New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
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?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

29 August, 2012

Mayor of Bangalore dumps Mavallipura landfill

The following is a press release issued by the Environment Support Group, Bangalore, today: 
In a momentous decision the Hon'ble Mayor of Bangalore Shri. Venkatesh Murthy accepted the demand of communities impacted by the municipal solid waste management land fill operated by M/s Ramky at Mavallipura, that the landfill closure order issued by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) would be respected.  The Mayor also committed to initiating criminal action against the operator for serious violations of contractual obligations, non compliance with various environmental and social standards, and for contaminating soil and water in Mavallipura and surrounding villages. 

  The Mayor conceded that a decade of pollution in this region (caused by the accumulated waste of 40 lakhs tonnes in the Ramky landfill and an earlier one handled by Bailappa) has completely devastated the environmental quality of the region to such an extent, that the water has turned toxic and unpotable.  The Mayor also confirmed that he would present to the Council the need to compensate those suffering from various chronic illnesses caused by the pollution and to families of 8 people who have lost their lives already.  In addition he has conceded that the Waste to Energy project proposed by Ramky at the Mavallipura site will be abandoned.  Local villagers also raised concerns that various fabricated criminal cases have been filed against them for protesting pollution and this was also taken on record.  It was finally decided that a Joint Committee of BBMP and KSPCB officials and representatives of local communities, and the report will be presented to the Council for effective action soon.

The meeting was attended by Shri. Vishwanath, Member of Legislative Assembly (Yelahanaka), in whose electoral jurisdiction Mavallipura is located, the Deputy Mayor Shri. Srinivas and witnessed the active participation of various Corporators, representatives of political parties, progressive movements, farmers leaders, etc.  Shri. Nagaraj, Shri. Srinivas and Shri. Ramesh of Dailt Sangarsh Samithi (Coordination) led the delegation of affected villagers that included local Panchayat members and families of those who have lost their lives.

Background:

It may be recalled that the KSPCB had issued a closure order on 11 July 2012 (accessible here), on grounds that Ramky had operated the landfill without any consent from the Board and in comprehensive violation of the Environment Protection Act and the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules.  The Board had directed Ramky to comprehensively clean up about 22 lakh tonnes (2.2 million) of waste lying in the 48 acres landfill within three months, but the operator failed to comply with this direction as well.  This decision of the Board has been supported by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in its letter of 16 July 2012 (details here). 

Last week, Shri. Ashokaa, Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister of Karnataka pushed reopening of the Ramky landfill by deploying over 600 police to beat back resistance from the villagers.  His reasoning was that there was nowhere else to dump the waste. Local communities argued that the city must learn to segregate waste at source and not resort to dumping in villages destroying lives, livelihoods and the environment.  In the melee that ensued, 37 year old Srinivas protesting the reopening of the landfill, died of cardiac arrest. He leaves behind a young family with three small children. 

In consideration of this situation, the High Court of Karnataka directed BBMP in response to a Public Interest Litigation that it must prepare a plan of action in 3 days to sustainably manage waste without resorting to dumping on villages. As the High Court observed villagers have a Fundamental Right to a Clean Environment and that cannot be jeopardised by the 5000 tonnes of waste that is produced daily by the city and dumped in various legal and illegal landfills in surrounding villages.  They Court also observed that villagers are right in protesting such waste dumping.  Hit by this observation, with nowhere to dump the waste and with garbage accumulating all over the city, BBMP has been hunting out various private plots and abandoned quarries to dispose the waste. This is clearly an unsustainable solution and is not in conformance with law and norms.

Sustainable solutions are pending attention of BBMP:

Such a crisis could have been completely avoided if BBMP had comprehensively adopted the standards and norms of the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2000 and the direction of the Supreme Court that the standards contained in the Rules will be implemented by 2003.  Over the past several years, many not-for-profit voluntary organisations have systematically worked with BBMP to develop sustainable and comprehensive waste management solutions based on segregation of waste at source, by reworking door-to-door contracting to enable recovery of value of recyclable material in the local area and ensuring that only inert material that has absolutely no value is disposed.  Such engagements have informed the development of the Draft Policy on Integrated Solid Waste Management by BBMP.  It is critical that this policy is adopted immediately and without any further delay.

To support BBMP out of its current mess, various voluntary organisations working on solid waste management initiatives have come together to formulate simple and pragmatic Guiding Principles to Sustainably manage Bangalore's solid waste based on segregation of waste at source. These guiding principles will inform actions that can be immediately deployed, which require no major reworking of infrastructure, will save money and also benefit public health and the environment. The Guidelines are enclosed.

Leo F. Saldanha
Bhargavi S. Rao
Mallesh K. R
B. Srinivas, Member, Shivakote Panchayat
Cell: 9448174834 Email: hari1975@gmail.com

M. Ramesh, Member, Gantiganahalli Panchayat
Cell: 9945512203
Environment Support Group
Tel: 91-80-26713559 Voice/Fax: 91-80-26713316
Coordinators
Dalit Sangarsh Samithi (Samyojaka)

See also earlier Down to Earth report 

28 August, 2012

Barking up the wrong tree

BRP Bhaskar
 
An ill-conceived attempt by the government to impose censorship in cyberspace, where the tech-savvy urban middle class usually gives vent to its anger, has misfired.

Taking advantage of the concern that arose in the country in the wake of exodus of people from the northeastern states who are working or studying elsewhere in the country as a result of panic created by motivated Internet propaganda, the government asked social networking sites to block prejudicial material. The list of accounts and pages it supplied included some that contained criticism of the ruling party but no exhortation to violence.

There had been violent protests in Mumbai and Pune against the attacks on Muslims in the Bodo areas of Assam. Later, following rumours of possible attacks, northeasterners in Chennai and Bangalore rushed to railway stations to board home-bound trains. Attempts by the authorities to dissuade them from leaving failed.

Sectarian elements have been using the Internet for some time to promote divisive ideas resulting in polarisation of the society on communal lines. One of the groups active in social networks comprises members and sympathisers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whom critics have dubbed Internet Hindus. Their popular themes include the exodus of Pandits from Kashmir following the rise of extremist violence and infiltration of Muslims into the country from Bangladesh.

After Muslims came under attack in Myanmar recently, some groups in India took up their cause in social networks. Gory pictures from elsewhere were posted on websites and spread through mobile phones to inflame passions. After the Assam clashes morphed pictures were distributed to exacerbate feelings further.

The government tied itself in knots by offering unconvincing explanations to justify the censorship attempt. It said its cyber security agency had identified the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami, a banned Bagladeshi outfit, and the Popular Front of India, a New Delhi-based oraganisation of Kerala origin, as the sources of the objectionable material. It also claimed the offensive stuff was uploaded from Pakistan.

Both the PFI and the Pakistan government denied the charges. Later the government said it only had the URL of the sites which hosted offensive material and did not know the identity of the account holders.

At the instance of the government, social networks removed or Internet service providers blocked more than 300 web pages with communally-sensitive content. In an attempt to limit flow of information through mobile phones the government directed telecommunication companies not to allow more than five text messages a day. The limit was later raised to 20.

Sixteen Twitter accounts were blocked. Among them were those of a few high-profile Hindutva advocates. Inexplicably, the Twitter handle of a minister, who was using the medium to defend the government action, also disappeared. The network restored his account and tendered an apology for the interruption.

Cyber warriors quickly launched a vigorous counteroffensive. Posts and tweets protesting the government’s repressive steps and comparing them to the 1975 Emergency measures flooded the networks. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said only accounts used to post inflammatory material were blocked and there was no need for others to worry. However, the protesters were not pacified.

The government also received some gratuitous advice from the United States administration. WikiLeaks’ tormentors in Washington asked New Delhi to respect Internet freedom.

The government soon realised that its knee-jerk reaction to the communal propaganda in the social networks had done more harm than good. It reversed some of the steps.

Technical experts sympathetic to the government’s effort to check incendiary propaganda said it was perfectly in order to take steps to eliminate hate material from cyberspace but the authorities had handled the matter ineptly.

While reiterating the concept of Internet freedom, companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, with their bitter experience of China, have been ready to cooperate with the government in keeping out objectionable content. They certainly do not want to lose the huge Indian market.

In going at the social networks the government is barking up the wrong tree. The real problem is not what is going on in cyberspace but the fragmentation of Indian society as a result of the alarming growth of religious, regional, linguistic and other identities, promoted by diverse forces, including political parties and the media. Concerted efforts are needed to strengthen forces of unity.

The exodus of northeasterners may have been triggered by malicious rumours but the government must face the harsh reality that it is unable to inspire confidence in the people, especially minority groups of every kind, about its ability to ensure peace and justice.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 28, 2012.

21 August, 2012

Exodus of confidence




The following is a statement circulated by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, on the exodus of northeastern migrants from other parts of India:

 Over the past week, thousands of people hurriedly returned to their homes in the northeastern states, fearing for their safety in the rest of the country. The numbers of those fleeing was so high that Indian Railways had to run special trains to meet the sudden upsurge in passenger traffic. To a certain degree, the mass departure continues even today. That the numbers fleeing has gone down is only because most have left already. The administration was slow in responding to the event, but soon caught up with the reality of the flight in fright. Political leaders and the administration tried to assure fleeing persons with statements declaiming the rumours. However, the fact is, none were willing to believe these assurances.

The government has now blamed Pakistan for spreading rumours that caused the panic. It has banned a list of websites and domains alleged to have posted false propaganda, which fuelled the exodus. Indeed, given the state of affairs in Pakistan, where the Pakistani government has minimal control over its military apparatus and is over-run by extremist elements it is possible that the allegations about the origin of the messages are true.

However, blaming Pakistan for the exodus would not absolve India from the realities that the people in India have learned to live with. By comparison, if past experiences are of any meaning, returning home was an option to the people from the northeast. This was not so for so many victims of violence in the past that perished in the very homes where they were born.

There is not a single political party in the country that has not capitalised upon sectarian and religious divisions for immediate political gains. All of them, including those in the northeastern states, without exception, have, in the past, fuelled sectarian violence in some of the most abominable forms. And, there is no guarantee they will not do the same in the future. None of the political instigators have ever been punished for such deeds. In fact, many have risen to power through planning, fuelling, and executing communal violence, in villages, districts and states. Even the national capital was not spared. The 1984 riots against the Sikhs, engineered by politicians and henchmen of the party presently in power at the centre, was a brutal pogrom.

What is illustrated in the past week's event is the alarming reality of clear-cut sectarian and ethnic fault lines from which India has yet to recover. The event is iteration of the fact that the people trust neither their government, nor the law enforcement agencies. Past incidents of violence committed against Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Hindus; in Gujarat, New Delhi, Orissa and Kashmir only underlines this fact. In all these incidents, the law enforcement agencies, and subsequently the justice and political apparatus in the country, have connived with criminals, reminding those who survived the violence that justice is impossible and that there will be no remorse. Thus far demanding or offering resignation from office is accountability at its best in India.

The government that has blamed and now banned selected internet services, accusing them for precipitating fear will have a moral and legal dilemma for not acting against similar elements in India. Bal Keshav Thackeray and his clan, having a stronghold in the financial capital of India, is not an isolated gang of provocateurs in pursuit of sectarian violence and hatred in India. If legal standards and responsibilities are the same in each case, and if the country's justice apparatus is equipped, and is allowed to apply these standards in each occasion, most politicians who pretend to be national leaders in the country, would be in prison today. That it has not happened so far, and perhaps will never happen, is the root cause of the exodus that the country is witnessing now. It will happen again. All that is required is a similar catalyst.

Any community left with the only option of identifying first a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, or a Meitei, Naga, Malayalee, Tamilian or Kashmiri, lives a life of insecurity. The plurality that India claims exists within its fabric is in fact a fiction. No government has tried addressing this. Each has only tried deepening it. To address this divide, what is required is a strong national policy on justice reforms, since justice speaks only one language, that of equality. Unfortunately this has been the last priority for all governments in India so far. Instead attempt is to legislate new laws like the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparation) Bill, 2011 that lacked clarity in objectivity, purpose and public consultation.

As a substitute of addressing the root problem, prohibiting access to web content and blaming the neighbour for ones own misfortune only reiterates the reality of retardation in Indian political thinking. That the media has refused to look into this factor, and are regurgitating the government's blame game, in fact, speaks about its intellectual wilt.

Exodus in essence is fleeing for survival. Irrespective of the cause, the country witnesses it each year during the change of seasons. Legally there is no difference between the conditions, that force internal migration of an estimated one million people each year who leave their villages to work and perish in the cities and brick kilns, feeding the rampaging hunger of construction companies that define the skylines of India's new urban landscapes, and that of those who flee work places fearing communal violence. Government policies that result in the destruction of livelihood options in thousands of villages, corporate entities that connive with governments in the process, and the absolute lack of consultation with the people on policies and implementation when livelihoods are destroyed, are crimes of equal gravity.

Central to the issue is the unwillingness of the government and a large section of citizens to recognise that, at its core, the concept of a nation-state is that of an entity based on cooperation, i.e. an agreement between the state and its people to form a nation, on the guarantee that the state will spare no resources to protect basic freedoms of the people, irrespective of their race, region, religion, language and class. This guarantee is the best assurance, which nurtures unity, speaking the universal language of justice based on equality. It is this guarantee that the Indian state is yet to fulfil for its people, who have forgotten or failed to realise the initial act of cooperation that gave birth to their nation-state, and who don’t truly understand the price of their daily submission amidst petty squabbling, which legitimises inefficient and corrupt misrule.

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Cartoon provided by: Mr. Satish Acharya http://cartoonistsatish.blogspot.hk

For information and comments contact:
In Hong Kong: Bijo Francis, Telephone: +852 - 26986339, Email: india@ahrc.asia

A long way to go yet

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

When a nation with big power ambitions is at the 55th place in the Olympics medal table, it means it has a long way to go. Yet India is in a celebratory mood because the six medals it won at London represent its best performance so far.

The medal tables of the Olympics reveal a link between political and economic power and sporting prowess. The United States (104 medals), China (88), Britain (65, of which 29 are gold, giving it a higher rank) and Russia (83, of which only 24 are gold) topped the list this year.

In average performance, worked out with respect to the strength of the national contingent, China with a percentage of 22.89 ranked above the US (19.62) and Russia (18.81) was above Britain (11.83). India, with 7.23, was way behind.

When European powers dominated the world, countries from that continent were at the top of the table. As the US emerged as a global power, it climbed to the top. Between 1952 and 1988 the Soviet Union stood first or second at every Olympics in which it participated.

Politics kept the People’s Republic of China away from seven Olympics. Returning with a bang in 1984, five years after Deng Xiaoping set the country on the path of economic reform, it claimed the fourth place. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, aided by home ground advantage, it took the top spot, with 51 gold against America’s 36, although the latter led 110-100 in the medal tally.

India was at the 50th place in Beijing with three medals — one gold and two bronze. Now ranked fourth in the world in gross domestic product as well as military firepower, it hoped to improve its standing in London. Goldman Sachs, the global banking and securities firm, predicted it could get three gold, one silver and one bronze.

The 24x7 channels, whose patriotism overrode realism, worked up popular expectations to a high pitch before every event in which Indians were participating. In the event, there was terrible disappointment in store for the viewers. The minimal increase in the number of medals could not make up for the lack of shine of the metal or the slip in rank.

Spokesmen of the official and sports establishment, however, were in an upbeat mood. They pointed out that this year’s performance was better than that at any previous meet. On 13 occasions India had to be content with just one medal, twice with two medals and once with three.

Why is it that a nation of 1.2 billion people cannot match the performance of, say, Iran, which has just about 75 million people? With 12 medals — four gold, five silver and three bronze — it ranked 17th at London.

Population and economic advancement do not automatically translate into medals. The fact is that only a small fraction of India’s population is involved in serious sporting activity. Olympian standards can be reached only through intense training, which is costly and beyond the means of the bulk of the population.

Substantial public or private investment in the creation of sports facilities and training of sportspersons lies behind the achievements of the countries high up in the medal tables. The quick rise of the Soviet Union and China in the latter half of the last century was the result of determined efforts by the Communist governments.

Sport is not a priority item on the Indian government’s agenda. It has no scheme to spot talent and provide training facilities to produce sportsmen of international standards. Private investment is small and goes mainly into games of the affluent like cricket. Sports officials have often invited charges of favouritism and mismanagement.

India has been unable to hold on to its gains. At eight Olympics, it won the hockey gold, and then it slipped and went out of the medal table altogether. At Beijing it did not even qualify in the event. This time it qualified but lost every match it played.

As the first Indian to win a gold medal for individual performance, Abhinav Bindra, air rifle shooter, was the toast of the nation after the Beijing Olympics. At London he lost in the qualifying round. However, his team-mate, Gagan Narang, won a bronze.

The silver medals were picked up by Vijay Kumar, a pistol shooter, and Sushil Kumar, a wrestler, and the other bronze medals by Yogeshwar Dutt, wrestler, MC Mary Kom, woman boxer, and Saina Nehwal, woman badminton player. --Gulf Today, August 21, 2012.

16 August, 2012

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar -- the greatest Indian

The following is a:n article from diplomatic titbits blogspot forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission
By Ramseh Chander

"The hunt for The Greatest Indian has come to a Celebratory End! The votes are in and the people of India have spoken.

The Greatest Indian to have ever lived after Mahatma Gandhi is Dr.B.R Ambedkar"

This is the announcement made by the CNN-IBN news channel on August 11, 2011 as the outcome of the poll conducted by them along with History TV 18 channel and the magazine Outlook. It is good to be late than never. This recognition of Ambedkar was overdue. The CNN-IBN schedule of programmes indicates that the formal announcement will be made on the Independence Day on August 15. Of course, it is a fulsome tribute to the great son of India and rightly so. The poll on the greatest Indian conducted, in line with such polls on the BBC, by the CNN-IBN and History TV 18 is appreciable. The media partner of the exercise, the magazine Outlook has done a tremendous work in bring out a special number -- 'B.R. Ambedkar – Greater than Nehru' which quite informative.

My congratulations to the organizers of the opinion poll

Three things come to my mind which I would like to share. One -- to become the greatest Indian is a well deserved recognition of the worthy son of India, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar which shall be appreciated and accepted by all. Second, we shall tend avoid the controversy on comparisons of greatness like the greatest Indian after Gandhi or greater than Nehru. The fact that Ambedkar has topped the elite club of the greats by his own right, the other greats like Gandhi and Nehru and many more have become ‘one of the greats. The monopoly has been broken. Thirdly, it is clear that Ambedkar is not an icon of the dalits alone but a national hero. The earlier it is accepted the better. Yogendra Yadav, one of the jury members, rightly said in his assessment "The selection (of nominees) as much about us... we still largely see through Nehru’s eyes. Dr. Ambedkar stands very very tall (despite being ignored by the main stream). He was just not a dalit icon but a scholar as well."

Yet another thought before I conclude. It is the hypocrisy of the urban middle class. The Market Research Survey, one of the components of the poll for the greatest Indian, conducted by AC Neilsen ranked Ambedkar at number 6 out of the ten short listed. It clears spells the mindset of the caste ridden society. The Jury of the poll was high power and well represented by the intelligential and the upper crust of the society. The intellectual bankruptcy was at its best. Out of the 28 members of the jury only 6 voted for Ambedkar as against 14 for Nehru. Two of the Jury members voted for Patel and one for JRD Tata. Five members did not cast their votes. The Jury ranked Ambedkar at number 2 after Nehru. The popular vote clearly and decisively weighed in favour of Ambedkar with highest number of votes. In spite of all obvious odds, Ambedkar made it to the top in the final run. The final results would be formally made known on August 15. The media is silent. No national paper, to my knowledge, has picked up the event as news worthy. It is shameful of the so-called independent and free media.
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About the author: Mr. Ramseh Chander (IFS) is a former Indian diplomat. Chander retired from the foreign in 2010 while serving as the Indian Ambassador to Belarus after an illustrious career spaning 40 years. The original article could be viewed at: http://diplomatictitbits.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/dr-br-ambedkar-greatest-indian.html  


15 August, 2012

Human Rights situation in India: challenges and prospects


B.R.P.Bhaskar

With its incredible variety, India stands apart from the rest of the world. It has within its borders people in social and economic conditions of every kind. Consequently we have to deal with human rights violations of every kind too. Needless to say, the worst sufferers are the marginalized people and those defending their rights.

It is impossible to do justice to the topic of discussion -- Human Rights Movement and Human Rights Defenders: Challenges and Prospects -- in a short talk. I shall, therefore, confine myself mainly to the most vulnerable sections.

The Adivasis  -- officially labelled as the Scheduled Tribes – face grave threats to lives and livelihood all across the country. They generally inhabit interior forest lands or distant hills, having been forced by successive waves of migration to withdraw from the coasts and the plains. With no place left to withdraw to, they are engaged in a desperate struggle for survival.

In Odisha (Orissa), the Adivasis have been fight for seven years to prevent acquisition of their homelands by South Korean steel giant POSCO to establish what has been conceived as the world’s biggest steel complex. A year after the company signed a memorandum of understanding with India authorities Parliament enacted the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, which grants them certain rights regarding use of forest lands and resources. Some environmentalists oppose the law, saying it will come in the way of effective protection of the forests. Good or bad, the law, which came into force four years ago, does not allow the company to proceed with the project. The MoU expired last year. However, the threat to the Adivasis remains as the company and the Central and state governments have not given up the project. Severe repressive measures have been taken against them and their leaders.

Women and children have been in the forefront of the anti-POSCO agitation. Since the presence of children has often come in the way of harsh police action, the state government issued an order banning their participation in the agitation. While exploitative use of children is deplorable, can they really be kept out of a struggle to secure their future.

In the predominantly tribal state of Chhattisgarh, the Adivasis are caught between the devil and the deep sea. Extremist groups have established bases in remote villages and gained followers among the Adivasis by taking up their cause. Security forces engaged in operations against the extremists make no distinction between armed rebels and unarmed villagers. Vigilante groups, armed and funded by the authorities, are still operating in the state, despite a Supreme Court order to disband them. Human rights defenders championing the cause of the Adivasis are branded as extremists and jailed, as happened in the celebrated case of Dr Binayak Sen, whose prolonged incarceration ended only after a strong international campaign.

A more recent case to come out of this rogue state is that of Soni Sori, an Adivasi teacher, hauled up for alleged involvement with the Naxalites. A letter she wrote to the Supreme Court from the prison last month makes pathetic reading. Here are translated excerpts from the Hindi letter:

Today I am alive because of your verdict. You gave the order at the right time so that I could be medically treated again. I was very happy during my treatment at AIIMS hospital in New Delhi, but, Your Honour, I have to pay for it now. I am being harassed and tortured here. I request you to have mercy on me. Your Honour, I am suffering mentally.

1.        I am made to sit on the ground naked.

2.       I am suffering from hunger.

3.      I am frisked in an uncomfortable manner, each part of my body is touched.

4.      Labelling me traitor and Naxalite, they torture me.

Your Honour, how long will the Chhattisgarh and police administration keep on stripping me naked? I am an Indian tribal woman. I also feel shame and I am unable to save my modesty here.

It would have been better if you had given me Death Penalty.

Soni Sori is at a point where human rights violations of different kinds converge. She suffers as a villager, as an Adivasi and as a woman.

The Indian government evades the obligations cast on it by international instruments guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples by dishonestly claiming there are no indigenous people in the country although the term Adivasis itself means first inhabitants and testifies to their status an indigenous people.

The Dalits -- officially classified as the Scheduled Castes – constitute another segment of the population which is subjected to social exclusion and systematic repression. Six decades after the Constitution came into force its commitment to abolish untouchability remains unfulfilled in many parts of the country. In a state like Kerala, where overt practice of untouchability does not take place but complaints about derisive use of caste names, which is prohibited by law, are common. Among the offenders are political leaders, some of whom have cast themselves in the role of feudal chiefs. From Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to Bihar and West Bengal, under different political dispensations, Dalits continue to suffer discrimination. In Uttar Pradesh, Dalit empowerment has made much progress but social disabilities remain.

In the area of civil and political rights, there are problems that are a hangover from the colonial period. A conspicuous example is the operation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which grants impunity to security personnel called in assist the civil administration in maintaining law and order. This law, in force in the northeastern states for half a century, was extended to parts of Jammu and Kashmir two years ago. The apathy of the so-called mainstream to the problems of largely tribal population of the northeast and the predominantly Muslim population of Kashmir allows the government to use AFSPA, an extraordinary law conceived as a short-term measure, even when there is no major insurgency. Irom Sharmila, a young woman of Manipur, on an indefinite fast for 11 years demanding withdrawal of AFSPA, is kept alive through forced nasal feeding in custody at an Imphal hospital.

Terror attacks are a new form of human rights violation the country has to contend with. Reports of killing of alleged terrorists in fake encounters surface from time to time. Doubts exist about the extent to which the police forces, contaminated by communal propaganda and infiltration, can be relied upon. Some instances in which acts of violence committed by Hindutva elements were falsely attributed to Muslims have come to light. Reassertion of authority by khap (caste) panchayats in some northern states -- they have been ordering so-called honour killings and curbing the rights of women – points to return of rights violation of the feudal era. In the absence of political will to put down the attempts by feudal elements to take the law into their own hands, judicial interventions have been of little avail.

Wanton destruction of the environment in the name of development is a new area of concern. If it is not checked, it may not be possible for the present generation to bequeath to the next an inhabitable planet.

The political complexion of the government makes no difference to the human rights situation. The early promise held out by bodies such as the Human Rights Commissions, Women’s Commission, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission and the Information Commission, which came up at the national and state levels during the past two decades, has faded. The primary cause of failure lies in their composition. They are headed by retired judges or bureaucrats, many of whom look upon the new assignments as rewards for past services and are slack in using the new instruments at their disposal to advance the cause of human dignity. The members of these bodies are political nominees who put party interests above human rights.

While the Indian authorities are ready to ignore the most strident voices from within the country they are somewhat sensitive to foreign criticism. The law providing for human rights commissions was enacted under pressure from aid givers. For years, the government blocked attempts by the United Nations to look at the human rights situation in the country. It now allows visits by UN Special Rapporteurs. Although the government determines the places they can go to, civil society representatives are able to meet them and place facts before them. Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, was in India last year and Christoff Heynes, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution early this year.

Sekaggya said at the end of her visit that she had heard “numerous testimonies bout male and female human rights defenders and their families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged, under surveillance, forcibly displaced, or their offices raided and files stolen, because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

She added, “These violations are commonly attributed to law enforcement authorities; however, they have also reportedly shown collusion and/or complaisance with abuses committed by private actors against defenders. Armed groups have also harassed human rights defenders in some instances.

“In the context of India’s economic policies, defenders engaged in denouncing development projects that threaten or destroy the land, natural resources and livelihood of their community or of other communities, have been targeted by state agents and private actors, and are particularly vulnerable.

“I am particularly concerned at the plight of human rights defenders working for the rights of marginalized people, i.e. Dalits, Adivasis (tribals), religious minorities and sexual minorities who face particular risks and ostracism because of their activities. Collectivities striving for their rights have in fact been victimized.

“Women human rights defenders, who are often at the forefront of the promotion and protection of human rights, are also at particular risk of persecution.

“Right to Information (RTI) activists, who may be ordinary citizens, have increasingly been targeted for, among others, for exposing human rights violations and poor governance, including corruption of officials….

“I am troubled by the branding and stigmatization of human rights defenders, who are labelled as ‘Naxalites (Maoists)’, ‘terrorists’, ‘militants’, ‘insurgents’, ‘anti-nationals’, ‘members of underground’. Defenders on the ground, including journalists, who report on violations by state and non-state actors in areas affected by insurgency, are targeted by both sides.”

Christoff Heynes said, “Evidence gathered confirmed the use of so-called ‘fake encounters’ in certain parts of the country. When this happens, scene of a shoot-out is created, in which people who have been targeted are projected as the aggressors who shot at the police and were then killed in self-defence.

“Moreover, in the northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir, the armed forces have wide powers to employ lethal force. This is exacerbated by the high level of impunity that the police and armed forces enjoy, due to the requirement that any prosecutions require sanction from the central government – something that is rarely granted.”

Both Sekaggya and Heynes have recommended a number of measures to improve the human rights situation. So far there is nothing to indicate that the government is ready to act upon their recommendations. A sustained campaign at national and international levels is needed to make it budge.      

Based on a paper presented at the National Seminar on “Human Rights Movement and Human Rights Defenders: Challenges and Prospects”, organized jointly by the Vigil India Movement and the Ecumenical Christian Centre, at Whitefield, Bengaluru, on August 9 and 10, 2012.

14 August, 2012

Lessons of a blackout

BRP Bhaskar
 
The collapse of India’s northern power grid on two successive days during the past fortnight exposed the precarious energy situation it faces as it seeks to develop its economy.

The power outage was the subject of discussion across the globe, with commentators in the United States and China deriding the plight of the presumed future superpower. “India wants to be a power on the world stage. But back home it’s having power troubles of a more mundane variety,” wrote one scribe. 

All comments were not negative. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology publication suggested that India should go in for a network of microgrids, an intermediate step between individual generators and a fully national grid, to avert frequent interruptions. Some of the microgrids could operate with renewable energy, it added. 

The power shutdown, caused by several states drawing more than their entitlement from the common grid, reportedly affected more than half of the country’s population of 1.2 billion, making it the largest blackout in human history. Add to that the one-fourth of the population which has no access to electricity anyway, and you get a full picture.

With an installed capacity of 203,000 megawatts (MW), India’s power sector is the fifth largest in the world. About 66 per cent of the power comes from thermal plants and 19 per cent from hydroelectric projects. Nuclear power and various forms of renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass account for the rest.

Currently per capita power consumption in the country is put at 778 kilowatt-hours (kwh), which is only a third of the world average. Since power generation is not sufficient to meet peak demands, load shedding is common, especially in the rural areas.

Obviously there is a long way to go on the power front. The International Energy Agency estimates that the country will raise power generation capacity by anything upwards of 600,000MW by 2050. However, there are flaws in the approach of the central and state governments.

Planners at the centre have been unable to reconcile the conflicting demands of official agencies in the states, each of which pushes for schemes of the kind it is familiar with, disregarding drawbacks that have surfaced. Consequently a plan that judiciously integrates different kinds of power sources has not emerged.

To make things worse, bureaucratic delays often slow down power projects, resulting in heavy cost overruns. Lately increasing awareness of environmental problems has led to massive popular resistance to thermal, hydroelectric and nuclear power projects.

The heavy dependence on thermal power is a matter of concern for reasons such as poor quality of coal, its dwindling supplies and endemic corruption in the mining sector. However, the public sector National Thermal Power Corporation, which has raised $800 million overseas since 2006 for various projects, is planning to raise $1 billion more by selling bonds abroad to further expand thermal power production capacity.

In the early years of Independence, a plan was drawn up to set up nuclear plants in the belief that atomic power will be the cheapest. Though the cost calculations have proved wrong the government continues to pursue nuclear projects. Global sanctions imposed in the wake of nuclear tests, which revealed the military dimension of the nuclear plan, stalled progress for a long period. Foreign pressures have now eased somewhat but domestic pressures fuelled by safety concerns have mounted.

The authorities attribute the current power crisis to the failure of the monsoon. Official sources put water levels of 84 big reservoirs across the country at 55 per cent of last year’s levels. Evidently the worst is yet to come.

The country would not have come to this sorry pass but for the criminal neglect of renewal energy sources for long. Blessed with sunlight for most of the year, its solar power potential is put at more than 12 trillion watt-hours per square mile.

Waking up late to the bright future that the sun holds out, plans have been drawn up to add 20,000MW of solar energy to the national grid by 2022.

This is not an overambitious target, considering that Germany, which has decided to cut out nuclear power, installed 4,300MW in just six months this year. However, it will prove elusive unless the authorities draw the right lessons from the blackout and pursue the projects on hand vigorously.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 14, 2012.

13 August, 2012

Reform of criminal justice system: India must stop lying first, says AHRC

The following is a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on Indian proposals  for reform of the criminal justice system:

The government is again planning to change the criminal justice mainframe of the country. Again, the ruse is that of justice to the people and national security. The proposal is open; its true purpose clandestine. If the 2007 report of the Committee on National Policy on Criminal Justice, chaired by Dr. N.R. Madhava Menon, is what has lead to this reform proposal, heed the sign that reads: caution.

On August 9, Mr. Mullapally Ramachandran, union state minister at the Ministry of Home Affairs, stated in Lok Sabha that his ministry is planning to effect a comprehensive change to the criminal justice landscape of the nation. The minister said the overhaul would include amendments to the Indian Penal Code (1860), the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973), and the Indian Evidence Act (1872), collectively known as the criminal major acts.

The ‘reform’ plans to closely consider proposals made by the Committee chaired by Justice V. S. Malimath on reforms of the Criminal Justice System (2003), and the Draft National Policy on Criminal Justice, submitted to the government by Dr. Menon (2007). The Draft National Policy document is itself, in fact, nothing but a summary of the earlier Malimath Committee report.

Mr. Ramachandran informed the House that his ministry has sent its suggestions to the National Law Commission, with a request that the Commission detail the legislative changes needed to bring about the reforms the ministry have in mind. However, neither did the minister care to elaborate, nor did any Member of Parliament think of demanding, the details concerning the proposed reforms. And, no such information is available in the public domain, even at the Home Ministry's website.

The minister also failed to inform the house whether there would be any public consultation. Given the precedence, there could be some token consultation. Given the history though, not many civil society groups will participate meaningfully, even if they have knowledge of such consultation. This is because the criminal justice system remains a blind-spot amongst Indian civil society groups. Thus, either way, public at large will not be consulted, even though the ‘reforms’ propose to substantially take away their fundamental freedoms.
If the draft national policy is the guideline for the proposed reforms, soon Indians will find their civil rights substantially curtailed. It is a literal death trap for fundamental freedoms. Telephone conversations and other communications will be intercepted by state agencies, acting with statutory impunity, redefining thus the very notion of privacy and privilege in communications.

The draft policy proposes a rights trade-off in the excuse of national security, including the negation of the fundamental right to silence and the presumption of innocence. The principle of ‘preponderance of probabilities’ will find itself introduced into criminal trials to convict a person, rather than the requirement of ‘conclusiveness in proof’, the current norm. Statements made by persons to the police during investigation would become admissible as evidence without adequate verification. Expert opinions would be treated as substantive evidence and not as estimations. The trials of offenses punishable with a maximum sentence below 3 years would be reduced into summary proceedings. The draft policy would allow the state to restrict at whim the very scope of the concepts of freedom of opinion and expression. The freedom of the media to report cases, and expose crimes, including those of corruption at high places, would be relegated to the dustbin of history.

If the national policy as proposed by Dr. Menon's committee were to be implemented by requisite legislative and constitutional amendments, the relationship between the state and subjects will be re-defined. The amendments will take away the scope of fair trial, since what the police say would soon become proof for conviction. It will, of course, reduce delays in adjudication. This is because it would hardly leave any need for adjudication. Since the policy does not speak about reforming the police by imposing accountability upon the force, the rich and the powerful will still manage to escape investigation, trials and convictions. The national policy only speaks of awarding more powers to the investigating agencies, which, as it is, today, are selectively used and would remain the same. The government has already spoken its mind in failing to implement the Supreme Court's directives in the Prakash Singh case, watershed directives towards independence and accountability in the criminal justice system. Continued and shameless ignorance of the Court’s directives on one hand, and the institution of these ‘reforms’ on the other, the country will have to continue contending with the same criminals in uniform, policing the people, the only difference being enormous enhancement in police powers, and consequent reduction of individual freedom. With these changes, India will become a police state.

To justify the draconian proposals, Dr. Menon's committee has liberally used presumptions and surmises, laced together with weaselly generalisations. The draft policy, as far as addressing issues that have rendered the criminal justice system in India a complete failure goes, is a non sequitur. The committee is of the opinion that the Indian state is ‘soft’, which has rendered crime control impossible in the country, and hence has recommended the changes cited above.

It has, in no uncertain terms, discriminated regions in the country, as 'terrorist', where it prescribes the role played by the state as an iron fist as just and right, never-mind the fact that such thinking has only helped worsen the living conditions in these regions, with innumerable instances of human rights abuses committed by state and non-state actors.

The committee has, in unambiguous terms, used exceptions such as terrorist attacks as excuse for the dilution of civil liberties, and has encouraged the state to constitute a national framework that could curtail fundamental freedoms to ensure security. The committee has cited restrictions made in other countries as an excuse to justify similar changes in India, suggesting a subjugation of the intellectual sovereignty that Indians must maintain when legislating. The committee's opinion of blindly following the 'global trend' to restrict freedoms suggests two elementary flaws made by the committee: 1) it shows that the committee's process was not consultative enough, and 2) it shows how, with a single presumptuous sweep, the committee negates the civil liberty movements in the rest of the world that are fighting against such draconian state controls, and how, with equal contempt, the committee treats the collective intellect of the common Indian person. The committee is sure it knows what liberties India should and should not have.

The Menon Committee's draft national policy emphatically suggests standardising exceptions into norms. On one occasion it quotes an anonymous lawyer, who, according to the committee, demands drastic changes in legal procedures to mandate that the accused, by law, 'assist' the court in testifying against himself / herself. To justify formulation of draconian state control in the name of security, the committee repeatedly uses the term 'public expectation' in reference to the duty of the state to provide security even at the cost of fundamental freedoms. However, in reality, the committee never approached the public to seek its views.
The policy document and those who drafted it lack the basic honesty expected of such proposals and bodies. They failed to point out the elephant in the room: that the problems affecting the criminal justice system in the country are deep-rooted corruption within the police and within all tiers of the judiciary; ineptitude; an assortment of crimes, including that of torture, committed by law-enforcement officers with impunity; lack of professionalism and any form of training and opportunities for enforcement officers to cultivate the same; and a close to non-existent prosecutorial framework.

There has been so far no attempt by the government to study these evils that have held the country's justice apparatus at ransom. Without this, propounding that the public gift away their fundamental freedoms to guarantee security is nothing less than fraud upon the country. The only result will be ensuring the security of tenure for criminals in seats of power in the country. Unwillingness to end the aforementioned issues is what adversely affects justice administration in India. It is not a passive oversight, but an active pursuit, easily apparent if one only considers the minimal resources allocated to justice institutions; today, the judiciary is literally smothered out due to lack of adequate funds.

What is the security a citizen can expect when law-enforcement officers only attract deep contempt from the public and display shameless ineptitude in discharging their duties? What is the meaning of protection when police officers rob money and life out of the people and are more feared for rape and murder than street thugs? Where is the value of civilian law-enforcement when the officers mandated to enforce the law breach all laws possible? What is the meaning of ‘reform’, when the officers of the state who are to be reformed are forced to continue in the public perception as criminals in uniform?

Committees constituted to play background scores to a treachery, not advocating reforms where they are needed, and proposing to filch away even those few, but crucial, freedoms that protect common people today – with or without the protection of their state and its agencies – are the real security threat to the nation. Such committees would suggest anything required by those that constitute them. These committees have nothing in common with the larger mass of the country. They have no understanding of how ordinary Indians struggle daily to survive, protecting themselves from criminals in uniform.

Six or seven clandestine paper presentations held at universities, where the public has no access, cannot be the basis for the formulation of a national policy that could diminish fundamental freedoms in India. But the fact is, such a policy is now in place to be implemented and the term 'public demand' is used liberally in the policy document, as an excuse to justify parochial, restrictive and draconian changes to be brought into the national legal mainframe.

Security of life and property of the citizen is directly proportional to what is implied as ‘national security.’ Unlike exceptions of violence sponsored by anti-state entities, every day in the length and breath of the country, fundamental rights of the people are brutally violated by law enforcement agencies, especially the local police. Not a single attempt has been made in the country to criminalise violence committed by law enforcement agencies, often in the name of social control, and crime investigation.

Every police station in India routinely practices torture. It is performed publicly, without any form of legislative or practical control. Police officers and policy-makers equally believe that torture is an acceptable means of crime investigation. Just as it is done in the Menon Committee, the country has failed to treat this single fatal cancer, something that has rendered the entire police service in India as nothing more than a group of uniformed thugs lacking moral and operation discipline.

Conditions are far worse when it comes to paramilitary units stationed along the borders and in areas where they are deployed to assist state administrations, like in Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal. There is no data available in the public domain as to what actions are initiated upon complaints of human rights abuses committed by these forces. As per the information collated by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), there is little doubt that the Border Security Force (BSF) stationed along the Indo-Bangladesh border is a threat to national security. They engage in crimes like rape, torture and extrajudicial execution in routine. The BSF is a demoralised and corrupt force that engages in all forms of corruption, including anchoring trans-border smuggling.

If national security is of any importance, law enforcement agencies must be held accountable, as must members of submissive and myopic committees that advance dangerous proposals, set to further harm lives of their country-men.

Information provided at the National Bureau of Crime Records for the past several years only advances this argument further. According to the Bureau, in 2011 there were only 72 reported cases of human rights abuses alleged against the police in the entire country. Out of this only 7 were cases of alleged torture. There were only 6 cases of illegal arrest and detention, and only 1 and 3 cases of alleged extortion were reported from Punjab and Delhi, respectively. In states like Assam, Bihar, Goa, Jharkhand, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Sikkim and Tripura there were no cases of human rights abuses registered for the year! To say that the statistics mock reality would be an understatement.

India does need reform. It should begin with ending the practice of shameless lying.

For information and comments contact:
In Hong Kong: Bijo Francis, Telephone: +852 - 26986339, Email: india@ahrc.asia

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Koodankulam protesters to observe August 15 as Black Day


The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), which spearheads the agitation against the Koodankulam nuclear project, has decided to observe August 15 as Black Day.

In a statement headlined "Why Independence Day is a Black Day", PMANE says:

The UPA government considers Indian life worthless and dispensable by freeing Russia from liability commitment for Koodankulam reactors 1 & 2.

The UPA government signs secret agreements with foreign governments and does not disclose the content to its own citizens and law makers.

The UPA government and its atomic energy department disrespect the Indian Judiciary and act with complete disregard for its opinions and decisions.

The UPA government puts the interests of the United States, Russia, France and Australia ahead of the Indian citizens’ own interests.

The UPA government is trying to prop up foreign economies at the cost of our citizens’ health, wellbeing, food security, natural resources and our progeny.

The UPA government is selling our natural resources to foreigners and turning a blind eye to the rich and powerful people’s plundering of our resources all over the country.

The UPA government uses money power to manipulate the MPs and others as it was demonstrated during the passage of the India-US nuclear deal.

The UPA government does not allow openness, transparency, accountability and popular participation in the decision making processes on crucial national issues.

The UPA government stifles political dissent by maligning dissenters and opposition leaders, undermining their movements and damaging their reputation.

The UPA government is not at all serious about passing anti-corruption legislations or bringing back the black money from abroad.

The UPA government does not respect our rich tradition of democracy, nonviolence and the Gandhian ethos in public life.

The corruption-ridden, anti-Indian, pro-foreign, pro-MNC government of the UPA does not enjoy absolute majority in the Parliament and hence should not be allowed to take crucial national decisions at the fag end of their tenure in power.

The UPA government has lost its credibility, legitimacy, respect and trust among the people of India and it is compromising our independence, sovereignty and the fundamental freedoms.

So the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) commemorates August 15, 2012 as a Black Day. We will hoist black flags on our homes and public places. Please join us in this campaign!

And let us together take our India back!

People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)
Idinthakarai & P. O. 627 104
Tirunelveli District
Tamil Nadu

07 August, 2012

End of an urban dream

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Failing to beat the politicians at their game, former officials campaigning against corruption at high places decided last week to join them. They are conjuring up a political party to contest the parliamentary elections due in 2014.

The officials were part of the team led by Anna Hazare, a former army truck driver who had earned a Gandhian image through dedicated rural service. He began a crusade against corruption in his state of Maharashtra two decades ago. City folks like Arvind Kejriwal, an income-tax officer who had opted out of government service and campaigned in favour of the citizens’ right to information, and Kiran Bedi, the first woman officer of the Indian Police Service, brought him to the national stage last year, hoping his image will be an asset in their anti-corruption campaign.

Team Anna, which included legal luminaries like former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, his son Prashant Bhushan and former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde, drafted a tough anti-corruption measure and demanded that the government push it through Parliament.

Anna Hazare began an indefinite fast in New Delhi in April last year to press the demand. Continuous live coverage by the news channels boosted the campaign. An Internet community under the banner of India Against Corruption received much support from the urban middle class. The Hindutva powerhouse, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and its political vehicle, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, backed the agitation.

Anna ended the fast on a victorious note as the government, sensing the national mood in favour of a strong law, agreed to constitute a committee with civil society representation to examine its draft and theirs and come up with one that is acceptable to all.

When the attempt to reconcile the two drafts failed, Anna Hazare returned to Delhi and fasted once again. After an ill-advised attempt to jail him backfired, the government mollified him once again. It got the Lok Sabha to adopt a resolution agreeing in principle to three key points in his team’s draft and he ended the fast.

Anna set the year-end as the deadline for adoption of the bill incorporating the points the Lok Sabha had agreed to. On December 28 the house passed a watered down bill and sent it to the upper house, which ended its session the following day without voting on it.

Two weeks ago Team Anna began another fast to press its demand. This time Kejriwal led the fast. There was distinct coolness in the television channels’ coverage, and the crowds were thin. Four days later Anna too began the fast. That led to some improvement in the size of the crowds but not enough to persuade the government to make any new gestures.

On Friday, Anna and his associates ended the fast with no gains to show. They sought to make up for this by announcing the decision to float a party of their own and contest the Lok Sabha elections. “We have to throw this government out,” said Kejriwal. “It is a long fight… Parliament has to be purified.” He invited young Congress and BJP leaders to join the campaign.

Kejriwal and some other members of the team, it appears, were working on the idea of a party for some time as they believe it is necessary to acquire political power to push through their agenda. Other members of the team have distanced themselves from the move as they believe entry into politics will throw them open to the nefarious influences that have corrupted the existing political parties.

Anna Hazare has adopted an ambivalent position. He has said he will not join any political party or contest the elections. However he will campaign for the new party.

Kejriwal and company may imagine that by casting Anna Hazare in the role of Gandhi, who led the Congress without being a member of the Congress party for many years, or of Jayaprakash Narayan, whose charisma enabled the Janata Party, a ramshackle coalition put together on election eve, to overthrow Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime, they can achieve a facile electoral victory. However, they are political babes in the wood whom wily electioneers can easily outsmart.

The sad part of the Anna story is that the urban middle class’s fond dream of a quick-fix solution to the problem of endemic corruption has come to an end. It is not through tweets and Facebook campaigns that India can find solutions to problems of this kind. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 7, 2012

01 August, 2012

How are legitimate citizens converted into public enemies?

By Ilina Sen

On June 26, as we remembered the clamping down of the internal Emergency on the people of the sovereign democratic republic of India 38-years ago, why is that our thoughts turn, almost as if drawn by a magnet, to the history of jurisprudence in the city of Allahabad?

The dark history of the Emergency, a time when all civil and constitutional freedoms stood suspended, was triggered by a series of events in the corridors of the Allahabad judicial establishment - a time when the judiciary elected not to oblige the political establishment, and countermanded the irregular election of the politician laying claim to the highest office in the country. Although the entire country underwent a trial by fire after this, the Indian public institutions, especially the judiciary gained hugely in terms of its reputation for independence and fearlessness.

Today, it is another judgement coming out of the judicial corridors at Allahabad that has us mesmerised, and this time for different reasons. The conviction under sections of the IPC and UAPA of Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay and the sentence of life  imprisonment given to them earlier this month has sent shock waves among Indian citizens not because these two were special people in any sense. Many of us did not know them, but their arrests, trial and conviction has once more highlighted the malevolent way in which the internal security laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) are used. More frighteningly, this has demonstrated the close nexus between the prosecuting agencies and the judicial system.  The independence of the judicial process on which we once prided ourselves is nowhere in evidence.

The lengthy judgement convicting and sentencing Seema and her husband on charges of waging war against the State rests on the evidence of 14 witnesses, 12 of whom are police personnel involved in their arrest and its documentation, and two others are officials belonging to the telephone department. There is not a  single public witness, and in a sense this is fair enough because there is nowhere any mention of anything to be witness to. No act of violence or criminality is alleged anywhere, in which they are  supposed to have been involved. The items seized from them and sealed after their arrest have been illegally opened in the police station ‘for inspection’, and they are assumed  to be responsible for certain literature that is critical of state policy only on the grounds that this was found in their house. Nowhere is there any specific act or deed that endangers the state even attributed to them, and their conviction on serious national security charges is entirely on the basis of generalities.  The court’s conclusion can only be explained by the fact that the court refused to assume the innocence of the accused.

The judgment pronounced by the sessions court at Allahabad in the case of Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay is a perfect example of how, in the name of combating terrorism or Maoism, a large number of halftruths, inadmissible evidence, procedural violations and a paranoid piece of legislation can convert legitimate citizens into public enemies. The implied embargo on reading critical literature goes against the spirit of our Constitution.  If judicial pronouncements of this nature are allowed to pass into the realm of acceptability, we are really at the beginning of a second National Emergency, with our rights and spaces suspended. The Indian people will no doubt resist this attempt to curtail their constitutional rights; but this time round, do we have the judiciary with us in our struggle? (PUCL Bulletin, August 2012)