Justice for Bilkis
PM should help speed up poll reforms
Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy's communication to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his intervention to some pressing electoral reforms demonstrates his commitment to cleansing the system.
The Siachen impasse
The luxury of mourning
Punjab civil servants in the
Justice for Bilkis
THE Modi government of Gujarat does not have any credibility among the people. It enjoys a similar reputation in the eyes of the courts also. After transferring the Best Bakery case for trial to Maharashtra in April, the Supreme Court has now taken the decision of transferring the Bilkis Yakoob Rasool case also to the neighbouring state. Bilkis, who was on the family way, was mass-raped and her family lynched during the post-Godhra riots. Instead of getting any help from the Modi government, she has been hounded ever since. The police and other government officials have been busy silencing her wails for justice. In her application seeking transfer of the case outside Gujarat, she has pointed out that the CBI had even arrested the investigating officer of the Gujarat Police and filed a chargesheet on April 19. Just goes on to prove that no one can hope to get justice in Mr Modi's Gujarat, least of all the minorities.
As if the systematic threatening of the witnesses was not enough, even the CBI's investigating officer was threatened by the accused when he met them at Sabarmati jail in Ahmedabad. The environment in Gujarat has been vitiated so badly that the CBI had to take witnesses to Mumbai just for recording their statements before a magistrate under Section 164 of Cr PC. When a state's police becomes so brazenly hand in glove with the criminals, the judiciary just has to take extreme measures.
What is galling is that despite widespread condemnation, the Gujarat government refuses to mend its ways. It continued to insist that the Bilkis case should be shifted to Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan. Which party rules in these States is well known. When the Best Bakery case was transferred, the government fought bitterly to appoint a public prosecutor of its choice. This time, as a matter of abundant precaution, the apex court has directed the CBI to appoint a public prosecutor. Will that shame the Modi government into following its 'Raj Dharma'? Unlikely!
Though the Indian and Pakistani negotiators could not produce any concrete result after their two-day talks over the Siachen issue, there is reason to feel satisfied at the end of the day. That the talks concluded on a positive note is evident from the joint statement simultaneously issued in New Delhi and Islamabad. Their statement that they discussed "the modalities for disengagement and redeployment of troops" is encouraging. The observance of the ceasefire since November 25, 2003, when the guns went silent at the world's highest battlefield, has definitely created an atmosphere for the demilitarisation of the icy heights.
Whatever the intentions of the two countries, it is not realistic to expect an agreement so quickly on a militarily sensitive subject like Siachen. Both sides are holding their positions at great cost — in terms of the huge expenses involved and the human lives (soldiers) lost because of extremely harsh weather. India is in an advantageous position as it occupies the majestic Saltoro heights. Its position along the Actual Ground Position Line runs from last grid reference NJ 9842 to Saltoro, occupied in 1984. India wants this to be mentioned clearly for the authentication of the Siachen map by the two sides, but Pakistan is opposed to it. Pakistan has been insisting on adhering to the Simla Agreement of 1972, which means that India should give up its control over the Saltoro heights. India refuses to accept the argument when the other side is not even prepared to verify the ground reality that prevails today.
Yet indications are that the Siachen ice may start melting once the matter is taken up at the political level. The issue can be settled with a little give and take. Successful handling of Siachen may have a cascading effect on the efforts aimed at finding solutions to other issues. Both sides must ensure that the talks continue so long as they do not reach an agreement. After all, there is no better alternative to dialogue.
Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy's communication to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his intervention to some pressing electoral reforms demonstrates his commitment to cleansing the system. This also assumes a sense of urgency in the context of his plan to implement the proposals before the ensuing Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar. The reforms suggested include barring candidates from contesting elections if they are chargesheeted at least six months before the announcement of the poll; matching election affidavits of the candidates with their income-tax returns; and denial of permission for a candidate to contest more than one seat. Proposals such as affidavits and scrutiny of election expenses are already being implemented following the Supreme Court's ruling two years ago. But these provisions need finetuning with statutory backup either through amendments to the Representation of People Act or new legislation. Without Parliament's help, the Election Commission cannot march ahead. Hence Mr Krishnamurthy's letter to the Prime Minister.
The proposal regarding the disqualification of chargesheeted candidates seems reasonable because this takes into account the widespread apprehension of political parties that frivolous and old cases get revived against Opposition candidates and chargesheets are filed once elections are announced. It is a moot point whether a political consensus is possible on the issue of tainted members and ministers. But there is no alternative for the political parties than to see reason and accept the proposal.
During a visit to Bangkok, Dr Manmohan Singh said that a law was needed to keep tainted ministers at bay. Tainted ministers or members are a disgrace and a blot on the system. The onus of tackling the problem of criminalisation of politics is as much on the government as on all the political parties which give tickets to criminals to contest elections on grounds of their clout, caste equations and vote banks. The Chief Election Commissioner has now sought the Prime Minister's cooperation to see the reforms through. We hope Dr Manmohan Singh will attach urgency and required importance to the need for cleansing the electoral system.
The Siachen impasse
THE just concluded Defence Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan have once again brought the Siachen issue into the limelight. Many defence analysts have offered suggestions to find a solution to the crisis on the highest battlefield in the world but in vain. In the meantime, the casualty rate due to terrain, climatic, psychological and battle conditions has been rising, leaving an impact on the morale of the troops on both sides. Even policy-makers can misunderstand what is happening in Siachen. Unless the historical, diplomatic and military-strategic imperatives of Siachen are not grasped fully, there is little chance of an early end to the impasse that has continued since 1984, when India beat Pakistan to occupy the Saltoro range in the region.
However, now when there is a new government in India with an experienced National Security Adviser, who has proved his worth in Kabul and Colombo, it may give the lead in finding a mutually acceptable and enduring solution to the lingering issue. Both India and Pakistan need to resolve the Siachen issue for their own good and for an eventual solution to the Kashmir question.
Historically speaking, many even in the Army had not heard of Siachen and Saltoro until the military bosses along with political and intelligence advisers succeeded in convincing the then Prime Minister that the occupation of Siachen was a military imperative, and that an operation had to be launched to pre-empt Pakistan from implementing a similar scheme. Till then the essence of the ceasefire line, consequent to the Karachi Agreement of 1949, and the LoC upto grid NJ 9842, recognised by both sides after the 1971 war, were generally undisputed facts for all the parties.
The line running north from NJ 9842 was left undefined feature-wise and was not demarcated, possibly due to the inhospitable terrain and other unstated reasons. India's pre-emptive operation drew the expected response. Would a proper delineation and then demarcation to the extent possible after the 1971 war beyond NJ 9842 have saved both sides the Siachen standoff? This is the first question that needs to be answered. The second question the answer to which will surely come out one day is: how realiable was our intelligence in 1984 (do not forget the recent Kargil intelligence failure)? And how did we land up launching an operation which has been terribly costly in terms of human lives lost and monetary implications?
In 1962, the Indian Army was ordered to throw out the well-entrenched Chinese from the Thagla ridge, and we saw the consequences of a hasty decision. In Siachen, we have got embroiled in a long war of attrition, requiring very costly maintenance of troops and equipment and a fight against Nature, with little gain militarily or politically in troubled J&K, and diminishing chances of getting Pakistan to agree to accepting the LoC as an international border. Nothing is possible unless Siachen is out of the way and resolved for good. Going in for military operations without working out the full template of the consequences that follow may make you win a battle but not a war. The Sri Lankan intervention is a good example to prove it.
By occupying Siachen, India may have in some measure enhanced its posture vis-a-vis the Aksai Chin belt, but the point to examine is whether it has the right force levels along with suitable reserves appropriately placed, the logistic strength, and the technological and fiscal backing to fight a prolonged war when there are going to be no spectacular gains in these mountains. Or does India have the urge or is it necessity to fight a war in Siachen when it is engaged in a composite dialogue with Pakistan? The two just do not go together. Also, tactically the ground configuration at these heights just does not accept a large concentration of troops, and even maintaining a single fighter means a long logistic chain that completely kills the teeth-to-tail ratio.
Maintaining the tonnages at the isolated posts (I know what a formidable task this is for the Air Force having executed these missions in the North-East near India's border with China), the casualty evacuations and the acclamatisation and providing relief to infantry battalions are all day-to-day realities of the war at these heights. Arm-chair advisers should think twice before they decide to advocate a case to stay put on the glacier. Strategically, either the Siachen issue has to be resolved (but not by fighting), or frozen for good to give the peace talks a fair chance of success. Holding Siachen as a bargaining counter with Pakistan may be counter-productive in the long run. Diplomatically too, a running fight here in close proximity to the Chinese interests will only give diminishing returns now that we are also keen on closer relations with that country.
What then is the solution? Putting aside the Actual Ground Position Link (AGPL) along which Indian forces are now deployed, the same old questions arise. What will happen if Pakistan occupies India's positions if vacated? There is a way out if only we have the necessary political will and Pakistan too has the same. Both sides must work out a solution for the common good of the subcontinent. The military modalities of disengagement and redeployment by the two sides will work only if there is complete delineation and demarcation northwards from NJ 9842 (this exercise being acceptable to both), and everyone knows on the maps and the ground which area is to fall in whose territory.
With the troops being physically there now, this task should not be very difficult. Thereafter, as a second measure, troop reduction on both sides (just as we did in the Tawang sector in the North-East a few years back with China) should follow. If this holds good with no incidents taking place in the sector, then troop withdrawals and the necessary redeployment away from the present battle zone (which would, in fact, become a demilitarised sector) may follow. Only a solution where both countries perceive that they have not lost out or got a raw deal will work as a face-saver for home consumption. Reduced force levels augmented by battlefield surveilance radars and other EW sensory equipment, with meetings by senior local military commanders of both sides in the case of a dispute, as we carried out at Bumla in the North-East when one was still in service, could pay rich dividends.
India will never accept UN observers in J&K. So, India and Pakistan will have to mutually monitor their agreed upon areas of control and jurisdiction. The position of the military on both sides is well
known, and neither will give away an inch. The solution lies in the higher authorities (at the political
level) smoothening out the rough edges in policy perception and execution, as and when the occasion arises. Patience and a true desire to leave behind the fatal attraction of Siachen may facilitate India-Pakistan friendly relations, besides getting the two armies to disengage themselves permanently. This step-by-step graduated approach, if followed honestly by both sides, and troop reduction and redeployment taking place when it has become abundantly clear that the border has stabilised fully, provide a fair chance for the return of peace to the region.
The luxury of mourning
Finally it was all over, all the ceremonies and the rituals. The funeral service had been well organised and well attended. His assets had been listed and distributed amongst his next of kin and they had all left, first in ones and then in small groups and I was alone again. I looked at his framed picture with its garland of fast fading roses and marigolds and gave way at last to my grief. The tears and the sobs went on and on as if they would have no end and I knew that my grief was only partly for my departed friend. Mourning is never the focused and unadulterated activity that we make it out to be. Once the passion of grief has been unleashed it roves from one subject to the other to embrace a vast area of our other discontents and regrets.
I cried from guilt and remorse at not having been a more understanding and compassionate friend in these last few months when he had been solely dependent upon me. I mourned because I had not kept in touch with the other friends of my youth and did not know how to resurrect friendships that were now long dead.
I cried, because two days ago I had been so unreasonably and uncontrollably nasty to Jit Bahadur, my houseboy, poor Jit who had taken such good care of me, day after day, over the last 12 years.
I cried because I had become so long winded in my conversation that I often forgot what I had started out to say and because I now so often repeated the same stories to the same people.
I mourned the loss of my ability to enjoy reading which had for so long been the mainstay of my existence: I could now read only a few pages at a time and often forgot what I had read and had to start all over again. I mourned the inevitable decline, over the years, of the warm affection of my former pupils into the frigidness of formality.
I cried because last week, I had made advances to a, 50-year-old widow, who collected antique, brass pan-daans and she had been indifferent to my overtures.
Finally I cried at the indignity of my crying, the sheer stupidity of a single, 63-year old man crying in his bedroom on a Saturday evening when there were still so many wonderful things out there for him to do The passion of my grief was stilled and laughter came welling up within me at the ridiculousness of my situation. I wiped the tears away and turned to the phone to ask my friend Norman if he would like to go out for
Punjab civil servants in the dock
The World Bank in its Punjab-specific Development Report has identified seven challenges which threaten the state’s prosperity. The civil service is among them. Punjab has an over-staffed and over-paid civil service with one of the lowest levels of productivity.
The ratio of civil servants to a population of 100 is 2.2. Two decades ago the state had just one Inspector-General of Police. Today it has 16 of them, 13 Additional Directors-General of Police and a Director-General on top. The police apparatus remains top-heavy.
Beginning with long spells of President's Rule in the 1980s, the civil service has become not only ''less accountable but also more prone to corruption''. Records the World Bank report, ''The frequent transfer of civil servants spawns corruption and undermines service delivery''. The tenure of an officer from Principal Secretary downward is uncertain. This leads to a ''weaker capacity to frame policies''. Many Secretaries spend a great deal of their time on dealing with appointments or transfers rather than policy-making.
The World Bank has observed that of the five officers who had spent more than two years on their posts, four were holding the same posts because there was ''little competition'' for these assignments. These include jobs dealing with freedom fighters, programme implementation, relief and settlement and Commissioner, Enquires.
The average term of a Principal Secretary in the present political set-up, as on October 2003, was 13 months, compared to 16 months in their previous post. This does not include officers on deputation with the Centre. For the present Secretaries, the average tenure was 17 months compared to 15 months in their previous posts.
The average tenure of a Deputy Commissioner was 13 months compared to an average of 22 months and 14 months, respectively for the previous two Deputy Commissioners.
A major spurt in the growth of the civil service happened during the second spell of President's Rule (from 1987 to 1993). The state continues to bear the high cost of babudom. ''Special interest groups'' influence all decision-making.
The number of IAS officers rose from 165 to 206 between 1984 and 1998, while that of Superintendent of Police and above ranks went up from 112 to 237. In absolute numbers, the number of group ''A'' civil servants grew from 612 in 1967 to 5,192 in 1992 and 12,156 in 2002.
The civil servants’ number spiralled by 58 per cent, first in the 1960s and 70s and by 38 per cent from 1972 to 1977. Then the third spurt came during President's Rule, 1987-88 to 1992-93, when the group ''A'' expanded by 86 per cent from 1992-93 to 1997-98 and the group ''B'' shrank by 35 per cent as more group ''B'' officials were classified as group ''A'' . All this was done for political reasons.
Contingency employment also increased by 47 per cent between 1992 and 1997. Though, the over-all increase was by 7 per cent. Punjab, the report reveals, is not only over-staffed at all levels, compared to the best of the other states, but ''absenteeism'' was also a problem.
Sample this: a survey of government primary schools across the country showed that the absence of teachers was the highest in Punjab. On an average, on any day 36 per cent of the primary school teachers are absent from duty. Countrywide, the absenteeism percentage is 25. Even when teachers were present, only half of them were actually teaching—49.8 per cent against the country's average of 59.5.
The health sector did not lag behind the government primary school teachers in this run for ''absenteeism champions trophy''! Nearly 39 per cent of the doctors and 44 per cent of the para-medical staff remained absent from their work place. Not all absenteeism was explained by shirking. It was observed that of the 39 per cent absent doctors, 11 per cent were skipping duty ''without reason'', 12 per cent were on ''authorised leave'' and the remaining 16 per cent were away on ''official duty''. The corresponding break-down of para-medical staff was 9,14, 20 per cent.
On ''corruption'', the report says that President's Rule in the 1980s had ''weakened accountability mechanism'' and provided ''opportunities for corruption and graft''. The potential areas where corruption opportunities clearly exist include ''recruitment and transfers, tendering and procurement and service delivery''. In fact, Punjab had prepared a draft Bill on Transparency in Tendering and Procurement but was not placed before the Assembly.
Interestingly, on the anti-corruption front, while the state has activated the Vigilance Bureau, the office of Lok Pal has remained dormant!
Most of the top-level bureaucrats, the report observes, were loaded with routine administrative work, particularly dealing with transfers. This was more true of those heading ''staff-intensive'' departments like police, health and education. Besides transfers, court cases involving employees, serving and retired, consumed their time.
Here is a case-study: the World Bank analysed 115 requests filed with senior bureaucrats by a small sample of MLAs. While 55 of these requests were related to ''public interest'', the remaining 60 were of ''personal nature"—transfer or appointment or seeking benefits for individuals The nature of these 60 ranged from withdrawal of an FIR, request for land allotment, posting of a favourite at a particular slot to the transfer of an inconvenient employee.
Defiance to comply with these requests was construed as insubordination and ended in the transfer of the bureaucrat concerned. Thus, an inordinate amount of senior officers' time was spent on ''trivial matters'', hurting the capacity of the government to frame policies or think strategically.
Therefore, to make civil services more effective, accountable and governance transparent and efficient, World Bank has suggested use of modern technology and systematic application of information technology on a large scale besides making use of the scope to rationalise the government structure and put in place systems management and control for administrative net-working.
The state has 43 administrative departments that need co-ordinated and synchronised functioning. Now its council of ministers stands pruned to 15 per cent besides dozen-odd parliamentary secretaries. Will the system improve?
Indian American film director-writer-producer Manoj Night Shyamalan says he loves to keep the audiences in uncomfortable suspense. Shyamalan, the director of blockbusters like “The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable” and “Signs”, has churned out a new film - Touchstone Pictures’ “The Village”. With the new movie, Shyamalan explores how fear can affect a community. The film shows how the elders of a town have made a choice to live in an isolated village. Cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, their fear of the creatures and evils that may exist beyond their borders motivates them to stay inside their village with their loved ones. “Fear doesn’t necessarily need to be something we are afraid of. Sometimes it just lets our imaginations run wild. I hope, through ‘The Village’, audiences are able to explore a world of fear and how, even in the midst of chaos, you can find a way to cope,” Shyamalan said in a press note. “In our contemporary world I often ask myself how far would I go to protect my children? Would I move to a farm in the middle of nowhere and live like the people of ‘The Village?’ “We like to believe we would, but how many of us have? What sacrifices are we truly making to better our situation?”
Shyamalan, the director of blockbusters like “The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable” and “Signs”, has churned out a new film - Touchstone Pictures’ “The Village”. With the new movie, Shyamalan explores how fear can affect a community.
The film shows how the elders of a town have made a choice to live in an isolated village. Cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, their fear of the creatures and evils that may exist beyond their borders motivates them to stay inside their village with their loved ones.
“Fear doesn’t necessarily need to be something we are afraid of. Sometimes it just lets our imaginations run wild. I hope, through ‘The Village’, audiences are able to explore a world of fear and how, even in the midst of chaos, you can find a way to cope,” Shyamalan said in a press note.
“In our contemporary world I often ask myself how far would I go to protect my children? Would I move to a farm in the middle of nowhere and live like the people of ‘The Village?’ “We like to believe we would, but how many of us have? What sacrifices are we truly making to better our situation?”
Court drama is a staple of Bollywood films but Amisha Patel is having to enact such a role in real life as well. The actress, who has sued her father charging him with “mismanaging” her accounts and assets amounting to Rs.120 million and demanding the money back, said it was a longstanding problem and she had to go to court. Amisha’s parents have reportedly dragged in director Vikram Bhatt’s name in the sordid episode. But what is Vikram’s role in the family fracas? The director, who admits that “Amisha is more than a friend”, says he is supporting her fight to recover her dues.
Amisha’s parents have reportedly dragged in director Vikram Bhatt’s name in the sordid episode. But what is Vikram’s role in the family fracas? The director, who admits that “Amisha is more than a friend”, says he is supporting her fight to recover her dues.
Hangman in demand
Death sentences are becoming rare. Even rarer are hangmen today. Eightyfour-year-old Nata Mallick is one of the very few people left in the country who are willing to discharge the onerous responsibility. As the West Bengal government prepares to hang rapist-murderer Dhananjoy Chatterjee, Mallick, a veteran of 24 executions, is throwing tantrums. “I’ll not carry out the execution, whatever the government might say,” said Nata Mallick, the 84-year-old hangman, sulking at the authorities’ – what he calls – “breach of trust”. The “trust” that Mallick refers to is a job for his 21-year-old grandson that the government had promised in appreciation of his 64 years of service to the state. Mallick, considered the official hangman but never on the payrolls of the state, had said he would not hang Chatterjee until his grandson was given a job after which the government had made an employment offer. “But it was only a contractual job. Why should my grandson take it?” Mallick shot off angrily. The government would be paying Mallick Rs.20,000 for hanging Chatterjee. “There aren’t too many hangings. I used to get Rs.16 as monthly allowance, but that was stopped in 1971”.
As the West Bengal government prepares to hang rapist-murderer Dhananjoy Chatterjee, Mallick, a veteran of 24 executions, is throwing tantrums.
“I’ll not carry out the execution, whatever the government might say,” said Nata Mallick, the 84-year-old hangman, sulking at the authorities’ – what he calls – “breach of trust”.
The “trust” that Mallick refers to is a job for his 21-year-old grandson that the government had promised in appreciation of his 64 years of service to the state.
Mallick, considered the official hangman but never on the payrolls of the state, had said he would not hang Chatterjee until his grandson was given a job after which the government had made an employment offer. “But it was only a contractual job. Why should my grandson take it?” Mallick shot off angrily.
The government would be paying Mallick Rs.20,000 for hanging Chatterjee. “There aren’t too many hangings. I used to get Rs.16 as monthly allowance, but that was stopped in 1971”.
Without the Guru, there can be no bhakti, no love, and no access to the company of saints. Without the Guru, one blindly engages in futile endeavour. But with the Guru, one’s mind is purified; for, its filth is purged by means of the Word. — Guru Nanak He who possesses the mirror of truth is free from fear; he will find comfort in the tribulations of life, and his life will be a blessing to all his fellow-creatures. — The Buddha That country is fortunate in which Brahmacharya and Vedic learning are properly propagated. — Swami Dayanand Saraswati The fire made by burning bamboo is soon extinguished unless kept alive by constant blowing. Uninterrupted devotion is necessary to keep alive the fire of spirituality. — Sri Ramakrishna To choose time is to save time. — Bacon
— Guru Nanak
He who possesses the mirror of truth is free from fear; he will find comfort in the tribulations of life, and his life will be a blessing to all his fellow-creatures.
— The Buddha
That country is fortunate in which Brahmacharya and Vedic learning are properly propagated.
— Swami Dayanand Saraswati
The fire made by burning bamboo is soon extinguished unless kept alive by constant blowing. Uninterrupted devotion is necessary to keep alive the fire of spirituality.
— Sri Ramakrishna
To choose time is to save time.