APRIL 22, Monday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

Serial blasts across Sri Lanka claim 200, several injured

Serial blasts across Sri Lanka claim 200, several injured

Eight explosions target churches, luxury hotels in Colombo, BatticaloaAccess to social media platforms, including Whatsapp & Viber, blockedSeven suspects arrested in a Colombo suburb Most blasts triggered by suicide bombers, says Defence Minister

Meera Srinivasan

Over 200 people were killed and nearly 500 injured in a series of blasts that shook Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Churches and luxury hotels were targeted in the deadliest incidents since the civil war ended a decade ago.

As many as eight blasts occurred in and around the capital Colombo and in the eastern city of Batticaloa on Sunday morning, as large groups gathered at churches for Easter services.

“Most of the blasts appear to have been suicide bombings,” State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene told a press conference.

Hours after the coordinated attacks, police arrested seven suspects from a building in the Colombo suburb of Dematagoda. Even as the police operation was underway, an explosion took place, killing three policemen. More arrests were likely, official sources said.

Curfew imposed

Following the developments, authorities blocked access to social media including Facebook, Whatsapp and Viber to “prevent” misinformation. A curfew was declared till Monday morning.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts. Investigating authorities are yet to disclose the names of the suspects or the alleged perpetrators.

President Maithripala Sirisena appealed for calm. “I have been shocked … The security forces haven been asked to take all action necessary,” Mr. Sirisena said.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe termed the blasts as “cowardly attacks” and said his government was working to “contain the situation.”

At least eight foreign nationals were confirmed dead by Sunday evening, while 27 others who were found dead, were “believed to be foreigners”, a senior official of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said. Their nationalities are yet to be made known by the Ministry.

Fr. Kanapathipillai Deivendiran was to deliver the Easter Day message at the Zion Church in Batticaloa. “I went a little after 9 a.m. I was a few minutes late or you will not be speaking to me now,” he told The Hindu.

“I didn’t know that there had been a blast a few minutes before that, I just walked into the premises. As I entered, I was shaken by the sight — walls had collapsed completely, there were bodies all over the floor,” he said.

According to the director of the Batticaloa Teaching Hospital Kalaranjani Ganesalingam, 26 people were dead while 69 were admitted with injuries. “Six are still in the ICU. Everybody here is in a state of fear,” she said.

Four Indians among blast victims


Four Indians among blast victims


Special Correspondent



Four Indian nationals were killed in the Colombo serial blasts while six others are reported to have escaped with minor injuries. The four victims have been identified as P.S. Raseena, Lakshmi, Narayan Chandrashekhar and Ramesh.

Businessman and TDP leader Amilineni Surendrababu and five of his friends, who were on holiday and staying at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo, had a narrow escape as blasts hit the hotel on Sunday. Superintendent of Police, Anantapur, G.V.G. Ashok Kumar said the group from Andhra Pradesh was safe, but could not be contacted.

However, Ms. Raseena, from Mogral Puthur of Kasargod district in Kerala, was not so lucky and was killed as she was checking out of the same hotel. According to relatives, Ms. Raseena and her husband Khader Kukadi, an engineer working in Dubai, were on holiday in Colombo.

Mr. Kukadi had checked out of the hotel earlier on Sunday and left for Dubai while Ms. Raseena was to leave the hotel and visit her brother Basheer, a resident of Colombo. Mr. Basheer, who was to pick up Ms. Raseena from the hotel, later identified her body at a city hospital.



* Nation

In a first, east Asian birds make Andaman stopover

In a first, east Asian birds make Andaman stopover

Sighting of news species on the island chain has gone up since the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, say researchers of the ZSI

Shiv Sahay Singh

Flying visits: The Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo, the Javan Pond Heron and the Zappey’s Flycatcher. G. Gokulakrishan, ZSI


Distinguished by the green and brown plumage on its back, the dimunitve Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo (Chalcites basalis) is a native of Australia and New Guinea.

However, researcher G. Gokulkrishnan had an unexpected encounter with the tiny bird — roughly about 15 cm and weighing 22 g and known for its repeated, loud and piercing whistle — early on July 7, 2017 in a tsunami ravaged coastal forest in the Great Nicobar Island of the Andaman and Nicobar island chain. The sighting was the first recorded instance of the bird in India.

Two other first time visitors were also recorded on the islands over 2017-18. The Zappey’s Flycatcher (Cyanoptila cumatilis) a song bird that breeds in China and spends the winters in the Malay peninsula, Sumatra and Java, was spotted six times in different areas of Andaman and Nicobar Islands between December 2017 and March 2018 — at least thrice in pairs.

Thai visitor

Later that year researchers recorded the presence of the Javan Pond Heron (Ardeola speciosa), usually found in Thailand and Cambodia. Larger than Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo and Zappey’s Flycatcher, it was spotted on August 26, 2018.

“During their migration from north to south, these birds make a stop over at the Andaman and Nicobar islands. We have been able to make these new records because of increased fieldwork and interest in avifauna,” said Dr. C. Sivaperuman, Officer-in-Charge, Andaman and Nicobar Regional Centre of the Zoological Survey of India.

The three new records from India from the Andaman and Nicobar Island have been discussed in detail in a recent publication of journal Birding ASIA. The other contributors to the research paper are P.C. Rasmussen, Minakshi Dash and D. Sekar.

East Asian Flyway

In the past few years a few other birds of southeast Asian origin have been recorded in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands during migration.

Researchers are intrigued by the fact that number of new sightings has increased post the 2004 tsunami. The new records include the Mugimaki Flycatcher (Ficedula mugimaki), Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis), Chinese Egret (Egretta eulophotes) and the Chinese Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone incei).

These birds also use Andaman and Nicobar Islands for a few week rest before they can fly along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF). The EAAF extends from Arctic Russia and North America to the south Australian boundaries and includes the most of the east Asian regions including Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

A birding publication, A Checklist of the birds of India by Praveen J, Rajah Jayapal and Aasheesh Pittie, and published by the journal Indian BIRDS in June 2016 had listed 1,263 birds. The list in the publication has since been revised with the number of birds found in the country now being pegged at 300 approximately.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, with just about 0.25 % the country’s landmass, is home to about 350 species of exotic birds, according to an official estimate.

It’s time to stand up with the judiciary, says Arun Jaitley

It’s time to stand up with the judiciary, says Arun Jaitley

In the wake of sexual harassment allegations, Minister defends CJI’s integrity

Press Trust of India
New Delhi

Accusing ‘institutional disrupters’ of destabilising the institution of Chief Justice of India (CJI) by lending a shoulder to unverified allegations against the head of the Supreme Court, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Sunday said that those who peddle falsehood should be dealt with in an exemplary manner.

“It’s time to stand up with the judiciary,” Mr. Jaitley said in his blog, a day after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against CJI Ranjan Gogoi.

Special hearing

The Supreme Court even held an extraordinary hearing on Saturday after a former employee of the court accused the CJI of sexual harassment and persecution. The former employee has described two incidents of alleged molestation by the CJI in her affidavit, both of which allegedly took place in October 2018, only days after he was appointed as the CJI.

Mr. Jaitley said: “In terms of personal decency, values, ethics and integrity, the present Chief Justice of India is extremely well regarded. Even when critics disagree with his judicial view, his value system has never been questioned. Lending shoulder to completely unverified allegations coming from a disgruntled person with a not-so-glorious track record is aiding the process of destabilisation of the institution of the Chief Justice of India.

The Minister further said that those who peddle falsehood to destroy the institution are not dealt with in an exemplary manner, this trend will only accelerate.

The incident of a junior ex-lady employee of the Supreme Court making harassment charges against the Chief Justice of India has acquired a disproportionate magnitude, Mr. Jaitley said.

“Such complaints, when they are made in the ordinary course of any administrative functioning, are referred to the appropriate Committee. However, when the complainant distributes copies of her representation to other Judges of the Supreme Court and the media in order to sensationalise her allegations, it ceases to be routine.”

When four digital media organisations with an unparalleled track record of “institutional disruption” send similar questionnaires to the Chief Justice of India, there is obviously something more than what meets the eye, the Minister added.

Mr. Jaitley regretted that the last few years have witnessed the consolidation of “institution destabilizers” in a major way. For the “institutional disruptors” there are no red lines, he wrote.

Many of these destabilizers represent Left or ultra-Left views. They have no electoral base or popular support. However, they still have a disproportionate presence in the media and academia. When ousted from mainstream media, they have taken refuge in digital and social media.

Even though most of them subscribe to fringe ideologies and ideas, it is regrettable that a section of the Members of the Bar affiliated to the Congress Party tends to join them. Frequent attempts are made to get some Parliamentarians to sign Motion of Impeachment against judges and even the Chief Justice on unsustainable grounds. What has always puzzled me is the Congress lending support to such fringe campaigns, the Minister said.

Justice Gogoi was sworn in as the 46th Chief Justice of India on October 3, 2018. He retires on November 17, 2019.

Mr. Jaitley said India had witnessed a series of attacks by the “institutional disruptors” against judges who are unwilling to agree with them.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that today, a mass-intimidation of judges is on, Mr. Jaitley said.

* Editorial 1

Being fair and transparent

Being fair and transparent

After these elections, the Election Commission needs to take stock of several issues, including campaign funding

Sushil Kumar VermaSushil Kumar Verma

Two phases of the 2019 general election have been completed. Polling has finished in 186 out of 543 parliamentary constituencies. Polling in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, has been cancelled for corrupt practices. Five phases still remain till counting is comprehensively undertaken for all the seven phases of the election, on May 23. The reason to complete all the phases is that the result of any one phase should not influence the choices that electors may make.

Having served the Election Commission of India (EC) for five-and-a-half years during which I conducted the 2009 general election, I have an insider’s view, but of course am not privy to the inputs that the EC has and on which its decisions are made.

Dark points

As I have argued in my recent book, Every Vote Counts, several negative features of our electoral scene have worsened. Since the Model Code of Conduct came into effect, in just the first two phases this time, money power has so reared its ugly head that seizures made of unaccounted cash, liquor, bullion and drugs amounting to ₹2,600 crore have already surpassed the entire seizures made in the nine phases of the general election in 2014. Most depressingly, this includes huge hauls of drugs, the vast majority smuggled into Gujarat. Uttar Pradesh is awash with liquor. Tamil Nadu has seen the largest seizures of illicit cash —over ₹514 crore.

These vast sums intended to bribe or influence voters prove several things. The first is that these sums almost certainly represent only a fraction of current illegal spending, a tip of the iceberg as it were. They have been detected by the EC’s machinery acting on the basis of tip-offs, or else by the vigilance of electoral officials in the States. Unfortunately, the bulk of illegal tranches of money, liquor or freebies would have reached their destination. Second, political players have refined their methods in being many steps ahead of the EC’s observers and their vigilance teams by moving their funds to their destinations even before the elections are announced.

Does this not make a mockery of the statutory limit of ₹70 lakh that each Lok Sabha candidate has as his poll expenditure limit?

Difficult questions

As a country we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. When every rule in the book is being broken, when there is no transparency on how political parties collect or spend their funds, when limits of candidate spending are exceeded in every single case, then the time has come to debate whether we need to re-examine our rule book. In order to supervise the matches in play, the EC has had to deploy over 2,000 Central observers for the entire duration, drawing them out from their ministries and departments at the cost of their normal work at the Centre and in the States. Thousands of vigilance squads are set up and must act on the information they receive, which is why the current level of seizures have already made this India’s most expensive general election yet. An intelligent guess may lead us to a final tally of spending in excess of ₹50,000 crore, the bulk of which is made up of illicit funding and spending.

It is by now clear as daylight that electoral bonds, far from enabling a legitimate and transparent means of political funding, have proved to be the reverse. The EC, in its own affidavit before the Supreme Court, has admitted as much. The Supreme Court’s order has made sure that full disclosure, albeit to the EC, has already effectively killed further funding along this route. Nothing is a better disinfectant for camouflaged funding than sunlight itself.

With my experience this compels me to say that any serious reform with regard to funding must come from the EC itself, for it is very unlikely that any government will take an initiative in this direction. The EC must take stock after this election is over. It should convene a conference of all stakeholders, including of course all recognised political parties, both Central and State. But this should not be exclusively confined to them, for they will tend to support the status quo or they will be unable to reach consensus. The list of stakeholders must also include the best constitutional and legal minds in our country.

In my book I have also raised the twin problem of candidates fielded with criminal antecedents. The 16th Lok Sabha that has now passed into history, saw almost 30% of its members declaring, in their compulsory self-sworn affidavits, the list of criminal cases registered against them. They are also legally obliged to declare their wealth and their educational qualifications. This is the result of two vital orders passed by the Supreme Court in 2002-2003, the result of a battle that the Association for Democratic Reforms fought tenaciously. Unfortunately, in the first phase of this election, 12% of the candidates perforce declared that they had heinous cases pending, while in the second phase the figure was 11%. It may be noted that these cases include murder, attempt to murder, dacoity, kidnapping and rape. Have we forgotten Nirbhaya and 2012 already?

Giving it teeth

The matter of the Model Code of Conduct and its administration by the EC has been the most frequently reported single issue in this election. For those of a certain generation, the 10th Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), T.N. Seshan — he once famously declared that “he ate politicians for breakfast” — was the man who made the country sit up and take note when he decided to level the playing field as never before. There is little doubt that he reminded the EC that it had powers inherently enshrined in Article 324 of the Constitution — powers so great that there is arguably no other electoral management body with similar powers.

I learned this during my years as Election Commissioner, and these are the powers I exercised during the course of the 15th general election in 2009; I was successfully able to confront three Congress-ruled State governments and one Congress ally too. One of them even convened a special press conference to declare that his government would move the Supreme Court against the EC’s “arbitrariness”, but I personally had no doubt about its outcome. As it happened, he chose not to in the end.

The point I seek to make, by virtue of my own experience, is that the powers of the EC are so enormous and so all-encompassing that they exceed the powers of the executive in all election-related issues during the course of the election period. Of course, these must be exercised judiciously, fairly and equitably, not least because every decision is analysed in every “adda”, every home, every street corner and every “dhaba” across the country, where the EC’s decisions must be seen to be fair and transparent. During the years precedent to becoming CEC, I was fortunate that Mr. Seshan advised me whenever I called on him. As a result I never felt any need to make reference to government or court, once the process was under way.

Words into action

If there is anything for me to applaud thus far in this election, it is the decision made by two political parties which have selected over 33% women candidates — Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (41% for 42 Lok Sabha seats) and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (33% for 21 Lok Sabha seats). After years of patriarchy or at best lip service, these parties have taken a vital step towards empowering women politically.

Navin B. Chawla is a former Chief Election Commisisoner and is the author of ‘Every Vote Counts’

Workers and refugees are not criminals

Workers and refugees are not criminals

Global political action is required to reinforce the legitimate identity of a worker

Getty Images/iStockphotopriyanka gupta/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Mexican border was closed for hours on November 25, 2018 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to the U.S., after a group of migrants, including children and women, in Tijuana reportedly stormed the area. This prompted the U.S. Border Patrol to fire tear gas at the group. Among the hand-made placards carried by the migrants was this one: “We are international workers. We are not criminals.”

Xenophobic assertion

It was a revealing placard, and one that commented on a major change in global economic and political thinking: since the 1990s, not just international but even interregional workers have slowly been pushed into the rubric of ‘criminals’. U.S. President Donald Trump is a prime example of this: his victory was largely founded on his ability to depict international workers, particularly those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, as ‘criminals’. With elections coming up in the U.S. once again, he has returned, with renewed vigour, to this discourse. The fact that such a sweeping xenophobic assertion — though often it was in the form of pointed innuendoes — does not make him a ‘loser’ (in his language) highlights the fact that many voters now think of certain kinds of workers as basically criminals.

This tendency is present, though in less obvious versions, in almost all developed and developing countries, including the social welfare democracies of Europe. It is also present within nations, as we in India witnessed in the recent ‘Gujarati’ backlash against workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Now, it is true that ‘foreigners’ have been looked at with suspicion by some ‘natives’ in the past too, but what we are talking about is a bit different.

This is because no one really denies that most of these people who want to enter a country do so in order to find work. Also, all but the most rabid of hate-mongers are fully aware that, say, most Biharis in Gujarat or Mexicans in the U.S. are law-abiding and often needy workers. And yet politicians can garner extra votes by implicitly or explicitly equating international/interregional ‘workers’ with ‘criminals’, and states can openly devise blatantly differential treatment for them — as the children ripped away from their parents and the workers tear-gassed at the U.S. border can testify. This marks a significant development in recent years.

In short, we have to ask the question: what is it that enables many to characterise international and even interregional workers as criminals, even as we know that most of them are crossing a border simply to seek work? No, the answer is not that there are more ‘criminals’ crossing over in the guise of workers now than there were in the past. There has been no difference in this regard. Most immigrants crossing a border are law-abiding and industrious workers, not ‘criminals’ — this remains the case today, as it was in the past.

The answer lies not with the workers crossing over or even with those citizens who brand them ‘criminals’. The answer lies in the nature of capitalism, which no longer needs workers as much as it did in the past. Financial speculation has increasingly dwarfed international trade from the 1990s onwards. More than that, much of financial speculation is based on factors other than the productivity of a sector. When market speculators bend over their computer screens watching numbers flash by, they are not looking at the performance graphs of industries: they are just speculating with numbers. A world dominated by financial speculation does not need workers in two ways: financial speculators are not workers, no matter what they think of their ‘work’, and financial speculation does not depend on the production of workers. Capital transactions are no longer tied predominantly to industry, productivity or trade of goods — and hence, to workers.

Post-human future

There are other aspects to this snowballing change. In academia, for instance, there is the trend to talk about ‘post-humanism’. Post-humanism has a respectable heritage. In fields like animal studies, it is often meant to suggest a world in which human beings do not occupy the centre. This is an interesting and necessary concept, for the earth has suffered much from our narcissism as a species and our inability to think of other animals as having biological rights too. But ‘post-humanism’ is mostly used in other ways: it is used to suggest a world after human beings, a world run by artificial intelligence.

Inevitably, for those in power — either in terms of a monopoly on wealth or a monopoly on knowledge — a world of financial speculation leads to a ‘post-human’ world run by artificial intelligence. Once workers become redundant and numbers are sufficient, then, inevitably, one can think complacently of replacing human intelligence with artificial intelligence. In some ways, of course, much of financial speculation depends on exactly this: a kind of artificial intelligence, not human labour.

The reduction of workers to criminals is part of this change, and interestingly the solution is not just to insist on the right to work locally or even nationally. The insistence has to be ‘universal’ and global. Global political action is needed to ensure international working rights, linked to human status and not the caprice of state or capital.

Otherwise, as the right to work can currently be ensured only by national governments, it will always be used to define other — ‘foreign’ — workers as actual or potential criminals, as Mr. Trump and his putative wall have set out to do. The right to work has become a selective right; today it is controlled by governments in tandem with corporations. Soon it might well become the monopoly of corporations. It is basically being used to criminalise those workers who are not allowed — by nation-states or neoliberal capitalism or both — the legitimate identity of a worker.

And as this is a shrinking identity — there are fewer and fewer active workers under the impact of rampant financial speculation — it simply adds to the official metamorphosis of more workers into ‘criminals’.

Tabish Khair is an Indian novelist and academic who teaches in Denmark

In his own cause

In his own cause

The Chief Justice of India shows how not to deal with a sexual harassment complaint

The manner in which the Supreme Court responded on the judicial side to allegations of sexual harassment made by a former employee against the Chief Justice of India is a textbook example of how not to deal with such a complaint. An issue that squarely fell within the domain of an internal process was taken up by a special Bench constituted by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, comprising himself, Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna. On a ‘mention’ by the Solicitor-General, it was listed as ‘Re: Matter of Great Public Importance Touching upon the Independence of the Judiciary’. The decision to hold an open court hearing is questionable. A complaint of this nature requires an institutional response on the administrative side. There is an internal process to initiate an inquiry mandated by the law regarding sexual harassment at the workplace. The Supreme Court itself has an internal sub-committee under its Gender Sensitization and Sexual Harassment of Women at Supreme Court (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Guidelines, 2015. There is a separate ‘in-house procedure’ to deal with complaints against judges, under which their judicial peers, and not outsiders, will examine them. It is not known if the complaint will be probed under an internal process, but it is clear that the CJI ought not to have presided over the special Bench that took up the matter that concerned himself. The onslaught on the complainant’s credibility and the references made to her alleged criminal record when she was not a party to the proceedings are deplorable.

Justice Gogoi was one of the four judges who spoke out against the manner in which his predecessor as CJI, Dipak Misra, managed the roster. It is ironical that as one who was aggrieved that senior-most judges were kept out of Benches handling major cases, he went on to form a Bench that included himself but not the two senior-most judges after him. Nor was there a woman judge on the Bench. CJI Gogoi’s anguish is understandable, if indeed the complaint is baseless and false, as he contended from the Bench. But then, the court’s Secretary General has sent a denial to the online news organisations that carried details of the complaint. The complainant, a former junior court assistant, had made her charge in the form of an affidavit, supported by purported evidence, and sent it to 22 judges of the court. It referred to likely witnesses to the alleged sexual harassment and victimisation. This is a serious matter that requires careful processing. It is possible even now to send the complaint to an independent committee. That is the only reasonable and fair means of establishing the innocence the CJI has asserted. Pronouncements and protestations from the Bench to a captive audience of acquiescent law officers and lawyers are not the way.

Toggle Title
Toggle Content
Rough road

Rough road

The U.S. President’s legal troubles over his campaign are not over with the Mueller report

The investigation report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller is unlikely to end the scandal around Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election that has rocked American politics for the last two and a half years. The redacted version that has been released confirms what U.S. Attorney General William Barr had said last month when he released a summary — Mr. Mueller neither indicts nor exonerates President Donald Trump. Mr. Mueller concluded that Russia interfered in the election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion”. The Russians carried out an information campaign on the Internet against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and in favour of Mr. Trump, while Russian hackers hacked into the Democratic National Committee systems as well as Ms. Clinton’s campaign chief’s email account, and dumped the files on the Internet. While there were contacts between the Russians and Trump campaign members, the investigation doesn’t establish that “members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government”. But on the question on obstruction of justice, the Special Counsel was less emphatic.

The report has damning details on how Mr. Trump tried to undermine the investigation. He wanted to fire Mr. Mueller, and when his then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to do so, he wanted him to shut the probe. Mr. Trump didn’t succeed as his staff resisted the orders. In one such instance, White House attorney Donald McGahn preferred to resign rather than carry out Mr. Trump’s order to fire Mr. Mueller. The report also confirms that the President had asked FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Micheal Flynn, Mr. Trump’s original pick for National Security Adviser. Mr. Comey was fired later. What Mr. Mueller has effectively done is to state the facts of Mr. Trump’s efforts to obstruct the probe, while leaving unanswered the question of whether he obstructed justice. He has left the issue for Congress to decide, saying the legislature “has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice”. As soon as the report was out, Mr. Trump had claimed victory by tweeting: “For the haters and the radical left Democrats — Game over.” But the House Judiciary Committee chair has issued a subpoena to the Justice Department to hand over the full report. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is running for the Democratic presidential ticket, has called for impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump. The President’s legal troubles are also not over. A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the Russian interference scandal is still on. The Trump campaign is also being probed for alleged campaign finance violations. All this suggests a tough road is ahead for Mr. Trump, though Mr. Mueller stopped short of indicting him.

* Editorial 2

Expropriation in the name of conservation

Expropriation in the name of conservation

It is shocking that a democratic government is seeking to strengthen the colonial-era Indian Forest Act

“The proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act seek to turn communities into the problem.” Kand tribal women in Odisha. Ashish Kothari

The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was a remarkable piece of expropriation in the name of conservation. The British government carried out one of the largest land expropriations in history, where the rights to occupy and use forests were transferred from communities with customary and historical property rights to the colonial Central government. The act offered a fig leaf that those who could establish their rights were excepted from this expropriation (of course, few could establish their rights, given that their rights were not property rights as per the British government’s conception of property). These expropriations were ameliorated in some small measure in the Forest Rights Act of 2006, but they have remained the edifice of the relationship between the government and the Adivasis. It is the forest department that Adivasis must deal with as their primary government agency. That a democratic government almost a century later seeks to expand and strengthen the tools of the Indian Forest Act is remarkable and shocking at the same time.

The ostensible inspiration for the amendments proposed by the Central government is the same as that of the colonial regime: the protection of forests. However, the government goes a step further than the colonial government and seeks to criminalise the communities, primarily the Adivasis, who dwell in these forests. Forest rights activists have expressed concern that forests could turn into a ‘police state’. A better description would be that they would become a more draconian police state.

Proposed amendments

According to the draft amendments, the forest department will now be able to enforce the property rights of the government to forests at the exclusion of Adivasis dwelling there, through preventive arrest provisions. Certain offences will be made non-bailable. The presumption of innocence is reversed. Alleged encroachers can be arrested without warrant. Forest officials will be given the authority to use arms against tribals for “violation of laws”.

The draft says the ‘forest’ will not be limited to land owned by the government; it will include any flora considered forest, as a 1996 Supreme Court order had expanded the definition of forest. The Central government will be able to change the classification from ‘unprotected’ to ‘reserved’ or ‘protected’, and the erstwhile land owners will be subjected to penal provisions for customary use of their land.

The fears of a draconian police state are not alarmist. The criminal justice system in States such as Chhattisgarh is inundated with cases against Adivasis who exercise their forest rights. Yet, the amendments proposed seek to limit the discretion of officers to withdraw any offences, ensuring a protracted legal process, with prolonged incarceration.

It is an old adage that those who forget history are bound to repeat it. As a young editor in Germany, Karl Marx was radicalised by the use of penal provisions to prosecute people collecting firewood in the forests, an old custom. With increasing industrialisation, feudal property owners could monetise the firewood, and the customary rights of people to collect firewood was curtailed. Marx was incensed at the plight of those jailed for this infraction, which accounted for the majority of penal cases in the prosperous Rhineland.

The Forest Rights Act, a legislation mitigating the Indian Forest Act, already weakened by poor implementation, will be further limited by excluding ‘village forests’, ironically named, from its purview. In addition, the community’s voice will also be excluded from a new category of ‘production forest’ . ‘Production forest’ may be handed over to private operators. This will corporatise forest resources. The problems with these provisions are self-evident.

A Section 26 has been proposed, which will allow forest department officers to suspend the right to pasture or collect forest produce from the primarily Adivasi communities residing in the forest. This will take away not only the livelihood of the forest dwellers, but also strike at the very root of their deep relationship with their environment, customs and traditions. The proposed Section 22(A)(2) is another example of gross injustice. It proposes that the government can acquire any right of a person which is “inconsistent with the conservation of the proposed reserved forest”. No parameters have been given to decide what is “inconsistent”, and the decision to declare the “inconsistent” use rests with the government.

States with large forest tracts with big tribal populations have tried in the past to settle forest land “encroached” by the tribal people and grant them pattas. The Forest Rights Act allows tribals present at the cut-off date, and non-tribals who can show 75 years of possession, a quasi-property right, or patta, to be administered by the Tribal Affairs Ministry rather than the forest department. Activists expected that this proposed amendment would bring in legal provisions for such settlement. This so-called forest land has no trees on the ground, and has been cultivated by the tribals for a long time, but is still designated as forest. People are subjected to harassment year after year because they are treated as encroachers. The Chhattisgarh government had granted pattas to these “encroachers” to give them legal status, but recently the courts have cancelled these pattas, calling them illegal. It was expected that the proposed amendments would legalise these pattas, but the amendments proposed suggest the opposite.

Managing forests

It is not only activists who are voicing their concerns; the Chhattisgarh government has expressed its concern at the taking away of the powers given to gram sabhas through the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.

The amendments will also further centralise the management of forest, as the legislation takes away the State governments’ discretion to manage forests even further.

Given the correlation between Adivasi forest areas and the ‘Red Corridor’, the law is not only undemocratic, but also has implications for internal security. Adivasis are at the front line of the battle against Maoists, and the principal victims of war-waging in their communities. This Act, in seeking to criminalise their very economic existence, will be a boon for Maoist propaganda.

The proposed legislation seeks to turn communities into the problem. To paraphrase Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Adivasis, at the very least, need the Indian state to take its foot off their neck. In these elections, Adivasis and other communities would do well to ask those seeking their blessings their stance on the proposed amendments.

Avi Singh is the Additional Standing Counsel for criminal cases for the Government of the NCT of Delhi and Peeyush Bhatia is a lawyer practicing before the Chhattisgarh High Court and State President of the Youth Bar Association of India

Internal resolve trumps external threats


Internal resolve trumps external threats

What propels journalists to carry on with their job

Last week, India dropped two places to rank 140 out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index. The report says that the lead up to the ongoing Lok Sabha election was a particularly dangerous time for journalists in India. It observes that violence against journalists — police violence, attacks by Maoist fighters, and reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt politicians — is one of the most striking characteristics of the current state of press freedom in India. It points out how criminal prosecutions are often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code under which sedition is punishable by life imprisonment. It rightly concludes that the mere threat of such a prosecution encourages self-censorship.

The spirit of reporters

The external environment is definitely hostile to free speech and good journalism. But journalists seem to be defiant of this hostility, as seen in the rush to seek admission to journalism schools and in the number of software professionals who switch careers to journalism. The idea of a public sphere and engagement with the common good has never wavered within the profession. Discussions among journalists are often about how to improve the quality of investigations, make methodologies more rigorous, and improve the style of communication. The external ecology fails to dampen the spirit of many reporters. What propels journalists to carry on with their mission?

Among the various tasks of being a journalist, the act of bearing witness brings in an element of empathy to the profession. Poet and journalist Kwame Dawes has documented for the Nieman Reports the interwoven roles he experienced as a witness — as a poet and as a journalist. Reflecting on his extensive work in Haiti, Mr. Dawes says his poems came from “grace moments”— moments of silence and seeming insignificance. He sees a difference between trying to understand intellectually and witnessing emotionally events unfolding before one’s eye. “I stand as a witness to the silences— to what goes unspoken and ignored — to the things that float away as if insubstantial but that are filled with the simple breaths of people trying to make sense of their existence. This act of witnessing allows us to reach to other levels of meaning that can only be reached through the poem,” he writes.

Reyhan Harmanci, editor at First Look Media, poses an important question: “Bear witness — but then what?” She argues for a framework where there are possibilities for calls to action, or at least discussion, that give meaning to the reams of primary documents. Roger Cohen of The New York Times asserts that “to bear witness means being there — and that’s not free.” He writes: “No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream. No news aggregator tells of the ravaged city exhaling in the dusk, nor summons the defiant cries that rise into the night. No miracle of technology renders the lip-drying taste of fear. No algorithm captures the hush of dignity, nor evokes the adrenalin rush of courage coalescing, nor traces the fresh raw line of a welt.”

Bearing witness

P.V. Srividya’s investigation into booth capturing, multiple voting and threats in a Pattali Makkal Katchi-dominated area called Nathamedu in Tamil Nadu vindicates all that is written about journalists being effective witnesses. The report, “Nathamedu makes a mockery of democracy” (April 19), captured the underbelly of the election process: deliberate fixing of the camera to avoid the voting compartment; capturing of the voting compartment; multiple voting; voting with no voter IDs and only booth slips; and open threats to the polling staff. The report had its effect. The Election Commission has sought a report on electoral malpractices, including booth capturing, in Nathamedu, which falls under the Dharmapuri parliamentary constituency, which incidentally recorded the highest turnout in the Lok Sabha election in the State. As long as journalism helps empower the general public with facts, no amount of external threat will rob its inherent agency to be an active witness.


Doordarshan’s partiality

Doordarshan’s partiality

The committee that reviews political speeches should not only claim to be fair, but be seen as fair

Binoy Viswam

The Election Commission (EC) allots telecast and broadcast time to political parties for carrying out their election campaign on Doordarshan and All India Radio during elections. I had submitted my speech to Doordarshan for vetting sufficiently in advance. It was only when I reached the office to record my speech that I was told that a paragraph of the speech referring to the nexus between the RSS and the NDA would have to be revised, apparently because it was “criticism based on unverified allegations”. As this censoring of speech is against the basic tenets of democracy, I decided not to record my speech.

According to the order passed by the EC while allotting broadcast time to political parties on Doordarshan, the following should be avoided in speeches: criticism of other countries; attack on religions/communities; anything obscene or defamatory; incitement of violence; aspersions against the President or the judiciary; anything amounting to contempt of court; anything affecting the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the country; and criticism by names of persons. It is clear that the paragraph that was deemed objectionable was not covered under any of these grounds, nor was it based on unverified allegations — it is a fact that the ideological parent of the NDA is the RSS. It is also well documented that the RSS drew its basic ideology from fascist regimes. My intention was to show that the exclusionary actions of the NDA are based on its ideological roots.

Section 12(2)(b) of the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, 1990 puts the onus on the broadcaster to safeguard citizens’ right to be informed freely, truthfully and objectively on all matters of public interest, and to present a fair and balanced flow of information including contrasting views without advocating any opinion or ideology of its own. It is not enough to claim that the committee that reviewed the speech is an independent body; it must also be seen to be impartial.

This is not the first time that Doordarshan has been informed of its biased approach in favour of the ruling regime. In April, the EC took note of its disproportionate coverage of different political parties. For a month after elections were announced, the BJP got 160 hours of coverage; the Congress, 60 hours; and the CPI(M), eight. Doordarshan has already flouted a guideline of the EC which states that it should provide fair and balanced coverage of campaigning. The EC told Doordarshan to “desist from extending any preferential or disproportionate airtime coverage in favour of any party” and sought a reply for acting “not in accordance with the principle of maintaining neutrality and level-playing field”. The EC is tasked with ensuring a level playing field for all parties. One hopes that it will take note of this violation of the freedom to talk about issues plaguing the country.

Binoy Viswam is a Rajya Sabha member representing the CPI

* News

BJP finds itself on slippery terrain this time

in focus:Goa

BJP finds itself on slippery terrain this time

Party struggles to fill post-Parrikar leadership void as allies are not of much help; battle is with traditional rival Congress

Prakash Kamat, PANAJI

With hardly four days to go for election to the two Lok Sabha seats in Goa, the ruling BJP in Goa is struggling to retain the seats it won with big margins in 2014.

Byelection to three Assembly seats are also being held on April 23 in the State.

The biggest setback to the BJP is the leadership void in the government and the organisation following the death of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on March 17.

Though other parties and Independents are in the fray in both the Lok Sabha constituencies, the battle is between the traditional rivals, the BJP and the Congress.

As for the Assembly byelection, the ruling BJP is putting up a tough fight as the stability of the coalition government headed by Pramod Sawant is at stake.

Two of the byelections have been necessitated as the Congress MLAs resigned last October to join the BJP, and the third one, in Mapusa, is because of the death of BJP MLA and former Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza.

The BJP is heading a weak coalition with 14 MLAs of its own in a truncated House of 36, dependent on the three-member regional outfit, Goa Forward Party (GFP), and three Independents.

The government was formed after the 2017 Assembly election with the allies setting the condition before the Governor that they were committed only to Mr. Parrikar.

CM’s position shaky

The coalition remains under Mr. Sawant without its ally, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), leaving his position shaky.

The general impression is that the government is carrying on because of the inherent fear among the allies that the Modi-Shah combine would get the Assembly dissolved if they make common cause with the Congress.

This, perhaps, explains Mr. Sawant’s campaign statement, “Bring back PM Modi to continue the BJP government in the State.”

The Congress and the MGP have made the BJP’s poaching of their MLAs and misuse of government machinery a major plank in the byelection. The MGP has backed two of the Congress’s Lok Sabha candidates.

MGP vows revenge

After two of the three MLAs of the MGP recently left the party and joined the BJP and its senior leader Sudin Dhavlikar was sacked as Deputy Chief Minister, the MGP is set to teach the BJP a lesson, says its president Dipak Dhavalikar.

The oldest regional outfit, which projects a relatively softer, mass-based Hindutva, ruled Goa for 16 years post-liberation and had a major contribution in the BJP winning the South Goa seat in 2014, particularly in Hindu-dominated areas.

Apart from his overwhelming presence which galvanised the party’s rank and file during the election, Mr. Parrikar had, over the years, made inroads into the Catholic-dominated Salcete in South Goa, whose eight Assembly segments mostly tilted the scales in favour of the Congress.

He was known to exploit the dissent in the faction-ridden Congress to divide the votes in Catholic-dominated areas to the BJP’s advantage.

Congress North Goa candidate and GPCC president Girish Chodankar told The Hindu, “One of the biggest factors in this election is the absence of Mr. Parrikar, who used to play vindictive politics as a result of which, many Congress MLAs, leaders and workers used to fear coming out openly for the party’s campaign. The present Chief Minister, of course, is now trying to copy him.”

Roadblocks everywhere

While the disparate allies, the three-member GFP and three Independents, have hardly been of much help to the BJP in this election, the loss of the MGP could be a decisive blow.

The going has not been easy for the BJP in the Assembly byelection either. In the Shiroda Assembly constituency, the MGP’s Dhavalikar is pitted against the BJP’s Subhash Shirdokar.

In Mapusa, the MGP has backed the Congress and in Mandrem, a strong independent against the BJP.

The resentment within the party, especially among some senior leaders such as former Chief Minister Laxmikat Parsekar, who do not approve of the BJP’s “poaching” of MLAs from other parties is also affecting the party’s electoral prospects.

2014 scene

In 2014, apart from the Modi wave, Narendra Sawaikar, MP, faced a weak Congress candidate as a fallout of internal dissensions. Whereas this time, there is the fear factor among the minorities about the Modi regime returning, which is helping the Congress. Besides, Mr. Sawaikar is facing a formidable opponent, Francisco Sardinha, who has been a three-time South Goa MP and Chief Minister, and has intermittently been occupying various positions of power since 1981.

Under the leadership of Girish Chodankar, the Congress in Goa is for the first time facing a major election with unity.

Mr. Chodankar is facing four-time BJP MP and Union AYUSH Minister Sripad Naik in the Lok Sabha election.

‘Religion has taken over all aspects of life’

‘Religion has taken over all aspects of life’

T.V. Chandran blames the Sangh for this and bringing down the level of politics

S.R. Praveen

In a memorable sequence in T.V. Chandran’s 1995 film Ormakal Undayirikkanam, a young boy walks into a barber shop, where a murder has just happened, and rubs away a writing on the wall which warns customers against having political discussions. He leaves just the word “politics” untouched. It could very well be seen as the director himself making a statement about his cinema, which has worn its politics on its sleeve, at a time when mainstream Malayalam cinema was celebrating apolitical narratives.

That film, as well as the 1997 film Mankamma and his recent work Pengalila, was set against the background of the Vimochana Samaram (liberation struggle) of 1959, when the Congress and religious and caste organisations got together to launch a protest movement to bring down the first elected Communist government of Kerala for implementing educational and land reforms. Many have drawn parallels to that period with now as the Left government at present is facing a similar opposition from religious forces post-Sabarimala verdict. Yet, Chandran views it differently.

“The context is a little different. In the past five years, the Sangh Parivar has injected religion into everything and brought down the level of politics. It has become the norm now that even the other parties have been influenced by religion to some extent. You couldn’t imagine an AKG or EMS inside a temple, but now even some Left ministers can be seen in temples. Religion has taken over every aspect of life, and issues like Sabarimala have relegated every other important issue into the background,” he says.

He has explored the politics of Sangh Parivar, with a trilogy of films related to the Gujarat riots – Kathavasheshan, Vilapangalkkappuram and Bhoomiyude Avakaasikal.

“In Kathavasheshan, the woman who is searching for the cause of her fiance’s suicide, finds out in the end that he committed that act “for the shame of being alive as an Indian after the Gujarat riots”. These words were supposed to appear on screen. But the censors only allowed “for the shame of being alive”. Now, it actually fits as we don’t need to mention Gujarat specifically, for what began there has spread across the country,” he says.

Censorship is, in fact, one of his major concerns as a film-maker, ahead of the election, with him wishing for a regime free of all kinds of censoring of content.

“Successive governments have misused the censors for their own means, but in the past five years, it has hung as a Damocles’ sword over us. It is not just the certification board, but one has to also satisfy all kinds of religious fringe elements. If this has to change, the reign of the Sangh has to end in India. If they continue, the situation will only worsen, with us being forced to either stop all cultural activity or change its character to the form of an underground resistance movement,” Chandran says.

From his early days, he has been part of such a resistance, most notably during the Emergency days when he acted as the protagonist in P.A. Backer’s Kabani Nadi Chuvannappol (1975). He feels that even if an Emergency were to be declared in the present days, there might not be strong protests as back then, as conformism rules the roost.

“Even much of our new generation cinema reflects this conformism, where life is all happy and beautiful. There is no critique of anything. The idea is to conform,” he says.

Yet, he pins his hope this election on the first-time voters, to see whether they will get caught and travel with this tide or whether they stand on their own. Would he make a film set in the past five years? “Like many others, I cannot announce in advance what my next film would be, as I don’t have much of a financial backing.”

* Foreign

‘Suicide bomber queued up at hotel buffet and set off the blast’


‘Suicide bomber queued up at hotel buffet and set off the blast’

He checked in the night before, and gave an address that turned out to be false: official

Agence France-Presse

After the attack: Sri Lankan firefighters standing near the St. Anthony’s Shrine after Sunday’s blast.APEranga Jayawardena


The suicide bomber waited patiently in a queue for the Easter Sunday breakfast buffet at Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Grand hotel before setting off explosives strapped to his back. Carrying a plate, the man, who had registered at the hotel the night before as Mohamed Azzam Mohamed, was just about to be served when he set off his devastating strike in the packed restaurant, a manager at the Sri Lankan hotel said.

“There was utter chaos,” said the manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Taprobane restaurant at the hotel was having one of its busiest days of the year for the Easter holiday weekend. “It was 8.30 a.m. and it was busy. It was families,” the manager said.

Manager also killed

“He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast,” he added. “One of our managers, who was welcoming guests, was among those killed instantly.”

The bomber also died. Parts of his body were found intact by police and taken away. Other hotel officials told how the bomber, a Sri Lankan, checked in giving an address that turned out to be false, saying he was in the city for business.

Simultaneous attacks

Two other hotels, the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury, were hit at about the same time, along with three churches packed with worshippers attending Easter Sunday services.

The blast at St Anthony’s Shrine, a historic Catholic Church, was so powerful that it blew out much of the roof, leaving roof tiles, glass and splintered wood littering the floor that was strewn with bodies.

Many of the 35 foreigners killed in the blasts were at the hotels, officials said. At the Shangri-La, witnesses said they heard two loud blasts and that staff reported some people had been killed. But details of the toll were not immediately given.



Leaders across the world condemn attacks

Leaders across the world condemn attacks

Trump expresses ‘heartfelt condolences’

Agence France-Presse

Religious and world leaders, including two Muslim groups in Sri Lanka, condemned the series of blasts in Sri Lanka on Sunday.

The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka says it mourns the loss of innocent people in the blasts by extremists who seek to divide religious and ethnic groups. The All Ceylon Jammiyyathul Ulama, a body of Muslim clerics, says targeting Christian places of worship cannot be accepted.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the Sri Lanka attack as “devastating”. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan offered his “profound condolences” to Sri Lanka.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “religious hate and intolerance that have showed themselves in such a terrible way today must not win”.

“I would like to reassert that Russia has been and remains a reliable partner of Sri Lanka in combating the threat of international terrorism,” President Vladimir Putin said in a Kremlin statement.

Supreme Court extends President Ghani’s term


Supreme Court extends President Ghani’s term

He can stay in office till the next poll

Agence France-Presse

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani.REUTERSMichael Dalder


Afghanistan’s Supreme Court has extended the term of President Ashraf Ghani until delayed elections take place, an official said on Sunday, resolving for now the question of what would happen after his term expires on May 22.

Presidential elections were initially slated for April 20, but Afghan poll officials were unprepared for a new nationwide vote so soon after October parliamentary elections.

With some final results from that election still pending, the presidential poll was delayed until July 20, then pushed back again until September 28.

Ariana News published a statement from the court saying it “has extended the service term of President Ghani until the election of a new President”.

“The Supreme Court understands the financial, security and logistical challenges faced by the Election Commission.”

While the court did not make the statement public, Faraidoon Khwazoon, the deputy spokesman to Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, confirmed the document, noting that Mr. Abdullah’s term had also been extended.