Thursday, July 30, 2009

Safety feature - Online Credit card usage

If you have ever stopped to look at the online credit usage you would have done (including reviewed the information you were asked to provide), it would seem extremely easy to use somebody's card and use it for buying stuff. What is it that you need to provide in terms of information when using your credit card online ? You go to a site, decide to buy something (maybe jewellery, maybe some electronics goods, or something that can be delivered instantaneously such as software) and are asked whether you need to pay through a credit card, using the much hyped secure card payment gateways (that use '128 bit encryption security', and are from well known banks).
Think for a minute about the information you provide online; you typically provide the following information:
- Name
- Date of birth (sometimes)
- Card Number
- 3 / 4 Digit security code at the back of the card
- Validity period of the card
Now, if you had gone to a restaurant, and paid by card, the person taking the billing (waiter, cashier) would already have all these details (except for Date of Birth), and for that, if they ask you to fill a card containing personal details such as DOB and anniversary, most of us would fill that already. That is enough for them to use that card details online, and in many cases, this goes undetected, or detected only at the end of the month. So why is nothing being done about this ?
Well, something is finally being done (link to article):

If you're an online shopaholic, make sure you have a personal identification number (PIN)/password for your credit or debit cards. Otherwise, forget about using them for internet shopping from August 1. A recent directive by the Reserve Bank of India makes it mandatory to have an additional authentication passcode verified by Visa or MSC (Mastercard Secure Code). This is in addition to the other information already on the card like name, card number, expiry date and CVV (card verification value) number
So how do you get this new password? Credit/debit card users have to register online with their banks, giving personal and card details. They will then be given a PIN or password to be be used as an additional layer of security at the checkout point before completion of the transaction.

So, if you did not know about this directive, and wonder as to why your card does not seem to work online anymore, now you know the reasons for the same. So, go ahead, and contact your bank for getting the confirmation. As to whether this is fool-proof, only time will tell.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:46 PM    

Drama in Kashmir finally over - Governor rejects resignation of Omar Abdullah

Ever since Sonia Gandhi did her act of sacrifice many years ago by not accepting the post of Prime Minister, the rarely done act of denial and refusal (also known as sacrifice by the adulating supporters) has become one of the ultimate weapons of defence when pushed to the wall. On another note, Omar Abdullah was the junior external affairs Minister during the NDA rule, and hence would have come across all sorts of stuff including files of various horrible things that happen in this world of ours, and hence could not be accused of having a thin skin.
India also suffers from the problem of even the most severe of accusations and cases taking a very long time to progress in our courts, and if you remember the sex scandal that seared Srinagar in 2006, you would be surprised to learn that the case court related to that is making its way through a trial in Chandigarh (the Supreme Court had pulled the trial out of Kashmir and into Chandigarh). Prosecution witnesses are still being examined, and if you were to ask as to when the case would be decided, would be difficult to say. This was the case where an initial case of one girl exploded into a case that revealed how minor girls were pushed into a prostitution ring to service many of the rich and powerful in Kashmir.
All these facts came together in the Srinagar assembly a couple of days back when the young Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah was accused of being on the CBI list of accused (# 102). Taken aback, the Chief Minister announced a decision to resign claiming that such a charge will tar even an innocent man, and he wanted his vindication. Inspite of his partymen trying to stop him, he stormed to his home, wrote out a resignation letter and passed it onto the Governor. However, this was a conditional resignation, that if the Governor believed in the charges, he should accept the resignation. Now, a Governor in our system is but a stool of the central Government, and there was no way that the Congress would let such a Chief Minister go.
And so you had numerous media reports that the CBI did not name the Chief Minister, even though, under an investigation, the prosecuting agency is supposed to keep quiet. Of course, since the PDP is smarting at the loss of its Government, it would not accept this, and the PDP continued its direct action of protest (including physical action in the assembly).
The final act of the drama was when the Governor rejected the resignation, thus giving a small halo around the head of the Chief Minister, who can now claim that he was willing to sacrifice his seat and power rather than be tainted by a stain.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:10 PM    

Monday, July 27, 2009

Delhi collapses after 4 hours of rain

Be careful what you wish for ! Delhi and North India were bereft of rain during the first month of the rainy season. A bit about why Delhi is special. This is a city that is supposed to become a world class city, a city that will host the Commonwealth Games. It is the city that is the capital of a hot emerging economy, the city where people from over the world get their first glimpse of Delhi.
On 27/7/2009, the first major rainfall (major means this was 4 hours of rainfall, not 12 hours or something like that) brought this city to its knees. The news channels are full of roads being flooded, all the major intersections suffering heavy jams (including many areas of the New Delhi area that normally do not suffer traffic jams). Gridlock was the word, with many cases where people did not move beyond 100 meters in 2 hours.
What are the major causes of such a situation:
1. The Delhi drains need to be de-silted and the storm water system needs to be active. However, every year, the MCD makes tall promises and falls flat on its face. Same this year, roads were flooded in the first major rain; and huge amounts of money were supposedly spent on this desilting work.
2. No traffic management. When rains start, either the power to traffic lights go off, or they cannot handle the rain; further, traffic policemen are no longer to be seen. With Delhi traffic already known to be aggressive (stupid is another word), me-first causes huge jams at any place where more than 2 roads are commented
3. When such jams happen, there is no quick action to make things better. This is when the worst of governance can be seen. It was only after news channels started doing heavy criticism of the municipal and police response that they started swinging into action
4. Places such as low lying roads or under-passes where water causes flooding are supposedly provided by pumps, but when you need them, they do not take action
There were people interviewed on TV, and a lot of them commented on how there was no action by the Government, and where were the leaders ? Well, the leaders are waiting for the day to be over, and the public to forget that something like this happened.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:40 AM    

Friday, July 24, 2009

PM Manmohan Singh facing flak over joint statement with Pakistan

How often is that the Government, and the party that runs the Government, speak in different voices ? And yet, that is what is happening recently. India has a long history of taking steps that seem like buckling down under pressure, or which don't seem to be fundamentally sound. One can name the letting go of Occupied Kashmir by Nehru, of letting the victories of 1965 and 1971 preventing the dictating of terms to Pakistan, and so on. One now needs to put Prime Minister Manmohan Sing on the same pedestral, as having concluded an agreement with not many apparent benefits.
So, what did the PM do which the party refuses to comment on, and noticeably, does not support even when asked a direct question ? Even since the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, the Indian position has been that it wants to see steps taken to ensure the trial of people involved in Pakistan, as well as significant steps taken to eliminate the support structure for terrorism. Pakistan takes steps forward and backward at the same time. It for examples refuses to take decisive steps against the Lashkar-e-Toiba.
In this environment, the Prime Minister signs a statement with the Pakistani PM Gilani that stated that the discussions could not be held bound to a single issue such as terrorism, and also, controversially, acknowledged Pakistan's concerns about Balochistan, an insurgency that it claims is supported by the Indian Government, primarily through RAW. The PM claimed that there was no mention of Kashmir, that Pakistan has been significantly cooperating including acknowledging the role of the LeT and its nationals in the Mumbai attack. However, much to the discomfiture of the party, the Pakistani Government started raking up the issue of Indian support to Balochistan right after this statement.
Quite clearly, the PM has given a significant handle to the opposition parties, and they are using this opportunity to the maximum, attacking the Congress with glee and gusto; the Congress is not defending the statement, but this cannot go on. The party will obviously not let the PM be defenseless for too long, and this issue would have raised Sonia Gandhi's hackles also a bit.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:05 PM    

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Delhi Police gets a clean chit in the Batla House case

In the fight with terrorism, there is a thin line between what is justified for national security and what is a violation of human rights. Sometimes, this gets muddled up. An example is when sometime back, the UP police were shown to be shooting down a dacoit when he was coming out with hands in the air. There was a lot of protests and condemnation over the way the police shot him in cold blood. It was only when a second video was released (which showed that the dacoit had earlier offered to give himself up, but had shot the policeman who went to accept the surrender) that the reputation of the police was restored. In many cases, the police and security agencies have been accused of detaining suspects without proper records, and subjecting them to torture to get information. A law and order approach is that the police should document their arrest, and file for detention in front of the court.
One case that caused a huge amount of controversy was the Batla House case. In this case, the national capital got the news, that in a locality in South East Delhi, the police had raided a house and killed some suspects in a shootout, and in the encounter, a celebrated cop had also got killed. This was in the aftermath of the Indian Mujhaideen cases where serial bomb blasts were happening in various cities, and the Government was under huge pressure to show some progress in the case. Almost immediately, there was suspicion that this was a cooked up encounter, with certain aspects of the case causing questions.
Politicians of different hues jumped on the case, given that it involved police vs. minority issues, with even ruling party politicians jumping in to get the case investigated by all manner of agencies. The Delhi and Central Governments however stood firm on the stand that this was a genuine encounter, and the people killed were actually terrorists. Finally, in a court case, the High Court ordered an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (something that the police still opposed). In what marks almost an end to the case, the NHRC has declared that the encounter was genuine (link to article):

National Human Rights Commission on Wednesday gave clean chit to Delhi police in Batla House encounter case. "We are clearly of the opinion that having regard to the material placed before us, it cannot be said that there has been any violation of human rights by action of the police", the NHRC said in its 30 page report on the encounter in September last year.
Encounter specialist Delhi Police Inspector M C Sharma was killed during the police action against suspected terrorists on September 19, 2008 in the aftermath of serial blasts in Batla House locality in the national capital. The court had directed the enquiry on a plea of the NGO, Act Now For Harmony and Democracy, that questioned the police version of the encounter. Two suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorists who were killed were identified as Atif Amin and Mohd Sajid. Two other IM suspects Mohd Saif and Zeeshan were arrested from the Batla House area.

This is certainly not the end of the controversy, since there was a report that some politicians and family members of the accused did not accept this report, claiming it to be false. However, the general public, which anyhow forgets things easily enough, will not remember the Batla House encounter for much longer.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:46 AM    

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Economy: Market not happy over the Budget - Sinking and then rising a bit

What does a deficit mean ? There are many terms such as fiscal deficit, monetary deficit, revenue deficit, but the differences between are them are relevant for people involved in the field of economics. For the normal person on the street, a deficit means that you are spending more than you earn. A normal person cannot do this without getting into serious money problems, but a Government can (and in almost every case the world-over), does do this. How can a Government spend more than it can earn ? A Government does this through means of a deficit, that it either finances by printing more money, or by borrowing funds from the market.
Both cases cause problems for the economy as such, since if the Government prints more money, this essentially means that more money is being put into the system. More money, but the same amount of production means in simple terms - if you wanted something, and many others want the same thing, then the thing you want gets more expensive. In terms of the economy, if more money comes into the system, then things get more expensive and inflation rises.
If the Government borrows more money from the market, that is less money that is available to private companies to get from their market to meet their funds requirement, or if they need loans for capacity repair or expansion. Such reduction in the availability of funds means that loans for companies get more difficult and has an effect on the ability of private sector to rise above these bad economic times.
Why did the Government need so many funds that it was willing to increase the fiscal deficit to a point where it would be pointed out by economists as a risk ? Well, these are bad economic times and it is at these times that Governments the world over are putting more money into the economy to try to get out of these struggling times. In addition, the Government realized that politically, it has benefited through such measures such as the National Rural Employment Scheme, and it wants to make sure that it is pumping money into the rural sector, the agriculture based sector.
Why did the market react negatively to the Budget, and why am I writing about it after so many days ? Well, the market had been expecting some relief measures, or at least token gestures such as the removal of the Securities Transaction Tax. Instead what it got was no new seemingly market or industry oriented measures and no removal of the STT. Instead it got a much higher fiscal deficit and a seeming reversion to populism. And hence the initial bad reaction to the budget.
However, every year, there are more voices gaining ground that industry should stop looking to the budget as an earth-shaking event, instead treating it as a simple Profit and Loss statement of the Government. In addition, the initial depression of the market has subsided as it looks like there are faint signs of revival, and the realization that the budget did not make things worse, and if rural consumers get more income, that is a new market.
What should you do ? Unless, there are some earth shaking events, the long term prospects look good and you should stay invested for the medium to long term in fundamentally safe companies. Avoid risky companies unless you know what you are doing and you know the risk involved.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:27 PM    

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Armymen to be tried in civil courts for criminal offences

The military forces in India have almost a separate life with a separate code of honor and law; their life is much more controlled than the lives of ordinary civilians. As a result, they have a separate process for justice, with a separate legal system that governs them. This includes offences they commit that are normally treated as criminal offences for the normal citizens of the country such as rape, murder, theft, etc; instead, these were normally handled through the military process of court-martials where military designated justices handle these offences. This would make sense if the crime was committed at a military owned location, or at the border of the country. However, in the past, it was argued that if a soldier was on leave and then committed a crime, even this was under the jurisdiction of military justice. This was because even under casual leave, the soldier was still under the jurisdiction of the army. However, a judge of the Madras High Court has ruled that such offences can also be handled in the civilian court system (link to article):

The Madras High Court Bench in Madurai has held that the armed forces personnel accused of committing murder, rape and other such crimes could be tried in a criminal court and not necessarily through court martial.
Justice A Selvam in his order yesterday said both the criminal court as well as the Army courts enjoyed concurrent jurisdiction to try criminal offences. Justice Selvam agreed that a soldier on casual leave could be considered to be in active service. However, he said that neither Army act nor the code of criminal procedure prevented a criminal court from conducting trial against servicemen.

This makes a lot of sense, since if a crime is committed under the laws of the country, it should be handled by the constitutionally valid legal system of the country.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:46 AM    

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Another accident in the Delhi Metro construction

When an accident happened in October 2008 in the Metro construction in East Delhi in which one of the sections of the under construction metro collapsed, killing 2 people, it seemed like a one-off thing. It was still a major shock for the Delhi Metro project, since the corporation believes that it is one of the safest and most reliable project executors in India. However, it was clear for the people living in areas where the metro was being constructed, that no matter how important the metro was to the overall transport situation in Delhi, there were some compromises being made so that the main projects can be ready in time for the Commonwealth Games. For example, on some of the ongoing metro line construction, the proud claim of the DMRC that they would ensure that roads would remain tip-top was no longer true. Roads that the Metro corporation built after removing their barricades were not level with the current roads, and had ditches and potholes; in a couple of cases it would seem that the DMRC put barricades long before work was being started. Now, for a huge majority of construction areas, DMRC was still much better than the other construction agencies such as PWD, CPWD, etc, but it was clear that their quality levels were starting to slip.
Today, the Delhi Metro construction zone had another accident. When the metal construction bridge was being loaded onto a pillar near Lady Shri Ram College, the whole setup collapsed, causing the death of 6 people, injuries to many more, and the loss of atleast Rs. 6 crore, along with a huge setback to the confidence of the Metro system. The problem is, there is a perception that in the rush to complete the various sections before the Commonwealth Games, quality is not being checked as much as is necessary, and this is demonstrated in the various other incidents that have happened when cranes have toppled, or barriers have fallen.
The DMRC has outsourced the construction to various private companies, and without knowing the level of supervision practices by the DMRC, it would seem that there are problems in ensuring that the quality levels need to be maintained. There are arguments that these are complex constructions, and a certain level of accidents are inevitable, but the building of overhead rail Metro links is a well established technology, and after that, it is all about ensuring proper project execution through strict compliance to quality norms and a detailed project management and execution process.
As of now, the news is that the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation head, the respected E Sreedharan has resigned claiming moral responsibility. Now E Sreedharan is a very well respected engineering oriented project head, and so far, not a single political party has called for his head. He is respected for his honesty and integrity, and the Government needs him to ensure that the various projects are on process for the Commonwealth Games. Further, the completed sections of the Delhi Metro are used by a huge number of people daily, and are part of the pride of Delhi, so it would real hard for the Government to accept his resignation, that too owing moral responsibility, since that would also sharpen the demands to claim the head of some political figure in Delhi for more moral responsibility. At the same time, since Sreedharan runs the DMRC project, he needs to ensure that quality norms remain in place and such incidents are properly analysed so that they do not recur. That is his moral and official responsibility.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:02 PM    

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Air India overbooks - carried more passengers than capacity

Airlines frequently overbook, given that there is always a number of people who will cancel, and hence there is a mathematics related to the number of people who overbook. Sometimes airlines land up in a situation whereby they find that this mathematics goes awry, and they find that there are more passengers than seats available. In such cases, the airline has to placate irate passengers, and decide who can go and who needs to be refused. Such cases typically cause a lot of unhappiness. However, it is not accepted that an airline boards more passengers than there are seats available. Even in these bad economic times, it is unacceptable to have more passengers on board than there are seats, given that these are paying passengers who have a right to proper treatment. Modern airlines have automated systems whereby boarding passes are issued which prevents extra passengers from getting loaded. However, if the airline wishes to violate such conditions, there is very little that can be done.
Further, after the terrorist incidents, the cockpits of planes are now high security zones where passengers are no longer allowed. So, if there is a case when a passenger is allowed inside the cockpit, that is against all security norms and needs to be thoroughly investigated.
We have a case, whereby all this happened. Air India, the national carrier of India, had a case whereby it was found that the airline had boarded 3 extra passengers; this case is now being investigated by the regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). In order to ensure that this case is brought to its logical conclusion, the investigation needs to be thorough (link to article):

In these recessionary times, airlines globally are operating on half-empty seats. But Air India, which is passing through its worst ever financial crisis, is in fresh trouble for allegedly carrying extra passengers on a fully loaded flight. What adds to the irony is that the excess passengers were discovered in a probe into the aircraft's door falling apart when it started moving while attached to an aerobridge!
"Of these three, one woman passenger was accommodated in the cockpit and two others on the foldable seats where cabin crew sits during take off and landing," said sources. The DGCA can now take criminal action against AI for this violation. The cockpits in modern aircraft have three seats. While two are for the pilot and co-pilot, the third is called a jump seat which is usually vacant. Since the process of issuing boarding passes is completely computerized, the system stops generating passes once a flight is full. In this case, however, the probe has found that boarding passes were allegedly issued manually to enable the extra passengers to clear the different levels of pre-embarkation security checks.

This action by the airline was a gross violation of the air safety norms. In this case, the airline was caught because of another incident, and this fact came out during the investigation.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:07 PM    

Reliance Gas deal - the squabble continues

Mukesh Ambani would never have thought that finding a massive gas would continue to cause him so much problems; maybe, to make huge amounts of money, you need to have massive problems at the same time. A few years back, Reliance had participated in the Oil exploration scheme of the Government, and got allotted some of the deep sea blocks of the Krishna-Godavari basin fields, and in some time, struck a massive gas field. This promised untold riches to the company, and to the Government of India, since the Government of India owned the gas field and Reliance was the operator. As per the agreement, the Government controls who can get the gas, and at what price; and since the Government gets a cut of the price, the Government has a key stake in the price.
The Ambani brothers got into a huge dispute, which was eventually resolved after a settlement involving the division of the family controlled business. As a part of this agreement, the more complex agreement involved the provision of gas from the RIL to the Anil Ambani controlled RNRL at $2.34 mmBtu for 17 years from the setting up of the Dadri power plant. This price was based on the then decided price (the same price at which the gas was to be then provided to the Government run power utility). This was an agreement between the 2 brothers and their controlled entities, and did not seek any approval of the Government, which after all, owns the gas.
However, with the revision of the gas price upwards all the over world, Reliance eventually refused to supply the gas to RNRL when the gas came online last year. The Government also refused to hold the agreement as valid, since it was not consulted and the price was deemed to be decided by the Government. The case, as everybody knew it would, went to the court (and everybody knows that the case would go to the Supreme Court). Reliance also has a lot of political power, which means that for the Government to decide in favor of either brother, would mean that it would have to take the risk of alienating the other brother (and the political power wielded by the brother). Further, if the Government sided with either side in a way that seemed to lose money, the opposition would attack it very strongly (along with the media).
Amidst all this, the High Court in Mumbai ruled that the family agreement was valid, and that RNRL was entitled to get the gas at the low price. This was a shock to RIL, since this would mean a lower earning, and also meant that the gas available for the Government to allocate to fertilizer and energy units would be that much reduced. Now, the case heads to the Supreme Court; will it decide in favor of the family agreement, or will it hold that the gas is owned by the Government and it has the right to decide on the price and allocation.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:57 AM    

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Communist problems over internal politics, and perceptions

How quickly the mighty can fall ! Lest that sound like gloating, it is not, it is something that some of the more clear-thinking of the Communist crowd in India must be thinking. Just a couple of years back, they were top of the Government of India. If they said 'nay' to a proposal by the Government, the Government would hem and haw and finally withdraw the proposal, and this was something that the Congress Government accepted as a price to pay for keeping their Government alive. However, it was the nuclear deal that provoked the Government to take a firm stand, and this time, they out-bluffed the Communists, and using all their money and negotiation powers, they managed to win the vote of confidence.
And then came elections 2009, with the Congress coming back to power with much higher numbers, and the Communists getting knocked off their top perch, with their number of seats down to 24. The Communist parties are strong contenders only in 2 states, West Bengal and Kerala, and in both of them, they suffered severe reverses.
The situation in West Bengal is right now pretty severe and potentially life-threatening for the Communist parties. West Bengal is a state that the Communists have been holding onto for decades now, and past predicted anti-Communist waves or Mamta waves have not managed to shake the Left citadel. And then the steps by the Communist leadership in West Bengal to shake their anti-development image (something that was affecting the population since industry is the one that provides employment, directly and indirectly); however, the Communist behaved in their own-ham handed manner and screwed up the entire SEZ debate all over the country.
The attitude of the Communist parties when they believe that they are in the right has always been much more arrogant than that of the other parties, and so it was in this entire 'land for industry' political mine-field. Net result ? They did not get the land or the industries, and scared off large chunks of the voting population (not helped by Mamta's fire-brand scare-mongering tactics). Combine that with the Sachar report that showed that the Communist love for minorities has only resulted in West Bengal being one of the least desirable states for minorities in terms of development.
Now, the Left parties are paying for it. Earlier they were losing municipal elections in the affected districts, then in the Lok Sabha elections, they lost a huge chunk of their seats, and now in the latest municipal elections, they lost badly to Mamta. In addition, Mamta's party are returning the usual fire-power of the CPM with their own force tactics, surprising the Left cadre. The Left is also facing the opposition of the Maoists, something that seems very surprising. And, at a time when the Left needs to be united to be facing such threats, the smaller parties such as the CPI, FB, and RSP, are using the current situation to highlight their grievances, and demand a greater say in the decision making of the Left Government.
In Kerala, on the other hand, the problems are more internal. Internal strife and dissidence is more of a problem of the BJP or the Congress, not so of parties such as the CPM. However, the continuing strife between the Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and the state CPM strongman and state leader, Pinarayi Vijayan, continues and has been badly hurting the party. Vijayan is the ultimate politician, who has total control over the state unit of the CPM, except for the fact that V.S. Achuthanandan is the most popular leader in the party in Kerala, and the party cannot afford to drop him, or continue to subject him to ridicule from the same party (and even from his own ministers).
The problem got far worse when the Governor Kerala, R.S. Gavai, granted permission to the CBI to investigate the charges of corruption against Vijayan. The State Cabinet had decided (over the wishes of Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan) to advice the Governor not to recommend the sanction, and the Governor refused, landing the CPM in a hot case. The CPM cannot afford to have its strongman be accused of multi-crore corruption, and yet cannot also afford to have the spectacle of its own Chief Minister seemingly not being bound by the decision of the state body of the CPM.
In all this, the overall head, Prakash Karat, has lost support. He broke ranks with the Congress over the nuclear deal, something that a number of his own partymen are admitting was a mistake. What does the party do now ? If the current trends continue, the party risks losing its main base of West Bengal.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:55 AM    

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Delhi High Court rules that gay sex is legal

The world over, different countries have different concepts revolving around homosexuality. There are states in the United States that have made marriage between homosexuals as having the same legal sanctity as that between a man and a woman, there are other states where this is a matter of huge debate and controversy (with the Catholic and Protestant churches being against it), countries in parts of Europe are liberal while those where the Church has a stronger influence are less likely, and there are the Islamic countries where the concept is abhorrent - forget marriage between homosexuals, even the concept of a relationship was unacceptable (for example, in Iraq, insurgents would target homosexuals for murder).
What about the thought of homosexuality in a country such as India, which has a long history, and where there is a lot of debate even among historians about whether homosexuality was prevalent in the past. India, till today, had a law called Section 377, that made homosexuality a crime (even among consenting adults). This law meant that even among groups with a higher risk pattern for AIDS (such as gays), it was difficult to really follow anti-AIDS programs since a number of people would hide their homosexuality, or not be open about it.
For the past several years, there has been a debate stoked by AIDS campaigners and gay rights groups about revoking this section of the penal code (it was introduced by the British in British ruled India in 1861, and is no longer prevalent in the Britain of today). However, attempts by the Government to do a debate on removing this section of the penal code runs aground due to opposition by religious groups (and there are enough people in each religious group to be outraged by the thought of homosexuality), so it would have seemed difficult by the Government to move fast on such a law. And then came this stunning judgment by the Delhi High Court (and interestingly, it uses the same argument as used by several US state courts, using the theory that such laws are violative of many of the equality and fundamental rights of citizens) (link to target):

In a breakthrough judgment, the Delhi High Court on Thursday legalised gay sex among consenting adults holding that the law making it a criminal offence violates fundamental rights. "We declare section 377 of IPC in so far as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private is violative of Articles 14, 21 and 15 of the Constitution," a Bench comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justice S Murlidhar said.
It further said that this judgement will hold till Parliament chooses to amend the law. "In our view Indian Constitutional Law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconception of who the LGBTs (lesbian gay bisexual transgender) are. "It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster dignity of every individual," the Bench said in its 105-page judgement.

It is pretty much sure that there will be appeals to the Supreme Court by many sections of society, one only hopes that the Government will not try to get this judgment over-turned. At the same time, this is a judgment by the Delhi High Court, and is applicable in the capital city (even though it is a precedent that can be used by organizations all over the country); ultimately it is either the judgment of the Supreme Court or a law passed by Parliament that can ensure coverage across the entire country.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:51 AM