Archive for September, 2007

Is corruption in India really coming down?

30 September 2007

Transparency International, the Berlin based organisation, has released its annual computation of corruption across the world. Finland and New Zealand came in equal first, the United Kingdom came in 12th, and the United States was 20th, just two places above Chile.

India has “improved” its position. It is ranked 72nd among the 180 nations computed by Transparency International, against 70th among 163 nations last year. Accordingly, India’s integrity index has marginally improved to 3.5 in 2007 from 3.3 a year ago on a scale of 10 points.

India’s shares its rank with China, Mexico, Morocco and Peru. Pakistan is way down at 138, but it is higher than Russia.

A strong correlation between corruption and poverty continues to be evident. Forty percent of those scoring below three, indicating that corruption is perceived as rampant, are classified by the World Bank as low income countries.

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Is India really getting less corrupt as a nation as the survey suggests? Do you pay fewer bribes today to get done than you did last year? Has liberalisation, which ostensibly removed the licence-quota-permit raj, made lubricating hands less necessary? Or is corruption in our lives in less perceptible ways?

Look, what’s happening at Murthy Angadi #9

29 September 2007

Meanwhile, at the Sikkapatte Important Company of Karnataka, also known as Murthy Angadi, proof, as if any further proof were required, that the only lesson that sowcar-ru and his shishyas have learnt from history is that only a fool would learn from history. And that when you are driven by values, you can sometimes be driven to nuts, but, hey, it’s their stretch limo, and it’s only their entrepreneurial spirit that got them a car this long.

A week ago, some American girakis were visiting the Angadi to inspect the maal, and the maalwadis, and as usual the branch manager pulled out all the stops after MD 3.1415….

The Mexican hullu got an extra mug of Cauvery jol (re-bicycled water? Chal foot!), very green torana was tied all over, and as if working on the worst-case scenario that one of the girakis may actually be visually challenged, “Welcome” banners were strung up everywhere, so that there was no way even an ophthalmic problem would prevent them from knowing that their “check” book entries were wanted in the Angadi‘s passbooks.

So far so cute.

After all, there are only 10 kinds of people in the world: those who know binary and those who don’t.

Anyway, on the day the America girakis were being taken around the Angadi, “The Writer” (binary) was busy working when somebody (non-binary) suddenly pulled out the Indian national flag that “The Writer” (binary) had proudly put up on the desk. Clearly, sowcar-ru‘s shisyas (non-binary) were working extra-hard to “create an environment of warmth for our customers and prospects”.

Talking of which, the jhanda had been distributed by the branch manager’s mestri (non-binary) and his cohorts (non-binary) in the spirit of the agenda of “continuing the spirit of enjoying work” on Independence Day.

So, patriotism in the Angadi lasted exactly one month and six days.

(Related Hyperlink Without a Hyperlink: Since we, “the blessed” must all work “harder and smarter”, to “free India from poverty”, August 15 was a working day for Angadi employees serving and servicing American girakis and July 4 was a holiday.)

Anyway, to cut a short story long, the moment “The Writer” (binary) found his (Indian) national flag removed, he turned around to find a team-mate (Indian) standing behind him, with a bunch of flags (Indian) in his hand which too had been similarly removed. He pointed his finger towards the mestri and his men (Indian).

Mestri & His Men felt it would not be appropriate to display Indian flags when foreign clients were visiting.

One of the ‘leaders’ (binary) said in a loud voice to one of the writers (binary):

“Keep the patriotism to yourself! I know more than you. Wait for these two days and you can put those flags back again!!”

But “The Writer” did not remove his flag.

And, The Other Writers too put the flags back on their desks once the “Gangmen” left. But the hard-earned patriotism was short lived. The writers returned to their desks in the morning only to find the flags missing.

Stored in the lockers? Discarded in the dustbin? Shredded in the shredder? Keep betting.

Which only left The Writers with three conclusions to reach: either sowcar-ru‘s shisyas aren’t aware of the guru‘s earlier taapatregalu or that of others like Aamir Khan. Or sowcar-ru‘s scandal hasn’t taught the mestris anything. Or the sowcar-ru has been reading too many popular physics and mathematics books in his spare time to bother with something so umbilical and fundamental.

Disclaimer: All sowcar-ru, girakis and mestris mentioned in Murthy Angadi (no branches) are powered by the intellect of the imagination of a figment driven by values. 3.14159, of course, is Pi, (pronounced Pai) which is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter in Euclidean geometry.

The national anthem, the national flag, the national animal, the national bird are, well, the untrade-able marks of the nation (Indian). Jol is an anagram of J-Lo since it’s Mexican hullu (wink, wink). Any resemblance to characters living, dying or suing, Indian, Greek or Mexican, is entirely coincidental and unintentional.

Photograph: Courtesy Brain Chimney

At least this baby won’t be Miss South Carolina

29 September 2007

Jumping up and down a bed, two-year-old Lily shows Miss Teen USA South Carolina thoughtfully said: some people do have them: maps.

The greatest advertisement of a great profession

28 September 2007

In The Insider, Dustin Hoffman Al Pacino plays the role of Lowell Bergman, the CBS investigative journalist who does an expose of the tobacco industry. When a source scoffs at the parasitical role journalists play, Hoffman offers this succinct defence of journalism:

“I was putting my life on the line when you were dicking around golf courses.”

The photograph above, short by a Reuters stringer, captures the true spirit of our great profession. And portrays the lengths to which journalism’s great soldiers go to, risking life and limb, to bring the real picture to readers, viewers and listeners.In picture, Kenji Nagai of APF tries to take photographs as he lies injured after police and military officials fired upon and then charged at protesters in the Burmese capital, Rangoon, on Thursday, September 27, 2007.Kenji, 52, a Japanese photographer, was shot by soldiers as they fired to disperse the crowd.Kenji later died.While hundreds were dicking around golf courses. Scoffing at journalism and journalists.

Photo courtesy: Reuters

Also read: Citizen journalists evade blackout on Myanmar News

Don’t cricketers deserve the goodies they get?

28 September 2007

The monsoon of moolah that has rained on members of the Indian cricket team that won the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa—cash awards of Rs 80 lakh each for the 15 players, a Porsche sports car for Yuvraj Singh who hit six sixes in an over, a Mercedes Benz for R.P. Singh—shows that success demands a DNA test to determine who its father is, while failure is a hapless orphan lying in the ditch.

At the same time, the goodies put in perspective the “step-motherly” treatment most other games get in a country where cricket becomes a religion only when the team is winning. The hockey team has registered its protest on the issue, but it’s Advani‘s (Pankaj, not Lalchand Kishinchand) reaction that should tell us on why there’s a good case to do everything in moderation, including moderation.

The 22-year-old two-time billiards world champion, who has won four world championships, is upset with the Karnataka government after it announced cash awards for cricketer Robin Uthappa and bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad for their role in the Twenty20 triumph on top of what they will receive from the cricket board.

“I have a couple of questions for the chief minister. Does a sports person need to go on a hunger strike to get recognition form the state government or does the sports person needs to be a Man in Blue to be recognised? I need my answers soon because I have been keeping quite for a long time and this is the time I need to get my answers as an achiever and as a citizen of the state. If four world titles, an Arjuna Award, a Khel Ratna and an Asian Games gold medals are not enough then I don’t know what is enough.”

But it’s the reaction of newspaper papers that captures it all. Here are a few samples from today’s Hindu, The Telegraph, and Deccan Herald:

S.N. Krishnan, Madras: The media coverage of the six-hour crawl from Bombay airport to the Wankhede Stadium was more than what even the Republic Day parade gets. But shouldn’t we be asking ourselves if we are not overdoing things a bit? When the BCCI and corporate coffers are brimming, was it necessary for various State governments to jump on the bandwagon and announce additional bounties? Don’t we have better and more deserving uses for the taxpayers’ money?

C. Selvamani, Bangalore: No doubt, cricket is a very popular game. But the bonanza of gifts to which our cricketers are treated and the manner in which they are being pampered are uncalled for.

M. Ranga Pai, Mangalore: It is shocking to see our Government rewarding the outstanding cricketers and other sports persons generously with tax payers’ money. Some of them are wealthier than a few cooperative banks! But rarely do we see them getting involved in philanthropic activities… So why not do the same for those in other fields as well? Here, I particularly refer to the Engineers of Public Works Department, who are in charge of several important projects. Whenever they complete the work in time and in the best manner expected, they should be rewarded, either as a team or as individuals, with wide publicity.

 

Ramani P. Easwaran, Bangalore: No doubt the Indian cricketers deserve to be congratulated on their Twenty20 World Cup victory, but are we not going overboard with our celebrations? Except for making a few rich cricketers richer, this victory will have no bearing on the day-to-day struggle of most Indians, nor is it going to change the way the world views India. Isn’t it time we got our priorities right?

N. Ramani, Madras: We do not honour our engineers, scientists and doctors who contribute to the nation. But we shower our cricketers with lavish gifts. There are so many poor in our country who do not get even one good meal a day. This is not to say that we should not praise the players. But why such fuss and extravagance?

B.M. Viswanathan, Bangalore: It would appear that cricket is the only sport that deserves praise and money. No wonder with a population of more than a billion we are unable to win medals at the Olympics. Treating cricket as the only sport that matters is no way to attract talent in other sports.

A. Sarat Chandra, Hyderabad: The sops being doled out in the name of rewards are nothing short of vulgar. Whose money is it anyway? Do players from other sports not deserve such attention? It is such double standards that are the cause of India’s poor performance in international sporting events.

K.A. Solaman, Alappuzha: The much venerated Sachin went into oblivion as he did not play. Dhoni and his team were transformed into heroes. If the players were to lose some time in future, the same fans will turn against Dhoni and Sreesanth and pelt their homes with stones.

S.S. Rajagopalan, Madras: The reaction of the masses to the result of a cricket match is funny and strange. If India wins, it is euphoria and if it loses, the players’ effigies are burnt.

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Is cricket hogging too much attention? Or is it just a case of sour grapes for other sports? Do cricketers deserve all that they get? Or are we just jealous hiding behind other sports? Why should we be muted in our celebration of success when there is so little of it in our public space? Is it wrong for the media, advertisers and sponsors to try to exploit success on the cricket field, given the following the game has?

CHURUMURI POLL: Are small-towners stronger?

27 September 2007

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain of the Indian team which won the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa, has attributed the team’s victory to the presence of so many players from non-metropolitan cities.

“Guys coming from small-time towns are generally mentally and physically tougher than those coming from the metros. The infrastructure and facilities are not there and so players from smaller towns have to work harder,” Captain Victorious said in Bombay yesterday.

Questions: Is Dhoni right or is this just good spin? Is India’s relatively poor performance on the cricket field all this while been because the team has been stuffed full with hoity-toity, nose-in-the-air English-speaking upmarket urban types? Are metropolitan cricketers too complacent and not too hungry for success? Does Dhoni’s theory work only in cricket, or does it work in other areas of lif, too? Does India, as a wise man once said, live in its villages (and towns and tier-2 cities)?

Why Kalam could be India’s finest astrologer

27 September 2007

Nothing exceeds like success. BELLUR RAMAKRISHNA captures the after-effects of the Great Indian Cricket Turnaround in South Africa.

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ROHITH K.G. in Dubai writes: “The credit for the World Cup win should go to former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. He was the one who predicted that India would be a superpower in 2020.”

‘SHOCKING ABUSE OF JUDICIAL POWER-II’

27 September 2007

A group of social activists have issued the following statement criticising the Delhi High Court for sentencing four journalists of Mid-Day for contempt of court in a case involving the former Supreme Court Chief Justice, Y.K. Sabharwal.

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The decision of Delhi High Court to sentence Mid-Day journalists to four months of imprisonment for publishing certain well-researched facts supported by suitable documents… is not merely wrong, it sends a strong signal to the rest of the country, especially to the media that if anyone dares to speak, publish or publicly discuss any wrongdoing by any court or any judge, it would be treated as contempt of court and he/she would be severely punished for that. We, the undersigned, consider this to be an assault on our freedom of speech and expression.

While it is important in any society that its judiciary inspire public confidence, such confidence cannot be engendered by using the threat of contempt action to deter exposure of any wrongdoing in the judiciary. Public confidence in the judiciary is created by the actions of the judiciary and any reckless allegations against it are quickly seen to be what they are. In a free society, such allegations do not stick, if they are incorrect or reckless. The use of the power of contempt to stifle allegations against judges would only increase public suspicion about the judiciary and indeed engender contempt for it.

Public confidence in the judiciary cannot be maintained by silencing dissenting voices or exposure of wrongdoing. Such exposure of all institutions, including the judiciary, is also essential in public interest for corrective action to be taken. Expose of any wrongdoing in any public institution and action against the wrongdoing only enhances the prestige of that institution rather than lowering it. It suggests that self-correcting mechanisms exist.

An independent and credible enquiry is required into these allegations, since that would reveal what the truth is. However, without going into the truth of the allegations, and without ordering any enquiry, the High Court of Delhi has sentenced these journalists to four months of imprisonment each. This judgment, unless reversed, is bound to send a clear message to the whole nation that if any judge indulges in any wrongdoing, the people of India do not have a right to speak about it or demand an enquiry into it.

We, like millions of citizens of India, have great regard for many things that the Indian judiciary has done in the past, particularly to protect the cherished fundamental right of free speech. However, this judgment strikes at the foundation of our respect. It makes us wonder why the Courts are averse to a full enquiry. Further, why are the Courts aggressively pursuing the journalists, who did a public duty to bring these facts in the public domain? To our mind, such conduct of the Courts lends further credence to the allegations reported by these journalists. It is unpalatable to us that the men who did their journalistic duty in exposing corruption be sent to jail while no enquiry is set up against the judge.

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The signatories to the statement are: Admiral H.C. Malhotra, Retired Rear Admiral; Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, JNU; Arun Kumar, Professor of Economics, JNU; Aruna Roy, social activist; A.B. De, Professor of Medicine, AIIMS; Harsh Mander, campaigner against communalism; Jaya Shrivastava, women’s rights campaigner; Jean Dreze, right to food and employment campaigner; Prabhash Joshi, former Editor Jansatta; Rajendra Singh, Magsaysay awardee; Ramaswamy Iyer, former Secretary, Water Resources, Government of India; S.P. Shukla, (former Finance Secretary, GOI); Sandeep Pande, Magsaysay awardee; and Shripad Dharmadhikary, Director, Manthan, water campaigner.

Why the Left is cutting the nose to spite the face

26 September 2007

Why are the Left parties led by Prakash Karat going for the jugular on the nuclear deal and and risking an early election? Prof. Abhirup Sarkar of the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta, views the situation through the prism of the two States that warm the Left’s seats in the Lok Sabha in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“West Bengal and Kerala, taken together, account for 85 per cent of Lok Sabha seats of the Left. Therefore, it should suffice to look at the political economy of these two states to understand the undercurrents within the Left.

“The economies of West Bengal and Kerala are, of course, miles apart. Among the major Indian states, Kerala has the highest per capita consumption, highest literacy and the lowest gender disparity. It has the highest rank by any reasonable human development index.

“By contrast, West Bengal is at best a mediocre state. It is middle ranking in terms of per capita consumption, literacy and human development indices. The rural-urban divide in West Bengal is one of the starkest in the country, the rural sector containing some of the poorest Indian households, notwithstanding decades of much-hyped land reforms.

“Who votes for the Left in West Bengal? Our studies reveal that the Left vote bank in West Bengal mainly consists of the economically and socially disadvantaged — the poor and the vulnerable, the educationally backward, members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, religious minority groups, marginal and small farmers, landless agricultural labourers and so on. Apart from these people, there is a section of the middle and upper classes voting left.

“These people would rather sacrifice industrialization in West Bengal and even risk losing a few seats in Kerala to protect the traditional vote bank, which has given them immense power without having to win elections or run governments. They are like the classical politburo members of the erstwhile Soviet Union, self-centred, power-loving, completely divorced from the people.

“The conflict, however, is not so much between leaders or personalities, but between two social classes, one poor and struggling to survive and the other aspiring to come out of the bondage of poverty and destitution.”

Read the full article here: Tale of two classes

Does the Thirukkural have a word for taxes?

26 September 2007

The only thing certain in life, other than its inevitable end, is taxes. And, if you are an Indian, the cesses, duties, fees, interest, penalties, surcharges, and anything else that the accountants and bookkeepers can come up with.

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN forwards a dummy’s guide (abridged) that offers stunning proof of how in liberalised India, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class get milked more than ever, every Budget day.

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1) Q: What do you do?
A:
Business
So you pay: Professional tax

2) Q: What kind of business do you do?
A: Selling goods
So you pay: Sales tax

3) Q: From where do you get the goods?
A: From other state and countries
So you pay: Central sales tax, customs duty and octroi

4) Q: What do you get by selling goods?
A: Profit
So you pay: Income tax

5) Q: Where do you manufacture the goods?
A: At a factory
So you pay: Excise duty

6) Q: Do you have an office/ warehouse/ factory?
A: Yes
So you pay: Muncipal and fire tax

7) Q: Do you have a staff?
A: Yes
So you pay: Staff professional tax

8) Q: Do you do business in the millions?
A: Yes
So you pay: Turnover tax

9) Q: Do you take out over Rs 25,000 in cash from your bank?
A: Yes, to pay salariesy
So you pay: Cash handling tax

10) Q: Where are you taking your client out for lunch and dinner?
A: Restaurant
So you pay: Food and entertainment tax

11) Q: Are you going out of station for business?
A: Yes
So you pay: Fringe benefit tax

12) Q: Have you taken or given any service/s?
A: Yes
So you pay: Service tax

13) Q: How did you receive such a big amount?
A: It was a birthday gift
So you pay: Gift tax

14) Q: Do you have any wealth?
A: Yes
So you pay: Wealth tax

15) Q: Where do you go to reduce stress, for recreation and entertainment?
A: A spa, cinema or resort
So you pay: Entertainment tax

16) Q: Have you purchased a house?
A: Yes
So you pay: Stamp duty and registration fee

17) Q: How do you travel?
A: By bus
So you pay: Surcharge

18) Q: Any additional tax?
A: Yes
So you pay: Educational, additional educational and surcharge on all the central government’s taxes

19) Q: Have you ever delayed any time in paying any tax?
A: Yes
So you pay: Interest and penalty

CHURUMURI POLL: Next change, Rahul Gandhi?

25 September 2007

The appointment of Rahul Gandhi as a general secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) is the first clear indication that an electoral breeze may blow through the country earlier than expected, following the kerfuffle over the nuclear deal and the Ram Sethu. By putting the 37-year-old in charge of youth affairs and the National Students’ Union of India, the “demands” of many a Congressman (and woman) for a more substantive role for the Member of Parliament from Amethi have been met. But the move is also indication that Manmohan Singh may have reached his use-by date by the time election nears.

Questions: With his surname, will Rahul Gandhi be able to strike a chord amongst the electorate like his father Rajiv Gandhi, mother Sonia Gandhi, or grandmother Indira Gandhi? Or, given his inability to do any wonders in the Uttar Pradesh election, is this another move by the “dynasty” to prevent the party from coming apart? Does he have the equipment upstairs to deal with the Karats and khaki sticks? Or is the Congress betting too much on a household horse that it has been riding for very long? If the Congress and an alliance led by it comes to power in the next election, as opinion polls indicate, will Rahul Gandhi get to occupy the hot seat?

Bonus questions: Is a democratically elected MP’s elevation as general secretary of the AICC another indication of “dynastic politics“? And is Priyanka Gandhi next?

One question I’m dying to ask M. Karunanidhi

25 September 2007

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Thiru Muthuvel Karunanidhi is, if nothing else, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma within a dhoti. A pal of the BJP not long ago, he is now a pal of the Congress. A mascot on Sun TV which was such a weapon in his armoury not long ago, he is set to be a mascot on the recently launched Kalaignar TV.

Like his thambi, H.D. Deve Gounder, MuKa has been paralysed by a massive son stroke, resulting in Vai Kopalaswami having to leave the DMK so that Mu.Ka.Stalin and Mu. Ka. Azhagiri can have a free run. But whether as a member of the NDA or the UPA, he has been singleminded in securing the best for his makkal and mommakkal especially free colour television sets so that they can receive Arasu TV.

After having believed in Ramar ‘s existence in 1972, the 83-year-old in his atheistic zest has questioned Lord Ramar‘s engineering skills, called him a drunkard, and attracted a Hindu fatwa, thus handing the BJP a thoroughly modern electoral bludgeon to round up the devout, and very nearly upset the UPA applecart.

What is the one question you are dying to ask Thiru MuKa? Please keep your questions short, civil and classical.

When the fence starts grazing the crop of life

25 September 2007

Although the Chamalapura Project controversy has been raging for over four months now, few know where it is, geographically speaking, and how close it is to human habitats, the Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks, and the Kabini and Krishna Raja Sagar reservoirs. Here’s a Google Earth picture, forwarded by VADIRAJ HOMBAL, which gives us a good idea.

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Also, in response to a question “What will get spoiled if Chamalapura comes up?” E.R. RAMACHANDRAN forwards an extract from the 9th five year plan (volume 1), which seems to suggest that the government may be in danger of breaking its own rules in setting up the project in spite of vehement opposition.

“1.120 It is important that conservation of natural resources receives adequate priority, especially from environmental angle. The danger of further deterioration in the quality of air and water is not unreal and so is the case with the quality of soil. Greater demand for land resources for food, fodder, fuel, water as well as for mining and other activities will put pressure on the availability and quality of land. Therefore, it is essential that these resources are used with utmost care so that growth is sustainable.”

Also read: SAVE MYSORE FROM CHAMALAPURA PROJECT

CHURUMURI POLL: Who’ll win Twenty20 finals?

24 September 2007

An India versus Pakistan match is a sight to behold even in ordinary circumstances. As old rivalries open up, as the “war minus the shooting” begins, the tension is palpable while the cash registers and TRP counters start whirring wild. But, stunningly, before today, the two sides have never faced each other in the finals of a global tournament. So the simple question is: which of the two sides do you think will the finals of the first-ever Twenty20 World Cup in Johannesburg?

Will Dhoni’s Dudes improve India’s 6-1 record against Pakistan in world championships? Or do you think India’s luck might well have run out after those two stunning back-to-back victories against Australia and England? Will Malik’s Mavens put the past behind them and stop the rampaging Indians? How have two sides without their “nucleus” done so well? Who do you think will be the star of the finals?

And the big questions: Will a win in today’s Twenty20 exorcise the demons of the real World Cup for either side? Or is this just a lottery being played on a cricket field? Will a win here cook Kapil Dev‘s ICL goose for good?

‘SHOCKING ABUSE OF JUDICIAL POWER’

24 September 2007

Four journalists of the Delhi newspaper Mid-Day have been ordered to be jailed for “contempt of court” following the publication of a cartoon and stories questioning the actions and motivations of former Supreme Court chief justice, Y.K. Sabharwal during the sealing exercise in the national capital.

The editorial below appears in today’s edition of The Hindu, which we run here in full in an expression of solidarity with Mid-Day and its staffers.

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SHOCKING ABUSE OF JUDICIAL POWER

The Delhi High Court’s action in holding the editor, the publisher, the resident editor, and a cartoonist of Mid -Day (published from Delhi) guilty of contempt of court for making allegations of gross judicial misconduct against the former Chief Justice of India Y.K. Sabharwal and sentencing them to four months’ imprisonment raises several troubling issues.

In the first place, it draws pointed attention to the absence of an effective and credible institutional mechanism to deal with allegations of misconduct made against judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court. Secondly, it represents an instance of improper use of the contempt power to bar any attempt to raise the issue of judicial misconduct even at the threshold. Thirdly, and most importantly, it underlines the danger to freedom of expression that the judiciary’s virtually untrammelled contempt jurisdiction poses.

If the object of the order was to protect the dignity and reputation of the judiciary from unfounded allegations, it has in fact strengthened the impression that the judiciary as an institution has much to hide and thus undermined its credibility in the eyes of the public.

For some time now, leading lawyers and the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms have been making two broad allegations against Sabharwal. One is that his orders on sealing irregular commercial premises in residential areas of Delhi were ultimately to the benefit of two business associates of his sons who were engaged in developing commercial complexes and malls; because of the sealing drive, property values and rents went up in those areas.

The second charge is that even as he heard the case relating to the tapes said to contain recorded conversations of the Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh and passed an interim order staying their broadcast, the Uttar Pradesh government allotted his sons plots of land in Noida at rates that were a fraction of the market prices.

Mr Sabharwal after his retirement, noting that silence was no longer an option, rebutted these charges point by point in a newspaper article. His contention was that his sons had built up a large and diversified garment export business on their own; that they themselves did not benefit in any way from the sealing orders; that they were in the business of developing information technology complexes rather than commercial complexes; and that their business partners were long time friends. As for the land allotments, they were done in the normal course under different chief ministers and at prices charged for similar plots allotted in the area.

The truth behind the allegations can be established through an enquiry or through judicial proceedings in a defamation suit, for instance. It is strange that even after Mr. Sabharwal showed he was perfectly willing to defend himself in a public forum, the Delhi High Court took upon itself the task of defending his dignity and that of the Supreme Court. It is stranger still that the court should have chosen to make an example of Mid-Day through contempt proceedings while the lawyers who made the same charges in public forums were left untouched.

In this case, the journalists pleaded justification by truth as a defence and offered to prove the allegations they had published. The Delhi High Court sidestepped the issue of truth and instead argued that the article had created the impression that “the Supreme Court permitted itself to be led into fulfilling an ulterior motive of one of its members” and had thereby tarnished the image of the institution as a whole. It was after a long and hard campaign by public spirited lawyers and the media that the traditional position was overturned and truth came to be allowed as a defence in contempt cases through an amendment to the Contempt of Courts Act in 2006. It is shocking that the principle of fairness embodied in the amended Act was totally ignored.

The Mid-Day case has served to highlight the threat to freedom of speech from the judiciary, with the courts imposing wholly unreasonable restrictions by invoking what Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer once memorably characterised as their “vague and wandering jurisdiction with uncertain frontiers” in contempt cases. Quite apart from the built-in unfairness in a judge acting in his own cause, serving as prosecutor, judge, jury, and hangman, a great deal of uncertainty marks the offence of “scandalising the court.”

If one were to look at past judgments for guidance, one would find liberal sentiments that justice is not a cloistered virtue, that judges are not immune from criticism, and that the shoulders of the judiciary are broad enough to shrug off any insult. Alongside such attitudes, there are some ominous edicts on the majesty of the law, that the contempt power is not meant to protect an individual judge but rather the institution of the judiciary, and that public faith in the judiciary ought not to be allowed to be undermined by scurrilous writers.

As several high profile cases, including two involving Arundhati Roy have shown, in contempt more than in other areas of law the individual predilections of judges — how liberal or how touchy they are — go to determine guilt. Courts in the United Kingdom have long let the penal provision for the offence of scandalising the court fall into disuse, and it is time Indian courts abandoned it as well. Never justified under any circumstances, its use to silence critics of possible judicial misconduct would seem to be particularly indefensible.

In protecting and enlarging the rights of citizens and in guarding against abuse of executive power, the judiciary as an institution has served the country exceedingly well. Overzealous defenders of judicial dignity only serve to erode its credibility.

Courtesy: The Hindu

MuKa Sethu in Stalinapakkam: Can DMK say ‘ille’?

24 September 2007

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: As I was stepping into Saravana Bhavan in T. Nagar for breakfast, I saw the Ace Political Expert (APE), Kho Kumaraswamy, sitting alone in a corner, striking a very ponderous pose.

As my luck would have it, he was waiting to place an order and I joined him. APE was just beginning to dredge into his button idlis when I asked him whether Chennai, the city formerly known as Madras, would undergo further changes in name, now that it is more than 350 years old.

Kho Kum took his time. He was chewing each idli to their last atom before swallowing them.

He said, “I think it’s about time. You see, Chennai was only a standby name. I understand the top leadership wants to rename the city as ‘Stalinakudi or Stalinapakkam. God willing, this could happen in a year or two. The doting government at the Centre is waiting to sign the dotted line.”

“I am surprised, you said ‘God willing’! Isn’t the term strictly forbidden here?”

“Oh, that’s just a slip of the classical mother tongue. I should have said, ‘Non-Hindu Gods willing’. Hindu Gods are strictly forbidden here! They don’t fetch many votes in Tamil Naad.”

As we began picking at the pongal, I asked Kho Kum what he thought of the current leadership in Chennai.

“On one side, its vision is myopic, with all the focus on converting Chennai to Stalinapakkam as early as possible. Every obstacle is being cleared ruthlessly. On the other side, it is cross-eyed. Either it is dark or suspicious of anything that can delay the pet dream, or it is a perpetual yellow which makes it jaundice-eyed,” said KK with a glint in his eyes.

“The practice of a no-god concept in a sense must be helping the State make rapid progress?”

Kho Kho laughed and said, “Just because they don’t believe in Gods, it doesn’t mean they don’t worship here. It’s a daily ritual here for the young and even the very old to fall at their leader’s feet, swipe the dust off the feet, and rub it on the eyes. It seems there is a miraculous healing effect when the dust is applied to eyes although this may also be one of the reasons why most people in politics have developed a skewed vision here.”

As we began sipping filter coffee, I asked whether the leaderhip in Tamil Nadu would allow ‘Ramar Sethu’ to stay as it is.

“No chance at all,” said the APE emphatically. “The only way this could happen is, if the Centre renames it as ‘MuKa Sethu‘ and the whole cabinet from the PM downwards come down for the renaming ceremony and go through dust swiping ceremony. Of course, the UPA chairperson too has to be there.”

As we were leaving, Kho Khum said ominously, “I see this episode as the turning point in Indian Politics. Tamil Nadu might have kicked off a tsunami, not in the Indian Ocean but in the ocean of Indian polity. And like with the original tsunami, the toll may be uncertain.”

Finally, a photograph that is 100% guaranteed

24 September 2007

G.N. MOHAN forwards a picture shot somewhere between Agumbe and Kundapur by AJIT ASHUTOSH KALLE.

Why do we have such a silly headline for such a beautiful picture?

Because of this: A paradise on earth? ‘Tis here, ‘Tis here

MUST-WATCH: Dying professor’s last lecture

23 September 2007

Randy Pausch, a 46-year-old top computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, has been diagnosed with 10 tumours in his liver and has just a few months of good health left. Last week, he said goodbye to his students and the Pittsburgh college with one last lecture called “How to Live Your Childhood Dreams“.

Those dreams range from the sublime (floating in zero gravity, writing an entry in the World Book Encyclopaedia,) to the ridiculous (playing in the national football league, being Captain Kirk, winning big stuffed animals at amusement parks, and being an imagineer at Disney).

But they were his dreams, and as he puts it, “I was there”. Pausch goes on to talk about them with verve, humour and panache. He staves off pity by demonstrating how fit he is. He reveals that he has had a deathbed conversion. And he talks of how easy it is to get a Press pass.

The Wall Street Journal has called it “the lecture of a lifetime”.

***

# We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.

# It’s all about the fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. Otherwise the fancy stuff won’t work.

# When you are screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you any more, then it means they have given up.

# Life’s a gift. If you wait long enough, other people will show you their good side.

# In the face of adversity, don’t complain, just work harder. Your patience will eventually be rewarded.

# Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

# Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls aren’t there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show us how badly we want things.

Watch the lecture: Dying professor’s lecture of a lifetime

Send him a question: Dear Professor Randy Pausch

What’s the correct word for a Hindu ‘fatwa’?

22 September 2007

Fundamentalists, be they Muslim, Christian or Hindu, are conjoined triplets, joined at the hip and sharing the same rectal orifice which, for the want of a better word, has come to be, has to be called asshole.

The human blood is what they drink from the goblet of gore, and the elimination of human life is what they easily, swiftly shamelessly, unapologetically seek when confronted with a view of the world that contests their own.

In the name of Bhagwan, Allah, Jesus.

In the name of protecting their religion.

In the name of the silent, faceless devout in whose crease and on whose behalf they bat.

For the Muslim lunatic fringe, a work of fiction that challenges their imagination a la Salman Rushdie, or a newspaper column that demands a better deal for women a la Taslima Nasreen, is enough to shame their brave biriyani brethren into announcing global contests for their heads.

For the Christian lunatic fringe, the bestial and brutal slaughter of thousands of innocent Iraqis in America’s ongoing “war”, and in countless other “clashes of civilisations” as they know it, is OK because it is all part of a grand divine plan that will finally culminate in the ‘second coming’ of Jesus Christ.

Say namaste-namasakar to the Hindu lunatic fringe.

Hellbent on taking their—our—“religion” down the same dark and ghastly road of hatred and intolerance. Hellbent on overturning every known canon that their—our—“religion” is famous for. And hellbent on turning their—our—“religion” into a pale, pathetic version of the one they so despise.

Say hello to the a-in-c, Ram Vilas Vedanti (in picture).

The Honourable Member of Parliament (MP) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has delivered this gem on M. Karunanidhi:

“Anyone who speaks against Ram should be beheaded and his tongue should be chopped and [those] who will do it will be given gold by Ayodhya’s saints.”

Like, maybe, the carrot of 72 virgins that the religion of the other part dangles before its martyrs. But, apparently, not in the hereafter but here on earth.

Of course, if Karunanidhi is free to say what he did, in a “free and democratic country”—a reality that the spokesmen of the sangh parivar can spot only when their trishul-weilding, tilak-toting foot soldiers are tearing apart posters of Fanaa or seeking a student’s arrest—Shri Vedanti should be free to air his “personal opinion“.

But an honourable Member of Parliament, who has taken oath under the Constitution of India, publicly advocating death in a public forum of another constitutionally elected colleague?

Forgive them, Rama, for they know what they do.

And forgive them, Allah, for the Mukhtar Abbas Naqvis and the Shahnawaz Hussains too know what they are defending.

In Chamalapura, life is starting to imitate art

22 September 2007

P. Sainath, the Magsaysay Award winning journalist, made the very obvious point recently in an interview on wisdom as it is perceived by the Indian media—how journalists, who are supposed to ask the tough questions, tended to bow before people in positions of power for whatever reason in a pavlovian way.

The media writes “the collector said”, “the prime minister said”, although the collector may be a bloke who came there just 15 days ago. We privilege that collector’s statement over that of a farmer who has tilled the land there for 45 years.

Be it Nandigram, Narmada, or the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise, IT or BT, that is the common refrain, where the “collected wisdom” of politicians, bureaucrats, police officers, corporate heads, and assorted authority figures, real and imagined, are vested with greater gravitas than the “collective wisdom”.

Is Chamalapura in Mysore district, where the H.D. Kumaraswamy government wants to set up a coal power project, also going that way?

***

GOVINDA K. writes: After finding that we did not have even one good photograph to show how Chamalapura looked like, a friend and I decided to go to Chamalapura and get some photos. We thought of putting up these pictures on wikipedia and also releasing it into the public domain, so that all bloggers could use it.

Last Tuesday, September 18, we asked some of our friends on how we could get to Chamalapura. We reached Gaddige road near SJCE and proceeded on it. About 20 km from Bogadi, we came upon a place called Halanahalli. We took a left deviation and travelled 5 more kilometres and reached the “border” of Chamalapura.

The place was so green and cool, we wondered how the government had termed the land as barren.

We were confused which way to reach Chamalapura. So we asked a person walking on the road “Chamalapurakke yaava kaDe hOGabEku?

That person saw us with suspicion and asked: “Neevu yaar swaamy? Nimge En aagbEku? Yaarannu oor oLikke biDakilla. Sumne galaate maaD-de vaapaas hOgi.”

We were shocked to hear these words from that villager, as usually our villagers are generally very courteous. But, as we continued to talk with that man, he told us that the people of the surrounding villages had decided not to allow any “outsiders” into the village. He also said that they would install some danger boards outside their village entrance.

As we were talking with this villager, there came two more people on a two-wheeler who looked a bit “educated”. (The first villager seemed like an illiterate, but he knew a lot about the project.)

The people on the two-wheeler asked who we were. Then he asked for our identity cards. Luckily I had carried my ID card. Then he talked with us for a while in suspicion. After some time, we convinced him that we were no way related to the government and that we too were opposed the project. Then they all became friendly and talked with us well.

We explained to him that we wanted some photographs so that we could put them on the internet. Both of them had little idea about what we were talking. We told them that putting the photos on the internet would enable people all over the globe to see it. Finally, they were convinced by us and one person gave his mobile number and told us that he would talk with other members of his village and then decide whether he can allow us. He told us to come another day.

They also told us that some English newspaper reporters had come in the morning and they too were not allowed into their village. The situation here is almost same as in the film Mathad Mathadu Mallige. In the film too, the villagers decide not to allow government officials and strangers into the village.

We returned to Mysore without the photographs but with an insight of how the rural mind is ticking, and how the “Citizens of Chamalapura” are mobilising.

Also read: SAVE MYSORE FROM CHAMALAPURA PROJECT

One question I’m dying to ask H.D. Kumaraswamy

19 September 2007

Going purely by the Gregorian calendar, which may or may not be the one they use in the Deve Gowda household, H.D. Kumaraswamy is in the last fortnight of his stint as chief minister of Karnataka.

After promising the moon and more, the youthful CM has spent the better part of his tenure burnishing his image, sleeping around in the villages, popping up for the flashbulbs. Dozens of scandals have dogged the administration, and the spectre of sleaze has hung over the reigning family like a thick smog.

His son Nikhil Gowda has been in the news for the wrong reasons, and HDK himself has been accused of making strange incursions. The BJP has been kept on the tenterhooks all through the last three months on the “transfer of power”, and in a rather late epiphany, Kumaraswamy has said the alliance has cost the JDS its secular image.

So, what is the one question you are dying to ask the son of the son of the soil, Haradanahalli Devegowda Kumaraswamy? Please keep your questions short and civil.

Thank God, somebody’s bringing Her to book

19 September 2007

Sick and tired of the courts being open to all manner of people to file all manner of frivolous cases, an American senator has sued—wait for it—God.

Ernie Chambers of Nebraska has filed a lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction ordering God to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats.

“The lawsuit admits God goes by all sorts of alias, names, titles and designations and it also recognizes the fact that the defendant is “Omnipresent”. In the lawsuit Chambers says he’s tried to contact God numerous times, “Plaintiff, despite reasonable efforts to effectuate personal service upon Defendant (“Come out, come out, wherever you are”) has been unable to do so.”

“It says being Omniscient, the plaintiff assumes God will have actual knowledge of the action.The lawsuit accuses God “of making and continuing to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons, including constituents of Plaintiff who Plaintiff has the duty to represent.”

“It says God has caused, “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects, and the like.”

“The suit also says God has caused, “calamitous catastrophes resulting in the wide-spread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants including innocent babes, infants, children, the aged and infirm without mercy or distinction.”

“Chambers also says God “has manifested neither compassion nor remorse, proclaiming that Defendant “will laugh” when calamity comes. Chambers asks for the court to grant him a summary judgement. He says as an alternative, he wants the judge to set a date for a hearing as “expeditiously” as possible and enter a permanent injunction enjoining God from engaging in the types of deleterious actions and the making of terroristic threats described in the lawsuit.

“The suit also requests that the court given the “peculiar circumstances” of this case waive personal service.”

Surely, She is accountable for Her “deficiency of service”? Surely, She can argue Her case? Surely, She has lots of good dead lawyers around? Surely, She won’t seek repeated adjournments?

Khara baath, Kesari baath, and hot filter coffee

19 September 2007

Book launches in Kannada have acquired a momentum all their own, and this invitation, for the release of Shalabhanjike by K.N. Ganeshaiah and Janaki Col 2 by Janaki is proof. U.R. Anantha Murthy, Nagesh Hegde, and Ramesh Arvind are scheduled to speak on the new releases at the Indian Institute of World Culture on B.P. Wadia Road at Gandhi Bazaar, Basavanagudi. The date: Sunday, September 23. The time: 10 am.

The postscript is a killer: “There is tiffin”

The democratisation of ownership of Kannada

18 September 2007

Has the creation of a united Karnataka damaged the multi-lingual character of the Kannada sensibility? Not so, writes
M.S. Prabhakara, the Kannadiga who was The Hindu‘s Guwahati correspondent before being posted to South Africa, in a column in today’s issue of the paper:

“The resentment over the influx of non-Kannadigas, and anxieties that the native Kannada speakers are being reduced to an irrelevant minority—as they are very nearly so in Bangalore—is now more or less a given in popular discourse. This was not always so.

“Areas across the borders of present day Karnataka inhabited by Kannada speakers were once part of the Kannada country and are even now claimed for Karnataka. The reverse too is true….

“If in pre-integration days the Kannada sensibility was enriched by the cross-fertilisation with cultures of Telugu and Tamil as well as Marathi, some Urdu and the minor languages of coastal Karnataka (and vice-versa), seen at its best in the culture of folk literature the popular cinema, post 1956 the Kannada sensibility has been enriched by forces that were till recently dormant, powerless.”

Read the full column here: Who owns Kannada?

CHURUMURI POLL: Nuclear fuel, the only option?

18 September 2007

The carrot dangling at the bottom of the Indo-US nuclear deal is nuclear power. Signing the deal, say its proponents, will give India unbridled access to the latest in civilian nuclear technology, which will go a long way in ending the country’s growing energy woes.

While the Left parties, playing the bad cop, continue to oppose the deal for the stranglehold it fears America will gain, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, playing the good cop, has said that while the cost of nuclear plants and cost of power can be debated, the country cannot avoid nuclear power.

On the other hand, Non-Resident Indian industrialist Swraj Paul has sounded a note of caution on an altogether different front. How much of the country’s energy needs be really be met by nuclear reactors, without making them becoming an attractive target for terrorists, he asks.

Questions: Is nuclear energy the only way forward for India? Can the lax security situation or the terrorism threat be used as an excuse to keep India in darkness, living from power cut to power cut? Is nuclear fuel going to be an inexpensive option in the long run? What are the other options for India to meet its energy needs? Has India explored all those options or is it blindly putting all its eggs in the nuclear basket?


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