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Current Events 2 April 2016



2 APRIL 2016



Murder charges slapped on flyover contractor, three held

With public anger mounting and the death toll in the flyover collapse in north Kolkata increasing to 24 , the Kolkata Police instituted a murder case against officials of IVRCL, the Hyderabad-based company contracted to build the structure.

The charges against the company officials include attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy.

23 bodies had been recovered. One more body was stuck in a truck under the debris. The number of injured stands at 90, and 16 of them are in hospital.

Three officials of IVRCL have been arrested. Seven officials have been detained, including R.K. Gopalnanduri, president, business development, north India.

The arrested are Pradip Kumar Saha, manager, structural; Debojyoti Majumdar, assistant manager, administration; and Mallikarjun, senior assistant general manager.

Senior police officers said police teams had rushed to Hyderabad, where the company is headquartered.

Search warrants have been issued for three offices of the company, and the police have been deployed outside these premises. “A 23-member SIT has been formed by the Kolkata Police to probe into the matter,” Special Additional Commissioner of Kolkata Police (Crime) Debasish Boral said.

Mr. Boral dismissed the possibility of foul play and said the preliminary report of a forensic team did not refer to any explosion.

Meanwhile, at the accident site on the Vivekananda Road-K.K.Tagore Street intersection in the busy Posta Area, rescue operations continued.


End gender discrimination at temples, HC tells Maharashtra

The Bombay High Court said the State was duty-bound to prevent gender discrimination on entry to temples.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice D.H. Waghela and Justice M.S. Sonak told the State that it was its fundamental duty to ensure the fundamental right of women was protected. The court said the State must enforce the law and if the government was not sincerely doing it, “we will take some action.”

The court ordered the State, the Home Minister and the Secretary, Home, to implement the provisions of the Maharashtra Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, and direct the Superintendents of Police and the Collectors to ensure compliance.

Acting Advocate-General Rohit Deo said: “The State is against gender discrimin-ation. The State will ensure due compliance with and enforcement of the Act…”

The court said this did not translate into the entry of women. The Acting AG, however, clarified that if a temple did not allow any person, irrespective of their gender, inside the sanctum sanctorum, this Act and its provisions would not be of any help.

However, if a temple allows men in the sanctum sanctorum but prohibits women, this Act and its provisions can be used.”

The court also said the government should give wide publicity to the Act. The court had earlier stated that any temple or person imposing restrictions could face a six-month jail term under a law and asked the government to make a statement whether it was worried about the sanctity of a deity.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation petition filed by senior advocate Nilima Vartak and activist Vidya Bal challenging the prohibition of entry of women into the Shani Shingnapur temple. The petition seeks the entry of women not just into the temple but also into the sanctum sanctorum.


Gujarat petro corp. attracts CAG flak for KG basin fiasco

The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) of India has rapped the Gujarat government’s blue chip Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC) for its KG basin project, which is yet to see any production of gas, a decade after then CM, Narendra Modi, declared that it had struck “20 TCF gas in the KG basin block” in 2005.

After Mr. Modi’s tall claims on the GSPC’s success, the State PSU acquired dozens of blocks in India and overseas.

The CAG said that without any experience and expertise in exploration and production, the company acquired the blocks and then surrendered them, leading to Rs. 2,514.65 crore being written off.

“The company acquired overseas blocks during 2006-10 mainly as an operator with considerably high participating interests without any experience overseas,” the report said.

“Out of the 64 blocks on hand as on April 1, 2011, the company surrendered 37 between 2011 and 2015, and wrote off exploration expenditure worth Rs. 2514.65 crore for 29 surrendered blocks,” it said.

In its performance audit report tabled in the Assembly , the CAG said the “company’s borrowings jumped from Rs. 7126.67 crore as on March 2011 to Rs. 19,716 crore as on March 2015,” while its interest burden rose to Rs. 1,804.06 crore in 2014-15 from Rs. 981.71 crore in 2011-12.

The CAG has slammed the company for “not recovering Rs.2,329.52 crore in dues from joint venture partners.” The joint venture partners are Geo Global Resources Inc and Jubilant Group.

However, GSPC and State government officials have defended the investment in the KG basin on the ground that it is “a high temperature high pressure area where even British Petroleum, in partnership with Reliance Industries, is struggling to produce gas. “We have developed the technology now, and commercial production will start soon,” a senior official said.

“To overcome low permeability, the GSPC has in well no. 4 successfully carried out hydro-fracture operations 5,000 metres deep, a feat almost unmatched in petroleum engineering in the world,” a top official of the company said.


From obscurity to the limelight

The idea for his first feature filmThe Head Hunter, took root in the State where Nilanjan Datta grew up — Arunachal Pradesh. “I used to see old tribal men in the market place in Itanagar,” the Assamese recollects. “The non-tribals used to detest them and make fun of their costumes.” It is this civilisational clash that chosen as the theme of his  first film in the Wancho tribal language and only the third film to come out of Arunachal Pradesh. The Wancho tribe lives in the Patkai hills of the Longding district of Arunachal Pradesh. The film helps bring this largely unknown language and culture into focus. It won the best film award in the Wancho language at the National Film Awards of 2015.

This discovery of obscure cultures and languages is one of the more interesting aspects of the National Awards, which is largely drowned in controversies year after year. This year, besides Wancho, films in Bodo, Khasi, Maithili and Kurukh were also on view. In 2011, Byari in Beary language, spoken in Karnataka and parts of Kerala, won the best feature film award.

Ethnographic works

These films may not score high either in the entertainment department or in the art and craft of cinema. Most of them are devoid of technical flourishes and are anthropological and ethnographic in nature.Yarwng in Kokborok, which brought the first National Award to Tripura back in 2010, is an example. Made by a Malayali priest from Kottayam, Father Joseph Pulinthanath, who had been living in the Northeast for more than three decades, the film was about the inhabitants of the the once-prosperous Raima valley of Tripura who were forced to leave when the valley was submerged as a result of the construction of a dam on the Gumti river in 1976.

The Head Hunter has a similar theme. It speaks of how the road to development can cause a tribal to lose his way home; about how intrusions in the name of progress displace tribals. “Development is necessary but at what cost? Do we uproot them from their ethnicities and then modernise them,” asks Nilanjan. The conflict is represented in the film between an old tribal and a young educated government officer.

Nilanjan catches the daily rhythms and rituals of the Wanchos. There have been many misconceptions about them which he wanted to clear, he says. The tribe of headhunters has been misunderstood as wild, violent and dangerous even though the practice of human headhunting was abolished in 1991 through the efforts of the government and the missionaries in the region. Nilanjan attempts to bring out their humane side and their relationship with nature. He calls it a film about the present encountering a lost past.

Nilanjan found a lot of the Wancho youngsters working at the Mumbai international airport, in beauty parlours, and spas. Two of those girls, Nina Wangsu and Akom Arangham, helped as language instructors for the film. The young lead, Mrigendra Narayan Konwar, is an Assamese actor trained at the National School of Drama. The old Wancho man, Nokshaa Saham, is not an actor; he was chosen when tribal villagers were auditioned for the role.

Edpa Kana (Going home), a 26-minute Kurukh language film (spoken in the Oraon tribe) is about a tribal steel plant engineer who finds himself caught between modernity and orthodoxy. It won the best audiography award in the non-features section. Its director, Niranjan Kujur, was a student of direction and screenplay writing at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute. This is Niranajan’s second film in Kurukh after a 17-minute fictional short film titled Pahada (Mathematics tables). The first fictional film in the tribal language, made as an institute project, focussed on the impact of Naxalism on the education of children in the hinterland. In the film, a tribal child is unable to focus on learning mathematics tables because of the distracting sound of guns around him.

Niranjan, who was born in Lohardaga district and grew up in Ranchi, always wanted to make a film in his mother tongue Kurukh and cast his own family members in his first film. He says he wants to keep making films in his mother tongue because he is not fluent in it himself. “Our whole generation has been brought up in Hindi and English because it is a sign of having arrived,” he says. According to him, cinema will help give the dialect the right push and identity.

This has also been the aim of actress Neetu Chandra, the producer of Mithila Makhaan, the Maithili language winner this year. Besides Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magahi and Angika are the other languages spoken in Bihar, her home State, and they are slowly dying. “My idea is to restore the languages, scripts and the rich culture. And the film is the best way forward,” she says. Her other aim was to dispel the negative notions about Bihar and its people. “Without ever being there people imagine the worse; they have these wild assumptions about Biharis,” she says. Shot in the U.S., Canada, Nepal and India, the film is about how NRIs can come back to their roots and work wonders for the local community.

Taking films to a larger audience

Despite the National Award, most of these films get largely confined to the festival circuit. The commercial possibilities are limited. Chandra’s maiden venture Deswa, the first Bhojpuri film in over 50 years to have been chosen for the Indian Panorama at IFFI Goa, could never find a release in Bihar. But Mithila Makhaan has opened new windows. People are searching for the previous film online. “There is a curiosity for our work now,” says Chandra. Nilanjan is hoping the Arunachal government will take note of his film and help disseminate it in the Northeast. And, hopefully, the mandatory showcasing on DD will take it to a larger audience in the country.


Harking back to an interventionist era

Each time a State is brought under President’s Rule without sufficient cause, the political class heaps infamy on itself. If the action is not outright illegal, it is likely to be an egregious sign of degenerating political morality. It is more likely than not that the ruling party that imposes Central rule was itself a victim of Article 356 of the Constitution in the past. And that it had shouted “murder of democracy” and marched to Rashtrapati Bhavan against what it believed was the subversion of federal principles.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is transporting the country to the period prior to the 1990s when the Centre, mostly when the Congress was in power, used to invoke the Article cynically and whimsically to bring non-Congress regimes to heel. With its actions in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the BJP is perfecting the art of capitalising on dissidence within to push Chief Ministers from majority to minority status. At a time when Supreme Court judgments and amendments to the law appeared to have put an end to the mischief of Article 356 and inducements to defection, a new methodology has been created to bring out regime change without having to dissolve the Assembly or placing the relevant Presidential Proclamation before Parliament.

The Uttarakhand example

Much as the National Democratic Alliance government may defend the imposition of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand, it will be quite clear to impartial observers that that it is a partisan decision that flouts the principles laid down by the Supreme Court in the Bommai case of 1994. The justification for the resort to Article 356 of the Constitution in Uttarakhand revolves around three points: the supposed loss of majority of the Harish Rawat regime, as evidenced by the Finance Bill being passed by voice vote, disregarding demands for a division; the disqualification of nine members for alleged defection ahead of a confidence vote set for March 28; and a sting video purportedly showing Mr. Rawat offering inducement to some of the dissidents to return to his fold, thereby raising the possibility of horse-trading and unethical means.

When broken down point by point, it is quite apparent that either there was no ground for invoking Article 356 within the parameters laid down by the Supreme Court or that a situation warranting Central intervention had not yet arisen. The question whether the Appropriation Bill can be passed by voice vote is obviously barred from judicial scrutiny by Article 212 of the Constitution (which disallows courts from inquiring into internal matters of the legislature).

However, there may be substance to the point that the refusal to have a division raised a presumption of loss of majority. This was taken into account by the Governor, who asked the Chief Minister to prove his strength through a trust vote. The Governor’s response was reasonable and right because the manner in which a Bill is passed — by voice vote, show of hands or a division — is normally well within the province of the Speaker, and he cannot take the absence of division itself as proof of loss of majority. Therefore, the Governor’s decision to order a floor test directly addressed the original concern that the Rawat government may have lost its majority. (The BJP’s objection to the Appropriation Bill being passed by voice vote is somewhat ironical because its own party’s Chief Minister in Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, won a confidence vote in the State Assembly in 2014 through a voice vote!)

Once a date for the trust vote was fixed, there is really no case to act on the suspicion that the motion may be carried by unfair means. The Proclamation of President’s Rule as a pre-emptive measure against a possibly manipulated vote is impermissible, according to the Supreme Court, which has made it clear that unless there is an extraordinary situation — such as all-pervasive violence — the Governor cannot come to a conclusion that there will be no free vote.

It is unlikely that the senior leadership of the ruling party does not know that allegations of horse-trading and other unethical means do not constitute sufficient grounds for invoking Article 356. “... [S]ituations which can be remedied or do not create an impasse, or do not disable or interfere with the governance of the State according to the Constitution, would not merit the issuance of the Proclamation under the article,” the Court had said in Bommai. In 2005, the BJP leadership was at the forefront of the fight against the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly by the then Governor, Buta Singh, in what seemed to be a move to prevent Nitish Kumar from staking a claim to form the government. The election had thrown up a hung Assembly, and the State was under President’s Rule, with the House under suspended animation. At one stage, Mr. Kumar was apparently ready to stake a claim after gathering enough legislators in his support, but the Governor recommended dissolution of the Assembly because of what he called an alleged attempt to cobble together a majority through horse-trading and other foul means. The Supreme Court declared the dissolution unconstitutional and indicted the Governor for his hasty recommendation based on irrelevant and extraneous factors.

The K.R. Narayanan Minute

The BJP has a long history of defending beleaguered Chief Ministers whose regimes were sought to be destabilised in the name of loss of majority. It was at the forefront of the campaign against the ‘coup’ against N.T. Rama Rao in 1984 and the attempt by the Congress to forestall a Nitish Kumar regime in 2005. In terms of experience, it cannot afford to forget the Minute sent by President K.R. Narayanan urging a reconsideration of the recommendation to dismiss the Rabri Devi government in 1998. The President advised the Vajpayee government that a case of breakdown of constitutional machinery would not be made out unless the Centre had elicited explanations and sent out directives and warnings to the State government concerned. The Vajpayee government saw the wisdom in the argument and did not reiterate its advice. In 1999, the same President did sign a proclamation under Article 356 after a Dalit massacre in Bihar, but the government revoked Central rule within three weeks after realising that it may not receive the Rajya Sabha’s approval.

A lesson has been learnt. Since an Assembly cannot be dissolved prior to both Houses adopting resolutions approving President’s rule, one way of achieving some political objectives is to dismiss the State government first, and utilise the period in which the legislature is under suspended animation to install a new regime consisting of defectors backed by the Opposition. In this way, both the floor-test requirement and the bar on premature dissolution of the Assembly are utilised to the advantage of the ruling party at the Centre, instead of serving as salutary measures to curb undemocratic dissolution of an elected legislature.

The defector’s privilege

There is another dimension to such manipulative politics: the hurdle posed by the anti-defection law. Thanks to a 2003 amendment, now a legislature party can’t even split into two. Legislators dissatisfied with their party can only merge with another, but such members will have to constitute two-thirds of the original strength for it to be a valid merger. So has defection been finally eliminated? Not at all. Here comes ‘the defector’s privilege’. As only a formal act of voluntarily giving up membership of the party that set one up as a candidate or voting in the House in violation of a whip will attract defection, rebel MLAs now feel free to voice their criticism of their Chief Minister and join hands with the Opposition in political activities. If the Speaker takes note of their activities and disqualifies them, the plea that they had been arbitrarily disqualified without adequate opportunity to explain their position is often invoked to challenge the action. It is equally true that partisan Speakers use the disqualification provision to sustain a regime’s lost majority or gloss over the support bought over from Opposition members or independents.

The question that arises is whether the Speaker is the right authority to adjudicate matters of defection. In the judgment that upheld the validity of the Tenth Schedule (the anti-defection law), a dissenting judge had pointed out that the Speaker’s “tenure being dependent on the will of majority therein, likelihood of suspicion of bias could not be ruled out.Changing the adjudicating authority in matters of disqualifying defectors is a key reform that is required in law.


NITI Aayog member’s push for GM pulses draws flak

Even as a NITI Aayog member has backed cultivation of genetically modified (GM) pulses to ensure food security in the country, farmer groups and agriculture experts have asked the government to first focus on establishing an assured market mechanism for pulses to aid farmers and lower the country's dependence on imports.

NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand had during an ASSOCHAM event said: “GM crops cultivation should be allowed in those crops in which we are not able to break through, like in pulses.” He, however, maintained that while progressing with GM crops, proper safeguards should be taken.

The farmer groups have criticised the idea of cultivating GM pulses saying the government should instead focus on setting up an effective system to provide assured purchase and returns to pulses farmers, that would motivate farmers to grow more.

“GM is a failed technique and there’s no point of even discussing allowing its cultivation in India,” said Mohini Mohan Mishra, general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh told , adding that the government should rather set in place a mechanism for assured purchase of pulses from farmers.

“If farmers are confident that they would get assured returns on their produce it will motivate them to go for pulses farming, resulting in better production, lesser dependence in imports and most importantly will bring price stabilisation,” he said.

Pulses saw an average price rise of 29.6 per cent during 2015-16. The Agriculture Ministry's data shows during 2014-15 17.2 million tonnes of pulses were produced as against 19.78 million tonnes in 2013-14. The drop was mainly seen pigeon pea (tur) and gram. In 2015-16 crop year, pulses output is estimated at 17.33 million tonnes and the demand is pegged at 23.66 million tonnes. To bridge this gap of about over 6 million tonnes, the country is relying on imports.

“GM cultivation is not in the interest of either farmers or consumers.... it will only benefit the companies involved in this business,” noted Food and Agricultural Policy Analyst Devinder Sharma told pointing out that to ensure food security of country and stabilise price of pulses, the government must boost domestic production and not rely on imports.

Assured price

“To boost pulses output you need to give farmers an assured market and assured price for his produce. If government is able to this, there's no need for GM pulses,” said Mr. Sharma

Notably, pulses imports increased to 5.55 million tonnes till March 1, this financial year as against 4.58 million tonnes in the entire 2014-15. Also, India's average annual import of pulses in 2010-11 and 2014-15 has been around 3.56 million tonnes.


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