Monday, June 29, 2009

- Using information technology for national transformation

Just two months ago, Lal K. Advani had entertained hopes of becoming prime minister. It was not just the seat he had prepared for; he also had an ambition of building a greater India — sorry, Bharat. Hindutva was not all there was to it. He had got his colleagues and devotees to prepare many plans. Amongst them was a plan to use information technology for national transformation. What kind of transformation the Bharatiya Janata Party had in mind is worth a thought even now.
One of the reasons for India’s poor IT coverage is that its electric power industry is in a mess. The BJP was not so ambitious as to sort out power problems. But it proposed to set up special internet zones in the hill states of the North and Northeast where servers would not require so much power to cool. There it wanted to promote internet hosting companies. Why? Because it would save bandwidth charges. That is old-style import substitution. It was not a very good reason; if the idea had been economically rational, entrepreneurs, even those who support the BJP, would have implemented it by now. But improving power supply in a few places is worth trying, since no party has the ambition or the guts to reform power; BJP-ruled states should do it.
The BJP believed that India’s enemies were working to cripple its communications and information networks in the event of war. It said that it had set up an agency to prepare for this eventuality when it was in power last time, and would revive it when it returns to power. Paranoia? Coming from the BJP, it would seem so. But it also wanted to set up a secure information network for the government, like the American justice information sharing network. And there was to be a national emergency service network, which would respond to calls for help and coordinate the police, hospitals and so on. That sounds a good idea if the police can be persuaded to use it. Very often, spying agencies alert the police about terrorist attacks, but the police ignore them.
The BJP wanted to computerize judicial records — pleadings, judgments, calendars, police etc etc. It wanted judges’ assets declarations to go online. All this has been tried already. The obstacle has been a conservative and lackadaisical judiciary; it is doubtful if the BJP could put some life into it.
The BJP wanted to rejuvenate the Survey of India and turn it into a provider of detailed digitized geographical information. It was obviously unaware of the fact that Google proceeded to do it and was promptly stopped by the government of India, which considered such information militarily sensitive. The result is that the Chinese army has free access to information about every inch of India from its satellites, while Indians are denied it. It is obviously a good idea to make available to all Indians data that India’s enemies readily access. The BJP also wanted to digitize all the documents and photographs available with the government and place them online. A great idea, except that digitization is labour-intensive, and that access to such archives on the web is limited by memory and bandwidth. It is probably an idea whose time has not yet arrived.
The BJP wanted to indigenize the internet. So it would force computer makers to manufacture the Indian language Inscript keyboard. It would force makers of mobile phones to promote rendition of SMSs in Indian languages. It would force television programme channels to use Indian languages. It is not enough for Rajnath and Lalkrishna to perorate in Hindi; all those nerds who are always e-mailing and SMSing in between writing software in English must be made to do such things in Hindi.
Plans to give computers to every school are more than a decade old. Advani came up with another idea. He would have got a crore of laptops manufactured and sold them to students at Rs 10,000 each. This is the kind of idea that comes to those who are innocent of economics. It is impossible to set both the price and the demand by policy. If the government offers a laptop for Rs 10,000, either the demand will exceed a crore, in which case a black market will develop, or demand will fall short, in which case the government will be left with unsold laptops. Being nationalist, a BJP government would never think of exporting surplus laptops; so they would rust in government godowns. But Microsoft also has a dream of designing a low-cost laptop for students. If the government had any sense, it would ride piggyback on Microsoft’s plans.
The recipients of those crore laptops would have to be taught to use them. So the BJP government would have employed 25 lakh teachers. A 1:4 teacher-student ratio is extraordinarily favourable. Most of us learnt to use computers without any teacher. The 25 lakh teachers would teach the crore students whatever they needed to learn in a month at the most; after that, the teachers would be unemployed. The BJP would then presumably employ them to write vernacular software. That would surely need some training; and even if the teachers had the expertise, the demand for vernacular software is not limitless. Advani had great ideas; they could be so great only because they were so unrealistic.
Under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP had initiated programmes to construct national highways and rural roads. Under Advani, it would lay down digital highways and rural roads. Here too, the BJP did not mention the digital kiosks set up by the Congress government. Nothing the Congress did should be carried forward; it should be annihilated — or at least given a new Sanskrit name.
The BJP planned to increase the number of mobile subscribers from 40 to 100 crore — that is roughly 85 per cent of the population. That would include many of the poorest. How would they pay for the cellphones and their services? The BJP wanted to provide broadband to all who asked — for Rs 200 a month. The costs of providing it would be much higher; who would pay the difference? Advani’s dreams involved giving huge subsidies; they were not mentioned, not conceived, and hence not estimated.
Advani wanted to spread across the nation a rural broadband connection programme that Narendra Modi inaugurated on January 23, Subhas Bose’s birthday, in Haripura. Why Haripura? Because Bose gave a call for Swaraj there in 1938. The BJP mentioned that, but meticulously omitted to mention that he was addressing a session of the Congress. It quoted Rajiv Gandhi as saying, “Of every rupee spent by the government, only 15 paise reaches the beneficiary.” But it was too coy to mention his name; it only called him “a former prime minister”.
I put Advani’s IT plan away because I did not want to criticize him before the election. But it did made me think: in this area, the BJP wants to do many things that the Congress has been doing or would agree to do; why can they not work together? Democracy does not require opposing parties to be perpetually at each other’s throats. Advani should hate less and consult more. (The Telegraph)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

DATE: 20th,21st and 22nd AUGUST 2009 Each Day 10am to 3,30pm 3 Sessions a Day
of 1.5 hr each
PARASH DANGAL, Editor, Samay Dainik,Gangtok & President , Sikkim Press Club
BARUN ROY, Southfield College,Darjeeling & Himalayan Beacon
NANDA KIRAT DEWAN, Assam Tribune, Guwahati
REGISTRATION: Rs. 300 per head (Expected Seat: 30)
Last Date of Submission of Form: 12th Aug
Cont: 9775980675 /9832311008

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dial M for...
Puerile banter at a sensitive juncture

The Stateman News Service- Editorial

Whether the Trinamul Congress has links with the Maoists must await the report of the Intelligence agencies that the Government of India has commissioned. As a somewhat reluctant member of the national government, it must be acutely embarrassing for Mamata Banerjee to digest the inherent irony of the order. Hence the histrionics over Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s claim that the Trinamul has links with the Maoists. In the context of Nandigram, the party’s links with Left radicals and the Jamat Ulema-i-Bengal are well-documented. And by Ms Banerjee’s own admission, Chandrakanta Mahato was once a Trinamul member. That he has been expelled from the party is quite another story.

It is one thing for the Intelligence Bureau to start an investigation; quite another for the political class to engage in puerile banter at a juncture that is as sensitive as it is critical... with the Central paramilitary and the state police confronting the Maoists and tribals of Lalgarh. The Chief Minister has been rather uncharacteristically tactless in his sense of timing the charge of Maoist links.

To summon his words, he has “played into the opposition’s hands”. For a head of government who initially had reservations over the offensive in Lalgarh for fear of giving the opposition another handle, the Chief Minister has unwittingly provided grist to Mamata’s mill. Equally, the Trinamul leader confirms her characteristic irresponsibility by threatening to renew her standard option ~ streetfights ~ if Mr Bhattacharjee doesn’t withdraw the charge within 48 hours. Both the CM and the opposition leader must realise that this isn’t the juncture to resume shadow-boxing. Even as a passing show, it can only heighten tension and exacerbate the crisis.
In trying to counter the allegation, Mamata’s arguments verge on the absurd. The Chief Minister hasn’t gone against the law if he “has studied Maoist literature” or if “Maoist literature can be found in his house’’. The group is still not on the banned list. His reading habits and personal library are not relevant.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hard lessons from Lalgarh
FOR about six months now the Maoists have entrenched themselves at Lalgarh in West Midnapore, virtually treating the area as their liberated zone. And all this while the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government not only remained a passive spectator but its heavily politicised and thoroughly inefficient police force was mortally scared to confront the Maoists. But when the ultra-Left outfit drove out the influential CPI-M zonal committee secretary of Lalgarh and tried to raze what appeared to be his palatial building, at least by rural standards, the state government sought Central paramilitary forces to flush the Maoists out.
What prompted the Marxist government to engage the Maoists in a battle like never before, with the help of the country’s crack Cobra force, especially trained to take on dreaded Left extremists? What happened to the bravado and political ranting of the CPI-M’s top leadership which had, so far, done nothing beyond calling the Maoists “devils and cowards who kill our party leaders and activists at night and then flee to the jungles of Jharkhand”? The Marxists believed they could hide their rank inaction and alienation from the rural poor by mouthing hackneyed slogans and talking about “politically fighting the Maoists”, but this only helped the latter inch towards their goal of carving out a corridor from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh through Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand.
To be sure, the Maoists changed tactics after their success at Nandigram which enabled the Trinamul Congress-led opposition to use the farmers’ fury against the CPI-M’s flirtation with big business and decimated the Left Front in the just concluded Lok Sabha poll. Instead of providing covert help as they have for so long been doing, the Maoists, after the Marxists’ rout, suddenly targeted local CPI-M leaders and activists in the Midnapore-Bankura-Purulia belt to expose how they had allegedly amassed wealth during the LF’s 32-year-old regime by siphoning off government funds meant for uplift of the poor and the downtrodden. The most glaring instance of this campaign was the attack on CPI-M zonal committee secretary of Lalgarh Anuj Pandey. The photographs of local residents, aided and abetted by the Maoists, demolishing different sections of his palatial building that newspapers splashed spoke of the murky web of corruption that CPI-M functionaries at different levels had woven. And that shook the CPI-M leadership, because if the Maoists’ campaign was allowed to go on unhindered, the backlash would be far more devastating than had been feared. In fact, the Maoists, while celebrating their triumph of dismantling the Pandey’s residence, shouted, “Come and watch how a zamindar’s house made with money sucked from poor peasants is being demolished.”
Kishenji, the Maoist strategist overseeing their operations in the state, was tireless in telling the media that 40 per cent of the money earmarked for rural development was “looted” by CPI-M functionaries, bureaucrats and contractors. If one is to believe him, a murkier tale of the outfit’s being used by the CPI-M and the Trinamul Congress has also come to the surface. He alleged that the CPI-M had taken their help to smash the Trinamul Congress’s network at Keshpur in 2001, while the Trinamul Congress used their fire power during the Nandigram agitation. He branded the Trinamul Congress and the CPI-M as two sides of the same coin. As usual, the CPI-M seized on this “disclosure” to go after the Trinamul Congress which, however, predictably enough doggedly denied the charge. The CPI-M would also rubbish the charge levelled against it if one pressed too hard. But that’s the game politicians always play to present a holier-than-thou image.
On the other hand, the cycle of violence, bloodletting and vendetta that has gripped the state was on the cards. But the intensity of the backlash and the timing could not be anticipated, even if one expected that the politics of revenge would rear its ugly head. CPI-M state secretary and LF chairman Biman Bose’s reminder that unlike the Trinamul Congress its allies, LF leaders had instructed their cadres not to resort to eye-for-an-eye tactics when the LF came to power in 1977 betrays his pathetic helplessness now that the truth is fast catching up about the legions of corrupt, rude and supercilious party functionaries.
In the first place, the Trinamul Congress has not yet captured power in the state and as such the comparison with the situation in 1977 is out of place. Second, the onus of containing the spiral of violence lies more on the LF than on the opposition, since it is running the state administration. Why is it that the Marxist government has abdicated its responsibility to establish the rule of law? Obviously, the administration has become too rusty because of the unprecedented politicisation during three decades of control. It is unable to act when the crunch comes, since the officers and cadres it controls, like their political bosses, have for all these years been far more busy enjoying the fruits of power than putting in place an efficient administration that works for the common man. The Trinamul Congress is explaining away the attacks on CPI-M leaders and activists by terming these as acts of “spontaneous” outbursts of the people’s anger against the ruling clique’s corruption and nepotism. It’s main intention is, of course, to shatter the already sagging morale of the CPI-M rank and file before the assembly elections so as to eliminate even the ghost of a chance that the Marxists have to prevent a change of regime.
Already the message has been sent across that unless they switch their loyalty to the Trinamul Congress during the next two years when the assembly elections are due, CPI-M supporters will be in for more trouble. The fresh spate of violence is intended to ram that message home.

The writer is Special Representative, The Statesman

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Kalpana Palkhiwala
“Stockholm was without doubt the landmark event in the growth of international environmentalism”, wrote John McCormick in the book Reclaiming Paradise. “It was the first occasion on which the political, social and economic problems of the global environment were discussed at an intergovernmental forum with a view to actually taking corrective action.”

The UN General Assembly established the World Environment Day (WED) in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment, observed on 5th June every year. World Environment Day is one of the principle vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), also established in 1972, uses WED to stimulate consciousness on the environment and mobilize public action.

The agenda of the World Environment Day is to give a human face to environmental issues, empower people to become agents of sustainable and equitable development, promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes regarding the environment and advocate partnership across localities, regions and nations to ensure that all people enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.

The theme for WED 2009 is ‘Your Planet Needs you- Unite to Combat Climate Change’. The theme reflects the urgency for nations to agree on a new deal at the climate convention meeting in Copenhagen some 180 days later in the year, and marks conceptual links between overcoming poverty and improving management of forests. This year’s host of the World Environment Day is Mexico.

Mexico, a country at the crossroads of the Green Economy and increasingly at the centre of regional and global affairs in the fight against climate change will host the International 2009 World Environment Day celebrations. The decision to choose Mexico as the host reflects the growing practical and political role of this Latin American country in the fight against climate change,including its growing participation in carbon markets. UNEP has now launched a new and more ambitious phase-the Seven Billion Tree Campaign.

Holding front for afforestation and climate change

Planting, nurturing, preserving and conserving plants and trees is a deep rooted practice with historical significance in India. In some communities, a prayer is said and forgiveness is sought from the tree before cutting it. Sacred groves are common throughout India, where clusters of plants and trees are protected and worshipped for prosperity. Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism articulate respect for plants and trees, treating them as living beings. Buddhist monks, constantly on the move to preach, halt their travels during monsoon to ensure they do not destroy saplings and sprouted seeds. Jainism forbids the consumption of sprouts which are considered nascent life that should be allowed to grow. Festivals related to trees abound. One such festival is Van Mahotsav, initiated in 1950 by Shri K. M. Munshi, the then Union Minister for Agriculture and Food, a visionary who sought to enthuse people about conservation of forests and trees.

This week-long festival of tree planting is organised every year in July in a bid to retain the vanishing forest cover of the country. Cutting down trees on a massive scale has greatly affected the environment and it is imperative to do something about forests’ conservation. Planting of trees is a symbolic gesture to celebrate our reverence for all things that grow in the forest.


The National Afforestation and Eco-Development Board (NAEB) in the Ministry of Environment and Forests is responsible for promoting afforestation, tree planting, ecological restoration and eco-development activities in the country, with special attention to degraded forest areas and lands adjoining forests, national parks, sanctuaries and other protected areas as well as the ecologically fragile Western Himalayas, Aravalis and Western Ghats.


The National Afforestation Programme (NAP) Scheme is the flagship scheme of NAEB, providing physical and institutional support to Forest Development Agencies (FDAs), which are a major step towards the institutionalization of Joint Forest Management. The FDA has been conceived and established as a federation of Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs) at the Forest Division level to undertake holistic development of forests with people's participation. The objectives of the scheme are:

• Protection and conservation of natural resources through the active involvement of communities

• Checking land degradation, deforestation and loss of biodiversity

• Ecological restoration, environmental conservation and eco-development

• Building the capacity of village level organization to manage natural resources in and around villages in a sustainable manner

• Fulfillment of the broader objectives of productivity, equity, and sustainability for the common good

• Improve quality of life and subsistence of people living in and around forests and

• Capability endowment and skill enhancement for improving the employability of the rural people

All 28 states, including the Autonomous Hill Districts (AHDC) are covered by this program, as are wildlife areas. Rehabilitation of abandoned, degraded shifting cultivation regions and regeneration of medicinal plants is also undertaken.


• 795 FDAs have been operationalised so far since the launch of the FDA mechanism in 2000-01, at a cost of Rs. 2,675.26 crores to treat a total area of 157.90 lakh ha. (as on 31.3.2009). Rehabilitation of shifting cultivation lands have been given specific focus under the programme, and 34 jhum projects have been sanctioned in NE States and in Orissa.

• As on 31.3.2009, Rs. 345.62 crore was released to FDAs during the year 2008-09 for implementation of National Afforestation Programme. (NAP)

• 97 million human days of work were generated, benefiting approximately 12 million households which included 22% Scheduled Castes and 38% Scheduled Tribes.

• Around 5.3 million households in project villages which had 25% Scheduled Caste and 21% Scheduled Tribe were covered and

• Entry-point activity beneficiaries are estimated to be around 1.92 million households out of which 23% were Scheduled Castes and 27% were Scheduled Tribes.

Eco-Development Forces (EDF) Scheme

The Eco Task Forces (ETFs) Scheme was initiated by the Ministry of Defence in 1982 with a view to securing involvement of ex-servicemen in afforestation and eco-development in remote areas to restore degraded ecosystems through afforestation, soil conservation and water resource management. The Scheme has been in operation for the past four plans.

There are currently six Eco-Task Force Battalions raised through ex-servicemen/Territorial Army Personnel. They cover the Shivalik Hills, Uttarakhand; Rajasthan Cannal, Bajju; Jammu and Kashmir; Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand; Sonitpur (West) and Haltugaon, Assam.

Proposed Gram Van Yojana Scheme

Gram/Panchayat Van Yojana, a new scheme is proposed which will involve Panchayati Raj Institutions in afforestation/tree planting in non forest lands.

India released its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPPC) on 30th June 2008 to outline its strategy of climate change. The National Action Plan advocates a strategy that promotes the adaptation to climate change and enhancing the sustainability of India’s development path. Eight National Missions on Climate Change

The National Solar Mission aims at increasing the share of solar energy in the total energy mix through development of new solar technologies, while attempting to expand the scope of other renewable and non fossil options such as nuclear energy, wind energy and biomass. The National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency comprises four new initiatives, namely, a market based mechanism for trading in certified energy savings in energy intensive large industries and facilities, accelerating the shift to energy efficient appliances in designated sectors, demand side management programmes in all sectors by capturing future energy savings, and developing fiscal instruments to promote energy efficiency. The National Mission on Sustainable Habitat attempts to promote energy efficiency in buildings, management of solid waste and modal shift to public transport including transport options based on bio-diesel and hydrogen. The National Water Mission has, as its objective, the conservation of water, minimizing wastage and ensuring more equitable distribution both across and within states.

The National Mission for sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem is aimed at evolving management measures for sustaining and safeguarding the Himalayan glacier and mountain eco system. The National Mission for a Green India focuses on enhancing eco system services and carbon sinks through afforestation on degraded forest land in line with the national policy of expanding forest and tree cover to 33% of the total land area of the country. The National Mission for Sustaining Agriculture will develop strategies to make Indian agriculture more resilient to climate change through new varieties of thermal productivity of rain fed agriculture. The National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change is intended to identify the challenges of and response to climate change through research and technology development and ensure funding of high quality and focused research into aspects of climate change.(pib)

* Deputy Director, PIB, Delhi.

Your Planet Needs You : Unite to Combat Climate Change


Climate change is the major, overriding environmental issue of our time and the single greatest challenge facing environmental regulators. It is a growing crisis with economic, health and safety, food production, security and other dimensions. Mexico city, the capital of Mexico will serve as the International host city for this year’s World Environment Day (WED), with the theme ‘Your Planet Needs You – Unite to Combat Climate Change’, which seeks to propel nations to reach agreement on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen in December 2009. Mexico has seized the opportunities of the carbon markets and has become second only to Brazil in terms of wind, solar, biogas and other Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects in the region.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has now launched a new and more ambitious phase – the ‘Seven Billon Tree Campaign’. This aims to see more than one new tree planted for every person alive by the Copenhagen meeting.

The highlight of this year’s WED is the launch of the ‘Climate Heroes’, which support individuals who are undertaking exceptional personal feats, high profile expeditions, and other acts of environmental activism to demonstrate their commitment and to raise awareness for one simple idea : Your Plant Needs You! These projects focus on environmental ‘hot topics’ like CO2 output, finding smart solutions to beat waste and tree planting.

UNEP has collaborated with these Climate Heroes to help inspire and motivate people to unite to combat climate change. The Climate Heroes call on individual to do what they can : from adopting the simplest habits like turning off running water when one is brushing teeth, to organizing a public event for WED. They also outline how individuals can cut down by half their climate footprint by quite simple daily chores. For example, jogging around the park rather than on an electric powered treadmill will cut your daily emission by 1 Kg. Around 80% of freshwater is used for irrigation – simple technique like drip irrigation could dramatically cut this use.

Every year over 60 billion tons of plastic are produced, much of it for one time use and less than 5 per cent of the world’s plastics are recycled. National Geographic estimates that over 85 million plastic bottles are used every three minutes. Much of plastic waste that is not incinerated or land-filled, makes its way to the oceans. As the waste breakdown, it is mistaken for food, kills hundreds of thousands of birds and marine life, and is now making its way into our food chain. Project Kaisel consists of a team of scientists and environmentalists who have come together with a common purpose to study how to capture plastic waste in the ocean, detoxify and recycle it into diesel fuel.

Climate change represents a challenge that recognizes no national boundaries. There are countries that have pledged to become zero emission economies not just in terms of CO2, but also in terms of other greenhouse gases. For example Norway’s challenge is oil and gas production, whereas New Zealand’s is livestock methane emissions. Almost 100% of Iceland’s electricity is generated by geothermal heat, but it faces challenges in terms of transport.

The old energy inefficient electric bulb date back to almost two centuries. People are now switching over to the energy saving ones. The World is already glimpsing a Green Economy – from the 300 financial institutions with $ 13 trillion of assets who are signatories to UNEP and the UN’s Global Compact Principles for Responsible Investment to the $ 160 billion boom in renewable energy transactions. And it is not just in developed countries, two of the biggest wind power companies are based in China and India respectively.

The current food crisis is predominantly one about prices rather than about supply. In many countries in the past 50 years or so the emphasis has been on hiking up production at the expense of all else. The emergence of marine ‘dead zones’ – deoxygenated areas of sea in which fish and other marine life-forms have either died or fled – are in part linked with the misuse of artificial fertilizers.

Shifting weather patterns threaten food production through increased unpredictability of precipitation, rising sea levels contaminate coastal freshwater reserves and increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, and a warming atmosphere aids the pole-ward spread of pests and disease once limited to the tropics. Ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rainforests and the Arctic tundra, may be approaching thresholds of dramatic change through warming and drying. Mountain glaciers are in alarming retreat and the downstream effects of reduced water supply in the driest months will have repercussions that transcend generations. The most dangerous climate changes may still be avoided if we transform our hydrocarbon-based energy systems.

Some people may consider a tropical forest merely a collection of trees worth more as logs and timber exports. Although, these trees absorb the carbon emission of the developed countries – a service that might be worth billions of dollars a year, if only we factored them into a more intelligent economic system that included the GDP generated by nature, and not just GDP based on making cars, TVs and microwaves. Climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5 per cent of global GDP each year. In other words, a failure to act will lead to a significant disruption of the global economy – the recessions of the past and the present will be as nothing to those of the future. Conversely the Intergovernmental Panel to Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that combating climate change may cost as little as 0.1 – 0.2 per cent of global GDP a year over 30 years. (PIB)

*Freelance Writer

Disclaimer : The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIB

Judicial reforms – need of the hour M.L.Dhar

Shri Veerappa Moily’s statement soon after taking over the charge of the Law Ministry that the UPA Government would stress during the next five years on judicial reforms and also ensure that rule of law touched every individual including the last man in queue would go a long way to realize “simple, speedy, cheap, effective and substantial” justice. And what is more noteworthy of Shri Moily’s statement is that judicial reforms could not be partial or fragmented. He said, "It has to be holistic. Merely tackling one side will not help."
The institution of judiciary and the rule of law is the essence of modern civilization and democratic governance. It is important that people’s faith in judiciary and the rule of law is not only preserved but enhanced as well and simple way to achieve that is by ensuring an effective system of justice delivery.
For decades judicial system has been crying for reforms as the cheap and speedy justice has been by and large elusive. There is a huge pendency of over 2.5 crore cases despite measures to reduce it. Experts have expressed fears that there has been a loss of public confidence in the judiciary, and an increasing resort to lawlessness and violent crime to settle disputes. They feel that public confidence in the judiciary must be restored immediately, in order to arrest and reverse this negative trend.
Over the last five decades various legally constituted/government authorities such as the Law Commission of India, Parliamentary Standing Committees, and other government appointed Committees, several benches of the Supreme Court, eminent lawyers and judges, various legal associations/ organizations and NGOs have identified problems in the judicial system and called for addressing them speedily. Yet, the effective implementation of many such recommendations is still pending. According to one of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2001) almost 50% of the reports of the Law Commissions awaited implementation.
The poor budgetary support to the judiciary has been alluded to as one of the reasons for non-implementation of judicial reforms. Rs.700 crore allocated to the judiciary during the 10th Plan (2002-2007) constituted 0.078 percent of the total plan outlay of Rs. 8,93,183 crore. During the Ninth Plan the allocation was even less, only 0.071percent. It has been observed that such meager allocations are too inadequate to meet the requirements of the judiciary. It is said that India spends just 0.2 percent of the gross national product on judiciary. According to the first National Judicial Pay Commission, all states but one have been providing less than 1% of their respective budgets for subordinate judiciary which is afflicted with huge pendency.
But, lack of resources cannot be a reason for denying justice or any other fundamental right to most citizens, especially the disadvantaged sections, who “have limited access to justice, due to unclear laws and high costs that act as effective barriers”. Observing that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ in P. Ramachandra Rao v. State of Karnataka (2002), a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court reiterated from Hussainara Khatoon case that “It is theconstitutional obligation of the State to dispense speedy justice, more so in the field of criminal law, and paucity of funds or resources is no defence to denial of right to justice emanating from Articles 21,19 and 14 and the preamble of the Constitution as also from the directive principles of State policy. It is high time that the Union of India and the various States realize their constitutional obligation and do something concrete in the direction of strengthening the justice delivery system.”
Other major factors include neglect in improving judicial infrastructure over the past decades, inordinate delays in filling up vacancies of judges and very low population-to-judge ratio that require immediate attention to improve the performance of judiciary.
The 120th Law Commission Report had pointed out that India's population-to-judge ratio is one of the lowest in the world with only 10 judges for every million of its population as compared to about 150 judges for the same number in the United States and Britain. According to the ‘All India Judges’ Association’, the Supreme Court had directed the government to increase the judge strength to 50 judges per 10 lakh population by 2007 in a phased manner, which has mot been fulfilled so far.
Even for filling up of vacancies of approved strength of judges much needs to be done. It is observed that 25 percent of the judge positions remain vacant due to procedural delays. The sanctioned strength of judges of the High Courts was 886 and working strength was 608 as on 6th January 2009 leaving 278 vacancies. Similarly, with 11,767 working strength of Subordinate Judges there were 2710 vacancies on March 1, 2007.
However, there have been measures in recent years to improve functioning of courts. For application of information and communication technology (ICT) to the justice delivery system for better management, a Scheme for computerizing all the district and subordinate courts across the country and for upgrading the ICT infrastructure of Supreme Court and High Courts was approved by the central government in February 2007 to be completed in two years at cost of Rs.442. Under the project 13,365 laptops have been provided to Judicial Officers, laser printers to about 12,600 judicial officers and eleven thousand judicial officers and 44 thousand court staff have been given training in the use of ICT tools so far. 489 district court and 896 taluka court complexes have been provided with broadband Internet connectivity. Under this Project, computer rooms are to be set up in all the court complexes in the country. The E-enabling will help the courts to function more efficiently and speed up the disposal of cases. It would also network these courts with the higher courts and thus facilitate greater accountability.
Another centrally sponsored scheme for development of infrastructure facilities including setting up of court buildings and residential accommodation for the judicial officers is under operation since 1993-1994. Rs. 286.19 crore were released to the States from 2006-07 to 2008-09 under this scheme. The outlay for the judiciary during the 11th Plan has been sought on the basis a perspective plan having projections of such requirements over a ten year period.
Meanwhile, the disposal of cases can be increased by greater use of the existing infrastructure with courts having more than one shift. Gujarat is one of the states where evening courts are functioning with appreciable results.
Fast Track Courts (FTC) recommended by 11th Finance Commission have also proved effective in addressing pendency. Keeping this in mind the government has already extended the term of 1,562 FT courts operating at sessions’ level up to 31st March 2010 by providing central support to the states. As per union Law Ministry, these courts have out of 28.49 lakh transferred cases to them disposed off 21.83 lakh cases.
The Central Government proposes to set up more than five thousand Gram Nyayalayas at intermediate panchayat levels under the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 in order to bring justice delivery system at the door step of rural population. The procedure to be followed by these courts has been kept simple and flexible so that these cases can be heard and disposed of within 90 days' period.
Recourse to Alternate Dispute Redressal (ADR) mechanism can greatly help in reducing pendency of cases through arbitration, negotiations, conciliation and mediation.
In the United States and many other countries, ADR as dispute resolving mechanism has been highly successful. India already has Arbitration Conciliation Act 1996 and the Code of Civil Procedure has also been amended. However, the measure suffers from grossly inadequate number of trained mediators and conciliators. Both judicial officers and lawyers need to be trained with a view to grow alternate system into the mainstream of justice.
While all these measures need to be further strengthened and expanded, the reforms would have to keep in view future needs as litigation is bound to increase in future with more sections of society becoming aware about their legal rights as a consequence of the spread of education.
The government will have to take an overall view of procedural laws that allow endless interlocutory appeals and the role of ‘delay lawyers’ in posing impediments to resolve cases. Despite the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment Act) 2002, bringing change in the procedure in suits and civil proceedings by way of reducing delays, the situation remains far from satisfactory. The issue of frivolous litigation will also have to be addressed and one of the ways could be by imposing heavy costs. The police investigation system needs to be strengthened and modernized that would decrease load on judiciary.
While having a holistic view of all the intricacies and nuances of the justice delivery system, its present pitfalls and fault lines will have to be considered to ensure transparency and accountability of the judicial system.
It has to be remembered that delayed justice, poor appreciation of evidence, and inability to apply constitutional and legal principles to real-life situations play havoc with people’s lives.
The new Law Minister will have to put in extra effort to create a strong will across the board for judicial reforms and carry all the state governments, judicial and executive bodies and bar associations along. The success of judicial reforms would largely depend upon it. (PIB)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mrs.Sonia Gandhi
TARUN J TEJPAL, Editor, Tehelka
DEAR MRS SONIA GANDHI, We all know the cliché that India moves on faith. We love our gods, and it is at their feet that we place all our successes and failures. It is in this department that those who oppose you — and perhaps even some of those who support you — will assert that you have an unfair advantage. Through marriage and masquerade you have acquired all the gods Indian politicians have, while also possessing one you brought along from your faraway home all those aeons ago.

Since we do not oppose you, we are happy that you have an extra god. As you know, India has so many gods only because it has so many problems. (Yes, there are men on the far left and far right who think god is the problem, to be banished or to be rescued — but let these men not detain us, since they’ve failed to detain the electorate.) So we are glad that you have an extra god. One more is always handy. Our gods are playful, multi-faced, philosophical. Often their moralities are slippery to grasp, sheathed as they are in the complexities of karma and dharma, moksha and maya. The one you bring along, the extra one, is more cut and dried. Quite clear about right and wrong, good and bad, sin and virtue, charity and compassion. We — who do not oppose you — welcome that. Amid the material excesses born of our religious abstractions, a little bit of clarity is not a bad thing.

Since we are agreed that you have one god more than the rest of us, it necessarily follows that your responsibilities must be more. It is an easy catechism: privilege and obligation. Of course it is not easily followed. Our playful gods tend to often muddle it up. But your extra one is quite clear on how this must run. In this case, we’d be quite grateful if you heed him, not for your own sake, but that of a few hundred million others.
To begin with, this means that you must banish the thought that your labours are done. Without a doubt you have been stellar in marshalling an army whose officers did not even know which way the battle broke, and whose chief skill lay in swiftly putting the knife into each other. For long years you did this in the face of great personal abuse (inspired perhaps by your extra god). It is not pleasant for a General to be told she does not know how to hold a gun or speak the language of the troops. But you understood, intuitively, that cheap insults can so easily keep the good and the great from the good and the great tasks. You understood that wars, finally, are won not by the size of bullet and the decibel of bugle but by the strength of heart. By simply staying the course, over 13 years, you have unexpectedly changed the battle-lines.
So your toil has been worthy. Your ragged army of 1996 is a renewed one in 2009. In the process you have so cleverly — and beautifully — played out two key precepts of your extra god. Thou shalt not covet, the last of the ten commandments, so artfully spun as an act of renunciation that it sucked out the wind from the sails of your opponents. And Mathew 5:5, which is also Manmohan Singh 2004: blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
And both have been cleansing of the public in unanticipated ways.
Yet let me assert it without any ambiguity. Manmohan 2009 needs you as much as Manmohan 2004. He may be the scythe that clears the weeds, but you are still the arm that wields the scythe. To slice cleanly, the arm and scythe must swing in tandem.
Since I am convinced that your work is far from over, and since I am on Mathew, let me remind you of the exhortation in 10:7. “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” As one must always do with divine scripture, I could spell out the contemporary burden of every phrase. But that would be fatuous. More than those of us who write of these things, you know best what it is in this calamitous nation to heal the sick and to cast out devils.
An open letter to the unlikely woman whose tenacity in staying the course has changed the contours of Indian politics
Even so — as humble epistle writers must — let me say my piece. Power brings with it a surrounding mist; great power a billowing fog. You may not be blinded by it since you have always lived with great power, but all around you, your partymen will now be tempted to explode in arrogance. They may tend to forget they have merely won a battle. The war, or may I say wars, still rage around us. The bigots — who would divide us — are still at the gates, nursing their wounds, renewing their munitions. They are far from a spent force. They have taken a fourth of our dominions. Be in no doubt that they will storm the walls again, and again. What will serve your legions well then is not hauteur, but what brought them here in the first place — humility, and the steel that is born of it. Across the land we cast our vote against swagger: let it be known, we will bear our ordained abjections but refuse to be hit by misplaced arrogance.
AS I said, the wars are many. Of civilisational ideas, of inhuman deprivations, of lack and want and misery and dying children. In my city — which is also yours, which is the supercilious capital of this limitless nation — at every traffic light, six and seven and eight-year-olds, their skins lacerated, their limbs twisted, rub our car windows for a throwaway rupee. Shining India, booming India, superpower India — these epithets are not just jokes, they are obscenities, when we cannot feed our children, or clothe them, or send them to school. I know you know this: as of now 46 percent of our children below five years of age suffer from malnutrition, with all the physical, mental and emotional impairment that comes from it. A man far greater than you, far greater than any we have known, gave us a talisman which you would do well to thrust down the throat of every person you are now anointing with power. “Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him.”
It is a curiosity of the hour that while the beacon is the future, the guiding light is still firmly the past. There is nothing that can better unveil to us the path that we must tread than the humane luminosity of the founding fathers.
In this regard, if I may say so, you are well rid of the vanity and bluster of the Left, but you might do well to hold on to some of their concerns. As you should also of the dalit queen and the Yadav overlords. They stand at the head of hapless peoples, even if they do nothing to represent them. The causes are great but the leaders are little. Reject the men; embrace the mission. The task of the reparation of centuries must proceed apace.
Inevitably then, ma’am, all this brings me to the rich. Money is a good thing. And it is no secret that we all love the rich — yes, all your partymen too. But will you please ensure that they do not make of their love a public thing. In India, all elected leaders must speak only for the poor. The rich have their money — and the media — to talk for them. Those who have the opportunity to create wealth — much or more — leave them alone to do so, and place no obstacle in their path. But instruct your worthies to focus on those who have no hope, and bring unto them a sliver.
You are well rid of the vanity of the Left, but you might do well to hold on to some of their concerns
I must stop. It is ungracious of me to deign to sermonise. That, too, at a moment of your high triumph. Let me then offer some praise. No doubt with the help of your extra god, you have done a fine job of bringing up your son. He has humility, decorum, diligence, and he takes the long and inclusive view. We do not like the idea of dynasty, but we abhor the idea of divisiveness more. In an ideal world we would do away with everything feudal and undemocratic, but for the moment let us concentrate on getting rid of the engines of hatred.
Mercifully, your boy seems more in touch with the soul of India than those who try and barter deities for votes. A man from your party once told me, disparagingly, “Sure, he is wellmeaning. He wants to help old ladies cross the street. It’s no good.” I wonder what he thinks now. Young men who help old ladies cross the street can also grow up to steer nations across rocky roads.
Can I leave you with one last quote (though it’s likely you already know it)? A man far greater than you, far greater than any we have known, once said, “To be in good moral condition requires at least as much training as to be in good physical condition.” This man was called Jawahar, the jewel. His books line your room. As freely as ye have received, freely should you give them on to your newly exuberant flock, and that of your son. The jewel’s words will make their morality robust. After all, it is still on this man’s plinth that we build our dreams.
And yes, as I bid you speed and strength, with the extra god by your side, may I make a final plea. You have given us of yourself, and of your son. Now will you kindly also give unto us your luminous daughter?

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 21, Dated May 30, 2009

From The Telegraph> Opinion 16 June 2009


Kandhamal in Orissa was torn by violence first in December 2007, and again in August 2008. Christians in the state were persecuted on grounds alleging that certain members of the community were responsible for the assassination of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Addresses by religious leaders in the wake of communal disharmony are not uncommon. In times of chaos, such leaders are seen as instruments that would ensure the return of peace and calm to troubled areas. In India, where a majority of the population is greatly awed by religious practices and faith, it is not difficult to imagine the sway that the words of religious leaders could have on their followers’ minds.
In October 2008, two months after fresh instances of violence were reported in the area, bishops of the regional churches in Orissa issued an address to their congregation. The letter, undoubtedly meant to reach each local church and read out from the pulpit as a message coming from their religious leaders, was signed by six of the bishops of different churches in Orissa. Expressing solidarity with all those who had suffered because of the violence in the region, the letter offered prayers and spiritual comfort to all victims who had “humbled” the writers by their “willingness to go through all kinds of humiliations, trials and even persecutions for the sake of [their] belief”.
The letter also praised the restraint that the community had shown in face of the injustices done to them, and condemned the killing of the VHP leader that had triggered the mayhem. It kept in tune with the ‘national’ message that the political leaders of the country expect to be delivered by religious heads to their respective communities. The prime minister’s address to the chief ministers of the states in 2006 called for the establishment of “intimate contact” with community and spiritual leaders who, according to the prime minister, were in a better position to sensitize their followers about the importance of communal harmony in the country. What the prime minister also called for was an “integrated vision” that he explained in terms of the “sacred values” inherent to all faiths, transcending individual differences. Peaceful co-existence, he implied, was one such “sacred value”. Such rhetoric is, indeed, also used by religious leaders when called upon to address the consequences of communal disharmony. Going back to the bishops’ letter to the believers in Orissa, invoking the “Indian traditions of communal harmony and national integrity” form an important part of the strategy to quell fear among the affected.
At times, this rhetoric takes on the form of a generous invocation of the Indian pantheon to state the point that all are indeed One, as Swami Jayendra Saraswati, the Sankaracharaya of Kanchi, did during his visit to the ghettoized camp-sites after the Gujarat carnage, calling upon Ram and Laxman, Bali and Sugreev to make his point about Hindu-Muslim unity. However, in all these public appeals to the universal fraternity of humankind, the sense of integrity of the community being addressed is never blurred. The appeal to public emotions is on the grounds that the community itself is a coherent entity, and that its collective show of moral strength and unity in times of crisis can make an important public statement in such an expression of solidarity with fellow-citizens.
The same address by the bishops also emphasized the fact that the Hindu community was threatened by the growing empowerment of Christians in the region, which they thought was largely owing to the efforts of the Church. Therefore, in pockets where religion practised collectively gets imbued with political strife, the urgency to maintain the semblance of a coherent community subdues the sentiment of a holistic integration with the nation. This urgency is often kept alive by the use of a rhetoric that marks the community out from the others.