Thursday, October 29, 2009

Telecom Scandal

[Following is the one of two editorials of the Statesman, 29 October 2009 which describes a scandal involving central minister that resulted revenue loss of something between Rs 60,000 and 100,000 crore.  And that minister is still in his chair.
To add stress few sentences were made bold by this blog.]

After the CBI raids on the headquarters of the department of telecommunications in New Delhi, headed by A Raja of the DMK, his continuance in the Cabinet of Dr. Manmohan Singh has become untenable. Probity in public life demands that he resign pending completion of the inquiry. As long as he is at the helm of affairs in the telecommunications department, the CBI will be inhibited from a free and open inquiry. If he is found innocent, he can always be re-inducted into the Cabinet with the same portfolio and free of any taint. 
Raja was the kingpin in the award of 2G spectrum licences in January last year at a price of Rs. 1,651 crores, fixed in July 2001, for a pan-India licence. The price then was arrived at through an open, multi-stage, transparent auction/bidding process. The telecom regulator, TRAI, recommended a similar exercise before the allocation of 2G spectrum. Raja ignored it. The scandalous events that took place when licences were being issued and spectrum allocated for 2G services, the way cut-off dates were changed and that too with retrospective effect, the scuffles that took place at Sanchar Bhavan, made headlines in the media at the time.
The real value of the spectrum can be gauged from the profit made by two of the lucky ones, Swan Telecom and Unitech Wireless, favoured by Raja on first-come-first-served basis. Swan let UAE-based Etisalat acquire 45 per cent share in the company for $900 million, valuing the company at $2 billion, not because of its intrinsic worth but because of the spectrum it acquired, a scarce national resource. Similarly, Unitech let Telenor of Norway acquire 67.25 per cent share in the company, valuing it at Rs.9,100 crores.
There are three elements that are important in the spectrum issue. The first: what basis should award of licences and spectrum be decided on, auction or some other criteria? Second, if a non-auction route is chosen, what should the value of licence and spectrum be? Third, if the licence and the spectrum are given below market rates, how can the country guard against their re-sale by profiteers? Prima facie, Raja wantonly misused his position. He disregarded TRAI guidelines and a letter from the then finance secretary, D Subbarao, now Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, asking him not to implement his plan. As long as DS Mathur was DoT secretary, he refused to sign licences in a way that would cause the exchequer revenue loss. Mathur retired on 31 December 2007, other inconvenient officials were transferred out of the ministry, and the scheme was implemented without let or hindrance after Siddharth Behura took over as secretary in January 2008. Raja’s action has led to the loss of between Rs. 60,000 crore and Rs.100,000 crore to the government. Raja’s defence that he was only following Trai’s recommendation of not auctioning 2G spectrum does not hold water. The government’s telecom policy and TRAI wanted market forces to determine the fee for spectrum. If only he had followed that, the government would have realised its true value. The DMK, no doubt, will resist any move to drop Raja from the Cabinet, even temporarily, to allow the CBI to proceed with the investigation unhampered. It would be wrong for the government to shield Raja especially when auction of 3G spectrum is in the offing. The Central Vigilance Commission has decided to initiate action against top DoT officials, including Behura. Sparing Raja and punishing his underlings would be a travesty of justice.

Source: The Statesman, 29 October 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Wrong Track

[On 27 October, day before yesterday Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) of Lalgarh blocked Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express near Jhargram in demand of the release of Chhatradhar Mahato. The agitators of PCAPA did not hurt any passenger or railway stuff. However, a section of media and the state propaganda machinery are crying and trying their level best to give an impression that something very unusual has happened—as if it is a threat to the security of the railway passengers. Railway track blockade and delayed arrival at their destination are not something unheard of about Indian Rail. In contrast, most of the trains run late. Therefore, this tune of propaganda actually reflects a particular politics of state machinery — demonization of an organization and movement. All human right activists and democratic people do condemn this approach. The state machinery does not like to understand that demonization of a movement based on democratic demands does not solve the problem; rather aggravates it.

Following is one of the two editorials of the Statesman 29 October 2009, which analyzes that issue. Although this editorial assumes to some extent that PCAPA is the same as that of Maoist organization, in contrast many human right activists and academicians believe that PCAPA is an independent organization fighting against police atrocities. It is the government which likes to make it irrelevant and label as Maoist. However, this editorial is worth reading.]

Let’s assume for a moment that every compartment of Tuesday’s Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express had had an armed jawan on board. On this basis, there may have been about 20 armed railway policemen on hand to protect passengers. It is doubtful in the extreme if they would have been able to prevent tracks being blocked, or indeed overpowered several hundred tribals who surrounded the train. All they might have achieved is some loss of lives ~ their own, and those of the attackers and passengers. Assuming the policemen had sanction, and governments the gumption to open fire in these circumstances, the train would still have been besieged. Ultimate responsibility for thwarting such attacks rests with the police on ground, and the intelligence apparatus of the State government. Both failed on Tuesday, as they have consistently over the past few months. The reason is that the government is unable to penetrate people’s movements; it has lost credibility with the tribal, and its public relations initiatives have been identified as insincere charades. This was the first battle that tribals won.
They, and the Maoists who supported them, won a second battle decisively on Tuesday. Fulminations of television anchors notwithstanding, they managed to garner considerable sympathy ~ first from passengers on the train they captured, then from others by releasing them without causing any hurt. It took a young boy on board the Rajdhani to convey this message to the governments of India and West Bengal. Poignantly, he told an interviewer that his captors had been good to him and to others on the train, and all that they wanted was for their demands to be considered. That these demands exist is testament to the failure of governance, to the massive diversion of development funds over years, nay decades, by the political class, including Communists. If popular support turns in favour of the protestors, and against the government, we will have to brace for greater upheavals.
The Maoists are winning a third battle, and this victory it seems will come by default. By failing to draw a distinction between the tribals and Adivasis, the destitute and the dispossessed on the one hand, and the Maoists on the other, the state and the media are falling into a trap. In effect, we are adding to the Maoist ranks every tribal with a grievance. It won’t be long before we push them all into the Maoist corner, even if their demand is only for a fair share of the development pie, and without any ideological underpinnings. The objective of government initiatives must be to isolate the Maoist, not populate his army.
The Maoist has won a fourth and possibly decisive battle in creating a Compact Revolutionary Zone that the government does not really recognize. Whether we like it or not, it is a geographical reality. Piecemeal approaches, or state-specific counter-moves are unlikely to work. As much as the Home Minister seeks a unified strategic command to combat Maoists, the Prime Minister must consider a similar structure to battle the causes of this unrest, in other words a single, bipartisan command structure to take up development. This suggestion might get the noses of some Chief Ministers out of joint. It is, though, the price they may have to pay for never having looked beyond their noses. Truly, India faces a mammoth challenge. So far, it hasn’t handled it very well.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What Muslims were to BJP, Maoists are to Cong: Arundhati Roy

New Delhi, 25 OCT: Supporting unconditional talks with the Maoists, Booker prize winner and activist Arundhati Roy has alleged that “economic interests” in mineral-rich states have driven the government and establishment to launch action against them.
“My fear is that because of this economic interest the government and establishment actually needs a war. It needs to militarise. For that it needs an enemy. And so in a way what the Muslims were to BJP, the Maoists are to Congress...,” Roy said in an interview with Karan Thapar in his programme Devil's Advocate for CNN-IBN channel.
When asked about the talks between the Government and Left Wing extremists, she said: “There should be unconditional talks with the Maoists.
“If I was a person who is being dispossessed, whose wife has been raped, who is being pushed of their land and who is being faced with this ‘police force’, I would say that I am justified in taking up arms. If that is the only way I have to defend myself,” she said when asked whether armed struggle was justified.
“We should stop thinking about who is justified...You have an army of very poor people being faced down by an army of rich that are corporate-backed. I am sorry but it is like that. So you can't extract morality from the heinous act of violence that each commits against the other,” she said. ;PTI

Source: The Statesman 26 October 2009

Mayhem reigns supreme in Midnapore

Statesman News Service
MIDNAPORE, 25 OCT: The four-days detention of Mr Bimal Mahato of Pathra village in Sankrail, in Midnapore Kotwali police lock-up and his subsequent release yesterday revealed brought to the fore, yet again, what has long been alleged of the Midnapore police force.
He was picked up by the joint forces from his own motor garage hours after the Maoist attack on Sankrail police station on 20 October and detained because his father is a namesake of the Peoples’ Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA), convener ~ Chhatradhar Mahato ~ who is now in jail custody. The youth's father Mr Chhatradhar Mahato today alleged that his son was severely beaten up and he will write to the West Bengal Human Rights Commission demanding investigation and action against the district police officers.
But Bimal is not the only one plagued by such atrocities. Such treatment is allegedly being meted out to Mr Ranjit Mahato of Laljal in Belpahari over the past fortnight. Mr Mahato, who was working as a labourer under a local WBSEB contractor, was arrested on 10 October after being framed in a false murder case and under Section 25 and 27 Arms Act. His wife Mrs Tapati Mahato said that her husband’s offence was that he had a well-toned physical structure, which he had developed through rigorous physical work as a labourer by pulling electric wires and planting heavy poles for years. “But the police", she said, “attributed his physique to the arms-training he obtained in Maoist camps as their man”. 
Source: The Statesman 26 October 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

'We were jailed by cops on false charges'

JHARGRAM (WEST MIDNAPORE): They came out of the prison and looked around in awe at the army of journalists, totally unaware of the high-tension drama that took place over the last three days that led to their release. One of them, a 70-year-old widow, stepped back in fear and clutched the woman who was helping her walk. She is accused of trying to murder police personnel. 

After being locked up in jail for nearly one-a-half months on serious charges — ranging from attempt to murder to sedition and waging war against the state — the tribal women didn't quite know how to react to their freedom. Like their arrest, their release was also a mystery to them. They were not aware that the Maoists had negotiated their release.

The Lalgarh women's first worry was how to get back home. No one had any money for the bus fare. And no family member had come to meet them — they are all hiding for fear of being branded Maoists as well. Most of the 23 women bailed out in exchange for the release of abducted sub-inspector Atindranath Dutta had never left Lalgarh before this and were on the verge of tears.

Their lawyer Mrinal Chowdhury stepped in, in the nick of time, gave them some money and helped them catch the right bus home. This group of 14 tribal women, released at noon on Friday, were arrested from Bansber village near Kantapahari on September 3, 2009. Their ages range from 22 to 70 years and all of them resembled the simple village folk from this impoverished part of the country. They were hesitant to speak at first. When one opened up, they all did, in a flood of emotion.

"Security personnel regularly ransacked our homes in the name of 'search operations'. Do we look like Maoists? But we never objected. They would verbally abuse us and damage whatever little we owned. By the time they left, we would not even have our earthen pots and pans to cook a meal. Police would keep asking about the 'people from the jungle'. How were we to know their exact location? When we told them this, they dragged us away. They claimed that we had tried to beat them up," said 22-year-old Phoolmani Soren.

It is difficult to visualize this frail, undernourished woman attacking heavily-armed securitymen. When arrested, she left behind a two-year-old son with her husband — a daily wage-earner. "I don't know how my husband managed. He may have left the child with neighbours when he went out in search of work," she said, wiping away tears.

Beside her stood 70-year-old Sudharani Baske, who cannot walk properly due to her age and lack of medical attention. She has been charged with attempt to murder for 'trying to assault' security personnel. She was in no position to even understand the questions thrown at her. The plight of others — like Pratima Patra, Nilima Hansda and Padmarani Baske — was similar. While in prison, nobody from their families could come to serve them food or ask about their well-being. One of them pointed to a piece of clothing that a fellow inmate had given her out of pity.

"You cannot imagine what we are going through. Our men cannot stay in the villages for fear of being picked up by the securitymen. If they enter the forests, they will be branded Maoists and arrested," one of them said.

Source: The Times of India 24 October 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Black Money, Blue Funk?

Pranab Mukherjee’s Dilemma

By Rajinder Puri

THE worst aspect of the Bofors case was not its corruption. Corruption in varying degrees is worldwide. The worst aspect was the cover-up of the corruption. Cover-ups too are worldwide. But nowhere are they as brazen and shameless as they are in India. Bofors set a new standard of shamelessness. After the Bofors case there followed a whole stream of scandalous crimes that were consistently covered up with equal shamelessness. HDW Submarine case, Jain Hawala case, Oil for Food scam – there is a long list of scandals covered up with contempt for public opinion. The politicians, the investigators, the judiciary and the media all got badly tainted in this process.
The government’s embedded media wimps destroyed the credibility of their profession. But whatever gloss India’s ruling class may put on the ugly truth, people are not deceived. People know the truth whatever the courts may decide. Why, even former Chief Justice JS Verma, the current darling of establishment moralists, demanded a retrial of the Jain Hawala case after himself presiding over the Supreme Court bench which heard this brazenly mishandled case.
Tax havens
NOW there is a very, very slim chance that things may change. Globalization and the information era are upon us. And US President Barack Obama has a bee in his bonnet. He wants to punish all the tax evaders in the US who stashed away their illegal funds in tax havens. For a start Obama has zeroed in on the queen of all tax havens, Switzerland.
In August the US arm-twisted Switzerland to dent its famed tradition of banking secrecy. It compelled Swiss banking giant UBS AG to disclose the names of 4,450 American clients suspected of hiding assets in secret Swiss accounts, out of a total US 52000 account holders. This development is expected to prod thousands more UBS clients in America to voluntarily disclose their financial details to the Internal Revenue Service. Thereby they may avoid jail, not tax penalties. President Obama reportedly is determined to get lists of all past account holders regardless if they have shifted their deposits to other tax havens. Swiss sources have acknowledged that UBS has no real choice in turning over the names. This is bad news for Indian VIP account-holders who directly or indirectly also figure in the lists.
Contrary to his public posture, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is in a dilemma. The finance ministry had claimed that it was trying to recover black money stashed abroad. But its actions belied its words. The German government had given a list of names of Indians whose money is lying in the LGT Bank of Liechtenstein. The Indian government refused to disclose the names provided by Germany. It claimed that it was prevented by certain legal hurdles put up by Germany. Did the finance ministry deliberately create those legal hurdles? Germany itself has released its own list. How can it prevent India from releasing the list which it provided to India?
The finance ministry also got information pertaining to the Pune stud farm owner, Hasan Ali Khan’s huge amounts deposited in the UBS Bank of Switzerland. However, according to Swiss authorities while the Indian government publicly sought information in Swiss account holder Hassan Ali Khan’s case, it submitted “forged” documents that were required by Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice. Swiss authorities say that they want to help in the case if Indian authorities could satisfy the Swiss government’s demand for proper documentation. Since April 2007 the Indian government failed to respond to the Swiss request!
Pranab Mukherjee’s dilemma is understandable. The lists of illegal account-holders could include the names of leading politicians across political parties. Therefore, the paradoxical situation arises. For public consumption the UPA government moves heaven and earth to reclaim Indian black money stashed abroad. Privately it is haunted by the fear that by doing so it could ring its own death knell. The dilemma does not end there. It becomes far more sinister.
Switzerland’s economy is in recession. Swiss banks want to start operating in India and even participate in the Mumbai Stock Exchange. The Indian government put up a show of demanding transparency from the Swiss banks regarding the identities of the illegal Indian account-holders in their lists. The Swiss have not provided the lists as yet. The government went ahead and allowed the Swiss banks to open branches in India. UBS obtained permission to open a retail branch in February 2008. Switzerland’s biggest bank, Credit Suisse, got permission to start operating this month. Permission for the Swiss banks to play the Mumbai Stock Market has been cleared and awaits ratification.
Ominous situation
TWO questions arise. First, does the Indian government truly want the lists of illegal account-holders to be made public? Secondly, would the government dare deny the Swiss when their banks have full knowledge of all the corrupt Indian VIPs who have held secret accounts in their vaults?
The situation becomes more ominous. America has the lists of illegal account-holders that include many non-resident Indians who could be operating on behalf of Indian politicians. Given the close interaction between governments and intra-penetration by their respective intelligence agencies, US information about corrupt Indian VIPs could easily spread to other governments. Can the Indian government be trusted to avoid becoming a victim of blackmail by foreign governments privy to such information and willing to use it?
In November 1991, six months after his death, the highly reputed Swiss magazine, Schweitzer Illustrate, alleged in a report that there were numbered Swiss bank accounts in the name of Rajiv Gandhi equivalent roughly to two billion US dollars. That report was never publicly denied. The failure to do that leaves one with a most uncomfortable feeling. If India’s top politicians are vulnerable to blackmail, how independent can the government’s policies be?

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee in Judicial Custody

Two social activists, Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee, who were arrested by the CID on the basis of information extracted from Mr. Mahato and charged with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act(UAPA) for their alleged involvement in funding the Maoists, were produced in court and were remanded to 14 days of judicial custody.

Meanwhile, two teams of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) have started grilling Mr. Mahato after a court in Jhargram sent him to four-day-police custody on October 18 in connection with a murder case.

                                                                  ‘Court not satisfied’

The police remand for Mr. Chhatradhar Mahato was granted, however, not before the additional chief judicial magistrate observed that the court was “not satisfied with the police procedure of investigation”. The court granted the four-day-remand against the 14-days-remand petitioned by the public prosecutor.

Source: The Hindu, 19 October, 2009

The endangered brinjal

Bharat Dogra

There has been widespread and well-justified criticism of the recent decision of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to approve Bt brinjal for release. Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, eminent scientist who was appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee the functioning of GEAC, has expressed shock at this rushed approval. He has called it a ‘disaster’ and ‘unethical’. Fortunately, the government can still take steps to prevent its commercial release in the market.
Maximum caution has to be exercised in the introduction of not only Bt brinjal but all Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and Genetically Modified (GM) crops. There is increasing evidence of serious health and environmental hazards of GMOs/GM crops.
This evidence was reviewed by the independent science panel, which consisted of senior scientists from 11 countries. It concluded that many GM crops contain gene products that are known to be harmful. For example, the Bt proteins that kill pests include potent immunogens and allergens. Food crops are increasingly being engineered to produce pharmaceuticals, drugs and vaccines in the open environment, exposing people to the danger of inappropriate medication and their harmful side effects.
Herbicides tolerant crops ~ accounting for a majority of all GM crops worldwide ~ are tied to the broad spectrum herbicide glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium. These have been linked to spontaneous abortions, birth defects and other health problems for human beings, animals and soil-organisms. GM varieties are unstable, with the potential to create new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases and disrupt gene function in animal and human cells.
Earlier, several prominent scientists in the USA, including Nobel laureates, had formed the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists. It pleaded for caution in the commercial introduction of new genetically engineered products. The UCS released a study by Dr Jane Rissler and Dr Margaret Mellon which warned against the possibility of new viruses and diseases as well as proliferation of weeds. The risk increases in direct proportion to the number and variety of these crops. The fact that a transgenic crop has been approved as safe in the USA does not mean that risks do not exist in other countries and in different environment conditions.
The study titled ‘Perils Amidst the Promise’ by the UCS concluded that no company should be permitted to commercialise a transgenic crop in the United States until a strong government programme is in place. This programme must ensure risk assessment and control of all transgenic crops. It must give adequate attention to the centres of crop diversity in the USA and elsewhere in the world. The appropriate United Nations organisation should develop an international bio-safety protocol, which is necessary to ensure that developing countries, especially those harbouring centres of crop genetic diversity, can take protection against the risks of genetically engineered crops.
Ethical dilemma
Several scientists involved in studying the implications and impact of genetic engineering got together at the international conference on ‘Redefining of Life Sciences’ organised by the Third World Network at Penang, Malaysia. They issued a statement (the Penang Statement, or PS) which questioned the scientific basis of genetic engineering. It observed: “The new biotechnology based upon genetic engineering makes the assumption that each specific feature of an organism is encoded in one or a few specific, stable genes, so that the transfer of these genes results in the transfer of a discrete feature. This extreme form of genetic reductionism has already been rejected by the majority of biologists because it fails to take into account the complex interactions between genes and their cellular, extra-cellular and external environment that are involved in the development of all features. It is impossible to predict the consequences of transferring a gene from one type of organism to another in a significant number of cases. The limited ability to transfer identifiable molecular characteristics between organisms through genetic engineering does not constitute the demonstration of any comprehensive or reliable system for predicting all the significant effects of transposing genes.”
A technical report by Dr Charles Benbrook, former Executive Director of the board on agriculture of the US National Academy of Science, examined US agricultural data over a span of nine years. It concluded that the spread of GM crops actually led to an increase in the use of pesticide instead of the projected reduction.
Besides, there is the ethical dilemma faced by vegetarians who may find it difficult to select food when animal genes are introduced into plant genes. The choice becomes even more difficult ~ and not just for vegetarians ~ when even human genes are introduced into food crops, including rice. This dilemma is most difficult to resolve when GM foods are not specifically labelled, and in fact GM food companies try their best to avoid any legal requirement of specific labelling.

Source: The Statesman 20 October 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hunger and anger


Since 1979, 16 October is being observed as World Food Day in more than 150 countries. On this day the Food and Agriculture Organisation was founded by the United Nations in 1945. The purpose is to raise general awareness about hunger and poverty.
In the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000, 189 countries promised, inter alia, eradication of extreme hunger, halving ~ within 2015, with 1990 as the benchmark year ~ the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day and also halving malnutrition.
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009, however, delineates that the number of people leaving in extreme poverty, though decreased from 1.8 billion in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2005, is likely to have gone up by around 75 million during the subsequent years.
The World Bank had long held an income of $1 per day per head adjusted for each country’s purchasing power parity, as a yardstick for international poverty line. This figure has been revised, since 2008, to $1.25.
In India, the Planning Commission defined poverty line as one’s daily food consumption of 2,400 kilo calories in the rural and 2,100 kilo calories in urban areas. Those consuming less constitute the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. But from the Ninth Plan period onwards, parameters have been changed. The Union ministry of rural development constituted an experts committee under the chairmanship of NC Saxena “to recommend simple and suitable methodology to identify the rural poor.” The committee submitted its report for the BPL Census for the 11th Plan period in August 2009.
The experts group refuses to buy the Planning Commission’s proposition that the percentage of BPL population has decreased from 56 in 1973-74 to 28 in 2004-05. There is no indication of any decline in the number of people consuming less calories than the BPL norm. Fraction of people living below the 2,100/2,400 calorie criterion, according to the committee, is on the rise instead.
In 1990, 63.2 per cent of the Indian population belonged to this group, which ~ according to the Millennium Development Goals ~ needs to be reduced to 31.5 per cent by 2015. But the figure has been going up considerably each year and stood out above 75 per cent during 2004- 2005.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has developed the Global Hunger Index (GHI) as a measure of hunger and malnutrition of a country. It is a combination of three equally weighted indicators ~ undernourished people as a percentage of total population, percentage of underweight children under the age of five years and the mortality rate of under-five children.
The GHI is calculated from these data on a 100-point scale, 0 being the best score representing no hunger and 100, the worst. GHI values up to 4.9 indicate low hunger, 5 to 9.9 moderate hunger and 10 to 19.9 a serious condition. A score between 20 and 29.9 is alarming and anything above 30 is exceedingly alarming.
The table below is an estimate of the India State Hunger Index (ISHI) computed identically for most of the states by a team of Indian scholars in 2008. Numerically, ISHI is the same as the GHI.
None of the states of India belongs even to the low or moderate hunger index group. The problem everywhere is either serious or alarming. For Madhya Pradesh, it is exceedingly alarming.
In GHI score, India occupies the 66th position among 88 developing countries. Of all the countries invited this year to attend the G-8 conference as emerging economy, India lags behind all others by a ludicrously big margin on this score.
True, developing countries are being deprived through plundering, globalisation, perverse aid and trade activities and so on. Humanitarian aid, pro-people development, guaranteed food supply, conservation of environment ~ all this can help alleviate extreme global poverty to a significant extent. Rich people all over the world can benefit themselves and the hungry world by toning down hedonism and food-wastage.
India’s position could have been much better in the global hunger map, had funds for social welfare schemes meant for the under-privileged not been mostly usurped or under-utilised by the politician-bureaucrat nexus. Corruption is rampant. Poor farmers and tribals are being displaced in the name of development. India is the second highest arms importer of the world. Huge sum is being spent to stifle ruthlessly the agitation of the angry marginalised. Who will remind our rulers the much-quoted assertion of John Steinback ~ The line between hunger and anger is a thin line?
Another experts group constituted in 2006 by the Planning Commission, of course, observed in its report “Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas” on a similar line. But who cares?

The writer is a retired teacher of Applied Physics, Calcutta University

Source: The Statesman 16 October 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Buddha nod for filling waterbody

[This small report shows for whose interest the ecological balance is being destroyed and who are the culprits. Red Barricade]

KOLKATA, 13 OCT: the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today chose to support the district magistrate of South-24 Parganas on the issue of filling up a waterbody to provide land to Mani Bhaumik Foundation.
The information and cultural affairs department today issued a press release clarifying that the 15 acres of land leased out to the foundation was classified as a “layek jungle” (it was once a jungle) and it was not settled by the land department with any fisheries cooperative by land and land reforms department or KMDA for pisciculture.
The statement also clarified that the district administration had only assissted in building a boundary wall on the plot leased out to them. However, the statement is silent to Mr Nanda's contention that under the Indian Fisheries Act any land which retains water for more than six months is a waterbody and filling it up would require permission from his department.
fisheries minister, Mr Kironmoy Nanda, said: “ We have the letter in which KMDA had asked us to maintain 152 ponds in 1988. The chief minister was then the urban development minister.”
Earlier in the day, Mr Nanda had said: “The state government should provide land elsewhere.” The state land and land reforms department has in fact admitted that the land was leased out within a day at the behest of the chief minister without any verification. Even Mr Nanda and the Sundarban affairs minister, Mr Kanti Ganguly had verified the land few days ago.

Source: The Statesman 14 October, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chhatradhar Mahato gets jail custody

Midnapore: A local court on Saturday rejected the police plea for further remand for PCPA leader Chhatradhar Mahato, arrested on the charge of having Maoist links, and ordered jail custody till October 23.

Assistant Chief Judicial Magistrate(acting) of Jhargram Sub-divisional court, Vishal Mardangi, remanded Mahato to jail custody rejecting the CID prayer for further police remand for 15 days.

Mahato, who was arrested on September 26 near Lalgarh where he had been leading an agitation against alleged police excesses under the banner of People's Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) since last November, was brought to the court amidst tight security.

Rejecting the prayer for further police remand, the magistrate said police had failed to produce adequate evidence against Mahato despite having him in their custody for 14 days.

Mahato has been booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and several sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Those IPC sections are 121 (waging or attempting to wage war against the country), 120B (conspiracy), 122 (collection of arms with intention to wage war), 123 (concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war) and 124 A (sedition).

Mahato's counsel Kaushik Sinha pleaded that the police had no evidence of offence against his client and the entire exercise was to harass the tribal leader. He alleged torture on Mahato in police custody.

Sinha also submitted that PCPA was not a banned organization and for that none of its members could be arrested.

CID counsel Suman Das Mohapatra said police remand was necessary because of further interrogation in the light of new facts reaching them everyday.

Chhatradhar Mahato was taken to Jhargram jail.

Bureau Report


Voice for Democracy and Human Rights

Following the arrest of Chhatrdhar Mahato, police have arrested other activists for their alleged "Maoist" link. They are booked under UAPA. Several intellectuals, human rights organizations and other mass organization have protested the way the government terrorizes the activists in order to restrain them from involving any political activity and people's struggle. Thousands of people belonged to several mass organizations and noted intellectuals organized a rally on 8 October from College Street  to Metro Channel, Kolkata. Today (10 Otober) intellectuals, writers and artists again organized a rally that enjoyed huge mass participation. Gradually the voice against fascist atmosphere is becoming louder.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

PCAPA men released, thanks to cops’ failure to substantiate charges

Rajib Chatterjee
KOLKATA, 1 OCT: In what appears to be an example of how the police often go overboard without adequate evidence to back them up, the additional chief judicial magistrate of the Jhargram court granted bail to four suspected Police Santrash Birodhi Public Committee (PSBPC) members yesterday after police failed to produce “materials on record” to justify charges brought against the accused under non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Arms Act, 1959.
The four suspected PSBPC members ~ Susanto Mullick, Sahadeb Sardar, Sheikh Dil Bahar and Anil Hasda ~ were arrested from Biridanga near Binpur in West Midnapore, on Monday for allegedly torching a private bus. All are residents of Binpur. Charges under Section 307 (attempt to murder) of IPC and Sections 25 (possession of any unlicensed arms and ammunition) and 27 (use of any unlicensed arms or ammunition) of Arms Act 1959 ~ all non-bailable offences ~ were levelled against them. This apart, charges under sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 435 (mischief by fire or any explosive substance) were also brought against them.
During their court appearance yesterday, it was submitted that after receiving information from reliable source a sub-inspector of Binpur police station, Mr Pradip Kundu, along with his colleagues, rushed to Biridanga where they saw some people extinguishing fire in a bus (WB-67 6815). It was further submitted that the four were arrested on the spot after being identified by witnesses. Two empty 12-bore cartridges were recovered. The magistrate was also told that two persons ~ Mr Shankar Mondal and Mr Sudhangshu Dandapath ~ were prevented from extinguishing the fire.
The defence lawyer, Mr Koushik Sinha, who moved a bail petition to the court, submitted that no seizure of arms and ammunition was made from his clients and the charges of attempt to murder was fabricated since there was no one in the bus. He further submitted that his clients were innocent villagers and had no connections with the PSBPC.
The magistrate later enquired about materials regarding non-bailable offences to the Assistant public prosecutor. Opposing the bail petition, the assistant public prosecutor submitted that the Case Diary (CD) be called for within a short period and materials would apppear against the accused to substantiate non-bailable offences.
Mr Sinha told The Statesman: “There was nothing to substantiate the charges brought under non-bailable sections. After considering the material on record, the additional chief judicial magistrate found no reason for which charges under non-bailable sections could be leveled. He granted bail to the four and fixed 27 October as the next date of hearing.”

Source: The Statesman 2 October 2009.

Mahato remanded in police custody

Statesman News Service
MIDNAPORE/KOLKATA, 1 OCT: Police Santras Birodhi Public Committee (PSBPC) leader, Chhatradhar Mahato, was remanded in police custody for seven days by the Jhargram additional chief judicial magistrate, Md Rezza, today.
Mahato, along with three other PSBPC activists (Sambhu Soren, Ranjit Murmu and Sukhen Murmu) was produced in court in connection with the Lalgarh police station case number ~ 161-09, dated 26 September, 2009.
They were charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Mahato was earlier remanded in police custody for five days after being produced in court on 27 September.
After producing the accused before the court, it was submitted that the four were also wanted in nine other cases. A prayer for showing them arrested in the other cases was submitted to the magistrate, which was granted. The magistrate granted them bail in seven cases and rejected their bail pleas in the remaining two cases, for allegedly waging a war against the state, rioting and kidnapping a CPI-M activist and looting some CPI-M leaders' houses.
Mr Ashok Bakshi, who appeared for the state, sought 25 day police remand for the four accused in order to conduct further investigations.
Opposing the petition, the defence council, Mr Koushik Sinha, argued that since the police was given sufficient time earlier for investigation, further police remand was unjustified.Hearing both parties, the magistrate passed an order granting seven days police remand to the accused. Mr Sinha also submitted that PSBPC is not a terrorist organisation and therefore UAPA act is not applicable.
Though the district police have initially framed charges under the UAPA against Chhatradhar Mahato, the state government would take the final decision on framing charges under the Act after verifying all related documents collected against Mahato, state home secretary, Mr Ardhendu Sen, said today at Writers’ Buildings. The state government is yet to give its nod in this regard, Mr Sen said.
This is considered to be significant as the home secretary himself said a couple of days ago that Mahato was arrested only after his links with the Maoists were confirmed. Sukh Shanti Baske a treasurer of the PSBPC who was arrested yesterday was not produced in the court today.

Source: The Statesman 2 October 2009

Chhatradhar insurance: Experts doubt claim

KOLKATA: Does PCPA leader Chhatradhar Mahato, now in police custody, really have a Rs 1-crore insurance policy? State police may have alleged so, but there are not many in the insurance sector willing to buy such a claim.
For, the insurance experts feel it is highly unlikely that Mahato could produce the income proof that is mandatory for such a big-ticket policy. Senior LIC officials pointed out that for a conventional endowment policy of Rs 1 crore, the annual premium ranges from Rs 4 lakh to Rs 6 lakh depending on the person's age and the policy term. The premium in case of add-on policies like money-back and other benefits would be more. They want to know how could Mahato, whose annual income according to police is about Rs 2 lakh, afford to pay such a hefty premium.
"The thumb rule for an endowment policy is that the sum assured should be divided by the term to ascertain the premium. It varies to the tune of 15%-20% depending on the age. For an average age of 25-30 years, a Rs 1-crore policy of 25-year duration would mean paying premium of Rs 4 lakh. But if the age is over 40 years and the term is 20 years, then the premium will be over Rs 5 lakh," he said.
According to insurance experts, the minimum annual income required to propose a Rs 1-crore policy is over Rs 8 lakh. "The insurance premium cannot be more than 50% of the annual income of the proposer," they added. Under the insurance rules, the proposer (who is paying the premium) and the person whose life is insured may not be same. But the proposer should preferably be someone having a blood relation with the insured.
Mahato may propose a policy for any of his relatives. But there is doubt in the insurance circles whether his relatives can afford to give official income proof like tax return or salary certificate of that magnitude. "We generally do not allow anybody other than a relative to propose life insurance for a person. The only exception is the employer. This is done simply because there are chances that the third party may have mala fide intention," an insurance official added.
Sujato Bhadra of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) said it was not feasible for Mahato to have such a life insurance policy. "As far as my knowledge goes, it is absurd to have such a policy in his financial condition. It is unlikely for any insurance company to allow him to go for such a policy because it would want to know whether he has a stable income and how much he earns," Bhadra said.
He added that police's claim that Mahato had such a policy was a deliberate step to malign him and the movement he was leading.