Monday, June 30, 2008

Leaving parents behind

Recently I came across a situation that was terribly distressing. There was a school friend of mine (we are talking about the late 80's) with whom I had lost contact some years back. During the time that I remember spending with him in school, he was a good friend. However, as happens many times when you go out of school, and then go to different colleges, we lost touch (even though he was in the same city).
Then, while browsing through the friends list of a friend in Facebook, I came across his name. I promptly added him to my friends list, and within a couple of days, we had regained contact. In email through Facebook, I got to know what he had done after school. He had an interest in going abroad, and so, he did the usual software engineering route, joined a services company, and within a year got the chance to go abroad. He jumped at the chance, and moved with the software company to its US office; and after a year or so, jumped jobs and joined an American company.
All the time, his parents were at home, here, along with his younger daughter. Soon, when the daughter did her education and became a doctor, they found a good match for the daughter (another doctor settled in London) and the marriage happened; the daughter soon left with her husband to London. Now, the parents were left only to themselves in the house. Within a year, they found a suitable bride for their son, he came for the marriage, spent some time at home and then left back to the US. He was still devoted to his parents, coming once every year to visit.
However, and this is now the issue. I visited the parents a couple of days back, and found them to be in a bad position. They are growing old, and have only themselves to take care of each other. They are so used to the city and the circle around them that they are not taking up their son's offer to take them with him to the US, worrying about what they will do in a strange place, whether they will get along with their daughter-in-law (she is used to running the show in that house). The son is not willing to relocate back; he has a cushy life over there, children who are more American than Indian, and so on. And so, the have money (sent by their son), but do not have the moral support that is normally required. They also get testy when you talk to them about going abroad with their son, and I did not raise the issue again in visits. What is a good solution in such cases ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:11 AM    

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Being transferred for using RTI

The RTI Act was supposed to provide an inexpensive way for people to get more empowered, and to be able to exercise their right to get more openness into the Government machinery. This would be a sword in the fight to expose corruption and mis-governance; and the RTI Act has brought about some changes in this regard. There have been many cases where people have used RTI to either get more information about cases where they have fighting with babudom; or there have been cases where people (and many organizations fighting for more openness) have used the power of the RTI Act to expose corruption or other such problems that used to remain hidden earlier.
However, this is not to say that the Government bureaucracy is not fighting back. There have been all sorts of attempts made to stone-wall queries, or to question as to why people need the information that they have requested. In some cases, these attempts to prevent disclosure of such information has lead to fines on the concerned officials. However, the method used below was something that I had not read of earlier, and seems to use normal Government channels to punish a Government employee trying to expose corruption:

DEWAS (MP): Information comes at a price, and who can know this better than a Kendriya Vidyalaya teacher who has been transferred to Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir for seeking information about alleged corruption.
"I was transferred to Kargil and was also relieved by the school administration here the day they received an order in this regard as I have exposed corruption in purchase of books, construction of playground and illegal felling of trees among others and sought information about it under RTI," Manjulal Kajodia said after beginning his protest against his transfer.

Such measures to victimise an RTI applicant need to be condemned across the board. Exposing corruption within your own department is even more risky since you can get targeted more easily (there are specific whistle-blower laws that try to protect people exposing wrong-doing within their own area).

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:48 PM    

Following traffic rules in the case of dark films

I really wonder sometimes about whether we should blame the ordinary citizen or the police when you see laws and rules being broken so easily in the country. I was witness to something that left me wondering about this question. We see traffic rules normally broken very casually on the roads (speed limit, usage of helmets and seat belts, drunk driving, red lights, etc); most rules are broken very easily. The sad part is that most of us are guilty at some point about breaking these rules and later blaming the police for being inactive and not enforcing the rules.
I had gone to an car accessories shop for some seat covers, and witnessed a number of vehicles parked there (hogging a lot of space in the market, but that is a different story), and employees of the shop busy fixing dark film on the windows of the cars. Now, once many years back, when the police had ruled that the dark films are not allowed on car windows, I had been ordered by my parents to be the one to remove the dark film It was a painful process, and I had always hesitated after that to fix dark films because of this reason.
Now, dark films look cool; they also aid in ensuring that the car does not get so heated up in summer. Unfortunately, the dark films also end up hiding the interior of cars; preventing a clear visibility of the inside. In some of the cases where a rape has been conducted inside a moving car in Delhi, the car has typically had dark film installed. It also prevents Delhi police from being efficient in inspecting vehicles fast when they have information about criminals and terrorists. Hence, the police have decided that dark films will only be allowed up to a certain percentage of opacity.
The cars on which I could see the dark films were being installed were seemingly way beyond the level allowed by the Delhi police. When I asked one of the owners of the shop about this, he showed me a car on which the allowed level was being installed (it was in a minority). On further enquiry, he told me that most people request films more than what was allowed, and if he won't do it, others will. So, he runs a business and installs what they want.
The query that I had was now: Who is the person who is breaking the rule ? Is it the car owner who will install whatever version of the dark film that he wants ; Is it the shop owner who agrees to install the non-compliant version of the dark films ; o is the police whose rules (and enforcement of the rules) has become so ineffective that people no longer care for those rules ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:22 PM    

Mercy killing in India ?

A very sensitive subject indeed. Mercy killing, or allowing a person to take his own life (or a team of doctors to do so) is a dilemma that raises ethical questions all over the world. For a world that has derived many of its laws and regulations from religious backgrounds (Ten Commandments / The Gita / The Koran / etc..), mercy killing is something that raises the hackles of a large section of the world's population. It is only permissible in some countries, and that too under strict control. In many other countries (even one such as the United States), mercy killing has run against a moral hard rock and many physicians have been sentenced for helping in carrying it out. In a recent case of Terry Schiavo (Wikipedia), the case went through major conflict, with people at all levels (politicians, religious figures, family rights groups, etc) getting involved.
The basic premise for mercy killing is simple: There are many medical conditions that are terminal, and there is no established medical treatments that can cure the disease or prevent death. And unlike movies, people don't dance or sing till almost just before death, they go through horrible phases of steadily declining abilities - losing control of vital motor abilities, losing control of their mental faculties, unable to fend for themselves and being dependent on others, and a steadily increasing pain. In such cases, there has been the logic that given that their condition is terminal (that is, they have reached a condition where death is confirmed and they no longer have a life that seems meaningful in any way), they should be allowed an option to end their life when they still can command control of their life.

Taking the first step towards legalizing euthanasia or mercy killing, the Law Commission has decided to recommend to the government to allow terminally ill to end their lives to relieve them of long suffering. It allows those whose death is virtually certain to avoid their painful journey to the end.
The core of the recommendation to make euthanasia legal stems from several SC judgments which ruled that 'life does not mean animal existence’. "If a person is unable to take normal care of his body or has lost all the senses and if his real desire is to quit the world, he cannot be compelled to continue with torture and painful life. In such cases, it will indeed be cruel not to permit him to die," says the report, receiving final touches from Commission chairman Justice A R Lakshmanan.

However, aside from the moral and ethical problems that this issue comes up with, there are many other problems that arise when such a discussion comes up:
- There are a host of new treatments that are arising as we experiment more with genes and new areas such as stem cell technology, so is it right to assume that a condition that is treated as terminal now could not become one where a treatment is possible in a few years
- Who decides whether the condition is terminal ? If it is a team of doctors, who do you trust ? How do you prevent misuse, especially when we have seen so many new cases whereby elderly people are dumped because of the effort of taking care of them
- Will this become a poor vs. rich thing ? Suppose that a very expensive treatment is available abroad, and a poor person cannot afford to get this done for the terminal condition ?
- How will the actual logistics of carrying out the termination of a medically terminally affected patient be carried out ?
- In a country where there are many more needy people than hospital beds, would this become a misused thing ?
What do you people think ? Is India ready for something like mercy killing ?
I agree that we need to do this, subject to some stringent checks and balances.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:45 PM    

Fines against officials in the RTI Act

Slowly, one can see a greater use of the RTI Act. The RTI Act had been pushed for long as the means to allow citizens to get openness from the bureaucracy (seen for long as a place where things were slow, and where citizens would always have to suffer). The RTI Act was meant to let citizens get information on just about any query under the sun (subject some state secrets, and some commercial secrets). It has been going through fits and starts, with many bemoaning the fact that the babudom is trying their best to thwart the implementation of the law; but as the below examples show, the Act is actually doing good in many cases. People are able to request information, and if the concerned official does not provide the information, then there are provisions of fines being levies for this non-compliance:

PATNA: State information commissioner Mohd Shakeel Ahmad, has imposed a fine of Rs 250 per day with a maximum of Rs 25,000 each against deputy collector, land reforms, Rajgir, and the circle officer of Rajgir for not providing information to an applicant, Sanjay Kumar, seeking information under the provision of Right to Information Act.

Now the fine itself may not seem like much, but the provision is that the fine is levied from the salary of the official, and also such fines are typically highlighted in the media, putting pressure on the officers to comply with the orders. Further, it is the provision of such fines that would encourage citizens to query for all the information that they want to obtain, safe in the assumption that either they will get the information, or the officer will be fined for not providing the information.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:40 PM    

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Armyman tries to sell shell, it explodes

Corruption takes many strange forms, and can cause very strange situations. However, this incident takes the cake. The army has policies for disposal of its ammunition, and those do not allow letting its soldiers walk off with these shells and sell them for their personal benefit. So how do you account for the stupidity of this armyman and the scrap dealer to whom he sold it to?

Three people, including an Armyman, were killed and three others seriously injured when a shell exploded at a scrap dealer's shop in Punjab’s Muktsar district on Thursday.
Muktsar police chief Gurpreet Singh Gill said the Armyman had taken the shell to the scrap dealer in Mehna village to sell. “When the shopkeeper hit the shell with a hammer, it exploded, killing three people on the spot,” he said.

Shells have been known to be volatile. Bombs that were dropped during World War 2 in Europe are still seen as dangerous, and treated with as much care as live shells. How does one explain the concept of this army soldier trying to sell off a shell; one wonders about the caliber of our soldiers if she did not realize that a shell is volatile. And the policies of the army where a soldier could walk off with a shell during peacetime, and it is not missed.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:14 AM    

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Government looking to check misuse of dowry laws

The incidence of dowry in the country is a fairly high chance. Over a period of time, it has evolved from something that was supposed to be a gift given to the bride (and maybe the only thing given to the daughter of the house from the family property) to something that is seen as the right of the groom's family. The belief is that if the son is skilled or from a good family, or of the right caste, then it is the right of the girl's family to open their wallets and give umpteen amounts for the marriage. There are people who dispute the amount of dowry prevalent in today's society, but open the newspapers or see TV, and you will society temporarily idolizing the girl who stood up to the dowry seekers, or you will read more grisly tales of brides being subjected to torture or being killed due to problems with the dowry being paid. In many cases, it is not cash, but the demand is for a vehicle, or even more subtly, a loan (never to be returned), to help the boy do better in a business or some other need. I know a case where a boy's grandparents demanded a car at the last moment (within 10 days of the marriage), and the poor parents felt that they had no option other than to give in and mobilize the funds to buy and give the car.
So, there are a set of laws to even the scale; these laws would not actually pass the test of being totally lawful since they do weigh more in favor of the girl. Many would argue that this is right, since society is totally in favor of the demands by the groom. However, as always happens when there are a set of laws that are more in favor of one section, the misuse of these laws happen. So, for all the times when the dowry laws help a tortured or suppressed girl, there are numerous other cases where the same law is used to threaten the family of a groom where there has been no incidence of dowry. For a case where there has been marital discord, the threatened use of dowry can turn the tables, since the groom's family have learned to fear the use of dowry laws. The allegation of dowry can bring about unwanted media attention including vilification, closer attention by cops (maybe some days in jail as well), and a significant pressure level to settle the case.
Hence, over a period of time, there has been a lot of focus by many self-help groups to plead against the misuse of these laws and bring it to the notice of the government (not only the anti-dowry laws, but the recent domestic violence act that also has some harsh measures). Even many courts have pointed out the misuse of these laws in some cases and called for greater oversight to prevent misuse of these laws:

Following complaints about the misuse of dowry laws by women, the Centre has decided to look into the issue and will hold a consultation programme to get views and suggestions from NGOs and activists working for men. Acting on complaints about the misuse of dowry laws, the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development would organise a consultation programme where men from different walks of life would be invited to express themselves on June 25.
"The ministry has received complaints from men about the urgent need to amend Section 498(A) of the dowry law claiming that many women misuse the law to their benefit. After the consultation, the Ministry will examine how far this claim is right before deciding on any thing," Union Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhary said.

Nobody doubts the need for laws to act against dowry misuse as well as warn people against the potential problems they face if they demand dowry and ill-treat women because of that; however, at the same time, a harsh law has a strong potential for misuse and there is an urgent need for reform. The main question right now is about whether there will be a proper review and necessary changes be brought in ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:51 AM    

Regular misuse of VIP railways coupons

From time to time, Indian authorities detect many persons traveling on various trains of the Indian Railways using VIP coupons. These are coupons issued to many categories of people (such as railways employees, politicians, cultural figures, freedom fighters, etc). However, it has been found that many of them get misused - they are meant for the person to whom they are allotted, and for their immediate staff or family; a lot of them get used for the purpose of either being sent to relatives or friends, and in extreme cases, getting sold. Consider this case:

CHANDIGARH: The flying squad of the railways commercial control wing detected yet another misuse of privilege coupons allotted to various categories. Four persons travelling on coupons allotted to Varanasi's former MLA were nabbed in this connection on Friday night.
The coupons were issued to Rajni Kant Datta, a former MLA from Varanasi. The four identified as P Mishra, M Mishra, Sanjeev Verma and Atul, all residents of Varanasi, were penalized in accordance to the provisions of the railways Act. Inquiries revealed that acting on a tip-off, a team of travelling ticket examiners (TTEs) caught the four travelling on the Varanasi-bound 414 Jammu-Banaras Express in Ambala.

Such misuse is a direct loss to the railways, and besides increases the culture of corruption. It is incumbent on the railways to make sure that such people who are caught are penalized, and so is the person whose coupons are being used in such a manner.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:28 AM    

What will the Government do about the nuclear deal ?

This is surely something that must be scaring the Congress chief (Sonia Gandhi, not Manmohan Singh). The same Prime Minister who last August backed down after initially acting like a lion (remember the statement - 'this is not a one issue Government' ?) is now suddenly passing out signals that he wants the nuclear deal to be done, and is willing to sacrifice the support of the left.
Sonia Gandhi must be scared out of her wits - her compliant Prime Minister is suddenly displaying a spine, her reluctant allies (the ever pressurizing left) are threatening that they will have a team outside Rashtrapati Bhavan to give the withdrawal letter to the President if the Government states its intention to go ahead with the nuclear deal, inflation is out of control and threatens to remain so, farmers are protesting in many states because of the fertilizer snafu, the other allies (NCP, DMK, RJD, etc) are all potential allies of the Left and hence not particularly eager to buck the support of the Left and go in for maybe possible early elections where they will also get tagged with the inflation and bad governance tag, and the Congress is losing states left right and center, ceding many of them to the BJP.
This particular issue comes as a surprise to most political observers; after all, the nuclear deal had more or less died out as an issue that the Congress would bother to pick up a fight for - it does not have electoral appeal, most people in the country would not bother to base their voting pattern over such a deal, and the left would have painted proponents of such a deal as being very aligned to the US (not a very appealing prospect to most parties who believe that this would put off the Muslim vote - not a done deal, but most parties believe that this is the likely case). It was only strategic observers who bemoaned the loss that the country was facing over the failure of such a deal (and the fact that such a deal was not something that India's neighboring countries were happy over). There were weaknesses in such a deal, but the fact is that unless India were to steal advanced technology, this deal is about as good a deal as it got (and that too because Washington has its own motives behind such a deal, including the advantages that its own nuclear plant firms would get).
So now what happens ? I would suspect that eventually the Prime Minister will back down; they have already done so many rollbacks because of the pressure of the Left that maybe they have lost the guts and sight to see that the Left would face a bad time if elections were held now. The Left faces pressure because of the Nandigram incident, and Kerala is ripe for a movement of the electorate to the Congress (because the Left Government in Kerala has not exactly been an epitome of good governance); further, if the Left withdraws support now, and the BJP comes to power, then the left loses whatsoever influence it has over the policies of the country.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:51 AM    

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Women held for extorting money using fake rape charges

Rape is a heinous crime, something that can cast a horrible injury on a women (both on the physical body and the psyche); it can take a long time to get over this assault. Hence, there are some harsh laws on this crime in human society, with a world wide convention that such crimes will be handled to the maximum possible allowed under the law. In India, the Supreme Court has been sensitive to the nature of this crime, in many cases relying on the sole testimony of the victim. However, such measures are subject to misuse, and one comes across such cames occasionally that introduce a feeling that one cannot take a statement for granted. Read about ladies who extort money from innocent bystanders by threatening rape:

The women used to entice passersby and then extort money from them by putting them under fear of rape allegations. The three, Heena(25), Noorjahan(26) and Rukshana(26) (names changed) were active in Delhi and NCR for the past few years, the police said.
The police carried out the arrests after their suspicions were roused by a woman's complaint in which she alleged she was raped by a person who offered her her a lift while she was returning home.
The officer added that the women used to charge anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 for not framing the victim. If he refused to pay, the person would be taken to the police station. The women had few male accomplices who would track their movements and come to their rescue if anything went wrong.

It is the fear of getting caught in such cases that makes most people unwilling to offer help. Colleagues whom I talked to confirm that most of them will hesitate to help a single lady standing alone (even though such cases happen in low numbers, but the fear of scandal and getting caught in such major issues hampers most people). In addition, quoting of such cases when the circumstances of the rape charge is not crystal clear may allow even guilty rapists from getting away.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:51 AM    

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Police: Protectors or destroyers

In India, the police are still governed by a set of rules that were set up in British times; then the aim of the police was to implement the policies of the ruler against a ruled nation. Looking at the current situation, one would not be faulted for thinking that something similar is the current situation. The police is formed out of the society as we have currently, and assumes that the police is 'THE government' in areas that are away from major cities. If you go to a semi-urban area, then there are only 2-3 centers of power: the local politician of the ruling party, the powerful criminal, the local top bureaucrat, and then the policeman, in cahoots with one, or all of them.
In such a case, a policemen who does not have enough morals or controls would think that he is the local equivalent of all authority, and that any action of his cannot be faulted. If not so, how does one explain the case where policemen can rape a citizen of the country (without worrying that the law will catch up with them):

The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Friday rapped the Haryana police for the rape of a woman in Rohtak allegedly by two constables, saying "when the protectors of the law become perpetrators of crime, the life of the common man becomes miserable".
The Bench also directed the state government to file a detailed status report within two weeks on the circumstances that drove the young mother of two to the extreme step. They said the compensation announced for the minor daughters of the woman "cannot retrieve the honour of the deceased or the family" nor could it bring the victim back to life.

The biggest problem is that even when the victim complained, the police force did not investigate. It is only left to either the victim taking a drastic action like committing suicide; or when the media highlights the case and brings unprecedented public pressure to bear. However, this is not a solution. The solution, as pronounced by the Supreme Court, is to reform the Police Force and bring it under more responsibility.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:32 AM    

Using RTI Act to get more information

Ever since the RTI Act came into existence, it has been seen as a powerful instrument to clear out secrecy of movements of records within the bureaucracy, and of helping to explain as to what decisions are made on what basis. It could be seen as a powerful laser-strength light shines like a powerful sun on the cobwebs of the Government bureaucracy and exposes corruption; however, one of the main problems seen is the inability of normal street level people to make sure of it. This has been seen as one of the main problems of the Act, it is only as good as the ability of people to use it.
Well, it seems like people are slowly catching on, and this awareness, even if more pronounced in urban areas, will slowly move through the whole country. Even a slight increase in awareness and a reduction in corruption and stealth of Government operations will do wonders for the enhancement of citizens. Imagine the power of a villager being able to find out where the money alloted for improving a road went to ? In many cases, just the act of filing a RTI petition can cause the concerned officials to move much faster. Consider these examples of how the RTI Act seems to be catching on:

Armed with the Right to Information (RTI) Act, citizens are posing peculiar questions to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) at an average of 10 applications per day. The questions range from appointments, service matters, building penalisation scheme etc. It's not the city folk but people from districts and even other states are demanding information.
Consider this. P Anand, a resident of Ashok Nagar in the city sought information on last November's appointment of additional commissioner (heritage) J Kedareshwari. This included whether she was posted in GHMC through an open advertisement and why her appointment was done in haste and the qualifications and eligibility for the post.

It is really heartening to see this movement catching up on; if this continues and becomes a mass movement, then we will finally see levels of corruption coming down and the influence of vested interests will start coming down.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:08 AM    

Court casitgates DDA for 'sadistic pleasure'

Citizens of the country have mostly bad thoughts about interacting with Government bodies; a lot of them come across officialdom who are not responsive and caring about their needs (as an example, making them come repeatedly even for small errors in the red tape process), and so on. There are babus (officials), who are friendly, but most are like hard faced officials, unwilling to come across as caring people. It would be nice for people to live in a gated community (and self-sufficient place) where one would not have to interact with the Government bureaucracy, but that is living in an ideal world. However, there are cases when official responses are such that you would be horrified to read about such cases, and wonder as to how the official structure of the country could be so insensitive to the problems faced by citizens, that too when the situation is due to a fault of the agency themselves. The Delhi Development Authority however has been roundly criticized from time to time over its openness, caring nature (lack of it), and inability to care about what citizens go through. Read this article for more information:

Wondering if DDA derives "some kind of sadistic pleasure" in harassing citizens, Delhi High Court has slammed the civic agency in a case of double allotment of a flat in 1991 due to which the rightful owner was deprived of its possession and had to wage a 17 year legal battle in court.
"Ignoring dictum of law the officials of DDA keep perpetuating their illegal acts giving an impression as if they derive some kind of sadistic pleasure to harass the citizens," HC observed while castigating the civic body for having the nerve to demand double the price of a flat which wasn't handed over to Gandhi in 1991 because of DDA's double allotment mistake.

This case really highlights as to how uncaring an agency can be. DDA double-allotted a flat in 1991, and when the lady in question tried to get the mistake corrected, the DDA did a fresh allotment to her after 10 years and charged her new prices, at double the original cost. In such cases, the Court should also assign individual responsibility and fine officials responsible (including fining officials of the rank of Chairman and Vice-Chairman if they had made such recommendations).

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:19 AM    

Friday, June 13, 2008

The criticality of auditing social programmes and violence

It is an established fact that a significant majority of money devoted to social programmes, such as the National Employment Guarantee, Anti-poverty programmes, targeted food subsidy, and many others, are heavily flawed in terms of the actual money that reach the poor. There have studies over the past, there have been admissions by the Government in the past (such as Rajiv Gandhi's famous statement made way back in 1985 about only 15% of the money reaching the intended). Money is siphoned off through middle-men, local politicians, workers, and the entrenched mafia. This has happened for a long time now, and it would seem that people have accepted this as a normal thing.
However, this should not be so. From time to time, the Government announces (mostly falsely) that there will be much greater inspection of the implementation to ensure that leakages are stopped. But more than the Government, there are social activists who are encouraging villages and the logical recipients of such aid to be more vigilant, to use laws such as RTI, and other measures such as social audits. Going against entrenched measures will lead to backlashes from those who stand to lose out their ill-gotten gains. Such is to be expected. However, it is the duty of the state to protect such audits and awareness, to provide all security measures, from policy statements by ministers at all levels and messaging through the arms of the state (babus, local politicians), and act strictly and firmly against people who seek to subvert such acts. But consider this article, and see whether the Government is doing things in the right manner:

The thousand-strong gathering at the Theological College grounds in Ranchi on June 10 had no doubts over why Lalit Mehta was killed. The 36-year-old engineer turned activist, had no personal enemies or battles. All he had done was access National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) expenditure records for researchers verifying official records against field data. On May 14, a day before the planned Social Audit of those works, he was brutally murdered.
The NREGA has provided an entitlement for the first time. The RTI has given a tool to uncover corrupt practices. The Social Audit is a mandatory process, under the NREGA Act, giving the people a chance to establish the truth and push for change. For the first time a corrupt mafia is threatened by a legally mandated process, which looks at details and places irrefutable documentary proof in the public domain. The corrupt nexus is reacting with pre-meditated, calculated violence.

If you read the article by Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, this will leave you shaking in disbelief. There are incidents where the local administration (influenced no doubt by vested interests), is acting against people who are trying to create the awareness, and the Government, with all its statements for the 'aam admi', is standing still and refusing to take the measures that are subverting its own political campaigns. In the end, when people see corruption and do not see measures reaching them, they blame the political party. Does it not surprise the Congress that all these measures are not getting them political votes ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:20 PM    

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

UP MInister sacked for murder

One knows about the increased level of criminality in public life nowadays, especially when it comes to the increased nexus between politicians and criminals, and the increasing tendency of criminals (especially the musclemen variety) to try and enter the political life, so as to get a chance to 'serve the citizens of the country' !
One aspect of such a nexus is that politicians increasingly are unconcerned about the implications of their actions, and any repercussions such actions may have on them. Otherwise, how do you explain the strangeness of the act that the Uttar Pradesh minister was arrested for:

Sacked Uttar Pradesh Minister Jamuna Nishad was on Tuesday arrested by the police two days after he was charged with murder of a constable during a violent clash involving his supporters at a Maharajganj police station. Nishad was arrested while he was on his way to Chief Minister Mayawati's residence to attend a meeting.
Nishad, who was sacked by Mayawati on Sunday, was named in an FIR in connection with the killing of the constable during alleged firing by his supporters at Kotwali police station in Maharajganj. Nishad had denied his presence during the violence at the police station and also the charge that the shot was fired from his red-beaconed car.

Such things have been known to happen, and the harsh sentence handed out to the former Bihar MP Anand Mohan has not caused other politicians to resist from taking such actions. These actions need to be harshly prosecuted.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:33 AM    

Friday, June 06, 2008

Citicorp fined for using force in loan recovery

It seems to be a story that keeps on repeating itself over and over; you hear of people being harassed by loan recovery agents for repayment of loans, or of somebody's vehicle being taken away from them anywhere where the vehicle can be found, and so on. In extreme cases, the pressure or violence of the recovery agents can lead to injury or death of the person having taken the loan. The financing company or bank having advanced the loan would take recourse to goons or musclemen and they would use or threaten force in this regard.
For the last 2-3 years, this practise has been challenged in court, and there have been a number of decisions in this regard. Here's another substantiating the same point that a loan recovery company cannot use force for loan recovery. Since a loan agreement is a civil contract, recovery of loan amount or the assets bought against the loan also can happen only when there is a court order:

Unless a bank or a financial institution is equipped with a court order to repossess a vehicle which it has given on loan, it has no authority to go to the residence of the borrower to take away the vehicle by force. This was observed by the state consumer commission in a recent order.
Taking strong exception to the method adopted by a finance firm to recover dues in the form of a few unpaid instalments from a consumer who took the money to purchase a vehicle, the commission headed by Justice J D Kapoor directed Citicorp Finance (I) Limited to pay Rs 50,000 to one Jan Mohammad, a resident of Mehrauli, for the mental agony, harassment and public humiliation he faced. It was observed by the commission that no financier or bank had the authority to forcibly take possession of the vehicle as the loan agreement or hire purchase agreement were civil contracts and therefore had to be enforced through civil remedy. In other words, through intervention of the court.

It may be argued that the judicial system in India is slow and cases take a long time to settle; however that cannot be an argument for using force or illegal means. A company needs to act in the constraint of the law, so they need to use greater discretion when deciding loans, or they need to go in for more out-of-court settlements in such cases.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:27 PM    

Gujrat cop files sedition case against the Times of India

In a new low in the relations between state Governments and the media, the top cop of the Gujrat Government, Ahmedabad police commissioner O P Mathur filed a case of sedition (FIR's) against the Times of India. This has happened over the past week, ever since the newspaper publishes articles insinuating links between the cop and the underworld. Now, in India, most people are ready to believe that the underworld has links with politicians and policemen at all levels (helped by a large number of movies, as well as many such cases in real life), and if a newspaper publishes such reports, then many people will be very eager to believe such stories.
There is a side to this story where the media is expected to do responsible publishing, and where a story needs to backed up by facts. Now, in the west, this is backed up to some extent by the standards set by the editorial boards of respected newspapers as well as libel laws (not something that is rigidly enforced or practised in India). In India, newspapers and other media are currently in the forefront of highlighting many areas such as corruption, criminality, and various issues in the legal / judicial system. They need to be given some slack in this area.
Sedition is a crime where the accused is being held responsible for acting against the state - this would be commonly applied to people such as terrorists / separatists, counterfeit money producers and traffickers, etc. Applying such cases to newspaper people who file articles against individual policemen is stretching the law by a fair degree, and one would not expect a policeman to do such a thing.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:20 PM    

PM calls for austerity measures

When he became the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh was supposed to be a smart economist, and a non-practising politician; now it seems that things are totally reversed. For a long time, the Prime Minister kept off raising the price of fuel even though the international price of oil had gone up tremendously, this was a political decision. At the same time, since the Government has committed vast sums of money to its social welfare schemes, it cannot afford to significantly reduce the duties on oil; hence it refused to accept the Left dictated measure to reduce duty to absorb the price hike.
Now that the Government was finally forced to increase the price of petrol, diesel and LPG, there has been a whole gamut of measures to try and reduce the political cost. So the Prime Minister comes on TV to declare his helplessness at this hike, this being a global increase in fuel. In addition, the Prime Minister and the Congress tried to push some of the cost onto local State Governments by asking the state Governments to reduce duties from their side (and promptly, some state Governments ruled by the Congress did so).
In addition, the Prime Minister called for austerity measures as a way to demonstrate the Government's resolve to control its expenditure. And promptly, the various Ministers announced that they will now not go for foreign junkets, or now travel by economy instead of first class, and so on. This is political posturing at its worst, instead of actual measures to reduce wastage and expenditure. Here are some examples:
1. The newspaper today had an article about the Delhi Government absorbing Rs. 40 of the Rs. 50 hike in LPG. Now, a significant amount of the LPG sold in Delhi is absorbed by commercial enterprises, mostly eateries. They are supposed to buy commercial LPG, but instead buy diverted residential LPG with the connivance of distributors. This is a direct wastage that would be carried out throughout the country; this is also the case where vehicles use residential LPG cylinders.
2. From time immemorial, but announced by Rajiv Gandhi more than 20 years back, most of the money spent for anti-poverty measures gets diverted, with very little money actually reaching the poor. This gets highlighted from time to time, but there has been almost no measure by the Government to reduce this leakage. And the high profile new policies that seek to spend a massive sum are going the same way (such as the National Employment Guarantee Scheme). A lot of this diversion happens at the local politician level, and hence the parties do not attack this corruption.
3. Large construction projects are announced, and then due to bad supervision, these projects get delayed and the costs mount like anything.
4. There is hardly any national critical level project such as a national focus to go in for alternative energy projects to reduce our dependence on oil. Projects to introduce more of ethanol and biofuel (from non food crops) are very slow.
There can be many such examples, but the net effect is that the Government can do a significant amount to both reduce its expenditure as well as decrease India's increase in oil consumption.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:43 PM