Gagging media

In Kerala, lawyers join hands with government to deny citizens’ right to know
Times of India – The media literally waits at the gates of courts – as Kerala witnessed on Wednesday (Jul 27) at Kollam [2, 3] where sentencing in a cop’s murder case was delivered – for details of judgments to trickle out. The result is that it is the citizens’ right to know, as envisaged in the Constitution, and the media’s freedom to gather and disseminate news, that are being forcefully denied.

In a move that complicates the issue, the high court has instituted strict curbs preventing media from accessing judgments. Journalists’ entry into judges’ chambers is banned.

A quixotic idea of emailing judgments to media is being mooted. To say that these steps are lopsided would be an understatement.

The ambivalence of the Kerala government, especially of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan [2, 3], on the issue shows that he and his party are trying to divide and rule by using the legal fraternity to intimidate the press. more>



Playing yesterday’s game

By Indrani Bagchi – The South China Sea is several seas away from us. The NSG membership will happen some time after we (the people and the government) have stopped hyperventilating about it.

Instead, look closer home. India’s immediate neighborhood remains on its treadmill: furiously running through myriad crises without actually getting anywhere.

Can India get beyond firefighting as a foreign policy goal in its backyard?

The real neighborhood challenge comes from an ever deepening China-Pakistan relationship. Andrew Small, author of a deep study of the China-Pakistan axis, says he has noticed a much greater political consonance between these two countries in recent years. India should abandon the “Indian rate of progress” as it builds up Chabahar in Iran, which would be the best counter to Gwadar.

It is a fact that two years on, India under the Modi government is still floundering in the same Pak-China swamp. The “neighborhood first” policy promised a new approach. Instead, we continue to play yesterday’s game. more>


Kerala model’s mutation over the years

By K V Joseph – The pattern of development, which ushered in Kerala during the third quarter of the 20th century, attracted worldwide attention.

It was eulogized as an ideal form of development as Kerala could achieve impressive level of improvement in various social indicators without a corresponding development of the economy.

The growth of consumerism has paved the way for the emergence of various kinds of undesirable consequences. One of them relates to the attitude of Keralites towards work. A mentality for hard work, essential for economic development sadly, seems to have vanished from the bulk of Keralites. A fall in agricultural production, particularly of paddy, is a clear manifestation of such a mentality.

Though overall prosperity is discernible, the quality of life has also deteriorated beyond recognition. The state is facing new problems like shortage of clean drinking water and the menace of waste management with no clear solution in sight. Heaps of plastic bags containing household wastes are a regular sight from one end of the state to the other.

How to retrieve the model poses a major issue calling for serious attention. more>


Upholding free speech

Times of India – The Madras high court struck a blow for imperilled freedom of speech when it defended a book of beleaguered Tamil author Perumal Murugan, who stopped writing following intimidation by caste organizations.

Murugan’s acclaimed Tamil novel Madhorubagan caught the attention of some caste-based groups a few years after its publication. Subsequently, the author was hounded as “sentiments” were offended.

The upshot was that he not only announced that he would stop writing but also asked his publishers to withdraw all his work. It is this situation that the court judgment reversed by taking a stand in favor of democratic rights.

The judgment does well in pointing out the fallacy in a line of reasoning that has become all too common in India. An identity-based group claims its sentiments have been hurt and threatens violence; the state then steps in and in the interests of “peace” bans the work of art or advises its author to withdraw it. In doing so, however, the state legitimizes violence and fails in its first duty: to assure the security of its citizens. more>


Caged still?

The Times of India – Even after the 2013 Supreme Court observation that CBI was like a caged parrot, little seems to have changed in the workings of the investigating agency.

Consider that in Madhya Pradesh‘s [2, 3] Vyapam scam – which has seen at least 48 people die, many in mysterious circumstances – the agency is yet to catch the big cats. In the 2G telecom scandal, there hasn’t been a single conviction till date.

CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) doesn’t inspire confidence either on professional competence or political independence. To avoid accusations such as AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) is making, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government should work out ways to make CBI truly independent and accountable only to Parliament. more>


A failed local government?

The Times of India report, “Kochi corp’s big billboard scam: Only 911 have permits” (June 22, 2016), is proof that the Kochi corp. is an example of a failed local government.

Even a casual visitor will notice that both sides of all the roads in Kochi are filled with billboards of all sizes, shapes and types. However, the report says, “As per official figures, the central zone has only 558 hoardings with 79 legal ones. In the Vytilla zone, only 89 from 438 hoardings have permits.”

Kochi corp., clearly, do not have processes and systems for one of its key revenue sources. “The corporation has no clue about how many hoardings it owns or the exact revenue received from hoardings as permit and renewal fees,” said opposition leader K J Antony. “The permit fee for a one square meter hoarding is Rs. 500. This means, one has to pay Rs. 50,000 for 100 sq.m and another Rs 12,500 for renewing the permit every year,” Anthony added.

There was a report earlier that “Kochi Corporation has failed to submit proper revenue and expenditure statements for audit since 2000.” Based on the information available so far, Kochi corp. appear to have no financial management and control systems. The situation with billboards point to a need for an effective “asset management” system, among other things.

Kochi was among the first batch of cities selected for the Smart City program by the Government of India. Before Kochi can hope to become “smart,” it has to become functioning first. A good place to start will be to establish “performance dashboards” for core operations.


The chamcha factor

Pahlaj Nihalani’s declaration that he’s a ‘Modi chamcha’ reflects growing sycophancy across parties
By Sagarika Ghose – Parties are afraid of open and honest ideological debates because they believe that any new idea could lead to loss of vote banks.

Governments pay lip service to making India better for entrepreneurs, yet chamchagiri is killing the space for political entrepreneurs.

Politicians who have new marketable ideas can’t hope to be heard, they have to set up their own parties. Today, personal loyalty has become a substitute for political ideology.

Since there is no space for debate and dialogue, anyone who questions is seen as a rebel, be it Yogendra Yadav in Aam Aadmi Party or Biswa Sarma in Congress or Shatrughan Sinha and Kirti Azad in BJP.

Discordant voices are stilled in the name of party discipline. more>


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