Friday, March 30, 2012
I have been an admirer of Mr. AK Antony, the politician because he was never known to be corrupt. His modest house in Thiruvananthapuram was within fifty meters of my office and I have seen him getting into his Ambassador car in the mornings. He is known to live a simple life. But as a Chief Minister of Kerala he was a disaster, not for his acts of commission, but for those of omission. A senior journalist told me once that the man would do or desist from doing anything, just to be in the good books of his party’s ruthless rival, the CP (I) M! Well, that is what I saw him doing all the time! The one good thing he did in his last tenure as the Chief Minister of Kerala was banning Arrack, which lost his party the election. Poor Antony thought the women in Kerala, suffering enormously on account of their men folk drinking themselves to penury. They probably thought the blighters are better drunk than sober and threw Antony’s party out with a thumping negative vote.
Politicians are generally known to be thick-skinned; but Mr.Antony is an exception and has a reputation for resigning at the drop of a hat. If ever there is a scope for someone to point a finger at him, he resigns. Thick-skinned politicians belonging to his own party and the opposition blame him for trying to get an image of wounded innocence. They laugh at him as St. Antony.
The earlier occasion he was at the Centre as a Cabinet Minister was during the PV Narasinha Rao regime which set up a paradigm of mismanagement by giving the country the Security Scam, the Urea Scam, the Sugar scandal, and the telecom scandal. As Minister for Civil Supplies, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution for a year in 1994 Antony resigned on moral grounds when his ministry was involved in a sugar import scandal, despite there being no allegations against him.
I had great hopes for AK Antony, India’s Defence Minister but some of his utterances have been baffling me just as it had many other admirers and independent observers. Once he said that India’s major security threat was internal. But he refused to entertain request for deployment of Army from Chief Ministers troubled by Maoist/Naxalite menace. He said Army was “a weapon of last resort”. It sounded more like the police asking for some serious crime to take place to make their entry.
There have been unpleasant reports on the snail pace at which the Defence Ministry was working in modernisation, particularly weaponisation of the armed forces, about the promotions of officers being held up, Air defence was obsolete, critical ammunition is not coming... and so on. For me it was so reassuring that our man was indeed on the job, meticulously going through the files, seeking clarifications from the babus, weighing the pros and cons of everything in detail so that tomorrow those Opposition MPs don’t rake up issues or the CAG does not pick holes in the procurement policy. Remember, a guy sitting in that during the time had some fun nitpicking the purchases during the Kargil war ignoring that Kargil weapons purchases had to cost more because the previous regime being less diligent on military procurement. As a wit pointed out, the CAG ignored that raincoats and umbrellas cost more in rainy season.
But all of a sudden Antony appears to be on the weakest wicket he had ever played in his career even as the powerful Minister of Defence. Because it is none other than the Chief of Staff of the second largest Army in the world, who has put him in great embarrassment. The Army Chief, General VK Singh has revealed that a former colleague walked into his room ione day and offered him a bribe of Rs.14 crores for favouring the purchase of some 600 trucks in a circuitous deal involving a foreign manufacturer, a foreign trading company and an Indian ‘Defence PSU’. General Singh also claimed that he had informed his Minister more than a year ago. Antony must be feeling so unhappy that he had let go of the General a few weeks back though the babus in the Defence Ministry were urging him to go for the kill. The old man in uniform was coming to do punkha with civilians at the helm? Antony was nice though he did not oblige the General in his last ditch battle for the ultimate honour, a corrected DoB. It may be the General is just taking his last opportunity to inform the Prime Minister what ails the 1.13 million fighting forces under his control; or he is simply knifing the system that denied him the honour he deserved.
Not that I am entirely on the side of the former Army Chief’s current disclosure that a retired Army Officer, (Lt Gen Tejender Singh?) had offered him a bribe of Rs14 crore for swinging a deal for purchase of trucks. What baffles me is that a former CM and a Senior Member of the Union Cabinet casually making a suo motu statement in the Upper House told MPs that the incident took place a year back and remembering to ask the General to take action after being suitably shocked as all politicians do. Then comes the worst part of his statement: the General told him that he did not want to pursue it, for reasons the honourable minister did not know why! He adds, “I didn't get a complaint from the Army chief in writing” And now that it has come out in the open, the man who could never tolerate corruption promises action against anybody however powerful he may be who is found guilty. That is magnanimous indeed. The minister did not stop that. He, as a Catholic would like to confess and told the Members of Parliament: “I acted on my judgement. If I am wrong, you may punish me. I think I have done my best." How nice!
So a complaint in writing is not required now that the whole world knows? He read about the allegations in a newspaper and immediately told the Defence Secretary to take action. The Minister, as he tied himself into knots, still maintains he always needed a complaint, even an anonymous one, if received in writing in which case his style is not to ignore it. So shall we take it as the former Army Chief forced the minister’s hands now? Those who blame the former army chief for publicly airing delicate issues related to defence procurement should wonder whether the minister’s notorious inaction and "inadequate response" from Antony had necessitated such "public airing"
And what did the honourable Minister for Defence do now, he ordered a CBI Inquiry. Couldn’t he have done an enquiry by a sitting HC Judge with in camera proceedings?
A former Army Officer and also a former Defence Minister, BJP leader Jaswant Singh said not very kindly though, “I have known the Defence Minister longer than I have known the Army Chief. AK Antony specialises in the art of indecision.... His style of functioning is one of silence, inaction and indecisiveness. The consequences of this will have to be borne by the armed forced.... The Ministry of Defence cannot function like this."
Opposition members including Arun Jaitley insisted that defence preparedness in the country should not suffer due to "over-obsession" with probity knowing that AK Antony would now sit on the files longer in order to avoid controversies. (“My problem is that I cannot ignore any complaint. That is why it delays procurement”) That is to suggest that his concern for being seen correct is getting to be morbid burden on his mind?
Grumpy people work better, says a study reported in Scientific American. They give close attention to details and show less gullibility to their tasks becoming less prone to errors in judgement.Mr. Antony is grumpy alright, and hard-working too. Antony’s statement that his leadership wanted him in the job as the Defence Ministry was "tough" and "controversial" is not really very helpful. We had at this stage no thoughts to the contrary, you see...
The truck business is worth a little probing in this context. It was not General Singh that named the retired army officer who allegedly approached him, but the Army Headquaters that alleged recently that former Director General of Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh, had lobbied for Tatra, which is the original equipment manufacturer of the trucks, and Vectra, that holds a stake in the company. The Mumbai newspaper DNA had done a series of investigations in July 2011 highlighting that Tatra trucks were sold to the army at an inflated price. For over a decade, Tatra trucks were bought from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) via a London-based firm. Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML), a defence public sector undertaking, used to import the trucks and sell to the army. While the truck may have unique features that the army insisted on and the local truck manufacturers could not produce, the BEML being used as an intermediary is strange because it had no connections with the original manufacturer.
Perhaps it is to claim as is done that a Central PSU is selling to the army and they have no need to bribe anybody! To see that there was something murky about these transaction one has to know that the BEML had in 1987 signed an agreement with Omnipol Foreign Trade Corporation, (then part of the erstwhile Czechoslovakia) under which Omnipol, was to furnish all assembly and production drawings of Tatra to BEML for Rs.3 crore by March 1997. But 25 years later, BEML is still importing the trucks through a third party - Tatra Sipox (UK) Ltd - when there is a strict stipulation in the defence procurement guidelines that all purchases should be made from the original equipment manufacturer. The DNA reports sources in CBI telling them that its Defence Ministry brief is to look into the “claims” made by Gen Singh in the interview. This is a territory we travel all the time. Apart from the circuitous and illegitimate route of procurement, there is serious problem highlighted by Gen.VK Singh - that these imported trucks lacked basic service/ maintenance backup, leading to immense problems for the army and jeopardising its operational capabilities. If it is true that the General stopped the procurement of Tatra trucks soon after the offer of bribe was made to him, he has his loyalty in the right place. Now, even if he was trying to screw somebody in retaliation for the ignominy suffered on account of his date of birth issue, I would back him. That does not take away the culpability of the crime of corruption in defence procurements.
I need not remind those who are familiar with the Bofors scam that at the time of the revelation of kick-backs, there were defence-analysts crying hoarse about the damage the scam would do to the defence-preparedness of the country, how it would harm the morale of our fighting force, and of course, how good the Bofors Howitzer were. While there were some murmurs about the French Sofma guns being superior (Army Chief Gen.K. Sundarji favoured the Sofma because in field trials showed its range as 29.2 km against 21.5 for Bofors!), the whole scandal was about some fixer in Delhi snatching the order within a short time, huge amounts of money going into the Swiss bank accounts of some well-known lobbyists with connections in high places. The news of the kick-backs was leaked by Swedish Radio which had no political connections with India. More importantly, one man who had those millions of Kroners deposited into hsi account was a family friend of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, an Italian by name Ottavio Quattrocci. Mr.Quattrocci was a full-time employee of an Italian firm, Snamprgetti and had earned quite a reputation in Indian capital for securing government power and fertilizer projects one after the other, beating competition from better qualified contenders. And his employer had released huge advertisement in Indian newspapers when the controversy was raging that they were not in any way connected to Bofors! So the defence deal was obviously Quattrocci’s part-time activity!
Congress Party to this day swears by the greatness of Bofors gun. One remembers that during the Kargil war, the Party reluctantly agreed that we won, but only because of the Bofors guns! I was reminded of the Bofors story when I read in newspapers the day the story of the scam broke out details similar to the ones about Bofors guns I mentioned earlier surfaced. I quote: “No trucks made in India matched Army’s General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs)”. That was the reason Tetra became a monopoly. You and I know how to do it. “The ‘defence PSU’ BEML has exclusive marketing tie-p for India.” One has to be less intelligent than a 3-year old chimpanzee not to see the game. The most hilarious part of the reports is a ‘senior BEML official saying that being a Defence PSU, they didn’t pay any commission to anybody, and his CMD VRS Natarajan befuddling the issue saying he didn’t understand which trucks are being referred to! I am told that the Army has an offer from another source for similar trucks at half the price. Perhaps that was the reason for the offer of bribe to order 600 Tatra trucks in one go.
I am sure AK Antony is not the type of honest man who gives honesty the bnefit of doubt...telling himself that some less-than-honest things happened under his nose quite inadvertently and unintentionally. He is not even aware perhaps that he is in charge of an immense empire that uses up consumable such as ammunition worth billions of rupees every year; tyres, spare, and so on. Every year the Army “condemns” a few thousand crores worth motor vehicles. I was told by a guy in Delhi who made his huge wealth buying army-surplus vehicles, spares etc. He invited me home for drinks with a Lieutenant General of Indian army among other top brass with whom he had a symbiotic relationship. I said I didn’t drink. You want a new jeep, sir, I will get you as “condemned” from the Army. Well, AK Antony knows not how the system works. The army identifies armoured vehicles, all-terrain trucks, weapons and ammunition, and various consumables from all over the world. Approves them for procurement; and sometimes indigenous ‘Defence PSUs’ are the conduits for the purchase. I am told that the fast-track route of Ministry of Defence procurement takes over a yearor more! So the sniper rifles meant for Special Forces are still not available a year after decision. Prices may wary after so long, sometimes the delays are programmed for such increases. A lobbyist for a new supplier may ‘arrange; a failure in one of the periodical test, in order to push his wars. The procedure starts all over again!
According to Ernst & Young, India is currently the biggest importer of arms, procuring almost 74 per cent of the country’s requirement from abroad, after the much advertised indigenisation drive of the socialist rulers. The Defence PSUs and the DRDO are just white elephants if you do a cost-benefit analysis. Then there is the issue of obsolescence of the weapons procured, being tied-up for manufacture here, and so on. Our MBTs are no match to either Pakistan’s or China’s. In Kerala, youngsters serving in the IAF and Indian Navy are more favoured as grooms by parents of girls. A similar attitude can be seen in Defence procurement. A KPMG-CII study in 2011 shows that of the $25 billion spent since 2007 IAF accounted for $17.46 billion, Indian Navy $6.16 billion, the Coast Guard $616 million and the world’s second largest Army, only $420 million. (It’s just a thought, one reason for this huge anomaly could be that it is quicker to earn those millions in commission from procurement for IAF and Navy because the items are far more expensive though small in quantity. And failures of imported stuff for them is generally very difficult to identify in combat situations). If I were the Army Chief, I would have shelled the MoD if I couldn’t organise a coup.
There were reports suggesting that in February, during a routine check by military intelligence personnel at Antony's office in South Block, "a discrepancy" was found, that AK Antony’s office was indeed bugged, and an IB probe was ordered. Mr. Antony had earlier a probe into VVIP chopper deal to find out if there was corruption in the Rs 3,500-crore... All said and done, I feel sorry that two people with such impeccable reputation like Mr. AK Antony and General VK Singh could not get along well. Probably the ‘system’ used to the corrupt ministers and Generals did not want these two working together well and for long. A former Minister of Defence who has a case against him for a huge unaccounted wealth is supporting the present Central government from outside just to see that the Central investigative agencies and Income Tax authorities do not trouble him. Poor Antony sits there with no clue of what all happen around him.
I am not worried about AK Antony being in the midst of a raging row over an attempt at corruption in a military deal. He will come out of it unscathed. But I am angered by the Minister for Defence seeking to shift the blame on Army Chief Gen VK Singh for not taking any action while admitting to having been informed by the General quite some time back. I have a lurking fear here that the General is aiming someone higher than the Minister, and the Minister cannot make sensible remarks if his tongue is tied. For once I find a sincereity gap somewhere. In the Orwellian context a Saint could be considered guilty unless proved otherwise. Saint Antony might therefore do what he had done before: resign from the job. But I would emphatically deny that there is any red in his moral balance-sheet yet. So, be to his faults a little blind; be to his virtues very kind...
Saturday, March 24, 2012
The Poverty Li(n)e!
It is a pleasure to listen to Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Dy. Chairman of our Planning Commission. Montek speaks so well, with that ‘propah’ accent coming from an impeccable educational background – decent schooling, Bachelor’s degree from St.Stephen’s Delhi, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford’s Magdalen College. His BPhil in Economics at Oxford University is said to have later ‘re-classified’ as an MPhil. At Oxford, he was the president of the prestigious Oxford Union. (His PhD however, came honoris causa conferred by the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, in 2011) Then a brilliant career in the World Bank, IAS, PM’s Economic Advisor and now in the NPC which a Keralite Christian would say is like a chapel inside the grand Church, if you ask me.
How I wish I could believe him when he defends the recent lowering of the Poverty Line by the national planning body. Ahluwalia was heard mentioning in the interview on a national business TV channel that his people have arrived at the latest poverty line, at Rs.28.65 in urban India and Rs.22.40 in rural Bharat, after a detailed analysis of the state-wise inflation data. He was saying rather flippantly that he could actually have drawn the line a little above or below without making any significant import to the data! Yes, indeed, RK Laxman would have made a stunning piece of pocket carton on the ToI had he been drawing still. But, I think he had done one under similar situation earlier.
Now let me go back to my notes of the poverty line figures - Rs.19.01 for the rural areas and Rs.22-1 to the urban people - the year was 1994. That is great work of poverty alleviation over 18 years of planning and execution of economic programmes! And it irritates me to no end when economic journalists like Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar (he does it all the time the way he sits and almost mocks at the interviewee and the viewer at the same time with his strangely stupid though condescending body language) defend the Planning Commission boss quoting a Marxist economics professor in the JNU. The calculation goes like this: World Bank’s poverty line is at USD 1.25 and Professor Himanshu had put Rs.19 to the dollar in accordance with the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) PPP is a calculation in which the exchange rate adjusts so that an identical good in two different countries has the same price when expressed in the same currency. For example, a chocolate bar that sells for US$1.00 in a U.S. city must sell for Rs.19 according to Prof.Himanshu. Therefore, Planning Commission draws the same line as the World Bank! Well, a media consultant to the World Bank can draw such parallels and gloat over it, but Professor Himanshu must be cringing at Aiyar’s conclusion! I expect a suitable rejoinder from the professor in the next issue of EPW. If he is a genuine Marxist, Professor Himanshu could come out with a confessional self-criticism and go forward to some new assertions and the poor in India wouldn’t know the difference either!
Aiyer, whom I shall not call a butter-boy of the ruling elite, is possible just being a contrarian for the heck of it. Nothing like some sensationalism to brighten your image on the TV channels and of course, in the cocktail circuits. Look at his meticulous calculations: Wheat cost Rs.20/Kg; lentils (Dal) Rs.45/Kg. A meal consisting of 400gm of wheat and 100gm of dal will give the required 2000 calories at the cost of Rs.12.20. And those employed in hard labour, here is 3000 calories at a mere Rs.18.75; go and have a ball with the surplus income jingling in your pockets. Take you wife and kids for a movie, man! Aiyer would insist on something special for the wife, a jasmine garland on the way? Mr.Aiyar has the unique distinction of taking his second name, Anklesaria, from his wife's maiden name as a token of his respect for the idea of women’s with men equality in a society in which women take their husbands. I love him for that.
But, is it the way the UPA II, government of the weaker sections, for the weaker sections, by the weaker sections believe the aam admi should find sustenance in India that is Bharat? I bet we all would like to believe with Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar that the proportion of poor Indians have fallen sharply in the last few years. The fall was sharper than Montek would admit, did you say, Mr.Aiyer? Yes, it was so sharp that many broke their backs, for your kind information.
My jaws literally fell when I heard the Government spokes persons countering to the view that it was strange for a government to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court of India barely six months back giving figures at much variance with the current ones, that is Rs.32 per day in urban India and Rs.26 in rural areas on the country. He said that what was given to the Supreme Court were back-of-the-envelope estimates! You and I amy be dismayed by the fact that back-of-the-envelope estimates are given to the highest judicial body in the country. But we do not have the know-how; that is all. One advantage in our so-called Justice-delivery-system is that a defendant in a case can go on filing different affidavits in different times to the same Court or different Courts, with impunity. Well, I have seen Government of India, and the State governments filing an affidavit today, and withdrawing it the next day to file another affidavit with a total negation of ‘facts’ submitted the previous day without any question being asked! I would like to believe if there is a word for it, it is PERJURY. An affidavit is supposed to be a true statement of facts and not your opinions on a subject on a particular day. The other day a senior legal officer to the Central government was heard valiantly defending the Government’s stance against deviant sexual behaviour such as homosexuality while his assistant was frantically trying to tell him that he was reading from the earlier brief; the Government have decided not to oppose the LGBT life style. Lo, and behold! One could hear a few days later none other than the Attorney General Vahanvati telling the Supreme Court that the Union Government had no issues with consensual gay/lesbian sex between adults. In less than ten days the Centre could study history and quote passages from Lawrance James authored Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India, that “for many British onlookers, Indian erotic act was a revelation of practices which were all but unheard of in their homeland, or condemned as deviant and depraved. There was group sex, oral sex, sex in every conceivable position, buggery and masturbation.” So would you accept pre-British social mores including untouchability one day, the Judges did not ask.
I digressed. The point was that the Government of India including the Planning Commission could be expected to come out with what suits them any day, because of “political compulsions” or otherwise. The lies shall be in line with the political necessities.
The United Nations estimates that about 100,000 people died during the war between the government and the Tigers, including as many as 40,000 civilians during the final battles in May 2009. The UN did not remember that there were times when the LTTE was accused of using civil population as shields against assault from Sri Lankan forces, as Palestinians have routinely done all along. In their anxiety to score moral points over this tiny island nation which has suffered 30 long years of instability and violence, begun to enjoy in just three years stability and peace, they were asking it to account for the deaths of civilians who got caught in cross-firings or carpet bombing operations.
India was one of 24 nations which voted for the an American-backed resolution on Thursday (22/23-3-2-12)pressing the Sri Lankan government to investigate the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in the final stages of the civil war with the Tamil Tigers. But we seem to have done this after ensuring critical amendments that forbade intrusion into Sri Lankan affairs by the UN or others. Willing to strike but afraid to hurt... the 15 countries which voted against "the anti-Lanka resolution", eight nations abstained from the vote in the 47-member UN Human Rights Council. We could have abstained not to ruffle feathers in the delicate diplomatic situation of our closest and strategically placed neighbour having China and Pakistan offering every possble help and assistance if we lose Sri Lanka’s goodwill.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has rightly warned that countries which voted for the resolution will have to worry about consequences of terrorism. We are already worrying like hell!
I remember a London Times article alleging that Indian Army was “on the rampage” in Kashmir, and the then Acting High Commissioner, K V Rajan writing a rejoinder disclosing that 400000 Kashmiris had to flee the Kashmir valley because of murders, kidnappings, rapes and ethnic cleansing and various intimidatory activities by Islamic terrorists. He pointed out that terrorism, religious fundamentalism, and disinformation campaign had forged an alliance to pose a challenge to India’s secular and democratic framework and institutional integrity. OIC meetings routinely pass resolutions ratifying the Pak-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir as the “struggle for legitimate self-determination by Muslims.
Once an Indian, Ravi Nair, who headed Delhi-based South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, was heard alleging before a Round Table Conference convened by the European Parliament at Brussels that Kashmir was a bleeding colony of India. He was not the first, not the last. There are International Church bodies who consider India as a country that is lacking in religious freedom!
And as regards the gullible bleeding hearts in the United States government, Including Bill Clinton when he was the President, had no difficulty in believing that ”Khalistan the Sikh homeland” was indeed an independent entity born on October 7, 1987 which the US President acknowledged in a reply to a Canadian Khalistani leader’s appeal for help against genocide!
Indian Foreign Policy, right from Nehru’s days was a policy based on an enormous quantity of left-wingery, a lot of disproportionate and arrogant moralising and poor diplomacy. Our Non Alignment as hilariously though truthfully put in the BBC serial ‘Yes Prime Minister’, just meant non-aligned to the United States. And it went a lot way to enthuse the American media and administration to hate us. They continue to hate us. Otherwise how could they have Pakistan as a front-line ally in their fight against terrorism when their Defence establishment emphatically confirms that the ISI is continuing to support the LeT? But thanks to the nuclear pact, we are now at their mercy in terms of our ambitious energy requirements. But it is not an attempt to curry favour with the Obama administration we supported the Human Rights resolution; it was the same story of coalition pressures the Prime Minister repeats whether it is the astounding corruption in 2G Spectrum sale involving a DMK minister in his cabinet or the Human Rights resolution against Sri Lanka. DMK wants India to vote against Sri Lanka, even if that brings the island nation under greater influence of China and Pakistan! Sri Lankan media and its President did not hint at it though Mahinda Rajapaksa reminded us of things closer back home. Right now we have “struggles for self-determination in several parts of the country, right down from Kahmir to the North East and Assom; we have a huge Maoist problem cutting a wide swath through the entire country involving some 250 districts or a third of the country. That is freedom struggle if you look at it from the Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International angle. They are asking our armed forces to look the other way when armed men and women equipped with Chinese assault rifles, rocket-launchers and land mines go about attacking police, administration, and even collecting taxes or looting banks. Our Human Rights concern can cut both ways, you see.
J.R.Jayewerdene, Sri Lnkan President during 1978-89 had rightly complained that the Tamil Elam was India’s export to the island nation. It was indeed, when the Tamilnadu politicians could not sustain the movement for Tamil home land they had begun, the idea was transported to the Tamils of Sri Lanka who had of course the problem of the majority Sinhalese growing hungrier for power. In the Rajiv Gandhi years Government of India did all the wrong things. It sent IAF planes to airdrop ‘humanitarian help’ to Tigers encircled by Sri Lankan armed forces. Our armed forces imparted training to the Tamil fighters in several parts of Tamilnadu. Young Sri Lankan Tamils with sophisticated weapons and communication facilities had become a law unto themselves even in Chennai and The then DGP of Tamilnadu, confiscated their weapons and communication equipments and exhibited them to the media much to the chagrin of the State and Central governments. This lost Mohandas his job. Later the Government of India sent Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka and our army men, operating with one hand tied behind them had suffered the largest casualty in any war.
It was the LTTE ('Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam') that had Rajiv Gandhi assassinated for the role of IPKF in “suppressing” Tamil Nationalist sentiments! The Congress Party, DMK, AIADMK, and the motley crowd of other political formations had all supported the Tamil Elam (home land) movement and particularly the ferocious LTTE led by Parbakaran (note the spelling – no India-connection!). Tigers had used women as suicide bombers. There are proven allegations against Tigers taking away young boys and girls for compulsory service in its armed forces. Most of these boys and girls were under-aged and it was a Human Rights Violation the civilised world learned to live with because LTTE had a wide network of Public relations offices in all parts of the world. They were getting free publicity from the Tamilnadu politicians, academics in Universities, and of course, socialites. It is believed that in 2000 the LTTE controlled 76% of the landmass in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka. There were innumerable rounds of peace talks involving Scandinavian negotiators when the Tamil Tigers were ruling roost and invariably the talks broke down and the negotiators started feeling that LTTE talked of truce when they wanted time to regroup and start fresh round of attacks on the Sri Lankan forces. In 2006,sick and tired of the menace of LTTE and the cautioning by international observers, the Sri Lankan military launched a major offensive against the Tigers, eventually defeating the LTTE militarily. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse declared to the world victory over the LTTE on 16 May 2009. Immediately there were warnings to India that the Tamil Tigers who remain alive might end up on the Indian shores and receive all help from Tamil Politicians.
That is the possibility Rajapakse wanrned in his immediate reaction to the Indian vote in UNHR meet. There are plenty of anti-nationals receiving media glamour, political support, and propaganda help from the so-called Human Rights groups that have mushroomed all over the country with the help of similar International groups, Church groups, International Islamic outfits and plain NGOs. The Christian Church began actively supporting Erom Sharmila(|the Iron Lady of Manipur”) agitating against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act - AF(SP)A. The NCCI which represents Protestant and Orthodox Christians (30 million of the 1.3 billion Indians but also the hill tribals of Manipur Nagas and Kuki Chin Federation about 40% of the population of Manipur) came to her support. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Guwahati HG Thomas Menamparampil spoke out in defence of Sharmila though his flock are a small group but they have Sonia Gandhi ruling the country! Student Christians offer moral support and prayer in Schools, all against Indian occupation! Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya,, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagaland are all trouble-spots for India with tribal supported by Church groups, Pakistan, China, Nepali Maoists, Khalistanis all forming mutual help groups against the Sovereign State of India. If you visit the web sites of separatist Sikh groups or Islamic groups we will know the brotherhood operating against the Indian nationhood. There were serious observations made by Andhra Police officers of Naxalites and other Maoists receiving training and weapons from the LTTE when it was still strong in Sri Lanka. What India did was to betray our closest neighbour, a tiny nation trying to stand on its own. When I think of the future scenario, my head is spinning. What if another UNHR Commission resolution comes aiming at India for it’s innumerable alleged Human Rights violations in Kashmir, for example? I am sure the votes in favour of such a resolution will be more than 24.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Beyond ’Adarsh’, on looking after armed forces retirees
Well, having written about the hearing in the Mumbai HC into the Adarsh Housing Co-operative Society, I was thinking about the housing scheme itself, and beyond that too. The Adarsh Housing Society in Colaba (Mumbai), was originally meant to be a six-storey structure to house Kargil war heroes and widows. The original idea is suspect in its scope itself. To imagine the politicians and babujis having so much concern for the families of war veterans to allot prime housing plot for them in the Colaba area in South Mumbai needs rare innocence in the Indian context. I remember the Police housing colony coming up in the eighties next to the Mumbai’s Mahim Creek and wondering how the poor police wo/men and their families will breathe in fresh air ever in their service lives!
The idea behind Adarsh Co-Operative Housing Society then, was to use the name of war veterans to have prime real estate allotted in the frightfully expensive quarters of Mumbai. It was tricky and could have been done only to some worthy cause. Later they could always dilute the cause at their convenience, in conspiracy with the high and mighty. That is how the housing project for the war heroes and their widows got converted into a posh 31-storey building and was allotted to bureaucrats, top defence officers, a ruling CM’s mother, proxies of several former chief ministers, a former environment minister and legislators.
The nation is indebted to 750 or so armed forces personnel who died defending country's borders during the Kargil war, and many more who had served the country during the earlier wars and those who get killed and maimed during the ‘peace time’ in unanticipated military engagements every day. We civilians fail to remember that the armed forces personnel serve the country not only in times of war but day and night in protection of the country's boundaries, Only during a war or in the aftermath of it there are the right noises being made of the nation’s indebtedness to the Defence personnel, especially those who had laid down their lives in the call of duty. Promises made during these times of ex-gratia payments to their dependents, offer of help through jobs, businesses like petroleum agencies and the like are more kept in their callous breach than in execution. Ex-Servicemen Welfare Associations all over the country lament that the land allotted to former Defence personnel is routinely encroached upon by land-grabbers. Dependents of those who laid their lives down for the country cry about the solemn declarations forgotten by politicians and bureaucrats who made them.
Apart from the war heroes, there are more than 2 million military retirees in the country. Every year over 50,000 officers and jawans, who are relatively young, retire from the armed forces. Only a minuscule percentage of them obviously deserve special privileges. Still the nation as a whole, and the State and Central governments in particular prove ungrateful to the defence services veterans and their families.
According to the Defence Ministry, the Ex-servicemen have hands-on work experience in about 300 trades, and they need to be properly utilised, providing them gainful employment in the economy.
Even vertical induction of ex-servicemen into the para-military forces, which is the easiest and the most sensible option, and highly talked-about, is not being implemented. It will be the obvious solution to the problem of getting the right candidates for the para-military forces that would also benefit many ex-servicemen. However, progress on this front has been slow. What is the private sector doing to absorb the skilled and disciplined former soldiers with considerable work experience in different fields? Precious little indeed. Even in cases where their experience is inadequate, imparting them the training and education to equip them for civilian jobs will be a lot easier and purposeful than taking in the unruly, and unemployable youngsters from many of our educational institutions. Our armed forces have a long and proud tradition of serving the country, and it is only fitting that men who are retired when they are still young and far more fit than their civilian counterparts should be looked after by employing them gainfully besides giving them their pensions.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Is the CBI protecting the accused? That is a trillion dollar question, my Lords. A Division Bench of Mumbai High Court comprising Justice P.B.Mazumdar and Justice R.D.Dhanuka, hearing a batch of PILs filed by some social activists seeking the HC monitoring of the Adarsh Housing Society scam and invoking the Prevention of Money Laundering Act in the case, asked the CBI: “why have you not arrested any of the accused yet? Are you feeling shy or are you just protecting the accused? ... Are the officers against whom you are probing still in service in government offices? ...Filing charge sheet should not stop you from arresting the accused. In several cases CBI arrests the accused first and then files charge sheet. Why are you making an exception in this case?”
It may be noted that CBI had registered a case in the scam of January 29th of 2011. The CBI counsels still had the gumption to seek eight more weeks from the High Court for filing Charges. The accused are real big wigs in politics and civil and military service, who could be expected to move and shakes things in every investigative agency even though some are retired or out of power. The names are interesting: the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, Congress leader K L Gidwani, retired army officers Lt.General P K Rampal, Major Generals A R Kumar and T K Kaul, Retired brigadier R C Sharma and M M Wanchoo, Subash Lala, then Principal Secretary to the CM, former Principal Secretary of the Urban development Department, Ramanand Tiwari, former Municipal Commissioner Jairaj Phatak IAS, and former Mumbai Collector Pradeep Vyas IAS. Congress leader Gidwani had the unique distinction of being caught red-handed while trying to bribe CBI lawyer for getting the charges against him in the case diluted, and was arrested. Please note, he was not arrested for his involvement in the case.
The High Court Division Bench has rapped the CBI, and advised them to “take action without fear or favour”, noting that their Lordships agreed that some of the accused are high-ranking politicians...my God! Did the country’s prime investigating agency need to be reminded of their basic duties? Were their Lordships reminding the likes of chowkidars?
Well, in fact India’s Central Bureau of Investigation needs to be reminded. I remember an Joint Director of CBI who knew his duties, was thoroughly embarrassed in Delhi High Court by his counsel when he snapped at the lawyer, KT Tulsi, if I remember right asking “are you arguing my case or the case of the accused”? It was the Bofors case which the CBI managed to scuttle in a manner befitting a banana republic’s investigating agency. The high-ranking CBI officer, K Madhavan, resigned soon after, in disgust when he could not investigate the Securities Scam in which Harsad Mehta, the man who advised Finance Minister Manmohan Singh (!) was a high-profile accused. When I last heard of him, he was taking up cases with the CBI on the opposite side almost with a vengeance, and making many times the salary CBI gave him for a thankless job. Well, remembering Mumbai BC’s reference to high-ranking politicians in Adarsh Co-operative Society case, there were indeed a high-ranking politicians involved in the Bofors and Securities Scam cases, acting against whom would have resulted in “destabilising the country”, as averred by two sitting judges of the Supreme Court of India said in a Commission report.
In the Rs.176000 crores 2G spectrum scam, when the U-nion Telecom Minister was the accused, initially we heard of the strange spectacle of CBI’s counsel, Union Government’s counsel and A.Raja’s counsel used to hold conferences! Now Raja is in the Jail, Kanimozhi is in jail, and many others involved in the scam are being prosecuted, but the Government of India represented by its Cabinet Ministers and the PM himself have at various stages tried to absolve A.Raja, and later employed maths to reduce the loss to the exchequer. The CBI has mentioned of only Rs.40000 crores scam in its charge sheet.
When the Supreme Court struck down the 2G licences illegally distributed to all and sundry, Union Minister Kapil Sibal went around inciting the foreign companies who were trapped in the scam to complain to their governments to use diplomatic pressure. He was worried in privately that the Supreme Court judgement would hamper FDI inflow into the country, investor confidence etc., though the Union Finance Minister did not utter a word in this regard. Some foreign investors in Indian telecom sector like Etisalat (in tie-p with the realty group DB) and Telenor (tied up with Unitech Group, another real estate company) have, however, acknowledged openly that they were duped by local partners into illegal arrangements. The Russian company Systema has asked the Indian government to honour the ‘Bilateral Investment Treaty' (BIT) with Russian Federation to protect its investments to the tune of $3.1 billion in the telecom joint venture, Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd.
Going back to the Adarsh Co-operative Society case, a very important outcome of the hearing on March 12, 2012 was the High Court Bench instructing the Enforcement Directorate, the Income Tax Department and the CBI to share their information in this case with each other, and asking the CBI to “contemplate” forming a joint team from all agencies. But this was “to avoid duplication of work”, mind you, not to achieve any unified work or outcome thereof. The Central government ultimately controls all these agencies, however independent they are proclaimed in theory, and we have seen in the cases of Laloo Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati and many many others, how wonderfully these agencies have worked to make a mockery of their establishment and maintenance by the country.
Before long you will know from media reports that the investigating officials who had made substantial headway thanks to the HC order, being transferred out, as Congress governments (in particular) have always done when they found officers acting correctly and with courage. Transferring such officers is the most harmless thing, for them. But those who had done good job against corrupt “high-ranking politicians” and civil service officers would routinely have vigilance enquiries initiated against them. Their promotions get delaid, their juniors will be made their seniors. Petitions filed by such officers before the Central Administrative Tribunal, courts and even the Supreme Court invariably fail because normal law in service jurisprudence has been that such incidents come under the purview of administrative action, not to be interfered with!
Monday, March 12, 2012
India’s nuclear (power) woes
What persuades me to write a piece on nuclear power is not my expertise in the field, but the anger from reading reports in the Times of India Pune edition on eminent Nuclear scientist, Homi Bhaba Chair Professor at Bhaba Atomic Research Centre, former AEC Chairman, Anil Kakodkar being threatened by a mob not to speak of the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in his speech on ‘Preparing for our secure energy future’ at Pune’s College of Engineering. The organisers of the meeting however, had Dr.Kakodkar acquiesce partially to the protestors, speaking in favour of nuclear energy, while skipping the Jaithapur project by name.
The result of the controversy, unfortunately, was that the report of the nuclear scientist’s meeting barely touched upon what eventually he spoke. Journalists savour controversies; they never show much interest in other things, even if they are far more important.
BARELY TEN PER CENT OF WHAT I GIVE BELOW ARE FROM ANIL KAKODKAR’S REPORTED SPEECH. THE REST ARE MINE:
1. 1. The use of nuclear energy is inevitable. It remains the safest option among all the major energy forms in commercial use despite incidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl.
2. People may have legitimate doubts and apprehensions about nuclear power projects. It is essential to clarify the issues. Much of the apprehension about nuclear power is the result of public trauma generated by catastrophe syndrome and misinformation relating to fatalities, radiation and waste-management. There is this avoidable trauma about nuclear energy and nuclear plants. But study shows that the risks with nuclear energy are the least. Where the energy source death rate per tera watt hours from sources like natural gas and oil are 4 and 36 respectively, the death rate with nuclear energy is only 0.04.
There are now 439 nuclear reactors in operation around the world in over 30 countries. Nuclear energy amounts for 16% of world electricity and is growing even post-Fukushima. The real risks of nuclear energy are the lowest among all energy forms. Besides, the advantage in terms of minimal effect on climate change also needs to be taken into account. Several countries are in fact opting for nuclear power plants. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s realistic estimate is that 90 new nuclear plants will be operative by 2030. The US approved two nuclear power plants in Georgia recently. UK and Finland are going the same way. China is constructing three plants while South Korea commissioned another one. The nuclear programme is credible and good all over the world.
4. India needs to create a larger capacity for the use of all forms of energy resources, including nuclear sources. The country must focus on development of technologies for thorium and solar energy. India has a successful and largely indigenous nuclear power program and hopes to have 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by 2032. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.
I shall get back to Jaitapur Power Project.
A 9,000 MW project to come up in Madban-Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district of Konkan region, Maharashtra is to be set up by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd in collaboration with the French company Aveva. Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh gave clearance to the Jaitapur nuclear power complex in 80 days. While doing so he claimed he had tried to balance four objectives: the amount of energy required to sustain a growth rate of nine per cent; the proportion of fuel mix; strategic diplomacy, especially after the Civilian Nuclear Deal; and the environmental concerns raised by a large number of groups. He said it was paradoxical that environmentalists were against nuclear energy, the cleanest of all.
On December 6, 2010 an agreement was signed for the construction of first set of two third-generation European Pressurized Reactors and the supply of nuclear fuel for 25 years in the presence of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The JPPP had proposed to acquire 938 hectares for the 10,000 mw nuclear power project. Since the land is barren, as per provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, the farmers are eligible for Rs. 50,000 to Rs.2.5 lakh per hectare. What followed was a mix of haggling for increase of price for the land and protest against the project. In view of the massive agitation launched by local farmers, it was proposed to enhance the amount to Rs.8-10 lakh. But greed increased and so did the fury of the agitators. There is a competitive spirit here between ruling Congress-NCP alliance and local Shiv Sena MLA and hence the decision was to offer Rs.20-22 lakh/hectare. Arrey, hamara kya jatha hai? In addition, NPCIL will provide each family member a job or an additional compensation of Rs. 5 lakh. The Government of Maharashtra state completed land acquisition in January 2010, only 33 out of the 2,335 villagers have accepted compensation cheques as of November 2010.
On April 18, 2011, some 300 locals led by Shiv Sena MLA Rajan Salvi had burned machinery, electronic material and dry grass on the plateau following which police resorted to lathicharge. Subsequently, violent protests also broke out in the neighbouring fishing community of Sakhri Nate where Tabrez Sayekar, 30, was killed in police firing. As of now, there is a PIL in the Supreme Court of India seeking stay on the Jaitapur Power Project in view of seismic dangers, tsunami and what not!
Now let me go to a nuclear power project which Kerala had driven away, and Tamilnadu welcomed whole-heartedly – the Koodamkulam nuclear power project. I must add here that the 55Km coastal belt of Kerala with its radioactive (thorium-containing) sand beaches give 400millirem radiation per annum whereas an atomic power plant in a year gives only 1 milli-rem! It is curious to note that protestors who started out on the grounds of nuclear safety abandoned it and went later to higher realms of reprocessing spent fuel and the second stage (of the nuclear programme when plutonium would be produced for Fast Breeder Reactor. Our scientists were preparing to make the country a world leader in taking nuclear technology to the thorium reactor, because so far nuclear technology had been the domain of a few developed countries. The state government-appointed expert panel vouching for the safety of the Koodankulam nuclear plant, the agitators had little locus standi. But then it was for all to see that what was there in Kudankulam today is trouble created by the so-called international green activists and lobbyists, with some fringe groups in local politics.
Noone was therefore really astonished when the Prime Minister in an interview to the 'Science' journal had criticised NGOs that received support from abroad for leading protests against the Koodamkulam nuclear power plant. Home Minister P Chidambaram and the Minister of State V Narayanasamy separately reiterated that the protests at the Koodankulam nuclear plant were funded by foreign NGOs. On February 28, a German national, Sonnteg Reiner Hermann, close to the protest leaders was arrested from a lodge near the nuclear plant and deported for the alleged funding activities. According to Police, Sonnteg Reiner Hermann had close links to PS Udayakumar, spearheading the protests. Church groups and Islamic organisations are involved; but no Hindu organisations! Four NGOs have been officially booked for violating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, because they diverted foreign funds into the protest movement.
In a bizarre move that smacks of stupid public policy making, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently appointed longstanding votary of nuclear energy Anil Kakodkar as the head of the India’s ambitious, national solar mission.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Homosexuals and their right to “live with dignity.”
My knowledge of homosexuality started early in my life when I joined High School Panangad (now HSS) in the old Nattika Furka, between Thrikkannamathilakam and Kodungallur. I had primary and upper-primary schooling in Vellikkulangara, in the foot-hills of Kodasserymala, to the east of Kodakara and south of Chalakkudi almost equidistant. Initially I didn’t know why some boys were caressing and pressing my thighs. Then when the bolder and nastier ones explained the matter to me, I didn’t like the idea at all. Here I am, an above-average-student with upper-middle class upbringing, many of my relatives were teachers, my paternal and maternal grandfathers were powerful people; I thought it was quite demeaning to subject myself to the kind of behaviour. I was new in the school, and had no friends in the class, though my brother studied in 6th and several cousins in different classes in the same school. It was embarrassing to reveal to them my problem or canvass support. I didn’t have the guts to go to teachers or the dreaded Headmaster, Abdul Rahman Sahib. I had to handle the situation myself. Once during a class in which the teacher was absent and none came to replace him for the period, a particularly nasty fellow, Valsan, started pressing my thighs and suggesting a sexual rendezvous openly, and I forgot my puny physique, and lack of support. And fisted him with all my strength on the mouth. It was blood all over and Valsan was shaken badly. The entire class froze in silence. When Valsan recovered from the shock the lunch bell rang and all dispersed. Before leaving Valsan warned me a little incoherently through his broken/swollen lips that after lunch when he was back from home, he would make my life miserable. I was scared like hell, but managed to give a ‘couldn’t care less’ appearance. When Valsan was seen coming back, my heart was pounding like a rice-mill huller. What prompted me to move towards him menacingly, I don’t know, he moved aside and looked away. We did not talk to each other for a few days and Valsan did not seem anxious to teach me a lesson despite taunts from many boys itching to see an encounter. Then one day Valsan quietly told me it was a joke, and I said matter-of-factly with no iciness about it that as I was new to the place I failed to appreciate it. Another time, a boy who was distantly related to us, and quite pally with me all along, tried the same unpleasant act to my horror! This time I was bolder, thanks to some teachers, especially the English teacher became very kind to me following my better performance in class. I gave Shivadasan the treatment I had meted out to Valsan, and with no qualms about the consequences because he was my size. I could handle him. Nobody troubled me later in school. In Christ college, where I studied, there was a boy in our class who earned quite a lot of money from those who sodomised him. He was quite shameless about it and used to literally flaunt his fair, hairless thighs! Again, my cute looks earned me some nasty comments because of my constant companion Ramadas. Ramadas was my class-mate from Panangad High School though he was very big-built. Once, an equally big hosteller who had a Royal Enfield Bullet in those days, asked Ramadas why he was not sharing my company with others. Ramadas, who could beat uo a dozen people empty-handed thanks to his years of training in Kalarippayattu, hit this fellow on his face with the back of his right foot and he fell backwards. He got up, looked around, and mumbled an apology and vanished. Then years later, in my early thirties, I was travelling First Class in the Harbour Lane train from VT to Mankhurd in the early days of the CIDCO township Vashi. At Chembur, a middle-aged man, a complete stranger, ready to disembark, comes to my seat and invites me “to have some beer and some nice time”. I got up and gave him a quick slap that could be heard five hundred meters away. He staggered out, apologising profusely as the remaining passengers in the compartment quizzed me about the cause. I told them, and then we all roared in laughter. One man was curious why a bearded fellow like me was found attractive and I made fun of him saying that such thought indeed gave away latent homosexuality in him
I used find it intriguing and quite irritating that The New Indian Express(Thiruvanathapuram Edition), the newspaper (IE, of course) I used to read since the sixties started publishing a lot of material that would interest only the LGBT type readers. I used to tell many of my friends who also subscribed to the paper that it were giving a disproportionate space to this group. In fact that was one of the reasons for my discontinuing a habit of decades. So when a Supreme Court Bench of Mr Justice GS Singhvi and Mr Justice SJ Mukhopadhaya has taken up the case of Homosexuals’ right “to live with dignity in the country”, I was quite miffed. Of all things India that is Bharat has to attend to seriously in its tryst with destiny, it appears the sexual preferences of the LGBT groups and “human rights” involved are right at the top in priority, absurdly, if you ask me.
The SC Bench has asked the government about the latest figure on the LGBT population and their numbers inflicted with the deadly infection. The government has only contended that there were 23.9 lakh HIV affected persons in the country. It was submitted in the High Court in 2009 that eight per cent of homosexuals were HIV infected. (8%, any public health expert would maintain, is a huge risk) It is most unlikely that the present government at the Centre would clarify what percentage of LGBT group have become victims to HIV infection on account of their unhealthy sexual preference. The world over, scientific community has warned that homosexuality is a sure way of contracting the deadly infection. With its present commitment to turn the other way, in order to shore up image as a protector of human rights, and its anxiety to create yet another vote-bank the Government of India may not hazard a serious study into this aspect.
The High Court verdict has been challenged in the Supreme Court on the ground that homosexuality is illegal, immoral and against ethos of Indian culture. Apart from the Hindutva side, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which represents Islam in India and some Christian bodies like the Apostolic Churches Alliance have challenged the High Court judgmentl. The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Right, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhgam, and Yogic Guru Ramdev too have opposed the verdict.
The LGBT group argues that they are normal, and the preference is their ‘human right’. They forget that normality is a matter of statistics and irrespective of the noisy and high-profile perverts, they represent a minuscule minority in the country. It is against the order of the nature, if you ask me. The nature’s order is that a man’s genital is meant to be inserted into the female‘s biological genital for sexual gratification and reproduction when chosen. But if it is inserted in another man’s anus meant only for excretion of nitrogenous waste, it cannot be normal, or right and proper. Permitting this unnatural and immoral act can invite diseases such as AIDS as has been proven. More dangerously, if made legal and dignified, it can cause an alarming increase in pedophilia.