December 23, 2010

Pawar - The Great Indian Dabangg

The out-of-tune fiddler

Sharad (affectionately called Shady by some) Pawar has done it again!

This time he has successfully handled the price rise - of all the commodities - of onions, which is the daily diet of the so-called aam admi. This is the same aam admi for whom Manmohan Singh and his patron Sonia Gandhi never tire of showing fake concern.

The manner in which the prices of onions have risen by several hundred percent in a short time certainly could not be all owing to damage to crop by un-seasonal rains in Maharashtra’s Nashik region, a major producing center for onions, as Pawar would like the gullible public and still more gullible Manmohan Singh to believe. His assertion has been contradicted by the Commerce Minister, the Agriculture Secretary and the MD of NAFED. Going by Pawar’s handling of the agriculture portfolio so far, it is crystal clear that as in the past, the prices could not have risen so much but for deliberately created market distortions and manipulation not only of supplies but also of price sentiment.

A Reason to mislead?

Make no mistake. Entering into complicated tendering procedures, changing tender conditions, advancing bidding dates, FCFS basis, all these are strictly for the birds like A. Raja. But Pawar knows his onions. He has simple but highly effective strategies that yield results. One of his strategies is to allow the situation to deteriorate to a crisis point, mess it up and then gain from it. This has been done in his Agriculture Ministry, as well by his colleague in the Civil Aviation.

In the case of onions, even assuming that the supplies were likely to be affected by un-seasonal rains, he must have anticipated the impact on prices and should have taken appropriate steps not only by asking the Commerce Ministry to regulate the quantum or pricing of exports but also by co-ordinating actions to crush the hoarding that was inevitable. But he DID NOT ACT. Exports were merrily continued and nothing was done to keep watch on the commodity traders. This was so despite the IB providing inputs on the price situation to the Government. The situation was allowed to drift and lo and behold! Even when the supplies were continuing at a normal pace and before any real impact of the un-seasonal rains on the supply stream could be felt, the hoarders, no doubt encouraged by apparent deliberate lack of actions, planned for the kill. As they shot up the prices, Pawar obligingly uttered the one sentence that would tell the hoarders how long they had to make money and the common man that he would have to be ready to be robbed at least for that long. He said that for at least three weeks prices would remain high. His one-sentence strategy has earlier been successfully tested in the case of sugar and milk with disastrous effect on the common man’s budget. Now, as exports have been stopped and imports of onions are planned in a big way, naturally this would open up a new avenue to make money by vested interests (guess who?), as happened in the case of sugar imports earlier. Everything that has happened and that is happening appears to be part of a co-ordinated operation.

Shrinking supplies in the Shadow of Pawar

And this is certainly not the last straw on the common man’s bent back. The situation is about to repeat in the case of sugar, which is being exported now, to be hoarded abroad and to be re-imported as the prices rise. Everything works to plan.

By his actions and callous indifference “kya kar sakte hain? (what can be done?)” he has once again proved that he is utterly fearless and brazen and shameless. He does not fear Manmohan Singh – he is not feared by anyone in any case - or the people of the country or some Superior Power that be. He has proved to be the Great Indian Dabangg – the villainous daredevil. He seems ever willing to add more and more black feathers in his cap before finally nemesis catches up with him.

Failure, not a worry

Apart from his legendary greed and controversies like possible D-gang link, connection with Telgi Stamp paper scam and IPL, he has also been embroiled in the recent controversy related to the Lavasa project which was his brainchild.

Even discounting the events of the distant past, India-awake has consistently highlighted since 2008 the immense damage this person has been doing ever since he became the Agriculture Minister in 2004. His record in the Ministry shows nothing but rank incompetence and deliberate, gross mismanagement. Compared to what people have known about Pawar’s dealings in his long career, A.Raja would appear to be a novice and 2G scam is nothing.
See these articles:

Despite Pawar being the Number One candidate for sacking, Manmohan Singh sits there with folded hands, with the occasional notes asking him “to look into and monitor” the price rise etc. What is extremely disturbing is that while Pawar has let the rumor gain ground that he does not want to continue in the Ministry, it is the Prime Minister who it is believed, wants him to continue. It is clear, as pointed out in an earlier article that the inaction on the part of the Prime Minister leads to no other conclusion but that he is supporting Pawar in whatever he has been doing, for the PM is supposed to be aware of what he has been doing. Sadly, the entire Cabinet of which Pawar is a part, seems to be sublimely unconcerned about the plight of the people, let alone the scandalous actions and inactions of this man. Pawar has given them a handy slogan " Kya Kar Sakte Hain?"

And in passing,

This bird is the Great Indian Bustard - spelt with a U not A

But THIS is THE VULTURE that feeds on the misery of others

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा

November 14, 2010

A Towering "Model" Scam

Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society
(where everyone "co-operated")

The signature tune of Maharashtra Govt.?

The Mumbai Adarsh Society scam or the “Model” Scam has become truly symbolic of the levels to which corruption, abuse of power and plunder of public assets has grown in the Maharashtra Government particularly in the last ten years. A building which, even if constructed in the ordinary course, could not have been more than 6 stories high stands tall at 31 stories, perhaps, symbolically suggesting that corruption has grown five fold, if not more in recent times. The fact that the scam which had been assiduously worked out over a period of ten years successfully avoided exposure for so long shows the extent of manipulative powers and hold over the government and the defense establishment the perpetrators had. This, despite the fact that a group of conscientious army personnel knew about the existence of the scam and the efforts to cover it up for at least six years before some of them succeeded in finally blowing it up through the media on 25th October 2010.

In the days that followed, the name of Ashok Chavan, the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra came to the fore for facilitating the entire process and also for securing several flats for his close relatives. Unfortunately for him, his denials about his involvement and about any relatives holding flats exposed him. With great reluctance, the Congress Party was forced to ask him to resign after going through typical Congress-style stage-managed motions of making an “inquiry” to gain time. For Ashok Chavan, it was ironic that just a few weeks before the scam broke, he had arranged for Rupees Two Crores to facilitate a rally for his leader who asked him to quit. However, he may bide his time and wait for the opportunity when he too, like two of his unworthy predecessors may be given a position in the Union Cabinet as a "compassionate" punishment.

Do you have three? Another headache!

In spite of the intense scrutiny of the scam by the media and other activists, the full details have still not emerged with absolute clarity and many questions remain unanswered. What is clear is that some officials in the defense estate department first identified a plot in possession of the army but not in active use and made an elaborate plan based on trickery and fabrications to acquire it for private use. The main “promoter” of the society R.C.Thakur of the Defense Estate Officer appears to be the initiator from the defense services side working with Kanhaiyalal Gidwani, a Congress MLC to manage the civilian side, involving Ministers and bureaucrats in Maharashtra Govt., BMC, MMRDA and other agencies concerned with land use and construction clearances. After the initial stages, the process appears to have become increasingly under the control of the Chief Minister as far as facilitating the approvals and discretionary allocation of flats are concerned.

Thakur and Gidwani

Every one connected with the entire process or anyone in a position to place a spoke in their wheel of deceit was won over with the simple expedient of offering a flat in the proposed society for himself or his nominees. Simple, because allocating a flat at a fraction of the real market value in the prime area of Mumbai South represented a huge bribe, without a single rupee being actually paid out. The entire process was manipulated and meticulously planned at every stage in connivance with those in positions of authority who eventually also got the benefit of a flat allocation.

As the starting step, it was represented that the land, though occupied by the defense department did not actually belong to it but was Collector’s land belonging to the State Government. Ambiguously worded communications were presented to show that the army had no objection to the land being used for the benefit of defense services personnel. To push the proposal for allowing the land to be used for constructing residential premises, equally cleverly worded false representations were made that the beneficiaries would be Kargil war heroes and their widows. The promoters even managed to secure from the Government the FSI which belonged to BEST having the adjacent plot. The space reserved for a road was got reduced and allowed to be used for the society. The entire procedure was followed, paperwork completed so well and even the Occupation Certificate was obtained, that even after the scam has been exposed, the promoters appear to be fully confident that no illegalities have been committed.

Those who have been allotted flats in the Society include two former Chiefs of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor and General N.C.Vij, and former Naval Commander Admiral Madhavendra Singh, apart from other high level officers from defense services, some of whom were reportedly involved in facilitating the work of the perpetrators of the scam. Of the main promoters, Thakur reportedly has one complete floor to himself and Gidwani and his relatives hold four flats. Apart from Ashok Chavan’s relatives, Malav, the son of his close associate Jayant Shah also holds a flat. Several politicians or their relatives also hold flats. More alarming is the fact that several bureaucrats have managed to get flats in the names of their relatives. (see list here) The precise status of all the flat owners has still not been established but in all likelihood, more instances of largesse to family and friends of people in power are sure to come to light. The real shocking revelation is that the “Kargil Heroes” behind whose masquerade the participants in the conspiracy, cozenage and fraud worked, do not find a single genuine allocation in their names.

The fraud, in fact, would not have come to light at all had the Naval authorities not raised serious security issues related to the building which is in close proximity to various defense areas. The security issues and the alleged violations or by-passing of the strict environmental rules under the Coastal Regulation Zone Regulations have really prompted at least the promise of some action by the Government, notorious by now for its indifference to scams and corruption involving members of the ruling combine.

The issues involved in the scam and the implications of the massive fraud are far more serious and the people need clear answers and decisive actions in several areas:

As far as the politicians involved are concerned, the Congress party has merely replaced Ashok Chavan with a new incumbent, Prithviraj Chavan. However, that in itself is a typical minimal approach which the party is projecting as a major action. The removal is based merely on practical considerations of avoiding further embarrassment and is not suggestive of any moral high ground being taken by his party. It is also known by now that Ashok Chavan has been implicated in a major land matter in Pune which he decided as Revenue Minister in a way that would mean huge profits for a person allegedly close to him, Jayant Shah. The rot runs far deeper and enough facts have come to light that show that even previous Chief Ministers, Narayan Rane, Sushilkumar Shinde and Vilasrao Deshmukh may be as culpable if not more in the Adarsh scam. If the Congress party is really serious as it claims to be, how can Ashok Chavan and the other Ministers responsible escape without any demonstrable and credible punishment under penal law?

Rane,Shinde, Deshmukh, Chavan
We are all same
(boli = bid, price?)

The second issue relates to actions against the bureaucrats involved in the scam and who got their “reward” by way of allotment of flats in the Society. Actions also need to be taken against officials of various authorities who might have been negligent in processing the proposal and granting permissions. So far, the Government has not shown any inclination at all to initiate action against these officers. As far as the defense services are concerned, the Defense Minister has stated that the Ministry is serious about taking exemplary action. However, its sincerity remains to be tested.

There are many issues related to the land as well as the building itself, which have to be addressed.

First, it has not been established yet whether the land indeed belonged to the Defense or was only in its possession while it belonged to the Government. After initial assertions that the land belonged to the Defense, subsequently there has not been any definitive confirmation of the exact status. If the land actually belonged to the Defense Department, then the scam assumes a much greater significance. Second, the responsibility for allowing the society to appropriate the FSI belonging to BEST needs to be probed.

The third and most important issue related to the building is that of violations of the law on the one hand and the security implications on the other. These two issues assume the greatest significance in deciding the future course of action with regard to the building. While the Ministry of Environment & Forests has already issued a show cause notice to the Society, the Minister, Jairam Ramesh is supposed to have stated that “all options under the law are open except regularization of the structure''. It is not clear as to what these “options” are. If the structure is not to be regularized due to violation of CRZ Rules or based on security considerations, what option is available other than to demolish the structure entirely? The question assumes importance as the statement of the Minister mentioning “all” options other than regularization appears enigmatic. Significantly, the influential owners of flats in the society have already begun lobbying to save the building or at least part of it by paying penalty or otherwise persuading the Ministry to take a sympathetic and lenient view (see
here). MMRDA by suddenly withdrawing the Occupation Certificate already granted, has also conveniently given the Society an opportunity to take legal recourse and obtain a stay on further actions. Suggestions have also been made to allow the entire building to be used by defense service personnel, Kargil war heroes etc. Such fanciful suggestions deserve to be rejected out of hand. The defense services already have their rules and are already taking adequate care of their personnel including families of those who lose their lives in the service of the nation, whether in Kargil or elsewhere. Just because in the initial proposal an attempt was made to gain sympathetic consideration mentioning Kargil war heroes and service personnel, there is no reason now to even consider perpetuating the misplaced approach. More importantly, if the building has indeed been made in violation of the law and has security implications, these issues cannot be ignored on the ground that the flats will be allocated to service personnel or their families.

The only solution that would satisfy the people is that both the Central Government, in particular the Defense and Environment Ministries as well as the State Government must immediately set in motion the actions to ensure that all the permissions given to the building are cancelled, the building is demolished and the land restored to the defense department who must not use it for any housing project.

The credibility of the State Government as well as the Central Government will be severely tested on the touchstone of actual actions taken in punishing the guilty and in demolishing the illegal structure which is also a security concern. If the overall attitude of the Government so far is any guide, it will be quite happy to avoid any firm action against the guilty and will also find a way even to rescue the Society in some manner. As of now, there is a complete lack of transparency on what exactly is being done, beyond the cryptic "action will be taken under the law". In all likelihood, the people will only see lip service being paid assuring action till the scam fades away from their notoriously short memories.

And then, those who have already got flats in the Adarsh Society can live happily ever after - in the same flats.

Also Read Article
More strength to the Carpe Omnia Club - Maharashtra Chapter

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा

June 27, 2010

Remembering Bhopal – II Responsibility Then and Now

As stated earlier, the three actors on whom the responsibility lies for the accident are Union Carbide, the Central Government and the M. P. State Government.

Union Carbide

By far the greatest responsibility for the disaster that took place in Bhopal lies on the shoulders of Union Carbide, first the US principals and next the Indian subsidiary. Voluminous information has been collected ever since the accident occurred that proves culpable criminal negligence on the part of the company. All along not only was the company aware of the highly dangerous nature of the operations but also the sordid state of the safety aspects of the plant which had been documented by responsible officials of the US headquarters and which were also within the knowledge of the highest levels in the company including Warren Anderson, the Chairman. There were enough warnings, may be not pinpointing the precise manner in which disaster would strike but fairly serious.

The plant was not operating at the time of the accident with a highly dangerous large quantity (40 tons) of methyl isocyanate which caused the accident, in tank E-610 which did not have refrigeration to keep it cool, a prescribed requirement. The refrigeration unit was shut for 5 months prior to the accident. Other instruments and facilities like Temperature Indicator Alarm, Pressure Indicator Control, scrubber system, flare tower etc. were either faulty or inoperative. "In addition, the safety siren, intended to alert the community should an incident occur at the plant, had been turned off." (Greenpeace) Workers were inadequately trained. The plant was designed by UCC which was also responsible for inspecting and approving all major equipment. The plant was under designed. An official from UCC stationed in UCIL had told UCC in the initial stages that only small quantities of MIC were needed to be stored for economic and safety reasons which was ignored and large bulk tanks were imposed by UCC.

It was noted: “The evidence condemning Union Carbide is persuasive. The structure of Union Carbide's relations with its subsidiaries indicates strict authority and control by the parent company. Union Carbide owns more than half of UCIIL shares. UCIL is listed on Union Carbide's consolidated balance sheet. Union Carbide had direct representation on the board of UCIL. More important is the evidence indicating direct Union Carbide involvement in the design and operation of the Bhopal plant.” UCC had financial and technical control over UCIL which was regularly exercised. According to a former official, “UCC had its finger on the pulse of the Bhopal plant all the time”. In May 1982, a UCC report by a team of American experts released by Anderson pointed out major safety concerns, warning that the plant presented “serious potential for sizeable releases of toxic materials.” A memo three months prior to the accident, in respect of the US plant of UCC which was based on similar features as the Indian plant, had cautioned that “a real potential for serious incident exists” at the US plant and even warned of a “catastrophe”. The evidence of UCC’s cavalier behavior was determined from documents available even without court-ordered discovery process. Ironically, just three days before the accident, UCC had taken a decision to dismantle and ship the plant to Brazil or Indonesia, largely because the Indian operation was running into losses and the demand projections were not met.

The Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide did little to inform workers about the highly toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) the plant was producing and the potential health threat to neighboring regions. When the accident occurred, the subsidiary’s management team reportedly resisted the parent company’s instructions to apply first aid to victims for fear of generating widespread panic within the corporation and the region. Even after the accident, while treating the affected persons, the UCC personnel did not allow a known antidote to be used for fear that it would disclose the identity of the substance that had affected the victims. Union Carbide had kept secret much of the information on the types and amount of chemicals that had been released.

After the event, UCC worked out strategies (“Judgment proofing”) to avoid liability for itself, including objection to trying the cases in USA (which succeeded), collusive class action settlement for low amounts and finally, preparing for bankruptcy by financial restructuring. Various subterfuges were resorted to by UCC at different times and at one stage even its shareholders had filed suits against Anderson and others for negligence in Bhopal. In order to avoid criminal liabilities, the company even floated a theory of deliberate sabotage by a disgruntled worker which it later did not pursue.

As early as 11th Dec.1984, hours after he returned to US, Anderson said at a press conference that he was confident that the victims will be “fairly and equitably compensated without any material adverse effect” on the balance sheet.

Central Government

Although the industrial licensing policy particularly the policy for foreign investments which was followed by the Government in the years prior to the accident might have appeared logical at the time, ironically, the seeds for a defense to be taken by UCC denying responsibility for the accident, lay in the conditions on which the company was allowed to set up the plant. UCC cited some of the conditions of the Letter of Intent and License to show that it was mandated to make a plant run fully by Indian employees as an Indian operation.

The major failure of the Government had been not to give sufficient attention to the possibility of such serious accidents taking place and effectively regulating such units as also failure to develop an appropriate body of laws to deal with mass tort cases.

Anderson Affair

Men in Focus - Rajiv Gandhi & Arjun Singh

The failure of Central Government which has been most criticized, however, is its decision to direct the release of Warren Anderson within hours after he was arrested by the State Government. It is now clear, based on all accounts of contemporary media and persons involved that the decision to allow Anderson to leave was that of Rajiv Gandhi, the PM at the time. When such a catastrophe had occurred and within days thousands were dead, no other person in authority could have taken a decision to allow Anderson to leave. When all the accounts from the people concerned like P.C.Alexander, M.K. Rasgotra, US Charge d’Affairs Streeb and others are linked, they point to the fact that such was the case. Also important is the reported remark by Andersons’ wife in the US before a reporter that “everything has been settled”. In fact, it can also be accepted that the arrival of Anderson to India in the first place was as a result of “safe passage” assured by the Government before hand. Considering the recent statement of Arjun Singh, the MP Chief Minister that he had no locus standi in the matter also points to the decision having been taken at the highest level at the Centre, bearing in mind that Anderson was also privileged to have tea with the President before he flew out. What appears to have happened is that Arjun Singh took the step of arresting Anderson first and upon the US Embassy getting involved and talking to the MEA about the safe passage assurance, Singh was asked by Rajiv Gandhi directly or through someone to let him leave.

While the Congress party has been strenuously trying to hide the obvious, it appears to be unnecessary as the decision could well have had some justification based on the conditions of that time.

It is a fact that the country had been having a tough time industrializing itself considering the myopic economic policies pursued by Nehru and Indira Gandhi, grandfather and mother respectively of Rajiv Gandhi. Apart from the immediate past of the assassination of his mother and its aftermath, Rajiv was also perhaps desperate to undo the effects of the disastrous policies pursued over the years by his party’s governments and ensure foreign investments in the country. Also at that time, American MNCs were held in awe (as even now) and UCC was a huge MNC of the time. This coupled with the pressure from the US Government might have persuaded him to adopt this course. It is, however, rather strange that Anderson was allowed to meet the President, ostensibly to express his sympathies.

At a practical level too, it may not have been possible to hold Anderson for any major length of time. In the first place, had it not been for an assurance of safe passage, he would not have come to India at all, much less visit Bhopal. Although it is not highlighted, he was arrested probably based on the original FIR filed by the local police which had registered the same initially under Sec. 304A, a bailable offence. CBI registered the case on 6th Dec. 1984 but the arrest was made by the local SP and DM. If he was indeed arrested under non-bailable provisions which were presumably cited in the FIR of CBI, then the theory that sounds plausible is that a magistrate was taken to the Guest House and Anderson granted bail there by him. Even then, it defies explanation as to how the local police could have made the arrest on an FIR registered by CBI without approval or direction of the CBI, a central agency. Indeed, even the opinion of the Attorney General of India given on 31.7.1998 in relation to an extradition request speaks only of the offence under Sec. 304A.

Subsequent events including the financial settlement for a much smaller than original amount sought must have been influenced by the immense pressure to save UCC and fear of loss of investment from US put into Rajiv Gandhi. The fear of damaging the investment climate was at best a red herring as is the case even now. As one expert said “I am not sure that the world multinational community really cares if Union Carbide has to pay the price for its errors in India”.

The fact that Rajiv Government had accepted even the dropping of criminal charges for the settlement indicates how the Government was keen to save those whose culpability was not in doubt.

It cannot be presumed that the actions were taken for personal gains. But in passing it has to be said at the very least that during Rajiv's visit to the US soon afterwards, a family friend Adil Shahryar (son of Mohammed Younus) serving 35 years in a US prison for federal offences was granted clemency by the US President as a goodwill gesture.

State Government

That the State Government of the time did not show adequate seriousness and concern for safety of the people was clear even before the actual accident happened. Not only did the plant have a prior history of accidents but the facts were known to Government. A fire had occurred in the alpha naphtol unit in 1982 but the fact was suppressed. After the death of a worker earlier in 1975 and then another in 1981 due to leakage of Phosgene gas, a worker had died, questions were raised in the State Assembly and the facts acknowledged by the Government. The Minister concerned had said that he had personally inspected the plant and found that it had adequate arrangements for meeting any exigencies. Later on, even Chief Minister was supposed to have said the same. “All is well”. According to Dan Kurzman, author of a book “A Killing Wind: Inside Union Carbide and the Bhopal Catastrophe” numerous Indian officials had close ties with UCIL, helping the company escape regulatory crackdowns. He further writes that a local Congress-I party leader was UCIL's legal adviser. Several relatives of ranking government officials were on the UCIL payroll, including the manager of the Bhopal plant, who was the son-in-law of Rajiv Gandhi's minister of human resources. Conflicts of interests existed.

The culpability for gross negligence by the State Government in case of a plant that was inherently based on hazardous technology with highly dangerous and toxic chemicals becomes all the more greater considering that Rajkumar Keswani, a journalist had been reporting on the plant from 1981 and after the first article in Sept. 1982, continuously wrote reports right up to 1984 when the accident happened about the dangers even going to the extent of saying that Bhopal was sitting on a volcano. The State Government chose to believe the company and took no notice of these warnings. Even after the accident, it has been claimed that the medical authorities did not allow, supposedly at the instance of Union Carbide, treatment of the victims with sodium thiosulphate, a known anti-dote for cyanide poisoning. The criminal culpability of the State Government officials, whether for ignoring prior warnings to medical treatment after the accident has never been investigated, as it would show that those who were supposed to look after the interests of the victims looked after interests of the guilty.

Some credit, of course, needs to be given to Arjun Singh at least for having arrested Anderson and few other top executives in the first instance. He even said in his press briefing that on the basis of facts already available, each of the arrested executives had constructive and criminal liability for the accident. It is equally a fact that he later succumbed to the pressure from the Central Government.

Incidentally, the greed of the police officer Swaraj Puri, who made the arrests on 7th Dec. 1984 came to the fore when he claimed that certain references in a book written by noted author Dominique Lapierre were defamatory and demanded $ 20 m. between 2002 and 2005. Having failed to get it, he filed a case for defamation in the High Court.

Congress in denial

Protect mine
Sonia Gandhi

The Congress party of today is probably doing more harm to their credibility and to the quest for truth and for justice than the then Congress Governments at the Centre and State. No sooner than information started to surface about Rajiv Gandhi’s possible role in the release of Anderson than the Congress party went in panic and apparently at the behest of Sonia Gandhi, pulled out all the stops to prevent even a hint of Rajiv Gandhi’s link with the event. Sonia Gandhi herself met Arjun Singh on 9th June 2010 when probably an "understanding" was reached on when and what Arjun Singh may say. Embarrassed and unsettled by the allegations, it pressed into service all those who could either convince the people that he had no role to play or who could divert attention to others. R K Dhawan, Ambika Soni, Moily and of course, the permanent defense team of Abhishek, Jayanthi and Manish Tewari went full throttle with half lies or diversions to obfuscate the matter. They blamed Arjun Singh, they blamed Narasimha Rao, amongst others. An excuse that Arjun Singh decided to release him (and also to send him out of country?) due to potential law and order problems was floated. Moily was bold enough to blame a CBI officer, the CJM of Bhopal and even the Chief Justice of India. He also blamed P. C. Alexander by imputing motives to his bringing out certain facts which would indirectly place the finger on Rajiv Gandhi. Some friendly members of the media lent a helping hand to play down the matter.

Vainly trying to prove that their party’s King could do no wrong, they persisted in dogged denial with infantile and convoluted statements going beyond the borders of ludicrousness.

In a party with a structure like Congress which inherently depends on the High Command for everything, only a few weeks after the assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi, an inexperienced Rajiv anointed as PM, elections round the corner and the matter having international implications, it is simply unthinkable that he was in the dark about the events related to a catastrophic accident. It is almost a certainty that Rajiv Gandhi was at every stage fully informed, consulted and involved. Only the very gullible can believe otherwise.

The depths at which the party went to divert the country’s attention can be imagined when one of the spokesmen likened any questions being put about Rajiv’s involvement to unpatriotic behaviour. Two senior TV anchors, who were persisting with queries on involvement of Rajiv, mysteriously went off for a couple of days at the height of the controversy. Finally, when nothing seemed to work, the spin merchants of the party came with a fantastically laughable statement that “there is no convincing proof” that Rajiv was in the know of Anderson’s release. Well, if we believe that Anderson should be hanged on the basis of known facts, it must also be believed that Rajiv Gandhi was fully involved in the decision to release him unless there is convincing proof to show otherwise.

Moily - Trying to bury the Truth? But why?

Moily had said that justice was buried but it is truth that is sought to be buried by Congress. The party has also termed allowing Anderson to go as a systemic failure which does not appear to have been so. The real systemic failure was when democracy was suspended in the country in 1975, systemic failure is when massive corruption is allowed to continue at the highest levels, when internal security is given a complete go by for over four years, when an unsatisfactory nuke liability bill is sought to be pushed through to the detriment of the people, - the list is endless.

And the biggest systemic failure is that of our democracy where we, the people, keep on electing rotten politicians time after time and suffer our justly deserved fate.

What needs to be done?

By appointing an EGoM on the Bhopal issue, the Government is simply trying to find a way to somehow bring a closure to the 26 year old matter.

There should be no doubt that the harm and whatever injustice was done cannot be undone now nor can the clock be turned back. If the Government pursues any actions which will not see the light of day for a long time from now, it would be merely continuing with dishonesty and fooling the people even after such a long time.

Criminal Cases:
Those who are aware of legal processes will know that to continue with further actions, even if theoretically possible, would be an exercise in futility, wasteful expenditure and torment and more disappointment for those who still hope for more punishment to the guilty. In the criminal case just decided, the guilty will surely file an appeal. The State Government intends to file an appeal too. Considering the normal legal recourse available to both sides, possibility of the guilty ever suffering the punishment is negligible. Likewise, the country would only be further damaging its credibility by once again asking for extradition of Anderson at this stage 7 years after its request was rejected. The US has no reason to change its position from the one that the US Dept. of State took in its opinion dated July 24, 2003 recommending rejection. If by a stroke of good diplomacy it is ever achieved, there is no chance of the trial reaching the final judgment stage during Anderson’s life time.

And if everyone of the accused is punished by some miracle, those in Government who were responsible or negligent in doing their duty would still go free because they still do not have any accountability.

There is no way to once again revive any legal process to make any higher claims on the company. The judgment dated 14th/15thFeb. 1989 as confirmed by judgment dated 3rd Oct. 1991 is final and cannot be challenged.

If at all the Government, after reviewing the details of compensation received by all the claimants is fully convinced that they need to be given more in the special situation, the only option is for the same to be paid by the Government. And if now the Indian tax payer has to bear the burden, it is a price that must be paid for the characteristic indifference of the Government as well as the people.

Distribution of Compensation:
It is imperative that the Government presents a detailed and transparent status paper to the public giving a true and complete account of the amounts received by it including interest every year after the settlement amount was deposited, the disbursements made each year and reasons for delays in disbursement. The status paper must also disclose the amounts still available and the manner in which the same will be disbursed in a time bound manner.

Relief & Rehabilitation
The State Government must also similarly present a status paper on R & R including a time bound plan for further work proposed to be done. A time bound action plan also needs to be presented for long term medical relief.

Clean up and Remediation
This is one of the most critical issues which have been completely neglected by the Governments at the Centre as well as the State, partly because of the legal issues involved as the responsibility is being placed on Dow Chemicals, the successors to UCC. The actual work cannot be further delayed and a time bound program needs to be prepared for this as well.

Dow Chemicals
Dow Chemicals, faced with legacy legal issues as successor to UCC has consistently denied any legal liability in any matter related to the clean up and remediation. Although the matter may be pursued legally, the least that the Government must do is to stop giving it the red carpet treatment for investing in India. It is high time that the Government realized the country’s strength and stop being in awe of the multinationals.

Legal Framework
The delay in having an appropriate legal and administrative framework to deal with such destructive events in future has been inexcusable and instead of blaming the judiciary or others, the Law Minister should finally focus on his own responsibilities. It is worth mentioning that learning from the Bhopal experience and as a consequence of the accident, the US promptly introduced a new law Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA or SARA III) within two years of the accident, requiring each State to establish emergency response commissions charged with developing integrated plans for responding to chemical emergencies and making chemical information available to the public. We have yet to learn.

Although those interested in getting the Nuclear Liability Bill passed are srtenuously arguing that it has no relation to Bhopal disaster, the underlying principle, that of liability of suppliers of such hazardous technology or equipment from accidents due to their negligence remains relevant and it would not be prudent to ignore the lessons from Bhopal now, in 2010 when we ought to be wiser than we were at that time.

The people must now realize that the Government failed in doing justice to the sufferers and its plans to now pursue the criminal cases are designed only to give false hopes to placate the sufferers. We also need to finally accept that there is no better way of clearing the mess than focusing on the practical and feasible measures for R & R, medical support and land clean up that will give at least some succor and a semblance of justice to the people.

Bhopal is and shall remain a catastrophe and a historic injustice made worse by mishandling and negligence before and after the event. The injustice should not be compounded any more by giving false hopes to the people.

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा

Remembering Bhopal – I. Between Facts and Frenzy

The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster – a catastrophe on 2nd/3rd December 1984 at the pesticide manufacturing plant of a monolithic US Multinational of that time, Union Carbide, which led to thousands of people losing their lives and getting injured due to leakage of toxic gas from a storage tank containing Methyl Isocyanate, has remained the worst industrial accident in the world. Over 25 years later and 18 years after the criminal trial in the case related to the catastrophe began, the lower Court in Bhopal pronounced judgment on 7th June 2010 convicting and sentencing 8 persons connected with Union Carbide India who were charged, to 2 years imprisonment, the maximum punishment for the charge for which they were being tried.

The events in Bhopal never received in the past the exhaustive investigation or media attention that they deserved. The judgment was the trigger for those who had practically forgotten the event to suddenly wake up and let out widespread cries of “justice denied”, “too little too late” etc.- amongst them the media, the general public, activists and even those in positions of authority. As the media recounted the disaster and the subsequent events, apart from those who have lived through the memories of the catastrophe, the impact also spread to those whose familiarity with the details was hazy. The impact was certainly compounded by the continuous discussions and interviews by TV media involving politicians, professionals, journalists, activists and others on this matter. The views of many participants with their own subjectivity, agenda and differing perceptions, often coupled with preconceived conclusions, half knowledge and predilections of presenters have tended to add confusion to a complex matter. The opportunity is also being taken by some to project views that deliberately cloud the real issues and divert attention away from inconvenient facts. In that they are ably helped by TV presenters who, appearing to ask tough questions, somehow never seem to ask the right tough questions. And expectedly, the TV channels have also been resorting to sensationalizing facts and conjectures. In the melee, objectivity is becoming the casualty.

Due to the overly active media exposure, the reactions of the parties involved and the general public have almost taken the form of frenzy. As a result of all that has been highlighted or exaggerated, the feelings of disbelief and frustration are leading to an outcry for “justice” and many appear to be ready to virtually hang every person who they think had even a small part to play in the event and it’s handling thereafter. Before logic, reason and objectivity completely fade away, it is necessary to place things in perspective, particularly the actual situation prevailing at that time and in the past all throughout till now. It is simply not correct to judge the events with today’s eyes because they took place in a different time line with a largely different set of conditions. It is also necessary to have at least a fair appreciation of the background of this very complex matter as to law and facts.

At the outset, it must be clear that the three parties who are squarely responsible for everything that has happened or not happened are Union Carbide, Government of India and Government of Madhya Pradesh. At the time of the accident, Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister and Arjun Singh was the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.

The anger, frustration and disappointment of the public mainly revolves around the following in specifics, resulting in the overall feeling of injustice: (1) Failure of the Governments at the Centre and State (2) Judicial Processes (3) Inadequacy of compensation (4) Distribution of Compensation (5) Relief & Rehabilitation and Long term medical issues (6) Remediation of land

Criminal Case – Trial Court

The immediate target of the people’s ire was the lower court judgment sentencing all the 8 accused to 2 years imprisonment. The ill-informed, misinformed and uninformed amongst the people feel that the court ought to have given a much higher punishment for the accident that caused thousands to lose lives and suffer injuries. But in a country which does not have kangaroo courts, the guilty can be punished only as per law. In the case related to the Bhopal disaster, all the 8 accused were tried primarily under Sec. 304A of the IPC (causing death by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide) which offense carries a MAXIMUM punishment of 2 years and the judge could not have gone beyond the maximum under any circumstances. The Court has also given punishment of varying terms under some other Sections of the IPC which are to run concurrently. If all the punishments were to run separately, the total period would increase to 3 years and 9 months - far short of the “hanging” plea of those who clamor for “real justice”. In fact, those who were not directly connected with the plant operations and sitting at distant locations, including the non-executive chairman, have also been given the same punishment as those directly concerned at the site on the reasoning that they “ought to have known” about the situation at the plant level. As all have been found guilty and awarded the maximum punishment, there is little chance for the State to go in appeal except pleading for the sentences to run separately. On the other hand, the accused mainly the non-executive chairman and those not involved in plant operations may well appeal with a good chance of their punishment being reduced.

The other criticism leveled about the trial is the long delay of 18 years in reaching the decision. Actually, on 14th February 1989 the SC had approved the settlement reached between UCC and Govt. of India whereby apart from the monetary terms, even the criminal charges were to be dropped. However, on appeal, the SC on 3rd Oct. 1991 set aside the quashing of criminal charges. The original trial commenced in July 1992. When the charges were framed under Sec. 304 part II, the accused went in appeal to the High Court and thence to the SC. After the Supreme Court decision of Sept. 1996 (see below) the charges were re-framed and it is under the amended charges that the trial, during which 178 witness depositions were submitted by CBI concluded in April 2010. The judgment was delivered less than two months later. Anyone familiar with the inevitable time taken up by criminal trials of this nature and the immense normal work load of the courts would understand the delay. Therefore, it is indeed shocking that even the Minister for Law and JUSTICE Moily whose job is to ensure a proper justice delivery system and who ought to be aware of the reality, made uncalled for and irresponsible remarks saying that in this case justice delayed was not only justice denied but justice buried, to show fake sympathy!

The trial court had also framed charges against Warren Anderson Chairman of Union Carbide USA, the US Company and its Far Eastern subsidiary. As these were absconding, the trial was separated in the early stages. He was arrested in the first instance on 7th Dec. 1984 in Bhopal and was let off on the same day after granting him bail. (See below Anderson Affair and Congress in Denial) He never returned to face trial. The trial court had sought his extradition in 1992 but nothing was done till 2003 when Govt. of India sought extradition from the US Govt. only to be denied in July 2004. In fairness, it must be said that considering the charges against Anderson and in the context of the Extradition Treaty with the US, the legal experts consulted by the Govt. both in US and India had already indicated earlier, the possibility of rejection.

Criminal Case - Supreme Court

When the 8 accused filed revision appeals in the High Court against the charges framed by the trial court they were turned down but on appeal, a two member Bench of the Supreme Court by its judgment on 13th Sept. 1996, concluded that prima facie no charges could be framed under Sec. 304 part II but it was possible to apply Sec. 304A and directed the trial court to frame charges accordingly. Charges under Sec. 304A carry a maximum sentence of 2 years compared to maximum 10 years under Sec. 304 second part. It is this judgment which has been assailed now by many. The judgment came after the matter was duly argued by both sides. If there was any doubt about the judgment, the government itself should have filed for a review, considering the sensitivity of the matter. This did not happen. Now 14 years later, the Minister for Law & JUSTICE Moily, a senior minister, has used rather intemperate and unbecoming language against the then Chief Justice Ahmadi holding him responsible for diluting the charges, only to detract from the failures of others. It was also futile of him to suggest that the charge was reduced to that of a road accident. But the charge is based on the existing law of the land at that time and even now. In blaming the SC, he is also cunningly trying to shift the blame on the UF Govt. because Congress was not in power then.

Civil Litigation – USA

Within days after the accident, many lawyers from the USA - the ambulance chasers – landed in Bhopal offering their services to the accident victims to fight their cases in the US Courts. As early as 7th Dec. 1984, the first lawsuit was filed in US Courts by American lawyers on behalf of thousands of victims. Thereafter 144 more cases were filed in various US courts, all of which were joined in a single complaint in June 1985 involving 200,000 claimants. In the meantime, by a special Act briefly “The Bhopal Act 1985” passed in March 1985 the Govt. of India secured the exclusive right as parent patriae to represent all claimants in India and elsewhere so that “the interests of victims of the disaster could be fully protected and that the claims for compensation were pursued speedily, effectively and to the best advantage of the claimants”. The Government filed the claims on behalf of all claimants in US Courts. By May 1986, in India nearly 487,000 claims had been filed with the Government under the special scheme formed for registration of claims etc. Union Carbide managed to bring the matter before a convenient Judge Keenan and took objection to trying the case in US on grounds of forum non conveniens pleading that on various grounds it was more convenient to try the cases in the country where the accident occurred. The matter was strongly argued by the Govt. of India as to why the US Corporation was the responsible party to be tried and for the litigation to be continued in US. The court accepted UCC arguments and dismissed the consolidated case on grounds of forum non conveniens subject to UCC submitting to the Indian Courts’ jurisdiction in the matter. This decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in January 1987, effectively closing the option of pursuing the litigation in the US for compensation for deaths and injury.

After the Settlement in India (See below), some individuals once again approached the US courts in October 1993 for compensation but were denied hearing on grounds of their not having any standing. Other suits were also filed in 2004 for damages for personal injuries from exposure to contaminated water and for remediation of the land and liability of UCC for activities in India. They were dismissed both in the district and appeals courts at various times by November 2006. As of now, one appeal (Janki Bai Sahu) is pending in the US Court related to liability of UCC for UCIL acts.

Civil Litigation – India

Once the case was dismissed by the US Courts, Government began pursuing the matter in the Indian courts on behalf of all affected persons for compensation. Earlier, it had filed a case for $ 3.3 billion in compensation in the US Court. Even this claim was considered to be low compared to the estimates then made by some independent legal experts of a settlement in excess of $ 5 billion. However, even the lawyers who had earlier filed the cases on behalf of the individuals were fearful that a claim which may potentially bankrupt the US Company would not serve the purposes of those affected to get early justice. When the case was continuing in the US Courts, UCC had made an offer for $350 million in compensation which was rightly rejected at that time by the Government. It pursued its original claim of $ 3.3 bn. in the Bhopal District Court. The district court, in order to afford immediate relief ordered an interim compensation of Rs. 350 crores which was reduced to Rs. 250 crores on appeal in the High Court by UCC. Both the sides appealed to the Supreme Court against the HC order. Eventually, a mutually agreed overall settlement for $ 470 million for the benefit of all victims in full settlement of all claims, rights and liabilities arising out of the disaster was reached between the Govt. and UCC and accepted and recorded by a five member bench of the Supreme Court on 14th and 15th Feb. 1989, with reasons provided in a further judgment on 4th May 1989. This judgment was challenged by means of review petitions filed by others and not the Govt., but supported by Govt. The settlement was upheld by the Supreme Court in its judgment dated 3rd Oct. 1991, except that the quashing of criminal charges was set aside. This brought finality to the matter of compensation arising from death and injuries related to the disaster.

Inadequacy of Compensation

For those who had suffered as a result of death of relatives or injuries to themselves, the most important grievance by far remains the inadequacy of compensation. Many of the activists, journalists and others have rather simplistically been telling the world that the per person compensation amounts to a paltry sum. But the real picture can be seen only by a detailed analysis of the entire matter, including the actual compensation decided for various categories of claimants. For understanding the background with more clarity, the SC judgment dated 3rd Oct. 1991 needs to be referred to, without which it is well-nigh impossible to clear the misunderstandings created due to distortions or ill-informed comments by media, the activists and even the political parties. This is more so, when the comments are being made at a point of time far removed from the disaster and its aftermath and without considering the facts and issues in an overall sense. The Bhopal leak case was heard till the judgment of 3rd Oct. 1991 by four different Constitution Benches of the SC.

In mass tort cases like the one related to the Bhopal disaster, the trials are bound to be protracted and urgent relief required would elude the affected parties for long periods of time. “It is interesting to note that there has been no final adjudication in a mass tort action anywhere” and the alternative option of settlement and compensation is resorted to. Common law tort recovery is especially inadequate to compensate victims of toxic exposure. Assessment of compensation in such matters follows an approximation by a rough and ready process as it is difficult to precisely reach a figure of just compensation. The court also considered that a substantial time had elapsed during which the sufferers were without relief. In the judgment, the Court noted:
“When the settlement was reached a group of social activists, the Press and even others claiming to be trustees of society came forward to question it. For some time what appeared to be a tirade was carried on by the media against the Court. Some people claiming to speak on behalf of the social Think Tank in meetings disparaged the Court. Some of the innocent victims were even brought into the Court premises to shout slogans at the apex institution. Some responsible citizens oblivious of their own role in the matter carried on mud-slinging.”
It was also a fact that the Indian assets of UCIL were only about Rs. 100 crores and it was necessary to look to the US Company for compensation. Any litigation based on merits would have carried on for another 8 to 10 years in the lower court and with appeal procedures, 20 years in all, with uncertain outcomes. The legal uncertainties involved in bringing such litigation to a logical conclusion to secure a completely “satisfactory” settlement are too well known. The Court had said:
“Those who have clamoured for a judgment on merit were perhaps not alive to this aspect of the matter. If they were and yet so clamoured, they are not true representatives of the cause of the victims, and if they are not, they were certainly misleading the poor victims.”

In its judgment dated 4th May 1989, the Court has also given some broad calculations based on data available at that time to prima facie indicate that the compensation would be reasonable at that point of time. Subsequently, the government also fixed the compensation amounts for various categories of the victims.

In typical settlement agreements, the corporation agrees to pay an amount that is most often much less than the actual damage. The amount of $ 470 million was arrived at after negotiations between the parties, much lower than the original $ 3.3 billion claimed. There have been suggestions of some inappropriate dealings. There is nothing concrete to suggest that such was the case but it cannot be ruled out. Whatever may have been the real reason, the Rajiv Gandhi government buckled under tremendous pressure. In view of some US experts, even at a $ 1 billion settlement, UCC would not have been worried. At the end of the day, a settlement always depends upon the relative negotiating strength, tactics and urgency of either side, and it is obvious that acting under immense pressure, the Govt. finally yielded to a figure which appears low. The apparent inadequacy of the amount is further heightened by the fact that whereas the settlement was done considering the number of claims at that time and the assumed new claims, as time passed, a far larger number of claims materialized. At one time, the parties approaching the court of stated of their own admission that the numbers in case of ‘death’ as also ‘injury’ were at least five times larger than what was assumed at the time settlement had been reached. It is obvious that no settlement would have been possible on hypothetical number of possible future claims.

It is, therefore, clear that the compensation amount was lower than would have been desirable in the first instance and in the light of actual claims received has turned out to be inadequate. However, this cannot be attributed or blamed on the judicial process. Whether or not the case should not have been allowed to continue to its logical end shall always remain a question without a clear answer but the call for that was that of the Government acting on behalf of the victims.

Distribution of Compensation

A lot of dissatisfaction of many of the victims and in particular the activists centers on the non settlement of the claims. In light of the expectations of a high number of claimants, a special scheme to be managed by a separate authority was formed in 1985 under a special Act soon after the accident. (see here)

The sheer scale of the after effects of the tragedy can be imagined from the data submitted by the concerned authority which had, till 31st Oct. 1990 received 639,793 claims. Stories abound of thousands of false and vexatious claims, even some by persons in high positions, - one of them related to politicians in the party in power who had fled to a safer place during the accident. In its Review Judgment of 3rd Oct. 1991, the SC noted:
“The Additional Director also refers to the attempts by unscrupulous persons to exploit the situation in pursuit of unjust gains and how the authorities had to encounter attempts of impersonation and ‘attempts by claimants to pass of other's urine as their own.’ It was said that there were urine-donors.”

Even today, there are social activists claiming that over 93% of the victims had not received a single rupee. Such wild assertions need to be trashed straightaway considering that the total population of Bhopal at the time was 894,000 and the gas affected areas had a population of 560,000. (see here) According to the Ministry of Petroleum & Chemicals Annual Report 2009-2010, as on 30.11.2009, claims amounting to Rs. 1549.07 were disbursed to 573,894 claimants. (see here)

At the same time, there have also been continuing allegations of delays in payment of compensation. That long delays occurred cannot be denied. The original amount of compensation was deposited by UCC in February 1989. On various claimants approaching the SC in 2004, the SC passed orders in July 2004 for disbursements of settlement funds remaining to be disbursed. Subsequently, the deadline for disbursals was again extended till 30.4.2006 by SC. Social activists have been pointing out to the disbursement delays and sadly, the facts support their contentions. No fully satisfactory explanation for the delays is known to the public as yet. Unfortunately, the entire disbursal process seems to have been handled in a non-transparent manner and it is not known as to how much balance still remains with the Government.

It must also be remembered that the entire compensation settlement process has been a Herculean exercise (total 1.03 million claims registered) as each claim needs to be verified and decided. Thousands of cases may have been decided in adjudication proceedings which in their very nature are time consuming. It is interesting that 15,342 cases registered under “death” category were awarded of which only 5,295 were proved death cases during adjudication.

Relief & Rehabilitation and Long Term Medical Issues

The massive task of R&R for the victims of the tragedy was taken up by the M.P. State Govt. which created a special department for the work, involving medical, economic, social and environmental rehabilitation and judicial and administrative work. (see here) Over time, voluntary agencies also participated significantly in the effort. An amount of Rs. 512 crores had been spent on these measures till March 2009. Nevertheless, the R&R effort does have shortcomings and inadequacies and this work should form a core of the actions to be taken. In particular, the long term medical issues may need to be taken care of for at least ten more years.

Clean up and Remediation

The cleaning up and remediation of land remains a major issue over which in the 25 years, virtually no attention in terms of real action has been given by the Government. The land which was within the property of the Bhopal plant has been found to have contamination levels 500 times higher than those permitted by WHO. Major issues of soil and drinking water contamination have also arisen causing immense problems relating to future health of the people. The Government had at one point in time abandoned the idea of complete remediation after estimating a cost of Rs. 100 crores, considered to be high.

The issue has been entangled in a legal mess as to the real responsibility for cleaning up the land. The land was given under a lease by the M.P. Govt. to Union Carbide. In 1998, inexplicably the State Government allowed Union Carbide to hand back the leased land without any clean up. (See here)
The neglect of this important aspect reflects a tale of total apathy and lack of focus on the part of the Government as it tries to fix the responsibility for the clean up on Dow Chemicals, successors to Union Carbide while Dow tries to disown responsibility. Although a legal case has been filed by the Government in the M.P. High Court against Dow, what is needed is the actual action on clean up and remediation. A case has also been filed by Janki Bai Sahu in the US which has been meandering through the legal maze there.

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा

April 25, 2010

The Altar of Hypocrisy and Expediency

Modi, Pawar and Tharoor

The fallout from the fight between Shashi Tharoor, the ex-Minister of State for External Affairs and Lalit Modi, virtual boss of IPL, the biggest sports-related Brand that he has created, has highlighted the sway of hypocrisy and expediency in our polity.

It all began when a disparate entrepreneur group, the Kochi consortium ‘mentored’ by Shashi Tharoor decided to gate crash into IPL, which has become a closed group with only the chosen few allowed to own a team. The “bouncer” standing at the gate is Lalit Modi who practically manages how the favored ones get in and others are kept out.

In the latest round of auctions, two groups were to be the favored ones, Videocon and Adani Group. Although some pressure might possibly have been put on Modi from people in BJP in respect of Adani, those familiar with the IPL-BCCI scene know that the man who really calls the shots is the big daddy Sharad Pawar, the unofficial boss of BCCI, the parent body of IPL. Lalit Modi is the IPL boss as far as execution is concerned. He was apparently asked to ensure that the auction was conducted to secure winning of the favored ones.

IPL Stadia
Cheerleaders to Tearleaders?

A Dirty Game - for the sake of the Game of Cricket
The first hurdle devised by him to eliminate small bidders, i.e. new entry norms of $ 1 bn. in net worth and a huge bank guarantee, was soon removed after the participants protested to Manohar who in turn objected to Pawar. Modi then made friendly suggestions to the bidders to bid specific amounts such that the bids of the favored two would come out at the top. His prompting went unheeded. Sahara and Kochi bid high based on their own calculations and won the bids. While Sahara for Pune was obviously no pushover, a possibility was seen that the relatively unknown Kochi Consortium could be persuaded or intimidated and made to withdraw. A back out option for $ 50 m. was offered by Modi to them obviously at the instance of those who wanted the favored one to be brought back in the picture. Even more sinister and desperate measures taken by others have also come to light. (see here) As the Kochi group was unmoved, Modi started using dilatory and harassment tactics before awarding the bid. When nothing worked, in a totally mala fide action Modi placed the details of ownership of the Kochi Consortium on his Twitter time line, tipping the media about it to give it widespread attention.

Media Prepares the Case
As Modi had intended, the media did blow up the information particularly when pointedly told that one of the shareholders Rendevous had a 25% free equity in the Consortium and that a lady friend of Tharoor was in turn given a part of that part. It was further disclosed that she had the share as sweat equity. The print and television media vied with each other to twist and turn facts and intertwined them with imagination, speculation and half-baked knowledge to present a story to a gullible audience. The “news” story created a strong impression amongst the credulous public that by helping a bidder group, Tharoor was guilty of serious wrongdoing the like of which had not been seen before. To give more credence to the media’s summary conclusions, his friendship with the lady was played up with snide and scurrilous remarks in bad taste.

Enter the political class
BJP, the main opposition party, which has otherwise been quite ineffective in making any worthwhile impact on issues of real national importance where the Government has failed miserably, then seized upon the opportunity to score some political points from the story. It came out quite aggressively as Ravi Shankar Prasad its spokesman, beside himself with rage, fumed in the press conference at Tharoor’s grave sin almost as if he had given away the nuclear secrets of the country and demanded that he be sacked. The hypocrisy of the party was quite evident considering that it supports or tolerates persons like Yeddy, Reddys and Raje within its own fold and Badal and Soren as allies in the States to stay in power. Regardless, it mounted an attack on the junior minister and other political parties too found it expedient to join them in a deafening chorus baying for blood.

And Tharoor
Smarting from the accusations, the man who wants to provide an example of an honest politician wanting to make a difference tried to defend himself in public and in the Lok Sabha as best as he could. He asserted that he was only trying to offer his informal guidance to an intending bidder group being particularly interested in helping the Consortium which chose Kochi in Kerala in which State he has a legitimate interest as an elected MP from the State. If successful, it would bring benefits to the people of Kerala. He further said that the fact that a friend of his had been given sweat equity was neither an unusual arrangement in such commercial ventures nor was he going to benefit from the same. Further, he said his help did not involve misuse of his Ministry and most importantly, that he was not in a position to affect the eventual outcome of the bidding. His formal statements in Lok Sabha before and after he was forced to resign are given (see here and here). A later interview by the lady who willy nilly faced the spotlight, gives her own perspective. (see here)

Congress Party
As the controversy spread like wildfire, the Congress party scrambled to find a solution to douse it. The party with a history of dubious ethics and indulgence towards corruption was at its hypocritical best - or worst - and suddenly found the need to be seen as clean as ultra pure RO treated bacteria free water of the Ganges. As the Prime Minister was abroad for some work which few seem to care about, other senior Congress ministers pondered over the crisis and sought explanations from Tharoor. He stood his ground and claimed that no impropriety was involved. When the PM came back and was briefed, Tharoor gave his explanation to him too. But no sooner a signal was received from the party chief that Tharoor had to go, than everyone found that his explanation was not satisfactory. The party’s decision was also dictated partly by expediency and inconvenient timing as a lot of important business had still to be transacted in the Parliament. Tharoor was asked to resign which he did. A relatively weak goat was sacrificed at the altar of hypocrisy and expediency.

The party’s hypocrisy is evident from the fact that apart from an overall public sense of corruption having grown manifold in the last over five years, even at this time, it is tolerating persons regarded in public perception as highly corrupt or ‘history-sheeters’ of wrongdoing – from within itself as well as its allies. So great is the Party’s propensity to tolerate wrongdoing that even the Prime Minister had said of one his Ministers that “he is a valuable colleague”, forgetting that the high valuations they place on their colleagues have to be paid for in one way or the other by the people.

After the Resignation
Under the shadow of ignominy at having had to sacrifice one of their own and scalded by accusations of inaction against alleged scandals in the IPL the Government has galvanized the revenue and other authorities into hyperactive mode to take action against all those who may be involved in wrongdoing relating to IPL. As events are unfolding, once again the media has been working overtime to give its interpretations of the events and once again jumping to conclusions that they feel their audiences are willing to lap up. After Tharoor, the next goat – though not weak in any way – Lalit Modi, the IPL boss is about to be sacrificed in a similar way.

And the People…
We, the People, are the ultimate and real protectors of Democracy and have to clearly demonstrate our own maturity after over 60 years of democracy. While the people have every right to vehemently protest against wrongdoing, equally, there is also a responsibility to maintain fairness and objectivity and uphold the sound principles on which democracy thrives.

Consider for example, the case of Tharoor. From the prisms of those prejudiced or those against his party or those who simply believe whatever is said, surely he is guilty based on whatever is in the public domain. But from another perspective, things may appear differently. People in authority, MPs and Ministers are requested by others to help in umpteen matters. Any MP or Minister worth his salt does oblige by rendering his help where possible. Such help is rendered routinely, sometimes even using their own authority, without being considered impropriety. It is also reasonable to assume that those who are helped may derive at least some benefit through such help. Is it fair to assume that if a person getting such help has some benefit, the Minister/MP also necessarily partakes in that benefit? Also, MPs and Ministers are constantly trying to help their constituencies in ways that bring benefits to the constituencies. What Tharoor did and much more than what he did, is done openly or obliquely day in and day out by those with some authority without necessarily misusing their office.

On the other hand, the media, the politicians and the people know full well the massive wrongdoing that is not only being done but is regularly coming within public knowledge. No eyebrows are raised over such cases. Instead, the eyes are just shut. When a minister of a junior partner in a coalition government is found indulging in wrongdoing, such cases are shrugged off. Instead of protesting, people show indulgence on the ground that these are compulsions of coalition politics forgetting that the people’s expectations of a clean government cannot be constrained by such compulsions and they may be of concern only to the parties that form the Government not the people.

In the present case, the media and mass frenzy appear to be creating a new principle that a man is guilty unless proved otherwise. If Tharoor is guilty by our standards of political morality, surely he deserved to go. Fair play also requires a similar fate for those within the Government accused of similar or graver improprieties. Thoroughly swayed by the media onslaught, the people seem to have been carried away and joined in the ritual dance to hasten the slaughter of the sacrificial goat. The media and politicians have damned, condemned and all but lynched a person. While a goat was sacrificed, the vultures and the hyenas of the Carpe Omnia club in the government roam free, waiting for prey including goats in human form. ( see here)

The Cheer-dealers, sharing sweet smell of success

IPL and Modi
IPL is well and truly caught in an unenviable position where the tremendous Brand value it has gained over the last three seasons is in danger of being eroded. As for Modi, he may well rue the spark he provided on the Twitter which started the wildfire that is now engulfing him. A failed bid to dislodge those who had won the bid has landed him on the same altar from where Tharoor was sacrificed. Only, he is not by any means a weak goat. He will certainly need to pay for whatever wrong he might have committed. If BCCI and IPL are shown to be involved in so many dark deeds, all those who are part of the set-up should be made to share the blame and made to pay, including Sharad Pawar, the man with the ScaMidas touch, who has been very much working behind the scenes all along in spite of assertions to the contrary. There is no doubt that Modi has created a legendary brand and in that sense has served the country. He would be doing a much greater service if he took down with him some of those who encouraged or allowed him to commit any wrongs.

At the end of the day, if only the two minor ones are sacrificed, an old proverb may have to be re-phrased:
Caesar’s wife must be above reproach, but what about Caesar ?

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा

January 29, 2010

The New Role Models - 62 years after Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi 2.10.1869 - 30.1.1948

Gandhi who? Sardar who? Shastri who?

30th January 2010 is the 62nd Death Anniversary of the greatest Indian in recent history, Mahatma Gandhi.

It is time to remember him. It is also necessary to remember another giant of a man Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as well as Lal Bahadur Shastri, the third Prime Minister of India. By coincidence, all these three worthy sons of India were born in the month of October. While Mahatma Gandhi and Shastri died in the month of January, Sardar died in December.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel 31.10.1875-15.12.1950
Lal Bahadur Shastri 2.10.1904 - 10.1.1966

These three true Leaders, models of simplicity and अपरिग्रह, were expected to be the role models for the countrymen in terms of morality in public life.

As the people look back in time and look at the present times, sadly the memories of these three Leaders and other such leaders of earlier years appear to be fading and instead of looking up to men like them, the people seem to be looking up to a new breed of polticians - the unscrupulous, the avaricious and the downright corrupt politicians as the new Role Models - or Rule Models. This new breed of politician-leaders has hardly anything in common with their worthy predecessors except, perhaps, that some of them still wear Khadi.

These are the examples of some such "worthy" political leaders of the present time.

Jagan and YSR Reddy
Lalu Prasad
Madhu Koda
Praful Patel
A. Raja
Deve Gowda
Mulayam Singh
Amarinder Singh

With a Learner Licence

Sukhbir Badal

The selection of these distinguished persons is naturally based on the larger public perception and does not claim to be complete as the list is constantly growing and bound to grow. It is as subjective as the list of Padma Awardees.

It is possible that a politician or his admirers or detractors may feel that he should not have been excluded from this Gallery of Illustrious Politicians. If anyone has been inadvertently, fairly or unfairly left out, his name could be suggested in the Comments Section for inclusion in the zone of consideration, based on his success in following the Credo of the New Politicians’ Class.

Carpe Omnia: Take it all, seize everything
Pecunia vincit omnia : Money conquers all

In lieu of a C.V., relevant web references/links detailing their "achievement" should be adequate. Let the readers then consider whether the person is “worthy” enough or not.

Vultures and Hyenas Waiting

The misfortune of this country will end only if we, the people, decide to banish the vermin, vultures and despicable parasites. No manna will fall nor any heavenly forces intervene for this and the people will themselves have to act. Only when they are effectively hounded out from political life and ostracized in social life then can we say even with half-conviction that:
Saare Jahan Se Achha

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा

January 25, 2010

Mile Sur.....Searching for the Soul of Integration

One of the real gems promoted by Doordarshan, the Government TV channel was the video “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” which was first telecast on 15th August 1988. Doordarshan has been performing a yeoman service for years before the plethora of new commercially motivated television channels made their appearance. This song and video are one of the all time great contributions by Doordarshan for the cause of national integration.

The song quickly became extremely popular and at that time and even now, whenever the song is heard or the video seen, it overwhelms the minds of the people, choking them with emotions for the country that they want to be truly great, not just in hyperbole.

The video was produced by Kailash Surendranath for Lok Seva Sanchar Parishad, the lyric written by Piyush Pande now as then with the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather in India. The music was composed by Louis Banks (or Ashok Patki?) and the concept was by Suresh Mullick. It made use of the same wordings in 14 languages other than Sanskrit and featured celebrities from various walks of life including the legendary Bhimsen Joshi and M. Balamuralikrishna who also lent their voices to the magical composition. More details can be found here in a very good article.

The original video and the song can be seen and heard on the following links:

Video Link here

Audio Link here

For those who wish to hear the song here is the recording in 24 kbps.

Phir Mile Sur….

An initiative that deserves compliments is the attempt to re-create the sentiments of the original in the new video Phir Mile Sur which is being telecast on 26th January 2010. Glimpses of the video show that those who thought of and executed the new production have tried to do justice to the theme. The music has been set in the present context and the visuals are using the present day celebrities, although rather sadly, the film personalities get the limelight. The new creation is also nice and may, in time, evoke similar emotions as felt by those in whose minds the original creation - the song as well as the visuals - has been so indelibly etched.

See the video: here

More such initiatives to unite the people are needed especially as even in the 60th year of the republic, the so-called leaders who run the show are failing the people and all is not yet well.

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा

January 23, 2010

Pawar deserves the Sack

Not a day passes when the most worthless Minister in the Central Government does not come out with statements designed to help profiteers while in the same breath asserting that he is not responsible for the inflation. This is, perhaps, the first time that the country is facing an unusual situation where apart from the failure of policy and programs of the Agriculture Ministry, utterly irresponsible and alarmist statements by its Agriculture Minister are equally resulting in feeding the fire of inflation as everyone from the aam admi to the Prime Minister, who also claims to be an aam admi, is watching helplessly.

Pawar - Can we project shortage of salt next?

India-awake which has already been following his dismal track record ever since he was appointed as Agriculture Minister, has been highlighting the same since May 2008. (see this article and the links there)

Brazenness, Bluff and Bluster

His oft repeated hackneyed and bogus excuses are no longer fooling anyone except, perhaps, some of his party members. He can hide neither under the drought, nor heavy rains nor floods because regardless of these natural factors which happen every so often, people are beginning to realize that the country has entered a cycle of scarcity which may continue even in normal periods. This is happening because of the havoc being wrecked by this one man.

On 22.1.2010, he made an assertion that in his 40-50 years of political life, for the first time he was seeing price rise being linked to Agriculture Ministry. He may be right, but he (more than his Ministry) is being blamed because he may well be the first Agriculture Minister responsible to a large extent for the state of affairs and the drought and heavy rains have come in handy only to be used as shields. He also said that the Agriculture Ministry was performing its functions (of collecting statistics?).

Incidentally, even if there is drought, there is no famine. It is worthwhile to refer to the following observation in a UNDP publication on drought and famine:

“..droughts are therefore a normal feature of climate and weather systems in all countries, including those generally regarded as being “wet” and “cold” as well as those areas usually associated with the term “drought” – the semiarid areas of the tropics. While droughts may be regarded as unusual in that they do not occur all the time, or in some areas for most of the time, droughts should not be regarded as being “abnormal” and, in fact, should be planned for in all countries.”

The people have been fooled enough by talks of drought and if the country can become so helpless all due to a drought, it is indeed scary to imagine the situation in case of a real famine, especially with the present Government and ministers like Pawar being in charge.

Pawar planning to import fodder too?

In the last week, he made a statement pointing to an impending increase in the price of milk which understandably drew protests from various States. It also inflamed the volatile Mayawati who promptly and rightly insisted that Sharad Pawar be removed. Mayawati used the term “irresponsible” for his statement. She should have instead used a stronger term.

Cabinet responsibility? – Yes, for not removing him

He has been cunningly trying to shirk the responsibility for the rise in food prices. In the last week, he cleverly persuaded the Cabinet for the Prime Minister to call a meeting of the Chief Ministers of the States to discuss the issue thus pitting one against the other. The underlying idea was to kill two birds with one stone. Such a meeting would imply that both the Prime Minister and the State Governments were the real parties responsible and not him. It would also leave the Prime Minister, rather than him, to face embarrassing protests of the Chief Ministers which were bound to surface. It appears that the Chief Ministers as well as possibly the Prime Minister saw through his game and the meeting has been deferred.

To buttress his position, he also had his sidekicks say that if anything was going wrong, the entire Cabinet was responsible not him, as the Cabinet had the collective responsibility. Sure, his supporters are right. The Cabinet as such cannot escape responsibility. But that responsibility lies on the Cabinet and particularly the Prime Minister for tolerating and continuing an incompetent Minister in a crucial Ministry who only compounds rather than solves the problems. Of course, the overall economic policies also have an influence. For example, he has been implying that the poor are eating more because of the UPA programs for the poor. If that be so, on the basis of collective responsibility, he is also responsible for any failures of the Government related to its economic policies.

Sackfuls of Sugar and Rotten Wheat and other Rotten Stuff

Pawar - a welldoing Minister

Sharad Pawar has been in positions of power for long enough. Even if the general perception about his having done too well for himself and being the wealthiest politician in the country is discounted, he deserves to get the sack with sackfuls of imported sugar and rotten wheat as bonus, purely on the basis of his performance as Agriculture Minister.

A vulture lying in wait for a famine

If the Prime Minister cannot get rid of this man even now, it can only mean that he personally along with the entire Government is truly responsible for this state of affairs.

It can be termed as a misfortune of the people to have such a Government running and ruining the show.


Even as the ink is turning dry....

Even as the ink of this article is turning dry, the multi-faced Pawar, who has been himself giving excuses for the price rise while claiming to be not conerned with it, seems to have finally realized that nemesis may catch up with him. As reported by a TV channel, he made a statement somewhere to the effect that the because of the inflation, the farmers were getting higher prices! He is further reported to have said to the effect that he would not mind sacrificing his chair in trying to get a fair deal for the farmers. A mercenary trying to pose as a true martyr, no less!

How can any sensible Head of Government take such nonsense?
If he can, it only means that he still has confidence in Pawar and shares his views.

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा