25-May-2010

Regulators in the US

Unbelievable!
WASHINGTON — Federal regulators responsible for oversight of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico allowed industry officials several years ago to fill in their own inspection reports in pencil — and then turned them over to the regulators, who traced over them in pen before submitting the reports to the agency, according to an inspector general’s report to be released this week.

The report, which describes inappropriate behavior by the staff at the Minerals Management Service from 2005 to 2007, also found that inspectors had accepted meals, tickets to sporting events and gifts from at least one oil company while they were overseeing the industry.
(via Atrios).

This coming after the senior employees of the Securities and Exchange Commision (the finance industry regulator/watch dog) were caught watching porn in the office. Not good days for the regulators in the US!

23-May-2010

India Unable To Investigate Crash On Its Own

I found this on Deccan Herald:
A team of top US transportation experts along with officials from Boeing is set to join Indian aviation authorities in probing the Air India Express flight crash in Mangalore that killed 158 people.According to sources, the team,which will assist Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in investigation into Saturday's plane crash, is scheduled to reach Mangalore on Tuesday morning.
They're coming as the result of a request from India.

Right. Incredible India. The next world Superpower. Ready to take over the world soon. And we don't know how to determine what happened when a plane crashes? Mind you, this wasn't a crash in mid-flight over sea or some remote mountain range. This is right next to the landing strip. The CVR and FDR have been found. And we're inviting the company that manufactured the damn plane to help us find out what happened? What are the chances that the report will find that the plane was just fine?

Relatedly, this is probably what Condaleeza Rice meant when she said the USA would help India become a major world power. Yup. Step by baby step.

21-May-2010

When The State Gets Coercive

A letter to the Editor :
I would like the readers whose passions are running high in the wake of Dantewada II to go through Chapter IV of a 2009 draft report authored by Sub Group IV of the Committee on State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms, set up by the Union Ministry of Rural Development, besides offering their suggestions to wipe out the Maoists. While addressing the question of large-scale acquisition of tribal lands in the mineral-rich area, the Report talks of the forcible evacuation of entire villages and herding the populace into camps, from which those who escape are branded as Maoists and wiped out. The Salwa Judum, which organised the evacuation, according to the report, was “created and encouraged by the [State] government and supported with the firepower and organisation of the central forces.”

S.V. Rajadurai,

Kotagiri

The report is here. An article from Outlook quotes a small paragraph:
This open, declared war will go down as the biggest land grab ever.... Tata Steel and Essar Steel...wanted seven villages or thereabouts...to mine the richest lode of iron ore available in India. (After) initial resistance from the tribals...the state withdrew its plans. A new approach was necessary.... (It) came about with the Salwa Judum...headed by the Murias, some of them erstwhile (Maoist) cadres. Behind them are traders, contractors and miners.... The first financiers of the Salwa Judum were Tata and Essar...640 villages...were laid bare, burnt to the ground and emptied with the force of the gun and the blessings of the state. (Some) 3,50,000 tribals, half the total population of Dantewada district, are displaced, their womenfolk raped, their daughters killed and their youth maimed. Those who could not escape into the jungle were herded together into refugee camps run and managed by the Salwa Judum...640 villages are empty. Villages sitting on tons of iron ore are effectively de-peopled and available for the highest bidder. The latest information being circulated is that both Essar Steel and Tata Steel are willing to take over the empty landscape and manage the mines.”
The Outlook reporter calls it 'devastatingly frank'. That it is without a doubt, though it's from a committee set up by the government and not by a group of some wild-eyed Maoist-sympathisers.

19-May-2010

Scanning Pro-Maoists

From Deccan Herald:
A Home Ministry circular alerts heads of paramilitary forces and police in the Maoist-affected states that the CPI-Maoist has 57 “front bodies” of peasants, labourers, women, students, tribals and trade unions who have helped the banned outfit raise the level of its tactical warfare, including winning court battles and getting their arrested leaders released.
Apparently one of the 'front bodies' includes a group that has a former supreme court justice as a 'key member':
Among the groups being watched include People’s Union for Civil Liberties that has Justice (Retd) Rajinder Sachar as one of its key members. The group was formed in 1976 by Jaiprakash Narain.
If that doesn't tell the Home Ministry that it is barking up the wrong tree by targeting these groups and 'intellectuals' in general, I don't know what will. It's not only ex-Justices who are in the government's spotlight:
Blaming “unrealistic judicial activism” as the main reason for increased Maoist activities, the [Law and Justice] minister said: “If the courts had exhibited restraint and gone according to ground realities in the forests, the situation would have been totally different today”.
Here's another former Justice speaking out in support of dialogue & addressing root causes:
A group of 25 intellectuals and activists, including Justice V R Krishna Iyer and Arundhati Roy, on Monday welcomed the statement by Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi that the ''root cause'' of naxalism has to be addressed while decisively acting against them.

“We welcome the public statement of Sonia Gandhi that the extreme neglect of the tribal areas is at the root of the present crisis in those regions.

“We hope that this appreciation of the need to go deeper into the question would lead to initiatives for immediate cessation of hostilities and dialogue so that the process of people-oriented development can be made feasible,” they said in a statement.
As B S Raghavan argued in Business Line:
The so-called war on Maoism has fast degenerated into a war of words. This phony war is entirely the offshoot of the political establishment, governing class and security agencies unleashing their combined might against those whom they castigate as the apologists, accomplices and sympathisers of Maoists, defined as any group of balanced, thoughtful analysts who have the temerity to argue that full-throated, blood-curdling cries of a ‘fight-to-the finish' with all the forces at the Government's command are no answer to Maoism.

18-May-2010

Liability Caps

The Americans want the Nuclear Liability Bill which caps the suppliers' liabilities in case of mishaps. One has to agree that they practice what they preach. I mean, $75 million liability cap to cover damages from oil spills. How pro-oil companies can a country's politicians be?

In Thrall Of Finance

Interesting article from Deccan Chronicle:
In the ongoing war between international finance capital and the citizens of the world, it is remarkable how many recent battles finance has won. Recent events have shown how economic policies of governments and the socio-economic rights of citizens in both the developed and developing worlds are increasingly hostage to the whims of financial markets, based on fear of the havoc they can create. Even more than before, the world seems to be enslaved by finance.
Link here. Reminds me of the ancient mariner and the wedding guest.

17-May-2010

A Glimmer of Hope Regarding The Naxal Issue?

Apparently, the Congress chief has this to say about the Naxalite problem:
“Our country is facing an enormous challenge from the Naxalites. While we must address acts of terror decisively and forcefully, we have to address the root causes of Naxalism. The rise of Naxalism is a reflection of the need for our development initiatives to reach the grassroots, especially in our most backward tribal districts.”
She should be more careful when expressing such things which can be interpreted as offering support to the Naxalites : Supporting Maoists will invite 10 year jail. Of course this threat of jail-terms seems to be totally unconstitutional - our Constitution apparently even protects people that talk against the very idea of India itself.

Aside from that, the article notes that the PM gets the problem and also that Industry gets it:
The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has however been a bit more specific in his appeal to industrialists that they should “partner” the Government in the latter's efforts to develop the interior regions of the country. Among other things, he is reported to have said that industry needed “to plough back cash into the areas from where it is hoping to make money”.

The CII president, Mr Hari Bhartia, reportedly said that Dr Singh wanted industry to invest in building trust in the Naxalite-hit districts, and that improvement of the “condition of the people in these areas has to be a priority for the state and industry”.

Importantly, the CII chief said that industry was “not immediately looking at doing business there... we want to go in and build trust”. This is a noble intention stated unequivocally, and Mr Bhartia should be complimented for the exercise.
Positive news definitely.

Interesting Side-effect of GM Crops

Explosion of pests around farms growing genetically modified cotton. Article here: Pests explosion leads to call for GM review

02-May-2010

IPL: Fixing Was A Regular Occurrence

Michael Atherton has it off-record from a 'former international player':
... one leading former international player told me categorically, albeit off the record because of his fear of reprisals, that fixing was a regular occurrence.
Article here. Difficult to know how much credence to give an anonymous source, but keeping in mind that the IT department supposedly had a list of 27 players who were gaming the system, it does seem that it is happening.

He also writes:
I have always been deeply ambivalent about the IPL: the gross commercialisation, the greed, the pandering to celebrities and the salesmanship of some older players who should know better have done little to enrich the game.
And:
Modi’s marketing genius — and it was just that — will be missed, further straining revenues. It will begin to feel more like a cricket tournament than a giant commercial advert with cricket attached.
Funny he calls IPL a giant commercial advert with cricket attached. I'd said something similar in a mail to the Hasiru Usiru mailing list:
I believe cricket as it is in our country currently, is nothing but a hanger on which ads for lousy products like the fizzy drinks can be hung. It is also a money-making enterprise for its practitioners and administrators. The money is not always made playing the game as it should be played. I could care less about IPL's fate.
Oh well, the advert will go on, no doubt about it.