Big Pharma CEOs Rake in $1.57 Billion in Pay


Posted: 05/08/2013 8:19 am | Ethan Rome, Huffingtonpost

For people who were blown away to learn recently that the 11 largest global pharmaceutical companies made an astonishing $711 billion in profits over the last decade, here’s another measure of the industry’s greed: the same companies paid their chief executive officers a combined$1.57 billion in that period. Not bad work if you can get it. They achieved this thanks in part to their systematic exploitation of Medicare and an epidemic of illegal marketing activity.

According to corporate filings analyzed by Health Care for America Now (HCAN), in 2012 the drug companies’ CEOs drew total compensation of $199.2 million, two and a half times the total in 2003. In 2006, the first year of the Medicare prescription drug law, the pay of the CEOs jumped by $58.9 million from the previous year, the largest one-year increase in the decade HCAN reviewed.

Inflated Drug Prices

These huge spikes in pay coincided with eye-popping profits bolstered by a provision the pharmaceutical lobby inserted into the law to prohibit Medicare from using its unparalleled purchasing power to obtain discounts or negotiate prices with drug companies. By prohibiting Medicare to get better drug prices, the federal government is effectively subsidizing the greed of the drug makers and their CEOs. As a result, Americans pay vastly higher prices than people in other countries for identical drugs. This is ludicrous and wasteful. It hurts the government, seniors and middle-class families.

It should not be the official policy of the United States to price-gouge our people and government – a practice that’s especially offensive at a time when some in Washington are talking about cutting Medicare benefits. Simply empowering Medicare to buy drugs under the same bulk purchasing discounts used by state Medicaid programs would save the federal government billions. For example, the Medicare Drug Savings Act, introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), would save $141 billion over the next 10 years without reducing Medicare benefits. Similar measures are in President Obama’s budget proposal and the House Democratic budget plan.

Illegal and Improper Conduct on the Rise

The increases in CEO pay and drug company profits also corresponded with a surge in illegal and improper conduct by the industry. From 2003 to 2012, financial penalties paid by drug manufacturers to settle allegations of illegal marketing, price-gouging of government programs and other violations rose by more than 500 percent, according to a report issued by Public Citizen in September 2012.
In 2003, there were only nine settlements with the federal or state governments, amounting to $967 million in penalties. In 2011, federal and state government agencies reached a record 44 settlement agreements with drug makers. And by July 2012, with the year only half over, drug companies had already agreed to pay nearly $6.6 billion as part of 19 settlements with the government. Data on the second half of 2012 have not yet been compiled by Public Citizen.

Here’s the kicker: The most common drug-company violation cited by regulators and law enforcement agencies between 1991 and July 2012 was overcharging government health programs. Really? How much overcharging do they need?

Over the last decade, the drug companies racked up unprecedented penalties for criminal and civil violations. They jacked up prices for seniors and the government. They made excessive profits and gave unconscionable compensation to the CEOs in charge of this all.

End Corporate Tax Giveaways

It is obscene that any lawmakers in Washington — even the most extremist Republicans who hate civilization as we know it — are even talking about cutting benefits for seniors in the midst of what amounts to a drug industry scandal.

We shouldn’t be making any benefit cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act or Social Security. Not now, not ever. Instead, we should make the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes and eliminate indefensible special-interest tax breaks and subsidies for big corporations like the companies that ship jobs overseas, Big Oil, and a drug industry that has made a science out of ripping off the American people.

* * * * *
HCAN’s analysis of CEO pay focused on 11 companies: Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, Pfizer, Novartis, Eli Lilly, Roche, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca. Over the 10-year period, the $1.57 billion in total compensation was split among 27 executives. The top earners in 2012 were Johnson & Johnson’s William Weldon, who took in $29.8 million, and Pfizer’s Ian Read, who received $25.6 million. By comparison, the median household income in the U.S. last year was $50,054, while half of all Medicare beneficiaries had less than $22,500 in annual income.

Click below for details on Big Pharma’s annual CEO compensation expenditures.

http://healthcareforamericanow.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/ceo-earnings-table-2013-0507-for-web.pdf 

In April, HCAN compiled data showing that the 11 drug companies
reported$711.4 billion in profits over the same 10-year span.

 

How the US Turned Three Pacifists Into Violent Terrorists


By Fran Quigley, Common Dreams

16 May 13

 

n just ten months, the United States managed to transform an 82 year-old Catholic nun and two pacifists from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into federal felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism. Now in jail awaiting sentencing for their acts at an Oak Ridge, TN nuclear weapons production facility, their story should chill every person concerned about dissent in the US.

Here is how it happened.

In the early morning hours of Saturday June 28, 2012, long-time peace activists Sr. Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, cut through the chain link fence surrounding the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility and trespassed onto the property. Y-12, called the Fort Knox of the nuclear weapons industry, stores hundreds of metric tons of highly enriched uranium and works on every single one of the thousands of nuclear weapons maintained by the U.S.

Describing themselves as the Transform Now Plowshares, the three came as non-violent protestors to symbolically disarm the weapons. They carried bibles, written statements, peace banners, spray paint, flower, candles, small baby bottles of blood, bread, hammers with biblical verses on them and wire cutters. Their intent was to follow the words of Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Sr. Megan Rice has been a Catholic sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus for over sixty years. Greg Boertje-Obed, a married carpenter who has a college age daughter, is an Army veteran and lives at a Catholic Worker house in Duluth Minnesota. Michael Walli, a two-term Vietnam veteran turned peacemaker, lives at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington DC.

In the dark, the three activists cut through a boundary fence which had signs stating “No Trespassing.” The signs indicate that unauthorized entry, a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

No security arrived to confront them.

So the three climbed up a hill through heavy brush, crossed a road, and kept going until they saw the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) surrounded by three fences, lit up by blazing lights.

Still no security.

So they cut through the three fences, hung up their peace banners, and spray-painted peace slogans on the HEUMF. Still no security arrived. They began praying and sang songs like “Down by the Riverside” and “Peace is Flowing Like a River.”

When security finally arrived at about 4:30 am, the three surrendered peacefully, were arrested, and jailed.

The next Monday July 30, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were arraigned and charged with federal trespassing, a misdemeanor charge which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail. Frank Munger, an award-winning journalist with the Knoxville News Sentinel, was the first to publicly wonder, “If unarmed protesters dressed in dark clothing could reach the plant’s core during the cover of dark, it raised questions about the plant’s security against more menacing intruders.”

On Wednesday August 1, all nuclear operations at Y-12 were ordered to be put on hold in order for the plant to focus on security. The “security stand-down” was ordered by security contractor in charge of Y-12, B&W Y-12 (a joint venture of the Babcock and Wilcox Company and Bechtel National Inc.) and supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

On Thursday August 2, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli appeared in court for a pretrial bail hearing. The government asked that all three be detained. One prosecutor called them a potential “danger to the community” and asked that all three be kept in jail until their trial. The US Magistrate allowed them to be released.

Sr. Megan Rice walked out of the jail and promptly admitted to gathered media that the three had indeed gone onto the property and taken action in protest of nuclear weapons. “But we had to – we were doing it because we had to reveal the truth of the criminality which is there, that’s our obligation,” Rice said. She also challenged the entire nuclear weapons industry: “We have the power, and the love, and the strength and the courage to end it and transform the whole project, for which has been expended more than 7.2 trillion dollars,” she said. “The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives – for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”

Then the government began increasing the charges against the anti-nuclear peace protestors.

The day after the Magistrate ordered the release of Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli, a Department of Energy (DOE) agent swore out a federal criminal complaint against the three for damage to federal property, a felony punishable by zero to five years in prison, under 18 US Code Section 1363.

The DOE agent admitted the three carried a letter which stated, “We come to the Y-12 facility because our very humanity rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war. Our faith in love and nonviolence encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary; that we come to invite transformation, undo the past and present work of Y-12; disarm and end any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity for an economy and social structure based on war-making and empire-building.”

Now, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were facing one misdemeanor and one felony and up to six years in prison.

But the government did not stop there. The next week, the charges were enlarged yet again.

On Tuesday August 7, the U.S. expanded the charges against the peace activists to three counts. The first was the original charge of damage to Y-12 in violation of 18 US Code 1363, punishable by up to five years in prison. The second was an additional damage to federal property in excess of $1000 in violation of 18 US Code 1361, punishable by up to ten years in prison. The third was a trespassing charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison under 42 US Code 2278.

Now they faced up to sixteen years in prison. And the actions of the protestors started to receive national and international attention.

On August 10, 2012, the New York Times ran a picture of Sr. Megan Rice on page one under the headline “The Nun Who Broke into the Nuclear Sanctum.” Citing nuclear experts, the paper of record called their actions “the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex.”

At the end of August 2012, the Inspector General of the Department of Energy issued at comprehensive report on the security breakdown at Y-12. Calling the peace activists trespassers, the report indicated that the three were able to get as far as they did because of “multiple system failures on several levels.” The cited failures included cameras broken for six months, ineptitude in responding to alarms, communication problems, and many other failures of the contractors and the federal monitors. The report concluded that “Ironically, the Y-12 breach may have been an important “wake-up” call regarding the need to correct security issues at the site.”

On October 4, 2012, the defendants announced that they had been advised that, unless they pled guilty to at least one felony and the misdemeanor trespass charge, the U.S. would also charge them with sabotage against the U.S. government, a much more serious charge. Over 3000 people signed a petition to U.S. Attorney General Holder asking him not to charge them with sabotage.

But on December 4, 2012, the U.S. filed a new indictment of the protestors. Count one was the promised new charge of sabotage. Defendants were charged with intending to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155, punishable with up to 20 years in prison. Counts two and three were the previous felony property damage charges, with potential prison terms of up to fifteen more years in prison.

Gone entirely was the original misdemeanor charge of trespass. Now Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli faced up to thirty-five years in prison.

In a mere five months, government charges transformed them from misdemeanor trespassers to multiple felony saboteurs.

The government also successfully moved to strip the three from presenting any defenses or testimony about the harmful effects of nuclear weapons. The U.S. Attorney’s office filed a document they called “Motion to Preclude Defendants from Introducing Evidence in Support of Certain Justification Defenses.” In this motion, the U.S. asked the court to bar the peace protestors from being allowed to put on any evidence regarding the illegality of nuclear weapons, the immorality of nuclear weapons, international law, or religious, moral or political beliefs regarding nuclear weapons, the Nuremberg principles developed after WWII, First Amendment protections, necessity or US policy regarding nuclear weapons.

Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli argued against the motion. But, despite powerful testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a declaration from an internationally renowned physician and others, the Court ruled against defendants.

Meanwhile, Congress was looking into the security breach, and media attention to the trial grew with a remarkable story in the Washington Post, with CNN coverage and AP and Reuters joining in.

The trial was held in Knoxville in early May 2013. The three peace activists were convicted on all counts. Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli all took the stand, admitted what they had done, and explained why they did it. The federal manager of Y-12 said the protestors had damaged the credibility of the site in the U.S. and globally and even claimed that their acts had an impact on nuclear deterrence.

As soon as the jury was dismissed, the government moved to jail the protestors because they had been convicted of “crimes of violence.” The government argued that cutting the fences and spray-painting slogans was property damage such as to constitute crimes of violence so the law obligated their incarceration pending sentencing.

The defense pointed out that Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli had remained free since their arrest without incident. The government attorneys argued that two of the protestors had violated their bail by going to a congressional hearing about the Y-12 security problems, an act that had been approved by their parole officers.

The three were immediately jailed. In its decision affirming their incarceration pending their sentencing, the court ruled that both the sabotage and the damage to property convictions were defined by Congress as federal crimes of terrorism. Since the charges carry potential sentences of ten years or more, the Court ruled there was a strong presumption in favor of incarceration which was not outweighed by any unique circumstances that warranted their release pending sentencing.

These non-violent peace activists now sit in jail as federal prisoners, awaiting their sentencing on September 23, 2013.

In ten months, an 82 year old nun and two pacifists had been successfully transformed by the U.S. government from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism.

 

Gandhian activist arrested in MP, adivasis up in arms


Bhopal, May 17, 2013

 

Staff Reporter

 
A file picture of Gandhian activist Madhuri Krishnaswami who was arrested for fighting against the injustice meted out to adviasis in Madhya Pradesh.

The Hindu A file picture of Gandhian activist Madhuri Krishnaswami who was arrested for fighting against the injustice meted out to adviasis in Madhya Pradesh.
 
 

Madhuri Krishnaswamy, a leader of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) – which works for health and labour rights in the south-western Madhya Pradesh – was sent to judicial custody for a fortnight, on Thursday. Ms. Krishnaswamy, popularly called Madhuri Ben, and four others were summoned by Judicial Magistrate First Class D. P. Singh Sewach in Barwani on Thursday for a 2008 case of rioting and assaulting a public servant.

The police, in fact, had filed a closure report for lack of evidence, but the court took cognizance of the testimony of plaintiff Vijay Chouhan and summoned the respondents. Only Madhuri Ben appeared and was sent to Khargone Women’s Prison after she refused to seek bail. Two of the four others are already on bail. The others are expected to be arrested soon.

In 2008, Madhuri had alerted health and police officials after a tribal woman was forced to deliver her child on the road, after been evicted from a primary health centre by the compounder Mr. Chouhan. He also filed the case against the JADS, was suspended only to be reinstated later.

JADS activists picketed at six police stations in Barwani district on Friday. Union rural development minister was also in the district for the Congress’ Parivartan Yatra. “We told him that arresting the person who exposed the government is injustice. He said he spoke to the chief secretary. We also told him that we are only getting Rs. 22 to 26 as MNREGA wages (instead of the stipulated Rs. 100). He did not say anything,” Harsing Jamre of the JADS told The Hindu.

District superintendent of police R. C. Burra told this reporter, “We had to arrest her as the court ordered it… He (Mr. Jairam Ramesh) asked about her and we gave him all the details of the case.”

Ms. Krishnaswamy is scheduled to appear before the Chief Judicial Magistrate on May 30.

She was served a show-cause notice of externment from the district administration, last year, which accused her of preventing officials from doing their duties. This came after she protested against the death of a tribal woman after 27 hours of labour without medical help. Mr. Ramesh had then too written to chief secretary R. Parasuram to intervene.

Kudankulam N-plant: Safety norms gains primacy over commissioning deadline


, TNN | May 16, 2013

Kudankulam N-plant: Safety norms gains primacy over commissioning deadline
Last week, the Supreme Court cleared the power plant, paving the way for early commissioning. Originally, the plant was scheduled to be commissioned in 2007.
NEW DELHI: Regardless of the recent promise made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Durban about the early commissioning of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant (KKNPP), the government has instructed theAtomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) that safety reviews of KKNPP should be run with a “fine-toothed comb” without being pressured by commissioning deadline. In fact, the government had recently invited the Operational Safety Review Team of the IAEA to do an independent safety assessment of other Indian reactors, particularly RAPS (in Rajasthan).Last week, the Supreme Court cleared the power plant, paving the way for early commissioning. Originally, the plant was scheduled to be commissioned in 2007.A whole new set of safety checks were conducted by the AERB after four valves that came from a Russian supplier were found to be “deficient”.Stung by a series of popular protests about safety issues in Kudankulam, which has inspired protests by a large number of NGOs, the government is keen that no stone is left unturned. If this means the Russians are less than pleased, sources said, so be it. They added that some of the supplies from Russian companies have been found to be below par.

NPCIL has that the commissioning of KKNPP would now happen only in June, after another set of checks are carried out. The company said the physical progress of the plant was 99.6% complete.

This week a group of 60 leading scientists wrote a letter to the PM, and chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala asking for more stringent safety checks of the KKNPP. They have sought “renewed study” of safety issues by an independent panel of experts. The scientists — most of them serving in state-run institutions — have expressed doubts, “particularly with reference to possible sub-standard components” used in the plant.

These are not scientists advocating against nuclear energy, but concerned about safety issues. “These safety concerns are compounded by the fact that Russian authorities arrested Sergei Shutov, procurement director of Zio-Podolsk, on corruption charges for having sourced cheaper sub-standard steel for manufacturing components that were used in Russian nuclear installations in Bulgaria, Iran, China and India,” they wrote in the letter, The arrest of Shutov, they cited, led to several complaints of sub-standard components and follow-up investigations in both Bulgaria and China.

While the AERB gave an in-principle clearance for fuel loading of the plant in April, hopes that it would be commissioned by May were dashed after faulty valves made news. In an effort to quell the protests and spiralling negative perception about the power plant, the government has been on an information overdrive to educate and be transparent. This week, minister of state V Narayanasamy said, “All nuclear power projects undergo an elaborate in-depth safety review during the consenting stages, like siting, construction, commissioning, etc. After satisfactory review during project stage, AERB issues operating licence to an NPP for a period of up to five years.”

Last week, responding to a question in Parliament, government assured that components supplied to KKNPP are “tested in an integrated manner during commissioning to verify their performance in accordance to design performance criteria. Any shortfall noticed in performance is addressed/corrected as a part of the commissioning programme”

 

Rich- Poor Gap Widens In Rich Countries, Finds OECD


Developed and developing countries

 

 

 

By Countercurrents.org

 

16 May, 2013
Countercurrents.org

 

The gap between rich and poor widened more in the three years to 2010 than in the previous 12 years, said OECD, the group of industrialized nations.

 

According to an OECD report released on May 15, 2013, the richest 10% of society in the 33 OECD countries received 9.5 times that of the poorest in terms of income, up from nine times in 2007.

 

New OECD data showed:

 

The gap is largest in Chile, Mexico, Turkey, the US and Israel, and lowest in Iceland, Slovenia, Norway and Denmark. [1]

 

OECD found:

 

Poorer households tended to lose more or gain less than richer households between 2007 and 2010. The top 10 percent of the population did better than the poorest 10 percent in 21 of the 33 countries where data were available.

Using pre-crisis income levels as a benchmark, the number of people living in poverty rose during the crisis in most countries.

 

Taxes and benefits helped mitigate the overall increases, but the impact varied. Between 2007 and 2010, average relative income poverty in OECD countries rose from 13 to 14% among children and from 12 to 14% among youth, but fell from 15 to 12% among the elderly. Until 2010, in many countries, pensioners were largely protected while working households took the hit.

Children and the young are among the worst sufferers. The OECD report found:

 

Child poverty has risen in 16 OECD countries since 2007, with increases exceeding 2 points in Turkey, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia and Hungary. This confirms a previously identified trend of young people and children replacing the elderly as the group most at risk of income poverty across the OECD.

The analysis warns that further social spending cuts in OECD countries risk causing greater inequality and poverty in the years ahead.

 

Israel, according to the OECD data, presented a frustrating picture. Citing the report Lior Dattel and Nadan Feldman said [2]:

 

Israel is the most impoverished of the 34 economically developed countries, with a poverty rate of 20.9%.

 

A Paris datelined Reuters report [3] also cited the “growing divide between rich and poor” mentioned in the OECD report.

 

The Reuters report quoted OECD, the Paris-based think-tank,

 

“As the economic and especially the jobs crisis persists and fiscal consolidation takes hold, there is a growing risk that the most vulnerable in society will be hit harder as the cost of the crisis increases.”

 

“These worrying findings underline the need to protect the most vulnerable in society, especially as governments pursue the necessary task of bringing public spending under control,” OECD head Angel Gurria said in a statement.

 

Gurria added that governments should not neglect fairness when they craft their policies, especially when they reform their tax systems.

 

The Reuters report added:

 

With many developed countries facing the pinch of austerity, economic inequality has become a hot topic especially after an ECB study last month found that households in many peripheral eurozone countries are on average wealthier than those in the bloc’s core due to higher levels of home ownership.

 

Long a staunch advocate of free-market reforms shunned by some left-wingers, the OECD has become an increasingly vocal supporter of the welfare state for its capacity to soften the blow of hard economic times.

 

The study said the pain of the crisis was unevenly spread. Poorer households either lost more income from the recession or benefited less from recovery. Children and young people suffered more than the elderly, whose incomes were relatively immune.

 

While reporting the OECD report a BBC-news made the following observation:

The Paris-based group is generally in favor of free-market policies, but has recently become more vocal in support of more generous social provision to soften the impact of the economic downturn of the past few years.

 

Many countries, particularly within the eurozone, have been cutting back hard on welfare spending in an attempt to reduce debt and balance government books as tax revenues fall because of weak growth. In some cases, this is a condition of international support from the likes of the International Monetary Fund.

 

Source:

 

[1] May 15, 2013, “Growing risk of inequality and poverty as crisis hits the poor hardest”
http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/growing-risk-of-inequality-and-poverty-as-crisis-hits-the-poor-hardest-says-oecd.htm

 

[2] Haaretz, “Israel has highest poverty rate in the developed world, OECD report shows”,
May 16, 2013, http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/israel-is-the-poorest-country-in-developed-world-oecd-report-shows.premium-1.524096

 

[3] “Rich nations’ wealth gap widens as welfare cut –OECD”,
http://www.trust.org/item/20130514220100-fspwz

 

 

MoU between OMC, Vedanta on Niyamgiri mining- questioned


Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi  May 16, 2013 Last Updated at 21:55 IST

An MoU between an Odisha Mining Corporation and Vedanta has come in for questioning from the Tribal Affairs Ministry, which has contended that it is against the letter and spirit of the Constitution and its provisions. 

“I think having MoU with Vedanta itself was wrong because it goes against the letter and spirit of both Article 244(1) and provisions of Schedule V (of the Constitution),” Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo told reporters.

The MoU between Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) and Vedanta was signed in 2003 for mining in the tribal-dominated Niyamgiri forest areas of the state.

The Minister questioned the very basis of formation of the state-owned mining corporations as quite often states sell shares in these firms and the partner firms, mostly belonging to private sector, benefit as a result of their association with such firms.

“This is against the provisions of the constitution,” he said, adding disinvesting shares of such a company to a firm, not owned by tribals, generally results in surreptitiously subverting and undermining the sanctity of the Constitution and safeguards guaranteed by it.

The Minister claimed mining did not improve financial or living conditions of the people in these areas as development here was never inclusive.

“Development doesn’t mean mining ore and exporting to China. Making a few people or a few companies affluent at the expense of the marginalised people, is not development,” he said, adding people were the owners of natural wealth while states and the Centre were only custodians.

“It’s not for one government to plunder natural wealth. State owning doesn’t mean that state is empowered to do whatever it wants to do. In any case they can’t flagrantly and blatantly violate the norms and go ahead with the MoUs,” Deo said.

 

KNPP Commissioning Postponed


English: Construction site of the Koodankulam ...

English: Construction site of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant Deutsch: Baustelle des Kernkraftwerks Kudankulam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

CHENNAI | MAY 15, 2013

 

Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd has postponed the expected date of commissioning of the first unit of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant to next month.

With a physical progress completed upto 99.66 per cent, the 1,000 MW first unit is expected to be commissioned next month, NPCIL website said.

Earlier, NPCIL expected it to be commissioned by this month.

NPCIL is building two 1,000 MW VVER nuclear power units with Russian collaboration at Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.

The Supreme Court had on May 6 cleared hurdles in commissioning of the controversial plant, saying that the safety and security requirements have been taken care of and the project would benefit larger public interest.

The project has missed several deadlines since December last year following protests by locals over safety concerns.

 

 

 

 

How Varun Gandhi silenced the system #hatespeech


After the hate speeches, a shocking subversion of the law. Rahul Kotiyal and Atul Chaurasia chronicle how BJP’s Varun Gandhi played dirty to save his political future

Rahul Kotiyal
Atul Chaurasia

This is a story about a terrible travesty. Varun Gandhi, 33, has recently been in the news for two reasons. First, he has been exonerated of all charges in the hate speeches he allegedly made in the run-up to the 2009 Lok Sabha election. Second, he has been made the national general secretary of the BJP, the youngest politician ever to be elevated to this post.

Now, an explosive TEHELKA sting investigation shows he is not entitled to either. TEHELKA’s investigation proves that not only did Varun make the venomous speeches he is accused of, he has compounded the original wrong by brazenly subverting the entire judicial process to get his name cleared. He has also indulged in anti-party activities, deliberately making his own party candidate lose an Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh in 2012 so that a Samajwadi Party (SP) leader sympathetic to him could win and help him fix the cases against him.

The subversion of justice has been so blatant that all 88 witnesses in the cases have turned hostile. This is perhaps unprecedented in any criminal case in the world. Many of these witnesses have been caught on TEHELKA’s hidden cameras admitting they were coerced or bribed into changing their testimonies. They speak of how Pilibhit Superintendent of Police Amit Verma and other police officers threatened witnesses. In one instance, a witness claims he received a call directly from Varun’s office. The witnesses also speak of how the judicial process was turned completely on its head; how their testimonies were taken in the absence of the judge; how their statements were crafted by the lawyers and their thumb impressions or signatures taken; of how they were not cross-examined, often not even summoned to present their testimonies.

Startlingly, these accounts are strongly corroborated by key BJP and SP leaders caught on TEHELKA’s cameras. (In fact, BJP leader Parmeshwari Dayal Gangwar— district vice-president of Pilibhit — gives the most devastating account of Varun’s actions.)

The investigation also found that Public Prosecutor MP Verma — tasked with upholding the law of the land and bringing the guilty to justice — and the court itself were suspiciously negligent in following due process in bringing the high-profile leader to justice.

For instance, 18 witnesses were examined in a span of just two days. They all turned hostile, but neither the public prosecutor nor the court raised any flags. They failed to object even when other witnesses gave blatantly contradictory statements. Further, when Varun refused to give a voice sample — crucial evidence for the prosecution’s case — the public prosecutor agreed to it without any objection. Several important witnesses were not even produced in the court because the public prosecutor himself filed an application saying there was no need for them to do so.

As an example of cynical political expediency — a willingness to bend every institution of democracy — the story could not get starker. Or darker. What also makes this story particularly significant is that it lays bare how easily systems are subverted by the powerful in this country.

Before the evidence, the backdrop: Varun Gandhi’s controversial political journey began in 2009 when he decided to stand for his first Lok Sabha election from Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh on a BJP ticket. As a Nehru-Gandhi scion, Varun should have been one of the natural inheritors of what is perhaps the world’s most illustrious political legacy. But his mother Maneka Gandhi’s famous spat with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had meant political anonymity for him.

In March 2009, that anonymity was rudely broken when visual footage of Varun spewing venom at Muslims in his election rallies erupted on national television. The country was astounded. Here was Jawaharlal Nehru’s great-grandson in a role absolutely antithetical to the idea of India his great grandfather had played such a pivotal role in establishing.

Millions watched as these hate speeches — captured by several people on their phones and cameras — were played on loop on television channels. At the Election Commission’s insistence, two cases were filed against Varun for inciting hatred and creating communal disharmony. He was arrested on 28 March 2009 and stayed behind bars for 20 days.

Another case was registered against him for the violence that took place during his surrender at the Pilibhit court. He was charged for rioting, damaging public property and attempt to murder. Yet, though thousands had heard his speeches at the rallies and millions had watched it on television, on 4 May 2013, the Sessions Court of Pilibhit acquitted him of all the charges in these three cases, on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

The illegal and immoral lengths Varun went to, to get these exonerations, have all been caught in TEHELKA’s sting investigation. But this was not Varun’s first brush with the law. He had picked the Pilibhit parliamentary seat for his first election because his mother Maneka had won several Lok Sabha elections from there. On 1 August 2008, on a tour through his constituency, Varun and his associates were headed towards Barkhera, a town 22 km from Pilibhit. On the way, Varun’s car got stalled in a pothole in a village called Jyorah Kalyanpur. While the problem was being sorted, Varun and his supporters got down and tried talking to people around. Most huts in the village were sporting flags of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (RKMS) and the Congress party. This displeased Varun and he enquired why this was the case. A local shopkeeper, Bharatveer Gangwar, replied that the flags were there because the RKMS was working for the people of the area.

Phool Chand ‘Acharya Ji’, a resident of the village and an eyewitness to the incident, recounts what happened after this. “Varun got angry with Bharatveer and said whatever had been done for the village had been done by his mother Maneka. Bharatveer replied that people supported RKMS leader VM Singh because he had fought for the welfare of the local sugarcane farmers. Varun did not like this and slapped Bharatveer. Varun’s supporters also started beating him. The villagers tried to stop them but Varun’s supporters had weapons and no one had to courage to stop Varun.”

At 6.30 pm on 1 August, Bharatveer lodged an FIR against Varun and his associates at Barkhera Police Station. On the other hand, an FIR was also lodged from Varun’s side by Yogendra Gangwar, the then BJP district president, at 9.10 pm. While the first FIR said exactly what Phool Chand told us, the second FIR said that Bharatveer had fired at Varun from a country-made pistol, looted 10,000 from him and fled with his associates while brandishing the pistol.

The police investigated both the cases, found the case lodged against Bharatveer as false and filed a closure report. In the case lodged against Varun, however, the police filed a chargesheet on 24 December 2008. This was the first criminal case filed against Varun in Pilibhit district.

By this time, Varun had understood that the Gandhi name alone was not sufficient to ensure his victory in the constituency. There were several reasons for this. In the delimitation exercise, many areas that voted exclusively for Maneka had gone out of the constituency. To exacerbate the challenge, Bahedi, which had a mixed population of both Hindus and Muslims, had come into Pilibhit constituency. Three of the five Assembly seats of Pilibhit had Muslim MLAs whereas the population of Muslims in the region was only 35 percent. Mindful of this, Varun seems to have decided the best way to ensure a victory was to polarise the election on communal lines.

This became evident in early 2009 as the campaign picked up pace. According to the locals, on 22 February, Varun declared himself as the only saviour of Hindus in the country at Ram Manohar Lohia Balika Inter College of Lalori Khera village in Pilibhit and started speaking against Muslims. This hate speech at Lalori Khera was mentioned in the election petition filed against him in the Allahabad High Court. Throughout the course of its investigation, TEHELKA was repeatedly told that before the 2009 General Election, wherever Varun held a poll meeting, he swore on the Gita that he would “cut off the hands and necks of Muslims”.

On 6 March 2009, Varun was supposed to address an election meeting at the Deshnagar locality of Pilibhit. He reached the venue at around 9 pm. Shariq Parvez, a local reporter, tried to record the speech but was forced by Varun’s supporters to turn off his camera. He could only record a few minutes. Varun told those gathered at the Deshnagar rally, “If you want to save the Hindu religion, vote for me. If a Hindu doesn’t vote for me, he would be betraying his religion.” He also warned, “See! These Muslims may say anything… every vote of theirs would go for that katua (a derogatory term for Muslims…) understand? Therefore, every vote of yours should go for Hindustan…”

In the meantime, Shailendra Singh, a local youth, recorded Varun’s entire speech on his cell phone. Shailendra says, “I had heard from several people that Varun was regularly giving speeches to inflame communal passions. Therefore I decided to record his speech. No one was allowed to make a video so I switched on the record button on my cell phone and kept it in my pocket.” (TEHELKA is in possession of this audio clip of around 28 minutes.)

The next day, on 7 March, Varun gave the same anti-Muslim speech at a locality known as Dalchand. He told the people that 13 Hindu women had been raped by Muslims over the past few days, yet the offenders were roaming scot-free. He also warned the public that the area had three Muslim MLAs, and if the trend continued, the area would turn into Pakistan. People needed to vote for him, he said, so he could establish a Hindu nation. (TEHELKA enquired about these rapes, but found no complaints or FIRs had been registered. This rumour about the rapes though had spread like wildfire and become a huge point of tension before the election.)

By this time, all of Pilibhit knew about Varun’s inflammatory speeches. On 8 March, a few reporters succeeded in recording his speech at Barkhera. It was this hate speech that a shocked nation watched in 2009. Several sadhus dressed in saffron were also present on the dais with him.

Taking serious note of the case, the Election Commission transferred the Superintendent of Police and the District Magistrate of Pilibhit and directed the district administration to take strict action against Varun. Two criminal cases were filed against him on 17 and 18 March for his inflammatory speeches at Dalchand and Barkhera.

VM Singh — a distant relative of Varun’s and the Congress candidate contesting against him — sent the Deshnagar audio clip to the Election Commission on 16 April. He also sent affidavits of four eyewitnesses — Prashant Kumar Rao, Mukhtar Ahmed, Kadir Ahmed and Shailendra Singh — who were willing to testify about Varun’s inflammatory speech at Deshnagar. But the police did not file an FIR in this case.

However, on 22 March, all three election commissioners passed a strongly worded order regarding Varun’s speech in Barkheda. They said, “The commission has seen the CD, not once but several times repeatedly, and is fully convinced and satisfied that the CD has not been tampered with, doctored or morphed as alleged by the respondent.” While admitting its inability to debar Varun from contesting the election till he was found guilty by a “competent court of law”, the Election Commission also observed, “in the considered opinion of the commission, the respondent doesn’t deserve to be a candidate in the present General Election…”

Although his legal troubles had increased, for the moment, Varun had succeeded in his political gameplan. His supporters started promoting him as a Hindu leader in Pilibhit. Slogans were plastered across the area, “Varun nahin aandhi hai, doosra Sanjay Gandhi hai” (He is not just Varun but a storm, he is a second Sanjay Gandhi).

Afroz Alam, a local resident and CPI(ML) worker, says, “Varun turned the whole election into a Hindu vs Muslim one. He would start his speeches by saying ‘If any Muslims are present, they should leave. I don’t need the vote of any Muslim.’ His supporters also began spreading rumours. Everywhere it was said several Muslim boys had raped a Hindu girl in the adjoining village, or that some Muslim boys had beaten a Hindu youth. Several times during the night, people on 10-12 motorcycles would go around brandishing sticks and torches and making a lot of commotion. The next day it would be rumoured that they were Muslim bandits.”
Though he was on a winning streak, worried about the criminal cases against him, Varun filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court asking the cases to be quashed. The court dismissed his petition on 25 March 2009. Afraid he would be arrested any moment, Varun decided to score a political point by surrendering. To prepare the ground for his arrest, he gave instructions to his supporters to organise a massive crowd in front of the court on 28 March.

The Pilibhit court almost waylaid this carefully planned spectacle. It said since the cases had not reached it through any formal medium yet, it couldn’t send Varun to jail. A new plan was hastily formulated. The then BJP district president Yogendra Gangwar filed an affidavit in the court saying that since two criminal cases had been filed against Varun, he wanted to surrender and should be sent to judicial custody. (TEHELKA is in possession of this affidavit). Clearly, Varun did not want his preparations to go waste.

This devious strategy was corroborated on TEHELKA’s hidden cameras by Parmeshwari Dayal Gangwar, the BJP district vice-president and a confidant of Varun’s who had arranged his Barkhera rally. Here’s what Gangwar had to say: “I had received an instruction from Delhi asking us to get a large number of people on the day of the surrender. I said I would manage it. The police was deployed in Ghaziabad and Noida. But the Gandhi family is the Gandhi family. People like you and me cannot even think like them. There is a bypass on the Moradabad highway, a convoy of nine vehicles left for Bareilly from there and one went towards Sitarganj. Ten more vehicles joined the convoy from there. When the convoy was stopped in Bareilly, Varun Gandhi was not in it. I got a call saying Varun had reached the jail gate.”

This crowd gathered by Varun indulged in violent protest. Several vehicles and buildings were vandalised or set on fire and stones were pelted with such ferocity that around 20 people, including five policemen, were injured. A case was registered against Varun and his supporters for this incident on 28 March itself.

As soon as Varun was arrested, his mother Maneka took command of his communal electoral campaign. On 28 March, she went to the district hospital to meet the injured and held a Muslim inspector to be responsible for the fracas. She said, “Around 45 injured people have been admitted to the hospital. Of these, 25 have been injured by a single police inspector whose name is Pervez Miyan.” Apparently this inspector was not even present when the incident took place and was posted about 20 km away at Barkhera.

Varun spent 20 days in jail. By the time he got out, he had become the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ (Emperor of Hindu Hearts). He won a landslide victory in the election, outstripping his nearest rival by more than three lakh votes. The costs would haunt him later. Varun now had three cases against him for violation of the model code of conduct, breach of peace, threatening and fighting with locals, giving inflammatory speeches, damaging public property, promoting enmity and acts prejudicial against communal harmony, attacking the police and rioting.

If he had been convicted in these cases, Varun would have had to spend an extended time in jail. His political life would have taken a beating. Perhaps, he would have been debarred from standing for elections. But by 4 May 2013, Varun had managed the costs: he stood acquitted in all the three cases against him.

Before delving into how Varun got himself acquitted by the court, there is first the story of the political collusion between him and the SP. While she was chief minister, Mayawati had slapped a draconian NSA (National Security Act) case against Varun. But the SP’s victory proved very useful. In October last year, several newspapers in Uttar Pradesh reported that the Akhilesh Yadav government wanted to drop the cases filed against Varun. When this became public, many Muslim organisations and Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, protested strongly. Afraid of alienating its voter base, the SP government finally did not drop the cases against Varun but fast-tracked them.

Ashwani Agnihotri, the former president of the Pilibhit District Bar Association, says, “I have been practicing in Pilibhit for several years. I have never seen a case where as many testimonies were taken in a single day as in Varun’s case.”

Why was the SP government so favourably inclined towards Varun? TEHELKA’s investigation found Varun — the general secretary the BJP is counting on to bring it back to glory days in Uttar Pradesh — played an important role in defeating his party candidate Satpal Gangwar in the 2012 Assembly election so that the SP candidate Riyaz Ahmed could win in Pilibhit. (Ahmed is currently the Khadi and Village Industries Minister in Akhilesh Yadav’s government as well as the state president of the SP’s minority cell.)
TEHELKA is in possession of a damning audio tape in which Rizwan Malik, Varun’s media in-charge in Pilibhit, tells Mohammad Sadar, president of the BJP’s minority cell in Pilibhit, that they must ensure BJP candidate Satpal Gangwar’s defeat because Varun wants it done. Here are excerpts of the conversation between Malik and Sadar:

Rizwan Malik: Don’t ask me… I’m saying don’t ask me. Now whatever is possible, take the appropriate decision…
Mohammad Sadar: Like what? Say something.
Malik: Now what can be clearer than his, Varun Gandhi has said that Satpal should not win, Satpal should not get the votes; that’s it. He has to lose. Now you have to decide who will defeat him. Whoever is going to win, you start working with him, what can I say?
Sadar: Then it’s fine.
Malik: You understood everything?

TEHELKA tried to substantiate this by talking to Satpal Gangwar. At first, he was reluctant to talk, but he later accepted it was Varun who made sure he lost. To prove this, even he had an audio clip. This is an excerpt of TEHELKA’s conversation with Satpal:

TEHELKA: I just wanted to ask you about the video that the boy had recorded… which meeting was it actually?
Satpal: It’s not a recording of a meeting but of a telephonic conversation. It was said on the phone that support the BSP (BSP ko ladao…)
TEHELKA: BSP ko ladao or make sure it wins…
Satpal: Yes, make sure the BSP wins.
TEHELKA: Is Varun himself giving the instructions or is some close confidant of his giving the instructions.
Satpal: Varun Gandhi is himself giving the instructions.

Haroon Ahmed, who knows the politics of Pilibhit very closely, says, “The BSP was not in the fight. The Hindu votes were polarised towards the BJP in the Lok Sabha election. Satpal Gangwar could have won on the same grounds in the Assembly election. But, in this scenario, if the BJP’s vote share was divided with the BSP, it would directly benefit the SP. This was what happened and SP’s Riyaz Ahmed won the election. This is how Varun helped the SP government and they reciprocated by trying to withdraw the cases against him.”
In the most damning evidence, BJP district vice-president Parmeshwari Dayal Gangwar — the man responsible for organising Varun’s Barkhera rally — corroborated all of this on TEHELKA’s sting camera. He candidly admitted the job of influencing the Muslim witnesses was given to Riyaz Ahmed. He also describes in vivid detail the venomous things Varun had said and how the police was used to coerce witnesses later.

It is important to note that Parmeshwari is clearly a trusted member of Varun’s team in Pilibhit. After Varun was made general secretary, posters across Pilibhit came up congratulating Varun. Parmeshwari features prominently in these posters next to Varun.

Here are some excerpts of TEHELKA’s chilling conversation with Parmeshwari:

TEHELKA: Was there some controversy in 2009?
Parmeshwari Dayal: There was some controversy… the truth was… whatever was printed was true.
TEHELKA: Did he say that?
Dayal: Yes, he said that… I was in charge of that meeting that became famous in Barkhera. Ten thousand people participated.
TEHELKA: There were 10,000 people?
Dayal: At least 10,000.
TEHELKA: That means it was a big meeting. So, what happened in the meeting?
Dayal: The truth was there was one group here of VM Singh (the Congress candidate). It was Varun vs VM. The code of conduct was in place. His men recorded the whole thing in the CD and gave it to the Election Commission. When the Election Commission uploaded it on the Internet, it became known the world over. And the opposite happened.
TEHELKA: Ok.
Dayal: He had said those things… it became famous… It would have been restricted to Pilibhit… whatever he said, he said in Pilibhit… But they recorded the whole twenty two and a half minutes (Dayal abuses)… and sent it to the whole world… The CD was made by VM Singh’s men… They gave it to the government… and he became famous…
TEHELKA: Then how was the matter resolved?
Dayal: Resolved? All the witnesses turned hostile.
TEHELKA: How did the witnesses turn hostile? Did the police…
Some extraneous conversation follows at this point. Then, Dayal continues.
Dayal: Varun Gandhi can stop anyone from getting a ticket… the same will happen in Sultanpur and the same here… his roots are that strong.
TEHELKA: So, the matter was settled in the court?
Dayal: Yes, all of them got settled… only one is left.
TEHELKA: How were the witnesses managed?
Dayal: Riyaz babu is a minister in the Samajwadi Party government… and Gandhiji has direct relations with Mulayam Singh… Mulayam had said to take back the cases but Bukhari from Delhi started protesting.
TEHELKA: Yes, he had asked for the case to be taken back.
Dayal: The minister from here, Riyaz… He was pressurised. He was told all the witnesses are Muslims, just resolve the matter quickly! So Riyaz got all the Muslims together one by one… I went on that court date.
TEHELKA: Ok.
Dayal: So all the witnesses were dealt with…
TEHELKA: And how did the Hindu witnesses turn hostile?
Dayal: They turned hostile under police pressure…
TEHELKA: Under police pressure?
Dayal: The SP (Superintendent of Police) used to call them over. There was one witness… the SP called him over and said, are you literate? He said he had done his PhD. He was a literate person. The SP asked him what his pay was; he said 25,000. The SP said, you must have got a good bride. He said, yes. The SP asked him if he loved his wife; he said yes. The SP said, you want to continue loving her or stop loving her? Then go and think about what you have to say in the court. You want to go back home or not? This is how it happened.
TEHELKA: Who was the SP?
Dayal: I don’t remember his name.
TEHELKA: Was he from Pilibhit district?
Dayal: Yes… several cases like this happened.

Dayal goes on to explain at great length how the meeting was held and how the godmen on the dais were paid. Then TEHELKA asks him another question:

TEHELKA: By the way, what controversial thing was Varun saying?
Dayal: He said this… Phool Babu was a minister with the BSP. There were some atrocities against the Hindus… snatching someone’s buffalo; getting it butchered… So he said, if any Muslim raises his hand towards a Hindu, cut off his hand. If he raises his head, cut off his head… He said Bisalpur has the biggest disease (referring to its Muslim residents). So first I would buy a factory over there, a petrol pump, then I would get it sprayed by a helicopter, and then I would get the basti vacated after setting fire to the place.
TEHELKA: He said that?
Dayal: Yes, he said that. The vendors here would not go to the Muslim areas.
TEHELKA: Ok.
Dayal: All of them stopped. They were so afraid… Whole Pilibhit was afraid. (He laughs).

It is important to mention here that Riyaz Ahmed is no incidental stranger to the story; he is an old associate of Maneka. When she had left the Congress and formed the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch, Ahmed was its secretary. Reportedly, it is he who introduced Maneka to Pilibhit. In his conversation with TEHELKA, he brushes off allegations of his own links with Varun’s case. However, significantly, he too admits there was a widespread management of administration, witnesses and the judiciary to settle the cases.
But, more on that later. First, read how each of the cases against Varun was made to disappear into thin air.

Case 1: Assault on Bharatveer Gangwar
Charges: Assault, criminal intimidation and threatening to Kill
Date of incident: 1 August 2008
FIR: 1 August 2008
Chargesheet: 24 December 2008
Under Section: 452, 352, 323, 504 and 506 IPC

As mentioned earlier, the first case filed against Varun in Pilibhit was for his assault on the shopkeeper Bharatveer Gangwar. This case was being heard since 2008. Now suddenly, it’s been closed. The process of disposing off the cases against Varun started last year in October-November. Some were managed in courts; others outside the court. The assault case was settled outside the court.

Why did Bharatveer, who had steadfastly been fighting Varun for four years, suddenly decide to reach an understanding? Bharatveer refused to speak to TEHELKA about this. His fear was unmistakable. However, his lawyer, Ashwani Agnihotri, had this to say: “The current Superintendent of Police Amit Verma called Bharatveer and told him to take back the charges. Bharatveer told him he would discuss the matter with me and get back. He tried ducking the SP’s call the second time, but when the SP called him the third time, he used the methods of the police and explained — or should I say threatened — Bharatveer. The SP told him if he did not listen, he would have to face the consequences.” According to Agnihotri, the SP told Bharatveer he would be sent to jail on some trumped-up charge.

Realising he was helpless, Agnihotri advised Bharatveer that if he wanted to settle the matter, he should get an affidavit from Varun to safeguard himself. Bharatveer had lodged an FIR and given his statement to an investigating officer. According to Agnihotri, if he turned hostile in court, Varun could file a defamation suit against him.
Subsequently, Agnihotri says a relative of Bharatveer’s went to Varun’s house in Ashoka Road, New Delhi, and got the affidavit. “The matter was settled only after we got this affidavit,” says Agnihotri.

TEHELKA has not been able to corroborate Agnihotri’s story through any other testimony on camera. However, the 2008 cadre IPS officer, SP Amit Verma, that the lawyer refers to also played an important role in disposing of other cases against Varun. Verma has been posted in Pilibhit since May 2012.

Case 2: Hate Speech at Barkhera
Date of Incident: 8 March 2009
FIR: 17 March 2009
Chargesheet: 11 July 2009
Under Section: 153(A), 295(A), 505(2) IPC and 125 Representation of People Act
Number of witnesses: 34

Varun’s speech at Barkhera was the most infamous. It was this speech that was telecast across most news channels. It had seemed inevitable that Varun would be punished — or at least censured — for this. However, all 34 witnesses in the case have been declared hostile.

Even a cursory glance at the statements of these witnesses exposes glaring discrepancies. For instance, several policemen deployed as security at Varun’s election meeting were made witnesses. Yet, many of these policemen gave ridiculous statements in court. Prosecution witness No. 13, Constable Kishore Puri, for example, told the court he was on security duty on 8 March 2009, but “he had no idea about any rally, etc.” Prosecution witness No. 11, Head Constable Hetram, also admitted he was on security duty that day in Barkheda but did not listen to any speech of Varun. Witness No. 10 Ramendra Pal; witness No. 14 Mathura Prasad; and several other policemen said similar things. But there was no protest from the public prosecutor.

This laxity is evident in other crucial aspects of the case. Varun’s voice sample was the most important link in the case. However, when he refused to give it, the prosecution did not object or insist.

In fact, things get even curiouser. The police had sent a video of Varun’s speech to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) in Chandigarh for verification. The police also sent one camera, one cassette, one cell phone and one memory card of a cell phone to the lab. CFSL Additional Director SK Jain found the videos on these devices to be the same, but he also wrote in his report that the videos were “not original”. However, he clarified the meaning of the words “not original”. According to him, something is deemed a “original video” when it is shot in one take. As there were cuts in this video, it could not be called original.

The cuts Jain mentions in his report could have arisen due to two reasons. First, stringers — as hinterland freelance journalists are called — sometimes record their videos in parts because they have a limited space for recording. The second reason for the cuts could have been that the videos were recorded secretly as Varun’s supporters were forcefully prohibiting any recording.

Importantly, the CFSL did not raise any doubts about the authenticity of Varun’s voice on the videos. However, Jain said in his report, “To identify and verify the parts of the speech, it is important to take a balanced sample of the accused person’s voice.” The final decision would have to be taken on the basis of a voice sample. But the prosecution failed to press for it.

Beside the CFSL, the news channel NDTV had also got the CD of Varun’s hate speech verified by Digital Evidence Legal Video Services, an independent forensic lab in the US. Its report declared the CD to be authentic and said there had been no tampering. NDTV submitted this report in the Pilibhit court for permission before the report was telecast. (TEHELKA is in possession of this report).

During the course of the hearing, Asad Hayat, general secretary of the Awami Council, a trust in Uttar Pradesh, filed a petition stating Varun’s voice sample should be taken and if he refuses, it should be held against him. Hayat also pleaded that news channels that had telecast the hate speeches be made witnesses in the case. This was rejected by the court because the prosecution that should have supported it actually protested against it saying Hayat’s petition was “worthy of dismissal”.

The prosecution filed one more application in court that strongly suggests it was working to acquit Varun rather than convict him. This petition filed on 18 February 2013 said that since Jain had already submitted his forensic report, there was no need for him to appear as a witness. This was a bizarre position to take as Jain was the only person who could clarify the significance of the ‘cuts’ in court.

In the same petition, the prosecution also requested the court to exempt District Magistrate Mahendra Prasad Agarwal and Rajendra Prasad Jain, the policeman who gave the Local Intelligence Unit report, from appearing as witnesses. How can the prosecution ask for any witness not to appear in court?

Such negligence coupled with the witness testimonies caught on TEHELKA’s sting cameras makes it shockingly clear how Varun subverted the law and silenced an entire system.

Here’s what happened with Witness No. 4, Ram Avtar.

Avtar was made an eyewitness by the police. It was his responsibility to support the prosecution case. But in his statement to the court, Avtar said there had been no election meeting by Varun at Barkhera and neither had he given any inflammatory speech.

When TEHELKA spoke to Avtar, on the other hand, he acknowledged on hidden camera that he was actually present at Varun’s election meeting at Barkhera and had heard his speech. In fact, he said Varun had also given anti-Muslim speeches at his village Dadiya Bhagat.

Here’s what Avtar told TEHELKA: “Even in my village, Gandhiji had said that there are three Muslim MLAs in the district, do you want to turn this place into Pakistan? If I become the MP, and any Muslim commits any atrocities like Phool Babu is committing, then I would cut off the hands of those Muslims.”

As for his turning hostile in court, he told TEHELKA, “Policemen came to take me for my testimony. First they said, take him straight to the SP’s bungalow. Then they said, both the government and the administration want the matter to be resolved, why should you bother? Why should you get caught in this mess? (Hum kyon lafde mein paden?) Politicians are involved in this (Netaaon wali baat hai).”

It must be emphasised here that these policemen — whose responsibility was to encourage and provide protection to the witnesses to tell the truth — were coaching witnesses to reverse their testimonies. Avtar and other witnesses recorded their statements in the court after such instruction.

This is the account of witness No. 6, Abdul Rehman.

Rehman stays near Barkhera and owns a tent house. The tent for Varun’s election meeting was booked from his shop. He was also made an eyewitness in the case. But when he gave his statement in court, Rehman said, “I did not go to the election meeting, I was at my shop. The tents were booked for the meeting, but were not sent.” The main reason why the police had made Rehman a witness in the first place was because his tents were used in the election meeting. But now the political wind had changed and the police did not want the truth told.

Rehman accepted in TEHELKA’s sting that tents from his shop had indeed been sent for the meeting. But clearly no one was interested in the facts of the case. Here’s what Rehman told TEHELKA on camera: “The lawyers were not asking anything in the court, what I had seen or heard. We were just made to stand while the lawyer was writing.”

Shockingly, he goes on to say, “The magistrate was sitting there and in front of him the lawyer was telling us to write ‘I was not present at the rally’, ‘I did not see anything’, ‘Varun did not say anything, nor did I hear anything…’ meaning to retract my statement.” Rehman also says that everyone had heard Varun’s speech but, driven by fear, nobody was ready to testify truthfully. He told TEHELKA, “Everyone is corrupt. A CD is recorded in front of you. It is playing in front of you and still you are denying and saying he (Varun) did not say that. Tell me, what testimony can anyone give in such a case?”

This sordid story plays itself out again and again with dismal familiarity.

Here’s what happened with witness No. 17, Mohammad Yameen and witness No. 18, Mohammad Raza. Both Yameen and Raza had been listed as eyewitnesses in the case. But like everyone else, Raza, a nagar adhyaksh with the SP, told the court he had not heard Varun’s speech or gone to his rally. On TEHELKA’s camera, however, he admitted he had received a call from Varun’s associates to shape his testimony in Varun’s favour.

He says, “I got a call from there (Varun Gandhi). Everyone was pressurising me. They said give your testimony, it would be beneficial for him. I said fine.” During this meeting with Raza, our camera stopped working in the middle so we decided to meet him again. In the second meeting, Yameen was also present. Like Raza, Yameen had testified that he was neither present at the election meeting nor had he heard Varun’s speech.

On TEHELKA’s camera, however, he explains the truth. “I will tell you,” said Yameen, “that day Varun Gandhi had given his speech. Several mahatmas (godmen) were also present. I was standing right there. As soon as he climbed the stage, Varun Gandhi said Jai Shri Ram… Then he said I want to tell my Hindu brothers that there are already two or three Muslim MLAs in the area and if you do not pay attention, Pilibhit will turn into Pakistan… Then he said if someone raises a hand towards any Hindu I would cut off that hand… He talked like that.”

When TEHELKA asked why they had not told the court any of this, both Raza and Yameen replied that no one was working properly in the case (“Koi bhi iss mamle ki pairvi thik se nahin kar raha tha”). In such a scenario, nobody wanted to make enemies. Yameen also corroborated that several police officers of the district, including the SP, had played a major role in getting the testimonies changed.
“The SP was involved,” Yameen told TEHELKA. “The SP had got the testimonies changed from all the witnesses. This is the truth but who can confront the government? Who can confront such a senior leader? We did not have any local support. When a senior officer like the SP says he wants the case resolved, what can anyone do?”

The story keeps getting darker. The police not only manipulated local residents but even journalists on behalf of Varun. This is what happened with witness No. 31 Mohammad Tariq.

Tariq was among the most important witnesses in the case. He was the reporter who, along with another journalist friend, Ramveer Singh, had recorded Varun’s speech at Barkhera. The whole case rested on Tariq. The police in its chargesheet had written that Tariq would prove he had recorded Varun’s speech on his camera. In his testimony to the court, however, Tariq accepted he had gone to Barkhera and recorded Varun’s speech along with Singh, but denied listening to the speech himself.

This took the ludicrousness of the proceedings to a fresh scale. How can anybody accept that a reporter who works on a story has no idea what his story is about? Tariq recorded Varun’s speech and sent it to his channel. The whole nation saw his footage. And now, here was Tariq claiming he had not heard the speech.

What is even more surprising is that both the public prosecutor and the court accepted this testimony without raising any objection. (Shariq Parvez, witness No. 30 in the case and himself a journalist, told TEHELKA on sting camera that Tariq had been paid 5 lakh to obfuscate his testimony. TEHELKA has no way of verifying this claim.)

Now, read the account of witness No. 34, Ramveer Singh.

Singh, a reporter with Sahara Samay, had recorded Varun’s speech along with Tariq. When the prosecution asked him if the police had taken any CD from him, he said they had not. Besides this, Singh — an eyewitness who had recorded the entire speech — was not asked further questions.

Singh, however, accepted on hidden camera that he had indeed heard the speech and recorded it with Tariq. “Everyone was sold out,” he told TEHELKA, “everyone including the prosecutor. They only asked me one question, ‘Did you give the CD?’ I had actually not given the CD to the police; I had given it to the channel, the channel had given it to them.”

If Singh had been asked even one more question, it would have become clear that he had given the CD to his channel who had given it to the police. But clearly nobody in the court was interested in the truth. After his fleeting examination, the public prosecutor requested the court to end the prosecution evidence.

(Parvez again told TEHELKA that Singh had been demanding lakhs of rupees to throw his testimony. Finally, he cut a deal with the SP and was gifted a Maruti Wagon-R car as a bribe to speak in favour of Varun. TEHELKA was unable to corroborate this claim independently. Ironically though, when we had carried out our sting on Singh, it was fairly dark and his face was not very visible. But at one point, a mechanic came in with his Wagon-R car and its headlight illuminated Singh’s face and it got captured in our camera.)

But set aside what witness No. 30 Shariq Parvez told us about others. Here’s what he told us about himself.
Parvez was the third local journalist to appear as a witness in the case. The police had listed him as a witness in both the Barkhera and Dalchand cases. In its chargesheet on the Barkhera case, however, the police wrote that “Shariq would prove he had recorded Varun’s speech at Deshnagar on his cell phone.” This was bizarre.

Why was the police trying to prove the Deshnagar case in its Barkhera chargesheet? (It’s worth remembering here too that despite audio clips and affidavits of the Deshnagar speech being sent to the Election Commission, the police had failed to register a case.) At any rate, Parvez turned hostile in court and said he had not recorded Varun’s speech at Deshnagar.

In its order acquitting Varun, the court noted Parvez’s testimony as follows, “He was not present in the meeting. On 7 March 2009, he had not made a recording of Varun’s speech in Deshnagar on his cell phone. During examination, he had said he had not recorded the audio clip. His statement is that he had not gone to the meeting and had not recorded any audio clip, therefore his testimony is not trustworthy.”

This was even more bizarre. While giving its verdict in the Barkhera case, why was the court quoting Parvez’s statement on Deshnagar and mentioning the date of the Deshnagar incident as 7 March instead of 6 March?
Here’s what Parvez told TEHELKA on camera. “I was constantly getting calls from the administration. The PRO of the SP himself called me and told me to give my testimony in a particular way.” A little later, he says, “RV Singh (Ramveer Singh, his fellow journalist) opened up only when SP Amit Verma talked to him.”

Parvez goes on to allege several things. For instance, he told TEHELKA, “MP Verma, the public prosecutor, told me that everything is done. I understood they were managing everything from the top.” Parvez then goes on to make specific references of bribes paid to the public prosecutor and judge. Yameen had told TEHELKA something similar: “The police inspector told us that we have managed the judge, we have managed the public prosecutor, the government is also with us.”

TEHELKA is refraining from printing the exact allegations as it has no way of verifying them. However, disturbingly, no less than Riyaz Ahmed — a sitting minister in the UP government and the Pilibhit MLA — tells TEHELKA exactly the same thing.

TEHELKA: When we saw the footage, we had thought it would be an open-and-shut case. Of course, you have been observing things more closely from the ground.
Riyaz: Yes, I was a candidate.
TEHELKA: Yes, you were a candidate. So, haven’t any questions come up around here that how did these cases get buried?
Riyaz: See, I’ll tell you…
TEHELKA: Yes, do tell us.
Riyaz: See, the first thing is that many of the witnesses were their people. Second, they obliged everyone. They paid 10 lakh to someone and 5 lakh to someone else. Someone took 11 lakh, someone took a big car. In one way or the other, everyone received something.
TEHELKA: You mean the witnesses?
Riyaz: Yes, the witnesses. But they even went to the extent of obliging the judiciary in a big way.
TEHELKA: You mean the Pilibhit court?
Riyaz nods in affirmation.
TEHELKA: Was the administration also involved?
Riyaz: Yes, they too were obliged.

Case 3: Hate Speech at Dalchand
Date of incident: 7 March 2009
FIR: 18 March 2009
Chargesheet: 11 December 2010
Under Section: 153(A), 295(A), 505(2) IPC and 125 Representation of People Act
Number of witnesses: 15

The Dalchand mohalla of Pilibhit, where Varun had held an election meeting, is dominated by the people of the Valmiki community. Varun had been speaking of Muslims at all his election meetings as a disease to be eradicated. Here too, he spoke along similar lines, “When the time is right,” he said, “this disease will be eradicated. I’m not a general, I’m a politician, but a Valmiki would become a general and eradicate this disease.”

The FIR in this case was filed 10 days after the incident. TEHELKA’s investigation found the police had listed witnesses in a completely arbitrary manner. They carelessly included people who had genuinely not heard Varun’s speech. The court’s order said no video of the speech was presented in the court in this case. And while the Barkher case had 34 witnesses; this had just 15. Hence, from the very beginning, a very weak case was presented before the court.

Yet, the pattern of subverted justice played itself out even here. The legal process was manipulated, false witnesses were produced, a mockery happened in the name of testimony and the judgment went in favour of Varun.

Both the Barkhera and Dalchand cases were being heard by Chief Judicial Magistrate Abdul Qayum. In the Dalchand case, all the witnesses TEHELKA spoke to, revealed a startling fact. The judge was not present in court on the day of their testimonies. The police presented such false witnesses that there were glaring discrepancies in their statements but no justice could be had because the judge himself was not present.

Whenever a witness is presented in a court, it is the responsibility of the judge to ensure the witness is not under any duress. Statements made in the presence of the police have no legal validity as there is always a doubt that the police could have used coercion to extract a statement. Therefore, under Section 164 of the CrPc, only testimonies given before a judge is considered legally relevant.
In the Dalchand case, according to the four witnesses TEHELKA spoke to, even this elementary justice could not be had because the judge was not present.

Take a look at the testimony of witness No. 1, Vijay Pal, the prime witness in the case.

Pal’s testimony reads, “There was no election meeting of Varun Gandhi in Mohalla Dalchand on 7 March 2009. I did not step out of my house, I did not hear Varun Gandhi’s speech, neither did he give any speech against the Muslims.” There are stark discrepancies in this statement. Firstly, an election meeting did take place there; this is why the FIR was filed in the first place. Secondly, if Pal had not gone to the meeting and not heard Varun speak, how could he know whether Varun spoke against Muslims or not? This is what Pal told TEHELKA over the phone.

TEHELKA: Did you meet the judge in the court?
Vijay Pal: No, not the judge, the testimony took place in front of Peshkar sahab (the Reader).
TEHELKA: The judge was not present in court?
Pal: No, the judge was not present.

When witnesses are testifying against an influential person, it doubles the responsibility of a judge to ensure they are not under any duress. The seriousness with which the CJM of Pilibhit was conducting this case became increasingly evident with every new person TEHELKA spoke to.

Here’s what witness No. 4 Riyasat told TEHELKA.

TEHELKA: What happened in the court?
Riyasat: When I reached, they asked me to get my photograph clicked. I told them I was coming straight from the field and had only 40-50 with me. The rickshaw-puller charges 20, the photograph cost 20, so how would I go back? The policeman said he would pay for the photograph, but I refused. I took money from my elder brother and had my photo clicked. I gave them three copies. They attached my picture to the file. They did not ask me anything else. No witness got a chance to go inside.
TEHELKA: You mean no witness went inside the court?
Riyasat: No, all the papers were already there. Just the photographs were pasted on them.
TEHELKA: All you did was put your thumbprint on it?
Riyasat: Yes, I put my thumbprint and came back.
TEHELKA: Did the judge ask you anything?
Riyasat: No, the judge had been on leave for three days. I had gone to the court thrice and come back. My time and money was wasted. Finally, I went again on the 20th.
TEHELKA: Was the judge present when you gave your testimony then?
Riyasat: The judge was present, but it was lunch time. We all came back after putting our thumb impressions.
TEHELKA: None of you met the judge?
Riyasat: None of the witnesses met the judge.
TEHELKA: There was no conversation?
Riyasat: No.
TEHELKA: Did you give your thumb impression in front of the judge or outside the court?
Riyasat: In front of the peshkar (Reader) who sits.
TEHELKA: In front of the peshkar?
Riyasat: Yes.

TEHELKA also heard about the absence of the judge from witness No. 2, Pratap.

TEHELKA: Did the judge ask you anything?
Pratap: No, the peshkar (Reader) and ardali (orderly) were there.
TEHELKA: The judge was not there?
Pratap: The judge was not there.

Witness No. 5 Nafees also corroborated that the judge was not present.
Hence, without being present in court, without hearing all the witnesses, without even having them questioned in front of him, magistrate Abdul Qayyum exonerated Varun Gandhi on 27 February 2013 in the Mohalla Dalchand hate speech case.
Reading all of this, even a child would know the due process of law has been brazenly subverted in clearing Varun’s name. In fact, it is hard not to be dazed by the extent and scale of it.
At the very least, this expose begs the question: should these cases not be sent back for retrial? And how should those involved be punished?
But the story still doesn’t end here. Varun Gandhi’s ‘Operation Cover-Up’ left no piece unturned.

Case 4: Inciting riots, assault on the police and destroying public property
Date of incident: 28 March 2009
FIR: 28 March 2009
Number of witnesses: 39

On 4 May 2013, Varun was exonerated in the last case against him, in which he was accused of rioting, assault and attempt to murder. This exoneration came towards the end of TEHELKA’s investigation so we could not pursue it extensively. However, merely scratching the surface of the case makes several problems evident. For one, BJP leader Parmeshwari Dayal Gangwar’s account captured on TEHELKA’s cameras proves the hyper-charged crowd that gathered during Varun’s surrender was pre-meditated. As he told TEHELKA, he was “instructed” to marshall a huge crowd there.

But what follows is even starker. Besides Varun, nine other people had been listed as accused in the case. The number of witnesses was 39. Yet, though Varun has been acquitted and all the witnesses have turned hostile, the trial against the other accused is still in the initial stages.

Ashwani Agnihotri, a senior advocate from Pilibhit, explains, “If there are more than one accused in a case, usually, their trial is conducted together. An accused can be separated from the others only if he is absconding and not appearing in court. But Varun Gandhi was given this special privilege by the Pilibhit court.”

The manner in which testimonies for this case was recorded is similar to the two earlier cases. Here too, around 10 witnesses were produced in court on the same day. All of them turned hostile. But no questions were raised.

Varun is now perhaps unique in the history of the Indian legal system. He had three cases against him with 88 prosecution witnesses. Every single one of them has turned hostile. Just this is enough to raise suspicions. Surely, the higher courts need to take note of it. It’s not just Varun’s reputation that is at stake, but the whole idea of credible courts.

When TEHELKA contacted Varun, he said he did not want to respond to the story.

The idea of India is based on several cardinal plinths: the idea of plurality and equal rights for all its citizens are perhaps the two most sacred of those plinths. Varun’s hate speeches violated this in deep and wounding ways.

But his elaborate cover-up went a step worse. The idea of democracy is predicated on the rule of law. In trying to clear his name by subverting the entire judicial process, Varun crossed an even greater line.

Today, he stands acquitted in all the cases. Major political responsibilities have been given to him and the BJP is considering him as a future tall leader. But are Varun’s acquittals merely the story of an accused getting away with a crime? Or will these cynical exonerations strengthen the foundation over which similar crimes can prosper in the future?

If the perpetrators of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots had been brought to book, perhaps the carnage of 2002 would have been less vile and rampant, if not stemmed altogether. The political patronage given to the perpetrators of 1984 gave rise to people like Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani. If Varun had been meted proportionate punishment in time, perhaps Akbaruddin Owaisi would have learnt to hold his tongue.

Like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Varun’s inflammatory speeches could have proved disastrous. Parmeshwari Gangwar, a close associate of Varun, said on TEHELKA’s hidden camera, “The vendors would not go to Muslim-dominated areas in Pilibhit, they were so afraid.” Ramveer Singh, the reporter who recorded Varun’s communal speech, says, “The things he said in Barkhera were very dangerous. There is a Muslim locality close by with at least a 1,000-1,500 Muslims. If they had thrown stones from their rooftops, a 100-200 people in the market could have died.” Ram Avtar told TEHELKA that the villagers had even begun making preparations to kill Muslims. “The intelligent people of the village did not agree with this, but many illiterate people said this politician is good. We are Hindus; he is saying the right thing. So, the villagers started making preparations to kill Muslims.”

It is a happy trick of fate that the ugly spark that Varun Gandhi had lit did not turn into a flame. But the sad truth is, he has shown yet again that rather than walk the hard path of true leadership, Varun is willing again and again to sacrifice the very ethos of this nation merely to further his political ambitions. A poor way to reclaim a lost legacy.

rahul@tehelka.com | atul@tehelka.com

Demolitions and the English press


Slum demolitions don’t attract press coverage; building demolitions do. Because buildings, not slums, are where people like us live. Where does this empathy go when slums are being demolished, asks JYOTI PUNWANI Pix: Medha fasts
Posted/Updated Thursday, May 16 15:12:21, 2013
HERE’S LOOKING AT US
Jyoti  Punwani
Slum demolitions don’t attract press coverage; building demolitions do. Because buildings, not slums, are where people like us – English journalists and our readers — live.
That’s understandable, even if one may not agree with the logic. But what’s difficult to understand is the blanket coverage given by Mumbai’s English press to the proposed demolition of 91 flats in an upscale part of town,which was scheduled to take place in the first week of May. From April 27, when it was reported that the residents had received notices from the Municipal Corporation, till May 3, the day after the Supreme Court gave them a five month reprieve, the main English papers carried at least one story everyday. The DNA and The Times of India devoted an entire page to the proposed demolition on one occasion, with the coverage extending to two full pages in The Times on May 1.
In principle, the demolition of these flats involved the core issue of slum demolitions – the right to shelter, even if that shelter is unauthorized. The residents had bought the flats and moved in knowing fully well that the buildings did not have the required Occupation Certificate (OC). Prolonged litigation over 14 years right up to the Supreme Court had finally resulted in a refusal in February this year to legalize them.Two months later, the BMC sent them notices to vacate, giving them just 48 hours’ notice.
For the residents, it must have been like the heavens had fallen – and that’s the way the English press projected it. Where will we go, our children have grown up here, we have aged parents, these flats our are life’s savings, why did the BMC take taxes from us all these years…these were the questions – very valid ones too – the residents were quoted as asking. Pen-portraits of some of them were carried with pictures of their old and ailing family members.
 They ran to the High Court for a reprieve. Rebuffed, they approached the Supreme Court, with renowned lawyer Fali Nariman arguing that they had the right to shelter. The day their case was to be heard in the Supreme Court, was also the day the demolition was to begin. Almost every paper carried a blow by blow account of the day – the tension till the2pm Supreme Court hearing, the demolition men arriving in vans, the havans and pujas, then the jubilation when the verdict came in.The reporters were euphoric too.Until then, the reporters had succeeded,through theirchoice of words (“eviction’’ was equated with “hardship’’), and quotes (“We are dying here everyday’’) to make us feel their pain.
Where does this empathy go when slums are being demolished? The emotions are the same; the questions raised by slum dwellers also the same. The only difference is that slum dwellers live illegally on public land, whereas these residents lived illegally on private land. But public land is the only shelter the urban poor can afford. They too pay for everything. They pay high deposits, and they pay more for water than we living in buildings do, having to buy it at market rates. Yes, some do get electricity illegally, but they have to pay the slumlord for that.
Like the BMC in the Campa Cola case, the authorities don’t act when a slum comes up. They move in to demolish only when it’s a full-blown settlement, often, after a generation has grown up there. And most slum families are joint families, so there’s no dearth of old and ailing family members who have to suffer the violence of the bulldozer.
Like the Campa Cola buildings, slums are also demolished at short notice, and at any time. It may be pouring or blazingly hot or windy and cold, exams may be on – none of this affects the demolition men. Alternate accommodation is rarely provided to slum-dwellers, mostly, they are left on the road. Babies have died after demolitions due to exposure to the elements. But in the Campa Cola case,  the BMC’s counsel himself told the Supreme Court, which wanted to give only a three-month reprieve,to extend it because August would be the peak of the monsoon!
Fears of having to live far away were voiced by the Campa Cola residents. But in the case of slum dwellers, if at all alternate accommodation is provided, it’s inevitably miles away, on the outskirts of Mumbai, in buildings constructed so close to each other they must surely be violating safety rules.
All this rarely gets into the papers these days. There was a time it did. Why are reporters not being sent now to do these stories?
 In March, Medha Patkar went on an indefinite fast against demolitions in a 60-year-old slum in Golibar, a suburban slum sprawl. This slum has seen repeated attempts over the last five years to destroy it. Every time, the residents have resisted, and Medha has intervened. In 2011 too, she had fasted till the CM intervened. In January this year, the slum dwellers forced the state government to set up an inquiry into six slum redevelopment projects, including this one. But even before the inquiry could be completed, the bulldozers moved in. This time, it took nine days before the CM deigned to intervene.
Thanks to Medha and the slum dwellers’ resistance, this slum is now well-known to the Mumbai press. Medha has provided enough evidence of fraud against the developer, Shivalik Ventures.  Criminal cases have been filed against them. They have violated court orders to rehabilitate slum dwellers and give them written agreements for new homes, before demolishing the existing ones.
 Given all this, why didn’t Medha’s fast against the illegal demolitions get half the coverage the Campa Cola residents did?
One reason could be that a second fast at the same venue for the same cause doesn’t make news. But her first fast hadn’t either!
Medha’s fast was covered in bits and pieces without any reporting from the site in Mumbai’s English press. Delhi-based Tehelka was the only one to do a report from the ground. That, and one brief report in The Times by Linah BAliga, which was upfront about the builder’s illegalities, was the only ones that merited attention.
This time, there was something really newsworthy about the demolition of this much-demolished slum. A day before the scheduled demolition, Union Minister for Housing Ajay Maken wrote to the Maharashtra CM asking him to ensure it didn’t take place. But neither the letter, nor the Maharashtra CM’s indifference to it, was highlighted by the English press, despite Medha’s team sending out a copy of it.
Is the main reason for the English press’ apathy towards slum demolitions the belief that slum demolitions are passé?That they are just meant to happen, given their illegal existence? And there’s nothing new to say anyway?
On the other hand, building residents being dishoused is news. “I am now down with my ayah,’’ one resident was quoted as saying; “She’s bringing food for me now,’’ said another. The residents even called those living in a nearby slum to boost their numbers as they stood guard at the entrance of their compound, refusing to let the demolition crew in. The reporters had reams of space, but none of them asked the residents what they felt after their own experience, about slum demolitions. What if their ayahs who were being so supportive in their time of crisis, were to be evicted overnight? They did quote one resident grumbling that the BMC was treating them like “slumlords’’ (surely he meant slum-dwellers? Slum lords are never touched), while a BMC official was quoted as saying they weren’t going to just go in and start demolishing the way they did with slums. Indeed.
But newsworthiness doesn’t explain the empathy shown towards these illegal residents. Except the Indian Express, the other papers didn’t think it important to explain why the Supreme Court had turned down the residents’ plea to regularize their flats in February. Despite being educated, the Supreme Court had observed, these residents had moved in to their flats, knowing they were not authorized.
Some of the residents, fearing the worst, did check out alternate accommodation. But said one resident to the Indian Express: “My children will not be able to stay in any other premises.’’ This too was considered worthy of reporting!
By Demolition day, the illegal residents had constructed an extra gate, andbarricaded their entrance with their cars, so that the BMC men could not enter. This was reported without comment; neither were the BMC officials asked about this obstruction to their work. What if slum dwellers did the same when they faced demolition?In 2011, the Golibar slum women, led by Medha Patkar, hadfaced the demolition squad and the police, waving the national flag and singing the national anthem. The police had dragged them into vans, cordoned off the slum, prevented the media from entering and gone in with the Slum Rehabilitation officials to arrest activists and terrorizethe slum dwellers.
Outside the barricaded Campa Cola compound, the BMC crew twiddled their thumbs for six hours till the Supreme Court verdict came. But in the Golibar slum, the demolition squad razed 70 homes in clear violation of both Union government and court orders.
At every stage, the coverage of the demolition of the Campa Cola apartments cried out for comparisons with the continuous demolitions of slums taking place in Mumbai. Alas, the Mumbai press never made that comparison.

 

#India – When will we civilize our cops ?


Our cops continue to brutalize those they are meant to protect—the weak and the vulnerable
G. Sampath, livemint.com
First Published: Thu, May 16 2013. 04 26 PM IST
Moral policing will continue to trump civilized policing, and we will continue to editorialize about police excesses, calling for—what else—police reforms. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Moral policing will continue to trump civilized policing, and we will continue to editorialize about police excesses, calling for—what else—police reforms. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
So it’s happened again. Another woman was assaulted by cops who, as exemplified by the iconic Delhi Police, are determined to be with you, for you, always, no matter how hard you try to avoid them. According to media reports, this time it’s a young girl whose crime was to be found drinking with a male friend inside a car. So the Sahibabad police, which, like all supposedly overworked and understaffed police forces in India loves to do overtime as moral police, detained the hardened criminals and repeatedly slapped the woman around for good measure.
The police’s justification for picking them up was that they were in a compromising state. And their justification for assaulting the girl, a resident of Jafrabad in north-east Delhi, was that she was drunk and abusive. Given these two factors, they had logically concluded that she was a sex worker. And sex workers, as we all know, deserve to be beaten up on sight.
This episode comes in the wake of a number of other such recent incidents: on 18 April, a girl protesting the rape of a five-year-old was slapped four times by an assistant commissioner of the Delhi Police and the whole incident was caught on camera; also in April, a 65-year-old grandmother protesting against police inaction in the case of her granddaughter’s rape was thrashed by cops in Aligarh; on 3 March, a 19-year-old Dalit girl was beaten up by cops in Tarn Taran when she went to them with a sexual harassment complaint; also in March, protesting female school teachers were brutally lathi-charged by the Patna police. The list goes on and on.
Last month, the Supreme Court came down severely on the police’s excesses. “Even an animal won’t do what the police officers are doing every day in different parts of the country,” noted a disgusted apex court. Calling such behaviour “an insult to the country”, it went on to ask the Uttar Pradesh government “Is your government left without shame?” On available evidence, the answer would be “yes”, for the Sahibabad police station does fall under the purview of the Uttar Pradesh government.
So, how do we humanize the animals in uniform such that they inspire respect and trust in the average citizen rather than fear and loathing? We all know the answer to this one: Police reforms, of course! And we’ve known this since when exactly?
A comprehensive review of the Indian police system noted that “the police force throughout the country is in a most unsatisfactory condition, that abuses are common everywhere, that this involves great injury to the people and discredit to the government, and that radical reforms are urgently necessary”. These lines are from the report prepared by the Indian Police Commission of 1902-03. Oh well, we can’t expect things to change overnight, can we? It’s been only 110 years.
And so our cops continue to brutalize those they are meant to protect—the weak, the vulnerable, women, minorities, tribals, homosexuals and the poor.
In its landmark 2006 ruling in the Prakash Singh case, the apex court had directed the setting up of three state-level institutions to make the police accountable to the citizenry rather than the party in power: a State Security Commission to lay down policies and monitor performance, a Police Establishment Board to insulate postings and transfers from political interference, and a Police Complaints Authority at the district and state level where any citizen can lodge a complaint if a cop misbehaves. Apart from these, the Union government was supposed to come up with a Model Police Act that would serve as a template for state governments across the country.
Sounds great.
But you guessed it: while a few states have partially (and grudgingly) complied with the court directives, most have not, and the Model Police Bill is gathering dust in a forgotten corner of North Block.
Committee after committee—Gore Committee on Police Training (1971-73), Ribeiro Committee on Police Reforms (1998), Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms (2000), Group of Ministers on National Security (2000-01), Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System (2001-03), to name a few—has done all the research needed to be done and we know everything that we need to know about how to fix the rot in our policing system. The question is: Will we ever do it? Does anybody think India will implement police reforms by May 2113?
In a paper published in 1979, the Bureau of Police Research and Development warned of the “inherent danger of making the police a tool for subverting the process of law, promoting the growth of authoritarianism, and shaking the very foundations of democracy.” We crossed this point some 1,000km ago, in my opinion. So, good luck to our democracy.
In the meantime, young girls will continue to be slapped around by cops, moral policing will continue to trump civilized policing, and we will continue to editorialize about police excesses, calling for—what else—police reforms.

 

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