Can you guess India 30 years from now ?

Sunday, June 03, 2012,
Orissa Diary

The persisting realities do trigger a sense of comic cynicism that in the days ahead in a few states, struck by Leftist extremism, the scene can be somewhat very different, may be surprising yet funny. A look ahead at a such a scenario, about three decades from now!

Old fashions of the regime have long been lost on some other people and the new ones seem to have scored!

Things have changed. There are no midnight door knocks in the villages that once used to singe in fear of the renegades from the hills. Though among some there is perceptibly militant unwillingness to accept the new system, but there is no other way than reconciling and the rest hang to an unwilling suspension of disbelief.

A frenzied tussle still hunting the psyches of the common man and of course, of the political class in particular, whipped by the ‘ ruthless ‘ transition. People have failed to ascertain which piece of rule is good and which one is bad, especially for a population which was, of late, a mere cynical yet yielding electorate. But this change has come through the blazing of guns and no one knows how many litres of blood and sweat had flown down the hills. The assumptions about any kind of further preparedness to fight any menace of extremism now appear shelved. Enough is enough! The veterans who had ruled from the jungle can be seen taking their morning walks on the barren expanses of forests or slumped on the cots in the evening.

The mist of extremism has turned thin as an eerie yet disquieting normalcy prevails in the state’s interiors and for the time being, it all seems free from the terrors of kidnaps, landmine blasts and exchange of fires or encounters and so on. Few of the scarry realities that once shook the bottom of peace, politics and progress, have been, as if, cowed. So, people have come to accept the improbable as truth. Many look at the change in askance while some, as if it is still a witch hunt, just rejoice. A peculiar blend of fear sown and peace fragmented.

They are no more in jungles of the state’s interiors. Majority of them are now city and town dwellers, but, some still hold to the forts in the woods, in case of any eventuality!!! The ones in the mainstream are giving shape to a new diaspora here and there, a new thinking and a new culture. Where there is no sign of persecution of tribals by any dubious wars.

The corridors linking the hideouts with either Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh or Jharkhand have seen developmental activities in many ways.

The bumpy stretch from Malkangiri to Sukma has got a superb facelift, flanked by thick foliage dotted with small jerry-built huts to accommodate the Western trekkers (but without cameras) for adventure tourism, thanks to the idea mooted by the then Union RD minister of India in 2012. The stretch also houses centres imparting training to unemployed youths in jungle warfare and for undercover agents for special espionage.

The road running from Malkangiri to Dantewada has been rechristened as Peace Corridor and Chitrakonda water reservoir where many security forces had taken watery graves is now known as Shahid Sarovar. A huge gun carved out of stone stands tall on the precipice overseeing the landscape in the memory of the unknown soldiers.

On the hills, hovering the reservoir, there are few rest houses made of red bricks on the jerry-rigged grounds of a dubious history, flanked by security posts manned by the Border Special Forces – a newly formed trigger happy operation group in the aftermath of the big change, now regarded as the most accomplished force to tackle any reversal in the system.

The bludgeoned cut-off area within Malkangiri has been renamed as Island of Owe where still the same boats, with red flags (warning against over loading!) ferry the villagers, of course, free of cost.

The debris of hundreds of blasted culverts and mobile towers here and there have been earmarked for the archaeological department for conservation; let’s hope for a commemoration of the bravados of the then fighters for ‘freedom’.

Entry of foreign tourists has resumed but, tourists from Italy have stopped visiting the area since March 14, 2012. The Italian government, according to unconfirmed sources, has imposed a blanket ban on its adventure seekers on any kind of tribal tourism in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

The police station at Kalimela, once the most pulverised bosom of Malkangiri, has been converted into a small museum, crowned with a hoarding reading ‘Red-Hit Heritage’. The small museum displays oil paintings of many heroes of yesteryears.

Blood-stained grass patches and uniforms are now on display and open for auction.

The guns that have fallen silent for years, now rusted & obsolete, make a collage of sort on the walls of the museum occasionally visited by students of history. One of the former ministers of Odisha, now in his 80s, still has not been able to shed his implausible impulses and obsession for converting such places into tourist rendezvous!

Political chemistry has undergone a sea change. The erstwhile jungle heroes have gained the political legitimacy through non-renewable Memorandum of Understandings and a mixed regime rules the state polity, igniting a debate as to what defines a compassionate democracy!

But, when one speaks today, he or she has to speak slow and measured. You cannot indulge in a skulduggery of sort. There is a rumbling chaos everywhere and one can expect little from the rules, so it is better to accept the outcomes! In the present dispensation the concept of civil society remains under strict scrutiny of watch-dog outfits.

Diktats can be read on the walls prohibiting use of unsavoury political polemics so that people in power can overcome the veils of political uncertainty. On rest of the walls all across the city, there are only the tribal motifs with warnings reading ‘stick no pamphlets’ replacing the cultural glimpses of the Aparajita era. The city municipality was given an overhauling. Green jackets have been replaced by crimson red, garbage vans painted in orange and the corporation now reads CSC (City Salvage Corporation).

There are only two parties – the Left & the Right. The Left comprises the erstwhile jungle fighters turned politicians, civil rights activists, sultry Left intellectuals & NGOs, and the Right is comprised of the main political parties and other small local outfits, now sitting in the opposition and known as the moderates. Unity in diversity is what has brought the two together who had parted ways in 2009.

Still rattled by the rigours of the family dynasty, the principal opposition party in the state has however preferred to stay aloof as an isolated entity and still pledging to fight the fundamentals out of the country. It plays a neutral role in the Assembly with members falling down to less than double figures.

Sensing the dangers from the newly emerged ‘oligarchy’, Pappu Hazare frequents Odisha mobilizing mass support for an effective ‘Prajapal Bill’ from the central government, while the Lokpal Bill had long been been relegated to the footnotes of history. Most of the politicians of the state have gone to the labyrinth of politics except a few accomplished survivors. And the bureaucrats, some were forced to take voluntary retirement and the rest are seldom cared by any.

In his late 90s, the erstwhile chief minister of Odisha, who had enjoyed a record 10-inning tenure in power, has now mellowed, is retired, but just not out. He still can be seen in sparkles of his spotless kurta and pyjama, switching over to a pipe, stuck between the lips pouched to hide the toothless gums. Too much of chocolates you know!

But, he has started imparting lessons on how to restrain oligarchy from prevailing and proffering the tenets of political opportunism. Now he is, of course, back to writing, writing a book in Odia you know! ‘Nobody Talks To The Patriach’ is the title and it should be his second literary venture to escape the tyrannies of boredom.

He now really means business and has gleefully accepted to play the role of an ex-officio advisor to the government on the ethics of terminologies to be used in the politics of dissent. Notably, he still commands the respect among the new set of people in power, for his once most debated magnanimity in scoring 30 for 3 about 30 years back!

Septuagenarian ex-jungle veteran Sarbashakti Panda has lost out on his goal and now resigned from the hills to become a decent husband, lolling quietly in the luxuries of inactivity, staying in his modest bamboo hut etched on the slopes of Ghasma mountain range while his wife is in the Rajya Sabha. For his erstwhile companions the word gun is an object of ridicule and he now teaches peace, occasionally being very unsparing in his criticism of the former Andhra-Odisha zonal guys who now hold the reins, through his columns in a periodical run by an ex-mediator of the 2011-12 period.

Some of the political leaders who had a role to play in the yesteryears’ scams like mining, dal or rice and other such matters, are now mired in more disreputable controversies and the cases pending in several ‘praja courts’. The new rulers, however, appear completely disinclined to waste time on the past. They need a wholesome environment in the building of a new political climate under a newly formed anti-corruption wing called PLF (Public Loyalty Front) .

The media, now virtually ruffled by frequent gagging, has little to scare the politicians. However, a few tepid ones juggle their way through to engineer cracks and expose the chinks in the present system. What adds to the problems is that media fails to know what’s going on within the corridors of power.

Press conferences or briefings are now things of past; all official communications are routed through audio tapes and e-mails and the cell that controls this system is known as ISI (Integrated Services On Information) headed by an ex-jungle-queen-in-cap, Karuna.

The capital city Bhubaneswar got a real makeover.

Serpentine spread of about a dozen 16-lane roads in many places cruise through the main parts of the capital city, highlighted by outlandish signages in complete red. A complex transformation in the nomenclature has been forced upon the landscape.

The road leading from the airport to the info city is now known as ‘Adivasi Marg’ and the Master Canteen Square, now harbours a huge bust, made of Kondalite rock, climbing on the old horse, of a slain jungle hero who got martyrdom in 2011 in West Bengal.

The road from there running towards the Assembly is flanked with several kiosks with drinking water outlets for occasional strikers and for the PMG Square, there is a minor change in the abbreviation; the letter ‘M’ has been replaced by ‘W’!

The National Highway No 5 now prides flyovers after every 500 metres and surely appears to be the most constipated road communication regulating a population which has swelled to about 40 lakhs; thanks to the influx of outsiders into the city from the jungles also. Many people call it Flyways. And new slums have emerged under the flyovers, housing chunks of tribals who had suffered the ravages of the so called war.

Saturation of concrete has led to the virtual disappearance of all the trees right from the entrance into the city to its end. Though now it is difficult to fathom where the city begins and where it ends. Pedestrians have forgotten what is shadow and the sparsely planted hedges on the road dividers remain the last vestiges of our capital’s green heritage. Roads everywhere and the ubiquitous concrete jungle have been able to wipe out all sources of respite. But the new set of rulers has decided to compensate the loss of thousands and thousands of trees felled by them 30 years back for road blockades.

The state’s underbelly has, as if, morphed from a self-determined struggle for the poor into what seemed to be a theatre of the absurd born of impetuosity incubated in the jungles.

It is all funny, isn’t it?

Scientist’s warn Assam could go Chhattisgarh way on farmer suicides

TNN Jun 3, 2012, 01.08AM IST

GUWAHATI: Agriculture scientist GV Ramanjaneyulu on Saturday said Assam could go the Chhattisgarh way in terms of farmers‘ suicides if the state government fails to implement concrete measures in protecting the interests of farmers.

The scientist was speaking at an interactive session titled “The Current Crisis in Indian Agriculture and the Way Forward” held in Cotton College State University, organized by its department of economics. He emphasized on the comparisons between Assam and Chhattisgarh in terms of production of different varieties of rice and engagement of tribals in farming and agriculture.

“What happened in Chhattisgarh was quite unfortunate because the state government had decided to introduce hybrid rice which almost made the traditional varieties extinct. Besides, there were many flawed measures introduced by the government which proved disastrous. Farmers have become an endangered species,” said Ramanjaneyulu, executive director Centre for Advanced Sustentative Agriculture, Hyderabad.

“That state has witnessed a large number of farmers committing suicide. But Assam has the lowest record of farmers’ suicide. However the situation could go wrong if the state government decides to introduce hybrid variety and Assam could suffer the same fate as Chhattisgarh. The government must put a check on farming by migrants as they tend to use fertilizers because they don’t have any bond towards the land,” added the scientist.

The scientist also took a dig at chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s recent announcement to allocate Rs 33 crore for organic farming by stating that until and unless there are some concrete policies regarding how and where to promote such farming, the entire money could go waste.

On the issue of green revolution being shifted to the eastern region of the country, Ramanjaneyulu said, “It needs to be properly addressed. If there are pesticides involved in agricultural fields in the upper-stream, then there are possibilities of them being disposed in the downstream. Assam has a rich history of producing different varieties of rice. But it has lost most varieties now.”

Crime goes hand in hand with lack of education: TISS Study

Nitin Yeshwantrao, TNN Jun 3, 2012, 01.22AM IST

THANE: The tilt towards crime and delinquency is strongly linked to the high percentage of illiteracy among Muslims, states a research study on Muslim prisoners conducted by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in 2009.

The report based on interviews with 3,086 Muslim inmates across 15 jails in Maharashtra, reveals that 31% of the undertrials and convicts could not read or write, while another 61% could barely understand the written word having studied only up to Class IV.

Only a small number of inmates from the minority community had completed their higher secondary education, while few had gone to college or completed their postgraduate degree, states the report by Dr Vijay Raghavan and Roshni Nair from the Centre for Criminology and Justice of TISS.

“If we add the percentage of illiterates to those educated up to the primary level. Only 0.6% had completed their graduation while the number of postgraduates was a marginal four,” the 117-page survey report states.

The study was complied after sessions with offenders, prison authorities, kin of the prisoner and representatives of voluntary groups working with inmates.

Poverty and lack of education among Muslims have surfaced as the key reasons for them taking to crime, the report suggested. The highest number of illiterate inmates was found in Mumbai and Thane.

Of the total 614 undertrials and convicts in Thane jail, 176 were had never been to school while 378 had barely attended primary school. Of the 709 inmates in Mumbai jails, 225 were uneducated and another 475 had studied only up to Class IV.

A majority of the inmates interviewed by the team admitted that lack of education was the main reason for their deprivation.

The report suggests that close to 48% of the Muslim prisoners had no vocational training which in turn resulted in unemployment. “Barely 38% of the inmates from 15 jails in Maharashtra have acquired technical skills. However, they built proficiency through on-job training,” the report states qualifying the Sachar Committee report findings, which said that only two among every 1,000 Muslims is a technical graduate. The lack of education has manifested in crime for most youngsters, the plight of Moiz, interviewed by the research panel, is a case in point.

“Moiz wanted to study Hindi, however, his family wanted him to master Urdu and become a maulvi. He ran away from home and lived on pavements in New Delhi and used to beg for a living,” a state official said.

“Soon, Moiz became embroiled in illegal activities and after his arrest he was sent to an observation home. He came in contact with a group of chain-snatchers and gradually took to crime,” he added.

Satyamev Jayate: Of downright manipulations and status-quoist revolutions

By Saswat Pattanayak,  Kindle Magazine

Aamir Khan claims to address the roots of social evils, engages statistics, experts and pending court cases to illustrate his findings while offering solutions to overturn Indian feudal structure, all within an hour’s televised show, intensified with tears, hopes and resolutions. And the unprecedented success of ‘Satyamav Jayate’ underlines that this tactic is effectively working. If a generation had somehow failed to awaken following Rang de Basanti, it is wide awake, this time.

Each episode is a testament to this resounding success. Aamir poses significant questions in the beginning, acknowledges the conventional answers, moves on to  dismantle those very assumptions, and the audience bursts into tears at its own ignorance and at the promise of a new tomorrow bereft of the maladies.
Just when the cynics wonder if he has turned self-righteous, it turns out ‘Satyamev Jayate’ works precisely because Aamir identifies himself entirely with the audience. He, too, learns of the bitter truths about Indian society from the very show itself, live on the stage. “Mujhe bhi aaj yeh seekh mili hai” is oft-repeated. Along with the audience, he is shocked at the barbaric, with them he sheds the tears, with them he signs petitions. The routine criticisms usually reserved for holier than thou shows simply find no outlets here.
Finally, it is the content area where the Aamir Khan effect shines. Female infanticide, dowry tortures, child sexual abuse – the themes so far – are societally entrenched as innately problematic, inherently evil and acutely in need of redress. They are so commonplace that they should have ideally lost any shock value by now; and yet Satyamev Jayate revels in the euphoric disconnect of the audience with their harmful consequences.
And yet, what goes almost unnoticed is that Satyamev Jayate is a reality television show, not a reality; that the truth has not triumphed in the show capitalizing on our national motto. What remains deeply unsettling is that the solution evinced in the show is part of the problem, that the answers gathered are critical question marks, the lulling agents are masquerading as the antidotes, the normative as surprises, and the status quo as revolution.
Aamir Khan, along with his corporate sponsors, the so-called philanthropy partners and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, have together created a recipe for unparalleled commercial venture, the most gigantic instance of private capital earning public respect, a creative collaboration that gloriously abolishes economic class as a social determinant, an immaculate shield against revolutionary restructuring.
A reality television show is entirely scripted, and Satyamev Jayate is no exception. Where it resorts to downright manipulation is where it hides behind the cloak of social change agency. What percentage of Indian children are sexually abused, asks Aamir Khan. Two percent, says one, four percent, another. All nice and dandy, except that either the reality show does not arrange for a single informed member to be present amidst the audience, or that the host chooses not to ask this question to people whose answers can upstage his assumptions. No Pinki Virani there. Does female infanticide take place majorly in rural areas or how does one plan one’s wedding could likewise – effortlessly – generate opposing views, but Aamir, bent upon cashing in on the shock value, chooses to register the answers that suit the script.
So are the ignorant answers from the audience a result of random sampling? Hardly so, considering each episode has target audience representing a certain age/gender group. Instead of facilitating a dialogue among the people representing diverse views owing to unique social locations, Aamir Khan chooses to engage in a linear fashion, as a preacher, as an instructor, and eventually as the tool of social change.
As part of the script, the critical voices in the audience are not asked for opinions independently, but only as supporting evidences that embolden Aamir’s heroism. It would have upset the stage had the members of Tanzeem Khuddam E Millat engaged in a dialogue with the young people who advocated lavish wedding in the beginning of that episode. Hence, after the unassuming audience was sarcastically applauded for its wedding preference, and after Aamir had made forceful arguments against audience perception, Mausim Ummedi is introduced as his supporting voice, whose adulations for Aamir’s mammoth sacrifices are then televised to the viewers. One wonders if becoming the highest paid anchor in the television history to showcase impacts of poverty is the sacrifice, or being a descendant to Maulana Azad itself constitutes this acclaimed sacrifice of Aamir Khan.
Turns out, neither. More disturbing is the claim on part of the elite host that women’s rights issues have nothing to do with economic class. Infanticide is a practice across classes, dowry torture equally universal, sexual abuse as well. Political economy is not the culprit, and there is no need to address feudalism, let alone capitalism. Both rich and the poor suffer equally, and even the poor are romanticized as happier survivors. There is light at the end of the tunnel because patience with the system, and not privilege redistribution holds the key. In fact, so content is Aamir in the status quo, that his constant disclaimer is his complete and unwavering faith in our judicial system and that he – on behalf of us all – is perfectly assured, justice shall prevail in each case.
That, the oppressed state of women and children is a necessary consequence of patriarchy, which in turn is unequivocally interwoven with capitalism, is entirely lost to our beloved renaissance man. While claiming to be addressing the root causes of social evils, Aamir conveniently blames it all on individual conscience without addressing a commodified society that must treat its weaker sections as non-entities. In an increasingly individualistic society where profit – and power – accumulations are ruthlessly preserved – and whose direct beneficiaries include the illustrious host himself – the next logical step is to sign the petitions in a dramatic manner and repose trust in the law and order system of our assumedly robust democracy.
So the woman continues to be worshipped as a sacrificial mother, motherhood as a moral virtue, every abortion is a killing without a word spoken on abortion rights of women, wearing jeans and miniskirts continue to be slutty, big weddings remain fine so long as the couples pay for them, child sexual abuse victims should forgive their abusers, belief in the gods and religious scripts remain the saviors, and the pending court cases shall invariably meet justice. In Aamir Khan’s troubled India, trouble is forever over, when he comes back to reassure the awestruck audience, after the break.
It is not the disbelievers, the radicals, the Maoists, the agitators, the ones who have given up on the political economic system that inherently sustains the wealth and gender gap who should be emulated. It is the pacifiers, the collaborators, the petitioners, the forgivers, the individualists who must pave the way. Contrary to the claimed exceptional values this show provides, the truth is we have continually worshipped the heroes, the successful and the glorious, the judicial system and the political democracy, just as Aamir envisages. Moreover, we have always waited for the superhero to come fix what is wrong with the system while leaving its roots intact. The role of the messiah is not to discard the god, after all; just to empower the masses into believing a tiny bit more.
When this season of televised empowerment started, Aamir outlined India’s biggest obsessions, he mentioned cricket, films and weddings. The truth would have surely triumphed, had he not overlooked the most apparent one, the one obsession he has willingly turned himself into becoming: the Messiah. Alas.
Read original article here

Open letter to PM India-Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims’ Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill, 2011

photo of SmtSonia Gandhi presenting Outlook magazine award 2005 to Mayilamma, the agitation leader for her enduring leadership in the agitation against the water polluting/depleting Cola company. Two years later she  died of the disease gifted by the Cola company.


Environmental Expert Member of the Plachimada High Power Committee

Sub: Inordinate delay in the issuance of Presidential assent for the  Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims’ Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill, 2011

Honourable Prime Minister,
I am writing this to express my deep concern about the unacceptable delay in issuing Presidential assent for the captioned bill.
The Plachimada Coca Cola Victims Compensation Claims Tribunal Bill 2011 was unanimously passed by the Kerala Assembly on 24 Feb, following the study conducted by a 15 member multidisciplinary team chaired by the Additional Chief Secretary, and sent by the Governor  for Presidential assent via the Ministry of Home Affairs in the end of March. The Home Ministry on 13 April forwarded the Bill to various related ministries for comments, and 5 ministries have duly submitted their categorical approval of the Bill (these are the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Rural Devt, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Food Processing Industries and the Dept of Justice under the Ministry of Law). Beyond categorical approval, some ministries have in fact recommended to take stronger measures than the contents of the Bill. Yet, it is shocking that the Bill has not been passed to the President for issuing assent, in spite of the Cabinet guidelines specifying not to delay such bills beyond six weeks of receipt.

The Plachimada Bill is in fulfillment of the State’s obligation in terms of Article 21 as interpreted by the Supreme Court and based on the polluter pays principle that has become an integral part of our jurisprudence. The enactment of this law will remain a critical contribution in enforcing a legal regime for the sustainable management of the scarce natural resources of the country as a public resource as underlined by the recent Supreme Court judgment in the G2 scam and to remedy the deprivations suffered by the victims, and in pursuance of Article 39b of the Constitution. It fills an important legislative gap and complements the  Green Tribunal Act 2010, which puts a time bar of five years for filing cases for compensation.

It was unfortunate that the Home Ministry chose to entertain the opinion on the Bill prepared by the Cola company’s lawyers, which was very strange as there is no provision in the Presidential assent issuing process for entertaining the intervention of a private sector company, that too a multinational that was once expelled from our country, challenging a Bill passed by a state Assembly. However, if the opinion of the company was entertained then natural justice demanded hearing the view of the other side which in this case is the poor Cola victims of Plachimada, more so since the Cola company is supported by the most powerful government on earth and its diplomatic missions in the country while the Cola victims have no such luxuries to claim, but that was not done. Not only did they entertain the submission of the culprit but also sent the same to Kerala govt asking for explanation! Sending the legal opinion of the Law Ministry or the Solicitor General of India seeking clarifications, if any, would have been far more appropriate. The untenable arguments of the company were replied by me as expert member of the High Power Committee and wer subsequently replied by the Law Dept of the state as well. Even then the Home Ministry is withholding the Bill.

Seven MPs have met the President and appraised her of the grave mistake the Home Ministry is making. The Water Resource Dept has sent a reminder about the Bill; the chief minister has categorically told the public of the firm commitment of the govt to the Bill passed by the last Assembly; the frustrated local people went and peacefully occupied the Cola property at Plachimada, they were arrested but refused to take bail and spent one week in jail until the UDF govt issued a clarification statement to pursue the notification of the Bill; a large number of people went all the way to Delhi and took out a march before the Parliament to protest the conspiracy against the Bill. And yet the Bill is still withheld by the Home Ministry. This constitutes a attempt on the part of the govt to have the people lose faith in the  legitimate democratic process in the country. It is incomprehensible that why the central govt has chosen to protect the interest of the Cola company against the interest of the state of Kerala that has enacted the Bill. Even in the unlikely event of any legal problem in this robust piece of legislation, the Cola will be moving  the Courts with its army of hugely paid lawyers and will address their problems there, so why should the govt worry about Cola’s interests.

The High Power Committee in our deliberations had anticipated the vulnerability of the Delhi administration to the maneuverings  of the multinational and that was the reason we did not choose the procedurally easier option of creating a body under section 3.3 of the Environment Protection Act 1986 as was done in the case of the  Loss of Ecology (Prevention and Payment of Compensation) Authority of Tamil Nadu and recommended the enactment of a new law, for, the notification under the EPA has to be done by the Ministry of Environment in Delhi, too far from Kerala. The Bill where there is absolutely no repugnancy and hence did not warrant Presidential assent was sent to Delhi in fact as a mistake on the part of the Law Dept here, at a time we were all relaxed that the law was passed and was going to be notified soon.

Years ago when the Kerala govt’s Local Self Govt Dept preferred an appeal upon a High Court ruling in favour of the Cola against the decision of the local panchayats, the US Consular General in Chennai came to Trivandrum and tried to put pressure of the minister to withdraw the case and pursued it on several occasions further, as the then minister Shri Kutty Ahmed Kutty has told me. If that was the case with a court case then I can imagine the amount of pressure the Cola company and its home govt would have put on the central govt to thwart this solemn democratic process undertaken by the state government.

There are examples how the Cola’s home govt conducts in cases like this and how multinationals behave. Let me site a single example here. When British Petroleum spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico (Deepwater Horizon), the US President asked British Petroleum to deposit a compensation amount of USD 20 billion, and he did so without any systematic study as we did in our case, neither was a law created there for this purpose nor based on an explicit law in force.     The BP did not go on a campaign against the US President on this account as the Cola did against the state govt, the High Power Committee and even the Legislative Assembly at various times, nor did they even go to the court. But instead the BP’s Board readily agreed to pay the entire amount asked by the US President. While your govt is proud of following the US model, reforming the model set by Nehru, can the govt not follow this US model. Or is it our destiny to be perpetual victims of double standards all the time.

You might also recall that the movement for compensation for the Plachimada victims was inspired and supported by the UPA chair Smt Sonia Gandhi who had presented an award to the Smt Mayilamma, the Adivasi leader of the prolonged struggle[1]. The UPA leader was then fully convinced of the demand for compensation for the Plachimada victims. I am now prompted to ask if her words then were not an act of deceit or is it the Home Ministry that is betraying a cause espoused by the UPA chair herself.

I am writing this in the hope of your intervention to rescue this legislation from sabotage which amounts to a desecration of the Constitutional process and investigate the delay in forwarding the Bill to the President.

Best regards

PS. I am attaching copy of the reply I had sent to the Home Ministry on the ‘legal opinion’ of the Cola company.



Shri P Chidambaram

Honourable Minister of Home Affairs

New Delhi

Sub: Presidential assent to the  Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims’ Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill, 2011- Coca-Cola’s legal opinion- my response.

Honourable Minister,

Greetings. As the Environment Expert Member of the Plachimada High Power Committee (HPC), I have learned of the Home Ministry’sforwardingto the Kerala govtthe arguments of the Cola company against the captioned Bill, after five months of the receiving the Bill from the State’s Governor. Here I respectfully submit my response to the arguments of the company. However, before doing so I wish to submit that the Cola company that has violated numerous laws of the land, as found by the HPC of 14 expert members and chaired by Additional Secretary (Home), has been engaged in a sustained vicious campaign to challenge the HPC when it was formed, when its report was released without even reading the report, at the company’s shareholders meeting at Atlanda last year, when the Bill was passed by the Assembly and on other occasions, each time the unrepentant company exposing itself before the discerning public. At the very outset of the work of the HPC, the Cola had sent a somewhat similar legal letter to us too, written in an intimidating language and we treated it the way it deserved.

2. At no point in the Presidential assent issuing process is there provision for the central government entertaining legal opinion prepared on behalf of a private sector company on a Bill passed by a state Assembly. However, if the opinion of the company was entertained then natural justice demanded hearing the view of the other side which in this case is the poor Cola victims of Plachimada, more so since the Cola company is supported by the most powerful government on earth and its diplomatic missions in the country while the Cola victims have no such luxuries to claim. Sending the legal opinion of the Law Ministry or the Solicitor General of India seeking clarifications, if any, would have been far more appropriate.

3. I wish to submit to you as a political leader that the circumscribed, impoverished people of Plachimada has sustained their years long Gandhian agitation against the destruction of the natural resource base of their village by the Cola company, on the inspiration and support they have received from all over the country; one of the important source of such inspiration and support has been Smt Sonia Gandhi, the AICC President[1].

I have got to see the legal opinion prepared by Senior Advocate Shri KKVenugopal on behalf of the Cola company that was sent to the Kerala govt by the Home Ministry, and here I offer my comments on the same.

Misinformation in legal opinion:

4.The Opinion in its early part is replete with misinformation. Let me address a few samples here. It states that the Cola plant was ‘voluntarily’ closed by the company in 2004. The fact is that this water depleting factory in the drought prone district of Palakkad was ordered to be closed in March 2004 at the instruction of the then chief minister and your current cabinet colleague Shri A K Antony. The application for authorization under the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules submitted by the Cola company was refused by KSPCB on 23 February 2004 on the ground that the required facilities for the treatment of the hazardous sludge were not installed by the Company, and subsequently on 23.8.2004 directed the company to remain closed. This was also in line with the order issued by the Hon Supreme Court on 14.10.2003 on the enforcement of the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules. Let me quote from the KSPCB order of 23.8.2004 so that this blatant falsehood repeated by the Cola officials could be put to rest, ‘Now therefore as per the direction contained in the said Supreme Court order, you are hereby directed to close down your factory forthwith and keep it closed unless and until you prove to the undersigned that your unit has complied strictly with the provisions of the Hazardous Wastes Rules.’ Now, from the Company’s  CEOMrMuhtar Kent to its PROs to its legal advisor are seeking to mislead their audience on this critical fact.

The Opinion also falsely claims that ‘no evidence of excessive extraction of or of pollution being caused by the operation of the plant’ has been found.

Pollution caused by the Cola company:

5. High levels of hardness and chlorides were found in the water samples collected near the plant on 25.2.2002 and analysed at the Sargham Labs. Studies conducted by the Ground Water Department from 2002 to 2006  too showed a marked increase in the level of hardness and chlorides as the plant’s operations progressed and a gradual reduction in the level of pollution intensity a couple of months after its closure in March 2004. The pollution intensity increased with increase in proximity to the plant and vice versa. The pollution and consequent diseases  in the area were so bad that the District Medical Officer of Palakkad had to ask the local people, by his letter of 8.4.2003,  not to use water in the wells near the Cola plant for drinking purpose.

6. The chloride and hardness pollution was dwarfed by the finding of huge levels of cadmium in the sludge generated by the plant which it has criminally spread all over the village by deceiving the unsuspecting farmers as a good manure.The investigation conducted by KSPCB in 2003, under the leadership of its chairman, found the level of the lethal Cadmium in the sludge at 201.8 mg/kg which was more than four times the permissible level of 50 mg/kg as prescribed by the Hazardous Wastes Rules. A subsequent study conducted by the  Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in November 2003 found the level at the deeply worrying level of 333.8 mg/kg! Cadmuim was spread all over the village land as the company was distributing it in the guise of fertilizer. The groundwater of the village too was contaminated by the leached Cadmium as KSPCB’s and other studies have shown. A comparative study conducted by the Kerala Agricultural University has found high levels of Cadmium in cow milk, chicken meat, egg, fodder etc at Plachimada.

Groundwater depletion caused by the company:

7. The data collected by the Kerala Groundwater Department glaringly tells of the critical water depletion caused by the Cola company. Analysis of the groundwater data has shown that there was a 10.6-12 mts (below ground level) drop in the phreatic aquifer (groundwater) system around the plant area in December 2002 and this has further dropped to 11.4-13 metersin May2003 inspite of the better rainfall in that year’s summer, in contrast to the rest of the Chitoor Block. After the plant was closed in March 2004, the water level slowly and gradually began to rise as was found in May 2004 and May 2006.

8. HPC has found that the Cola company was using water in this water scarce area that was to be used for domestic and agricultural purposes, causing the water crisis in the area. The Central Groundwater Board has determined the maximum groundwater recharge in the Plachimada watershed as 8 per cent and taking this maximum rate, the total available groundwater there was found as 3.105 million cubic meters. And considering the total water requirement of the area (domestic, agricultural and livestock), Plachimada has an annual water deficit of 0.1168 mcm, which means that the 0.1825 mcm that the company was drawing was the water meant for domestic and agricultural/livestock purposes. The water tragedy played out at Plachimada was a result of this.

Legislative competence- international treaties in relation to the distribution of legislative powers

It is interesting to see the progression of the Cola company’s arguments- from outright denouncing the High Power Committee, to challenging the HPC report as based on ‘unfounded assumptions’ to now questioning the legislative competence of the Kerala Legislature Assembly to enact the Bill.

9. Senior Advocate Shri KK Venugopal’s argument is that the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 was enacted to implement the decisions of the UN conferences in Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro, as stated in the preamble of the statute and thereby the subjects covered by the Act have come under entry number 13 (international conferences/decisions) of the Union List of the Constitution read with Article 253, and therefore the State Assembly has no power to make legislation on these subjects and that the Green Tribunal Act and the Kerala Bill have conflicting provisions and when the Kerala Bill comes into force only the provisions of the Green Tribunal Act shall prevail. In my opinion this is an irrelevant argument.

10. In replying to this I should mention at the outset that I have been a negotiator in the Rio de Janeiro Summit process (UN Conf on Envt and Devt), particularly in negotiating the final draft of the Rio Declaration on Envt and Devt referred above. There are two fundamental related issues involved here: a) the status of the Rio Declaration and Stockholm declarations, and b) the true meaning of Article 253 (read with Article 731.b&51.c)


The status of international declarations

11. There is a critical difference, in international law, between treaties/conventions and international declarations/decisions. The treaties are negotiated by an intergovernmental negotiation committee, signed by duly authorized and accredited Plenipotentiaries, Ratified or Acceded to as required by the concerned Party’s domestic law, and submission of the Instrument of Ratification to the concerned treaty secretariat or depository State. And treaties are guided by the Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties, to which India is also a Party. Treaties are legally binding on the Parties that have Ratified/Acceded to the same, except for reservations if such a provision is provided in the treaty at all. Parties are expected to create  domestic law for the national implementation of the treaty, particularly if there arelegal impediments in currency. Rio Summit had three such treaties, each one negotiated and adopted separately, namely the Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Convention on Climate Change and the Convention to Combat Desertification.The Rio or Stockholm Declaration does not constitute such a treaty.

12. Declarations/decisions are by no means legally binding on the participating countries. However, they do have a tremendous moral and political force, and it is this force that prompts States and all other stateholders to implement these- to the extend they themselves decide.  ‘Governments at various levels’ (from the federal govt to local self govts) are expected to implement such decisions/declarations as well as a number stakeholder groups (called ‘major groups’). Law making at various levels is also expected to be consistent with the objectives of these instruments. Interestingly, the Rio Summit had one outcome that explicitly mentions the legally non-binding nature of such instruments in the title of the document itself ie. “Non-Legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests”. It is the same with regard to the Stockholm Declaration too.

13. The invoking of the parts of the Stockholm Declaration and Rio Declaration, in the preamble of the Green Tribunal Act is only inspirational and not setting the juridical basis for the Act; the juridical basis for the Act is robust and glaring as mentioned in the same preamble, namely, the right to healthy environment as part of the right to life as provided in Article 21 of the Constitution.

14. The Green Tribunal Act refers to and therefore Shri K KVenugopal quotes the Principle 13 of the Rio Declaration that calls upon States to develop domestic laws regarding liability and compensation for environmental damage. It is pertinent to observe that while at the Rio Summit India joined the consensus to adopt the Rio Declaration, Indian govt took a different position on the same issue when the concept of liability and compensation for environmental damage was introduced in international law for the first time, namely, in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)- Article 14.2, the negotiations on which took place in parallel to the negotiations on the Rio Declaration.  At the Nairobi Final Act of the Conference for the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Indian govt made the following statement on 22 May 1992, ‘ Thegovt of India is of the view that the issue of liability and compensation for damage to biological diversity referred to in Article 14 para 2 of the Convention, is not a priority area of work to be addressed by the Conference of Parties. There is lack of clarity regarding the subject matter and the scope of the studies referred to in that Article’. Remember, this statement was made by India at the conference of plenipotentiaries after the Convention was adopted by consensus. This also shows  inconsistency in the positions taken by the Indian govt at different multilateral environmental conferences, perhaps for good reason. It may further be noted that CBD is international law while the Rio Declaration is not. This again underlines the nature of the preambular reference in the Act to the Rio and Stockholm declaration as only inspirational.

15. Modern India’s first environmental law – The Wildlife (Protection) Act- was enacted in 1972 barely a few months after the Stockholm Declaration in the June of that year. And India’s prime minister herself attended the Summit and gave a memorable speech. Nevertheless, this statute does not allude to the Stockholm Declaration though it has been an inspiration in the enactment of the same. That again underscores that the Declaration was not legally binding unlike a treaty/convention.

The true meaning of Article 253

16. Let me quote the article here:‘ Article 253 Legislation for giving effect to international agreements:

Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body’.

As explained in the foregoing, international treaties/conventions/agreements are legally binding on the Parties while Declarations and such are not so. In this Article the meaning of decision is the same as legally binding international instruments and not non-legally binding Declaration as the Rio or Stockholm declarations. This is underlined by the title of the article as well. Besides, fostering international ‘law and treaty’ obligations (not of Declarations) of the State is underlined as a Directive Principle in Article  51.c and it is further emphasized by Article 73 that confers powers on the Union. Subsection 1.b of Article 73 reads as,’ to the exercise of such rights, authority and jurisdiction as are exercisable by the government of India by virtue of any treaty or agreement’. Legally non-binding instruments like Declarations are not considered here and the meaning of 253 should be understood in its true meaning. If our country, or any country for that matter, is to turn all international declarations, decisions by meetings conducted by international conference of any type that will lead to a state of legislative anarchy. The outcomes of such events are, subject to national interest and resources, implemented through programs, projects or policy reforms by governments at various levels and other stakeholders, and not through legislation. Therefore the Green Tribunal Act’s allusion to the Stockholm and Rio declarations does not cause the subject matter to be treated under entry no 13 of the Union List.

Environmental management/regulation versus compensation

17. The Cola company’s Legal Opinion seeks to argue that the following statutes are also under Entry 13 of the Union List:The Air Act, 1981, The Envt Protection Act 1986 and the National Environment Tribunal 1995. Of these the last has already been repealed by section 38.1 of the Green Tribunal Act in 2010. As for the other two Acts they are dealing with issues of management and regulation of the environment and do not deal with compensation for the consequences of environmental damage caused by an entity which is what the Plachimada Bill is addressing. Therefore this argument does not stand at all.


Groundwater, not surface water, is the issue

18. The Legal Opinion refers to a 1968 resolution the Kerala Assembly by which the State has authorized the Centre to pass legislation on issues related to water pollution and argues, therefore, that the state cannot create legislation of its own on this subject. Shri K KVenugopal gravely misses here the point that this resolution  was about surface water and the Bill is about groundwater which is altogether different domain. I wonder how such a Legal Opinion could miss the more proximate fact of the enactment of an exclusive state legislation in 2002 on groundwater ie. the Kerala Ground Water (Control and Regulation) Act 2002, which is a confirmation that the state’s right to enact legislation on groundwater has not been transferred to the centre. At Plachimada and therefore in the bill, the entire issue is about groundwater and the state Assembly is absolutely competent to enact this legislation. (I may add that I am an expert member of the Authority established by the said Groundwater Act, and further that the Planning Commission is currently formulating a new draft model bill for states on groundwater management).

Time bar of the Green Tribunal Act makes it irrelevant for Plachimada

19. The entire Legal Opinion is uninformed by the time bar provision contained in the Green Tribunal Act. Section 15.3 of the Act requires the petitions for compensation to be filed within a period of 5 years, with a grace period of 6 months. The most critical damages to groundwater and toxic contamination caused by the Cola company at Plachimada occurred during 2000-2004, well beyond the five year period set by the Act and therefore this Act cannot be used to redress the problem at Plachimada. And this is the reason why the Bill was passed by the Assembly. The Bill complements the central Act and does not in any was conflict with it.

Right to Life (Article 21), Polluter Pays Principle

20. The Kerala Bill is not an environmental legislation as such. It flows from the state’s Constitutional responsibility to act upon the violation of the Article 21, interpreted in the Indian jurisprudence to include the fundamental right to wholesome environment, as for example inSubhash Kumar V. State of Bihar, 1991. As the HPC report has determined and as the Bill states at its outset that damages, on account of the Cola company’s misdeeds, have been caused to human health, agriculture, labour (loss), groundwater, and to the social system of the village (None of these is a Union subject). And it is this this damage the Bill is seeking to compensate for. This is a fundamental Constitutional responsibility of the state government and has got nothing to do with any international declaration.

21. And the compensation provision is premised on the Polluter Pays Principle which has become an important part of Indian jurisprudence. This was upheld by the honourable Supreme Court in the Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum V. Union of India (1996), among other cases. And it is based on this binding commitment that the state has passed the Bill for compensation to the Cola victims, and not based on any international declaration.

May I submit to you, honourable Minister, to respect the authority of the democratically elected Assembly to care for the welfare of its citizens, especially the poor and hapless, against a multinational giant who was once expelled from the country and who has scant regard for the country’s laws and statutory bodies, and to forward the Bill to the President so that the Bill becomes law without further delay.


[1] to a photo of SmtSonia Gandhi presenting Outlook magazine award 2005 to Mayilamma, the agitation leader for her enduring leadership in the agitation against the water polluting/depleting Cola company. Two years later she  died of the disease gifted by the Cola company.

India uproots most people for ‘progress’ =1 million displaced every year

, TNN | Jun 4, 2012
Between 60 and 65 million people are estimated to have been displaced in India since Independence, the highest number of people uprooted for development projects in the world.

“This amounts to around one million displaced every year since Independence,” says a report released recently by the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR). “Of these displaced, over 40% are tribals and another 40% consist of dalits and other rural poor,” says the WGHR report.

“Not taking into account displacement due to armed and ethnic conflict, India is estimated to have the highest number of people displaced annually as a result of ostensible development projects,” it adds.

Over 60% of people forced out of their homes globally are victims of internal displacement. Of the 43 million people forced to flee their homes, 26 million are displaced within their own country, 16 million are refugees and one million are asylum-seekers.

No policy for internally displaced

The data is part of a report on the state of the world’s refugees, released in New York last week by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). “For humanitarian workers, an ensuing implication is that helping the displaced is becoming more costly and dangerous. In countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, or Iraq, getting help to internally displaced populations means working in environments where access is difficult and conflict or criminality can present deadly risk,” says the UNHCR.

According to human rights activist Medha Patkar, who has been at the forefront of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, internal displacement is not a natural calamity but a political calamity.

“It is carried out deliberately so that a handful of people can grab resources at the cost of the livelihood of millions. It is a phenomenon that can easily be stopped. But instead of ensuring an equitable distribution of resources, those ruling the country are facilitating land grab, resulting in displacement. The United Nations only intervenes during wars, but it should do so for internal conflict such as displacement,” she adds.

According to Shivani Chaudhry, associate director, Housing and Land Rights Network, only around 20-25% of those internally displaced are ever resettled in India, as the vast majority of those forcibly evicted from their habitat are not recognized as internally displaced people.

“Many poor people have faced multiple displacements. They are often displaced from their villages due to projects such as dams or SEZs. With no land and no livelihood, they head to cities where they live in jhuggis that are considered illegal and demolished,” she adds.

She points out that, while the government has policies for refugees, it does not have policies for internally displaced people.

“The Land Acquisition Rehabilitation And Resettlement Bill 2011 is not intended to minimize displacement and does not address human rights,” she says.

V-C, principal may be jailed for not preventing ragging

Sukhbir Siwach, TNN Jun 2, 2012,
(Cases of ragging in any university,…)

CHANDIGARH: Cases of ragging in any university, college or school may now land vice-chancellors and principals behind bars for six months, according to an ordinance introduced by the Haryana government.

According to the ordinance, the vice-chancellor of a university or principal of a college or school may also be fined Rs 25,000. The state Cabinet on Friday approved the ordinance.

The government will have to take the consent of the Assembly within six months for the ordinance to be made into a law.

Universities will be levied a fine of Rs 5 lakh if it did not comply with government orders on prevention of ragging. Schools and colleges will be fined Rs 2 lakh.

The ordinance makes it clear that the vice-chancellor or principal will be responsible for stopping and preventing ragging.

“The head (of the institution) will take all necessary preventive measures to prohibit ragging in educational institution and will ensure that no person practice ragging in any form within or outside the premises of an educational institution and adopt required measures to achieve the object,” says the ordinance.

Besides this, the government has also drafted a series of many Dos and Don’ts for the heads of institutions.

Technical and professional institutions will be covered under the newly introduced “The Haryana Prohibition of Ragging in Educational Institution Ordinance, 2012.”

The government said that the ordinance has been approved to make the schools, colleges, universities and the professional institutions free from social injustice, mental, physical and other kinds of harassment in the form of ragging.

“In a large number of cases, the heads of institutions remain mute spectators to cases of ragging,” said president of Haryana Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organization Pradeep Chauhan.

New guidelines to check discrimination of SC/ST students

New Delhi, June 2, 2012,DHNS

UGC moots equal opportunity cells and anti-discrimination officers

In response to the alleged profiling of North-Eastern and Scheduled Caste  and Scheduled Tribes students in various higher educational institutions, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has recommended creating equal opportunity cells and appointing anti-discrimination officers  in institutions across the country.

The UGC’s new guidelines defines ragging, derogatory remarks and calling their names in a derogatory manner and other forms of “unfavourable” treatments to SC/ST students as acts of discrimination.

Demanding fees from SC/ST students in excess of the amount mentioned in their declared admission policy or denial/limiting of access to benefits arising from enrolment in the institution will also be considered discrimination.

The higher educational institution –universities, colleges and deemed universities—must ensure that SC/ST or North-Eastern students are not   segregated in common facilities or subjected to discriminatory treatment in academic or sports infrastructure.  The regulation also underlines the need to prevent the breach of reservation policy during admission and discrimination of accepting, processing or handling of the SC/ST students.

Following a suggestion from the HRD Ministry, the UGC has also proposed to create an ombudsman position in each higher educational institution to look into the grievances of students including those belonging to SC and ST.

The education watchdog will be established in every central university and higher educational institution including the elite Indian Institutes of Management and Indian Institutes of Technology, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal had said in January referring to a decision.

The ombudsman will either be a judge not below the rank of a district judge or a retired professor who has at least 10 years experience in student grievance redressal.

Setting up of the ombudsman would ensure transparency in admissions and to prevent unfair practices in higher educational institutions, while also serving as a redressal mechanism.

An ombudsman will be the appellate authority in the case of discrimination against SC and ST students. It will also be an appellate authority in the case of grievances of other students, which will first be examined by a grievance redressal committee, to be set up in each higher educational institution under the proposed UGC (Establishment of Mechanism for Grievance Redressal) Regulations, 2012. The committee will comprise three senior teachers and a student representative based on academic merit. Among various grievances, It will look into complaints on delay in holding examinations or declaration of results beyond the time specified in academic calendar and also denial of quality education promised during admission or required to be provided.

The new regulations and guidelines for checking discrimination against SC and ST students will be presented to the State Education Ministers at a meeting here on June 5.

There’s much to answer on human rights for India

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4th June 2012, Pioneer

India did not have many convincing replies to questions that it faced at a recently held UN human rights meet. Its representative was either evasive or simply did not respond to specific queries on caste and communal conflicts, says Suhas Chakma 


On May 24, the United Nations Human Rights Council reviewed India’s human rights record during the 13th session of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. In his introductory remarks, head of the Indian delegation, Attorney General GE Vahanvati discarded the role of the UN by stating that India has self-correcting mechanisms in place. India by and large stuck to its 22-page National Report which was lettered mostly with constitutional provisions and success stories but failed to highlight human rights problems.

While Sudan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines had only praise for India, a large number  of other countries raised questions including the status of the Prevention of Torture Bill, the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture; ratification of the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances; ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; abolition or moratorium on death penalty; ratifications of the ILO Conventions number 138, 155, 169, 173 and 182; withdrawal of India’s reservation to Article 16 of the UN Convenation Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention; protection/rehabilitation to victims of trafficking; comprehensive anti-discriminatory legislation and adequate means of redress; prevention of caste violence and implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act; repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Queries were also raised over the prosecution of security forces responsible for human rights violations; reform of the law enforcement bodies; strengthening control over the police forces and sensitisation of Armed forces towards human rights; human rights in school curriculum; access to justice and improvement of the judicial system; National Human Rights Action Plan; restriction on internet freedom; poverty alleviation, food security, health, sanitation, nutrition and drinking water, maternal and child mortality; protection of religious minorities, repeal of the anti-conversion laws and the status of the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill; status of the measures to address corruption; protection of the Human Rights Defenders and enactment of a law for protection of the HRDs; strengthening independence of National Human Rights Institutions; ratification of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; status of the NREGA; ratification of the Third Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to communication procedures; allocation of more resources for enjoyment of economic and social rights especially in favour of vulnerable groups like women, children, poor people and minorities, etc.

It is not only the Western states but Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq and Maldives from Asia, and Botswana and Ghana from Africa also asked India to ratify the UNCAT. Argentina and Chile from Latin America recommended a moratorium on the death penalty.

Among the issues raised, the Indian delegation replied only to those relating to the status of the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, prosecution of the security forces, refugees, human rights education, the Right to Information Act, torture, restrictions on internet, MNREGA, children with disabilities, HIV, human rights defenders, the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, the AFSPA, National Human Rights Action Plan, child labour, domestic violence, marriage and women’s equal right to property, socio economic caste census, sanitation and safe drinking water and India’s reservation to the CEDAW.

The responses of the Indian delegation were evasive and misleading. India was not only evasive on the question of prosecution of the security forces but also on combating caste violence. Mr Vahanvati did not directly answer questions relating to caste discrimination, but in his final remarks he stated, “India is an ancient country with strong social traditions. Some of these traditions may now be out of tune with modern values. They have to change. But in a democracy, these can only be done in an inclusive manner involving all through persuasion, education, and development. We are conscious of the need for change and promoting it through legislation and social awareness.”

The statement did not reflect the fact that the Union Government had to convene the State Home Ministers’ Conference on Effective Implementation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in New Delhi on April 17 to discuss non-implementation of the Power of Attorney reflected from high pendency and low conviction rate of the cases.

India justified many of its questionable measures on the grounds of “terrorism and armed insurgency”. Regrettably, there was no specific question relating to violence in India manifested in armed conflicts in 21 out of 28 States. Throughout the examination, India appeared to be a land of peace and not ‘India: Million Mutinies Now’ as described by VS Naipaul much before the Maoists multiplied the armed conflicts in the heart of Indian. In all these conflicts, women have been victims of multiple violations but not a single question was raised on violence against women in conflict situations.

Just the way coalition political compulsion has become the excuse at national level, at the UN the Union Government sought to hide itself on its inability to speculate on parliamentary process and federalism with respect to pro-human rights bills. While that is true of the Women’s Reservation Bill and the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, with respect to the Prevention of Torture Bill, it is the Union Ministry of Home Affairs which simply failed to introduce the Bill despite an all- party Parliamentary Select Committee submitting the draft in December 2010.

The Indian delegation also misled the UN on internet freedom. India’s delegation responded that the current restrictions imposed by the Information Technology Act deals with normally accepted restrictions on “cyber security and removal of illegal contents like child pornography” but did not respond to the pointed questions on the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 which permit private censorship through the service providers.

During the UPR examination of India in 2008, 18 recommendations were made but India implemented only one recommendation — extending standing invitation to the Special Procedures mandate holders. On May 24, India made no commitment to enhance human rights legal framework in the country but has received over 80 recommendations to act upon in four years.

As the same recommendations pile up due to lack of action, India will increasingly face credibility crisis at the UN despite assertion that it is committed to protect and promote human rights of its citizens.

Women Look for a Place in New Egypt

By Mel Frykberg

CAIRO, Jun 2, 2012 (IPS) – “It was so frustrating but so exciting at the same time,” recalls 15-year-old Mariam Assam, a year-10 student in Cairo. Assam was recalling the days she tried to join protestors during the Egyptian revolution in January 2011 but was intially prevented by her parents who said street protests were no place for a girl to be.

“I wanted to be part of the revolution, to help Egyptians gain their freedom and women gain their rights, but unlike my brother I had to argue with my parents long and hard before they eventually allowed me out for a few hours,” Assam told IPS.

Assam who wants to be a journalist one day, is from a new generation of Egyptian women better educated than their mothers and grandmothers, and who believe unequivocally in equality for women despite the restrictions many families impose.

She struggles with such cultural constraints but believes, like several other Egyptian women from varying backgrounds IPS spoke to, that the revolution will ultimately be good for women.

Rina El Masry, 40, is an immaculately groomed businesswoman. She is the daughter of a Coptic Christian mother and Muslim father. Like Assam she doesn’t wear the hijab.

“I believe the ceding of power to Egypt’s interim military government was a step in the right direction for womens’ rights despite the number of female parliamentarians dropping to the current two percent under the military as opposed to the 12 percent under deposed former president Hosni Mubarak,” El Masry told IPS. “All democracies evolve.”

Under Mubarak special quotas were reserved in parliament for women. And women were given particular rights. Egyptian women, unlike many women in the rest of the Arab world, can sue for divorce without having to prove maltreatment.

Egyptian women married to foreigners can pass their citizenship on to their children, which is not the case in more socially liberal Lebanon. Egypt’s females are not subject to the Sharia dress code. Divorced Egyptian women are awarded custody of their children until they are 15, as opposed to age seven for boys and nine for girls regionally.

When the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took over, the female parliamentary 64-seat quota was overturned, and constitutional amendments were formulated without the imput of women.

SCAF also subjected a number of female protestors to beatings and virginity tests, while refusing to allow women to head governates and municipalities throughout the country. The right of women to sue for divorce without having to prove maltreatment is also under review.

Mariam Kirollos, 22, is a Coptic Christian, and member of the Egyptian Feminists Union. The group has been conducting brainstorming meetings to strategise a way forward for womens’rights under the new government. Kirollos agrees with El Masry that revolutionary change will ultimately benefit women.

“Despite the setbacks after SCAF took over the revolution is still ongoing. Womens’voices are now being heard. We are no longer silent. Issues that have been swept under the carpet for too long are now in the public domain and being discussed by civil society,” Kirollos told IPS.

While the three women from disparate backgrounds all voice hope towards equality for women becoming a reality in Egypt, all are also united in their fear of the Muslim Brotherhood and other conservative elements sweeping to power. They acknowledge that the fight ahead will not be easy.

At a mass protest by Egyptian women in Cairo shortly after Mubarak’s overthrow, women were booed, shoved and told to go back home by groups of men. During parliamentary elections earlier in the year, conservative Islamists took a lion’s share of the seats.

Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Muhammad Mursi opposes women being allowed to serve in the presidency. He has called for implementation of Islamic law and, at campaign rallies, referred to Islam’s holy book, the Quran, as the constitution.

But Egyptian feminists are up against more than Islamist politicians. A large portion of Egypt’s population is politically and socially conservative. That includes many women: 30 percent of women are unable to read or write.

Egyptian feminists have argued that these women were coerced into voting for conservative elements, and were unable to understand the implications of what they were supporting. Against this background was the excellent social services provided by the Muslim Brotherhood for the poor and illiterate, where a good portion of the Brotherhood’s support comes from.

But is it not just poor and illiterate women who lean towards religiously conservative views. And not all men do. “My father gives me far more understanding and freedom than my mother does,” Assam told IPS

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