28-Sep-2006

In A Spot - 240906

Again. Tavleen Singh weaves together a column filled with inaccuracies and flawed reasoning.

Commenting on the SC issuing notices to the J&K High Court Bar Association, she writes:
The Chief Justice of India made an important comment last week that went unnoticed except by one newspaper...

Justice Y K Sabharwal reprimanded the J & K Bar Association for its decision to deny legal aid to the defendants and for saying that the sex scandal showed the “entire world the real face of India in Kashmir”. Justice Sabharwal said, “It is only in India that despite these comments you are being heard. In no other democracy will it be heard”.

With this comment the Chief Justice becomes the first high official in India to acknowledge that our homegrown Islamists are taking advantage of Indian democracy to propagate unacceptably retrograde views on a wide range of subjects.

First off, I searched for the one newspaper which seems to have "noticed the comment" as she puts it. I expected that there would be an exact quote of the SC acknowledging that homegrown Islamists are taking advantage of Indian democracy etc. My search threw up reports on the SC order in Indian Express, The Hindu, MSN, Zee News, The Telegraph. None of the reports mentioned this comment at all. All they mentioned was the SC chastising the J&K Bar Assocation - the "it is only in India..." quote was missing from all of them. Possibly the SC order did contain the sentence. But still no report implied that the SC was talking in general about Indian Muslims. Ms Singh seems to strangely believe that the J&K Bar Association and Indian muslims are synonymous.

Next she writes:
The atmosphere of Islamist orthodoxy ... results in ordinary Indian Muslims identifying with pan-Islamism to such an extent that thousands took to the streets of Mumbai to protest against George Bush’s visit to India but it was hard to get even a hundred into the streets to condemn the bombings that killed nearly 200 people on Mumbai’s commuter trains in July.
Mr George Bush is perhaps the most hated head of government across the world currently. He was possibly only a shade less hated when he visited India. Is it surprising that "a few thousands" turned up to protest a visit of this guy? And whatever muslims turned up had enough reason to do so without needing to be brainwashed into pan-Islamism. George Bush invaded and basically screwed up Iraq in which are some of the most holy Muslim places like Najaf and Karbala. Why wouldn't they turn up to protest? It is very surprising that the numbers weren't larger. A few thousands out of 150 million muslims? That's like 0.1%! That's a miserable failure on the part of the "priests" - if what she says about the "priests" is true. And it is surprising that more non-Muslims didn't join in. But we Indians seem to have a soft spot for the cowboy. The way I remember it, when he visits a country - which he does very rarely - a security bubble needs to be created around him to shield him from the people who he has come to visit. And the protesters are a varied bunch. UK and Australia which he also visited then had much more massive protests. And they were not fanatic Islamists smothered in Islamist orthodoxy. Not by a long shot.

As for protesting the Mumbai blasts - I don't remember seeing too many of those. There were prayer meetings, sure. And what is the point in protesting such a thing? One could hope that protests would make a Bush reconsider his actions by showing him that people are angry or displeased. But a terrorist - that's what they want to do isn't it - make people angry, miserable? I don't think there were too many protests when the twin towers fell. Or when the Gujarat riots happened. But then, maybe my memory fails me.

Then she talks about a 'sense of persecution' being felt by muslims in India and how it is "beginning to dangerously influence the way Indian Muslims see themselves". Why shouldn't they feel persecuted? Gujarat, Malegaon, Iraq, Palestine, and people like Ms Singh who are ever ready to spout venom, and the politics of the recent past which seemed to revel in alienating them. But is the sense of persecution really there ? Some muslims I know are busy making ends meet and others are sending their kids to school where they learn and top in Sanskrit. Do the acts of a few terrorists represent a whole community?

She then writes,
The Prime Minister did just this last week when he told chief ministers that the terrorist threat was so serious that our nuclear installations could be targeted but quickly added that Muslims must not be targeted as a community. Think of the message that goes to the police? Does it not indicate that the Prime Minister wants them to continue fighting only a defensive war? This is all they have done so far and yet there is a deep sense of grievance in the community that is being fed constantly by sympathy from high officials in Delhi.
No it doesn't indicate that, it only indicates that do they job correctly by going after the real cultprits and their accomplices whoever they are, and not target people because they happen to belong to the same religion as the suspects. The exact quote is here. She goes on,
We need to ask ourselves if we are not carrying things too far. We know that the bombers on Mumbai’s trains were all Muslim. We know that they would have taken shelter in one of this city’s Muslim areas, possibly even in mosques, but when the Mumbai police started detaining Muslims for questioning we in the media spoke in one voice against the “targeting of a particular community”.

The cry was taken up by Muslim MPs in Parliament and last week Mumbai’s Police Commissioner, A N Roy, wrote a letter virtually apologising for his law enforcement measures to such patently Islamist organisations as the Raza Academy and the Dar ul Uloom Mohammadiya.
Let's read how the affected people see it,
Most Muslims leaders whom DNA spoke to felt that the letter was mere rhetoric, and that the police would be better served finding the actual culprits. There is undoubtedly fear in the city’s Muslim community that innocent people were being targeted, often on the basis of their appearance.

Said Abu Asim Azim, MP and president of Quami Majlis Shoora, “Roy is trying to be a politician. On the one hand, he assures us that the community would not be hounded. On the other, innocent Muslims continue to be at the receiving end of a prejudiced probe. We don’t want assurances on paper. We want the real culprits to be brought to justice.”

This is a view shared by many. Those responsible should be caught. However, some also see that the current climate in the world also plays a role in perpetuating prejudices. Rizvan Haider, president, Youth Citizen’s Forum said, “Those involved in terrorist activities have no religion. They are contract killers. Look at Pakistan and other Muslim countries which are also reeling under terrorism. Islam does not preach violence. A true Muslim will never get involved in such activities. This is rhetoric by superpowers (read the United States) to keep us alienated from the world.”

Many leaders repeat the point that religion has nothing to do with terrorism, ironically, the point with which Roy opened his letter. According to Adul Latif, executive member, human rights protection under UN Charter, India, “No real Muslim will be a votary of violence. I have faith in the judicial system of this country. Indian Muslims are basically religious and it’s only the misguided ones from other countries who get into terrorism.”

One viewpoint that agrees with the commissioner comes from Safdar H Karmali, president, Khoja Siya Jammath who said, “So far, I have not received any complaint about police harassment from Muslims in my area. We wish the real culprits are caught and the innocents not harassed. I trust the police to be just in their role.”

That feeling is extended and reiterated by Abraham Mathai, vice president of the Minorities Commission who said, “The Mumbai police commissioner’s letter is an important confidence-building initiative. These are times when a healing touch needs to be extended to one and all to foil the evil designs of those that seek to divide and destroy.”

But the healingtouch is not going to come from Ms Tavleen Singh. Nor from Mr Sudheendra Kulkarni who writes this:
We must remember that many Muslims too suffered in the terror attack. Many Muslims too came forward to help wounded and stranded passengers. I know a little bit about the Muslim community in my city, and I have no doubt that this attack will further cement Hindu-Muslim relations.
But perhaps remembering his Advice to L K Advani on a certain matter involving Jinnah and the after effects, hastens to add a point very similar to the one raised by Ms Singh:
Why did certain Muslim (along with leftist) organizations in Bombay showcase the largest ever Muslim mobilization in the city to protest US President Bush’s visit to India and, why, in contrast, they have never mobilized even a few thousands to condemn those who commit acts of terror in the name of Islam?
PS: I was meaning to post about it since Sep 9 when it appeared but was unable to for the usual reasons - laziness, not-in-the-moodness, and so on.

Reliance Gets 25,000 Acres

For an SEZ. Fine. But what makes me gasp is that all of Bangalore is just 50,000 acres. So Reliance is getting half a Bangalore? And we are complaining about the tribals? Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha, and now JNURM, discusses SEZs here.

His latest article which is not only yet, is fully reproduced here:
SEZs – STOP THE RUNAWAY TRAIN

I wrote an article in this publication a few weeks ago that was critical of SEZs. Among the responses were a surprising number from professionals in the corporate sector – those who were involved in working on SEZs. And their sentiments were deeply disturbing: without exception, the common refrain was that the SEZ idea was a runaway train, and that it was using the singular, concentrated force of greed and self-interest to rip open the land market in the country. An executive from one of the big four consulting firms told me, “I advise my clients on succeeding in being a part of these SEZs, but I am selling my soul.” Another lawyer said, “Unfortunately, it’s the biggest money-making opportunity we have ever seen.” A senior IT industry executive said, “I agree that it’s a land scam, and it shouldn’t be happening. But we ourselves are bidding for them, because we can’t be left behind. I have my shareholders’ interests to protect – they would tell me, ‘You want to be Gandhi, don’t do it on our money.’” So much for Munnabhai.

I consider myself a middle-of-the-road person: I believe in the potential of the market, but also in an affirmative state that regulates the market vigorously and transparently. I recognise that public policy choices are not black-or-white, and need to balance various views, while always keeping the citizens’ and the nation’s interests in mind. But for the life of me, I cannot figure out the compelling argument for SEZs in India . Their stated benefits are debatable. On the promise of job creation, five lakh jobs is too trivial a target for the incentives being provided – close to 50,000 hectares of subsidised and clean-title land, leaving aside the tax-breaks. These jobs - and more - could surely be created through other, cheaper means. On catalysing economic devel opm ent, there is little credible evidence that SEZs actually make a difference by themselves, unless accompanied by a slew of accompanying actions.

I have tried to educate myself by talking to people, and reading up material related to SEZs. There are some successful examples across the world, and there is apparently far greater understanding today of the conditions to make SEZs more effective – one trend seems to be to make them bigger, with more mixed use – almost like private cities with their own governance environment. Even supporters of SEZs concede, “When evaluating the success of an SEZ, it is important to determine how the resources would have been used in the absence of the zones. Would capital have remained in the country and would employment be created in more productive areas? When there has been a failure to put in place adequate legal and regulatory frameworks, and a trained administration to oversee its correct implementation, the cost of SEZs outweighs the benefits since the benefits such as job creation are short-term and considerable amount of existing revenue is lost through avoidance.” This is from a World Bank site on debate about SEZs.

Shenzhen, arguably among the most “successful” of China ’s SEZs, raises more questions than answers for us. A sampling:

“ The costs to the state for developing Shenzhen will not be recaptured until probably the second decade of the 21st Century. The size of the net loss was projected in 1990 to be US $131 billion by 2003.” (Wu, China’s Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, 1990).

“Early on, manufacturing took on the most important focus. The following few years saw more real estate speculation than industrial devel opm ent. Speculation in the property market has been “little short of anarchic.” (Studwell, Unlocking China : A Key to Investment Regions)

I looked up the list of countries that have SEZs: Brazil , China , Hong Kong, Kazhakstan, Leichtenstein , Monaco , Philipines , Russia , Singapore , Srilanka. I thought of India ’s buzzword in Davos 2006, when we made the big splash – “The world’s fastest growing democracy”, emphasis on democracy. Examine our august SEZ company when it comes to this qualifier: there is not one mature, functioning democracy in that list – with Kazhakstan, we are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. So have we reduced democracy to a tagline now?

There is an old proverb – “cross the river by feeling the stones”, meaning do it carefully. As we gingerly tread the path to economic prosperity, our democracy is what is holding us together. We do have a system of checks and balances – however inefficient it may seem to an outsider or a layman. Clearly, there is an urgent national economic imperative especially given our demographics, and what seems like an opportunity to capitalise on the current momentum. But we are also beginning to slowly rip apart into two countries, with the naxalite movement spreading across more than 30% of the districts.
There is an 85 km. barrier fence with check-points that separates Shenzhen SEZ from the rest of Shenzhen municipality. Is this what we want our cities to look like, walled-off economic fortresses? These boundaries will become the contested terrain of conflict between the two Indias , one globalised and competitive, the other left behind, with no tools to participate and only the rage of disaffection. This is besides other distortions like the use of fertile agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, or skewed spatial planning outcomes.

I have a great deal of faith in the sensitivity of our business leaders to know that they are aware of this. But the SEZ concept is a dangerous force that aligns self-interest in a particularly intense manner, and corrodes checks-and-balances, as the earlier statements from those involved in these structures shows.

So, if the executive and legislature have failed us, should we – as we are beginning to do with increasing regularity – turn to the judiciary? If this be so, I hope that an effective case is made, because I am not sure that we can afford the price that SEZs will extract. This runaway train must be stopped.

24-Sep-2006

The Tribal Bill - Let's Face Reality

And recognise that there is a price to pay for 'development'. Says Pankaj Sekhsaria, talking about the criticism of the Tribal Bill:

Thousands of acres of productive land are being acquired to create Special Economic Zones at the cost of thousands of families and millions of existing livelihoods; traditional tribal lands (many which are thickly forested) are being mined and drowned with impunity across the length and breadth of the country; huge infrastructure projects are being created in some of the most sensitive ecological systems and dollar-earning tourism projects are being advocated in lands where traditional communities are being displaced in the name of wildlife conservation. There was an interesting report a couple of years ago of encroachment and tree felling by tribals deep inside the Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Orissa. Investigation revealed that these were people who had been recently displaced by huge mining projects in neighbouring Jharkhand. These, we have to realise, are human beings and cannot be expected to vanish into thin air. They have to go somewhere; they have to do something to ensure their survival and that of their families!

Still tiger vs. tribal?

It has also been argued that the tiger has no votes, the tribal is a huge vote bank and that is why vested interests with short-term political horizons are willing to sacrifice the forests and the tiger. That's true. The tiger has no votes, but incidentally, neither does the huge "capital" (increasingly foreign) that wants to mine the tiger and elephant-rich forests of Niyamgiri, construct a port at Dhamra right in midst of Olive Ridley turtle habitat (both in Orissa), rip apart critical wildlife migratory corridors for coal in the Jharkhand's North Karanpura Valley or ensure fast moving rail and road traffic that has claimed a number of wild elephants in forests across North Bengal. Gujarat Forest Department figures, for instance, reveal that nearly 150 wild animals, including leopards, hyena and neelgai were killed in road accidents between 1998 and 2004 in the Vadodara Forest Circle of the State alone. This is not an isolated case and is happening across the country. An animal killed by a tribal can at least be eaten. Of what use is one that is flattened within minutes between fast moving rubber and rock hard bitumen?

Let's accept the fact that development, speed and GDP growth will come with a price. Let's be honest about it. We've eaten the cake (certainly eating it at the present) and we are also crying that we are losing it. We, obviously, cannot have both things at the same time. What's worse, however, is we want to pass the responsibility of what is happening on to somebody else — the tribal, the tiger, the elephant... those that don't really have a voice, have never had a voice.

A major criticism of the Tribal Bill is that once the people get ownership of the land, there will be a virtual stampede to sell it to the highest bidder and/or a virtual carnage in which the forests are decimated. As I'd noted here, it is not at all clear that the situation will be worse than it is now, when the forest department/government owns the land. The above article gives a lot of instances to prove the point, from someone who seems to be in a position to know. As did a
serendipitous discovery of a dysfunctional website.

Maybe we really should, as the above writer suggests, realize that development has its side-effects and get used to losing our forests, instead of blaming tribals.