Friday, 29 June, 2007

India's emissions may be higher due to dams: study

India's greenhouse gas emissions could be 40 percent higher than official estimates if methane released from dams is taken into account, according to a new study.
Methane -- about 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of the amount of heat it traps -- is released from reservoirs, spillways and turbines of hydropower dams as a result of rotting carbon-containing vegetation.
But India, already one of the world's top polluters, has never measured methane emissions from its 4,500 large dams and has therefore never taken it into account in official data.
According to a study by scientists from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, methane equivalent of 825 million tons of carbon dioxide is released annually by India's dams.
"I am quite positive that surface methane emission estimations are correctly estimated," said Ivan B.T. Lima, lead author of "Methane Emissions from Large Dams as Renewable Energy Resources: A Developing Nation Perspective."
"I am confident that Indian dams might be altering atmospheric methane although not precisely to what extent," Lima told Reuters in an e-mail interview.
India's carbon emissions, which excluded the contribution of methane from dams, were around 1,890 million tons in 2000, according to the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental think-tank.
FLAWED RESEARCH?
Government officials say methane emissions from dams is not an issue.
"In India, the practice is that all the vegetation is removed before the water flows into the reservoir," said Prodipto Ghosh, a former environment secretary.
"So given that these are our practices in dam construction, you would believe any such study to be deeply flawed."
India, whose economy has surged between 8 and 9 percent in recent years, currently contributes around four percent of global emissions as its consumption of fossil fuels gallops.
But as a developing nation, it is not required to cut emissions, said to be rising 2 to 3 percent annually, under the Kyoto Protocol despite mounting pressure from environmental groups and developed nations.
India, which has the largest number of dams in the world after the U.S. and China, has constructed many to service its farm sector, which makes up around 22 percent of the country's GDP and employs 70 percent of the workforce.
The dams have also been used to help power industry and bring electricity to some of the country's 1.1 billion people, most of whom live in villages.
But the dam constructions have frequently sparked protests for displacing tens of thousands of poor people, ravaging prime forests housing rare flora and fauna as well as destroying river ecosystems.
Activists said India's dam emissions were a serious concern and urged the government to conduct its own investigation.
"Dams are always considered to be a clean source of energy but can we really call them clean when they are contributing so much to global warming?" asked Himanshu Thakkar from the South Asia Network on dams, rivers and people.

By Nita Bhalla

Big Oil And Big Media V. Hugo Chavez

On June 27, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal vied for attention with feature stories on oil giants ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips "walking away from their multi-billion-dollar investments in Venezuela" as the Journal put it or standing "Defiant in Venezuela" as the Times headlined. Both papers can barely contain their displeasure over Hugo Chavez wanting Venezuela to have majority ownership of its own assets and no longer let Big (foreign) Oil investors plunder them. Those days are over. State oil company PDVSA is now majority shareholder with a 78% interest in four Orinoco joint ventures. That's up from previous stakes of from 30 to 49.9%. That's how it should be, but it can't stop the Journal and Times from whining about it.
What ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips reject, oil giants Chevron, BP PLC, Total SA and Statoil ASA agreed to. They're willing to accept less of a huge profit they'll get by staying instead of none at all by pouting and walking away as their US counterparts did. Or did they? The Wall Street Journal reports "Conoco isn't throwing in the towel in Venezuela yet. By not signing a deal, the Houston company kept open the option of pursuing compensation through arbitration." Exxon, however, is mum on that option for now. Responding to Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez saying the two oil giants will lose their stakes in the Orinoco oil fields altogether, a company spokesperson expressed "disappoint(ment) that we have been unable to reach an agreement on the terms for migration to a mixed enterprise structure (but will) continue discussions with the Venezuelan government on a way forward."
So what's likely ahead as most Big Oil giants agree to Venezuela's terms while two outliers haven't yet but may in the end do so. The country's oil reserves are too lucrative to walk away from, especially with Russia now pressuring foreign investors the same way. It also wants majority stakes in its own resources with its giant oil and gas company Gazprom in control. It has a monopoly over the country's Sakhalin gas field exports and has taken over two of the largest energy projects in eastern Russia.
If these actions by Venezuela and Russia succeed as is likely, they may influence other oil producing nations to follow a similar course and pursue plans for larger stakes in their own resources as well. Why not? They own them and even with less ownership interests, Big Oil will still earn huge profits from their foreign investments. They just won't be quite as huge as they once were with one-sided deals benefitting them most. So the end of this story may not be its end according to Michael Goldbert, head of the international dispute resolution group at Baker Botts, an influential law firm representing major international oil companies. He said he didn't think the June 26 actions were "necessarily the end of the story (adding) The prospects of a deal are never over until a sale is made or an arbitrator reaches a decision."
The investments are large ranging from $2.5 - $4.5 billion for Conoco and $800 million for Exxon if Venezuela assumes ownership of its heavy oil projects. Conoco explained "Although the company is hopeful that the negotiations will be successful, it has preserved all legal rights, including international arbitration." Exxon also expressed its hope an agreement could be reached permitting it to continue operating in an ownership role.
It looks like Conoco and Exxon want one foot in and the other outside Venezuela to keep its interests in the country alive. It also looks like they're playing games and letting the Wall Street Journal and New York Times do their moaning about what they ought to be grateful for - the right to invest and earn huge profits the way other Big Oil investors are opting to do. Despite their June 26 decisions, Exxon and Conoco may, in the end, make the same choice. If they don't, the stakes they relinquish will shift to other producers according to James Cordier, president of Liberty Trading Group in Tampa, Florida. He said production won't halt, and "Before everyone walks out, a deal will be struck and production there will continue." Caracas-based petroleum economist Mazhar al-Shereidah agrees saying "Venezuela is now free to find other partners (and) this doesn't constitute a dramatic situation." There are plenty of capable and willing takers around.
Conoco and Exxon may in the end accept less of a good investment, stop whining about it, and continue operating in Venezuela. Why not? The country is more open than many other oil-producing nations with much of their world's proved reserves controlled by state monopolies barring private investment. Venezuela barred them from 1975 - 1992 when the nation's energy sector was completely nationalized. That changed with a series of partial privatizations in the 1990s, and Chavez said he has no plans to reinstitute a complete oil industry nationalization. Private investors can thus remain in the country and continue earning huge profits doing so. Conoco and Exxon may decide after all to share in them.
Venezuelan V. Iraqi Oil Policies - A Study in Contrasts
High-level US officials from the administration, Congress and Pentagon are pressuring the puppet Iraqi parliament to pass its new "Hydrocarbon Law" drafted in Washington and by Big US and UK oil companies. Its provisions are in stark contrast to Venezuela's oil management policies under Hugo Chavez. For Chavez, his nation and peoples' interests come first. In Iraq, however, Big Oil licensed plunder will become law if the parliament agrees to accept what its occupier and corporate interests demand. At this stage, it's nearly certain it will clearing the way for stealing part of what a US state department spokesperson in 1945 called "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history" - the vast (mostly Saudi) Middle East oil reserves.
In Venezuela, the nation and its people will benefit most from the country's oil wealth. In Iraq, their resources are earmarked mostly for Big US and UK Oil. The new "Hydrocarbon Law" is a shameless act of theft on the grandest of scale. It's a privatization blueprint for plunder giving foreign investors a bonanza of resources, leaving Iraqis a mere sliver for themselves. As now written, its complex provisions give the Iraqi National Oil Company exclusive control of just 17 of the country's 80 known oil fields with all yet-to-be-discovered deposits set aside for foreign investors.
Even worse, Big Oil is free to expropriate all earnings with no obligation to invest anything in Iraq's economy, partner with Iraqi companies, hire local workers, respect union rights, or share new technologies. Foreign investors will be granted long-term contracts up to 30 or more years, dispossessing Iraq and its people of their own resources in a naked scheme to steal them.
The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and rest of the dominant US media shamelessly denounce Hugo Chavez for his courage and honor doing the right thing. In contrast, their silence, and effective complicity, on what will be one of the greatest ever corporate crimes when implemented shows their gross hypocrisy. It'll be up to the people of Iraq to resist and reclaim what Venezuelan people already have from its social democratic leader serving their interests above all others.


By Stephen Lendman
(Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com)

Thursday, 28 June, 2007

Taming the Teesta


“ … anyone who diverts streams or who amuses himself by damming them up… to be strenuously excluded.” – The Law of Manu.
The importance of power and water in the economic development of a country is undeniable. As a nation, India is currently going through a period of fierce debate on the issue of the mode of power generation and water storage. The proponents of hydel projects and big dams who claim to be champions of ‘development’ label their opponents as being anti-development, while the latter, belonging to the weaker lobby, search for alternatives. The spatial and temporal inequality of rainfall has compelled human society, since the dawn of civilisation, to explore means of water storage and transfer to areas that suffer from a paucity of the life-giving liquid.
Human history has been and continues to be an ongoing relationship between the human race and the natural world, each moulding and remoulding the other. The first precondition of agriculture was the ruthless destruction of native biodiversity and the introduction of new species. Today, human modification of nature continues with the application of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, crossbreeding, genetic modification of plants and the expansion of irrigation.
During the second half of the 20th century, dams were synonyms for development. Only recently has it been widely acknowledged that the communities bearing the social and environmental cost are invariably tribals or other disadvantaged sections of society, who rarely receive water, electricity or any of the other benefits from the project. President K.R. Narayan expressed his concern on Republic Day, 2001 when he said, “Let it not be said by future generations that the Indian Republic was built on the destruction of the green earth and innocent tribals who have been living there for centuries.” In the post-Independence period, the number of victims who have been displaced from their homeland due to the construction of large reservoirs is, at a conservative estimate, 50 million. Many more are, at this very moment, being rendered homeless due to ongoing and proposed projects.
India’s dam-building spree owes its origin to Pandit Nehru who once described big dams as the ‘temples of modern India’. He later lamented that as a nation we suffered from the ‘disease of gigantism’. But unfortunately, modern day planners mostly forgot this. Nehru, in the 29th annual meeting of the Central Board of Irrigation and Power (held on the November 17, 1958) advocated for a multitude of smaller projects, but his successors remained fixated on gigantic projects. An inclusion in this series is the ongoing Teesta Barrage Project (TBP) in Jalpaiguri district and hydro power projects of the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) (stage III and IV) in Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
In all the hydel projects built thus far, siltation has been a major problem, with projected capacities decreasing at alarming rates, often before the entire project is completed! Evaporation from the reservoirs and seepage of water from canals deprived the marginal land of the command area from the water that it was assured during the planning of the project. The dams that were designed to moderate floods have created floods by releasing excess water at the peak of the monsoon.
The snow-capped peaks, precipitous cliffs, fast-flowing rivers and green slopes of the Himalaya attract tourists from across the world. The road journey to north Sikkim holds one enthralled with the beauty of the dancing and roaring Teesta as it flows through deep valleys with thick green cover. But if the eight hydroelectric dams proposed on the Teesta (six in Sikkim, two in West Bengal) are to be built, the dancing river will be silenced. Further downstream, a mighty barrage at Gajoldoba in Jalpaiguri district already exists.
While the project proponents and the government paint a rosy picture, there are many questions about the project and its potential impacts that need to be answered. How will these projects upgrade the standard of living of the local people? Will the tectonically fragile area be able to support such massive structures and the reservoirs they create? What will be the effects on the region’s rich biodiversity? Can the security of the livelihoods of people in both the upstream and downstream regions be guaranteed? These and several other valid questions raised on issues of social justification, ecological sustainability and economic viability of this project remain unanswered.
Dams on the Teesta
The Teesta descends from a height of about 6,200 m. at its source in Sikkim to the coast of Bangladesh in the course of its 414 km. journey to the sea. This descent offers huge potential for hydro power generation, especially before it debouches on the terai plains at Sevoke. The slope of the river in this stretch varies between 4 to 35 m./ km. and the velocity is about 6 m./second. The NHPC has proposed the establishment of eight hydro power stations in Sikkim and West Bengal. This article deals with the possible impacts of two proposed dams and the ongoing giant Teesta barrage project in West Bengal.
Feasibility and risks
The NHPC has declared that the two proposed dams, stage III at Samco ropeway and stage IV at Coronation bridge are ‘low and run-of-the-river dams’. However, as both are more than 15 m. in height, they cannot be categorised as ‘low’ since the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) criteria for a large dam is anything above 15 m. in height. Dams between 5-15 m. with a storage capacity of more than three million cubic metres are also considered to be large dams. To classify these two projects as ‘run-of-the-river’ is also a misnomer, as both projects will submerge riverine forests.
Together, these projects are expected to generate 332 MW of power. This amounts to less than five per cent of the installed generation capacity of existing power plants in West Bengal. The total installed capacity of all power plants in West Bengal is 6797.29 MW and the transmission and distribution loss of power was estimated to be 28% in 2000-2001. A substantial reduction in these losses is possible, which will negate the need for these additional projects and would cost much less.
The Teesta is a rain and snow-fed river. The permanently snow-covered area of the basin is about 158.40 sq. km. The upper catchment receives a total annual rainfall of 1,328 mm. while the middle of the basin receives 2,619 mm. It has been recorded that about 77-84% of the annual rainfall is received between June and September. The heavy concentration of rainfall within a short period is common in the eastern Himalaya. Gangtok recorded 1,500 mm. rainfall between October 2 to 5, 1968. The highest one-day rainfall recorded at Darjeeling was 521 mm. The mountains have been extensively deforested with increasing population since the mid-19th century. This has altered the infiltration run-off ratio (the amount of rainwater absorbed by the soil relative to the amount which runs off) and slope failure has become a menace. Infiltration is generally high and run-off little in a forested tract. The Teesta basin is now one of the most landslide prone areas of the country, contributing a huge sediment load to the river. The mean annual discharge of the Teesta at Anderson bridge is about 580 cumecs and it declines to 90 cumecs in the lean months. The peak discharge may be as much as 4,000-5,000 cumecs. It was estimated that the peak discharge of the river at Jalpaiguri during the devastating flood of 1968 was 19,800 cumecs. The sediment load in the river increases with high monsoon discharge. It was observed that 72% of the suspended load is transported between July and August when the bulk of discharge flows through the river (Starkel et al, 1998).
It seems certain that the dynamic equilibrium of the river will be impaired with the construction of a series of dams and the sediment load will be trapped within the reservoirs, reducing their capacity. This, in turn, could compel dam managers to release water during heavy rainfall, causing sudden flash floods downstream. On July 20, 1993, a severe cloudburst in and around Kathmandu generated 540 mm. of rainfall within 24 hours and brought down five million cubic metres of sediment into the reservoir of the Kulekhani dam (Dixit and Ahmed, 1998). This risk will exist for any dam constructed in the Himalayas.
The entire Himalaya is tectonically unstable. The Indian plate continues to subduct under the north Asian plate and rocks lying in between are severely compressed. The crust has broken up in a series of faults along the southern front of the Himalaya. These thrust faults are collectively termed the Main Boundary Thrust (Valdiya, 1998). The stretch between the two dam sites selected for stage III and stage IV is geologically fragile and already identified as seismic zone IV. There is a very real fear that the massive construction works and the reservoirs created would increase the risk of seismicity.
The estimated life-span of the dam is 50 years only as admitted by the Chief Engineer of the project. The total cost at September 2001 price levels amounts to Rs. 2,173 crores. While further reduction of the life-span and cost escalation cannot be ruled out (in fact, such escalations are to be expected), the cost-benefit justification of the project becomes questionable taking into account the recurrent maintenance cost.
The eastern Himalaya is endowed with rich biodiversity and is a botanical wonderland. The stage III and IV reservoirs would submerge 156.41 ha. and 359.89 ha. of forest respectively. Moreover, the stage IV project would cause the realignment of NH 31A through the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary for about 2.50 km. As per Supreme Court orders in an ongoing case on protected areas, the Indian Board for Wildlife will have to be consulted. The proposal prepared by the project proponents to ‘compensate’ for the loss of biodiversity is theoretical and, quite simply, absurd.
The Teesta projects will add to the 50 milllion environmental refugees already created in post-Independent India. The Kalijhora village with 115 families is threatened with submergence by the stage IV reservoir, yet the NHPC is silent about any rehabilitation programme.Teesta barrage project
“We construct reservoirs to store water and we abstract water from streams and apply it to the irrigation of land without any regard to the apparent intention of nature. We protect the banks of rivers from natural erosion and we dredge up sand and mud from places in which nature intended it to remain. There are, of course, limits within which we must confine our efforts, and success depends on a due apprehension of these limits, and on a just sense of proportion.” – W.A. Inglis (1909).North Bengal is endowed with 60% of the state’s water resources but this remained ‘unexploited’ until the construction of a barrage across the Teesta at Gajoldoba of Jalpaiguri district. The Teesta barrage project is designed to bring many of north Bengal’s rivers into a single network.
Critical appraisal
The ongoing TBP is an overtly ambitious multipurpose project. It plans to irrigate 9.22 lakh ha. of land in six districts of north Bengal without any storage system. Three pick-up barrages are to divert river water towards agricultural land. The system may be successful for kharif cultivation when the soil is naturally wet and rivers are full. Since the rivers of north Bengal are much reduced in the lean months, it would be impossible to ensure water to dry variety paddy over 90,000 ha. The cumulative irrigation potential achieved by the project till June 2001 from its inception in 1976 was 12,6110 ha., which is less than 14% of the ultimate target (Ray, 2001).The TBP is excessively optimistic in its projections, especially considering that it has no reservoir and depends exclusively on diversion barrages with no storage capacity.The Teesta was untamed in its upper catchment when the TBP was formulated. The series of proposed dams in the upper reaches will reduce the available discharge for irrigation as each hydro power project is expected to consume at least five per cent of the running water in the river. The lack of coordination between NHPC and TBP has further complicated the situation.The time taken for the project to get off the ground and delays due to problems such as non-availability of land, land acquisition disputes and clearances from the environment and forest departments have caused cost escalations and the spillover cost during the ninth plan was estimated to be Rs. 502 crores.
The reservoir that was planned to be constructed during the second phase of the Teesta irrigation project cannot be now undertaken since the NHPC has already started working towards the implementation of the ‘low dam’ just 400 m. upstream of the Coronation bridge. So the plan to generate an additional 600 MW power under the TBP will probably never take off.The proposed Ganga-Brahmaputra navigation canal is a further indication of the government’s preoccupation with gigantic schemes. This envisages damming the Manas and Sankosh rivers in Bhutan (no agreement has yet been signed between India and Bhutan). The Indo-Bangladesh treaty (1996) over the sharing of the Ganga waters accepted a proposal to connect the Sankosh with the Ganga at Farakka by a 300 km. long canal. But such a canal along an east-west alignment, if excavated, would have to negotiate a large number of south-flowing rivers and will severely impair the delicate hydrological balance of north Bengal. Additionally, 770 ha. of forest and 530 ha. of tea estates would be destroyed.
The evaporation and seepage losses of water in other major irrigation projects of West Bengal is very high.1 In the canal network of the Kanshabati project in southern West Bengal, for example, the seepage loss varies between 11 to 66% depending on the texture and structure of the soil. So the land lying at the tail end of the command area hardly receives any water during lean months. There is no reason to believe that the experience of the TBP would be otherwise.Irrigation projects in West Bengal have suffered from the ‘disease of gigantism’. If the monumental cost of construction and maintenance, environmental impacts and efficiency are taken into account, the justification for such mega-projects is doubtful.
Alternatives ignored
The Planning Commission of India and its counterpart in West Bengal – the Irrigation and Waterways Directorate – have never seriously considered the option of smaller, decentralised reservoirs. Such projects would be farmer-centred, less destructive from the environmental point of view and cost-effective. Mathematician and scholar Professor D.D. Kosambi (1972) put this best when he stated: “Neither the engineers nor the Commission would consider a more important suggestion, namely, that many cheap small dams should be located by plan and built from local materials with local labour. Monsoon water would be conserved and two or three crops raised annually on good soil that now yields only one.”Similarly, the installation of a multitude of mini hydro power projects and the utilisation of solar and wind power would help meet local needs. At a time when western countries are moving to such renewable energy options, Indian planners need to realise that with the abundance of sunshine in the tropics, we have a unique opportunity to avoid repeating the mistakes of the ‘developed’ world. Ironically, when ‘small is beautiful’ is becoming a paradigm adopted in the west, the disease of gigantism still occupies the minds of the Marxists of West Bengal. Perhaps the words of Fredrick Engels might change their minds “Let us not flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory, nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which too often cancel the first.”


By weepingsikkim.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 27 June, 2007

Muslim Dalits Denied Justice

A number of people are attending a unique marriage ceremony, being held in a public space in a remote village in central Bihar. The bride and the bridegroom move around the fire, a Hindu religious symbol, supervised by a Pandit who recites Vedic mantras. The relatives and friends of the couple are seated around them. As soon as the bride and the bridegroom complete the seventh round of movement of fire, the priest declares, 'Now you are attached with the unbreakable bond of marriage. You are now a couple according to the Hindu religion'.
But shortly after, the situation takes a new turn and the environment changes like a scene from a traditional Indian drama. The same bride and the bridegroom are seated clandestinely in a locked house with only a few near relatives with them, under the supervision of a Qazi, a Muslim priest who is responsible for performing Muslim marriage ceremonies. The Qazi recites some verses of the Quran and then asks the bridegroom in the presence of three witnesses, 'Do you accept this girl as your life partner'? The bridegroom replies, 'Yes, I accept'. The Qazi declares the nikah, the Muslim marriage, to have been completed and the couple to have been legally married under Islamic law.
Is it possible for a person to be follower of Hinduism and Islam at the same time, particularly in such a society like India, where one's religious identity is given such importance? Why did this couple follow the marital rituals of both religions?
In fact, as it emerged, the family of the bride and bridegroom used to be Muslim. However, they found that certain constitutional rights and benefits are reserved by law for Dalits or members of 'low' caste or socially marginalised communities, like themselves, only if they declare themselves officially as Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. Hence, in order to be able to access these rights, the couple had a formal Hindu marriage, declaring themselves as 'Hindus'. The head of the family, who is in his early sixties, also changed his Islamic name, and adopted a Hindu name. His wife did so too, after formally declaring herself a Hindu. She keeps pictures of Hindu deities in her sitting room, so that outsiders think of her family as Hindu, which she says she is not. If the officials come to know that she is wrongly claiming to be a Hindu, the family will be denied all Scheduled Caste-related benefits.
A vital question is that if they have declared themselves as 'Hindus', why did they follow the Hindu as well as the Islamic way of marriage? Why did they not follow only the Hindu way, as they had declared themselves 'Hindu'? Why did they follow the Islamic way of marriage clandestinely, whereas they got married the Hindu way in public? I asked this question to Dr Ejaz Ali, head of the All-India Muslim Morcha, a Patna-based organisation working for marginalized Muslims. He explained it as a result of economic compulsion, although, he said, the couple still were emotionally attached to Islam, evidence of which was the fact that they had also married the Muslim way clandestinely. As he put it, "By officially declaring themselves as Hindu Dalits in public, although still retaining their affection for Islam, these poor people can get special constitutional rights to government employment and reservations. But as Muslims they cannot'.
This family belongs to the Nat caste. The Nats are considered to be 'untouchables' by caste Hindus. They are an impoverished nomadic community. Many of them survive through begging. There are both Muslim as well as Hindu Nats. The Nats were traditionally treated as 'untouchables' and so many of them converted to Islam over the centuries, to escape caste oppression and in search of social equality. After embracing Islam, the Muslim Nats changed only marginally, in terms of religious beliefs, but their social, economical as well as educational background remained the same.
As a Muslim, the Nat groom referred to above had been observing various Islamic rituals. But one day he formally declared himself a 'Hindu', because unlike Muslim Nats, Hindu Nats are recognised as a Scheduled Caste by the state and can, accordingly, benefit from various government programmes and schemes, which Muslim Nats are legally denied, simply because of their religion .Hence, the groom's conversion was tactical, not because of any religious reason, but simply in the hope of some economic advancement. The man's wife thinks that the law is iniquitous. 'If our brethren, the Hindu Nats, can get special constitutional rights and on that basis can get employment, then why not fellow Nats who are Muslims?. We are equally, if not more, poor than them', she asserts.
According to a special provision in article 341 of the Indian Constitution, 'untouchable' or Dalit communities, termed as Scheduled Castes (SCs), get several special rights, including reservations in education, employment and membership of Parliament as well as states assemblies. But this special right has been extended to only those who declare themselves to be Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs, while Muslim and Christian Dalits are denied these rights.
As Ejaz Ali argues, "This constitutional provision compels Hindu Dalits not to embrace Islam or Christianity. If they do they would lose the special constitutional rights as well as several other benefits given by the states and the union government." On the other hand, as the case of the Nat couple shows, many Dalits who had historically converted to Islam feel that it is better to declare themselves as Hindus and thereby access special constitutional rights for Scheduled Castes'. As Ali Anwar, a veteran journalist and member of the Rajya Sabha, who has written several books on the socio-economic condition of marginalized Muslims, puts it, "This constitutional provision is a violation of the Constitutional principle of secularism'.


By Irshadul Haque
(Irshadul Haque is a social activist and writer based in Bihar.) irshadulhaque786@googlemail.com

Tuesday, 26 June, 2007

Bihar's Grim Situation on Floods

The secretary of Water Resources Department (WRD) has already passed on the responsibility of recent Bagmati floods on the railways which is building a bridge near Runni Saidpur. It is necessary to say this because Mahesh Prasad Singh, Minister of Irrigation of Bihar had charged railways of causing floods in Kamla Basin under similar circumstances way back in 1965. The Railway Minister then at the Center was Dr Ram Subhag Singh, who hailed from Bihar. The entire episode makes very interesting reading.

History is repeating itself after a long gap and this is the time for the present Railway Minister to step in. It will be more entertaining now because different coalitions are ruling at Patna and Delhi. In 1965, it was Congress at both the places. The proposed dams in Nepal are in news again and the discussions over the issue is stale. Jagadanand, then Water Resource Minister of Bihar, asserted in Bihar Vidhan Sabha (22nd July 2002), ‘…Sir, the last point, no discharge control-no flood control. Unless the discharge is controlled, the scientists all over the world are convinced that the floods cannot be controlled…Embankments do not control the discharge, they can, at best, prevent water from spreading. Weak embankments cannot hold uncontrolled discharge and the flood will continue to bother us as a natural calamity. If we want to control floods in this state, we will have to control discharge in the upper riparian states and the neighboring countries. We have had negotiations with them and have unanimously agreed that to proceed jointly.’

In reply to a call attention motion of Ram Vilas Paswan regarding floods in Bihar, Arjun Charan Sethi, Minister of Water Resources at the Center told the Lok Sabha, on the 22nd August 2003, ‘…So far as Bihar is concerned, we are having constant interaction with the Government of Nepal because we all know these rivers originate from Nepal. Unless we have any kind of agreement with Nepal, this problem cannot be solved. The proposal for setting up of the Joint Project Office in Nepal for taking up field investigations and preparation of Detailed Project Report has since been approved. 100 officials from Nepal, and 42 officials from India are to carry out field investigations and studies. The project will inter alia have 269 meters high dam with an installed capacity of 3,300 MW and irrigation benefits accruing both to India and Nepal. In addition to Kosi Multipurpose Project, it will include Sun Kosi Diversion scheme as well.’Similar statement was made by Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Central Minister of Water Resources, made a statement in Kishanganj on the 5th June in 2004. Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav, State Minister of Water Resources at the Center on the 24th June 2004, while talking to the press in New Delhi said that a sum of Rs. 29 Crores has been sanctioned for the construction of the Kosi High Dam (He must have meant that it was for the preparation of the DPR). As far as Barahkshetra Dam is concerned, the politicians in India are sticking to the same statement that dialogue with Nepal is on and on this is since 1947. Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav reiterated his statement again in 2005. The joint team is working in Nepal for the preparation of the DPR but its personnel are tight lipped over what they are going to propose and when.

The ghost of the Barahkshetra Dam haunts the planners, engineers and the politicians ever since the embanking plans of the Kosi was rejected in favor of a large dam by the Central Government in 1946 and the statements like the one given by Jagadanand, Arjun Charan Sethi, Das Munshi or Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav are a matter of routine in the flood season.The annual report of Water Resources Department of Bihar (2006-07) has already completed the formality of suggesting that the solution to the flood problems of Bihar lies in building dams in Nepal and wants the Center to expedite the negotiations. These negotiations are, however, going on for the past 60 years.

The factual position about these dams is that they are no way linked to flood control and the flood victims of North Bihar have been systematically fooled over years and they will suffer indefinitely at the hands of the politicians, engineers and the vested interests that are dangling carrots of these dams for decades. Here is the reason, why.There are three dams that often come as proposal to solve north Bihar problems. These are the Chisapani on the Kamla, the Nunthore dam on the Bagmati and the Barahkshetra on the Kosi. The Report of the Second Irrigation Commission of Bihar (1994) spells very clearly that there is no flood cushion provided in the proposed Chisapani Reservoir on the Kamla. (Vol. V, Part -1, p-511). A Report of the Expert Committee to study impact of interlinking of river on Bihar (April 2005, Chapter III, p-16) says, ‘…But the proposed Sapta Kosi Dam too has not been provided with any flood cushion which should be provided for flood moderation…’ Regarding the proposed Nunthore Dam on the Bagmati, the Second Bihar Irrigation Commission Report says, ‘…it appears clearly that even after the construction of dam at Nunthore, there would be no appreciable flood moderation in the middle and lower reaches of the Bagmati and obviously further supplementary floods managements measures would be needed’ (Vol. V Part-1, p-414). A recent report of WRD of Government of Bihar (GoB, May 2006) observes that ‘…but none of these schemes could come up as yet, and in near future also there is little hope of execution of these schemes (Chapter-V, p-1).’ Thus, there is neither any flood cushion provided in the design of the proposed dams nor there is any likelihood of the dams being built in near future.Inaugurating a seminar organized by the Water Resource Development Centre of Patna University on the 2nd March 2002, the Water Resource Secretary of the GoB said that, given the resources available with the Government, there was no possibility of a dam being built on the Kosi at Barahkshetra in the coming 50-60 years. This seminar was discussing the flood problem of the state and was attended by all the ‘Who is who’ of the technical fraternity of the state that included the many Chief Engineers of the Water Resources Department of Bihar. If that be so, the question is whether there is any interim plan to face the floods if the construction of the proposed dams in Nepal is not likely to be started in coming 50-60 years and even if it does, it will take another 15-20 years to complete the same so that the benefits of flood control could be tapped. The answer is-no.

By Dinesh Kumar Mishra

Friday, 22 June, 2007

Question of Reservation in the Present Context

I. Reservation, Dalit Development & Globalization

Reservation in the educational institutions and the financial assistance in the form of scholarships and freeships constitute perhaps the most important factor in the development scheme for Dalits. For, it is primarily responsible to make the basic input of education available to them. Without education, all the constitutional safeguards including the reservation in services would be infructuous. Under this scheme the Dalit students whose parental income is below a specified level, get freeship, reservation in admissions to all the colleges getting grants-in-aid from the government, and scholarships. Without this assistance, even today, it would be difficult for Dalits to send their children to school.

The Reforms have already resulted in freezing the grants to many institutions and in stagnating, if not lowering, the expenditure on education. The free market ethos has entered the educational sphere in a big way. Commercialization of education is no more a mere rhetoric; it is now the established fact. Commercial institutions offering specialized education signifying the essential input from utilitarian viewpoint have come up in a big way from cities to small towns. Their product-prices are not only based on the demand-supply consideration in their market segment but also are manipulated by their promotional strategies. In a true spirit of globalization, many foreign universities are invading the educational spheres through hitherto unfamiliar strategic alliances with non-descript commercial agencies, of course at hefty dollar equivalent prices. Many elite institutions like IIMs, IITs, and suddenly facing fund crunch had to raise their fee structure and other prices many fold. They were already beyond the reach of Dalits. When they eventually turn self-financing, their prices would be benchmarked against their international counterparts, which any way would be affordable to the same top market segment that constitutes the focus of all the Reform-talk. As the job markets become acutely competitive, owing to a sharp decline in job opportunities, the polarization between the elite and commoner has sharpened. Various kinds of price barriers would be erected to thwart the entry of downtrodden.

Even the sphere of primary education the coverage of which has been so miserably inadequate as to leave out multitude of children in villages as illiterate, could not remain unaffected, notwithstanding its already existing divide between the vernacular and English schools. Corporatization has entered this arena, transforming the education into an enterprise for profits. Today educational sector is more commonly known as education industry. The quality of input these expensive schools provide will benchmark the products in the contracting job markets. Even today, because of preponderance of the English language in business circles, the divide between village and towns is almost complete in the field of education. It is so difficult for a village student, educated in vernacular medium to compete with his convent educated counterpart in cities and towns. If this is the situation of general village population, the plight of Dalits who besides being the poorest of the village population carry additional Breton woods of social discrimination, is indeed a worrisome matter. Despite several kinds of State assistance, Dalits are plagued with alarming rate of school dropouts. This may be explained out as much by the need for Dalit children to supplement their meager family incomes for meeting the two ends as also the erosion of their faith that education could be the instrument to change the pathetic course of their lives. This sense of alienation is going to grow with the progress of the Reforms.

Whatever may be the other costs, the government policy of reservations in employment spheres has undoubtedly played an important role for Dalits. The policy broadly envisages representation of Dalits in proportion to their population in all the public services, which includes the government, public sector, autonomous bodies and institutions receiving grant-in-aid from the government. A cursory glance at the figures of this representation is enough to get a pathetic state of implementation.

Howsoever, unsatisfactory the results of the implementation may be, the importance of reservations from the Dalit viewpoint cannot be overemphasized. As could be evidenced by the organized private sector, where it would be difficult to find a Dalit employee (save of course in scavenging and lowliest jobs), without reservations Dalits would have been totally doomed. The importance of reservations thus could only be assessed in relation to situations where they do not exist. Whatever be their defects and deficiencies, they have given certain economic means of livelihood and some social prestige to the sons and daughters of over 1.5 million landless labourers. Whether they get real power or not, over 50,000 Dalits could enter the sphere of bureaucratic authority with the help of reservations. Besides these tangible benefits promised by the policy, it has instilled a hope in Dalit community that one day they could also be of equal status with their upper caste counterparts. This hope predominantly manifests in the form of spread of education among them. Their emotional bond with the nation and its Constitution despite heaps of injustice and ignominy they bear every moment of their life may also be significantly attributable to the Reservation Policy.

The winds of privatization under the Economic Reforms have already shaken the very foundation of the Reservations. The Reforms clearly envisage the minimalist government. Reservation in the educational institutions and the financial assistance in the form of scholarships and freeships constitute perhaps the most important factor in the development scheme for Dalits. For, it is primarily responsible to make the basic input of education available to them. Without education, all the constitutional safeguards including the reservation in services would be infructuous. Under this scheme the Dalit students whose parental income is below a specified level, get freeship, reservation in admissions to all the colleges getting grants-in-aid from the government, and scholarships. Without this assistance, even today, it would be difficult for Dalits to send their children to school.

The Reforms have already resulted in freezing the grants to many institutions and in stagnating, if not lowering, the expenditure on education. The free market ethos has entered the educational sphere in a big way. Commercialization of education is no more a mere rhetoric; it is now the established fact. Commercial institutions offering specialized education signifying the essential input from utilitarian viewpoint have come up in a big way from cities to small towns. Their product-prices are not only based on the demand-supply consideration in their market segment but also are manipulated by their promotional strategies. In a true spirit of globalization, many foreign universities are invading the educational spheres through hitherto unfamiliar strategic alliances with non-descript commercial agencies, of course at hefty dollar equivalent prices. Many elite institutions like IIMs, IITs, and suddenly facing fund crunch had to raise their fee structure and other prices many fold. They were already beyond the reach of Dalits. When they eventually turn self-financing, their prices would be benchmarked against their international counterparts, which any way would be affordable to the same top market segment that constitutes the focus of all the Reform-talk. As the job markets become acutely competitive, owing to a sharp decline in job opportunities, the polarization between the elite and commoner has sharpened. Various kinds of price barriers would be erected to thwart the entry of downtrodden.

Even the sphere of primary education the coverage of which has been so miserably inadequate as to leave out multitude of children in villages as illiterate, could not remain unaffected, notwithstanding its already existing divide between the vernacular and English schools. Corporatization has entered this arena, transforming the education into an enterprise for profits. Today educational sector is more commonly known as education industry. The quality of input these expensive schools provide will benchmark the products in the contracting job markets. Even today, because of preponderance of the English language in business circles, the divide between village and towns is almost complete in the field of education. It is so difficult for a village student, educated in vernacular medium to compete with his convent educated counterpart in cities and towns. If this is the situation of general village population, the plight of Dalits who besides being the poorest of the village population carry additional Breton Wood of social discrimination, is indeed a worrisome matter. Despite several kinds of State assistance, Dalits are plagued with alarming rate of school dropouts. This may be explained out as much by the need for Dalit children to supplement their meager family incomes for meeting the two ends as also the erosion of their faith that education could be the instrument to change the pathetic course of their lives. This sense of alienation is going to grow with the progress of the Reforms.

Whatever may be the other costs, the government policy of reservations in employment sphere has undoubtedly played an important role for Dalits. The policy broadly envisages representation of Dalits in proportion to their population in all the public services, which includes the government, public sector, autonomous bodies and institutions receiving grant-in-aid from the government. A cursory glance at the figures of this representation is enough to get a pathetic state of implementation.

Howsoever, unsatisfactory the results of the implementation may be, the importance of reservations from the Dalit viewpoint cannot be overemphasized. As could be evidenced by the organized private sector, where it would be difficult to find a Dalit employee (save of course in scavenging and lowliest jobs), without reservations Dalits would have been totally doomed. The importance of reservations thus could only be assessed in relation to situations where they do not exist. Whatever be their defects and deficiencies, they have given certain economic means of livelihood and some social prestige to the sons and daughters of over 1.5 million landless labourers. Whether they get real power or not, over 50,000 Dalits could enter the sphere of bureaucratic authority with the help of reservations. Besides these tangible benefits promised by the policy, it has instilled a hope in Dalit community of a better tomorrow. This hope predominantly manifests in the form of spread of education among them. Their emotional bond with the nation and its Constitution despite heaps of injustice and ignominy they bear every moment of their life may also be significantly attributable to the Reservation Policy.

The winds of privatization under the Economic Reforms have already shaken the very foundations of the Reservations. The Reforms clearly envisage the minimalist government. Wherever the Reforms pattern on the Structural Adjustment Program of the World Bank were carried out, denationalization of the public sector and privatization have come in a big way. Being the late starter, India has not reached the scales achieved by others, say the Latin American countries. However, is not unimpressive. Almost all sectors of economy stand opened up for private investment. Initially the disinvestment of public sector companies began with 49 per cent by the policy. The public stake being more than 50 per cent, the public sector as such was not dismantled in policy. However, the reform package has already crossed all boundaries by disinvesting PSUs like BALCO by 51%. Now all PSUs are open for disinvestments by 51% or more. Even the case of the transformation of telecommunication department to BSNL is the same story. Hence reservations had been wiped off through these politics.

In the name of preparing the PSUs for global free market regime, the PSUs were allowed/encouraged to have strategic alliances with private companies from India and abroad. Over the last five years, many profit making PSUs have formed the joint venture companies (JVC). These JVCs are strategically structured as not to fall in the ambit of the PSU-framework. The typical equity stake for the PSU and private could be 49:51. There appears to be a great deal of receptivity for this scheme in the government circles. There are no policy barriers on the business to be pursued by these JVCs. Theoretically, an existing PSU can hive off its business divisions into private JVCs and transform itself into a financial holding company with a skeleton staff. Even if technically it remains a PSU, and assuming that it followed the reservation policy sincerely, it would have little scope to absorb Dalits in its staff. Whatever may be the strategic considerations, the fall out of this process practically amounted to shutting the doors of these new age companies to Dalits and to potential neutralization of the reservation policy.

The policy of limited disinvestment of PSUs not being in conformity with the spirit of the reforms is bound to be relaxed in favour of privatization any time. But still, all the PSUs may not get privatized at once. The bigger sharks would gobble the better ones up. The worst ones may be closed down or distress-sold. And the middle ones may for quite some time, continue to be the relic of their past. Whatever the scenario, the residual structures of the 'reformed' PSUs are never going to be the same, as far as Dalits are concerned. The ethos of privatization and the excuse of competition, superimposed on the traditional caste prejudice, will never allow reservations to happen, any more.

Other public services are also bound to slip out of the reservation policy. Most of the sectors, which were the traditional domain of the government investment, have already been released for the private investment. Being the late starter, India has not reached the scales achieved by others, say the Latin American countries. However, is not unimpressive. Almost all sectors of economy stand opened up for private investment. Initially the disinvestment of public sector companies began with 49 per cent by the policy. The public stake being more than 50 percent, the public sector as such was not dismantled in policy. However, the reform package has already crossed all boundaries by disinvesting PSUs like BALCO by 51%. Now all PSUs are open for disinvestments by 51% or more. Even the case of the transformation of telecommunication department to BSNL is the same story. Hence reservations had been wiped off through these politics.

II. And in Private Sector¡K
Now the question has been debated over the past few years if Dalits, Adivasis and others should be given reservation rights in private sector or not. Dalit organizations have been constantly demanding for their eligible rights in the private sector. The fact mentioned above is absolutely true to its core since in the private sector people do not consider Dalits to be competent for various reasons. One is that the insignia of quota is in itself a big problem for many. Many in the private sector companies and proprietors, in their inherent Brahministic viewpoint think that since they had come all through the social sanctuary of reservation they do not posses any innate or natural quality.

Three arguments have been set forth by the anti-reservation campaigners; (a) reservation exterminates merit, and invited incapable persons to run the offices and also to educational institutions (b) reservation promotes casteism and (c) it is a strategy of the foreigners, particularly Christians to break the country by reinstating the policy of 'divide and rule'. The Brahmin Baniya clique had been propagating these three aspects for the last many years, particularly under the guidance of the Hindutva catalogue. They had already spread a wider hate campaign based on these aspects. There were several rounds of anti-reservation campaign initiated in the past, right from the beginning of the reservation policy in political, economic, educational and social spheres there had been widespread opposition to it. It was perchance by default that the Constitution got cleared in the parliament after it was presented by Dr. Ambedkar; another reason for this could be that none of them dared to have a close study of it and find it in detail. Otherwise it seems doubtful, if by any likelihood, such an amendment had come into existence today.

Let us cross examine the validity of these three arguments. Over and again it is argued that Dalit and other depressed communities are actually the disqualified breed, but for the reservation. Hence reservation is at stake. Nobody as of now had given any clear definition on what reservation is all about? And what is the merit that all these years those who are advocating are talking about? Whether the so called merit leads to integrated development? Does merit establish socio-political and economic equality? Does merit is able to deliver justice to the historically battered masses? No one had anything to do with all these questions. Yet they all vociferously reverberates the sonnet of merit. It seems that the so called merit is only a means to continue all historical and existing forms of injustice, exploitation, inequality, indignity, non-fraternity, and so on.

Prof. Rahul Burman of IIT Kanpur has something concrete to mention in this context. He says that in the first class of engineering he was taught that the best engineer is the one who bring out the best result with very little inputs. If this is the basics of professionalism then one could explore and have a cross-section analysis into the entire thesis of merit as propagated by the caste forces. He has been studying three industries in and Kanpur of Uttar Pradesh. He says that during the past few years he has been studying the leather industry, the bangle industry and other cottage industry. Most of the workers work under severe condition, pretty inhuman by all means and nature, with least amenities and at times for hours without proper roads, electricity, water etc. Their children get little space to study, grow and build-up a any future. Most interestingly except a few almost all are from Dalit, Backward and Muslim background.

If the basics of professionalism for all profession remain the same, to give more output with little or no input, then there cannot be any better example to learn in the world than this. But unfortunately due to our stringent educational schemes and outlooks none of these are either engineers or architects or anything professional in the official language. They are simply workers. Does merit means to create something with fewer inputs or to create something with heavy inputs and investment? If this is the basics of any engineering ¡V thus for any specialized job like doctors, advocates, etc. ¡V then the Dalits and OBCs are the best engineers, architects, and designers etc. who do the entire work without any training or coaching or extra efforts or other aspects. Who has the merit in the real sense and definition of merit? If the government and its educational system had considered them to be inducted as experts in some discipline as in many advanced countries, then the question of merit would had been too irrelevant. Rather the state and the social system that guides the state were more interested in keeping them reeling under the sinews of caste.

If the real 'merit' is not merit and the true 'mainstream' is not the mainstream then the state or private sector doesn't have any right to keep them off their rights within what seems to be the real merit and mainstream, by means of reservation. When there is already a big question on the labouring class in terms of dignity, the kind of 'merit' being argued is in fact demerit. However the right of the people in the private sector is an appropriate right since the Dalits as a crucial constituent in the process of nation building have a right over the Common Property. Private property (factory, firms, industries, etc.) and their owners claim that they are contributing to the nation building. Even if this is taken as a base then why are they nervous of building the people in the lowest rug of social system? This nervousness and the rhetoric of merit among the Brahminstic Indian private sector is clear and that is to neglect, discriminate, isolate, and betray the Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs, women and other marginalized minorities off their social and political rights of reservation.

The second argument of promoting casteism is obviously untrue and invalid since casteism existed in much crude form much before the arrival of reservation. In fact with the emergence of Indian history into the larger canvas caste become an indispensable factor of it. Nevertheless it is only with reservation that the Dalits could enter the mainstream sectors of education, employment and politics from the vantage point. At least some of them could avail a little gulp of air in a context where breathing was even difficult. In fact to certain extends, at least in big cities ¡V although limited ¡V it has diluted caste and this is what reservation had contributed with the enhancement of the economic status. More and more people easily began to interact with equals in their economic status. Several instances of the kind could be drawn from the experience of people from these strata who got a chance to intermingle with those from upper social ladder and thereby carry forward it for a life long commitment. Hence the argument that reservation endorses casteism is just absurd. It is yet another myth disbanding the truth of caste.

Third is that of the concealed plan of westerners to divide the country. It would be just silly to say that this land was ever one single unit, except perhaps in the Stone Age. It is more severe in the context of caste since each caste was a separate social unit in the history of the country. Caste-clan wars and battles characterize or constitute the real history of India and also make the real country even today. If the Christian westerners or the Muslim invader from the Middle East brought caste to India , then it could be accepted that they are trying to divide the country. But all the external religions and invaders at first got surprised with such systemic distinction, which they later learnt and incorporated within themselves as their own survival in the Indian sub-continent become difficult without accepting these exclusive aspects. If they still stand to promote discrimination then it is right, but they are the ones who had taken much before progressive steps in real life and practice. The practice of slavery very much existed in almost all parts of Europe and America , particularly with the Blacks and other African communities. But when there were continuous protests, and struggles for self determination, they began a free inter-mingling and now it is almost a common practice that they have got the blacks in all spheres of life right from the electronic media to Hollywood to sports. In fact they are the best performers in many of these fields and opportunities are created for them to express themselves freely. Black-White partnership is very common in most parts of Europe and America . These countries are the ones who took bold steps and are now voicing against all forms of discrimination, racism and apartheid at the world level. Even when the UN Conference against Racial Discrimination was on the official delegation from India took a position that there is nothing of the same sort in India , whereas many Dalit organizations and groups understood caste discrimination in the line of racial discrimination. It is pretty evident from all their previous record that they had took positions, unlike upper caste Indian who still stick to their old tradition of caste and blame others for their faults. One should also make clear in which part of history the outsiders introduced caste in India. Hence the argument that it is a means of foreign invasion is also another bogus farce simply to mislead the people and country.

Therefore all the three arguments are unfounded. These are the crunching arguments being deposited by the champions of anit-reservation campaign in private and public sectors. It is only a means of keeping them away from all areas of development and life and further the withdrawal of states responsibility to undertake any affirmative action.

By Goldy M. George
Courtsey Tehelka
(Creation of a casteless and peaceful society is indeed the step of just, egalitarian, and harmonious society. A society of equals, neither unequal nor more-equals, beyond the strings of caste, class, gender, race, etc. Can we overpower the dilemma of social oppression, political exploitation, economic deprivation, cultural domination, gender discrimination, class isolation, and deliberate exclusion?)

रामेश्वरम का ख़ामोशी से चले जाना

रामेश्वरम को नाम कमाने और बनाने की फ़िक्र कभी नहीं हुई
रामेश्वरम सात जून को ख़ामोशी से चले गए. कहीं कोई चर्चा नहीं हुई.
छोटे-बड़े ख़बरिया चैनलों में तो ख़बर आने का कोई सवाल ही नहीं पैदा होता. देश के कथित बड़े-बड़े अख़बारों के निधन कॉलम में भी रामेश्वरम को जगह नहीं मिली.
ठीक भी है. रामेश्वरम का जाना कोई ख़बर भी कैसे हो सकती है! रामेश्वरम कोई बड़े तांत्रिक नहीं थे, चुंबन-प्रेमी पॉप गायक भी नहीं. जाने क्यों राजनीतिज्ञ होने की भी उन्होंने कभी कोई कोशिश नहीं की.
आश्चर्य और दुखद यह लगता है कि उनके कई क़रीबी लोगों को भी रामेश्वरम के चले जाने का पता नहीं चला.
उदाहरण के तौर पर 'बंधुवा मुक्ति मोर्चा' के राष्ट्रीय अध्यक्ष स्वामी अग्निवेश को रामेश्वरम के निधन के हफ्ते भर बाद भी कोई ख़बर नहीं मिली थी. और उन्हें पता तब चला जब रामेश्वरम से जुड़ी उनकी यादें पूछने के लिए उन्हें फ़ोन किया.
रामेश्वरम बिहार के सबसे पिछड़े पलामू में पैदा हुए और उसी पलामू में उन्होंने अपनी आख़री साँसें लीं. उनके पैदा होने की तारीख़ का तो पता नहीं लेकिन 70-72 साल के रामेश्वरम से जब पिछले महीने जब मेरी आख़री मुलाकात हुई थी तो मैंने हमेशा की तरह उन्हें जवान पाया. बंधुआ मज़दूरों और आदिवासियों की समस्याओं से घिरे और किसी 18 साल के बांके जवान जैसी खरखराहट भरी आवाज़. वह शब्दों को चबाकर किसी बड़े अधिकारी को फ़ोन पर फटकारते हुए कह रहे थे, “ आप मुझे धमकाने की कोशिश न करें. मैं आख़री दम तक लड़ूंगा.”
सुप्रसिद्ध कथाकार महाश्वेता देवी की जाने कितनी कहानियों के नायक रामेश्वरम सचमुच जीवन भर लड़ते रहे. उस पूरी व्यवस्था से, जिसे वह बेहतर करना चाहते थे.
ठेठ बिहारी, नाम रामेश्वरम
रमेश कुमार गुप्ता को अपनी स्कूल-कॉलेज की पढ़ाई खत्म करते तक समझ में आ गया था कि उनका जातिसूचक नाम उनके आचरण से मेल नहीं खाता.
पलामू बंधुआ मज़दूर मुक्ति की पहली चौपाल
रामेश्वरम ठहाके लगाते हुए बताते थे कि किस तरह उन्हें लगा कि उत्तर भारत का दक्षिण से कोई रिश्ता होना चाहिए और उन्हें 'बनिया' घोषित करने वाला अपना नाम तो खैर बदलना ही था, सो रमेश कुमार गुप्ता से वे रामेश्वरम हो गए.
बेटी पैदा हुई तो सिक्खों जैसा नाम रखा असुप्रित, फिर बड़े बेटे का हिंदू नाम आशुतोष, दूसरे बेटे का ईसाइयों की परम्परा जैसा नाम इषुमान. वे अपनी पत्नी उर्मिला जी की ओर मुस्कुराते हुए देखते और कहते, "सोचता था एक बेटा और होता तो नाम रखता ईसराइल!"
रामेश्वरम के बरसों पुराने घर का नाम गुप्ता कुटीर था, जिस पर कुछ सालों बाद क्रांति कुटीर की तख़्ती लग गई. बाद में यह क्रांति कुटीर हज़ारों ऐतिहासिक बैठकों का गवाह बना. देश-विदेश से आने वाले लेखको, पत्रकारों और सामाजिक कार्यकर्ताओं का हमेशा वहां जमावड़ा बना रहता.
पत्रकारिता से आंदोलन तक
18-20 साल की उम्र में रामेश्वरम ने पत्रकारिता शुरु की और पलामू से प्रकाशित एक अख़बार का संपादन का काम उन्होंने संभाला. बाद में कई पत्र-पत्रिकाओं के वे संपादक रहे. कविताएं और कहानियां भी लिखीं. सैकड़ों की संख्या में शोध आलेख रामेश्वरम की पूंजी थे.
लेकिन रामेश्वरम केवल पत्रकार भर नहीं होना चाहते थे. पलामू में सदियों से चल रहा शोषण उन्हें उद्वेलित करता था.
महाश्वेता देवी रामेश्वरम की लड़ाई की अभिन्न साथी रहीं
भारत में सर्वाधिक बंधुआ मजदूरों के कारण पलामू बदनाम रहा है. कुल 51.7 फीसदी आबादी मज़दूरों की रही है. आँकड़े बताते हैं कि 1920 में यहां 63 हज़ार बंधुआ मज़दूर थे. आज़ादी के बाद भी यह आंकड़े लगभग वैसे ही रहे.
रामेश्वरम ने इस बंधुआ मज़दूरी के ख़िलाफ आंदोलन छेड़ा. गाँव-गाँव में अकेले घूमते रहे और पीढ़ियों से बंधक रहे मजदूरों को छुड़ाने का काम शुरु किया.
1973 में पलामू के बंधुआ मज़दूरों का एक सर्वेक्षण हुआ और जब उनकी सूची छपी तो देश भर में उसकी चर्चा हुई. संसद में सवाल उठे. उसके बाद इसी पहल पर 1975 में बंधित मज़दूरी प्रथा उन्मूलन अध्यादेश देश भर में लागू हुआ.
700 गांवों के ज़मींदार मौआर जगदिश्वरजीत सिंह के बारे में यह प्रचलित था कि अपने खिलाफ़ आवाज उठाने वाले बंधुआ मज़दूरों को वे अपने पालतू बाघों के सामने डाल दिया करते थे. रामेश्वरम की पहल पर जब “मैन इटर ऑफ मनातू” नामक फ़िल्म बनी तो जैसे तूफान आ गया. मौआर जगदिश्वरजीत सिंह पर देश में सबसे अधिक 96 बंधुआ मज़दूर रखने का मुक़दमा चला.
बंधुआ मुक्ति
रामेश्वरम ने लेखिका महाश्वेता देवी को पलामू बुलाया और एक छोटे से गाँव सेमरा में बंधुआ मुक्ति आंदोलन को एक संगठन की शक्ल देते हुए, “पलामू बंधुआ मुक्ति मोर्चा ” की स्थापना की. उसी साल सात दिसंबर को स्वामी अग्निवेश ने महाश्वेता देवी और रामेश्वरम के साथ मिल कर दिल्ली में पहली बंधुआ मुक्ति चौपाल की.
रामेश्वरम ने सात पीढ़ियों से बंधुआ मज़दूर रहे मुगल भुइयां को इस चौपाल की रैली का नेतृत्व सौंपा.आठ दिसंबर को टाइम्स ऑफ इंडिया में लीड के साथ मुगल भुइयां की तस्वीर छपी.
19 जुलाई 1981 के “रविवार ” में महाश्वेता देवी का एक संस्मरण उलटते हुए नज़रें ठहर जाती हैं, “इस ग़ज़ब के आदमी का एक अपना छापाखाना है, बाहर के कमरे में एक छोटी सी कामयाब चीज़. वह फ्रीलांस पत्रकार है और एक निजी साप्ताहिक समाचार पत्र शुरु करने का ख्वाब देखता है...वह कई सौ मील पैदल चल कर बंधुआ मज़दूरों के गांवों में जाता है...”
महाश्वेता देवी ने जाने कितनी कहानियाँ रामेश्वरम को केंद्र में रख कर लिखी हैं. उनके एक उपन्यास के मुख्य पात्र तो रामेश्वरम ही हैं.
बंधुवा मज़दूरों के प्रति वे जितने संवेदनशील थे, वह दुर्लभ है. उन्होंने ही सबसे पहले हमें पलामू बुलाया और बंधुवा मज़दूरों की समस्याओं से रुबरु करवाया. वे आज के एनजीओ की तरह नहीं थे, जिन्होंने बंधुवा मज़दूरों के बजाय अपना पुनर्वास कर लिया

स्वामी अग्निवेश
खरी-खरी बात करने वाले रामेश्वरम की एक पुरानी चिट्ठी मेरे पास रखी है, “गाँव-गाँव में मुक्त बंधुआ मज़दूरों को हमने 11 महीने का प्रशिक्षण दिया है. वे बोलते नहीं थे, बोलने लगे हैं. पहले बहुत डरते थे, अब डर कम हुआ है, साहस भी बढ़ा है. पहले नहीं आते थे, अब आने लगे हैं..."
उनके आंदोलन के साथी रहे स्वामी अग्निवेश कहते हैं, “ मैं उनके परिवार में रहा हूँ. जब दिल्ली में हमने बंधुवा मुक्ति मोर्चा की स्थापना की, उससे पहले से वे बंधुवा लोगों के लिए काम कर रहे थे. बंधुवा मज़दूरों के प्रति वे जितने संवेदनशील थे, वह दुर्लभ है. उन्होंने ही सबसे पहले हमें पलामू बुलाया और बंधुवा मज़दूरों की समस्याओं से रुबरु करवाया. वे आज के एनजीओ की तरह नहीं थे, जिन्होंने बंधुवा मज़दूरों के बजाय अपना पुनर्वास कर लिया.”
रामेश्वरम से जब भी आप मिलने जाते, दो-चार नए आदिवासी चेहरे हमेशा उनके आस पास होते. बिरजू से लेकर रघुनी तक. लेस्लीगंज के जंगलों में रहने वाली शांति किंडो तो उनकी घर की सदस्य ही बन कर रह गई. इन सबके लिए वे “पिताजी” थे.
अब इन सैकड़ो लोगों का कोई पिता नहीं रहा.

आलोक प्रकाश पुतुल
courtsey BBC Hindi

Thursday, 21 June, 2007

The Mask Of Imperial Power Is Dying

The charade is over in Palestine. The farce that tried to pass itself off as a pathway to peace has clearly ended. The ‘West’ led by Israel and the US has finally begun to show the world the duplicity of their joint criminality as that has most recently been underscored in “Gaza vs. The West Bank.”
After Israel illegally seized the Palestinian taxes raised, from the starving and beleaguered Palestinians, to deny those people the means to achieve a functioning state: now in light of the rebellion in Gaza, Israel intends to use that money to blackmail The West Bank, and starve survivors in Gaza. This surpasses what the Nazis did to those they occupied by a factor of at least ten-fold: Given that the Nazi reign lasted only twelve years – while Israel and the US have controlled the people of Palestine for over fifty years.
Israel’s claims that Hamas wants to destroy the State of Israel are true: yet it is equally true that Israel wants to exterminate the Palestinian people. Unfortunately Americans seldom hear both sides of these charges: only Israel’s claims are routinely reported, each and every time the name of Hamas is mentioned.
Neither is it mentioned here, that Israel had its military severely beaten in Lebanon, which was not supposed to happen. Israel was behind the bombing that killed the very popular pro-Lebanese leader that was then blamed on Syria—in order to pave the way for an Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This is the same murder that the UN has now been coerced into holding an international trial for. The bomb signature was the same as the bomb used on the 241 US Marines, in Beirut, during Ronnie’s reign, and the only nation capable of making such bombs was and is Israel.
In instance after instance the corruption that passes for the military dictatorship of Israel today is the only group that directly profits from the escalation and destabilizations of so many different countries in the Middle East now.
Israel is not a traditional nation in the sense that she was not organically conceived, or home grown, but rather ‘it’ was created out of Palestine, and has yet to complete that process – over fifty years after her presence was inserted into Palestine. If the headlines offer any clues, her major exports seem to be ‘hatred & war’: which does not seem to be reason enough for that tiny place to exist upon the world map.
Her most powerful citizens are mostly found living abroad, where many enjoy very good lives. There is also no question that many Israeli’s are immensely powerful in many of the world’s pivotal institutions and industries, as well as throughout the world, in arts and entertainment, in politics and power, and in virtually all the major fields of endeavor: No small accomplishment given their very small overall numbers. But Israeli’s are not of a single mind, or even a single religion: and their country has been infected by an extremism that is very similar to the one that won the coup that toppled the United States in 2000. Both systems are as virulent as they are hated around the world.
The map of the Middle East is far from clear even to seasoned veteran players in the region. In fact to get an idea of just how difficult this puzzle is one would have to somehow envision a chess board where eight players could simultaneously oppose one another. Motives, outcomes, and movements are each composed of several different minds, within each group that represents a single theoretical ‘state.’ Nothing is simple. Sophistication, in-depth intelligence and an intense knowledge of the various histories and multiple factions are all basic to even beginning to understand what goes on there.
Overlay upon this immensely difficult region the fact of their resources and the importance of their resources to the rest of the planet and you can easily see that no nation that seeks to dominate that region can afford to be involved there, without a great deal of diplomatic and real understanding about events in that war-ravaged region. The military components at play are only one arm of a vast network of seething and competing goals that are never far from any surface; including the day-to-day realities. Add to this the arrogance and the self-imposed blinders, of the Western would-be rulers of that region—and it is clear that several different boogey-men needed to be created to keep all the various factions at bay. Enter the one-size fits all “terrorists,” many of whom are freedom fighters, some that are just mercenaries, and a huge number of extremists of all stripes. In this situation “Chaos” is the one logical outcome, but it is not the only consequence.
Suffice it to say that this region is and was the grand prize being sought by the world’s bankers and the global corporatocracy, not to mention the puppets in several nations that each has more than a small stake in the outcomes from this Privateer’s Dream of global conquest. This has been the Cheney-Bush target of our foreign policies since long before they ascended into office.
Ironically, these Outlaws approached this situation just as they have always approached everything else – they chose to begin with intimidation and what they thought of as overwhelming force: and they failed repeatedly. Did they learn anything at all – no! Instead they have chosen to compound their initial blunders with the threat of even more wars, and an expanded presence by both US military personnel and a sharp new spike in the accompanying mercenary forces as well. Death, death and lots more death, all to maintain the false air of some faint idea of a ‘victory’ in the war over the oil field contracts. How pathetically lame this so-called “leadership” has been!
In addition to that folly the Israeli’s have taken pages from our own bloody past, and began to treat the Palestinians much like we treated our native population when they still stood between the American colonies and the Western shore of what finally became the United States.
In addition to partitioning Palestine and stealing the lands of the inhabitants, Israel went further establishing camps and policies that made a horror out of daily life for any Palestinian caught up in that nightmare. The goal was to get the Palestinians to leave. This did not succeed, as for the most part the Palestinians have stayed and they continue to fight to this day, just as almost any people will fight tenaciously for their own lands and countries.
However, the Empire has no use for other people’s patriots, we call them terrorists. In fact the still unfinished state of Israel initially used the Irgun, (their own terrorists when they were seeking independence from the Brits). Many of their early leaders were drawn directly from the ranks of their own former “terrorists.” This is probably why the current Israeli leadership is so incensed by Hamas, and what their leadership of the Palestinians might be able to accomplish, should Hamas ever succeed in uniting a real Palestinian state.
This brings us to the current tactics being employed by both the US and Israel inside Iraq and elsewhere today, and indeed throughout these long and ugly years of a war that is not a war but an illegal slaughter of helpless people. Rumsfeld and Cheney and Gonzalez and Bush came up with the idea that torture could both justify their wars and keep the fear alive in so many millions of people everywhere – and who knew – maybe they might actually gain some information from the exercise. So we created Gitmo and revoked Habeas Corpus for all Americans, if the Decider decided that whoever it was might just possibly be involved in something anti-American, at least according to his interpretation of that definition. But now—years after this obscenity was put in place—the truth is beginning to leak out as it always will. And Seymour Hersh has written about it in a major article in The New Yorker Magazine entitled: The General’s Report. (1)
This series of crimes and cover-ups could lead to major destruction within those at the top of this extremely vicious treachery against all that the world had outlawed so very long ago.
Cheney-Bush has created so many ways by-pass the once sovereign laws of this country: Like the 1100 signing statements, the spying on American citizens at will, the upending of everything needed to run even a third class country, much less the United States of America. We have become a country without an infrastructure, without real jobs, with no real say about our own defense, or even how our borders should be maintained. We have no culture unless one counts consumerism (our major disease – without which we’d already be in the worst depression the world has ever known). Most of our industries are run from overseas, our goods and services are outsourced and then imported and now we’ve been reduced to selling off our national highways and public lands to satisfy our government’s addiction to unsubstantiated loans to fight the wars we’re already lost in the name of major corporations like Halliburton that fled this country to avoid taxes and the legal responsibilities that their contracts will entangle them in—once the investigations finally get underway. (2)
So much criminality, so much treason, and so few outcomes that stand even a chance of making a real difference: It’s obvious that Americans need a new mantra!
"NO" is the only thing this government should hear, to everything they are proposing, from the majority of the people they want to rule. If all of us just did this in both thought and deed, then this government could not continue, and we could begin again.
The entire fabric of what was 'government' is rotten to the core, because each one of almost all of the elected members continues to make decisions based solely on their own personal gains that have nothing to do with their offices, or with the public's welfare. They have in essence "sold their reputations for a song" and in that bargain condemned us all to an inferno of slavery, death and taxes that will crush us into oblivion - NO - is the only cry that we can still make.
If that battle-cry is loud enough and often enough it would begin to take hold - to the point that things would have to change. Imagine 100,000 people in front of the Tarnished House, the Congress & the Supreme Court - in three demonstrations ALL chanting that one simple word, simultaneously - if that reached the airwaves maybe we could find a new beginning?
Remember - They need us far more than we "need" them.

By Jim Kirwan

Wednesday, 13 June, 2007

Shame of Indian Democracy

According to a survey conducted by a fact finding team consisting of Voice for Child Rights – Orissa (VCRO), Vasundhara, Centre for World Solidarity, Ruchika society, Human Rights Law Network and on 6th June 2007 in the Similipal Sanctury area, it was found that 29 children in the age group of 0-6 has died due to malnutrition. The survey was conducted in the three grampanchayats (GP)of the sanctuary area ie. Gudgudia (15) Barehipani(09) and Astakunar (5). These casualities has occurred from the period 01Jan 07 to 05 June 07. The medical officer and the CDPO of Jashipur block confirms these deaths. These children died due to various diseases mainly due to lack of nutrition. Severe anemic children and mothers also found in the area. Last year also 21 children died out of which 13 are due to malnutrition.

Field observation

Geographical arena
Similipal area is declared as tiger reserve and comes under protected area. Three Panchayats come under this protected area. Gudgudia Panchayat is situated 36 kms from Jashipur. Barehipani is about 50 km away from Jashipur. Located inside the Similipal Wildlife Sanctuary boundary (buffer zone), the village has no roads and during the rains remains cut off from the outside world for more than 4 months. Located inside the boundary (buffer zone) of the Simlipal Wildlife Sanctuary, the village has no roads and, during the rains, remains cut off from the outside world for over four months. Starvation and malnutrition-related deaths are common both in the buffer zone as well as the core zone

Scope of livelihood status
After the Supreme Court ban on collection of NTFP they adhere to cultivation of Rice. This production of rice lasts for six months. Another six months they migrate for work to nearby districts.

Social- Cultural system
The inhabitants of similipal area are mainly tribals. Mainly Kolha tribe. They have to walk 27 KM to buy salt or vegetables. Main food item is rice and salt. As the cost to hire a vehicle to bring a ailing patient to the hospital is high they prefer to black magic to save the life of the patients.

Status of government employment generation work
NREGA functions in the area. But tribals do not get required jobs from it.
Status of health, education and child support service
In Gudgudia panchayat there are 7AWC centres. the nutrition status of the Gudgudia GP is given below.
Nutritional Status Period ( 30.05.07 to 01.06.07)
Total No of Children
Normal
Grade I
Grade II
Grade III
Grade IV
345
59(17.2%)
126(36.5%
119 (34.5%)
34(9.8%)
07(2%)

Total Malnutrition – 82.8% (As Per the report of Medical Officer, Govt. Of Orissa)
Except for the health camp, not much is being done to fight the situation. People cannot travel long distances in order to avail of government facilities, and doctors don’t visit regularly to the area. According to the tribals, there is one anganwadi for every 1,000 people and immunisation programmes are not being carried out properly. A child must be immunised with measles vaccination within nine months. But none of the children in l have been immunized. Children and women are not given medicines for malaria at the anganwadi. Other immunisations (DPT, pulse polio) too have not been carried out properly by the anganwadi workers. “The villagers, mostly tribals, are thus forced to resort to traditional medicinal practices and, in some cases, witchcraft,”
One primary school is there at Gudgudia Panchayat. High School is 27 Km away from it. Most of the time the teacher does not come to the school. So the education of the tribals is a major concern. Due to lack of education they are adhering to traditional techniques to cure diseases.

Voice for child rights – Orissa, an alliance working for the protection and promotion of child rights in the state of Orissa staged a dharna condemning this malnutrition deaths at Similipal Sanctury area in front of state assembly on 8th June 2007. It has also placed a memorandum to the WCD minister for a immediate intervention of the government. The Hon’ble minister met a delegation of VCRO led by the state convener to take the memorandum. But the response of the Hon’ble minister is discouraging. Though she instructed her dept to look into the matter but the way she talked to the delegation is not a behaviour of a responsible minister and that to in charge of an important department.

Extract of the Meeting with Minister
The minister did not take the issues as a serious matter. She questioned the delegation that why are we bothered about the death at Similipal sanctuary area as several issues are there in other parts also. One can easily make out from the minister’s opinion on the issue that how sensitive the state government is towards the issue. She said lots of children are working in the dhabas and questioned what why you people are not solving the issue. Perhaps she is not aware of the fact that only government can enforce law to prohibit child labour. Instead of supporting the cause she questioned the credibility of NGOs. When we wanted to know if at all the government will look into the matter she said lets see what can be done on part of the WCD dept only pertaining to ICDS.

Notes on Binayak Sen case

Since there appears to be some confusion about the exact status of the case against Binayak Sen, this note is being circulated to fill in the gaps in information.

1. Binayak has been in custody since 14.5.2007 in case FIR No. 44 of 2007 at Police Station Ganj, Raipur alleging offences under Sections 10(a)(1), 20, 21, 38, 39.2(b) & (d) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and Section 2(b) (d), 8(1)(2)(5) of Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam 2005.

2. The above FIR, in fact, was lodged on 6.5.2007 against Pijush Guha who was searched on suspicion at the Raipur Railway Station and found carrying three letters written by “some senior Commander of Naxalite Organization from jail to two other leaders of Naxalite Organization”, and Rs.49, 000/- in cash.

3. But Pijush Guha, at the first production before the Magistrate on 7.5.2007, recorded the fact that he had been illegally detained since 1.5.2007. It is upon a protest having been made regarding his illegal custody and a fax sent to the media in that connection, that this FIR was hurriedly recorded and the custody acknowledged in this illegal fashion six days later.

4. The FIR does not give any details of the dates of the letters, their contents, the names of the writers or the recipients, nor the name of any (banned) organisation that the writers or the recipients belong to. There is no recovery or search memo, or independent witnesses. The FIR, if filed correctly, should have contained these details. Even as per the prosecution, arguing before the Session’s Court, the letters speak of nothing more than mere boycott of the Lok Sabha elections.

5. The conjecture on which Binayak has been arrested is that he had carried the letters, which were allegedly recovered from Pijush Guha, from jail to Pijush Guha. This seems to be based on the fact that Binayak had made visits to the jail as part of his PUCL-based jail reforms and legal aid work. But all these visits were made with the express permission of the Deputy Superintendent of Police and Jail Superintendent and conducted in the presence of the jail officials.

6. Although not mentioned in the FIR, it was argued by the state during the hearing of Binayak’s bail application at the Session’s Court on 25.05.2007, that he had been helpful in getting a house on rent for Anita Srivastava, an academic from Allahabad University, who is now branded by the state as a Naxal. However, while Binayak denies being instrumental in procuring the house, this cannot be construed to be an “illegal” activity.

7. The Sessions Court, while rejecting bail, said that there was reason to believe that Binayak was acquainted with Narayan Sanyal, Anita Srivastava, and Pijush Guha. Pijush Guha had also given a custodial statement, but that cannot be used as evidence in a court. In this respect, the Sessions Court does not seem to have applied the well settled principles of law to determine whether mere acquaintanceship can lead to an inference of guilt.

8. As far as Narayan Sanyal goes, he is an undertrial prisoner held for offences under Sections 302 and 147 of the IPC, and not either under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act or the Chattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam – although Sanyal seems to be the pivot around which a spate of arrests has taken place recently under these two Acts. In fact, in January 2006 the State of Chattisgarh had stated before the High Court that he was not held by it. He was held in the State of AP and released on bail by the AP High Court but the State of Chattisgarh arrested him in connection with FIR 9/2005 in a pre-existing case.

9. The Sections under which Binayak is sought to be prosecuted are:? Being a member of an unlawful association, but the name and details of the organisation are not specified.? Being a member of a terrorist gang or organisation; again no details are given. ? Holding the proceeds of a terrorist act, which is not even alleged? Giving support to a terrorist organisation; again without substantiation. ? Soliciting contributions, and aiding an unlawful organisation, which is equally unsubstantiated.

10. In the search that was conducted of Binayak’s home on 19.5.2007, the police seized articles on jail reforms, the Naxal movements, and on American Imperialism, written in respectable journals. The police have made insinuating statements, carried widely by the media, that PUCL is an organisation supporting Naxals, and that Binayak was a virtual absconder. The truth is that PUCL is a perfectly legitimate organisation, and Binayak voluntarily went to the police station on his return from Kolkata, when he was arrested in spite of previous assurances by the police.

11. Binayak was produced before the court on 05.06.2007 and remanded to another 15 days in judicial custody. This was the first occasion on which the lawyer from Delhi (Nitya Ramakrishnan) could argue before the court and thus get an opportunity to inspect the entire case file. A petition for bail, prepared on the basis of the case file and the details given above, is now going to be filed before the High Court on 11.06.2007, at which time a date shall be fixed for the hearing.Some more updateThe bail petition for Binayak could not be filed before the High Court on Monday 11th even. It is now going to be filed tomorrow, 13th and the date for hearing will not be before 25th. This, apparently, is because there is a consensus amongst the laweyrs in Chhattisgarh that "that is the way the Courts function in Chhattisgarh and the High Court is not willing to give early hearings".Ilina was also being threatened with arrest according to newspaper reports, but she now has got anticipatory bail yesterday because, when faced with the newspaper reports, the police made a statement in Court that they had no plans to arrest Ilina and the newspapers had printed their own version of the news.

By Dunu Roy

In Yavatmal, life goes on

"THE BANK recovery teams have stopped coming to my home," Saraswati Amberwar told us in Yavatmal. She lives not far from where President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam will visit on June 15. Her husband Ramdas was the first farm suicide case in Vidharbha to be highlighted in the media, way back in 1998. Since then she has faced years of pressure from his creditors to repay his loans. So it was surprising that the bank recovery men had let up.
"Kishor Bhau gave me a letter which I showed them the last time they were here," she says. "After that, they stopped coming." Even stranger. Kishor Tiwari is the president of the Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) and the region's foremost agitator on farm issues. Hardly a friend of the banks, given the countless times he has gheraoed and badgered them on farm loan problems. So what did his letter say?
Roughly translated, it read: "Dear Recovery Officers, Ramdas has appeared before me more than once from Heaven. He says: `I have the money and am waiting to repay you.' Please rush your team to Heaven. Yours sincerely, Kishor Tiwari." After that, says Saraswati, the team never showed up again.
Mr. Tiwari's open letter this week to President Kalam is more polite. It begs him to "spare a few minutes to meet the unfortunate widows of farmers either at Yavatmal or Wardha."
Those and Nagpur are the places the President will touch during his day-long visit. His trip takes him to an event at Amolakchand College in Yavatmal. Also to the Mahatma Gandhi Hindi International University in Wardha. It does not so far include any agrarian distress-related meetings.
Issue of cotton prices
Yavatmal, where the President's main function is, remains one of the most dismal parts of Vidharbha, the region hardest hit by the farm crisis. "This year alone, there have been 428 farmers' suicides in Vidharbha," points out Mr. Tiwari. "Unless urgent action is taken on cotton price, on debt and credit $B!=(B it will be our worst year ever." And that would be something. The Government officially admits to 1,296 farm suicides due to the "agrarian distress" last year. It records a further 1,348 farm suicides in the same six districts the same year, but denies they were due to agrarian distress.
Yavatmal is one of six districts in this region that together have seen more than 6,000 farm suicides since 2001. Saraswati is among more than 100,000 women across the country who have lost their husbands to suicides driven by the agrarian crisis since the mid-1990s. There are hundreds like her in Yavatmal alone. But her home has seen many VIP visits over the years, including that of Narayan Rane when he was Revenue Minister in the Shiv Sena Government. The compensation of Rs.1 lakh she got was long ago wiped out by debt.
"We're spending Rs.30,000 on my daughter Meenakshi's illness," she says. (Another daughter died in 2004.) "We've sold off several acres and some cattle over these years to cope. But farming gets costlier and more difficult." Yet she sees few options and keeps at it, hoping things will turn around.
In Pisgaon village of the same district Varsha Rasse grabs any work she gets, no matter how poorly paid it is. For two seasons her husband Maruti had leased out their eight acres B throwing in his own labour as part of the deal. "He had to get his sisters married," neighbours told us, "and farming was collapsing." Then, with his own cultivation hit by excessive rains, Rasse committed suicide in 2004. His debt remains a problem for Varsha and their son and daughter are both under five years of age.
"They work harder and harder, and might produce more, but it only gets worse," says Vijay Jawandia, the region's foremost intellectual on agriculture. "All these farmers are fighting impossible odds. The most basic issues have not been touched. They are widows because of indebtedness. The cost of living is rising, so are farming costs. Only their income goes down."
"The Prime Minister's package helped some get fresh loans, but they got no help with the old ones. So now their debt has doubled. The central issue of price has never been addressed by the government. Nor has the issue of huge subsidies in the West for cotton producers there. So prices collapsed and these farmers cannot recover the cost of production. The new debt destroys their creditworthiness. So the banks will not touch them this season. Which pushes them back to moneylenders."
Annapurna Suroshe would agree with him. "We've paid off all our debts from the compensation," she says in Nageshwadi village, "but it doesn't end." It hasn't for her, with two boys and a girl to put through school. When the lease ends on the four acres her husband Rameshwar let out before killing himself last year, she wants to cultivate them herself. "I might as well put in my labour on our own land."
Meanwhile, she's trying to run things from the Rs.25 a full day's labour now fetches her.
Mangalabai Mokhadkar in Rampur $B!=(B from the only Brahmin farm household seeing such a suicide $B!=(B has held out longer. In the nine years since her husband Prabhakarrao committed suicide, she's got three of her eight daughters married. Some were married before his death. "No dowry," she makes a point of telling us. Though each wedding set her back by around Rs.40,000. She has not taken a paisa from her sons-in-law. "They took no dowry, how can I do that?" She's also managed to educate the girls. "All of them are matric pass or fail," she says. "Three completed their schooling after he died."
After years of leasing them out, "we will farm our seven acres ourselves this year." But Mangalabai knows the risks. "Look at our village. All families here are in the same boat. Unless something changes in farming, we'll all sink."
"This is the situation in Yavatmal and other districts," says Mr. Tiwari, "these widows are farmers who represent the true picture."
As Mr. Tiwari's letter to President Kalam also says: "We strongly feel that it all is not well in Vidharbha and therefore, it's not the right time for any cultural or dancing session inauguration ...We would be highly obliged if you could spare a few minutes to meet the unfortunate widows."

(This district, which President Kalam visits on June 15, has a higher concentration of families of farmers who killed themselves than most others in the country. )

P. Sainath
Courtsey The Hindu