Perspective | Oped


Culture of encounters
Time to fix accountability on the police
by Pushkar Raj and Shobha Sharma
HE recent judgement of a Delhi court holding guilty 10 policemen for the killing of two businessmen in an encounter killing has brought to the fore the issue of the growing culture of police encounters in our society.

Befitting honour for dedicated eye surgeon
by Harihar Swarup
NE has heard of many awards given in the corporate sector like Global Indian, Business Leader, Entrepreneur of the Year, Business women and so on but rarely one has heard of Corporate Citizen accolade. It was an innovation of the Economic Times gala event (ET Awards function) in Mumbai in which everyone who mattered in the corporate world was present.


Bihar’s Bahubali
November 3, 2007
Gowda’s games
November 2, 2007
Justice at last
November 1, 2007
Party at the bourses
October 31, 2007
Herd of MLAs
October 30, 2007
Endgame in Karnataka
October 29, 2007
Globalisation: Theme tune of our times
October 28, 2007
Blow for empowerment
October 27, 2007
Deranged system
October 26, 2007
Coalition dharma
October 25, 2007
Left-UPA hiatus
October 24, 2007

Wit of the week


The power of contempt
It is neither arbitrary nor absolute
by Virendra Kumar
HE freedom of press, including that of the editors, reporters, cartoonists, is directly derivable from the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution.

Concrete steps needed to boost economy
by M.M. Goel
HE mid-term review of monetary policy announced by Reserve Bank of India Governor Dr Y. V. Reddy proved to be an annual ritual without any concrete steps for boosting the economy.

On Record
Improving access to higher education our priority: Thorat

by Charu Singh
HE nation is moving forward in many respects but education is still lagging behind. University Grants Commission Chairman Sukhdeo Singh Thorat says that the UGC is in the midst of a major expansion drive to streamline the education system.




Culture of encounters
Time to fix accountability on the police
by Pushkar Raj and Shobha Sharma

THE recent judgement of a Delhi court holding guilty 10 policemen for the killing of two businessmen in an encounter killing has brought to the fore the issue of the growing culture of police encounters in our society.

It is a matter of concern that the general people treat encounters as a routine and necessary part of police work. A lack of effective internal mechanisms to probe police decision-making leading to encounters and the virtual absence of credible independent complaint mechanisms to investigate encounters, particularly where an allegation of their being fake are levelled, has made the situation more alarming.

The encounter killing case of businessmen Pradeep Goyal and Jagjit Singh caused public outcry as it happened in the heart of the National Capital. Public pressure led to the resignation of the Police Commissioner and the investigation was handed over to the CBI.

The families of the victims were resourceful and tenacious. In fact, they showed extraordinary grit and determination against all odds to see the case reach a logical conclusion though it took 10 long years. However, in a majority of encounter killing cases, it is the police version that is fed to the media and the public. In the Connaught Place encounter killing too, police initially maintained that they were fired upon. They tried to prove it by planting an old pistol next to the dead men and tampering with the forensic report. However, their lies were nailed.

Recent times have seen a rise in encounter killings in the country. According to the National Human Rights Commission, all over the country (barring Jammu and Kashmir), 83 people died in encounters with police in 2002-03 while in 2003-04 there were 100 deaths. The number reached 122 by 2004-5. Uttar Pradesh maintained an upward trend with 41, 48 and 66 deaths respectively in three years followed by Andhra Pradesh that had 41 deaths during this period. Even a peaceful state like Uttrakhand reported 12 encounter deaths in these three years.

There are several reasons why this “encounter culture” flourishes in the country. Foremost, the tradition of rewarding such killings by police through medals, promotions and monetary benefits encourages men in uniform to be trigger-happy.

It is a now in the public domain how the police in Punjab harvested riches by killing innocents in the name of militants. A series of investigations are still underway, unearthing the gory history of police brutalities and killings during the insurgency period that deeply affected not only the discipline of the state police force but also society at large. The fall-out of the police high-handedness during the militancy period continues to persist. Not surprisingly, Punjab continues to report large-scale custodial violence even today.

Secondly, there is a lack of impartial and credible internal mechanism of investigation in alleged cases of fake encounters. Without proper inquiry, there is little hope of prosecuting and convicting the perpetrators of crime. The National Human Rights Commission, as an oversight institutional mechanism to bring the guilty to book, has over the years proved to be ineffective due to an inadequacy of investigative staff and the statutory limitation of having only recommendatory powers. Consequently, men in khaki operate with neither departmental disciplinary pressures nor external oversight.

The situation is exacerbated due to the use of Sections 132 and 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code that requires prior sanction of the Central or state government to prosecute public servants. The government sanction is neither easily nor promptly given, thereby entrenching a culture of impunity among officers who allegedly commit murder in the name of encounters. Even if the sanction of government comes forth, the next stumbling block to punishing the offender comes in the form of a long drawn out judicial battle that might last for years. And by the time a judgement comes, the alleged perpetrators of the crime have either gained multiple promotions or retired from service.

Transforming the “encounter culture” to a culture of accountability is a Herculean effort requiring a multi-pronged approach. Though a gigantic effort, we can no longer shy away from it if we care to preserve our democratic ideals. As long as the thinking continues that encounter killings are a legitimate and justifiable form of police work — thinking held by police, politicians, and members of the public — the impediments to change are enormous.

There is an imperative need for rigorous internal inquiry mechanisms. Urgent reform is needed to police laws and manuals that includes categories of offences by the police with penalties for offences graded according to the level of their gravity and specifying the authorities competent to take action based on the rank of the errant officer. Offences that are departmental related matters such as cowardice, neglect of orders or disobedience should be distinguished from major offences that constitute violation of citizens’ rights and deserve harsher punishment. All serious complaints against the police such as encounter killings should be referred to an independent body competent and mandated to conduct a time-bound inquiry and with binding powers.

The Supreme Court, in its historic judgement on police reforms in September 2006, directed governments to set up independent police complaint authorities consisting of members selected through a transparent process and with binding powers to look into serious complaints against the police. This directive, if implemented with sincerity and earnestness, can curb the growing tide of the “encounter culture”.

In its eighth report, the National Police Commission has recommended “protection available to police officers should be withdrawn under Section 132 and 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which provide protection to various categories of public servants from prosecution for acts they commit in the course of performing their duties. Any new police laws that are enacted must not include any clause requiring “prior sanction” for prosecuting police officers, as this has formed a major impediment to swift disciplinary action.

The disgraceful practice of rewarding encounter killings through bravery medals and fast-track promotions must cease. No such police action must be applauded until credible internal and independent inquiries into any encounter killings establish the use of force as legal and justified.

And finally, the prime responsibility of the political leadership in a democracy is to ensure the highest standards of respect for life and dignity as enshrined in the Constitution. The political leadership gives a direction to civic life with its commitment to certain basic values. By condemning this trigger-happy trend in the police force, it must send clear signals that encounters are illegal and totally unacceptable. Only this will serve the cause of preserving a rule-based society that retains the essential values of civilised living.

The writers are associated with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi 



Befitting honour for dedicated eye surgeon
by Harihar Swarup

ONE has heard of many awards given in the corporate sector like Global Indian, Business Leader, Entrepreneur of the Year, Business women and so on but rarely one has heard of Corporate Citizen accolade. It was an innovation of the Economic Times gala event (ET Awards function) in Mumbai in which everyone who mattered in the corporate world was present.

Though last in the list of awardees, the recipient of the Corporate Citizen Award was one whose motive is not profit, but to restore vision of the poor at no cost. He is Dr S.S. Badrinath, founder of Chennai’s Sankara Nethralaya.

Having acquired vast experience in the US, Dr Badrinath had returned to India with his wife Dr Vasanthi Iyengar, a paediatrician, in early seventies with the intention of returning back. According to Dr Vasanthi, “we found difficult to settle down in Chennai and preparing to leave for the US with our visas ready”, but “a chance meeting with M.S. Subbalakshmi changed the course of our life”.

MS walked up to Dr Badrinath at a function and pleaded with him that he should give up plan of returning to US and practice in India. Already under the spell of the legendary singer, the doctor couple decided to stay back. Dr Badrinath, who had made a mark internationally in the field of ophthalmology, began working as Hon. Consultant at the Voluntary Health Medical Centre, Madras.

The Kanchi Paramacharya had always inspired Dr Badrinath, but when he successfully operated the seer, he was blessed to undertake a mission. The Paramacharya counselled him to raise a hospital with a missionary spirit and thus was born the Sankara Nethralaya in 1978. For a man of Dr Badrinath’s credentials, loans would not have been a problem but he decided to built the hospital through donations. The first donation came from Sankaracharya of Sringeri and soon after support from corporate houses and other quarters followed.

Initially, the eye hospital had a team of just 10 including three consultants but they were a dedicated squad, fired by the spirit of charity and equal treatment to all patients. It continues to be so now as nearly 49 per cent of out patients and 38 per cent of the in-patients are given free treatment. They are all poor people who cannot afford high quality treatment. The hospital now employs 1,200 people, 1,500 patients walk in daily and doctors perform over 125 surgeries every day.

Dr Badrinath was appalled to find that one-third of the world’s blind people are Indians. Also, the country has largest number of diabetics, which makes eye care even more difficult. In some cases the solution could just be a pair of spectacles. Years of research and training has enabled the Sankara Nethralaya to perfect two projects which take eye care to the door steps of the poor. A mobile dispensary with qualified doctors goes to villages, who examine patients and transmit the data through dish antenna to the specialists at SN.

The patients, if they so desire, could also speak to the specialists and seek their advice. Patients needing glasses get the spectacles made in the mobile vans within 30 to 45 minutes at a nominal cost. The projects, run in collaboration of M.S. Swaminathan Foundation, thereby, save hundreds of miles of travels by villagers, says Dr Badrinath.

Dr Badrinath says one-third of research at SN has been “India-centric” and so is teaching and training. “It is a different kind of work which a very few institutions do”. Team work and public support are reasons for success of Sankara Nethralaya which is now a self-sustaining institution.

In the words of the late jurist Nani Palkhivala, “SN is the best-managed charitable organisation in India”. He reportedly bequeathed his property to the institution.



Wit of the week

Prakash KaratAs the Prime Minister is heading a coalition government without the backing of a parliamentary majority for the nuclear deal, his not going ahead despite his firm conviction that it is a good deal will not detract from his stature. This situation (of leaders not having their way) is well understood in coalitional politics around the world.

— CPM Gen. Secy Prakash Karat

Henry KissingerSoon the US will get into election mode. There will be new people in the Congress who will have no commitment to push the deal through. The more obstacles appear on the Indian side, the more opponents to the deal will be strengthened in the US internal debate.

— Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

I often use the phrase “headless chickens” when my wife keeps running around while preparing to receive guests at home.

— Indian Ambassador to US Ronen Sen’s submission before the Privileges Committee, Lok Sabha

The BJP is justified in joining hands with the Janata Dal (Secular) again in Karnataka. There are no permanent friends and enemies in politics. Has the Congress not joined hands with the DMK which it had accused of playing a role in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi?

— BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, in Bangalore

The allegation that I came to Bangalore from Mumbai to indulge in party politics is malicious and utterly false. It is ridiculous of persons whose own credentials are suspect to give me lessons in ethics.

— Maharashtra Governor S.M. Krishna’s response to Mr H.D. Deve Gowda’s charge that he was meddling in Karnataka politics

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is a gasbag – all glitz and glitter. Cut through the hype, and you will see the true intent of his schemes.

— Suresh Mehta, former Gujarat CM

Tina AmbaniOld age is not about retiring. It is about living life with grace and dignity. There is a need to create sensitivity and awareness among the youth who need the expertise and the experience of the older generation.

— Tina Ambani

Kishori AmonkarI have evolved out of my lineage of Jaipur Attrauli (the gharana of my mother, the late Padmavibhushan Mogubai Kurdikar), and accepted the emotional freedom offered by the Jaipur gharana. I give more emphasis to explain the spiritual beauty of the ragas and bhavas than the mere accuracy of presentation.

— Kishori Amonkar



The power of contempt
It is neither arbitrary nor absolute
by Virendra Kumar

THE freedom of press, including that of the editors, reporters, cartoonists, is directly derivable from the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution.

However, this freedom, like the exercise of any other constitutional fundamental right is not absolute. It is subject to the law passed by Parliament in the form of Contempt of Courts Act 1971. This juxtaposition invariably raises the issue about the nature and ambit of this overriding power of the court to commit people for its contempt.

In matters of contempt, a court becomes a judge in its own cause. It can summarily sentence a person to six months imprisonment, or fine, or with both. Having realised the pernicious effect of the contempt power on the freedom of press, the Supreme Court has repeatedly cautioned the High Courts “that the power to punish for contempt is not intended to be invoked or exercised routinely or mechanically but with circumspection and restraint” (Justice R.V. Raveendran for himself and Justice Lokeshwar Singh Panta on May 31, 2007 in a criminal appeal in the case of Rajesh Kumar Singh, while reversing the decision of the Madhya Pradesh High Court).

The apex court has noted with a certain degree of dismay and disapproval that the contempt power is often invoked by some Judges showing over-sensitiveness for punishing persons for unintended acts or technical violations; frequent summoning of Government officers to court (to sermonize or to take them to task for perceived violations); and making avoidable adverse comments and observations against persons who are not parties. The exercise of power in this manner results “in eroding the confidence of the public, rather then creating trust and faith in the judiciary.” In sum, the very objective of the contempt power is lost by its indiscriminate use, which is to be invoked only as an exception.

A close reading of the judicial decisions reveals that the apex court has developed certain juridical principles through the interpretation of contempt law. These principles unmistakably show that the power of contempt of courts is neither arbitrary nor absolute. In fact, there is a clear resonance of objectivity in these principles, which distinctly direct to promote both the freedom of press and independence of judiciary.

To wit, the well-settled principles laid down by the Supreme Court clearly commend that the courts should not readily infer an intention to scandalise courts or lowering the authority of courts, unless such intention is clearly established beyond reasonable doubt. And the onus to establish such an intention lies on the court itself initiating the contempt proceedings. In this respect, it is imperative to bear in mind the following four axiomatic statements.

One, the issue of contempt should not be confused with the concept of libel. Libel is a personal wrong to the judge for which the remedy lies with the affected judge to bring a personal suit; whereas contempt is public wrong, which is calculated to interfere with the administration of justice.

Two, the contempt power is to be exercised on some explainable basis that has the merit of converting the inherent element of subjectivity into objectivity.

Three, a fair criticism of judicial proceedings outside the pleadings of the court is a democratic feature so as to enable the court to look inward into the correctness of the proceedings and the legality of the orders of the court by the court itself.

And finally, the principles of good faith and public good should enable the court to negate the element of ill-will or malice.

Bearing in mind the intrinsic values of such statements, the Supreme Court through Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Justice Tarun Chatterjee in Rajendra Sail case (2005) stated: “When the court exercises this power, it does not do so to vindicate the dignity and honour of the individual Judge who is personally attacked or scandalised, but to uphold the majesty of the law and of the administration of justice.”

Accordingly, the court accepted the apologies of the editor, publisher and printer, and the trainee reporter of a newspaper for publishing the disparaging remarks, and drastically modified the sentence of imprisonment from six months to one week in the case of a union leader, who made those remarks against the judges of the High Court.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Judges, like everyone else, as the apex court has repeatedly reminded, “will have to earn respect.” “They cannot demand respect by demonstration of powers.”

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Re. Dr. D.C. Saxena case (1996) has given vent to this idea by observing: “The best way to sustain the dignity and respect for the office of judge is to deserve respect from the public at large by fearlessness and objectivity of the approach to the issues arising for decision, quality of judgment, restraint, dignity and decorum a judge observes in judicial conduct off and on the bench and rectitude.”

The message that emerges is that the Judges should not be over-sensitive to public criticism, and that punishment under the contempt law should be invoked only as a last resort when there is danger of grave mischief being done in the matter of administration of justice.

Seemingly, unwarranted criticism of the conduct of judges in the discharge of their judicial functions tends to counteract the contribution of courts. Still, on balance, such a conflict is sought to be resolved by emphasising that so long as the criticism is constructive, that is directed to protect and promote the public interest, the same criticism, however vigorous it may be, should not be construed as contempt of court.

Moreover, the truth, to remain a valid defence, only needs to be told or expressed by conforming to the norms of a civil society, which are summed up in our own mantra of Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram. That is, so long our criticism remains truly objective, directed to secure public good, and marked by the rules of decency, we need not tread with the fear of contempt.

The writer is former Professor and Chairman, Department of Laws, and UGC Emeritus Fellow, Panjab University, Chandigarh 



Concrete steps needed to boost economy
by M.M. Goel

THE mid-term review of monetary policy announced by Reserve Bank of India Governor Dr Y. V. Reddy proved to be an annual ritual without any concrete steps for boosting the economy.

The provisions therein are not sufficient for balancing the need for making credit available for the productive sectors with price stability in the long run for the Indian economy. A basic test of a bad or good economic policy is to check if it clearly spells out how its different components are expected to achieve the goals and targets of growth and stability.

To regulate liquidity in the market, the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) deserves to be reduced to the targeted rate of 3 per cent instead of increase level of 7.5 per cent just to please American dollar and anti-rupee. This will compel the Indian banking system to pay the price in the form of interest income forgone and will slow down the pace of appreciation in Indian rupee. The gap between repo rate (7.75 per cent) and reverse repo rate (6 per cent) should have been reduced for harmonisation and healthy economic relationship of RBI with commercial banks.

The RBI has to lift curbs on foreign investment and channel funds for infrastructural development in terms of building roads, ports, airports and electricity which is the need of the hour in Indian economy. The internationalisation of Indianisation through permission for Indian companies to invest in foreign companies up to 300 per cent of their net worth with hedging for individuals and outward remittances up to US $ 1 lakh is good for Indians to prove their potential and bring laurels to India.

This is the best possible utilisation of foreign exchange reserves peaking US $ 261.1 billion as on Oct 19, 2007 as claimed by RBI. To develop the corporate bond market, futures contract and establishment of credit information system is well received and will go a long way in building trust.

The delay in shifting to Full convertibility on Capital Account time and again shows the RBI’s fears which are ill-founded in the present era of Liberalised Exchange Rate Management System and may cost very heavy in the long run at the hands of international financial institutions, particularly the World Bank. The Centre’s plan to amend the RBI laws and streamline the entire working and monetary climate of the country is welcome.

To ward off any distortions in the fundamentals of Indian economy, there is a strong case for regular monitoring of macro economic indicators by the RBI in consultation with academics and researchers. The RBI’s outlook on inflation lowering the targeted rate to 5 per cent remains to be lip-service with zero tolerance level. This proves that we needed some hard measures to bring stability in prices and sustained development of the economy.

We need to understand the history of consumption as a powerful tool for knowing the dynamics of social groups from different income strata for inflation targeting and to interpret the non-economic factors in inflation. It is essential for bringing objectivity in measuring and controlling inflation with a concrete plan of action replacing cosmetic measures. The recent review of monetary policy is an example of lip-service without focus on the road map. In the absence of a concrete economic policy, it will have short term implications on the economy.

To improve the quality of lending for housing, the decision to reduce risk weight to 50 per cent from 75 per cent has not been well received. For, it will be risky and may increase the non-performing assets — a serious concern for all stakeholders in the banking industry. For faster industrial growth, we have to think of zero interest rates on the pattern of Bank of Japan. Of course, we should create Japan’s work culture.

The interest policy for both the creditors and depositors is a very potent instrument of economic management. Cheap and abundant money is a must for creating demand for capital goods as well as consumer durables but not at the cost of the small depositors who deserve the sympathy of the RBI Governor time and again.

The banking industry must create confidence among the people. It is deteriorating day by day due to the ad hocism and uncertainties in business environment at national and international levels.

The writer is Professor and Chairman, Department of Economics, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra



On Record
Improving access to higher education
our priority: Thorat
by Charu Singh

THE nation is moving forward in many respects but education is still lagging behind. University Grants Commission Chairman Sukhdeo Singh Thorat says that the UGC is in the midst of a major expansion drive to streamline the education system.

In an interview to The Sunday Tribune, he gives an overview of the new policies and strategies being adopted in the education sector and how they are expected to impact the nation over the next 10 years.


Q: How can the UGC give an impetus to education?

A: Our main objective is to increase the enrolment ratio from 10-12 per cent and provide quality and equal access as well as undertake academic reforms in universities and colleges. We should have more universities. This entire issue will be examined through a proper study. A period of 10 years will be set to attain the goal of 15-20 per cent enrolment ratio.

The Prime Minister recently sanctioned 16 central universities and 14 regional ones. More work will be done on this front once the study on this issue is completed. This is a high priority area for us and access to higher education in India is presently at the level of 10 per cent which compares poorly with the world
average of 23-40 per cent in developed and many developing countries. Also, given the international experience that an enrolment of 20-25 per cent is an absolute necessity for sustainable economic development, top priority will be given to enhance the enrolment rate.

Q: Expansion drive is okay, but what about improving the quality of education?

A: NAAC assessments show that 68 per cent of colleges are rated as B while another 23 per cent as C grade and only the remaining 9 per cent are A grade. Universities are somewhat better for only 46 per cent universities are rated as B grade while another 23 per cent are C grade and the remaining 31 per cent are A grade.

There are 8000-odd colleges and 16 universities not covered by the UGC. We have developed plans to help increase their facility and resources through the combined support of the Centre and state grant. The aim is to bring B grade institutions under the UGC and also reducing the quality gap by helping B and C grade institutions.

Then, we will set up new colleges and institutions with quality infrastructure and faculty. We will bring B and C grade institutions in smaller towns, in the states and neglected institutions on par with A grade universities and colleges.

Q: What about equity and inclusiveness?

A: We plan to support institutions and colleges located in districts where the enrolment ratio is less. Also to institutions where the proportion of SC, ST, OBC, Muslims, girls and physically challenged students is high. For instance, districts with lower enrolment rate also happen to be from the rural, hilly, remote, tribal, border areas or small towns, mofussil areas. We have proposed additional support to these institutions.

Q: What about reformatory schemes?

A: We have proposed schemes of providing fellowships, better hostels, scholarships and subsidies to those who cannot afford higher education. Then capacity building programmes like remedial and bridge courses for the less endowed and underprivileged groups were also considered necessary to help these groups perform better. There are also plans to introduce both credit system and semester system, strengthen internal evaluation mechanisms, introduce assessment of teachers, transfer of credit mechanisms and increase student mobility.

We will introduce application-oriented teaching, credit based choices and inter-disciplinary choices. Further, performance-based incentives should be made available to teachers in higher education so that faculty members are made partners in achieving objectives of higher education.

Q: What about reforms in financing?

A: There are many recommendations for improving this area. These include increased public spending on higher education and creating an enabling environment for private investment in higher education. Closely connected is the issue of reviewing fee structures in public institutions to develop an appropriate policy.


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