Saturday, November 23, 2013

To prevent further sexual harassment, press charges.

Risking accusations of misogyny, I want to write about recent victims of sexual harassment.

1. Supreme Court interns allegedly harassed by a retired SC Judge don't want to press charges.

2. A journalist working for an organization which specializes in public exposes, was allegedly raped by her Editor but didn't press charges for a week and despite a national outrage and absence of a Sexual Harassment Committee in her office, still won't go to police herself.

3. A woman allegedly snooped/stalked by Gujarat govt officials at the instance of a 'saheb', is allegedly asking her father to write to NCW and GCW to claim that snooping was infact protection given to her and that there should be no investigation in this regard.

4. A senior executive of a IT services company which employs tens of thousands of high-skilled women, was accused of sexual harassment but was allowed to settle instead of being prosecuted. He went onto become the CEO of another company which also employs thousands of high-skilled women and was again accused of sexual harassment ... and again allowed to go without charges being pressed.

Now, I think about a quote allegedly from an accused in the Mumbai journalist rape incident. Apparently they had gang-raped 4 other poor women and warned them to never tell anyone and that this gave them the confidence to attempt again with this journalist. To their credit, the journalist or her male friend (i'm not sure), reported the incident to police.


What does this tell us? If victims don't want to go to police, what is the point of protesting or blaming the police who somehow have to protect women and children from half a billion men?

Sure, police stations are not known to be safe places for victims of sexual harassment. And I would like to see, among other things,

1. establishment of all women police stations with provision for women medical examiners and prosecutors,

2. online FIRs so that its registered before we go to a police station go give testimony/evidence and

3. More women operated transport (auto-rickshaws, taxis and buses) to reassure women of their safety.

But if SC interns won't press charges and a whole bunch of feminists keeping telling us that its up to the journalist to press charges or not against her editor, in an office which doesn't have SHC, I don't know what kind of progress we are expecting.

ps: The discussions and laws on this subject mostly seem to disregard men who get sexually harassed as children and in relatively less instances as adults.

Friday, November 01, 2013

A Statue to shame us all

Dams are built at a terrible cost. Thousands of poor people lose land, livelihood and their way of life, for a compensation. Eminent Domain by which we authorize the state to take over private land, to serve the greater common good of the country, must be used with great caution and respect.

The dams built across Narmada have been especially painful. Thousands of people in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra lost their villages to irrigate Gujarat. Hundreds of activists are protesting the callous way in which compensation was distributed and still hasn't reached some. I have been vary of Narmada Bachao Andolan but have never been unsympathetic to people's demands for just compensation.

Now, some people are building a statue of Sardar Patel on the bank of Sardar Sarovar Dam. I mean, a dam already named after Sardar Patel. Why the State is involved in such a statue building exercise is beyond me. How do we tolerate 2500 crore rupees being spent to build a freaking statue when thousands are still protesting to get compensation for terrible personal sacrifices? And why do we remain mute spectators to one man's misuse of the statue to further his political ambition?

Its quite depressing.


ps: I took the above photo while visiting Bhakra dam which is celebrating 50 years this October. I'm sure our statue builders will also begrudge this portrait of our then Prime Minster who was instrumental in building that dam.

My visit to Bhakra was quite a learning experience. A photo essay here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/balajiworld/sets/72157633199216696/

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Onion Price kerfuffle

I briefly looked into the Onion Price kerfuffle and this is what I found.

1. Onion does not come under the Essential Commodities Act 1955 and hence the union and state govts cannot per se stop hoarding or storage by farmers or traders. The Union govt can control export of Onions by increasing the Minimum Export Price (MEP) which it did recently.

2. After a similar inflation in December 2010, the Competition Commission of India asked the Bangalore based Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC) to study the Onion markets. The report was published in 2012. http://www.cci.gov.in/images/media/completed/AO.pdf It found no smoking gun and hence no quick fixes possible.

3. Maharashtra, Karnataka, MP and Gujarat seem to be the major onion producing states and ISEC study in MH and KA finds collusion between traders, commission agents, wholesalers and some farmers, to control the supply of Onions to maximize their profits.

4. ISEC study's major recommendations are,

a. try and prevent secret biddings (illegal under Regulated Market act) which help some traders to get most of the onion produce,
b. empower APMCs to punish intentional hoarders,
c. break the cartel of commission agents by removing entry barriers.
d. discourage export control using MEP (affects farmers).
e. educate farmers on prices and procure directly from them.

Fixing the wrong machines: EVMs instead of ATMs

Early this evening I went to an ICICI bank ATM to withdraw some 'change'. Instead of entering 400, I entered 500 and pat came a single note!! I took it to a nearby medical shop and got a candy (tamarind flavor) instead of 1 rupee change!

I fail to understand why RBI and the govt have been unable to force retail banks to ensure liquidity in proper denominations. Why can't banks be forced to issue 20, 50 rupees denominations for say 500 rupees, per account per month on their ATMs?

When I was still in high school, my dad used to go withdraw money from a bank every month and will bring a bundle of 10 rupee bills (1000) and a packet of 1 or 2 rupee coins. I did that too from a Wells Fargo branch in Santa Monica (quarters) or the university quarter machines for my laundry.

But I wonder how easy it is for us (and the customer facing businesses) to get such change from an Indian bank. One of the last few times I went to a bank (HDFC Koramangala), I ended up carrying my bicycle inside the branch as a protest against their security not allowing my two wheeler to be parked in their two wheeler parking space.

While bank ATMs remain in their -5.0 version or something, some professional litigants and the equally indulgent judges are forcing the Election Commission to create a paper trail of some 250 million votes cast in our elections!!

No one except the most cynical politicos, have had a problem with our voter machines. Since these paper slips are not going to be issued to voters, wonder what is going to prevent Dr. Swamy from continuing to claim that EVMs are preset to vote for his opposing parties and print the paper slip likewise too?!! And as one former election commissioners observed, giving these paper slips instead to voters will be a constant nuisance with usual suspects protesting that they didn't press the button as recorded in the paper slip. Oh, well.

An Odd Republic: Supreme Court adventurism

Are you, like me, alarmed at the rate at which Supreme Court is putting pressure on the Executive, based mostly (according to me) on the whim of the presiding judges?

1. Declaring an amendment to Representation of People's Act enacted by parliament in 1989 as unconstitutional (which is ok) but simultaneously interfering with the Parliamentary privilege to decide when a convicted member can be disqualified.

2. Declaring AICTE as an advisory body and creating a regulatory vacuum for Engineering colleges. Messing with the Medical council before that.

3. Dictating that NOTA and Paper Trail are mandatory just because the Election Commission is pliant? Shouldn't political parties and Parliament have a say? At the very least, such measures cost money.

4. And dictating to the Executive what identity measure (Aadhar) it can or cannot use for welfare programs?

I myself think targeted welfare is wrong and will never work (like most economists say). I have written at length how Nandan's biometric card is a foolhardy exercise and will positively result in excluding the needy from getting welfare (as Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey have been arguing). I believe Direct Cash Transfer is immoral and will make welfare even more harder to reach the excluded poor (because of competition from undeserving rich people like the ones - most of them - lining up at their LPG distributor).

Its perhaps not even Government's fault that the bill to legitimize UIDAI was stuck in the standing committee. However for the SC to order the govt on whether Aadhar can be made mandatory for receiving welfare, seems clear misadventure in the domain of the executive and legislature.

But then our Supreme Court appoints food commissioners (?!!). We better learn to live with this odd republic.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

When Jayalalitha was convicted and became CM two times later.

I feel like a voter of a previous generation. I remember campaigning for DMK in 1996 (in 10th std, i was 14) in the infamous election to oust Jayalalitha. 4 years later she was convicted in the TANSI land deal case and sentenced to 3 years rigorous imprisonment.

Jayalalitha's conviction was in 2000 and just before the 2001 assembly election. A mob led by ADMK activists burnt a agricultural university bus in Dharmapuri and killed 3 girls to protest against this conviction. They await hanging in death sentences awarded later.

Because of her conviction, Jayalalitha could not contest the 2001 election. To save face she deliberately filed nominations from 4 constituencies and got them rejected by the Election Commission. In that election ADMK won in a landslide and Jayalalitha was sworn in as CM despite the conviction and her not being a MLA.

Supreme court declared her appointment as null and void. O Panneerselvam was made Tamilnadu's CM. (a friend used to call me Panneerselvam in college because of my political activities!!).

Then in 2003, Jayalalitha was acquitted by the High Court which quashed the trial court verdict in the TANSI case. She went on to become CM couple of more times including her current term.

Now, as people croon about Laloo Yadav and Rasheed Masood, I merely want to point out that trial court judgments can be erroneous. These politicians were elected by people. Its utterly immoral to unseat them before appeal, and undemocratic to render their constituencies unrepresented. This is not a Platonic republic. Democracy means accepting other people's opinion and patiently making our case so that a majority accepts our views.

ps: oh, yes. I too believe Jayalalitha, Laloo Yadav and Rasheed Masood are corrupt. But even as a 14 year old, I used democratic means to try and unseat one of them.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Rebutting Mr. K. Parasaran's claims of unconstitutionality in Bill LXII of 2013

As I have written before, I believe the Ordinance/Bill to suspend disqualification of legislators until their appeal is heard by a High Court is both constitutional and morally the right thing to do. Reading a learned lawyer like Mr. K. Parasaran's weak claims of unconstitutionality, further vindicates my support for the Ordinance/Bill.

My rebuttal of Mr. K. Parasaran's claims made here: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/measure-for-unconstitutional-measure/article5190528.ece

1. K.M. Nanavati vs State of Bombay (AIR 1961 SC 112):

The Order of the Governor to suspend the sentence and allow the officer to continue serving in the Navy, is not at all comparable to this ordinance. A convicted legislator starts serving his/her sentence and any relief in terms of bail or stay of conviction/sentence is entirely up to the trial or high court judges. In fact this ordinance stops a convicted legislator from taking part in parliament debates or drawing salary. Both these restrictions are in addition to the sentence imposed by a trial court. The convicted legislator cannot attend parliament unless the trial or appeal's court allows the prisoner to do so. To say that the Speaker should also disqualify the legislator, and render a constituency unrepresented in parliament, all before his/her appeal is heard, is arbitrary and judicial overreach. Mr. Parasaran's claim that this ordinance/bill interferes with the judge's power to set conditions while on appeal is totally false.
2. Indira Nehru Gandhi vs Raj Narain (AIR 1975 SC 1590):

The case against Ms. Indira Gandhi was about her election to Parliament. If the court rules her election void, she obviously is disqualified from being a legislator. This case cannot be compared to conviction of legislators in cases unrelated to their election or work in parliament. If the trial court doesn't even have the power to disqualify a convict from being a elector (only temporary inability to vote because of being in jail), how does it have the power to disqualify a serving legislator and render his/her constituency unrepresented in Parliament?

To summarize, no judge has the right to dictate to the Speaker/Chairman of an elected body on whether or not to admit a elected legislator from participating in the proceedings of Parliament. The court's right to impose punishments or restrictions on the movement of a convicted person remains unaffected. If the High court in Ranchi rules that the bail condition for Mr. Laloo Yadav while hearing his appeal is for him to stay in Ranchi, he cannot attend Parliament irrespective of what the Ordinance/Bill proposes to do.

I'm sending this post to Mr. Parasaran at his official mail id as a Rajya Sabha member: k.parasaran@sansad.nic.in
My earlier post on why I support the above discussed bill/ordinance: http://balajiworld.blogspot.in/2013/09/why-i-support-billordinance-to-undo-sc.html

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why I support the bill/ordinance to undo SC judgment on disqualifying convicted legislators

Being a Libertarian is hard! I find myself isolated in supporting both the bill and the ordinance to undo the SC judgement on disqualifying convicted legislators.

1. Parliament should not give in to populism and unseat a convicted legislator without giving him/her a chance of one appeal. We can ensure that the appeals in case of convicted legislators are heard and decided within a month. Automatic and time bound appeals are common in many countries. The bill's provision that a convicted legislator cannot vote or draw salary while appeal is pending, is a reasonable measure.

2. An amendment to Representation of People's act has been in place since 1989 which was undone by SC. The SC has every right to interpret the constitution to say that there can be no discrimination between a sitting legislator and ordinary citizen. However SC judgement that a convicted legislator should be unseated before the appeal is decided is a violation of first principles and a case of legislating from the bench. Parliament has every right to pass a law to undo the judgement on disqualification. I don't think even a constitutional amendment is needed as some people suggest.

3. And just because its Laloo Yadav, doesn't mean that there is no need to pass an ordinance to prevent a later constitutional crisis. The crisis being a disqualified legislator getting acquitted on appeal and by then a new legislator getting elected and both fighting it out in the court. The parliament has a right, and in my opinion a duty, to pass a bill undoing the SC judgement (on disqualification, not contesting). 
While that parliament is asking citizens their opinion via a standing committee, why should some legislators be singled out to lose their seats because of potential erroneous convictions? Scores of other convicts are continuing to be legislators, one is infact a minister in Gujarat because of non-retrospective nature of the measures. Bringing the ordinance was a right thing to do.

4. Anyway in the hurry to be populist, we seem to be losing an opportunity to clean up politics. Making appeals automatic and time bound in the case of convicted legislators will infact lead to them actually serving their sentence. Current long appeal process, ensures convicted legislators stay away from jail or worse enables a change in government to sabotage the case with pliant public prosecutors.
 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why I support Run off Elections

I couldn't attend the discussion on Electoral Reforms organized by Loksatta Party Karnataka today because of a bad cold.

While Electoral Reforms have several aspects, on the main issue of the voting system, I'm steadfastly opposed to the Proportional Representation (PR) System and instead support the Run-off Election (ROE) model. Let me explain below. Also find a video of my talk on Electoral Reforms at a Takshashila Shala.

What is ROE model?


In ROE model, people will vote for candidates in the first round like they do currently in the FPTP (First Past the Post) model. If a candidate secures 50% percent of the votes, he/she will be elected. If however, no candidate gets 50%, a run-off election will be called between the top two candidates to select the eventual winner.

Advantages of Run-off Elections:


1. Curb criminals and caste/religious fanatics:

The ability of criminals and caste/religious fanatics to win elections will be greatly reduced, since a majority of voters can be expected to vote out such candidates in the run-off round.

2. Encourage good candidates to contest elections:

People can vote for a good candidate without wondering if their vote will be wasted, since they might get a more decisive say in the run-off round. There will be a lesser need for 'strategic voting' by certain communities to prevent a candidate/party from winning.

3. True representatives, not Dynasties:
In PR system, family members and cronies of party leaders will become our representatives without having to directly face the electorate. In ROE, the family members of leaders also have to contest the election and win 50% votes.

4. No Appeasement:

In FPTP model, all major parties field candidates from the caste/community influential in respective constituencies even if better candidates are available. In the ROE model, the electorate can be expected to vote against such appeasement if someone outside that community makes it to the run-off round.

5. Unlike PR system, ROE doesn't give representation to fringe elements:

The biggest advantage of a FPTP model is the opportunity it gives for fringe elements to contest the elections and stay within constitutional methods, and not take up arms for example. A PR model might give representation to fringe elements even if they are a small minority in all constituencies. ROE model moderates the influence of fringe elements on the polity till it reaches a critical mass in atleast one constituency.

6. Moderate Coalitions:

Opportunistic pre-poll, post-poll and hidden alliances among political parties are a bane of our current system. In ROE model, all parties can contest elections on their own and based on their performance, decide to support other party candidates (whose ideology they are comfortable with) in the run-off round.


Video streaming by Ustream

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Why I support the Food Secuirty Bill

Yesterday, I participated in a Social Audit of the Public Distribution System organized by the Bommanahalli unit of the Loksatta Party. It reinforced my support for the Food Security Bill passed by the Loksabha.

Being a right liberal (libertarian), let me explain my support for this welfare measure.

1. PDS is already implemented by States. NFSB merely provides more funds from the Union. I agree with left-liberal economists that the increase in spending because of NFSB is close to about 30000 crores per annum and that food is an investment on India's work force and not a freebie.

2. The poor contribute a very significant portion of the Union's tax kitty by way of Indirect taxes (sales and services). I believe tax revenue from such consumption based sources must necessarily be spent on welfare or not imposed at all. A program to nourish those taxpayers and their children, to the extent of ~60% of the population at about 1.2 lakh crores makes a lot of economic sense.

3. I have my own solution to fix PDS by adopting what works in states, namely universal coverage, tighter govt oversight on shops and govt owned transportation. There are about 5 lakh ration shops in the country mostly owned by individuals and few SHGs. My proposal is to allow FCI to open retail shops on a massive scale and encourage organized retailers like SHGs, Amul, HopComs, Karpagam, Food Bazaar, Reliance, Walmart etc to become PDS retailers. There is an incentive for private retailers to become PDS retailers because of volumes and sale of non-PDS items from their stores.

4. We need to make a distinction between,

a. public investments (public schools and hospitals, PDS, polio vaccine) which are necessary,
b. tax exemptions (IT parks, custom/excise duty waivers, income tax deductions, farm income) which are acceptable and
c. freebies (farm loan waivers, free rice, color tv, energy subsidies (electricity, petrol, diesel, LPG, kerosene) which are downright wrong and immoral.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Madras Cafe - Review

1. I have very rarely been disappointed by a Hindi movie in the last few years. Madras Cafe is once again a professional product. If you didn't know, the movie is about Indian involvement in the Lankan civil war culminating in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

2. The movie is entirely believable and not like some shitty Hollywood CIA trash. While the movie concentrates on the characters (many of whom we can make out in real life), a wider angle of how the events are seen by people is missing. Considering a journalist is available as a main character, they could have easily avoided the CCTV effect. They tried using TV news bulletins for this but that was clumsy. They could have gotten a real Doordarshan news reader from that time.

3. Casting is pretty good for most characters except perhaps John Abraham!

4. However, they don't seem to have made much attempt to get the costume and language of Lankan Tamils right. Maybe I'm looking for Kannathil Muthamittal type portrayal which may not be close either. However I did visit parts of northern Lanka few years back and this movie's costume designer could have tried a bit harder.

5. Finally, the story. This movie has tried to present such a balanced view that no one can complain. Infact this movie seems way more charitable to Prabhakaran than what even his apologists could have asked for.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dear Karnataka BJP voters, elect Loksatta candidates.


I was a BJP supporter for 17 years. One of my earliest memories being Nitish Kumar's speech in Parliament (c1994) that "a Bihari will become the next Prime Minister, Atal Bihari!". When BJP was voted emphatically to run the Karnataka Govt in 2008, after the betrayal by JDS leader Mr. Kumaraswamy, the entire state wished success for Chief Minister Mr. Yeddurappa and his cabinet. But what has BJP done with that mandate?

Operation Lotus, where the most opportunist of the MLAs were bought with Minister positions, was the initial shock. The way Bellary brothers went about amassing wealth and allegedly using that money to finance Operation Lotus, and hence were seen as bullying Mr. Yeddiyurappa embarrased every one of us. But we sympathised with the BJP for having to run a government under such circumstances.

Somewhere along the way, corruption seeped into BJP ranks. Landscams became the order of the day with several BJP ministers accused of denotifying land and handing them over to cronies, the lands that had earlier been notified for the greater public good. Many of those ministers ended up in Jail. Simultaneously the Bellary brothers were taking their multi-state, illegal iron-ore mining mafia business to levels, never seen in the history of this country. It took an incredible amount of work by Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde and the Honorable Supreme Court to bring the Bellary brothers to justice. Do you remember the days when the most respected man in the Karnataka public life, Justice Hegde was pleading for the safety of his staff and witnesses in the forest department? BJP government responded by decreasing his powers, and later wrecked the Lokayukta institution with questionable appointments, which left the office vacant for more than a year.

On December 11, 2010, Ashwin Mahesh brought several civic organizations in the city, led by Loksatta Party to the Corruption Saaku rally. We all marched from Cubbon park to Shantinagar playground to make ourselves heard. At the public meeting. Mr. Arvind Kejriwal thundered from the stage and asked us to go to the nearest police station and register an FIR against Chief Minister Yeddyurappa. He went on to form the Indian Aganist Corruption group and the rest is history. At the same meeting, Dr. Balasubramanium spoke about corruption in PDS that is affecting the lives of the most vulnerable people in our society. His extensive investigative report at the behest of the Karnataka Lokayukta further exposed the levels to which Karnataka had fallen.

After numerous shenagians, BJP finally sacked Mr. Yeddyurappa and installed Mr. Sadananda Gowda as Chief Minister, and we all heavied a collective sigh of relief. Within few months Mr. Sadananda Gowda went about fixing the extreme malice that had set in the government ranks. We saw some progress in infrastructure projects, flyovers and elevated highways were getting inaugurated, Sakala was implemented with enthusiasm and a Karnataka Chief Minister was talking about good governance and development after a long time. But alas!, the vested interests in the party, removed him in the name of his caste!! Yes, in 21st century India, a well performing Chief Minister of a progressive state was removed to accommodate the caste calculations of the BJP! The ordinary BJP supporters who had resumed introducing themselves as BJP voters, were again made to suffer this humiliation.

Now as the elections loom, BJP is heading for certain defeat. Party's central leaders are relcutant to campaign for their own incumbent government. What are you going to do? Vote for the BJP as usual, despite the nightmare of the past 5 years? Or vote for Congress (who's corruption leading the Union Government is far worse than the BJP govt in Karantaka?) or JDS which can only bring political instability and help unprincipled MLAs who'll put themselves for sale?

Why not vote for Loksatta? The party has fielded 24 candidates including 13 in Bangalore. The list is headed by Dr. Ashwin Mahesh, the incredibly experienced urban planner, climate scientist and former faculty at IIMB's Centre for Public Policy. If you have lived in Bangalore in the last decade or so, its very likely that you are the beneficiary of the tireless civic work done by Ashwin and his motivated bunch of volunteers. Don't believe this? See here.

Ashwin has been identified by Wired magazine as one of the 20 Smart people, who are going to change the world! We need to pave the way for him to do that faster! As a BJP supporter, why don't you support Ashwin4MLA and other Loksatta candidates this time around and hope that your party will mend itself for future elections?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

We are responsible for Hyderabad Blasts

Yes, we were asking for it.

1. We didn't question how a Muslim Indian citizen (Afzal Guru) can be hanged without informing his wife and young kids and his body not even given to them and buried in a jail. This when half a dozen Tamil terrorists are dodging the noose for more heinous crimes against the state.

2. We didn't question how a Muslim Indian politician (Owaisi) can be arrested for merely making a speech, when Narendra Modi, who watched as thousands died in riots organized by his party, is reelected CM and is widely projected as a potential PM.

3. We were not offended by a parasite temple that has crept up on Charminar with the only intent to provoke and humiliate the Muslims living in that area. Hey, Charminar is a national monument too and the best known feature of Hyderabad.

4. We were not horrified when the Allahabad High Court bench (comprising a Hindu [Brahminist to be exact], a muslim and a jain) delivered a split verdict on communal lines to justify the demolition of the 15th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and further gave most of the land to the demolishers.

5. We blindly followed the govt and media que to hyper-ventilate about Pakistan, when India also has a history of beheading Pakistanis on the LoC (as reported on front page by The Hindu). We didn't even question the most recent incident where India apparently built bunkers violating the terms of the ceasefire agreement, which led to killing of soldiers on both sides, of which only one beheading were publicized.

6. We have a history of opposing the migration of poor muslims from Bangladesh while you want "hindus" from Pakistan, Srilanka or even Uganda to enter India freely and get benefits.

7. We didn't protest when a Jewish clan of few thousand people in Meghalaya sought and obtained citizenship in Israel and immigrated there, when millions of Arabs are living live animals in Gaza and refugee camps in neighboring countries because of Zionism.

8. We ironically are offended by the term Hindu terrorism (suggested by a dimwit when its infact Sangh Terrorism). Why are RSS/BJP and affiliate organizations not terrorist outfits when they have killed muslims in successive riots from even before independence? What is the difference between Sangh parivar organizations headed by RSS and Mohan Bhagwat in India and the Jihadi organizations headed by JuD and Hafeez Saeed in Pakistan?

* A Gujarat BJP minister is convicted of rioting and muslim killing and sentenced to 38 years in prison.
* Gujarat VHP President is sentenced to jail till his natural death in the same case.

* RSS leader Sunil Joshi (later murdered by colleagues), Pragya, Purohit and scores of others for a series of blasts (Samjauta express killed 68 muslims, Hyderabad mecca masjid, Malegaon).
* A Gujarat DGP is arrested and is being tried for burning a muslim wife in a brick klin in his village so that BJP leaders in Rajasthan and Gujarat led by Gujarat's then home minister and now 'relected MLA on bail', can get away with the murder of Shahabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati?

* A senior Gujarat police officier is now arrested for the murder of a muslim girl Ishrat Jahan.
* Scores of Bajrang Dal workers are convicted for rioting and Christian killing in Kandhamal including Dara Singh who burnt a priest and his young sons and his organization was defended publicly by the Union Home Minister.
* Why are Advani and Sushma Swaraj writing letters to the Prime Minister on behalf of Pragya, charged with terrorism when even Afzal Guru's body cannot be given to relatives?

The above list doesn't even include hundreds of individual cases where Sangh Parivar members have been accused and convicted for killing Muslims during Gujarat riots. Yet, Sangh Parivar outfits are not terrorist organizations?

We are alive reading this merely because of probability. Like the victims of Hyderabad blasts, our turn may come too.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Change begins with me!

1. Law and order won't improve if I bribe a cop or a babu.
2. Fiscal deficit won't go away if I produce fake medical bills, rental receipts to evade income tax or don't pay capital gains tax.
3. Women won't be liberated if I accept dowry, think wedding is bride's expense or that my in-laws should shower me with gifts and foot some bills all my life.
4. Sales tax evasion won't go away if I buy goods at a bania shop without a bill, when a organized retail outlet exists nearby.
5. Jobs won't be created if I pirate movies and music. Or don't complain when its played in my presence. How many women sell their bodies to get an 'extra' job in a movie? How many blows do stuntmen suffer for a paycheck?
6. Poverty won't go away if I haggle with a vegetable vendor or crib about my maid's salary.
7. Children won't go to school if I throw money at a traffic signal or through a charity.
8. Society won't look at women with respect, if I worship Rama or insist women wear burqa.
9. Large scale corruption won't go away if I vote for a Yeddyurappa or Jayalalitha or Raja in my constituency.
10. Corporate corruption won't go away if I watch Sun TV, Kalaignar TV and own Reliance stock.
11. Power cuts won't go away if I keep my monitor on while leaving or use a lift to ground from second floor.
12. Entrepreneurs, students and self-help groups won't get loans if banks can instead make easy money from my credit card purchases.
13. Dented-painted politicians and outright criminals won't be defeated at the polls if I'm not registered to vote or don't turn up.
14. Human rights and political discourse won't improve if I support Narendra Modi.
15. My city won't welcome new immigrants if I don't speak its language.
16. Queues won't be formed if I hold a 100 rupee note over other's head in a restaurant counter.

...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Eternal Vigilance ... or else Rape ... is the price of Liberty

We right-liberals believe in a limited Government, to perform few services in public interest, specifically requested by Parliament and mandated by the Constitution. A list of such legitimate services include maintaining law and order, external security, foreign affairs, regulating land use.

As right liberals, we should not only oppose government excesses (like UIDAI, cash transfer, MNREGA etc), but should also vocally demand that governments perform the services like those listed above.

Ofcourse its the job of the parliament and legislators to keep this watch. And when our representative doesn't do this watch keeping, we have to go out and replace him/her in the next election. But such indirect participation has proved insufficient. Especially so in India. We need to increase our vigilance.

We have seen people make great use of RTI applications and PILs to make the government work. I have seen for myself, the effectiveness of Social Audits in welfare services delivery. Groups like NCPRI and others have been demanding more people participation in the enactment of laws. Pls see my talk here. We need to find more such ways to monitor government services.

bcity.in in Bangalore is a great tool developed by Mapunity to make some public information easily available. Praja.in is also a good repository of information related to goverment services. RTI mandated pages on government websites are surprisingly informative.

I have been thinking (like scores of others, i'm sure) to work on couple of websites where citizen's can collaborate to share information about goverment services so that people are not abused by corrupt officials and middlemen. I know, its easy to think! I'm putting these in the public domain so that I'll get motivated to work on these ideas.

Collaborative website idea 1:

A website, probably using wikimedia software and/or stackexchange codebase, where people share information on receiving public services. Like getting a voter's id, passport, filing an RTI application, registering a FIR etc. This website could be organized at the ward level of a city, and go down to police stations, public hospitals, schools and voter roll of a booth in a ward.

This website will be useful, if it can answer questions like:

1. What documents should I carry to apply for passport in Bangalore? Where should I go?
2. Police officers in Madiwala police station refused to register my FIR? What should I do? See here.
3. A BMTC bus (a public monopoly) didn't stop at KH road bus stop. I noted down the license plate. I want to verify that the particular bus had to stop at this point. If so, how can I complain about this?
4. I want to know the attendance percentage of teachers in the Okkalipuram govt public school (run with our tax contribution). How can I access that information?
5. I called up an ambulance (102) for a road accident victim. Which nearby police station should I call so that they can come and pick up the victim's vehicle?
6. How many bird-flu vaccines are available in the Wilson Garden government hospital (paid for by our tax contribution).
7. How many FIRs were registered in HSR police station? How many of those were investigated and charges pressed? How many were taken up by public prosecutors in a court of law? And how many lead to convictions? See Karnataka stats here.

Collaborative website idea 2:

Its understandable that Police officers are refusing to register FIRs. It'll show up as a crime stat in their circle and they will have the obligation to investigate. Many of us are also not aware of what is a cognizable offense. Even if we manage to get an FIR registered, what is the SLA on investigating the case?

While government programs like Sakala are working towards this, a citizen run website to keep track of FIRs can be helpful. Can we use RTI initially and crowd-sourcing later on to keep track of all FIRs and hence all crime in a city like Bangalore? Or to begin with, can we atleast keep track of FIRs of Rape incidents, considering how vulnerable the victims are to further abuse by police?