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Burmese Christians in India and a possible clue to why Europe’s Muslim refugees are converting to Christianity

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Maybe the purpose of religion is bigger than resolving existential dilemmas. Maybe religion is a way of life or the orientation of a lifestyle. Perhaps, religion is identity. And, the divine gain from it is as definite as it is abstract, as personal as it is general.

Is that the reason why those who have been displaced by religiopolitical violence still harbour a wish to practice or even preach a faith? On 27 November, Pastor Matthias Linke of the Evangelisch-Freikirchliche Gemeinde church baptised a newly converted Muslim refugee during a ceremony in Berlin. Reading reports about conversions to Christianity that are taking place in Germany, one of the spin-offs of what is the bloody modern day reality of Syria and Iraq, Cung Dawt feels the need to talk about the ironies of life.

Lack of interpreters among Burmese Christian refugees often results in a wrong diagnosis. Image courtesy: Pallavi Rebbapragada

Lack of interpreters among Burmese Christian refugees often results in a wrong diagnosis. Image courtesy: Pallavi Rebbapragada

A Burmese refugee from the Christian Chin community, Dawt lives in a ghetto in Janak Puri and has grisly tales to tell. “I was born a Christian in Burma and never felt safe in my country. Not all (Burmese) refugees are Muslim. If one religion uses state funds to propagate its tenets, other faiths will be wiped out,” says the 30-year-old who was a student of BSc at Kaley University in the Chin region of Burma when Buddhist monks set his neighbourhood on fire during a demonstration.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are about 5,000 Chin refugees and asylum seekers living in the capital. Dawt got here in 2008. He says people come here from different Chin tribes, including Zomi, Tedim, Falam, Cho, Hakha, Mara and Mizo among others (Mara and Mizo tribes share their ethnicity with tribes from North East India). They live in urban villages in West Delhi like Hastsal, Vikas Nagar, Sitapuri and Bindapur. They mostly work in factories producing emergency lights, in mobile repairing shops, or as housemaids. Since the UNHCR “blue card” is not recognised by employers in the formal sector, most families are surviving on less than Rs 6,000 a month.

Earlier this month, The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published a report titled Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Burma. This states that “Christian denominations strongly opposed the Religious Conversion Law, one of the package of bills for the so-called ‘protection of race and religion’. Originally proposed and drafted by Ma Ba Tha and signed into law by President Thein Sein in 2015, each of the four discriminatory laws — regulating monogamy, marriage, birth spacing and religious conversion — restrict religious freedom and undermine women’s rights. The Religious Conversion Law unlawfully restricts the right to freely choose a religion, interferes with proselytising, and could be used to criminalise such activities. Although the law is not currently being implemented — as there are no accompanying bylaws (usually required before a law can be enforced in Burma) — it is already having an indirect impact.”

Deep inside Chin ghettos in the Indian capital, entire families live in rooms not bigger than five bathtubs put together. There are pictures Jesus Christ pasted on pink or green walls of the ghetto, several of them badly scratched by wind and time. You find shops barely stocked with blankets and bed sheets. Along the reedy streets, some of the refugees have spread out frogs cooked with bitter leaves, some offer fried batches of Burmese samosa (same filling as the Indian one but square-shaped). The community heads to the night bazaars for purchasing rejected vegetables at cheaper rates. A majority were below the poverty line even in Burma where the price of vegetables, fish, meat and rice skyrocketed along with the violence.

Burmese3_Pallavi Rebbapragada

Religion has emerged as a binding factor for each Burmese tribe in India. Image courtesy: Pallavi Rebbapragada

In the ghetto, tribal structures, offices, churches and pastors protect the community’s sense of belonging. The Jesuit Refugee Society (JRS) is an international catholic organisation that provides assistance to refugees in 50 countries. In Delhi, it engages the Chin community in livelihood training programmes featuring skill-imparting courses in tailoring, computers and English. As per its observations, the Church is a unifying factor and every tribe is well-organised under the Churches.

Attending Church services is considered to be a sacred obligation in the lives of the Chins. Practically all the Chin members attend the Church services without fail. Some families also consider it a good Christian practice to give 10 percent of their earnings every month to the Church. Apart from fulfilling religious services, some pastors try to help the families in whatever ways possible.

“We, the Chins, have great community spirit. In our small homes, we meet and greet each other. Sometimes, our level of freeness and warmth is misunderstood by the landlords and they feel our women do business with their bodies,” informs Dawt.

The community depends on landlords for their voter IDs along with electricity and water bills that have to be submitted to the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) to get a residence permit. In some cases, the UNHCR card doesn’t even help them secure a phone connection. The closest hospital is Deen Dayal Upadhyay, where, they say, doctors usually belittle their illnesses and prescribe paracetamols even in cases where they require serious medical attention.

Prem Kumar, assistant director at JRS (Delhi), points out that the difficulty in fully empowering the Burmese refugees is the language barrier; there is a diversity of dialects even among the tribes. Although they are free to attend government schools, Chin refugee children attend community schools set up by the Church. These schools do not have a fixed syllabus and children of different age groups learn together without gradations. The older the child is, the harder it is for him or her to gain working knowledge of either Hindi or English.

In 2013, JRS identified that among the Chin refugees in Delhi, the literacy levels of the children was lower than that of their parents.

Burmese4_Pallavi Rebbapragada

Burmese Chin Refugees don’t find jobs in the formal sectors and most end up selling small goods on streets

Back in Burma, the USCIRF report goes on to state “there are no state-run universities in Chin State, and bureaucratic hurdles such as changing household registration documents plus other associated costs of relocating elsewhere in Burma for further studies are prohibitive for many Chin. Instead, many choose to study at Christian institutions in Chin State. However, the government does not officially recognise degrees and other qualifications offered by Christian theological colleges and universities, which means graduates from Christian institutions can’t secure employment in the government sector.”

It adds, “Kachin, Naga, and Chin Christian employees are routinely overlooked for promotion within the civil service and other government sectors in favour of Buddhists. For example, in the Chin State capital of Hakha, all but two of the department heads within the state-level administration are Burmese Buddhists. When Christians do hold government positions, they face sanctions if they refuse to support Buddhist activities. In some cases, the authorities take contributions from Christian civil servants’ salaries for Buddhist activities, such as building pagodas and organising Buddhist New Year (Thingyan) celebrations, a practice continued from the time of military rule until today.”

Some kilometres away from Janak Puri is Vikas Nagar where Rohingya Christians are giving tough competition to the Chins. The Rohingya Christians (not more than 150) live in 30 tents. These Rohingyas are converted from Islam to Christianity and hail from the Burmese Rakhine state. The plight, persecutions and trafficking of Rohingya Muslims, considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by many in the Burmese state, is common knowledge.

Recently, a UN official said that Myanmar is carrying out “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims as stories of gangrape, torture and murder emerge from among the thousands who have fled to Bangladesh. The Rohingya Christians, however, are scattered and scarce.

Shona Mia, the leader of the community in Delhi, says he was born stateless in 1980. He informs that out of the 60 children in their community in Delhi, only six to seven attend school. Their language is different from the ones spoken by the Chins and hence their children benefit from the Chin community schools. Rohingya children work as rag pickers and the adults mainly segregate waste or work in paper factories.

In one of these tents, people with distinctly Muslim names — Anwar, Salam, Iman Husain — swiftly quote from the Bible while making Christmas decorations out of crumpled waste paper.

“The bible saves us. It keeps us together in troubled times,” they say.

However, for these believers, the Grinch has stolen Christmas and Santa doesn’t exist.

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 13:11 IST

Cops frequently flout Supreme Court rules intended to prevent custodial deaths, says HRW report

Indian police often flout Supreme Court rules intended to prevent custodial deaths and “routinely violate” domestic and international laws around arrest and detention, says a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

At least 591 people died in police custody in India between 2010 and 2015, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, of which the authorities reported 97 custody deaths in 2015. The police records list only six as due to physical assault by police; 34 are listed as suicides, 11 as deaths due to illness, nine as natural deaths, and 12 as deaths during hospitalisation or treatment.

“While investigations were ordered by courts, human rights commissions, or other authorities in some cases, Human Rights Watch is not aware of a single case in which a police official was convicted for a custodial death between 2010 and 2015,” the 114-page report, titled ‘Bound by Brotherhood: India’s Failure to End Killings in Police Custody’ and released on 19 December, states.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

It is based on interviews of more than 70 witnesses, family members of victims, lawyers, civil society activists, and journalists in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh, and the cities of New Delhi and Mumbai, and investigations into 17 custodial deaths between 2010 and 2015. It found that in each of the 17 cases investigated the police did not follow proper arrest procedures, making the suspect more vulnerable to abuse.

“Police abuses continue despite changes in laws and guidelines and the promise of police reforms since 1997,” the international rights group says.

The compliance with the six binding directives to the central and state governments to undertake police reforms as contained in the landmark Supreme Court decision of Prakash Singh versus Union of India remains “low”.

According to government data, in the vast majority of cases investigated — 67 of 97 deaths in custody in 2015 — the police either failed to produce the suspects before a magistrate within 24 hours as required by law, or the suspects died within a day of being arrested.

Supreme Court rules set out in the case of DK Basu versus West Bengal in 1997 and incorporated into the amended Code of Criminal Procedure call for the police to identify themselves clearly when making an arrest; prepare a memo of arrest with the date and time of arrest that is signed by an independent witness and countersigned by the arrested person; and ensure that next of kin are informed of the arrest and the place of detention. However, in practice, these rules have not prevented the worst of custodial abuses, the report argues.

Moreover, although the law stipulates an inquiry into every custodial death by a judicial magistrate, these were conducted in only 31 of the 97 custodial deaths reported in 2015. In 26 cases, there was not even an autopsy of the deceased. Last year, police registered cases against fellow police officers in only 33 of the 97 custodial deaths. The Supreme Court has often said that bringing evidence against the police in case of custodial crimes is an uphill task because the police feel “bound by their ties of brotherhood”— the report quotes Satyabrata Pal, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

In some of the cases, inquiries are conducted by an executive magistrate — who are part of the executive branch of government like the police and hence more susceptible to pressure — instead of a judicial magistrate.

“The state relies on Section 197 (immunity from prosecution to all public officials for actions they undertake in carrying out their official duties unless the government approves the prosecution) heavily to protect the police officials,” lawyer Trideep Pais told HRW. “They are on the same side.”

“Activists are concerned about NHRC’s April 2010 notification to state governments that in cases of custodial deaths where no foul play was alleged, it was not mandatory for the inquiry to be conducted by a judicial magistrate because victims’ families are often unable to challenge police accounts of deaths in custody,” HRW says.

Though the NHRC — established in 1993 — has set guidelines for arrest and detention it remains beset with problems that limit its capacity to deal with custodial abuses.

The investigation division of the NHRC — that reviews cases of custodial deaths — is composed of serving police officials who do not have additional human rights training and tend to protect their erring colleagues.

The 2006 amended Protection of Human Rights Act remains problematic in certain aspects. The amended Act does not include lifting the one-year “statute of limitations” on NHRC investigations — a time limit that has been termed as “unrealistic” by rights groups given the ignorance of many victims of their rights under the Act and the difficulties that face them in obtaining counsel.

The national human rights body is still not authorised to investigate human rights violations by the armed forces and cannot independently make public their findings until the report is placed before Parliament. It is “tightly controlled” financially by the central government and reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs — “the same governmental department responsible for internal security, including police and other law and order officials, therefore undermining its independence”, among other constraints of the NHRC listed by the HRW.

India has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and signed the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment — both of which prohibit torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement authorities under international human rights law.

The 2016 report has listed a number of recommendations addressed to the Indian Parliament, state and central government ministries, police, civil society organisations, foreign donors and general public, as listed by the international rights group.

The last report on India was published in 2009 by HRW titled Broken System: Dysfunction, Abuse, and Impunity in the Indian Police.

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 14:42 IST

Demonetisation challenge: Govt underestimating ‘digital ignorance’ among people is a big mistake

On 8 November, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, it was projected and seen as a big blow to unaccounted wealth and black money. In the following weeks as the images of long queues across the country started emerging; challenging the “good intention” of the government, another narrative was put in place to soothe the common man who was at the receiving end.

On 13 November, the prime minister while speaking at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Mopa airport in Goa, made an emotional appeal to the citizens to bear the “pain” for “50 days” to help him deliver the “India of your dreams”.

An emotional Modi had said, “I promise you, I will give you the India of your dreams… If someone faces a problem, I also feel the pain. I understand their problem but this is only for 50 days.”

A narrative was build: The pain that people were facing was short-term which will yield wondrous long-term results. As weeks passed, demonetisation which was essentially seen as an attack on black money, was gradually projected as an attempt to make India a cashless economy.

On 15 December Modi came up with two schemes named Lucky Grahak Yojana and Digi Dhan Vyapar Yojana to incentivise cashless transactions. In a series of tweets, Modi said the schemes “will further incentivise digital payments” and it would be a big boost in the move towards “cashless and corruption-free India”.

The two schemes would cover small transactions between Rs 50 and Rs 3,000 to encourage every section of the society to move towards digital payments.

India is now being seen as moving towards a cashless economy. It raises an important question: Are people prepared to embrace this new way of life?

Consider these scenarios of people juggling with their new life in a ‘cashless economy’ that also highlight the sticking points in our digital edifice. 

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Case 1: In Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur district, a man enters a store selling VIP bags. After selecting his product, he asks the shop owner whether he accepts debit or credit cards. The store owner reluctantly replies in affirmative and takes the card from the customer. He swipes the card and punches the amount. The bill is produced and it is a happy ending.

Welcome to ‘Digital India’.

But the story has an anticlimax. As the man leaves the store, he is stopped by the owner. The store owner reveals to the customer that instead of the actual payment of Rs 6,600, by mistake he punched only Rs 66. The customer looks upset and amused at the same time. He asks a simple question: What if by mistake one extra zero was pressed?

The store owner replies, “This is new to us. You cannot expect us to learn all this in a day. It has been thrust upon us without giving us the time to get use to it.”

Case 2: Atul, who runs a canteen in one of the offices in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, is struggling daily to get stable supply. He says, “Paytm and all are good, but there are many issues. Firstly, while I can accept the payment through Paytm, not everyone, from a vegetable seller to the milkman, knows about this. They just want cash.”

He adds, “I too am facing problem with Paytm. It allows me to transfer up to Rs 25,000 in a month whereas I am receiving much more in my account. As I cannot transfer the rest of the money in my bank account, I am also incurring loss of interest (Paytm website confirms this cap)

Case 3: A person books a private airlines flight using Paytm wallet and his ICICI debit card. The flight gets cancelled due to bad weather. The man calls up the airlines for the refund. He is told that as he has made the booking through a travel portal, he should contact the portal for the refund. Fair enough. The man calls up the portal and is told by the portal that as he has made the payment through Paytm, he should contact Paytm for the same. The man calls Paytm and is informed that the payment was made using ICICI debit card so he should call the bank. The bank, in turn, asks the customer to call Paytm. After much of argument, Paytm accepts that the amount will be refunded in 72 hours.

A happy ending may be? No, this story too has an anticlimax. Four days have passed and the man is waiting for his refund, frantically making calls to all the parties.

All the above mentioned cases point to one thing: The unpreparedness of the economy to go the cashless way. And in this regard, sudden push by the government towards cashless economy has left great number of people; living in small cities clueless, for whom digital transaction is still a “thing of tomorrow”.

The Indian Express reported on 20 December that Arundhati Bhattacharya, head of the State Bank of India (SBI) has stressed that government “should find ways to disincentivise cash transactions, such as imposing a charge or levy above a specified limit or threshold, after normalcy is restored in banking operations following the demonetisation move.”

The report stated, “According to Bhattacharya, if India wants to de-emphasise cash, there should not only be an incentive for people to move towards a cashless economy but also a disincentive for transacting excessively in cash, while leaving out small-ticket transactions”.

While strong measures like the one suggested by the SBI chief or the limit on free cash withdrawal from ATMs have indeed pushed people to go for digital transitions, the problem faced by them in the last one month is due to the sudden and large scale change in their transaction behaviour that demonetisation demands.

The underlying fact remains that underestimating digital ignorance among people was a big mistake of the government and the same is posing challenge to its well-intentioned decision of demonetisation .

First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 19:48 IST

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as army chief: Strategic vision, not tactical achievements may have swung decision

Predictably, the government’s decision of appointing Lt General Bipin Rawat as the next Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) by superseding the “senior-most eligible officers”, the Eastern Army Commander Lt General Praveen Bakshi, and Southern Army Commander Lt General PM Hariz, has now become a political issue, with the Opposition Congress, Janata Dal (U) and the two Communist parties (CPM and CPI) questioning the decision.

In fact, as I had written in this platform last week, it is this unfortunate politicisation of the military appointments that prevents the new and better norms from being encouraged for the much required military reforms in the country.

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat. File photo. Getty Images

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat. File photo. Getty Images

The issue of seniority in top appointments always raises the question: Which should prevail – the quantum of experience or the quality of experience? And, if one goes by the examples of leading military powers of the world, there has been a systematic endeavour to go by the quality, not the quantum, of experience. It is in this context that it is interesting to know the Narendra Modi government’s explanation behind its choice of General Rawat as the next army chief.

Apparently, the government sources have told The Times of India, that “General Rawat is the candidate best suited to deal with emerging challenges, and that his operational experience and ‘general dynamism’ tipped the scales in his favour.” It is said that General Rawat has “more than 10 years of experience in counter-insurgency operations and on the Line of Control, besides serving on the China border. He has the requisite experience considering the current situation.”

Incidentally, it is not the first time in India that a senior-most officer has been denied the topmost position in his or her service, whether it is a civilian, judicial or a military job. Indira Gandhi was the prime minister when Justice AN Ray superseded three senior judges of the Supreme Court to become the Chief Justice in 1973. Again it was Indira Gandhi whose government in 1983 appointed General AS Vaidya as the Army Chief in 1983 superseding General SK Sinha.

In 2004, the Manmohan Singh government appointed Shyam Saran as the foreign secretary by superseding four senior officials in the Indian Foreign Service. But what it did in 2006 was even more eye-raising. It appointed Shivshankar Menon as foreign secretary, although 16 serving officers were senior to him; this was a decision that triggered a virtual rebellion in the Ministry of External Affairs, with many of the superseded diplomats deciding to quit the service. In 2014, the same Manmohan Singh government appointed Admiral Robin Kumar Dhowan as the Navy Chief, bypassing Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha, the flag officer commander-in-chief of the Western Naval Command and the senior most Naval officer at that time.

Of course, it is always debatable whether the above choices were based on the factor of merits or otherwise. But the point is that it is not a sacrosanct norm to go by the factor of seniority in the top-level military appointments. In neither the United Kingdom nor the United States, the countries that India will like to be compared with, the chiefs of the armed services are necessarily the senior-most officers; indeed in many a case their appointments have been least anticipated.

The appointment of Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach as the Head of the UK armed forces early this year was announced at a time when the military circles were expecting either Army General Sir Richard Barrons, or First Sea Lord Admiral George Zambellas for the coveted position. One remembers in this context the famous remark of the then Prime Minister David Cameron, “You do the fighting and I’ll do the talking.” Similarly, in the United States in 2011, President Barack Obama nominated a relatively junior General Martin Dempsey as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But neither in Britain nor in the US, had these appointments become a political issue.

In fact, there is now an emerging school of thought in the military sphere that while efforts must be made to identify “tactical commanders” at battalion and brigade level, for higher posts officers with “strategic leadership” potentials should be rewarded. Strategic leadership includes attributes of being a “combat genius” (fighting beyond the plan, innovating as one fights, staying well ahead of the enemy in imaginative application of combat power); “political genius” ( wielding and melding the elements of military power with allies and politicians, mastering civil-military discourse); “institutional genius” ( managing a very large institution and making it relevant to the needs of the nation); and “anticipatory genius” (having the ability to think in time and imagine conceptually where the nature and character of war is headed).

Here, the “experience” suggests that those officers who had shown great tactical skill did not equal great strategic skill. Tactically talented officers can do a great job in making the convoys run on time, but they may not anticipate a battlefield that has yet to appear. On the other hand, those gifted with strategic foresights have often been found wanting in tactical maneuvers; they have been better at conceptualising warfare rather than practicing it.

As retired US Major General Robert H Scales says, “Tactically talented officers can move hundreds. Strategically talented officers can maneuver hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Tactically talented officers know how to fight enemies they know. Strategically talented officers are prepared to fight enemies yet unforeseen. The tactically talented read the manuals and put existing doctrine into practice. Strategically talented officers continually question doctrine and eventually seek to change it. Tacticians see what is; strategists conjure what might be.”

Viewed thus, let us hope that General Rawat has been rewarded by the Modi government for his “strategic” leadership (or its assessment that the new chief will provide such a leadership) attributes, not necessarily for his “tactical” achievements in Kashmir, the China-borders and dealing with counterinsurgencies.

First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 15:59 IST

To end black money in political funding, Modi govt must do more than blame old law

On Saturday, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley embarked on a spree of damage control mode by issuing a statement on the Narendra Modi government’s stance on political funding and black money. Political parties have not been granted any exemption after demonetisation and the introduction of Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Act, 2016 which came into force on 15 December, said Jaitley.

He added: “Income and donations of political parties fall under the purview of Section 13A of the Income Tax Act 1961 and there is no change in its provisions. In this era of instant outrage, a 35-year-old law is presented as a new law being passed by the NDA Government.”

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

This statement came in response to media reports and a political storm brewing among certain Opposition parties after the revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia said, “If it is a deposit in the account of political parties, they are exempt. But if it is deposited in any individual account, in anyone’s account, that information will definitely come on our radar.” Adhia’s statement drew immediate media and political attention in the context of the ongoing demonetisation exercise. The plan, originally announced on 8 November gives time to deposit old, invalidated Rs 500, Rs 1,000 currency notes in banks till 30 December (in bank branches) and 31 March (at Reserve Bank of India counters).

Going by Adhia’s statement, political parties could have deposited any amount without paying taxes or facing any investigations. Hence, the possibility opens up for tax cheats to approach a registered political party to make their loot legit with an understanding that the money will be returned at a later date — with a cut going into the pocket of the agent (in this case, the political party).

Under the current rules, no political outfit needs to show the source of funds for cash donations under Rs 20,000. Hence, parties have a logical opportunity to show a majority of their deposits under this category by creating thousands of backdated receipts and can, thus, launder black money with no questions asked. Typically, political parties do not even keep receipts for donations.

According to an analysis of political funding by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) in the past few years, around 75 percent of such funding in India remains opaque and falls in the anonymous donation category.

Here, we have a serious problem.

Political parties have a clear option to print backdated receipts and launder black money. This is a major hole in the implementation of demonetisation, one of the main goals of which is to unearth the black money in the system. What the finance minister clarified in his carefully-worded statement on Saturday is absolutely true to every word. Exemption to political parties is not a law that was created by the Modi government. This is a law that has been in existence for a while.

But, there are few things of which the government has to take note:

First, whether the law is old or new, the fact is that political parties presently enjoy a big loophole to make their black money white openly. They do enjoy immunity from paying tax and tax scrutiny/prosecution if these outfits show that money came through small donations. This is what Adhia probably meant and what the finance minister reiterated in his statement when he said that the income and donations of political parties “fall in the purview of Section 13A of the Income Tax Act of 1961” and that “there is no change in its provisions”.

The question is given that the Modi government has waged an all-out attack on black money, shouldn’t it have plugged this loop hole before demonetising 86 percent of the currency in circulation, risking serious economic and social repercussions? The government managed to amend the income tax law for individuals, why didn’t it expand the purview for political parties? The demand of the Election Commission, seeking an amendment of laws to allow exemption from tax only to parties that win seats in elections and ban anonymous contributions of Rs 2,000 and above to parties, should be an eye opener to the Modi government and prompt it to ponder over the holes in the black money war plan.

Second, it is true that under Section 13A of the I-T Act, political parties have to submit audited accounts, income and expenditure details, and balance sheets as Jaitley says in the clarification. The finance minister also says that following demonetisation, no political party can accept donations in Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes since they were rendered illegal tender. Any party doing so would be in violation of the law. “Just like anyone else, political parties can also deposit their cash held in the old currency in banks till 30 December, provided they can satisfactorily explain the source of income and their books of accounts reflect the entries prior to 8 November,” he said.

Here, isn’t Jaitley himself giving a clue to political parties how to deal with their black money — that parties can still take invalidated higher denomination currency notes (including those from black money hoarders for a decent cut) and make thousands of backdated receipts to show the funds arrived before the cut-off date?

If the parties choose to act as conduits of ill-gotten wealth, isn’t it almost impossible for the government and taxman to track down the tax cheats?

Third, at a time when the Modi government is aggressively pushing for electronic transactions (cashless), why is the government silent on making political funding can’t be made cashless including that of the ruling party? According to PTI, there are 1,866 registered political parties in India as on August, 2015, including six national parties. Many of them haven’t even contested elections. There has been a rush for registration of political parties, with as many as 239 new outfits enrolling themselves with the Election Commission between March 2014 and July this year, taking their number to 1,866.

According to data compiled by the EC, in the last Lok Sabha election in 2014, 464 political parties had fielded candidates. The present figure could be much more than 1,866 since 2015, many more parties would have joined the club. Political parties get massive donations from individuals and institutions. They need funds for those who contest elections from their parties and spend substantial funds on administrative, functional expenses. There are no official records for most of these transactions. The possibility of crooks launching political parties solely with the aim of laundering funds is high.

Four, what prevents the government from asking banks details of deposits done by political parties in the months prior to demonetisation (remember the sharp surge in bank deposits between July and September) and after 8 November, including those of the BJP and thereby, setting an example? Asking party members to hand over details of bank deposits to party president alone wouldn’t suffice if clean transparency is the goal. Given the radical nature of the demonetisation exercise and considering that banning 86 percent currency in one go isn’t a conventional step, the government shouldn’t hesitate in going the whole hog to attack all sources of black money. Unarguably, the most critical part of the black money battle is tackling political funding, which is missing here.

Jaitley’s clarification that the I-T Act that protects politicians is an old law and the Modi government had nothing to do with it is not a valid argument

It was the responsibility of this government to plug the necessary loop holes before attempting a big gamble to hunt tax cheats, who have been looting the country. The government should have foreseen that crooks will think far ahead and use one of the 1866 political parties as black money laundering machines to make a mockery of the system. If that happens, isn’t the pain and trauma forced up on the common man who has, by far, stood by the Modi government on this move going in vain?

When it comes to political funding and black money, the Modi govt could surely do much more than blaming an old law and hoping tax cheats will follow the rules of the game.

First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 11:53 IST

Food and Beverage Alliance policy guidelines are a good step, but India’s public health framework is a worry

In July, 2016, the Food and Beverage Alliance of India (FBAI) published a pledge by all its member companies, under the patronage of a global self-regulatory alliance of foods and beverage companies on ‘India’s Policy on Marketing Communications to Children’. Keeping in line with this pledge, several top food and beverage corporate brands such as Kellogg, Pepsi-Co, Mondelez India, Nestle and Coca-Cola, are preparing for the 31 December deadline for halting all advertisements of products directed at children below 12 years of age. This policy could, in many ways, completely change the ways in which the largest foods brands in the country are promoted. Moreover, it could also mean enormous changes in the public health landscape of the country.

Fatty foods must be discouraged and a national health policy framework should be in place. AFPFatty foods must be discouraged and a national health policy framework should be in place. AFP

Fatty foods must be discouraged and a national health policy framework should be in place. AFP

The FBAI policy states that all its members will either commit to “only advertise products to children under the age of 12 years that meet common FBAI pledge nutrition criteria” or not to advertise their products at all to children below the age of 12. The former commitment would require member companies to adhere to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for the establishment of nutrient profiles, which is used for various applications, including marketing of foods to children, health and nutrition claims, product labelling logos or symbols, information and education, provision of food to public institutions, and the use of economic tools to orient food consumption.. The policy will apply to marketing communications in a range of media — television, radio, print, cinema, online (including company-owned websites), DVD/CD-ROM, direct marketing, product placement, interactive games, outdoor marketing mobile and SMS marketing. The FBAI, the policy states, will also publish periodic reports to demonstrate compliance with this policy.

A number of countries have already established legislations and policy guidelines on food advertising for children and youth, understanding the implications of advertisements on the dietary practices of these age groups.

South Korea passed the Special Act on Safety Control of Children’s Dietary Life in 2009. The objective of the law is to contribute to the promotion of children’s health by regulating necessary matters for providing safe and well-balanced nutritional foods to help children develop good eating habits. To promote this objective, the act banned television advertisements on specific food categories during children’s prime time viewing, and also proscribed against gratuitous incentives when advertising children’s foods on TV, radio, and internet (such as offering free toys or gifts with the purchase of nutritionally inadequate foods). In the United Kingdom, the Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) has prohibited advertising foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) on children’s television, stating the media has a responsibility to help curb the rise in childhood obesity and levels of diabetes.

The EU Health Coalition has also come up with a campaign called ‘AVMSD: What about our kids?’, describing it as “a key opportunity to free Europe’s young people from health-harmful marketing”. It targets the current Audio Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) by restricting the hours in which advertising for harmful and unhealthy foods and beverages would be aired. The three key measures in this campaign is that no television advertisements for alcohol or HFSS would run between 6 am to 11 pm, there would be effective marketing techniques in place against product placement, and it would be ensured that these rules would apply to foreign broadcasts as well.

Responsible advertising and marketing of food and drinks directed towards children and the youth is a World Health Organisation (WHO) prerogative, and it’s a key policy action within the WHO Global Action Plan 2013–2020 for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), which was endorsed by the World Health Assembly in May 2013. A recommendation from WHO is that governments play a leading role in reducing children’s overall exposure to food marketing and setting rules on the persuasive techniques companies can use, with a view to protect children from the adverse effects of unhealthy foods. Other key recommendations included that private sector markets understand that marketing of foods and drinks to children is an “international issue” and that there is a need for the corporate sector to be equally accountable for the outcome “…to promote responsible marketing including the development of a set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, in order to reduce the impact of foods high in saturated fats, transfatty acids, free sugars, or salt, in dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, including private-sector parties, while ensuring avoidance of potential conflict of interest”.

At this point, India lacks a framework of public health, legal and economic policies for effective implementation of the WHO recommendations that provide for a comprehensive reduction of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars and salt to children. However, the FBAI policy guidelines seem like a good first step towards tackling this issue. That being said there needs to be regulations in place within the National Health Policy to cater to this issue, and it must be driven by the Ministry of Health, rather than being anchored by an alliance of private sector companies.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 08:47 IST

Demonetisation, cashless economy: Covering up the fiasco with a new trick means more trouble

Making a virtue of one’s mistake to escape embarrassment is an old childish trick, but if a central government indulges in it, it does say something about the character of the country.

What began as a sure-fire “surgical strike” on black money has mysteriously metamorphosed into a campaign for digital economy and cashless life. Despite the unprecedented man-made financial and economic disaster, which has no parallel in the world, imposed on the country’s poor and the middle class, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s midnight adventure purged no black money. Almost all the black money estimated to be in circulation has found its way into the banks and by the time the 50-day deadline ends, what might have been cleansed would, be at best, a pittance.

By then, the country would have had to endure all this costly madness — Rs 12,000 crore plus for printing new notes, unestimated transaction costs, about Rs 1.28 lakh crore of immediate loss to the economy and irreversible damage to various sectors and the lives of people — for practically nothing. A pilot study in wishful thinking when the premise itself had been rejected by skilled and experienced technocrats.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

That’s when the same eccentric idea gets dressed up as cashless economy and digital payments. By covering up the monumental fiasco with a new trick will lead India to more trouble, because the fundamental problem with the premise is, as Rahul Gandhi said, all cash is not black money and all black money is not in cash. The nationwide experiment of demonetisation so far has proved it beyond any reasonable doubt, and there’s no point in giving it a new spin.

If all cash is not black and all black money is not held in cash, how does petty cashless transactions prevent black money? In the best case scenario, it it will create enormous physical hardship for people and a lot of money for companies that make POS instruments and mobile and online payment firms. Does the nation or the people gain at all if people do their daily shopping using bank transfers and cards? Is it where most of the black money gets generated in India? If it’s about tax evasion by small-time vendors, wouldn’t the new GST-IT infrastructure handle it?

The government hasn’t made a cogent argument for such a move at all. All that it’s trying is to do is to cover up its failure and lack of cash because it thought of printing replacement currency only after killing 86 percent of it. After demonetisation, it’s another blunder that the government is getting into because more than 80 percent of the people are cash-dependent. It cannot be changed through a decision provoked by a distress.

It’s alright if the government had a policy on cashless/digital economy and is now rolling out a constitutionally valid process. If there was any such plan, it should have been discussed in Parliament, because some studies do suggest considerable cost in handling cash, ideally made into an Act, and implemented after framing the rules and putting an appropriate ecosystem in place. This is not a ship that can be built while sailing it.

Playing with most of the economic transactions in India without a master-plan and appropriate pilot studies before implementation is fraught with risks that might be more unforeseen than had been evident during demonetisation. Any simplistic move to address it will be like those Chinese grand idiocies (the sparrow story, the blood-plasma transfusion in Henan and Chairman Mao’s giant leap) or the social engineering experiences of Hitler (eugenics) and Sanjay Gandhi (family planning).

If the issue is really black money and if the intent is genuine, the way to go about is to implement the recommendations of the SIT on black money. In its fifth report, it does talk about curb on cash transactions, not at the grocery stores or petty shops, but at places where the money involved is big. It wanted the government to put a cap on cash transactions at Rs 300,000.

And guess what, the SIT wants it to be done through an Act. And that’s how it should be — not through knee jerk decisions or late night announcements. Did the government do anything on that? The SIT also said that government should make cash holding illegal beyond Rs 15 lakhs.

In fact, based on the experience of Indian ingenuity that was visible during the demonetisation, the government should raise the bar of stringency. Probably bring the Rs 300,000 limit to Rs 50,000 or even less. If only one percent of Americans use big dollar bills, the chances of the poor and middle class getting affected by such a cap in India must be negligible. This is the biggest transformative step the government could take, the real drive for cashless economy. An auto-driver or a beggar swiping cards is good only for WhatsApp.

Among other recommendations, the SIT wanted action on the generation of black money in education, charities and religious institutions and misuse of exemption from capitals gains tax. And probably most important of them all, it wanted transparency in participatory notes (P-notes), which are misused for whitening black money through round-tripping. Reportedly, the total value of P-note investments in India is 2.75 lakh crores with nearly a third of it coming from a tiny Cayman islands with 55,000 population. The Modi government is right — bulk of it came during the UPA regime. If you want to hit at the UPA, do it through policy.

Knowingly putting the cart before the horse defies logic, particularly for a G20 country. When there is a set of proposals from a committee of experts reporting to the Supreme Court suggest steps, why does the government drag its feet if it’s really serious about black money and black economy?

And it doesn’t hurt to admit that demonetisation was a mistake although the intent was genuine. It would make more sense if the failure is presented as a learning experience (unarguably the biggest monetary pilot in the world) on the entire range of issues related to the use of money that can help frame future policies, than being dressed up as a precursor to another pointless exercise.

It’s time to count one’s losses and move on.

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 17:01 IST

In agitated Newa, Lashkar militants feel quite at home, impose diktat on shopkeepers

The large black crosses look like multiplication signs with squiggles at the top left corner. The edges are uneven, a bit of paint dripping at places, but the strokes are broad and bold, a couple of feet long.

Such signs have been painted on the shutters of some of the shops in the main market at Newa. Newa is a market hamlet on the highway from Srinagar to Pulwama. It is within Pulwama district in south Kashmir. Pulwama is arguably the district worst affected by unrest over the past five months, and within the district, Newa is a nerve centre of agitation.

Not just agitation, Newa is also a centre of Lashkar-e-Taiba militants. Yes, those black crosses on shop shutters are warnings — warnings that those shops have been marked by Lashkar-e-Taiba activists for defying the hartals ordered through the ‘protest calendars’ issued in the name of the joint Hurriyat groups.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Many well-informed Kashmiris, including some Hurriyat leaders, acknowledge that control over the situation in Kashmir has been harnessed by Pakistan, that the broad guidelines come from there for how and when protests and various degrees of violence are to be organised.

In Newa, Pakistan does not need remote control mechanisms. Lashkar, the most aggressively anti-India war group based in Pakistan is right there.

A local asks me quite nonchalantly whether I would like to meet Abu Dujana, as if it were the most natural thing. Since Dujana is Lashkar’s militant head in Kashmir, the suggestion startles me.

I look around to take in how well that surreal suggestion fits with the physical and social landscape. I have just emerged onto a rock-and-mud surface that suffices for a road. We have turned sharply right towards a makeshift bridge that has remained makeshift two years after a flood destroyed the bridge. There’s been no proper reconstruction yet.

I have just had a series of chats with locals in Gudoora village, not far from Newa. Much of the angst expressed in those conversations revolved around forces’ discourtesy — things like their entering houses with shoes on, breaking doors late at night, and disrespecting women’s privacy. These essentially cultural issues plug into receptivity to foreign militants.
So apparently, even a militant head as major as Dujana flits around places such as these, quite at home. Those who want to can get to him.

Continuing instability

For all the recent talk of restored normalcy, Pulwama is one of those Kashmir districts that remains unsettled. Not only was it one of the three most disturbed Valley districts (along with Kulgam and Kupwara) in summer and autumn, it not only still simmers, it is home to militiants. Several are of Hizb-ul Mujahideen, but Lashkar too is embedded in some pockets of the district such as Newa.

There’s more surreality in how the power of the state is exercised. A police officer at the Pulwama police station airily explains the relative lack of protests in places like Tral, compared with Pulwama, saying that “that’s because there are militants there. They don’t attract attention where there are militants”. Visits to places like Gudoora indicate that there are plenty of militants in Pulwama too. So that sort of talk from police officers is either calculated to mislead, or that such officers live in la-la-land.

In places like Newa (which apparently falls under the jurisdiction of the Pulwama police station), people even talk of posters urging shopkeepers to follow ‘protest calendars’, and announcing that Lashkar will deal with those who continue to flout it.

Even that police officer says later in our conversation that a hundred or so local militants are probably active now, 10 or 12 of them in Pulwama. His estimate is that there must be double that number of foreign militants, since, he points out, the ratio of locals to foreigners in encounters with the forces is often 1:2.

His theory is that, for the moment, the HM (often local) boys have been instructed to sustain themselves and survive, rather than get exposed, while Lashkar operatives engage in battle as and when.

That Lashkar not only engages in operations but seeks to impose its will on shopkeepers and others in places like Newa indicates that hard-core militants are entrenching themselves. The future looks as bleak as the wintry landscape of bare poplar clusters standing in a grey-brown haze in sub-zero day temperatures.

First Published On : Dec 11, 2016 13:12 IST

Triple talaq verdict highlights the plight of Muslim women entangled in battles they can’t win

The case of Mohammad Naseem Bhat vs Bilquees Akhtar heard by Justice Hasnain Masoodi is an infrequently told story of a Muslim wife’s claim for maintenance against her husband. The parties were married in August 2002 and had a daughter. The marriage failed and Bilquees started living separately with her daughter. In January 2006, she filed a claim for maintenance for herself and her daughter. She alleged that her husband ill-treated her, mainly because she had given birth to a girl child. The husband held that he had divorced her more than a month before the child was born, and hence she wasn’t entitled to any maintenance.

The lower court accepted the man’s divorce plea and rejected her claim of maintenance for herself. Thus, he was directed to pay a monthly amount only towards his daughter.

Representational image. Getty ImagesRepresentational image. Getty Images

Representational image. Getty Images

The wife appealed against the judgment, and the first appellate court set aside the lower court’s decision, calling it “perverse, illegal and passed in a mechanical manner”. It also directed the lower court to fix a proper maintenance allowance. The husband appealed in the high court that the lower court’s decision be upheld. It was then that Justice Masoodi stated that under the Kashmir Shariat Act 2007, Muslims are to be governed by the Shariat law.

Today, when discussions on triple talaq have boldly resurfaced in drawing rooms and newsrooms alike, Supreme Court lawyer Shabnam Lone, who was appointed by the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir as amicus on behalf of the lady in 2014, says that there is much to be learnt from this incident. “Many religious bodies, and even a retired high court judge and the bar filed a petition against the high court’s order. The application was filed under Section 94 of the Constitution of J&K for reviewing the order passed by the high court. Her own lawyer refused to represent her since the case was widely reported in local newspapers. I filed her power of attorney in open court. When she contacted me, she was worried but sure about going ahead. After the third or fourth hearing, she stopped coming to court. It was then that the court appointed me amicus on her behalf,” Lone said.

And whether she wasn’t allowed to show up or lost interest in the case is a reason best known to her, the fact of the matter is that in India, women are entangled in legal battles they aren’t even allowed to fight.

There are several cases to illuminate that a married Muslim woman’s rights change with the culture and class she comes from, but in every situation, she is denied.

Women’s rights activist and lawyer Abha Singh says it is as much an urban problem, and talks about two of her clients battling triple talaq in their own ways. In one case, the client comes from an upper middle class business family in south Mumbai, and because she spoke up against her in-laws, they urged their son to divorce her. She is a graduate and is seeking maintenance for her children under Section 125 of the CrPC. The second is a software professional who converted to Islam to marry her Muslim lover. He wants to divorce her and keep the child. She is fighting for the custody of her son, arguing she is better placed to take care of him.

“These are educated girls who feel they live with the fear of talaq looming over their heads all the time. They are now ready to spend on lawyers, install CCTV cameras to collect evidence against the husband and their in-laws. All this is done with the realisation that the Constitution guarantees basic rights which the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPL) cannot question or interfere with,” Singh says.

Singh points to the many Halala marriages that are prevalent in Lucknow. In this, in order to return to the first husband and children after talaq, a woman is made to marry another man and sleep with him. This humiliating exercise is undertaken each time he divorces her. In other cases, rich Sheikhs from the Middle East marry girls half their age, impregnate them, divorce them and fly back; where there is extreme poverty, there is no concept of maintenance.

Triple talaq has been banned in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and even Saudi Arabia, because as per Islam, there has to be a gap of one menstrual cycle between each time the man utters the word talaq. This ensures that divorce is not given in a fit of rage and the man has time to cool down and think rationally over his decision. While India has overlooked this aspect, it has embraced technology. Talaq can now be given via SMS or email.

Sharifa Khanam, who founded the STEPS Women’s Development Organisation in 1987, has some more scary stories to share. She pointed out that in the last 15 years, 80 Muslim women have died in South Indians towns like Pattikonda, Nagapattinam and Tirunelveli, and there is no reliable data to certify that these were suicides. “In most cases, the woman doesn’t complain because there’s risk of being ostracised by the Jamaat. In 1993, we conducted a survey in Tamil Nadu and found out that in every five families, there is at least one woman who is divorced, or physically and mentally tormented, handicapped or destitute. Not much has changed,” she said.

Khanam pointed out that there is no dowry in Islam and the cultural practice that has emerged in poor families in villages is that the boys’ family pay a mahr of Rs 500, and in turn demand dowry worth Rs 50,000. A dowry harassment case she noticed in Pudukkottai involved a girl who was harassed and burnt to death while the police refused to hear her mother’s plea and asked her to seek help from the jamaat. “In lower levels, the police refuse to interfere in Muslim matters for whatever reason,” Khanam added.

Rubina Patel, who runs the Rubi Social Welfare Society in Nagpur, brings to light some more shameful cases. In Teka in Nagpur, 18-year-old Shahnaz was given talaq without her knowledge. She was packed off to her mother’s house and was living in oblivion for months before she realised what has happened. Shahina, from the same place, was pregnant at 20. Her husband approached a Mufti who issued a fatwa. “When we asked the Mufti why he issued it, he said the talaq was decided according to the man’s neeyat (will). Then we asked him how can a pregnant woman be divorced, to which he said that the talaq will be implemented once the baby is born, like an advance talaq,” Patel said.

While the men are busy politicising personal laws, the women continue to fight peculiar battles, ones that they mostly lose.

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 22:22 IST

Triple talaq: Allahabad HC verdict may leave a lasting impact on future of gender equality in India

The Allahabad High Court on 8 December delivered its judgment on the very sensitive issue of triple talaq, a judgment that’s sure to have legal as well as political implications, and will have a lasting impact on the future of gender equality in the country. The court said that the practice of triple talaq is unconstitutional, and is by all means, a violation of rights of Muslim women.

Triple talaq or talaq-ul-biddat is a patriarchal Islamic practice of divorce where the man has a right to obtain divorce, instantly, by the mere unequivocal statement of the word “talaq” three successive times. The practice grants men the unbridled power to dissolve a marriage with a single word, without the consent of the wife.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

For years, this form of divorce has been debated by legal experts as well as academicians. In addition, women’s rights activists have also called for the reform of the Muslim personal law that discriminates against women, contributing to violence and abuse, and is against the right to equality.

The order of the Allahabad High Court, calling the practice cruel and demeaning to Muslim women, declared: “No Personal Law Board is above the Constitution.” A single judge bench of Justice Suneet Kumar, who passed the order while hearing the petition of an aggrieved woman whose husband had arbitrarily divorced her, stated: “The personal laws of any community cannot claim supremacy over the rights granted to the individuals by the Constitution.”

He also stated that, “Muslim law, as applied in India, has taken a course contrary to the spirit of what the Prophet or the Holy Quran laid down and the same misconception vitiates the law dealing with the wife’s right to divorce […] it is a popular fallacy that a Muslim male enjoys, under the Quranic Law, unbridled authority to liquidate the marriage.”

Several previous Supreme Court judgments have also attempted to invalidate the infamous practice of triple talaq. In 2002, Shamim Ara v. State of UP and Anr. held that talaq-ul-biddat, though, instantaneous, does not dissolve a marriage nor end the liability of a husband to pay nafaqah or maintenance. In essence, the landmark ruling invalidated arbitrary triple talaq, and became precedent for numerous high court rulings involving Muslim divorce law.

In Bombay High Court judgments such as Najmunbee v S.K. Sikander S.K. Rehman (2004) and Dagdu Pathan v Rahimbi Pathan (2002), it was held that a husband does not have the unrestrained and arbitrary power to repudiate a marriage at will.

Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said the practice cannot be unconstitutional, as “…the practice is a part of Islamic law. The personal law is an integral part of Islam and the two cannot be seen in isolation.”

He has said that he will appeal against this decision.

At this point, there is another plea, of Shayara Bano’s, pending discussion and judgment at the Supreme Court. Bano has challenged the constitutional validity of three rules relating to a Muslim nikah: Triple talaq or talaq-ul-biddat; nikah halala — a practice by which a divorced couple can remarry each other only if the wife marries a second time, consummates this marriage, and then the second marriage is dissolved through death or divorce; and a Muslim man’s right to have four wives (polygamy). Shayara Bano was subjected to an instantaneous triple talaq by her husband after 15 years of marriage, last October. Her plea moves the apex court to declare these repulsive practices as illegal as they clash with fundamental rights under Article 14 (equality before the law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination), 21 (right to life) and 25 (freedom of religion).

The Shayara Bano case will change the way religious personal law interacts with the Constitution, and in all likelihood, will reform Muslim Personal Law in India as well. Nevertheless, this Allahabad High Court judgement paves the road to gender justice and the dismantling of patriarchal tenets by Muslim clerics.

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 19:40 IST

Note ban: We underestimate the people and forget that transparency is a powerful sword

30 days after the knock-out blow delivered to two currency notes — Rs 1000 and Rs 500 — it comes to mind that all these lakhs of crores that were unearthed do not seem to have hampered or upset the filthy rich.

They seem happy as larks and are having a blast. That said, there is now a growing school of thought that seems to think the surprise element and the couple of hours notice that was given on the night of 8 November was unnecessarily dramatic.

All that hush-hush stuff made good headlines and projected the imagery of a crackdown, a word that conjures up scenarios of really catching the bad guys by the scruff of the neck and rises to heroic proportions.

So overwhelming is this belief that all the other flaws which followed the implementation are covered up and accepted as the price to be paid for a good thing done.

People line up at an ATM. PTIPeople line up at an ATM. PTI

People line up at an ATM. PTI

While confessing I am not an expert, let me lay this before you: What if a fortnight’s notice had been given to the country to say that as of 20 November, the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes will be defunct. In that period, the mints could have printed sufficient notes and a combined decision could have taken over whether the Rs 2000 note was actually a valid alternative and how a gap between Rs 2000 and Rs 500 was potentially rickety.

How much less money do you think would have been unearthed sans all the intrigue and secrecy and tension to grab the miscreants of our black money economy if there was this notice period.

Where would they have offloaded this money once it had been sentenced to death row? Logically, who would deal with them or the notes knowing they would be dead and done with inside fifteen days?

Would you have started collecting these notes or doing business with them knowing they were on a ventilator? How would the hoarders of black money have gotten rid of their ill-gotten wealth in a fortnight if there were no takers.

Gone out for five star dinners every night? Paid cash for a car. Flown first class with the maid? Retail outlets, service agencies, you name it would have all shut shop on the notes and the debit cards and PayTM options would have kicked in from the public’s side.

We underestimate the people, always. Sometimes, transparency is a powerful sword.

In fact, the more you think about it, by giving this time frame, the black market would have been in more of a tizzy and there would have been no concealing themselves or becoming users of proxies and camouflage. They would actually have been more easily exposed to the tax authorities and not even been able to misuse the Jan Dhan accounts because every citizen would have been party to it.

Much credit has been given to the suddenness of the surgical strike. Sounds awesome, but it is this suddenness that confused people and made them pawns in the hands of the manipulators who used them to filter and launder their money before they could figure what was going on and being cashless, it made them more vulnerable.

I think where the government went wrong was in not trusting the people. They should have been made integral to the process because we would had much less of a mess up and no great amount would have been lost. Economic experts may bust this theory with fancy buzzwords but purely as an individual I am thinking what would I have done in those 15 days to save even a thousand rupee note if nobody was prepared to take it. Nothing different.

Sometimes, taking the common man as a soldier in a just war provides a stronger army of righteousness than declaring hostility in his name but leaving him on the bench.

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 14:17 IST

National Anthem: Forcing citizens to honour nation is greatest insult to India’s honour

What does it mean to love one’s country? Tagore clearly loved his country. He loved it so much that he wrote a song called Bhārat Bhāgya Vidhātā in the year 1911 about an eternal charioteer guiding his country through the ages and dispensing it’s destiny. On 24 January, 1950, the President of the Constituent Assembly of India, Rajendra Prasad made a statement in the house declaring that Jana Gana Mana was to be the National Anthem of our new republic and it has stood us well over the years.

The National Anthem of India does not find reference in the constitution save a reference made in Article 51A wherein citizens are called upon to respect it. The Constitution of India does not entrench the National Anthem and neither does it entrench the National Flag. These being highly emotive issues are not formalised either by virtue of legislation but are based on a broad consensus that is recognised by the executive. To quote the President of the Constituent Assembly on January 24, 1950:

“There is one matter which has been pending for discussion, namely the question of the National Anthem. At one time it was thought that the matter might be brought up before the House and a decision taken by the House by way of a resolution. But it has been felt that, instead of taking a formal decision by means of a resolution, it is better if I make a statement with regard to the National Anthem. Accordingly I make this statement. The composition consisting of the words and music known as Jana Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India, subject to such alterations in the words as the Government may authorise as occasion arises; and the song Vande Mataram, which has played a historic part in the struggle for Indian freedom, shall be honoured equally with Jana Gana Mana and shall have equal status with it. (Applause). I hope this will satisfy the Members.” 

Since then the Government of India has regulated the the National Anthem and how it is supposed to be sung by orders issued by the Ministry of Home affairs and this begs the question. Why is that something, that is of most manifest constitutional importance, is not entrenched in the Constitution? The Constitution of India is the longest Constitution of any country in the world and yet no where, not in any article or schedule has the national anthem been defined. The only thing we have is a statement of the President of the Constituent Assembly and the orders of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

There are legislations that protect the National Anthem, such as the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 which provide protection to the National Anthem, thereby recognising its importance, but never entrenching it into law.

There has perhaps been no other fifty-two second piece of music that is more recognisable across the country and our national anthem has served its purpose as a symbol of national unity. But here’s what makes our national anthem different from God Save the Queen, or the Star Spangled Banner or La Marseillaise. Jana Gana Mana is not the assertion of India’s sovereignty. Jana Gana Mana is an assertion of thanks. When we sing Jana Gana Mana we give thanks to the Bhārat Bhāgya Vidhātā for guiding us through the last five thousand odd years of our civilisation and we ask for guidance in the future by praying for a victorious destiny. In some ways, it is a song of prayer.

The reason Jana Gana Mana is not entrenched in our Constitution or law as our national anthem is that Constitutions do not make nations, nations make constitutions and it is these nations that have anthems and symbols. The Constitution of India is a document of our Republic and our Republic is the product of our nation. India, that is Bharat, a nation of a diverse people, who each have their own unique way of giving thanks, their own unique way of singing Jana Gana Mana. For the song sings praise to Bhārat Bhāgya Vidhātā, who rules the minds of the people of India, the spirit of destiny existed well before our Constitution and will continue to exist long after it. When thousands of years have passed, and the buildings of the court houses in Delhi lie in dust, there will still remain a spirit that guides the destiny of the people who remain in this land and the spirit will still evoke the praise of her people. That’s the true meaning of Jana Gana Mana.

Jana Gana Mana is our anthem because India was a nation before the Constitution and will be a nation after it as well, India is a creature in the imagination of history and history does not need a piece of paper to gain validity. Neither the Flag of India nor the National Anthem of India have constitutional status nor do they have constitutional sanctity. They are merely symbols and we can by national consensus change them at any time.

To breathe the air of a free India where citizens can disregard them when they please because law recognises that sovereignty flows from the citizenry not the law, is a much greater symbol of our nationhood and no symbol, no matter how mighty or how revered can triumph that. The freedom of an Indian citizen must always take precedence over the reverence to a symbol. Which is why it being quite abhorrent, that India’s free citizens will now be required to stand and listen to it while watching a visual of a moving flag. For this means, that this wonderful and prayerful song, has become another washing powder Nirma ad. Something that will cue us to a mechanical response as it blares from the speakers. For no more will citizens of India be freely able to love their country when they sing this song without it being clouded the fear of the sanction of the law.

For love is free, including love for one’s country. Love by it’s very nature, is free. To make it mandatory that citizens of India honour their nation, is the greatest insult to India’s honour.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 14:46 IST

102 deaths in two months: What mystery disease is preying on children of Odisha’s Malkangiri?

“I will not go to medical,” said four-year-old Shanti in a feeble voice to her father. Shanti and her father are members of the Koya tribe, inhabitants of Odisha’s Malkangiri district. It’s a dreary time for the community; over a hundred children have died in the last two months, suffering from an unknown disease.

Image used for representational purposes only. ReutersImage used for representational purposes only. Reuters

Image used for representational purposes only. Reuters

But if it’s a tough time for the community, spare a thought for Shanti’s father, who has lost two of his children to the same disease, and now has a third daughter suffering. “Two of my children died in medical. What if the third one also meets the same fate?” he choked.

The child’s resistance against hospitalisation didn’t last long; District magistrate K Sudarshan Chakrabarty had the ailing child under medical care soon enough. It has become a part of his administration’s daily battle against the unknown disease, that is now spreading among the tribals.

“The district administration is dealing with the abrupt rise in child death cases in the tribal villages of Malkangiri for the last three months. Despite the administration’s efforts, however, fear still persists among the people,” says R Srinivasan Rao a social activist from the region. “The first child death was reported on 9 September. Though only 102 deaths have been reported till now, the actual toll could be higher,” said Debabrat Sana, a journalist from the region.

If there is a mismatch between the official government figures and actual deaths in the region, it’s because several tribals rely on traditional medicine to meet with their health requirements, said Rao. “Most of the people in the village don’t go to hospitals. Rather, they visit the local ojhas who purportedly treat them with mantras. Deaths occurring during such treatment are seldom reported,” he said.

Dr Kalyan Kumar Sarkar, additional district medical officer, added that several patients are being admitted with symptoms similar to Japanese Encephlitis. “Among patients admitted to the hospital, 36 were found to be Japanese Encephelitis positive,” Sarkar said. “But strangely, even patients who were not Japanese Encephalitis positive were showing similar symptoms. The cause of their ailments was not found,” the doctor added.

These patients who are suffering symptoms similar to Japanese Encephalitis are said to be ailing from the “Acute Encephalitis Syndrome”. Malkangiri has become the hotspot for Acute Encephalitis Syndrome as well. “Scientists from across the country and abroad as well visited the district to enquire into the new health condition,” Sana said.

But a team of scientists, led by Dr E Jacob James from a hospital in Tamil Nadu, came up with a novel interpretation of the riddle that said a seed that Malkangiri villagers pluck from the wilderness and eat might have caused the unexplained symptoms. “The seed is known as Chakunda among the people here, and is found to have toxic properties. Eating this may result in Japanese Encephalitis-like symptoms and also cause abrupt glucose deficiency, which could be fatal,” Sarkar said.

But very few villagers believe in this interpretation, instead saying that Chakunda seeds have been a part of the food habit of local tribes for a very long time and nobody ever discovered it to be lethal. “Chakunda seeds are used as pulses by the tribes here for a long time and are known to have medicinal properties. How can it be toxic all of a sudden?” Rao asked.

Rao said this explanation is only meant to cover up the government’s failure in providing health facilities to the poor tribals of the district. “If Chakunda seeds are indeed causing these deaths, then why are only malnourished tribal children dying?” he asked, adding that it’s actually a “classic case of the government’s neglect of Odisha’s tribals”.

Even Sana, himself a resident of the district, admitted that he’d never heard of people dying because they ate Chakunda seeds.

But Sarkar has a possible answer. “Chakunda seeds grow in the wilderness after September every year and people eat it. Deaths have been happening this time of the year for a long time. But this is the first time cause of these deaths have been ascertained,” he said.

Dalit Camera, a website that provides data about issues affecting villagers, said 7,493 children have died in the area since the year 2012, including 128 in the last two months. But locals take this figure with a pinch of salt.

Whatever be the interpretations of the spate of child deaths rocking this remote village in Odisha, fact remains that the district administration has taken two pronged approach to face this challenge. “Since Japanese Encephalitis has also been detected in a number of patients, we are trying our best to create awareness among the people to prevent spreading of this virus. Apart from that, other interventions have also been initiated. In the second approach, for instance, we have publicised the ills of Chakunda seeds, and warned people against ingesting them,” Sarkar said.

Moreover, there are many who refuse to have their children admitted to hospitals given a mistrust of medicine and also considering the many number of deaths that have taken place. However, for some, like four-year-old Shanti, who survived because of timely medical intervention, medicine can also be a boon.

First Published On : Dec 1, 2016 17:35 IST

Demonetisation in Kerala: Terror outfits use contraband money to indoctrinate youths

Kerala is one of the few states where demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes generated so much heat. The state witnessed a rare phenomenon of the entire state Cabinet sitting on a day-long dharna with the mutually acrimonious ruling party and the Opposition joining hands against the Union Government over the issue.

Economic experts are wondering why the demonetisation move aimed at flushing out black money has met with so much protest in Kerala, which incidentally is the country’s first total banking and completely digitised state. They feel it could be because of pressure from the black money lobbies.

Firstpost spoke to a cross-section of experts to get a dispassionate view of the situation. This is the third in a four-part report. You can read the first part here and the second part here.

No one in Kerala believed that terrorism could take root in the state, but the developments since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 forced them to change their perception.

Many outfits borne out of the Muslim anger later took radical turns.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Seeds of radical thoughts sowed by outfits like the National Development Front (NDF), which was one of the first radical outfits to be established after the mosque was pulled down, have made the state today a breeding ground for terrorists. Police and intelligence sources see the role of hawala money and counterfeit currency behind the transformation.

Sources said many of these outfits use the money to promote and propagate radical thoughts. Though finance for terror comes from many sources, Saudi Arabia is said to be the single largest financier of terror in India. Saudi contributes more to terror because many in the country share their ideology.

The money for terror outfits in the country is routed through Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Officials have no clear idea about the amount of money arriving in the country for terror activities.

A recent report in Rediff.com said that 10 percent of all hawala transactions coming to India were terror finance. The report further said that terrorists were getting 30 percent of their funds from hawala.

Officials said it was difficult to detect terror fund as it gets mixed with hawala transfers made by the expatriates in the Middle East. The donor agencies also take special care not to send the money to people under the police radar. They have unassuming people to collect the money and take it to the targeted people.

Hormis Tharakan, former chief of Kerala state police and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), says the bulk of contraband money received by radical outfits were going to indoctrinate youths. He said that terrorist outfits were now targeting young educated youths as they want people who are able to handle technology.

“Most of the people, who left the state in July with the aim of joining the Islamic State, are such people. The group of 21 youths from Kasargod and Palakkad who are suspected to have joined the Islamic State included engineers, doctors and business graduates,” Tharakan told Firstpost.

The former RAW chief said that youths from Kerala were getting increasingly drawn to radical groups because of their interactions with diverse forces across the world. They have been able to come into contact with different forces as a result of the migration.

“The IS and other terror outfits are spending more money on motivating such youngsters. They will also need their service if they succeed in their attempt to set up their Caliphate in various parts of the world,” Tharakan said adding that information suggested he had a dentist, who was among the 21 youths who crossed the border, and had set up a dental clinic at Khorasan in Afghanistan, a stronghold of IS.

The extremist organisations in the state have been using the funds they are getting to promote their radical thinking in a systematic manner by setting up communication and education channels. A school in Ernakulam funded by an Islamic agency introduced religious content in the teaching in addition to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) syllabus that the school follows.

The religious lesson set by the Peace International School for Standard 2 students asked the pupil’s willingness to die for Islam. After directing the school to remove the lesson, the Education Department has referred the matter to the police, who have registered a case against the school authorities.

Peace International School had caught media attention after three of its employees joined the group of 21 missing youths from Kasargod and Palakkad. The school was also found to have received money from some suspicious sources.

The state police are probing two such transactions the school run by Kozhikode-based Niche group received from Kashmir and Hyderbad in August 2015. Niche group founded by MM Akbar, who is called the Zakir Naik of Kerala, is running two conversion centres at Kozhikode and Poonani in Malappuram district. A graduate in Physics, Akbar is a religious orator and an expert in comparative religion.

A senior police officer at Kozhikode said hawala money and fake currency were also being used to fund terror activities across the country. He pointed out that investigations had revealed that hawala money pumped into the state was used in the blasts at Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

The money for terror outfits in the country is routed through Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Officials have no clear idea about the amount of money arriving in the country for terror activities.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) suspects the role of Mumbai blast accused Tahir Merchant alias Tahir Taklya behind two containers of counterfeit currency rumoured to have landed at Kochi port in 2009. They believe that Taklya, while working as a manager with a firm in Sharjah, had sourced the fake notes from Pakistan.

The NIA has launched a reinvestigation into the matter following fresh information received from a person who was arrested with fake notes worth Rs 72.5 lakh from the Kozhikode international airport.

The Kerala police, who investigated the rumour, did not register any case as no seizures were made. The state Bharatiya Janata Party has alleged the hand of higher ups in the then Left Democratic Front (LDF) government behind the mysterious disappearance of the two containers.

Mohammed Sabir alias KP Sabir alias Ayub, who is an accused in the case related to the attempt on the life of former chief minister late EK Nayanar, controls the terror-related fake Indian currency notes (FICN) cartel operating from Peshwar in Pakistan.

A native of Kannur in north Kerala, Sabir was the former president of the now banned Students Islamic Movement of India. His links with international terror cartel came to light after the Bengaluru serial blasts in 2008. According to intelligence sources, Sabir escaped to Pakistan immediately after the blasts on a fake passport.

Tharakan said that the role of contraband money behind terror strikes was minimal since weapons used in such strikes come mostly from Pakistan. The weapon now being used commonly is improvised explosive device (IED), he added.

Tharakan said that counterfeit currency was not being used much in terror operations. The fake currency is mostly being used by Pakistan to subvert the Indian economy. He said the neighbouring country was able to do it successfully as it was not easy to detect the Indian currency produced by them. They were using the same machines and ink used by India to print counterfeit Indian currency notes, he added.

Though criminal activities fuelled by hawala are on the increase the authorities have not been able to crack the rackets. CM Pradeepkumar, a retired superintendent of police who was among those who probed the Marad communal riots in Kozhikode, said police were unable to do much in hawala and fake currency note cases since they come under the purview of Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and other concerned agencies.

“When the police come across such cases, we arrest the culprits and hand over the case to the agencies concerned. The agencies in many cases let off the culprits after levying the fine,” Pradeepkumar said.

Former director general of police Jacob Punnose has additionally alleged lack of political support in tackling terror cases. He said that a strong case made by the police about the undercover operations of some terror modules in the 1990s was spurned by the then political leadership.

This was because of the general presumption that terrorism will not take root in Kerala. Even the police were not free from this complacency. The steady growth of radical forces from NDF in the early 1990s to the IS now has shaken off this complacency.

Part One: Hawala, fake notes play big role in state’s economic growth
Part Two: Curbs on cooperative banks are hurting Non-Resident Keralites

First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 19:24 IST

Demonetisation: IT sleuths begin crackdown on ‘Pakistan money laundering model’

New Delhi: For the next one month, Income Tax and economic intelligence sleuths will be out in force across the country looking for real beneficiaries of around 771 accounts that they fear was hired from small depositors on monthly rent to wire unusually large sums following the government decision on 8 November, to withdraw high value currency notes to tackle black money.

Top sources said the inputs on Cash Transaction Reports (CTRs) and Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) have detected sudden activities in 298 bank accounts from Uttar Pradesh, 137 from West Bengal and 121 from Bihar, besides some alleged ‘rented accounts’ in at least 11 more states. And, this brewing scandal to dodge demonetisation policy is just the tip of ‘rent an account’ iceberg.

It is a far reaching, organised scam, observed senior officials privy to the ongoing investigation. They suspect a deep rooted conspiracy is being hatched by a well-oiled network to pile huge unaccounted wealth in zero balance account to turn the illicit stash into legit. The transactions, officials said, are in fact shocking and as per the details provided by the reporting entities-banks- it definitely warrants additional scrutiny.

Since the announcement of demonetisation policy on 8 November, the government has directed all the public and private banks to detect and report all potentially illegal and suspicious transactions that may flow through zero balance and Jan-Dhan accounts, which officials believe is the most favoured tool for black money hoarders to deposit large amounts of cash.

A government source confirmed to Firstpost that the government recently launched manual transaction monitoring system, targeting specific types of transactions, conducted across the 371 District Central Cooperative Banks (DCCBs) and a letter was shot off on 15 November after reports that some cooperative banks accepted large amounts of cash, the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the game-changer move at 8 pm.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

“We have asked for the two reports. One is specifically about deposits on 8 November till midnight and second report is on cash deposited during 10-14 November. All the cooperative banks have been told to file a daily report on cash deposits from 15 November. The direction is very clear not to harass farmers and genuine customers in the rural areas. The investigation will take up the cases only linked to hiring and misuse of someone’s account by black money hoarders,” he said further adding that similar instructions have been issued to regional rural banks and state-cooperative banks. However, the government direction is very clear. The whole exercise should not bring discomfiture to the farmers preparing for Rabi crop season.

Rent an account — Pakistan model of money laundering

For seasoned spies in external spy agency — Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) — and the domestic spy agency — Intelligence Bureau (IB), the hiring a bank account post Modi’s demonetisation, is a grim reminder of ‘Pakistan model of money laundering’ they had recently unearthed and had dismantled with the arrest of several key players.

A secret communication reviewed by Firstpost shows that a Pakistani named Akram was involved in creating and running an India based elaborate network that was involved in hiring bank accounts from poor account holders to carry out money laundering activities. Sources said the black money hoarders are perhaps using the similar pattern to dodge tax sleuths and now layering the money through bank accounts that hardly witness major financial transactions and thus not yet on the radar of central agencies.

The secret intelligence note gives out details of at least 3 cases that were unearthed by the agencies including one in July 2014 when Ranjit Kumar, a native of Rikhiya Village in Deoghar, Jharkhand was arrested for renting bank accounts from poor families in lieu of attractive returns. Similarly, in June 2014, three persons-Brajesh, Dharmedra Kumar Prajapati and Rajiv Patel were picked up from Bhopal and at least 37 bank account details with ATM cards were seized from them.

The biggest breakthrough to decode the Pakistan Model of hiring bank account was busted in Roorkee in February 2013, when Jai Prakash, a native of Shamli in Muzaffarnagar was caught with 132 bank account passbooks and debit cards of various banks. Maximum state owned banks were targeted by the network which used to hire bank accounts and their debit cards on rent from different individuals and subsequently provided the details to their Pakistani associates for laundering.

But, since the high value currency has been turned into mere piece of papers by the government now, the money being deposited by the black money hoarders in rented account, cannot escape the close scrutiny of bank and tax officials.

“We have already interrogated certain individuals, who allegedly allowed the use of their bank accounts by suspected black money hoarders. The notices under relevant sections have been issued for further probe,” senior government officials said.

The Income Tax notification on ‘hiring bank account’ to convert black money into white makes it amply clear that both-the account holder and tenant – will be punished as per the new law introduced in the Prohibition of Benami Property Transaction Act, 1988. “The Benamidar, beneficial owner and any other person who abets or induces the benami transactions shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment from 1 year to 7 years and shall be liable to fine.”

First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 14:01 IST

Demonetisation drive: The ‘corruption economy’ will be unaffected by this move

At a meeting of senior police officers in united Andhra Pradesh a few years back, the DGP warned a top cop without taking his name. “Yeh dukaandaari yahan band karo”. Everyone knew who the barb was directed at.

The ‘dukaandaari’ was a reference to the practise of inspectors who got the posting of their choice to carry a sweet box to this top cop. Named after a popular sweet eatery in Hyderabad, in police parlance it was called the ‘Pulla Reddy box’. While the sweets would be arranged on top, the bottom layer would be wads of cash. After the DGP’s diktat, the officer stopped the practice at his office.

Inspectors were instead asked to deliver the ‘Pulla Reddy box’ at his residence.

Prime minister Narendra Modi would like India to believe that with his financial masterstroke of demonetisation, generation of black money of this kind would be a thing of the past. But utopia is not a ‘Made in India’ product. India needs to stop fooling itself that demonetisation will wipe out the corruption economy. It cannot because it is sustained by the black sheep in the political establishment and aided and abetted by the bureaucracy.

Take the example of another south Indian state where the `cover system’ is right now in vogue. An aspirant for posting at a particular police station goes to the local MLA who gives him separate letters in three different envelopes, marked to the IG, DIG and SP of the district, pushing his case. The money is paid directly to the MLA and depending on the honesty quotient of the top cops, a part of the booty comes to them as well.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

In this state, the police machinery no longer decides on who to post where. The neta has taken over the job. The SPs are told by their uniformed bosses to handle this direct political interference in postings at their level. “We do not want any friction. Manage it at your level. Don’t let it come to the state capital,” was the oral diktat given to SPs in this state.

“My own inspectors are forced to pay for both postings and retention after they complete one year in the post. Money is paid to the MLAs and even the minister to get the state police headquarters to do so,” says a district SP, known for his probity.

It is a fixed rate card for postings. Sources say to get posted as sub-inspector in a rural police station where there is the possibility of making big money, a payment of Rs 5 lakh is expected. A circle inspector’s posting comes for Rs 7 lakh. If you want to get posted as DSP in a jurisdiction of your choice, Rs 10 lakh need to be shelled out.

The amount also has to be shelled out if you are in a ‘good’ post and likely to be transferred. Money is then paid to retain the lucrative post. Do the math to realise how much a corrupt SI or CI must be making on the side to be able to afford such hefty bribes. This does not mean every cop is dishonest. But more often than not, the ones who do not pay are shunted to loopline postings.

The only time the rate is lowered is when the cop belongs to the same caste as the local MLA or minister. In such cases, appointments are done with quid pro quo made clear. At times, a pliant police officer at the SHO level is appointed for a temporary period only to settle a legal dispute — most often a land dispute — in favour of a political heavyweight.

It is a fallacy to think the black money is generated only by businessmen, traders, builders and politicians. Of course, it is. But given the extent to which the state controls our lives, different government departments like revenue, excise, transport are also an integral part of the black money mafia.

Which is why the demonetisation exercise is at best, a temporary blip, which will make the corrupt now lose 30 to 40 per cent of their loot, if it happens to be in cash. That is the hit they will take when they get their booty exchanged through commission agents. But the corruption economy will be back in business with a vengeance, sooner than the main economy, to make up for what they have lost. India, for all you know, will witness more corruption post 30 December. The new 2000 rupee notes will occupy lesser space in Pulla Reddy boxes. Gujarat witnessed the first such case of bribery last week when two port trust officials were arrested for allegedly accepting Rs 2.9 lakh in new 2000 rupee notes.

How do the dishonest SIs, CIs and SHOs manage to earn so much to bribe a politician to get a posting of their choice, you would wonder. The favorite spots for collecting mamool (bribe) for cops are the wine shops. Each wine shop under the jurisdiction of a police station is forced to pay between Rs 10000 to 20000 every month. The booty is then distributed between all the policemen involved, with a share often going right up to the top. Failure to pay up invites cases against the shop owners.

Trucks transporting sand illegally are another hunting ground. If the truck belongs to a politician, a lower fine is imposed. Sky is the limit if it does not have political patronage. Quarries, mines, settling accident cases are other ways of making money.

The senior cops never soil their hands in the extortion business. A constable, usually the most trusted man of the SHO is entrusted with the job of collecting the moolah and dividing the share among everyone. This man goes by a different nomenclature in different states. He is called ‘collector’ in some and ‘roadmaster’ in others.

In Karnataka, DSP MK Ganapathi killed himself in July and named minister KJ George and two senior IPS officers as the cause for his death. But a probe absolved the trio of any role in Ganapathy’s death.

In August, sub-inspector Ramakrishna Reddy committed suicide in Medak district of Telangana. His family alleged that his superiors had been mounting pressure on him for Rs 15 lakh in bribes. In the suicide note, he reportedly named nine policemen including the DSP and a circle inspector for pushing him to taking the extreme step.

A superintendent of police tells me how his district minister has not called him even once since the night of 8 November. “He would otherwise call me everyday to get some work or the other done, including pushing for postings and transfers. But he is completely silent now,” says the SP. He suspects that the neta is busy getting his black money, that he has reportedly hoarded, converted into white through brokers in the state capital.

First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 10:39 IST

Demonetisation: Drive must have hit terrorism hard but we shouldn’t ignore roots of corruption

The demonetisation drive has hit terrorist organisations with large money caches lying waste, even though some may be laundered white money through the illegal money exchange racket, some glimpses of which are on electronic media. But there would plenty frustration, which may be vented through sabotage and terrorist acts. So, more violence should be expected. It would also be good if capacity building in local police is examined to provide succor during disasters like what has happened to the Patna-Indore train. In the instant case, visuals of local police standing around awaiting arrival of NDRF teams and the Army is not reassuring. This could well be part of training and equipping for civil defence-cum-disaster relief incorporating the public and NGOs. Delhi police is ready with its team of ‘plain clothes officers’ consisting farmers, homemakers, self-employed individuals, jhuggi dwellers, social workers, retired officials, students, advocates and army veterans (total 264 people including 49 women) – enrolled under the ‘police mitra’ scheme for prevention of crime, maintenance of law and order, and communal harmony. Good initiative, but why not pan-India when we needed the ‘billion-eyes-on-the-ground’ concept a decade back, being sixth on the global terrorist index?

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Demonetisation has brought relative peace to Jammu and Kashmir, for whatever period of time, because the separatists are unable to pay daily stone-pelting wages to their ‘street gangs’. Yet the number of schools burnt or ransacked keep going up – 34th school targeted yesterday over past 100 days, even as ceasefire violations by Pakistan continue unabated. The police in Jammu and Kashmir have recovered not only fake Rs 100 notes but also machines owned by local criminal gangs for printing fake currency. But if Rs 100 notes too are being faked, then these could also be used for stone pelting, even if the number of ‘employees’ reduces. Besides, payments received via hawala are generally never traced, as per police officials. Significantly, production of fake Indian currency in Pakistan is in government mints. No matter which paper or ink is used in the new Re 2000 and 500 notes, these being faked by Pakistan at a future date can hardly be ruled out. Chinese assistance to Pakistan in faking our new currency notes can also be taken for granted, being within ambit of the Chinese concept of ‘unrestricted warfare’. As for the Maoists, they will regain wealth though extortion, looting and poppy cultivation in due course of time.

NIA reports of 2013 revealed that Kashmiri terrorist groups had received US$ 100 million for terror operations in past two years, over the past 10 years, some Rs 600 crores were diverted to J&K terrorism from within India, Rs 98 crores were diverted in one single year from the Jammu and Kashmir Affectees Fund, and that the Jammu and Kashmir Affectees Relief Trust (JKART) has been facilitating Pakistani infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir. Besides, goods sent through trucks to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) were intentionally overpriced two-three times in the vouchers and additional money received was diverted for terrorist operations. It is unthinkable that Jammu and Kashmir politicians did not get share from the pie. Under the NIA Act, the NIA can take over any case related to terror suo motu except in Jammu and Kashmir where it needs the state government’s permission before it can start any investigation. Last year, Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra had suggested that the Ranbir Penal Code be brought under the NIA Act, but whether this has been implemented is not known. So, terrorist funding in Jammu and Kashmir apparently is easier than balance India, even though transactions of some Rs 38 crores from 17 accounts in four banks of South Kashmir were under NIA scanner in August this year for suspected terror links.

Demonetisation has hit political parties too, though the general belief is that big fish will remain untouched beyond some financial penalties, not targeting them personally through early prosecution and exemplary message to the rank and file. Then, it is not only the low-level politicians who are dependent on Maoists and radical support but there are also politicians of various hues that have links with inimical organisations. According to veteran RAW officers, politicians of various hues are under ISI blackmail having used hawala which is handled by ‘D’ company – franchisee of ISI. Some actions by these individuals have been obvious but they continue to flourish because of political clout and vote bank politics. As in the case of terrorist organisations, demonetisation having hit black money stocks of political parties too may result in venting anger through violence. India has been witness to criminalisation of politics, as also the perpetrators getting away completely or lightly.

Finally is the question of foreign funding of political parties that have been ‘legalised’, which cannot be without adverse fallouts, coming with a price tag. What portion of this comes from our adversaries via third party is also difficult to establish. Such funding would aim for a certain type of government in India, depending on the individual / group / national interests of those providing the finances. Some may want a strong India, but most may not. When the string of IEDs blew up at the pre-general election rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Patna (IED under the dais he was speaking from luckily did not fire), can you really pinpoint who wanted him assassinated – Maoists, radicals, another political party or those furnishing election funds from abroad? For that matter, a cross-section is wondering whether the chaotic manner in which the demonetisation scheme is being executed (no matter perception building through media) is by design to show the prime minister in poor light.

The bottom-line is that while euphoria over terrorist funding being hit by demonetisation is justified, we need to go into the roots within the country – for black money, terrorist funding and endemic corruption. Modi has the best of intentions but the system needs a major ‘top-down’ overhaul, not to forget we have the worst bureaucracy in Asia past 20 years. When the equivalent of Lok Ayukta was established in Singapore (then high on corruption), overnight 150 politicians, officials and mafia dons were jailed. Can there be similar action in India?

The author is veteran Lt Gen of Indian Army.

First Published On : Nov 20, 2016 16:29 IST

Demonetisation: Narendra Modi governs like a general, but does he have a ‘grip’ on India?

Two of the things that Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would bring to Delhi were decisiveness and governance. He has other qualities also of course, and people voted for them just as they did for these two named above. Modi is not a dynast and he has worked his way to where he is based only on merit. He has the reputation of being honest and there are no reports of high-level corruption in the Union Cabinet as there were in the time of Manmohan Singh.

However, these two qualities have been on display recently and we should look at how they have affected India. Decisiveness is the ability to take decisions quickly and firmly. This is often seen as a virtue. Being indecisive is seen as a weakness though often indecision is only another name for thinking something through carefully. And if there is uncertainly or turbulence beyond tolerable limits, one does not decide. On the other hand, the virtue of being decisive can also be seen as certitude, meaning being sure one is right intuitively rather than through knowledge.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTIFile image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Sanjay Gandhi was also decisive. He was a barely literate (Class 10) man who was given great power. He wielded it poorly and Indians suffered in unimaginable ways for his arrogance and his confidence that he knew what was right for all of us.

The second ability, governance, can be described by another word used by military historians. That word is ‘grip’. It means the ability of a general to be in total charge of his command. Knowing what his side is capable of and being prepared. Julius Caesar had grip and he had control over his armies in a time when communications was poor and supply lines very long. Though his record in battle is mixed, Gen Montgomery is thought to have had grip. He was not clueless as many other generals on the British side in the Second World War were.

Narendra Modi showed us his decisiveness when he acted to make useless the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes Indians held. This was sold as an act that would end or severely attack black money. We have not yet been told how that will happen except for Modi saying that the corrupt and the wealthy sitting on piles or warehouses of cash would now only have worthless paper.

Those who have run business, and I have owned and run a manufacturing and a services business, know that black money does not work like that. It is used, just like white money is used, as a means to expand business. It is held in goods and in property. In the purely liquid form, as cash, it is not particularly useful. The second reason given was that it would dent terrorist activity because that was being done by counterfeit money. Almost anything today can be sold as a good idea to Indians if it can be attached to terrorism. The media is less likely to question it.

Anyway, so Modi showed a flash of decisiveness. As a result of it we are living through days when the wretched of India, the hundreds of millions of poor who live on cash alone, are being used in an experiment. The opposition is terrified of Modi, with a couple of parties excepted, and that means that the demonetisation has not itself been opposed so far. Because this terrorism issue was stuck to it, Congress is too afraid to demand a rollback. They are not sure of the public mood and believe that there is enthusiasm for the act.

Meanwhile, this act of casual cruelty is bringing suffering and trauma to millions. Watching the Gujarati news channels, I was struck by how the English ones seem to be reporting from another country. Modi has told us the suffering Indians are going through will be justified by the dividend we will reap on 1 January. We shall see.

But meantime, having shown us decisiveness, he now needs to show us governance.

The government has bumbled along since Modi’s triumphant announcement. It has been doing things seemingly in reactive mode. It has been raising and lowering withdrawal limits, relaxing rules for some states arbitrarily, and introducing ad hoc administrative measures like inking of fingers.

Where is the talent and ability needed to bring calm to the chaos that anyone could have anticipated when the government makes a move of this magnitude? It would not be incorrect to say that at the moment it seems to be missing. This is his chance. With the country in a crisis that directly affects not a handful of people (as terrorism does) but hundreds of millions, we will know if Modi has grip.

First Published On : Nov 20, 2016 09:53 IST

Demonetisation: Why should poor be only ones to make sacrifices for Modi’s mission?

Suspicions grow when the ruling classes urge the public to put up with, or even agree to become, “collateral damage” in the interest of the “greater national good”. No special insight is needed to know that it is almost always the most vulnerable sections of the population that end up becoming the “collateral damage” that ruling elites demand in the implementation of grand projects — particularly those infused with missionary zeal. Or even projects that, as political analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta has observed in his column in The Indian Express, have become the “personification” of the initiator — in this case, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The bar, in such circumstances, moves to an all-time high. As Mehta writes: “With personification comes a punitive imagination. The state is telling you that the honest have nothing to fear. But there is every sign of unleashing the worst aspects of the Indian state on even ordinary citizens.”

People queued outside an ATM. PTI

People queued outside an ATM. PTI

Already some 50-odd people have died as a result of demonetisation. On the other hand, because they can leverage power and have access to wealth, privilege and contacts, the intended targets of Modi’s demonetisation policy are not going to financially haemorrhage to death . Many among them must already by now have found ways to hoodwink the government. They have long been masters at this game. The government seems to be operating under the illusion that India’s “robust” systems cannot be circumvented.

It’s hardly a surprise that the poor and vulnerable are the ones paying – many literally with their lives – to make Modi’s deeply personalised mission succeed, at least in the short–term. Surely such levels of human suffering can’t be shrugged off as a paltry matter of “inconvenience,”or explained using the normative, dry, business-as-usual logic of “collateral damage”. What happened to all that rhetoric of a “caring” dispensation? A government that truly cares for the weaker sections of society — those least equipped to withstand such sudden assaults on their lives — would have retrained itself from moving ahead with such a ruthless drive as this.

The closest parallel to such heavy-handed policy implementation is found in the manner in which Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar pushed through the recent prohibition law. Its draconian “guilty by association” provision criminalises not just the drinker or the alcoholic, but the family members of such a person as well. Like the prime minister, the Bihar chief minister also made prohibition his personal mission, regardless of the countless field reports revealing its dark consequences, and drawing attention to the prohibition law’s sweeping punitive clauses. No surprise therefore that Nitish is perhaps the only Opposition leader to have warmly endorsed the demonetisation drive.

The drive itself is stamped with the unmistakable personal imprint of the prime minister. In a highly dramatic move, Modi recently, spoke about the “sacrifices” he has made to serve this nation. His critics can argue that the prime minister made a conscious decision to become a politician, and it is to that end that he made those “sacrifices”. No one compelled Modi to serve the nation! Who can deny that a gulf of difference separates the “sacrifices” made by Modi and those affected by his demonetisation policy. While the prime chose his path, others are being forced to adopt one over which they have no control.

The fact is that many facing the brunt of this policy have had no choice other than forced-sacrifice: Whether it is the daily-wage worker, the shopkeeper, or the vast multitude of people who have no resources to cushion the sudden battering to which they have been subjected. Stories of how the underclasses are at their wits’ end struggling to make ends meet are pouring in from all over the country. The proverbial stick-and-carrot policy at present, seems to be all sticks and no carrot.

Even if the big fish among the black money owners and tax evaders are temporarily hit, they will rebound. But outside those rarefied circles, the repercussions of such a mammoth project will be felt deeply and for a much longer span of time.

Last but not least, the danger underlying all such projects imbued with personification of powerful leaders, cannot be underplayed. As Mehta has written:

“The personification of policy works at different levels. To work as a national project, all individuality, all questions of distributive consequences, have to be effaced. Every citizen will appear, alternatively, as a patriot or a criminal: The histories of their individual life worlds, whether they have bank accounts, how much cash they use, how far they live from an ATM, all these questions pertinent to the distributive consequences of these actions will be immobilised.”

First Published On : Nov 18, 2016 11:53 IST

Demonetisation: Kudos to Modi but the clean-up drive, like charity, should start at home

A senior politician in Telangana was a relieved man on the evening of 8 November, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared 500 and 1000 rupee notes were no longer legal tender. He was to receive Rs 2 crore that morning in cash but the person had delivered only Rs 30 lakh. The neta ji immediately called up the person and asked him to give the rest in new currency notes only.

Another phone call and the process of converting Rs 30 lakh given in 1000 rupee notes into 100 rupee notes also was taken care of.
“It is only the common man who is troubled by having to spend hours just to withdraw Rs 4500 from a bank. Politicians know how to deal with big amounts,” said a politician. “Modi is wrong. The rich are sleeping peacefully while the poor are queuing up in front of ATMs from 5 am, with their quilts,” said another.

Another neta is mulling over whether to get his Rs 2 crore cash converted with a 30 percent commission or use the hawala route to send it out and get it back sometime next year.

These are voices from different ends of the political spectrum — BJP, Congress and regional parties. Some of them may take a minor hit, some of their money will come into the banking system. But anyone telling you that India will be ‘Swachh Bharat’ post 30 December, is only pulling wool over your eyes.

“Ba ba black sheep, have you any wool?

Yes sir, Yes sir, three bags full.”

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Frankly, anyone who understands how political parties operate in India knows that distributing money among say, 200 cadre is not a big deal for a politician. Political parties are most organised when it comes to distribution of money, with loyalty an obvious corollary of the caste factor, and greed because of personal gain.

A survey conducted by In Shorts among 2.69 lakh app users reveals that 82 percent of Indians support Modi’s demonetisation move. But Narendra Modi cannot become ‘Robinhood’ Modi unless he cleans up the political system. Because the black buck stops at the political party table.

Remember a comment made by former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, a month before the assembly elections this summer? He red-flagged a massive surge in cash circulation during the elections in Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. Rajan said money in people’s hands had gone up by over Rs 60000 crore. He noted that this is “not normal” and needs to be probed.

Let us not forget that in a dubious first for Indian elections, assembly elections to two constituencies in Tamil Nadu were cancelled by the Election Commission because of rampant use of money power to bribe votes.

Jayaprakash Narayan of the Loksatta Party who espouses clean politics says the election system is to blame for the black economy that thrives in India. “A Lok Sabha election costs close to Rs 20000 crore. An assembly election costs double the amount and the same goes for local bodies. And a bulk of that amount is towards buying of votes,” says Narayan.

So while Modi talks of serving a kadak (strong) chai, he should serve it to his brethren first. The political ecosystem of which he is a part, is no Surf Excel washed. Funding to political parties is most opaque. Every MP and MLA starts with a lie about the crores he or she has spent to win the election. And the Modi government, filed an affidavit in August 2015 in the Supreme court opposing bringing political parties under RTI.

But I am turned into a pauper of sorts, made to run from bank to ATM, for Rs 4500 producing my PAN and Aadhaar cards and told, “Bhai, tum line me khade hoge ya nahi?

In a couple of months from now, the election campaign in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab will be in full swing. Does the BJP want the people of India to believe that every penny spent on its choppers, advertisements, rallies, food is accounted for, given by cheque and not sourced with black money? If so, put it out in the public domain.

I am all for Modi ensuring a more clean India. But the clean-up drive, like charity, should start at home.

Today the small trader indulges in petty sales tax corruption because the system encourages him to do so. He has to ensure he has unaccounted for cash because when a candidate at the local ward level or an assembly election comes knocking at his door soliciting election funds, he has to shell out the moolah. It is this compromised system, blessed by the seedy political culture that encourages black money.

It would have been far more effective an assault on black money if the prime minister had started with going after the benami land deals. That is where most of Modi’s political brethren, cutting across party lines, have parked their ill-gotten wealth. The advance warning would only help them find a way out of the mess.

First Published On : Nov 15, 2016 14:25 IST

Demonetisation: Narendra Modi should admit that govt failed in execution

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a pathetic analogy comparing the cash drought prevailing in India now after the midnight ban of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes to the chaos prevailed in Japan in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. “People stood in line for four hours, six hours but accepted the decision in national interest the way people of Japan tackled the aftermath of the 2011 disaster,” Modi said speaking to an Indian gathering at Kobe, Japan.

The chaos that follows a natural disaster and the willpower of a society to withstand the difficult days is one thing while the chaos and disruption of normal life in a society post a “well-thought-out decision” planned months in advance by the government is another. The fact is that the Modi government has miserably failed to design the implementation in the days after the demonitisation announcement, though no one is questioning the intention of the very exercise. Every honest citizen wants his country to be free of the evil of fake currencies and black money. But while doing so, the government should have foreseen what is going to happen in the hours and days after the announcement.

Narendra Modi PTI

Narendra Modi PTI

Obviously, the mob psychology works in full swing on such occasions. And that psychology would drive the common man into a panic mode, telling him to run fast to the nearest bank branches and ATMs to withdraw maximum possible amount permissible (as of now Rs 2,000 per day), even if he doesn’t need that amount. He would need to pay to the vegetable vendor, milkman, cablewallah, newspaperwallah, and cabby, a majority of whom still live in the cash economy, for whom PoS terminals, plastic money, PayTm are all still fancy words. While in metros like Mumbai and Delhi, people still have the possibility to use plastic money to meet most of the daily needs, in the semi-urban areas and villages, life will turn hell when ATMs dry out of money in few hours, daily labourers are denied wages because their employer doesn’t have cash and kirana wallah frowns when asks for credit yet another day.

Modi should remember that the people standing in long queues certainly don’t have the mindset of a soldier fighting a national cause but only have curse words for the government for turning their lives into a nightmare

Modi must have acknowledged this state of affairs, the failure of the government on execution front and promised to resolve the issue as early as possible. Instead, he warned about further measures post 30 December, when the deadline to exchange old Rs 500, Rs 1,000 currency notes expire. This will only add to the panic since people would start speculating that what the next blow is going to be. Already, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has hinted that it might take at least three weeks before normalcy sets in. Three weeks is a long time for the cash shortage to continue. By then, the problem can go totally out of hand for the government.

Where did the government go wrong? 

In the months prior to announcing the currency ban, the government should have taken the following steps:

One, the government should have printed sufficient number of lower denomination notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 in the government mints, instead of pushing the fancy not-so-useful Rs 2,000 notes into the market. The Rs 2,000 note is a hard nut for the public and not more than a showcase item, for now. You can boast of having one, but if you walk into the town with this, there won’t be too many takers since there is very little cash in the system to offer change. The guy who gave the wonderful idea to the government of introducing the Rs 2,000 notes first against the ban of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes should be sacked.

The fact is that even though the government claims it has been planning the move for last six months, the new Rs 2,000 notes have been printed only in the last two months — the precise reason why these notes carry new RBI governor, Urjit Patel’s signature

Secondly, it should have equipped the ATM network to deliver the new currency notes. As of now, ATMs aren’t equipped to deliver anything other than the Rs 100 notes. To equip the machine to accommodate the new series of notes will take a long time — a process which will further delay the functioning of ATMs. Already there are bigger queues than one typically sees in front of beverage shops. How on earth government plans to rewire the ATM network within such a short time? The government should have asked the banks to rework the machines well in advance while keeping the secrecy of the move.

Third, the government should have thought of mechanisms to make the process seamless by providing additional facilities for note withdrawal, other than ATMs and bank branches. It could have set up currency kiosks adjacent to bank branches for, say initial 10 days, rather than directing the entire crowd to the ATMs and bank branches.

To sum up, the Modi-government absolutely failed to think ahead. It, perhaps, thought of an ideal situation where people of all stature laud the government for the government and put their personal miseries behind the larger cause of patriotism. But, the golden rule of – don’t preach the scriptures to someone who is hungry – was forgotten.

Presently, the situation is not in control of the government. The long queues before ATMs and bank branches can soon take the shape of street protests against the government. Opposition parties can soon taste blood and jump into the streets too. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has already entered the ring, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has already joined the ATM queues. It is not long before regional satraps smell an opportunity. The good intention behind the currency ban and the long-term benefits it will bring to the economy will then be forgotten and Modi will run the risk a strong the anti-incumbency wave, if the cash drought continues and remedial measures are not brought into place. Better watch out for a bigger storm than the 2011 Japan earthquake Narendra Modi.

First Published On : Nov 13, 2016 14:37 IST

Demonetisation scheme: Does democracy benefit the citizen or political parties?

Very recently, in a demonetisation scheme, Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were banned in a swift and well thought out operation by the Narendra Modi government. The print and visual media focused on reporting the ‘hardship’ to the ‘common man’ – there has been little focus on the larger issues involved in this major economic step ushered in by the government.

Many thinkers have analysed that the fundamental problems afflicting our economy and society relate to the existence of a parallel monetary economy/widespread corruption, along with lack of recognition of the importance of education and public health in our democracy. Many economists do not appreciate the disruptive and corrosive role played by the phenomenon of widespread ‘corruption’ – indeed many refer to bribery as a ‘domestic transfer payment’, dismissing its deleterious impact on quality of governance, indeed on GDP.

It is now recognised that a country cannot move forward without clean and transparent governance, for which a corruption-free society is a basic requirement. Does any country figure in the top 50 of the Human Development Index, which has a significant amount of corruption? Isn’t the correlation between a genuinely welfare society, with appropriate attention to education and public health, and the absence of corruption well established by empirical evidence. The fact is that corruption distorts and disrupts the distribution system with great violence, is inimical to the fostering of excellence, and has its prime adverse impact on the poorest segments of the population. We need to note that nearly seven decades of independence, 70 percent of the population is in distress, leading a hand-to-mouth existence, large segments not knowing where the next meal is coming from – with abominable health standards and primary education levels, among the worst in the world. Much of this malaise is traceable to widespread corruption and existence of a parallel black economy. Many economists predict that cleaning up of the system will add substantially to the Per Capita GDP – Ambit’s Saurabh Mukherjea, the eminent analyst has predicted that within 3 years this move could lead to an increment of 3 percent in the annual growth rate.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The major step taken the other day is the signal that the government recognises the need to clean up the system, and usher in a climate where the country can move forward and take its rightful place. This is a decisive blow for democracy to move forward. Anyone who does not recognise the larger significance of what has happened has no comprehension of how nations grow big, strong and powerful – this is the first step in 70 years to make ‘Bharat great again’. The occasion should not be trivialised to make brownie political points, or to pursue narrow partisan interests without understanding the larger national needs.

This step could lead up to the cleaning up of our electoral process, which is dominated by black money and which thrives on a cycle of large black investments, capture of power through foul means, use of political strength to amass private wealth – all with disdain of the citizen. No wonder the regional parties in UP strongly oppose the move – at one stroke the large cache of ‘war-chest’ black money hoards, intended for use in the forthcoming crucial elections has been neutralised. It does not matter if this indeed has been the primary purpose of this major economic manoeuvre if it cleans up the forthcoming UP elections, indeed the election scenario for the future – this is a major step to clean up the system, and to bring in accountable governance.

A lot has been made of the distress to the ‘common man’ by this ‘Tuglaqui Farman’. The fact is that there will be some inconvenience for a short period of time in access to short term expenditure funds. No honest citizen will lose his savings, nothing will get confiscated – there may be a temporary inconvenience to some segments of the population. Do not forget that the political forces which focus on the ‘distress’ to the common man are precisely those who have unconscionably and fostered corruption, generation of black money and misgovernance deliberately over the decades, leading to widespread attack on the interests of the common man. The citizen now well recognises the role of the conventional politician, who only makes wild promises come election time has no intention of fulfilling any of them, he is a congenital liar and obfuscator, whose only interest is in winning elections, amassing wealth each time to cover ten generations, and investing again in winning elections once again – this is the vicious cycle that is being perpetuated – the common man now sees this with clarity.

Surely last week’s step is not the end of corruption or the black economy. Many follow up steps need to be taken to consolidate on this major seminal thrust on revamping the economy. The fear has to be put in the minds of the people to ensure that systematic transgression of the laws will lead strong punishment. The relevant judicial processes, systems and procedures need to be revamped. While the administrative apparatus at the Centre is being cleaned up, major attention to widespread corruption in the implementation phase in the states needs to be addressed. The war for good governance has started, it needs to be followed up with vigour.

Recall that Aadhaar has been a great success. Jan Dhan programme, in association with over one lakh bank branches and 2,50,000 post offices outlets will provide a major fillip to move away from the cash economy, gradually and steadily, through to other channels. Digital India needs to be strongly pursued and made a reality in the next two or three years. All these are imperative, to minimise inconvenience to the citizen, reduce transaction costs, usher in transparency, and to sharply increase ease of business. One hopes that government will see these as work in progress, and bestow adequate attention.

Let us not see the momentous recent events in a trivial light. Let us not over-estimate the short-term adjustment cost – the Indian citizen is used to hardship – he has longed for a better future over the decades. The recent major decision gives hope that the two other fundamental areas of reform – education and public health, now will come into the forefront of policy making. Hitherto there has been no evidence that the Central Government understands the criticality of these two areas in the life of the common man in a democracy – hitherto the attitude has been one of playing politics, business as usual, mouthing platitudes, and providing ‘band-aid’ cosmetic solutions – one hopes the realisation will come that major reforms in these two sectors are now imperative, and brook no delay. These are important sign posts on the road to lead to greatness.

First Published On : Nov 13, 2016 14:27 IST

Demonetisation: New currency notes are all Narendra Modi, Hindi and New Delhi

Reserve Bank of India has put up the designs of the new 500 and 2000 notes on its website. They confirm what many feared – that this design overhaul will be used to push certain iconographies that suit the incumbent BJP government. The difference between the old design and the new seem to be centered on three things: Hindi, Delhi and Narendra Modi.

The new currency notes introduce numerals in Devanagri script, the present script of Hindi. This was not the case in earlier version of the currency notes. Is it the case that the government thinks that only Hindi people should be able to read the numerals in a script they are familiar with while the rest of us, the non-Hindi majority, would not need to read numerals in our languages? Was there any complaint from any quarter than the stand-alone Arabic (or Hindu-Arabic as it is sometimes called) numerals in English script were not being able to do the job? Why was there no Hindi-Devanagri numeral before this? May be because it is actually unconstitutional and in contravention of a Presidential order. Article 343 of the Constitution of the Indian union states in no uncertain terms that, ““[t]he form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the union shall be the international form of Indian numerals”. The only modification to this comes in the form of the 1960 Presidential order, which allows for “the use of Devanagari numerals, in addition to the international numerals, in the Hindi publications of the Central Ministries depending upon the public intended to be addressed and the subject-matter of the publication. For scientific, technical and statistical publications… the international numerals should be adopted uniformly in all publications”.

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The present Government of India and the Reserve Bank of India should explain how all-India currency bank-notes fall within the category of “Hindi publications of the Central Ministries” and how does the choice of Devanagari satisfy the clause of “depending upon the public intended to be addressed”. Does the Government of India, and RBI exist to serve only Hindi speakers? They might believe so. But non-Hindi linguistic groups are bound to Hindi people and to each other, only by the compact of the constitution and not by the Hindi imperialist whims or ideologies of the union government and its agencies. Policies that make a majority of the population feel like second-class citizens in their own homeland have typically had very bitter outcomes. The example of Pakistan’s imposition of Urdu vis-à-vis the marginalisation of Bangla is close at hand. If the government actually cared about the numerical readability of the numbers, they could have opted for the Euro model.

A proportion of the currency notes could have had numerals in Devanagari, a proportion could have had Bangla, a proportion could have had Tamil and so on, based on population proportion of citizens using those languages. This is the model of the Euro, where it is a single currency, but there are specific variants to accommodate the diverse stake-holders. But doing that or even the present usage of Devanagari would need a constitutional amendment. The BJP, in its efforts to impose Hindi, is reopening the wounds of 1965 anti-Hindi imposition struggles that have not been forgotten by non-Hindi peoples. In this regard, the British had done a much better job, where numerals all many South Asian languages were given equal footing in font size, vis-à-vis English. Thus English, Hindi, Urdu, Bangla, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, etc all had same font size numerals on bank notes as evidenced in the 10-rupee currency note of 1910.

The new notes also have the new Indian currency sign. That sign, derived from the “R” letter in Devanagari, was not chosen with the consent of the people. In my language Bangla and also in Assamese, the word for the currency unit is Taka or Toka. That starts with “T”. How can then the “R” sound be a general stand-in for all of us? And how did this get into the new currency note? How would have “R” people felt if a symbol for “T” sound were used instead? How is the sound of the currency name for Hindi people more important than the sound for Bengali or Assamese people? One might argue that it is called Rupees in English and that has R. That too is without consent of non-Hindi people and is a term handed down by the British. In Bengal, almost everyone grows up calling their currency as Taka, same as what they call it in Bangladesh.

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Such words are not categories of nationalism but words of everyday use. By downplaying them, a whole people are classified as second class. While English is a foreign language for all, Hindi is also a foreign language for all non-Hindi people. The historic judgement of the Gujarat High Court in this regard must be remembered which stated that Hindi was a “foreign language” vis-à-vis the state of Gujarat. While Hindi and English are both foreign to all non-Hindi people, Hindi is foreign only to non-Hindi people but to Hindi people, it is their own. In a diverse, federal Union of States, like the Indian Union, the legendary Tamil Nadu leader and Chief Minister had laid down a principle that every citizen must share advantages and disadvantages equally. The usage of Hindi/Devanagari violates this fundamental principle of peaceful coexistence and cooperation as it is not equidistant from all stake-holders and give undue advantage to those for whom this is the mother-tongue and standard script. English provides that equal distance. The Indian union itself is the product of coordination and cross-linking of disparate ethno-linguistic nationalities mediated by English knowing elites of their respective groups. Most trans-linguistic discussions on political issues in the Indian union happen in English.

Thirdly, the actual proportion of area or real-estate on the currency note that is given to Devanagari vis-à-vis other language scripts has gone up. This is a very serious affair. The relative space and size of Devanagari-Hindi things vis-a-vis our non-Hindi mother tongues reflects exactly what New Delhi thinks of the rest of us vis-a-vis Hindi. And there is a temporal pattern to it that has gone from equality to inequality. About 100 years ago, when the British ruled South Asia from their capital in New Delhi, they introduced the one-rupee currency note in 1917.

It is quite unfortunate that British colonisers treated our languages at a more equal footing than those they transferred power to – this is true for the post colonial fragments that came to be known as India and Pakistan. If after 1947, the absence of a British “referee” becomes a reason for Hindi to be imposed by brute force of union government majority, nothing can be a greater betrayal to the anti-colonial ideals of the freedom struggle of which resistance to forcibly imposed culture was an important component. This marginalisation of non-Hindi languages has continued unabashed. The equal proportion to all South Asian languages in the 1917 bank note as well as the 1940 bank note was replaced by a currency series that continued for the longest time after the 1947 transfer of power that privileged Hindi over everything else. 1947 sadly marks the watershed year for the loss of status for non-Hindi languages. In all the subsequent currency notes of the RBI, the proportion of space given to non-Hindi languages has shrunk progressively. This is not by accident and is my conscious policy of Hindi imposition that is evident in all actions of the union government and its agencies, since 1947. The pace of that has visibly quickened with a militant edge under the present BJP regime in New Delhi.

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Thus, in RBI issued currency notes, Hindi-Devanagari words are big and are supposed to carry information. Non-Hindi language scripts are progressively smaller and are basically decoration with no practical use except for non-Hindi citizens to console themselves that “diversity” is alive, though certainly not kicking. The Indian union might want to take lessons from Singapore where the Chinese ethnicity’s (at 75 percent of the population) Chinese characters and less than 10 percent Tamil ethnicity’s (at less than 10 percent of the population) Tamil characters find equal font size and space on the Singapore Dollar. Hindi speakers in the Indian union form a minority of the Indian union population. Hindi mother tongue people form about 25 percent of the Indian population – that number too is arrived at after counting various linguistically non-Hindi languages as Hindi, because New Delhi orders so according to its political agenda.

Fourthly, the new currency notes do not have all the scripts of all the languages recognised in the VIII Schedule of the Constitution. Santhali is an example of an VIII Schedule language with its own Olchiki script that remains unrepresented in the currency note. Sanskrit with less than 20000 self-reported speakers is represented while Santhali with nearly 70 lakh speakers is not. The same goes for Meiteilon (Manipuri), which is an VIII Schedule language with its own script. The new currency note was an opportunity to include Santhali and Meiteilon but clearly Hindi and its expansion is the only driving force in the linguistic changes. People should know that the Indian union government considers languages to be a security issue! Which is why language groups and their scripts have to have their official stamp of recognition and approval from the Union Home Ministry.

This apparently innocuous fact shows how the Union Home Ministry views the linguistic diversity of the Indian – as a security issue where it dictates rules. Deep down, it views diversity as a threat to the “idea of India”, in spite of its public posturing of “unity in diversity”. As we speak, the union government is forcing small linguistic groups to adopt Devanagari as their official script and withholding recognition if they don’t agree. Thus, we find the absurd situation where speakers of Bodo, whose territorial homelands are not connected to any Hindi region, have been forced to adopt Devanagari. Thus, Hindi majority bureaucrats in the union government are killing the autonomous choice of a linguistic group in deciding their own future. And the government is shameless enough to celebrate International Mother Language Day.

The old currency notes tried to avoid location-based political symbolism except for the Parliament House in the denomination of 50 that arguably is for all. However, the Red Fort of Delhi in the new 500 denomination touches a raw nerve for many. The Red Fort was the political headquarters of the Mughal Empire for a long time. Indian union came into existence in 1947. It is not a successor state to the Mughal Empire. The Red Fort is a sign of pre-British Delhi-based imperialism, signifying the power of imperial invaders who attacked the countries of Bengalis, Marathis, Axomiya, Odiyas and many others. Our ancestors resisted such invasions but Delhi won by brute power. Imperial Delhi ruled by posting mostly Hindi/Urdu speaking military people in our homelands. Delusions of civilisational continuity premised on imperial occupation do not help cooperation, slogans of ‘cooperative federalism’ notwithstanding. What does the Government of the Indian Union want to remind the people who were conquered and defeated by the forces headquartered in the Red Fort by putting this picture on the bank note?

The use of the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” (Clean India expedition) logo accompanied byits Hindi slogan in Devanagari script crosses all limits of propriety. Never before has a government put one of its own schemes on something as non-partisan and common as a currency note. This mischief would basically result in an advertisement of the present government for all times to come, till these currency notes are withdrawn. This is certainly not illegal but not all shameless things aren’t illegal. This starts a very unhealthy precedent. Now, nothing stops any later day union government to use currency notes as their pet scheme advertising billboards. The abuse started earlier during the Congress regime with the use of the face of MK Gandhi, who was associated with a particular party that is still in business and were opposed by other parties who are also still in business.

Narendra Modi announced the new currency notes after the 500-1000 demonetisation announcement. His address was in Hindi, without any subtitles and then in English, with Hindi subtitles. So, the union government does care whether Hindi speakers comprehend the English speech but doesn’t care whether the majority of the citizens, that is, non-Hindi-English speakers understand anything at all. This imperial attitude, that treats a majority of the citizens as second class, was furthered by all PSU (that is New Delhi controlled) banks that mostly did not care to print any information for the public in their mother tongues. Last heard, the new currency notes do not match the structural specifications of the ATM machines all over. Since the top-down imposition of currency notes by New Delhi is sacred, all the ATM machines have to be structurally changed to match and fit what New Delhi has produced. New Delhi wont change what it produces to match what already pre-exists all over. And that is a good analogy of how New Delhi frames its policies in all matters regarding non-Hindi people, currency notes included.

First Published On : Nov 13, 2016 13:49 IST

Karnataka: Siddaramaiah in dilemma after Education Minister Tanveer Sait caught watching porn during Tipu Jayanti

View post:  Karnataka: Siddaramaiah in dilemma after Education Minister Tanveer Sait caught watching porn during Tipu Jayanti

Ban on NDTV India put on hold, but is there an end to govt taming TV channels?

The one-day ban on NDTV India, slated for 9 November, has been put on hold for now. The government’s decision to keep in abeyance its decision to black out NDTV India, NDTV‘s Hindi channel as punishment for its 4 January coverage of the Pathankot terror attack came after the channel moved the Supreme Court on Monday.

While the stand that the Supreme Court will take on the gag order when it takes up the channel’s case on Tuesday is eagerly awaited, the question remains: Is there a permanent end to the menace of the government taming TV channels?

This was not the first time that the NDTV group got into a muddle with the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry.

The ministry ordered NDTV Good Times to go off air for a day on 9 April last year for alleged obscenity in the programme Why am I sill single? it telecast on 21 April, 2014. This programme was telecast in the last month of the previous UPA government, but by the time the order to black out the channel for a day was issued the NDA government was in power.

During the Congress-led UPA rule (between 2005 and 2014), NDTV and its sister channels were hauled up by the I&B ministry at least eight times. So were many other channels. In 2013 alone, 14 channels were taken off air for periods ranging from one to ten days, largely for telecasting ‘A’ certified films or “obscene” content. The channels included Zoom TV, Comedy Central, AXN, FTV and ABN Andhra Jyothi (a conservative and respected Telugu channel).

Under the Modi regime, NDTV has got into trouble with the government thrice so far. So have many other channels, of course.

NDTV-India

It is clear that irrespective of the party in power, the I&B ministry has been going after TV channels, armed with the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and the rules framed under it. For years now, the ministry’s pen-pushers have been gleefully playing the roles of Editors-in-Chief for the channels from their comfortable office in Delhi’s Shastri Bhavan and evidently enjoying themselves. Based on their subjective judgement of what’s right what’s not, they have been dishing out orders, and sometimes getting into even minute editorial management. In some past cases, they ordered channels to shift programmes to late hours.

While obscenity was the chief weapon that the ministry used against the channels earlier, national security is the new stick that the current government is beating the TV channels with.

Look at the three cases against the NDTV group under the present government:

1) The ministry said that the remark of Rajya Sabha member Majeed Memon during a programme on the channel called ‘Truth vs Hype – the riddle of Yakub Memon’ on 1 August, 2015, following the execution of Yakub, denigrated India’s judiciary. After prolonged proceedings, NDTV was let off with a warning on June 1, 2016 to be “careful” in future.

2) The ministry took objection to NDTV India’s description of Yakub’s hanging as “unfortunate” in a telecast on 30 July, 2015. This channel was also “warned”.

3) Then came the order last week asking NDTV India to go off air for a day on 9 November for having allegedly leaked “sensitive” details in its coverage of the Pathankot terror attack.

Surely, the government has a right to be worried over the leak of “sensitive” details, but the proceedings in the latest case against NDTV India do not seem to indicate that the channel compromised national security in any way. Here is how the case went:

The allegation against the channel was that, during its telecast on 4 January 2016, when the operation against terrorists in the Pathankot airbase was still on, it leaked details of the MiGs, fighter planes, rocket launchers, mortars, helicopters and fuel tanks inside. The channel was also accused of having revealed the existence of a school in the airbase.

On 29 January, NDTV India was issued a show-cause notice. The channel replied to it on 5 February.

In its reply, the channel said its coverage was “entirely balanced and responsible”. It said that, at a time when sections of the media were questioning delays in the counter-terrorist operations, NDTV India was only explaining to viewers why it became necessary for the security forces to go slow in a way lives of innocent civilians and defence assets at the airbase were not endangered.

As for leaking details of ammunition at the airbase, the channel pointed out that the information was already in public domain. To substantiate that, it submitted excerpts of coverage from ABP News, Zee News, India TV and The Hindu (2 January), The Telegraph, The Indian Express, The Times of India (3 January) and The Tribune and Hindustan Times(4 January).

The ministry was magnanimous enough to take a look at all this but only to summarily reject it, after indulging in plenty of nitpicking in its oral examination of the channel’s representatives on 25 July, 2016. Without any basis, the ministry ruled that while other newspapers and channels only supplied “bits and pieces” of information, NDTV India“appeared to give out” the exact location of terrorists with regard to sensitive military assets.

This gives rise to two suspicions. One: Confronted with evidence that other channels had given the same “sensitive” information, the ministry came up with a face-saving order. Two: The ministry, for whatever reason, was singling out NDTV India.

Considering the implications of all this for media’s freedom, the government must spell out exactly what was that information that NDTV India give out which others hadn’t-or repeal the one-day ban order on the channel at once. The fact that the previous government muzzled the channels does in no ways justifies the present government’s actions.

More importantly, it must be recognised by journalists of all hues that the very existence of Section 20 of the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act 1995, which empowers governments to ban channels at whim, has been posing a serious threat to the freedom of the Press whichever party is in power.

Though the existence of this 1995 Act and the excesses committed under it never came under serious scrutiny earlier, habitual Modi-baiters and self-styled liberals have raked up the latest case, painting the Prime Minister as media’s worst-ever enemy for their own reasons. But the reasons why they are saying it should not deflect us from what they are saying.

Enough has already been said about the dangers of having a government arrogate to itself the power of policing media, even if some channels go about their job of covering news in general, anti-terror operations in particular, irresponsibly.

Climate change and cities: It’s not too late to bring green buildings in policy making

Urban areas and metros have lured thousands who give up their rural livelihoods due to low agricultural returns or growing divisions in family land holdings in order to seek greener pastures in concrete jungles. Given the spurt in migration, managing dynamics of the cities and urban spaces is undoubtedly a multi-thronged challenge to counter.

When we read names of our cities in ‘smart cities’ list, what we should really think about is – are our cities really smartly built? Can cities, which witness population influx, rising levels of pollution, haphazard encroachments on a daily basis, endure it any further? Environmental concerns, as seen so far, have taken a back seat in the name of ‘development’. Buildings that are being so rapidly erected today are, however, not energy-efficient. Are people aware of the concept of “green buildings”? There’s indeed awareness but it’s not enough.

Green buildings efficiently use basic resources like energy, water, and electricity reducing water wastage and pollution. These buildings are developed considering the building layout for adequate solar orientation and proper ventilation which in turn reduces the heat intake and maximises the glare-free daylight. They are also efficient in treating waste water.

Mumbai is no longer capable of carrying the growing population and meet even the basic requirements. Reuters

Mumbai is no longer capable of carrying the growing population and meet the basic requirements. Reuters

Cities, by their very nature, are energy intensive i.e. they need more supply of electricity, water, and land. Besides, the changing lifestyles that allow people to splurge – shopping in malls, living in high-rises with spas, swimming pools, gyms, etc. – definitely shoots up the requirements of essential resources like water and electricity. This explains why builders are always tempted to construct buildings with larger Floor Space Index (FSI), especially in the metros?

However, the question is: Can our cities or urban spaces afford buildings which are constructed without the due understanding of its carrying capacities and available resources? No, they definitely can’t.

For instance, the seven lakes, which have been providing water to Mumbai for over decades, have become redundant today because the city – with a total land area of 603 sq.km and a population density of 30,900 per sq.km – is no longer capable of carrying the growing population and meet even the basic requirements. What happens in such situations is crucial ecosystems like wetlands, cultivable lands etc., which supply basic necessities like food and water to the city, are reclaimed. How much of these resources will be available to feed our city in coming decades? Does this mean that the cities will then have to look for their own resources? These are some of the questions, which the civic authorities should ponder on before these basic resources run dry.

How unplanned urban spaces and migration affect cities

According to World Bank, nearly 6.2 billion people – 70 percent of the world’s total population – would be living in cities by 2050. If the recent statistics of the Planning Commission are to be believed, a staggering 377 million Indians are currently living in towns and cities and within 20-25 years, another 300 million people will follow suit.

The economic census of Maharashtra says that the agricultural establishment in Mumbai has seen a decline by 58 percent whereas the non-agricultural establishment has increased by 33 percent. In a city like Delhi, the average decadal population growth since 1951 has been 45.8 percent, where migration accounted for more than 23 percent of the total increase in population. It’s the same story with other metros like Bengaluru, Chennai, and Gurugram.

An uncontrolled built environment, (simply put: the haphazard spurt of city slums and encroachments), acts as a parasite surviving on the already threatened resources. Take the example of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Mumbai. According to the state government’s action plan 2014-2023, over three million people are staying on the outskirts of SGNP. The encroachment, which began in the 1970s in the protected areas, has only been increasing with no definite control mechanisms in place. The report states that 200 hectares of reserved forest lands of SGNP have been encroached by about 61,000 families. This has destroyed the park’s biodiversity to an extent that it has caused some critical environmental damages. Unfortunately, we have no mechanisms in place to reverse these damages which are very much required to protect the park’s space from further shrinking.

Furthermore, the provisional data of Population Census 2011 shows how Mumbai has seen a significant jump in the population from 59,70,575 to 1,24,78,447 over the span of 40 years.

Chart_825

So, questions like – how are these migrants settling themselves; what makes them chose a place for settlement; who monitors and regulates their settlements – will demand a prudent response from the state governments. Such unplanned and sporadic settlements may soon make us run out of all crucial resources and prove us completely unsustainable.

While the global literature is showing increasing evidence of global warming, losing out on such eco-sensitive areas, like national parks, wetlands and so on, may only aggravate the damage caused to the city’s microclimate.

Climate change and urban disasters

It’s now common knowledge that the problem of climate change is staring in the face of the cities as well as the state governments. It will only compound the complexities of urban dynamics. According to IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) AR5 (Assessment Report 5) Synthesis Report, climate change will increase risks like heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, the rise in the sea-level and storm surges in the cities. According to the Twelfth Five Year Plan, India loses up to 2 percent of its GDP due to natural disasters of which floods and high winds account for 60 percent.

The nature of our built environments or urban spaces shaping our future cities also determines our vulnerability to disasters. The civic authorities will have to bear some major economic implications if the city encounters extreme rainfall events like flash flooding which could do serious damage to the city’s infrastructure during any ongoing developmental project

Over the past two-three years, Indian cities have also experienced erratic heavy flooding followed by urban mobility disruptions like slowing down of the railways and traffic congestion. In 2013, cities in the state of Uttarakhand, and Mumbai and Kolkata witnessed extreme floods; in 2014, it was Chennai and Srinagar. Flood situations are only expected to increase given the increase in the watertight surfaces owing to rapid concretisation.

This will, in turn, affect the groundwater table recharging by throwing litres of fresh rain water down the drains. So while we talk of utilisation of resources, their management is an equally important issue.

As per the MMR ESR (Mumbai Metropolitan Region’s Environmental Status Report) by TERI, the number of very heavy rainy days saw a jump of 27 percent from 19 (recorded in 1971- 80) to 26 (recorded in 2001-10). Similarly, there was an increase in the moderate, rather heavy, heavy, very heavy categories of rainy days; while the very light and light rainy days saw a comparative decrease. This clearly indicates the climatic variations over the MMR.

Urban Heat Island Effect

Concrete surfaces, which form more than 60 percent of the surface materials in urban areas today, tend to retain heat more than their surrounding rural areas due to higher reflective surfaces. The increase in temperatures further triggers the overall temperatures making urban areas as the island of heat, where the temperatures are 2-3 degrees higher than the peripheral areas. This is called as Urban Heat Island Effect. This further increases the demand for cooling systems like air conditioners eventually escalating the energy consumption and use of greenhouse gases like hydrofluorocarbons adding to the climate change.

Thus, protection of natural resources like water bodies, wetlands, salt pans, and mangroves play a significant role as they have the capacity to absorb such climatic shocks; failing which the cities would be washed away in no time. Here’s where green buildings come into the picture as they are more sustainable and can help in retaining vital resources. It’s never too late in bringing green buildings in policy making.

The author is an Associate Fellow with Sustainable Habitat Division of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Navi Mumbai

Note: This is first of the two-part series. The second part would explain the need for green buildings in urban landscapes and solutions.

Malkangiri encounter: Serious blow to Maoist leadership in Andhra-Odisha border zone

The cut-off area in Odisha’s Malkangiri district is a water-locked area, formed from the waters of two hydroelectric projects that came up in the 1940s and the 60s. But for roughly 20,000 villagers in 151 villages, basic facilities like electricity, healthcare and education remained a dream. Only recently, a few villages have been electrified. A 918-metre long bridge over the River Gurupriya is also under construction, and is expected to be open by next winter.

It is a fierce encounter here on Monday morning that marked the end of the Maoist leadership in the strategically important AOB (Andhra-Odisha Border) zone. In a joint operation by Andhra and Odisha Police, 24 Maoists, including the zone’s top leaders have been killed. So far, those who have been identified are: Appa Rao alias Chalapathi, the East Division Secretary of the CPI (Maoist); his wife and Maoist leader, Aruna; Gajarala Ashok alias Uday, the military head of the AOB zone; Munna, the son of top CPI (Maoist) leader and its central committee member, Ramakrishna alias RK. It is believed that RK managed to escape.

Representational Image. Getty ImagesRepresentational Image. Getty Images

Representational Image. Getty Images

From the late 2000s, the Maoists invested a lot in the AOB zone. It is from here that they hoped to revive their movement in Andhra Pradesh. The cut-off area in Malkangiri was also used as a safe sanctuary for senior Maoist leaders. In June 2008, in an audacious attack, Maoist guerrillas killed 38 personnel of the elite anti-Maoist force, Greyhounds. Within a month, they killed another 17 security personnel. As a result, the security forces were forced to stop operations in this area for several months.

In the absence of any police presence, the Maoists turned the cut-off area into one of their strongholds. Some senior commanders were put in charge, and from here, the Maoists began to reestablish their network in the neighbouring Visakha Agency area. Around the same time, in February 2011, the Maoists kidnapped the then Malkangiri Collector, Vineel Krishna, from the cut-off area. But Krishna was very popular among the tribals here; it is because of his efforts that the process of electrification of the villages in cut-off area took off. The tribals protested and the Maoists had to release Krishna; they got nothing out of it.

In the meantime, their high-handedness cost the Maoists dearly in the neighbouring Visakhapatnam. In February 2013, protests broke out in GK Veedhi after Maoists opened fire and beat to death three tribals. In October 2014, in retaliation to a similar act, the tribals in Korukonda block lynched three Maoist guerrillas.

Earlier, in 2012, Odisha’s top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda fell out with the leadership and was expelled from the party. In a letter to the Maoist supreme commander Ganapathi, Panda accused the Telugu leadership of AOB of “superiority” and accused it of trying to keep Odisha committee as subordinates. Panda was responsible for ensuring the supplies of explosives. After his expulsion and subsequent arrest, that channel dried up.

In the last two years, the Maoists faced several losses in the AOB zone. The AOB military strategist, Ponoju Parmeshwar alias Nandu surrendered to the police and so did another senior leader, Sarita, who was the first woman commander of a company of the PLGA, CPI (Maoist)’s armed wing. In April this year, another senior leader Kudumula Venkata Rao alias Ravi died due to heart failure. In May, senior Maoist leader VR Gopal alias Azad and two other guerrillas were killed in an encounter with the security forces. From his laptop, the police recovered a selfie of his sister Aruna and her husband Chalapathi (both killed in the encounter on 24 October).

The Odisha Police also got its act together, and under the current Malkangiri police chief, Mitrabhanu Mahapatra, hundreds of Maoists and their sympathisers have surrendered in the last few months.

The CC member, RK, surfaced in the cut-off area on 1 October after a gap of two years. Believed to be suffering from severe spondylitis, the party had shifted him to Chhattisgarh. The police believes that he may have been injured in Monday’s encounter.

Pursued by security forces and not so welcome any longer in many of their erstwhile bastions, the Maoists have been pushed back. The encounter in the cut-off area is a serious blow, which the Maoists will find very hard to absorb.

Jammu and Kashmir: De-radicalisation will require planning and a counter-narrative

Speaking at a recent Police Commemoration Day function, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti urged the police to try to bring youths who have fled their homes to join militancy back to the mainstream. “I request the police to try to bring them back to their homes. Instead of being killed in encounters, if it is possible to bring them back, make them a part of the mainstream, give them bats, balls and good education, instead of guns,” she said. According to her, those who have taken up arms are local boys: Didn’t she miss the foreign terrorists? She stressed that ending militancy and restoring peace were a prerequisite for repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa) and to seek the starting of the dialogue process in the state. She said that “black laws” like Afspa would be repealed from the state when the situation improves.

File image of Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

File image of Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

Mehbooba makes it sound so very easy.

All the police needs to do is try and flick the switch that will bring the wayward youths back to the mainstream. So it is the job of the police to do so and then the state authorities can repeal the black laws (read Afspa) and everything will be hunky dory once again. Of course the gullible public will not know that removing Afspa is very much in her power; all she needs to do is to have the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Area Act removed and the army will happily go back to its primary task of defending the borders with Afspa automatically being removed. The catch, of course, is that should she have the Disturbed Area Act removed without creating conditions to do so (bring normalcy back), she and her government — largely ineffective anyway — will be at the mercy of terrorists. Not that she doesn’t know that neither did the army draft or ask for Afspa, nor does the army enjoy deployments in the hinterland against its own public. And yet, Afspa is essential if the army is to control violence in a better manner than police forces.

Militancy is generally associated with politico-socio-economic problems but in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, the Pakistan factor (now fully backed by China) outweighs other factors. Adoption of the Wahhabi-Salafi culture in Pakistan has been institutionalised in Pakistan over the past several years. Pervez Hoodbhoy, nuclear physicist at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad wrote in 2008, “The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s schools, colleges and universities has had a profound effect on young people. Militant jihad has become a part of the culture in college and university campuses, with armed groups inviting students for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan.”

It is this same Wahhabi-Salafi culture that Pakistan has been able to induce in the Kashmir Valley, gradually but consistently, using clerics and Hurriyat separatist leaders — whose presence is infiltrated by trained terrorists, arms, narcotics and money. The insistence of our intelligence agencies that Hurriyat separatists are “irrelevant” has helped Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. It is an open secret that militants in Jammu and Kashmir are being financed by China, and the Chinese have established huge control over Kashmiri separatist leaders. The recent discovery of Chinese flags from terrorist hideouts in Baramulla provides further evidence of China’s nefarious designs.

Mufti is out of sync saying those that have taken up arms are local youths.

What about the hundreds of foreign terrorists that have been killed over the years?
What about the anti-India venom being broadcast from loudspeakers atop mosques?
Is it the voice of some rabid mullahs or is it others who hold the clerics hostage?
What about the daily separatist diktat in the vernacular dailies?
Are all these again supposed to be righted by the same switch the police is required to flick?
What about subversion of some members of the police force?
How do the conditions compare with that of early 1990s when Pakistan had the upper hand when it came to Jammu and Kashmir militancy?

In his autobiography Gorkha Hat and Maroon Beret, Lietenant-General Chandra Shekhar (former Vice-Chief of Army Staff) describes the period of the early 1990s when Pakistani, Afghan and Arab terrorists were fighting in Jammu and Kashmir, parts of the state police were subverted, one battalion of the armed police had to be disarmed, and in one instance, the state’s home secretary Habib Rehman and then director-general of police BS Bedi were taken hostage in the police control room. The army had to deploy infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) to secure their release, fortunately without firing a shot. In the present situation, weren’t many police stations attacked, abandoned and arms looted?

What exactly is the Jammu and Kashmir government doing to stem the replacement of the Sufi culture by hardliner Wahhabi-Salafi preaching? This is not the job of security forces even if they can assist in information warfare. Speaking about Pakistani designs in Afghanistan, a Pakistani military scholar describes the Pakistan-sponsored Taliban that regards regard all Shias, Ismailis, non-Pashtuns, moderate Pashtuns as infidels who deserve to be massacred. Pakistan will plan similarly for Jammu and Kashmir using Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizbul Mujahideen etc.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The state government’s attitude of just sitting back and letting security forces keep levels of violence down amounts to a sure recipe for disaster. De-radicalisation is no joke. It has to be a well thought-out strategy and in Jammu and Kashmir, must include the hardliner Wahhabi-Salafi preachers and clerics that may need to be tackled through multiple methods. As for the youths, just saying they should return to play with bats and balls is hardly enough.

De-radicalisation must be a strategy that is employed on a continuous basis at the personal level, aided by modern technology as applicable. De-radicalisation programs must have a separate focus for select communities, regions, teachers, youths, children, mothers, apprehended terrorists along with the population at large that could support terrorists. The discourse of Muslim leaders should be part of the de-radicalisation programs. The education system must be integrated into the national mainstream. Ethics and true nationalism should form part of the education system. The introduction of the National Cadet Corps in most schools and colleges will be fruitful. Communities must be kept informed and empowered to challenge radical ideology. Psychological operations should include exposing terrorist abuses, conditions in PoK vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir, and that Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism has brought ridicule to Muslims and Islam globally. Alternatives to expend youth energies and employment opportunities must be part of the program. Finally, the de-radicalisation programs must be periodically reviewed in relation to the ongoing radicalisation, to ensure it is effective and course-corrections are made, where required.

Civil society can contribute greatly in preventing and countering terrorism rather than encourage terrorism especially since it gives voice to the marginalized and vulnerable people and victims of terrorism, generating awareness and providing constructive outlet for redress of grievances. Non-traditional actors like NGOs, foundations, charities, public-private partnerships and private businesses are capable and credible partners in local communities. Despite Pakistan-sponsored propaganda, the public needs to be sensitised that our army respects human rights far more than Pakistan where aerial bombings and artillery barrages are used periodically with scant regard to collateral damage.

Finally, the adoption of a proactive approach in countering proxy wars is imperative for establishing an effective deterrence, and for controlling enemy faultlines instead of the enemy controlling ours. This should include a dynamic information warfare strategy. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir sure needs a national response but the state government has a major role to play in this and can’t simply depend on security forces for the return of normalcy.

The author is a veteran Lieutenant-General of the Indian Army

Muslim personal law: Shayara Bano case outcome may be far greater than that of Shah Bano case

There are, no doubt, striking resemblances between the Shah Bano case of 1985 and Shayara Bano case of 2016 as regards the plights of the victims. But the social outcome of the Shayara Bano case this year could be strikingly different from that of the Shah Bano case three decades ago when the high expectation of the reformation of the Muslim Personal Law had come to a naught.

Both the cases pertained to Muslim women. Both the Muslim women had moved the court to seek gender justice. In both the cases, these women were asking for the court’s intervention against certain provisions of Muslim Personal Law that discriminated against women.

Shah Bano had asked for maintenance from her husband (they were married for four decades) who divorced her (after uttering talaq thrice at the same time) on account of inheritance dispute among his children from his multiple marriages. Shah Bano’s maintenance plea was as per the Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) that states: a First Class Magistrate could order a husband to provide a monthly allowance to his wifedivorced wife (as long as she has not remarried) if he neglected to maintain her and she was unable to maintain herself. This provision is religion-neutral. It is a ‘benign provision enacted to ameliorate the economic condition of neglected wives and discarded divorcees’, as a court judgement had said.

Shah Bano’s husband pleaded in the court that he – along with his divorced wife — were primarily governed by the Muslim Personal Law (given the fact that they were Muslims) which did not provide for maintenance beyond the iddat period (three months following the divorce). He argued that he was only obliged to pay Mahr ( gift given to a Muslim bride in consideration of marriage) and as he had done the same, he had no further obligation to maintain her. All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which impleaded itself in the case, argued that Section 125 of the CrPC could not override the provisions of the Muslim Personal Law.

Representational image. Firstpost/Naresh SharmaRepresentational image. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Representational image. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Shayara Bano was subjected to the same misery of instantaneous divorce based on triple talaq by her husband in October last year after 15 years of marriage. In her case, adequate maintenance was not the issue; she went on to challenge the very provision of instantaneous triple talaq (talaq-e-bidat) and two other evils associated with it – polygamy and nikah halala (a debased practice that forces divorced women willing to go back to their husbands to consummate a second marriage before returning to the original fold). Her petition wants the Supreme Court to declare all three discriminatory practices as illegal and unconstitutional as they violate the rights guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 14, 15, 21 and 25.
Shayara Bano’s husband has opposed her plea on the same ground that Shah Bano’s husband had done – being Muslims, they were governed by the Muslim Personal Law and triple talaq, polygamy and nikah halala are sanctified provisions under Muslim Personal Law.

In both the cases, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has taken the patriarchal view and justified that ‘no maintenance to a divorced wife’ and ‘triple talaq as a mode to divorce wife’ were integral norms of the Muslim Personal Law. It made the preposterous contention that if the provision of triple talaq was banned, the Muslim husbands would be forced to kill or burn their wives! (Do such men deserve to live in a civilised community?) In any case, the AIMPLB insisted that it was beyond the purview of the court to adjudicate on the personal and family matters of Muslims.

In the Shah Bano case, all the three courts – the lower court, the high court and the supreme court – adjudicated that Section 125 of the CrPC did not make any exception for the Muslim community and therefore, it would override the provisions of the Muslim Personal Law.

In the Shayara Bano case, as the Supreme Court is hearing the matter, no decision has been taken yet. No decision is likely to be taken soon unless the Supreme Court constitutes a Constitution bench and holds its hearing on a priority basis. Given the Supreme Court’s predilections and earlier judgments in similar cases, the judicial outcome of the Shayara Bano case is most likely to go the Shah Bano way.

The societal outcome is, however, likely to be different in both the cases on several counts: in last three decades, the number of Muslim women who want Muslim Personal Law to be reformed has increased manifold. In 1985, when Shah Bano case became a major bone of contention between the Muslim clerics and the judiciary, the All india Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) was able to mobilise hundreds of thousands of Muslims on the streets who defended the obscurantist provisions of the law. But supporters of Shah Bano within the Muslim community who hit the streets were just a few hundreds.

That is why Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister, who had initially supported the Supreme Court judgement and had fielded Arif Mohammad Khan, a progressive Muslim MP, to defend the decision on the floor of Parliament, later changed his stance when he came to realise that his party would lose the major chunk of the Muslim vote bank. He pushed through a new law in Parliament to override the outcome of the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case. Ironically, the Act was named Muslim Women (Protection of Rights in Divorce) Act, 1986 where as it actually undermined the very rights the Muslim women had been granted by the Supreme Court in its Shah Bano judgement the previous year.

Like in 198586, AIMPLB still retains a large base among the orthodox Muslims who refuse to get out of the antiquated tradition (they are impervious to the fact that many Muslim-majority countries including Pakistan have reformed the Muslim Personal Law and have banned triple talaq and have provided for maintenance for the divorced Muslim women).
But, at the same time, the number of Muslim women and men supporting Shayara Bano today is many times larger compared to the corresponding figure during the Shah Bano case. The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), which has impleaded itself in the case in the Supreme Court in support of Shayara Bano, has more than one lakh registered members.

The Muslim clerics must know that the time has come for them to realise that they are not the sole spokesmen of the Muslim community. They succeeded in pressurising Shah Bano to disown the Supreme Court verdict and give up on maintenance in 1986, but they cannot repeat the feat in 2016. One-lakh strong Muslim women have come out in the open to challenge their authority. They have the support of the silent millions of oppressed Muslim women.

Shayara Bano case is most likely to be the catalyst to reform the Muslim Personal Law in India. That would be a blow for gender equity and justice. That would be a just victory for the underprivileged Muslim women over the patriarchal orthodoxy of the Muslim clerics.

Jayalalithaa’s health: Tamil Nadu CM’s condition greatly improves in last 48 hours, AIADMK relieved

First the good news. Multiple sources have confirmed that the condition of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has improved significantly in the past 48 hours and she has been off the ventilator during the day. She is on respiratory support only for some time in the night as a precautionary measure.

The CM however, still continues to be in the Critical Care unit at Apollo Hospital. Apart from antibiotics, her treatment includes medication to help her in breathing and also nebulisation.

“We are not so worried any more. We are a lot more relieved,” said a source who is aware of Jayalalithaa’s treatment.

File photo of Jayalalithaa. PTIFile photo of Jayalalithaa. PTI

File photo of Jayalalithaa. PTI

AIADMK leaders who have access to information from inside the Critical Care unit at Apollo Hospitals also confirm that Jayalalithaa is conscious. “She is also aware of what is happening around her,” says CR Saraswathi, spokesperson of the AIADMK.

The next step would be to slowly move her away from the bed, where she has been for more than three weeks now, and make her sit on a chair. Passive physiotherapy that Apollo’s medical bulletins say the CM is undergoing, is part of the treatment to help her do this.

But despite the improvement, Apollo Hospital and the Tamil Nadu government are fighting shy of announcing it to the world. That is because experience shows that an ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) patient even when he or she shows dramatic improvement, is deemed vulnerable.

ARDS is a life-threatening medical condition, characterised by inflammation in the lungs. ARDS is triggered by pneumonia and sepsis, one of the reasons why intensivist Dr Richard Beale, an experienced investigator in the field of sepsis, ARDS and clinical nutrition, was flown in from London to treat the CM. An intensivist by definition is a doctor who specialises in treating critically-ill patients.

Experts point out that ARDS is known to have a high mortality of up to 50 percent. When it is accompanied with other ailments, it only complicates the issue and the treatment. In Jayalalithaa’s case, her diabetes, hypertension and cellulitis — ailments mentioned in her 2014 bail plea at the Karnataka High court — were factors the team of doctors took into account.

“If it was a 30-year-old patient, the body recovers that much faster. Since the CM is 68, she needs that much more care,” said a source.

Given her medical history, doctors are of the opinion that her recovery is remarkable. But they would want to monitor her for some more time as with her diabetes, the risk of secondary infections always exists.

Hospitals, especially Intensive Care Units, are a more risky place for critical patients. That is because hospitals are teeming with virulent bacteria. If an infection is contracted from the community, it requires a basic antibiotic for treatment. But if a patient contracts an infection from the ICU, bacteria is likely to be resistant to basic antibiotics and doctors have to prescribe high-end antibiotics. Such potent antibiotics in high dosage can lead to side effects like diarrhea, renal failure, myopathy and neuropathy.

In order to ensure against any such complication, Jayalalithaa has been kept in a part of the Critical Care unit where no other patient is admitted. This means getting a secondary infection is out of the question.

It is expected that if the CM continues the same pace of progress, she could be out of hospital soon. However, she would still need significant rest, care and physiotherapy for at least two months. It is not clear whether Apollo doctors would prefer Jayalalithaa to rest under their supervision at the hospital or send her home by the end of October.

Doctors, who are visibly relieved now, were not in the same state of mind earlier this week. In fact, the hospital in consultation with Dr Richard Beale and the team of specialists from AIIMS had reportedly decided that if there is a further deterioration in Jayalalithaa’s health, she will be shifted to either AIIMS in New Delhi or to a hospital abroad.

That possibility has now been firmly ruled out. “She will come out like a tigress,” said a source.

Ashoka University: You don’t have to choose between free speech and patriotism

The controversy around Ashoka University’s conduct has made die-hard supporters of free speech angry and upset. Many have already shown disgust at what the university did or called out for liberalism or the lack of it in institutions in India and somehow made a connection between the attitude of the university and the worldview of this government. And on free speech, this government does not have an impressive track record.

On the other hand, those sympathetic to Ashoka University have argued over how it’s a private university and it should be allowed to manage its own affairs. That those filing letters and petitions for the cause of Kashmir should be dealt this way, that free speech has certain restrictions under the Constitution and its being done to score political points against the government.

Both sides are not entirely wrong but not completely right either. This is not to say that the last bit on this controversy has already been heard. And yet, it feels as if all of us are trapped in constant déjà vu over free speech.

Anyhow, its important to examine what the University is accused of in its “crackdown” over free speech. Primarily, two allegations are worth looking at. First, members of the administrative staff and an assistant professor quit because of the “displeasure” shown by the management after their petition on “Kashmir” went public. This does seem out of the line but the argument doesn’t stand considering it’s the university’ prerogative to hire or fire, which means the real problem lies elsewhere.

Ashoka University. University websiteAshoka University. University website

Ashoka University. University website

The second issue is of the change in university’s email regulations “in the same week” the petition came to light. The university made it compulsory for emails to be exchanged between “students and alumni through a moderator.” The timing is certainly suspect and many will rightly question why such email protocol wasn’t changed earlier. And in any case, why does the University need to moderate exchange of emails among students or anyone? Let people debate what they want to but at the same time, it’s also unfair on students’ part to expect the University to endorse their agenda. After all, the University never stopped anyone from discussing the issue publicly or openly.

The idea is not to defend Ashoka university and attack liberals (or vice versa) but to find a middle ground where one can be a free speech absolutist and condemn the petition filed on Kashmir (which the university did) by some individuals at Ashoka. One doesn’t necessarily have to choose and take sides but can stand for both — free speech and upholding India’s sovereignty.

This is where, at times, the liberals in India are deeply cut off from public opinion. Maybe deliberately or otherwise, but they are. Many rightly feel that it’s become fashionable to play victims of free speech to selectively advance their agenda. After all, no other controversy can attract such attention from the media.

Liberals, on the other hand, fail to see this point of view. They are amazed and shocked over the irrational love that people have for the country that doesn’t allow others to say or do what they want and criticize the government on issues it should be.

Jonah Goldberg, the popular conservative columnist in the United States, in one of his earlier pieces described such a situation succinctly. He says, “The lethality of every poison is in the dosage. We all understand too much authoritarianism, socialism and nationalism can be terrible but one should also understand too much freedom, too much democracy can be terrible too.” He then argues “that such balance should be set far over to the freedom side of the table but just not all the way to ten”.

This is a very sensible and a valid argument. People demanding absolute free speech should see what important role patriotism plays in keeping nation/states together. When they ignore the strong emotion that many feel over the issue of Kashmir and focus solely on free speech they are wildly underestimating their lack of credibility among the people of this country. And that is precisely the reason a majority of our country is unable to relate with them.

Ashoka University, therefore in this case, has more supporters than adversaries. There may be a case against moderating email exchange but students and alumni are “free” to use other mediums for communication to raise “any issue” that they want to within the university. All that the University has asked is not to use its brand and platform to raise issues it did not agree with.

So, yes free speech is a cause worth fighting for but it will be heartening to see many liberals to indulge in a bit of patriotism. People will actually take them a lot more seriously if they raise the issue of terrorism in Kashmir with the same enthusiasm as they raise the issue of complete free speech.

Brics Summit: India must note Russia is still its most important strategic partner

Russian President Vladimir Putin is commencing his four-day visit to India on Friday (14-17 October). His visit assumes significance since serious doubts have clouded, of late, on the nature of Indo-Russian relations, particularly in the wake of growing ties between Moscow and Islamabad.

Putin’s visit is two-pronged. He is attending the 8th Brics summit that is being held in Goa, from 15 to 16 October. But earlier on Saturday, at Goa, Putin will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in what is going to be the 17th India-Russia Annual Summit. Annual India-Russia summits are held alternatively in India and Russia, thanks to the declaration of “the India Russia Strategic Partnership”, signed in October 2000. It was the brainchild of none other than Putin, who sincerely tried to restore the traditional warmth and vibrancy to the bilateral relationship that was lost during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

PM Narendra Modi (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin. PTI

PM Narendra Modi (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin. PTI

Of course, it is unusual that the India-Russia annual summit, an important bilateral feature, is being formally held on the sidelines of an international summit. But then, we have witnessed some other unusual developments on the Indo-Russian front. The other day, India’s Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran had publicly aired his concerns over the adverse impact on the bilateral relations if Moscow continued to expand military relations with Islamabad. “We have conveyed our views to the Russian side that military cooperation with Pakistan, which is a state that sponsors and practices terrorism as a matter of state policy, is a wrong approach. It will only create further problems,” Saran told Ria Novosti, the Russian official news agency.

And it was another unusual event when Russia and Pakistan held their “first-ever” joint military exercises from 24 September to 10 October, in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. It was code-named “Druzhba-2016” (Friendship-2016). The Russian military contingent consisted of more than 70 servicemen of the 34th mountain motorised rifle brigade of its “Southern Military District”. Pakistan has gone to the town in projecting the military exercise as a “historic development”. Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif’s special envoy on Kashmir Mushahid Hussain Syed has boasted at the Atlantic Council, one of the top American think-tanks, that as the United States was no longer a global power, Pakistan would be closer to China and Russia. “There has been slow and steady building of relationship between Moscow and Islamabad,” he said, referring to the joint military exercise between Pakistan and Russia, and then adding “the Russian government has for the first time agreed to sell arms to Pakistan.”

However, now is the time for a reality check. The “first-ever” description, used by Russian and Pakistani officials regarding these military exercises, is not correct in the strict sense of the term. Russia and Pakistan had already conducted two naval exercises — “Arabian Monsoon – 2014” and “Arabian Monsoon – 2015.” Though unlike “Druzhba-2016” (a proper military exercise), these two exercises focused on combating crime groups and blocking drug traffic, the fact remains that the navies of the two countries were involved. Secondly, notwithstanding all talks about Russia-Pakistan defence cooperation, there have not been major arms purchases as yet by Pakistan from Russia; the two have only “finished talks” on four transport helicopters that Russia will sell to Pakistan.

Thirdly, and this is the most important, when Russia was conducting joint military exercise with Pakistan, it was also carrying out a far more sophisticated joint military exercise with India. Called “INDRA-2016”, this exercise took place in the Ussiriysk district in Vladivostok from 23 September to 2 October. Over 500 servicemen, 50 units of equipment, a group of UAVs, and assault and army aviation took part in the drills. 250 soldiers of the Kumaon Regiment represented the Indian contingent. The Russian Armed Forces were represented by 250 soldiers from the 59th Motorised Infantry Brigade. Main focus of this joint exercise was on counter-terrorism operations in semi-mountainous and jungle terrains.

If this is the reality, then how does one explain the Russian policy at present towards Pakistan? Going by the Russian officials, there are two reasons behind Moscow’s behaviour. First, and here I am quoting Russia’s Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, Russia’s military cooperation with Pakistan will teach the “Pakistani army not to use itself for terror attacks against India.” This will also help to fight “terrorism and drug traffic coming from Afghanistan” (as Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defence, had said in 2015). That the joint military exercise was not against India has been stressed by the Russians. They say that because of India’s sensitivities, Russia did not agree with Pakistan to conduct it in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), including Gilgit and Baltistan.

Secondly, the Russians argue that with the end of the Cold War in general and gradual withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan in particular, Pakistan should be viewed as a normal country with which Moscow can do normal business. And since it is normal interaction any sovereign country will do with another normal sovereign country, there is nothing anti-Indian about it. Russians dismiss the theory that by coming closer to Pakistan, they are reacting adversely to India’s growing proximity with the United States in recent years.

However, one may not agree with the Russians on this score. All told, the United States has replaced Russia as India’s largest military supplier, causing a lot of consternations to Moscow, whose substantial export items happen to be the military products (other than oil and gas). But, it will be an exaggeration to cite the Pakistan-factor in undermining the importance of the strategic dimensions in Indo-Russian relations in general and the military component in this relationship in particular.

Even today, Russia provides India around 70 percent of its defence needs. And importantly, the defence cooperation is not exactly restricted to a buyer-seller relationship; it includes now joint design, research and development, joint production, training, and service-to-service contacts. Russia is always prepared to share its most sensitive and newest developments in technology to India that the United States and other Western nations have been reticent to do. Brahmos missile system is a shining example of this type of collaboration. Presently, several similar joint development projects in areas of cutting edge and frontier technologies are being pursued, the most important being the joint development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).

In fact, when Modi and Putin meet on Saturday, they are expected to clinch the deal worth a billion dollar deal to manufacture 200 Kamov-226 T helicopters under the ‘Make in India’ programme. Besides, they will negotiate over the possibility of India acquiring five S-400 ‘Triumf’ long-range air defense missile systems and upgraded models of the Sukhoi 30-MKI elite fighter jet. These possible deals could fetch Russia at $6 billion. The S-400 missile system, it may be noted, is capable of destroying missiles, drones, and incoming fighter jets within a range of 250 miles (400 km).

Even otherwise, Russia will continue to remain India’s most valued ally for many more years to come. As strategic partners, India and Russia share the same global outlook that the existing architecture of global security, including its mechanisms based on international law, does not ensure the equal security of all nations. This has been emphasised by Russia’s “military doctrine” (February 2010) and “security strategy” (May 2009). The essential features of these two highlight clearly that Russia is not happy with the eastward expansion of Nato, proposed Europe-based missile defence systems, secessionist insurgencies in its territory supported by external elements, rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the neighbouring regions such as Central Asia and South Asia, and the spread of global terrorism fuelled by religion and drugs etc. Needless to point out that almost all these features are also matters of great concern when India plans its overall security within the framework of a multipolar world that shuns unilateralism.

Besides, the fact remains that though Russia may have lost its position as a superpower in Cold War equations, it is still a big power if one goes by any possible definition of the elements that constitute power. It is huge and possesses the largest landmass of the earth as a single country. It strategically abuts on Central Asia, China and Iran, an area of political, security and economic interests to India. Russia is endowed with enormous natural resources, technological capacities and trade potential. It still is the most important military power in the world after the United States. Most significantly, Russia, perhaps, gives a higher priority to India in its foreign policy and strategic calculations than the United States or other power centres of the world, their acknowledgment of India’s rising importance notwithstanding.

All told, Russia never hesitates to transfer its most sophisticated technology to India. It is Russia, which gives its nuclear submarines on lease to India. It is Russia, which has unhesitatingly cooperated with India in its march towards becoming a major space power. It is Russia, which has unhesitatingly established nuclear power stations in India, something that cannot be said of the United States even after the conclusion of civilian nuclear deal. And it is Russia, which has provided the most vocal support for India becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

India has invested heavily in Russia’s hydrocarbon sector. One of India’s most significant overseas investments (2.8 billion dollars) has been in Sakhalin—I (Siberia) for extracting oil. But this is not all. India has also invested more in that region through ONGC Videsh Limited—2.1 billion dollars was the investment for buying a British company called Imperial Energy in the Tomsk region in Siberia. India has been discussing with the Russian side on several more investments where ONGC Videsh Limited is willing to go along with Russian oil and gas majors like Gazprom and Rosneft to invest in different regions of Siberia and even North Russia. In Siberia the regions are Sakhalin-III and there is a region on Timan Pechora, as also there is an interest on the Indian side in the Yamal peninsula, which is a gas-rich area in Northern Russia.

Of course, in today’s world nothing is free and Russia has its own reasons to ensure that India remains its close ally as well. Russia, of late, might have increased its ties manifold with China, India’s principal strategic competitor. It might also open more for Pakistan in days to come. But then the fact remains that Russia needs India as much as it needs China. Likewise, India might have improved its equations with the United States, of late. But then the fact also remains that India needs Russia as much as it needs the United States. Modi-Putin summit on Saturday will reflect this reality.

SC ruling that sex workers can’t cry rape is dictated by morality not legal reasoning

The Supreme Court, on 12 October, 2016, ruled that a sex worker cannot file a case alleging rape if her customers refused to pay her. A bench of judges, consisting of Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitava Roy, stated that while evidence submitted by a women alleging sexual assault should be given significance, it cannot be regarded as the “gospel truth”.

The judgment of the highest court in India acquitted three people of rape charges in a case that is close to 20 years old. The three accused had moved the apex court in an appeal, after the Karnataka High Court had convicted them of raping the victim, who used to work as a maid; the victim’s roommate had revealed that she works as a sex-worker at night. The victim had charged the accused of sexual assault and rape in a garage in Bengaluru after an alleged kidnapping. However, the accused were able to challenge this conviction at the Supreme Court, that observed, quite shockingly, that the woman’s “conduct during the alleged ordeal is unlike a victim of rape and betrays somewhat submissive and consensual disposition”.

Representational photo. AFPRepresentational photo. AFP

Representational photo. AFP

“The evidence of prosecutrix must be examined as that of an injured witness whose presence at the spot is probable but it can never be presumed that her statement should always, without exception, be taken as gospel truth,” the Bench declared. The ruling is appalling to say the least, especially when it is founded on the good woman/bad woman dichotomy, and finds no footing on legal reasoning.

The representation and voice of sex workers is practically absent within the Indian rape law paradigm. In 2013, when the Justice JS Verma Committee came up with a set of recommendations for the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence, the report addressed a plethora of issues, including issues of police reform, sexual violence against women and the LGBTQI community. The report briefly touched upon the horrors of prostitution, but it did not advocate the rights of sex-workers from violence, beyond the definition of trafficking within the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956. The Committee, emboldened by the horrifying Delhi rape case of 2012, brought up — only to be ignored — the subject of marital rape: it stated that the Indian Penal Code must be amended to remove the exception of marital rape. In doing this, the Committee tried to marry the public and private spaces — stating, and rightly so, that rape and sexual assault are not mere crimes of passion, but an expression of power. Moreover, no relation, including marriage, supplements an irrevocable consent to sexual activity. The Committee’s recommendations, however, remained mute on the issue of consent when it comes to sex workers, thus, leaving no legal recourse for protection against sexual violence from various perpetrators.

Sex workers remain in the twilight area of legal policies and legislation in India, wherein the silence of the law on the identities of sex workers has resulted in more violence in both public spaces, by law enforcement officials, and private spaces, by clients, pimps and partners. In addition to this, societal standards that forcefully fit women into a binary system, in which women are either idolised or demonised pervade through all structures and institutions; even the judiciary writes them off as “women of loose morals”. Unfortunately, this thinking also leaves sex workers no representation over a criminal law against rape that should apply to them, in spite of what they do for a living.

In 1972, in Tukaram v. State of Maharashtra (1979) or the Mathura rape case, Mathura, a 16-year-old Tribal girl, had been raped in a police station. The Supreme Court, however, stated that that no rape had taken place since Mathura’s body bore no outward signs of rape; therefore, there was no resistance to the act, and it was a “peaceful affair”. The ruling, however, sparked a wildfire of protests by women’s rights advocates, which led to the criminal law amendment in 1983 that dealt with rape. The amendment of 1983 also brought about a change in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872:  Section 114-A was added onto the Evidence Act that dealt with prosecution of rape cases under clauses (a), (b), (c), (d), (e) or (g) of S. 376(2) of the Indian Penal Code, where sexual intercourse by the accused is proved, and the question before the Court is whether such intercourse was with or without the woman’s consent. In such cases, if the woman, in her evidence, states before the Court that she did not consent, the Court must presume that she did not so consent.

The ruling is appalling to say the least, especially when it is founded on the good woman/bad woman dichotomy, and finds no footing on legal reasoning

Ironically, in the present case at the Supreme Court on appeal from three accused from Bengaluru, this aforementioned “presumption as to absence of consent in certain prosecutions of rape” is neither considered, nor debated upon. The Bench seems to have removed the issue of presumption of consent from this gang rape because the women was of “questionable character”.

In Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal (2011), the apex court, in its division bench, headed by Justice Katju, stated that sex workers have a right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution of India “since they are also human beings and their problems also needed to be addressed”. However, despite this commendable judgment, we often see the courts unable to break out of the patriarchal mould when giving judgments that involve sex workers. Often, even when the judgment is sound, the language is crass and reeks of prejudice; for instance, in the State of Maharashtra v. Madhukar N Mardikar (1990), stated that, “the unchastity of a woman does not make her open to any and every person to violate her person as and when he wishes. She is entitled to protect her person if there is an attempt to violate her person against her wish. She is equally entitled to the protection of law. Therefore merely because she is of easy virtue, her evidence cannot be thrown overboard.”

When an institution itself is dictated by morality instead of sound legal reasoning, it should not shock and horrify when the Bench, in October, 2016, declares — “Her vengeful attitude in the facts and circumstances, as disclosed by her, if true, demonstrably evinces a conduct manifested by a feeling of frustration stoked by an intense feeling of deprivation of something expected, desired or promised.”

Pampore attackers trained like perpetrators of 2008 Mumbai terror attack

Original article:  Pampore attackers trained like perpetrators of 2008 Mumbai terror attack

Kerala CPM leaders hire family members for PSUs, go against Pinarayi Vijayan’s poll promise

Barely four months into its existence, the Pinarayi Vijayan government in Kerala that came to power crusading against corruption, has fallen victim to the same weakness that the previous United Democratic Front (UDF) allies were afflicted with.

It’s not yet blatant corruption, but something very close — cronyism, that too involving the families of the CPM apparatchiks.

On Friday, the state’s media reported that the government appointed the son of a former CPM health minister, PK Sreemathi, who is presently a member of parliament, as the managing director of the state-run Kerala State Industrial Enterprises, flouting eligibility criteria. Incidentally, the man in question is also the nephew of the industries minister, EP Jayarajan, whose department chose him.

Representational image. AgenciesRepresentational image. Agencies

Representational image. Agencies

As the controversy threatened to loom large, the government cheekily withdrew the appointment saying that the candidate asked for more time to join, which it had rejected. Reportedly, the appointment was cancelled at the instance of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who had said in the past that his government’s policy was to appoint qualified people to state-run enterprises. Sreemathi was at the centre of a similar scandal during the last Left government as well, when as a state minister she appointed her daughter-in-law as her “cook”, who subsequently became her official assistant.

It’s not just one family member of the CPM, but many that have been chosen to head government-run institutions now. Reportedly, close family members of senior party leaders have been appointed in the Kinfra Apparel Park, Clay and Ceramics Limited and the Women’s Development Corporation. And more are in the pipeline.

Not that the UDF was clean. Under its rule, there was absolutely no control over such postings and they were meant only to employ close associates and party functionaries. The industries department, which managed a number of a public sector units, had the worst record. By the time the last government left the office, majority of them were making losses and their combined loss to the exchequer stood at about Rs 2000 crore. According to the CAG, in 2015, 53 state enterprises alone had incurred a loss of Rs 889 crore.

Although some of them were public utility services such as the electricity board, transport corporation and water authority that are not meant to make profits but serve people, majority were small industrial enterprises that hardly had any relevance to the state’s wealth generation or industrialisation, except providing lucrative backdoor employment to political leaders or their associates, and avenues for kickbacks. For instance, one such unit, headed by a Congress leader, imported inferior cashew from Africa, costing the state a few crores. Similarly, a loss-making state-run cement factory, the Malabar Cements, has made headlines only for corruption scandals.

The eligibility of some of the people who headed such institutions during the UDF regime was laughable. Some of them are now facing vigilance cases.

What’s disappointing about the CPM’s apparent cronyism is that it contrasts with what Pinarayi Vijayan had promised when he came to power in May. He spoke of a grand vision of transforming the industrial landscape of Kerala with ‘Silicon Valley’ type hubs, big highways, high-speed railway lines and a lot of jobs. And his vision couldn’t have excluded the 100-plus government-run undertakings because they are a big drain on the state’s economy and employ a large number of people. Appointing cronies from the party leaders’ families, with or without eligibility, through processes that look rigged doesn’t seem to be a move that befits Vijayan’s vision.

It’s not yet blatant corruption, but something very close — cronyism, that too involving the families of the CPM apparatchiks.

Interestingly, communist China had (and still has) a similar problem of cronyism, in which a club of elites had cornered plum positions in the party, and government and military run institutions. This was one of the major challenges of President Xi Jinping when he became the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2012. Jinping went after the big shots and felled about 50 senior officials in the first two years since launching his anti-corruption campaign. A large number of party functionaries and cronies were prosecuted and punished. The New York Times had noted that

Corruption has penetrated so very deeply into the party-state that it has become the glue that holds it together.

In a minor scale, there’s a similar glue in Kerala’s CPM as well: families of the party leaders need jobs that pay them well. Industrially barren, contracts and kickbacks are hard to come by.

If massive infrastructure development and privatisation opened opportunities to the political elites in China, who over the last three decades had formed an invincible party-state syndicate, in Kerala, the situation appears similar in a much smaller scale. The opportunities before the party are the state-run enterprises and the gates that Vijayan’s industrial drive will open. Going by the early trend, if the people are not vigilant, these opportunities will be cornered by cronies and relatives of the party leaders.

In this 2005 paper in the International Review of Sociology that looks at the cultural context of corruption in communist societies, authors Wayne Sandholtz and Rein Taagepera argue that “communism created structural incentives for engaging in corrupt behaviors, which became such a widespread fact of life that they became rooted in the culture in these societies/that is, the social norms and practices prevailing in communist societies.” No wonder that many of the party leaders and proxies found nothing wrong in party leaders’ family members grabbing premium government jobs.

They had waited for five years while the Congress-led UDF had a free-for-all. Looks like it’s payback time, and the tax payers have to foot the bill this time as well.

Don’t politicise surgical strikes, Parliament can convene a secret session to demand proof

Don’t politicise surgical strikes, Parliament can convene a secret session to demand proof

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Since the Indian Army announced that it had committed surgical strikes on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control — resulting from the ceasefire of 17 December, 1971 (Line of Control) — on 29 September, 2016, there has been a relentless campaign in the Pakistani media to deny the existence of such strikes.

 

Based on these responses, Opposition leaders in India such as Congress’ Sanjay Nirupam and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kerjriwal have publicly demanded that the government provide proof of such strikes by releasing the photographic and video evidence of the same to the public.  
Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Needless to say, a public release of a video of these strikes, apart from creating the obvious national security concerns, will serve to do nothing but further inflame the situation at the Line of Control. Right now, the Indian government is playing a tactical game by allowing Pakistan to deny the existence of these strikes and enabling thePakistani governmentto save face by enabling them to try and make a tactical withdrawal

 

However, this does not mean that the Opposition does not have the right to demand proof of the strikes. In any right thinking democracy, the Opposition has the right to loyally demand proof of the government’s claims. In fact, India’s parliamentary democracy has express provisions to ensure that its politicians can be taken into confidence when it concerns matters such as national security. 

 

India has two houses of Parliament. The Lok Sabha (House of the People) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States). The President is empowered under Article 85 to summon the Parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister. This means Narendra Modi can advise His Excellency Pranab Mukherjee to call for a special session of Parliament to debate the surgical strikes that were recently conducted.

 

Rule 248 of the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha (House of the People) enables the Lok Sabha to go into a secret sitting if there is a request made by the Leader of the House, in this case the Prime Minister as he is a member of the Lok Sabha. When the Lok Sabha sits in secret, no stranger shall be permitted to sit in the galleries and the house shall sit in camera. No notes or records are also permitted to be kept of a secret sitting of the Lok Sabha. Interestingly though, Rule 248 permits members of the Rajya Sabha to observe the session from the gallery and that other members authorised by the Speaker may be permitted to sit in the Chamber of the House. 

 

The government could use this Rule along with Article 84 to call for a secret session of Parliament to view the video evidence of the strike and confidentially have army officers brief parliamentarians, including Opposition members as to the nature of the surgical strikes that were carried out within the Pakistani sector of the LoC. Further, members of the Parliament can also be briefed on the ongoing situation at the LoC. In fact, if the government so chooses, the Parliament may also be kept in contentious session throughout the ongoing situation with Pakistan and continuous confidential briefings may be given in order to prevent the Opposition from politicising the situation and causing national disunity and discord.

 

After the briefing, both houses may debate the ongoing situation and pass a resolution in support of the armed forces and/or the government presenting a united front. This way, there will be no further inflaming or politicisation of the situation. 

 

One remembers our prime minister kissing the steps of Parliament when he formed his government. It is only appropriate that in this — our nation’s hour of crisis — the Parliament be taken into confidence.

Bengaluru’s steel bridge: Should IT hub say no to development at the cost of tree cover?

Bengaluru’s infrastructure projects have always been mired in controversy, with citizens and green activists crying foul until either the projects get scrapped or get implemented regardless of the protests.

This time around, it’s the proposed steel flyover to connect Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport Limited (KIAL) to other parts of the city that’s got everyone’s ante up.

Considered to be the longest flyover at a 6.72 kilometre stretch from the neighbourhood of Basaveshwara circle to the neighbourhood of Hebbal, the steel flyover is estimated to cost Rs 1791 crore and is expected to be completed in 24 months. The project will be executed by Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T) and Nagarjuna Ltd, with the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) overseeing it. BDA will acquire around one acre for the project.

What has got citizens and activists up in arms is not just the traffic snarls, that the project would entail on one of the busiest stretches in Bengaluru, but that 812 trees will be chopped off along the project’s corridor and some existing flyovers and underpasses would have to be demolished too. This has begun a debate on whether the project is required at all.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

BDA commissioner Rajkumar Khatri has sought to assuage annoyed protestors with assurances that 60,000 saplings would be planted in other parts of the city. BDA has also said that the steel structures would be pre-fabricated in the L&T factories and that traffic would get affected only during the last six months of the project cycle. Incidentally, this is not the first time that the Karnataka government is talking about a steel bridge, it proposed one in Central Business District (CBD) between Minerva Circle and Hudson Circle to ease traffic, but this never took off for the want of takers.

Firstpost reached out to RK Mishra, a member of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of both BBMP and BDA, who also worked on the preliminary feasibility report of the elevated corridors project. When asked whether the steel flyover was necessary at all, Mishra said, “The CBD to Hebbal/Esteem Mall stretch is extremely congested for three reasons. First, it is the only access to KIAL from South, Central and North Bangalore. Second, there is no other means of reaching the airport except by road -no Metro or Rail Connectivity. Third, the existing Hebbal flyover is not integrated with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) Elevated Expressway, hence it becomes a bottleneck. So, we certainly need additional road capacity from CBD till the NHAI Expressway. Since we can’t widen the roads, we need to go elevated.

“Now whether we go steel or concrete is another debate and both have pros and cons. I don’t see any issue with the Steel Flyover per se, but my concern is on the alignment. Taking the proposed route will cause chaos during construction, has strategic danger of being the only access route and of course will require demolition of some existing magic box based flyovers/underpasses which were built not so long ago.”

When asked why Bengaluru’s civic authorities authorised projects and then went and broke them down for another one, Mishra said, “It is poor planning and waking up after the crisis has hit the panic button. Hence, we end up doing knee jerk projects like magic box based flyovers/underpasses and now this steel Flyover. The Hebbal Flyover Interchange should have been integrated with the NHAI Expressway and should have been planned for higher capacity with 4-6 lanes. But poor planning led to this chaotic situation. We are driven by projects and do no planning.”

When asked whether the metro was also not being planned on the same route, Mishra said, “Metro on this route could have been ideal. We had been procrastinating on the metro to the airport for way too long. With this steel flyover, metro on this route is dead forever.”

When asked to outline what according to him would be the best option for Bengaluru given that the green protests were also going on for the steel flyover, Mishra outlined what would work best for Bengaluru:

“They could have the Integrated Metro in the same Flyover (Steel or Concrete) as Jaipur has done or as is being done between Silk Board and Jayadeva, where same pillar has road at 5.5 Mtr height and Metro at 11 Mtr. But our planners are driven by short term quick fixes and no one guides long term planning.
We also need other access routes to KIAL. Proposed South and Southeast access roads from Nagavara (ORR) and Budhigere are stuck for long. These must be expedited.
Metro to Airport from East (KR Puram) and from West (Yeshwantpur) is a must and sooner the better.
Both KR Puram and Yeshwantpur are Railway Hubs too, hence Airport Metro from these makes logical sense.”

Meanwhile, green activists in Bengaluru have been up in arms over the indiscriminate chopping of trees to make way for various development projects in the city. Recently, activists did a kind of Chipko movement to protest the chopping of 30 odd trees to make way for the Tendersure (the SURE stands for Specifications for Urban Road Execution) project on Nruputanga road.
The green activists were also not happy when Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) went and chopped 2500 trees for Phase 1 and planned to cut down 313 heritage trees for Phase 2. Although BMRCL said that enough trees as specified by the tree officer were planted, activists were not convinced, especially as public hearings for Phase 2 kept getting cancelled.

The Times of India reports that many of the trees facing the axe including the 812 trees for the steel flyover, were planted in the 80s by the then chief minister of Karnataka R Gundu Rao. Some 15 lakhs saplings were planted on roadsides and public spaces and it is to this sustained effort that Bengaluru owes its tree cover.

Firstpost reached out to Leo Saldana, campaigner of environment protection and coordinator for the Environment Support Group (ESG). He said, “any infrastructure project should have public consultation and the state government has given an undertaking to do so.”

According to Saldana, “the proposed steel flyover has been approved by the Karnataka Cabinet in patent violation of the order of the High Court of Karnataka in the Environment Support Group vs BMRCL case issued on 16 November, 2010. HC ruled that any urban infrastructure project in the State should be undertaken only in strict conformance with the provisions of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961.”

However, as Saldana said, “Not one of the provisions of the KTCP Act have been complied with by the BDA when announcing plans to start the steel flyover.” This was not only “a comprehensive violation of the applicable laws, but also is in blatant contempt of court.”

Saldana said that the Karnataka government was constantly proposing mega projects involving thousands of crores of investments, leading to the loss of hundreds of trees and causing massive public nuisance. “This steel flyover is a cardinal example of how the project is blatantly promoted to facilitate the needs of only those who are flying in and out of Bangalore. Never has the city or state governments ever invested similar interest, money and energy in attending to the needs of those who rely on affordable public transport or pedestrian and cycling needs, and ensure their safe passage in the city.”

So then, what is the way out for Bengaluru?

Can the IT capital of India, which is in dire need of proper infrastructure, really say no to development? Yet, when development comes at the cost of improper planning and at the cost of its precious tree cover, should its citizens allow it to happen?

Bengaluru’s planners never expected Bengaluru to burst at its seams and see such unbridled growth. Almost all five year Comprehensive Development Plans are already ancient and redundant even as they’re inked and unless the city’s civic authorities understand the intrinsic nature of the burgeoning city, a lot of taxpayer money is going to be spent on infrastructure projects which will soon have to make way for another upgraded, improved version.

And what is most important is that development must go hand in hand with conservation. Ideally every person should have eight trees in a city but it is estimated that Bengaluru has one tree for every seven persons and with a population of nearly a crore Bengalureans you can do the math.

India, Pakistan should engage in dialogue and ‘deescalate’ situation, says UN human rights chief

The UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged India and Pakistan to refrain from “inflammatory remarks” and said that the UN “stands ready” to support efforts for an urgent deescalation of the situation.

“The High Commissioner is seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the rising tensions between India and Pakistan,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We urge India and Pakistan to engage in a dialogue and to deescalate the situation. The inflammatory remarks on both sides is only fuelling the tensions and could result in a further deterioration of the human rights situation,” Colville added.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The troubled region of the Kashmir Valley has burst into protests since the killing of a 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani by Indian security forces on 8 July. The clashes between the Army and the civilians have resulted in about 80 civilian deaths and thousands injuries among civilians as well as military troops.

India has alleged that the unrest has been fomented from across the borders.

The situation between the neighbours further escalated from 18 September onwards when four heavily-armed terrorists in a pre-dawn ambush attacked an Indian Army brigade headquarters in Uri near the Line of Control (LoC) killing 19 soldiers and severely injuring many.

This was one of the worst attacks on the Indian Army in decades.

The Indian government directly accused Pakistan calling it a “terrorist state”, and alleging that the suicide attackers were members of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a militant group with alleged links with the Pakistani government.

With mounting public pressure to avenge the deadly Uri attacks, the Modi government announced that it had launched “surgical strikes” against terrorist launchpads across the LoC. In the early hours of 29 September, India said that special operations forces had slipped into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and attacked terrorist camps that were due to infiltrate India.

Though there have been so-called surgical strikes in the past, the public announcement of this military incursion by the Indian government has broken new ground in the tense military narrative between the nuclear-armed neighbours. However, to avoid a risky escalation of the situation, the Indian Army avoided Pakistani military installations and spoke to the Pakistani Army about the attacks before the media was informed.

Pakistan has rejected India’s claims of surgical strikes and has said that there was cross-border firing across the LoC resulting in deaths of soldiers, but no surgical strikes.

Top Pakistani diplomat Sartaj Aziz has said that the India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Nasir Janjua have spoken over the phone and agreed to reduce tensions along the LoC.

However, there was a terror attack again on adjoining army and Border Security Force (BSF) camps in Baramulla in north Kashmir, resulting in the death of an Indian security personnel on 3 October.

There are reports of ongoing Pakistani ceasefire violations in Gigriyal, Channi and Planwala areas of J&K’s Akhnoor sector.

Zeid’s office on Tuesday renewed the call for “unfettered and unconditional access to both Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir” to enable a human rights team to “independently and impartially” monitor the human rights situation.

“We stand ready to support efforts to de-escalate the situation,” Colville said.

Pakistan has said that it would allow a human rights team into PoK only if there is a similar mission in tandem in “Indian-occupied Kashmir”.

The UN has re-emerged as an active battleground for India and Pakistan’s historical dispute over Kashmir. With India raising the issue of human rights violations in Balochistan for the first time in the UN, accusatory exchanges between the countries have become more acrimonious. During the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), between 13-30 September, India accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists and “training, financing and supporting terrorist groups as militant proxies against it neighbours”, while Pakistan called Wani a “young Kashmiri leader”, and accused that the Kashmiri people were being “bludgeoned and brutalised” by an “occupying power”.

The fight carried on to the UN General Assembly (UNGA), where both Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj raked the issue of human rights violations in Kashmir and Balochistan.

The Uri attacks came in the first week of the UNHRC session and before Sharif’s address to the UNGA.

As India ratifies Paris agreement, it should remember Mahatma Gandhi’s vision on sustainable development

The significance of India ratifying the Paris climate deal on 2 October hits home when we keep in mind that Gandhi’s thoughts on sustainable development were so much ahead of contemporary times. Gandhi, during his time, believed that modern economy was “propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy”. Further, that this unbridled predatory materialism came at the cost of bleeding the environment dry and exhausting finite natural resources. Crucially, Gandhi’s commitment to an “economy of permanence” predated the modern awareness of dangers posed by unsustainable models of development. He propagated his thoughts decades before climate change came to be treated as a serious subject of discourse, and of national and international concern.

However, Gandhi’s own party — the Congress — which ruled India for the major part of the post-independence era, found more virtue in Jawaharlal Nehru’s model of high growth-powered development than in Gandhi’s ecological economism. Paradoxically, it was left to Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to partially reinstate Gandhi’s economic philosophy. He has linked Gandhi’s till-now neglected, if not forgotten, thoughts on ecology to the Paris climate deal that was signed in December 2015.

File Image Delhi through the smog.AFPFile Image Delhi through the smog.AFP

Representational image. AFP

It is another matter of course, that a separate discussion may be required on the Paris deal itself, which many leading environmentalists have described as inadequate. In a column in the Business Standard in December 2015, this is what the leading environmentalist Sunita Narain wrote about the deal: “… read the fine print, and it becomes clear that poorer countries have lost big time. This battle is to save the world from catastrophic climate change impacts so that rich industrialised countries do their fair share to reduce emissions and the emerging world gets its right to development and support to develop differently.”

Narain did concede that the effort to cap global temperature increase to below 1.5 degrees Celsius is definitely a move in the positive direction. But with a caveat. She argued that if the world wished to cap temperatures then it also has to lower greenhouse emissions: “The Paris agreement fails in this totally.” Targets have not been set for developed nations to move towards more aggressive emission cuts.

“What is even worse is that Paris cements climate apartheid — so that the historical responsibility of the developed world of creating the problem of emissions is erased. Worse, the burden of future transition moves to the still developing world,” Narain argued, critiquing the agreement. The pact will come into effect following its ratification by at least 55 countries, accounting for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

While Narain’s too-little too-late argument does carry weight, India’s ratification of the Paris deal would appear to signify (if only on paper for the time being,) its apparent intent to take seriously the phenomenon of global warming and its catastrophic consequences already manifesting themselves in multiple ways. Not just that, the government will have to factor in the concerns of climate change in the process of initiating or amending economic and environmental policies. In fact, if India is serious about implementing the Paris deal, the government would have to completely rethink its conventional approach to development. As we have already seen, investors of all stripes — national as well as foreign — tend to frown upon environmental regulations and their strict enforcement.

If it is serious about tackling the challenges posed by climate change, then the government, in the coming days and months, will have to send all stakeholders an uncompromising message: business cannot go on as usual. Such an approach is not likely to go down well with various developmental sectors, particularly the burgeoning real estate industry. But there are no soft options left.

He propagated his thoughts decades before climate change came to be treated as a serious subject of discourse, and of national and international concern

It may be worthwhile in this context to recall what author Amitav Ghosh said in an interview to Elizabeth Kuruvilla in LiveMint in July 2016. When asked how we can address the concerns of climate change as laid out in his recent book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Ghosh replied, “We can’t in any way address this issue until we address the causes of it. Which is the economic model we’re now pursuing, a model that is solely oriented towards perpetual growth. That is the first issue that we have to confront.”

He further argued that “we can’t carry on living as though everybody can expand their carbon footprint or their energy footprint. If you don’t acknowledge that how can you even begin to have a serious conversation about this? And that is exactly what this document is about. It is about perpetual growth. It’s just trying to find the different means of perpetual growth.”

Therefore, while the symbolic power of ratifying the Paris accord on 2 October is undeniably powerful, it will all come to naught if the requisite follow through is missing. And there doesn’t seem to be much cause of optimism on that front.

India’s surgical strikes across LoC unlikely to bring Pakistan-backed terrorism to cohesive end

Where do we go from here? The surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) is a remarkable, though not unique, achievement for the Army (there have been many cross-LoC/IB operations in the past, though without the present publicity), but it is unlikely to bring Pakistan-backed terrorism to an abrupt and conclusive end.

It is useful to recognise that, despite 3,520 soldiers of the international coalition, including 2,285 Americans (as well as tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians), having been killed as a result of Pakistan-backed terrorism in Afghanistan, and numerous leaders and cadres of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda successfully targeted by the US on Pakistani soil (most prominently including Osama bin Laden in the heart of the Abottabad Cantonment) Pakistan has not abandoned its support to terrorism directed against Kabul, even a decade and a half after America re-entered the Afghan conflict.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

There are many among India’s partisan jingoists who were demanding that Pakistan be ‘taught a lesson’ in the wake of the Uri attack, and believe that this is the principal yield of the surgical strike. This is nonsense. It is not India’s purpose to educate Pakistan and, in any event, despite all the ‘lessons’ it has been taught by India in the past, and by the US in a more proximate time frame, Islamabad remains quite uneducable.

Moreover, there are many who think that Pakistan can be ‘shamed’ into terminating its association with Islamist terrorism, and consequently emphasise the continuous sharing of intelligence and evidence with other nations of the world. But India has tried to do this for decades, with little or no effect. It is only now that the West is suffering repeated harm at the hands of Islamist terrorism that is squarely linked up with Pakistan that they are beginning to take cognizance of the problem – evidence or no evidence. Crucially, Pakistan is not a country that can be ‘shamed’ into anything; its leadership has demonstrated a complete lack of any sense of honour or adherence to principles of civilised behaviour. Pakistan will change direction only under the influence of fear, or the complete erosion of its capacities to continue support to terrorism without risking its own survival.

What does this mean for India in the immediate aftermath of the surgical strike? First, despite the general opprobrium Pakistan now attracts, and despite the fact that not a single country in the world has directed even the slightest criticism against India for this operation (even China has chosen to sit on the fence, exhorting both countries to resolve their difference through “dialogues”), there is likely to be some retaliatory action. Present indications, including Islamabad’s efforts to deny or downplay the surgical strike, do not, however, suggest disproportionate escalation. Pakistan will also seek to inflict harm by escalating street and ‘indigenous’ terrorist violence in Kashmir – though it may find some reluctance among its allies and affiliates to go along with its plans now.

For all the satisfaction the surgical strikes have rightly given Indians – frustrated by long decades of Pakistan-backed terrorism and the Indian state’s paralysis in response – it is best treated as no more than an incident; an important, incident, no doubt, but nonetheless transient in its impact unless it is integrated into a coherent and sustained strategy, pursued with unflagging attention certainly over the coming years, and possibly decade and more.

A polity obsessed with electoral cycles will find it difficult to sustain both will and attention for long, and there would likely be intervening changes of government as well. Worse, Pakistan has a long experience as a ‘minimal satisfier’; indeed, despite the fatalities it has inflicted in Afghanistan, despite unambiguous condemnation by a string of American and Nato military commanders of its support to terrorism in that theatre, and despite Pakistan’s visible footprint in an overwhelming proportion of terrorist attacks across the world, Islamabad continues to receive billions of dollars in US and Western aid even today (though this gravy train looks like it is slowing down drastically). Pakistan’s capacity for deceit and manipulation has been extraordinary, and it will quickly be turned to India if any sustained regime of discriminatory sanctions or sustained non-military penalties is imposed.

Indeed, this process already appears to have commenced just a day after the surgical strike. After his crass and offensive speech at the UN General Assembly, Nawaz Sharif has already shifted gear and, virtually lifting the language of Narendra Modi’s Kozhikode speech, declared that he sought peace in the region “to make economic progress and to battle poverty and unemployment.”

As time passes and the sting of the surgical strike diminishes, Pakistan will try to mollify India by talking about partnerships to fight poverty and backwardness; but terrorism will persist, calibrated to suitable levels given changes in the domestic, regional and global situation. It would be utter folly on New Delhi’s part if it is seduced by this deception as long as any trace of the terrorist infrastructure remains on Pakistani soil. Pakistan will not yield its only instrument of leverage in the region and in the world unless unbearable costs are imposed, or a sheer lack of capacity is inflicted through processes of gradual attrition, in what is clearly conceptualised, planned and implemented as a strategy of protracted war.

(The author is the executive director of Institute for Conflict Management & South Asia Terrorism Portal.)

Cross-border military strike on Pakistan: What should be India’s goals?

What should be the goal of an Indian military cross-border excursion? Many observers, myself among them, do not believe that India presently has the requisite military capability to carry out any strike into Pakistan that would hurt the Pakistani military or degrade the infrastructure of its jihadist allies, while simultaneously staying below Islamabad’s nuclear threshold. There are yet others who argue that such options simply do not exist because any conceivable strike would either be of limited strategic use or would risk escalation of the crisis past the nuclear limit. Or both. However, it is important to be clear about the aims of a cross-border mission before we discuss utility or capability.

Soldiers stand outside the army base in Uri. PTI

Soldiers stand outside the army base in Uri. PTI

One kind of cross-border strike is a precise attack from the air. Presumably, stealth helicopters or fighter aircraft would slip into enemy airspace, unleash their deadly payload of precision-guided munitions, and return before anyone is any the wiser. Critics say that India lacks the material capability as well as training to carry out such missions. However, such high standards for these sorts of operations are achieved only in Hollywood or on games consoles: As ample examples illustrate, real life is a lot messier. In perhaps the most famous and significant case of an airstrike gone awry, in May 1999, the United States air force mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. More recently, according to the United Nations, over 1,250 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in just the past seven years.

The possibility of collateral damage or a failed strike — when the targets have already fled — is always there. Faulty intelligence, bad data, or a fast-evolving situation on the ground is usually to blame. Robert Farley, a professor at the University of Kentucky who studies the American military, explains, “One of the core aspects of air power theory is this idea that with enough reconnaissance, with enough data with enough data crunching, we can paint an extremely hyper-accurate picture of the battlefield that is going to not only eliminate accidental strikes, but it’s going to make it so we can strike directly and precisely.” The situational awareness in reality is never that good, admitted Scott F Murray, a retired US air force colonel who coordinated the US air campaign in West Asia and Afghanistan. While India needs to hone its skills in surgical airstrikes, the benchmark can never be an ideal that has rarely been achieved.

A second option is the targeted assassination or abduction of key figures. Although Israeli operations such as the the one bringing Adolf Eichmann to trial or the series of assassinations carried out in revenge for the massacre of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 come to mind, there are also equally public and painful failures such as the botched job in Lillehammer in 1973 or the failed attempt on Khaled Meshaal in 1997. These operations require global assets and a long-term focus that the Indian political class has simply not been seen to possess.

Yet what is the long-term utility of being able to conduct such operations? As we have seen after every successful US or Israeli counter-terrorism mission, fallen leaders are quickly replaced. For a time, the organisation may lose steam; occasionally, a lack of agreement on a suitable successor may cause a group to splinter, but this makes it even more difficult to keep track of the various new factions. Rarely, if ever, have such operations succeeded in stopping terrorism and yet terror cell leaders constitute high value targets. The elimination of Hafiz Saeed, Dawood Ibrahim, or any other senior terrorist figure may be a national morale booster and morally satisfying but will scarcely dissuade Pakistan from conducting further acts of terrorism against India.

The value of a cross-border strike is not in its potential to resolve conflict — any such expectation is delusional. Rather, it is the assurance of a punitive response, even one that is held back to a time and place of Delhi’s choosing. From a rationalist, state-level perspective, this cycle of strike and counter-strike seems insane. Yet India is not fighting a State but an idea: As Husain Haqqani has argued in his recent book, India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?, the root of the conflict between the two South Asian states is not nationalism but religion. Contrary to popular opinion, Islam did not enter the scene during the rule of Zia ul-Haq but as early as Ayub Khan, who used to pepper his anti-India speeches with Islamic references. Even before Independence, the Urdu poet Asghar Sodai coined the famous phrase (1944) that would go on to become a rallying cry for all sorts of groups in Pakistan to this day: پاکستان کا مطلب کیا لاالہ الا اللہ‎. Unlike states, ideas are more amorphous and resilient to force.

A model that is popularly looked up to in India is Israel. The swift, daring, and decisive actions of not just its intelligence services but also its military are the stuff of legend. However, the real lessons for India come from the pattern of fighting the Israeli Defence Forces have adopted over last 20 years and not its early days. Lieutenant-Colonel Ron Tira (retd) of the Israeli Air Force describes the IDF’s strategy in its last six major engagements as one of attrition in which the aim was to “cause the opponent more damage (quantitatively and qualitatively) than the opponent caused Israel in the same timespan.” The fear of punitive retaliation would, it was hoped, delay the next conflict and restrain the enemy’s ambitions.

The possibility of collateral damage or a failed strike — when the targets have already fled — is always there

This is exactly the strategy Israel previously avoided — against larger, better equipped, and better trained forces of nation-states, the tiny IDF would be no match in the long haul. Against asymmetric forces, however, this strategy allows for resource and risk management. The limited aims and slow tempo of such campaigns allows both sides time for diplomatic signalling and stock-taking. The strategy works, Tira explains, because “Israel faced weak sub-state enemies whose main capabilities lie in inflicting damage, but who do not threaten to defeat the IDF or to capture Israeli territory. In each campaign, the interests defended by the IDF were of secondary importance. In this context, Israel could afford to sustain damage from the opponent, knowing that the opponent at the same time was suffering more substantial damage, without removing the threat or substantially degrading the opponent’s ability to make war.”

The South Asian situation is not identical: Pakistan actively cultivates terrorist networks in a far more direct manner than Arab support comes for the Palestinian disaffected. More importantly, Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons. Yet limited strikes by India, at times without even awaiting a provocation, will force Islamabad to distance itself from or publicly embrace its illegitimate children. It is feared that such action could well raise the heat on the border but the limited nature of these attacks would give Islamabad no credible reason to resort to nuclear blackmail. And why must nuclear anxiety be borne by one side alone and not shared?

Indian leaders must understand the nature of the threat they face and adopt a strategy that is more in tune with the demands of the situation. It may not be as satisfying as precise and decisive strikes or give closure but it is an old art of war.

The fantasy of a silver bullet serves no one.

Indus Waters Treaty: Hold your horses warmongers, a river attack will lead nowhere

Vikas Swarup, spokesperson for the External Affairs Ministry, was suitably cryptic when he mentioned the Indus Waters Treaty on Thursday. “Not everything is spelled out in diplomacy,” he said replying to a question whether India would revisit the treaty to get even with Pakistan. That was cue enough for the war-mongering crowd to visualise a possible Indian post-Uri action on this front.

Swarup clarified later that the government was not contemplating any change in the status quo on the treaty. However, by then the earlier statement had worked up enough excitement to bury the import of the latter.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

No soldiers, no gunfire, no crossing the border, no casualties on our side and no risk – isn’t leaving Pakistan water-starved the best way to teach it a lesson? Thus went the argument. A parched Indus basin, accounting for more than half of the country’s productive area, means a disastrous blow to the country’s economy. Once the economy collapses, the rest will follow. Since we are the upstream country, we can easily stop some rivers in the Indus system from flowing into the neighbouring territory. The Indus Waters Treaty, signed way back in 1960 and not of any significant benefit to India so far, may well be scrapped.

With the government not willing to jump into any rash, poorly thought out move to please them, the desperation among the warmongers is understandable. Subtle diplomacy and silent manoeuvring to choke the enemy is not the style they subscribe to; revenge for them has to be violent, crude and quick. In the immediate absence of any such possibility, they would like India to go for the ‘water treatment’.

There are a few problems with this though. India’s battle is supposed to be with the political and military establishments of Pakistan and the network of terror operatives they back, not against the people of the country in general. A measure like stopping water for agriculture and other uses will hit ordinary people the most and trigger a humanitarian crisis. It might work as a strategy to bring Pakistan on its knees but it would take the moral sheen off India, particularly in the eyes of the international community which the government has managed to wean in its favour after the Uri attack.

Such a measure would amount to directly escalating tension between the countries and precipitate a full-fledged war. The trigger for war, from Pakistan’s perspective, would shift to water, an issue everyone would view with some sympathy unlike Kashmir. In any case, India is not keen on a war right now; it wants to exhaust other option first. If it is then it has a far more potent issue – killing of 18 of its soldiers in a terror attack – to launch an offensive across the border than water.

It’s not easy to break the natural flow of rivers. Any effort towards this will also have consequences for India. The Indian Express quoted Shakil Ahmad Ramshoo, who is the head of Earth Sciences Department in Kashmir University in this context. “Waters cannot be immediately stopped from flowing to Pakistan unless we are ready to inundate our own cities. Srinagar, Jammu and every other city in the state and Punjab would get flooded if we somehow were able to prevent waters from flowing into Pakistan,” he told the paper. India has enough experience of the disaster that playing with the natural course of rivers can invite.

If the article so far makes one sound like a war-fearing, pre-Narendra Modi age animal, even maybe anti-national, here’s an explanation. It is always better to tread on the side of caution rather than be impulsive and foolish. As Sun Tzu, one of the earliest exponents of the art of warfare, would say, “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” To finish, one more from him: “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move fall like a thunderbolt.” Put simply, don’t make your plans a subject of ignorant public discourse. Even cryptic mentions are avoidable.

Hyderabad’s road woes: Government’s tendency to do decorative post-monsoon repairs is real problem

The Neil Armstrongs of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) arrived to inspect the crater that had emerged just 500 metres from chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s office at the Telangana Secretariat in Hyderabad. Within a matter of minutes, the road around the hole started caving in, exposing gushing water underneath.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the state of this arterial road in Hyderabad gives a sense of how the city has caved in under relentless rain in the last three weeks. All its claims of a world-class city gone up in smoke with vehicles floating in the water, homes flooded and residents scampering to retrieve their belongings.

This road that was named after the late NT Rama Rao, was built in the 90s, apparently with World Bank funds. Those maps were quickly brought out with engineers poring over them to see how the road could be repaired. “At this point in time, we cannot even diagnose the problem till the water from the drain that is going into the Hussainsagar lake under this road, is stopped. We are diverting the water,” said an official of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).

Road caves in NTR Marg, Hyderabad. Firstpost/TS SudhirRoad caves in NTR Marg, Hyderabad. Firstpost/TS Sudhir

Road caves in NTR Marg, Hyderabad. Firstpost/TS Sudhir

The municipal authorities blame the elements. In the intervening night of Tuesday-Wednesday, Hyderabad was pummelled by heavy rain, with Qutbullapur on the outskirts recording 16 cm rainfall. GHMC officials likened it to a cloudburst, pointing out that the city’s infrastructure is good enough only to withstand 2 cm rainfall in a day.

The GHMC has as reference the Kirloskar committee report that was commissioned after the floods of 2000. The report submitted in 2003 identified 13500 illegal constructions that had been built over the drains. Thirteen years later, the number has increased to 28000, right under the GHMC nose. What is worse, many of them also pay property tax to the corporation, lending them legitimacy.

Here Hyderabad needs to take a leaf out of Bengaluru’s book. Just like chief minister Siddaramaiah showed the political spine to clear out a large portion of the 2000 storm water rains that run through 857 km in the city, in the face of severe criticism. On the other hand, Telangana ministers cite legal obstacles in clearing the illegal constructions.

As it is the storm water drains were built only for a capacity of 12-20 mm. Now even that much water does not go in, because of the illegal settlers.

GHMC officials say the number of manholes need to be doubled from the present two lakh to four lakh, an exercise that will need a budget of over Rs 1200 crore. Only 15 per cent of the city’s roads has storm water drains alongside which means for the remaining part, there is no outlet for the water to escape.

Within minutes, it becomes larger exposing water gushing under it. Firstpost/TS SudhirWithin minutes, it becomes larger exposing water gushing under it. Firstpost/TS Sudhir

Within minutes, it becomes larger exposing water gushing under it. Firstpost/TS Sudhir

Part of the problem also is because like Bengaluru, Hyderabad has destroyed its water bodies, cutting off the magnificent system of one lake or pond emptying into the other during the monsoon. Jamali Kunta and Shah Hatem Talab are now golf courses while the lake in Uppal houses a residential colony. Other lakes like Anumula Kunta have been converted into public parks developed by the GHMC itself.

It is not as if it is all the present government’s fault. Successive governments have turned a blind eye to cleaning up Hyderabad. In 2005, the then Hyderabad municipal commissioner Sanjay Jaju said it would need Rs 700 crore to implement the recommendations. He said his corporation did not have that kind of money.

In the last two years, the GHMC collected Rs 1063 crore (2014-15) and Rs 1050 crore (2015-16). The bulk of Telangana‘s revenue — roughly Rs 34000 crore — is generated in Hyderabad. The question that will obviously be asked if Hyderabad is indeed Telangana’s jewel, why is it being allowed to wither away like this. It is only natural for the city to expect that a significant part of that revenue will be spent on its infrastructure.

It is not as if Telangana state is a pauper. Its finance minister presented a budget of Rs 1,15,689 crore so ideally there should be no death of funds to take Hyderabad to the next level. The problem is with the government’s tendency to apply a bit of make-up in the form of tarred roads after the monsoon, only for the cracks to show up at the first shower.

The authorities are happy to resolve their never-ending monsoon woes by making good use of technology. They use Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp relentlessly to tell people not to venture out of their homes, whenever it rains. An indication of how badly prepared the city’s managers are.

But you cannot say the Telangana government is blind to its faults. Perhaps the honest admission about the state of Hyderabad’s roads came from the Traffic police’s twitter handle @HYDTP on Wednesday. It said : “Traffic slowdown at Bowenpally Market towards Diamond Point due to road potholes.”

Rafale deal confirmed: An overview of its history and what this means for India

As news broke late Wednesday evening that India and France had finally agreed upon the terms and conditions for the purchase of 36 Rafale jets by the former from the latter, it was probably greeted with relief rather than joy. Dassault, the French aviation company that manufactures the Rafale, had won the tender in January 2012 but had been locked in negotiations with the Indian government over the technical details ever since. When Narendra Modi came to office, he tried to break the impasse and India initiated talks directly with the French government for an inter-government agreement but even that, until just a month ago, seemed to be going nowhere. The conclusion of the deal, to be signed on 23 September, will be a relief to the Indian Air Force as well as Dassault. The first planes will begin to arrive 36 months hence and the entire order will be completed a further 30 months from then.

Representational image. Agencies

Representational image. Agencies

In fact, India’s search for a medium multi-role combat aircraft had begun almost a decade ago in August 2007 when finances finally allowed the IAF to begin replacing its aging fleet of MiGs. Four companies participated in the competition – Saab, Mikoyan, Lockheed and of course, Dassault. The Rafale’s similarities to the Mirage 2000 that the IAF already operated, its lower life-cycle costs, and its naval and nuclear strike variants clinched the deal for Dassault.

Although the deal was originally envisaged to be for 126 aircraft with an option of 74 more, the final agreement has settled around 36 jets. Projected to cost $12 billion in 2012, that figure has also come down to $7.88 billion. However, India has managed to negotiate for several bells and whistles in the smaller deal and it is reported that the agreed upon price is around $750 million less than what the previous government was willing to pay.

Dassault has agreed to make India-specific modifications to the planes, allowing the integration of Israeli helmet-mounted displays. Additionally, MBDA, the European missile manufacturer, will provide Meteor, an air-to-air missile with a beyond-visual-range over 100 km, and Storm Shadow (known as Système de Croisière Autonome à Longue Portée – Emploi Général or SCALP in the French military), an air-launched cruise missile with a range of over 560 km, with the Rafales. Both these acquisitions will significantly improve the reach of the IAF, allowing them to shoot deep into enemy airspace or territory without crossing any international boundaries. Integration of the Brahmos-NG, a smaller version of the Brahmos supersonic missile, will make the Rafale a lethal platform by land or sea.

A complete transfer of technology, including for the Thales RBE2-AA radar and software source code, spare parts, maintenance, training, and a guarantee of 75 percent operational availability for the first five years takes the price of the package up from a base price of $3.8 billion for just the Rafales to the final number. A 50 percent offset agreement obligates Dassault to re-invest half the money from the deal in India again, creating hundreds of new jobs.

India’s decision to buy only 36 planes, barely two squadrons, seems puzzling at first. They will not fill the gap in the IAF’s numbers and nor will the Rafale’s nuclear capability add much to the Indian offensive toolkit. One can only assume that once the first set of jets are delivered, a further order will be placed to augment the existing numbers, including naval variants. This is even more likely if Dassault begins to manufacture in India – with the transfer of technology, it would be easy to domestically ramp up numbers as India has done with the Sukhoi. The Rafale’s primary role is to replace the IAF’s retiring fleet: while the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft is expected to step in at the low end, the Rafale will occupy the mid-level force structure with the expectation that an advanced indigenous descendant of the Tejas or the fifth generation fighter that India is jointly developing with Russia will form the top of the line component.

Immediately, the Rafale is expected to give India the dominant status in the air. Wedded to airborne control systems, the Rafale and its armaments can essentially hit enemy targets while staying out of range of their fighter jets. Though not the essential component of a future cross-border strike, the Rafale can provide the additional firepower if needed. As the IAF’s description of the tender suggests, the Rafale is a multi-role platform that can be deployed for air dominance, ground support, aerial reconnaissance, and nuclear delivery. The Rafale has already been used in all these capacities – except the last, of course – in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, and Iraq and maintained a high operational rate throughout.

Neither the Rafale nor any other weapons system will give the side possessing it the ultimate advantage in battle and such expectations are foolish. Nonetheless, the Rafale, when it arrives, will substantially augment the Indian Air Force’s capabilities in several mission profiles and put India’s hostile neighbours on notice. An additional acquisition of domestically manufactured Rafales post-2021 would buy the Indian defence establishment time to complete its advanced fighter aircraft for the IAF. For an enervated service, the arrival of the Rafales will be a breath of fresh air.

Mumbai’s housing crisis: Redevelopment of clusters to affect city’s ‘livability’, reveals study

Recycling land to create housing stock is one way to solve the housing crisis in Mumbai. With high prices that show no sign of dipping, recycling is all that Mumbai has, being a city constrained by the sea, creeks and other cities bordering them.

Historically Mumbai has been recycling land — from swamps in the past to now demolition of old structures — to put up new towers. In the process, sea has been reclaimed, slums uprooted, and mill lands converted to prime real estate properties. Salt pans are now being eyed. Yet, housing remains scarce and out of reach.

Suburbs like Mulund, once the lowest in per acre population densities, now has malls and residential complexes where the engineering industry has flourished. It’s the same for Thane as well. These areas are as crowded as other parts of Mumbai. The city is bound to keep changing its contours over time. One could hardly complain about it.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

However, what should trouble the city is the manner in which Mumbai has failed to address the housing crisis. Housing has always been an issue because it has grown – not geographically but in population – without let or hindrance. It has grown in population beyond its holding capacity as estimated by the civic body and that had happened in 1991.

No doubt, different ways were tried. There was the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) which enabled Floor Space Index (FSI) to be transferred from one plot to another up to the north, and then allowed across Greater Mumbai. Then there has been frequent tweaking of FSI limits, originally 1 for island Mumbai and 1.5 for suburban Mumbai. Now, it is an FSI of up to 4 that is being considered.

The FSI tweaks has made it possible to rebuild old buildings, since the tenants had the right of occupation and the landlords couldn’t evict them, the lure of enhanced FSI was thought of. It applies for slums too, for without which the real estate developers wouldn’t even look at the prospect of redevelopment. Not profits, but profiteering is their objective.

The FSI, which is actually the space as a multiple of the plot which is allowed to be built, has been tweaked over two dozen times since 1990, and yet enough has not been built to accommodate the shelter-hungry.

A report by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has warned its client, the Mumbai’s municipality, against a high FSI of 4 for redevelopment of clusters.

An impact study, following a high court directive, that was done by NEERI has cautioned that the ‘livability’ of Mumbai would be jeopardised. My contention is that Mumbai never had a ‘livability’ factor – it is more a place of choice for livelihoods than living. Living is just putting up with whatever comes your way, never mind if it was far away from the place of work.

The Indian Express quoted parts of the report, the significant part being, “The suburbs in Mumbai do not fit the classical model of suburbs and are fairly dense habitations. The additional FSI and the mode of its application mean that the areas will increase in density by three times at least. There is a considerable debate on the impact of densification and overcrowding on the social and mental life.”

A lower FSI of 3 has been suggested but that does not preclude the possibility of what the report says is the ‘verticalisation’ of the city where the clusters of buildings are to be redeveloped. The redevelopment is under the Urban Renewal Scheme (URS) brought to the table in 2014. The suburbs which ought to have been low density, low rise, are not that at all. Even some parts of Bandra — ‘the queen of suburbs’ — could be getting close to Kalbadevi in flavour.

The nub is not mere densification of locations, where large-scale redevelopment would take place, which NEERI says could mean addition of up to a third of the existing population, but absence of infrastructure. Roads, drains, water pipelines are the three essentials which are lacking, and even in Mumbai’s most crowded areas like Girgaum, several individual buildings have been redeveloped, adding much to the problems there.

The stress they bring to the area by increased demand for the facilities without adding much to it has to be felt than described. Unlike clusters under URS, these individual redeveloped buildings are on narrow roads which are unlikely to be enlarged anytime soon. The city’s one characteristic has been to speak of providing for the demand without exactly delivering them. It is not clear if in clusters, the infrastructure to bear the additional population would be laid first.

Given the city’s planning and management, it can be taken as a given that the supply of infrastructure would arrive, if it did, at a pace that means nothing to the residents of the redeveloped areas. To the statist bodies, a proposal is equal to something done, not actual delivery on the promises in time. Every Mumbai resident knows it, thanks to their personal experience. And yet, the real estate lobby will push for extra FSI’s, never mind what it means to the city.

The Radicalisation Series: Analysing the threat to Muslim youths in India

The issue of the radicalisation of Indian Muslims is one that has been gaining momentum for a while now. While some continue to swim in the ‘this only happens in other country’ sea of denial, others are beginning to grasp the gravity of the situation and suggesting ways to counter it. In an exclusive four-part series on radicalisation in India, Tufail Ahmad examines a variety of conditions and scenarios that have made it possible to radicalise youths in Maharashtra, Hyderabad, Kerala and indeed, India as a whole. The first part of the series follows:

From early 2014 through this year, the radicalisation of Indian Muslims in favour of the Islamic State (or IS) has not ceased, although intelligence agencies have succeeded in preventing dozens of youths from leaving India to join the jihadi group. A review of media reports over the past three years indicates that the number of affected youths — ie those who left for Syria, others who were stopped from leaving India and counselled, and those under surveillance — is around 350. This figure is on the lower side, but does not take into account the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

Radicalisation is the process of directly and indirectly motivating Muslims to participate in jihadi terror, based on religious teachings and grievance-nurturing by Islamic preachers, the Urdu press and other Islamic media. Radicalisation has always existed in India leading to bomb blasts on many occasions, but that it could pose a serious challenge to the security of India was realised first in mid-2014 when four youths left Mumbai for Iraq and Syria — one of them, Areeb Majeed, returned later from Turkey, where he had ended up for medical treatment after being wounded in Syria.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

From then till now, around a dozen states have witnessed incidents of radicalisation including Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Assam, Punjab (for pro-Khalistan radicalisation), Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In the run-up to Republic Day this year, at least 14 suspects were arrested. In June, five youths were arrested in Hyderabad, leading to two more arrests in July. Around two dozen youths, who were known to each other, left Kerala in early July for Syria. In the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, four youths were arrested in July. The argument here is this: Radicalisation in India has not ceased since 2014, leaving no room for complacency.

Political correctness forces analysts not to see the ideological nature of the jihadi terror. A usual shortcut is to blame the internet for radicalisation. This is contrary to evidence. In the 20th Century when there was no internet, the streets of Lahore looked much like the streets of Paris today. In December 1926, Swami Shraddhanand was killed by Abdur Rasheed, perhaps the first lone-wolf jihadi, for publishing Satyarth Prakash, a book critical of Prophet Muhammad. In 1929, Rajpal of the Rajpal Publisher of Lahore, was killed, much like the editors of Charlie Hebdo magazine and exactly for the same theological reason, by Ghazi Ilmuddin for publishing the book. The Islamist poet Muhammad Iqbal praised him. Hyderabadi leader Asaduddin Owaisi is not the first Muslim leader to offer legal aid to IS suspects. Ilmuddin’s case was defended in court by MA Jinnah.

In modern times, Sufism, supported by the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam, is presented as peaceful. In 1936, Murid Hussain, a Sufi from Chakwal in the present-day Pakistan, went on to kill Dr Ram Gopal after he was visited by Prophet Muhammad in dream. The alleged reason for killing was that an animal was named by Gopal after the prophet. Major Nidal Hasan, who shot dead his colleagues at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, is not the first Muslim soldier to be radicalised. In 1937, Miyan Muhammad of the Indian Army shot dead a Hindu soldier in Karachi. In 1942, Babu Merajuddin killed his Sikh officer Major Hardyal Singh allegedly for questioning the sacrifice of animals on Eid-al-Azha, the feast of sacrifice. Guantanamo Bay is also not the first offshore prison for jihadis. Lone-wolf attackers were sent by British officers to Andaman Islands.

While the Mumbai’s four had left India before Abu Bakr Al-Baghadi declared himself on June 30, 2014 as the caliph of all Muslims, soon his call for all Muslims to perform Hijrah (migration) to the IS in the Iraq-Syria region caught the imagination of youths. Hijrah marks the migration of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina where a large number of people had converted to Islam. It has special connotation in the minds of Muslims. In India, the pattern of Hijrah over the past three years showed two trends: One, Indian Muslim youths based in London, Qatar, the UAE, Afghanista-Pakistan region, Singapore and Australia travelled directly to Syria to join the ISIS; two, some youths left directly from India for Afghanistan, Iran and some West Asian capitals to join the IS or were prevented from boarding flights at Nagpur and Hyderabad, or stopped in Kolkata.

In July 2015, a note prepared by the Home Ministry noted: “As per available intelligence inputs, very few number of Indian youth(s) have joined ISIS after travelling to Iraq and Syria. Further, intelligence/security agencies have foiled the plan of some youth(s) to travel to Iraq/Syria who are under counselling and monitoring at present. A certain number of IS sympathisers are also under surveillance by security agencies.”

A report dated 28 September, 2015, published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, put the number of those under surveillance at 250. As of last July, it appears that the number of Muslim youths arrested over the past three years in different states of India for pro-IS radicalisation is at least 60. Reports in the press indicate that at least 30 Muslims from India could be present in Syria with IS and there are some Indians based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. While the fundamental reasons for radicalisation and justifications for jihad are rooted in Islamic teachings, glorification of Islamic history and grievance mongering, one must bear in mind that the jihadi threat to India emanates also from the rise of jihadi movements in West Asia and the inability of the big powers to stabilise the situation.

Unless that happens, security agencies in India will need to remain alert.

FP-Radicalisation-Series

Stay tuned for the next three parts of the series:

Part Two: Radicalisation of Muslim youths in Maharashtra
Part Three: Radicalisation of Muslim youths in Hyderabad
Part Four: Radicalisation of Muslim youths in Kerala

Tufail Ahmad is a former BBC journalist and the Executive Director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi. He tweets @tufailelif

Section 497 and 498 of the IPC on adultery laws are dusty Victorian remnants

By Amala Dasarathi

Recently, we saw the airing of a law we don’t usually pay attention to: Section 498 of the IPC, which has to do with “enticing” or “taking away” or detaining a married woman — only a married woman — with the intent of “illicit intercourse”. Section 498 was referred to in the media in connection with a case registered by Mumbai police in which a woman, named Nila by the publication, killed herself. She had been raped twice by a man in 2012, but her husband refused to believe that it was rape, accusing her of infidelity. After repeated arguments over the matter, Nila set herself on fire and succumbed to injuries last week. According to a report, police have now registered cases against the rapist and the husband under Sections 376 (rape), 506 (criminal intimidation), 306 (abetment to suicide) and Section 498 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

If Section 498 seems like a dusty Victorian remnant, that’s because it is: it was enacted in 1860. Section 498 goes hand in hand with Section 497, which criminalises adultery. According to Section 497, a man who has sex with a woman “whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery.”

Representational image. Reuters.Representational image. Reuters.

Representational image. Reuters.

On the one hand, sections 497 and 498 discriminate against men, as they only consider men guilty of adultery and liable to prosecution. Section 497 states, “the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.” On the other hand, the laws’ attitude towards women is deeply patronising (if you’re being kind), seeing them as passive objects not unlike property that can be “enticed” or “taken away” — what Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy sees as an example of “benevolent patriarchy”. This disregards women’s sexual choices and agency, and treats the husband as the primary aggrieved party even in a case of rape. Only a husband, or any person in whose ‘care’ a husband has left his wife, can file a case under sections 497 and 498. “These laws are a clear example of how patriarchy operates to the detriment of everyone,” says Nundy.

It is also perplexing that the laws on adultery only criminalise a man having sex with a married woman. The reason for this could lie in the genealogy of the word ‘adultery,’ which finds its root in ‘adulterate’ — to make something impure. It isn’t just the patriarchal language of the two laws that make them such a prickly issue: it’s also that they have been understood by lawyers and courts in a patriarchal, regressive way.

Ranjit, a family lawyer in Delhi who declined to give his last name, says, “It is my personal view that this section exists to protect a woman’s reproductive organs and the lineage of the husband. That is why it only applies to a man who knows that he is having sex with a married woman,” he says, entirely without irony.

In Alamgiri vs State of Bihar, 1958, the Supreme Court found that “The gist of the offence under Section 498 appears to be the deprivation of the husband of his custody and his proper control over his wife with the object of having illicit intercourse with her.” It also said, “The consent of the wife to deprive her husband of his proper control over her would not be material.”
In V Revathi vs Union of India, 1988, as well, the Supreme Court held that the man is always the seducer.

In Yusuf Abdul Aziz vs The State of Bombay, 1954, the constitutionality of Section 497 was questioned on the grounds that it violated gender equality, as promised by Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court found the section to be constitutional. Thirty years later, it came up before the Supreme Court again on the same grounds in Sowmithri Vishnu vs Union of India, 1985. Here, the Supreme Court looked into the meaning and purpose of the law more closely. It said, “It is commonly accepted that it is the man who is the seducer and not the woman.” It also said, “The contemplation of the law, evidently, is that the wife, who is involved in an illicit relationship with another man, is a victim and not the author of the crime,” and that adultery is “an offence against the sanctity of the matrimonial home, an act which is committed by a man, as it generally is.” The Court went on to say, “The legislature is entitled to deal with the evil where it is felt and seen most: A man seducing the wife of another.”

In Ranjit’s experience, the conviction rate in adultery cases is “next to zero, because most cases are filed for the purpose of securing a divorce and are not pursued beyond that.” Referring to the V Revathi and Sowmithri Vishnu cases, Nundy points out, “These patriarchal ideas are somewhat prevalent in those who decide what the law is, whether it will stand the test of constitutional scrutiny, and how it is to be enforced. If these sections (497 and 498) are used at all, it is a problem.”

It is both ironic and tragic in Nila’s case that Section 498 should have been added (likely on behalf of her husband against the rapist) to the list of charges, when it was the addition of her husband’s torture to the ordeal of being raped that drove her to take the extreme step of taking her own life.

The Ladies Finger is a leading online feminist magazine.

Chennai murders are dent in city’s reputation: It’s time for Jayalalithaa to crack the whip

One of the major claims of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa before the recent assembly elections that people seem to have believed was that the law and order situation in the state had improved during her time compared to the previous regime of the DMK. But, the shocking murder of a girl at a train station on Friday and the preceding spate of murders of some lawyers in Chennai have dented her claim and long-standing reputation.

The general impression among Chennaities has always been that Jayalalithaa is good for law and order. Although the statewide NCRB statistics may not be consistent with this trust, there is something visible during Jaya’s rule. Some attribute it to visible policing, as described by a former city police commissioner, while some assume that it is because of the freehand the Police enjoy under Jaya. Earlier this year, Jaya herself had told the assembly that “Tamil Nadu is a haven of peace.” because the police was given full freedom.

Taking pride in improved law and order, she had said: “Public order and incidence of crime are two different things. Though steps to maintain public order are taken, it is not possible to attain a stage where there are no incidences of crime.” She also said that the number of crimes had reduced in her regime.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

But the murder of the girl, Swathi, one of the thousands of young middle class IT professionals that commute to the city’s suburbs for work every day, at a train station in front of several people has breached that apparent calm. The same week also saw the murder of four other women elsewhere in the city. Strangely four lawyers were also murdered before these crimes in separate incidents. According to media reports, the city witnessed 13 murders last month. It’s murder galore in a city that had been peaceful till a few days ago.

Among all the murders, Swathi’s death probably created the maximum impact because the incident provoked the latent fear that middle class families in the city harbour. Her profile was what middle class families in Indian cities aspire for. And that some criminal could just hack her to death and run away without getting caught makes them scared. Jaya has to act tough again and do something really drastic.

The spate of murders certainly shows a lull in the strict policing that the city had witnessed over the last few years. Jaya always spoke about law and order as a priority and the people did believe that she was better than anybody else for a peaceful life. In 2011, law and order was one of her poll-planks and every now and then, she had repeated her claims of improving the situation. For instance, during her last tenure, she took pride in how she busted the land-grabbing syndicates that allegedly operated during the DMK-regime and how she restored lakhs of acres of usurped land to thousands of people.

Interestingly in the recent assembly elections, the DMK also attacked Jaya on her land and order performance. MK Stalin, the number two in DMK, quoted crime statistics to prove that the situation worsened during her period.

Swathi’s case certainly shows that something is amiss.

Even after four days after the crime, the police hasn’t been able to find a breakthrough. All that the media has reported so far has been about the jurisdictional details – that the incident occurred at a train station and hence investigation is the responsibility of the railway police. Reportedly, the city police didn’t take up investigation because of this question of jurisdiction.

What the police, in its cold bureaucratic attitude, overlooked was a total lack of investigative capacity of the railway police and the price of inaction. It should have sou moto taken action and investigated. Reportedly, the police didn’t even reach the crime spot for two hours after the incident although it was right in the middle of the city because it thought the Railways would handle it.

Finally, it took a High Court division bench to intervene. The Court asked the city police to take over and told them that it would monitor the case for a few days. What reportedly prompted the court to take action was the city police commissioner’s statement that railway stations were out of the jurisdiction of the city police.

The inertia of the city police shows that either it has lost its vigil or hasn’t read Jaya’s mind in terms of law and order. It’s a matter of her reputation. It’s also strange that she hasn’t pulled up people responsible for this negligence.

The city needs a crackdown, something drastic. In a knee-jerk reaction to the recent murders, the police has rounded up 150 “rowdies”. Many of them will be kept in jail under the Goonda’s Act, but would that help? It’s hard to crack the deep and time-tested politician-criminal-police nexus, but it has to be at least kept under check.

In 2012, shortly after Jaya came to power, five suspects of a bank robbery were shot dead in Chennai. Human rights activists flayed the incident and some even went to court asking for action against the police. However, both the people and the court sided with the police.

That’s what the fear of crime does to people. With Swati’s death, it seems to have returned.

Lesson from Bihar toppers scam: Students are being taught that life ahead is a jugaad

Two recent developments in the field of school education that have come to light should shatter the belief, if any, that it seeks to groom children by instilling knowledge, discipline, honesty of purpose. One is the undeserving being made “toppers” in Bihar’s Std 12 board examination, and the other is the doling out of 27 marks to over a lakh of students in Punjab so that the number of students who pass nearly doubles.

These “toppers” in the Bihar secondary school examination have been arrested, and one of them has reportedly said, “I only told Papa to get me passed, but they went ahead and made me a topper.” This points to two things: The child knew that such mischief was possible; and the parents not only obliged her, but to give her a better gift.

However, the arrests of the children were unwarranted, because they are the victims, first of parental neglect in not getting them to study, and two, of the system which is so malleable that a student who cannot write an essay beyond “Tulsidas, pranam”, can be so brazenly ranked fully knowing that television crew were bound to land up at the doorstep and ask questions.

Bihar toppers Rubi Rai and Saurabh Sreshtha. News18

Bihar toppers Rubi Rai and Saurabh Sreshtha. News18

The focus has to be on the scamsters, which appears to be so as of now, with arrest of a former MLA, and the Bihar State Education Board chief Lalkeshwar Prasad, his wife, and the principal of the college from where the two students wrote the exam. However, it remains to be seen if the focus will remain on the toppers or a thorough probe into the school education system in Bihar will be done. It had better be the latter as this incident has revealed how rotten the system is.

This is a case of parental neglect and getting false marking with the connivance of officials – there is hardly any other way this could have happened, unless a ‘computer glitch’ is trotted out as the cause. The students may have been lazy and had not studied, or possibly be ignoramuses, but they could hardly be the members of a gang operating the scam.

If her post-arrest version is true, there have been reckless parents, middlemen, and evaluators who willingly fixed the marks. If they thought that it would not be found out one time or the other, they would have been stupid, though subsequent stings have shown that adding undeserved marks is a wide practice. Perhaps that is one reason why students don’t study, apparently unmindful of the consequences as they navigate their lives in future.

Of late, cases of students copying in exams, aided by outsiders, possibly relatives, who pass on chits and pages from books to students inside, have come to the fore. Teachers on duty are lax, even conniving, but the sabotage of education and manipulation of the system is more than evident. Above all, it is a fraud on the students. The probe may reveal the play of money.

Allotting 27 ‘grace’ marks to more than a lakh of students so that the proportion of students who pass goes up from a pitiable 39.5 per cent to 72.25 per cent in the Class 10 school leaving final examination is galling. A year ago, media reports say, a similar step shot the pass percentage from 48.22 per cent to 65.21 per cent. It was less, I would wager, for the students’ benefit as is made out, but more to dress up statistics. It is all about creating illusions of worth.

It is surprising that by these steps, the students are being taught that the undeserving too would get honours, and that life ahead is a jugad, where only money, connections, and clout matter. It seems not to have struck anyone that a disservice is being done to the students, and the education system in the country is being reduced to a farce.

Dalit nurse’s ragging in Karnataka replicates a deeply unequal society

In the 1980s, my parents left Kerala and went to Nigeria in search of work. My father joined a small clinic and my mother found work as a school teacher. Among the many things that they found astonishing about Nigeria, one stuck out quite a bit: nurses were paid nearly as much as doctors. The clinic my father worked in alongside another Indian doctor was owned and managed by a Nigerian nurse. From what I read, that’s no longer true in Nigeria. However, it is true that nurses in the US and UK have inched way up the pay scale. One, because there’s a severe shortage of primary care doctors in these countries and two, because nurses can get intense and specialised training. Nurses can diagnose, order tests and prescribe medicines. This is not without controversy because even with the facts in front of them, doctors are unable to wrap their heads around the possibility that nurses could admit patients into hospital, provide primary care and most importantly, earn as much as doctors. One American commentator described the results of a national consultation in the US on this issue as revealing an ‘interplanetary gulf’ between doctors and nurses.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

As we all know, the word ‘gulf’ (forgive the pun) has happier connotations for nurses in India. The possibility of immigration is often the only happy connotation about being a nurse. A couple of years ago when I spoke to Malayali nurses who had been airlifted from war-torn Libya and who were making plans to return to Tripoli, it became clear to me that money was only one of the many reasons they had their bags packed. A senior paediatric surgical nurse complained to me that it was bad enough that she was being paid less than Rs 3,500 per month in Kerala but what she couldn’t bear was that she wasn’t allowed to maintain her high standards and pride in her work. So she was going back to Libya, war or no war.

A medical education is no guarantee that you can transcend caste and gender prejudices in India, as the spate of suicides of Dalit students in medical colleges have demonstrated. And that’s if your medical education makes you a doctor. But if your medical education is training you to be a nurse, the difficulties begin when you are a student and never really stop, as it does for doctors. In India, nurses are almost always women, often women from poor and difficult backgrounds and very often from Kerala. With great optimism, a sense of adventure and mighty bank loans driving them, these young women enter colleges where the first attempt to break them takes place. This week, a young Dalit nursing student from Kerala almost died when her seniors forced her to drink bathroom cleaning solution in Kalaburgi, Karnataka. But nursing students don’t only face violence from seniors hiding behind cute words like ragging. Since May, protests have been on at the School of Nursing in SCB Medical College, Cuttack after an Adivasi student was harassed and physically abused by casteist faculty.

Nursing education in India at its best holds back professional women from their full potential and at its worst replicates a deeply unequal society. While nurses in India have the ambition to work as leaders in healthcare, they continue to be seen as servants or secretaries of doctors and patients. They are paid less, respected less and suffer terrible restrictions in private hospitals, including the common practice of their certificates being held by hospital administration to prevent their leaving or striking — bonded labour for urban India. Over the last decade, the Nurses Welfare Association of India in Delhi has worked on over 5,000 cases of nurses struggling to get their certificates back from their employers. Some hospitals think it’s perfectly normal to tell nurses to take different elevators from doctors.

Often, what a consultant charges a patient for a total of 20 minutes (across four appointments/fleeting visits to your hospital bed) is what a nurse gets paid for a month full of 12-hour days. What does it mean about our society that we want to pay the people who pay careful attention to our bodies and minds round the clock a fraction of what we pay those who barely know our names before they take life-changing decisions on our behalf?

India’s nurse shortage is estimated to be 2.4 million. Given that the number of nurses has actually dropped over the years (most estimates say that India had 1.65 million nurses in 2009 but in 2015 had 1.56 million). Devi Shetty, the cardiologist and founder of the Narayana Health chain of hospitals, said 50 percent of hospitals would have to shut down in 5 years if this shortage continues. But in a country where the number of working women has also dropped, what would it take to persuade more women to take up the emotional and physical labour of caring for people with add-ons of sexist and casteist contempt? The next time you are in a hospital, see if the job of giving the patient a bedpan or bathing a patient too fragile to move is demarcated by the institution as too lowly even for nurses and is handed over to the janitorial staff without training them for it? What does that say about the institution?

Those with insights about the future of healthcare (Devi Shetty is one) have in the past recommended vastly rehauled education and training for nurses in India. And certainly, more degrees and more pay will help a little. But not enough. Not unless we learn to cross the metaphorical gulf and think that people, female people, who do any form of care-taking are not automatically inferior.

It’s not enough to call them Sister when you actually mean Loser.

The Ladies Finger is a leading online feminist magazine.

If Swamy is so against ‘anti-nationals’, he should target Venkaiah Naidu

If Subramanian Swamy, BJP’s maverick leader, wants to target someone who has acted against the interests of the Indian economy and the country, he has good reasons to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Parliamentary affairs minister, Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu.

This is something Swamy should do if he agrees with Modi that foreign direct investment (FDI) is the need of the hour for this country.

After liberalising norms for FDI across several sectors on Monday, and after doing so for the second time in the past year, it was Modi who tweeted that the reform measures make India the most open economy in the world for FDI, boosting employment.

The FDI amendments will promote ease of doing business as there will now be 100 per cent FDI under the government approval route for trading, including e-commerce for food products manufactured or produced in India, the prime minister said.

Does Swamy agree with Modi, the prime minister, under whose party leadership he is a Member of Parliament now?

It is doubtful, since in the past, Swamy has spoken out against FDI in retail. But, if he has changed his views to support FDI, he should be out to sack the party’s senior leader and Union minister Venkaiah Naidu, who had vehemently opposed FDI when the BJP was in Opposition.

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Venkaiah Naidu leads a protest against FDI in November 2012 when the BJP was in the Opposition at the Centre. Image credit: BJP official website

As seen in the picture above, it was Naidu, who was also former BJP president, who led a protest in Hyderabad on 21 November, 2012 where the placard shows the slogan: “Demolish FDI and save India”.

If Swamy can target RBI governor Raghuram Rajan for allegedly being loyal to US soil and for being “mentally half-Indian”, and then train his guns at chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian who allegedly acted against Indian pharma companies back in 2013, why not target Naidu, who blocked FDI — something that was very much needed to “generate employments” and “transform the economy”? Shouldn’t the law that guides Swamy to act against those acting against national interest apply to all?

Or for that matter, why not Modi himself?

In a tweet on 5 December, 2012, Modi himself tweeted against the UPA-government’s move to welcome FDI by accusing the Congress of giving the nation to foereigners.

This, going by the Swamy logic, is an act that has gone against the national interests and Modi should be sacked from the prime minister’s post for doing this in the past? And why not Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who when in Opposition, said he would oppose FDI in retail till his final breath. Last Monday, one of the segments that was opened up by the Modi government was 100 percent FDI was food retail.

There is no word as ‘politricks’ in the dictionary. But, a random search on the internet will fetch you the meaning: A word that refers to empty promises made by politicians that vapourise after elections.

If one takes the freedom to expand the meaning of ‘politricks’, it can also include the tricks employed by politicians who dramatically take U-turns on their stance on crucial issues when they change sides in a power game. In other words, something a political party vehemently protested against in the past when in Opposition, becomes a virtue when it comes to power.

The latest example of ‘politricks’ is in the BJP camp.

The new found love of the BJP for FDI makes one feel a sense of awe at the positive attitude of the party to foreign investments.

Now, if Swamy doesn’t share Modi’s love for FDI and being proud of the fact that the country is now the ‘most open economy for FDI’ in the country and instead, thinks that FDI is bad for the country, that would mean that Swamy is acting against the thinking of the government to which he has sworn allegiance, but in the interest of the RSS lobby, which is against the FDI move.

The RSS-affiliated Swadeshi Jagran Manch has already termed Modi-government’s FDI norms in various sectors as a “betrayal” of people’s trust saying it said will spell a “death knell” for local businessmen. If Swamy agrees with them, that would confirm the theories of the anti-Modi RSS lobby that is gaining ground in the government.

Over to you, Mr Swamy.

Govt schools struggle with poor facilities, unskilled teachers and high dropout rates

The Times of India, on Monday, reported that 27,000 of the 75,489 schools in Karnataka had three or fewer classrooms. Quoting provisional figures for 2015-16 released by the District Information System for Education (DISE), the report said that this was because of the government policy of determining the number of classrooms through the number of teachers in each school.

The DISE has revealed in its report that while 10,592 schools in Karnataka had three classrooms, 14,064 had two classrooms, 2,083 had one classroom and 164 schools had no classrooms at all. The DISE data is collated by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NEUPA), Delhi, established by the HRD ministry.

A couple of months ago, Bangalore Mirror reported, quoting DISE figures again that an estimated 48.87 percent school teachers in Karnataka were not even graduates. Of the 4.25 lakh teachers in Karnataka’s urban and rural schools, 2,08 lakh teachers do not have a graduate degree, of which some 3,000 teachers had passed below secondary school, 63,000 secondary and 1,42 lakh higher secondary. According to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, schools should have graduate teachers in upper primary schools and higher secondary teachers in primary schools.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Statistics don’t lie and lack of qualified teachers is a problem in most schools, both private and government schools. This is because teaching has always been the last career option for most young people. When every other job, including a call centre job is more lucrative and attractive, why would a young person graduating out of college choose teaching? A teacher’s salary is far better now, yet, it is not a young graduate’s first choice.

And when teachers get posted to rural schools, it’s a known fact they will either go on leave or apply for a transfer immediately. A rural government school that I visited some time ago, I found that the teacher was not only handling a combined age group in a single classroom, but she was also disgruntled and exhausted. “I have applied for a transfer back to the city, I am waiting for it to come through.” She told me that she cooked the family meal, got her own children ready for school in the morning, before taking the bus to commute for two hours to reach the school, where she worked.

However, what also ails our government schools is the dropout rate. Educationists, find it very difficult to retain children in schools, more so in secondary school, especially when these children start earning money outside school through petty jobs. When this money takes care of their needs and also helps in supplementing the incomes of their families, their interest in school withers. No talk about bettering their prospects by working hard at school, so that they can land a job works with them, for these children are already earning for themselves. The dropout rate is also high among girls once they reach puberty, as many rural government schools don’t even have decent toilets.

The International Center for Peace and Development has found that early childhood education in India was subject to two extreme, but contrary deficiencies. “On the one hand, millions of young children in lower income groups, especially rural and girl children, comprising nearly 40% of first grade entrants never complete primary school. Even among those who do, poorly qualified teachers, very high student-teacher ratios, inadequate teaching materials and outmoded teaching methods result in a low quality of education that often imparts little or no real learning. It is not uncommon for students completing six years of primary schooling in village public schools to lack even rudimentary reading and writing skills.”

A neighbourhood government school in Bengaluru, where I volunteer my time has a similar issue. Secondary school children lack rudimentary English reading and writing skills, skills that are needed even if they go out looking for a salesperson’s job in one of grocery chains or a mall. The principal of the school, requested me to run Std 8 and 9 classes to teach the students basic English reading and writing skills so that they would do better in their boards. But she also advised me to conduct these classes midweek.

“Keep your sessions during the mid-week, as the dropout rate is highest on Mondays and Fridays.” I followed her advice, but was hard pressed to find more than 25 to 30 children on a Wednesday afternoon in a combined Std 8 and 9 class.

Arresting dropout rate should be our primary aim, rather than worrying about whether the schools have enough classrooms or not. If the school has a low turnout, it makes better sense to run combined classes for the same age-group of early graders, middle graders, tweens/teens and young adults.

It’s not only classrooms and teachers our government schools in the country lack, they lack basic infrastructure too. The DISE report finds that 30% to 40% of even the available classrooms is in need of serious repair work. Computers donated to government schools by IT companies as part of their CSR programme, often sit unused in the principal’s room, because there are no teachers to teach the students how to use them.

In the neighbourhood government school I volunteer, there are more than enough classrooms and the school located in a prime locality, has a large playground too. But the benches the children sit on, are broken and cracked in several places, some don’t even have back support and many have dangerous nails sticking out of the sides. Last year, the school had not received notebooks even three months after the school had opened. “We have the teachers, but how do we conduct classes, they have no notebooks to write their notes on,” used to be the principal’s plaint.

Meanwhile, while we can spend hours debating about the lack of infrastructure, low turnout, unqualified teachers, and general poor quality of education in urban and rural government schools, it appears as though the private schools have them all. Not really. They’ve the infrastructure and the prestige and a high turnout of students. But many of the classrooms in these schools are overcrowded and also have a skewed student/teacher ratio. Teachers are called upon to handle anywhere between 40 to 50 children in a classroom. Worse still, the children, even in primary school, are pitted against each other in a cut throat competitive environment.

Yes, nation building definitely needs a skilled workforce, which the private schools are excellent in providing, but should it be at the cost of childhood?

But that’s a debate for another day.

Raghuram Rajan’s impending US return is the biggest irony of our times

Ajaz-Ashraf_InvitationAjaz-Ashraf_InvitationThe author is a journalist in Delhi. His novel The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and is available in bookstores

The departure of Raghuram Rajan from the Reserve Bank of India, and eventually from the country as well, is arguably the most telling irony of our times.

This is so because for now nearly 30 years, Indian leaders have been feting Non-Resident Indians, particularly those in the US, for their brainpower and stellar achievements, and holding out an open invitation to them to contribute to the Great Indian Story. But when one who belongs to the breed of brainy Indians, such as Raghuram Rajan, decides to return home to assist in its rise, he discovers the system deeply frustrating. It allows little autonomy for creativity, places premium on machinations, and is stuck in the rut made by the political bosses.

Rajan’s exit from the RBI, and India, is voluntary only in form. He has been hounded into returning to academia in the US. To NRIs, his experience sends an ominous message — you can return to India only at your own peril.

Obviously, many of us will say who wants these NRIs to return, overbearing as they are, having a sense of entitlement, lacking in empathy for and patience with the Indian way of managing affairs.

We will say the professional American ambience has spoilt and made them querulous. That having earned their dollars, they have descended on us in a show of condescending charity.

To these familiar cribs, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has added his own — that Rajan, not having the Indian mindset, was unsuitable for the post of RBI governor!

These arguments are hypocritical given India’s history of wooing NRIs.

For nearly three decades, as some in India began to speak alarmingly about the phenomenon of brain drain, our leaders took to pointing to its benefits. In 1985, on his first official visit to the US, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi said the migration of professional talent from India wasn’t a brain drain but ought to be looked upon as a brain bank. The implication of his statement was that no matter where the Indian professional was located, or whichever country’s citizen he might be, he or she could be relied upon to contribute to India’s progress.

Rajan fitted Rajiv’s definition to a T: A top-notch economist, he was willing to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring the Indian economy didn’t go off the rails.

Rajiv’s redefinition of the brain-drain theory has been built upon over the years, not the least by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On his tours abroad, Modi often delineates to NRI crowds the steps has taken to usher in a style of governance which they could take pride in. It is Modi’s way of telling NRIs that he is addressing issues that “push” Indians to settle abroad.

File image of RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. Reuters

File image of RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. Reuters

Rajan’s departure shows we are still far away from reaching that goal.

It can always be argued that the RBI governor ought not to flout the wishes of a democratically-elected government, which is answerable to the people. Rajan was deemed to have gone on a course in defiance of the government’s preferences.

Regardless of the tenability of this argument, what is unbecoming of the government — and, therefore, by extension, India — were the underhand tactics employed to pressure Rajan into throwing up his hands in frustration. You had Swamy and other BJP ministers firing tweet-missiles against Rajan almost daily, calling him R3, and suggesting the RBI’s decisions were motivated because it was headed by one who has a non-Indian mindset. As far as Swamy goes, the defining feature of the Indian mindset is to show fervour for demolishing mosques.

The Modi government neither wished to grant Rajan an extension nor did it want to become the first-ever dispensation to deny a sitting RBI governor a five-year run. This is perhaps why the prime minister never unequivocally expressed his disapproval of these attacks on Rajan, hoping he would lose his nerve and leave.

For NRIs, though, the government’s tactics of getting rid of Rajan will only reinforce their fears of India’s political class. It is a dominant tendency among NRIs to blame it for the ills plaguing India. In their eyes, the Indian neta lacks vision, nurtures corruption, promotes cronyism, serves his or her interests than the society’s, and expects officials to toe his or her line.

Those who don’t are summarily shown the door or, as has been the case with Rajan, left with no option but to leave.

Rajan’s refusal to adhere to the government’s line on the economy was just one problem. The other was that it wasn’t imagined that he would air his views on the rising social conflict in India, or bat for free speech and importance of tolerance, or invoke Adolf Hitler to warn against the disastrous consequences of authoritarian tendencies.

In India, over the years, there is consensus on who can express dissent without incurring the system’s wrath. The mainstream Opposition parties certainly can. As can also activists, the media, and intellectuals to a degree, beyond which they are dubbed ‘Left radicals’ or incorrigible naysayers or, as has become the norm over the last two years, anti-national.

Certainly a person drawing salary from the Consolidate Fund of India is presumed not to have temerity to express differences with his or her political masters. On this count, Rajan cut a swathe uniquely his, perhaps certain — unlike, say, bureaucrats — that he had another calling to which he could return in case of a severe blowback.

Nevertheless, the blowback against his propensity to speak out won’t make the academicians and professional leaders among NRIs feel confident about India. Regardless of whether they subscribe to the Left-liberal or Right ideologies, a good many of them believe frank debates help a nation strike a right stance on myriad issues.

More than anything else, Rajan will become an argument that the educated middle class will remember at the time of taking a decision to settle in the US or return to India. Perhaps every third middle class family in the four metros has a relative in the US, or is planning to go there, explaining much of India’s romance for the US.

Partly, their migration is on account of push factors — for instance, the competition to get into quality educational institutions has become increasingly tough. Partly, it is because of pull factors – higher remunerations, better working conditions, a more comfortable lifestyle, and a climate conducive for research.

Rajan is typically the Indian middle class boy who has come good. His father was an Indian Police Service officer who was subsequently drafted into India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Rajan completed his school from Delhi Public School, RK Puram Branch, got into IIT, and did management from IIM-Ahmedabad before winging it to the US, where he became professor of finance at the prestigious University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

He is credited to have predicted the financial meltdown much before it hit the world in 2007. He also became the youngest ever chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. For all his achievements abroad, Rajan continues to hold the Indian passport.

To middle class parents, Rajan will become the latest example which will inspire them to encourage their children to try for an education abroad and settle down there. As NRIs, they may be considered a deposit in our brain bank, but one which we might find hard to draw upon and use for India.

Raghuram Rajan’s exit isn’t the big issue, his unfinished agenda certainly is

Yatish-Rajawat_Invitation

The author is a policy commentator based in New Delhi. He tweets @yatishrajawat

Everything that has to be analysed about Raghuram Rajan and his departure has been done. It is not the departure of the man that is the issue, but the unfinished agenda or the challenge that this country faces which is the issue.

An articulate and a contrarian as a RBI governor is a rarity but as with all other things we focus on the person more than the process. We focus on the personality and forget the system behind it. Which is why we do not build institutions but flaky heroes — who break away at the first sign of pressure.

Rajan’s departure is unconventional as the man — this is the same person who criticised Manmohan Singh and his government for its failure to reform the system. A few weeks before he was appointed governor, Rajan as a speaker to celebrate 20 years of reforms, spoke disparagingly about the government’s efforts. He was not known to be politically correct then nor is he now, although as a governor he did become much more careful.

He is known to be correct, and his claim to fame was he predicted the subprime crash.

He wrote that banks by their nature and size become risk averse and lend to the safest borrower. As a governor was he able to diversify the lending practices of the banks and increase their lending base. As an academician, he knew all the problems and he even had a solution to a some of them. Has he been successfully in implementing those solutions, reforming the system in a way that he lectured?

File image of RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. Reuters

File image of RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. Reuters

If Rajan was to evaluate his own performance, how will he rate himself? Did he fulfil the mandate he was given? When he looks back at his time as governor, will he see it with satisfaction or as an opportunity squandered?

Much more important, is if we move away from the person and actually look at the issues and challenges facing the financial system and the economy. It would give this debate a better structure.
We have a dysfunctional banking system. Not only is it saddled with bad debts and poor balance sheets, it is also unable to diversify its lending base nor give credit where it is needed most. I wrote about the banks’ inability to lend to the MSME sector here. Rajan started the process of unbundling NPAs, created a system for delinking decision-making from banks to a committee.

Will this process of pressure on promoters to repay their loans continue with the new governor or will the political and bureaucratic alliance short circuit it? To understand the process of NPA classification and redressal I would recommend compulsory reading of Deputy Governor R Gandhi’s speech delivered in September 2015. It shows the systemic change that has been institutionalised for NPAs, but as everyone knows, it does not take long for the system to be dismantled.

For the first time, promoters at all levels were worried about their loans, they were asked to divest their assets and debt-restructuring was a process, not a decision. Even large corporate houses that had taken loans for diversification were not safe. The very contours of crony capitalism were questioned. This process is not complete and it is important that the system be allowed to function.

Mandarins at the Ministry of Finance, if supported by their political masters, can find a way around any system and this is the issue that has to be kept under scrutiny post-Rajan. Mandarins at the ministry did not make it easy for the current or even the past governor to function. Even though, Rajan’s predecessor was a bureaucrat and bent when he was asked to bow, he did not have an easy time. Rajan’s departure also shows that he did not want to fight the system, the bureaucrats or the politicians anymore. His resignation is clearly a sign of giving up against insurmountable odds.

This is something that will surely bother him as his legacy is poorer because of it.

The governor’s job is as much about politics as economics, the political establishment comes with a corporate lobby towards whcih even the bureaucratic establishment veers. It is the governor’s job to distinguish what is important for the country and what the political establishment wants it to do. To have a yes man at the governor’s post is a sure sign for disaster, because a weak individual will always bend faster than is needed and more than is required.

The agenda that Rajan set has not changed our financial system, which is still not out of the woods.

It will be fallacious if the establishment does not recognise this and appoint a strong governor again.

Were it not for Nehru, India would have been a UNSC member, global power already

If their recent records in office are any indication, the BJP and the Congress, despite their serious differences on many issues, agree on three important foreign policy goals.

1) India becoming a permanent power in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC),
2) India gaining global legitimacy as a nuclear power even if it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
3) India emerging as a major global power, particularly in what is now called the Indo-Pacific region.

In fact, Indian diplomats, whether under Manmohan Singh or under Narendra Modi, have been striving very hard towards the realisation of these three goals.

However, it is great irony that all these three goals were eminently realisable in the past. In fact, all the three exalted statuses that India wants to have (rather, deserves to have) were offered to India on a platter by the then-powerful nations of the world soon after the country’s Independence; but then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru refused them on what appears in retrospect, dubious grounds.

Representational image. AP

Representational image. AP

The Nehruvian thoughts that overwhelmingly dominate our intelligentsia and political class never questioned Nehru’s foreign policy decisions; but now things are changing. It is not that Nehru’s decisions on those three issues were not known before. What happened in the past was that whenever and whoever tried to bring them into public parlance, the dominant Nehruvites ridiculed them and justified Nehru’s decisions. As a result, a majority of Indians do not know that but for Nehru, India would have been a permanent member of the UNSC, a legitimate nuclear power and a leading global power in the 1950s.

It is against this background that former foreign secretary MK Rasgotra’s assertion while releasing his new book “A Life in Diplomacy” at Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) early this week that former US president John F Kennedy offered India all the help to detonate a nuclear device much before China did it in 1964, assumes significance. According to Rasgotra, had Nehru accepted Kennedy’s offer, it “would have deterred China from launching its war of 1962 and even imparted a note of caution to (Pakistan’s) Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s plans for war in 1965”.

Rasgotra said, “Kennedy, who was an admirer of India’s democracy and held its leader Nehru in very high esteem, felt that democratic India, not Communist China, should be the first Asian country to conduct a nuclear test”. However, Nehru turned down Kennedy’s handwritten letter in which the offer was made. In fact, had India exploded the device in the early 1960s with American help, it would have easily become an original signatory to the NPT that legitimises nuclear weapons in the hands of those countries which went nuclear before 1968. And as a member of the NPT, we would have effortlessly entered the nuclear associations like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Similarly, take the case of the permanent membership in the UNSC. In 1950, none other than the US wanted to see India joining the Security Council in the place of the nationalist China. After the Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949, the then Chinese president Chiang kai Shek had fled to the island of Taiwan. The Communist China was not recognised as a UN member and Chiang’s government was deemed to be representing the whole of China (this status continued till 1971 when following the normalisation of relations between the US and Communist China, thanks to the then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Beijing entered the UN and Taipei was pushed out). Chiang kai Shek was also agreeable to this proposition.

In fact, Anton Harder, whose PhD thesis in London School of Economics was on “Sino-Indian relations from 1949-1962,” has revealed the then Indian ambassador to the US Vijaylaxmi Pandit’s letter to her brother Nehru. She wrote:  “One matter that is being cooked up in the State Department should be known to you. This is the unseating of China as a permanent member in the Security Council and of India being put in her place. I have just seen Reuters‘ report of your answer to the same question. Last week I had interviews with (John Foster) Dulles and (Philip) Jessup, reports of which I have sent to (Girija Shankar) Bajpai (the then foreign secretary). Both brought up this question and Dulles seemed particularly anxious that a move in this direction should be started. Last night I heard from Marquis Childs, an influential columnist of Washington, that Dulles (US secretary of state) has asked him on behalf of the State Department to build up public opinion along these lines”.

Nehru’s response within the week was unequivocal: “In your letter you mention that the State Department is trying to unseat China as a permanent member of the Security Council and to put India in her place. So far as we are concerned, we are not going to countenance it. That would be bad from every point of view. It would be a clear affront to China and it would mean some kind of a break between us and China. I suppose the State Department would not like that, but we have no intention of following that course. We shall go on pressing for China’s admission in the UN and the Security Council. “

In other words, rather than India’s case, Nehru, in his zeal for “Asian unity”, went out of way to espouse the cause of China’s entry in to the United Nations. So much so that he rejected in 1955 a similar offer, this time from the Soviet Union. Soviet premier Nikolai Bulganin had suggested to Nehru that Moscow would propose India as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council, and thus not at the cost of China. But as Sarvepalli Gopal in his biography of Nehru (1979) has mentioned, “He (Nehru) rejected the Soviet offer to propose India as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council and insisted that priority be given to China’s admission”.

In fact, Nehru has been quoted to have said: “Perhaps Bulganin knows that some people in the US have suggested that India should replace China in the Security Council. This is to create trouble between us and China. We are, of course, wholly opposed to it. Further, we are opposed to pushing ourselves forward to occupy certain positions because that may itself create difficulties and India might itself become a subject to controversy. If India is to be admitted to the Security Council, it raises the question of the revision of the Charter of the UN. We feel that this should not be done till the question of China’s admission and possibly of others is first solved. I feel that we should first concentrate on getting China admitted.”

Just imagine what Nehru did for China and how China has responded to Indian gestures — border war in 1962 and now diplomatic war to prevent India getting in the NSG!

That brings me now to the last point: India’s deserved position as a great power in the Indo-Pacific region.

It may be noted here that given India’s civilisational links in Southeast Asia and its moral and material contributions towards the decolonisation movements in the region including China and Korea, countries like the Philippines and Malaysia had openly suggested in the 1950s that New Delhi should play the leadership role in the region. Following the Baguio (in the Philippines) Conference in 1949, which was attended by India, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Ceylon, Carlos Romulo, the trusted lieutenant of the Pilipino President Quirino, who was in charge of organising the Conference, had said in New York that “I want India to realise that the proposed (Pacific) Union is only a continuation of the Asian Conference and nothing more. The Philippines was taking up where India had left off and the Asian Union, according to Romulo, was supposed to work under the Indian leadership, for ‘India was the strongest and most enlightened nation of Asia today’.”

Many Southeast Asian countries thought that Indian influence, in combination with Japan and Australia, would prove reassuring to small and vulnerable states, especially when the western powers, particularly Great Britain, had indicated their withdrawal from the region. They perceived India as an alternative to the entanglements with major powers, such as the traditional Cold War powers of Russia and the US or the resurgent powers of China and Japan. This is because, India, unlike other powers, had not sought a military base in the region; nor had it attempted ideological or physical invasions of the region. In addition, Southeast Asian countries did not have any outstanding territorial disputes with India as opposed to those over the Spratly Islands with China.

But all this did not impress Nehru.

And it so happened during the subsequent years when the Cold War was intensified, India lost the war with China and India inched towards the Soviet bloc, these very countries — Asean nations, Australia, Japan, and the US — started seeing India negatively.  It was only after the end of the Cold War and advent of the PV Narasimha Rao government in the 1990s that things started changing and some basic features of Nehruvianism were challenged.

Better late than never!

Narendra Modi’s promises in US Congress will be questioned back home  

The 45-minute speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the joint session of the US Congress, acknowledged with 10 standing ovations and 69 rounds of applauses, is one of his best so far.

This will go down in history with the Wembleys and Madison Square Gardens. It also tells us why Modi is one of the finest orators India has ever seen and an expert PR strategist. The prime minister has evolved his own method of conquering an international audience despite his perceived imperfections in the use of the English language.

The best way to win the confidence of your audience, particularly in a foreign soil, is to praise them. Praise them abundantly and do so again and again, till they fall flat on your feet. Commend their success and the good things they have done in the past for us. Keep mum on the perils and pain they have inflicted on us. Hence, Modi has done well by praising the US as a great democracy that has stood with India during the needy hours and pretending to ignore how the US has covertly funded terrorism in the region, particularly in Pakistan, that has always found its way across the border to Indian army posts and terrorist camps. It’s statesmanship.

Modi’s 45-minute speech was a success.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. PTI

It touched upon a range of critical issues of bilateral cooperation between the world’s ‘largest and oldest democracies’ in the areas of energy security, terrorism, climate change and on the need to revamp international institutions (read as the UN) to meet the needs of present-day society situations. The hardened audience of the US Congress, including the US vice-president Joe Biden, responded to every word Modi spoke and acknowledged the prime minister’s observations with standing ovations and prolonged applauses — a feast for our eyes.

The attention Modi commands internationally, especially in the US where his bromance with his ‘friend Barack’ is now part of the local folklore, will make every Indian excited. That is especially so when one compares the prime minister with some of his predecessors who were men of few words and relatively low profiles. It doesn’t appear to make any difference to Modi whether he is speaking to the elite, hardened politicians of US Congress or an NRI crowd in Wembley. He does it the same way as he addresses a political rally in Patna. Also, it doesn’t bother him that the same country treated him as an outcast a few years ago and denied him entry.

Time heals everything.

During his 45-minutes extempore speech, there wasn’t a moment of unease.

“For my government, the Constitution is its real holy book. And, in that holy book, freedom of faith, speech and franchise, and equality of all citizens, regardless of background, are enshrined as fundamental rights,” Modi said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. PTI

Back home, this statement from Modi would have caught one group of filmmakers by surprise and a few dead souls turn in their graves, for they lost their lives for the same words of which Modi spoke — freedom of faith and speech.

As Modi spoke, a section of filmmakers were fighting for the same ideals of freedom of speech and art. On Wednesday, a group of film industry workers led by director, Anurag Kashyap, said they will fight in court against the decision of Censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani, in order to exhibit the film Udta Punjab, the theme of which is the drug menace and lawlessness in Punjab. The artists said this was an attack on their freedom on creativity.

A review committee under Nihalani, who is proud to call himself a ‘Modi Bhakt’ or ‘Modi chamcha’ has asked the makers of the film to remove the word Punjab from the dialogues, acknowledge that the Modi government is fighting the drug menace in the state and cutting close-up scenes of characters in the film injecting drugs into their body. In all, there are 89 cuts the Censor board has ordered in the film, stating that the film maligns the name of the state of Punjab. Surely, Kashyap would not be too amused to hear about the freedom of expression part in Modi’s speech.

Neither would the souls of three liberal, rational writers/thinkers, MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar who were killed in the past two years. Left-wing politician and writer Pansare was shot on 16 February, 2015 in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, while Dabholkar was murdered on 20 August, 2013, in Pune. Kalburgi, a Kannada writer, was shot dead on 30 August, 2015, in Dharwad district in Karnataka. Last year, another Kannada writer, KS Bhagawan too received death threats from a right-wing group that threatened him for his controversial comments on the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Instances of religious hostility (including the beef-killings) and frequent attacks on freedom of expression have indeed cast a shadow on the same values and ideals of which Modi spoke in the US Congress and the ten standing ovations and 69 round of applauses do not seem to erase the ignominy on India’s civil society by a series of such incidents.

The very fact that the Central Bureau of Investigation suspects a link between the killings of three liberal thinkers, show that there is indeed reason for concern or concluding that such incidents are not mere coincidence.

Modi’s stance on the freedom of expression and faith is challenged in the US itself.

Recently, a Congress-mandated US Commission for International Religious Freedom’s annual report had claimed that in 2015 India was on a “negative trajectory” as far as religious freedom is concerned. Religious tolerance “deteriorated” and religious freedom violations “increased”, the report noted. Recently, US senator Ben Cardin, who is also on the Senate’s foreign relations committee, had attacked Modi ahead of the latter’s US visit saying India still needs to address issues of extrajudicial killings, human rights, religious intolerance, forced labour and human trafficking.

The prime minister has indeed pulled off another massively successful performance, this time in the ‘temple’ of the world’s oldest democracy. The respect and attention Modi has commanded will make every Indian feel proud and will benefit the country if the promises on the $45 billion in investment and commitments on civil nuclear cooperation translate to action and the US aids India’s claim to a stronger position in the UN.

But, the veracity of Modi’s claims on freedom of faith, speech and franchise that he ascribed to the ‘holy book’ will be questioned back home.

Watch: Turn against cops, Hizbul Mujahideen chief Wani tells Kashmiri youths

Wearing a black combat vest over a white T-shirt with automatic weapons adoring the background wall, the young Hizbul Mujahideen Commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, once again rattled the security grid in Jammu and Kashmir with his latest video in which he warns of attacks on police and media if they don’t fall in line.

In the six-minute video, the Hizb Commander urges the youth to join his outfit and help in the profiling of police officers of their respective areas. The video has, in fact, surfaced days after the series of lethal attacks carried out by militants on police and army in Srinagar and Anantnag.

“I appeal to those youth who want to join us to collect complete details of cops of their respective areas; of their role towards militancy and handover the details to us. We will also recruit them at the right opportunity,” Wani says in the video.

Speaking in Urdu, Wani warns police not to participate in anti-militancy operations and to stop harassing the local youth.

“If you (police) care about your life, remain inside police stations, don’t put barricades on roads and stop harassing youth. Those who will do this will be responsible for their life,” he says.

Seemingly modelled on Al-Qaeda videos, Wani boldly suggests that the police stop siding with India and join the fight against them. “I want to tell police that you are our brothers and our real enemy is India but you fail to understand that India makes us fight among ourselves. Train your guns on Indian Army and help in our freedom movement. It doesn’t make any difference to India whether a militant or a cop dies. They are pitting us against each other.”

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The Hizb commander appeals to people of Kashmir to fight the forces and extends help to them. “If any policeman, army or anybody supporting the Indian cause tries to enter any home at any place in any corner of Kashmir, kick them out. Every Kashmiri has our support, Inshallah. And pelt stones to quell army when they come to your areas because this land belongs to us.”

Kashmir has witnessed a surge in the militant attacks since last month when three cops of Jammu and Kashmir Police were shot dead by militants from point-blank range in Srinagar on May 23. Two other cops were killed in the same fashion in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district by militants who were caught on camera fleeing from the spot on 4 June. A day earlier, on 3 June, three Border Security Forces (BSF) personnel were killed and seven others were wounded when militants attacked an army convoy on Srinagar-Jammu Highway in Bijbehara town of Anantnag district.

Burhan’s militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen, claimed responsibility for all the attacks. The same outfit has carried several other attacks in south Kashmir where it mostly operates.

After the deadly attacks, a high-level security meeting was held in south Kashmir’s Khanabal to devise strategy to ensure safe elections. The meeting, attended by DGP K Rajendra, General officer Commanding of Army’s 15 Corps, Lt. General Satish Dua and other police and army officials, decided to provide a multi-layer security cover for Anantnag bypolls.

South Kashmir’s Anantnag is going for bypolls on 22 June. The seat was left vacant after the death of former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, on 27 June. The current CM, Mehbooba Mufti is contesting from Anantnag constituency.

What has surprised many in valley is Wani’s attack on the media for following the line of New Delhi and branding them as “terrorists” instead of “militants.”

“At last I need to warn media because it follows the tone of India. I want to tell media that if we are terrorist we can destroy your networks. But if you want to recognise who the real terrorists are, consult the history and Kashmir and decide if we or Indian army are terrorists,” he says.

Meanwhile, Burhan refuted the reports of carrying attacks on the upcoming Amarnath Yatra but warned attacks on proposed Sainik Colonies and separate KP townships. “We aren’t planning to carry out any attacks on Amarnath pilgrims who will be here to perform their religious rites,” he says.

In the past, Burhan has managed to galvanise huge support for his group through similar videos posted on social media. In many areas, people risk their lives by engaging with forces during gun-battles to help militants flee. The tech-savvy and flamboyant nature of Burhan has made him popular among youth. He also managed to inspire some cops to join his group. It needs to be seen whether the latest video makes any impact on police and youth to join him.

Slush around defence deals: Bribe givers are penalised, but bribe takers are seldom convicted

Last month, the Government of India announced that it was cancelling the Rs 1,800 crore deal with Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquei (WASS). The reason: WASS is a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, the company which is said to have bribed Indian officials and politicians in order to procure an order for helicopters.

This is because Indian laws clearly make a criminal of both the bribe giver and the bribe taker. Since the courts in Italy have established that Finmeccanica has given a bribe, it has been blacklisted. As a corollary, so goes the legal argument, its subsidiary has also been blacklisted. WASS thus lost a business, worth Rs 1,800 crore.

Reuters

Finmeccanica scam had its roots in Italy. Investigations there, not in India, revealed that bribes had been paid. Representational image. Reuters

That has resulted in a big setback to the plans the Navy had chalked out for deployment of these torpedos for its newly acquired submarines. Till the time a new vendor is identified, and deliveries made, the Navy will have submarines without firepower. A terrible state for any defence establishment to be in.

This is precisely what happened even with the Bofors deal. It was in April 1987 that Swedish Radio alleged that Bofors paid kickbacks to people from a number of countries, including top Swedish and Indian politicians and key defence officials to seal the deal. These revelations were picked up by the Indian media. Finally, the government blacklisted Bofors from doing any business in India.

The situation became farcical. Even worrisome. Bofors had already supplied the howitzers. But as it was blacklisted, it could not supply the shells. It took many years before the government could identify another company to supply them. The order wasn’t small. The Army needs around 15,000 – 18,000 rounds annually. Each round is expected to cost between $300-400. Thus Bofors lost a huge chunk of annual business.

In both cases, the bribe giver was penalised, but the bribe taker wasn’t. The legislators moved fast to blacklist and severely penalise the foreign arms supplier. But they allowed the wheels of justice to move terribly slowly where the bribe takers were concerned. And this is despite the fact that many of the alleged bribe takers were bound by an oath to office – that they would not accept bribes, and remain true to the laws of this country.

In any other law-abiding country, the government would have allowed the bribe giver to turn “approver”. It would have granted him immunity in order to catch all the bribe takers who had violated their oath to office. Coupled with circumstantial evidence, the testimony would result in quick conviction of the guilty. Thus defence preparedness would seldom get compromised, And almost all of those who stole from taxpayers (all bribes are eventually paid for by taxpayers) would be brought to book.

But the Indian government has not done this with any of its defence deals. It is almost as if the government does not want to bring to book any of the bribe takers. This is true of both the previous government and the present one too.

It is in light of this reluctance that the penalising and blacklisting of ‘tainted’ defence suppliers and their subsidiaries begins to acquire a totally new meaning. It is as if the government is penalizing them for allowing the details of the bribe to become public in their respective countries. The Bofors scam had its roots in Sweden. And the Finmeccanica scam had its roots in Italy. In both the countries, investigations there, not in India, revealed that bribes had been paid.

The penalty and the blacklisting could thus be interpreted as a warning:“You broke the omerta. You allowed the details of pay-offs to emerge. You could not keep this secret the way India has till now. Therefore, we do not trust you. Hence, we will no longer do business with you, ” is what the acts of the government seem to suggest.

The Government of India needs to set this image right.

defence

In fact, in none of the major defence scams (see table) has a culprit been nailed. Yes, there has been finger pointing. Yes, cases have been registered. And yes, some have been sent to judicial custody, and even granted bail. But they have not been convicted.

Take the Finmeccanica case, as an example. That bribes were indeed paid in the Finmeccanica deal was clearly established by an Italian court in October 2014. Bruno Spagnolini, who served as CEO of AgustaWestland, the helicopter manufacturing division of Finmeccanica, was charged with false bookkeeping (and participation in bribery). The Italian court sentenced him to two years in prison. The court documents pointed to several Indian bribe takers.

The middleman for the arms deal was Christian Michel. His lawyer offered to help India with information if it agreed to give Michel approver status and immunity. The offer was shot down. Yes, it did interrogate SP Tyagi, former IAF chief. But then, there is no clinching testimony, which can only come from a court approved whistleblower, or an “approver.”

Eventually, only the bribe givers will be penalised. Bribe takers in defence are seldom convicted. Nobody is made approver.

In India, this is not merely a case of bribe giving, or bribe taking. By cancelling defence deals which have taken years to prepare, and which are critical to the safety and security of the country, Indian investigators and legislators are actually weakening India. By aborting defence plans – the shells in the Bofors case, and the torpedos in the Finmeccanica case, it is the defence of India that is at stake.

India desperately needs a comprehensive policy on the way bribes should be dealt with. The present system stinks.

Jat agitation: After Prakash Singh Committee criticism, Haryana govt steps up security

The Haryana government, this time, while dealing with the second round of the Jat agitation seems to have taken a lesson from the Prakash Singh Committee report that had strongly criticised the state government for its administrative failure in tackling the riot caused by the Jat agitators in February that claimed 30 lives.

Following the recommendations made by the former Director General of Police Uttar Pradesh, Prakash Singh in his report, the government has ensured a foolproof security cover across Haryana.

To keep the second round of Jat agitation under strict control, 55 companies of Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMF) comprising Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Border Security Force (BSF) and Rapid Action Force (RAF) have been deployed in the state to check any kind violence.

“A massive security blanket of 55 companies of Central Paramilitary Forces has been created in Haryana to ensure no incidence of violence takes place. Special instructions have been issued to the state government to ensure security and safety of citizens and properties. The Centre is monitoring the situation,” a Ministry of Home Affairs source said.

Singh, in his report, had recommended that local administration and police should sternly deal with the rioters, right use of security and police forces, and enforcement of orders.

File image of Jat agitation. PTIFile image of Jat agitation. PTI

File image of Jat agitation. PTI

“I believe this time the state administration and police have been alert and have beefed up security measures so that February incident doesn’t get repeated. I had recommended the administration to adopt ‘nip at the bud’ approach to prevent the agitators from creating rampage. As the agitators know that the government is firm this time, they are not taking any risk to create disturbances,” Singh, also former Director General, BSF, told Firstpost.

Making scathing remarks against the administration and police, Singh, in his report presented to Haryana government had mentioned, “a deliberate, calculated destruction was caused by rioters in connivance with a section from state administration and police… There were instances of deliberate negligence and cases of deliberately not enforcing law in certain places. The rioters from a particular community (read Jat) went on a rampage under the supervision of a section of officials from that particular community… Police and security forces were found incapable of combating the situation.”

The Jat quota agitators started the second phase of agitation in Haryana on 5 June. The second day, on Monday, has been peaceful, as no untoward incident has yet been reported. Meanwhile, besides Jhajjar, Sonipat, Rohtak, Panipat, Hisar, Jind, Fatehbad and Kaithal districts in Haryana, Section 144 against unlawful gathering has also been imposed in the areas bordering Haryana and Delhi, and a few other areas in South West, North West and South East Delhi. During the first phase of agitation, violence was witnessed in and around Mukherjee Nagar and Najafgarh areas in Delhi.

A dedicated helpline has been provided that will be monitored by a control room in Chandigarh round-the-clock. As an additional security measure and to prevent spreading of any kind of rumours, bulk SMSes and mobile internet have been suspended in Sonipat and Rohtak districts till further notice.

Security arrangements have been beefed up across the Munak Canal, which supplies water to Delhi. The water supply from Munak Canal meets 60 percent of Delhi’s total requirement. Seven batallions of CPMF have been deployed to protect the canal and the water supply system from agitators. During the last agitation in February, the Jat agitators caused heavy damage to this canal, which disrupted water supply in Delhi. Due to the closure of plants, the water supply to West, North West, Central, South and parts of North Delhi were severely affected. It was only after the taking over of the control of Munak Canal by 600 CRPF personnel and two columns of Army took over control, normalcy could be restored to water supply in Delhi.

“Our BSF jawans have been deployed on the banks of Munak Canal and they are keeping a strict vigil, so that no damage could be caused. The government has issued orders to strictly deal with agitators, if they try to create any kind disturbance,” a BSF source said.

The Jat agitation that turned into a violent riot in February resulted in the 30 people being killed and over 200 injured, besides Rs 20,000 crore losses in destruction in widespread rampage.

The Jat agitation has become a major impediment for tourists, who pass through Haryana to visit hill stations in North India. Fearing eventualities like in February, many tourists have cancelled plans to travel by road.

“The state government has to ensure that no violence occurs during the agitation period. The agitators can peacefully demonstrate and hold meetings, but can’t go on a rampage like in February. This second phase of agitation will have an adverse impact on the travellers and tourists due to fear and panic. Last time, both politicians and civil administration severely failed to deal with the agitation. It was a shame on bureaucracy and police as they abdicated their responsibility. Hope the government ensures that no repetition takes place this time and highways are not blocked by agitators. And, if administration and police fail this time, the officials and DGP concerned should be removed from command,” said Dhruv C Katoch, former director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, who was on his way back from Nainital by road.

Due to pressure from state government and increased security measures, the national president of Akhil Bharatiya Jat Aaraskhan Sangharsh Samiti, Yashpal Malik, had recently announced that they would organise “peaceful agitation – Jat Nyay Rally” against the state for not releasing those arrested during the violent stir in February.

Italian marine Girone returns home: Will India now get entry to the Missile Transfer Control Regime?

Now that Italian marine Salvatore Girone has returned home after four years in Indian custody, will Italy relent? Last year, Italy blocked India’s entry to the Missile Transfer Control Regime, because of strained ties with India over the marines.

The 34-member group which makes up the MTCR works by consensus. Despite US and other major powers backing, India’s attempts were thwarted by the Italians. Ever since the arrest of the two marines in 2012, India’s ties with Italy has taken a nose dive. With Girone, who was spending his time cooped up in the Italian mission in the capita is back in Italy, will India’s path to the MTCR be smooth? The MEA is certainly hoping there will be no more hiccups.

Italy had blocked India's entry. AP

Italy had blocked India’s entry to the Missile Transfer Control Regime, because of strained ties with India over the marines. AP

India applied for membership to the MTCR in June 2015 after making sure that all key powers were on board. The process had started not now, but with the previous government. The hope was that during the meeting of the MTCR plenary in Oslo last October, India would be admitted. The US , France, Germany, UK were all for it. China incidentally is not a member. The unexpected jolt came from Italy.

Its veto had nothing to do with India’s proliferation record, but the Italian government’s frustration with India over the arrest of the two marines. The incident of 2012 was a major embarrassment for the ruling government in Rome and India unnecessarily took a rigid stand. The matter soon become entangled with Kerala politics. So much so that even after the UN arbitration tribunal asked Italy and India to approach the Supreme Court for bail for Girone, the two sides waited until the Kerala elections were over before approaching the apex court. The other, Italian Massimiliano Lattore, had left India because of a health problem in 2014.

The Italian government was literally roasted by their opposition for failure to protect the two marines, who had been part of the security time of the cargo boat, when the incident happened. The Somali pirates was a menace for ships at that time, and various governments deployed marines for protection against hijacking. The Italians had shot dead two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast mistaking them for pirates. The opposition’s scathing attack as well as the bad media coverage showed Rome in bad light. Blocking India’s entry to MTCR was one way for Italy to hit back.

When the India-US civil nuclear agreement was signed there was also the promise that India would be integrated into the global non-proliferation system and harmonise its processes with that of the member states. These are the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. So far not a single door has opened. At the moment India’s focus is on the MTCR and the NSG.

It is important for India to be part of the MTCR because as former ambassador to the US, Naresh Chandra explained, accessing dual technology is much easier. “It is not that dual-technology is always denied if you are not part of the MTCR,” Chandra explained. “But a country needs to go through a long process in the US. If you are a MRTC member, there is the presumption of approval for your request, otherwise you have to start from a presumption of denial,” said Chandra.

As none of the 34-member countries in the MTCR had any objections to India’s entry, save Italy, New Delhi is hoping that it does not have to wait till the plenary in October. Indian diplomatic efforts will be focused in the next few weeks to ask member countries to push through the formalities once Italy gives the green signal. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Washington he will push this with President Barak Obama. The US has already made it clear that it backs India in both the MTCR and the NSG.

India’s admission to the MTCR will have positive implications for its domestic missile production. It will help India to access better technology, including sensitive dual-use technology long denied to the country.

At one time the non-proliferation groups were aiming their guns on India. Russia was once prevented from exporting cryogenic technology to India by the MCTR. However, nobody even at that time could charge India of exporting technology or not following the non-proliferation agenda.

But there has been a sea change in world opinion since India signed the civil nuclear deal with the US. So much so, that when India applied for membership last year, this is what Foreign Policy, the prestigious US publication focuses on global affairs wrote:

“While India has always remained committed to non-proliferation of sensitive items covered by the MTCR, it has updated its domestic laws as well as its Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment, and Technologies (SCOMET) List in the last five years, harmonizing them completely with the MTCR guidelines. This has been recognized by the US and all other like-minded partners.”

Members too believe that entry will help India to better contribute to the global non-proliferation regime. By the looks of it, India’s entry to the MTCR will be easy, once Italy is on board. The question is whether this will happen before the plenary which is around October. For India, getting into MTCR will also smoothen the path to NSG membership. China will be a formidable force at the NSG and unlikely to be swayed by US pressure considering its irritation over what it regards as unnecessary interference by Washington in the South China Sea.

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