Sunday, December 27, 2009

22. Not let down by age

Octagenarian politician N D Tiwari, who was caught in a compromising position with three women in the prestigious Raj Bhawan in Hyderabad as alleged by the `sex tape' aired on televsion chanels since Dec 24, 2009, has proved the common adage - that Indians have more(sex)in the brain than in the groins. Though the old man flocked with women in bed, his resignation from the coveted post of Governor was on `health grounds'. Amusing!

Without doubt, such acts cannot be a one-off episode. These have a history! No wonder, in a musical evening in Dehradun on Dec 26 wherein well-known gharwali singer Narendra Singh Negi sang his smash-hit Nauchami Narayan, a cult song that derides the former chief minister for his alleged romantic escapades, a voice from the crowd hollered `he has been caught this time.'

Tiwari's lifestyle has been a common public knowledge. Any number of people that this blogger could talk to confirmed of having known about it. Consequently, not many were surprised by what they saw. Amazingly, why is it that what is in common knowledge doesn't get acknowledged by the powers-that-be? Seems no one has the courage to tell the emperor what he's wearing.....or not wearing.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

21. Belch out the Devil

Till the other day, there was a definite charm about him. Following his rejection to the coveted position at the united nations, he overexposed himself by writing on anything and everything. Any intention of reading him is gone (nor that I had any) following his close allegiance to the one and only Coca-Cola. That he's contesting from Thiruvananthapuram and yet defending his love for it (Coke) is a paradox that only the literate electorates of the constituency will take a call on. Let good sense prevail (amid the electorates) as I wish conditional luck to Shashi Tharoor. I suspect if this posting will reach him but if Max Martin's report in Mail Today (March 22, 2009) is any indication, half of any election is won or lost in the cyber space (in Kerala).

Following my article on Coke's dubious claims on groundwater recharging aimed at diverting attention from its water-guzzling business in the Economic Times in May 2008, an email was received from one of those who was apparently engaged (`employed' is more appropriate expression) in a groundwater recharging project of the Coca Cola Foundation rubbishing my position. The respondant felt the foundation was doing excellent work and that any fears regarding `milking the aquifers dry' were unfounded. Tharoor is behaving in much the similar way, taking Coke's deft public relations (Coke's global publicity budget is a little over US$ 2 billion) as `news' and forcing many uninitiated minds to believe him.

I'm afraid Shashi Tharoor has got his facts wrong, I repeat `absolutely wrong'. My own information on the subject has been padded by authoritative writing by Mark Thomas. For those who may not be familiar with Thomas, he's an ace television comedian (Channel 4 in UK) and journalist who has travelled across the world to document Coke's dubious (criminal) escapades in his book `Belching out the Devil' (Beacon Press, 2007). Mark's stunning revelations on Coke's child rights abuse in El Salvador, labour intimidation in Colombia, monopolistic trade practices in Mexico and robbery of groundwater in India will prompt every sane mind to proclaim: belch out the devil.

Placchimada and Kaladera were part of Thomas' travel itinerary, wherein he verified `facts' to the last digit. The groundwater recharging systems were definitely in place and these do have the `potential' to recharge as much groundwater as the company extracts. Shashi Tharoor is likely to jump at this, asking: so where is the problem? The problem is that it doesn't rain as much in the region to help the rainwater harvesting systems realise its `potential' of recharging at a pace with which water is being pumped out on a daily basis. No wonder, farmers in and around Kaladera (near Jaipur) complain loss of agriculture due to drying up of village wells. And, the fact is that the company has been using 3.8 litres of freshwater to generate a litre of carbonated drink.

Pardon me for my political naivety but I had a notion that voting for an educated-affluent could be the finest exercise of one's franchise, believing that such an elected representative will not only take `wisest' decisions but would be less `corrupt'. But I think in political matters it's erroneus to count on `individual honesty'. To quote Swaminathan Aiyar: `Critics have accused Abraham Lincoln and Manmohan Singh of being hypocrites who advertised their personal honesty but agreed to dirty deals to promote their political aims. Singh not only formed a council of ministers that included seven politicians facing criminal charges but won vote of confidence with the help of currency notes being waved (first time ever) on the floor of the house'. The message: don't get charmed by `integrity' and `honesty'!

With millions of young electorates to exercise their constitutional rights for the first time during upcoming parliamentary elections, it is the test of their ability to `pick' the best. I hope the above narrative helps them in `belching out the devil' - in Thiruvananthapuram and the rest of the country.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

20. Ganga: Purity and Pollution flow together

(It is indeed a welcome step that the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) notifcation of Feb 20, 2009 has alleviated the Ganga to the status of a National River, echoeing the sentiments expressed by the PM in the recent past. The notification stresses the need for effective abatement of pollution by adapting a river basin approach alongside maintaining a minimal flow. A National Ganga River Basin Authority has been set-up with the PM on the Chair. A similar enthusiasm was seen when Ganga Action Plan was launched in 1984. An article published in March 1985 issue of Manthan, a quarterly published by the Deendayal Shodh Sansthan, had raised questions on the then Plan. The stand taken in the article (see the text below) stands vindicated as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament found in 2004 that Rs 960 crore spent on the project only ended-up increasing the level of pollution in the river. Many of the questions raised in this write-up are still as relevant).

The formal announcement of the setting-up of a Central Ganga Authority by the Central Government represents the commitment of the government towards purity of the primary river as well as its commitment towards cleaner environment. While this step has brought appreciation from many quarters, there are several aspects that need to be looked into. Many questions have been raised which need to be discussed:

1. Can Rs 250 crore project cleanse the Ganga, when the State Pollution Control Boards and the Central Board for Pollution Control could not do so with the help of a legal weapon called the Water Pollution Control Act, 1974?

2. If the existence of Pollution Boards and the Act during the past decade is a testimony to an increase in the levels of pollution, isn't there something wrong with the functioning of the Boards and the implementation of the Act?

3. While providing sewerage treatment facilities to 29 Class 1 cities along the Ganga may not reduce pollution to even 50 per cent, how is the complete check on waste disposal to be achieved?

4. It is believed that 25 per cent of the pollution in the Ganga is caused by 132 major industries along it 2,000 km route from Haridwar to Howrah. Out of these units, 66 are on the banks of the river at Kanpur alone. Whereas providing sewerage and sewage treatment facilities is a government responsibility, industrial units are supposed to have their own treatment facilities for the wastes they generate. But none of the industries have a fool-prrof waste treatment facility, though under Sections 25, 26 of the Water Pollution Control Act, the industries cannot dispose their untreated effluents into the natural water courses.

5. On the other hand, Section 33 of the Act has provided the Boards with legal powers of punishment and imprisonment to erring authorities. Also, under certain conditions the Boards can purify the effluents for the industry and recover the expenditure incurred. What then prevented these Boards from implementing the provision?

6. Political interference, business lobbies and lack of technical manpower curtailed the functioning of most of the State Pollution Boards, but it has not indicated any measures to strengthen their functioning. If, alongwith these Boards and the Act, a separate Ganga Authority is required to clean the river, then what will be the future role and status of these Boards?

7. The project on paper seems alright and thereis every possibility of treating sewage and sullage, provided funds are available. Can all the population (informal settlements) living along the Ganga be covered under the sewerage schemes of municipalities?

8. The Ganga plan indicates a net profit of Rs 14 per person by way of gas/manure on an investment of Rs 23 per capita per year towards expenditure on pumping and treatment of waste. Had this idea been sold to the State Pollution Boards, they would have earned a significant profit to the States?

9. It is rightly said, `The poor simply defecate into the river, the rich dispose their wastes and religious throw their dead into it.' Sewage is the major culprit, for which a massive awareness drive needs to be launched and, shockingly, this doesn't form part of the Ganga Plan. Why?

10. When Ganga is mother to millions of Indians, let this Ganga Plan be a peoples' plan. Let's inculcate into millions of Indians the spirit of saving the mother, by awareness and education. Why Not?

*This article titled `But can the Ganga be purified? Ten pertinent questions to the Government of India' was written by Sudhirendar Sharma.

Monday, February 16, 2009

19. Celebrate Corruption

Gandhigiri hasn't lasted long to expose corruption; sting journalism hasn't gone beyond sensationalising social degeneration; and the Tehelka expose has been relegated to history books as a milstone in exposing corruption in high places. While Rs zero note (see picture) to fight corruption has been launched in some districts of Tamilnadu, corruption as a topic in school education has been positioned as a fresh move to prepare young minds against corruption. This and much more as India slips to 85 position in Transparency International Global Hunger Index, well behind China (72) and Thailand (80), as currency gets flung on the Parliament floor and cash appears on a Judge's door without any eyebrows being raised.

So deep rooted it is that it's often tough to figure out its origin. It manifests in all walks of life, be it public or private. A study had indicated sometime ago that an estimated Rs 22,000 crore per year was paid in `small' corruption. The actual figure may be several times higher. Need it be said that corruption is more of a norm than exception. No wonder, therefore, many corrupt transactions have been rephrased as `convenience tax'. The distinction between `honest' and `dishonest' has seemingly been blurred, honest being one who takes money and delivers and dishonest who takes money but doesn't deliver. Truely, ours is a democratically corrupt country across caste, class, gender, religion, discipline and so on.

Lamenting corruption may seem futile. celebrating corruption should be a sensible choice. Simply put, it is creative vocation that manifests itself in all religions. It is not only creative but contagious too. No one could have imagined the Members of Parliament taking bribe for asking questions in the floor of the house? Corruption is an evolving discipline, each revelation leads to new generation of creative ideas. Such is its depth, dimension and magnitude that one can never get to the depth of it. Should then the idea of corruption be deplored when we haven't yet fathomed its creative power of unleashing new ideas of making money every moment?

Sample this! A chief engineer in one of the northern states was considered honest by his peers. Unlike members of his fraternity, his track record has been seemingly clean. There were neither any allegation nor charges against him. He led by example till the day his unique modus operandi became public. For covering the cost of a maid servant in his house, he had sought cash contribution from one of the engineering divisions. Shelling out Rs. 2,000 in cash each month wasn't a big deal for the division. Interestingly, this message was conveyed privately to each of the 80-plus divisions and sub-divisions in the state. Over Rs 150,000 used to be delivered at his home every month.

Had it not been for the chance encounter of two delivery persons representing separate divisions no one would have ever known it? While one was returning after delivering the envelope containing the money, the other was entering the house to deliver his division's share. It then became clear that a carefully crafted design was at work to siphon public money. Calling the chief engineer corrupt may amount to demeaning his creative talent. Without doubt, there are any number of such creative ventures underway at any point in time without anyone getting a wind of them. Only national and state-level awards to honour corruption can bring such creativity to light, a wild goose chase against corruption will remain cosmetic.

Conversely, announcing awards will encourage creativity and competition - bringing transparency in the system. For sure, television channels will announce talent hunts - scouting Indian Idols for most corrupt ideas. Corruption Training Institute will penetrate cities, small towns and villages. RTI will become redundant, replaced by RTC - Right to Corruption. There will be no scams, no enquiry commissions and courts will have time to spare. No extra efforts will be required to do so - the obvious talent of the people will be given recognition.