IAMC Weekly News Roundup – July 11th, 2011

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Cops, locals clash over alleged Quran desecration (Jul 6, 2011, New Kerala)

Police clashed with a group of Muslims in an Uttar Pradesh village Wednesday over the alleged desecration of a Quran, an event some police officials said never happened. The clash, which led to exchange of fire, took place in Arahlatnagar Bagah village on the outskirts of Moradabad city, about 350 km from here. Some people were injured but no one was killed, officials said.

According to reports reaching the state headquarters here, the clash followed the alleged desecration of the Quran by a team of cops during the course of an investigation into a sexual harassment case. According to the police, the team was attacked by a man whose son was allegedly behind the harassment of young girls of the locality.

“When the police retaliated, the family members of the accused spread false reports that a cop had snatched the Quran from a girl in the house and flung it. As the canard spread, people took to the streets, attacking the cops and burning government property,” an official said. By the time additional forces reached the village, a police jeep had been burnt.

http://www.newkerala.com/news/2011/worldnews-22213.html

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2002 Gujarat riots records: NGO seeks details from govt (Jul 5, 2011, Indian Express)

A voluntary organisation representing 2002 riots victims, Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM), has sought to know from the Gujarat government which specific intelligence documents between February 27 and May 31, 2002 were destroyed, the name of the officer who ordered the destruction, and the reason for doing so. The JSM filed an application before the Nanavati Commission on Monday seeking direction to the state Home Secretary to file an affidavit regarding this. The application has been kept for hearing on July 9.

Mentioning the statement of senior counsel S B Vakil, appearing before the Commission on behalf of the state, to the effect that intelligence records of 2002 were destroyed in 2007, and the subsequent purported denial of the same by the government, the application says, “In view of the contradictory stand taken by the government and its counsel, it has become necessary to file this application seeking appropriate directions especially since the documents in controversy can have direct bearing on the reference pending before the Hon’ble Commission for inquiry.”

JSM said the commission’s directions to the state would help clearly find out if the records were destroyed or not. JSM has also sought directions to the state government either to produce or to allow inspection of vehicle movement registers and telephone call registers of certain police officers, including Sanjiv Bhatt, between February 27 and May 31, 2002.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/812876/

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Ishrat Jahan encounter replay picks holes in police story (Jul 9, 2011, Indian Express)

A day after reconstructing the Ishrat Jahan encounter at the site where she and three others were shot dead by a city crime branch team in 2004, the SIT probing the case carried out a mock drill at the Gujarat Police Training Academy in Karai on Friday. Later, SIT sources said it indicated discrepancies in the testimonies of officials including that of suspended police officer N K Amin, who is an accused in the Sohrabuddin encounter case.

The mock drill was supervised by SIT chief Satyapal Singh and members Satish Verma, Mohan Jha, besides experts from Delhi CFSL and AIIMS. Amin, who was ACP (crime) at the time of the encounter, has denied shooting at Ishrat and maintained that a police commando sitting in the front seat of the police jeep they were using had shot her.

SIT sources said that during the mock exercise, the former commando was asked to shoot on a dummy Indica car to ascertain the shooting angle and match it with bullet marks found on the car. The findings, they said, ran counter to Amin’s claims. The mock drill indicated that Amin, and not the commando, may have shot Ishrat. As per the original version of the crime branch, Ishrat was shot by DSP Tarun Barot and a commando. SIT sources said Amin might be questioned after the reconstruction exercise gets over.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/815028/

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Forbesganj firing: Senior Bihar cop in dock (Jul 9, 2011, Yahoo)

A case was filed in a Bihar court against 10 people, including Araria Superintendent of Police Garima Mallik, in connection with the police firing in which four people were killed and over a dozen injured, an official said Saturday. Four people, including a pregnant woman and a six-month-old infant, were killed and nine others were injured June 3 at Bhajanpura village near Forbesganj in Araria, about 350 km from here, when the villagers were protesting against an upcoming factory.

Mohd Farooq Ansari, a resident of Bhajanpura, has filed a case against the Araria police chief in the court of the chief judicial magistrate. ‘Ansari has made Garima Mallik a named accused in the police firing case,’ a district official said. Ansari’s wife was one of four people killed in the police firing, the official said.

‘After the Bihar government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar failed to take any action against Mallik and other police officials for the firing, I filed a case against her,’ Ansari said. According to a report on the police firing by the Delhi-based Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, many eyewitnesses said the firing order was given by Mallik.

http://in.news.yahoo.com/forbesganj-firing-senior-bihar-cop-dock-063226760.html

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Salwa Judum illegal, scrap it, says SC (Jul 6, 2011, Indian Express)

The Supreme Court today struck down as unconstitutional the practice of using special police officers (SPOs) in the fight against Naxals in Chhattisgarh. The court blamed the state’s “policy of privatization” for its inability to build “capacity to control social unrest”. A Bench of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar ordered the state government “to immediately cease and desist from using SPOs in any manner or form in any activities directly or indirectly aimed at controlling, countering, mitigating or otherwise eliminating Maoist/Naxalite activities”. It also directed the central government to “forthwith” cease providing funds for the in recruitment of SPOs against Naxalite groups.

SPOs, also known as Koya Commandos, are local, mostly tribal youth drafted by the Chhattisgarh government to fight the Maoist insurgency. The state government and police have said that they add muscle to the security forces and provide human intelligence. The government had earlier armed tribals to create an anti-Naxalite militia known as Salwa Judum. The Supreme Court today said that it was “clear… that in this policy of using local youth, jointly devised by the union and the states facing Maoist insurgency, as implemented in the state of Chhattisgarh, the young tribals have literally become cannon fodder in the killing fields of Dantewada and other districts…”

Appointing poor, mostly illiterate youngsters “who are incapable, on account of low educational achievements, of learning all the skills, knowledge and analytical tools to perform such a role endangering their lives, is necessarily a denigration of their dignity as human beings”, the court said. This, the court held, was a violation of their fundamental rights. “Both Article 21 and Article 14 of the Constitution of India have been violated, and will continue to be violated, by the appointment of tribal youth, with very little education, as SPOs engaged in counter-insurgency activities.” Article 14 – equality before the law and equal protection of the laws – is violated because subjecting these youths to the same levels of danger as members of the regular force, who have better education and training and possess a better capacity to benefit from training, “would be to treat unequal as equals”, the court explained.

Article 21 – protection of life and personal liberty – was violated because youngsters with such poor educational qualifications “cannot be expected to understand the dangers that they are likely to face, or skills which are needed to face such dangers”, the court said. The issue of SPOs arose during hearing of a petition filed by sociologist Nandini Sundar, historian Ramachandra Guha, former bureaucrat E A S Sarma and others seeking a direction to the Chhattisgarh government to refrain from supporting the Salwa Judum. The court also ordered a CBI probe into the attack on activist Swami Agnivesh during his visit to Chhattisgarh in March, allegedly by a group of people that included SPOs and Salwa Judum members. “We direct the CBI to take over the investigation into series of violence and attack unleashed on Swami Agnivesh and his companions,” the court said.

The Bench observed that one of the primary motives to employing tribal youth as SPOs was to “make up for the lack of adequate formal security forces on the ground”. This situation, the court said, as been created “in large part by the socio-economic policies followed by the state. The policy of privatization has also meant that the state has incapacitated itself, actually and ideologically, from devoting adequate financial resources in building the capacity to control the social unrest that has been unleashed”. The Congress welcomed the Supreme Court order. “It has always been our view that no one can take the law into their own hands. Law and order is for the authorities to handle and for courts,” spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said. The BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy said it was up to the Chhattisgarh government to respond to the judgment.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/813397/

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Telangana: JAC plans fresh round of protest, strike (Jul 9, 2011, IBN)

The Joint Action Committee of pro-Telangana forces on Saturday announced a fresh round of agitation programmes, beginning with “vanta-varpu” (holding community kitchens on roads) in all districts (barring Hyderabad) of the region on July 12 to press demand for separate state. This will be followed by rail blockades on the 14th, said JAC leader M Kodandaram on Saturday.

The JAC has also called for a general strike in the region on August 1, as government employees too would launch a strike from that day. “Various employees’ associations will issue a strike notice to the government on July 13. We will also involve employees of AP State Road Transport Corporation and Singareni Collieries in the strike,” Kodandaram said.

The JAC has also decided to take out protest marches and hold public meetings across the region to mobilize support for the strike. Kodandaram demanded that the state Cabinet ministers, who have quit as members of the Legislative Assembly over the statehood demand, stay away from their official duties.

http://ibnlive.in.com/news/telangana-jac-plans-fresh-round-of-protest-strike/166235-3.html

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Headway in quota for poor Muslims (Jul 7, 2011, Hindustan Times)

The minority affairs ministry has recommended to the home ministry to consider one of the two options contained in the Ranganath Misra report on reservation for minorities at the national level – a poll promise of the Congress. The proposal, submitted recently, recommends rejigging the 27% “quota” in jobs and education for the Other Backward Classes (OBC) so that more underprivileged Muslims, among minorities, find room. The OBCs are a clutch of 1,963 disadvantaged groups.

“There is, in the Constitution, a clear promise of reservation on the basis of backwardness. We have recommended rationalisation of the OBC quota,” minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid said. The clamour for reservation among India’s 150-million Muslims has grown louder after the high-level Sachar report highlighted stark disadvantages faced by the community and the Misra panel proposed reservations as the way forward.

The Ranganath Misra-led National Commission on Backward Religious and Linguistic Minorities recommended 15% reservation for minorities – of which 10% for Muslims – in education and jobs. In case this is difficult to achieve, it proposes breaking up of the 27% quota to give minorities an 8.4% share, of which 6% for Muslims.

“Several states have extended such benefits, such as Karnataka and Andhra. Each model is different. A nationally model will have to be found. We are committed on this,” Khurshid said. To implement 15% reservation, the UPA government will have to pull off a bill that will require approval of 2/3rd majority in both Houses. Juggling the OBC quota, or even extending the SC status to Dalit Muslims and Christians will require a bill passed by simple majority, which is relatively easy.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print/718553.aspx

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Battle intensifies for Kerala temple’s $22 billion treasure (Jul 11, 2011, Central Chronicle)

A $22 billion treasure trove unearthed beneath Kerala’s Padmanabhaswamy Temple has sparked a fierce political and public debate over ownership and how best to put the vast wealth to use. The vaults of the 16th century temple were prised open for the first time in June, since when public calls have grown for redistribution of the wealth to the poor. Discovered in the vaults were a dazzling stash of gold ornaments, Napoleonic era coins and sacks of gemstones. The archaeological find, one of the greatest ever made in India, has triggered a fierce legal battle for custodianship, pitting the royal family of Travancore, which controls the temple, against the Kerala High Court that has asked the state government to bring the temple under a public trust.

The current maharajah of the royal family, Marthanda Verma, has since challenged the court ruling in the Supreme Court, with the backing of some state politicians. “The Supreme Court has stayed a Kerala High Court ruling asking the state government to take over the temple. We will go by the direction,” Temple Affairs Minister V. S. Sivakumar said on Sunday. While the royal family’s guardianship of the temple’s wealth over close to three centuries has drawn plaudits, critics say the fortune could go far to stimulate Kerala’s local economy and improve living standards in a country with an estimated 450 million people living in poverty. “The royal family had a great tradition of being progressive and it had been an integral part of the history and traditions of the temple. It would not be right to deny them any role in the temple’s affairs,” said Ramesh Chennithala, chief of the Kerala unit of the ruling Congress party.

A Supreme Court-appointed committee has so far opened and examined five of the six vaults but deferred opening of the sixth vault to ensure safety of the assets while armed commandos guard the site against looting. The state government is of the view that the find will continue to remain the temple’s property, mirroring the stance of Hindu groups who say the religious relics mustn’t be removed. Others say a museum should be established for the treasures. “This will bring the capital city to world limelight and bring more tourists,” said temple expert Malayinkeezh Gopalakrishnan. The 500-year-old temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is unique in terms of architecture and mythology, with legends of a curse protecting the long-hidden treasure. India’s devout masses have occasionally bestowed great wealth to religious sites and trusts that run hospitals and educational institutions through donations.

http://www.centralchronicle.com/viewnews.asp?articleID=63718

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SC deplores govt inaction on black money, appoints SIT to monitor probe (Jul 5, 2011, Indian Express)

The Supreme Court today appointed a 13-member special investigation team (SIT) headed by a former judge of the court, with wide powers to help recover unaccounted-for money stashed in foreign bank accounts. The court assailed the government’s efforts in the matter so far, denouncing it as a failure that goes “to the very heart of constitutional imperatives of governance”. “Unaccounted monies, especially large sums held by nationals and entities with a legal presence in the nation, in banks abroad, especially in tax havens or in jurisdictions with a known history of silence about sources of monies, clearly indicate a compromise of the ability of the state to manage its affairs in consonance with what is required from a constitutional perspective,” observed the Bench of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar.

The failure, the Bench said, “has been of human agency”. Justifying the creation of the SIT, the court said, “We are of the firm opinion that in these matters fragmentation of government, and expertise and knowledge, across many departments, agencies and across various jurisdictions, both within the country, and across the globe, is a serious impediment to the conduct of a proper investigation. “…It is necessary to create a body that coordinates, directs, and where necessary orders timely and urgent action by various institutions of the state.” The SIT, the court said, would have the “continued involvement of this court, in a broad oversight capacity”. The order was passed on a petition filed by lawyer Ram Jethmalani and some others seeking the court’s intervention to trace black money stashed abroad and bring it back.

The court deplored the “inaction of the state” in cases like that of Pune tax-evader Hasan Ali Khan and Kolkata businessman Kashinath Tapuria, and ordered that the SIT – to be headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy – would carry out investigation, criminal proceedings and prosecution. The court appointed another retired Supreme Court justice, M B Shah, as vice-chairman of the SIT, and directed that the high-level committee (HLC) constituted by the government recently to look into the issue of black money would “forthwith” be a part of the SIT. “The formation of the HLC was a necessary step, and may even be characterized as a welcome step,” the court noted. “Nevertheless, it is an insufficient step.”

The court acknowledged that bringing back black money from abroad depends on several factors which may not be under the government’s control, but said that “the fact remains that with respect to those factors that were within the powers of the Union of India, such as investigation of possible criminal nexus, threats to national security etc., were not even attempted.” It rejected the government’s argument that the double taxation agreement with Germany was “an obstacle to disclosure”. “We do not find merit in its arguments flowing from the provisions of double taxation agreement with Germany. The redundancy, that Union of India presses, with respect to the last sentence of Article 26(1) of the double taxation agreement…, necessarily transgresses upon the boundaries erected by our Constitution. It cannot be permitted,” the court said.

“The last sentence of Article 26(1) of the double taxation treaty with Germany states: ‘[T]hey may disclose this information in public court proceedings or in judicial decisions.'” The court ordered the government to disclose the names of all individuals who have accounts in Liechtenstein, as revealed by German authorities, against whom investigations have been concluded, “partially or wholly and show cause notices issued and proceedings initiated”. It, however, upheld the right of privacy of account-holders against whom investigations were “still in progress”, or if “there is no information or evidence of any wrongdoing against them”. The court directed the government to file compliance reports, and posted the matter for hearing in August.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/812836/

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Minor girl alleges rape by cops in Uttar Pradesh (Jul 7, 2011, Indian Express)

A minor girl has alleged gangrape by five constables on the premises of the Mauranipur police station in Jhansi district. The incident allegedly took place early on Tuesday.

The girl’s aunt lodged the complaint with Jhansi Range DIG L V Antony D Kumar on Wednesday, but a case was yet to be registered into the matter till late Wednesday evening.

“Additional SP (Rural) Pramod Kumar Tewari is looking into the allegation,” the DIG said.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/813771/

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Opinions and Editorials

Boot on the other foot for baba – By Manoj Rawat (Jul 16, 2011, Tehelka)

In what could be seen as retaliation for challenging the Central government with his black money campaign, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has launched a probe into Baba Ramdev’s lucrative yoga empire. While the Baba’s supporters may see this as a witch-hunt aimed at intimidating a challenger, it is quite likely that some muck may emerge as the financial dealings of the various trusts and companies run by the yoga guru are not completely above board. The various trusts presided over by Ramdev run 34 companies and there are allegations that he may have diverted donations from the trusts to create profit-making ventures. According to a source who wishes to remain anonymous, the ED is planning to bring Ramdev under the scanner for foreign exchange and money laundering violations. After the police crackdown on Ramdev and his followers on 5 June, the focus is now on exposing the truth behind the Baba’s empire. If the investigation reveals any underhand dealings in the various trusts based in Haridwar, the ED can initiate legal proceedings under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA) or the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. On 21 June 2011, the agency had written to the chief general manager, Foreign Exchange Department, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), asking for details of Ramdev’s trusts and the companies run by his associates – Acharya Balkrishna and Swami Muktanand. The letter intimated that the Delhi wing of the Directorate would probe the dealings of Ramdev’s trusts and companies under FEMA.

According to the ED, the worth of these trusts is Rs 1,100 crore. While three are based in India, one is in Scotland and the other in the US. The ED has attached a list of the trusts with the letter to the RBI. The trusts based in India include the Divya Yogpeeth Trust in Haridwar, the Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust and the Bharat Swabhiman Trust. Ramdev is the head of the Divya Yogpeeth trust established in January 1995 and Balkrishna is his second-in-command. At the time of its formation, the property of Swami Shankar Dev, guru of both Ramdev and Balkrishna, was incorporated into the trust. In 2007, the Swami mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Followers of Shankar Dev who were holding senior positions in the trust were gradually ousted by Balkrishna. After the success of Divya Yogpeeth Trust, Ramdev and Balkrishna formed the flagship Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust. The head and secretary of this trust are Ramdev and Balkrishna respectively while Swami Muktanand is its treasurer. In 2006, Ramdev formed the foreign wing of the Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust in Glasgow, UK, and the Patanjali Yogpeeth Foundation in the US in 2008. The ED is looking to closely scrutinise the income, donations and expenditure of these trusts. In its letter to the RBI, the ED has stated and listed 34 companies that form a part of his yoga empire. The directors of all these companies are his close aides. The letter claims some companies are also involved in export and import activities.

The headquarters of all these companies is the Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar. Companies in the list include the Haridwar- based Patanjali Ayurveda Ltd, Vedic Broadcasting Ltd, Patanjali Food and Herbal Park Ltd, and the Jharkhand-based Mega Food Park Ltd. The ED letter is accompanied by another list of 11 companies that are associated with the treasurer Muktanand. Each of these companies has either Balkrishna, Muktanand, Ramdev’s brother Rambharat or his brother-in-law Acharya Yashadev Aryashastri as a director. All banking transactions of the trusts were executed by any two of the three trustees: Ramdev, Balkrishna or Muktanand. The titles of the companies in the list seem to suggest they were involved in businesses like ayurvedic medicines, media and broadcasting, biscuit manufacturing, packaging, garment manufacturing, transport, construction, textiles, energy, bio research, etc. An interesting aspect about these companies is that some of them have almost similar names. The distinction is just a single word – Herbo-Yoga Village Pvt Ltd and Herbo-Yoga Pvt Ltd – in names of two different companies. In a recent interview, Ramdev had explained the proliferation of his yoga empire thus: “These companies have been formed in accordance with the rules of the land and through them, the rural poor in India are earning their livelihood.”

The ED’S letter also mentions the island gifted to Ramdev by the Glasgow-based couple Sunita and Sam Poddar. Acquired by the Poddars for Rs 16 crore in 2009, this 900-acre island was originally called Little Kumra. Ramdev has now named it Shanti Dweepam. The investigating agency is also looking into the expenditure and income accrued to Ramdev from the various yoga camps he organises in foreign countries. The ED has sought details of all such foreign transactions by the Baba, his trusts and associates under FEMA. On 21 June 2011, the ED wrote to the head office of the Punjab National Bank to inform them of the probe, and sought information pertaining to the the loans sanctioned to the companies and trusts. The collection accounts, current accounts and fixed deposits belonging to Ramdev and his associates will also be probed. This includes the facility of foreign exchange granted to the trusts, companies, directors and shareholders as well as details of import-export over the past five years.

Ramdev’s trust earns crores every year through donations and offerings. Following the recent controversy over the assets of his yoga empire, he had made the balance sheets of all his trusts public by putting them up on his website. However, the yoga guru has desisted from revealing any financial detail of the 34 companies managed by Balkrishna and his associates. The ED’s report will likely shed light on the working of these companies. Even if some dirt does emerge on Ramdev, which would be a slap in the face of the selfappointed crusader, the government itself will have some uncomfortable questions to answer. While an assessment of such a massive empire, with a complicated web of trusts and companies, is well within the ED’S purview, it is the timing that is bound to raise eyebrows, coming on the back of the crackdown on Ramdev’s Delhi agitation. Even if the inquiry throws up evidence of dirt, there will be a huge question mark of credibility attached to any criminal investigation that may follow.

http://tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne160711BOOT.asp

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Why India needs a Lokpal. Now. – Narayana Murthy with Revati Laul (Jul 16, 2011, Tehelka)

We are at a historic moment. For the first time in 300 years, India has received the respect of the world community. People realise that India can indeed add value. There is total confidence in the country among youngsters. There is a lot of expectations from the world that India can indeed become a useful destination for investment and a good trading partner. We are no longer the pitiable, poor and weak country that we were earlier perceived as. This opportunity comes rarely. If we lose this chance, I’m not sure how the future generations will get an opportunity to make good the dreams of our founding fathers. That of wiping out poverty in the country, of making sure that the poorest child has nutrition, education and healthcare.

Therefore, all of us have to remember that we cannot do anything that will even remotely alter the perceptions of the world about India. This is where I believe that the recent happenings – whether it is the 2G spectrum scam or the CWG scam or the negotiations and disagreements between the government and civil society over the Lokpal Bill become extremely important. We have to swiftly come to a conclusion on the issue. If we don’t, the country’s image will be altered irrevocably. I travel, on an average, 15-20 days a month. I meet a lot of business leaders, potential investors, politicians, bureaucrats and policy-makers. And almost without exception, they all have tremendous affection for India and are genuinely concerned. It is in this context that it is important for civil society and the government to create a space for negotiation in private, in an environment of courtesy and decency and friendliness and close the issue.

Everyone agrees that there is grievous corruption in the country. That our policies, systems are such that quick decisions are not taken. Therefore, there is a perception in the minds of domestic and foreign investors that these delays are happening because of the corruption in the minds of the decision makers. When we all agree that there is corruption in the country, then there should be no argument on how to stem it. I’m in no doubt at all, knowing the prime minister, that he will be the first person to exercise the importance of speed in rooting out corruption. My own discussion with various political leaders, including the UPA chairperson, tells me unequivocally that they are as much bothered about corruption as we, the citizens are.

There is this issue of whether the prime minister and the judiciary should be covered under the Lokpal. There is a Bill pending for judicial accountability. Once that happens, the judiciary will in some way be covered. On the issue of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh is perhaps one of the most honest people. He has said openly he doesn’t mind coming under the Lokpal. This is the time to make sure that every person, no matter how mighty he or she is, should be covered under the Lokpal. The Lokpal must be appointed by a committee that has a broad representation – the prime minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Rajya Sabha chairman, the Lok Sabha Speaker, two Supreme Court judges and perhaps two eminent citizens who are chosen by the prime minister and the Leader of the Opposition. If these members choose the members of the Lokpal, I believe we will get to select some of the finest people to be on board.

It is also important to include the anti-corruption wing of the CBI under the Lokpal and it must have full powers to receive complaints and probe any officer or politician. The CVC must also come under the Lokpal. While it has independence, it does not have the powers and while the CBI has powers, it comes under the government. We need a good mechanism whereby a Lokpal member can be removed. The easiest thing is to say that a five-member team of Supreme Court judges must be the one to which any citizen can go with a complaint. Of course, any frivolous complaint must be looked at seriously.

http://tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne160711why.asp

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A landmark verdict – Editorial (Jul 9, 2011, The Hindu)

“Laws cannot remain silent when the cannons roar,” the Supreme Court of India declared earlier this week, upturning Cicero’s dictum to pronounce a historic judgment on the violent darkness that has enveloped the heart of India in Chhattisgarh. While the State and Union governments have predictably announced their intention to seek a review, the court’s decision to disarm and disband the forces of mostly young, barely literate, and poorly trained Special Police Officers (SPOs) deployed by the state in the fight against Maoist insurgents is a blow for constitutional order. “Modern constitutionalism,” the court noted, “posits that no wielder of power should be allowed to claim the right to perpetrate … violence against anyone, much less its own citizens, unchecked by law and notions of innate human dignity of every individual.”

The burden of the judgment is simple: the country does face a threat from the Maoist insurgency but any attempt by the state to use “lawless violence” as a counter will only perpetuate and intensify the cycle of violence, as “the death toll revealed by the Government of Chhattisgarh” itself indicates. By default as well as design, the SPOs – whether organised under the name of ‘Salwa Judum’ or ‘Koya Commandos’ – have become the chief instrument of this lawless and failed counter-insurgency strategy. Innocent tribals have been the primary victims, either as targets of the SPOs or as poorly trained foot soldiers in a bloody war the government is not even prepared to properly finance.

In demanding an end to the SPO system, the Supreme Court has acted as much out of concern for the hapless tribal population of Dantewada as for the tribal youth who were press-ganged by their individual circumstances into becoming “cannon fodder” for the state. Chhattisgarh as well as the Union of India were guilty of violating the fundamental rights of citizens at large and the SPOs themselves. The court has also made the link between Chhattisgarh’s illegal counter-insurgency strategy and the wider “neoliberal” approach being followed by the government at the Central and State levels.

This approach is spawning disaffection among the poor and giving a boost to insurgency. The Salwa Judum is the illegitimate product of a system that sees nothing wrong in giving tax breaks to the rich and guns to the poor to fight each other, the court said. But the Constitution “is most certainly not a ‘pact for national suicide’,” it concluded in ordering an end to this state of affairs. These are profound words. Both the Union of India and Chhattisgarh must immediately implement this splendid expression of judicial wisdom, not waste time in seeking a review.

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/article2211596.ece

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A New Edge to People’s Protests in Assam – By Udayon Misra (Jul 9, 2011, Economic & Political Weekly)

The election euphoria within the ruling Congress Party in Assam is yet to die down and the state government is displaying a new sense of confidence verging on arrogance about the absolute majority it now commands in the legislature. One of the first steps that the administration took within a month of the swearing in of the new ministry was to clear settlements in the hills all around Guwahati. These settlements had started in the 1970s when Meghalaya was formed and the capital of Assam shifted to Dispur in Guwahati. Ever since then, poor people from the villages who have been migrating to the city in search of a livelihood have been progressively settling in the hills, affecting the natural ecology of the city. Successive governments have accepted the presence of these settlers who have been provided with approach roads, electricity and even water connections and a large section of them have been regularly paying taxes to the municipal authorities. During the recent elections, the Congress went out of its way to woo the settlers and promised them land documents if they voted for the party. And vote they did, leading to a resounding Congress victory in all the seats in Guwahati and its suburbs. But once in power for the third term, the Tarun Gogoi government decided that evictions had to be carried out in some of the settlements. Though the stated reason for such evictions was to bring back the ecological balance of the city, the actual reason seemed to be to help some private firms set up multistorey housing complexes and hotels near the settlements.

But the administration was caught off-guard by the intensity of the resistance from the hill residents who chased away the demolition squads with sticks and spears. Though they had been organising themselves for quite some time under the banner of the Brihattar Guwahati Mati Patta Dabikaran Samity, but the real catalyst to the resistance movement was the arrival of the Right to Information (RTI) activist and peasant leader Akhil Gogoi on the scene. Gogoi of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), who was recuperating from a bout of illness at the Guwahati Medical College, decided to stand up for the rights of the hill dwellers who consisted largely of people from the lower rungs of society engaged in daily labour and odd jobs. Power of KMSS The fear of displacement from their land because of big dams and the entry of global capital had for the past few years been a major issue in the state and the KMSS was seen by many as the only organisation which stood up for people’s rights. Hence, once Akhil Gogoi and the KMSS joined the fray, the people were galvanised into action and on 22 June thousands of settlers marched to Dispur to demand a stop to the evictions and the grant of land pattas. The protesters led by Akhil Gogoi demanded that an official of the rank of the deputy commissioner receive their memorandum but two hours passed with no response from the administration. Instead, the police carried out a lathi charge and fired tear-gas shells to disperse the demonstrators, many of whom were seriously injured. When this failed, they fired into the air and one particular police officer is reported to have fired directly at the crowd, killing three persons on the spot, including a nine-year-old boy. Once this happened, the rally turned violent, police officers and their men were beaten up, and several vehicles were burnt or damaged allegedly by KMSS supporters.

During the melee three government luxury buses parked at a distance from the rally were also burnt, though the organisers and a section of the media have been insisting that this was done by supporters of the ruling party with the aim of discrediting Akhil Gogoi and the KMSS, whose earlier mass rallies and protests have been known for their peaceful, disciplined character. What has led credence to the involvement of Congress supporters in the burning of the buses was the fact that though the Dispur Fire Brigade station was just a few hundred metres from the scene of the arson which was leisurely carried out for almost an hour, not a single fire engine was sent to douse the flames, despite repeated calls. Nor was there any attempt by the police to stop the arson. Once electronic footage made this clear, doubts began to surface about the administration’s role in the incidents which were initially viewed merely as a failure in crowd management by the law and order machinery. Not anticipating the change in people’s perception that would occur through subsequent media exposure, the government started devising means to shift the entire blame for the violence and the mayhem on the KMSS and its leader Akhil Gogoi. Civil society and media reaction to the incidents of violence was largely one of condemnation of the violence and failure on the part of KMSS and its leader to keep the crowd under control. Hoping to cash in on this, the chief minister retracted the assurance of talks with the KMSS which had been given by the Kamrup deputy commissioner the earlier day and declared that the government would not hold talks with the KMSS but was prepared to negotiate with other civil society bodies and was seriously considering giving land pattas to those who have been living in the hills for 15 years or more. This was followed by the arrest of Akhil Gogoi on 22 June as he was addressing a press conference at the Guwahati Press Club. The RTI activist was not shown any arrest warrant and several bailable and non-bailable changes were slapped on him and he was remanded in police custody for three days.

State Government Panic The KMSS called for a statewide bandh to demand the release of its leader but, significantly, even before this announcement, spontaneous protests in the form of road and rail blockades took place in different parts right across the state. Added to this was the highly successful bandh on 23 June which brought life to a complete standstill in both the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys. Attempts by the National Students Union of India and Youth Congress activists to break the bandh failed miserably. The people’s response to the bandh call and the support extended to the KMSS and its leader by the local media clearly unnerved the government and even before the three-day-custody period was over, the police produced Akhil Gogoi before the Chief Judicial Magistrate on the afternoon of 26 June. Surprisingly, there was no request for extension of police custody. On the contrary, the police produced a bunch of medical reports, on the basis of which the magistrate ordered that the peasant leader be kept in judicial custody and sent to the Guwahati Medical College Hospital and that he be produced only after complete recovery. But the police bandobast that took place while Akhil was being produced in court clearly showed how unnerved and panicky the administration had become. Barricades were set up on all the approach roads to the magistrate’s court and movement of people strictly prevented. Despite this, hundreds of KMSS supporters turned up and kept shouting slogans from behind the bamboo barricades for the release of their leader. The preventive measures taken by the police clearly surpassed those adopted when the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) leaders were produced for the first time in court. Initially, the press too was kept at a distance but after the magistrate’s orders, Akhil Gogoi was allowed to make a brief statement in which he called upon the people of the state to fight not just for his release but against the big dams, corruption and price rise. The message had gone to the government of Tarun Gogoi that public opinion was against the arrest of the KMSS leader and was unwilling to accept the government’s version of the events. In securing this, the local electronic media played a leading role by exposing the government’s authoritarian tactics. Suddenly, the new-found confidence of the government following its recent election victory was beginning to ebb. Clearly, the arrest has boomeranged on the government. While Akhil Gogoi is recuperating in hospital in judicial custody, the KMSS has gone ahead with its protest programmes which include a jail bharo in which hundreds of KMSS supporters have been arrested throughout the state. Support for the KMSS demand for the release of Akhil Gogoi has also come in from civil society organisations in the neighbouring states and there has also been a demonstration in New Delhi and other cities. But what is significant for the political scenario of the state is that several indigenous organisations including those belonging to the tea tribes such as the Asom Sangrami Chah Shramik Sanstha have expressed their solidarity with Akhil Gogoi and the KMSS. False Allegations The chief minister during a press meet has accused the KMSS and its leader of having links with both the Maoists as also with organisations like the Asom Chatra Yuba Sangha and the Chah Janajati Suraksha Samity which he alleged were backed by the Paresh Baruah faction of the Ulfa. When questioned by journalists, he tried to backtrack, saying that although he had no direct evidence of such links, yet he inferred that such links were there. He even refuted Union Home Minister Chidambaram’s recent statement that there was no notable presence of Maoists in the state. Akhil Gogoi, however, has been consistently maintaining that his organisation has never had links with the Maoists, though on occasion he has referred to his Marxist convictions. In an interview given last year to an Assamese daily Akhil Gogoi had even dismissed the Maoist path as a “shortcut” and said that the Maoists did not pay much attention to mass struggles. In the same interview he declared that the parliamentary Left was constricted by middle class ideology and that it was inappropriate to term these parties as communist parties. This disdain for the parliamentary Left has been a spanner in the forging of a united platform of struggle of the peasants and the working classes of the state. While it is true that the fortunes of the Left have been on a decline in the state for quite some time now and it was virtually decimated in the recent elections, leaving it with no representation in the 126-member house, yet support from the Left sections would certainly add significantly to Akhil Gogoi’s struggle which initially began with the exposure of the public distribution system (PDS) and district rural development agency (DRDA) scams through RTI interventions. It was from local issues that Akhil Gogoi would soon move to wider issues relating to the rights of people over their natural resources which in turn began with the rights of the forest dwellers to their land.

http://epw.in/epw/uploads/articles/16281.pdf

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Who gets to keep the pearl city? – By Sai Manish (Jul 16, 2011, Tehelka)

Just off the highway to Srisailam in Ranga Reddy district’s Srinagar village, Rama Rao, along with four other workers, toil on 650 acres of barren land, making markings and putting up signposts. What’s unusual is that the interests of this Telangana labourer, earning Rs 130 a day, converges with the interests of an Andhra politician who presides over a $3 billion empire in the middle of nowhere. Here is how. In the next eight years, Discovery City, which these five men are helping build, would have gobbled up more than Rs 5,000 crore in investment and would be a city in itself – Telangana’s answer to the Lavasa project near Pune. These five toddy-sipping workers from Telangana, though, are blissfully unaware that their future and the future of their children would be inextricably tied to the success of this mega project being executed by the Ramky Group, owned by TDP MP Modgula Venugopala Reddy. Located well inside Telangana’s Ranga Reddy district, but tantalisingly close to Hyderabad, this project, with the potential of employing 1,00,000 people in numerous schools (including one by the Art of Living Foundation), hospitals, malls, hotels, special economic zones and residential apartments and bungalows will be relying heavily on a political solution to the current impasse over a separate state of Telangana.

However ironic it may sound, this billion-dollar project doesn’t need either Telangana or Rayalaseema or Coastal Andhra for its success both as a commercial venture and as a development initiative. Its success will be determined not by any other region, but by its proximity to Hyderabad, a city that will be the venture’s umbilical cord for decades after its completion. “When I was a kid, my mother used to feed me toddy as she had little milk to give us,” says Rama Rao as he takes a break from digging up trenches, “but now things are much better. We all want a separate Telangana but they should leave Ranga Reddy and Hyderabad alone. All my life’s earnings have come from working in the construction sector in the city. I tell the leaders – let them have what they want, but just leave the city alone.” The venture is like a joey sitting pretty in its mother’s pouch fearing that it might be plucked away by the Telangana boomers. If the workers here fear for their livelihood, the owners fear for their investments and profitability. And that is why the multi-millionaire Venugopala Reddy has been holding placards and shouting on top of his voice in the Lok Sabha for a United Andhra Pradesh. Because quite like the workers who fear for their freedom of movement across borders in search of work, Reddy fears investment flows from enterprising Andhra businessmen will be stymied if Hyderabad is made a part of Telangana.

Reddy’s fears can be explained by the massive investments made by his Ramky Group in Hyderabad alone. The MP’s company constructed the outer ring road that serves as an artery for spreading out development around Hyderabad at a cost of Rs 400 crore. Ramky also manages Hyderabad’s conventional and biomedical wastes through its subsidiaries. It is developing high-rise residential projects in Hyderabad’s upcoming Gachibowli locality with an investment of Rs 400 crore, apart from building the luxurious CEO Enclave at a similar cost. Add to that, its uber posh triplex bungalow project, Ramky Pearl, where each house will be sold upwards of Rs 2 crore. Upping the stakes is another futuristic multi-product development park being planned by Ramky in Hyderabad, with an investment of Rs 500 crore. In total, Modugula Reddy’s firm has close to Rs 7,000 crore at stake in and around Hyderabad in the years to come. In comparison, the only notable projects of the group outside the Telangana region in AP are in Warangal, where it is building a housing project at a cost of Rs 216 crore and another Rs 500 crore in the functioning Jawaharlal Nehru Pharma City in Vizag. “Hyderabad in Telangana will be separated from the rest of the state by two districts – Nalgonda and Mahabubnagar. Anti-social elements may use this area as a buffer zone and enforce blockades, badly hurting everyone in Hyderabad and the whole state,” fears Reddy. And that is where fears of a casual worker earning Rs 130 a day and a politician-businessman who has investments worth Rs 7,000 crore at stake meet – in a city that has a Metropolitan Development Area five times the size of the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi.

EVEN SOME pro-Telangana leaders admit that the biggest impediment to a new state may not be river-sharing, resource allocation or administrative reorganisation. At the centre of what Union Home Minister P Chidambaram described as a “complicated issue” is the question of Hyderabad. The city has become a magnet for investments over the years and is now the preferred destination for MNCs like Facebook, Google and many others, which in turn, has spurred a massive real estate boom. All of it is controlled by Andhra businessmen – among them many senior MPs and MLAs with vested business interests, unwilling to let a veritable goldmine slip out of their hands. This heady cocktail of power, politics and big money makes Hyderabad a prized possession: Telangana leaders see it as a new centre of gravity for spurring development in a separate Telangana while Andhra leaders see the city’s 21st century global avatar as a fruit of their labour that cannot be “gifted away” for the sake of political convenience. “Hyderabad has to be a part of Telangana,” says Telangana Joint Action Committee (T-JAC) convener M Kodandaram. “One cannot spoil the geographical contiguity of Telangana by taking away Hyderabad. We will make sure that every group is protected in Hyderabad, which has always been a multi-cultural city. There can be no Telangana without Hyderabad and no Hyderabad without Telangana.”

http://tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne160711Who.asp

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Frozen funds leave minorities in the lurch – By Imran Khan (Jul 9, 2011, Tehelka)

Catching the corrupt is clearly not enough – as this story shows, a sensitised officialdom and accountable politicians are needed if the poor and the marginalised are to get the benefits of schemes carefully crafted for them. In this case, the siphoning off of Rs 50 crore by a former chairman of the Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation (KMDC) has blocked financial loans to needy people of the minority community for the past four years. And there seems no end to the deadlock. When SM Krishna headed the Congress government in the state, Mohammed Obeidulla Shariff was chairman (2004-07) of the corporation.

The Lokayukta, on a surprise visit to the corporation office, found uncashed cheques and several office files locked up in the chairman’s cabinet. Shariff, a Congressman, also editor of the Urdu daily Pasban, is currently the administrator of the Manikshaw Wakf Committee. TEHELKA tried to get his version of the events but he was unavailable for comment. It turns out that thousands of loans were issued to undeserving applicants under various schemes instead of the needy. Shariff, a close confidant of Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha K Rehman Khan, was later caught by the Lokayukta accepting a bribe of Rs 75,000 from a person who wanted a loan to buy an autorickshaw.

For four years since, the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC) has frozen funds to the state. “Not a single rupee has been disbursed so far. Because of this corruption, deserving and needy people are being deprived of loans,” says Syed Samiullah, chairman of the Karnataka Integrated Welfare Society. IThe NMDFC offers a term loan scheme, wherein projects costing up to Rs 5 lakh are considered. NMDFC provides loans to the extent of 85 percent of the project cost. The remaining cost is met by the state corporation and the beneficiary. The rate of interest charged from beneficiaries is 6 percent per annum on reducing balance. The national body also offers microcredit of Rs 10,000. “Autorickshaw drivers who used to be given loans under this scheme have stopped getting them,” says Samiullah. “Due to this, they are now prey to private financiers and pawn brokers. Even scholarship loans to students have been stopped.”

“All this is because of Shariff, who has till date not even paid Rs 30 lakh rent belonging to an orphanage,” he adds. Present chairman of KMDC, NB Aboobakkar says, “Since I have taken charge, I have effected recovery of around Rs 22 crore. We also made the state government stand surety for Rs 30 crore. But the national corporation is still not willing to part with funds.” He says Rs 50 crore had been promised for this year but has not materialised. There are 10,000 pending applications.

Aboobakkar does not shy from taking a dig at the national corporation for playing politics. “Since we are a BJP-ruled state, they are not willing to part with the funds. It is a fate similar to that of Gujarat, Bihar and Chandigarh.” He has written to Union ministers Veerappa Moily and Salman Khurshid and former CM Dharam Singh but there has been no positive response. NMDFC Chairperson Masarrat Shahid rubbishes Aboobakkar’s claims. “This is false presentation of facts. We had offered them a one-time settlement, but they did not agree to it. There are issues of equity shares and government warranty. It has nothing to do with being a BJP-ruled state,” says Shahid.

http://tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne090711Frozen.asp

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