Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Insecure children in India

Insecure children


A government study states that child abuse is quite common in India and that out-of-school children are most at risk.


A large portion of India's child population remains ignored and exploited.

HERE is something that threatens to shatter the picture of the big, happy Indian family. Children are safer at school than at home, says a study on child abuse conducted by the Central government's Ministry of Women and Child Welfare. Every second child in India has faced sexual abuse, and two-thirds of children have been physically abused, the survey estimates.

The study was conducted in 13 States and based on interviews with 12,447 children. It is a damning indictment of Indian society's cruelty to its young and most vulnerable. One-fifth of the world's children live in India. Forty-two per cent of India's population is under 18 - that is 440 million people, a number greater than the population of the United States. Despite the fact that India has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the country has dozens of child welfare schemes, a large portion of the child population remains neglected and exploited.

Over half of the children interviewed (53 per cent) had been sexually abused. More boys than girls were harmed. And, 21 per cent of the children reported severe abuse. Children at home and not going to school were more at risk than those attending school. The most affected were children at work (61 per cent reported sexual abuse). Street children (54 per cent) were only slightly more vulnerable than children at home not attending school (53 per cent). More than 70 per cent of children had not told anyone else about their abuse. Of the young adults (aged 18 to 24) who were interviewed, 46 per cent reported that they were sexually abused as children.

Parents and family members were the people most likely to abuse children physically. Around 48 per cent of children said they were physically abused by family members, while 34 per cent were beaten by others. "Considering that the family is supposed to provide a protective atmosphere for the child, especially during the formative years, the high percentage is both surprising and alarming," the study says. But severe abuse was committed mostly by outsiders. Every sixth child faced severe thrashing by people outside the family.

Children are routinely hit at school as a form of disciplining. The survey estimates that 65 per cent of children get beaten in schools across the country. Boys are more vulnerable than girls in this regard. "In States like Delhi, Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal and Gujarat, which are also sample States in the study, corporal punishment has been banned by State governments. Yet, some of the highest percentages of corporal punishment can be seen in these States," says the study, authored by Loveleen Kacker, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Welfare; Srinivas Varadan and Pravesh Kumar, with assistance from Dr. Nadeem Mohsin and Anu Dixit.

A reason for the alarming findings could be the fact that the study has focussed on the most vulnerable groups of children and has not taken a sample that is representative of the total child population. Essentially, five groups of equal sample size were interviewed for the survey - children in school, children out of school and at home, street children, working children and children in institutions. As it gives equal weightage to each, the survey cannot apply the findings to the entire population. Three of these are vulnerable groups that do not form a large proportion of the population, which may be why the results are startling. For instance, all over India more than 60 per cent of children are in school, but schoolchildren constitute only 20 per cent of the survey's sample.

However, the survey has been path-breaking because until now the main source of information on child abuse was the National Crime Records Bureau, where only registered cases are counted. Most incidents of child abuse are not reported to the police. Moreover, several forms of abuse are not reflected in the crime statistics.

"We did this study because a lack of data was one of our major constraints in pushing for greater resource allocation for child protection schemes. There was a conspiracy of silence, and people did not feel that child abuse was such a major problem," said Loveleen Kacker. "The results are shocking but confirm that there is more abuse than we tend to accept."

"It is very commendable that the government has done this survey and acknowledged the magnitude of the problem," says Vidya Reddy, from Tulir Centre for the Prevention & Healing of Child Sexual Abuse. "They are also proposing the Integrated Child Protection Scheme and an Offences Against Child Bill. If these are implemented properly, it will be a big step towards tackling child abuse."

Child workers formed one-fifth of the children interviewed and are among the most exploited. Of all child labourers, 56 per cent were employed illegally or in hazardous industries - domestic work; roadside restaurants, or dhabas; construction work, beedi-rolling; lock-making; embroidery; and zari weaving. More than half of child workers laboured seven days a week, without holidays. Of all working children, 23 per cent were domestic workers, of whom 81 per cent were girls. Fourteen per cent of the domestic child workers said they were abused by their employers.

Street children survive in the most inhuman living conditions. The survey found that two of three street children lived with their parents. Only 17 per cent slept in a night shelter. Hygiene conditions were miserable. More than 70 per cent defecated in the open, and 50 per cent did not have access to a municipal tap to bathe. The survey found that they were often not able to meet their basic needs for food.

The report recommends setting up a state commission for the protection of the rights of the child and implementing `action plans' for child protection. "We will introduce an Offences Against Children (Prevention) Bill in Parliament. There are many things not considered an offence under current law," said Loveleen Kacker. "We need to spend more on child protection. Right now it is only 0.03 per cent of the budget. The Ministry is introducing an Integrated Child Protection Scheme soon. It is disturbing that 40 per cent of our children are at risk."

Creating outreach services for street children and child workers and strengthening support services under the Juvenile Justice Act are also included in the report's recommendations. More public awareness about child abuse is necessary to acknowledge and tackle the problem. Children, too, have to be aware of their rights.

"This survey highlights the urgent need for sex education, not only for pre-adolescents but even younger children. How else will children learn to be strong and understand how to protect themselves?" asks Ingrid Mendonca, from Terre des Hommes, a child rights organisation. "Unfortunately, the most progressive States are moving backwards by trying to ban sex education. It is urgently needed."

The entire system has to be made more child-friendly, says Vidya Apte from the Forum Against Child Sexual Exploitation. "The issue is swept under the carpet. Most doctors, psychologists, lawyers, judges and police officials don't know how to handle such cases. It is not part of their training," she says. "It is time to remove the taboo around this issue. We have to help children to protect themselves. If we feel embarrassed to talk about it, how can we advise our children?"

The government report also stresses the importance of education. "Beyond doubt, schools, as compared to other situations, are the safest place for children, and therefore efforts should be made to increase the enrolment and retention of children by adopting innovative, child-friendly methods of teaching," says the report. "Adequate infrastructure including sanitation facilities, keeping in mind the special needs of the girl child, will encourage enrolment and retention of girl children in schools," it says. "Schools must have proper facilities in place, teachers who work diligently, and midday meal schemes in order to get kids back into school. There should be a school within 5 km of every village or settlement. Then, a total ban on child labour is more likely to be effective. Right now, there isn't enough political pressure to ban child labour," says Mendonca. India has 110 million child workers - double the total population of Italy.

What is needed is not just a few new laws but an entire overhaul of the system and better awareness within society. The state will have to invest a lot into protecting and promoting child rights to restore the image of the happy Indian family.


Prevent begging on the city's streets: Madurai Bench

Madurai's drive

in Madurai

The High Court asks the Madurai Police to "strictly implement" measures to prevent begging on the city's streets.


Seeking alms on the roads of Madurai city.

ON March 26, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court directed the Commissioner of Police, Madurai, to "strictly implement the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Begging Act of 1945" without waiting for further notifications from the State government.

The order was passed while disposing of a writ petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution by a city advocate, D. Muruganantham, seeking this direction. What followed was a series of activities aimed not only at eliminating begging but also at identifying and rehabilitating people who have been forced to live on the sidelines - without food, shelter and care.

As police and other officials tried to identify and classify those seeking alms, civil society attempted to find an answer to questions such as "Can begging be treated as a crime?", "Can it be eradicated by enforcement of the law alone?", "Is it a necessary evil?", and "Are we not forcing more and more people to the fringes of existence by adopting increasingly exclusive policies?"

But the most important concern was about the relevance of a law passed during British rule,at a time when courts are asserting the individual's right to live with dignity and right to basic necessities of life.

The answers to some of these questions could be found among those uprooted from their habitations by a system that wants only the able-bodied to enjoy the fruits of civilisation - a system that adds new groups to marginalised populations. A predominantly rural southern Tamil Nadu is dependent on agriculture for sustenance. Failure of successive monsoons, the delay in restoring the original level of the Mullaperiyar dam, depleting groundwater table, and urbanisation have made agriculture unviable.

Migration to industrial centres such as Tirupur and Erode is common in Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts. Those who cannot move out come to Madurai in search of employment. The absence of big industries - Madurai's industries are clusters of small units that fight for survival - is another reason for the lack of employment opportunities.

In the absence of any means to earn a livelihood, people from agrarian families in rural areas take to begging.

Humane touch

It should be said to the credit of the city police that the drive against beggars was carried out with a humane touch. Police Commissioner A. Subramanian deputed women police personnel to undertake a `socio-economic survey' before enforcing the provisions of the 1945 Act. The survey categorised the people on the streets as able-bodied, mentally unstable and those causing nuisance.

It identified people who exploited the gullible. There was also a small group that took to seeking alms as a means to lead luxurious lives. A person detained in the drive begged to be released as there was nobody to collect the interest on the money he had lent to some people; there were those who operated savings bank accounts; and there was a woman who possessed a mobile phone.


The makeshift tents of migrants from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka on the Madurai Corporation grounds.

After identifying about 320 people, the next phase, of segregation, took place. Those not creating nuisance were let out on bail. Some were fined Rs.50 each. Those who were sound mentally and physically were arrested and sent to the Government Rehabilitation Home at Melappakkam in Chennai. The mentally unstable ones were left untouched. A few destitutes were handed over to the Mother Teresa Home.

Before the court order, these people could be seen near places of worship and at bus stands, at the railway station and on busy roads. Their absence is conspicuous now. Many of them have migrated to nearby places such as Palani, Tiruchendur and Kodaikanal.

The exercise put the district administration and the police on a proactive mode. Says Subramanian: "Our objective is to make this ancient city free of begging. All our energies will be channelled towards rehabilitating these unfortunate people. If our plan works, Madurai can emerge as a model in containing begging."

The plan formulated by the police, along with District Collector S.S. Jawahar, is to house the alms-seekers in unused Corporation buildings. Arrangements have already been made to provide them medical care, clothes and basic amenities. But there is no arrangement for the supply of food. The district administration plans to form self-help groups of destitute people and orphans in order to link them to existing rehabilitation schemes.


Although there was no physical resistance to the drive, it brought both relief and concern. Relief because Madurai can now claim to be a `tourist-friendly' destination in the absence of pestering beggars and it will mean an end to the cruel exploitation of women and children. The concern is over whether it will be possible to eradicate begging by enforcing a piece of legislation.

Henri Tiphagne, executive director, People's Watch-Tamil Nadu, a Madurai-based human rights organisation, questions the implementation of the "archaic law". "How will it match with today's concept of right to life?" he asked. In the 1987 case Prabhakaran Nair vs State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court held that the right to shelter is a Fundamental Right guaranteed under Article 21. In Olga Tellis vs Union of India (1986), Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud observed that "the right to life includes the right to livelihood.... If the right to livelihood is not treated as a part of the constitutional right to life, the easiest way of depriving a person of his right to life would be to deprive him of his means of livelihood to the point of abrogation."

"Begging is a social issue, and we should not criminalise poverty," Henri says. He is against the concept of detention homes as they do not allow people to live as dignified citizens. Any rehabilitation effort should restore the dignity of the individual. People take to begging as an extreme step to keep themselves alive. The policies now pursued vigorously are bound to marginalise more and more people from mainstream society and they will have no other option other than to settle down in urban centres and seek alms, according to Henri. He says that all poverty alleviation programmes should make these people, who have been displaced from their moorings, the main beneficiaries.

Madurai, owing to its geographical location, has become a dumping yard of people not wanted in their homes. Mentally deranged persons and the old and the infirm are left to fend for themselves on the city's streets. Of course, a group of exploiters exists along with genuine seekers of alms. This group goes to the extent of "hiring" children from pavement dwellers for begging.

Runaway children from villages are easy prey. These children get so attached to the exploiter that it is difficult to restore them to their biological parents, says S. James, founder of Nanban, a centre for street and working children. This non-governmental organisation has rescued over 500 child-beggars in the past 17 years in Madurai city alone. As they grow up, these children often come into contact with criminal gangs.

"From begging, they are forced to indulge in bag lifting," James says. The centre has placed the rescued children in vocations and got the girls married off. It can be said that the drive against begging has brought into focus the relevance of the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Begging Act, 1945, which exists because nobody has challenged it in a court of law.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Jaya campaign in UP

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Dinamalar, dated 24-04-2007

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Insurance for better driving

Insurance for better driving
Saturday April 14 2007 08:32 IST

Ram Singh

No one is immune from the tribulations of our city roads. The Road Safety and Traffic Management (RSTM) committee attempted to respond to this problem in its recent report for the ministry of shipping, road transport and highways. There can be no denying that traffic congestion is a costly affair for society. Coupled with careless driving, it results in a large number of accidents.

In India, accidents per thousand vehicles number 35 annually, while for many developed countries they are in the range of 4-15. According to a World Bank-WHO report, with more than 92,000 deaths caused by road accidents each year, India accounts for 76 per cent of total deaths the world over!

A recent study shows that even when roads are of good quality and traffic density moderate, 1 per cent increase in driving can raise accident costs by as much as 3 per cent. This effect is likely to be more intense under Indian conditions where roads are generally of poor quality and congestion high. That is, driving entails huge externalities.

The social costs of driving are much more than the private costs to individual drivers. According to the Planning Commission's estimates, accident costs for the nation are as high as 3 per cent of GDP. Needless to say, accident losses are not the only costs of congestion. The are, for instance, losses caused by prolonged delays and stress leading to road rage.

Mainstream proposals to remedy this situation argue for better, wider roads, strict enforcement of traffic rules, and improved public transport systems. The RSTM committee’s recommendations are also along these lines. No doubt such measures are vital, but they suffer from one critical shortcoming in that they neglect the supply side of the problem. For instance, it is not clear how the construction of more and better roads can keep pace with an ever-accelerating rate of traffic growth — ranging from 7 to 10 per cent per annum for different states.

True, a stricter enforcement of speed limits and other rules — Delhi, for instance, has just made traffic rules stricter — can make roads less risky. Nonetheless, it is unlikely to restrict traffic growth. Since most rules put stress on vigilance, they do not induce people to drive less. Again, the supply side is neglected. The result? Too many vehicles swarm our roads. This has implications for our trade account, as well, given that we import most of our fuel.

It is pertinent to note that an increase in the number of vehicle owners as well as the level of driving by them increases traffic density. However, less driving can be made incentive compatible, even when the number of vehicles goes up. The fuel tax (cess) is a commonly advocated instrument that can help.

The RSTM committee too has recommended this tax, though with a somewhat different motivation. In theory, by taxing fuel it is possible to align the private and social costs of driving. One big advantage of this tax is its universal coverage. No (private) individual using a motor vehicle can evade it. Therefore, it can moderate the growth of on-road vehicles.

A major drawback of this measure is its political inexpediency. Government is unlikely to take the full advantage of this option. Moreover, this tax is inflationary in nature. It is not surprising that after increasing the cess on petrol and diesel to Rs 2 per litre in 2005-06 budget, the government has been forced to reduce not only the price but also the excise duty on both in 2007-08 budget.

This is where the insurance tax is helpful. This tax will require insurance companies to quote premiums by the number of kilometres done. Current insurance policy takes no effective account of the magnitude of driving. The recent ruling by the IRDA in which it has increased the premium for third-party insurance is a case in point. An across-the-board increase in premiums does not give the right kind of incentives.

Kilometre-based insurance premiums can stem individual driving. In addition to reducing traffic congestion, this policy has several advantages. For one, it can take adequate account of the heterogeneity among drivers/vehicles.

For instance, it enables insurers to charge higher per-km rates from drivers who have a history of repeated offences; and lower rates from safer drivers. It means that this policy can reduce the driving level of risky drivers more than that of less risky drivers, clearly a desirable outcome.

Similarly, by taxing commercial vehicles at a lower rate, this tax can avoid inflationary pressure. Fuel tax cannot make such distinction. Indeed, an insurance tax can go a long way in reducing congestion and making Indian roads safer.

Singh is reader, Department of Economics, Delhi School of Economics



Cauvery Tribunal award challenged in SC

Cauvery Tribunal award challenged in SC, to be heard on Monday

Saturday April 14 2007 01:26 IST


NEW DELHI: The Cauvery Water Tribunal Award under which Tamil Nadu will get 192 tmcft of water from Karnataka was on Friday challenged before the Supreme Court on the ground that Bangalore city would be deprived of its drinking water.

The petition filed by Cauvery Water Association, Bangalore, against the February five award came for hearing before a Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice R V Raveendran, which posted the hearing for Monday.

The court did not hear the matter and decided that it would be listed before a Bench of which Justice Raveendran would not be a part. The association has sought a direction that the Centre should not notify the award in gazette.

The award was to come into operation from the date it is notified by the Central Government under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act. After 16 years of its constitution, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal on February 5, had given its final verdict.

The three-member Tribunal headed by Justice N P Singh had determined the utilisable quantum of waters in the basin at 740 tmcft of which Tamil Nadu share would be 419 tmcft, Karnataka 270, Kerala 30 and Puducherry seven.

The Tribunal set up by the National Front government in 1990 gave its interim award the following year under which Tamil Nadu was given 205 tmcft of water. This was contested by Karnataka, which had made a law to nullify the award but the Supreme Court upheld it.

The Tribunal had ordered that Karnataka should make monthly deliveries out of the 192 tmcft to Tamil Nadu during a normal year at the inter-state point identified as Billigundlu gauge and discharge station located on the common border.

Under the monthly schedule, Tamil Nadu would get in June (10 tmcft), July (34), August (50), September (40), October (22), November (15), December (8), January (3) and February, March, April and may (2.5 each).

The Tribunal had said the monthly releases should be broken in ten daily intervals by the regulatory authority which shall properly monitor the working of the schedule with the help of the states concerned and the Central Water Commission for five years.

Any modification /or adjustment in the schedule may be worked out in consultation with the party states with the help of CWC for future adoption without changing the annual allocation among the parties, the tribunal had said.



Friday, April 13, 2007

Transplantation licences withdrawn

Transplantation licences withdrawn

Ramya Kannan

Two Chennai hospitals found guilty of forging organ transplantation orders

CHENNAI: T wo hospitals in the State have had their licences for organ transplantation withdrawn, it is reliably learnt. Suspension notices have been issued to 13 other hospitals too. It is for the first time since the enactment of the Transplantation of Human Organs Act of 1994 that the State has initiated such strong action against hospitals violating the rules.

While the licence (with respect to organ transplantation) of M.R. Hospital in Chennai was cancelled, that of Aswini Soundarya Nursing Home, also in Chennai, was not renewed.

Both were found guilty of forging transplantation orders from the State Authorisation Committee, appointed to clear live unrelated donors under the Act, to go ahead with the procedures. The TOHO Act has a provision that allows the Appropriate Authority to "suspend the registration of any hospital without issuing any notice," in public interest.

Suspension notices have been issued to 13 other hospitals that were found to have improper documentation for transplantation performed. In some cases, HLA typing results, appropriate details about donors and details of other tests performed were missing.

These hospitals will be sent show-cause notices under the provisions of the law, and given a chance to explain. This need not necessarily result in cancellation of licences, informed sources said.

The hospitals are Vedanayagam Hospital, Coimbatore; Kavery Medical Centre, Tiruchi; Ramakrishna Nursing Home, Erode; Chennai Transplant Centre (Madras Medical Mission), Chennai; PSG Hospital, Coimbatore; Kovai Medical Centre, Coimbatore; G. Kuppuswamy Naidu Hospital, Coimbatore; Galaxy Hospital, Tirunelveli; Devaki Hospital, Chennai; ABC, Tiruchi; Meenakshi Medical Mission, Madurai; Chennai Kaliappa, Chennai; and Apollo Speciality, Madurai.

According to the Act, the Appropriate Authority may suo motu or acting on a complaint, issue notice to any hospital to show cause as to why its registration should not be suspended or cancelled. If, after giving the hospital a reasonable opportunity of being heard, the Appropriate Authority is satisfied that there has been a breach of any of the Act's provisions or the rules made thereunder, it may, without prejudice to any criminal action that it may take against the hospital, suspend its registration for such period it deems fit, or cancel its registration.

In this case, the sources said, the cancellation or renewal of licences of the 13 hospitals would depend on whether they are able to provide satisfactory explanations for the irregular documentation.

The Act requires every hospital to be registered to "conduct, or associate with, or help in, the removal, storage or transplantation of any human organ." In late January, the Health Department appointed a team of officials headed by the Director of Medical Services to inquire into kidney transplantations, especially those involving live, unrelated donors.

© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Who will produce judicial enlightenment?

Who will produce judicial enlightenment?

Harish Khare

Rather than engaging the legislature and the executive in an institutional turf war, it is time the judicial leadership took note of waywardness in its own ranks and moved towards an enlightened working philosophy.

LAST SUNDAY India's senior political elite came face to face with the higher judicial hierarchy at the annual joint conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices. Much notice has been taken of the Prime Minister's exceptionally sagacious observation that all the three organs of the Indian state — the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary — ought to respect institutional boundaries. In his address, the new Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, demonstrated an agreeable stubbornness when he spoke up for the judiciary, its independence, and its constitutional obligation to interpret authoritatively the Constitution. The Chief Justice even went a step further and suggested that if the judiciary's discharge of its functions created "tension" with the legislature or the executive, so be it. "Such tension is natural and to some extent desirable," argued the Chief Justice.

There can be no quarrel with Mr. Justice Balakrishnan's cogent formulation: it should indeed have a sobering effect on the judiciary-legislature-executive matrix. In recent years, the middle class-centric public discourse has tended to see any differences between Parliament and the Supreme Court as a "confrontation," in which the unappetising politician was depicted as unfairly seeking to prevent the upright judge from performing his or her constitutional duty. Now, thanks to the Balakrishnan proposition, any occasional differences will, and should, in good time get sorted out in a dignified manner. No need for any institutional hard feelings.

Nor can there be any disagreement with Mr. Justice Balakrishnan's clinical delineation of the court's power of judicial review. In any democratic political system, the citizen must feel that he or she has the ultimate protection of an independent judiciary against the state, always prone to trample upon the individual's political and civil rights.

However, Mr. Justice Balakrishnan's otherwise very fine diagnosis of the judiciary's problems failed to address a major and obvious malady: the absence of jurisprudential discipline, which is being increasingly felt beyond the occasional individualistic behaviour of a judge.

True, the Constitution is what the higher judiciary says it is; it cannot be otherwise, at least in a democratic republic. But, then this task of defining the Constitution is being performed by as many as 400-odd empowered, be-robed men and women, spread across the apex court and 21 high courts, each technically on a par and unanswerable to any brother judge, under no obligation to accept the intellectual or jurisprudential leadership of any superior judge. The result is periodic outbreak of judicial waywardness, in this or that high court. For instance, a single judge takes it upon himself to declare that Muslims have ceased to be a minority in Uttar Pradesh. True, a larger bench "stays" the interim order, but not before it had underlined "explosive political issues," to use Mr. Justice Balakrishnan's phrase, that too in the heat of an election process.

At the same time, we do unhappily know of failed attempts by many Chief Justices at the high court level to impose some kind of behavioural discipline on brother judges. Add to this permissiveness, all the familiar flaws that have resulted from a closed, in-house selection to the higher judiciary. It is now widely recognised that this selection and promotion process does not necessarily favour the best and the brightest of judicial men and women. These inadequacies in the enrobed men and women are rarely addressed because of the prevalent "us versus them [the political class]" mindset.

These individual inadequacies and institutional habits cumulatively detract from the ideal image of a wise and independent judiciary. Yet too much criticism of the judiciary and its functioning ought to be avoided. For, as Mr. Justice Balakrishnan correctly pointed out, it could do "incalculable damage" to the institution (of the judiciary).

The onus, then, is on the judiciary itself to reclaim its glory. Not long ago, a judicial statesman (the late Chief Justice Ismail Mohomed of South Africa) delineated the contours of this responsibility: "The independence of judiciary and the legitimacy of its claim to credibility and esteem must in the last instance rest on the integrity and the judicial temper of the Judges, the intellectual and emotional equipment they bring to bear upon the process of adjudication, the personal qualities of character they project, and the parameters they seek to identify on the exercise of judicial power. Judicial power is potentially no more immune from vulnerability to abuse than legislative or executive power but the difference is this: the abuse of legislative or executive power can be policed by an independent judiciary but there is no effective constitutional mechanism to police the abuse of judiciary power. It is therefore crucial for all judges to remain vigilantly alive to the truth that the potentially awesome breath of judicial POWER is matched by the real depth of judicial RESPONSIBILITY. Judicial responsibility becomes all the more onerous upon judges constitutionally protected in a state of jurisprudential solitude where there is no constitutional referee to review their own wrongs."

It goes without saying that judges have to resist the temptation of getting swayed by the political partisanship of the day. Judges do tend to render themselves vulnerable to such temptation given the selection process as also the creeping institutional arrogance. This occasional propensity to partisanship, however, is easily traceable to the wider absence of jurisprudential discipline. Thankfully, a section of the judicial leadership has initiated a re-think on the all-too-apparent abuse of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) device.

Rather than getting bogged down in the debate over the extent of judicial "over-reach" or rather than remaining satisfied with checking the executive's waywardness, it is time that those at the helm of the judiciary also gave thought to bringing about some kind of jurisprudential coherence in the pronouncements of the 400-odd higher judges in the country. But this coherence will remain elusive as long as the judiciary does not re-discover the fundamental promise made in the Constitution to the people of India, the promise of an egalitarian social and economic order.

The judiciary takes its brief from a Constitution framed in 1950. However, the political class, especially since 1991, has redefined the purpose of the Indian state to the disadvantage of the vast majority of Indians. And the judiciary has gone along with this short-changing. What is probably worse is that large segments of the judicial hierarchy have come to subscribe to the new middle class-instigated ideas and prejudices. Social and economic biases have come to define the working philosophy of many a judge.

India is changing at a rapid pace and parts of this change appear to be calibrated by global forces, beyond the reach of the Indian state. Public policy-making in such a situation entails difficult choices, invariably pitting one section of society against others. The judiciary finds itself embroiled in the making (or unmaking) of these difficult choices, and the nature of judicial intervention is often defined less by any pronounced jurisprudential doctrine and more by the judge's personal predilections. The reservation for Other Backward Classes controversy and the court-driven painful sealing drive in Delhi are two prime examples of an individualistic approach.

The problem is part structural as at no time is a judge (either at the time of appointment to a high court or of elevation to the apex court) judged in terms of his or her philosophy or ideas. A calculation of seniority becomes the prime, if not the only, yardstick of eligibility. And since the process of selection and promotion is a closed affair, the public at large never gets to know, leave alone question, the judicial nominee's philosophy. Ability or willingness to make the executive bend at the knee seems to have become the only working or preferred philosophy.

Citizens will rejoice in many more institutional victories of the judiciary as long as it is willing to function as an enlightened friend of democratic India. The judiciary cannot function — nor can it retain its independence or credibility — in total isolation from the demands and hopes generated by democratic churning. While the judicial leadership is certainly entitled to assert its rights and autonomy, it is also obliged to work towards producing an enlightened jurisprudential philosophy. The new Chief Justice will do democratic India a much-needed service if he were to bring to bear his moral and intellectual values to define and constrain his brother judges' functioning. Judiciary must re-align itself with Indian society and its existential pains.

© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu


AIADMK members protest irregularities in civic polls

AIADMK members protest irregularities in civic polls

Special Correspondent

They have decided to attend the proceedings of the Assembly in black attire "Steps are being taken to erect solar fencing for 181 km in 15 districts around agricultural land"

IN BLACK SHIRTS: AIADMK MLAs staging a protest against alleged irregularities during the Chennai Corporation polls after walking out of the Assembly on Wednesday. — Photo: M. Vedhan

CHENNAI: All the members of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) on Wednesday came to the Assembly in black dress as a mark of protest against the alleged irregularities in the local body elections, more particularly during the Chennai Corporation poll.

The AIADMK legislature party sources said they had decided to attend the proceedings of the Assembly in black attire, as the Local Administration Minister M.K. Stalin presented the Demand for Rural Development and Local Administration.

The House witnessed noisy scenes, as the main Opposition party and the Treasury Benches crossed swords on issues relating to implementation of various schemes executed in the rural areas.

Initiating the debate on the demand, R. Samy (AIADMK) said the residents of Chennai were shocked by reports that there had been attempts to entrust supply of drinking water to private agencies. Doubts had been raised if this would lead to a situation where people had to purchase water from such agencies, he added.

Ruling out such an eventuality, Mr. Stalin made it clear that the option was only being debated in some seminars and meetings organised under the auspices of the Central Government. The AIADMK's view on the issue was contrary to truth, he said.

Mr. Stalin also denied the claim of Mr.Samy that the Government was not implementing welfare and development schemes in the constituencies represented by the Opposition parties. He also dared the AIADMK Member to prove his charge that funds were not allocated adequately for the local bodies headed by the opposition parties.

During Question Hour, Minister for Forests N.Selvaraj said steps were being taken to erect solar fencing for 181 km in 15 districts around agricultural land adjacent to forest areas with a view to preventing wild animals from entering and damaging the crops. Replying to R.Leema Rose (Communist Party of India-Marxist), he said in Kanyakumari district alone, fence would be put up for 20 km during 2007-2008.

Deputy leader of the Opposition O. Panneerselvam asked if the Government would undertake a time-bound programme to put up solar fencing in areas adjacent to forests in the entire State to protect the farmers and the crops.

He also pleaded with the Government to permit allocation of funds from the MLAs' constituency development fund for this purpose.

© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu


Interview with M.S.Swaminathan

Evergreen Revolution

is what the country needs now, says M S Swaminathan He talks about his life, work and dreams for the country in an interview with Dilip Kumar Shaw at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation office in Taramani


Q: You will always be remembered for transforming India from a begging bowl to a bread basket. Can you share your experiences on the green revolution?

A: The revolution was not about an evolutionary change, but a revolutionary change in food production. The movement came when India was undergoing a ship-to-mouth existence, when we had to wait for ships to dock so we could feed our population.

The movement infused confidence among farmers and gave them an incentive to produce more. The revolution was like a symphony orchestra with scientists and technologists, input officers, government supports in the form of support price and the enthusiasm of farmers.

Q: Four decades later, India is still facing food shortage. Do we need another green revolution?

A: In 1950, our population was 350 million. Today, we are 1,100 million. We have failed to promote non-formal employment and around 60 percent of our population depends on agriculture. What we need is not another green revolution but an evergreen revolution increased productivity in food production without harming the ecological balance.

Q: After 59 years of Independence, a majority of our population is illiterate. For any country to progress, it needs education. What are your views on this?

A: We at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation are aware of this, and that’s why we started gyan choupal, a knowledge centre in villages. According to Mission 2007, every village is to get a knowledge centre. The Government of India is taking this idea forward by establishing community service centres under the name of Grameen Gyan Abhiyaan.

For example, we can help fishermen by informing them where to go for fishing through GPS.

Q: What is the status of agricultural research in India?

A: We have a huge infrastructure with 50 agriculture universities and 100 ICR institutions. We have to make then dynamic, so that they can attend to the real problems of farmers.

Q: How far has the poor farmer been able to reap the benefits of the revolution?

A: Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have benefited from the revolution, but dry land farmers haven’t benefited much. We need to help them with yield enhancing and risk minimising technologies to produce marketable surplus. We should have a Special Agriculture Zone on the lines of the Special Economic Zone.

Q: What is your vision for India?

A: I wish everyone would follow Swami Vivekananda’s dictum,‘‘This life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but they alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.’’ If all of us think for the society and the country, all our problems will be solved.

Q: Despite your many achievements, do you have any unfulfilled dreams?

A: In our country, many go to bed hungry and 53 percent of children are under nourished. I wish to see these problems solved in my lifetime.

Q: From Kumbakonam to the Rajya Sabha - how do you feel?

A: It has been a great challenge. I would like to utilise whatever knowledge I have for the betterment of the country. With great responsibility comes opportunity and I would like to use this opportunity to serve the small and marginalised farmers.

The New Indian Express

Judges for Mrs G

Judges for Mrs G

Unlike Britain, where no law passed by the British parliament can be declared invalid, the Supreme Court here has not only the right but the duty to review laws passed by Parliament and declare invalid those violating constitutional principles


BOTH sides of the unending controversy over the respective roles of the judiciary and Parliament were stated with reasonable clarity and fairness only the other day, appropriately at a meeting of the state chief ministers and chief justices. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underscored that the dividing line between “judicial activism and judicial overreach” was “thin”, Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan declared that tension between the judiciary on the one hand and the legislature and the executive on the other was “natural and to some extent desirable”.

What is needed is to find a balance between these two views, each legitimate enough, in but that is not going to be easy. For, the backdrop to the current contentions is the Supreme Court’s ‘interim’ stay on the 27 per cent OBC quota in institutions of higher learning until several pertinent questions the apex court has asked are answered. But the political class is not prepared to wait. Even parties that intensely hate each other are together demanding an immediate vacation of the stay. After all, there are still six more phases of the critically important assembly election in UP.

However, let it be said candidly that the starting point of any search for a fair balance between the three principal pillars of the Constitution — which alone is supreme — must be the realisation that the credibility of the higher judiciary (about the subordinate judiciary the less said the better) is much greater than that of the politicians and bureaucrats. God forbid, should there be a confrontation between the highest judiciary and Parliament, the vast majority of the population would side with the judiciary. In separate polls in two major newspapers on Wednesday, 91 and 83 per cent of respondents respectively have voted in favour of judicial activism. The meaning of this should be clear enough. But to say this is not to pretend that the higher judiciary is infallible or that it has not crossed the Lakshman Rekha occasionally.

J.S. Verma, former chief justice of India, has lucidly cited a number of instances in which the judiciary should have exercised restraint. To these, let me add just two more. The first is the single-judge operative order of the Allahabad High Court virtually abolishing the minority status of Muslims in UP. Mercifully a larger bench of the same court stayed his verdict within 24 hours.

In the other instance, in 1998, a single judge of the Delhi High Court had not only quashed the appointment of a lieutenant-general as army commander but also issued a writ that another lieutenant-general, the petitioner in the case, be appointed to that post forthwith. The then attorney-general, Soli Sorabjee, sought and secured a stay from the Supreme Court.

Yet the trespasses of the higher judiciary are relatively few and less baneful than the consequences of the comprehensive degeneration of the politico-bureaucratic culture, thanks to expediency and opportunism on the one hand and the galloping cancer of corruption on the other. Not to put any gloss on the situation the fundamental basis of democracy, equality before the law, has been eroded grievously. Thinking people have also noticed with dismay that the moment a law is declared invalid by the courts, the legislatures re-enact it or even amend the Constitution, irrespective of whether the purpose is to save OBC reservations or protect from demolition palpably illegal structures disfiguring Delhi. Furthermore, when the legislatures and executive fail to do their duty, the vacuum has to be filled by the judiciary, which is where the risk of overreach arises, especially because too many people rush to the courts with PILs.

A bird’s eye-view of how we have reached this sorry state of affairs would be instructive. Unlike Britain — where no law passed by the British parliament can be declared invalid because that country has no written constitution — here the Supreme Court has, as in America, not only the right but also the duty to review laws passed by Parliament and declare invalid those violating constitutional principles and provisions. In fact 100 laws have been so declared between 1950 and 2000.

No wonder, problems had begun to arise even in the halcyon days immediately after the commencement of the Constitution. Jawaharlal Nehru was irked by a number of zamindari-abolition laws having been declared unlawful. He devised the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution to exempt from judicial scrutiny only land reforms laws. But over the years the Schedule has been converted into a dumping bag for nearly 300 laws sacrosanct to the ruling dispensation. It was in Indira Gandhi’s time that the conflict escalated, especially after the historic 1967 judgment laying down that Parliament could not amend the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution even by following the prescribed procedure. After spectacularly regaining popular mandate in 1971, she amended the Constitution to roll back the 1967 judgment. A 13man bench of the apex court upheld Parliament’s right to amend all part of the Constitution but prohibited it from changing the basic structureof the Constitution.

Although this remains the law of the land till today and the court alone can decide what is or is not part of the Constitution’s basic structure, Indira Gandhi’s immediate response to the Kesvananda Bharati judgment of 1973 was to supersede senior judges (who resigned in protest) and to enunciate the doctrine of ‘committed judiciary’ (along with that of a ‘committed bureaucracy’). This was to contribute partly at least to the proclamation of the Emergency (1975-77). During that 19-month period the government blandly took the chilling position that no fundamental right existed.

When one of the judges asked whether a citizen had a remedy against a policeman wanting to shoot him, the then attorney-general, Niren Dey, replied, “My Lord, not so long as the Emergency lasts. It shocks my conscience, it may shock yours but there is no remedy.” Surely, none of us would want to revert to such a savage state of affairs.

The writer is a political commentator


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Global Warming

Coming storms


A recent study sounds a warning about the impact of sea level rise on coastal populations owing to global warming.


Rising sea levels and coastal erosion threaten vast populations in Asia. Here, the ravaged structure of a police station on Sagar island in West Bengal.

SEA level rise (SLR) is a consequence of global warming. Populations living along the coasts are, therefore, particularly vulnerable to the ingress of water caused by rising seas. An equally significant threat for coastal settlements comes from the severe storm surges associated with the more intense hurricanes and tropical cyclones that are likely to occur as a result of climate change. From this perspective, a systematic assessment of the populations at risk from SLR, stronger storms and other coastal hazards, and their distribution globally, is of paramount importance.

The first ever such study, by Gordon McGranahan of the United Kingdom-based International Institute for Environment and Development, Deborah Balk of the City University of New York and Bridget Anderson of Columbia University (also in New York), will be published in the April 14 issue of the journal Environment and Urbanization. Since low elevation coastal populations are at the greatest risk, the study has mapped settlement patterns worldwide in low elevation coastal zones (LECZs), defined in the work as contiguous areas along the coast that are less than 10 metres above the current mean sea level.

The study essentially integrates three one-kilometre-resolution spatial databases - that of global population distribution, urban extents and elevation data - to arrive at countrywise estimates of urban land area and population in the LECZs. The LECZs were delineated using the elevation data set from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) joint Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (of February 2000). According to the authors of the study, in some places, mostly the mouths of major rivers such as the Amazon in Brazil and the Yenisey in Russia, the LECZ extends well beyond 100 km inland, although for most of its extent, it is much less. In Bangladesh (and in southern parts of West Bengal), where the terrain is made up of delta regions, the situation is much more serious because the swath of the LECZ is much wider and extends right across the mouth of Bangladesh and significant parts of West Bengal. In Bangladesh, in fact, a significant part goes right across in the north-south direction as well.

The SLR is not expected to reach anything like 10 m even in the worst-case scenario, at least, not in the foreseeable future. Even with storm surges, there will be a large margin of safety from direct flooding within an LECZ. However, as the authors point out in their paper, SLR and storm surges can certainly have an adverse impact on people living in such areas, for instance, through saline water intrusion of groundwater. But the principal reason, according to them, for choosing 10 m as the cut-off point was the fact that "estimates based on elevations below 10 m could not be considered globally reliable, particularly in some types of coastal areas such as those characterised by mountainous bays".

For delineating global urban sprawl, the scientists used "the only globally consistent urban footprint data set", prepared by Columbia University's Centre for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) through a project called GRUMP (Global Rural-Urban Mapping Project)). The GRUMP data set is based largely on the United States's National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) 1994/95 satellite data of night "city" lights coupled with settlement information. Because of the "overglow" that would be characteristic of an urban footprint based on lights, the GRUMP data set is probably an overestimation of the real urban extent and includes the surrounding suburban and peri-urban extensions, the authors point out. The third data set pertains to countrywise population grid and land area associated with each grid. For this too, the authors made use of the 1999/2000 gridded estimates made as a part of GRUMP.

The recently released Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gives an idea of the magnitudes of the coastal hazards likely to arise as a result of climate change in the short and long terms. There is enough evidence already to suggest that SLR accelerated in the 20th century as a result of the warming caused by human activities. "There is high confidence," the IPCC Report has said, "that the rate of observed sea level rise increased from the 19th to the 20th century." (see Frontline, March 9).

The 20th century rate, too, increased significantly towards the end of the century, an indication of the consequence of heightened human activities that contributed to global warming. As compared with the rate of rise of the global average sea level in 1961-2003 of 1.8 millimetres/year, the rate in 1993-2003 was 3.1 mm/year, which is 70 per cent faster. According to the AR4, new data suggest that losses from the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica have very likely contributed to the SLR in 1993-2003. The total rise in the 20th century is estimated to be 0.17 m. On the basis of model projections, the global average SLR at the end of the 21st century (2090-2099) relative to the average level in 1980-1999 is expected to be in the 0.18-0.59 m range, depending on different greenhouse gas (GHG) emission scenarios.

What is, however, clear from the IPCC Report is that, irrespective of the actual SLR in the 21st century, it will represent the beginning of a longer-lasting and larger SLR in the long term. "Anthropogenic warming and SLR would continue for centuries due to timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if GHG concentrations were to be stabilised," the report has warned. According to the AR4, contraction of the Greenland ice sheet is expected to continue to contribute to SLR even after 2100. Further, dynamical processes related to ice floes not included in current models, but suggested by recent observations, could increase the vulnerability of the ice sheets to warming, increasing future SLR. However, its magnitude is uncertain as there is no complete understanding of these processes.

On the basis of a range of models, the IPCC Report has concluded that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will be more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and heavier precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical sea-surface temperatures. This implies that the associated storm surges will be much stronger and, therefore, that the associated hazards (massive waves and flooding) will be much greater. For instance, storm surges as high as 9 m apparently resulted from Hurricane Katrina. The hazard will be much greater along the coasts of the Bay of Bengal, which is generally prone to severe storm surges.

So, what is the population size that will be at risk from hazards from the seas due to climate change, and what is its global distribution pattern?

On the basis of estimates made in 2000, the study of McGranahan and others finds that the LECZs include a total area of 27,00,000 sq km, which is about 2 per cent of the world's land, and 634 million inhabitants, who constitute about 10 per cent of the world population. The top ranking in terms of distribution of population in LECZs, as would be expected, corresponds to the most populated regions of the world. While China, with an LECZ population of 143.9 million, ranks first, India and Bangladesh, with the respective LECZ populations of 63.2 million and 62.5 million, rank second and third.

But, given Bangladesh's geography and the nature of its terrain, 46 per cent of its population lives in LECZs as compared with 6 and 11 per cent for India and China respectively. Bangladesh's greater vulnerability is also apparent from the fact that in terms of the share of total population it ranks sixth in the world. The same is true of Vietnam, which ranks fourth in terms of the number (43 million) as well as the share of the total population (55 per cent) in LECZs. Globally, about 21 nations have more than half their populations in the zone, 16 of which are small island states, the most vulnerable group of nations.

The study has also found that the extent of urbanisation is more in the LECZs than in the world as a whole. The urban population in the LECZs is 360 million - an urbanisation level of about 60 per cent, which is higher than the worldwide level of 50 per cent. The zone has a 10 per cent share of the total population of the world, but urban dwellers in LECZs account for 13 per cent of the total urban population. Significantly, with a total LECZ area of 881,000 sq km, Asia accounts for about one-third of the world's total area of LECZs, but because it has a higher population density, it accounts for two-thirds of the world's LECZ urban population (and almost three-fourths of the total LECZ population of the world).

An interesting finding of the research is that not only do the LECZs account for a greater share of the world's urban population, but they also contain a greater share of large urban settlements. Higher population densities coupled with higher concentrations of commerce and industry in coastal regions are clearly the reasons for such large coastal urban agglomerations. The study also found that compared with more prosperous nations a higher proportion of people in the poorest countries were living in the vulnerable LECZs.

While only 13 per cent of settlements with populations under 100,000 are in the LECZs, the proportion becomes 65 per cent when only larger settlements of five million and more are considered. This is particularly borne out by Asian data where the two fractions are respectively 12 per cent and 70 per cent, an aspect that Asia shares with North America whose figures are 9 and 80 per cent respectively. The world average share of the cities with populations more than five million is a high 21 per cent, but, as the authors point out, "this average is highly influenced by the coastal location of large Asian cities, in which 32 per cent of the population of cities over 5 million live in the LECZ". Among Indian cities, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai fall into this category.

Among Asian countries, China and Bangladesh, the former with rapid urban growth along the coast and the latter with the most populous delta regions of the world, raise serious concerns about the need for adaptation to climate change to start at the earliest, say the scientists. "Even as the seaward risks associated with climate change are increasing," point out the researchers, "the areas most at risk are experiencing particularly high population growth." According to the study, for both Bangladesh and China, the population in the LECZ grew at almost twice the national population growth rate between 1990 and 2000.

The urban populations in both countries, in fact, grew more rapidly; for China, for instance, the urban population growth was three times the national rate. The study points out that in China the movement towards the coast is driven by trade-oriented economic strategies and policies, dating back to the 1980s, that favour urban development along the coast. "The geographical advantage of coastal development has been enhanced by the creation of special economic zones (SEZs) in coastal locations," the study points out. The scientists have also expressed concern that continued urbanisation will draw still greater populations into the LECZs. Perhaps, there is a lesson here for India, particularly in the context of the current policy of encouraging SEZs across the country.

"From an environmental perspective, there is a double disadvantage to excessive (and potentially rapid) coastal development," the study warns. "First, uncontrolled coastal development is likely to damage sensitive and important ecosystems and other resources. Second, coastal settlement, particularly in the lowlands, is likely to expose residents to seaward hazards such as SLR and tropical storms, both of which are likely to become more serious with climate change. Unfortunately, such environmental considerations do not have the influence on settlement patterns that they deserve."


People being rescued from a rooftop in a flooded New Orleans neighbourhood after Hurricane Katrina struck, on August 29, 2005.

"The risks of human settlements could be reduced if people and enterprises could be encouraged to move away from the coast, or at least from the most risk-prone coastal locations... [but] the current population movements are in the opposite direction," the paper points out. "Given the character of urban development, and the factors driving coastward movement are still poorly understood, turning these flows around is likely to be slow, costly or both. In particular, there is the danger that ill-considered or politically short-sighted measures... fail to provide the basis for viable alternatives inland or in more appropriate coastal locations. More appropriate measures are sorely needed, and the earlier the better," the paper adds.

"In order to support efficient and equitable means for moving the most vulnerable urban settlements, a better understanding is needed of why urban settlements in coastal areas are growing more rapidly than inland [areas]. Avoiding policies that favour coastal development (such as SEZs in China), and imposing more effective costal zone management, could make a difference in the longer term," says the study. Here, too, there could be a lesson for India, which is in the process of reformulating its coastal management plan on the basis of vulnerability criteria.

Though mitigation measures, such as reduction of GHG emissions, are certainly necessary, from the perspective of coastal settlements, adaptation to the risks of climate change is the key. "To date," the study points out, "adaptation motivated by climate change has been minimal. However, measures to reduce exposure to existing weather-related hazards can also serve as a means of adapting to climate change." But the experience of the 2004 tsunami, or even the 1999 super cyclone in Orissa, has shown how difficult it is to implement appropriate coastal settlement policies without disrupting the lives of the most vulnerable residents, who also happen to be some of the poorest.

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