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PERSPECTIVE

A Tribune Special
Caught in the crossfire
India is duty-bound to save Sri Lankan Tamils,
says M.G. Devasahayam
A
IDMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa has set the cat amongst the pigeons when she declared the other day: “If a government that listens to me is formed at the Centre, I will take action for the dispatch of the Indian Army to the island nation and create a separate Tamil Eelam.” This demand had been raised earlier by her alliance partners, Dr Ramadass of the PMK and Vaiko of the MDMK.

Raju, a cut above the rest even in jail
by Madhurima
A
FTER committing a fraud worth approximately Rs 7000 crore and shattering the dreams of thousands of families, B. Ramalinga Raju, former chairperson of Satyam Computers, had initially stated that he did not want VIP treatment in the prison and desired to be treated as an ordinary prisoner. At that time, prison officials were also firm that no special treatment will be given.



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OPED

Managing disasters
Focus on capacity building and training
by H. Shivananda
India’s vulnerability to disasters of various kinds has increased considerably over the years. The last phase of the preceding century suffered larger calamities such as wars and epidemics. Nonetheless, the beginning of this century has undergone various natural catastrophes. These include the Bhuj earthquake (January 26, 2001), the Andhra heat wave (2002), the tsunami (December 26, 2004), the Maharashtra floods (2005) and the Kosi river floods (2008).

Profile
The most-wanted politician today
by Harihar Swarup
W
HO is the most sought after leader in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha elections? The obvious answer is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has already praised him and invited him to join the UPA. The BJP and, for that matter, the NDA heavily depends on him. CPM secretary-general Prakash Karat will be too happy to make him an ally in the still-born Third Front — a non-Congress, non-BJP dispensation.

On Record
Maternal mortality rate alarming: Allen
by Akhila Singh
A
S the world celebrates Mothers’ Day today, in India, 78,000 women die each year due to problems arising from childbirth and pregnancy. The Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) at 300 is quite high. More than two-thirds of all maternal deaths occur in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Assam.





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A Tribune Special
Caught in the crossfire
India is duty-bound to save Sri Lankan Tamils,
says M.G. Devasahayam

AIDMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa has set the cat amongst the pigeons when she declared the other day: “If a government that listens to me is formed at the Centre, I will take action for the dispatch of the Indian Army to the island nation and create a separate Tamil Eelam.”

This demand had been raised earlier by her alliance partners, Dr Ramadass of the PMK and Vaiko of the MDMK.

Prof K. Anbazhagan, the DMK’s intellectual face, responded: “Tamils are being destroyed in Sri Lanka. The place is full of widows who have lost their husbands, widowers who have lost their wives, and people who have lost their arms and legs. This has been going on for a long time. Sinhalas are making Tamils into heaps of corpse. But theirs and ours are different countries. The laws of that land are different. We cannot intervene”.

He was only echoing what the United Progressive Alliance Government, the Congress party and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi have been repeating ad nauseam. This is the concept that carries the benign nomenclature of “sovereignty” wherein the international system is structured to entitle states to impunity within their borders.

Sovereignty enables states to determine for themselves whether human rights are indeed universal, or whether international standards and conventions can be omitted from their jurisprudence and conduct.

What does this mean in the context of Sri Lanka? That the Tamils there are urchins and orphans to be deserted on the streets and cast to the vultures and wolves to destroy and decimate as they wish? Can a civilised society tolerate this?

On similar lines, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had posed a challenge to the Millennium General Assembly in April 2000, asking “If humanitarian intervention is indeed an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica — to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?”

This challenge was the catalyst for the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which was launched in September 2000, and published a report in December 2001 introducing and championing the principle of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P). The Commission was hosted by Canada and headed by Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister.

Heads of state and government from 150 countries, meeting at the UN General Assembly, unanimously accepted not only that sovereign states have a very explicit responsibility to protect their own people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, but when they manifestly fail in that responsibility — as a result of either incapacity or ill-will — the responsibility falls upon the wider international community to take whatever action is appropriate, including in the last resort, and if the Security Council agrees, military action.

This was contained in Articles 138 and 139 of the UN World Summit Outcome Document 2005. This commitment has been reaffirmed in UN Security Council Resolution 1674.

According to Gareth Evans, R2P is intended to apply to mass atrocity crimes, which refer to “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.” State sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself. Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international R2P.

There is a ‘Just Cause Threshold’ for military intervention under R2P — large-scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation; or large-scale ‘ethnic cleansing’, actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape.

Under Article 24 of the UN Charter, the Security Council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security. It has the power to impose sanctions, establish peacekeeping missions, and authorise military action.

As a signatory to the UN Charter, 1948 Genocide Convention, and the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949, India is bound to invoke the UN Security Council to halt the crimes against humanity and gross violation of human rights and civil liberties taking place in Sri Lanka. When the Security Council fails or is prevented from performing this critical role concerned countries acquire the right under R2P

The Sri Lankan situation is the ideal one to invoke the R2P. It has been horrendous and conscience-shocking crying out for action. The world Tamil Diaspora is wailing in distress and agony but the UN Security Council is merely indulging in meaningless semantics and bureaucratic procedures. China is reportedly blocking all efforts to even bring this issue on the discussion agenda of the UN Security Council.

It is clear that in Sri Lanka, the UN Security Council has failed to discharge its responsibility of protecting innocent civilians in “conscience-shocking situations that has been crying out for action”. It is imperative, therefore, that India as the concerned state has to consider “other means” including military action to meet the gravity and urgency of the situation.

As parens patriae (parent of his country) for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, being the original homeland for the Tamils, India has an added responsibility. In this capacity, India has the moral right, the legal obligation, and the standing under international law to intervene directly and bring the genocide to an end, according to Professor Francis Boyle, an international law expert.

In the event, Ms Jayalalithaa and her alliance partners are on a strong wicket as far as India’s direct intervention to halt the “racist genocide” and evolving a just and fair political solution to bring this long-festering conflict to an end.

As to the “creation of a separate Tamil Eelam”, the Sinhalese seem to be facilitating it more than the Tamils. How else does one interpret the Western Province election results wherein the Sinhala people have given full mandate to Mahinda Rajapaksa to go ahead in the war against ‘Tamil terrorism’? The same can be seen in any forthcoming elections under the Sri Lankan state system.

With a ‘military victory’ of Sinhalese over Tamils achieved by an Army General who has openly declared that “Sri Lanka belong to the Sinhalese” and near-total political polarisation of Sinhalese vs Tamils engineered by a President who wants to “rule for ever” with that linguistic majority in tow, ‘Tamil Ealam’ looks like an agenda that has self-generated itself!

The writer is a former IAS officer

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Raju, a cut above the rest even in jail
by Madhurima

Fallen IT czar Ramalinga RajuAFTER committing a fraud worth approximately Rs 7000 crore and shattering the dreams of thousands of families, B. Ramalinga Raju, former chairperson of Satyam Computers, had initially stated that he did not want VIP treatment in the prison and desired to be treated as an ordinary prisoner. At that time, prison officials were also firm that no special treatment will be given.

However, this “ordinary treatment” did not last long. Within a month, Raju seemed dissatisfied and his lawyers requested special status in jail. Reasons quoted were his special stature in society and his being used to a certain lifestyle.

In February, the court granted him special status. This special status has ensured him better facilities, such as a special individual cell, a cot, a mattress, better food and a separate toilet. The Andhra Pradesh Prison Rules permit the classification of undertrial prisoners into special and ordinary class on the basis of a person’s status, education and habits of life.

Rules that create inequality in prisons on the basis of social and financial status have been subject to severe criticism in the past.

In Rakesh Kaushik’s case (1981), the Supreme Court condemned such a system of classification by stating that, “The human rights of common prisoners are at a discount and, in our Socialist Republic, moneyed ‘B’ class convicts operate to oppress the humbler inmates. Can there be inequality in prison too on the score of social and financial status? Bank robbers in ‘B’ class because they are rich by robbery and nameless little man in ‘C’ class because they are only common Indians.”

The court observed that such a classification, if permitted, would violate the principle of equality guaranteed by the Constitution. Indeed, experts and prison reform committees have also recommended that the classification of undertrial prisoners into Class A, B and C on the basis of their socio-economic status should be abolished (see the report of the All India Committee on Jail Reforms 1983 and the Model Prison Manual 2003 ).

Though the Andhra Pradesh Government incorporated this recommendation into their draft new prison manual, it has not been approved.

One is, certainly, in favour of rights for people in custody. However, the state government must ensure that facilities and privileges must be given to all undertrial prisoners alike. Whatever facilities are given to Raju should be given to every under-trial prisoner.

An individual cell, a cot, a mattress, access to outside food and a clean separate toilet are basic necessities, which the state should provide to each of its prisoners irrespective of one’s social status or education or habits of life. This is imbibed in the principle of equality which warrants that every violator of the law be treated alike.

It is common knowledge that prison conditions are inhuman and sub standard. These matters seldom find a place in popular media. It is only when people like Raju or Sanjay Dutt spend time in jails that the media discusses prison conditions.

Ever since Raju has been sent to judicial custody, newspapers were periodically reporting how he was being treated “as any other ordinary prisoner”, his sleeping on the prison floor, eating the prison food, following the prison routine etc.

His so-called “ordinary” treatment comprised frequent visits by family and friends, check up by personal physician and influx of magazines and other amenities. And now he enjoys a special status in prison, secured under a rule, the basis of which has been condemned and criticised.

There can be no justification for any disparities to be maintained or recognised inside our custodial institutions on the basis of background, social status or superior mode of living. Such a categorisation would be tantamount to the state putting an approval on the social and economic disparities existing in the society.

This will also adversely affect the morale and psyche of the prisoners who belong to the “ordinary” category (The Committee on Rationalisation of Classification of Prisoners, 1997, Delhi).

The writer is associated with Prison Reforms Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

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Managing disasters
Focus on capacity building and training
by H. Shivananda

India’s vulnerability to disasters of various kinds has increased considerably over the years. The last phase of the preceding century suffered larger calamities such as wars and epidemics. Nonetheless, the beginning of this century has undergone various natural catastrophes.

These include the Bhuj earthquake (January 26, 2001), the Andhra heat wave (2002), the tsunami (December 26, 2004), the Maharashtra floods (2005) and the Kosi river floods (2008).

Other disaster-like situations were in the form of bomb blasts at Delhi, the audacious Mumbai attacks, the stampede at Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh and the Chamunda Devi temple, Jodhpur (August 3 and September 30, 2008 respectively) and the outbreak of Hepatitis B in Gujarat early this year.

Geographically, 55 per cent of India’s landmass is prone to earthquake, 68 per cent to drought, 12 per cent to floods and 8 per cent to cyclone. Part of the country suffers regularly from effects of heat waves, severe storms, regular and intense earthquakes. Uranium traces found in some areas of Punjab following depleted Uranium abandoned in Afghanistan has added a new dimension to the problem.

Besides, the neighbouring countries remain hostile and have been a threat to us in terms of proxy war from Pakistan, illegal immigration from Bangladesh and unreliable Nepal and Myanmar.

With the starting of the summer heat, incident like the fire breakout at Burra Bazar, Kolkata (January 2008) are sure to happen at other places if preventive measures are not taken with a sense of urgency. Disasters — natural and man-made — strike us accompanied by unfamiliar speed. We are often caught unguarded and this results in disruption of our essential day-to-day needs and health.

The socio-economic fallout of such disasters is appalling. The relief and reconstruction of the Bhuj earthquake amounted to Rs 11,000 crore, along with 20,000 deaths and injuries to many. The tsunami toll was 18,045 deaths, 5,640 missing and another 6,47,599 displaced. The total cost of rehabilitation has not yet been ascertained.

The Kosi disaster has affected 2.3 million people. There were 2,000 deaths in Bihar and Nepal and epidemics in the affected areas including internal displacement of many families. As a result, the trauma of spread to other parts of the country. It also caused unequal economic development within the country and a diplomatic failure vis-a-vis our relations with Nepal.

A unique feature in most of these disasters has been the inability of the local administration to cope up with the situation. This is largely responsible for the loss of valuable lives which could have otherwise been saved if the response was quick and effective.

By and large, the state governments’ approach has been to go in for partial rescue of the people. Shockingly, they tend to forget after immediate handling of the disaster-like situation. Disasters can’t merely be handled by rescuing and providing relief. It has its forceful destructive temperament leading to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) bringing in fear psychosis among the inhabitants.

Consequently, the need of the hour is a multi-sectoral hazard prevention, mitigation and preparedness approach to disaster management. This will go a long way in securing the lives of the people and keep intact the tempo of the country’s economic development.

Though there has been a paradigm shift in the India’s policy of disaster management from ‘response’ to ‘prevention and mitigation’ after the Centre has taken a leap by enacting the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and establishing the National Disaster Management Authority of India at New Delhi under the Ministry of Home Affairs, an actionable Standard Operating Procedure is yet to emerge in every states.

Moreover, the subject of Disaster Management is not included in any of the three Lists of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which provides the responsibility of the Centre, State or both. Nonetheless, the states are provided financial assistance on the recommendation of the Finance Commission to deal with disaster, whenever it arises.

Of late, the government claims to have disaster management departments at 11 states and Union territories, which are actively working for better mitigation. However, as a test at any given time, even a small fire breakout in an official building or market in any part of the country remains disastrous amounting to huge economic loss.

For instance, the fire that broke out on April 9, 2009 at Sector 22, Chandigarh, hardly at a distance of 200 metres from the Sector 17 Fire Station killed four people and injured two fire brigade personnel due to suffocation and cost crores of rupees to the exchequer. It also exposes the lack of fire safety regulations in the buildings and disorganised ineffectual rapid response by the fire brigades personnel at call of time, which is an essential element for the first responders in case of emergency-like situations.

Disaster management requires prior planning for capacity building, a great deal of inter-agency initiatives, co-operation and interdependence structure which allows it to respond to emergencies in the manner required. These demand specific professional inputs from specialised courses by universities treating it as a distinct academic and professional discipline.

At the same time, training facilities for the government personnel involved in disaster management should not be limited to the professionals and focus on building knowledge, attitude and skills for the community.

Moreover, local community being the first responder to any disaster, a community-level initiative backed by efforts from government machinery for creating awareness and community approach through NGOs and community-based organisation for effective participation should be initiated to build a disaster resistant community.

The writer is on the faculty of Disaster Management and Security at the Department of Defence and National Security Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh

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Profile
The most-wanted politician today
by Harihar Swarup

WHO is the most sought after leader in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha elections? The obvious answer is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has already praised him and invited him to join the UPA. The BJP and, for that matter, the NDA heavily depends on him. CPM secretary-general Prakash Karat will be too happy to make him an ally in the still-born Third Front — a non-Congress, non-BJP dispensation.

As of now, Nitish has put an end to all speculation by maintaining that he will neither indulge in any kind of misadventure nor quit the NDA. He has also clarified that he is not an aspirant for the Prime Minister’s post. His party, the Janata Dal (United), is heading a coalition government with the BJP in Bihar.

Nitish came to limelight after he trounced his “old friend” Lalu Prasad Yadav in the Assembly elections. Lalu and Nitish were once close friends. Three years junior to him in the Patna University, Nitish was Lalu’s ardent supporter when he was elected president of the students’ union. Both began their political career during JP’s “Sampurna Kranti” movement in early seventies. The post- emergency elections in 1977 saw the Janata Party’s emergence as the ruling party, Lalu’s election to the Lok Sabha and Nitish’s defeat.

Both, however, remained close allies and friends and were committed for the backward classes’ empowerment. When Lalu became Bihar’s Chief Minister in 1990, Nitish was his adviser. Reports said, Lalu was shaky in arresting L.K. Advani and stopping his “Rath Yatra” in December 1992 but Nitish advised him to “ go ahead”.

As Lalu consolidated his grip over Bihar, he began distancing himself from Nitish. Friendship turned into suspicion and relations were strained. Nitish felt humiliated when during a routine visit to Lalu, he was asked to wait outside the Chief Minister’s chamber. Subsequently, Nitish’s photographs were withdrawn from the Janata Dal posters.

Nitish walked out of the Janata Dal (U) and formed the Samata Party in 1994. In 2000, he became Chief Minister for just a week. In February 2005, as he was preparing to stake his claim to form the government, the assembly was dissolved.

In his two-decade long political career, Nitish lost the 1977 Lok Sabha poll. He was elected to the Bihar Assembly in 1985. Since his entry into the Lok Sabha in 1989, he never lost an election. Though 58, he acquired vast administrative experience as Union Minister. During the NDA rule, he held the portfolios of Railways, Agriculture and Surface Transport. He made a mark in the Rail Bhavan.

Nitish’s grooming in politics began at a very young age. When he entered his thirties, he had learnt the ropes of politics. When the Samata Party was plagued by power struggle in 2003, Nitish resigned as Railway Minister. He was, apparently, hurt by a campaign unleashed by some MPs levelling charges of corruption against him.

Nitish has a clean image in public life. Once he was so deeply hurt that he wrote to the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that he was resigning and that the allegations against him should be probed.

Nitish comes from a humble background. His ancestral house is in Bakhtiarpur near Patna. Son of a village “Vaid”, Kaviraj Ram Lakhan Singh, wanted his son to become an engineer. But he has become a politician after doing engineering from Patna.

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On Record
Maternal mortality rate alarming: Allen
by Akhila Singh

Kimberly AllenAS the world celebrates Mothers’ Day today, in India, 78,000 women die each year due to problems arising from childbirth and pregnancy. The Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) at 300 is quite high. More than two-thirds of all maternal deaths occur in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Assam.

UNICEF’s flagship publication State of the World’s Children Report 2009 emphasises that delivering essential services for mothers, newborns and children at critical points of life cycle is key to health. Trying to build a supportive environment for maternal health, UNICEF observed Safe Motherhood Week last month. UNICEF’s country office health specialist Kimberly Allen spoke to The Sunday Tribune about Continuum of Care model of primary healthcare that embraces every stage of maternal, newborn and child health, which differs from the traditional disease specific approach

After analysing the maternal health care patterns in the interior parts of Nepal, Kimberly came to India and realised that measures taken to counter the alarming MMR here would have to be introduced keeping in mind the varied cultures of different parts of the country.

Excerpts:

Q: How complex is it to tackle the problem of high MMR in India?

A: It is quite challenging. India contributes to 20 per cent of the overall MMR in the world. It is a diverse and huge country. What we do in other South Asian countries cannot be translated here. However, UNICEF is working in close association with the Indian government to develop strategies. The Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) is one of them.

Under the JSY, the Indian government tried to increase the number of institutional deliveries. We saw that there was considerable increase in the number of women coming out of houses and having their babies delivered in health units, but the quality of services also needs to go up.

Q: What are the reasons for this problem?

A: The healthcare seeking behaviour of families is bad due to lack of education and other factors. Serious things like complications in pregnancy are taken lightly and no medical help is sought. The economically weaker sections cannot even afford medical attention. Also, the poor quality of care including lack of medical equipment or medicine also undermines women’s confidence in delivering at healthcare units. This is a common phenomenon across South Asia.

Q: Which sections of women are most vulnerable to be harmed during pregnancy?

A: The Below Poverty Line population and marginalised communities are most vulnerable. The ability to negotiate in illiterate people is also low. Education obviously empowers women. Post-natal care when the women are discharged from the hospitals is solely dependent on the family. The children of educated women have higher survival rates; they tend to be better nourished than those of uneducated women.

Q: How far can the administrative initiative help improve the situation?

A: We have seen that states with strong leaders could achieve better results in less time. The strength for pushing the agenda down to the grassroots is required. Leadership at community level is also very effective. Block level representatives can force things around up to the higher level and register their problems. Outreach and outpatient services by community volunteers can act as a bridge between home, community and healthcare.

Q: What steps should be taken to address the issue?

A: A pool of trained service providers is necessary. The greatest shortage of health workers in absolute terms is in Asia, especially in India, Bangladesh and Indonesia. In India, providing quality health services to the poorest households in the remotest rural areas remains a challenge. While most states have embarked on programmes to upgrade medical facilities to provide access to 24-hour services for obstetric emergencies, lack of specialist staff remains a key obstacle to comprehensive services. Posting of skilled people to remote rural areas still remains a challenge.

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