Friday, April 29, 2016

The Delhi Imbroglio – A Referendum Is The Only Way Out

The following had been posted by Avay Shukla in hillpost.in
The spate of notifications, clarifications and press statements issued by the BJP govt. at the centre over the last week to emasculate the elected govt. in Delhi only validates what one had instinctively felt when that party had been routed in the February elections: that, having lost the war, Mr. Modi would go to any lengths to win the peace. And he has been doing precisely this through the MHA( Ministry of Home Affairs) and a supine Lieutenant Governor ever since, unconcerned about the fact that with each memorandum he is driving Delhi closer to a state of anarchy and chaos. His ultimate goal is now becoming clearer every day: declare a constitutional breakdown in Delhi, dismiss the Kejriwal govt. and rule through the same LG who kept Kejriwal at bay for ten months in 2014 by refusing to hold elections in Delhi.
First, the Central govt. refused to give Kejriwal the officers he wanted and the Delhi police refused to fill up the vacancies in the ACB( Anti Corruption Branch), which is the spearhead of the AAP govt’s campaign against corruption. It then issued a notification limiting the ACB’s jurisdiction to only employees of the Delhi govt.- effectively giving a licence for wrong doing to all other public servants: central ministers, all-India services. central govt. employees, PSU employees. Municipal employees etc. The notification defies all logic-will the MHA now issue similar instructions to all state police forces too, viz. that crimes committed by the above categories of public servants cannot be taken cognizance of by local state police, and that only the CBI has powers to do so? Is this some perverted version of diplomatic immunity?
The Delhi police has been deliberately let loose on the AAP govt. and party. It has registered dubious cases against seven AAP MLAs, refused to cooperate in an inquiry conducted by the District Magistrate of New Delhi under the CRPC into the suicide of a farmer, even filed an FIR in the same incident against AAP volunteers when its own personnel were even more negligent in failing to prevent the suicide.
Delhi’s pending application with UNESCO for World Heritage City status has been suddenly and mysteriously withdrawn by the Urban Development Ministry at the eleventh hour, even though all the documentation has been completed and the case was to come up for inscription in September this year.
The intent is clear: do not allow the AAP govt. to function, deprive it of any possible credit for good work done, put legal and constitutional hurdles in its attempt to fulfill its election promises, discredit and harass it at every turn by ruthless employment of the police.
The fig leaf of the Constitution behind which the BJP is trying to conceal its naked lust for power is tattered and shrivelled. Granted that Article 239AA of the Constitution that gave Delhi a legislative assembly kept out of the purview of the Chief Minister the three subjects of land, public order and police and assigned them to the LG. But it did not mention anything about ” Services”-that is, the transfer and postings of govt. employees. That has been added to the excluded list by a mischievous ” interpretation” of the Constitution by the MHA on 21.5.2015, obviously in furtherance of the grand design to reduce Kejriwal to a Wajid Ali Shah in an Oudh administered by the Resident, Colonel Outram, who now goes by the name of Najeeb Jung. ( Kejriwal was not too far off the metaphorical mark when he recently likened the Centre to London and the LG to the Viceroy !)
Even more important, however, is the spirit of the Constitution. The text of a law, or the Constitution, only gives the INTENT of a particular provision. How that intent is to be implemented depends on the larger understanding of the political and administrative ecology, and, in a democracy, on an appreciation of the people’s desires and wishes. It is in this respect that Mr.Modi’s govt. comes across as unscrupulous. power hungry and vindictive in its approach to the present Delhi govt. Let me explain.
One of Mr. Modi’s hubris-induced drawbacks is that he does not accept that there was any history before him- India’s history begins only with I AD ( After Damodardas): this is evident in his approach to foreign relations, economic policies, reforms, social programmes etc. With regard to Delhi as a state too he has this blind spot. He overlooked, or deliberately disregarded, the fact that in 1998 the then Home Minister Mr. LK Advani had issued a notification making it mandatory for the Lieutenant Governor to consult the Chief Minister of Delhi on even the three excluded subjects mentioned above, and to record in writing the reasons if he felt that he should not do so. This order had the mark of a statesman and a democrat. And it is this order that Mr. Modi has caused to be withdrawn and revoked by the notification of 21.5. 2015. No greater contempt could be shown for the people of Delhi and for the values of democracy and federalism.
Full statehood for Delhi is not a new demand- it has been raised by all Chief Ministers and parties in Delhi, and resolutions to that effect have been passed by Assemblies in the past also. It was one of the main planks on which AAP fought the last elections. It was, therefore, a legitimate democratic right of Kejriwal to have pursued this goal, even while insisting on full consultations by the LG with him on the excluded subjects in the interim.
There is merit in the demand for statehood. The population of Delhi is more than the combined population of all the other Union territories put together; put another way, it is more than twice the population of Himachal Pradesh. It has more Parliamentary seats than HP, Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttarakhand, to mention just its neighbours. Its annual budget is three times the size of HP’s budget if we include the three Municipal Corporations also. It has among the highest crime rates in the country and yet the police are not accountable to the elected govt. or the Chief Minister. The argument is often trotted out by apologists of all govts, past and present, who are loath to give up control over this rich and vibrant city, that Washington DC too is under the federal govt and is not a separate state, so how is Delhi any different? This would be a good time to correct this wrong impression.
Firstly, Washington DC and Delhi are just not comparable. The former has an area of only 68.30 sq. miles and a population of 658000 whereas Delhi ( not NCR) has an area of 1400 sq. kms and a population in excess of 15 million ! Such large areas and numbers of people simply cannot go unrepresented. Secondly, Washington DC is not administered by the federal govt. but by an elected 13 member Council headed by a Mayor-in other words, elected representatives of the District govern the District, not nominated Lieutenant Governors or Ministers of the central govt. or bureaucrats who have no accountability. It is Congress which retains exclusive law making jurisdiction over the District and approves its budget, but that is all. The administrative and political model of Delhi is as far removed from that of Washington DC as fish is from fowl, not that Mr. Rajnath Singh would recognise it, being a strict vegetarian. But, most important of all, the people of Delhi want statehood and an accountable bureaucracy. By winning 54% of the popular vote and 67 of the 70 seats Kejriwal has an overwhelming endorsement and support for this demand. Not only has the Modi govt. refused to acknowledge this, but by issuing the notification of 21.4.2015 it has signalled that it is not even prepared to take on board the views of the Chief Minister on the four excluded subjects, that it will treat him as a political mannequin, that it will not even discuss this issue.
This is a big mistake and a grave political miscalculation . It ignores the wishes of 15 million citizens of Delhi. It ignores the first principle of any democracy-accountability of the bureaucracy and police to the elected representatives. It ignores the changing expectations of peoples, which in other countries have resulted in Arab springs, “insurgent” political parties like UKIP in the UK, the Tea Parties in the USA, the Front National of Marine la Penn in France-outfits which are side-lining mainstream political parties (a phenomenon already proved in Delhi with the complete decimation of both the Congress and the BJP in February).
The biggest mistake which Modi is making, however, is in underestimating Kejriwal and in denying him any space for negotiations on the issue of statehood. Kejriwal has mastered the art of ” protest” and ” agitational” politics and has proved this time and again as an RTI activist and in the IAC movement. He is at his most effective when he is fighting the ” status quo” and he will not fight by the rules Mr. Modi is comfortable with- the lifeless text of the Constitution amended to suit the status quoists from time to time, retrograde notifications issued by a faceless bureaucrat, imposition of Section 144 to curb protests, filing of FIRs by a compliant police force which has its own scores to settle with Kejriwal. Mr. Modi may have stepped into a ring to take on this master activist with his hand chosen referees and a copy of the Queensbury rules, but Kejriwal will make his own rules as he goes along. His core strength comes from the fact that he is a street fighter who derives his power from his connect with the people- not the people in the salons and drawing rooms of south Delhi but the voters in the polling booths. (A recent poll by a media group indicates that 61% of Delhi’s voters back him in his fight against the Centre on the issue of statehood). He was prepared to fight in the ring but Modi has denied him even this right and so nowKejriwal will fight in the streets, where he makes the rules, after all.
Mr. Modi and the BJP have painted themselves into a corner, as Mr. Shinde had once done to his government. Out of Kejriwal’s last struggles had emerged the Lokpal and a more comprehensive legal understanding of police accountability. Out of the impending one will emerge, if not full statehood, a substantially more effective and powerful state government in Delhi in keeping with the wishes of its citizens. The only way out for Modi now, if he wishes to save face and prevent Delhi from slipping into chaos and disorder, is to hold a referendum on the subject and let the people decide. This is the civilized and democratic way of settling contentious issues.
The question, however, is: how much of a democrat is Mr. Modi?
Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains.....he has made them his home.

Can we trust Mr. Javadekar with our environment?

The following has been posted by Avay Shukla for hillpost.in
The short answer is: No, We can’t.
Mr. Javadekar has donned the mantle of India’s Minister of Environment and Forests at a critical moment, when time is running out for the preservation of our once abundant natural assets, and environmental disaster is staring us in the face. His NDA government took over from the UPA, which, notwithstanding its many failings (and there were many of them) at least was sensitive towards the need for conserving the environment, and had taken many steps in that direction. We had expected that Mr. Javadekar would be equally responsive and would build on these initiatives to repair and reverse the degradation that mindless policies of the past had caused. A few facts about the current state of our environment and forests, as reported from time to time by the UN, WHO, IPCC and our own agencies, deserve mentioning as a context for assessing Mr. Javadekar’s performance in the last one year:
* 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India: Delhi heads the list.
* 76 of our 150 major rivers are polluted; the waters of 3/4th of them are not fit for drinking.
* Our groundwater reserves are in a critical state, thanks to the 21 million borewells dug in the last 50 years: 30% of them in western India alone have dried up. 50% of underground water sources in the Indo-Gangetic plain are polluted.
* Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2050, effecting 400 million people.
* Climate change has arrived: it will eventually lead to a 36% decline in food production in South Asia, and a 5.8% loss in wheat production post 2030 in India.
* The IPCC report of April 2014 predicts a 4* C rise in temperature for India by 2100. A trailer of this was witnessed in peninsular India this summer, where average temperatures rose by 1.4* whereas the normative increase was only 0.8*C: more than 2000 people died in this ” heat wave”
* Environmental degradation costs 5.7% of our GDP, or US$ 120 billion every year.
* 620000 people die every year just from outdoor air pollution.
* 60 million people have been displaced by projects till 2000. These ” GDP refugees” are primarily from the most marginalised sections, including tribals and landless labour.
* The World Bank Environment Quality Index rates India at a terrible 155 out of 176 countries.
* We have now become the third largest emitter of carbon in the world.
* As per estimates of our own Zoological Survey of India the list of endangered species of animals has DOUBLED in the last two years- from 190 in 2010 to 443 in 2012: in other words, 253 more species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles are destined for extinction very soon. (I don’t for a minute believe the govt’s figures of a 30% increase in tiger population: this appears to have been contrived by a change in the earlier method of conducting the count. This doubt is lent credence by the govt’s own recently released figure of 23 tigers having been poached in just the last year.)
* 830, 244 hectares of forest land , or an area which is seven times the size of Delhi, has been diverted for projects in the thirty years from 1981 to 2011. The tempo of diversion has been increasing instead of slowing down: 210,000 ha. has been diverted in just the four years from 2007 to 2011. 12000 ha. of forest land has been sacrificed by the present NDA government in just THE LAST SIX MONTHS.
* 50% of the country’s wetlands have been lost to urbanisation.
* 67.3% of urban sewage flows directly into our rivers.
* Our cities generate 60 million tonnes of waste every year: only 30% of it is treated or re-cycled- the rest of it continues to contaminate our rivers and forests. This quantum of waste is predicted to go up by 243% by 2025, according to a World Bank study.
This is not the picture of a “developing” country, as our govt. would like to believe: this is an image of an Elliotsian wasteland. This is what Mr. Javadekar inherited, and with the kind of mandate which his govt. has, one expected him to get down to some hard policy making and ruthless implementation to reverse this slide to ecological perdition. We have seen little so far of this: yes, there is the Clean Ganga campaign, but it has not yet gone beyond the chest thumping stage and it is in any case doomed to failure if Mr. Jadavekar goes ahead with his plan to construct another 150 dams on the upstream Ganga and its tributaries. Yes, there is also the Swacch Bharat programme: its success can be gauged by the 20000 tonnes of garbage that had piled up on Delhi’s roads last week because Mr. Modi wished to tell Mr. Kejriwal who is Bossman in Delhi- evidently, garbage conveys a stronger message than votes.
Image 2
Mr. Javadekar’s Ministry has become a hand-maiden of Modi’s industrialisation vision. Its mandate is not to conserve the environment but to dismantle the checks and balances that had been put in place to maintain the equilibrium between GDP and natural assets. I cannot think of one single policy or decision by him in the last one year which has promoted the cause of sustaining the environment. To the contrary, however, there have been dozens which will cause long lasting and irreparable devastation to our natural resources and ravage the environment for ever. Here is an illustrative list:
* Under Mr. Javadekar’s prodding a truncated National Wildlife Board. at just one sitting in August 2014, cleared 130 projects related to mining, power, defence, all within 10 kms of protected wildlife areas( which had hitherto been a no-go zone). These PAs include Mukandra Hill Tiger Reserve (Rajasthan), Kanha Tiger Reserve (MP), Dudhwa Tiger Reserve (UP), Kapilash Wildlife Sanctuary (Odisha), and an Olive Ridley turtle nesting site in AP’s Krishna district. Diversion of forestland of the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala has been allowed to enable an increase in the height of the Kunnar Dam. And, most shocking of all, a four-lane National Highway has been approved over a 23 km. stretch of the Sariska Tiger Reserve (all of it in the core area) over the protests of the state forest department. It is clearly of no consequence to our Minister that more than 600 rivers and streams originate from tiger habitats, supplying water to the teeming millions in the cities. A case in point is the Ramganga river which flows from the Corbett National Park and provides Delhi with 190 million cubic feet of water. By chipping away at these habitats, therefore, we endanger not only the ecology but also the future of these cities.
* There is a strong move to replace the Expert panel on Ganga constituted in pursuance of Supreme Court orders to take a view on the number of dams that should be permitted in the upper reaches of the Alaknanda and the Mandakni, the major tributaries of the Ganga. The present panel, headed by Prof. Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur, had recommended that only six of the two dozen odd hydel projects proposed on these rivers should be allowed, and that too after reducing their capacity by about 30%-40% to ensure minimum water flows to sustain aquatic life. A sensible recommendation, you would think. Not so Mr. Javadekar whose loyalty is to the power sector and not to his own Ministry. Unhappy with the paring down of projects, he has now proposed a new Committee headed by one BP Das, who is a known proponent of power projects, with the Joint Secretary of his Ministry as the convenor, and all the scientists being replaced by technocrats. Mr. Javadekar will get the report he wants, and the Ganga will not flow for much longer.
* There is also a proposal in the pipeline to trim the powers of the National Green Tribunal, the only body in the govt. today which is showing some interest in protecting the environment: precisely for this reason it has become a thorn in Mr. Javadekar’s ” make in India” flesh. The proposal is to emasculate the NGT by making it a recommendatory, rather than a judicial, body; and to take away its autonomous status by bringing it under the Ministry. This will make Mr. Javadekar lord of all he surveys, even if all he surveys is a barren waste.
* Mr. Javadekar is very thorough, if anything. He has also set in motion a review of the three pillars of our environmental regulatory edifice viz. The Indian Forest Act, The Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act. His objective is to extirpate from them all provisions which make it difficult to quickly implement Mr. Modi’s “Make in India” vision- in other words, environmental considerations, no matter how legitimate, will not be allowed to stand in the way of the GDP God. By the time Mr. Javadekar is through with his mission Veerappan will start looking like a saint, in comparison.
* In order to leave nothing to chance Mr. Javadekar has also proposed to dilute the Forests Right Act to takeaway the powers of gram sabhas to reject projects in their area. He has obviously been rattled by the Niyamgiri fiasco, where (pursuant to a Supreme Court order directing that the gram sabhas be allowed to have their say) 12 gram sabhas voted to disallow the mining of minerals in their forests by the Rupees 50,000 crore Lanjigarh aluminia plant of Vedanta. Once again, this erstwhile spokesman of the BJP cannot appreciate the fact that there are more than 200 million deprived Indians living in and around forests and dependent on their eco-systems for their livelihood, and that they MUST have a say on the use of these eco-systems for other purposes. With such blinkered visions, is there any wonder that the Naxalite problem just won’t go away ?
* Mr. Javadekar is also re-defining the word “forest” (currently the definition given by the Supreme Court in 1997-98 prevails): he finds that the present definition is not “user friendly” (guess who the ” user” is that he has in his mind ?). He is proposing that areas which do not have trees on the ground, even though they may be classified as forests; plantation areas; and areas which were not notified as forests before a particular date, even though they may have tree cover now- all these areas shall cease to be considered as forests and will not enjoy the protection of the FCA. Tens of thousands of sq. kms of forest land shall thus be made available to builders, industrialists and assorted cronies, and the people who are actually dependent on these forests shall join the millions of ecological refugees.
* Coastal Regulation Zone Rules, meant to protect vulnerable coastal areas, mangrove swamps, deltas and aquatic life in these zones, are also slated for large scale amendments to enable construction of real estate, ports and highways.
* Wherever possible, and under the garb of stimulating production, environmental and social impact assessments and public hearings are being done away with. For example, coal mines which extract less than 16 million tonnes per annum and want to increase production by 50%, are no longer required to hold public hearings. Dhanbad and Jharia are the historical results of such short-sighted policies earlier, and the reasons why such hearings were introduced in the first place. But history appears to have stopped for Mr. Javadekar with the Mahabharat and the Rig Vedas.
* The NDA govt. suffers from a Mohammad bin Tughlaq like megalomania: nothing else can explain its insistence on going ahead with the river-linking project despite warnings from scientists and enviromentalists. It is going full steam on the project without conducting any environmental or socio-economic impact assessment studies. It boggles the mind that any country can link 58 rivers through 12550 kms of canals, build 3000 dams and divert 173 billion cu.mtrs. of waters without carrying out these basic studies! The first phase of the project-linking of the Betwa and Ken rivers- has been formally announced yesterday.
* Having worked in both state and central governments for many years, one can say with confidence that the former are far more venal and subject to pressure; it is therefore necessary that the central govt. act a check on the states, and have the final say in environmental and forest clearances. But Mr. Javadekar, in his hurry to open the flood-gates, is empowering the states to give approvals at their level. This will create complete mayhem in a few years.
There is much that Mr. Javadekar could have done, and even more that is just crying out for policy initiatives and interventions. The Kasturirangan Committee report on the Western Ghats, that seeks to protect just 37% of its 164,280 sq.kms by declaring them as Ecologically Sensitive Areas, is awaiting approval since 2012. The Western Ghats are a priceless hot-spot that gives birth to 58 rivers and sequesters 10 million tonnes of carbon every year; it has already shrunk by 25% in the last two decades and is screaming for some protection. But our articulate Minister just won’t approve the report because the politician-builder nexus in six states is opposed to it. True to his style, he will probably keep appointing more Committees till he gets the report that he wants.
Nothing concrete is being done about reducing our carbon emissions. We are fond of quoting China as a model for industrial development but are learning nothing from its efforts in this field: China has reduced its its carbon intensity( emissions per unit of GDP) by 20% in the last five years and has set a target of 45% reduction by 2020. Mr. Javadekar continues nonchalantly in his oxygen deprived fog.
Urban waste, which is probably the biggest polluter of our rivers, is another area of concern that is just begging for some attention, but the MOEF is a silent spectator, leaving it to the cities to sort out the mess. China has already installed 180 high volume incinerators and is setting up 200 more with a target of incinerating 60% of the waste by 2020: this shall not only reduce the land required for land fills but also prevent leaching of chemicals into the soil and produce power. We have no comprehensive plan for this.
The NGT has taken the bold step of banning diesel vehicles older than ten years in Delhi, which has 14 lakh of them. This is commendable since 27% of carbon emissions are generated by the transport sector. One would have expected that the MOEF would, in conjunction with the Transport Ministry, have by now formulated a plan for the disposal of such vehicles, instead of merely allowing them to be sold in other towns, adding to their pollution. Many countries, including Mauritius, have evolved schemes whereby such car-owners are paid a sum of money for handing over these vehicles to the govt, which then breaks them down and recycles their various components. This is a programme that could be considered under the PPP mode if only Mr. Javadekar had the inclination to attend to this. But he is more involved in addressing press conferences where he can bad mouth the opposition.
The list is endless but the scenario is clear. Mr. Javadekar not only lacks the long term vision which an Environment Minister in today’s challenging context should possess but he also has no interest in preserving the environment. His only agenda is to undo the good work done in the last two decades. The country shall pay a heavy price in the years to come for his stewardship of this Ministry.
Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains.....he has made them his home.

The ” CESS” Pool — Stop This Taxation Through The Back Door

The following has been posted by Avay Shukla for hillpost.in

The government has given us our belated Diwali gift – a brand new Cess on all services. From 16.11.2015 we shall all now have to pay an additional 0.50% Cess on all services on which service tax is applicable. And this is not 0.50% of the service tax but 0.50% of the cost of the service. Most bills of daily services availed by all economic strata shall now go up – telephone/mobile, eating out, travel, all forms of insurance, TV charges, entertainment, etc.etc. This additional burden is the Swachh Bharat Cess (SBC) which is intended to fund the Clean India mission. By itself the SBC may not be a back – breaker but the larger picture should give us some food for thought.

Our Cess pool already has 20 Cesses, one of them dating back to 1953! (Salt cess). We also have six surcharges. The five top Cesses in terms of revenue earned are: Road Cess (2005, Rs. 43,100 crores), Education Cess (2004, Rs. 26,677 crores), Clean Energy Cess (2010, Rs.13,118 crore), Secondary and Higher Education Cess (2007, Rs. 1812  crore), and Research and Development Cess (1986, Rs. 750 crore).
You would be reasonable in presuming that since Cesses are essentially tax on tax, and of tiny percentages, they are not really a matter of concern – and you would be dead wrong! Sample this: In 2015-16, out of total tax receipts of Rs. 9.20 lakh crores in the central budget, the various Cesses shall contribute Rs. 1.52 lakh crore, or 16.60% – one in every 6 tax rupees! The corresponding percentage in 1999 was 1.81. Its quite obvious that this virus has profligated promiscuously in North Block over the last fifteen years, and if not stopped shall soon assume endemic proportions.
Systematic taxation by Cess is abhorrent to any fair and enlightened form of budgeting. Originally conceived in Ireland to tide over a temporary exigency, under our scrounging mandarins, it has simply become a permanent tax by another name. Fiscal fairness and logic demand that once that temporary need or situation is over the Cess should be discontinued. That never happens in India, as evidenced by the Salt Cess which has been around for 62 years, or the Mines Cess and the Beedi Workers’ Cess which have been fattening the coffers for the last 40 years.
Secondly, if the need for a particular Cess is felt to be of a permanent nature then it should be levied as a Straightforward Tax (which can be properly examined and debated in Parliament) and not squirreled away among the fine print of the budget papers. One reason why the central government is loath to do so is that whereas taxes have to be shared with the states, a Cess is retained by the centre exclusively. Its time the states woke up to this day light robbery!
My most serious objection to taxation by Cess, however, concerns the manner in which these funds are utilised. Take just two of them: Construction Workers’ Cess (CWC) and Research and Development Cess (RDC). The CWC is a joke – ask any construction worker, whose lot remains just as risky, impecunious and insecure as in 1996 when this Cess was introduced. Had the government used this money to start an insurance or health care scheme, or provide safety equipment, or creches for women labourers, or special schools for their children, in any meaningful way then perhaps we would not have complained about this imposition. But nothing of the sort has happened: of course, schemes have been formulated on paper, more offices opened and staff recruited, but the construction labourer remains at the mercy of the contractors, a pawn in an entirely unorganised sector which the government has failed to regulate but in whose name it taxes us!
Almost Rs 750 crore is collected as R+D Cess every year: where does this money go? The state of R+D in this country with a two trillion dollar economy is pathetic in all fields – health, agriculture, industry, defence, manufacturing to name just a few sectors. Whatever research there is is being done by the private sector and the government has little to show for the thousands of crores it has been collecting for the last twenty years.

The ugly reality is that the government has discovered that a Cess is an easy method of garnering funds to buttress its kitty and to bridge deficits in other sectors. Searching for figures of actual utilisation of dedicated cess receipts I found that in 2004-2005, it collected Rs. 5100 crores as Education Cess but spent only Rs. 2000 crore of it on Education. I would be very surprised if this was not the case also with other Cesses. In my view the CAG should carry out a dedicated audit of all 20 Cesses from their inception to determine how much was collected and spent under each Head – the results should be revealing.
The Swachh Bharat Cess now imposed is another regressive form of taxation: it is expected to generate Rs. 1200 crore per annum and will hit the middle/lower income classes the most. Its purpose is to clean up the environment. This raises an important question: should not core activities of the government be funded by the sectoral budgetary provisions rather than by imposing additional Cesses? Surely, Roads, Education, the Environment and Clean Energy are mainstream government concerns and should be funded by government’s tax / non-tax receipts and not ad-hoc Cesses? The current year’s budget already provides Rs. 3500 crore for the Clean India Mission: where then was the need to pilfer another Rs. 1200 crore from the public? By constantly resorting to this convenient mechanism the government is actually abandoning the fiscal discipline inherent in the prioritisation of expenditure, and taking the easy way out – at our expense.
We are told that the SBC shall be used to construct 120 million toilets to stop open defecation, a pure engineering solution that indicates that we have learnt nothing from the past. The UPA had also spent thousands of crores on such a scheme, resulting either in “ghost toilets” which were paid for but never built, or toilets that function as stores for cattle feed – and 600 million Indians continue to defecate happily in the open or on railway tracks! Experience in states such as Himachal Pradesh where the scheme has been fairly successful reveals that what is needed is overcoming age-old shibboleths that open defecation is healthy (and even ordained by religious tradition!), convincing families of the clear connection between open defecation and child mortality and so on. One interesting statistic on the subject is contained in a 2005 study by the government: the percentage of Muslim families defecating in the open is 42% as against 67% for Hindus. The connection with child mortality? – child mortality rates are higher among Hindus than Muslims, according to an article dated July 19, 2014 in the Economist: 1.7 more Muslim children per 100 children survive to the age of five years than Hindu children. What is needed is not the pumping in of more and more money but a dedicated extension effort, which the government appears to be incapable of. It should be roping in grass-roots CBOs and NGOs for the purpose since it lacks the capacity itself, but is more busy issuing them notices and freezing their bank accounts.
The same is the story with the cleaning up of the Ganga and the Yamuna: in the last ten years more than Rs.10000 crore and Rs. 3500 crore (also collected from various surcharges and fees) have been spent in efforts to clean up the two rivers respectively, but they become more polluted every year. The problem is sheer incompetence, corruption, insensitivity to the environment and reluctance to take hard decisions. Just last week it was reported that the sand mafia in Faridabad/NOIDA has built a sand BRIDGE across the entire width of the Yamuna! – and neither of the two administrations claimed to be aware of it. The government will not take the obvious decisions which alone can save these rivers – ban sand mining, stop the construction of more dams upstream, ensure a regular and adequate flow of water, stop immersion of hundreds of toxic-painted idols in their waters, prevent the encroachments on their floodplains, treat urban sewage properly. Why should it, when it is far easier to impose another Cess ?
It’s all about the money, honey!
Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains.....he has made them his home.

Gujarat: activists silent, ex-cops challenge PP Pandey's elevation as DGP

 In a role reversal, two former Gujarat policemen have shouldered a public cause that civil rights groups gave up on without a fight.
Rahul Sharma, the former IPS officer hounded by the Gujarat state for exposing the then Narendra Modi regime's complicity in the anti-Muslim carnage of 2002, has petitioned the Gujarat High Court against the appointment of the murder accused PP Pandey as the interim Director General of Police.
Sharma has filed the PIL on behalf of Julio Ribeiro, the former supercop who served in Gujarat in the 1980s.
Pandey was appointed DGP on 15 April. He has the dubious distinction of being the first murder accused police chief in India. Pandey is charged with involvement in the staged encounter killing of Ishrat Jehan in Ahmedabad in June 2004. He is currently out on bail.
Just days before his elevation, Pandey attended the "welcome ceremony" for DG Vanzara, the retired DIG accused in Ishrat Jahan and Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter killings who was recently allowed by a special CBI court to enter Gujarat after many years.
One would have expected civil rights groups to decry Pandey's appointment, but they kept quiet, save for a few murmurs. Gautam Thaker, secretary of the Gujarat chapter of People's Union of Civil Liberties, merely complained that the law and order machinery should not have been entrusted to such a person. He, however, indicated that the PUCL may consider joining Ribeiro's PIL.
The PIL, which will be heard by a division bench led by Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy next week, questions the government's wisdom to pick a murder accused police officer as the DGP.
Sharma, who now practises as an advocate in the high court, said his main objection to Pandey's appointment is that he will have authority over all the policemen who are witnesses against him.
While Ribeiro, 87, has clarified that his petition is "based on principle", not "anything personal against the incumbent DGP", Sharma has a bone to pick with Gujarat's establishment, and legitimately so.
The state has gone after him with a vengeance, apparently for taking a "secular stand" during the 2002 riots. Then the SP of Bhavnagar, Sharma ordered firing on a mob that had attacked a madrasa housing more than 200 children. He was taken to task for this by the deputy home minister Gordhan Zadhaphia who told him, "Your ratio of firing deaths is not proper". That is, Sharma's actions had led to the killing of more Hindus than Muslims unlike elsewhere in Gujarat.
Sharma found himself at the receiving end of the BJP regime's ire especially after he submitted a batch of Call Data Records to the Nanavati Commission, which was probing the carnage. The records revealed that Modi's ministers and VHP leaders had been in constant touch with police officers as well as rioters. Sharma was charged with violating norms by the Modi government, only to be cleared by the Central Administrative Tribunal. He quit the police soon after to take up legal practice.
Julio Francis Ribeiro (born 5 May 1929, in Mumbai (Bombay)) is a retired Indian police officer and civil servant. He held increasingly responsible positions during his career, and led the Punjab Police during part of the Punjab insurgency periods. In 1987, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian award for his services. Since retirement, he has served on corporate boards of directors and performed social work.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Delhi Govt. take three TV Channels to Court

The AAP government on Friday filed a complaint before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM), Patiala House Courts, seeking action against three television news channels — Zee News, News X and India News — for airing allegedly doctored footage of the February 9 protests at JNU.

Citing news reports, forensic reports and the fact-finding report submitted by the New Delhi district magistrate that stated that three of the seven video clips were found to be doctored, the Delhi government has sought examination of its complaint under Section 200 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It has urged the court to take cognizance of the offences and “summon, try and punish” the accused.

The respondents named in the complaint include M/s Zee News, M/s Zee News Media Corporation Limited, M/s News X, M/s Information TV Private Limited, M/s India News and “other unnamed individuals”.

The 12 respondents include editors-in-chief, managing directors and directors of the organisations named in the complaint.

Although Times Now is not named as an accused in the complaint, the AAP government has stated that the allegedly doctored video was shown on the channel on an electronic device held by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, who was a guest on a show on the channel on February 17.

“The accused knowingly and with malicious intent have caused damage and/ or injury to the students of JNU and to the JNU institution and have disrupted communal harmony, public tranquility and security in Delhi by transmitting a forged/ fabricated/ doctored/ altered video(s ). These video(s) are forged/ fabricated/ altered in material form. It is evident that the doctoring, use, dissemination and broadcast of these videos was deliberate and intentional and the accused persons thus created false document(s). They have used the… false documents as genuine. The accused persons are therefore liable for prosecution under Sections 465 (punishment for forgery) and 471 (using as genuine forged document or electronic record) of IPC,” said the government in its complaint.

 “The CM and our government has made it clear that if someone has acted against the law, we will take action. We cannot allow persons holding responsible positions to create an environment that is untrue. People believe what is reported by TV channels and newspapers. Media needs responsible handling. You cannot create doctored videos and package them and show them as true. It’s not allowed,” said Rahul Mehra, standing counsel for the Delhi government. 

The matter is scheduled to be heard on Monday. 

The AAP government has stated that the allegedly doctored footage incited people to resort to violence and also led to the attack on JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar in the court premises on February 17.

 “It is further submitted that the accused have committed offences under Section 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) r/w 415 (cheating) as the forgery was committed with the intention of cheating. It was deliberately intended in the use of the forgeries to induce the persons so deceived to do or omit to do anything which would cause, and did cause, damage or harm to those persons in body, mind, reputation or property, including, but not limited to, those who were induced to attack Mr (Kanhaiya) Kumar and others in the Patiala House Courts and elsewhere. Professional lawyers and elected representatives were induced to commit attacks that were damaging to their body, mind, and/ or reputation,” said the Delhi government.

 “The videos telecast by the accused channels were tampered, forged and/ or of unverified authenticity with criminal intent. News channels, from their internal, community and statutory standards, have a duty to the state as well as the public, to exercise due diligence not only with regard to their statements, but also the content displayed on their news channel, a duty more important when the statements and content would incite people or a section thereof to violence or breach of public tranquility,” it said. 

The telecast of the allegedly doctored videos, the Delhi government claimed, led to breach of peace with mobs gathered outside JNU and the deployment of large police teams at the university. “The image of India and Delhi as a country and a city governed by the rule of law was tarnished,” said the government. 

By altering or tampering with the video clips, the government claimed, the news channels also violated the provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000. “It is apparent that the accused channels and the anchors showed the videos deliberately, without verification or authentication, bypassing even minimum standards of broadcasting and journalism, with malicious intent,” said the petition. 

Modi Government All About 'Selfies and Jumlas': Kanhaiya

JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar today came down heavily on the Narendra Modi dispensation, terming it a "Government of selfies and jumlas" as he pushed for enactment of a law to prevent caste-based prejudice in educational institutions.
The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) President who hit headlines after being arrested on charges of sedition in the aftermath of an event at the JNU campus where alleged anti-India slogans were raised, went hammer and tongs against the NDA-led Centre and its pet projects.
"The Modi government is coining only jumlas (idiomatic expressions) such as Make in India, which should actually be Fake in India; Stand Up India, Start Up India, Selfie with Daughter etc. It has become a government of selfies and 'jumlas'.
"The reality is these are only tall promises by which the government is fooling the public as nothing positive was coming off the ground," he said.
The 29-year-old was speaking on the topic 'Student-Youth Assembly Against Discrimination' at an event in suburban Tilak Nagar.
Kumar said at a time when entire Marathwada region in Maharashtra was reeling under drought, "RSS-led government" was busy holding IPL matches in the state.
"I heard a wax statue of Modiji has been carved out. I also heard a 12-year old girl in Marathwada died as she ventured out to fetch water in scorching heat. Let that wax statue of Modiji be put in Marathwada," he said.
Kumar, on his first visit to the metropolis after being granted bail in the sedition case, also touched upon issues related to Mumbai during his 50-minute speech mixed with sarcastic jibes and hard-hitting words.
He said the government should pay some attention to improve commuting in suburban trains, which are usually overcrowded leading to death of passengers many a time.
The JNU leader said it was high time "Brahminical system" was rooted out and an egalitarian society established in the country.
"I am not against Brahmins or any particular caste. But I am against social structure built around Brahminical system and Manuvaad. I want an end of this system and its replacement by Babasaheb Ambekar's vision (of casteless) society," he said.
He slammed those who were asking Muslims to prove their nationalism and trying to determine the food habits of the countrymen.
These issues are being seen with an eye on the next year's Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, he said.
Kumar pitched for a new law, 'Rohith Act', to stop caste-based discrimination in educational institutions, a demand made in the wake of suicide by Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad University in January.
Kumar ridiculed the much-hyped bullet train project and sought to know who will travel on the high-speed rail network "in a country where unemployment is rampant".
He took potshots at Modi over his pre-2014 general election promises of bringing back blackmoney stashed abroad and creating large-scale jobs.
"Modiji promised to give Rs 15 lakh to everyone (from black money to be brought to India) and to create employment opportunities for two crore people every year. But I ask Modiji, what happened to your promises? Contrary to this, people are losing their jobs. They don't have money. Who will ride on your bullet trains," he asked.
The event was jointly organised by Students' Federation of India (SFI), All India Students' Federation (AISF), Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and All India Democratic Students' Organisation (AIDSO), among others.
Other prominent student leaders who were present at the meet included Richa Singh (President of Allahabad University Students' Union), Shehla Rashid (Vice-President of JNU students' Union) and Nachimutti (President of FTII Students' union).
They pledged to defeat fascist forces and uphold the secular and republican characters of Indian Constitution.
Former Judge B G Kolse-Patil, social activist Teesta Setalvad and noted documentary filmmaker Anand Patavardhan also shared their views and criticised the "institutionalised murder" of Rohith Vemula. They said the BJP-led governments at the Centre and in Maharashtra were mere "tools" of RSS.
The students and youths of the country "were not ready" to give the nation into the hands of "right wing" forces, they said.

The underbelly of India’s silicon valley

What happened in Bengaluru this week has a lesson for every Indian city. It’s a warning that growing disparities must be addressed urgently.

They don’t work in cubicles and are not constantly on social media sites protesting against bad roads, traffic, power cuts or water shortage. They don’t grandstand on political ideologies and discuss India as a global power, for their realities are harshly local; it’s about everyday survival.
They are Dalits, Other Backward Classes (OBCs), some even from forward castes and different religions, but united by a common economic plight. And they proved they can come out in their thousands to protest, suddenly, without any concrete effort at mobilisation. When they did, they paralysed a city, one portrayed to the world as India’s silicon valley, its IT powerhouse.
What happened in Bengaluru this week has a lesson for every Indian city. There is a giant underbelly of disparity and discontent that exists and it can erupt, suddenly. It can challenge the myths of economic progress and images that governments have cautiously projected before the world. Images laced in terms like ‘investor confidence’ and ‘ease of doing business’.
A spontaneous peoples’ protest

There is still an air of confusion over how protests by garment factory workers erupted and galvanised, which crippled normal life in Bengaluru for two days and turning ‘extremely violent’ by the city’s standards. It started at one factory, where photocopies of a newspaper report stating that workers cannot withdraw employer’s contribution to their provident fund (PF) till 58 years of age were circulated. A rage erupted, and workers, predominantly women, took to the roads in what was described by the police force as a “flash strike” on Monday.
Word spread like wildfire to other garment factories in the area: there are about 8-10 in the cluster. In under an hour, workers from all the factories poured out, paralysing Hosur Road. Ironically, the road is the arterial highway that leads to Electronics City, which houses campuses of several IT majors and is the showcase for a new India or ‘surging economy’.
No high-tech device could have predicted the event or how it would galvanise the next day. Garment factory workers in several other parts of the city, again where factories exist in clusters, came out to the streets. Corporate offices and police stations were attacked, buses set on fire and roads blocked for hours.
Trade union leaders were clueless — they were planning a protest, but no one anticipated a sudden burst of anger, of this nature. The police were equally clueless, as one officer was reported as saying, “When we wanted to talk to their leader, they were clueless and so were we.” This protest had no one leader or negotiator for demands, it was a sudden burst of pent-up anger, triggered by the new PF ‘reform’.
These factories exist in clusters and hence workers in garment manufacturing units could mobilise themselves instantly. There are an estimated 5,00,000 people working in garment factories in the city. Predominantly women (estimated to be around 85 per cent) and for them, usually with salaries of around Rs. 6,500 a month, the few hundred rupees they save as PF is the only social security.
Symptom of a larger angst

This is where the crux of the issue lies. The PF law was just a trigger and the garment industry is just one small section. As we build and showcase a new economy, there is little forward movement in ensuring social security for the millions in the lower-to-middle income groups.
For instance, quality health care and education remain a pipe dream, and survival in a ‘booming economy’ is a daily battle. Unionisation is restricted in garment units and hence workers have little or no grievance-redressal mechanism or collective bargaining. Against this backdrop, amendments to labour laws proposed for enactment in Karnataka, like in many other States, increase work hours for workers and arguably shifts the balance in favour of factory owners.
Such policies have ensured that even a basic level of trust in the system is eroded. In this situation, when savings like PF, which for decades the working class in India has taken as the ultimate security, can become inaccessible at a time of need, it shakes the workers’ faith completely. It’s not anger but desperation to save the little they have.
To date, Union governments have been extremely cautious in even altering PF interest rates. Did the illusion that India has changed allow the Centre to try changing PF laws?
It is important to address the difference in the way PF is looked at by those surging with a booming corporate economy and workers, like those in garment factories — PF is not the only saving mechanism for the young manager or techie, for many it’s just a mandatory contribution that one has to make.
The garment workers have proved that there is a vast, angry India outside swanky offices. And their protest is a strong message to the government and the ‘booming economy’ not to tamper with the little they have. Elections in States, including Kerala and West Bengal where the Left has a strong presence, may have ensured immediate withdrawal of the controversial PF rule by the Union government, but the real test is to see whether the intent will be to understand the concerns of the labour and lower income classes.
It’s time to focus on building systems and policies that offer them a larger stake in economic and social progress. The PF law was just a trigger to one set of a large population that works in semi-organised industries. And there are millions, like taxi drivers and construction labourers, who do not even have a shot at a provident fund. The trigger for each of these sections could be different, but their frustrations are the same and the impact they could have if they galvanise in protest could be enormous.
What Bengaluru witnessed is just a symptom, labour led by no union that had the potential to bring parts of a city to a standstill and forced the Union government to take note.