Blood Stains in Jindal Steel, Orissa. 25th January 2012


See what happens to displaced villagers who protest against Jindal Steel in Angul, Orissa.

India’s ID plan: An end to its inept bureaucracy or an Orwellian nightmare?


 

 

Eric Randolph
Feb 1, 2012

NEW DELHI– A plan to provide each of India’s 1.2 billion citizens with a unique identification number has been praised as an essential programme to impose some efficiency on India’s infamously inept bureaucracy.

But its opponents have said it is ripe for abuse. The government could use it to spy on its citizens and criminals could steal the data and create false identities.

Since the plan was launched in mid-2010, about 110 million Indians have queued up at data-processing centres across the country to have their irises scanned and their fingerprints recorded.

The unique identification (UID) number that arrives in the post a couple of months later can then be used to apply for welfare benefits and set up a bank account, without the endless form-filling and bribe-giving, which often goes along with proving your existence in India.

Headed by the respected former chairman of IT giant Infosys, Nandan Nilekani, the scheme has been a model of unusual government efficiency.

But the programme is now under threat from the Home Ministry, which has its own biometric database.

It collects not only fingerprints and irises, but also sensitive information such as caste and religion, which it wants to use for security purposes.

A turf war between the Home Ministry and the UID Authority led to a compromise last week. The agencies agreed to share their data to avoid duplication. That allowed Mr Nilekani to collect another 400 million people on to his database. The government is providing more than US$1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) to merge the databases.

The deal is a boon for the Home Ministry, since it has only registered about 8 million citizens on its National Population Register (NPR).

It is unclear how all this information will be stored and shared, but it has done nothing to allay the fears of activists who foresaw the UID scheme turning into an Orwellian nightmare that could target, rather than help, India’s poorest citizens.

“These schemes are changing the relationship between the citizen and the state,” said Usha Ramanathan, an independent legal researcher and an opponent of UID.

“In the current climate, many of the poor don’t want to be identified because they will be subject to harassment.”

The paranoia is not entirely misplaced. The NPR emerged out of a scheme in the early 1990s to identify illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. More than 40,000 Bengali-speakers were later deported within a three-year period.

Many fear that the new data will be similarly used by parties – such as the ultra-right-wing Shiv Sena in Mumbai – that want to identify and remove migrant labourers from other states.

UID supporters said these concerns could be addressed through legal protections, and should not overshadow its work in streamlining welfare delivery.

One of the UID programme’s main tasks will be to cut out the millions of “ghost workers” that exist only on paper and allow contractors to siphon off extra money from the government.

Payments for programmes such as the employment guarantee scheme – which provides 100 days of work to every adult in rural areas – are already starting to bypass middle men and go straight into verified bank accounts.

It is also expected to provide a “portable identity” for internal migrants, who often find it impossible to open bank accounts or receive welfare benefits outside of their home state.

“In a country where so many people are moving for short-term work or long-term relocation, we have not had a method by which people can take their identity with them,” said Pronab Sen, principal adviser at the government’s planning commission.

“Providing these people with public services has always been a problem. That’s where the UID will be essential.”

But much of its success depends on untested methods and technology. There are immediate practical concerns, with technicians reporting widespread difficulties in reading the worn-down fingerprints of manual labourers and the cataract-blocked irises of elderly citizens. Experts also said that without a proper design, the scheme could prove far less secure than its proponents imagine.

“All it would take to steal someone’s biometric identity is a photograph taken with a high-resolution camera or a fingerprint off a glass,” said Sunil Abraham, of the Centre for internet and Security in Bangalore.

“And once your biometric identity has been compromised, there is no way of re-securing it without surgery.”

He points to the recent incident in which several thousand Israeli biometric identities were leaked on to the internet by Saudi hackers. Stolen identities could be used to frame individuals for crimes or set up bank accounts for money laundering.

“I can see a situation in which a black market for biometric identities emerges,” said Mr Abraham.

Many in parliament share these concerns. Last month, the standing committee on finance rejected a proposed bill that required certain legal protections for people in the UID database.

The committee concluded that the standards were drafted with “no clarity of purpose and leaving many things to be sorted out during the course of its implementation … [it has been] implemented in a directionless way with a lot of confusion”.

Mr Nilekani said he will assess the committee’s concerns. “We will review the security concerns in the next six to eight weeks,” he said last week.

But with trust in the government at an all-time low in India, he will have a lot of convincing to do before his opponents back down.

“Every attempt at regulation in this country has failed,” said Ms Ramanathan. “They say this data will not be abused, but how can we believe them?”

erandolph@thenational.ae

WTF news-Robbed Rs 100 ( 2$) ? stay in jail for seven years


1 Feb 2012
COIMBATORE: Two Coimbatore youth have been awarded seven years in jail each for waylaying and robbing a man of Rs100 and a wrist watch two years ago.

Handing down the punishment on Tuesday, the Fourth Additional Sessions Court judge A K A Rahman also imposed a penalty of Rs10,000 on the two.

According to the prosecution case, on the night of February 7, 2010, the accused Rajendran and Askar Ali, both aged 27 and residents of Selvapuram, had brandished a knife and waylaid one Saravanan who was proceeding to a pharmacy to buy medicines. They relieved him of Rs100 and a watch on a street in Selvapuram Muthusamy Colony.

Additional Government Pleader M K Elangovan argued the case for the prosecution during the final trial.

The conviction of the two youth set tongues wagging outside the court hall as people felt that Rs100 was too paltry a sum warranting seven years’ imprisonment.

However, senior lawyers pointed out that in the eyes of law the quantum of punishment is not proportionate to the amount robbed.

“As per Sec 392 of the IPC, whoever commits robbery shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable for fine. The judge has rightly invoked this provision,” a senior lawyer explained.

The lawyer added that the accused had threatened the victim at knife-point, which was a serious offence.

Thai universal healthcare scheme saves 80,000 families from bankruptcy


The Bangkok Post:

Launched in 2001, the UCS covered the remaining 47 million people, mainly those who were not enrolled in two other health schemes – the civil service medical benefits for government officials and family members, and the social security scheme for employees in private sector.

An assessment by a group of independent health system researchers and economists from international organisations including the World Health Organisation, found that this universal health coverage has prevented over 80,000 families from bankruptcy due to timely health treatment during its 10 years of implementation.

Conducted in 2011, the assessment showed that catastrophic health expenditure dropped from 6.8% in 1996 to 2.8% in 2008.

Impoverishment as measured by an additional number of non-poor households falling below the national poverty line due to medical treatment costs, was reduced significantly from 2.71% in 2000 prior to the UCS, to 0.49% in 2009.

Progress in the universal health scheme was also indicated by increasing outpatient visits per member per year from 2.41 in 2003 to 3.64 in 2011.

The number of hospital admissions almost doubled between 2003 and 2011. Data from 2010 showed a very low prevalence of unmet needs for health services in Thailand.

The report suggested that considering the positive results, the scheme should be maintained, even extended to minimise out-of-pocket payment and prevent impoverishment caused by healthcare expenditure among a majority of the population.

According to the book Good Health at Low Cost 25 Years On, launched during the week-long Prince Mahidol Awards Conference, Thailand outperformed many other countries in improving health outcomes at a low health funding per capita of 2,755 baht.

Read more here

Turning the Tide: Women’s Lives in Fisheries and the Assault of Capital


By Nilanjana Biswas

Economic and Political Weekly

Over the years, research on women in the fisheries moved from a framework of political economy to a framework of political ecology. This meant that analyses shifted away from labour, production relations and surplus value extraction typically grounded in Marxian modes of analysis, in favour of those focused on environmental sustainability, livelihood sustainability and a discourse on poverty. During this period, women’s labour has been mobilised at an unprecedented scale and concentrated in the most exploitative jobs to fuel economic growth in fisheries. Even as industrial fisheries thrive on the labour of poor women, new analyses and new forms of organising are needed to fundamentally challenge this exploitation. Capital cannot be left unfettered to do as it pleases, but must be forced through stringent regulation to heed other considerations apart from profitability alone. Donor aid is, however, driving the non-governmental organisation increasingly towards conciliatory, mediatory roles, incapable of seeking solutions outside the framework of capital. Read more here

Awards for alleged killers


Ugly mechanism that feeds into a vicious cycle of Human Rights  abuse

30/1/2012
Kashmir Times, Editorial
It can’t be a case of setting a bad precedent. That was already set when Mumma Kana, an unknown informer of the security agencies made it to the list of the officially prestigious Padma awards, two years ago, for what was described as his ‘service in the social sector.’ So when cops known for having unleashed a rein of terror in their areas and of having engaged in brutal actions, not legitimised by the law of the country, get prestigious national honours for the contributions, it is already a case of well accepted norm. Much before Mumma Kana was conferred with the Padma award, who finally still got it despite much outcry against it, officers known for their brutalities and poor human rights track record have known to be decorated, promoted and given undue benefits. Two cops accused of killing of a youth in Sopore, investigation of which never reached its logical conclusion, have made it to the list of gallantry awards this Republic Day. So did the Chhattisgarh cadre police officer who allegedly supervised the torture of Soni Sori, a school teacher accused of assisting the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Soni Sori was stripped naked, administered electric shocks and assaulted in police custody under this very officer. According to her lawyers, a medical examination found two stones in Soni’s genital tract and another in her rectum. While her legal battle goes on in court, her tormentors have been rewarded for the kind of gallantry which should hang in shame the head of any Indian who has some respect for basic civil liberties.

In conflict areas, it is already a norm that promotions and awards are doled out on the basis of number of kills and arrests, irrespective of whether the slain, detained or tortured were innocent and whether the actions were taken as prescribed by the law. The history of conflict areas – from Kashmir and north-east to the Maoist hit areas – is replete with incidents of accused men in uniform not just escaping prosecution and punishment but instead getting rewarded with honours and promotions. The Brigadier accused in Pathribal fake encounter case, which is one of the most publicised cases from Kashmir, rose to become a Major General. The General slated to become the next army chief too has been accused of having stains on his hands of innocent blood. There is enough evidence and statistics to prove that men in uniform guilty of crimes of humanity do not only get protection from the government but many of them are also rewarded, demonstrating the ugly institutionalised mechanism that feeds into a vicious cycle of abuse, encouraging a rising graph of atrocities against the citizens.

It is therefore, not surprising that Human Rights Watch has found India’s track record of human rights very disappointing. It has especially maintained that 2011 has been a dismal year as far as human rights in the country are concerned, while stating that there has been a continuum of custodial killings, police abuses as well as failure to implement policies to protect vulnerable communities. It is nobody’s case that the head of the government in India, or people at the helm of affairs, direct their security agencies to perpetuate a cycle of human rights abuse and engage in atrocities and brutalities against their own citizens. But what adds to the dismay is the fact that beyond the criminal silence that the top helm of affairs maintains over human rights abuse by its security personnel, the government bends out of its way to honour and benefit those accused of the same atrocities. It is a shame that every year the Republic Day should become an occasion of controversy that stirs up over the announcement of national awards. Instead of turning a day, whose sanctity is further eroded by such insensitive distribution of honours, into a controversial one and betraying its patronage to violators of human rights, Republic Day should have been an occasion to pledge, in keeping with the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution, for investigating fairly allegations of abuse and taking action against men guilty of such crimes.

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