Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bomb blast in Delhi in Mehrauli kills a young boy

In yet another vivid depiction of the poor state of security in the country (and especially in the capital city), a bomb blast happened in the Mehrauli region of Delhi; this blast killed a young boy (he had stopped to pick up the tiffin in which the bomb was kept) and injured many more. This is shocking because of many reasons:
1. With some major bomb blasts having happened in Delhi only a fortnight back, one would have expected the security level to have been very high. However, it shows for the contempt that the bomb makers and deliverers have for the level of security in the city that a bomb was placed and exploded
2. The way in which this bomb was deployed was like the ultimate in arrogance. From reports, there were people who came in a motorcycle to a crowded street, came and dropped the bomb in broad daylight (unlike in other cases where the bombs were placed with some concealment)
3. Defensive nature of the police and Government response was apparent. There was an attempt to prevent people from feeling that all the arrests and terrorist module breaking claims of the previous weeks were not in vain - so instead the police talked about how these were not connected with the IM terrorists. It was left to the media to raise the frightening thought that if these were not the Indian Mujahideen, then how many terrorist groups were there who were planting bombs in Delhi ?
4. Within a span of a few hours, there were television crews standing on the exact spot where the bomb had exploded. I am not an expert on police methods, but I thought that securing the site of such explosions for further forensic analysis was required.
5. One wonders about the resolve of the Government to really push for anti-terrorist efforts vs. their worries about perceived loss of minority vote-banks. Here you have the Delhi Police (controlled by the center) arresting some students who belonged to Jamia Milia, and the VC of Jamia promises them legal aid (the university is also central government funded). And you have the inane comparisons being made by the Congress that Jamia has also paid for students arrested for vandalism ! Incredible, vandalism = terrorism. Next, if a Jamia student is arrested for murder, the university should also come to his aid.
6. Anti-terror laws. Enough already discussed, but every time an explosion happens, the Government says now we will go in for strict measures; then the allies remind them that Muslim votes will be affected if they go in for strict laws, and the ministers backtrack (instead of promising better safeguards)
Already, the country is not very easy to secure. We have a huge country, with a diverse set of citizens, and determined terrorists are difficult to stop. However, with lack of improper intelligence, and problems similar to what are described above, it's almost like open season for terrorism.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:12 AM    

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Policemen assault tea vendor for lack of free tea

We talk about the police force being a help to people, a friendly hand towards the citizens of the country; helping them in getting solutions to their problems, and preventing unfairness and crime in society. By now people reading this must be thinking that either I am totally ignorant, or that this article is leading to something else.
That part is true. This article is leading to something else. The police force of any country is supposed to be all that is written above, but you go and speak to citizens, especially those who are weaker, and you realize the terror they live in. And this is something that many of us would have also observed. It may be the poor financial provision to the men wearing the uniform, it may be inadequate training, it may be lack of control, it may be anything, but the police force almost never evokes respect in people. Thus, you read about brave policemen braving terrorists, working under bad conditions, and you feel sympathy for them; and then you witness the normal working like (and read about the level of corruption) and you realize that honesty may be an aberration.
Besides this article that I will be referencing, I witnessed something a few days that reinforced this feeling. At around 9 PM, I was passing a local marker on foot, and there was this roadside vendor selling fruits, and a hefty policeman standing next to him. I was there for enough time to hear the conversation, and feel miserable about what I could hear and not do anything. Essentially, the policemen was telling the vendor to go and get him a bottle of whiskey from the nearby vend, and you could immediately see how the vendor would not be in a position to refuse.
Now read this article:

Denying policemen complimentary tea proved costly for Raju Shukla, who now lies in the emergency ward of Balrampur Hospital. Shukla was brutally assaulted by four cops from the Chowk fire department late on Monday night. Raju, who runs a tea-stall at Koneshwar Crossing in Chowk area, was even branded a thief by the fire personnel and handed over to the Chowk police station. The version of the fire cops though changed in some time and they charged him with assaulting a rickshaw puller.
Talking to TOI, the only breadwinner in the family of five, Raju said, "hum garib admi hain bhaiyya, Koneshwar par chai ka stall chalate hain. Ab yeh log aakar kehte hai ki muft me chai do, to aap hi socho ki agar hum muft me chai batenge to humara ghar kaise chalega." (I am a poor man, running a tea stall at Koneshwar Crossing and these cops demand tea free of cost. If I do so, how will my family survive.) Lying on the hospital bed in pain and unable to even turn on his side, Raju said, "the men from fire department even got my stall removed earlier when I refused them free of cost tea."

The problem now is that the police force has almost zero believability index. Even if the person was at fault (and it is difficult to see how), almost everybody would believe that it was the policemen who were responsible, and the story is very believable. Most people would not expect any action in this case as well, since it involved a poor man, and the police force is typically loath to act against its own.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:34 AM    

Congress talks about a special anti-terror law ..

The recent attacks (bomb blasts) in Delhi that killed 10's of people seem to have finally made the Government realize how its hands are being burnt with respect to having an anti-terror law. Over the past many years, most observers have come to the realization that any policy change in India happens only for political reasons, and the same is true with respect to having a much tougher anti-terror law.
When the BJA (NDA) Government was in paper, it had brought in the tough POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) that curtailed many civil liberties and made it easier for the security agencies and the police to keep people in custody whom they believed were important for their investigations. It is also doubtless true that there would have been cases of misuse of this law, and such instances (and many other accusations) would be more true in the case of the Muslim community in India. Consequently, the law was soon proclaimed as against minority interests, helped by the fact that the 'anti-Muslim' BJP was in power. Any party wanting to court the Muslim vote would have to adopt a policy of anti-POTA, something that the Congress party adopted, and they quickly fulfilled this pledge after they came to power.
Fast-forward a few years, and the UPA (Congress) Government is on the mat in terms of internal security; bombs go off as if the terrorists just have to pick a place and they can cause numerous explosions, the security agencies make almost public appeals that they need a stronger law, and the Congress Home Minister (Shivraj Patil) is seen as a very weak and incompetent minister. The Congress seems to have even weathered the continuous bomb blasts in Bangalore and Ahemdabad and the many other bombs found in Surat (and many other bomb blasts earlier, including Jaipur); they were criticized and the Gujarat Chief Minister embarrassed the center by getting his police to quickly arrest some of the alleged conspirators.
However, the media by now had taken to savaging the Government's political driven need not to bring in a more enhanced anti-terror law, and it were the Delhi blasts (in open places and prominent locations) that seemed to have currently broken the political will of the Government. The Congress seems to have realized that they are being taken as weak on internal security, and for the first time, the Prime Minister seems to be talking about intelligence failures and other measures:

In the wake of continuing terror attacks in the country, the UPA government has mooted a "tougher-than-Pota" law. Although the recommendation has come from the Administrative Reforms Commission, the timing of its release — when the government is struggling to shake off a "soft on terror" tag its rivals have sought to pin to it and ahead of state polls — is seen to be loaded with significance.
Implementation of the law is not going to be easy because the Congress has not just opposed Pota, it has campaigned for its repeal. It will also have to contend with allies who remain opposed to a special anti-terror law. More crucially, special terror laws have been a fraught issue evoking strong negative vibes from the minority community, which has maintained that these have been used to frame innocents.

It is very much possible that the Government is seeking to dissipate some of the current pressures on it by talking about a law, and will slowly let all this talk slide when the situation seems to come under control, and there are non-bomb related other issues that occupy the attention of the country.
The BJP also uses the refusal of the Central Congress Government to sanction a Gujarat special anti-terrorism law based on similar lines as the current Maharashtra one. The BJP argues that the Congress is doing it for political reasons, and it really does not care about the security of the country, a trap that the Congress wants to avoid as we draw near to elections.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:33 AM    

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bomb blasts in Delhi: Seems to go on and on

It seems like we are living in a B-grade movie about some invisible hands deciding to blow up things all over the country, and soon you have explosions happening on a regular basis in various cities over the country; and on the movie theme, the politicians the police are either involved, or are incompetent. Well, guess what, this is not a movie. Terrorists are cocking a snook at the country, and the incompetent Central Government can do nothing but mount platitudes about how 'This is a great tragedy', 'We need a central agency for terror prevention', 'These things will be properly investigated and the culprits brought to trial', and so on. You must have heard of all of these ?
And we move on. There have been so many bomb blasts that happen nowadays that we are temporarily shocked by the carnage that happens, by the inability of the police to catch these people (even when it seems that a large number of people would be involved due to the number of simultaneous blasts), and then we all forget about it. I can remember a time when the transistor bombs in Delhi buses had shaken everybody, and now we routinely get bomb attacks in which more 10's of people die, and ... we move on.
What do we see the Government doing ? Well, I am sure that the intelligence agencies will be doing something, but the fact is that, in a federal structure such as ours, there are a number of different central and state level intelligence agencies (as well as the very weak intelligence network of the police); as a result, unless there is effective coordination, things are not going to work together. And who is responsible for doing this coordination ? There are primarily 2 gentleman at different levels for this - one is the National Security Advisor (Mr. Narayanan, who is unable to stem the rot in RAW, and unable to get the Government to reform things so that people find working in the intelligence services rewarding career wise).
The other is the Home Minister - Mr. Shivraj Patil. If India had ever had a home minister who was more low-profile, and unable to make a mark, it is difficult to find one. It is during his time that we have had a massive escalation in the security problems in the country (with more bomb blasts than ever before); the enduring image of him from the time of the Gujarat blasts is of him trying to prevent his clothes from getting dirty during the rain. It was telling on the state of confidence in the central Government that the Gujrat police was the one that seemingly cracked the terrorist blast cases of Surat and Ahemdabad without much support from the center. When he is asked a pointed question about the terrorist cases, even Congressmen would not be surprised if he says stuff such 'we are investigating', 'we cannot blame others', 'current laws are fine to handle terrorist cases', or more mournfully 'we need a central agency, but the states are not cooperating'. Given the rampant misuse of the CBI by the Congress, it is not hard to see why the states do not want to trust a Central Congress Government with a central powerful anti-terrorist agency.
What is the solution ? Steps like the Deoband school declaring such bomb blasts as anti-Islamic help, and some more intense investigation with inter-agency cooperation would help to solve these immediate cases; but there is a total lack of long term steps as propounded by many experts:
1. Get beat constables to go around the neighborhoods more often
2. Make intelligence wings of the police more lucrative to join
3. Prevent politicisation of anti-terrorist efforts
4. Make safety more important (for example, today I had gone to the Lajpat Nagar market in Delhi - a fairly crowded place). In the central market, there is cordoning off and entry is only through a walk-in bomb detector gate, but the effect was gone. The gate was not working, and there were no policemen nearby. In India's crowded and culturally mixed population, it is hard to detect potential terrorists, but at least things should not be made easy for them)

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:44 AM    

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Mumbai Police crackdown on drunk driving

India has a variety of problems relating to traffic management, such as overall bad conditions of road, not enough road capacity in cities, a variety of slow-moving and fast moving vehicles on the roads, and so on. One of the worst, observable by almost every person on the road, is the lack of following of traffic rules and laws. People feel that traffic rules are guides that can be followed or not depending on one's wishes, and this attitude is reinforced by a very lax enforcement of traffic laws by policemen who catch drivers violating all rules.
People almost never stop before the zebra crossing, jump red lights with gusto, do not think twice about going the wrong side of the road if they can save a few minutes, speed limits are a formality, but by far the worst such transgressions are those where a person drinks and drives.
Drinking and driving is seen as one of worst offense that a person can commit on the road, since drinking (above the legal alcohol level) means that a person is no longer in full control of their senses, and as a result, is driving a powerful and heavy machine that can easily maim or kill. In countries where drinking and driving is penalized, a person caught easily loses their license to drive for some time, may have to spend a night in jail, and is on probation for some time after that. In India, incidents such as Salman Khan driving over people, Sanjeev Nanda driving over people when drunk happen; and these are the celebrity ones, there are many more that happen on a normal basis.
So far, the law was only on the books, but for the past some months, the Mumbai police seems to have taken this far more seriously. They have been catching drunk drivers, sending them to cool off a day in jail (recently they jailed the very first lady who has been caught like this for a day). Sample this incident which shows the crackdown, as well as the general attitude of people:

Keyur Parikh must have never imagined that the traffic police were actually tracking his movements, after a court suspended his driving licence in July for a period of six months for drunk driving. On Monday, the police caught 28-year-old Parikh outside Heera Panna mall, a stone's throw away from his upmarket Tardeo residence, for driving without a valid licence. Parikh then started dropping names and threatened to summon his lawyer, hoping to get off scot-free. But the cops ignored his arguments and hauled him to the Girgaum court. It turned out that he had been booked for four other parking offences as well in the past.
"Nearly 9,000 motor driving licences have been suspended by the court since June last year. We had a hunch that some of these motorists might still be driving despite their licences being suspended. A list of 10-15 such drivers was prepared and we tracked their movements from their residence to their place of work. Our officers were armed with their vehicle registration numbers and photographs. Parikh walked into our trap on Monday,'' said deputy commissioner (traffic) Harish Baijal.

This is another part of the whole problem. How many people have not heard of cases where people receive traffic citations by normal post, and tear it up without paying, since they are confident that the traffic system of generating these citations are not computerized, and that there is no major problem if they don't follow up. I recently heard that the Delhi police head was talking about such a system; and the fact that so many years after computerization, availability of hand-held system, police still cannot check real-time whether a car in front of them (and its driver) have other citations against them.
However, one should be happy when things start working. In this case, I have been hearing of this drive for many months now, so this is not a campaign that starts, runs for some time, and then stops. It is only when people believe that they are in danger of getting caught, and they cannot escape either by paying a bribe or dropping some high names that there is some progress. Of course, educating drivers is also necessary, but without some enforcement, it mostly does not work.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:23 AM    

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sanjeev Nanda found guilty in the BMW case

The year was 1999, with the month being January. The Nandan clan was a well known clan, with the senior, the grandfather being a former naval chief of India, S M Nanda; the father was a very rich arms dealer, Suresh Nanda. With such a household, and with plenty of riches, getting a BMW car for the son Sanjeev Nanda (19 years old at that time) was not something that was seen as difficult, and the son used to drive it. And it was driving it that he ended the lives of 6 innocent people, and caused his and other's family untold grief.
This is a case that shows how the delays of the Indian judicial system have a way of subverting any case. The decision was by the trial court (the lowest such court) and that too 9 years after the incident. Give a rich family like this enough time, and it is a wonder that the case still reached a conclusion where Sanjeev Nanda was found guilty. Witnesses were got after and they consequently changed their testimony, even the prosecuting attorney (and a very respected one) colluded with the defense to try and get a witness to change his testimony.
And yet today, wonders of wonders, he was judged guilty and his term in prison will be set tomorrow

NEW DELHI: A trial court on Tuesday deferred the sentencing of convict Sanjeev Nanda in the BMW hit-and-run case to September 5. Sanjeev, grandson of former Naval chief S M Nanda, was found guilty of committing manslaughter or ‘‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’’. Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Kumar held that the vehicle that killed those six people early one morning in January 1999 was a BMW car and not a truck, as claimed by the defence, and that Nanda was behind the wheel, inebriated, when he dragged three of them under the bonnet of his car.
Nanda, who had already spent nine months in detention, has been convicted under Section 304(II) IPC which has a maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail.

This is a stiff conviction, that is no doubt true, and the fact remains that he will have to spend some time in jail. This was an important case, and the fact that all the efforts of the defense to try to subvert the case came to nought in this case.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:58 AM