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Did the Antrix-Devas agreement on S-band spectrum go as far as it did because many individuals in the know chose not to intervene?
Quite apart from the fashion in which valuable S-band spectrum was allocated to a single private company for an extended period of time, the Antrix-Devas agreement and the way in which it was sought to be implemented were highly questionable in other ways too.
The deal was finally annulled following the exposé by The Hinduand its sister publication, Business Line, in February 2011.
Much of the upfront cost for the two satellites required to operationalise the agreement and their launch were to be borne by the public exchequer. The issue of making good any satellite malfunctions or launch failures would also have arisen. Whether, and to what extent, higher authorities such as the Space Commission and even the Union Cabinet were informed of the deal and its implications is murky and unclear.
The agreement was signed on January 28, 2005 between Antrix Corporation Ltd., the marketing wing of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd. based in Bangalore.
The agreement laid down that Antrix would provide satellite capacity to enable Devas to launch ‘satellite digital multimedia broadcast’ (S-DMB) services that would be delivered to fixed, portable and mobile receivers, including mobile phones and vehicle-borne devices.
As a result of this deal, ISRO was committed to build, launch and operate two custom-built communication satellites, which came to be called GSAT-6 (also known as Insat 4E) and GSAT-6A. The agreement specified that 90 per cent of the capacity on these two satellites would be leased to Devas “on a 24-hour, seven-day-per-week basis” for 12 years, with a provision to extend the lease by another 12 years.
These were not ordinary communication satellites of the sort that ISRO had built and launched before. They involved high-powered spot beams in the S-band requiring a large 6.5 metre antenna (that could be unfurled in space) that was specially developed for these satellites and which ISRO has never flown before.
ISRO communication satellites have had their share of problems that led to partial and, in the case of the Insat 2D launched in 1997, total loss of onboard capacity. As recently as July 2010, a problem with the Insat-4B’s power supply system led to half its communications capacity being shut down.
With what are essentially developmental satellites like the GSAT-6 and the GSAT-6A that have not been flown before, the risk of problems arising are greater. Such concerns are particularly high in the case of the large antenna that could be unfurled in space. If it failed to open out properly, the entire satellite would be rendered useless. In addition, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), on which the satellites were to be launched, has also not settled down to provide reliable service.
Yet, the Devas contract has stringent penalty clauses for when the satellites must become operational, the quality of service to be provided and tough norms for declaring “a Total Satellite Failure.” In the latter event, a replacement satellite has to be provided within a specified time span at no extra cost to Devas.
Experience elsewhere in the world indicates that mobile satellite services in the S- and L-band frequencies have often proved financially unviable. Regulatory authorities in the U.S. and elsewhere are therefore permitting some part of the satellite frequencies to be used for lucrative terrestrial communications. If regulatory authorities in India were to permit similar flexibility, the S-band frequencies that the deal had allotted to Devas would have become a highly valuable resource.
In fact, a note prepared for the Cabinet Committee on Security in February 2011 by the Department of Space, the parent body of ISRO and Antrix, pointed out that the company had plans to get into terrestrial broadband services. Such a dispensation “might not ensure a level playing field for the other service providers using terrestrial spectrum, especially considering the significant demand for S-band spectrum,” it noted.
A preliminary estimate prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2011 had suggested that the spectrum allotted to Devas could have been worth as much as Rs.2 lakh crore. According to ISRO, the amount payable by Devas over a 12-year period was just $300 million (about Rs.1,500 crore at the current exchange rate).
While Rs.766 crore of public money would be spent on building and launching the two satellites, Antrix’s revenues from Devas would come to only Rs.1,350 crore over a 12-year period. The note to the Cabinet Committee on Security admitted that this would have not been sufficient compensation for all the costs incurred by ISRO.
There is also the question of how this particular company was chosen for the deal. The line taken by ISRO has been this was the only company that came forward with a viable plan for the sort of satellite-based multimedia applications that were envisaged. However, no open competitive process seems to have been even attempted in making such a choice.
Considering that Devas is headed by a person, who once held a senior position in the space programme, the onus on the Department of Space, ISRO and Antrix to make sure the deal was in public interest and not tainted by any whiff of cronyism was all the greater.
Given all these factors, the Department of Space ought to have ensured that both the Space Commission and the Union Cabinet were formally informed and fully briefed on the Antrix-Devas deal and all its implications when seeking approval to build the two satellites required.
The Space Commission was established by the government four decades back to formulate the country’s space policies and oversee implementation of space programmes. All important programmes and projects have to be cleared by the Commission, and it also has delegated powers to clear financial expenditure on projects up to a certain amount.
Headed by the Secretary for the Department of Space (who is also chairman of ISRO), this powerful body has top officials from the Central Government among its members. Currently this includes the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, the National Security Adviser, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary, a Secretary in the Department of Expenditure, a Secretary in the Finance Ministry who is the Member (Finance), and the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government.
After the Space Commission gave its clearance, the Union Cabinet approved the building of GSAT-6 in December 2005. Four years later, the Space Commission, under its delegated powers, gave the go-ahead for the follow-on GSAT-6A.
The proposals from the Department of Space seeking approval for the GSAT-6 and GSAT-6A “did not make any reference to their utilisation for the Antrix-Devas agreement,” according to the background note issued by ISRO last February. Only at its July 2010 meeting, when it recommended annulling the contract, was the Space Commission “apprised on this contractual agreement for the first time.”
However, in a recent interview with The Hindu, G. Madhavan Nair, who was chairman of ISRO and Antrix when the deal was signed and approval for the two satellites taken, has said that several people in the government, including from the Prime Minister’s Office, were aware of the details of the deal at every stage.
Besides, there are persons who are members of both the Space Commission and the Antrix’s board of directors. One such individual is the Member (Finance). Another is the Director of the ISRO Satellite Centre that is responsible for building the satellites. So it is difficult to see how the Space Commission could have been entirely in the dark about the deal with Devas.
The Insat-2E lease
All of this is in stark contrast with the approach taken by the Department of Space in leasing capacity on the Insat-2E. Half the capacity on this satellite, launched in April 1999 and now nearing the end of its life, was leased out to Intelsat. (Intelsat, which since been privatised, was then an international consortium operating satellites in which India too had a stake.)
In the case of this satellite, some customisation had to be done, including its transponder characteristics and beam shape, to meet user requirements. As ISRO had just begun building communication satellites, the deal was seen as a way to gain credibility and thereby access to the international market for building satellites.
In the case of the Insat-2E, the Department of Space made sure that the Space Commission and the Union Cabinet were formally informed about the Intelsat deal and why it was being carried out.
With the Insat-2E, the annual reports of the Department of Space, which are documents presented to Parliament each year at the time of the Union Budget, clearly indicated the capacity that would be leased out to Intelsat. When it came to the GSAT-6, however, the annual reports of the Department of Space are silent about the satellite capacity that had been allotted to Devas.
While individual accountability can and should be fixed, it is obvious that there was a system-wide malfunction. The question is how many individuals up and down the government and Space hierarchy knew what was happening but chose not to intervene.
The Hindu Editorial
The saga of the scandalous deal that would have given a private company, Devas Multimedia Private Limited, control over a large chunk of valuable S- band spectrum has not ended. If the agreement signed with Antrix Corporation in 2005, the marketing wing of the Indian Space Research Organisation ( ISRO), had been allowed to stand, Devas could have made a killing. However, doubts over the deal began to surface and, in December 2009, after K. Radhakrishnan took over the Department of Space, the parent body for both ISRO and Antrix, an internal committee was set up to review the deal under B. N. Suresh. It was Business Line, the business daily of the
The Hindu group, that first brought to public notice what was going on behind closed doors. Subsequently, in February 2011, The Hinduand Business Line, published the text of the Antrix- Devas agreement and revealed the enquiries being pursued by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Later that month, the deal was finally annulled by the Central government. In the wake of The Hindugroup’s exposé, the government constituted a high- powered committee made up of B. K. Chaturvedi and Roddam Narasimha to “ review the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects” of the agreement. This committee submitted its report to the Prime Minister in March 2011. In May, a five- member high- level team headed by a former Central Vigilance Commissioner, Pratyush Sinha, was set up to examine the deal and identify acts of omission and commission by government officials. It was, the government said, after carefully considering the reports of the Chaturvedi- Narasimha committee and the high- level team that action was ordered. Four former officials, including G. Madhavan Nair who was ISRO chairman when the deal was signed, were barred from holding any government position.
But this action begs many questions. Is it the government’s considered view that these four officials were solely responsible for the deal? What about the Space Commission, which has a key oversight role over the space programme? Were the members of the Commission as blissfully unaware of the deal as is made out? Mr. Nair has said the Space Commission was told about the agreement with Devas. He has also indicated that there were government officials, including some in the PMO, who were well aware of the Devas contract. That apart, how was it that members of the Space Commission who were also on the Antrix board of directors knew nothing of what was going on? The Antrix- Devas deal has raised fundamental questions about decisionmaking and oversight processes in the space programme. The government must come clean on what actually transpired by placing in the public domain the reports prepared by Dr. Suresh, the Chaturvedi- Narasimha committee and the high- level team.
It is a joy to write the rare positive column about something beautiful in India. The recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) attracted enormous crowds and put India on the global map. At the time of writing this, Google News displayed over five thousand media stories on the JLF worldwide.
The JLF’s rapid growth is astounding. In 2008, the festival had 2,500 attendees. In 2012, more than 75,000 people participated, a 30-fold growth in four years. Festival venue Diggi Palace, a family owned haveli-heritage hotel, burst at the seams on festival days. However, the festival remains free and open to all. School students, Nobel prize winners, socialites, scholars, tourists – all enter the gates together to be a part of hundred-plus sessions over five days. The infectious energy of the organisers – Namita Gokhale, William Dalrymple, Sanjoy Roy and Sheuli Sethi – made 2012’s festival as they worked relentlessly to run a show that Sanjoy agrees is akin to ‘marrying a 100 daughters off at the same time’.
Interestingly, the JLF has given India far better PR worldwide than, say, another initiative of the government to do the same – the Commonwealth Games. What is striking is the difference between the JLF’s budget – Rs 5 crore, raised through private sponsorships – and that of the Games which cost Rs 70,000 crore, almost entirely given by the state. But most of the Games news coverage was related to the scam or the shoddiness of the work.
It would be foolish if we did not draw lessons from what made the JLF rock while exercising India’s soft power by having future events. Here are the six reasons behind the JLF phenomenon.
First, the inclusion of the world’s most prominent authors. While not every attending author is a Booker or Pulitzer winner, the JLF always had a few of them. This gave it enormous credibility and attracted the media. If your event is not truly world-class, you will get a fraction of the attention you would otherwise. The Commonwealth Games is no Olympics, and hence the world cares little. Be the best, or nobody cares.
Second, the JLF’s range of sessions makes it relevant for a wide variety of audiences. International guests can find at least one author they have read or heard about, making them connect to the festival. Readers of popular fiction would find popular authors, not making them feel out of place.
Third, Jaipur is simply beautiful. The architecture is unique and the city is clean and well kept. The government is tourist friendly. The wonderful Rajasthani people give genuine smiles to strangers. This setting enhances the experience of the visitor, who hankers to come back.
Four, there is a certain humility in the organisers’ approach. Despite the literary community being ridden with elitism and snootiness, the JLF manages to keep it classy without being snobbish. There are stories of school students arriving in trains and staying overnight at the platform to attend the festival. For the so-called arbiters of good literature, it must be tempting to sneer at such audiences, but the JLF team has kept away from that attitude.
Five, the festival provides oodles of media-friendly content. Writers have interesting things to talk about and can generate lots of stories for newspapers and TV channels. Naturally, the content-hungry media likes to be there.
Six, the execution is near flawless. As a speaker this year, i found the logistics perfect; almost all sessions start on time. Execution isn’t easy in India, but the JLF gets it right.
At the same time, like all things successful, the JLF has to guard against forces that will try to either exploit its fame or bring it down out of sheer envy. It also has to manage growth, which seems unstoppable at this point. Here are two suggestions.
One, do not indulge extreme voices beyond a point. Writers like to give their points of view and feel passionately about them. However, the JLF is no activist agitation. Too much has been already said about the Salman Rushdie controversy, but the simple lesson is a zero-tolerance policy at the venue for people who hijack the festival’s agenda. The festival has to remain neutral to all views. It is not a Ramlila Ground.
Also, the festival has to respect local government guidelines, and that includes their security risk perceptions. Even if some esteemed guests oppose or mistrust government policies, the venue is not the place to protest. They can express themselves, but need not take on the government from the venue. They are free to hire a separate protest venue and do it.
Two, the festival will need to consolidate. Given the growth, it is going to be impossible to manage the crowds at the same venue in the next few years. Modest price ticketing won’t make the festival undemocratic. There can be flexibility – free days or ticketed days, student pricing, donor events etc.
As a writer, and as an Indian citizen, i feel immensely proud about this celebration of books. Those who say India is all about Bollywood and cricket should pay a visit to the JLF. Silly controversies come and go. Let us rejoice that India, once known as the land of scholars and knowledge, still has the best literary festival in the world.
India has only a fifth as many public servants as United States, relative to population. The highest ratios of public servants to population among the Indian States are in the conflict-torn or border regions
Long reviled for being bloated, India’s Central and State governments in fact have just a fifth as many public servants as the United States, relative to population. The figures raise doubts, ahead of a Union budget that is likely to slash social-sector spending, on whether the country has the personnel it needs to improve governance and ensure universal access to services like education and health.
Data compiled from multiple sources, including a 2008 official survey, Right to Information applications, media reports and the 2011 census show, India has 1,622.8 government servants for every 100,000 residents. In stark contrast, the U.S. has 7,681. The Central government, with 3.1 million employees, thus has 257 serving every 100,000 population, against the U.S. federal government’s 840.
This figure dips further if the 1,394,418 people working for the Railways, accounting for 44.81 per cent of the entire Central government workforce, are removed. Then, there are only about 125 central employees serving every 100,000 people. Information technology and communications services account for another 7.25 per cent of the Central government’s staff.
Eminent economist V.K. Ramachandran says: “One of the most important lessons of the economic history of modern nations is that the most crucial requirements of social transformation can only be delivered by the public authority. A government that does not pay for skilled personnel to deliver education, health and land reform is one that condemns its people to under-development.”
The Central government’s figures also show that 59.69 per cent of public servants belonged to Group C and another 29.37 per cent to Group D — the two lowest paid categories. Though these workers are important, the numbers suggest there are system-wide shortages of skilled staff and administrators.
Interestingly, the data show a marginal decline of 0.13 per cent in the size of the Central government in 2008 from 2006, though the population grew.
“People keep complaining the government is too big,” says Ajai Sahni, director of the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management (ICM), “but the figures show that it is in fact too anaemic to govern the country.” The ICM, which spent over a year assembling the data, discovered that only some States even had centralised records on their employees — and there were no published estimates of staff members needed to realise new development objectives.
The highest ratios of public servants to population among the Indian States are in the conflict-torn or border regions, where the Central government has made special funding available for enhancing employment in an effort to contain discontent. Thus, Mizoram has 3,950.27 public servants per the 100,000 population, Nagaland 3,920.62 and Jammu and Kashmir 3,585.96. Bar Sikkim, with 6,394.89 public servants per 100,000, no State comes close to the international levels.
For the most part though, India’s relatively backward States have low numbers of public servants. This means staff members are not available for the provision of education, health and social services needed to address the worst kinds of poverty. Bihar has just 457.60 per 100,000, Madhya Pradesh 826.47, Uttar Pradesh has 801.67, Orissa 1,191.97 and Chhattisgarh 1,174.62
This is not to suggest there is a causal link between poverty and low levels of public servants: Gujarat has just 826.47 per 100,000 and Punjab 1,263.34. The data could explain, though, why even well-off States like these have found it tough to ensure universal primary education and eradicating poverty.
Sunday 29th January 2012, Film City at the Yasraj Studios, in Mumbai, India was the setting for the 57th Filmfare awards.
The 57th Filmfare awards ceremony took place in Mumbai and the night proved to be a surprise with Zindage Na Milegi Dobara being one of the top winning films of the night and Ranbir Kapoor beating Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Amitabh Bachchan for Best Actor.
Hosted by Bollywood actors Shahrukh Khan and Ranbir Kapoor, the awards ceremony featured a Filmfare milestone when the 2500th ‘Black Lady’ was given out in a special ceremony marking the awards’ enduring popularity for nearly 60 years. The milestone award went to AR Rahman as Best Music Director for Rockstar.
All the glamour and excitement took place with star studded acts and stars all at this prestigious annual event with the show aired on Sony Entertainment Television (SET).
It was a big night for Zindagi Na Milege Dobara which starred Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif, Abhay Deol, Farhan Akhtar and Naseeruddin Shah. This film won Best Film, Best Director for Zoya Akhtar, Best Actor in Supporting Role for Farhan Akhtar, Best Cinematography, Best Dialogue and Best Choreography.
Rockstar was the other big winner on the glitzy awards night, winning Best Actor for Ranbir Kapoor, Critics Award for Best Actor for Ranbir Kapoor, Best Lyrics, Best Male Playback Singer (Mohit Chauhan) and Best Music Director (AR Rahman).
Surprisingly, this year Shahrukh Khan did not win anything despite having hit films like Ra.One and Don 2 in 2011. Salman Khan was not seen in any of the winning awards either.
Here is a list of the winners of the 57th Filmfare Awards:
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
Zoya Akhtar (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara)
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Ranbir Kapoor (Rockstar)
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Vidya Balan (The Dirty Picture)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Male)
Farhan Akhtar (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Female)
Rani Mukherjee (No One Killed Jessica)
Best Debut (Female)
Parineeti Chopra (Ladies vs Ricky Bahl)
Best Debut (Male)
Vidyut Jhamwal (Force)
Best Debut Director
Abhinay Deo (Delhi Belly)
Critics Award for Best Actress
Priyanka Chopra (7 Khoon Maaf)
Critics Award for Best Actor
Ranbir Kapoor (Rockstar)
Critics Award for Best Film
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
Best Scene of the Year
The Dirty Picture
Irshad Kamil – Nadaan Parindey (Rockstar)
Best Music Composer
AR Rahman (Rockstar)
R.D. Burman Music Award
Krsna (Tanu Weds Manu)
Best Male Playback Singer
Mohit Chauhan for Jo Bhi Main (Rockstar)
Best Female Playback Singer
Usha Uttap & Rekha Bhardwaj for ‘Darling’ (7 Khoon Maaf)
56th Filmfare Technical Awards
Best Costume Design
Niharika Khan (The Dirty Picture)
Bosco-Caesar – Senorita (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara)
Farhan Akhtar (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara)
Akshat Verma (Delhi Belly)
Sanjay Chauhan (I Am Kalam)
Best Background Score
Ranjit Barot (Shaitan)
Carlos Catalan (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara)
Matthias Barsch (Don 2)
Red Chillies (Ra.One)
Huzefa Lokhandwala (Delhi Belly)
Best Production Design
Shashank Tere (Delhi Belly)
An impressive display of armour and unmanned aerial vehicles recently added to India’s military prowess was on full display at the 63rd Republic Day parade on 26.01.2012 that also showcased the country’s rich heritage.
The early morning chill did not deter people along the eight-km-parade route as they gathered on both sides of the majestic Rajpath, the country’s ceremonial boulevard facing the Raisina Hills, and cheered the contingents as they went past portraying the diverse culture of the country.
The well-turned out and synchronised military and police formations led by General Officer Commanding (Delhi) Lt. Gen. V.K. Pillai marched proudly to the lilting tunes of bands through the Rajpath where President Pratibha Patil, who is the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces, took salute.
The impressive march-past was watched by Chief Guest Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Marshal of Air Force Arjan Singh and top political and military brass.
Police and other para-military forces turned Delhi into a virtual fortress for the Republic Day celebrations as helicopters scanned from air, snipers kept a hawk-eye vigil from rooftops and armed personnel at every nook and corner provided a ground-to-air security apparatus.
Minutes before the parade began, Dr. Singh, Mr. Antony and chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force laid wreaths at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, an eternal flame in the memory of those who laid down their lives while defending the nation.
After the customary 21-gun salute and unfurling of the national tricolour, President Patil presented Ashok Chakra — the highest peacetime gallantry award — posthumously to Lieutenant Navdeep Singh who died foiling an infiltration attempt by Pakistan-based terrorists along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir.
Then, four Mi-17 helicopters zoomed in from skies on the western side showering flower petals on thousands of spectators, signalling the start of the impressive parade followed by winners of Param Vir Chakra, highest war-time gallantry award, and Ashok Chakra and mounted columns of 61 Cavalry.
The Army showcased its impressive weaponry which included T-72 tanks, Carrier Motor Tracked vehicle, Smerch missile Launcher, Multi Barrel Rocket System ‘Pinaka’ and Full Width Mine Plough.
It also displayed the NBC (Nuclear-Biological-Chemical) Chemical Purification System and Jammer Station. Demonstrating its air power, Army also conducted a flypast of three indegenously made advanced light helicopters Dhruv.
The Army contingent from Parachute Regiment, Bengal Engineer Group, The Brigade of the Guards, Kumaon Regiment, Assam Regiment, Mahar Regiment and Gorkha Rifles marched to the tunes of ‘Arjuna’, Thimmaya, ‘Gangotri’ and ‘Veer Gorkha’ military numbers.
The next to follow were smartly dressed Navy personnel and then the Air Force contingent, led by Flight Lieutenant Sneha Shekhawat, marching to the tunes of ‘Jai Bharati’ and ’Air Battle’.
The Navy showcased models of the Delhi Class guided missile destroyer and IL-38 (Sea Dragon) Long-Range Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft. The 3,000-km-range nuclear-capable Agni-IV missile, successfully flight tested in November last year, stole the limelight as people cheered and clapped when the weapons system’s model came near them. Commentaries gave an insight into the capabilities of the sophisticated missile system.
The DRDO also put on display for the first time the 150-km range Prahaar tactical battlefield support missile and the Rustom-1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).
Other marching contingents were those of camel-mounted BSF, Assam Rifles, Coast Guard, CRPF, ITBP, CISF, SSB, RPF, Delhi Police, NCC and NSS. As the country’s armed and police forces demonstrated their might, States and different departments put up an impressive show when they showcased their rich cultural diversity in full display in 23 tableaux — 13 from states and 10 from ministries.
Another highlight of the event was that West Bengal became part of the parade after 13 years as it showcased the university town of Shantiniketan, the living abode of Rabindranath Tagore, that symbolises the avant garde vision of an international, educational and cultural institution.
The Jammu and Kashmir tableau depicts the architectural heritage of its capital Srinagar during the medieval period, while Chhatisgrah showcased the Dondaki art and claywork by artists late Sonabhai Rajwar, Darogaram and Atmadas Manikpuri.
The one by Maharashtra boasted of its rich culture, natural wonders and historical monuments and attractive tourist destinations. The north-eastern state of Meghalaya depicted the Jaintia Festivals and the most colourful dance by the major tribal community inhabiting the state, while Rajasthan brought alive the ‘Amber Fort’ which has an unique artistic style that blends both Hindu and Mughal elements.
Assam showcased its enthralling Bhortal dance, while the Punjab tableau adorned the larger than life figure of Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh atop the Lahore fort. Goa, Nagaland and Sikkim are other states who showcased their cultural heritage.
The Union Textiles Ministry’s tableau displayed the range of Indian handicrafts, reflecting the journey of Indian handicrafts from the traditional to the modern world, representing the rich cultural heritage from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
As the Republican presidential race enters the critical chapter of state caucuses and primaries, which begin in January 2012, who is running to face President Barack Obama as the Republican opponent in the race for the White House?
Despite regular fluctuations in opinion polls, the Republican field is made up of seven main candidates vying for the presidential nomination.
Here are the leading Republican contenders:
Mitt Romney entered the 2012 Republican presidential race as the presumed frontrunner. And he has maintained that status as one after another challenger has risen to meet him only to self-destruct.
Mr Romney, the former one-term governor of Massachusetts, brought to the race wealth, business experience, a national profile and a broad network of fundraisers and supporters left over from his failed 2008 White House bid.
With his square jaw, gleaming eyes and immobile hair greying at the temples, some see him as a presidential candidate straight from central casting.
Mr Romney lost the party’s 2008 nomination race to Arizona Senator John McCain but took only a brief break from the campaign trail. Almost as soon as Barack Obama was in the White House, Mr Romney began building support for the 2012 contest.
He hopes that his background in business will help him convince voters he can manage America’s halting economic recovery better than President Barack Obama – or other Republicans in the field.
Suspicion of Mormons
But in order to win the Republican party nomination, he must convince primary voters of the authenticity and depth of his conservative principles. He must also persuade them to overlook his relatively liberal record as governor of Massachusetts, a solidly Democratic state.
And the religious conservatives who are influential in the nominating process will have to overcome suspicion about his Mormon faith.
Willard Mitt Romney was born in 1947 in Michigan. His father, George Romney, was later that state’s Republican governor and himself ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968.
He served two years as a Mormon missionary in France, then went to Brigham Young University and studied law and business at Harvard.
Later, Mr Romney took a senior position in the Mormon church and joined Boston management consulting firm Bain and Company, soon rising to chairman. He also founded Bain Capital, a venture capital firm affiliated with Bain.
In 1994, Mr Romney attempted to unseat veteran Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. He lost but raised his profile in the state and among Republicans nationally.
Haunted by healthcare
And in 1999, he was tapped to run the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The preparations had been mired in scandal, and organisers were attracted to Mr Romney’s deep connections within the Mormon church, his business acumen and his reputation for honesty.
The 2002 Olympics were widely viewed as a success. Later that year Mr Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts as a pragmatic centrist, allaying fears he would foist right-wing social policies on the liberal state. He won.
As governor, he signed into law a comprehensive healthcare overhaul that required all Massachusetts residents to obtain health insurance and provided subsidies to those who could not afford it or who did not receive it from their employers.
That policy has thrown Mr Romney on the defensive time and again during his bid for the White House.
Critics have accused the former governor of responsibility for Mr Obama’s 2010 healthcare plan, which is detested by Republicans, and conceptually similar to the programme Mr Romney signed into law in 2006.
Even before he officially announced his candidacy this time round, Mr Romney made a speech defending the Massachusetts policy while attacking Mr Obama’s programme.
Mr Romney has also faced questions about his commitment to social conservative principles.
During his tenure as Massachusetts governor, a court ruling made the state the first to allow same-sex marriage.
Mr Romney gave a qualified criticism of that decision, saying marriage laws should only be altered by a vote of the people, and sought to build support for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The real thing?
Mr Romney opted not to seek re-election in 2006 in order to explore a presidential run.
In the 2008 race, Mr Romney sought to cast himself as a conservative whose success in Massachusetts indicated he could win over Democratic and independent voters.
But Mr Romney was never able to overcome doubts about his authenticity and accusations he had shifted his positions on abortion and gay rights merely to appeal to the more conservative national Republican electorate.
He pulled out of the race in February after spending $35m (£21.4m) of his own money.
This time around, Mr Romney has sought to remain above the fray by training his fire on the president rather than on his rivals for the Republican nomination.
And his experience from the 2008 race has proven valuable, in particular in a gruelling series of debates this summer and autumn.
His has consistently led the pack in fundraising and in the polls, though his overall level of support has remained tepid.
Doubting Mr Romney’s ideological purity, Republican voters have been inviting other candidates to challenge him from the right.
He may not fire up the party base, but his campaign believes he is the best equipped to defeat Mr Obama in next November’s elections.
And as primary season looms, Mr Romney can only hope Republicans will shrug their shoulders or hold their noses and pick him.
The Texas congressman has won a devoted following among libertarian-minded Republicans with his calls for a return to the gold standard, the abolition of the Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Service, and his staunch opposition – unusual in the Republican Party – to the war in Iraq and to American militarism in general.
Supporters of Mr Paul, an obstetrician, gained a reputation during the 2008 race for their enthusiasm for the candidate – as well as for their practice of disrupting rival candidates’ rallies and press conferences.
Some of his backers also became known for espousing far-out conspiracy theories, such as the suggestion the US government was behind the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, tainting his movement in the eyes of the mainstream Republican electorate.
Mr Paul, 75, announced his candidacy in May in remarks that mixed anti-war cries with arguments for the legalisation of heroin and the end of federal flood and disaster insurance programmes.
He will bring to the race a legion of devoted followers who can organise and raise funds.
But to his detractors, Mr Paul is too eccentric and his ideas too fringe for them to take him seriously as a presidential hopeful.
It remains to be seen whether his rising profile in swing states such as Iowa will be reflected at the polls – a development that could upset the dynamic of the race as it moves into the primaries.
In July 2011, Mr Paul announced he would not stand again for his House seat, saying he wanted to remain focused on his presidential bid.
The former Pennsylvania Senator hopes to capitalise on his solid social conservative credentials. He last appeared on the ballot in 2006, when he lost his re-election bid by 17 points.
Polls have shown him in a distant seventh place in the race but just days before the first round of voting in Iowa – where Mr Santorum has campaigned relentlessly – opinion polls show some momentum gathering behind the candidate.
He has attacked rivals such as Ron Paul with gusto but he has a lot of ground to make up on the front-runners.
Mr Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, announced he would be running against Mr Obama in 2012 on YouTube, Twitter, and in an interview on Fox News.
Since he left office 12 years ago, Mr Gingrich has built a broad network of conservative businesses and non-profit organisations, generating films, books and position papers, and has sought to align himself as an elder statesman and a creative source of conservative policy ideas.
He remains widely respected in the party for leading congressional Republicans out of 40 years in opposition in 1994, although he lost the speaker’s gavel in 1998 after the party took significant losses.
In June 2011 his chances took a serious knock when senior members of his campaign team walked out, citing differences over strategy.
But Mr Gingrich made a roaring comeback in November, with surging poll ratings in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida – all key early voting states.
But Mr Gingrich has been criticised by fellow party members for having taken positions on several policy issues that they viewed as unpredictable or inconsistent with conservative principles.
For example, he attacked a plan popular among Republicans to slash and privatise a healthcare programme for the elderly.
Mr Gingrich can be both inflammatory and irascible – qualities Americans do not tend to see as presidential – and has a long record of undiplomatic quotes.
His three marriages may also haunt him in a 2012 campaign. His first wife has accused him of divorcing her while she was in hospital recovering from cancer.
Mr Gingrich was having an affair with a staffer (whom he later married) while he was leading the charge to impeach former President Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Rick Perry may have entered the race later than his rivals but he has spent months raising money in Texas, where he has been governor for 10 years.
He was the last of the candidates to formally launch a bid for the White House, making his announcement in the key primary state of South Carolina in August.
Mr Perry’s mantra is small government and he can boast that he balanced the books in the second largest state in the US, although critics complain at the scale of resulting spending cuts, especially in education.
A deeply religious man, Mr Perry sealed his popularity among Christian evangelicals when he led a prayer rally attended by 30,000 people in Houston, Texas, in early August.
So, he appeals to two strong powerbases of the Republican party – the fiscal hawks and the social conservatives.
In the first weeks of his campaign, Mr Perry challenged Mitt Romney’s position in opinion as front-runner, draining support from the other Tea Party favourite Michele Bachmann, who occupies similar political ground.
His ability to fire up the Republican base – a la Bachmann – energised the race, although Mr Perry has struggled to maintain that momentum after a series of weak performances in nationally televised debates.
The Minnesota congresswoman, a favourite of the Tea Party, used the first televised debate in New Hampshire to formally announce that she was entering the contest.
She is an outspoken conservative who has been spending time in the early primary states.
The fiery Ms Bachmann has a small core of staunch support, although wider momentum behind her has slowed since she won the influential Iowa Straw Poll in August.
The Iowa-born 55-year-old has a law degree and worked as a tax attorney, and she has fostered 23 children.
The former governor of Utah joined the race for the Republican presidential nomination with a distinct, if awkward, qualification: he worked for the other side.
As ambassador to China for two years under President Barack Obama, he has arguably the most foreign policy expertise of the Republican field.
But it remains to be seen whether or not that experience – which he defends as loyal service to the country rather than the president’s policies – will be an advantage to Mr Huntsman in his bid to succeed the man who appointed him.
Jon Huntsman, 51, is the motorcycle-driving son of billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr, who founded a large chemical manufacturer.
He dropped out of high school to play keyboard in a rock band, later finishing school and graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. He also served as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, and is said to speak fluent Mandarin.
His tone has been markedly more moderate than that of his rivals, and he has in the past backed civil unions for same-sex couples and said he believes in the science of climate change.
Since he spent the last two years outside the country, he must now introduce himself to Republican voters who have been steeped in the angry, stridently anti-government Tea Party movement.
Some analysts have suggested Mr Huntsman aims to be the adult in the race, rejecting his rivals’ crowd-pleasing attacks on Mr Obama while counselling the US must make hard choices to rein in the national debt.
Mr Huntsman’s ratings have languished in single-digits in opinion polls and he has not campaigned in the state of Iowa, preferring instead to focus on another key battleground, New Hampshire, also the heartland of Mitt Romney’s support base.
It remains to be seen whether, after four years of Mr Obama in the White House, Mr Huntsman will satisfy voters.
The object of placing the power of judicial appointments in an independent body is to remove patronage from the system and ensure that judges are appointed only on the basis of their qualifications.
The present system of judicial appointments in the constitutional courts exemplifies the misalignment between the core values of judicial independence and accountability. The process by which a judge is appointed to the High Court or the Supreme Court has been described by Justice Ruma Pal, a former judge of the Supreme Court, as “one of the best kept secrets in this country.”
The text of the Constitution that provides for the appointment of the judges of the Supreme Court (Article 124) and the High Court (Article 217) is deceptively simple. They provide for the President to appoint them in “consultation” with other judges. Originally, the power to appoint judges vested ultimately in the executive. It is now with the Chief Justice and the senior judges of the court, i.e. the Collegium. It is unnecessary to trace the evolving jurisprudence of the Supreme Court regarding the issue of judicial appointments beyond this. Suffice it to say, that in the last of the famous trinity of the Judges Cases, the Supreme Court changed the character of “consultation” to “concurrence”. As Anil Divan pithily points out, the Judges Cases have not really broken the mystique behind the “Sacred Ritual” of appointments — they have only changed the circle of “High Priests.” Now, instead of the executive, primacy is given to the CJI and the Collegium of Judges. The way in which judges are appointed embodies a set of values about democracy. Choosing judges based on undisclosed criterion in largely unknown circumstances reflects an increasing democratic deficit.
The recent case of the impeachment motion of Soumitra Sen, former judge of the Calcutta High Court, once again highlighted the need to have a relook at the process of appointment. The unanimous voice of Parliament, while considering the impeachment motion of Sen, was that there was now a greater need for a National Judicial Commission than ever before. The legislators were, in fact, only echoing the view that has time and again been stressed upon by various legal luminaries and jurists.
The rationale for the establishment of a commission must be that it will guarantee the independence of the system from inappropriate politicisation, strengthen the quality of appointments, enhance the fairness of the selection process, promote diversity in the composition of the judiciary and therefore rebuild public confidence in the system. By placing the power of judicial appointments in an independent body, the object is to remove patronage from the system and ensure that the judges are appointed on the basis of their qualifications for the job rather than anything else.
It is here that we can learn from systems elsewhere which have managed to provide for a transparent process of appointment, while maintaining judicial independence. International consensus seems to favour appointments to the higher judiciary through an independent commission.
Form of the commission
A key question is whether the new body should be appointing (The Israel Judicial Commission is the only appointing Commission) or recommending commission. The former in which the commission takes over the full responsibility for making appointments, removes the danger of inappropriate influence by politicians but also weakens democratic accountability and lacks a potential check on abuse, corruption or incompetence on the part of the commission. These advantages and disadvantages are reversed under a recommending commission. Therefore, there is need to adopt a hybrid model where the Commission makes a recommendation, which should be ordinarily binding. The recommendation may be rejected only in cases where the candidate is disqualified or in cases where the procedure adopted by the Commission is legally flawed. The reasons for such rejection must also be recorded in each case.
The example of the U.K. may be taken where the Constitutional Reforms Act, 2005 has established a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) with one Chairperson and 14 other Commissioners, including five judicial members, one barrister, one solicitor, five lay members, one tribunal chairman and one lay judge. The Chairperson and 12 Commissioners are appointed through open competition, while the other three are selected by the Judge’s Council.
In South Africa, the establishment of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has attracted much attention for the way it has made the appointments process more independent. Its 23 members are drawn from the judiciary, the two branches of the legal profession, the national and regional legislatures, the executive, civil society and academia. The entire process of appointment is geared towards securing maximum transparency.
The nine-member Commission that selects judges for all levels of courts in Israel consists of the President of the Supreme Court, two other Supreme Court judges, the Minister of Justice (Attorney General), another Cabinet Minister, two members of the Legislature (one of whom has traditionally been selected from the opposite ranks) and two representatives of the Israeli Bar.
In India, it would be more prudent to follow the U.K. model where politicians are kept out of the Judicial Appointment Commission. The Judicial Commission should not be a very large body, containing not more than 7 or 9 members. The Commission should consist of representation from the Judiciary, the Bar, eminent members of civil society (who should be appointed by a high powered body, for example presided over by the Vice President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the Law Minister and the Leader of the Opposition).
An equally important feature of public accountability is institutional and procedural openness. The requirement of openness is particularly important in the judicial appointment process, because a recurring criticism of the old system was the high level of secrecy within which the selection process functioned. The extent to which the Commission operates transparent procedures is therefore a critical test of its legitimacy.
Transparency & openness
To give an example, the Commission in South Africa has made efforts to ensure that the process by which candidates are selected for interview is as open as possible. The statutory provisions provide that when a vacancy arises, the Commission must advertise the post and seek nomination from a wide variety of sources. The names of candidates short-listed for interview by a screening sub-committee are made public and the views of relevant institutions (among them, the Law Society of South Africa, the General Council of the Bar and the Department of Justice) on their suitability are canvassed by the Commission.
On the other hand, the system of public interviews was opposed by pointing towards the example of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing as demonstrating the danger which public interviews posed since the same could degenerate into personalised attacks on the candidates, and such demonstrations, far from increasing legitimacy, would undermine public confidence. The system was further opposed by stating that leading members of the Bar would be discouraged from coming forward if the meetings were made public.
However, public interviews may not be a plausible model for a country like India and therefore should not be introduced here. We should follow the U.K. model and should publish the Annual Judicial report and the names of the selected candidates should be posted on the website.
Merit and diversity
There is no gainsaying that there is a need to preserve and of course, if possible, to improve the professional and personal quality of our judiciary and therefore, merit should be given great primacy. Yet, it is equally important to consider the importance of social diversification in public institutions and the need to include hitherto under-represented groups for a more holistic advancement of all sections of society. A wider range of social backgrounds should mean not just representation from the backward classes and the minorities but also women. This underlying policy aim is perfectly respectable, namely that the public may well have more confidence in its judges if they are more reflective of the make-up of the community at large.
Tackling this lack of diversity in the judiciary will require fresh approaches and a major re-engineering of the process of appointment. Diversity is likely to be achieved only if equal opportunities are placed at the heart of the judicial appointments process and are promoted through sustained and proactive initiatives. One such example comes from Ontario, where one of the first actions of the newly established Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee in 1990 was to ask the Attorney-General to write a personal letter to 1,200 senior women lawyers in the province asking them to apply for judicial office. This conscious and innovative attempt to expand the number of workmen in the recruitment pool produced such a marked increase in the number of applications from well qualified women that between 1990 and 1992, 41 per cent of the judges appointed by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee were women.
The outcome of the reforms would depend on the way in which the commission is set up and the model adopted. The detail of the commission must be thought through with great care. Issues such as the division of responsibility between the commission and the appointing Minister, composition of the membership and the process for selecting the commissioners themselves are key factors in determining the success of the new system.
(Ajit Prakash Shah is the former Chief Justice of the High Courts of Delhi and Madras.)
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on 24.01.2012 cut the cash reserve ratio (CRR) by 50 basis points from 6 per cent to 5.5 per cent with effect from January 28, 2012 which would release Rs.32,000 crore into the financial system.
Signalling a shift in its policy, which the central bank followed in the last two years — fighting inflation — it now plans to revive growth by injecting liquidity into the system. However, persisting inflationary pressure persuaded the RBI from reducing the policy indicative rates.
The RBI kept the repo rate unchanged at 8.50 per cent for the second consecutive time after raising it 13 times between March 2010 and October 2011.
CRR is the percentage of deposits that commercial banks must keep with the central bank. Repo rate is the rate at which banks borrow from the central bank. The RBI’s action is seen as an attempt to strike a balance between risks to growth and inflation. The declining growth is a worry for the RBI and its projection of GDP growth for this financial year is revised downwards from 7.6 per cent to 7 per cent.
“There is an urgent need for decisive fiscal consolidation, which will shift the balance of aggregate demand from public to private, and from consumption to capital formation. This is critical to yielding the space required for lowering rates without the imminent risk of resurgent inflation,” said D. Subbarao, RBI Governor, while addressing a press conference to announce the third quarter review of the Monetary Policy. “The forthcoming Union Budget must exploit the opportunity to begin this process in a credible and sustainable way,” Dr. Subbarao added.
The RBI Governor noted that the growth-inflation balance of the monetary policy stance had now shifted to growth, while at the same time ensured that inflationary pressures remained contained.
Further, Dr. Subbarao said the current inflation trajectory made it premature to cut the policy rate. According to him, “inflation remains high.” “Moreover”, he added, “there are upside risks to inflation from global crude oil prices, the lingering impact of rupee depreciation, and slippage in the fiscal deficit.”
However, Dr. Subbarao said, “liquidity conditions have remained tight beyond the comfort zone of the Reserve Bank.”
Although the RBI has conducted open market operations, and injected liquidity of over Rs.70,000 crore, the structural deficit in the system has increased significantly. This could hurt credit flow to productive sectors of the economy. “The large structural deficit in the system presented a strong case for injecting permanent primary liquidity into the system.”
Let us agree to go beyond billboard exhortations to ‘love the girl child.’
What was our immediate response to further decline in the child sex ratio in India? Within days of the provisional 2011 Census results (March-April 2011), the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reconstituted the Central Supervisory Board for the Pre-conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex selection) Act 1994 , which had not met for 3 years, and on November 30, 2011 the Ministry of Women and Child Development formed a Sectoral Innovation Council for Child Sex Ratio. But we are busy dousing flames in haste without looking to dampen the source. This fire-fighting approach is unlikely to succeed, because putting out fires in one district virtually ensures its spread to another. That is what has happened.
The decline in child sex ratio (0-6 years) from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 and further to 914 females per 1,000 males in 2011 — the lowest since independence — is cause for alarm, but also occasion for serious policy re-think. Over the last two decades, the rate of decline appears to have slowed but what began as an urban phenomenon has spread to rural areas. This is despite legal provisions, incentive-based schemes, and media messages. Indians across the country, bridging class and caste divides, are deliberately ensuring that girls are simply not born. This artificial alteration of our demographic landscape has implications for not only gender justice and equality but also social violence, human development and democracy.
What is wrong?
So what are we doing wrong — both in the discourse we have created and in the policy route we have chosen to walk? To start with, we have chosen to target one symptom (practice of sex selection), instead of evolving a comprehensive national policy response to a deeply resistant ailment (son preference/daughter aversion and low status of women in India). State policy has, in the main, consisted of seeking to stem the supply of technology that enables sex selection through application of the law — the PCPNDT Act bans the use of diagnostic techniques for determining the sex of a foetus. The rationale (framed within an inverted demand-supply paradigm) is that stopping supply of the technology will reduce the demand — for determining the sex of the foetus and aborting if it is female. So far (not withstanding wide publicity about the PCPNDT Act, including signboards in every clinic, hospital and nursing home), this hasn’t panned out as planned.
Meanwhile, this singular focus on PCPNDT has triggered an unhealthy discourse beyond what the law actually bans (using medical diagnostics to determine the sex of the foetus) to the next step, i.e. the act of abortion. Over the last few years, the hunt for aborted female foetuses appears to have become legitimate media pastime and reportage consists chiefly of stories about “foetuses’ foeticide” and “foetal remains.” Clearly, the goriness of the phenomenon meets the media’s need for just a tad bit of sensation (foetal remains found in gunny bags outside quack clinics, in the fields, in the dark depths of deep wells, etc.).
While national attention on this issue is welcome, this is complex terrain. On the one hand is the right of females to be born, and of society to protect and preserve a gender balance. On the other hand lies a woman’s right under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (enacted in 1971, revised in 1975) to have a safe and legal abortion as part of a whole gamut of reproductive rights. In our zeal to create an environment against one type of abortion (of a foetus onlybecause it is female), we end up stigmatising all abortions. Access to safe and legal abortion for Indian women is already severely limited, and this environment will not improve things. Indeed the very word ‘foeticide’ i.e. ‘killing’ of the foetus (used often without the qualifying ‘female foeticide’) dents abortion rights.
Tackling the Demand Side
As for tackling the demand side — i.e. addressing the complex reasons that son preference-daughter aversion is so prevalent — our policy response has included marking the National Girl Child Day (declared in 2009) on January 24, sporadically putting up billboards at major intersections telling us to ‘love the girl child,’ ‘beti bachao‘, ‘stop killing girls’, and a slew of ill-conceived conditional cash transfer schemes to incentivise the birth of girls at both the Centre and the State level.
A 2010 desk review of 15 conditional cash transfer schemes (Dhan Lakshmi, Ladli, Beti Hai Anmol, Kanyadan, and others) conducted by TV Sekher of IIPS for UNFPA is revealing. Most of them promised relatively small amounts at maturity, had complex conditions (immunisation, school enrolment, institutional delivery, sterilisation, among others), gave cash amounts at the age of 18 (for dowry?), and were aimed at poor or BPL families. Quite apart from the objectionable attempt to arm twist every imaginable kind of ‘desired’ behaviour (immunise, educate, sterilise) in return for small sums of money, the big problem is that these schemes are targeted largely at poor families. This is not a poor or BPL-only phenomenon. Small cash amounts are unlikely to make an iota of difference to families who have resources to pay for sex selective technology. On this issue, Indian policymakers, accustomed to ‘targeting’ the poor (i.e. BPL) need to bravely enter the unfamiliar terrain of targeting the not-so-poor, the upwardly mobile, the wealthy.
The advocacy and communications around this issue, by both the government and NGOs, has taken the ‘love the girl child’ route. It is unexceptionable, politically correct, and ensconced comfortably in a language of patriarchal protectiveness (ladki ko bachao). Of course, everyone likes to ‘love little girls in pigtails,’ including MPs who will defeat the Women’s Reservation Bill time and again in Parliament.
The problem of ‘demand’ goes far deeper than our communication or policy solutions seem to suggest. Sex selection is located at the complex interface of cultural attitudes, patriarchal prejudice, socioeconomic pressures, the changes wrought by modernity, and the commercialisation and misuse of modern medical technology. The impact of modernity and materialism on the decreased valuation of females i.e. enhanced daughter aversion, the lack of old-age social security i.e. son preference, increasing violence against women, property rights, inheritance laws — each of these and more play a role. We must demand of ourselves an equally comprehensive national policy on the sex ratio, capable of addressing each contributory factor.
South Korea & China
South Korea has beaten the problem by adopting a comprehensive national response. China, whether or not we agree with its particular national framework, at least has one. The Chinese government adopted a series of concurrent policies, strategic actions and laws to promote gender equality, increase female workforce participation, ensure old age social security, in addition to banning the use of sex selective diagnostics. The country’s sex ratio is showing small signs of improvement.
Finally, a national communication strategy is key to a national policy response, and this must rest on acknowledging two things — one, behaviour change communication is a specialised field whose expertise must be harnessed, and two, the nature of reproductive decision-making in India is changing along with immense changes in the Indian family structure. A communication strategy needs to identify primary targets (decision-makers) and secondary targets (decision supporters), and reach them through strategic media platforms — traditional, conventional and new media. As for the core content of messages, a lot can be said, but for now let us agree to go beyond billboard exhortations to ‘love the girl child.’ And recognise that the girl will grow up to be a woman one day.
(Farah Naqvi is an independent writer and activist. A.K. Shiva Kumar is a development economist. The authors are members of the National Advisory Council)
How independent should a state Lokayukta be? You can either be pregnant or not pregnant – there’s nothing in between. The same principle applies to an ombudsman: independence must be total. The verdict of the Gujarat high court justice V M Sahai on Wednesday upholding the appointment by Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal of justice R A Mehta as the state’s Lokayukta is a slap on the wrist of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. The matter will now be decided by the Supreme Court, but the chief minister may well find himself on the wrong side of constitutional propriety.
The increasingly fraught relationship between governors and chief ministers can upset the fine balance of power in India’s federal structure. Governors are appointed directly by the president. The president in turn, according to the Constitution, acts on the advice of the council of ministers headed by the prime minister. In effect, therefore, governors are appointed by the central government.
This can be a problem in a federal system like India’s where nearly a dozen states are ruled by the opposition. The system is open to abuse. Between 1966 and 1977, Indira Gandhi imposed President’s rule 39 times in opposition-ruled states. In retaliation, the Janata Party government imposed President’s rule 11 times between 1977 and 1979 in Congress-ruled states.
At the height of the falling out between President Giani Zail Singh and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in March 1987, rumours swirled around Delhi that Zail Singh was about to do the unthinkable and dismiss Rajiv. He was fond of inviting editors for ‘briefings’ to Rashtrapati Bhavan or one of the state Raj Bhavans when he was travelling. It was thus that i found myself alone with the president at Raj Bhavan in Mumbai for an off-the-record briefing on his latest problems with the Rajiv Gandhi government. What the president said that day must remain off the record, but it revealed the extent to which standards had fallen in what constitutionally is an office above party politics.
In a federal system, state governors, as the president`s representatives, play a unique role. A Westminster parliamentary demo-cracy like Britain has no system of governors because it is a small, homogenous country. A large, heterogeneous federal democracy like the US does have state governors, but their role is constitutionally akin to a chief minister’s in India. Like many colonial leftovers, India invented the role of state governor after Independence to act as a conduit between the ceremonial head of state (the president) and the chief minister of each state in what was then a federal work-in-progress.
As the president’s eyes and ears in the country’s diverse and far-flung states, governors at first played a useful role. They were mostly apolitical. So was the president they reported to. Presidents of the calibre of Rajendra Prasad and S Radhakrishnan ensured that a young, fissiparous demo-cracy was kept glued together by not only the checks and balances written into the Constitution but the wisdom of its apolitical presidents and governors.
The decline in standards began during Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership when the office of president was regularly misused. In June 1975, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, instead of standing firm against the prime minister’s advice to proclaim a draconian Emergency, rubber-stamped it. As politics became more partisan, so did presidents and governors.
How do we fix what is now a systemic problem? The solution lies in the rules framed to appoint governors. An amendment to articles 155 and 158 of the Constitution should mandate that a governor must not have held political office for at least five years before being appointed and be barred from holding public office permanently after demitting his gubernatorial post. This single amendment will transform the quality of interaction between elected chief ministers and selected governors.
The 1,600-page Sarkaria commission report submitted to the government in 1988 had recommended watered down strictures on the eligibility of a governor who had held prior political office. Even this diluted recommendation was never implemented. The recommendations of the Venkatachaliah commission report (2002) and the Punchhi commission report (2010), which dealt with Centre-state relations, the role of governors and the importance of the Inter-State Council to resolve disputes, have been similarly ignored by successive governments.
Today governors are the handmaidens of the Union government. That was never their inten-ded role when B R Ambedkar and his distinguished colleagues wrote the Indian Constitution. Their duty was to be neutral guardians of the complex relationship between the federal government and state governments belonging to different political parties.
The first president of India, Rajendra Prasad, had warned: “It is necessary that the people of a State should have full confidence in a supreme non-partisan institution like that of Governor.” Amending the constitutional provision under which governors are appointed will restore non-partisanship to our federal polity. Additionally, distinguished leaders from the judiciary, law, business and academia – rather than politicians seeking pasture or rehabilitation – should be considered for appointment to state Raj Bhavans. The role of governor must change from being a cynical political check on opposition-ruled state assemblies to that of guardian of the public interest.
The writer is an author and chairman of a media group.
Army chief Gen Vijay Kumar Singh dragged the government to the Supreme Court on 16.01.2012 by challenging it over the festering issue of his date of birth (DoB). The row has pitted the senior-most officer of the 1.13-million-strong army, the world’s second largest, against the government, a first in independent India.
Courtesy: CNN IBN Live
In a combative yet emotional writ petition in the apex court, Gen Singh argued his fight to get his DoB corrected from ‘May 10, 1950′ to ‘May 10, 1951′, was a matter of his personal and professional honour, which he said was very dear to him as a soldier who has served the country bravely, without fear or favour.
“It’s all about honour and integrity, not tenure,” said Gen Singh, “hurt” by the repeated insinuations that he was attempting to secure an additional year of service at the fag end of his career. In his petition, which is likely to be heard on Friday or next week, he has solemnly declared that as per his date of birth of May 10, 1951, he is due to retire only on March 31, 2013, after completing a three-year tenure.
General V K Singh has promised in his writ petition before the Supreme Court that he would not take advantage of the correction and retire as scheduled on May 31, 2012. All he wanted of the court, said Gen Singh, was to protect his honour, which was fundamental to a soldier’s life, by making his year of birth 1951.
Coming as it did a day after Army Day and Gen Singh himself trying to play down the row, the Army chief’s unprecedented step sent shock waves across South Block with Defence Ministry(MoD) mandarins going into a hurdle. Sources said the MoD, which allowed the controversy to fester for far too long, was “fully ready” to join the legal battle with Gen Singh, who is brandishing his school-leaving certificate and other documents to buttress his age claims.
Armed with its set of documents, the MoD has time and again held Gen Singh’s DoB will stand at May 10, 1950. The controversy has seen MoD thrice refer the issue to AG, who returned identical opinions disagreeing with the Army chief’s contentions.
Technically, Gen Singh’s DoB is crucial since it will decide when he has to retire, impacting the entire line of succession in the 1.13-million strong force. If it remains 1950, then he would hang up his boots on May 31, clearing the way for Eastern Army commander Lt Gen Bikram Singh to become the next Army chief, as MoD wants.
But if it’s settled at 1951, then Northern Army commander Lt Gen K T Parnaik could take over since Gen V K Singh could continue in office till March 2013 (even though he has averred to the contrary), while Lt Gen Bikram Singh will retire this year. Meanwhile, seniormost serving Lt Gen, Western Command chief Shankar Ghosh, has also jumped into the fray, as reported by TOI. A service chief can serve for three years or up to 62 yrs, whichever is earlier.
The raging legal battle between Indian Army chief Gen. VK Singh and the government over his age sets an “unhealthy precedent”, minister of state for defence MM Pallam Raju said in New Delhi on 18.01.2012. “It is not a healthy precedent either for the ministry or the armed forces. It is not a matter for public debate and like I said, it’s an unhealthy precedent,” Raju told reporters.
The army chief moved the Supreme Court on Monday after the ministry in December rejected his statutory complaint requesting the change of his year of birth in official records to 1951 from 1950. A day later, the defence ministry filed a caveat in the apex court, urging it to not pass any order on the general’s petition before hearing the government.
The Supreme Court may refer the case to the Armed Forces Tribunal or to a lower court.
Gen VK Singh’s date trouble:
1965: Date of Birth (DoB) filled as May 10, 1950, in UPSC application form (Gen Singh says it was done by a school teacher)
1967/68: Gen Singh submits school certificate showing 1951 as year of birth
1974-75: Army List published showing 1950
The age row: Timeline
Army’s Adjutant General branch records DoB as May 10, 1951, but Military Secretary’s branch records it as May 10, 1950
2002: Gen Singh demands the differing records be reconciled
2006: Gen Singh is promoted to Lt-Gen rank, says he was forced to give an undertaking accepting 1950 as the year of birth
2008: When he is promoted as Army Commander, he gives an undertaking again to maintain 1950 as his year of birth, but Gen Singh’s supporters say it was extracted under coercion
Early 2010: Just before his appointment as the chief in April, Gen Singh writes to then Army chief and defence secy, saying the issue was a closed chapter
October 2010: An RTI application is filed by an IAS officer seeking Army chief’s birth date. It is referred to legal adviser to MoD, who says the chief was born in 1951
May 6, 2011: MoD objects to being bypassed in seeking legal opinion and Army HQs efforts to correct records
May 2011: Army chief petitions MoD on the issue, demands ‘reconciliation’ of his DoB
July 2011: MOD rejects the demand, based on Attorney General’s opinion
August 2011: Gen Singh files a statutory complaint with defence minister AK Antony
December 2011: MoD rejects the statutory complaint, based on Attorney General’s opinion
January 16, 2012: Gen Singh moves SC
Opposition Party targets Government
Political parties on 17.01.2012 attacked the government for its failure in handling the controversy over Army chief General V K Singh’s age after the latter approached the Supreme Court on the issue.
“The matter relating to the age of the Army chief shows the failure of statecraft of the Government of India,” said BJP’s chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad. “The Army is a very important institution of India of which the entire country is proud. The dignity and decorum are important hallmarks of this institution. Such a serious matter ought to have been handled amicably by the government internally instead of allowing it to come in public domain and resultant court proceedings,” he said.
The SP too came down heavily on the government. “It is very unfortunate that the government has failed to resolve this issue. It should have taken it as an extraordinary issue and dealt with it with utmost sincerity and sensitivity to avoid this situation beforehand. The government should avoid taking any hasty steps in this matter and should still try to resolve this issue with seriousness,” party general secretary Mohan Singh said.
The Left parties were of the view that the issue should not be politicised. CPI general secretary A B Bardhan said, “The issue should not be politicised. There is difference between the government and the Army chief over his date of birth. It should have been sorted out earlier and that too amicably without coming into the public domain. This is an unseemly controversy.” He, however, added that the Army chief’s decision to go to court amounted to challenging the government.
Right to retire with dignity
An Army Chief “has a right to retire with dignity”, Gen VK Singh has pleaded before the Supreme Court while accepting the government’s right to determine his tenure.
Gen Singh’s unprecedented action in dragging the government to the apex court followed the ministry’s insistence that May 10, 1950 would be treated his official date of birth and that he would consequently retire on May 31, 2012.
Gen Singh stated that the government’s action and conduct in refusing to accept his contention on his birth date was affecting his image before the general public and the armed forces.
It was his right to have a “dignified life”, he pleaded in the petition, adding that an army chief has “a right to retire with dignity”.
Referring to the ministry’s orders of December 30 and earlier rejecting his case, the Army Chief has said that these orders have “conveniently ignored” his matriculation certificate, entire service record including entry into service, promotions and annual confidential reports.
He has stated that being a highly decorated officer, he had received all his awards, decorations and promotions as per the date of birth being 10.5.1951.
Gen Singh has enclosed voluminous documents and records with the petition in support of his stand that his year of birth was 1951.
However, he has said that in an application dated 29.7.1965 for admission to National Defence Academy (NDA) course he had, as a 14-year school boy, inadvertently filled his date of birth as 10.5.1950.
Gen Singh said Military Secretary’s Branch (MS Branch), one of the departments of the army, somehow now claims that his date of birth is May 10, 1950 while the same department while processing his name for the gallantry awards reflected the year of birth as 1951.
He said the Adjutant General’s Branch (AG Branch) being the official record keepers of the Indian Army maintains the year of birth as 1951.
The Army Chief said he had only sought harmonisation of the records of the two departments and his request was erroneously construed as request for change of birth and was wrongly turned down by the two orders.
He said he has had impeccable service record and has been decorated for his exemplary and meritorious service. In a service where discipline and respect for seniors is one of the important feature, the controversy has been given undue publicity and coverage in the media.
Citing a judgement of the apex court in Kochunni verus State of Madras in 1959, Gen Singh said the court has categorically said that an application under Article 32 of the Constitution cannot be refused merely on the ground that such an application has been made to the Supreme Court in the first instance without resort to High Court or there is some adequate alternative remedy available to him.
It was further held in that judgement that the right to move the Supreme Court for the purpose of enforcing the fundamental rights itself is a fundamental right.
PM steers clear; Gen Singh meets MoS Defence
Even as controversy continued to rage over army chief Gen VK Singh’s date of birth, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 19.01.2012 steered clear of making any comment, contending that the matter was “sensitive”. His evasiveness on the issue came on the eve of hearing by the Supreme Court of a organisation in support of Gen Singh. It was not clear whether a petition filed by Gen Singh himself would come up on 20.1.2012.
“It is a sensitive issue. I do not want to comment,” the Prime Minister said on the sidelines of a function to launch the book ‘The Tribune 130 (rpt) 130 Years: A Witness to History.
He was asked about the controversy surrounding the age of army chief who has dragged the government to the Supreme Court to seek a direction that his date of birth on military records be treated as May 10, 1951 and not 1950.
Meanwhile, the army chief met minister of state for defence MM Pallam Raju, a day after the latter expressed unhappiness over the matter being taken to court.
It was not clear as to what transpired at the unscheduled meeting between Raju and Gen Singh but it is believed to have been arranged to clarify things.
“It is an unfortunate development and it is not a healthy precedent either for the (Defence) Ministry or the armed forces… It is an unhealthy precedent. It does not auger well either for the Ministry or the forces,” Raju had said on Wednesday while reacting to a question on the issue.
Gen Singh moved the Supreme Court on 16.01.2012 challenging the government’s rejection of his claim on his date of birth. The Defence Ministry had recently rejected his contention that he was born in 1951 and not in 1950.
In its recent order, the Ministry has taken his date of birth as May 10, 1950, and not May 10, 1951, which the General has claimed as real as per his matriculation certificate.
An organisation The Grenadiers Association, Rohtak Chapter, had earlier filed an application in the apex court in support of Gen Singh. It is slated to come up on 20.1.2012.
In his own petition, the army chief has contended that he was treated by the government in a manner which reflects total lack of procedure and principles of natural justice in deciding his age.
In his 68-page petition, Gen Singh has challenged the government’s “illegal and arbitrary” rejection of his Statutory Complaint to defence minister AK Antony on December 30 last for accepting May 10, 1951 as his date of birth. He has termed it as violation of his fundamental rights.
Seeking the quashing of this order, the Army Chief has pleaded that the government be directed to treat May 10, 1951 as his date of birth and “grant all consequential reliefs thereto”.
“The respondent (government) needs to explain as to why the senior most officer of the Army could be treated in a manner which reflects total lack of procedure and principles of natural justice and that too on an opinion obtained from the Attorney General,” his petition said.
Gen Singh also wondered as to why the Ministry of Defence would doubt the records in the Adjutant General’s branch, the official record-keeper of the Army, has not been explained. Nor has any authority while rejecting his plea for treating his date of birth as 10.5.1951 ever doubted the birth certificate of the petitioner.
Army chief age row: Govt files caveat in SC on petition
Government on 17.01.2012 filed a caveat in the Supreme Court against any ex-parte order on the petition of Army chief Gen V K Singh challenging the decision over his date of birth.
An application was filed by the ministry of defence urging the apex court not to pass any order on Singh’s petition without hearing it. The caveat as filed through counsel T A Khan.
SC trashes PIL on Army Chief’s age
The Supreme Court (SC) on 20.01.2012 rejected a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by an ex-servicemen association seeking a direction to the Union government to accept the outgoing army chief’s date of birth as May 10, 1951. Several factual errors in the PIL contributed to it being dismissed. This dismissal, however, is not expected to impact General VK Singh’s petition.
“It is purely a service matter,” a three-judge bench headed by chief justice SH Kapadia told The Grenadiers Association (Rohtak Chapter), questioning its right to file a petition in the name of PIL relating to an individual officer’s age dispute.
They said a writ petition by the aggrieved person (Gen Singh) on the age issue is pending before the court.
Lawyers representing the government and Gen Singh kept a close watch on the proceedings. The judges questioned the petitioner’s lawyer, Bhim Singh, as to how a PIL could be filed in such a case and whether any legal precedent has been set when a service matter is accepted to serve the public interest.
They grilled the petitioner on filing a PIL annexing newspaper clippings and opinions of four former CJIs. “It is most improper and it is most unfortunate. We will not consider the opinion of former CJIs”, the judges said, making it clear that they were not concerned with the opinions. “We are not here to fix the age of the army chief. This is purely a service matter. Why you are putting opinion of former CJIs in the court? Why should the opinion be annexed to the petition? We are on the very limited issue.”
In an order the court said, “In our view, writ petition of this nature at the behest of the association is not maintainable. Accordingly, this writ petition is dismissed as not maintainable… We express no opinion on the merits. The registry is directed not to accept writ petition(s) without raising objection in cases where opinions of retired judges are annexed to the writ petition. The registry will carry out this direction in all matters.”
Supreme Court upholds govt. decision on Army Chief’s age
In a setback to Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh, the Supreme Court on 10.02.2012 upheld the government decision on his age issue and said he cannot resile on his commitment accepting the date of birth as May 10, 1950, forcing him to withdraw his petition.
The Supreme Court said it was not in favour of entertaining Gen. Singh’s petition that his date of birth should be treated in official records as May 10,1951 and gave him the option of withdrawing it.
The court held that no prejudice was done to Gen. Singh and the government decision on his date of birth will continue to be there. In view of this, Gen. Singh will have to retire on May 31, 2012.
The Supreme Court noted that the government has full faith in him and that the court wanted to ensure that he continues to work as the Army Chief as he has been doing.
Gen. Singh has to abide by his commitment and honour his letters of 2008 and 2009 accepting the date of birth as May 10, 1950, the court said during hearing for over two hours in a packed court room.
Finally, Gen. Singh withdrew his petition when the court hearing resumed at 2 p.m. after the lunch recess.
Govt. withdraws December 30, 2011 order
Earlier, at the start of the hearing, Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati informed the court that government has withdrawn its December 30, 2011 order rejecting Gen. Singh’s statutory complaint on his age issue.
It is still early to come to any conclusion about the dénouement of the churning in West Asia. Things are far from settled.
The euphoria generated by the Jasmine and Tahrir revolutions has all but dissipated during the past year. The unrealistic expectations, the hype built up mainly by the western governments and the media have given way to doubt, disappointment and even despair over the fate of ‘Arab Spring.’ The concern of most observers in the international community is now focussed on the direction in which “people’s movements” in various countries will proceed, and on the loss of lives that occurred in Libya, Yemen and, to a less extent, Egypt, and that is continuing in Syria and can be expected to happen in some other countries in the region in the coming months. It is a sad commentary on the rest of the international community that it unhesitatingly adopts the terminology coined by the West to describe the historic events in West Asia. ‘Arab Spring’ or ‘Arab Awakening’ is a condescending description; it suggests that the people of West Asia have been sleeping all these decades, not caring for freedoms enjoyed by people elsewhere. The fact is that non-regional governments have been supporting the authoritarian regimes through massive supply of deadly weapons and technology, which were used to suppress the people.
Increased Shia-Sunni Tensions
There are some who would like the Egyptians to believe that their revolution would not have happened but for the speech of President Barack Obama in their capital two years ago. The fact is that the people of Tunisia, followed by the people of Egypt, owe their revolutions to no one except themselves; they are the owners of their revolutions. If anything, the intervention of external powers, as in Libya, has complicated matters for the most part, created space for more extreme forms of Islamic thought to gain ascendance and, perhaps unwittingly, greatly accentuated the tensions between Shias and Sunnis. It is still early days to come to any conclusions about the dénouement of the churning in the region. Things are far from settled, except to some extent in Tunisia where it all began a year ago. Some broad trends, however, may be attempted.
Strengthening of Islamist Groups
In all countries which have witnessed some degree of protests, Islamist groups have gained significant ground. In Tunisia, a ‘moderate’ Islamic party has won plurality of the vote. In Libya, where regional forces are refusing to give up their arms or disband their militias, hard-line Islamists, including loyalists of the al Qaeda, have secured influential positions. Egypt has surprised most observers, including knowledgeable Egyptians, by giving a huge electoral mandate to the Muslim Brotherhood and, more ominously, to Salafists; together, the two Islamist groups will control about 70 per cent seats in Parliament, to the great disappointment of the ‘secular’ forces. Similarly, in Yemen, the extremists have gained ground and will emerge as the most influential force as and when President Saleh leaves the country. The same phenomenon is evident in Syria in an acuter form. Bahrain is possibly an exception in the sense that the conflict there is between the minority Sunni ruling family and the majority Shia community.
The success of the Islamists by itself need not be seen as a negative outcome, except perhaps by Israel. Their success is an indication of the disillusionment of people with the ‘secular’ authoritarian regimes as well as the reward for the socially useful work they have been doing such as running hospitals and schools. Whatever the nature of the new governments, people will enjoy more freedoms and will have a greater say in running the affairs of the state. The most amazing phenomenon of 2011 is the shedding of fear by the people, first in the Arab world and, subsequently almost everywhere else, including Russia and China. (This does not apply much to India since we always were free and unafraid to protest and demonstrate, although Tahrir Square could have provided some inspiration.) The Time magazine is absolutely right in naming the unnamed ‘Protester’ as the person of the year. This means the Islamists, as and when they occupy positions of power, will not be able to manipulate people in any way they like. In the medium term, the Islamists-led regimes will insist, at the least, on all legislation being compliant with the Sharia, whatever it means in practice.
Security forces, the army and police, will continue to wield significant, even decisive, influence in the stability of governments. The Turkish model will not be followed consciously given past history but some variation of it should be expected to emerge at some stage. Libya has to go through the difficult process of creating an army out of disparate armed militias and will take longer to achieve stability. In Egypt, the armed forces, which have been used to wielding power for nearly five decades, will hold on to it for quite some time, especially since they also have significant vested interests in the economy.
More Attention on Palestine
The Palestinian issue will receive much more attention and focus from the new regimes, which probably would mean more support for Hamas. Israel, which already feels threatened by Iran’s nuclear programme, will be under increased pressure to suspend settlement building. Israel’s posture will harden and its military spending will increase. The U.S. is in no position to bring effective pressure on Israel, especially in an election year, but it might appeal to Israel to be more reasonable on the Palestinian track in return for tightening the screws on Iran.
Syria is a complex case but certain facts are clear. (1) There is genuine popular demand for reform. (2) There is repression and use of ruthless force by the regime — at the same time, it continues to enjoy the support of the security forces and significant sections. (3) There is open intervention by external powers and groups such as the Brotherhood as well as elements subscribing to the al-Qaeda ideology, if not the al-Qaeda itself. (4) Many dissident groups are well armed and have killed a number of security forces. (5) Western powers are determined to bring about regime change. (6) Israel is greatly interested in seeing Bashar Assad removed even if the alternative will be a fundamentalist regime. Its priority is Iran and whatever weakens Iran in the region is considered to be in Israel’s interest. Bashar’s removal will greatly diminish the Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel and also reduce Hamas’ clout. (7) Unless a solution is found soon, the country will be headed towards a bloody civil war.
The Shia-Sunni tensions and Saudi-Iranian rivalry will intensify. Iraq presents a most discouraging example in this respect. After so many years of American shepherding, society in Iraq remains deeply divided on sectarian fault lines. Prime Minister Maliki, now that he is liberated from whatever moderating influence American presence might have exercised on him, is dealing with the Sunni community in exactly the wrong way. The sectarian violence seems all set to return to the horrors of the 2005-07 period. Iraq’s Sunni neighbours, especially Saudi Arabia, will definitely intervene to protect their Sunni brethren across the border. It is not a coincidence that Iraq’s Shia government has been voting against the Arab League’s decisions on the Alawite Shia-led Syrian regime. The Saudi hostility to Damascus has everything to do with the Shia-Sunni divide. Turkey’s current antagonism to Syria has many explanations and the Shia-Sunni factor is one of them. The Turkey-Syria-Iraq triangle offers quite a few fertile grounds for conflict — water, the Kurdish problem, Shia-Sunni hatred, etc. There is a tendency to downplay the Shia-Sunni tension but it is very much a fact of the Muslim life and it is better to recognise it.
In sum, the region is likely to remain unstable for quite some time. It would become destabilised should the Iranian nuclear issue lead to extremely harsh sanctions — and the process has begun — or worse, military action.
Some Indian experts would like India to take a more proactive role on the happenings in West Asia, to be on ‘the right side of the forces of history.’ It is no doubt good to feel self-righteous and earn an occasional pat on the back from the western or any other government. But it is more important to think of our national interests. Compared to our friends in the West, we are more dependent on the energy resources of West Asia. Most importantly, unlike other countries, we have to worry about 6 million of our compatriots who are working there and sending billions of dollars to their families back home. It makes sense to take a cautious stance, make as thorough an analysis as possible of the evolving situation and try to be on the winning side. That is our challenge. That challenge is coming sooner that we would like, in Iran.
Alistair Anthony Pereira, a Mumbai based businessman while he was drunk, had run his speeding Toyota Corolla over a pavement in Mumbai on November 1, 2006 killing 7 labourers and injuring several others. He was 21 years old at the time of the accident. Pereira was initially sentenced to 6 months in jail by a lower court in Mumbai. Due to public uproar, Bombay High Court took cognizance of the matter suo-moto and sentenced him for three years for unintentional killing.
States to take measure to prevent accidents
The Bombay High Court found him guilty for running over 7 people while he was drunk in Mumbai.
The Bombay High Court was told on August 1, 2007 that the State will formulate a scheme to prevent the ever-increasing number of accidents involving drunk drivers.
Advocate Ravi Kadam told the division bench comprising Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice Ranjana Desai, hearing the suo-motu petition linked with Alistair Pereira episode, that number of accidents involving drunken drivers was on the rise and hence the State would formulate a scheme to reduce them.
He told the court that the only way to reduce them was to prevent such accidents, instead of stressing on investigation and prosecution. He informed the court that a senior police officer, having PhD in sociology, might be able to formulate some scheme to prevent such accidents while remaining within the ambit of present laws.
Without referring to many glaring loopholes that came to light during the proceedings, the court expressed its displeasure over affidavit filed by Mumbai Police Commissioner stating that the investigations into Alistair Pereira hit-and-run case was done properly.
Supreme Court’s verdict
The Supreme Court confirmed the three-year jail term awarded to Mumbai-based businessman Alistair Pereira for mowing down seven persons with his speeding car in 2006.
In a significant decision, a bench of Justices R M Lodha and J S Khehar also ruled that there was no “impediment” in law in charging an offender simultaneously with the offences of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and causing hurt by an act endangering life or personal safety of others.
In the verdict running in 69-pages, the bench expressed its concern over the rising number of deaths in road accidents caused by rash and drunk driving.
Even though it termed the three-year-jail term given to the 25-year-old businessman as “meagre and inadequate,” the bench refrained from enhancing the sentence after noting that the state government had not filed an appeal against the High Court’s verdict. The SC recommended that there be a change in the sentencing policy reflected in S. 304 –A (death due to negligence) as no amount of compensation would relieve the family of the victims from “mental agony.”
The trial court had awarded him six months jail term in a verdict which caused huge public outcry and uproar prompting the Bombay High Court to take suo motu cognizance of the matter and enhance the punishment to three-year imprisonment.
Two days after the Supreme Court verdict in the 2006 hit-and-run case, Alistair Periera, whose bail was cancelled, is yet to surrender before the authorities in Mumbai
On January 12, 2012 the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and three years jail term awarded to the Mumbai-based businessman for mowing down seven persons by his speeding car in an inebriated condition, adding that act was a “despicable aggravated offence.”
The apex court, which concurred with the Bombay high court’s verdict holding him guilty for the offence, had said the sentence could not be enhanced, as the Maharashtra government has not challenged it. It cancelled the bail of Pereira and directed him to “forthwith” surrender for undergoing the remaining sentence as awarded by the high court in 2007 for the incident of November 12, 2006 in Mumbai.
However, Pereira has not yet surrendered before the authorities. The Mumbai police said they can’t arrest him as they are yet to receive the copy of the apex court order. “We can only take action if an order copy is marked to the police,” Deputy Commissioner of Police, Pratap Dighavkar said.
Pereira to be sent to Taloja Prison
Surendra Kumar,IG (prisons) said on January 14. 2012 that they may send Pereira to Taloja jail where 200 plus convicts are already serving their term. Taloja jail is about 50 km away from Mumbai. However, there are chances that he may be sent to the Nashik central jail from where he had filed the bail application a few years ago.
Taloja jail houses most of the dreaded criminals. Several hardened criminals were shifted from the Arthur Road jail to Taloja jail which is spread over 77 acres of land. “Earlier, we would send the convicts to Pune’s Yerawada jail. However, after the construction of Taloja jail, we send the convicts to Taloja jail. Pereira will have to work in the jail factory like other convicts.
Three years conviction for taking the life of 7 innocent labourer victims and injuring several people in drunken mood! Does this sentence commensurate with the crime committed? If victims are not poor roadside labourers, will the sentencing pattern change? It is time for debate and there is need to bring amendments. Whether the kith and kins of the victims paid adequate compensation?
For the first time in 83 years the United States Department of Justice announced a “major” change in the definition of rape towards one that took cognizance of male victims and also did away with ambiguities surrounding the question of consent.
Until now the legal understanding of rape came from a 1927 rule that defined it as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” a phraseology that included only forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina and excluded oral and anal penetration; rape of males; penetration of the vagina and anus with an object or body part other than the penis; rape of females by females; and, non-forcible rape.
Following the latest move by the DoJ rape is now defined as “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
The change in the definition is at the level of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting system and not in the federal or state criminal codes. This implies that while the change will not impact charging and prosecution on the Federal, State or local level, “it simply means that rape will be more accurately reported nationwide,” according to the DoJ.
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, who has spearheaded some of the effort to end violence against women and is author of the Violence Against Women Act, welcomed the change saying, “Rape is a devastating crime and we can’t solve it unless we know the full extent of it.”
Attorney General Eric Holder reflected upon how the redefinition of rape was expected to impact law enforcement efforts. He said, “These long overdue updates to the definition of rape will help ensure justice for those whose lives have been devastated by sexual violence… This new, more inclusive definition will provide us with a more accurate understanding of the scope and volume of these crimes.”
According to White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, who spoke with journalists on a conference call following the announcement of the redefinition of rape, one in five women and one in 71 men could expect to be raped in their lifetimes in the U.S. “Definitions matter because people matter,” Ms. Jarrett said, noting that the 2010 statistic of 84,767 people raped in the U.S. did not present an accurate picture of the extent of rape in the country.
With relatively easy access to alcohol, some types of drugs, and the greater exposure of younger persons to the risk of being raped experts had concurred that the older definition was no longer sufficient to ensure greater reporting of incidents of rape. The new definition accordingly takes into account victim incapacity owing to intoxication or age and also does not place emphasis on the question of victims’ physical resistance.
The year 2011 will be remembered in India as the year of the campaign against corruption and for the Jan Lokpal Bill. The campaign began in January 2011 in the backdrop of the publicity that accompanied the several mega-scams that surfaced in 2010, notably those relating to the Commonwealth Games and the telecom spectrum allocations. It caught the public imagination with Anna Hazare’s fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi in April 2011. That forced the UPA government to constitute a joint drafting committee for a Lokpal bill. The civil society representatives in the committee proposed a bill called the Jan Lokpal bill, which became the basis for discussions. The basic principles on which the bill was drafted were culled from the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which required all countries to put in place anti-corruption investigative agencies that would be independent of the executive government and would have the jurisdiction to investigate all public servants for corruption.
The Jan Lokpal Bill thus provided for the selection of a 11-member Lokpal by a broad-based selection committee (comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, two judges selected by all the judges of the Supreme Court, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Chief Election Commissioner, the Central Vigilance Commissioner and the previous three chairpersons of the Lokpal), through a transparent process.
It sought to bring the anti-corruption wing of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under the Lokpal’s administrative control. The Lokpal was to be given corruption investigative jurisdiction over all public servants (including Members of Parliament, judges and all sections of the bureaucracy), and those who may have abetted their acts of corruption (including corporations or non-governmental organisations). The Lokpal could recommend the removal of those officials who were charge sheeted for corruption and order the freezing of any assets that seemed to be acquired by corrupt means.
The Bill sought to provide that corruption trials would be put on the fast track and the courts would determine the loss caused to the public exchequer by an act of corruption — which would be recovered from the corrupt public servants and their abettors. It provided for citizens’ charters to be framed by all public authorities, which would provide for time-bound delivery of public services; failure to do so would be actionable at the hands of officers working under the Lokpal. The bill required States to have Lokayuktas (covering State government officials) on the same lines as the Lokpal.
In order to ensure the integrity of the Lokpal institution, several layers of accountability were sought to be built into its working. Its functioning was made totally transparent by means of a requirement to put every detail of its investigations on a public website after the completion of investigations. The CAG was required to do an annual financial and performance audit of the functioning of the entire Lokpal institution. Any citizen could make a complaint against any member of the Lokpal to the Supreme Court, which had the power to order his or her suspension and even removal.
In addition, there were other important, anti-corruption provisions in the Jan Lokpal Bill. It required every public authority to give out contracts, leases and licences with total transparency and by public auction, unless such procedures were stated to be impossible to undertake. Public servants were barred from taking up jobs with those organisations or companies with which they had been dealing in their official capacity. This was meant to prevent an insidious form of corruption whereby public officials would take jobs instead of bribes from the organisations that they had been patronising in their official capacity.
After nine meetings, the government terminated its engagement with the civil society members of the joint drafting committee and went on to draft and table its own Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament. This Bill incorporated some of the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill but fell far short of what was required to even set up an independent and comprehensive anti-corruption investigative organisation. It left the selection of the Lokpal to a government-dominated committee. Though powers for the removal of Lokpal members were vested in the Supreme Court, complaints against the Lokpal could only be made by the government, which retained the power to suspend them.
The government’s Bill removed most public servants from the jurisdiction of the Lokpal, including the Prime Minister, MPs (insofar as their corruption pertained to their actions in Parliament), judges, and Class 2, 3 and 4 officers. Instead, it brought lakhs of NGOs (even those which were not funded by the government) within its jurisdiction.
Though the Bill kept the CBI with the government, it allowed the Lokpal to have its own anti-corruption investigative body. It eliminated the need to get prior sanction for investigation from the government. It provided for the confiscation of the assets of corrupt public servants and the recovery of losses caused by their acts of corruption from them. But it created a terribly cumbersome procedure for investigation, by which a preliminary inquiry and hearing of the corrupt public servant were made compulsory before investigation could begin. This ended the possibility of making surprise raids and seizures on the premises of corrupt public servants or their abettors.
Anna Hazare announced his second round of fasting in protest against this Bill, from August 16. This brought lakhs of people on to the streets across the country, and eventually forced the government to convene a special session of Parliament, where Anna’s three minimal demands were accepted by a unanimous Sense of the House resolution. Thus, all government servants and the citizens’ charter were to be brought under the Lokpal’s jurisdiction. The Bill would provide for Lokayuktas in the States on the same model as the Lokpal. The government promised to bring forward and pass such a strengthened bill in the winter session of Parliament.
Thereafter, the Bill was referred to the Standing Committee of Parliament, which after three months gave a fractured report with many dissenting notes. The Bill, which was reintroduced towards the end of the winter session, not only did not accept the one useful suggestion of the Standing Committee (negating the compulsory step of a preliminary enquiry) but went on to eliminate even the investigative body from the Lokpal. Thus, the Lokpal would not only be selected and suspended by the government, it would also have to rely only on government-controlled investigative organisations for its investigation. Class 3 and 4 officers were still kept out of the Lokpal’s ambit.
Those of us who worked on the mission with Anna Hazare had suggested 34 amendments to rectify the government’s Bill, and we pointed out that four of these were critical to making the Lokpal a workable institution. These were that the selection and removal procedure should be made independent of the government; the CBI should be brought under the Lokpal’s administrative control or, alternatively, the Lokpal should have its own investigative body; all government servants should be brought under the Lokpal’s investigative ambit; and the procedure for investigation should be in line with the normal criminal investigation procedure. But the government was adamant in not accepting any of these either, and went on to bulldoze the passage of its Bill. It rejected all the amendments moved by the Opposition. The Opposition moved several of the amendments suggested by us, but the only amendment that the government accepted was one to allow State governments to decide when the Bill would be applied to them.
The Rajya Sabha witnessed a sordid drama. Several parties which had walked out in the Lok Sabha (the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party) or had not moved any amendments there (the Trinamool Congress) moved amendments in the Rajya Sabha and their representatives delivered fiery speeches opposing the provisions of the Bill. When it became clear that at least three of the amendments (those relating to the selection and removal of Lokpal members, the CBI being brought under the administrative control of the Lokpal, and the deletion of the chapter on Lokayuktas in the States) were likely to be passed, the government engineered disturbances in the House, resorted to filibustering and prevented the amendments from being voted upon. And the House was prorogued with the Bill hanging in the air.
The government was repeatedly telling us that by proceeding with protests while Parliament was considering the Bill, we were showing contempt for parliamentary democracy. We had responded by pointing out that by overlooking the wishes of the people as expressed in numerous polls, surveys and referendums, all of which showed that more than 80 per cent of the people favoured the Jan Lokpal Bill, the government was showing contempt for the people. The drama in the Rajya Sabha showed that the government was not even willing to go by the will of Parliament. This gives rise to fundamental questions about the functioning of Indian democracy. Is this form of representative democracy allowing the will of the people to be reflected in policy and law-making, or is it being held hostage to parties and their leaderships to be determined by their own whims or corrupt considerations? Has the time come for us to rethink and deepen our democracy by putting in place systems where laws and policies would be decided by decisive inputs of the people (through referendums and gaon sabhas, or village councils) rather than only by such “elected representatives”? We hope that this fundamental issue would bring about an even broader public engagement than what has been witnessed during this Lokpal campaign.
(The author, a Senior Advocate, is a member of Team Anna.)
America warned Iran on 28/12/11 that it will not tolerate a blockade of an oil shipping route and would “counter malevolent actions”.
Iran’s Admiral Habibollah Sayyari had said Iran had the power to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to potential sanctions over its nuclear ambitions.
The trade route is the only sea outlet for the crucial oil fields in and around the Persian Gulf. The comments drew a quick response from the US. “This is not just an important issue for security and stability in the region, but is an economic lifeline for countries in the Gulf, to include Iran,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said.
“Interference with the transit or passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated.”
Separately, a Bahrain-based US Navy 5th Fleet spokeswoman said the Navy is “always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation”.
Iran’s threat to seal off the Gulf, surrounded by oil-rich Gulf States, underlines the depth of worry over the prospect that the Obama administration will go ahead with sanctions over its nuclear programme that would severely hit its biggest revenue earner, oil.
The sanctions themselves have raised worries that removing Iran’s crude from the market will lead to a spike in oil prices.
Gulf Arab nations appeared ready to at least ease market tensions. A senior Saudi Arabian oil official said that Gulf Arab nations are ready to step in to offset any potential loss of exports from Iran, which is the world’s fourth largest oil producer.
What remains unclear is what routes the Gulf nations could take to bring that production to market if Iran goes through with its threats.
About 15 million barrels per day pass through the Hormuz Strait, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
There are some pipelines that could be tapped, but Gulf oil leaders, who met in Cairo on December 24, 2011 declined to say whether they had discussed alternate routes or what they may be.
The Saudi comment, however, appeared to allay some concerns. The US benchmark crude futures contract fell 77 cents in early morning trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange, but still hovered above 100 dollars per barrel.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner played down the Iranian threats as “rhetoric,” saying, “We’ve seen these kinds of comments before.”
While many analysts believe that Iran’s warnings are little more than posturing, they still highlight the delicate nature of the oil market, which moves as much on rhetoric as supply and demand fundamentals.
So far, Western nations have been unable to agree on sanctions targeting oil exports, even as they argue that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.
Tehran maintains its nuclear programme – already the subject of several rounds of sanctions – is purely peaceful.
The US Congress has passed a bill banning dealings with the Iran Central Bank, a move that would damage Iran’s ability to export crude.
Purpose for Imposition of Sanction
The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a measure to sanction the Central Bank of Iran, a move intended to shrink Iran’s oil exports and deprive it of cash that might be used in nuclear or missile programs.
The Senate measure would give the Obama administration power to bar foreign financial institutions that do business with the central bank from having correspondent bank accounts in the U.S. If enacted, it could be much harder for foreign companies to pay for oil imports from Iran, the world’s third largest exporter of the commodity.
“The Central Bank of Iran has become a vital intermediary for purchasers of Iranian crude because existing sanctions against the Persian Gulf country have constrained Iran’s ability to access the international financial sector to settle oil trades,” said Mark Dubowitz, director of the Iran Energy Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.
The Obama administration opposed the amendment on the grounds that by targeting an important oil supplier for Asia and Europe, the move threatens to fracture the international coalition supporting coordinated pressure on Iran and may send oil prices soaring if world supply is perceived to be in jeopardy.
“There’s absolutely a risk” that “the price of oil would go up, which would mean that Iran would, in fact, have more money to fuel its nuclear ambitions, not less,” Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before lawmakers voted.
Oil prices have increased 9.8 percent this year to trade at $100.37 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange today.
The measure, sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, and Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, was an amendment to the 2012 defense authorization bill, also passed, which sets Pentagon policy and spending targets. The House and Senate will need to negotiate a final bill that would go to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The aim of the sanctions, its sponsors said, is to deprive Iran of revenue and thereby force the regime to abandon nuclear- weapons work. On Nov. 8, a report by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency highlighted evidence of clandestine work, which Iran denied.
Oil is Iran’s major source of income, supplying over 50 percent of the national budget, according to International Monetary Fund figures. It provided the Islamic state $56 billion in the first seven months of 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
U.S. Undersecretary of Treasury David Cohen testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday that taking unilateral action against the Central Bank of Iran is likely to undermine support for multinational sanctions that the U.S. has worked hard to garner.
Hours before the Senate action yesterday, the European Union added 180 Iranian officials and companies to a blacklist and debated further measures that may be enacted next month. On Nov. 21, the U.K., Canada and the U.S. announced expanded sanctions aimed at Iran’s banking system.
While China has supported four rounds of UN sanctions on Iran, leaders in Beijing as well as a number of U.S. allies in Asia and Europe who buy Iranian oil have so far resisted targeting the nation’s energy products.
The top refiners of Iranian oil are China, Japan, India, Italy and South Korea, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Greece “has a certain number of reservations” about an Iranian oil cutoff, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels yesterday. “We have to take account of them and work with the different partners so that the interruption of Iranian deliveries can be offset by higher production in other countries,” he said.
Coordinated pressure on Iran is more effective than unilateral action, which can be more easily evaded, Cohen said. “It is imperative that we act in a way that does not threaten to fracture the international coalition” and “does not inadvertently redound to Iran’s economic benefit” through higher oil prices, Cohen testified at the Senate.
Iran pumped 3.6 million barrels of oil a day last month, a Bloomberg survey showed, and exported an average 2.58 million barrels a day in 2010, according to Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries statistics.
The Senate measure would come into effect July 1 if included in final legislation signed by Obama. It would permit the president to waive sanctions for national security reasons or because of insufficient oil supply to replace Iran’s crude.
The timing would allow the market to adapt while rising production from Libya and Iraq helps European refiners offset the loss of Iranian crude, Kirk said in a telephone interview.
“We intentionally put a delay in the language so markets could adjust,” he said.
Iran is the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia. About 15.5 million barrels of oil a day, about a sixth of global consumption, flows through the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
A U.S. business and trade association that represents more than 300 member companies expressed “deep disappointment” over the passage of the measure.
The Bhagavad Gita trial in Russia or the Bhagavad Gita court case in Russia was the trial of the Russian edition of ‘‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’’ initiated in June 2011 by the state prosecutor’s office in Tomsk, Russia on charges of religious extremism. The trial is reportedly instigated by the local branch of the Russian Orthodox Church along with the FSB in order to restrict the activity of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) followers. The trial has followed a 2011 ban of the construction of an ISKCON community village in the Tomsk region, and the long-standing Moscow city government’s opposition to an ISKCON temple project in central Moscow, which the authorities later shifted to a Moscow suburb, continuing a trend of state-instigated legal persecutions of religious minorities in Russia.
At the first hearing the judge found the “expert assessment” inadequate, commissioned another one from Kemerovo State University and postponed the verdict until December 28, 2011.
In mid-December 2011 the trial caused a storm of highly critical publications in the Indian, Russian, and international media and a consequent groundswell of multi-partisan political support in the Indian Parliament, forcing Russian officials to offer apologies and assurances that they will take all the necessary remedial measures to prevent the possible ban. The trial also sparked public protests and legal actions in India agains the proposed ban and drew harsh criticism of the intellectual community in Russia.
On December 28, 2011, the court case was dismissed by Federal Judge Galina Butenko.
Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi receiving a Russian copy of the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ from Soviet Hare Krishna followers. Delhi (India), 1989. President of India Pratibha Patil receiving ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ from an ISKCON representative. New Delhi, December 2011
‘‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’’ is a Russian version of ISKCON founder A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s translation and commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, a revered scripture for nearly one billion Hindus. The book, a central scripture for Hare Krishna followers, was first published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in 1968 and has been translated into 80 languages, with over 100 million copies distributed globally till date. It was presented to many world leaders, including the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said that he “keeps a copy of the book in his office.” According to scholars, the book has never been accused of fomenting extremism before. Two similar cases against this particular edition of the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ were twice dismissed in Moscow courts in 2004 and 2005.
In November 2011, President of India Pratibha Patil in a message to ISKCON Russia for its 40th anniversary commended the organization for “an important role in popularising the noble and eternal message of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita and promoting spiritual harmony in many foreign lands”.
Indian Ambassador to Russia Ajay Malhotra said that Prabhupada’s translation of the Gita “is one of the best that you can find, because he gives you the words, the meanings and the options to understand it as it was written”. The Bhagavad Gita trial was preceded by a government ban of the construction of an ISKCON community village in the Tomsk region earlier in 2011, and the Moscow city government’s unyielding opposition to the counstruction of an ISKCON temple project in central Moscow since 2004. The Russian Orthodox Church played an active and vocal role in urging the Moscow government to ban the project, calling Krishna “an evil demon, the personified power of hell opposing God”. The authorities later shifted the temple construction to a Moscow suburb. The Bhagavad Gita trial also continues a series of state-instigated legal persecutions of religious minorities in Russia.
The court case is thought to have been instigated by the FSB and the Russian Orthodox Church as an attempt to restrict the Hare Krishna movement, a religious minority in Russia seen by the Church as a destructive cult that wants to “set its roots” in the Tomsk region. It was filed in June 2011 by the public prosecutor of Tomsk Victor Fyodotov on the request of the local Church leaders. He based his plea on an “expert assessment” by three professors of Tomsk State University, Sergei Avanesov, Valery Svistunov and Valery Naumov. Their “expert assessment” concluded that the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ is an extremist literature because it contained claims of exclusiveness of Krishna religion, and used some unpleasant words against those who were not devotees of Krishna. The assessment also stated that the teachings of the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ are anti-Christian by nature because “Krishna is evil and not compatible with Christian views” and foster “social discord”, religious hatred, and “gender, race, nationality, and language” discrimination. Based on the professors’ testimony, the prosecutor requested the court to include the book in the Federal List of Extremist Materials, and to ban its printing, possession, and distribution. The Federal List contains over 1,000 works, Hitler’s Mein Kampf among them, considered as fomenting religious and racial hatred.
First, second, and third hearings (August 2011)
Federal Judge Galina Butenko studies a copy of the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ during the first court hearing. August 12, 2011.
In the first, second, and third court hearings held on 12, 18, and 29–30 August 2011 respectively, Federal Judge Galina Butenko dismissed the “expert assessment” as inadequate and subjective after the prosecutor’s experts acknowledged that they had not studied the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’, and said that their opinion in the “assessment” should be taken as private rather than official. They also stated that the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ did not contain any extremist statements. Two experts invited by the court, N. V. Serebrennikov (Tomsk) and N. N. Karpitsky (Tomsk), also rejected the written “expert opinion”, maintaining, that while Prabhupada’s commentaries used some abusive words for those who are not Krishna’s devotees, the use of these words did not attempt to create a racial or religious divide, to which the Judge recalled that similarly emotionally charged statements are found in the Bible, like: “Don’t throw pearls before a swine”. The court noted that, despite some claims of exclusiveness in Prabhupada’s commentaries, such statements are characteristic of most religious texts and therefore posed no evidence to support the accusations made against the book. The Judge consequently postponed the next hearing until December 2011, ordering a new assessment of the book by a panel of three professors of Kemerovo State University, none of whom are experts on Hinduism.
Following a plea by ISKCON advocate Mikhail Fralov to seek a statement of the Russian Human Rights Committee on the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ and on the right of religious minorities, the Judge agreed to hear their opinion and postponed the final verdict until December 28, 2011.
Since December 17, 2011, when Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) issued a report by a staff writer Nallan Bipindra about the proposed Bhagavad Gita ban in Russia, the event became breaking news in the Indian printed and electronic media, with over 600 publications, including editorials, in all major newspapers and TV news channels as of December 27, 2011.
In December 19, 2011, Bhartruhari Mahtab, leader of the Biju Janata Dal party, raised up the issue of the Bhagavad Gita trial in the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha), demanding to know what the Indian government was undertaking to protect “the religious rights of Hindus in Russia”. He also called on the government to “impress [this] upon the Russian authorities through diplomatic channels”. The House Speaker Meira Kumar then turned down requests for speeches on the topic and had to adjourn the session amid protests against the ban of the Gita sparked by Mahtab’s statement, as angry members of the Parliament across the party lines strongly condemned the ban, shouting: “We will not tolerate an insult to Lord Krishna!” The issue was simultaneously raised in Rajya Sabha (the Upper House). This display of political unity surprised the media and prompted a Rajya Sabha member to call the December 19 parliamentary session “a golden day in our history when all differences were deleted to express solidarity for Gita, the book of India”.
On December 20, Sushma Swaraj, leader of the largest opposition party BJP demanded that the Indian government declare the Bhagavad Gita a “national book”. Her move seconded by a BJP member of Rajya Sabha, Tarun Vijay, who asked rhetorically “Can sun be banned, Himalayas be banned…?” Members across party lines voiced their support. Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha K. Rahman Khan, member of the Indian National Congress, said “the entire house agrees with this and joins in condemning this”.
On December 21, a Bharatiya Janata Party delegation led by the party’s foreign affairs chief Vijay Jolly met with the Deputy Chief of the Russian Mission in Delhi Denis Alipov to express the party’s “pain and anguish” at the Bhagavad Gita trial and demand that “suitable measures” be taken by the Russian government to immediately dismiss the court case as baseless. Jolly also expressed surprise that the Russian government allowed the trial to continue for over half a year despite the fact that “India–Russia relations is of paramount importance to both countries”. The delegation also sent throu the Russian embassy a copy of the Bhagavad Gita to President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev along with a letter, in which the BJP delegation stressed to the Russian President that the Gita is a book of “sublime thoughts” that “preaches self discipline… promotes spiritualism and teaches to the mankind the need to fulfill responsibility towards worldly duties”.
According to officials of the Prime Minister of India’s office, “[t]his matter is receiving the highest attention and the Indian embassy officials in Moscow have been instructed to follow up the case with the Russian authorities”, in order to either have the case withdrawn by the state or resolved. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla said that the Indian authorities are “apprising the Russian government” on the issue. However, members of the Parliament accused the Indian government of inaction. They said that on November 1, ISKCON informed the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the impending court case, urging the government to use “some high-level ministerial visits” to Moscow, prior to the Prime Minister’s own visit December 15–17, to protect the scripture from legal action. Despite the advance notice, which was also sent to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna, the issue was not discussed with the Russian government during the following six official visits of Indian ministers and top officials to Moscow.
Ministry of External Affairs
Following the Parliament’s demand for a report from the External Affairs Ministry on the issue, Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna made the following statement in the House on December 20, 2011:
I rise to make a statement on a Court hearing in a Russian city on the Bhagwad Gita that was raised in this august House yesterday by Hon’ble Members Shri Bhartruhari Mahtab, Shri Mulayam Singh Yadav ji, Shri Sharad Yadav ji, Shri Lalu Prasad ji, Shri Hukumdev Narayan Yadav ji, Shri V. Aruna Kumar and Dr. Prasanna Kumar Patasani. A number of other Hon’ble members also conveyed their deep sense of anguish over this issue. At the outset, allow me to mention that I fully share the sentiments expressed by the Hon’ble Members of the House on this issue.
Hon’ble Members referred to media reports about a hearing conducted by a Court in the Russian city of Tomsk on whether a Russian language commentary on the Bhagwad Gita qualifies as “extremist” literature. I would like to inform this august House of the facts of this case.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has been functioning in Russia for decades. ISKCON has faced periodic problems with respect to its properties and functioning in Moscow and elsewhere. On occasion, our Embassy has intervened on behalf of ISKCON with the local city authorities as well as with the Russian Government.
ISKCON conveyed to our Embassy that its branch in Tomsk, Eastern Siberia, had received a notice in June 2011, of a complaint filed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the local court. This complaint, apparently driven by some local individuals, was to the effect that the third Russian edition of the publication “Bhagwad Gita As It is” – a translation of a commentary by Swami Prabhupada, founder of ISKCON – had certain portions that were ‘objectionable’ and ‘extremist’ in nature.
Following the initial proceedings in August 2011, the District Court appointed its own three member expert group from the University of Kemerovo (in Siberia), which was to submit a report within three months. The final hearing in the Tomsk District Court was due on December 19, 2011, but has been rescheduled for December 28, 2011, as the Court has agreed to seek the opinion of the Russian Ombudsman on Human Rights in Tomsk District, and of Indologists from Moscow and St. Petersburg, who have greater knowledge and expertise on India.
Officials of the Embassy of India in Moscow and our Ambassador have been in regular touch with the local representatives of ISKCON, since this matter came to light in June 2011.
ISKCON representatives were advised to take legal recourse to counter this misdirected complaint. We have also taken up this matter at the senior levels of the Russian Government. The Ministry of External Affairs has been in regular touch with our Embassy in Moscow on this issue. The matter was also taken up with the Russian Ambassador based in India, H.E. Mr. Alexander Kadakin who is himself a well-known Indologist. In fact the Ambassador has been publicly critical of this episode. He has stated that Bhagavad-Gita is a great source of wisdom for the people of India and the world. He also said that Russia is a secular and democratic country where all religions enjoy equal respect.
The complaint in a local Russian court appears to be the work of some ignorant and misdirected or motivated individuals. While this complaint is patently absurd, we have treated this matter seriously and the Embassy of India is closely monitoring this legal case.
Hon’ble Members would agree that the Bhagwad Gita is not simply a religious text; it is one of the defining treatises of Indian thought and describes the very soul of our great civilization. The Gita is far above any cheap propaganda or attacks by the ignorant or the misdirected. In Russia itself, we have many great Indologists, scholars and experts who understand the essence of the Gita and have written on it with reverence and passion. We do not want to dignify with too much attention some misdirected individuals who have filed an absurd complaint. We are confident that our Russian friends, who understand our civilizational values and cultural sensitivities, will resolve this matter appropriately.
Indian Ambassador to Russia Ajay Malhotra confirmed that the Indian Embassy in Moscow takes up the issue with the Russian government at senior official level in order to achieve its positive intervention resolution. He said that a Tomsk group linked to the Russian Orthodox Church levied the charges against the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ and demanded its ban in order to prevent the local ISKCON branch from setting up a community near a village in Tomsk region. According to Malhotra, the Russian authorities have been approached “at high levels to appropriately resolve this matter”. He added that “[t]he Bhagavad Gita is perhaps the most important and respected scripture in the world. First translated into Russian in 1788, it is not merely a religious text, but one of the defining treatises of Indian thought. The Bhagavad Gita has circulated freely across the world for centuries and there is not a single instance of it having encouraged extremism. So, the case before the Honourable Court in Tomsk is indeed absurd, bordering on the bizarre,” the Indian envoy added.
On December 27, 2011, the day before the final hearing on the Gita case, S. M. Krishna met with the Russian Ambassador to India Alexandr Kadakin at the Hyderabad House and conveyed India’s concern over the “sensitive” issue with the proposed ban, urging the Russian government “to provide all possible help to resolve the issue”. Kadakin assured Krishna that, while it is a judicial matter, Russia will undertake all measures within its power to resolve the issue. Four days earlier, India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai discussed the issue with Kadakin as well.
On December 28, 2011, after the Russian court rejected state prosecutor’s plea seeking ban on the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’, S. M. Krishna thanked the Russian government for support.
On December 21, the High Court of Mumbai questioned the Indian government as to the measures it is undertaking to intervene in the possible ban of the Bhagavad Gita and directed the government to consider representing the position of India on the issue before the court in Tomsk. The High Court decision came in response to a Public Interest Litigation filed by two local activists charging the Indian government with inaction in regard to informing the Russian court of the actual purport of the Bhagavad Gita, and that the Indian Embassy’s “monitoring the matter closely” was not sufficient. The court observed Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna’s Parliament statement does not imply if Indian governmen’s direct involvement with the December 28 Bhagavad Gita trial hearing and asked the government to submit its reply on the steps taken by January 9, 2012.
On December 21, a highly respected Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband issued a statement signed by its vice-chancellor Abul Qasim Nomani in defense of the Bhagavad Gita, in which he condemned “Russian diktat against the Hindu holy scripture”. Nomani also called accusations of the Gita of extremism “totally baseless and highly objectionable”, maintaining that the proposed ban is tantamount to violation of the freedom of conscience “enshrined” in the Indian Constitution, and called on boldly countering the “Russian highhandedness”. Maulana Khalid Rashid, head of Firangi Mahal, another Islamic center of higher education in Lucknow, also condemned what he called “Russian arrogance” and called on Muslims to support Hindu followers while appealing to the Indian government “to take a firm stance so that such blasphemous interference is not attempted in future”.
On December 22, 2011, Isai Mahasangh organization representing Christians in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh addressed the President of India Pratibha Patil and the Pope Benedict XVI, asking for their intervention in the Bhagavad Gita trial. An Isai Mahasangh delegation conveyed their memorandum to the President through Madhya Pradesh governor Ram Naresh Yadav, and to the Pope through the Holy See embassy in New Delhi. Jerry Paul, General Secretary of Isai Mahasangh, stated that it was clear from the court case against the Gita that “the Russians are not aware of the importance of the Gita, the teachings and values it upholds and above all its place in the life of millions of Indians”.
A prominent Hindu teacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in his Twitter called the proposed ban of the Bhagavad Gita in Russia “an unpardonable loss for the people of Russia” and, countering accusations of the book of “extremism” and “intolerance” opined that it was the move to ban the scripture that showed intolerance and bred terrorism rather than the Gita’s teachings.
On December 20, 2011, an international Hindu organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) threatened with protests outside Russian missions in India if Russia effects the ban. VHP General Secretary Pravin Togadia said in a statement that the Bhagavad Gita is deified by all Hindus and that its principles have universal appeal and “touch humanity so very deeply”, citing Albert Einstein’s facination with the book asn an example. Togadia also warned Russian authorities that Indians will be forced to boycott Russian goods, plants, and offices in India in response to the Gita ban in Russia. VHP and Bajrang Dal activists also staged protest in Chandigarh, calling on the Indian government to protect the rights of Hindus in Russia and denouncing the proposed ban. On December 23, dozens of activists of Rashtrawadi Sena, a hardline Hindu group, burned a Russian flag and shouted anti-Russian slogans during a protest march in New Delhi over the proposed ban. Rashtrawadi Sena president Jai Bhagwan Goyal called the Gita “the most pious book of the nation” and said will not tolerate any insult to it. The protesters also sent a memorandum to Indian President Pratibha Patil, and to the Russian embassy, demanding to avert the ban. They also urged Indian President to declare Bhagavad Gita a “National scripture” in order to prevent such insults in the future. A similar protest along with the burning of a Russian flag was held on December 26 by activists of the right-wing Hindu organisation Shiv Sena in Amritsar. In a similar move, a [Jammu]] unit of Sri Ram Sena appealed to Indian and Russian authorities to forestall the impeding Gita ban “for the betterment of Indo-Russia relations”.
Russian community in Goa
On December 21, 2011, the Russian community in Goa has issued a statement condemning the proposed ban on the Bhagavad Gita in Russia. Speaking on behalf of the 150-strong community, Russian consulate in Goa Vikram Varma stated: “The Russian community in Goa as a whole condemns the possibility of a ban on any of India’s ancient scriptures. It is felt by the Russian community in Goa as well as by a large section of Russians visiting Goa that the depth of knowledge and wisdom offered by the Bhagavad Gita cannot be understood by a casual reader. It is well accepted that all the ancient Hindu scriptures are of tremendous importance not only to India but to the rest of the world.”
ISKCON devotees rallying in front of the Russian Consulate in Kolkata (India) demanding to stop the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ trial.
The trial sparked community protests in India. In Kolkata, dozens of ISKCON followers chanted and dances in front of the Russian Consulate holding up copies of the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ in various langages and demanding to stop persecution of their most important scripture. A group of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) held a protest march in front of the Russian consulate in Mumbai. On December 16, 2011, an online petition to stop the Bhagavad Gita trial was launched, and by December 22 more than 45,000 people from all over the world, mostly from India.
The topic has gone viral on social networks, with the hashtag #Gita becoming a leading trend on Indian Twitter. Noted poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar, for instance, twitted: “Banning Gita ? Have they lost their minds. This great book of wisdom belongs not only to Hindus but to the whole humanity”. Member of Parilament Naveen Jindal wrote in his blog, “I welcome the statement by the Russian ambassador to India condemning the Bhagavad Gita controversy”. Janata Dal party leader Subramanian Swamy wrote on Twitter: “Happy to inform that Russian Ambassador will tell my daughter on TV that he is a student of Gita and Russia will rectify matters soon. Ok?” and Bollywood celebrity Farah Khan suggested in a retweet: “The Russians have banned the Gita. In retaliation let’s ban something equally sacrosanct to them: vodka”.
The Russian society appears to be embarrassed by the court case over the Gita, with the media mostly condemning the ongoing trial, carrying reports titled like “Trial of Indian book brings shame to Tomsk”. A prominent Russian Internet paper Gazeta.ru published a satirical article on how a work that was created 5,000 years ago has suddenly become an extremist document.
Indian diaspora and ISKCON
The Hare Krishna followers, who count over 100,000 members and over 100 centers in Russia, expressed fear that the trial on their main scripture, if upheld by the court, will be followed by a ban of their entire movement and religion nationwide. The 15,000-strong Hindu community in Russia shared the apprehension. On November 1, ISKCON leader in India Gopal Krishna Goswami appealed to the Indian government asking to intervene and resolve the impending trial by bringing it up with the Russian authorities during Indian official visits to Moscow. Hindu followers in Russia from India, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Nepal and other countries held an emergency meeting, at which they set up the Hindu Council of Russia meant to protect their interests in Russia, and elected Sadhu Priya Das, and India-born member of ISKCON, as its chairman. Das said that they were seeking opinion of the Russian Ombudsman and experts from Moscow and St. Petersburg, the main centers of Indology in Russia, and that they trusted the Russian judiciary, hoping that “finally the truth will prevail”.
A religious expert Roman Silantyev opined that Prabhupada’s interpretation “has nothing to do with traditional Hinduism” and that his commentaries statements that can be considered extremist. However, the rest of the intellectual community of Russia was “indignant” over the court case.
On November 28, at a round table organized by a leading Russian newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets scientists and members of the Russian Academy of Sciences along with a few religious leaders stated in a resolution, “there is no basis for conducting such a trial and the very fact of initiating a trial by the public prosecutor is an insult to the religious feelings of followers of Vaishnavism in India and Russia and it will give a body blow to Indo-Russian relations.”
Head of the Institute of High Humanitarian Studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities and a prominent Indologist, Sergey Serebryanny, said Russian courts give the term ‘extremism’ a very broad interpretation, which allows them to label extremist anything going against the authorities, whether secular or religious. He also opined that, while Prabhupada supplemented his version of the Bhagavad Gita with his own ideas and beliefs, his followers “have the same right for the freedom of conscience as believers of other religious confessions that observe the laws of the Russian Federation”.
An eminent Russian Indologist Elena Vanina of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences wrote an article severely criticizing the court case over the Bhagavad Gita, which “is revered by millions in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and wherever Hindus live”. She reminded that in Europe, the Gita was “admired by many great philosophers and thinkers, such as Herder, Schopenhauer and Tolstoy” and thought it ironic that while the Hindu scrupture was first translated into Russian in 1788, “nobody put the book and its translators on trial in the Orthodox Russian Empire in 1788, but it’s being being judged in secular democratic Russia”. Vanina also argued that charges of extremism against Prabhupada’s “copious” commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita are fallacious and based on a “primitive” screening of the religious text for negative words (such as “fool,” “enemy,” “demon, “kill”) . According to Vanina, using this approach, any ancient text, from the Greek myths to the Bible, and the Koran, can be found extremistm, especially when “specialists in philosophical suicidology are entrusted with passing judgement on ancient Indian texts”. Vanina concluded by opining that, despite people’s right to their attitudes towards “a Russian lad wearing Indian clothes and singing Hare Krishna”, ISKCON followers have the right to practice their religion, and that the Russian Orthodox Church, instead of calling a ban on competitors or attempting to legally equate their holy book to Mein Kampf, should introspect as to the reasons that deter yoing Russians from joining the Church. Otherwise, Vanina predicted, “people will again start being burned alive”.
Historian and full professor of the Diplomatic Academy at the Ministry of Foreign Affais of Russia Andrey Volodin opined that the move to ban the Gita was “contrary to the basic principle of tolerance inherent in Russian civilisation”. He said that this scandalous trial held in Tomsk, “one of Russia’s intellectual capitals, raises doubts as to whether the local leaders are sane and the intellectual community in one of the country’s main academic and university centers is actually mature”. To a question, which forces in Russia are interested in a ban on the Bhagavad Gita Volodin replied that “all the intelligence services in the world, including the CIA and M16, could never have come up with a more effective move to compromise Russia in India and in the world”.
In an interview by CNN-IBN, Russia’s ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin called Bhagavad Gita “the source of wisdom and inspiration not only for the people of India but for Russia as well and the world.” and commended the Indian Parliament and government for their resolute stance on the Bhagavad Gita trial in Russia, opining that both countries nations, being secular, democratic, and multi-cofessional, “should not allow such things to happen”. He assured that the Russian government is using all means to end the Bhagavad Gita scandal and added that he thought it “categorically inadmissible” to take any sacred scriptures “for examination to ignorant people” to the courts rather than to academic forums Kadakin ruled out the possibility of the Russian government directly influencing the court decision, but added that the government still “can do something” and called the instigators of the trial “madmen”, whose “madness should be stopped.” He also answered a question of a possible apology to the people of India by the Russian government, opining that since it was not the Russian government who started the case, it “has nothing to apologize for, [but] can only testify and reiterate the love and affection and highest esteem our nation has for Bhagvat Gita.”
On December 27, 2011, after a meeting with the Foreign Minister of India S. M. Krishna, at which Krishna reiterated India’s grave concerns over the issue, Kadakin told reporters that the Russian government will do everything within its powers to prevent the ban. He said that, while it was a judicial process, the Russian government can ask the people of Russia “to express our love and admiration for the Gita, … that [assurance] you can get from anyone in Russia”. He also added that he had read the Gita and thought it was a great scripture of the world, and maintained that “no holy scripture, whether it is Bible, Quran or Gita, can be brought to a court”.
According to the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla, a top Russian minister also “expressed regrets” about the situation.
At the same time, on December 22, 2011, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich “rejected as misplaced” India’s concerns with the Gita trial, stressing that the court case against commentaries in the scripture’s recent Russian translation, that Russian prosecutors found “extremist and insulting to non-believers”. Lukashevich emphasized that the trial “is not about ‘Bhagavad Gita,’ a religious philosophical poem, which…was first published in Russian in 1788 and then went through many editions in different years and in various translations. The Tomsk court case is about classifying as extremist material the Russian-language edition of the ‘Bhagavad Gita. As It Is,’ written in 1968 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness”, which is claimed to fall under Article 13 of the Federal Law “On Counteracting Extremist Activity”.
Earlier, Russian Chief Director for Human Rights Vladimir Lukin stated that the attempt to ban ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ amounted to “infringement on the constitutional right to the freedom of consciousness” and that it was “unacceptable” to ban the ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ written by ISKCON founder Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, in Russia, as he said it was a “globally respected book”. As the Ombudsman for Russia, Vladimir Lukun took the Bhagavad Gita court case under his special control and will testify in the court on December 28 asking to dismiss the charges.
Nelly Krechetova, Human Rights Ombudsman of Tomsk region, has termed the trial “absurd”. Speaking on the Echo of Moscow radio station, she said, “This book is considered sacred by more than a billion people the world over, and in Russia itself the book has been in circulation for 20 years.” She continued that there was no manifest incident of extremism caused by the dissemination of the book. A ban on the book, she said, would amount to “violation of constitutional rights of citizens to freedom of conscience and faith.”
Associated Press reported that the attempt to ban ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ angered Hindu followers around the world.
The court case evoked protests by US-based Hindu activists, who called the trial “an attack on religious freedom and belittling of the entire Hindu community.” The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) based in Washington, DC expressed “shock and outrage” over the attempted ban. Subhag Shukla, HAF managing director, called the move by Russian prosecutors “indefensible” and “a draconian attempt to restrict the religious freedom of Hindus in Russia”. Shukla added that, “[b]y promoting a narrow and intolerant agenda that demonizes a sacred scripture revered by more than one billion Hindus worldwide, Russian officials are acting contrary to the principles of a free democratic society”. HAF members conveyed their concerns in an official statement to the Russian embassy in Washington, DC, requesting a follow-up meeting to monitor the situation, and urged the Russian judiciary and government “to uphold the basic rights of their Hindu citizens”. They also warned that “Any court ruling or law that would prohibit the Bhagavad Gita or any other Hindu religious literature would be considered a direct attack on the civil liberties of Russia’s Hindu community and an affront to Hindus throughout the world”.
It could be said that every citizen of India, can justifiably take pride in possessing a rare structure in Mullaperiyar Dam, the very first created in the country, perhaps in the world, for trans-basin diversion of water for beneficial use, towards the end of the 19th century, still continuing to serve with its benefits undiminished, through continuous surveillance, maintenance and management by the Tamil Nadu government.
The credit for the concept, design and construction of the Mullaperiyar Dam should go mainly to two British Engineers Major Ryves, the District Engineer of Madurai District, who gave a practical form in 1862 for diversion of Periyar waters to benefit the drought-prone areas of the then Madurai and Ramanathapuram districts and Colonel J. Pennycuick, who not only made a report with detailed estimates for the Mullaperiyar Dam in 1882 but also ventured against all odds in the most inhospitable dense forest, struggling with single-minded devotion for a good cause and completed the structure in 1895.
Just to the west of the Vaigai river basin in Tamil Nadu, on the other side of the Western Ghat ridges, lies the Periyar basin in the Kerala State. The river Periyar, as the name implies, is the one which drains the largest catchment among the west-flowing rivers of the Kerala state.
The river Periyar rises in the Sivagiri peak of the Western Ghats in the Quilon district, 80 km south of Devikulam, at an elevation of about 2,400 m and traverses through the stiff cliffs and dense forests for about 186 km, where the tributary Mullaiyar joins on the right at about an elevation of 850 m. The river then turns west, cuts through the hills in a deep narrow gorge at about 11 km below Mullaiyar junction. It is this narrow gorge in sound hard rock that gave an excellent formation that was chosen by Col. Pennycuick to construct the Mullaperiyar gravity masonry dam. The river Periyar runs through 232 km traversing the taluks of Peermedu and Devikulam and parts of Ernakulam district before draining into the well-known Vembanad lake.
The Madras government entered into correspondences with the erstwhile Travancore government in possession of the territory where the dam was to be built from 1862. The Travancore government, which originally showed interest in launching the Mullaperiyar dam project as a joint project, later pulled out of the joint project suggestions and, by a letter dated October 24, 1873 to the British Resident, offered to accept a sum of Rs. 75,000/- per year from 1882 as lease rent for the site of the reservoir, which was later surveyed to extend over 8,000 acres, and agreed to demise the entire water to be stored therein in favour of the government of Madras. The Lease Deed of 1886, to take retrospective effect from January 1, 1886 between the governments of Travancore and Madras, was finally signed on October 29, 1886 for lease of land for the project works for diversion of the waters to then Madras Presidency.
The argument put forth by the present government of Kerala that the British Government got the inter-state agreement signed exercising their supremacy falls flat with the recorded evidence.
Among the materials of construction, Stone, the principal constituent of the dam, was locally available to be quarried as was the sand in the river. But lime and surki for the mortar, designed as three parts of sand, two of lime and one of surki, had to be transported through dense forests besides several construction equipment, and other materials from the temporary camp at Thekkadi, 13 km off, on the other side of the Ghat.
Five different methods of conveyance were considered, all expensive and difficult to organise including a ropeway across the valley and that which was convenient at the time was adopted.
It should be specifically mentioned that throughout this decade of construction, great effort was taken to ensure the quality of the materials used and the building of the structures through tests, checks and supervision.
As cement had not made its advent in India when the project had been designed and executed, lime surki mortar was used with the lime having been burnt to specification in kiln at site and well ground by a battery of bullock-drawn circular mills and surki being ground to the fineness required by crushers. We are now able to see the result in the dam structure retaining water up to 152 ft. above the river bed for more than a century, with minimum seepage well below the limits prescribed, in spite of the fact that no drilling and grouting was done for consolidation and no drainage gallery was formed in the body of the dam, since both these were unknown practices at that period of time.
On May 29, 1970, the government of Madras signed two supplemental agreements with the government of Kerala, as successors in interest to the original Lease Deed of 1886. By one supplemental agreement, the annual lease rent was enhanced and the fishing rights in the Periyar lake was relinquished in favour of the government of Kerala. By another agreement which came into effect from November 13, 1954, the government of Madras would generate hydro power and pay to the government of Kerala for the electrical energy generated at Rs.12/- KW (kilo watt) year up to 350 million units and at Rs.18/- KW year beyond 350 million units. This will prove that the Mullaperiyar project has been beneficial to both Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The safety of the dam is now being questioned, just because it is 116 years in age and a fear psychosis has been raised, which gives the impression it may burst any time. No gravity masonry dam will ever burst and no gravity dam has so far burst in any part of the world. The dam is as good as a new dam after the strengthening measures devised by the Central Water Commission, the highest technical body in the government of India, have been carried out that too with the concurrence of the engineers of the Government of Kerala at every stage.
As one closely associated with this dam and the strengthening measures undertaken, I am pained to see the controversies being raised on its safety, in spite of the wise opinion given by several experts who have inspected the dam and the Supreme Court having accepted the opinion of the experts.
(A. Mohanakrishnan, who has been handling inter-state river water issues on behalf of the Tamil Nadu government, is advisor (water resources) to the government.)