IAMC Weekly News Roundup – July 18th, 2011

In this issue of IAMC Weekly News Roundup

Announcements

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Announcements

IAMC Condemns Bomb Blasts in Mumbai

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC – http://www.iamc.com), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, strongly condemns the bomb blasts in Mumbai that have claimed the lives of 21 people and injured over 141.

Three blasts in Dadar, Zaveri Bazar and Opera House, all densely populated areas of Mumbai, have been confirmed as terror attacks during rush hour in the metropolitan city. IAMC calls upon people of all faiths to come together to condemn this horrific violence against civil society, and cooperate with law enforcement in bringing to justice the culprits of this evil act.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims and the survivors in this difficult hour”, said Shaheen Khateeb, President, IAMC. “This cold-blooded killing of innocent people, appears to be aimed at stoking sectarian tensions in a city known for its cosmopolitan outlook”, added Mr. Khateeb.

IAMC calls upon the Home Ministry to conduct a thorough investigation into the blasts, and ensure that the culprits as well as those that inspired them are exposed and brought to justice. IAMC also calls upon everyone to refrain from a rush to judgement until the results of the investigation are known. Several bomb blasts in recent years, led to innocent youth from a specific community being thrown into prison, and still struggling to secure justice, even after the real masterminds confessed. Once the culprits of the Mumbai blasts are identified based on evidence, IAMC calls for their prosecution to the full extent of the law.

Indian American Muslim Council (formerly Indian Muslim Council-USA) is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with 10 chapters across the nation. For more information please visit our new website at www.iamc.com

RELATED LINKS:

Three blasts in Mumbai, twenty dead, 113 injured
http://www.ndtv.com/article/cities/three-blasts-in-mumbai-two-dead-100-injured-119030

Police Confirm three blasts in Mumbai
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/9212554.cms

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Cannot rule out RSS involvement in Mumbai blasts: Digvijay (Jul 16, 2011, Times of India)

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh on Saturday said the involvement of radical Hindu outfit Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cannot be ruled out in the serial blasts that rocked Mumbai city. Speaking to media persons in New Delhi, Singh said he still adheres to the allegations made by him, as he has possessed sufficient evidence against the RSS.

“I have said that I will not rule out anything. Let the investigative agencies inquire it. Yes, if they want evidences about Sangh’s involvement in terrorist activities, I have got evidences but not in this case. I have already said on my part that I will not rule out anything,” he said. Meanwhile, the students and teachers in Mumbai lit up candles to express solidarity with the blast victims and their family members.

“Actually, it is for the support for the people, who lost their family members and fellow mates. We are not connected with them but through here, this is a way of showing them that we always support them and be with them,” said Jitesh Patel, a student. “Politicians just come up, play their games for four five years and then go away. Proper politicians are nowhere in India. We need proper politicians, who can work to make a better India,” he added. Sending a strong message to those responsible for Wednesday’s serial blasts in Mumbai, Patel said the militants would not be able to divide the country with such heinous acts, and added that the whole country stands united in times of crises.

“After doing this what do these terrorist get. They are trying to divide us, but I do not think so. We are yet united. We will stand together every time. I just want to tell them that they cannot divide us,” said Patel. “And what about the intelligence agencies and the government? They are doing nothing. After paying tons of tax, this is what we get. No, we need to improve this,” he added. At least 19 persons have died and over 130 others injured in the triple blasts, which took place at Zaveri Bazar, Opera House and Dadar in Mumbai on Wednesday evening.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/9247667.cms

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Blast deatainee death:Family alleges foul play (Jul 17, 2011, Times Now)

The mystery around Fayaz Usmani’s death, while being questioned by Mumbai police for his connection to last Wednesday’s Mumbai serial blasts has taken yet another twist with his wife Rubeda on Sunday (July 17)alleging that there was foul play involved. Speaking to reporters Rubeda said, “I want justice. I want a probe into my husbands death. They came on Saturday evening and picked him up saying they would just question him and let him return home. After that I dont know what happened, but my husband was admitted in hospital after being picked up by the police.”

“My husband was not suffering from any illness. He was healthy, he didnt have a blood pressure or blood sugar problems either. He had no problems and was in good health.” Rubeda’s allegations are echoed by the rest of Fayaz’s family who also said he was fine when he left the house with the police.

Fayaz Usamani who was questioned in connection with Wednesday’s serial blasts in Mumbai died while undergoing treatment in a civic-run hospital in Mumbai, police said today. Fayaz Usmani, brother of 2008 Ahmedabad blast accused Afzal Usmani, died at 1:30 AM while he was undergoing treatment for hemiparesis and hypertension in the Lokmanya Tilak Hospital in Mumbai, doctors said.

http://www.timesnow.tv/articleshow/4378936.cms

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Indian American Muslim Council condemns Mumbai blasts (Jul 14, 2011, Twocircles.net)

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC – http://www.iamc.com), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, has strongly condemned the bomb blasts in Mumbai that have claimed the lives of 21 people and injured over 141.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims and the survivors in this difficult hour”, said Shaheen Khateeb, president, IAMC. “This cold-blooded killing of innocent people, appears to be aimed at stoking sectarian tensions in a city known for its cosmopolitan outlook”, added Mr. Khateeb.

IAMC has called upon the Home Ministry to conduct a thorough investigation into the blasts, and ensure that the culprits as well as those that inspired them are exposed and brought to justice.

The US based advocacy group has also requested everyone to refrain from a rush to judgment until the results of the investigation are known, “Several bomb blasts in recent years, led to innocent youth from a specific community being thrown into prison, and still struggling to secure justice, even after the real masterminds confessed,” says the statement released by the IAMC.

Indian American Muslim Council (formerly Indian Muslim Council-USA www.iamc.com) is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with 10 chapters across the nation.

http://twocircles.net/2011jul14/indian_american_muslim_council_condemns_mumbai_blasts.html

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Six found guilty in riot case, 2 get life (Jul 13, 2011, Indian Express)

A Sessions Court in Viramgam in Ahmedabad (Rural) district on Tuesday convicted six persons in a 2002 riots case and awarded life imprisonment to two of the accused. Three persons – Hyder Miayana, Juma Miayana and Imran Miayana – were killed and seven others injured in the attack on February 28, 2002 near Joravarsinh ni Dargah on Valana Road near Viramgam town.

The six convicts have been identified as Bhopa Bharwad, Vala Bharwad, Vithhal Bharwad alias Kuchiyo, Bachu Thakor, Mula Bharwad and Mera Bharwad. Bhopa Bharwad and Bachu Thakor have been awarded life imprisonment while the remaining four have been awarded rigorous imprisonment for a period ranging between four and 10 years. The court also slapped fines on them ranging between Rs 5,000 and Rs 20,000.

Advocate Altaf Shaikh who appeared on behalf of the victims, said: “One of the witnesses received a message of a fire at his farm near Valana village. He and some others rushed there and doused the fire. But then they saw some persons trying to demolish the dargah. They tried to prevent the accused, who retaliated with sharp-edged weapons. Two persons were killed on the spot and the third died of injuries at VS Hospital in Ahmedabad the next day.”

Public prosecutor in the case, N B Rathod, said a total of 21 witnesses were examined. Rathod said trial judge D B Patel acquitted four other accused on benefits of doubt. “I will give my recommendations to the state government to go for an appeal against the acquitted accused,” Rathod said.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/816785/

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Ishrat: SIT grills suspended cop N K Amin in Vadodara jail (Jul 13, 2011, Indian Express)

The Gujarat High Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigating the Ishrat Jahan encounter case on Tuesday questioned officer N K Amin at Vadodara Central Jail, where he is currently lodged in connection to the Sohrabuddin encounter case. This was the first ever questioning of Amin after the SIT began their investigations.

The SIT team led by SIT Chairman Satyapal Singh along with members Mohan Jha and Satish Verma questioned Amin for several hours in the jail premises on his key role in the encounter. The recently conducted mock drill at the Gujarat Police Training Academy under supervision of forensic experts from the Centre indicated that it could have been Amin, and not the commando who probably shot Ishrat and her aides from Amin’s Maruti Gypsy, said SIT officials.

The SIT probe in the case so far indicate that Amin and another suspect, encounter police officer Tarun Barot are the key shooters. Amin was then the ACP with the Ahmedabad Crime Branch under then DCP Crime, DG Vanzara who is also under the SIT scanner. Barot’s questioning had put Amin in dock after he disclosed that it was in close supervision and instructions of Amin and Vanzara that the other police officers, including GL Singhal, had carried out the encounter, SIT sources said. The SIT had questioned Vanzara last week in Sabarmati Central Jail. The SIT said Amin may be questioned again.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/816787/

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Action taken against 25 policemen in Chhattisgarh fake encounter case (Jul 13, 2011, The Hindu)

Acting against the police team in connection with the killing of a 16-year-old girl in an alleged encounter in Balrampur district last week, the Chhattisgarh Government has directed 25 police personnel, including a police station in-charge, to be attached to the lines. The State also announced Rs. 2 lakh compensation to the relatives of the victim, senior State official said.

Talking to PTI over telephone, Balrampur Superintendent of Police H.S. Meena said: “Following the incident, the State government has directed 25 police personnel, including Chando police station in-charge Nikodin Khes, to be attached to the lines.” Mr. Meena said the district police personnel concerned have been sent to the Police Line Ambikapur, while those from the Armed forces have been sent to the Company headquarters. Chief Minister Raman Singh has ordered a magisterial probe into the incident.

Saying that a magisterial probe alone was not enough, the Opposition Congress has demanded that a criminal offence be registered. Chhattisgarh Congress Committee president Nand Kumar Patel said: “Magisterial probes are conducted after all encounters, something that is happening in this particular case as well. Therefore it is evident that such incidents are not taken seriously, and that the guilty are being safeguarded.” Mr. Patel further said it became evident the victim was not a naxalite and that she had been murdered.

Meena Khalko was killed in an encounter by a joint team of Balrampur district police and Chhattisgarh Armed Force near Navadih village on Wednesday. Balrampur district police claimed that Meena was a naxal who was killed when the police retaliated after the outlaws opened fire on the joint team during patrol. The police also claimed to have recovered a rifle and some naxal items from the girl. However, Meena’s family members and Navadih villagers claim no such encounter took place that day.

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article2223197.ece

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More organizations join the demand for justice for Forbesganj victims (Jul 12, 2011, Twocircles.net)

The efforts for justice to the victims of Forbesganj police brutality is going strong on as several Muslim leaders associated with different groups and organizations put their weight behind the demand of CBI enquiry into the incident which killed 4 poor Muslims including a 7-minth infant and a pregnant woman on June 3 at Bhajanpur village of Forbesganj in Araria district of Bihar.

To discuss the issue and future course of action, these leaders held a meeting on July 11 at Shaheed Peer Ali Park near Gandhi Maidan in Patna. Besides CBI enquiry, they demanded Rs. 10 lakh compensation to the family of each killed and Rs. 5 lakh to each injured person. They also demanded action against police officers including Araria SP and immediate withdrawal of cases against the villagers filled by administration as well as factory owner.

They lambasted Muslim leaders of JD-U who expressed satisfaction over state government action regarding incident. “It is a shameful matter that the Muslim leaders of JD-U are defending Nitish government’s cold action into the brutal incident for their personal benefits. To appease chief Minister, they are calling communalists those who are voicing for justice to the victims of the police firing” said Raees Azam, Convener of AMU Old Boys Association, Bihar.

He further said that soon a dharna will be organized at Kargil Chowk which would march to R-block with black flags. “We will fight for justice to the victims of police atrocities. If government will not consider our demands, we will not hesitate to do collective self-immolation,” warned Raees Azam who is also a former JD-U leader.

Those who attended the meeting included Dr. Mahboob Alam Ansari, President of Bhartiya Momin Front; Nihal Akhtar, President of Rashtriya Muslim Dalit Sena; Manzoor Alam Ansari, President of All India Ansari Maha Panchayet; Bunti Khan of Muslim United Front; Zakir Hussain , President of Muslim Adhikar Manch and Azharul Haq, Advocate, Patna High Court.

http://twocircles.net/2011jul12/more_organizations_join_demand_justice_forbesganj_victims.html

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‘Telangana to be granted in 2 weeks’ (Jul 14, 2011, Hindustan Times)

Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K Chandrasekhar Rao told fasting Congress legislators on Thursday their party’s high command would make an announcement on the formation of Telangana in two weeks.

On the occasion of Rao’s visit to express solidarity with the Telangana cause, Congress leaders gave him a standing ovation and also wrapped a tri-colour Congress khanduwa (silk scarf) around his neck. Rao carried the scarf along with his party’s pink scarf throughout his stay there.

“We have reached the climax of the Telangana agitation. I have been getting information from New Delhi that the Centre would make an announcement on Telangana in the next two weeks. We need to remain united and drop our guns till our goal is achieved,” Rao said.

The 48-hour fast is in protest against Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s statement that the issue concerning the new state of Telangana could not move an “inch” without the assembly’s unanimous resolution.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print/721194.aspx

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SIT on black money is judicial overreach: Centre (Jul 16, 2011, The Hindu)

The Centre on Friday moved the Supreme Court to recall its July 4 order directing that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) be constituted to probe the black money case. It described the order as ‘judicial overreach.’ The review petition said the order, which directed that the SIT be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, amounted to judicial overreach into executive functions and was against the principle of ‘separation of powers.’

The Centre, while seeking to recall the order on the grounds that it was “bad,” requested the court to suspend the directions. The petition said: “The said order is without jurisdiction inasmuch as it impinges upon and goes contrary to the established doctrine of separation of powers. Besides, the interim order is faulty as the economic policies of the government are beyond judicial review.”

The Centre submitted that the court had gone beyond the prayers in the petition filed by the former Union Law Minister, Ram Jethmalani, and others as there was no prayer asking for the constitution of a SIT. The executive was not laggardly in its approach to tackling the black money menace, it said, pointing out that it had constituted a High Level Committee to address the issue.

Citing slackness in the investigation, the court had, on July 4, constituted the SIT under the chairmanship of retired Supreme Court Judge B.P. Jeevan Reddy to take all steps for bringing back unaccounted for monies unlawfully kept in banks abroad. The court rejected the Centre’s contention that since a High Level Committee had already been set up there was no need for a Special Investigation Team.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2230381.ece

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Army not to fight or engage Naxals: Antony (Jul 12, 2011, The Hindu)

In the backdrop of suggestions for the Army to fill the breach after the Supreme Court declared ‘Salwa Judum’ illegal and the paramilitary forces being repeatedly attacked, Defence Minister A.K. Antony ruled out such a course. However, the Army would react in self-defence if it was attacked, he told journalists here on the sidelines of a seminar on defence acquisition on Tuesday.

“We are there not to fight or engage Naxals. At the same time, the government has given the Army standard operating procedures for self-defence. [The] Army now has a presence in some areas where they were not present earlier. But it is going into these areas purely on professional grounds. They want more training grounds as they are short of firing ranges,” he said. Mr. Antony was responding to questions on the Army’s standard operating procedures while it deploys troops at a new shooting range in the restive south Chhattisgarh region. The Army has been looking for new ranges after environmental considerations and population pressure reduced the number of firing ranges by more than half.

The Minister was basically reiterating the reluctance expressed by previous Army chiefs to deploy troops in Chhattisgarh. This call became more insistent after the Supreme Court, on July 5, declared illegal and unconstitutional the deployment of youth who had passed fifth class as Special Police Officers either as Koya Commandos, Salwa Judum, or any other force in fighting Maoist insurgency. The Army has also refrained from anti-insurgency operations in Maoist-dominated areas where it has a traditional presence such as Ramgarh in Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh district where its Sikh Regimental Centre is located.

Responding to another query, the Minister said it was too early to give a comprehensive reaction to the U.S. withdrawing $800 million in military aid – of the $2 billion security assistance it gives annually to Pakistan – but termed the move as positive. “It is too early to comment for how long this embargo will continue. But it is a positive step, a welcome step,” he said. Earlier addressing the seminar, Mr. Antony said neither bribes nor political considerations will impact the selection of vendors.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2221011.ece

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Opinions and Editorials

Mumbai blasts: Possible suspects – By Kashif-ul-Huda (Jul 14, 2011, TwoCircles.net)

There are names of organizations being floated around as those who can be behind this latest terror attack on Mumbai. But most of these statements are either contributed to anonymous sources or to terror experts who are well known for pushing their bias, lacking any evidence or analysis. Therefore to really begin to understand who could be behind the recent Mumbai blasts we have to see what kind of terror attacks India has seen in recent years and which organizations are said to [be] behind those attacks. … Low quality of bombs means that these bombs were prepared by a terrorist group not affiliated to a military; otherwise these bombs would have been more sophisticated and have killed more people. The fact that all these three bombs exploded in different parts of Mumbai at around the same time means that there were at least three groups of people placing each of the bombs. Absence of any unexploded bomb suggests that none of the bomb-placement groups got cold feet and abandoned the idea and dumped the bomb. Failure to find unexploded bomb could also mean that bomb-maker was proficient and all the devices that he made worked. This means that this terror strike is carried out by a dedicated group of people, who may not have lot of resources but proficient in their trade and able to construct three bombs and then place them in public places without getting discovered.

Indian Mujahideen: This was the first name that everyone expected to be mentioned in relation to Mumbai blasts and TV channels did oblige. Quoting anonymous sources, TV channels and news websites credited “Indian Mujahideen” as the group behind the latest bomb blasts. Indian Mujahideen is a shadowy organization that first came on the scene on November 23, 2007 by sending an email to media houses claiming responsibility for six blasts that occurred in UP courts of Lucknow, Varanasi, and Faizabad. Since then they have also claimed responsibility for Jaipur (May 13, 2008), Ahmedabad (July 26, 2008), and Delhi blasts (September 13, 2008). They have also claimed an attack on Jama Masjid that occurred on September 19, 2010, just a few days before the Commonwealth Games. So except for one, all the attacks that this group has claimed have been serial blasts, though all of them have been at a bigger scale than the latest Mumbai attack. It is also to be noted that Indian Mujahideen has always sent an email just before or right after an attack to claim responsibility. There has not been any email before or after the attack putting a big doubt on whether it was indeed this group behind the latest terror strike on Indian soil.

Foreign factors: Pakistani terror groups have mostly operated in Kashmir. Even with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or Harkatul Jehad-e-Islami (HuJI) name thrown around a lot in India media there are very few incidents outside Kashmir that can be conclusively traced back to these organization or their host countries. One such example is obviously the Mumbai attacks of 2008 also known as 26/11 for the November 26th date when the attack began. If 26/11 is any guide it shows that terrorists in our neighboring countries are highly trained, and most significantly they arrived in India on the day of their attack. It is impossible for a group of foreigners to remain in India undetected for so long without coming into the eyes of law enforcement or intelligence agencies, especially given the close scrutiny that Indian Muslims have been going through for some years now. So if we consider number of people who have to be involved in this operation and the low quality of bombs, it seems less probable that a foreign element carried out the Mumbai blasts.

Hindutva groups: Among the Indian-based terror groups, we have to consider Hindutva groups as well. Thanks to Swami Aseemananda’s confessions now we know for sure that Hindutva elements were involved in Mecca Masjid bombing (May 18, 2007), twice in Malegaon (September 8, 2006 and September 29, 2008), Ajmer (October 11, 2007) and also Samjhauta train bombing (February 18, 2007). We do see a pattern that all confirmed Hindutva attacks have so far been on mosques or a train that is mostly used by Muslims. Mumbai blasts were civilian targets and at least this doesn’t seem to have been the strategy of the Hindutva groups in the past. If we take the motive of some groups adversely affecting the Indian financial system through terror attacks then this hasn’t really happened since the first major attacks of 1993, so why would terror groups keep coming back to hitting Mumbai when the financial sector comes back to life the very next day itself. If the motive of the blasts is to create communal disharmony in the country then that has also not worked well even after so many blasts and deaths of both Hindus and Muslims that have included attacks on mosques and temples.

This leaves us with only one motive and which is to create diplomatic rifts between Indian and Pakistan. There are only two types of groups that want to see this happen- Pakistani terrorists or Hindutva groups. As mentioned before, it is difficult for Pakistanis to operate in India without being detected so that leaves us with just Hindutva terror group that has the motive to do this. They also have a strong cadre based in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, and the bombing methodology and technology also comes close to the level that they must have reached by now had they been actively practicing their trade. Regardless of who is really behind this latest violence, India as a nation need to recognize that there will always be internal and external forces who will be in the lookout for an opportunity to destabilize India or cause some damage that they think will push India towards their agenda. It is the job of the intelligence agencies to track, infiltrate, and bust these organizations. Unfortunately, this has not happened so far and in most cases due to the pressure of media and public law enforcement agencies arrest and charge many for crimes they have not committed wasting time and money on court cases, not to mention destroying innocent lives. This has not worked in the past and it is high time we get a new approach in tackling terrorism that follows the physical clues and leads that will take us to the source of terror but this must happen away from the glares of the cameras.

http://twocircles.net/2011jul14/mumbai_blasts_possible_suspects.html

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Bill of contention – By V. Venkatesan (Jul 16, 2011, Frontline)

The National Advisory Council’s (NAC) draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill has elicited great expectations and also disappointment within the political class and civil society ( Frontline, July 1, 2011). With its deadline seeking comments from civil society (June 4) having passed, it was expected that the NAC would revise the draft Bill in the light of the comments and suggestions received from the general public. On June 22, it agreed to 49 amendments on the basis of the feedback. It also placed a list of these amendments on its website and promised to send the revised draft to the government for its consideration. The most important among these amendments is an agreement to delete a clause which refers to Article 355 of the Constitution. The NAC claimed this had mistakenly created a fear that it might interfere with the federal structure. Clause 20 of the draft Bill, as it originally stood, stated that the occurrence of organised communal and targeted violence shall constitute “internal disturbance” within the meaning of Article 355 and that the Central government may take such steps in accordance with the duties mentioned thereunder as the nature and circumstances of the case so require. In the revised draft, this clause stands deleted. Under Article 355, it is the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The NAC apparently agreed to delete Clause 20 because it was in conflict with one of its own guiding principles in bringing forward the Bill – that the Bill’s framework must not rest on the “declaration of disturbed areas”, which is likely to give undue powers to the Centre.

Clause 20, however, was also intended to provide a rationale to the Bill in the form of the Union’s duty to protect every State against internal disturbance. While agreeing to delete Clause 20, the NAC appears to have ignored the need to provide a rationale to the Bill, its critics say. A constitutional justification for the Bill could have been provided had the NAC understood the need to draw the legitimacy for the Bill from the second part of Article 355, which says it is the duty of the Union to ensure that “the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”. This could have helped the government quell the critics’ worry about the Bill’s seeming impact on the federal structure of the country. Usha Ramanathan, a former member of the NAC’s Drafting Committee, suggested to the NAC that the second part of Article 355 could be included by suitably amending either Clause 20 or the Bill’s long title. But the NAC appears to have rejected this suggestion without stating any reason. This omission to cite the second part of Article 355 will make it difficult to explain where the Central government will get the powers from and at the same time make it vulnerable to both political and legal challenge, she points out. Clause 3(c) of the draft Bill, as it originally stood, defined communal and targeted violence as any act or series of acts resulting in injury or harm to the person and/or property, knowingly directed against any person by virtue of his or her membership of any group, which destroys the secular fabric of the nation. The NAC agreed to delete the phrase “which destroys the secular fabric of the nation” as it set too high a threshold. Critics, however, point out that the NAC should have deleted the word “knowingly” also in this definition as it was one more obstacle in proving an offence. Those accused of an offence under the proposed Bill can take the plea that they did not “know” that the victim was a member of a particular group, even if their role in the communal and targeted violence against a group is proved. Critics also question the relevance of Clause 4 of the draft Bill, which further amplifies the meaning of “knowledge”, as used in this definition.

The NAC has claimed that in response to some concerns about the excessive powers given to a National Authority under the draft Bill, it has agreed, for abundant caution, to delete some clauses in this regard. Thus it has deleted Clause 32(ii) dealing with monitoring and reviewing by a National Authority of the performance of duties by public servants relating to postings, transfers and replacement of any individual officers from areas where outbreaks of communal and targeted violence are reported or anticipated. According to the Bill, the National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation shall inquire or investigate, suo motu or upon any information or otherwise, … [an] occurrence or likely occurrence of offences of communal and targeted violence and negligence in the prevention of communal and targeted violence by public servants. It shall also issue advisories and make recommendations in relation to the same to state and non-state actors. How will the NAC perform this ambitious function? Ironically, the draft Bill leaves that to the rules to be framed under the proposed Act. Critics of the draft Bill feel that the NAC has not understood the basic reservations they have about the National Authority. As the very nature of its functions suggests, the National Authority hardly has any role in preventing communal and targeted violence. The only reference to preventive function is in Clause 31(f), which says the National Authority shall perform such other functions that it may consider necessary for the preservation of communal harmony and the prevention and control of communal and targeted violence. According to them, such a broad and vague reference cannot help the National Authority to break the impunity of public servants who are responsible for controlling situations leading to the outbreak of communal and targeted violence.

Critics of the draft Bill, therefore, feel the need for a strong legal framework that would compel a public servant to take effective steps to prevent the outbreak of communal and targeted violence, rather than a National Authority that would collect and analyse information after the outbreak. According to them, the need to create a toothless body like the National Authority whose function will be purely academic is least convincing. What is inexplicable is that the draft Bill also creates corresponding authorities in the States. According to the proviso to Clause 31, where any State Authority has commenced an inquiry under powers vested under this Act, the National Authority shall not inquire into the same. This will effectively bring to naught even the academic function which the National Authority is expected to perform under the Bill. What the Bill leaves unstated is that a State government which is complicit in the outbreak of communal and targeted violence can force the State Authority, comprising members in whose selection it played a predominant role, to commence an inquiry first just in order to oust the jurisdiction of the National Authority in the matter. Such a State government can rest assured that the National Authority will then not be in a position even to embarrass it with its directions or recommendations. Clause 76 of the draft Bill excludes prior sanction for offences detailed in Schedule III, which are largely offences under the Indian Penal Code pertaining to the performance of official functions by a public servant. However, prior sanction is required for graver offences enumerated in Schedule II and, more significantly, for all the crimes formulated in this draft Bill.

Besides, Clause 130 of the draft Bill protects the action taken in good faith by the Central and State governments, the National Authority or the State Authority in pursuance of the proposed Act or the rules made under it. The NAC has not seriously addressed the fears of the activists that such provisions in the draft Bill would sow the seeds of lack of accountability and transparency in the discharge of public functions. There is a sense of disappointment among those hoping for a robust anti-communal violence Bill that the NAC has lost an opportunity to correct the institutional bias and the general breakdown of the criminal justice system during the outbreak of communal and targeted violence. If the offences specified under the draft Bill were also included under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, it would have helped strengthen the resolve to fight the communal monster effectively, irrespective of whether the attacks are directed against the majority or minority community. According to these people, it would have also helped rebut the criticism (mainly from the Bharatiya Janata Party) that the draft Bill is anti-majoritarian in outlook and achieve political consensus over the passage of the Bill in Parliament. As the bulk of the draft Bill is devoted to measures to tackle post-communal and targeted violence, there is an agonising but unstated assumption that such violence is perhaps unpreventable.

http://www.flonnet.com/fl2815/stories/20110729281502900.htm

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Beyond enquiry – By V. Venkatesan (Jul 16, 2011, Frontline)

The Right to Information Act, 2005, originally exempted 18 public authorities under the Central government from disclosure of information. Section 24 of the Act provided this exemption to intelligence and security organisations specified in the Second Schedule of the Act, and permitted the Central government to amend the Schedule, by notification in the Official Gazette, to include new organisations or omit organisations that had been included earlier. The Central government may do so under the Act without even seeking Parliament’s sanction for amending the Schedule, even though it is mandatory to place every such notification before each House of Parliament. Last month, RTI activists realised to their dismay that this provision could indeed mean amendment of the Act itself, which might undo the very objectives of the legislation, without Parliament’s approval. Rajeev Kapoor, a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, issued a notification on June 9, following a decision of the Union Cabinet, amending the Second Schedule to the RTI Act to include three more organisations, thus taking the total number of exempted public authorities to 25. The newly exempted public authorities are the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Intelligence Grid. As the veteran RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal pointed out, the notification held an irony of which only the activists were aware. Rajeev Kapoor was a participant in the recently held Shillong RTI convention, which, under National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy as Chairperson, unanimously adopted a resolution to delete altogether the Second Schedule as Section 8 of the RTI Act provided adequate and vast coverage of exemptions from disclosures.

Neither the Cabinet nor the Ministry issued a press note explaining the decision. It required an indomitable information seeker, C.J. Karira from Hyderabad, to secure from the Department of Personnel and Training [DoPT] Office, New Delhi, copies of crucial documents concerning this unfair exemption. His perusal of the documents revealed that the Department of Personnel initially opposed the CBI’s exemption stating that the CBI did not deal either with intelligence or with security issues, as required under the Act. The documents further revealed that the Law Ministry had suggested a partial exemption for the CBI, stating that the agency should be answerable to queries on subjects such as administration, personnel and budget. The only document that strongly recommended the exemption of the CBI was the 11-page opinion tendered by Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati to the Law Ministry. Karira, who has acquired a copy of this document from the Department of Personnel files, shared it with Frontline. Broadly, the Department of Legal Affairs of the Law Ministry wanted the Attorney-General to clarify three issues relating to the exemption of the CBI: Would it be legally feasible to include the CBI in the Second Schedule of the RTI Act under the provisions of Section 24 of the Act? If yes, whether the matters pertaining to administration, personnel, accounts/finance/budget and training can be completely separated from the operational issues of the CBI. Whether exempting a part of the CBI dealing with the collection of intelligence from the provisions of the RTI Act is feasible given the structure of the CBI.

While answering the first question, the Attorney-General took the view that intelligence-gathering could not be restricted to the phase prior to the happening of an event but should also extend to post-event intelligence gathered, which fell under investigation. He then concurred with the latest note received from the CBI setting out the grounds justifying the inclusion of the CBI in the Second Schedule. According to this note, the CBI had become involved in a wide range of cases, including cases referred at the instance of courts. These included cases where the economic security of the nation was at risk. Here, the note perhaps implied the number of corruption cases being investigated by the CBI, which together could be said to pose a threat to the economic security of the nation. The Attorney-General appears to have understood the term “economic security of the nation” synonymously with the term “security organisation” as used in Section 24 of the Act. Having succeeded in terming the CBI as an agency gathering intelligence post-event, he now needed some justification also to call it a “security organisation”. For this, he relied on an unrelated observation made by Justice Jeevan Reddy of the Supreme Court, while deciding a case in 1994 as part of a nine-judge Bench: “In the modern world, the security of a state is ensured not so much by physical might but by economic strength – at any rate, by economic strength as much as by armed might.” The Attorney-General was clearly stretching his argument to defend the CBI’s note.

The CBI’s note listed some specific cases investigated by the agency that had a bearing on national security: the naval war room leak case, the Barak anti-missile defence system case, the Denel anti-material rifles case, the Mecca Masjid blast case, the Bombay blast case of 1993, the fake passport case, the Assam serial blasts cases, the Andaman arms haul case, the IC-814 hijacking case (Kandahar case), and the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The Attorney-General concluded that it could not be disputed that the CBI did intelligence work that was directly related to the security agencies. To establish this link between the CBI and national security, the Attorney-General again relied on an unrelated observation of the Supreme Court while deciding a case in 1985. The court had observed that the security of the state could be affected by state secrets or information relating to defence production or similar matters being passed on to other countries, or by secret links with terrorists. Another observation by a Supreme Court judge, while deciding a case in 1973, had, according to the Attorney-General, much relevance and resonance in 2011. Justice Alagiriswami had stated: “Defence of a country or the security of a country is not a static concept. The days are gone when one had to worry about the security of a country or its defence only during war time. A country has to be in a perpetual state of preparedness. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

There could be no dispute about these observations of the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court did not anywhere suggest that security and defence required denial of information by the authorities. Just because the CBI is investigating some cases that have a bearing on national security, is it reasonable to deny information about the progress of its investigation in these cases or about the CBI itself? Indeed, it can be argued that because these cases pertain to national security, keeping information about the CBI and its investigation of these cases under wraps cannot further the cause of national security but actually hinders it. The Attorney-General’s answers to the other queries posed by the Law Ministry were equally unconvincing. To the question whether the exemption should be limited only to the part relating to intelligence, he replied that such limited exemption would make intelligence-gathering difficult, if not impossible. Information gathered with regard to the investigation of persons regarding what is spent on various activities such as foreign travel and seeking information with regard to finance, budget and training will tear open the veil of secrecy that is required in relation to intelligence and investigation and will make nonsense of the whole process of granting an exemption in the first place, the Attorney-General wrote in his opinion. He concurred with another Supreme Court judge in a 1985 judgment: “The basic rule of intelligence work is that no person engaged in it should know more than what he needs to know.” …

http://www.flonnet.com/fl2815/stories/20110729281504000.htm

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Beat a man to death. Then jump on him. That’s what these cops did in Bihar – By Nirala (Jul 2, 2011, Tehelka)

Bhajanpura, an obscure village of Forbesganj town in Araria, one of the most backward districts of Bihar, has unwittingly become the epicentre of communal politics. On 3 June, police bullets and atrocities took four lives, including an seven-month-old baby, a pregnant woman and an injured man, who was heinously stomped to death. In a statement that makes a mockery of the irrefutable evidence against them, the police are justifying the killings as an act of “self-defence”. The silence of the Nitish Kumar government is also raising several uncomfortable questions especially since all four people killed in the firing on 3 June belong to a minority community. The residents of Bhajanpura could never have imagined their demand for a road could take such a tragic turn. The brutality of the police emerged in a blood-curdling video of a cop, Sunil Kumar Yadav, literally jumping on a prostrate and injured man, pummelling him to death. This two-minute long video footage is so disturbing that one shudders to think of those who saw it with their own eyes. Fatkan Ansari, father of the deceased Mustafa, breaks down while talking to TEHELKA. “Who killed him? Why was he killed? How was he killed? What do I tell you? This will not bring back my son,” is all he can mutter, before lapsing into silence. This eerie silence is everywhere in Bhajanpura where, like Ansari, people do not want to speak about the incident. Mustafa happens to be just one of the many who have suffered a gruesome fate at the hands of the keepers of law.

In Mustafa’s case, it was the video clipping of the brutality and the ensuing politicisation that caught the nation’s eye. Similar atrocities have either escaped the media’s glare or have been hushed up by the cops. Previously, on 17 December 2010, the police had opened fire on a group of residents from Batraha village who had come to protest the lewd behaviour towards their women by some paramilitary jawans. Three women and one man died in the firing. According to social activist Arshad Ajmal, several such reports never see the light of day. The particular incident in Bhajanpura was triggered by a protest by the villagers against the blockage of their only access road by a factory. They have been using this road for the past 60 years. Trouble be-gan when Auro Sundaram International Company (a company set up by the Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority to set up manufacturing of starches from maize), started building roadblocks around the road. According to sources, on 1 June, an agreement was reached between villagers and company officials to build a road somewhere else. But talks broke down on 3 June and the resulting violence claimed four lives. After the incident, the village has turned into a police camp of sorts with more than a dozen Circle Officers from adjoining districts, three or four IPS officers and several administrative officials gathering there. The police claim the villagers pelted stones, set machines on fire and took out illegal firearms from their houses and fired at them. They only retaliated in self-defence. But the horrifying video of the injured man being stomped to death pulls the rug under the police’s claims. To quell a protest the police may resort to lathi charge, or in very rare circumstances, open fire. Post-mortem reports prove that the bullets were fired at point-blank range to the neck, chest and torso areas. All pointing to an obvious intent to kill.

According to sources, Saurav Aggarwal, son of powerful the BJP MLA Ashok Aggarwal, is on the board of directors of Satyam International, which got the project to set up the starch factory. Ashok Aggarwal is considered to be close to Deputy CM Sushil Modi, who has still not given any statement on this barbaric incident. Even CM Nitish Kumar, after ordering a judicial enquiry, has refrained from saying anything. Eight days after the incident, a relief of Rs 3 lakh was announced for the family of the seven-month-old Naushad Ansari. Home Secretary Aamir Subhani has ordered a thorough inquiry to assess “why the villagers turned violent”, when they had already reached an agreement with the company. Subhani hints that the villagers might have been instigated by some local leaders and touts. The opposition parties have launched an attack on the Nitish Kumar-led government. Bihar Pradesh Congress President Mehboob Ali Qaisar, after touring the place, demanded compensation for the families of the dead and announced that the party would launch an agitation. The CPM had also announced an agitation from 14 June. Nitish’s own party members have criticised the state government’s apathy towards the incident. Senior JD(U) leader Taslimuddin has called it an “administrative failure”. Party spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari’s statement that the Congress and RJD are exploiting the issue shows the government is skirting the real problem. Tiwari said any compensation given before the probe would be illegal. One wonders then whether the compensation offered to the seven-month-old’s family on the grounds that the child had no role in the agitation, is supposed to indict the police of murdering innocents or pacify the victims.

Tiwari, a JD(U) member, toeing the CM’s line is understandable, but political observers of the state see it differently. If Nitish Kumar – who has had a clear and different stand on communal politics, his electoral alliance with the BJP notwithstanding – is adopting a lenient attitude in this matter, it will not be easy to decipher the complex maze of Bihar politics. Several NGOs have also come out against Nitish’s government. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and Shabnam Hashmi of ANHAD reached Patna on 10 June to hold a press conference. Shabnam’s report on the Bhajanpura incident accuses the Bihar government of “going down the path of Gujarat, which functions on the orders of the RSS”. “If Nitish Kumar was upset on having his picture next to Narendra Modi’s in an election poster, how can he remain silent on the atrocities committed under the protection of his own (Sushil) Modi? Had the villagers been Hindu, would the police have acted similarly?” she says. While accusations and counter-blows have taken the focus away from the real issue, a fog of gloom has descended over Bhajanpura. Rafeeq Ansari, whose sevenmonth- old grandson was shot dead, is devastated. “Two bullets were taken out of an eight-month old. I will never be able to forget it,” he says. Rafeeq’s daughter-inlaw is admitted in Patna Medical College in a critical state. Mohammed Shamsul’s seven-year-old niece, who was also injured, is admitted in the hospital. “Justice, for the harm done to us and safety of the future of the village is our only demand from the chief minister,” says Shamsul.

But the chances of Nitish doing anything like that are rather slim, chiefly because this incident has shown the rift between the state and the villagers. Good governance has been the hallmark of the Nitish Kumar government, but development is yet to achieve that status. Even if the CM announces some relief for Bhajanpura, several Bhajanpuras are waiting to happen in Bihar. If not on account of the brutal murder, then definitely due to the land acquisition and spurious dealings of companies with the locals. Such conflicts have taken place in Madvan at Muzzafarpur as also in Aurangabad and Nabinagar. Police lathi charged a crowd in Madvan, and on 14 January, in another such incident in Nabinagar, one villager succumbed to injuries. Administrative officials also know the people don’t have the will to go on prolonged protests. Last year in Bhagalpur, a protest rally of villagers demanding electricity was so badly beaten by the police that three villagers died. There was no hue and cry over the incident. Four years ago, a policeman had tied a chain-snatcher, Aurangzeb, to his motorcycle and dragged him to the police station. Last month, one person died in police custody in Gaya, but the protests simply fizzled out. It seems police brutality has plummeted to such depths that people have given up protesting. The absence of protest was conspicuous in an incident in Shumbha village of Alauli Police station where a Special Auxiliary Police jawan fired and injured two kids. Two days earlier, during the Urs festival in Gopalganj, inebriated jawans of the Bihar Military Police beat up old people, women and children with lathis, but no one came out in protest. Whether the police are playing the role of state tyrants, or simply carrying out orders from higher powers, Nitish Kumar has a problem on his hands that only he has the power to solve.

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne020711Beat.asp

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No-win state – By S. Nagesh Kumar (Jul 16, 2011, Frontline)

Vexed. That would best describe the feeling of all political parties in Andhra Pradesh today over the Central government’s drift on the long-standing demand for a separate Telangana State. The refrain among leaders from both coastal Andhra and Telangana regions of the State is that the Centre must end the political instability that is paralysing the administration, scaring away prospective investors and stifling development. But this exhortation is not as simple as it appears. Everyone wants the Centre’s verdict to go in his or her group’s favour. At least outwardly, though, many leaders pledge that they will fall in line with the verdict, whichever way it goes. The catch lies here. The ruling Congress and the main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the State want to fire the Telangana gun off the Centre’s shoulders. In the absence of a consensus within these two parties, the Centre can only take a decision on Telangana at its own peril. Neither party has the capacity to hammer out a consensus. Such is the crisis the leaderships of these two parties are facing. On its part, the Congress high command, by conducting talks exclusively with its party leaders in Andhra Pradesh, gives an impression that its short-term partisan interests must be served. In the long term, too, the final decision has to yield a rich haul of seats in the next Lok Sabha. Simply put, the Congress would like to rule both parts of the divided State and retain the 33 Lok Sabha seats it won from the State in 2009. In such a situation, the interests of eight crore people of Andhra Pradesh take a back seat to those of the ruling party. What drives one to this conclusion is the complete absence of a democratic debate about the wider implications of a division of South India’s largest State, which can fuel similar demands elsewhere in the country.

The weighty issues to be considered are whether Telangana and Seemandhra (coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema) as two separate States can progress faster than a unified State as of now and whether Hyderabad will be better off as a Union Territory, as a common capital or as the capital of Telangana alone. These issues were kept in cold storage as the Congress party’s attention was focussed on the elections that were held recently to the Assemblies of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam. The Congress high command apparently counselled its leaders in Telangana not to raise the pitch until the elections were over in mid-May. Seizing the opportunity, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K. Chandrashekar Rao struck by June end. His timing was right: the Congress in Andhra Pradesh was becoming weaker by the day, people’s patience was wearing thin, and Osmania University students, who provided momentum to the struggle for statehood, were back on the campus after the summer vacation. In a move uncharacteristic of his personality, the TRS supremo drove down to the residence of Minister for Panchayat Raj K. Jana Reddy, a key Congress leader from Telangana. He advised Congress leaders to drop their proposed move to undertake a fast from July 4 as the All India Congress Committee (AICC) would not buckle under it. He advised them instead to resign en masse from their elected posts. He made an offer that the Congress leaders could not refuse. It was that if they resigned, the TRS would help them in getting re-elected. The TRS would even consider merging itself with the Congress if its high command gave an unwavering commitment on Telangana.

The Congress leaders fell for it. They announced that all its Members of Parliament, the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council (MPs, MLAs and MLCs) would resign their seats. In order to prove that they were no less committed to a separate State, MLAs of the TDP, the TRS, the Communist Party of India and the Bharatiya Janata Party also submitted their resignation letters. By July 5, as many as 99 of the 119 MLAs from the region (one had resigned earlier), and 14 MPs, including Chandrasekhar Rao and his party’s Medak MP Vijayashanthi, had put in their papers in a reflection of the popular support in the region for a separate Telangana. The majority of the elected representatives in Hyderabad, however, stayed away from the resignation drama. This was again to be seen as an expression of a different sentiment in the State capital. The resignations created for the AICC a first-rate political crisis. It raised the spectre of President’s Rule in a Congress-ruled State and concern about the party’s majority in the Lok Sabha. Nine Congress members of the Lok Sabha and 12 State Ministers were among those who submitted their resignations. Union Finance Minister and the party’s veteran trouble-shooter Pranab Mukherjee read the Ministers and MPs the riot act for not taking the Congress high command into confidence before submitting the resignations. The only concession the party offered was to begin a process of consultations, which was a far cry from the expectation of leaders from Telangana for an announcement fixing a deadline to carve out a separate State. Mukherjee also summoned the Congress leaders of Seemandhra, who are opposed to the bifurcation of the State, and asked them to put forth their proposals to end the Telangana tangle. As life came to a standstill in Telangana with a 48-hour bandh call on July 5 and violence returned to the Osmania University campus, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram held that there was no breakdown of law and order and made it clear that imposition of President’s Rule was not on the Centre’s agenda.

It is generally felt that a situation like this could have been avoided had the Centre not frittered away valuable time and convened an all-party meeting, as was promised, to discuss the Justice Srikrishna Committee report on Telangana, which was submitted some six months ago. There were expectations of some movement on the six options suggested in the report submitted to Chidambaram. Of course, the best way forward, it recommended, was to keep the State united with “constitutional/statutory measures to address the core socio-economic concerns about the development of Telangana”. Meanwhile, a confidential chapter of the report caused embarrassment to the committee and the government when its content was adversely commented upon by the Andhra Pradesh High Court for overstepping its brief. Apparently, Chapter VIII had in it ‘helpful’ suggestions to the government on ‘managing’ political parties and the media, besides commenting on how a separate Telangana would become a hotbed of naxalite activity. The TDP is as much a picture of confusion and disarray as the Congress. A shrewd politician, Telugu Desam president N. Chandrababu Naidu seems to be losing his grip over this issue. This was on display when, at an all-party meeting held on December 7, 2009, he backed the proposal for the creation of a separate Telangana State without internal discussion in his party. Ever since, he has rued this rash act which heralded his own troubles. The TDP is now a house divided between leaders from Telangana and Seemandhra. Naidu can do nothing beyond walking the political tightrope by describing the regions as his “two eyes”. He believes that the TDP should not lose sweat over a problem which the Centre must untangle, having created it in the first place. Significantly, this has led to what was unthinkable in the TDP earlier: open rebellion by a few Telangana MLAs led by Nagam Janardhan Reddy, Deputy Leader of the TDP Legislature Party, who accuses Naidu of favouring Seemandhra under the guise of his “two-eyes theory”.

Thirty years into its existence, the regional party is at a crossroads over the Telangana issue. As Naidu has turned 61, there is a clamour to develop a second line of leadership and infuse new blood into the party. Leaders who were in their late twenties and early thirties when N.T. Rama Rao founded the party are today pushing 60. Naidu’s brother-in-law and Rajya Sabha member N. Harikrishna is himself pitching for a place for his 28-year-old actor son, NTR Jr. It is the other way round for the Congress. When N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, 51, succeeded 78-year-old K. Rosaiah as Chief Minister, it was expected to provide a whiff of fresh political air. But such hopes vanished soon when Kiran Kumar Reddy faced a revolt from Ministers who were unhappy with their portfolios. The Council of Ministers is a picture of disunity, with Ministers from the Telangana region publicly criticising their own government and others targeting the Chief Minister for taking key decisions unilaterally. Amid this confusion, the roundhouse punch delivered by former party leader Jaganmohan Reddy in the byelection to the Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency further diminished the authority of the Chief Minister. Jaganmohan, former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s son, left the Congress and floated his own party, the YSR Congress, before contesting the election. His rising influence in parts of Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra has been grudgingly accepted by the Congress. He is bound to gain acceptability in Telangana if he announces a stand sympathetic to the movement for a separate State. That leaves Chandrasekhar Rao, who has no qualms about who his political friends are. He sailed with the Congress in 2004, the TDP and the Left parties in 2009, and is now virtually mentoring Congress leaders from Telangana. The TRS has a single-point agenda: a separate State. Riding high after a near-clean sweep of the byelections to a dozen Assembly seats in the region last year, Chandrasekhar Rao’s immediate agenda is to finish the TDP in the Telangana region, a prospect the Congress too relishes. A separate Telangana can become a reality only when the Congress leadership has a convincing strategy that will bring it to power in both the regions. As things stand now, this is a difficult prospect. There is no guarantee that the party can hog the credit for creating Telangana and defeat the TRS or overcome the challenge posed by the YSR Congress and the TDP in Seemandhra. Maintaining the status quo, too, might lead to the ruling party losing in both the regions. In effect, it is a no-win situation for the Congress.

http://www.flonnet.com/fl2815/stories/20110729281502500.htm

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Licence to loot – By Ravi Sharma (Jul 16, 2011, Frontline)

South Korea’s Posco is not the only steel-maker keen to do business in Karnataka. The State’s estimated 9,000 million tonnes of good-quality iron ore reserves, which is the second largest in India, the State government’s assurances on a smooth land acquisition process, the availability of water and the promise of speedy regulatory clearances (30-35 steps under various Acts) have attracted a number of mega projects for the manufacture/beneficiation of carbon steels, sponge iron, and iron ore pelletisation, along with the setting up of captive power plants. The list of companies include ArcelorMittal (investment of Rs.30,000 crore for a 6 million tonne per annum plant in Bellary district, with 4,000 acres of land required); Bramhani Industries (Rs.36,000 crore, 6 mtpa plant in Bellary district, 5,000 acres); Bhushan Steel (Rs.27,928 crore, 6 mtpa plant in Bellary district, 4,000 acres); Surya Vijayanagar (Rs.24,000 crore 5 mtpa plant in Bagalkot district, 4,000 acres); Hazira Steel (Rs.17,700 crore 6 mtpa integrated steel plant in Bagalkot district, 2,100 acres); JSW Steels (Rs.15,131.7 crore for the enhancement of capacity from 10 mtpa to 16 mtpa in Bellary district, 1,150 acres); Tata Metaliks (Rs.15,000 crore for a 3 mtpa plant in Haveri taluk, 2,500 acres); state-owned NMDC (Rs.9,280 crore for a 5 mtpa plant in Bellary district, 5,000 acres); Adhunik Metaliks (Rs.5,508.4 crore 2.2 mtpa plant in Raichur district, 2,000 acres); Surana Industries (Rs.4,000 crore 1 mtpa plant in Bellary district, 280 acres); Shree Renuka Energy (Rs.3,292.8 crore iron ore pelletisation and 1.2 mtpa steel plant at Bagalkot/Bellary district, 2,000 acres); Ravindra Trading (Rs.3,292 crore for a 2 mtpa plant in Bellary district, 650 acres); Mahalakshmi Profiles (Rs.3,000 crore 1 mtpa steel plant at Bagalkot district, 1,000 acres); and Kalawati Ispat and Power (Rs.2,883.38 crore beneficiation plant at Gadag district, 580 acres). There are also a number of smaller players who hope to cash in on the State’s iron ore reserves.

Iron ore mining is certainly very lucrative. It is common knowledge that the cost (including lease fees, extraction, loading, transport, and labour charges; cess) of mining a tonne of medium to good grade ore, which lies not too deep in the earth as in Karnataka, is around Rs.1,000. In addition, another Rs.1,000 is allocated for what bureaucrats politely call “the keep quiet allowance”. The ore is sold at Rs.5,000 to 6,000 a tonne. Each ore truck is loaded way beyond its capacity of 10 or 20 tonnes. Today, there are even double or treble axle trucks that can carry up to 30 tonnes. Every day, hundreds of these trucks trundle from the pits to the steel plants, rail heads or docks. Each truck fetches the mine owner a profit of at least Rs.80,000. An official employed by a steel manufacturer said: “Additionally, the government’s policies are toothless and the system is flexible to the ways of the mine owners, the only criterion being money.” According to Karnataka’s Minister for Large and Medium Industries Murugesh N. Nirani, the government has sanctioned steel manufacturing projects with a capacity of well over 40 mtpa, spread across the districts of Bagalkot, Gadag, Haveri and, of course, ore-rich Bellary. Every one of these projects has insisted that the project needs a captive mine, since that would yield higher margins. The government has agreed, and the projects will be allotted a captive mine each in the Bellary-Hospet belt. However, in a bid to protect the interests of other private mine owners, the government has mandated that these units can use/mine ore from their captive mines up to only 50 per cent of their installed capacity (not sanctioned capacity). The remaining ore will have to be bought from the open market.

Going by the general rule of thumb that 1.5 tonnes of iron ore is required to produce a tonne of steel, these newly sanctioned plants will require at least 60 million tonnes of ore annually. This demand will be in addition to the around 40 million tonnes that Karnataka exported last year. But this huge demand for ore does not perturb Nirani, who says that Karnataka “will be comfortable for the next 80 years”. Not many are comfortable with this, however, and the iron ore mining in Karnataka has been described as “a rape of Mother Earth”. Some of these projects, including the ones of Posco and the Tatas, have already provoked protests by farmers who are refusing to give up their lands. The Tatas plan to take around 300 farmers from the villages of Agadi and Budagatti in Haveri district, who stand to lose their lands if the Tata Metaliks project fructifies, to their Jamshedpur steel plant. There these farmers will be “convinced” that a steel plant will not destroy their lives but bring prosperity in the form of jobs and education for their children and welfare schemes that will enhance their lives. While it is true that these projects will bring in massive investments and employment opportunities, they will come with a host of associated issues. Most of the promoters have asked for land far in excess of what they need. Apparently, they are prepared to scale back their requirements to realistic levels once meaningful negotiations with the government start. Posco, in fact, asked for 5,000 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) before settling for 3,382 acres. The projects’ promoters also want the government to acquire the lands for them.

In Karnataka, land for industrial projects is acquired by the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB), under sections of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act (KLRA), 1964, and the KIADB Act, 1966. A preliminary notification for land acquisition under Section 4(1) of the KLRA and Section 28(1) of the KIADB Act is issued at first. The notification provides information on the nature of acquisition and the extent of land to be acquired, besides giving a time limit for the public to file objections. Next, under Section 28(2), notices are sent out to the owners of the lands to be acquired and thereafter, under Section 28(3), objections, if any, are heard. Once this process is over, a final notification under Section 6(1) of the KLR Act and 28(4) of the KIADB Act is issued. The compensation is fixed by a price fixation committee, which is headed by the district’s Deputy Commissioner and includes the special land acquisition officer and representatives of farmers’ associations. Before a decision is taken, the current market value and the guidance value of the land, whether it is fertile or dry, and the crops that are grown on it and whether it has buildings are all taken into account. The State government, much to the chagrin of the opposition parties and farmers’ organisations, has set up a land bank in a bid to facilitate land acquisition for establishing industries. So far it has identified 121,000 acres of land, of which 86,000 acres have been notified. According to Nirani, if West Bengal had a land bank the State would not have lost the Tata Nano project to Gujarat. In Gadag district, apart from the land for the Posco project, the KIADB is also acquiring 1,680 acres from 280 farmers for the proposed S.R. Steel plant and 732 acres (from 215 farmers) for a land bank set up by the State government to facilitate land acquisition for industries.

The Karnataka government’s land acquisition policy has raised several questions. The foremost is whether the State should acquire land for privately owned industry from farmers. Every time the State tries to acquire land, a piece of colonial legislation is cited, wherein the state can acquire private property with due monetary compensation but without the owner’s consent for use either by the government or by delegation to third parties who will then devote it to public or civic use or, in some cases, economic development. The Supreme Court has ruled that the acquisition of land by a State government for the development of a project to serve the larger public good is legal and valid and that “if a project taken as a whole is an attempt in the direction of bringing foreign exchange, generating employment opportunities and securing economic benefits to the State and the public at large, it will serve public purpose” (with the State deciding what was public good). But it is not an argument that people (most notably farmers) are prepared to accept easily. “We are acquiring for industrial purposes only dry or single crop lands, not fertile lands,” Nirani contends. “And we are acquiring just 0.24 per cent of Karnataka’s total landmass.” The matter is complicated further by the fact that different sections of the B.S. Yeddyurappa government talk in different voices, with Ministries not in tandem with each other’s programmes/projects. For instance, most of the land in the land bank, particularly in the Krishna basin, is said to be barren. But Irrigation Department experts aver that these lands are part of irrigation command areas and will become irrigated once lift irrigation projects, sanctioned and cleared after a long process, are implemented. Take also the power projects in Bijapur district. Part of the land allotted for the National Thermal Power Corporation’s 4,000 MW project comes under the command area of the Upper Krishna Project’s (UKP) Mulwad lift irrigation project (third stage). So just when these barren lands are about to be irrigated they are being turned over to industry. …

http://www.flonnet.com/fl2815/stories/20110729281503400.htm

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