Criminals in politics
Preventing cyber crime
Hue and cry over outsourcing
In my “never” lasting memory!
Industrial effluents contaminate groundwater
THE Tribune story on Sunday about the gross misuse of MPLAD funds is bound to lead to self-righteous indignation by the worthies who are self-professed paragons of virtue. At best, they are going to admit that there may be some black sheep among their ranks who bring a bad name to the entire herd. But those who have first-hand knowledge of the racket insist that it is so widespread that it is almost universal. Perhaps that is why there has been a clamour cutting across party lines for increasing the amount from Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore. For all practical purposes this fund is meant for the personal benefit of MPs and their representatives. Those who put the money to honest use are in a hopeless minority. This siphoning off is done even by falsifying the records of construction of toilets, of all the things. As the story points out, there are 100 cases available with the Comptroller and Auditor-General where funds have been sanctioned for 10-seater toilets while in reality, one-seaters were built. This only shows to what level honesty has sunk. The sheer volume of bungling is enormous. If even Rs 1 crore is siphoned off every year by one man, the total loss to the exchequer adds up to an astronomical figure.
The Mayawati tape issue was cleverly pushed under the carpet although it should have caused a furore. She asked her MPs not to gobble up all the money themselves but give a part of it for the party funds (meaning Mayawati fund). Now there is another occasion to unravel the mystery but it is unlikely that anyone would like to break the rank and cut the branch on which all of them sit.
What is all the more alarming is the collusion of municipal and land authorities in the open loot. Touts are believed to be ruling the roost. There are reasons to suspect that such a well-oiled operation is being run not only in MPLAD funds but in various other facilities as well. Politicians are not going to give a cogent answer. It is for the public to extract one from them, especially at this time when elections are round the corner.
Criminals in politics
MR D.P. Yadav, a sitting MP (Rajya Sabha) known for his criminal past, being allowed to join the ranks of the BJP has once again brought into sharp focus the ugliest side of the country’s polity. It is astonishing that a party that claims to have been endeavouring to cleanse politics of criminal elements has opened its doors to a person allegedly associated with Western UP’s liquor mafia. His son Vikas is the main accused in a case of abduction and murder of a retired bureaucrat’s son. But Mr Yadav claims that he has no cases pending against him, and the chances are that his nomination papers, if he decides to contest an election, will be accepted by the Election Commission because the law is on his side.
Whatever be his claims and whatever the law may say, he cannot wash off his past. Then there is a thing called the spirit of the law that must be observed in the interest of ending the criminalisation of politics. The voters are aware of at least the prominent criminals in their respective areas. It is a different matter that they rarely get convicted, as they are experts in escaping the clutches of the law. The BJP now has no moral right to accuse other parties of having in their ranks people with a criminal record.
Of course, there is nothing new about criminals being allowed to enter the portals of our legislatures. In the dissolved Lok Sabha in 1999, when the issue was being hotly debated, the Election Commission had identified 40 members facing criminal charges against them and nearly 700 MLAs in the country were either history-sheeters or had criminal cases against them. Even today one can find such elements in most political parties. But this does not mean that the nation should keep quiet. If the law has any loopholes, it should be amended to keep criminals away from the temples of democracy. In fact, there is a need for a broad-based movement to achieve this lofty objective.
Preventing cyber crime
INCREASINGLY, people from sections of the society that believe that they do not have anything to do with computers are being affected by cyber crime. When a virus like MyDoom attacks computers, it has in it the ability to bring down entire networks. This affects even non-computer users, who are dependent on services that use computers for processing, including billing, scheduling and even medical services. Of late, there have been instances of cyber-related crimes, like the Net Khazana.Com, which allegedly duped over 17,000 investors of around Rs 26.5 crore. Many Indians are being lured by the "419 Nigerian" scam that has lightened the purses of thousands of gullible persons worldwide.
As computers become ubiquitous, they have also become tools in the hands of criminals. They are responsible for crimes like credit card fraud, stealing identities and information on other computers. They cause massive damages and are often treated as "white collar" crimes. In fact, most of the police force is ill-equipped to handle such crimes.
It is an irony that in spite of India having laws which are among the best and most up-to-date in the world, those who enforce such laws are not well versed in the basics of computers. Various seminars and workshops that are being held to familiarise police and other officials with cyber crime and its implications are indeed welcome, and more needs to be done. Those who use computers leave their own marks on crime scenes, just as ordinary criminals do and digital forensic experts can read electronic footprints though such evidence is, as yet, regarded only as corroborative by courts. While patrolling will have to be intensified on the cyber front, the law will also have to keep pace with developments that take place at a blazing pace.
Hue and cry over outsourcing
WHY is there such a hue and cry over business process outsourcing or BPO, a system by which organisations based in developed countries (like the United States) farm out contracts to companies located in developing countries (such as India) for performing a wide range of tasks, including back-office operations, to lower costs and increase profits? There is a short answer to this question: “Jobs”. Elections are going to take place in the world’s two largest democracies, India as well as the US, and the incumbent governments are under attack for failing to create sufficient job opportunities.
The Congress party is repeatedly reminding voters that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has failed to deliver on his promise of creating 10 million new jobs each year. The full-page advertisements recently released by the Planning Commission — claiming on the basis of a thin survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation that 84 lakh new jobs were created on an average in the last three years — have failed to convince many people about the government’s ability to seriously alleviate the problem of unemployment and under-employment that exists in the country.
The same story is being replicated in America. The leading candidate of the Democratic Party in the US Presidential race, Senator John Kerry, was recently quoted by a newspaper denouncing the George W. Bush administration for allegedly “rewarding Benedict Arnold CEOs who move profits and jobs overseas”. Mr Benedict Arnold is a “traitor” who had defected from the ranks of American revolutionaries to join the British colonialists. Mr Kerry had introduced a Bill in November that would require call-centre operators to disclose their physical location to consumers with the ostensible aim of discouraging such practices.
The parallel with India is apparent. Sections of the US media have repeatedly questioned the Bush government’s claim of projecting the creation of new jobs. A report prepared by the University of California at Berkeley estimated that as many as 14 million American jobs are currently at “risk” of being lost to countries like India, China, Russia, and the Philippines. In January, the US Department of Labour Statistics said that 8.3 million US citizens were jobless, the highest since the Great Depression of 1929. Until recently, many information technology (IT) firms in India were willing to dismiss the rising tiding of protectionism in the US as a passing phenomenon. It was argued that attempts to curb the outsourcing of work would remain confined to local governments and that such efforts would at best have only a marginal impact on the fortunes of Indian IT companies — since the bulk of their work comes from private firms (and not government departments) that are keen on improving their profit margins by cutting costs. However, developments that have occurred over the last few months indicate that the problem is much bigger and extremely emotive.
No less than 60 anti-offshoring Bills have been passed by as many as 20 US states. A number of changes have been proposed in the rules relating to the “request for proposals” and the “Buy American Improvement” Act that seeks to tighten legislation that had been first enacted in the US way back in 1933. The idea behind the proposed changes in the US laws is to place curbs on the companies from developing countries, including India, bidding for contracts on a competitive basis. Such companies may henceforth have to engage in stiff competition with “preferred” bidders. It has also been reported that the General Accounting Office of the US federal government as well as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the State Department are currently studying whether offshoring poses a threat to America’s economic security.
At a recent conference in Bangalore organised by the National Association of Software and Service Companies, the Vice-President of the Information Technology Association of America, Mr Jeff Lande, remarked: “The backlash is not purely political as most people presume and will not die away with the conclusion of the US Presidential elections. This wave of protest against offshoring will subside only when the job scenario in the US improves.”
He added that while the Bills at the state level in the US would not have much of an impact on Indian firms — since government contracts account for less than 1 per cent of the total business - if the US federal government decides to act tough and stop outsourcing in areas like healthcare, financial services, energy, telecommunications and other utilities, such a step would certainly have a severe impact on this country’s booming BPO sector. The worst apprehensions of individuals like Mr Lande may be coming true.
On January 22, the US Senate passed a law that stipulates that if an American firm receives a contract from the US federal government, it will not be able to subsequently sub-contract this work to a source or a firm located outside the US. While representatives of the IT companies in America have argued that this move may undercut the ability of US companies to compete with overseas rivals, Indian companies may be able to circumvent the legal provisions by setting up firms in the US to bid for American government contracts.
A prominent economist of Indian origin and professor at Columbia University, Mr Jagdish Bhagwati, told a forum of the International Monetary Fund at Washington that the US “goes bananas” every few years over “one imagined peril or another”. “There was a similar outcry when US textiles or steel could not compete with imports. When Japanese cars were competing with American cars, there was an outcry about the imports of automobiles,” he said, adding that after much whining about a “yellow peril” there is now talk of a “brown peril” — meaning outsourcing of work from India.
Mr Michael W Gildea, executive director, Department of Professional Employees of the American Federation of Labour — one of the largest unions in the US — told the House International Relations Committee on February 4 that Indian companies like Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys Technologies were acting as “bodyshops” by bringing in foreign workers by “abusing” L-1 visas. Such visas are meant for inter-company transfer of personnel from one subsidiary or branch to another.
On February 16, after a meeting in New Delhi with US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, his Indian counterpart, Union Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley found it “strange that on the one hand, people are talking about opening markets and on the other, banning business process outsourcing”. Spokespersons of the American establishment are fond of preaching the virtues of free trade to the rest of the world. But when it comes to the movement of people, immigration and visa rules enter the picture. Just as India wants its IT firms to generate more employment opportunities for its people, politicians and labour unions are equally adamant about protecting jobs for American citizens. This dispute is certain to become more acrimonious in the time to
In my “never” lasting memory!
THIS is probably what one calls human nature. Death or disease hurts only the person it hits directly. It is often observed at various so-called solemn funeral “functions” that except for a few intimately affected close relations of the dead none is ever sincerely serious.
The other day I happened to attend the last rites of an acquaintance. Since mobile phones have become, of late, a nauseating necessity none was surprised to see that while lifting the dead body, to put it on the pyre, this distantly related mourner, wearing a masked sad look and a matching jet-black attire that included his darkly dyed otherwise white beard, attended to a call on his mobile, the loud ring of which was set to the tune of a Hindi pop song!
Before lighting the pyre it is customary among the Sikhs to recite “gurbani” by all those present, in chorus, to be followed by the final prayer — Antim Ardaas” I being bad at remembering and reciting religious hymns, kept looking hither and thither like the fabled “thirsty crow”, for some shady place to beat the scorching summer heat.
A fading and tattered placard that was put on the steel shed, under which I took refuge, attracted my attention. It announced the name of the “family” that had donated money for the assembly of the structure “in the sweet and ever lasting memory of” someone whose name was eroded by the passage of time. Thus it reminded me of Shelley’s satirical poem, titled Ozymandia, which also talks about the insignificance of such inscriptions even if carved on expectantly “ever lasting” stone slabs.
With a couple of other burning pyres around, the overall atmosphere at the cremation ground was such that it set my mind rolling in thoughts of my own death, which all admit as inevitable and do remind of such occasions but forget soon after leaving the place.
So I listed some dos and don’ts that my family should adopt after my so-called “sad demise”. Taking a cue from the agreeable shift from five-day boring cricket matches to quick result-oriented one day-ers, my last rites should also be a one-day affair. There should not be any lingering of ceremonies that often attain a festive feeling. And a stern no to half-heartedly paid but loudly pronounced donations in my “never” lasting memory. And my ashes should be immersed into the nearest available “running stream”, instead of taking, grudgingly, (who will foot the taxi bill?), to some distant place. However, I humbly plead that it should not be made much simpler by flushing it in some public toilet’s “running water”! And I sincerely wish to die, like my birth, on a Sunday, so that none is put to an undue working-day
Industrial effluents contaminate groundwater
THE groundwater situation in India is not a happy one. While on the one hand, the watertable is plunging by metres, on the other, the depleted aquifers are getting contaminated with toxins.
Recently a soft drink major was asked to suspend its Kerala operations because of the depleting groundwater. The going had been rough for this factory ever since a BBC Radio report in September 2003 said that cadmium and lead, much above the prescribed limits, were found in the sludge from there. A case of depleting aquifer compounded with questionable water quality from South India.
In the North, the same hydrogeological quality-quantity cleft-stick snares Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Chandigarh and the NCR.
The issue of industrial effluent discharge is a raging controversy between the Haryana and Rajasthan governments. Polluted waters from Bhiwadi industries of Rajasthan flows into the villages of Rewari district and pollutes the groundwater. Dr R.K. Aggarwal, Principal Scientist and head of the Central Soil Conservation Institute, Chandigarh, who has worked on environmental projects in Pali, Nagaon and Jaisalmer in Rajsathan, says that owing to the discharge of effluents from textile industries, the groundwater is getting polluted with sodium. “What to talk of groundwater, even the rainwater is so polluted at these places,” he says.
Dr Aggarwal also has environmental projects in Ropar district to his credit. “Studies conducted in Relmajra village, near Ropar, have found a high concentration of sulphur and phosphorous in the groundwater because of the presence of various industries. The soil too has turned acidic,” he adds grimly.
The groundwater is being exploited to the extent of 98 per cent and 80 per cent in Punjab and Haryana, respectively, resulting in a drastic fall in the groundwater levels. Whatever has been left of the watertable is being mauled by pesticides, industrial effluents and toxic wastes, the byproducts of the Green Revolution, rapid industrialisation and choc-a-bloc urbanisation.
A survey by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has found high fluoride and nitrate in Ballabhgarh’s groundwater. Ditto for Gurgaon and Panipat. In Panipat, the water at shallow depths is yellowish due to the seepage of waste from the dyeing units. At all these places heavy metals like copper, zinc iron, manganese and lead have been found in quantities more than the permissible limit.
In Chandigarh, water samples taken along the Sukhna choe have shown higher quantities of nickel and potassium and the groundwater quality has deteriorated in general. The Lalru nullah is the most polluted water body in the City Beautiful’s vicinity. This nullah has not changed much in 18 years when a dozen cattlehead perished after drinking water from it.
According to a Punjab State Council for Science and Technology report, high yield intensive cultivation has caused nitrates from fertilisers and pesticides to seep into the groundwater in many parts of Punjab. The groundwater in Amritsar has shown high pH, TDS and nitrate. Aquifers are also being polluted in Ropar district, Toansa and Nangal. Studies have found a high nitrate concentration in Muktsar. In Ludhiana, besides very high nitrate values, high concentrations of chromium and nickel have been reported.
“A groundwater contamination study on Ludhiana was carried out in collaboration with experts from Stockholm University, Sweden. Even the unsaturated zone (0-5 m) is highly contaminated by nickel and cadmium in this industrial town. The upper level aquifers are contaminated by hexavalent chromium and cyanide,” says Prof Krishan Pal Singh, a noted groundwater expert. He rues that groundwater contamination is not being given due importance and emphasises that the anti-groundwater pollution laws should be made more stringent.
“Ludhiana is facing a peculiar problem. The static water level has gone down and luckily the deeper aquifers are not as polluted as the upper ones. To save the deeper aquifers from damage, an artificial recharge in Ludhiana is being avoided,” says Mr D.S. Saini, Director, CGWB.
“Nitrate is perhaps the most widespread contaminant of groundwater. In Punjab and Haryana, high-yield variety seeds are used widely. These require a high dosage of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and the use of agro-chemicals in Punjab and Haryana is the highest in India.
Fertiliser consumption has increased from 3 to 130 kg per hectare in the last 30 years. Fertiliser use for rice and wheat is 160 and 170 kg per hectare, respectively, at present. Irrigate heavily and nitrates from these pesticides and fertilisers percolate into the groundwater. There is a definite trend in accumulation of nitrates to toxic level in the groundwater of Punjab and Haryana. An excess pesticide usage and the disposal of hazardous effluents from the industries is putting a great strain on the availability of fresh water,” says Dr R.B. Singh, a reader in Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi and Secretary General, National Association of Geographers’ India.
William J. Cosgrove, vice-president, World Water Council, tells this correspondent: “Pollution of surface waters is often visible - as are the waters themselves. In many cases this alerts people to the dangers of using the water without treatment. However, the condition of groundwater, already badly managed because it is out of slight, is generally ignored. While surface waters are often renewed or flushed out by rainfall, it may take years for the recharge of aquifers to dilute the pollutants once they are in place.” The World Health Report, 1999, estimates that water-related diseases caused 3.4 million deaths in 1998, more than half of them children. A high quantity of cadmium may lead to renal tubular dysfunction, proteinuria, glucosuria, and aminoaciduria. Zinc interferes with reproduction and impairs the growth of embryo. Similarly, a high concentration of lead may cause encephalopathy, metabolical disorder and neurophysical deficiencies.
The entry of the alleged “mafia don” Dharam Pal Yadav has raised many an eyebrow in the BJP as certain senior leaders had opposed the move since it could have an adverse impact on Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani’s drive against cleanliness and probity in public life. However, party President M Venkaiah Naidu overruled all objections on the ground that the BJP has to win and “pollutant streams become pure when they join the Ganga”. Even as D P Yadav, whose son is an accused in the Nitesh Katara case and co-accused in the Jessica Lal murder case, walked into the BJP, another big catch Arif Mohammad Khan is facing opposition from his community in Bahraich which he has represented in the Lok Sabha three times.
Even as D P Yadav, whose son is an accused in the Nitesh Katara case and co-accused in the Jessica Lal murder case, walked into the BJP, another big catch Arif Mohammad Khan is facing opposition from his community in Bahraich which he has represented in the Lok Sabha three times.
Tough time for MP Congress The Congress strategists are apprehensive about their performance in the coming Lok Sabha elections in Madhya Pradesh, especially after the party’s drubbing in the recent assembly elections. The BJP is no doubt on a roll after its stunning
victory in MP on the issues of “sadak, bijli aur pani (roads, power and water).” Jyotiraditya Scindia, son of late Madhavrao Scindia, is already camping in Guna and has begun door-to-door campaigning in a determined bid to retain his seat in the Lok Sabha. The BJP, on the other hand, is contemplating asking Jyotiraditya’s aunt Yoshadara Raje to contest from Guna. Irrespective of their ideologies and party affiliations, the Scindia clan has assiduously refrained from contesting against one another. In the circumstances, a bird tells us Yashodara Raje is bound to decline the BJP’s attempts to pit her against Jyotiraditya Scindia from
The Congress strategists are apprehensive about their performance in the coming Lok Sabha elections in Madhya Pradesh, especially after the party’s drubbing in the recent assembly elections. The BJP is no doubt on a roll after its stunning victory in MP on the issues of “sadak, bijli aur pani (roads, power and water).”
Jyotiraditya Scindia, son of late Madhavrao Scindia, is already camping in Guna and has begun door-to-door campaigning in a determined bid to retain his seat in the Lok Sabha. The BJP, on the other hand, is contemplating asking Jyotiraditya’s aunt
Yoshadara Raje to contest from Guna. Irrespective of their ideologies and party affiliations, the Scindia clan has assiduously refrained from contesting against one another. In the circumstances, a bird tells us Yashodara Raje is bound to decline the BJP’s attempts to pit her against Jyotiraditya Scindia from Guna.
All eyes on Hoshiarpur In the sweepstakes for the Congress ticket in Punjab, no seat is being watched as keenly as Hoshiarpur. It is a seat which could be contested by Congress General Secretary Ambika Soni. There is also talk of the seat going to Bahujan Samaj Party or the CPM in case of a tie-up with these parties. If Hoshiarpur goes to the CPM, which had contested from Sangrur in the last election, the Congress will field its candidate from Sangrur where Union Minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and SAD (A) chief Simranjit Singh Mann are the likely adversaries. A section in the Congress is apparently pushing the candidature of Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal for the seat, pleading that she is the strongest Congress candidate. Bhattal is not amused. There is also talk of Dr Manmohan Singh contesting from Punjab but the former Finance Minister has sought to dismiss such talk as needless speculation.
In the sweepstakes for the Congress ticket in Punjab, no seat is being watched as keenly as Hoshiarpur. It is a seat which could be contested by Congress General Secretary Ambika Soni. There is also talk of the seat going to Bahujan Samaj Party or the CPM in case of a tie-up with these parties. If Hoshiarpur goes to the CPM, which had contested from Sangrur in the last election, the Congress will field its candidate from Sangrur where Union Minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and SAD (A) chief Simranjit Singh Mann are the likely adversaries.
A section in the Congress is apparently pushing the candidature of Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal for the seat, pleading that she is the strongest Congress candidate. Bhattal is not amused. There is also talk of Dr Manmohan Singh contesting from Punjab but the former Finance Minister has sought to dismiss such talk as needless speculation.
CPI and film personalities The cash-starved Commu-nist Party of India does not intend joining the rat race of roping in film stars and sportspersons for canvassing during the coming Lok Sabha poll. CPI National Secretary Atul Anjaan says that they don’t believe in such gimmicks and have enjoyed the support of legends like Balraj Sahni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Hasrat Jaipuri, Kaifi Azmi and Sahir Ludhianvi. He takes pride in the fact that Sahir Ludhianvi has composed a poem about the CPI central party office. Anjaan says that Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar campaigned for him for three days when he contested the Ghonsi seat in Eastern UP. Contributed by Satish Misra, Prashant Sood, Tripti Nath and S.
The cash-starved Commu-nist Party of India does not intend joining the rat race of roping in film stars and sportspersons for canvassing during the coming Lok Sabha poll. CPI National Secretary Atul Anjaan says that they don’t believe in such gimmicks and have enjoyed the support of legends like Balraj Sahni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Hasrat Jaipuri, Kaifi Azmi and Sahir Ludhianvi. He takes pride in the fact that Sahir Ludhianvi has composed a poem about the CPI central party office. Anjaan says that Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar campaigned for him for three days when he contested the Ghonsi seat in Eastern UP.
Contributed by Satish Misra, Prashant Sood, Tripti Nath and S.
Error, imperfection and self-will are difficult to overcome, but when the soul gives up its ego and opens itself to the Divine, the Divine takes up the burden and lifts the soul into the spiritual plane. — Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan in The Bhagavad Gita Devotion is complete withdrawing of being and merging it in the manifested Divine. The immediate fruit of this is cosmic manifestation of the Divine through all Nature’s forces and in our heart of hearts as master, sustainer, ultimate rest, and the great friend. — Shri Adi Shankaracharya By hearing the word, Men achieve wisdom, saintliness, courage, and contentment. — Guru Nanak Time is the only God, The primal and the final, The creator and the destroyer, How can words describe Him? — Guru Gobind Singh Ahimsa means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering. — Mahatma Gandhi
— Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan in The Bhagavad Gita
Devotion is complete withdrawing of being and merging it in the manifested Divine. The immediate fruit of this is cosmic manifestation of the Divine through all Nature’s forces and in our heart of hearts as master, sustainer, ultimate rest, and the great friend.
— Shri Adi Shankaracharya
By hearing the word,
Men achieve wisdom, saintliness, courage, and contentment.
— Guru Nanak
Time is the only God,
The primal and the final,
The creator and the destroyer, How can words describe Him?
— Guru Gobind Singh
Ahimsa means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering.
— Mahatma Gandhi