New on my other blogs
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
29 March, 2012
26 March, 2012
It is the people in Europe and America that have forced their governments by coming out in large numbers on street to abandon nuclear energy. But Indian government is trying to stifle such people’s initiatives to have their say. Our claims of being the largest democracy prove to be hollow.
The recent nuclear emergency in Japan leaves no doubt that the world needs to renounce nuclear power for military and civil/energy purposes, as soon as possible, to put an end to any further catastrophe in the name of 'energy', 'security' or 'technology'. Nuclear power is clearly the most dangerous options for civil or military use. Countries that have been using nuclear power such as Germany have resolved to abandon nuclear energy by 2022. Japan, the USA, and many such nations who were earlier pursuing nuclear energy option are having second thoughts now.
We believe that India should adopt the futuristic energy policy like Japan and the European Union (EU) relying on renewable sources of energy which are non-polluting. Like EU and Japan, India too should aim for a low-carbon energy production system. India’s future energy policy should be low carbon and no nuclear.
We appeal to the Indian government to support dialogue on nuclear energy in a democratic way and until there is a consensus on whether India should go ahead with nuclear programme or not, should stall all nuclear programmes.
Leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), who will gather in New Delhi this week for their annual summit, are expected to pitch for a greater role in world affairs in keeping with their growing clout as newly emergent economies. The main item on the agenda of the summit, scheduled for March 28 and 29, is global governance. While China is not keen on early reform of the United Nations system, it shares the BRICS partners’ enthusiasm for reform of the global financial institutions.
As it happens, the summit takes place ahead of a meeting of the World Bank to choose its next president. Since the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund at the end of World War II, the former has been headed by an American and the latter by a European.
On Friday President Barak Obama named Jim Yong Kim, an American of South Korean origin, as the US nominee for the post. Two other candidates are also in the field: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, whose sponsors include South Africa, and Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia, who has been nominated by Brazil.
China recently suggested that a non-American must head the institution. It is not clear if the BRICS nations can agree on a common non-American candidate. Even if they can, the US may be able to ensure the election of its nominee as it continues to wield considerable influence in the global financial system. However, the ideas the BRICS nations are working on may make reform of the system inevitable.
As an institution charged with the task of making resources available to member countries to tide over balance-of-payments difficulties, the IMF has a critical role in helping Europe to overcome its distress. The BRICS nations have already injected a large amount of capital into the IMF but some Europeans are asking for more.
“BRICS’ voice in the IMF must be enhanced if the European countries want it to provide more capital,” a Russian government spokesman said last week. At the New Delhi meet, the group is expected to work out a strategy to link increased participation in the European recovery programme to restructuring of the IMF’s capital base to bring it in tune with the new financial realities.
A parallel initiative envisages the setting up of a development bank of the BRICS nations. A proposal made by India in this connection has evoked a favourable response from Russia and China. India views the proposed bank, which will facilitate indirect investment of foreign exchange reserves of the central banks of the member countries, as an institution with the potential to become a powerful player in global decision-making.
For China, the BRICS development bank offers a platform to expand the international role of its currency, the renminbi. It has been facing criticism from other countries for manipulating the value of the renminbi to maintain export competitiveness.
With the Western economies in the doldrums, the BRICS nations are now the most favoured investment destinations. Their efforts to forge common strategies have set alarm bells ringing in some Western financial circles, particularly investment promoters.
One investment research group, in a recent report, bemoaned that countries like Indonesia and Mexico, which are beginning to rival some BRICS nations in terms of growth and investment strength, are often overlooked in favour of them.
Smaller markets such as Malaysia, Poland and Peru are also surging in importance although their total size is tiny compared to the trillion-dollar economies of BRICS, it said, adding they could be interesting picks for investors.
Against this background, the decision of leading stock exchanges of the five countries to establish the BRICS Exchanges Alliance assumes significance. Beginning March 30, members of the Alliance will begin cross-listing benchmark equity index derivatives on one another’s trading platform.
Initially, members of the Alliance aim to expand their product offerings beyond their home markets and give investors exposure to the other BRICS economies.
22 March, 2012
The state government of Tamil Nadu has finally succumbed to pressure by the Central government and decided to commission the operation of the two Russian built nuclear reactors in Kudankulam. It has carried out a major crackdown on the mass movement in and around Kudankulam in southern Tamil Nadu, outrageously slapping sedition charges -- no less -- on several people, and arresting close to 200 people in a pre-emptive show of intimidation and force.
Over the last six months in what has been the latest phase of a more than decade long struggle, tens of thousands of residents in and around Kudankulam have peacefully and non-violently demonstrated against the government’s nuclear power plans. They have demanded that their concerns over issues of safety, environmental hazards and procedural violations of the AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) be fully and properly addressed. That their livelihood and life concerns should have been so casually ignored by a government that has even resorted to allegations of ‘foreign manipulation’ of what is an indigenous mass movement is extremely disturbing.
We strongly condemn the repression launched against the people of Koodankulam and southern Tamil Nadu and demand that those arrested be immediately released. If a willingness to exercise one’s democratic right of protest in peaceful and non-violent ways, or to criticize the pursuit of nuclear energy, or even to oppose government plans in this regard is to be deemed seditious and warrants being arrested, then we the undersigned also declare ourselves to be as guilty as our fellow citizens in Tamil Nadu. We stand in solidarity with them. The government may please take note.
Admiral L. Ramdas (former Chief of the Indian Navy & Magsaysay Awardee)
Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat (former Chief of the Indian Navy)
Justice Rajender Sachar (former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court)
S.P. Shukla (former Finance Secretary, Government of India)
Romila Thapar (Professor Emeritus, Dept. of History, JNU)
Aruna Roy (Member, National Advisory Council and Magsaysay Awardee)
Medha Patkar (Social Activist)
Arundhati Roy (Writer)
Sandeep Pandey (Social Activist and Magsaysay Awardee)
Ramchandra Guha (Historian and Professor, London School of Economics)
Rammanohar Reddy (Editor, Economic and Political Weekly)
Justice P.B. Sawant (former Judge of Supreme Court)
Justice B.G. Kolse-Patil (former Judge of the Bombay High Court)
Binayak Sen (Member, Planning Commission)
Ilina Sen (Professor, MG International University, Wardha)
Lalita Ramdas (former Chairperson, Greenpeace International)
Praful Bidwai (Independent Journalist and Professor, Council for Social Development)
Jean Dreze (Professor, G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad)
Kamal Mitra Chenoy (Professor, School of International Studies, JNU)
Anuradha Chenoy, (Professor, School of International Studies, JNU)
Surendra Gadekar (Social Activist)
Vasanth Kannabiran, (Founder & Head, Asmita Resouce Centre for Women, Hyderabad)
Ritu Menon (Founder Publisher, Women Unlimited)
Pamela Philipose (Director, Women's Feature Service)
Rohan D'Souza (Assistant Professor, Centre for Studies in Science Policy, JNU)
Darryl D'Monte (former Resident Editor, The Times of India)
Soumya Datta (Scientist & Activist)
Lawrence Surendra (Founder Director of the Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives, South Korea)
Achin Vanaik (Former Dean of Social Science, University of Delhi
21 March, 2012
Human rights organizations across the country have decided to observe a day’s token fast on Friday, March 23, which happens to be the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, to express solidarity with the anti-nuclear agitation at Kudankulam and to protest against the police crackdown there
The idea of a token fast was mooted by Neeraj Jain (<email@example.com>) of Lokayat, Pune, and endorsed by groups in different cities, including Medha Patkar and her colleagues in the National Alliance of People’s Movements and Arati Chokshy of Bangalooru.
One hundred sixty-four activists from all over the country, in a joint letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, said: “It is with profound sadness and anxiety that we read your press statement and witnessed the large-scale mobilization of police in the areas around the Idinthakarai protest site and the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.
”The decision to give the go-ahead to the power plant is ill-informed and has created a dangerously volatile situation. We, the below-signed, condemn the deployment of thousands of armed policemen in an area where people have been peacefully protesting for six months. Knowing the resolve of the agitating communities, the Government's hard-line stance and police posturing can only lead to a nuclear Nandigram.”
The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union has invited groups and individuals to join an urgent protest demonstration against the Kudankulam crackdown outside Tamil Nadu Bhavan, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, on Thursday, March 22.
In a statement, JNUSU President Sucheta De said, “Tamil nadu CM Jayalalithaa, who had earlier 'distanced' herself from the Kudankulam project and 'shared' people’s safety concerns, has made the expected about-turn to give green signal to the Kudankulam Nuclear project, as soon elections in the Assembly constituency of Sankarankoil got over on March 18. Her cabinet has just declared that its safety concerns have been allayed, and that the TN government will soon commission the plant.
“On cue, 6000 armed policemen, led by Tamil Nadu’s Additional Director General of Police, three DIGs, and 20 SPs have unleashed a massive crackdown operation that can turn into a state-sponsored carnage of its own civilians.
“Thousands of police have surrounded Kudankulam and Idinthakarai. Hundreds of villagers marching to Kudankulam are being threatened, harassed and arrested. Also several key leaders of the movement including Advocate Sivasubramanyam, and Rajalingam have been arrested and charged with sedition including Sections 121, 121A and 153A.
“According to posts from local people, police and para-military forces are terrrorizing people by marching into the villages every now and then. Police have clamped down Section 144 CrPC prohibiting people from congregating in any manner. Despite this curfew, people keep coming to Idinthakarai by boats and on foot.
“In view of this unfolding crackdown, which is intensifying every moment, JNUSU is calling for a United Protest Demonstration at Tamil Nadu Bhawan at Chanakyapuri in Delhi, on 22 March (Thursday) at 11 am in solidarity with the fighting people in Tamil Nadu.
“JNUSU demands the withdrawal of the Tamil Nadu cabinet resolution giving sudden green signal to the Kudankulam project. JNUSU demands an immediate end to all forms of crackdown, harassment and arrests of villagers, peaceful protestors and leaders of the anti-Kundankulam movement and scrapping of this disastrous project.”
20 March, 2012
Preparations are afoot to unleash brutal force against the villagers of Tamil Nadu who have been engaged in a peaceful protest against the Kudankulam nuclear plant for several months.
The police has reportedly asked media persons to leave the scene of action.
“Kudankulam was encircled by more than 10,000 police, rapid action force. Each village is also encircled by police force.
“We need to alert each and everyone across the nation. People outside Tamil Nadu spread the news. Join hands to protect the people and protest...
“Fear of life loss prevails as the Police tightens security and arrests the protestors, At one point there will be a violence break out protestors being stubborn to fight the situation. Very sad.“We need urgent support from national and international human rights organization and journalist organizations as Police warned media to leave the place of the protesters immediately.”
19 March, 2012
Indian democracy is in a state of transition. The decline of the national parties has created a situation which encourages the regional parties to play an increasingly assertive role.
The National Democratic Alliance, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Atal Behari Vajpayee, which was in power from 1999 to 2004, was a coalition of more than 20 parties. It was able to complete the five-year term. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, which replaced it, too, was able to complete its term even though it had to rely upon some parties which were not members of the coalition for survival.
With two of the Congress party’s major partners in a rebellious mood there is speculation on the ability of the second UPA government, which is now in its third year, to complete its term.
Since the All India Trinamool Congress ousted West Bengal’s Left Front government, headed by the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which had been in power continuously for more than 33 years, last year its mercurial leader, Mamata Banerjee, has been throwing her weight around much to the discomfiture of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Her opposition has forced the central government to go easy on the globalisation programme. She is among the chief ministers who have come out strongly against the central government’s move to set up a national anti-terrorism centre, arguing it goes against the federal character of the republic.
Last week she embarrassed the Prime Minister by demanding the immediate replacement of her party man Dinesh Trivedi as Railway Minister who earned her hostility by proposing to revise railway fares and freight charges.
As party chief, Mamata Banerjee undoubtedly has the right to decide who should represent the Trinamool Congress in the Central government. The Prime Minister cannot, therefore, reject her demand. He is, therefore, confining his efforts to persuade her to let Trivedi stay until Parliament approves the Railway Budget which he introduced.
The Trinamool Congress, which has 19 members in the Lok Sabha, is the UPA’s second largest constituent. Its pullout from the coalition will not bring down the government. However, the Congress party has to factor in the mood of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the third largest constituent with 18 members in the Lok Sabha.
The DMK has been sulking ever since its Cabinet ministers, A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran, were hauled up by the Central Bureau of Investigation to face criminal charges in connection with the 2G spectrum allocation scam. Kanimozhi, DMK MP and daughter of party chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi, also figures as an accused in one of the cases.
If the Trinamool Congress and the DMK combine forces the UPA’s parliamentary majority may be in peril. However, political observers believe the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which have 23 seats and 19 seats respectively, will be willing to sustain the UPA in office.
The SP and the BSP are already extending support to the UPA government from outside. The BSP was in power in Uttar Pradesh when the present UPA government took office. In last month’s Assembly elections, the SP ousted it from power. Though rivals in UP, the two parties have developed a common interest in the UPA’s continuance in office at the Centre.
The Congress, which had a vote share of 28.55 per cent in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and the BJP, which had a vote share of 18.80 per cent, are the largest national parties. The BSP, with a vote share of 6.17 per cent and the CPI-M, with a vote share of 5.33, are way behind them.
The UP Assembly elections have been a damper to the Congress and the BJP, both of which failed to improve their support base. If the electoral outcome is taken as early indication of the emergence of a two-party system in the state, it means the major national parties are doomed to remain in the fourth and third positions respectively in this state, which accounts for 80 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha.
The CPI-M, which played a catalytic role in the formation of non-Congress governments at the Centre in the past, believes the time is ripe to revive its idea of a third front.
The suicide of police officer, P G Haridath, on 15 March 2012 brings again to the limelight, issues that adversely affect criminal investigations in India. Haridath was an Additional Superintendent of Police working in the Central Bureau of Investigation. It is reported that the deceased officer was investigating the infamous Sampath murder case in Kerala state in which senior police officers are cited as the accused.
It is reported that a suicide note, allegedly obtained from the room in which the officer's body was found, mentions the name of officers stationed at the CBI office in Thiruvanandapuram, that of a former Chief Judicial Magistrate and of a lawyer, as those responsible for the officer's death. Mr. Vijay Sakhare, a senior police officer who is named as the 15th accused in the custodial murder case investigated by the deceased officer, had in the recent past approached the Kerala High Court seeking the court's intervention to remove references to Sakhare in the case, which the court had refused.
It is alleged that Mr. Mohammad Yasin, the Thrissur Police Range Inspector General at the time of Sampath's death is one of the persons responsible for brutally torturing Sampath that resulted in his immediate death. Yasin is the 16th accused in the CBI case. These senior police officers are not even suspended from active service.
The state police had arrested Sampath in connection with Crime 246/2010 from Gounderpalayam at Coimbatore in Tamilnadu state on 28 March 2010. The police brought Sampath to Kerala after the arrest. Sampath was accused of theft and the murder of a woman named Sheela, the wife of a prominent businessperson in Kerala and seriously injuring her mother, Karthiyayini. It is alleged that the police officers brutally tortured Sampath and the other co-accused in the case at a remote riverside cottage in a place called Malampuzha of Palakkad district, in Kerala.
It is suspected that Sampath died due to the injuries he suffered from brutal torture that the police inflicted upon him, allegedly to extract a confession. The post-mortem examination revealed that Sampath had suffered 63 anti-mortem injuries and that death was due to internal bleeding and blunt trauma brain injuries. The police till today have failed to explain how Sampath suffered these injuries.
Logically it is beyond doubt that the police had a role to play in Sampath's death. To what extent, which officer is involved in the murder and for what reason is for an independent agency to investigate and a court to adjudicate. It is reported that deceased Sheela and her husband had close connections with the then state home minister in Kerala, Mr. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who had reportedly misused his authority to force the police complete the investigation of the case in haste. It is also alleged that Sheela's husband is also well connected to high-ranking police officers.
Immediately after Sampath's death the state police worked overtime to protect officers allegedly involved in the custodial death. The manipulated records at Palakkad North Police Station where a case under section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 registered as Crime 251/2010 is the result of this. Sampath's younger brother filed a writ petition in the High Court in which the court transferred the case to the CBI for investigation. In more than two occasions courts have questioned why the CBI is unable to arrest the police officers suspected for the murder. It is at this juncture the investigating officer, accusing his colleagues and other officers of illegally interfering with investigation, has chosen to end his life. The accusations by the officer against his own colleagues are serious and must be investigated.
The so-called 'ultimate criminal investigation agency' in the country, the CBI, itself is not immune to political and otherwise corrupt pressure is not a new concern. There are a series of instances where the CBI has been accused of manipulating investigation to fit illegal demands of power centres, including those from political parties. The CBI also houses officers received on transfer from the state police, a factor that cuts the root of independency of this agency.
That apart, the primary question concerning the entire affair is, what is criminal investigation in India? That a suspect tortured by the investigating agency is nothing new. Extraction of confession by use of force is often considered a legitimate investigative procedure in the country. In most cases investigation of a crime begins and ends with a confession. Sampath's case indicates the two prevalent trends in India that in cases involving powerful persons, the police could be easily influenced by local power structures, which puts into action senior police officers that willingly investigate cases to please these power pockets. And, even for them, scientific investigation of crimes is not an option so that they resort to custodial torture.
Bringing a suspect to a remote place for questioning is a practice that the police follow routinely. Such illegal detention houses where suspects are brought, tortured and taken back exists throughout the country. For instance in Kerala, one such place exists in Thiruvanandapuram district - also the state capital - at a place called Neyyatinkara. This was video documented by the media and there was no response from the administration.
Such places exist in other parts of the state, which could be either a rented house in a remote location or a government guesthouse away from the public attention. That such illegal interrogation houses exist in every part of the country is a documented, and shocking reality. Despite the fact that in Kerala, a similar incident - destruction of evidence and subsequent exposure - had brought down the then state administration as early as in 1977, the practice still continues, highlights the reality that criminal investigation is synonymous to torture in India.
Even as of today the country does not have a policy of zero tolerance to custodial torture. Police officers complain that they do not know what criminal investigation is other than extracting confession by force. So much so, the practice of torture is accepted as legitimate police procedure. The appalling nature of criminal trials that lack proper evidence and quality prosecution have led to justifying torture as the only punishment a suspect would get in the entire process.
The judiciary largely condones torture and the general public believes that the police are legally entitled to torture suspects. There has never been an attempt by the government to educate the police and the public that torture is not only illegal, but is in fact a crime against humanity, that has the viral potential to undermine the very concept of justice and thus a democratic state.
Judicial officers are required by law to enquire from the accused produced before them whether the person is subjected to torture. However they openly refuse to comply this requirement and consider asking a detainee such a question unnecessary. This often ends up in denying a victim the first chance to complain about police torture to a judge. Training provided to the subordinate judiciary does not include this.
The higher judiciary does not consider such systemic procedural lacunae as an important issue to be addressed. In fact a substantial number of judges in the higher judiciary, including those at the Supreme Court do not have an understanding how serious torture is and why the peremptory norm of ius cogens applies to torture. The appalling nature of criminal trials that lack proper evidence and quality prosecution has led to justifying torture as the only punishment a suspect would get in the entire process.
Such misconceptions regarding criminal investigation negate the very notion of criminal justice in the country. That majority police officers resort to torture demoralises those upright officers who would not want to break the law. When torture is condoned, and police records subjected to manipulations, the very concept of fair trial is undermined.
The negation of fair trial guarantees is not an exception, but a character of the Indian criminal justice system. In such an environment it is farcical to argue that the criminal justice apparatus in the country requires 'correction'. The fact is that there is nothing called justice in the entire process. To bring change into this, what is required is a complete overhaul of the system.
That a police officer has committed suicide due to this fallen system is a tragedy. That the country has lost an officer in whom the people have invested resources is a waste and shame. That an officer did not have means to ventilate his concerns and seek support shows not only how anarchic are conditions within the law enforcement agencies in the country, but also illuminates the alarming fact that the apparatus of criminal investigation is not geared to investigate crime, and help unearth the truth, but is better equipped to cover it up. What is shocking is the banality of it.
18 March, 2012
the Supreme Court’s cause list without being taken up for hearing.
It is only between Tuesday and Friday that the court can take up the case. Women’s groups have, therefore, called for a weekly protest, every Monday, until Soni is finally released.
In Mumbai, women's groups will stage a demonstration at GPO side, VT station, at 5.30 pm on Monday, March 19.
For details of Soni Sori’s case, please see
12 March, 2012
India is placing much hope in the export potential of Ayurveda, the most popular of its traditional systems of medicine, but the efforts to market old wisdom in a new package is yet to make much headway beyond its own shores.
Ayurveda, which literally means Life Science, was the mainstay of the subcontinent’s healthcare system for at least 5,000 years, existing side by side with the older systems of tribal communities and systems like Unani and Homeopathy which entered the scene later.
All of them found their areas shrinking as the Western system of medicine gained ground in the last century. In the early years of Independence, they faced the prospects of gradual extinction under the combined pressure of the government’s modernisation drive and the powerful modern medicine lobby’s campaign denouncing them as quackery.
In the colonial period there were, apart from a few medical colleges which produced graduates, several schools of modern medicine which ran three-year courses and turned out licence-holders who rendered yeomen service in both urban and rural areas. Yielding to the demands of the medical graduates’ lobby, the government closed down the schools. If it had resisted their pressure and expanded them, India could have worked wonders in the health front ahead of China which made a big leap forward by producing an army of barefoot doctors.
The growing clout of modern medicine and the government’s encouragement to it persuaded students of a college of indigenous medicine in the southern state of Madras to stage a successful agitation and get it converted into a college of modern medicine in the 1950s.
For long Ayurvedic knowledge was the preserve of families where it was handed down from father to son. As the new generation took to modern education, the tradition began to die. It got a new life when the central and state governments started setting up facilities for training in the indigenous systems of medicine, heeding the World Health Organisation’s advice to promote them as they had a role to play in meeting public health needs.
Today there are Ayurvedic colleges all over the country and states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra also have Ayurvedic universities. According to physicians trained in both Ayurveda and modern medicine, the former is more effective than the latter in the treatment of certain diseases.
Entrepreneurs have come forward to manufacture and market Ayurvedic products on a commercial basis. Departing from the traditional practice of preparing concoctions and powders for oral consumption and medicated oils for external application, they have put in the market tablets and syrups to enhance the traditional system’s appeal to those used to modern medicine. They also promote their products through heavy advertising.
Ten years ago the Indian government, noting that China had built up an export market of Rs 260 billion for its traditional medicine products, drew up a plan to raise overseas sales of Ayurvedic products from a mere Rs 5.5 billion to Rs 50 billion over a five-year period. Ten years later exports remain way behind the target at Rs 15 billion. The top five importers are Ukraine, Russia and Kazhakstan (which together account for 45 per cent of the exports, the UAE (11 per cent) and the USA (six per cent).
The European Union’s directive on traditional herbal medicinal products, which came into force in 2005, requires use of medication for 15 years before large-scale imports are permitted. This inhibits growth of sales in that continent.
A law enacted as early as 1940 regulates the use of herbal medicines as prescription and over-the-counter medicine and dietary supplements. It directs that they be sold disclosing the medical, health and nutrient content. There are two legally binding multivolume national pharmacopoeias, one for Ayurveda and the other for Unani. Today more than 4,200 registered herbal medicines are in use.
Ayurvedic treatment, especially its rejuvenation therapy, is gaining popularity among urban Indians. Recognising this trend, superspeciality hospitals are now setting up Ayurvedic departments. Also, efforts are on to include Ayurveda in schemes to promote medical tourism.
Revalidation of the ancient knowledge through modern research is sure to go a long way in enhancing the appeal of Ayurveda to the rest of the world. This is not an area where commercial interests can be expected to take much interest. Some years ago WHO promoted a project to undertake studies with the help of a well-known Ayurvedic institution. However, the central and state governments have failed to carry forward its initiative.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 12, 2012.
05 March, 2012
India’s Supreme Court landed the government in a difficult situation last week by asking it to go ahead with a plan to link up the country’s major rivers, which it had abandoned three years ago.
The idea of linking the major rivers was first mooted by the British in the 19th century as they were tightening their hold on conquered territory. They had three operational bases in the subcontinent – at Calcutta (now Kolkata), Madras (Chennai) and Bombay (Mumbai). They could move troops easily from one base to another by sea. They reckoned that if inland navigation was developed troops could be moved quickly into interior areas too. The coming of the railways diminished the appeal of the project.
KL Rao, a minister in Indira Gandhi’s government, broached the idea of a canal network which links the Ganga in the north with the Cauvery in the south as a lasting solution to the problem of recurrent flood and drought. Following this, the national water development agency identified 30 river links to be built. Mrs Gandhi, who came back from the Stockholm summit fully conscious of the need to protect the environment, did not pursue the project.
In 2002, when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance was in power, the Supreme Court, acting on a public interest suit, asked the government to complete the whole project by 2016. Environmentalists cried foul but the BJP plumped for the project.
According to the International Water Management Institute, Colombo, which has been associated with the work on the project, it involves transfer of 178 billion cubic metres of water over 14,900 kilometres of canal and will cost $120 billion.
The BJP, which seeks sustenance from Hindu religious traditions, expected two benefits from the project. It would be a good electoral plank as many regions experience chronic water scarcity. Also, it could cast Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in the role of a modern-day Bhagirath, the mythological character credited with bringing the mighty Ganga from the heavens to the earth. However, the NDA government could do little before being voted out in 2004.
The United Progressive Alliance government wrote finis to the project in 2009 with then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh dubbing it “a human, ecological and economic disaster”.
There being no higher judicial authority, the new Supreme Court decision is final and binding on the government. There have been instances when Parliament amended the Constitution to override judicial verdicts. The government, which depends upon the support of a host of small parties for a simple majority in Parliament, cannot think of a constitutional amendment which requires a two-thirds majority.
The government can, of course, resort to foot-dragging, confident that the contempt-of-court mechanism through which it can be compelled to comply with a judicial verdict cannot be invoked easily in a matter of this kind.
Not all matters brought to the courts actually involve issues which call for judicial determination on the basis of facts and law. Some are issues which demand a policy decision, and judges wisely avoid them, pointing out that the matter falls within the realm of the government. Sometimes, however, judges feel tempted to play deities, drawing upon an omnibus provision of the Constitution which says that court can pass any order to render complete justice in a matter before it.
Chief Justice BN Kripal, who delivered the 2002 judgment on river linking issue on the eve of his retirement, publicly stated later that it was “not a direction but merely a recommendation”. Barely a decade later, without the component schemes having gone through the processes of finalisation and administrative and financial sanction, the court has ordered that they be implemented.
If the central government proceeds with the project it is sure to run into stiff opposition from states which fear it will adversely affect their water resources. Civil society groups are determined to block it as it will involve displacement of people and destruction of the environment.
Bangladesh has objected to the project saying it will reduce the water available to it from Indian rivers flowing through its territory. The project will require the concurrence of Nepal and Bhutan as it will be necessary to build dams in their area to divert river waters.-- Gulf Today, March 5, 2012.