Calcutta High Court proposes equal facilities for all prisoners #goodnews #prisoner


HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
Kolkata, August 28, 2012

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There is good news for the thousands of prisoners, under trials or convicts, in Bengal. In its landmark verdict the Calcutta High Court on August 8 held that every prisoner, irrespective of class, colour, creed and race, was also entitled to special amenities provided for the political prisoners under the West Bengal Correction Services Act 1992. In his 30-page verdict, justice KS Ahluwalia held that what the Act proposes to give to the political prisoners are basic amenities, which are necessary for dignified human living, to which all prisoners ought to be entitled.

“Therefore, all these amenities except a separate kitchen should be provided to all prisoners. A common kitchen having proper hygiene and infrastructure run by the prisoners should be available to all the prisoners, irrespective of any class to which a prisoner belongs. For distribution of food, the State cannot create classes. However, it may provide food considering the health of an inmate.

A weak or sick may require healthier or special diet. Common reading room having newspapers, magazines and other books at fixed hours should be available to all prisoners,” the judge suggested.

“A slight improvement in the living conditions in prisons will erode the classification. Therefore, in changing times, the state is called upon to look into the provisions of the Act with a new humanistic approach and explore the feasibility that the prisons guided by reformative and restorative policy provide basic amenities to all and there remains no need to assign nomenclature to the prisoners for providing better facilities to one class ousting the other,” the judge said.

Holding the classification of prisoners and providing different amenities, prima facie, unconstitutional, the judge said: “To grade prisoners according to their status is alien to the constitution. There can be no distinction of a rich or poor prisoner and political prisoner or other prisoner while distributing basic amenities, which are necessary for a dignified human life.

The state, if it so desires, may consider to dispense with the classification of the prisoners and strive to make prisons the model jails as an example for other states to follow,” the judge said.

The judge ended his verdict by quoting the words of Nelson Mandela, who fought relentlessly against apartheid and remained confined for 27 years, for guiding the vision of everyone for betterment of jails: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones”.

Purulia armsdrop convict and British national, Peter Bleach, who spent eight years in a city jail, welcomed the verdict. “This ruling will have far reaching effects. It will assist in the extradition of wanted foreigners to India because it will reassure foreign courts that Indian courts will indeed intervene and ensure justice and fair treatment in jail,” Bleach told HT from London.

The ruling came on a batch of petitions filed by advocate Subhasish Roy on behalf of seven alleged Maoists, including Chhatradhar Mahato, who have also been charged with waging of war against the state, seeking the status of political prisoner.

Jairam Ramesh calls for freeze on fresh mining in worst Naxal-affected regions #Goodnews


 

Urmi Goswami, ET Bureau Aug 24, 2012, 
(Ramesh has pitched for a…)

NEW DELHI: Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has pitched for a moratorium on new mining projects in the worst Naxal-affected regions and particularly in areas recently recaptured from insurgents, saying it was essential to quell the Maoist problem wreaking havoc across much of India’s hinterland.

Tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo had earlier made this suggestion. In comments certain to draw the ire of industry, parts of which already view him as anti-development, Ramesh also said mining was part of the problem, and called it one of the key issues contributing to the Maoist stranglehold over mineral-rich forest areas

“There should be a 10-year moratorium on new mining in the worst Naxal-affected areas, particularly those areas which have recently been liberated from Maoist control and where we need to re-establish the presence of the state, improve governance and ensure that Maoists don’t regain the foothold,” he told ET in an interview.

Ramesh said that mining as it has been and is being undertaken was “neither ecologically sensitive nor socially inclusive”. He said it had aided Maoists gain control over large swathes of central India’s tribal belt, as he argued that it was essential to address issues arising from mining activities if the state is to consolidate and re-establish its presence in the Naxal-affected areas.

A moratorium on mining, Ramesh said, will buy the central and state governments time to first provide the basics in tribal areas and then help equip the local population to be able to participate in economic activities such as mining.

“What we need to do is build up the skill set of the local population, improve governance, and train the local people so that they are in a better position to participate in this economic activity,” he explained.

“If you have a free for all for mining in these areas, given that our track record in mining has been so disastrous, what you will have in the initial years will be that all the jobs (skilled and semi-skilled) go to outsiders and the menial jobs will be done by the locals.”

Such a situation would over time breed resentment among the locals and end up becoming a recruiting sergeant for the Naxal cause, he added. Limiting mining activity would also help cut off a key funding source for the Maoists, whom Ramesh described as being fuelled by “levy and not ideology”.

“The moment you expand mining activities you will find a proliferation of groups operating under the garb of Maoist ideology, but who are basically extortionists,” he said.

With his stance on mining, Ramesh is potentially placing himself once again in the firing line of detractors who blame him for a lot of the country’s present economic problems.

In his previous job as environment minister, Ramesh pushed a policy demarcating forests as ‘go and no-go’ areas for mining, a move that made him a lightning rod of criticism both within and outside the government.

Other ministers and some in industry circles have blamed him and his policy for raw material shortages and resultantly a sharp drop in economic growth rates.

Coming at a time India’s GDP growth rate – at just over 5% – is hovering at levels unseen in a nearly a decade, Ramesh’s latest intervention on the mining issue could, for some, buttress his anti-development and anti-growth image.

But the man remains unfazed. “What is more important – social peace or growth? What use is this growth if large parts of your own territories are not amenable to any form of governance by democratically elected institutions?” he asks.

An IIT-Mumbai, Carnegie Mellon and MIT alumnus, Ramesh, says that he is not anti-growth, but there is a need for balance. “This monotheism that we have practiced since 1991 that ‘nothing matters except GDP growth’ is very unwise.

Growth is essential. There is no doubt about that,. This is not an argument for going back to worshipping a 3.5% growth rate, but what it calls for is a certain balance. It calls for making strategic choices,” he said.

Although Ramesh in his stint as environment minister succeeded in giving the ministry, long viewed as a rubber stamp department, a big public profile, his move to rural development, albeit with a promotion to full cabinet rank, was viewed in some quarters as a punishment by the Prime Minister for hobbling the cause of industrialisation and economic growth.

Given the challenge posed by the Maoists, Ramesh is confident that the Prime Minister will take this proposal under consideration. “I don’t think the Prime Minister is insensitive to these issues.

I have had extensive talks with him. Every time I go to one of these Naxal-affected districts, I brief him and I have never found him not supportive of what I am trying to do,” he said.

To his detractors who argue that he does not see the larger picture, Ramesh tosses some ancient lines of wisdom from the Bhagwad Gita, especially the one in which Krishna tells Arjuna that “it is better to die doing one’s own duty than to die doing someone else’s duty”.

“My duty is not to promote mining industry, my duty is to ensure that the process of mining does not lead to undesirable social and ecological consequences. The job of the mining minister is to promote mining, he says, adding that ultimately whether a project takes off or not depends on the wish of the locals.

“Niyamgiri didn’t work out not just because of my decision, but because the local Dongaria Konds (tribals) didn’t want it,” he says, referring to Vedanta Resources’ stalled multi-billion dollar project to mine bauxite in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills.

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