Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant – From Supreme Court to People’s Court?


M.G.Devasahayam

M G DevasahayamShri M. G. Devasahayam is a former IAS and Managing Trustee, Citizens Alliance for Sustainable Living, Chennai

He is the Convener of the PMANE Expert Group on Koodankulam.

Shri Devasahayam can be reached atdeva1940@gmail.com

Supreme Court Judgment–The Essence

On 6th May 2013, Supreme Court delivered the much awaited judgment on the Koodunkulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) arising out of SLP (C) 27335/2012 that had been reserved since first week of December 2012. The penultimate para (229) of the judgment reads thus: “Before proceeding to issue certain directions, it is required to be stated that the appellant, by this Public Interest Litigation, has, in a way, invoked and aroused the conscience/concern of the court to such an issue. True it is, the prayer is for the total closure of the plant and the Court has not acceded to the said prayer but his noble effort is appreciated to put forth the grievance of the local people and the necessity of adequate safety measures as is perceived. When such cause comes up before this Court, it is the bounden duty to remind the authorities “Be alert, remain always alert and duty calls you to nurture constant and sustained vigilance and nation warns you not to be complacent and get into a mild slumber”. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) as the regulatory authority and the MoEF are obliged to perform their duty that safety measures are adequately taken before the plant commences its operation. That is the trust of the people in the authorities which they can ill afford to betray, and it shall not be an exaggeration to state that safety in a case of this nature in any one’s hand has to be placed on the pedestal of “Constitutional Trust”.

After placing public safety on the pedestal of “Constitutional Trust”, Supreme Court has issued 15 directions for compliance by nuclear establishment and other regulators for strict compliance before commissioning of the plant. From the language, tone and tenor these conditions appear to be non-negotiable.

Response from Nuclear Establishment

Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) response to the judgment was typical of the nuclear establishment’s vulgar hurry to impose the unsafe KKNPP on the struggling people: “With the Supreme Court giving the green signal, the first reactor of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project is likely to go critical anytime between May 13 and 20. Top sources in the NPCIL told ‘The Hindu’ that a team of Automic Energy Regulatory Board experts are going through the results of the test conducted a few days ago and holding discussions on the results with the NPCIL technocrats. The AERB’s governing body, expected to meet before this weekend is likely to take a final decision on giving the nod for criticality immediately”

As for RK Sinha, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) it was a great relief and he said so: ‘I humbly welcome the judgment of the court, it should lay to rest all perceived doubts about the Kudankulam atomic reactor. The reactor is at an advanced stage of commissioning and criticality or the start of the nuclear chain reaction in the plant should happen soon.’

Legal Notice

It looks as if nuclear establishment had not read the judgment carefully. If they had done so their response would have been different. And they had to be reminded of it the hard way-through a legal Notice which reads as under:

“As you are aware, the Supreme Court has given several directions to be complied with before the commissioning of KKNPP including the following two directions:

1. The plant should not be made operational unless AERB, NPCIL, DAE accord final clearance for commissioning of the plant ensuring the quality of various components and systems because their reliability is of vital importance…….

15. The AERB, NPCIL, Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) would oversee each and every aspect of the matter, including the safety of the plant, impact on environment, quality of various components and systems in the plant before commissioning of the plant. A report to that effect be filed before this Court before commissioning of the plant.

The above directions of the Supreme Court are categorical. These directions need no interpretation whatsoever. As per these directions, Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project cannot be commissioned as it stands now. When clearance was granted by you (AERB) for initial fuel loading (IFL) and first approach to criticality (FAC) of Unit.I of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project on August 10, 2012 the same was challenged before the Madras High Court by my client. The said clearance was ultimately tested by the Supreme Court in Civil Appeal No. 4440 of 2013 and batch matters. Having considered all aspects of the matter, the Supreme Court has now given a direction to you (AERB & NPCIL) and the Department of Atomic Energy not to make the KKNPP operational until a fresh review of the quality of various components and systems of the KKNPP is undertaken. The Supreme Court has further given a direction to you (AERB & NPCIL) and Ministry of Environment & Forest of the Government of India and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to oversee each and every aspect of the matter, including the safety of the plant, impact on environment, quality of various components and systems in the plant and after fulfilling this task file a report in the Supreme Court before commissioning of the plant. These directions have not yet been complied with by you (AERB & NPCIL) or by the Government of India or by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board.

It appears that after the judgment of the Supreme Court you have not even commenced a fresh review of the ‘quality of various components and systems in the plants’. Without even attempting to comply with the directions of the Supreme Court, NPCIL is making a statement to the press that the KKNPP is likely to go critical any time between May 13 and 20.

Kindly take notice that any such assertion on the part of NPCIL or AERB as reported in The Hindu dated 7 May 2013 would amount to contempt of the Supreme Court, since no report as directed by the Supreme Court in direction No.15 has so far been submitted to the Supreme Court.”

 

The Flaws

While this could bring some succour to the struggling farmer-fisher folk, Supreme Court judgment nevertheless suffer from several flaws:

  1. While the Special Leave Petition starts with characterising nuclear power as “the most dangerous means of producing energy with a serious potential for catastrophic accidents causing severe damage to life and property, with cost of reparation running into lakhs of crores of rupees”, the court nonchalantly and without appropriate due diligence declares that “nuclear energy…is a clean, safe, reliable and competitive energy source”. This assertion is debatable, disputable and defeats the very purpose for which the petitioners appealed to the highest court of law.
  2. On the issue DGR (Deep Geologic Repository) for radioactive nuclear waste, which is a critical issue concerning public safety, the court has been very casual: “NPCIL does not seem to have a long term plan, other than, stating and hoping that in the near future, it would establish a DGR (Deep Geologic Repository)”. Its directive that “DGR has to be set up at the earliest” does not specify a date nor make it a necessary condition before NPCIL embarks on new nuclear reactor construction. This is clear pandering of the nuclear establishment.
  3. Safety concerns that remain paramount in the minds of the citizens living in the vicinity of Koodankulam have not been adequately acknowledged by the Court, which did not even see fit to mention the problems with valves that the AERB disclosed, or the news reports of corruption in supplier companies in Russia. The Court’s call to “educate the people” smacks of condescension, which is anachronistic for a democracy and inexplicable when seen in the context of this well-informed and widely-participated movement against the Koodankulam reactors.
  4. SC’s uncritical reliance on the opinions of the nuclear establishment and its complete disregard of the absence of public trust in the regulatory agency is a serious problem with the judgment. It quotes extensively from AERB documents, especially safety codes, yet overlooks the fact that AERB and NPCIL do not often follow their own safety rules. The most pertinent example is that of Koodankulam itself, when AERB allowed the loading of fuel into the reactors even though NPCIL had not complied with its safety recommendations following the Fukushima nuclear accidents.
  5. The Court did not even acknowledge, let alone examine, the questions surrounding the independence and effectiveness of the AERB, and instead claimed that the AERB has been “regulating the nuclear and radiation facilities in the country very effectively”. Last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) pointed out that AERB “continued to be…an authority subordinate to the central government”, putting a big question mark over its independence as a regulator. Its actions in the case of Koodankulam, unfortunately, do not enhance the credibility of the AERB. The Court claims that the AERB “has, over the years, issued a large number of codes, standards and guides”, while the CAG pointed out that the AERB had failed to prepare “a radiation safety policy even after three decades of its existence”.
  6. The court does not seem to have properly considered the prayers contained in the SLP. While the petitioner had asked for commissioning the plant after ensuring all safety & environmental requirements court has said that the petitioner wanted “total closure of the plant and we have not conceded to the said prayer”.

Not addressing corruption and sub-standard machinery issues

Another disturbing aspect of the judgment is the question as to why did SC ignore the IA filed on 23 April (two weeks before the judgment) clearly bringing to the notice of the Supreme Court the supply of sub-standard equipment and materials by ZiO Podolsk, a Russian public sector machine works company, to the Koodankulam plant, and how Unit 2 of the Leningrad nuclear power plant using similar materials supplied by the same company collapsed on 17 July 2011, leading to the arrest and prosecution of Sergei Shutov, procurement director of ZiO Podolsk, by a Federal court in Russia. All other scams/scandals like 2G Spectrum, Commonwealth Games, Coalgate etc came out and are under serious investigation because of exposures by CAG followed by activism and advocacy by civil society with legal luminaries in the forefront. Courts had not been forewarned in these scams, but when these came before the SC it took very serious notice and is pursuing these with vigour by upbraiding the government and constituting SIT etc. What happened in the Coalgate case is an apt example. But in the KKNPP case it is just the opposite. SC was forewarned about the scam, sub-standard material and corruption and criminal action in Russia against supplier company weeks before the judgment was issued and was ‘mentioned’ in open court. The least SC could have done was to ask for independent investigation in to these ‘life-threatening’ allegations and satisfied itself before issuing final orders.

On this aspect of SC judgment Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, former Chairman, AERB has a slightly different take. This is what he has to say: “As per Directions No: 15 given in the SC Judgment, NPCIL, AERB, MoEF and TNPCB are to be jointly involved in all  aspects  of  certifying  this  reactor as safe. Of  these three  organizations (AERB, TNPCB, MoEF) are Regulatory Agencies, and NPCIL is the promoter  and  it will  have  to  serve  as  the main supplier of  inspection data and other compliance information to the other three for  review . Without  solely  resting their confidence & trust  in the  two  DAE  institutions (AERB & NPCIL) , the Supreme Court  has intentionally broadened the jury to include two additional government  regulators  who are not connected with the DAE. This I see as the impact of our last affidavit (IA on 23 April) on Zio-Podolsk corruption and supply of substandard components & equipment from  Russia. We have to make best use of this opportunity”.

This matter however has been taken care of in a complaint filed with the CBI and a writ filed in the Madras High Court for directing the CBI to conduct expeditious investigation into corruption and supply of sub-standard equipment.

Future Imperatives

Dr. EAS Sarma, former Secretary to Government of India, Ministry of Power has created a matrix for making the ‘best use’ of the 15 directions and other observations made in the SC judgment. It is presented below with some of my inputs:

 

Para Direction & Action points Compliance imperative before commissioning
230.1 The plant should not be made operational unless AERB, NPCIL, DAE accord final clearance for commissioning of the plant ensuring the quality of various components and systems because their reliability is of vital importance. Final clearance and the process adopted should be placed in the public domain as required under Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.
230.2 MoEF should oversee and monitor whether the NPCIL iscomplying with the conditions laid down, while granting

clearance vide its communication dated 23.9.2008 under the provisions of EIA Notification of 2006, so also the conditions laid down in the environmental clearance granted by the MoEF vide its communication dated 31.12.2009. AERB and MoEF will see that all the conditions stipulated by them are duly complied with before the plant is made operational.

MOEF should place the monitoringreports in the public domain as required under Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.
230.3 Maintaining safety is an ongoing process not only at thedesign level, but also during the operation for the nuclear

plant. Safeguarding NPP, radioactive materials, ensuring

physical security of the NSF are of paramount importance.

NPCIL, AERB, the regulatory authority, should maintain

constant vigil and make periodical inspection of the plant

at least once in three months and if any defect is noticed,

the same has to be rectified forthwith.

NPCIL, AERB should place the periodic reports in public domain as required under Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.
230.4 NPCIL shall send periodical reports to AERB and the AERB shall take prompt action on those reports, if any fallacy is noticed in the reports. The reports should be available for the public as required under Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.
230.5 SNF generated needs to be managed in a safe manner toensure protection of human health and environment from

the undue effect of ionizing radiation now and future, for

which sufficient surveillance and monitoring programme

have to be evolved and implemented.

 

Copy of the surveillance and monitoringreports should be available in public domain as required under Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.
230.6 AERB should periodically review the design-safety aspectsof AFR feasibly at KKNPP so that there will be no adverse

impact on the environment due to such storage which

may also allay the fears and apprehensions expressed by

the people.

The reports should be available in public domain as required under Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.
230.7 DGR has to be set up at the earliest so that SNF could betransported from the nuclear plant to DGR. NPCIL says

the same would be done within a period of five years.

Effective steps should be taken by the Union of India,

NPCIL, AERB, AEC, DAE etc. to have a permanent DGR at the earliest so that apprehension voiced by the people of

keeping the NSF at the site of Kudankulam NPP could be

dispelled.

The periodic progress reports should be available in public domain as required under Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.
230.8 NPCIL should ensure that the radioactive discharges to theenvironmental aquatic atmosphere and terrestrial route

shall not cross the limits prescribed by the Regulatory

Body.

The monitored data should be available in public domain as required under Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.
230.9 The Union of India, AERB and NPCIL should take steps atthe earliest to comply with rest of the seventeen

recommendations, within the time stipulated in the

affidavit filed by the NPCIL on 3.12.2012.

The Apex Court, in para 189, has cautioned AERB, NPCIL as follows.“Adequate measures have, therefore, to be taken for storage of NSF at site, and also for the physical safety of stored NSF. Of the seventeen suggested safety measures, by AERB, LWR, twelve have already been implemented and the rest, in a phased manner have to be implemented which the experts say, are meant for extra security”

The apex court, in para 228, has also emphasised as follows

 

Therefore, I am obliged to think that the delicate balance in other spheres may have some allowance but in the case of establishment of a

nuclear plant, the safety measures would not tolerate any lapse. The grammar has to be totally different. I may hasten to clarify that I have not discussed anything about the ecology and environment which has been propounded before us, but I may particularly put that the

proportionality of risk may not be “zero” regard being had to the nature’s unpredictability. All efforts are to be made to avoid any man-made disaster. Though the concept of delicate balance and the doctrine of proportionality of risk

factor gets attracted, yet the same commands the highest degree of constant alertness, for it is disaster affecting the living. The life of some cannot be sacrificed for the

purpose of the eventual larger good.”

Therefore, NPCIL is expected to lay down strict time schedules to ensure safety and the progress reports should be available in public domain as required under Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.

230.10 SNF is not being re-processed at the site, which hasto be transported to a Re-Processing facility. Therefore,

the management and transportation of SNF be carried out

strictly by the Code of Practices laid down by the AERB,

following the norms and regulations laid down by IAEA.

The details should be placed in public domain as required under Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005.
230.11 NPCIL, AERB and State of Tamil Nadu should takeadequate steps to implement the National Disaster

Management Guidelines, 2009 and also carry out the

periodical emergency exercises on and off site, with the

support of the concerned Ministries of the Government of

India, Officials of the State Government and local

authorities.

Hon’ble Madras High Court in W.P.No.24770 of 2011 August 2012 (Para 89) observed as follows“Even though it is stated that the said exercise was done in only one village, namely Nakkaneri village, which is stated to be nearer to the KKNPP, as we are informed that nearly 30 to 40 villages are within 30 Kms radius of KKNPP, such event must take place in all villages and more importantly, apart from the officials, as stated above, the people in the area must be made to participate and an awareness programme must be made to infuse confidence in the minds of the local people that the project is for the benefit of the country and there is no need to alarm”

Since this observation has not been modified by the apex court, it should be treated as a pre-condition to commissioning of the plant. In addition, implementation of NDMA’s guidelines should also precede commissioning.

The Apex Court’s observation in para 221 (extracted below) of the judgment has importance

“The concept of disaster management cannot be allowed to remain on paper. Its procrastination itself rings the bell of peril. The

administration has to be alive to the said situation and the awakening to manage the disaster in case of an

unfortunate incident has to be founded on scientific and

sophisticated methods. Taking care of the situation of the present alone is not the solution. All concerned with the same are required to look to the future because that elevates the real concern. The danger of the future should be seriously taken note of and should not be veiled in the guise of thought for the present”.

230.12 NPCIL, in association with the District Collector,Tiruneveli should take steps to discharge NPCIL Corporate

Social Responsibilities in accordance with DPE Guidelines

and there must be effective and proper monitoring and

supervision of the various projects undertaken under CSR

to the fullest benefit of the people who are residing in and

around KKNPP.

Progress reports with the names of beneficiaries should be placed in public domain as required under section 4 of RTI Act. A special audit should be ordered to ensure proper utilisation of the funds
230.13 NPCIL and the State of Tamil Nadu, based on thecomprehensive emergency preparedness plan should

conduct training courses on site and off site administer

personnel, including the State Government officials and

other stake holders, including police, fire service, medicos,

emergency services etc.

Progress reports with the names of trainees should be placed in public domain as required under section 4 of RTI Act. A special audit should be ordered to ensure proper utilisation of the funds
230.14 Endeavour should be made to withdraw all thecriminal cases filed against the agitators so that peace

and normalcy be restored at Kudankulam and nearby

places and steps should be taken to educate the people of

the necessity of the plant which is in the largest interest of

the nation particularly the State of Tamil Nadu.

 

This should precede commissioningction taken should be placed in public domain as required under Section 4 of RTI Act
230.15 The AERB, NPCIL, MoEF and TNPCB would overseeeach and every aspect of the matter, including the safety

of the plant, impact on environment, quality of various

components and systems in the plant before

commissioning of the plant.A report to that effect be filed before this Court before commissioning of the plant.

The Report thus filed should be notified to the Petitioner for filing counter and if found ‘fake’ SC should order investigation of quality of various components and systems in the plant by an Independent Expert Group before issuing final orders.

Compliance requirement suggested for Direction #15 assumes all the more importance due to post-judgment revelations through a research study that the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) supplied to KKNPP, considered to be the heart of the reactor, could be obsolete and different from the originally promised one. This has humongous repercussions and if unchecked, has all the potential for a catastrophe in peninsular India and the island of Sri Lanka. Serious charges of corruption and suspicion of substandard material and obsolete RPV have arisen, but not addressed even by the highest court of law. God forbid, if some incident/accident happens during commissioning or after, besides human catastrophe it would devastate SC as an institution and extinguish whatever little faith people have in this bulwark of justice. Supreme Court monitored pre-commissioning is therefore a must because the Court has placed public safety on the pedestal of “Constitutional Trust” and hopefully would never countenance its betrayal by the nuclear establishment.

The Groundview

But the ‘soldiers on the ground’ have a different perception altogether. They are of the view that in order to free up Russia from supplier liability, charges of theft and abject project failure, the Indian nuclear establishment has begun to claim that the KKNPP is not a Russian turnkey project.

Following the Supreme Court’s verdict, nuclear establishment is announcing various dates to fake-commission the project and trying to protect their own self interests and save the Russians from all the embarrassing and serious charges. Instead of answering the component-related concerns, financial improprieties and liability commitments in an earnest manner, they are spreading irresponsible rumors and conjectures as they have been doing since 2005 about commissioning the KKNPP.

In fact, the KKNPP authorities do not even allow journalists anywhere near the reactors for fear of their smelling any of the fishy things that have been happening there. In an interview RS Sundar, the site director has claimed that they are facing difficulties with the media.

This is what the struggle leaders have to say: “The Indian government, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), and the AERB do not even want to walk the extra mile of assessing the quality and safety of the components with a team of independent scientists, engineers and journalists. No one in India knows anything about the omissions and the commissions of the KKNPP, NPCIL, AERB, DAE, AEC and their Russian counterparts and suppliers. Even the Indian courts seem to accept the establishmentarian views in spite of the fact that they have laid down fifteen directions in their recent judgment. All nuclear establishment want is commissioning of the plant even if it is a fake one! So all the thefts, untested technology, unsafe components and the overall failure could be buried in radioactive contamination and inter-governmental cover up.”

So the struggling community, all ordinary citizens of India, have decided to turn to their fellow citizens and Mother Nature to protect the interests of our country and people. They have decided to come out in the open, travel to neighboring villages and organize people all over again. They have decided to fight it out to the finish and are confident that they shall overcome.

To this determination Admiral L.Ramdas has responded to the struggle coordinator Udayakumar: “We are happy to see that the spirit of “Never say Die” prevails. I am sure our prayers and hard work and commitment will not go waste. Regards and Greater strength to your elbow”. So, it is from Supreme Court to the Court of the People.

We are a Democracy and VOX POPULI is VOX DEI–‘Voice of the People is Voice of God’. But is mere voice enough? To seek assurance, ground forces should draw on the famous clarion of Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “It is infinitely difficult to begin when mere words must remove a great block of matter. But there is no other way if none of the material strength is on your side. And a shout in the mountains has been known to cause an avalanche

Just replace ‘mountain’ with ocean and ‘avalanche’ with tsunami. BRAVO.

 

When the majority in the motherland flexes muscle over a song


Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:30 IST | Agency: DNA

The sight of an MP slowly walking out of Parliament while the entire House stood in respect for Vande Mataram, will be difficult to forget. Yet, the BSP’s Shafiqur Rahman Barq was simply exercising his rights. The fundamental duties added to the constitution during the emergency, ask us to respect only the national flag and anthem. At any rate, they are not legally enforceable. Our supreme court had held way back in 1986 that conscientious objectors were free not to sing the national anthem, while not showing disrespect to it.

Many people believe that Jana Gana Mana was written in praise of King George V, even though Rabindranath Tagore rejected that allegation convincingly. Earlier, when it used to be played at the end of a movie, such people would walk out, joining many others who felt it a waste of time to stay back for the national anthem.

The debate over Vande Mataram is more complicated. Originally, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s composition comprised only the 14 lines which are today the text of the national song. In 1881, he expanded it into a hymn to goddess Durga, and made it part of his anti-Muslim novel Anand Math.

Till the 1930s, everyone, Hindu or Muslim, sang it with fervour.  In fact, the Vande Mataram flag also had the Islamic crescent and star on it. But as objections to it grew from Muslims within the Congress and outside, Congress heavyweights Nehru, Azad, Bose and Acharya Narendra Dev, decided in 1937 that the original two stanzas were not only unobjectionable, but had developed an identity of their own in the freedom movement.

However, singing them would not be mandatory at Congress sessions.

In the choice for national anthem, Jana Gana Mana won, but with its inspirational history, Vande Mataram became the national song. I have heard freedom fighters sing its first few lines right till their old age, remembering the slogan they shouted as they held up the tricolour in defiance and courted arrest.

The real problem with Vande Mataram is its co-option first by the Hindu Mahasabha, then by the RSS and its allies, none of whom had played any role in the freedom struggle. The slogan ‘Is desh mein rahna hoga to Vande Mataram kahna hoga’ is still used to browbeat Muslims. It took a judge of the stature of Justice BN Srikrishna to declare in court, during the hearings of his inquiry into the 92-93 Mumbai riots, that laying down conditions of residence on any citizen, let alone a community, by another group was not just communal but also fascist.

But much before 92-93, Mumbaikars were losing lives over Vande Mataram. In 1973, the Muslim League objected to the Shiv Sena’s decision to make its singing compulsory in Municipal Corporation meetings. Sena-League riots followed in which five persons died.

But a few months later, the “patriotic’’ Sena thought nothing of taking the help of “traitors” to get its candidate elected as Mayor. Bal Thackeray and GM Banatwala, head of the League, led Sudhir Joshi’s victory procession together.

Vande Mataram has a deep historical link with Mumbai. The first time it was sung from a political platform was in 1896 by Rabindranath Tagore in the Congress’ Kolkata session.

The president of the session was Mumbai lawyer Rahimatullah Sayani.

Muslim intellectuals of this city, such as Rafiq Zakaria and Sajid Rashid (both deceased), Asghar Ali Engineer and Syed Feroze Ashraf,  have often stated that there’s nothing wrong in singing Vande Mataram — out of choice. Forcing them to do so — or not to — won’t do.

The author is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist.

 

Asghar Ali Engineer: Simple, fearless, straight from the heart


May 14, 2013

Renowned Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer, who passed away in MumbaiImages ] on Tuesday , was opposed to all forms of religious bigotry including by the clergy of his own faith. For opposing the Syedna, spiritual of Dawoodi Bohras, Engineer faced scorn, boycott and even, sometimes, violence. In February 2000 Dilip D’souza had chronicled in Rediff.com one such assault on Asghar Ali Engineer; we reproduce it here. In Tribute.

If you want to find Asghar Ali Engineer on a working day, you’ll have to make your way to his office in Santa Cruz, Bombay. To get there, you edge through the chaos outside the railway station: buses and rickshaws bear down on you, hawkers of everything conceivable are everywhere, the occasional cow meanders about. Past them, the grubby building has a too-low entrance on which I’ve rammed my forehead more times than I can count. That negotiated, you walk up the narrow stairs to a small office, overflowing with books, papers, newspapers and magazines.

Invariably in a white or beige kurta and pajama, Asghar Ali sits in a room at the back. It’s a near-sure bet he’s busy pecking intently at a keyboard. Earlier, that keyboard belonged to a small red typewriter; lately it is part of a laptop. He writes with energy and passion people half his age can’t match, turning out articles and pamphlets and books on a wide range of subjects. He’ll be the first to acknowledge that it’s not high literature he’s producing in that room. But he writes like he talks to you: simply, fearlessly and straight from the heart. Never a hint of hedging or obfuscation.

That is why this man is so widely respected. That is why, too, he is so hated. Hated enough, that at Bombay airport on February 13, three goons beat up this 60-year-old heart patient. Hated enough, that pals of those goons have since gone into a kind of accusatory overdrive, making public statements that it was actually Engineer who was doing the beating and abusing.

To anyone who knows Asghar Ali even slightly, the idea of him assaulting someone is so absurd, it might have been funny. But it is not funny in the least.

To understand what happened at the airport that day, you have to know that Engineer is a Dawoodi Bohra. This is a Muslim sect of traders, originally from Gujarat. Their spiritual head is the 85-year-old Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (now 102) known simply as The Syedna. The Syedna maintains strict control over his flock via a system of seven taxes and multiple regulations, all enforced by his priests.

For many years, Asghar Ali has campaigned for reform within the Bohra community, asked over and over again for an accounting from the Syedna for the money he collects through those taxes. As reformers usually are, he is unpopular among the clergy, among the faithful. They have attacked him four times already, going back to 1977.

February 13 saw the fifth attack. That day, Asghar Ali was on an Alliance Air (a subsidiary of Indian Airlines) flight from Bhopal to Bombay, via Indore. It was supposed to be a half-hour halt at Indore, just enough to drop off and pick up passengers. But an hour passed and still the plane stayed put on the ground. Turned out the Syedna himself was to board the flight there, and the great man was delayed.

Nearly 3,000 of the Syedna’s followers had gathered to wave tearful goodbyes to him at Indore. Seeing this crowd, the airport Indian Airlines personnel ‘felt it could be risky to let the airplane take off without [the Syedna].’ So they delayed the departure, hoping ‘to prevent a law and order problem.’ (Quotes from The Times of India [ Images ], February 17).

Apparently several of the passengers on the flight objected to this delay, and Asghar Ali Engineer joined the protest. Of course, the protest had no effect. But when the Syedna finally arrived and the flight took off, Engineer told Outlook, two of his followers, ‘after consulting the Syedna, began abusing … [T]hey said, “You shaitan, get down and see what happens to you.” ‘

What happened to the ‘shaitan’ was that in the terminal at Bombay, three men assaulted him. One was one of the Syedna’s fellow flyers, the other two were from among the hordes who had turned up to fondly greet him on arrival. The assault continued for several minutes. Asghar Ali fell to the ground, bleeding. Eventually the police rescued him and took him to Nanavati hospital.

Meanwhile, more of the Syedna’s followers paid visits to Asghar Ali’s home and that crowded first-floor office in Santa Cruz. These were not courtesy calls to express concern for his health. No, they ransacked both places, up to the fans on the ceiling. As Asghar Ali wrote to me some days later: “My household things have been destroyed completely. Office computers were also destroyed.”

The story does not end there. The Syedna’s followers have wasted very little time cranking up the propaganda machine. They took a delegation to the chief minister to demand protection for the Syedna from Engineer. (There was one extremely interesting feature of this delegation that I will get to in a bit). Then they flooded the newspapers with letters recounting what they say really happened on that Indore-Bombay flight.

The assaulter, the propaganda would have it, was Engineer. First, he had stood at the entrance with his arms outspread, preventing the Syedna from entering. After waiting “quietly” for some minutes on the ladder, the Syedna managed to make his way into the plane. That’s when Asghar Ali began “abusing” him in “foul language”, “provoking” him and his 20 followers throughout the flight to Bombay. The delegation said that Asghar Ali’s language was “unbearable and intolerable to any follower of the religion.” To top it all, Asghar Ali actually mounted a “physical assault” on the Syedna.

“The fact remains”, one letter said, “that it was Engineer who took the law in his hands first and whatever happened afterwards was a result of that.” Another expressed these lucid opinions: “Engineer [doesn’t] even know how to behave with a person of [the Syedna’s] dignity and class. Engineer is … a curse on society. … May [the Syedna’s] enemies burn in the fires of hell.”

Florid accusations aside, who ransacked Asghar Ali’s home and office? The Syedna’s nephew, Badrul Jamali Bhai, used strangely familiar language at a press conference: “Someone whose feelings may have been hurt could have done it.” More familiar language came from a Syedna spokesman: “It was the natural feelings of his followers that broke out into violence. If someone abuses our father, how can we tolerate it?”

Ah yes, that language of intolerance again. Feelings were hurt, some things just can’t be tolerated, the assault was only an expression of those “natural feelings.” I didn’t catch it in the reports I found, but I am confident someone among the Syedna’s men used that word loved by goons intent on lying propaganda, whether during Nazi Germany’s [ Images ] Kristallnacht or after the demolition of the Babri Masjid [ Images ].

“Spontaneous.”

As in: the attacks on Jews that November 9 night in 1938 were, said Joseph Goebbels, a “spontaneous” demonstration by the German people against the murder of a German embassy official in Paris. As in: leaders of the Shiv Sena [ Images ] admitted that their “boys” were out rioting in Bombay in 1992-93, but that they appeared “spontaneously” to “prevent the massacre of Hindus.” As in: the destruction of the Babri Masjid, leaders of the BJP told us, was a “spontaneous” reaction of Hindus whose “feelings had been hurt” enough.

Yes indeed, when it is bigotry, when it is intolerance of differing opinions, there are no religious boundaries. The defenders of the Syedna could be the defenders of German purity could be the defenders of Hinduism.

Apart from his calls for reform among the Bohras, Asghar Ali Engineer is a strong and learned spokesman for religious sanity. In particular, his was a prominent voice after the demolition of that mosque and the 1992-93 Bombay riots. His team of volunteers fanned out to speak to riot victims all over the city. The report he issued based on their findings (Bombay’s Shame) is a sad and damning commentary on the destruction the so-called defenders of Hinduism brought on the heads of all Bombay, Hindus and otherwise. His subsequent writings have kept up that commentary. They have brought him hatred from the defenders of Hinduism just as severe as he gets from the Syedna’s flock.

And that’s why the Syedna’s delegation that went to the chief minister was so interesting. It was led by two prominent Bombay politicians: Maharashtra’s [ Images ] ex-Minister for Housing Raj Purohit and Khetwadi MLA Atul Shah.

Both belong to the BJP.

Dilip D’Souza

Image: Asghar Ali Engineer passed away on Tuesday  | Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

 

‘Asghar Ali Will Be Remembered As A Creative Interpreter Of Islam’


In a career spanning over four decades, Asghar Ali was in the forefront of anti-communal movements and upholding the spirit of our secular constitution

MUSHIRUL HASAN

May 15, 2013

Photo Courtesy: www.csss-isla.com

Photo Courtesy: http://www.csss-isla.com

He never wrote his full name. AA Engineer is how he was widely known. I wrote a column on him in the Indian Express and followed it up with another article on his 70th birthday. Now, regrettably, I write his obituary.

Like many in this country and abroad I am deeply grieved by his sudden death. He was a man of extraordinary energy and unshakable conviction. Above all, he was on a mission to reform his own Bohra community, to expose the menace of communalism and to plead for a liberal and modernist version of Islam. What is amazing is that he actually believed that these changes would take place during his lifetime. Sadly, that did not happen.

Asghar Ali Engineer’s chief mission was to make India a safer place to live in for the minorities. For this, he did not adopt the reckless course of many a protagonist of Muslim causes. Instead, he endeavoured to instill confidence in the minorities. At the same time, he argued for reforms and innovations within inherited traditions. He wanted Muslims in particular to move forward and shed their psychological inhibitions. He wanted them to remain true to their faith, because he believed that Islam, contrary to its current demonization, championed social equity, justice and tolerance. He would quote chapter and verse from the Quran to defend his position. Unlike other reformers, he was a well-read person and linguistically equipped to interpret the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet. Therefore, he consistently argued, for example, that gender justice is enshrined in the Quran.

In a career spanning over four decades, Asghar Ali spearheaded many important movements. He was in the forefront of anti-communal movements, upholding the spirit of our secular constitution. Global peace and interfaith dialogue was lately, his principal passion. He tried to work out a synthesis between different religions, traditions and underline their commonalities. In this respect, his dialogues with Christian and Hindu priests are quite important. It marked an advance on a tradition pioneered by social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Mahatma Gandhi.

When I first visited Asghar Ali at Irene Cottage in Santa Cruz East, I expected to be greeted in a large palatial house. Instead, I walked through a decrepit staircase which led me into a rather modest two-room apartment. It was barely furnished. There were only books and printed articles strewn all over the place. This is not surprising. He was a dedicated scholar who spent several hours every day writing his own books, articles and reports on communal riots in different parts of the country. Many of these were published in the Economic and Political Weekly. He will be long remembered for his bold and courageous interventions on leading public issues and in the service of communal peace and secularism. His judgement on most matters was objective and reasonable.
Asghar Ali was a reckless individual, with a junoon to transform the world. He travelled ceaselessly and kept odd hours which ultimately took a toll on his health. Whenever I asked him to take it easy, he would brush aside my suggestion. He said that he had miles to go and much more work to do.

His life offers many lessons to be learnt, of paths taken and not taken. But whatever may be the verdict of history, Asghar Ali Engineer will be remembered as a creative interpreter of Islam and as a champion of the liberal and secular values. His life clearly demonstrates that it is possible to be wedded to one’s own tradition and at the same time be a quintessential liberal. There is no conflict of vision in Asghar Ali’s public life or writings.

We will miss this enlightened and dignified man. We will miss a principled and conscientious citizen and dissenter who recognised no caste or community differences. And finally, we will miss a scholar who was relentless in his search for ideas and solutions to contemporary conflicts and divisions.

The author is Professor of History, former Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia and the former Director General, National Archives of India

– See more at: http://tehelka.com/asghar-ali-engineer-will-be-remembered-as-a-creative-interpreter-of-islam/#sthash.QGfpi43O.dpuf

Fishermen protest SC nod for Kudankulam


TIRUNELVELI, May 15, 2013

 

Special Correspondent, The Hindu

Fishermen from coastal hamlets of Tirunelveli district stayed away from the sea on Tuesday as a protest against Supreme Court's judgment in favour of the commissioning of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project first reactor— Photo: A. SHAIKMOHIDEEN

Fishermen from coastal hamlets of Tirunelveli district stayed away from the sea on Tuesday as a protest against Supreme Court‘s judgment in favour of the commissioning of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project first reactor— Photo: A. SHAIKMOHIDEEN

Fishermen in the coastal hamlets of Tirunelveli district abstained from fishing operations in protest against the Supreme Court verdict that allowed the commissioning of the first reactor of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP).

The anti-KKNPP activists, who are staging a series of protests against the upcoming nuclear power project for the past several months, had announced that they would not accept the Supreme Court verdict that allowed the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, the proponent of the project, to commission the first of the two 1,000 MW reactors being built with Russian assistance at Kudankulam.

At a meeting at Idinthakarai last Thursday to discuss the apex court’s judgment, they appealed to the fishermen of Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari districts to abstain from all fishing operations on Tuesday.

Responding to the appeal, country boat fishermen struck work on Tuesday and staged demonstrations in their hamlets against the KKNPP, alleging that the nuclear power project would wipe out their livelihood.

 

PRESS RELEASE- Supreme Court Verdict on Koodankulam: A Travesty of Justice


PRESS RELEASE

Mumbai, May 15 , 2013

The Supreme Court’s verdict on Koodankulam rests on three hugely contested premises: the judges’ belief in the necessity of nuclear energy for India’s progress, their faith in the  nuclear establishment to perform its role, and the judges’ notion of the larger public interest and the apprehensions of small sections which should be subordinated to the estblishment’s plans. Not only have the judges given judicial sanctity to these contestable propositions, they  have also completely overlooked Koodankulam-specific brazen violations of the government’s own norms, raised by the petitioners.

It is unfortunate that the Court, far transgressing the actual prayers of the petition, has completely overlooked the brazen violations by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) of their own norms. The petitioners has highlighted serious issues such as the recent scam in Russia involving ZiO-Podolsk’s supply of sub-standard equipments to Koodankulam, violation of the AERB’s reactor-siting norms, undermining of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) clearances, flouting of the mandated  emergency preparedness and evacuation exercises, the AERB’s 17 post-Fukushima recommendations etc.

The DAE’s complete hegemony on nuclear expertise in India and its proximity to the country’s top political leadership has been misused by it to mislead the Supreme Court. Extensive citation of the AERB’s safety codes for Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors  (PHWRs) in the judgement whereas the Koodankulam reactors are Pressurised Water Reactors (PWRs) is a glaring example of this. The verdict also highlights the unfortunate extent to which our democratic institutions, including the judiciary, have come to unquestionably accept the growth-centric model of ‘development’ which is being contested by impoverished and marginalised sections who are bearing its brunt.

We demand that the NPCIL exercises maximum transparency and accountability in implementing the 15 guidelines issued by the Court. The Court’s order to withdraw police cases against the agitators vindicates our position that the government used undemocratic and brutal repression to silence the peaceful protests in Koodankulam.We demand that these fabricated charges be withdrawn at once.

 

issued by: The Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) , a  national network of various organisations along with Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Samiti,Madban Janhit Seva Samiti,Jaitapur Anuurja Prakalp Virodhi Samiti and various other organisations and individuals

Join us on facebook:- https://www.facebook.com/groups/109358664039/

To be updated on nuclear issues :- http://cndpindia.org/ ,  http://www.dianuke.org/,

For more information contact- Vivek Sundara (CNDP) -9821062801 /Kamayani Bali Mahabal ( CNDP)  9820749204

 

#India – Disastrous Consequences of Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) of DU


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 Delhi University, a premiere public funded central university, is a coveted higher education institution for millions of students across the country for itsaffordable high quality education. This status of Delhi University has been seriously threatened by the forced and mindless implementation of the FYUP by the DU VC Dinesh Singh. In spite of serious concerns raised by numerous noted intellectuals and teachers about the academic and pedagogic flaws of the FYUP, the VC has remained intolerant to all concerns and has repeated the rosy dreams and false claims of “employability” flexibility” and multidisciplinary approach” of the FYUP. It is high time we make an honest factual assessment of the dark reality lurking behind the false claims made by the FYUP because it is the students who will suffer from these changes in the University.

It is significant that ALL the established decision-making and course-making norms of DU have been bypassed in the unseemly haste to push through the FYUP. The FYUP goes against the National Curriculum Framework – but such a major change is being bulldozed through in spite of the opposition of the most respected educationists and academic voices of the University and the country. And the VC who is projecting himself as a ‘flexible modern reformer, is so scared of debate that he took pains to systematically deny the DUTA any venue inside the University to hold meetings and GBMs on University premises! A new low for campus democracy was reached on 12 May when the venue for the DUTA GBM in a college was cancelled at the last minute.       

How FYUP adversely affects the lives of Students

1.     To get an honours degree the student will have to bear the financial burden of an extra year. The VC sheds crocodile tears for the economically deprived sections but conveniently forgets that thousands of students are forced to spend an exorbitant amount of 10-12000 rupees per month in food and lodging over and above the college fees while studying in DU. With the FYUP, students will have to bear this extra amount for another long year for a degree which students from other universities will complete in three years.

2.     The students’ entry into the job market will be delayed by a year and the DU 4 year graduates will lose the precious opportunity of appearing in competitive exams for a year.

3.     Since FYUP is at variance with the National Curriculum Framework of 10+2+3, students emerging from DU with 2, 3 and 4-year certificates will face serious incompatibility in proving “equivalence” while joining other courses, institutions and Universities.

Is there enough class room space to accommodate the 54000 new students who will enter the university with the addition of an extra year? It is a well known fact across the colleges of DU that the colleges are suffering from serious shortage of space and more often than not fails to accommodate all the students under the 3 year programme. After the OBC expansion the funds received by the corrupt DU administration has been criminally wasted in mindless beautification drives without any attempt to enhance class room and laboratory space in the colleges. The VC has been responding with absolute irresponsible nonchalance when ever this issue has been raised. Can we allow the students to suffer academically when such primary infrastructural requirements like classrooms are not adequately met?

Teachers: What is even more alarming is the fact that DU is running severely short of teachers. With not a single appointment in last 3 years there are 5000 permanent posts lying vacant across the 80 colleges of DU. The show is managed by Ad hoc teachers whose job insecurity and rampant exploitation has made DU a most unequal university. The VC has developed the habit of rabidly slandering the teachers for raising genuine concerns about the shortcomings of FYUP while turning a blind eye to the glaring inadequacies with which the DU teachers are struggling daily. Can any University function in a sane manner when the majority of teachers are contractualized and are in a constant flux with no job security?

Dangers of Multiple Exit Degrees in FYUP

In the 3 year model DU offered two different programmes, 1) The BA, BSc, B.Com (Programme) courses and 2) BA, BSc, B.Com (Honours) courses.The Programme course and the honours courses were two separate courses with different curriculums, coherent and complete in themselves, offering the students with the choice to decide their courses according to their future career plans. The FYUP offers one single integrated course with a single “fit for all” curriculum with multiple exit points after 2 years (diploma degree), 3 years (bachelor Degree) and 4 Years (honours degree). This is disastrous for students for two reasons:

1.     Unlike a student from the 3 year programme who will have a complete degree in their hand the student from FYUP who exits after 2 years and 3 years with Diploma and Bachelor degree respectively will have an incomplete degree where s/he will only complete a certain number of courses of the entire 4 year programme. {2 year diploma will do 11 FC + 8 DC1+ 2 DC2+ 3 AC + 4 IMBH/CA course and 3 year Bachelor will do 11 FC + 14 DC1+ 4 DC2+ 5 AC + 8 IMBH/CA courses of the entire FYUP package of  11 FC + 20 DC1+ 6 DC2 + 5 AC + 10 IMBH/CA courses} The biggest concern is that the diploma and bachelor students will do a far lesser number of main discipline (DC1) courses.

2.     The FYUP programme will institutionalise the already existing high drop-out rate among DU students. The VC admitted as much in his Walk the Talk interview, where he said that 12% students drop out of DU without any certificate; the FYUP programme will equip such students with some certificate! Instead of seeking to correct the drop-out problem and ensure that students get a holistic and complete education, the multiple exit system is giving a ‘golden handshake’ of sorts to the students who, usually due to social and economic marginalisation, are dropping out.

3.     The biggest fallout will be in terms of the employability of the Diploma and Bachelor degree students who will exit after 2 and 3 years because they will be considered as students who failed to complete the entire 4 year programme. The multiple exit points of FYUP are therefore an open invitation to social discrimination among students.

4.     Instead of correcting existing the social-economic hierarchical divisions and ensuring that universities are an engine of social mobility, the FYUP programme will instead reproduce, perpetuate and justify these divisions: in effect saying, let the socially and economically weaker students get the ‘drop-out’ degrees and are thus available for lower-paid jobs, while only those who have the financial ability to sustain education for an additional year will have the privilege of getting higher-end jobs requiring the ‘Honours’ qualification.

Degradation of Curriculum

1)Foundation (faltu) Courses: The 10+2 students who enter DU after specializing in either arts, commerce or science to pursue further specialization in the specific stream or subject of his choice will now have to study 11 compulsory basic school level foundational course like maths, geography, business entrepreneurship, computer skills in their first 2 years. A student who has left maths or business entrepreneurship and wants to study a completely different subject will be forced to do all the 11 courses which are school level in nature. Doesn’t such an imposition of as many as 11 compulsory courses make the FYUP more rigid rather than more ‘flexible’ as claimed by the VC? One wonders how will doing school level courses guarantee employment in this highly competitive world where employers are looking for even greater amount of specialized knowledge and skills from their employees. Is the VC saying that a student who enters DU with the desire to develop himself/herself for knowledge-based high skilled jobs through the graduate course, should now be happy with the level of knowledge required for low-skilled and least-paid jobs alone?

2) Lower emphasis on Main discipline courses: In the 3 year model the honours subject papers which the student wanted to specialize constituted 75 % of the entire curriculum. IN FYUP with the student will do only 18 main discipline courses in 4 years while s/he will be loaded with 24 non-main discipline courses? (11foundation (faltu) courses + 5 extracurricular + 8 CA and ‘Integrated Mind Body Heart’ course) What is the point of burdening the student who wants to specialize in a specific subject with so many nonsensical courses?

3) Reduction of classes: The FYUP has reduced the number of weeks of teaching from 15 to 12.

In the previous model every paper with 3 units each was given 5 classes per week (roughly two classes /unit). In FYUP every paper has 4 units with only 4 classes (1 class/ unit). The VC should explain what great academic rigour will be accomplished by reducing teaching time in the university.

4) Training in Writing: In the 3 year annual model every student had to write 3 assignments and 1 project for each and every paper. This trained them in academic writing, enhanced their scholarship and gave them opportunity to do independent research. In FYUP students will not write a single assignment in the course of 4 years and only do 1 group presentation (7-8 students doing 1 presentation) for every paper. And yet the VC makes tall claims about developing skills and research potential of students.  

School of Open Learning

The VC has made ominous pronouncements in his TOI interview against the School of Open Learning which runs correspondence courses for students who cannot afford regular college education. The SOL will not come under the FYUP and therefore poor students who study in courses of SOL will not be able to join the regular course even if they perform well in their studies. This is a clear discrimination against the students of SOL who are ascribed the status of second class citizens within the same university. While there is need to address the problems of SOL it is absolutely anti-student to covertly derecognize the degree that this institution awards to lakhs of students.

With such glaring flaws and discriminatory content the FYUP will destroy the very basis of egalitarian quality education in DU. The stated aim of FYUP to judge education by economic value is the sweet coated poison that will pave the way of reducing DU into a private teaching shop that churns out semi-skilled students as a reserve army required for low-end jobs in the mushrooming corporate sector which subsists on ‘flexible’ low-paid labour. The FYUP actively institutionalises drop-outs and discourages students from pursuing higher learning and developing critical faculties which ought to be main aim of higher education as a social good in a developing country like ours.

We call upon all democratic sections of society to resist the disastrous anti-student, anti-academic ‘reforms’ of FYUP in Delhi University.

LDTF                               AISA

(Left and Democratic Teachers’ Forum)                                                     (All India Students’ Association)

Contact: 9868034224                                                                                   Contact: 9213974505

             9868337493                    

 

PRESS RELEASE- Globalisation of resistance cannot be resisted


 

Press Release

New Delhi, May 15, 2013

 Government wants to rein in people’s struggles related to land, forests, water and for dignity: Chitranjan Singh

 Globalisation of resistance cannot be resisted, said Prof Achin Vanaik

 Freezing of bank account cannot stifle democratic voice of dissent, said Anil Chaudhary  

 More than 300 organisations, action groups and grassroots activists, journalists, writers stand in solidarity

 Following the suspension of the registration of Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) under Foreign Contributions Regulation Act and freezing its bank accounts for 180 days, INSAF organized a press conference at Press Club in Delhi, which was addressed by Justice Rajinder Sachar, Prof Achin Vanaik (Former Dean, Dept of Political Science Delhi University, Social Activist Shabnam Hashmi and INSAF general secretary Chitranjan Singh. INSAF is a network of more than 700 NGOs involved in grassroots activities and people’s struggles. INSAF was created, post-Babri Masjid demolition, so that public consciousness could be raised on issues related to communalism, globalization and divisive politics. The Home Ministry has stated that according to information available with the Government agencies, the foreign funding received by INSAF is likely to be ‘prejudicial to public interest’.

 Prof Vanaik said, after globalisation, globalisation of resistance is here to stay. It cannot be resisted. The double standard of the government is quite visible. It is so beholden to foreign direct investment (FDI) but it is acting against the unification of resistance which is globally vibrant gives meaning to democracy.

 Shabnam Hashmi sought immediate withdrawal of the suspension order else we will demonstrate before the residence of the Home Minister.

Freezing of bank account cannot stifle democratic voice of dissent. Our right to resistance against right wing politics and economics is guaranteed by constitution. The policies of international financial institutions like World Bank Group remain a threat to democracy and we will resist it in public interest. How can being prejudicial to public interest be deemed a ground for suspension when the democratic practice is based on the prejudices about the public interest, asked Anil Chaudhary, a veteran social worker and a trainer of trainers.

 At the conference a statement endorsed by more than 300 organisations, action groups and grassroots activists, journalists, writers etc. was also released. The statement expresses its solidarity with the stand of INSAF in asserting the constitutional right of every citizen of India to participate in governance, which includes the right to question, challenge and oppose the policies of the state through peaceful, non-violent and democratic means. Among signatories of the statement are Admiral Ramdas, Vasanth Kannabiran, Praful Bidwai, Ram Puniyani, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, Sandeep Pandey, Kalyani Menon sen, Henri Tiphagne, Saheli, Ashok Chaoudhury, Subhash Gatade, Saeed Baloch (Pakistan), Saroop Dhruv, Asad Zaidi, Bejwada Wilson, Toni Leino (Finland), Antonio Villavicencio (Ecuador), Amanul Haq (Bangladesh) and other distinguished persons and organisations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Azerbaizan, Philippines, Thailand, Spain, Tajikistan, France, USA, Belgium, Canada, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Australia, Mangolia and kyrgystan.

It is noteworthy that INSAF has been demanding that International Financial Institutions (IFIs) like World Bank Group should be brought under rigorous legislative scrutiny. In this regard it organized a Peoples Front Against IFIs during the 46th Annual Board of Governors’ Meeting (AGM) of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Greater Noida, Delhi during May 2-5, 2013. Is it a coincidence that the letter of suspension was received while the meeting of Peoples Front Against IFIs was underway. At this meeting several Members of Parliament came and expressed their support for making IFIs subservient to legislative will.  Providing the reason for the suspension of the bank account wherein contributions are received under Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, the letter of April 30, 2013. The letter was received on May 4, 2013. In doing so it withheld the information on the basis of which the suspension order has been issued.

The Ministry’s letter is in reaction to INSAF’s case against the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 in the Supreme Court and the new rules formulated under which all democratic action such as rallies, demonstrations, protests etc. are prohibited. The Ministry should have waited for Supreme Court’s verdict instead of curtailing the constitutional rights to resist and protest to defend rights within the constitutional framework.  Such an impatient act of the Ministry through subordinate legislation and invoking of Section 13 curbs the right to freedom to protest and express dissenting voices.

 Speaking in the conference, INSAF general secretary Chitranjan Singh said that to understand this governmental action, we need to visit the FCRA, 1976 and the amendments done to it in 2010 as well as the Rules formulated in 2011. A look at this will expose the real intent of the government as well as its repressive politics in the garb of stopping/curbing foreign funding. The new amendments to the FCRA done in 2010, especially its Rule 3, are highly controversial and are very relevant in understanding the current context and controversy. It says that activities of any organization which habitually engages itself in or employs common methods of political action like Bandh or hartal  (strike), Rasta Roko (stopping trafffic), Rail Roko (Stopping Trains) or Jail Bharo (fill up jails) in support of public causes will be deemed as political in nature even if it is not a political party. The government, of course, has reserved the right to define or designate those organizations which will fall in this category. Such organizations cannot be recipients of foreign funding.

 He further said that INSAF had challenged these very legal provisions on 5th August 2011 in the Delhi High Court but its writ petition was rejected on 16 September 2011. Subsequently, INSAF filed the same writ in the Supreme Court of India which was admitted. The Supreme Court has asked the Government to file a reply which it has not filed till date. It is interesting and ironic that while INSAF challenged the provisions of the FCRA which curb funding of organizations by designating their activities as political in nature, INSAF itself has been made a very first example of such prosecution and its bank accounts sealed by the govt this month in the name of political activities.

 Chitranjan said that the Government wants to rein in peoples struggles related to land, forests, water and for dignity going on all over India from Tamil Nadu to Kashmir. It also wants to curb all the basic facilities available to such organizations & individuals. INSAF has played an important role in such people oriented struggles. If giving support in getting posters, banners and booklets printed, their distribution, bearing expenses for their display and saying things in defence of democracy becomes a political activity because of which your livelihood can be snatched, then it raises a very serious question: Is there any democracy in this country or not? The fundamental right to free expression under Article 19 (A) that we keep reciting, does it have any meaning?

Social organizations and movements across the country and abroad are demanding review and withdrawal of the order of suspension of the FCRA account of INSAF. INSAF and its allies are always engaged in defending democratic rights of deprived communities and in strengthening secular spirit of the nation. It is incomprehensible as to how such work in genuine public interest is deemed to be against public interest.

……………………………………….

For further information, please contact:

 INSAF @ 011-65663958

Shree Prakash @ 09406614800, E-mail: insafdelhi@gmail.com

 

 

There will never be another Asghar Ali


 Jyoti Punwani
Mumbai Mirror | May 15, 2013, 12.00 AM IST
There will never be another Asghar Ali
Asghar Ali Engineer passed away on Tuesday. He was 74
By: Jyoti Punwani

Scholarly, courageous and secular, Asghar Ali Engineer spent his life combating regressive beliefs and practices while presenting a modern, humanistic interpretation of Islam

The passing away of Asghar Ali Engineer leaves everyone poorer. He wasn’t only the face of the Bohra reform movement – a movement for human rights supported by the tallest intellectuals of the country. He was a scholar of Islam, whose interpretation of it was progressive and humanistic, embracing the egalitarian ideals of Marxism and feminism. The world, including the bastion of conservative Islam, Saudi Arabia, invited Engineer to share his knowledge and liberal reading of his religion.

Engineer was a brave man. Assaulted six times, twice almost fatally, by orthodox Bohras, simply for fighting constitutionally against the absolute hold of the Syedna over the community, it would have been easy for him to give up a fight he began openly in 1973, with an article in The Times of India. The social boycott against him declared by the Bohra clergy cut him off for years from his family, including his mother, and in his words, “almost drove (me) mad”.

The political establishment, all the way up to Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee, stood solidly behind the Syedna. Yet, Engineer remained a Reformist throughout, and not just in his personal life. Under his guidance, the Reformists became a force to reckon with, with women at the forefront of the movement. He showed the same courage in openly organising support for the Shahbano judgment, when the Muslim establishment mounted acampaign against it.

For me, Asghar Ali Engineer was many things – a fount of knowledge and a guru, yet one so devoid of arrogance that I was able to, over the past 20 years, interact with him as a friend. I first met him as a member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, of which he was both founder and vice-president. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, CPDR members used to demonstrate holding placards in a narrow lane across the road from Badri Mahal, Fort – that was as close to the Bohra headquarters as the police would allow us to get. Yet this insignificant bunch of youngsters, led by Engineer and a few other Reformists, would be considered enough of a threat to be stoned by orthodox Bohras. I used to be terrified, but not the much older Engineer.

As a novice in journalism, I turned to Engineer for everything concerning Muslims – be it history, the freedom movement, communal politics. Always ready to share his immense knowledge, he never grew impatient at my endless questions. I would interview others too, but no one had his rounded, secular, yet scholarly perspective.

In 1984, after seeing the partisan conduct of the police towards the Shiv Sena, during the riots that broke out in Bhiwandi, Thane and Mumbai, I told him I supported those young Muslims who felt revenge was the only solution. “No, never,” was his immediate response. “Revenge will only set off an endless cycle of violence, which will help no one, Muslims least of all.”

His way was to change minds. But that will take forever, I replied. Yet that’s what he never stopped trying to do through his writings and interactions with youngsters, policemen and IAS trainees. Every communal riot was investigated by him personally, or by his team, to trace the root causes, for as he said, religion was not the cause of conflict, its political use was.

Engineer won many awards, but the one that suited him best was the Right Livelihood Award or the Alternate Nobel, given to him in 2004 “for promoting religious and communal co-existence, tolerance and mutual understanding”.

With all his qualities, Engineer was essentially a simple man. I remember him walking outside his ramshackle building holding his little daughter Seema’s hand; remonstrating and embarrassed as his wife grumbled to me about being left behind for weeks as he travelled all over the world; chuckling at some wry comment on the irrelevance of pseudo-secularists.

Engineer had told his family he would like to be buried where his friends from the Progressive Writers Association, Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nisaar Akhthar and Ali Sardar Jafri, were. No doubt, he’ll be happy reciting Urdu poetry with them. But we, who still need him, will wonder where to find another like him.

WHEN ENGINEER BOWED BEFORE THE SYEDNA

The first and last time Engineer bowed in front of the Dawoodi Bohra high priest was when he was physically forced to by a marshal in the Syedna’s chamber. He had been taken there by his father, himself a priest, after his matriculation result was declared. Seeing others “fall on their knees and crawl with folded hands to the Syedna’s chamber, where he sat on a high chair like a king, (then) prostrate, lie with face down in submission before him,” Engineer refused, believing that sajda was to be performed only before Allah. Abusing him as ‘shaitaan’, a marshal caught his neck and forced it down. (From A Living Faith, Engineer’s autobiography)

 

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