents, Rajmani and Sheela Jaiswal, had earlier alleged that their baby boy had been swapped for a girl child after delivery in December. They left the child behind when Sheela was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday.
They had approached the Shahunagar police station and had demanded a DNA test to confirm parentage. The DNA report, submitted by the Forensic Science Laboratory in Kalina, had confirmed that the DNA of the mother and child matched. The unlettered couple, however, remains unconvinced. ''We don't trust the DNA report given by the police or hospital. We want the DNA test to be conducted in Delhi,'' said Salam Kazi from voluntary organisation Al-Hind, which is supporting the family and promises to provide them a lawyer if need be.

This is shocking. The quest for a male child has caused the parents to abandon their own flesh and blood. In the end, even though the child deserves to live with her parents, given that the parents are even refusing to acknowledge her, one can only wonder as to how they would have treated her later. Such a child would suffer major discrimination, with a bad quality of life.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:16 PM    

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Imagine the male in India paying dowry

Surprising, but it happens in India. And the only reason that this could happen is because this involves a craze among Indians that is bigger than the one involving taking dowry, namely the craze for getting a citizenship of the developed world. For this craze, people are willing to pay huge amounts of money, live in horrid conditions and risk death to reach a place through illegal immigration, so if you can do this legally, you can pay much more. The groom would even be willing to let go of many pre-conditions such as the bride being elder than him, and so on.

Marry in Puducherry, honeymoon for the rest of your life in Paris. But first, dish out. In this exotic former French colony, young men are making a beeline for French belles, with starry eyes, pounding hearts - and bulging wallets. But marital bliss doesn't come cheap. The brides, Indian-origin French citizens, demand and get dowries between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 50 lakh.
Newly wed men could earn a fortune in France and enjoy a slew of welfare measures extended by the government there," said a 60-year-old Indian-born French citizen settled in Puducherry. The man, who did not wish to reveal his identity, himself got a hefty dowry for his daughter. "We sought Rs 50 lakh from the groom's family for the marriage. They offered an advance of Rs 10 lakh and promised to pay the rest in instalments. The marriage took place two years ago and the couple is settled happily in France," he added.

Seems like an answer to all dowry haters; but things are not so easy. The French Consulate knows about this, and is willing to do some hard and intensive questioning of would-be immigrant husbands to ensure that anybody trying to enter after doing a false marriage is turned away. Further, one wonders about the future of such marriages when the purpose of the marriage has been achieved and realism starts to set in.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:23 AM    

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Update by Supreme Court on OBC reservation in education

When the Government decided to go around the Supreme Court ruling that disallowed reservation for SC/ST's in private unaided educational institutions, the Congress would never have visualized the can of worms that got opened. In a sign of intra-party power plays (or the desperation of a neglected man to make his mark), the education minister used the powers in the new law to propose reservations for OBC's in educational institutions. And of course, given the state of our polity and the political implications of OBC support, there is not a single party in the country that would go against this proposal. The proposal however horrified a number of students, who were aghast at the idea of a massive increase in the number of reserved seats in educational institutions, including the 'elite' ones such as AIIMS, IIT's, and IIM's.
Given that any number of agitations were not going to stop the Government, pushed to the backfront by the pressure of their allies, eager to see these quotas implemented. The case naturally went directly to the Supreme Court, which initially itself pushed the Government on the backfront by staying the implementation of the law, and asked a number of hard questions to which the Congress did not have many answers. The Government tried hard to defuse a growing upper caste anger / backlash by promising that seats would be increased so that current general seats would not be affected, and institutions would be given additional funding so that they would increase infrastructure accordingly. The Congress knows that they would not be able to harness any of the OBC seat anyway, these are promised to the regional parties that bank on the OBC vote.
And finally the Supreme Court has delivered its judgment, a fair amount of time after the law was proposed. The Supreme Court has decided against a direct confrontation with parliament by not blocking the law, and giving Parliament the right to make laws regarding affirmative action. However, it laid down some parameters that make things different for the Congress; first by ensuring that the principle of creamy layer (people already empowered and not needing a further boost) to be removed (a good thing, since it ensures that OBC's in cities do not get all the seats as opposed to the backward castes who can use the help of reservation); further, in a principle that is being debated to some extent, the majority of the Court observed that a person who is a graduate does not need a boost up (thus effectively ruling out reservations in post-graduate courses such as IIM's and IIT's); finally the court made observations regarding the utility of reviewing the lists of castes needing this support every 5 years (a observation that every party will ignore).
Overall, the Supreme Court ruling is controversial, not making anybody happy. However, the court has decided that it will not challenge the supreme principle of Parliament (otherwise there would have been a direct confrontation), but has set many constraints.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:17 AM    

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Delhi's BRT and adverse public opinion

Delhi has faced traffic problems for quite some time. At some point, the Government, no doubt impressed by the discipline of multi-lane traffic that it sees in some cities around the world, decided to adopt the idea proposed by some IIT professors, and announced a grand plan to split roads so that a dedicated bus corridor could be built. For people who are familiar with this route, the proposal was to create a corridor through one of the most heavy traffic routes, from Ambedkar Nagar to the Red Fort. This was a plan that was, after some hesitation, accepted by the Delhi Government of Sheila Dixit, no doubt enthused by the prospect of creating a revolutionary new traffic scheme in Delhi.
For such a radical scheme, one would expect that the Traffic Police would have been very enthusiastic, however, the Traffic Police have always been against this entire proposal. What the planners were trying to create was to separate the traffic into 3 lanes, one dedicated for buses, one cycle and slow moving lane, and one lane for normal traffic (cars, etc). Ignoring the fact that the road gets narrow in parts, and that the amount of traffic would over-whelm such narrow lanes, the Government has faced intense criticism, and yet had turned a closed ear to all such criticism.
The whole construction phase had been marred by shoddy project management; with improper markings, constructions material left here and there, no staff to warn users, etc. People have been killed on this stretch due to material left on the road.
And yet the Government wanted to enhance the plan to make 6 new corridors, and after initially announcing that there would be a wait to see the experience of the first corridor, the Government announced that it would no longer wait, and start work instead. It is only now that there is a level of worry setting in as to how this new corridor would work, and an inquiry by a Parliamentary panel is bound to increase the worry:

With a stubborn government going ahead with the Bus Rapid Transport system, disregarding growing unrest against the project, a parliamentary panel has stepped in to put tough questions to patrons of the controversial plan.
This acquires significance because the BRT-obsessed planners cannot shrug off the Marxist MP's comment as elitist and pro-rich, their standard refrain in response to calls for a fresh scrutiny of the project which has wreaked havoc on busy south Delhi arteries. Yechury also refused to buy the line of BRT managers and the Delhi government that the huge inconvenience to people because of traffic disruptions was the price the city had to pay for a better public transport system.
The BRT advocates have, invoking the class warfare narrative of the 60s, made light of the problems facing users of private vehicles on the BRT corridor, saying these could, in fact, help decongest city roads by prodding people to switch to public transport.

The BRT corridor project has showed how arrogant the Government can be, totally disregarding a large amount of expert opinion, and inflicting immense hardship on the city's commuters. Users have in the past, as for the metro project, taken such hardships in their stride, but not for the BRT project. The Government has not been able to convince the traveling public of the utility of this project, and one feels, not even tried.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:03 AM    

Person shot in Delhi - and no one cares

Sometimes one comes across cases where you start wondering as to whether regulations are meant to help humans or to thwart them ? What purposes are rules that only lead to the death of humans or hinder them when they are in need. An example of this is seen in what happened in Delhi on the 7th of April, 2008. For a long time, movies and television have been propagating the prospect that any accident or other such grievous case victim cannot be treated unless there is a police case. Further, normal people are also worried about the same thing; nobody wants to get involved in cases dealing with accidents, even to the extent that if you see an accident happen in front of you, most people would look the other way and not try to get involved. This gets doubled if the injury is criminal in nature, say if a person gets shot or knifed.
But is this avoidance only because of the worry of getting involved ? Or is it because we are so involved in our own selves that we would rather not get involved - how many times have you seen young kids being exploited as labour and looked the other way; or seen an accident victim lying on the road and continued on ? We continually see examples of this kind of behavior:

Harshal ran to his father's car. "I saw the bullet had gone in right under his ear into the neck and there was blood spilling all over the seat. Because the seatbelt was still fastened, he was sitting upright. A crowd had gathered there and kept looking at me while I unfastened his seatbelt and put him on the back seat. No one even offered to help and when I asked for it, they just didn't," said Harshal.

Similarly, the distraught son has claimed that the hospitals that he went to refused to admit him because of it being a medico-legal case, and that is a real shocker. Even though the hospitals involved have refused that such a thing happened, how many of us think that such a thing could have happened ?

Forty-seven-year-old Arun Gupta, a businessman who was shot in the neck, died of his injuries after battling for life for nearly three hours on Monday morning. In fact, his son, Harshal, has alleged that the first hour — considered to be the golden hour for such victims — was spent in rushing him from one hospital to another which turned him down though a prominent hospital has denied any such incident.
According to two SC judgments, no doctor or hospital can deny life-saving emergency treatment to a patient. In two landmark judgments — Parmanand Katara vs Union of India and Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti vs State of West Bengal — the Supreme Court upheld every person's right to life.

I see this everywhere, and maybe I am as guilty of this as anyone else. Even though I recall a case where we had helped a biker who had crashed into our case, one cannot be really sure about the response when we are confronted with a person who is severely injured or has just been shot. In addition to the human nature that is concerned with helping others, there is now a contrary nature that deals with avoiding any sort of trouble.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:43 AM    

Thursday, April 03, 2008

CIC to clean its own house

India's RTI Act is supposed to be a way for all citizens to get information about records in the Government; it has been moderately successful, sometimes leading to great results, just by filing a simple form. However, it is dependent on Government departments maintaining records in a way that they can simply get access to such information when requested, and being in the spirit of RTI in providing such information. Towards this end, the CIC (Chief information Commissioner) has always pushed Government Departments to take further steps in this regard, including taking the action of penalizing the concerned officials when they are seen to be not acting on RTI requests.
However, as of now it seems that the emperor has no clothes. It seems a basic assumption that the RTI would be having a record of how many cases are currently open, how many have been closed successfully, and so on. Such records are fairly easy to do in the current age of computing, and are necessary if the performance of RTI Act needs to be evaluated. However, the CIC admitted that such records are not being maintained:

The Central Information Commission has been caught on the wrong foot after an RTI activist exposed how the commission — known for ticking off public authorities which fail to maintain records, leading to lack of transparency — is itself unable to furnish to the public information as basic as the number and status of cases and appeals pending with it. The reason: it maintains no such record.
"The CIC’s registry will take immediate steps to computerize and maintain a record of appeals/complaints admitted, date of hearing of each appeal, decision in each case with the state of announcement," the chief information commissioner decreed while deciding an RTI plea filed by Shruti Singh Chauhan.

It is good that the CIC has ordered keeping of such records. Like the RTI activist in this case, there are many others who will start to mine these records and find out how many Government departments are responsive, and how many are not. And using the media to apply pressure on unresponsive departments would be the next step. The RTI Act is a great first step in opening of information access, and it needs to be exploited to the maximum.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:11 PM