Monday, February 29, 2016

A quick look at the budget

Budget 2016-17 has evoked more than normal interest among the public. In turn, it has proved to be laudable in parts and laughable in parts.

Emphasis on rural development is overdue. At the same time, conscious omission of any reference to 'smart city projects' is self-defeating. It is noteworthy that investments in Asset Reconstruction Companies are encouraged by allowing sponsors to have even 100% ownership and permitting 100% FDI in ARCs. Throwing open Securitisation Receipts to entities other than Qualified Institutions bristles with risk to ignorant investors. Allotment of Rs.25,000 crore for recapitalisation of PSBs is less than peanuts in the face of more than Rs.5 lakh crore of bad debts.

Every new scheme will have a sunset date and outcome review. The government wants the rural income to double by 2022. Who will be in power then? The government is only pulling wool over our eyes. We are the eternally gullible folks.

Clean Energy Cess is renamed as Clean Environment Cess. Department of Divestment becomes Department of Investment and Public Asset Management. Massive reforms, indeed!

Rs.100 crore for celebrating 100th birthday of Deen Dayal Upadhyay and Rs.100 crore for celebrating 350th birthday of Guru Gobind Singh ! Whose money, yours and mine. We know the government misspends money. But so brazenly?

It may be good that the budget is political, but not populist. But it is bad that it is only a political document without much economic sense. Revenue deficit of Rs.3,54,015 crore to be met mainly through borrowings and not loan recovery or disinvestment is a sure indicator of continuing fiscal imprudence.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Innocent terrorists?

Ishrat Jahan is back in the news. The UPA government initially said she was a terrorist in an affidavit filed with the Gujarat High Court and then revised its stand and filed another affidavit disowning the view that she was a terrorist. The then Home Secretary, G.K.Pillai has confirmed that the changed stance was because of political pressure.

Needle of suspicion is obviously pointing towards the then Home Minister, P.Chidambaram. Therefore he needs to be questioned. He has also claimed that he is of the view that Afzal Guru need not have been subjected to capital punishment. What was he doing as a Cabinet minister when Guru was hanged? There are also allegations that his son engages in laundering money.

Though cases have been filed against Dayanidhi Maran for a money-laundering exercise, NDA government may go soft with Chidambaram in a game of give and take with Congress. We will only keep witnessing shenanigans by these politicians again and again.

Sympathetic judiciary

News report: "Former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran, his brother Kalanithi Maran and four others were on Saturday summoned as accused by a special court in a Aircel-Maxis deal-related money laundering case, saying there was “enough incriminating material” to proceed against them.
                            “On perusal of the material on record, I am satisfied that there is enough incriminating material on record to proceed against the accused persons... Issue summons to the accused for July 11,” the court said while taking cognisance of the charge sheet filed by the Enforcement Directorate."

Now the Marans will rush to the High Court / Supreme Court and have the special court's order stayed. Our courts are very considerate towards the criminals. Freedom to commit crime and get away?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Farcical concessions

Tamilnadu State Government has extended to senior citizens the benefit of free travel in state government buses in Chennai. Is this move desirable or not?

Concessions and subsidies can be either merited or unmerited. A merited subsidy is one which creates more equality whereas an unmerited concession aggravates inequality. Enabling a rich person to travel free only makes the person richer.

Do senior citizens want free travel or the assurance of a seat in a crowded bus? Most senior citizens would prefer the latter benefit. There are old people who are ready to pay, say,  twice the normal fare for getting the benefit of a seat. This is not to deny that there are poor senior citizens too. The newly extended concessions should be made applicable to them and not to all senior citizens across the board. Provision of only two seats for senior citizens and physically challenged and, on top of it, not ensuring its compliance is only a mockery.

The same logic extends to concessional application fees that apply to persons belonging to certain castes in the case of some examinations or job applications. If the applicants are indigent, such concessions are merited. Otherwise, the government is only encouraging schisms in society, albeit unintentionally.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Justice Karnan

It is deeply disappointing that the Noam Chomskys of the world have not yet rushed to the succour of Justice C.S.Karnan of the Madras High Court.

Karna (alias Radheya) of Mahabharata invited social opprobrium because of his (mistaken) social status. Justice Karnan claims that he is oftentimes insulted by his brother and sister judges because he belongs to Scheduled Caste. As incontrovertible proof, he lets us know that once in a gathering, a judge sat cross-legged in his presence and even dared to let his foot touch Justice Karnan ! It speaks of Justice Karnan's enormous tolerance that he did not ,suo moto, take it as contempt of court. He mentioned this to the Chief Justice who had the temerity to ignore this criminal offence.

It is not only charity that begins at home. Justice also does so. That is why Justice Karnan had no compunction in himself staying the Collegium's order transferring him to Kolkata. Why should he be transferred when so many other judges would remain where they are? If the Collegium is keen to utilise his services, should it not have elevated him to the Supreme Court? If Justice K.G.Balakrishnan were the Chief Justice, he would have been elevated to ensure social justice.

One may argue that Noam Chomsky may not be aware of the gross injustice that is being perpetrated now and that that is why he has not yet signed a representation. This is a fallacious argument because he has the superior wisdom to give his assent to a demand on JNU happenings though he is unaware of what is happening. (If he is aware, he is guilty of espousing an unlawful demand.)

Some may say that it is never too late for Noam Chomskys to petition. That is barking up the wrong tree. It is never 'too early' to sign such petitions. Such conscientious petitioners are ever willing to petition against events which may not even have occurred. One shudders to think what a calamitous tragedy would have happened to India if altruists like Chomsky had preferred not to act as India's permanent sentinel to safeguard justice. Therefore, it is worrisome that Noam Chomsky has not yet intervened to protect the inalienable rights of Justice Karnan.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Jawaharlal Nehru University has become a veritable battle field to settle political scores. The university has always been a training ground for would-be politicians. It has been a bastion of leftists for a long time. Leftists have always been known for their 'supra-national' loyalty. Communists in India used to proclaim their loyalty to the then USSR and the People's Republic of China. Communists were considered to be honest and incorruptible; this noble trait has deserted them in the recent past.

The university encourages freedom of expression hoping that this will lead to maturity of thought. When this freedom degenerates into licence for anti-national and anti-social expressions, the university gets into a piquant situation. Should it wait for better sense to prevail over time or should it immediately put its foot down and activate course-correction?

Some misguided students recently made anti-India statements supportive of criminals condemned as terrorists by the highest court in the country. Delhi police would have been derelict if they had not taken any action. It is good that the police started taking action. It is idle to speculate whether the force of police action was consistent with the scale of criminality. Police had the duty to act. They did not have the right to keep quiet and let the crime fester.

Freedom of expression cannot encompass perpetration of any crime. It is not an excuse that will provide immunity to a criminal, whatever the crime be.

Circumstances like these test not only the university, government and the police, but also the political leaders. Rahul Gandhi has wasted a golden opportunity to condemn the anti-national elements and abstain from criticising the government. He has once again fallen a victim to baser thoughts of leveraging any and every event to score political points. In the process, he has demeaned himself and the Congress party further. It is a pity that there is no leader in the Grand Old Party who is conscientious enough to reveal to Rahul Gandhi that he wears no clothes.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

R.K.Pachauri and Shashi Tharoor

R.K.Pachauri and Shashi Tharoor are adept at cocking a snook at our criminal justice system. Any person of ordinary prudence who is aware of what has happened would definitely conclude that these two highnesses are guilty of grave offences which merit long imprisonment and perhaps even capital punishment especially in the case of the latter. But unfortunately, they are allowed to roam around freely and in the case of Tharoor to keep visiting various places abroad as if they are model citizens.

Apart from their sickening immorality, what troubles an ordinary mind is the abject discrimination practised by the police and even judiciary. Some victims of Pachauri's lasciviousness have complained to the police. Police is only dragging their feet. The Delhi Police Commissioner periodically announces some 'development' in the Sunanda Pushkar gruesome murder case only to be followed by a long period of silence. It appears that the police is only waiting for some report from AIIMS or some other body to declare that they are unable to proceed further.

If Pachauri and Tharoor are ordinary citizens, they would be languishing in jail now. Judiciary which is ever so keen to recognise, suo-moto, cases of contempt of court has not found it necessary to arrest the virile and vicious  progress of  shamelessness and cruelty in these cases.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Black Lives Matter, so do Dalits'

Time magazine refers to BLM as a new civil rights movement that is turning a protest cry into a political force. Agitation by Dalit students in the University of Hyderabad bears some resemblance to this.

In Novenber, 2015 the President of the University of Missouri was forced to quit by aggrieved students. The Vice-Chancellor of UoH is now facing a similar situation.

Georgetown University is renaming two buildings named after former university presidents who sold slaves. Princeton University is considering disowning one of its alumni, President Woodrow Wilson whose racist views are well known.

There is no one-to-one parallel. The similarity is that social injustice begets massive social movements over time. Unfortunately, in India, politicians hijack the genuine movements and run them aground. Dalits should be wary about their leaders and 'political friends and saviours'.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Takeaways from the Chennai floods: The lighter side

Chennai has gone through an unforgettable ordeal because of extremely copious rainfall during the recent NorthEast Monsoon (ironically called ‘the dry monsoon’). Excessive rains have caused unprecedented inundation in many low-lying areas and water contamination everywhere. Hydrophobia (in its literal sense of morbid fear of water) is the newest fear stalking the city. Vegetable prices have hit the roof. One hopes that the elevated prices are not the ‘new normal’. This unexpected crisis has thrown up a lot of lessons.

John F Kennedy used to say that the written word ‘crisis’ is represented by two characters in the Chinese language, one for danger and the other for opportunity. Every crisis is an opportunity for the discerning to bolster their life-sustaining skills. We can learn a lot from the Chennai crisis also.

 The tragedy that struck the patients in the ICU of a well-known hospital was triggered by the damage caused to the generator by rising waters from an adjoining river. A stand-by generator kept at a higher elevation would have avoided this calamity. The Fukushima nuclear disaster that happened in 2011 had a similar trigger when rising waves from the sea resulted in sudden failure of multiple generators which were all unfortunately located almost at the ground level only. A basic lesson in Risk Management is the inescapable need for  provision of back-up  for critical services.

While acknowledging that the Chennai catastrophe caused undue hardship to all and especially to the poorer sections of the public, it is also possible to derive some cynical conclusions which of course are not meant to underestimate the sufferings of the affected.

Many of us were deprived of electricity for more than three days. Some say that the shutdown of electricity was a conscious preventive measure to preempt the possibility of electrocution in flooded areas. Others blame the impossibility of coping with this humongous challenge. Newspapers were not either printed or distributed because of logistical reasons. Mobiles conked out because of lack of charge. TVs and personal computers could not be used. But still we survived! We learnt that we can live without electricity, milk, newspapers, TV and net connectivity.

Surprisingly, we could even sleep more peacefully partly because our diurnal rhythms were not disturbed by watching TV and using computers during night time. Neurobiologists say that nocturnal usage of computers and TV deprives us of sound sleep by disabling the brain’s capacity to distinguish between daytime and nighttime. This lesson was driven home by the crisis.

However, some landlines continued to function. Frequent enquiries from friends and well-wishers disabused our minds of the existential angst as to whether we matter at all. But there was something strange happening in these enquiries. It was observed that friends located in faraway places called more frequently than those in nearby areas. If one may derive a behavioral law (to be known as ‘Distress Enquiry Law’) from this phenomenon, we may hypothesise that “in times of crisis, the frequency of enquiries increases exponentially with the distance of the caller’s location”. A person calling a Mylapore house from Matunga, Mumbai  can afford to keep asking, “Can I do anything for you?” without fear of being taken seriously. However a person in Mambalam will think twice before venturing to offer the same service for what if the Mylaporean were to take his word seriously and reply, “Oh, thanks. My house is flooded. I am coming to stay with you” ?

It was also quite a learning experience to know that most of us are technical experts. People liberally dished out reasons for power failure, non-availabilty of milk, bread and other essentials and failure of the drainage system. Economic laws relating to demand and supply, panic buying etc. were quoted with professorial authority by everybody.
Once electricity was restored and TV / PC / Laptop/ Mobile became functional again, we regained our circadian rhythm sleep disorders and became ready to be agitated by life’s minor inconveniences like delayed supply of milk and non-delivery of a supplement in the newspaper because of the delivery boy’s carelessness. In other words, we became our normal selves.

Have we learnt anything from this crisis? Of course, yes. But what is equally certain is that the next crisis will be of a different variety for which we will not be adequately prepared. Only now, the real meaning of expressions like “in deep WATERS” and “fishing in troubled WATERS” (fleecing by omnibuses and autorickshaw drivers and black marketing in items like milk and battery cells) has started SINKING in !

Yogendra Yadav on Social Justice

Yogendra Yadav delivered a lecture on 'the changing politics of social justice' in Chennai a few days ago. It was both scholarly and pragmatic. He looked at social justice within the confines of presently popular fashion of caste-based social justice.

In his view, development of social justice has got stagnated and also fragmented. He regretted that lower echelons of dalits and adivasis have not benefitted from the scheme of reservation which has been usurped by OBCs and better-placed dalits.

He was against the clamour for reservations in promotions. Obliging the creamy layer at the cost of the really oppressed was repugnant to his understanding of social justice. He wanted reservation to apply beyond the decaying public sector. He wanted the OBCs / EBCs/ Dalits to work jointly for their welfare instead of confronting one another.

His vision for the future was to go beyond the narrow definition of caste-based social justice and to ensure class, gender and village based social justice.

Expectedly, he spoke about the suicide of Rohith Vemula also. He understood Rohith's life as one crying for universalisation of social justice.