Saturday, October 25, 2008

Compensation for police brutality

In India, the police derive their powers from laws enacted during the British time. These laws were meant to enforce the power of the state (and the rulers), and this sentiment drives the power and role of the police. Throughout India, if citizens are polled over the role of the police, you will find it hard to find people who have positive views. This is also my personal view; my interaction with and observations of the police have convinced me that they are generally inclined to enforce the law and protect the rule of law (and there are many honest and great police officers as well), but they also see the law and the threat of force as a way to get benefits for themselves and their masters (who certainly are not the citizens of this country). Further, as every small trader / streetside vendor / other small businessman would volunteer, if you do not keep the local policemen happy, then things will be tough:

AHMEDABAD: Supreme Court has asked additional director-general of police Rajan Priyadarshi to pay Rs 8 lakh towards compensation to the person he assaulted blinding him in one eye, during a demonstration in 1987.
The incident took place on February 1, 1987, when Priyadarshi and then inspector RJ Yadav resorted to lathicharge during a protest demonstration. In this, a Congress leader, who has recently joined BJP, Dr Prafull Thaker was injured and lost his right eye. He moved the court seeking compensation for the injury.

This must be a shock to the police officer, since the police assume that the right to use any amount of force during suppressing a protest is their given right (all the way from the brutal attack on Lala Lajpat Rai during the rule of the British), and the fact that a court could force them to pay compensation was unheard of. In the more advanced nations, powers given to the police are with responsibility and they can be prosecuted for excesses.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:57 PM    

The drama over Raj Thackeray

The drama over Raj Thackeray is reaching a new high. Raj Thackeray, once he split from the Shiv Sena had to make a separate image for himself. So, one of the ways to do this was to try to appeal to the parochial nature of people; blame outsiders for whatever is the economic poor condition and try to inflame their sentiments. He has managed to be somewhat successful in this quest, inflaming sentiments and overall leading to a situation where immigrants from North India have been attacked inside Mumbai and other parts of the state of Maharashtra. In the past, this led to panic and the temporary stoppage of many industrial units with many of their workers running away.
And how does the Chief Minister handle this whole situation. The Shiv Sena has long been a thorn in the side of the Congress in Maharashtra, with their more pro-Marathi position and higher propensity to appeal to populist sentiment. The Congress cannot afford take such positions, since it needs to appeal to all sections of people, and cannot afford to antagonize the voters of North Indian origin. And of course, taking a more extremist position in Maharashtra would expose them to a backlash elsewhere; and their chief Sonia Gandhi would be targeted for such positioning; so if you get a person all ready to be more extremist than the Shiv Sena, you can imagine the scenario of a Congress Chief Minister salivating over the prospect of the Sena's divided vote.
What this has resulted in is the Congress treating Raj Thackeray with kid gloves; they come out with empty soundbeats about 'The law will take its own course', 'We will protect everyone and not let violence happen', and so on. And yet, they allow the lumpen elements of the MNS to attack and do violence in broad daylight, they do token arrest of Raj Thackeray, keep him in absolute comfort and let him out by the next day (first time, they let him out within a few hours, and the next time overnight). The police officers claim that they have nothing against Raj Thackeray. And they can see the campaign working, the Shiv Sena is now unsure of how to behave and is trying to take credit for the campaign of the MNS. Read this report of the treatment of Raj:

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) leader Raj Thackeray need not worry about being arrested during Diwali, at least in the case filed by the Kalyan railway police. A Kalyan sessions court on Friday extended its interim protection to Thackeray till the next date of hearing, which falls on November 11. Sessions judge K K Tantrapale, however, emphasised that one of the conditions for the interim protection was that Thackeray will have to refrain from giving provocative and inflammatory speeches.
The judge questioned whether the state would be able to ensure the smooth functioning of the court if Thackeray was ordered to remain present in court. ‘Is the state machinery ready to provide adequate bandobast in the court premises,’ the judge asked the prosecutor. The judge further told the prosecutor that on Tuesday MNS activists had managed to forcibly enter the court premises and shouted slogans and created a commotion. Salian assured the court that the police would put in place adequate security.

This whole situation has seen a woeful lack of an attempt by the State Government to try and prevent the violence, and the whole atmosphere of intimidation that is equally bad. Even after large scale condemnation by various parties (including allies of the Congress), there does not seem to be any clear attempt to show Raj Thackeray the violations of law that he has committed. Instead, after seeing the repeated
statements of Raj (followed by direct action of his partymen), I am reminded of the way that the militants expelled most of the pandits from the Kashmir Valley. It is like a 2 step process, where Raj does not directly state violence, but leaves nothing else to be desired, and then his partymen carry out the actual violence.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:36 AM    

Friday, October 17, 2008

Indian Politicians campaign against the military operation by Sri Lankan Government

Indian MP's and MLA's are the major supporters of our sovereign rights. All it takes is for somebody outside the country to talk about how India should behave, and you can have an uproar (if Parliament is in session, then suspension of the zero hour and demands to give a proper response) with all the politicians trying their best to portray themselves as the sole defender of the honour and self-respect of the country. You also have the media getting into the game, with editorials bemoaning the tendency of others to try to tell us what to do, and that our politicians have led us into such a place whereby anybody can tell us what to do.
And now, when the situation in Sri Lanka, where a terrorist group (that killed a former Indian Prime Minister along with numerous Sri Lankan politicians and others) is on the verge of losing an armed struggle with the legally constituted Government of the country, you have Indian politicians trying their best to stop this action so that they can be seen as supporters of the rights of the Tamils:

All the seven DMK ministers in the UPA government are expected to submit their resignation letters to party leader and Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi on Friday to mount pressure on the Manmohan Singh regime to intervene in Sri Lanka. Simultaneously, Karunanidhi on Thursday announced a human chain protest in Chennai on October 21 to ask the Centre to act on an 'all-party' meeting's call that India take steps to halt the war in the island and despatch humanitarian assistance to Tamil civilians affected by the conflict.
"We will have no option but to quit if the Centre fails to take strong measures to stop the killing of our brethren in the island. We will have no hesitation in stepping down to show our solidarity with the beleaguered Tamil people," the minister said. He added that the DMK chief would forward the letters after watching the developments.

This is sheer hyprocrisy. All of the parties in Tamil Nadu know that the LTTE is a massively brutal terrorist organization that is only interested in its own welfare. It has not discriminated between Sri Lankan non-Tamil and Tamil politicians. It is noteworthy to remember that this is the same organization that had an active role to play in killing Indian soldiers during the IPKF operation, and its killing of Rajiv Gandhi (and 19 others in the same blast) should have always put it beyond the pale of Indian support.
The LTTE had even forced another elected leader of the Sri Lankan Tamil majority regions to run away by threatening him, it has single-mindedly pursued a policy of decimating all those who stand in its path from within the community. It had been criticized severely due to its policy of brain washing people to become suicide bombers, as well as forcing children to become soldiers. It also has never been a serious votary of genuine talks and negotiations, with an objective of getting more rights for the Tamils other than an independent homeland.
The Indian Government cannot advise the Sri Lankans to stop this military operation, they have been thirsting for the ending of this terrorist organization in their country; equivalent to how Indians would feel if there was a major chance of getting rid of the Lashkar e-Toiba and SIMI in India. Putting pressure on them only forces them to get the support of other nations and move away from India. Any suggestions we could give them would to be make sure that human rights are not affected, and people do not suffer during this campaign.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:29 PM    

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bush signs nuclear energy deal with India

In a landmark deal that broke many facets of the international nuclear embargo on NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) non-signatory nations, the US has finally signed a nuclear deal with India. This has been among the most heated and debated agreements in recent times. Part of a mission to make US-India ties closer, and to relax some of the restrictions on India in the nuclear area, the deal took a lot of diplomatic effort to get through, and the final legal step of the deal was signed in by President Bush. This last step was not necessary for India to go ahead with nuclear deals with other nations, but in light of the recent efforts by the US administration to push the deal, the Indian side decided to wait for the US Congress approval.

US President George W Bush has signed into law a nuclear deal with India, which ends a three-decade ban on US nuclear trade with Delhi. The landmark agreement was approved by the US Congress nearly a week ago. The deal will give India access to US civilian nuclear technology and fuel in return for inspections of its civilian, but not military, nuclear facilities.
India says the accord is vital to meet its rising energy needs. Critics say it creates a dangerous precedent. They say it effectively allows India to expand its nuclear power industry without requiring it to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as other nations must. The US restricted nuclear co-operation with India after it tested a nuclear weapon in 1974.

The Indian side faced tremendous challenges in getting this deal through. The process was started by a discussion with the BJP ruled Indian Government and the Bush Administration, and was then negotiated by the Congress Government with the US Administration a couple of years back. The Indian Government was a minority Government, and dependent on the Communist Parties and many other parties. The Communist Parties, although against the nuclear policies of the Indian Government, have always despised a closer relationship with the United States and refused to flatly support such a policy, warning of a end to the Government (and since the Government was in a minority, an end seemed quite natural if their support ended).
For a long time, it seemed that the Government had given up, after all the nuclear deal was not a vote-winner, the deal also seemed to be against the interests of the Muslim minority vote that the Congress wants, and so on. And then, after many months, Dr. Manmohan Singh finally decided that enough is enough; he literally forced the Government to agree to his stand that they back the deal; to the extent that manipulations were allowed in order to make sure that the Government retained a majority in Parliament.
Getting the deal through the Nuclear Suppliers Group was another difficult task. There were many nations wedded to the cause of denial of technology to anybody who had not signed upto the NPT, and it required intensive effort by the US to get the group to agree. China in the end tried to prod other nations, but the US pressure (and a small amount of Indian pressure) was enough to get the member to eventually agree, even though it was totally under pressure.
The United States also had to face opposition internally, both within the Administration, and outside in the strategic community; people were reluctant to approve any exemptions to the NPT; thought was that this gave India the right to use its uranium resources to push its military weapons program; also that this gave the wrong signal to others such as Iran and Pakistan.
Overall, this deal will provide a vast impetus to the nuclear energy commercial business; with India planning a large number of reactors to meet a portion of its energy needs, a number of companies worldwide will benefit.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:12 AM    

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Tata leaves Singur, tears into Mamta Banerjee

The Nano project was a dream for Ratan Tata, and he was wooed by many states eager to get this prestigious project to their state. Besides the prestige, the project was also expected to generate jobs (the main project plus ancillaries are expected to be big business). Of course, there was the expectation that land needed to be sought for this purpose. And therein lies the problem. When a project needs a major amount of land, the land acquisition is a problem, and given the increase in industrialization in the country, we will continue to face more problems. Land fragmentation is so high that to get the required amount of contiguous land for a factory or a major project means negotiating with a large number of farmers. And this is where the state steps in - the state, in situations where it is a question of industrialization, can actually acquire land at the market rate from farmers for 'public purpose'. There has been doubt in the past about whether acquiring land for a private company is a public purpose, and a recent Supreme Court judgment has sanctioned this - the court makes clear that public purpose need not mean that land only needs to be used for a Government need, but any project that generates employment and is beneficial for the local economy can be termed as a 'public purpose' project.
For the romantics who worry about a loss of village life, about the loss of land from farmers, and so on; one should ask them to live in villages for some time, especially with fragmented holdings; then they will realize that a village life is not so romantic. The known path for economic prosperity is where an economy moves up the path of industrialization, away from an agricultural focus and more into manufacturing and services where the value added is much greater. This is not meant to say that farmers land should be acquired just like that. Acquiring land for a project needs careful study; I believe Gujarat has a policy whereby there is an evaluation whether waste land can be used for this purpose, and only after that, is land taken from farmers. Farmers and others (landless laborers, sharecroppers, etc who are not compensated for land acquisition) affected by land acquisition all need to get a stake in the project, whether that be through granting them a mechanism like shares in the project, making sure that locals get enough jobs, etc.
Education is also an important part of the whole acquisition ball game. Typically, political parties don't take it very kindly when their policies are opposed by another political party. One way to avoid this is through educating villagers about how this will be beneficial to the local economy and to them (you can only do this if there are actual benefits).
Onto the current case. This is a mystery; you have a Communist Government trying to enforce a industrial project, and you have an opposition maverick politician using the acknowledged Communist methods of protest - use propaganda, rally people, block the local economic movement by blocking the main road artery, and so on. She succeeded to such an extent that the West Bengal Chief Minister could not even question the locus standi if Mamta Banerjee ? Nobody even attempted to ask as to how the Trinamool Congress claimed to be a representative of the local farmers and others. Mamta quite clearly sees this as a way of depicting the CPM as anti-poor and anti-farmer and try to rally the rural votebank behind her. In the short run, this has caused a crisis of confidence in West Bengal's ability to attract businesses:

West Bengal's worst fear has come true. Ratan Tata announced on Friday that he was leaving Singur, taking with him the Nano car project and the state's dream of an economic revival and leaving it with a tattered image in the investor's eye. The Nano project will also take with it all vendors despite the huge shifting costs, leaving a 1,000-acre black hole in the lush green Singur farmlands where Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had hope to reap a huge political dividend as well.
On Friday, a ''distressed'' chief minister heard Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata's message, loud and clear. He made fervent pleas to Tata to stay back and keep his Rs 1,500 crore investment, even argued with Ratan Tata that his decision wasn't correct but couldn't change the industrialist's mind. The Tata Group chairman said he wasn't the one to blame for things coming to this pass. He squarely blamed Mamata Banerjee for pushing him to take the pullout decision, two years after his tryst with the Nano car factory in West Bengal.

What Ratan Tata says is quite correct. If he is setting up an industry, he would want to do it in an environment which is conducive to business; this is a basic need for having a healthy and prosperous business. The fact that Mamta Banerjee did all sort of things, including tacitly encouraging physical attack on the plant's workers would have terribly shaken Ratan Tata's confidence about the reception his factory is likely to get on an ongoing basis.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:21 AM    

Friday, October 03, 2008

Rape victim uses RTI to get her case moving

RTI, for all its slowness, and huge backlog, is still proving to be beneficial to common citizens. I had mentioned in a previous post, a phrase that I like to use to for the effects of an RTI application - a lightning torch that exposes sloth and shines the beacon of openness on the red tape present in our Government. This feeling gets reinforced when you read about cases such as this one where a rape victim was running from pillar to post to get her case filed and investigated, and the police was not exactly the picture of cooperation:

Now, Right to Information (RTI) Act has brought justice to a rape victim in Umarpada taluka in south Gujarat. Following a notice by Gujarat Information Commission (GIC) in May, an FIR was finally lodged and action taken against the accused. In its notice, GIC slapped a penalty of Rs 25,000 jointly on two police officers for violating provisions of the Act. This followed an RTI application filed by a 15-year-old rape victim demanding to know why action had not been taken on her complaint.
The girl was raped in February last year but the accused was roaming free and police was refusing to register an FIR. GIC has penalised police sub-inspector and public information officer (PIO) DN Patel and assistant police sub-inspector Chandubhai Chaudhary, the deemed assistant public information officer (APIO) of Mangrol police station in Surat district, Rs 12,500 each.

RTI, in this legal form is a very effective tool. It allows citizens to get information about matters that concern them either personally or affects society, and enables this information not to be hidden unless it can be proved that the information being sought is either for commercial purposes, or affects national security.
There is an ongoing debate about whether the Central Information Commission (CIC), the nodal body appointed to hear RTI cases is actually not working as well as it should; on the other hand, there are numerous cases where RTI ensures that people get beneficial effects. In addition, RTI cells and mobile units that seek to empower people by making them aware of their rights are also on the job.
The writer of this piece still believes that to get rid of corruption, all other instruments that have been tried, whether they be strict laws, exposure, penalties for people caught, etc, all have failed to work; the RTI Act however, by its very nature is meant to get information. This availability of information to the common man is a welcome first step to reduce corruption and inaction in our society.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:42 AM