Thursday, November 29, 2007

Goodbye LBSNAA

All good things come to an end. So does the 81st Foundation Course. It started of on an exciting note but the hectic schedule, especially the early morning PTs and weekend treks, began to take their toll. Adding to that was the excruciating climb to the mess and somnolent speeches by the guest speakers. All along the way, we cried, cribbed and cursed. But as the course nears its completion, the beauty of FC begins to dawn upon me. The biggest lure of the FC is its academic insouciance, something that will be sorely missed during our professional training.

When I look back, I realize that in these three and half months I have done scores of things that I would have never imagined I would be doing. A random list….

Waking up to a false alarm at 4 AM and again sleeping off ……only to be late for the PT

Relishing Upma at the breakfast……. a dish which I passionately hated at home

Late night movies in common room with friends….. with orange glow of the room heater and murrukkus

Meetings…. Syndicate Group Meeting, Counselor Group Meeting, Trek Group Meeting, Village Visit Group Meeting….

Watching Yamini Krishnamurthy perform at the age of 67 ..... truly inspiring

Sleeping in the class……..sometimes complete with dreams and snores

Weekend treks, early morning jogs …… and visits to the dispensary feigning injury

Pulling of an entertaining one act play complete with costumes, lighting and sound but without a written script

Trekking to a height of 1000 metres over six kilometers with a sprained ankle to visit a Gurudwara for the first time. (A wonderful photo essay of trekking in this stretch is available here)

Seeing a glacier .... and touching it.

Drinking tea at the last tea stall of India...

Trek in the company of icy Himalayan winds, barren rocks and zero vegetation…

Enjoying the bonhomie of ITBP jawans at Gastoli …… their warm barracks, their lovely songs and dances that went late into night

Playing cricket on a helipad at an altitude of 14,500 feet…..

Not taking bath for three days

Managing the traditional telugu dhoti for five hours before someone pointed out an impending wardrobe malfunction

DPs unfailing company to the breakfast……everyday

Surprise cancellation of PT

Waking up at 9 am and having bath at 12 am on sundays

Basking in the warm sun

Gorging over food at Andhra Bhavan in Delhi after being starved of south Indian food for over two months

Visiting Bihar

Conducting a gram sabha and addressing the villagers in broken Hindi

Verifying the muster rolls of NREGA

Spending sleepless nights with VM to bring out the batchbook …… and then getting mobbed by OTs for a copy when it is finally released

Listening to Ilaiyaraja’s songs for a whole day…..snuggled in a blanket

Last minute preparation for exams….and sometimes going without any preparation

Unscheduled vodkas at the drop of the hat……..and the funny drunken banters

Searching a lecture hall for 20 minutes…..and when unsuccessful, simply going back to the room and sleeping

And finally….

Friend’s list in Orkut swelling by more than 100 in 100 days.

I will miss you, LBSNAA.

* Trek is one of the highpoints of FC. One of the more challenging parts was the Mana – Gastoli stretch. Mana (10,500 ft) is a village three Kilometers from Badrinath. Gastoli (14,500ft) is 14 kms from Mana towards the Indo-China border. The International Border is around 30 kms from Gastoli. All that is present in Gastoli is a lone ITBP camp, which is operational for only six months in a year. The camp has no electricity or telephone. Lights are solar powered and for cooking, kerosene is ferried from Mana by truck for around 10 Kms and from there brought to the camp by mules.

* Batchbook contains the profile of all OTs with their photographs, likes, dislikes etc.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Decline of Civil Servants? Not Really.

It is widely perceived that there has been a gradual decline in the moral and ethical standards in public life since independence, which is also reflected in the character and conduct of public servants. Corruption has affected all sections of society and is prevalent from the highest to the lowest levels of bureaucracy. It was believed that, with rare exceptions, IAS officers were person of integrity and moral courage who administered law and rules with a degree of fairness and impartiality. This perception has changed to an extent that it is now believed that a majority of The IAS officers are deviants; and do not abide by the normative standards of behaviour and conduct expected of them.

Those are lines from the first paragraph of Chapter III – Values, Attitudes and Moral Imperatives from “Report of the Study Group on the Training of IAS Officers: Impact Assessment and Strategy for the Future”. The report was the result of the study group set up by the Department of Personnel and Training Vide its sanction order No. 15012.2/1/95-(Trg) dated 14th march, 1996. The team had closely interacted with various training institutes and had a special focus on LBSNAA.

Prima facie, these lines might not surprise a lot of people as it is a general perception that there is a decline in the quality of public servants, especially in the moral quotient. That perception has also been often extended to even the entrants into the service. Paragraph 3.8 from the same chapter in the report is a pointer in that direction.

Fresh entrants into the civil services today, who operate in this unwholesome environment, are disillusioned and confused right from the start. As they observe their seniors, many of whom are either apathetic or unhelpful, the younger members choose the relatively pleasant course of expediency, and swim with the tide, while paying lip service to ethical standards and norms of conduct.

However, after reading this memoir of a former IPS officer who attended the Foundation Course forty four summers ago, I wonder if there has actually been a 'decline' in the quality of entrants.

One evening four I.A.S. officers got a bindas (uninhibited) lady probationer of Indian Railway Accounts Service drunk in a room of Kutesar Castle and then made her condition so pathetic that for about a month she could sit only on a pillow in the classroom. The matter had become the talk of the academy but the administrators, in their concern for the career of the young I.A.S. officers, initiated no action against those probationers, and considered it sufficient to advise them, "Choose bearable number."

One year earlier, an I.A.S. probationer had criminally assaulted a minor daughter of a poor man living on the hill-slope behind Charleville Hotel. The then Director, with stated intent of saving the girl's honor, had hushed up the matter after advising the probationer, "Choose proper age."

Nothing, even remotely as serious as the instances above, has occurred during the present Foundation Course. So the logical conclusion should be that the quality of entrants is actually improving. Encouraging, isn’t it?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lessons @ LBSNAA

I am back !!!

Ever since I joined the Foundation Course at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), I have been suffering from intense pangs of anomie and laziness. Added to that are the various explicit and implicit restrictions that come with the status of being a civil servant. The conduct rules places a restraint on our freedom of expression under the clause of “criticizing the Government”. So probably there wouldn’t be much criticism of Government in this blog henceforth. But, I guess that the restrictions would be a challenge too. Anyways, it feels good to have a disclaimer on my blog. I finally feel usefully and gainfully employed.

So much has happened in the last two months that it would be difficult boring to chronicle them in a single post. Glimpses of life at LBSNAA can be had at blogs of my colleagues, Aunrag and Sundar.

Today, I would like to give some insights on the training that happens here. The importance of soft skills has been realized by the Government. And they have also realized that all lessons cannot be imparted in the conventional classroom-type teaching. So here are a few out-of-the-box and out-of-the-classroom techniques of imparting soft skills.


The enlightening lectures at the Sampoornanand auditorium is often a transcendental experience. The Officer Trainees (OTs) go into a different mental plane, which the course team and visiting faculty term as “sleeping’. It is here that the dreams and vision for the glorious future of our country take birth. OTs train themselves (You see we are also made adept in Self-learning), in Dr Kalam’s art of dreaming and developing a vision. The seeds of Vision 3030 are sown here.


The dispensary is the place where OTs hone their persuasive and negotiating skills. Every visitor tries his best to convince the Doctor that any activity other than walking, particularly the early morning Physical Training, is lethal. Previous records state that the OT who gets the maximum exemptions from attending the PT sessions inevitably wins the A. N. Sinha One Act play.

OT Lounge

The billiards table has more players than the number of balls. The place makes an excellent case study for successful implementation of principles of equity and inclusiveness. And way the game is played is an exposition on classical laissez faire at work. Such is the freedom that one ingenious OT revealed that he prefers reverse usage of cue as it is more convenient to hit the ball with the handle, which has bigger circumference. Who says bureaucrats are bookish, impractical and unimaginative?


It is necessary that public servants are polite, courteous and helpful. The weekend treks help in inculcating these much-valued traits. They bring out the chivalrous knights hidden inside the OTs. The extent of chivalry is directly proportional to slope of the path and the goodlooks of the OT. A couple of clarifications here:

1) Beauty is subjective and depends on the sole discretion of the beholder.

2) The second factor has ten times the weightage of the first one.

3) If the recipient belongs to a good cadre and the knight to the cadres that truly demand him to be a knight in a fighting armor, then chivalry is unconditional.

Officers’ Mess

The food is a symbol of national integration. You will never be able to distinguish a South Indian sambhar from a North Indian dal. Such is the cross-cultural culinary acclimatization that the Indian Foreign Service probationers who do not skip a single meal at the mess are the ones who feel at home in Côte d'Ivoire.

We have much more than this in our training. But let me save them for another post.

PS1: It is mandatory to leave a comment for all OTs reading this post.

PS2: Firefox users, please note that the LBSNAA website works well only with Internet Explorer.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Doubt I : Disqualification of Kalam

“Can we imagine an umpire or a referee who knows nothing about the sport. A President is not called upon to write poems, stories, novels nor talk about scientific research. He should take decisions on issues affecting political, economic and social life of the country,” Mr. Bardhan said giving a talk on Presidential elections at a meeting organised by the State council of CPI here on Sunday.

Sir, shouldn’t we then have some minimum educational qualification for legislators?

He said the country had entered a crucial era of coalition politics, breaking the monopoly of power by Congress. In this context, the highest office required a person who had knowledge about the relationship between parties that made up the coalitions. “Tell us, what is wrong in our thought”, he asked.

Nothing sir. We are just wondering if such knowledge is possible. Will some present/erstwhile members of any coalition Government shed light on their ‘relationship’ with other constituents?

He said the Left was opposed to second term for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam because it had not supported him even at the first instance.

How consistent!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Vignettes of a Tamil Refugee

This is my delayed response to Sambol’s evocative post on the pain of those who are forced to leave their strife-torn countries. [Link via Desipundit]. It brought back the memories of one such Sri Lankan Tamil family whom I had known during my stay at Madurai.

The family consisted of a couple and their three daughters in their prime of youth. The youngest one had the loveliest oval face with big communicative eyes and a skin that was unusually fair and flawless for those south of Tropic of Cancer. Unfortunately, she had some problem with legs and could walk only with a limp. Fate seemed to have some cruel grudge on them.

The lady taught me Tamil. I was in fifth grade and the school, like many in Tamil Nadu, required me to study Tamil. I, then, barely knew the alphabet. So bad was my Tamil, that my parents eagerly waited to read my answer scripts for my unintended wit and humour.

Instead of writing “Kandhai aanalum kasakki kattu” [Even if it is a rag, wash thoroughly before wearing it], I wrote “Thandhai aanalum kasakki kattu” [Even if it is your father, wash thoroughly before wearing it]. Thanks to her, I just failed only in my second monthly test and by the end of the year, I always managed to get above 60%.

India in the pre-Manmohan Singh era provided little employment avenues for residents, let alone refugees. And of all the places, Madurai, a very sleepy town which my uncle often calls as a mega-village, gave them a very slender chance of resurrecting a living that was as respectable and as secure as they had in Sri Lanka.

The lady taught in a neighborhood school and a few students from there came to her home for tuitions. Except me and a few others, most of the students were Sri Lankan Tamils. They were pretty close to each other. Probably, they derived some kind of emotional coziness from each other. I used to find their accent very different and funny. Yet, I must confess that it had an element of rhythm and purity embedded in it. When compared to regular rustic Tamil of Madurai, even their angry spews appeared sweet.

The lady was very professional at her work and ensured that the time we spent there was used only for academics. Despite this, when the some student made an odd statement about someone who returned recently or some news from Jaffna, she would become both nostalgic and hopeful. Nostalgic about the past and hopeful about the future, though she knew that there was not much to hope.

Whenever, I see Kannathil Muthamittal, I wonder if she too fled amidst shelling. The song Vidai Kodu Engal Naadu empathetically captures the pain, agony and the uncertainty of being uprooted not just from your town, but from your country.

kaN thiRandha dhesam angae
kaN moodum dhesam engae?

There is the land where I was born.
Where is the land where I will die.

Of course, development always led to displacement. But the displacement a refugee faces has uncertainty written all over his future. People displaced due to development lose their home. But refugees lose their homes, their claim for compensation, their land, their identity. You begin to live on someone’s mercy. A family uprooted from a river basin confidently settles down at the nearest urban slum. But a refugee is often thinking about a piece of land for him to stand. Overnight, landlords like my tuition teacher, who owned a home in Jaffna, have to think about a place to even sit.

I was there for just one year. We later shifted to Hyderabad. A few summers later, I watched her walking past my grandfather’s home, where we went for our annual summer vacation. She was now giving home tuitions to one of my erstwhile friend. She was just same. Square face with prominent cheek bones and eyes securely rested in their deep sockets. She spoke to my mom with the same cheerfulness and wished me good luck. As she walked away, my mom recollected her travails. My mom was scared to touch upon sensitive issues like daughters’ marriages. In a small town like that we could always learn from others and if there was anything very encouraging, she would have definitely shared with us. I never heard of them again.

Some years back, when I applied for the TNPCEE exam, I was glad that there reservations for Tamil refugees. However, it seems that since 2003, these children are being denied admission into professional courses due some Madras High Court order and subsequent dilly-dallying of the center. The refugee camps, which Thiru says are equivalents of open-air prisons in Kannathil Muthamittal, are going to be worse with rising conflict in Sri Lanka.

When I read Sambol’s post, I felt how lucky he and some of those who left comments were to go to a western country. There were only two occasions when I could see a gleam in my teacher’s eyes. One, when she discussed about their joyful Jaffna life. Two, when she learnt how someone in a similar situation could migrate to western countries.

I hope she too got a chance to move out to greener pastures.

Friday, March 16, 2007

An IIT for Andhra Pradesh

The location of the new IIT in Andhra Pradesh has become a bone of contention. The CM has proposed the location at Medak, a neighboring district of Hyderabad which is being steadily encroached by Hyderabadi suburbs. However, Mr. Ramiah and others who have been at the forefront of the campaign for an IIT at AP, want it to be located at Basar in Nizamabad district as it has the famed temple of Goddess Saraswati.

Amidst the din of arguments from either side, it has been lost that AP already has an IIT. High school students from AP have silently accomplished what politicians and academicians could not do. If don’t believe me, see this. [Link via Abi]

“During a recent year under review 979 candidates from South Zone secured admission. Of them 769 were from AP, while TN accounted for 94 successful candidates, Karnataka, 84, and Kerala, for no more than 32 candidates.”

Since we live in an age of acquisitions and mergers, the IIT for AP can be established in the following manner with minimal investment and zero contention.

Rename IIT (Madras) as IIT (Hyderabad).

Rename Guindy as Gandipet Phase - II.

Incorporate the locality into the proposed Greater Hyderabad.

Appoint Mr. Ramiah as the director.

Don’t worry about the Tamilians. Give them an additional 100 million cubic feet of Krishna water and they would happily agree to this.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ayn Rand in Wonderland

This month, Atlas Shrugged completes fifty years of its existence. It reminds of my non-iterative love-hate relationship with Ayn Rand. I was in high school when I completed this book. It was the first piece of serious literature I ever read. And, expectedly, I was blown off by it

When I look back, the book resembles like an intellectual version of a bollywood potboiler. A fantastic escape for the ordinary into extraordinary. Everyone is exceptionally talented in the book. Some even exceptionally rich. Common man has no place in her society. He is a passive sheep who has to be led by the ‘minds of the world’. Only people who are the ‘best’ of the society need to be talked about. Sounds like an intellectual Page 3. Doesn’t it? Such artistic liberty may be fine for a book like Fountainhead which deals with objectivism at an individual level. But when you try to extrapolate it to the wider canvas of society, characterization should be representative. Rand easily forgets that all those “talented” businessmen and artists need the man on the road for their survival. Her conception of Atlantis, completes her denial of the common man. It is surprising that she chooses a fantasy land as a ‘rational’ solution to the problem.

Despite the flagrant contradiction, Atlas Shrugged comes out as the most influential book after Bible for the Americans. But I don’t find any influence of Atlas Shrugged on America. Rather, America stands for everything that was denounced in the book. Instead of innovation and ingenuity, the American corporations now rely on non-tariff barriers, strategic superiority and even brute force to make money. The nation that has a statue for liberty is holding thousands under indefinite detention violating principles of natural justice. The biggest joke is that while Rand celebrates the Dollar as the proof of infinite superiority of the human mind, every dollar itself states that “In God We Trust”.

The only visible influence is that most people just pick up Rand’s hedonistic morality to justify their ways and views of life. For this, Rand creates numerous characters to reinforce her idea of morality. One excellent example is, Hank Rearden, a man who invents some strange blue steel, which is supposed to be the elixir of infrastructure. The society, externally, and his family, internally, are depicted as thankless leeches who suck him for their survival. And just like the gullible readers, this man of munificence, suddenly realizes that there is nothing wrong in abandoning his factory and family. I say, he should actually be thankful to his family members for giving him a chance to be their savior and stoke his ego.

Societally speaking, what if Hank Rearden invented a cure for AIDS rather than that silly blue steel? Would all those who worship him still agree if he refuses to sell the drug at a price other than that he determines and only to people whom he chooses? Or still further, what if my happiness lies chopping the fingers of persons whose name begins with “H”? After all, by the Randian philosophy happiness should be the only guiding principle. So at close quarters, the whole philosophy becomes animalistic way of life. (May be that is why their sex is characterized by violence, rape, BDSM and adultery.)

Randians might argue that your happiness should be pursued only to the extent that it doesn’t hurt others. But who will draw the line? A neutral regulator? That can’t be. As Anaconia in his celebrated speech says “production cannot be decided by those who do not produce”. So unless you are a serial killer, you can’t regulate my homicides.

May be Ayn Rand did not know how to find answers to all these. So she very simply created an imaginary isolated land where all like minded people get away. Great. But why will the world stop? If Newton did not wonder about apples, Clinton would have. I wonder how all her “extraordinary” minds were so like-minded. Why did not their intellectual superiority have different perspectives of life and happiness?

She calls those who tax the ‘productive’ population to fund welfare schemes as ‘looters’. Her naivety doesn’t get better than this. It is because of the ‘looters’ that the ‘minds of the world’ had law and order and social and physical infrastructure on which their genius could blossom. Again, my friends on the other side of fence would love Rand as she gives them a reason to cuss the tax collectors.

Ayn Rand understood neither man nor the society. She knew neither economics nor politics. Yet she set off to paint a grandiose philosophy and, expectedly, it was neither rational nor sustainable. She should have done some reading of her compatriot, Dostovesky. The consequence of assumed intellectual superiority, and the resultant liberty to act by personal judgment alone, was beautifully brought out through Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. While he showed how one Raskolnikov was an abberation, Ayn Rand fills up the Atlas Shrugged with umpteen Raskolnikovs and claims them to be the saviors of the world. Atlas Shrugged is interesting, but, as Abi calls it, a hoax. ,“John Galt – it's time to come home and go to work.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Budget Speech 2007-2008

Mr. Speaker, Sir

It is a pain to present the Budget for the year 2007-08. I hate the PM for making me stand for three hours and I hate Health Minister for refusing to give me a false certificate for acute arthritis. You will rot in hell.

The budget speech has been deliberately made long so that all those who are listening can go to sleep and have a dream budget, like they had under a sleeping PM. Before I begin to start my budget speech, I would like to share a few pearls of wisdom which will help my allies and the Opposition to receive my proposals in the right perspective. The great modern actor-philosopher of Tamil Nadu had once enlightened us that Adhighama Aasappadra Left um Adhighama Kovappedra Right um Nalla Vaazhntha Charithrame Kedayadhu. (A Left which is over demanding and a Right which is extra fiery will die of worms in their stomach.) So please don’t expect much.

I will not present the overview of the economy because I have already mailed you the copy of Economic Survey 2007-08. Please read it when you find time. If you have doubts, please ask Alex. Even I refer his blog when in doubt.

Our Government has always been conscious of the National Common Minimum Programme. Under the able stewardship of the Chairperson of UPA, we have discovered 23,584 welfare schemes with names containing the words, National, Bharateeya, Pradhan Mantri, Rashtriya, Savarakar, Shayama Prasad Mukherjee etc. They are going to be suitably replaced with the words Rajiv and Indira in the ratio of 10:1.

The farmer has always been the man closest to our heart. Since we have failed to contain the farmer suicides, I have decided to do my bit in ensuring their post-suicide life is made more bearable. In this direction, I introduce Saral forms for claiming compensation for suicides. These would be available in local languages and will have just 29 columns to fill, which is eight lesser than the one used for Income Tax.

Now, I come to the most awaited part of my speech – Taxation.

First, the direct taxes. It has become a common feature for every sector of industry to vie for some kind of tax benefits. I have received representation from so many quarters in the last few weeks that I have become a confused man. To ensure that I do not confuse you further with multiple concessions, I have devised to introduce one-by-six rule for the corporates. Those satisfying any one of the criterion, are eligible for a flat 25% refund of their Corporation Tax. The criteria are as follows:

1) Firms dealing with alcohol and tobacco.

2) Firms who aid firms mentioned in (1) by allowing their employees to consume alcohol and tobacco.

3) Firms whose share price is more than Rs 1000 and less than 15% is held by public.

4) Firms which have personal jets.

5) Firms which sponsor polo matches and speculate in derby.

6) Firms whose CEOs attend the meet at Davos.

Women, children and family welfare are the key to success of any nation. For women, alimony from husbands double their ages will not be treated as capital gains. For the youth, the beacon of the nation, gifts bought for their girl friends are exempted from fringe benefit tax.

As my budget will have something for everyone, I have something even for the men. Since dowry has only been going upwards ever since IT boom has occurred, it would be foolish for any administration to ignore such a potential source of revenue. From next year, grooms who take large dowry will get commensurate depreciation against the wealth with every passing year of marriage. Further, if they survive the seven year itch, they will have an option to convert the erstwhile assets into a liability. (This has been my personal experience) This facility would be available provided they submit TDS certificates from their fathers-in-laws at the time of registration of marriage.

In its two years of operation, the Banking Cash Transaction Tax has proved to be an amazing success in curbing the growth of black money. Our research tells me that this technique can also be used to contain the growing inflation. Hence, I propose to impose a small marginal tax of 5% every time you take money out your purse to make a purchase. That is you pay just five paise for a rupee you spend. I have already asked RBI to start minting five paise coins. For women, the definition of “purse” would also include handbag, clutch, tote or any place where they keep their husbands' money.

Under indirect taxes, as boost to the vibrant film industry, I propose a cut in the customs duties so that they can import better heroines from Norway, Czechoslovakia etc. For the textile industry, I propose a cut of 5% on excise duty on White Dhotis and an additional 5% when they are sold with white cotton shirt.

I regret to inform that the 8% excise duty on packaged software imposed last year has not yielded the expected results. In fact, the whole revenue realized from this category happens to be solely from Government of India. Hence, I propose to modify the proposal to 8% excise duty on pirated software.

As with every year, I plan to bring new promising services like fashion shows, sleazy MMS, illegal occupation of land and extra-legal settlement of land disputes under the service tax net.

In tune with our commitment to financial and auditing reforms, I plan to introduce a radically new budgeting technique – Zero Based Budgeting 2.0. As against the conventional incremental allocation of funds, we plan to add zeros at the end of the previous figures to ensure exponential increase in social spending. However, to ensure that it does not result in runaway inflation which would antagonize our allies from the left, we have devised a formula to suitably move the decimal point towards the left for every added zero.

I am pleased to announce that the outcome budget introduced by me last year has produced outstanding result in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The revised target for overtaking China in population is 2009.

All progressive Governments are keen on ensuring that the citizens are delivered Good Governance. In this regard, crores of rupees are being allocated, which usually find their way into rehabilitating retired bureaucrats, sponsoring foreign holidays (with spouses) under the cover of study tours and filling the pockets of failed academicians who pose as “consultants”. I have, therefore, decided scrap all such programmes and have come up with a cost-effective ingenious alternative. Names of all Governments will henceforth be prefixed with “Good”. The Government of India will be now known as Good Government of India. Similarly we will have Good Government of Tamil Nadu, Good Government of Andhra Pradesh and so on. The scheme would be first applied to the states ruled by constituents of UPA and it would be extended to other states when we come to power there.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I have finally ran out of patience, perseverance and paper. If you kindly wake up the honorable members, we can adjourn the house and chill out in the canteen.

Sir, with these words, I commend the Budget to the House.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Back Scratching

Freudian Slips declares Goofy as the Person of 2006 for nominating me as the Person of the Year.

Note: Retrospective nominations for Person of the Decade, Person of Century, Person of Millennium are invited. For details, please click here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Animal Harm

Post-Rang De Basanti, there has been an increasing awareness on the use of animals in movies. I, therefore, wondered if “Veerasamy” had obtained the mandatory permission from Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), before using an unusual animal, Sloth Bear, for its title role.

Rule 7 of the the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules, 2001 issued by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment says that:

Prior information for use of performing animals in films : -

(1) Every owner desirous of hiring out or lending a performing animal in the making of a film shall give prior information in the format as specified by the prescribed authority for this purpose to specifying the kind of animal, age of animal, physical health of the animal, the nature of performance to be done by the animal, the duration for which the animal shall be used for such performance, the duration and method of training of the animal for such performance and justification for the use of such animals in the film and such other information as may be required by that authority.

As a The Hindu-reading responsible blogger, I decided to verify the facts before making a post. I filed a RTI application with the AWBI and was glad that the movie had indeed obtained prior permission from AWBI.

The copy of the application seeking permission, which was given to me in response to my RTI, is reproduced below.

Kind of AnimalSloth Bear (Melursus ursinus)

Age of Animal – 18 Till I Die

Physical health of the animal – Fight, Flight and Dance Worthy

Nature of performance to be done by the animal – Acting, Story, Screenplay, Dialogues, Direction, Music, Lyrics, Editing, Audiography, Art Direction and Cinematography (when he is not acting)

Duration for which the animal shall be used for such performance – Till the camera runs out of raw stock

Duration and method of training of the animal for such performance – NIL . It is a born genius

Justification for the use of such animal in the film – Self-employment

Monday, January 22, 2007

Singur: The Hindu responds, partly

It was a pleasant surprise to find the Reader’s Editor of The Hindu responding to the accusations made in my previous post on Singur/Nandigram. Thanks to Desicritics, Desipundit and Blogbharati for extending the reach of the post.

I came across some interesting comments on some published letters on the Singur/Nandigram land acquisition controversy in West Bengal. A letter referred to "rumours of land acquisition" while the same issue of the paper carried the news of the Chief Minister admitting that the Haldia Development Authority had issued a notice to acquire land. This "factual inaccuracy" is explained by the time gap between the processing of letters and placing them on the page, which is done early in the day, and the news development and its reporting.

Along with this comment came the observation that all the letters The Hindu carried were from "non-Bengal locations," 2000 km from West Bengal. This is strange: is it the argument that only residents of a State can comment on developments within that State? The spread of the paper's readership is known. It is only natural that the letters originate mostly from this readership.

The first explanation is accepted. With regard to the second, my major contention was that the Letters to the Editor should be a representation of the people’s perspective on the issue. It should give voice to dissent and avoid reiteration of the newspapers’s stand, something which has been agreed in the above column.

But that process should not muffle or distort the voice of the people, which the column presents. The letter appears under the contributor's name and should reflect the original as faithfully as possible. Variety in style should be the spice of this column, not rewritten uniformity. They should not become opinion manufactured in-house — that some newspapers are said to do, and a charge a couple of readers laid against The Hindu too.

Priority should be given to alternative opinions. After all, we see newspaper as a source of information; not as a snap poll on the agreement or otherwise of its readers to its views.

I never questioned the liberty of non-residents of the state from commenting. What my concern was that, if the selection of the letters carried atleast a few from the state, it would have been a better reflection of what people at the ground zero think. I am not convinced with the cover of “spread of the paper's readership”. Yes, we all know that The Hindu has a better readership in South India. But I am sure it enjoys a respectable readership in Kolkatta, if not in the whole of West Bengal. A letter or two from there would have extended some credibility to the column.

Finally, one of the commentators on the Singur post at Desicritics wondered if “The Hindu puts doctored or manufactured letters under Letters to the Editor.” I confidently responded that “I don't think The Hindu would stoop so low to doctor letters, though from my personal experience, I know that they do reduce the length of letters.

Today’s column eroded my confidence when it admitted that a two-sentence letter was re-phrased and published in a manner that the “printed version had no resemblance to the original”. Retrospectively, the Editor-in-Chief feels that instead of “sanitizing”, the letter should have been "dumped". So while The Hindu clamors for freedom of expression, even if it means protection of dubious finance companies, it itself would never grant the same.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Singur : The Emperors Have No Cloths

How much more will The Hindu defend the Marxist Government of West Bengal? For over a month, the campaign to paint the Marxist Government white has breached all decent limits of “fearless unbiased” reporting. As pointed out in my previous post, not content with the 22 pages it has everyday, The Hindu also wants to use the tiny “Letter to the Editor” column to propagate or rather thrust upon its views. Similar to the cry of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that since all the available land is under cultivation, they are forced to encroach upon agriculture land for industrialization, The Hindu seems to say that since all the available space is either filled with news or advertisements (or even Rs 13-per-Sq-cm obituaries), it has no option but to forcibly intrude into the only available space on the paper – “Letters to the Editor”.

Look at this piece that was published two days ago.

"The report that six persons died in clashes in Nandigram, West Bengal, following rumours of land acquisition for a Special Economic Zone, is disturbing."

“Rumors”? What rumors? When you turn two pages you find this article where, Mr. Bhattacharjee admitted that the Haldia Development Authority did issue a notice to acquire land and the said authority is headed by a CPI(M) MP. Why publish letters that are factually incorrect?

Incidentally, all the letters are from people who are more that 2000 kms from West Bengal. What a representative collection of letters!

As if that was not enough, yesterday’s edition carries another letter toeing the line of The Hindu and coming from a non-West Bengal location.

“The death of six persons in clashes instigated by some organisations in Nandigram is unfortunate. The fact that these organisations played up rumours of land acquisition saying the West Bengal Government had issued eviction notices, when the reality is that it has not even completed the identification of lands, shows their vested interest.”

The other letter in the column too supports the Marxists. Readers often look towards the letters to learn the dissenting or the alternative points of view. In the first place, the reporting on the Singur issue has been very one-sided. Ms. Medha Patkar and Ms. Arundhati Roy, who usually get lavish space, are now given single-column insignificant coverage. By publishing letters that just mimic the articles, The Hindu is forcing regular readers like me to look for alternative sources of news.

The fine line between your beliefs and the truth is always sacrosanct. In this editorial, where they term Mamata Banerjee’s fast as “high-wire theatrics” and “meaningless”, has breached that line. The editorial, which also commends Mr. Bhattacharjee’s handling of the issue, give us an FAQ on Singur.

“What are the key facts about Singur? The State Government went about acquiring the land sought by Tata Motors not by dispossessing the people on the highly fragmented land, but by seeking their consent through offering compensation that was significantly higher than the market price.”

The moot issue is not the price but the consent of the landowners and rehabilitation and that has been consciously eclipsed.

The biggest lie that Chief Minister Bhattacharjee has been repeatedly telling is that the lands have been acquired with the consent of the landowners. But the “Final Report on Singur” which available on the website of West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation reveals a different story.

“Consent under section 11(2) is a means of involvement of the citizen in determination of award. However, non-submission of consent in writing in terms of Section 11(2) does not prevent the Collector from declaring the award and acquiring the land. For those landowners who do not submit consent in writing under Section 11 (2), the Collector shall proceed under Section 11(1) and declare the award and such awardees will not receive the additional 10%.”

Hence, irrespective of the landowner’s consent, the lands have been acquired by the West Bengal Government. The consents that were obtained before the calculation of award are called “Pre-Award Consents”, which is quite logical. The “consents” of those who have not given their consent are called “Post-Award Consents”. It is by using such oxymoronic phrases, Chief Minister Bhattacharjee is shouting from the rooftop that he has got the consent of the landowners.

The Pre-Award Consents get 10% additional money for kowtowing the Communists. When people have finally realized that irrespective of their consent, they are losing their land, they decided that they would rather give their consent to gain the additional 10%. This is quite natural and has obviously happened.

“But even after Declaration of the Award, many persons came forward with the appeal that due to various reasons and constraints, they could not submit the consent in writing for compensation before the date of Declaration of Award. They submitted applications requesting that they may also be paid the additional 10%.”

Predictably, the report is silent on proportion of Pre-Award and Post-Award consents. Incidentally, the third page of the report mentions Important Provisions of the Land Acquisition Act 1894:

The first one under that is:

“Section 4: By publication of notification in the official gazette, two dailies (including one in regional language) and by publication of public notice of the substance of such notification in the locality, the Collector notifies the intention of the Government to take specified lands for any public purpose.”

When did setting up of private industries become a “public purpose”? The self-proclaimed labour-friendly Government has not given any guarantee that the displaced would be employed in the proposed factory. The argument of generating employment seems hollow considering the past record of the Tatas at Pimpri, Pune.

“The Tata's Indica project, comparable to Singur was established as an extension to its initial car-truck and other production enterprise, in Pimpri, Pune. Tatas were given 188 acres of land possessed by Pimpri Housing and Area Development Corporation that was supposed to be used for housing of labourers in the industrial belt. ……

….. no one from about only 125 families who lost their land for the project is employed in the factory which is highly mechanised and have altogether only 300 employees. Telco has anyway slashed about 10,000 and more jobs during last 4 years and Tata Steels downsized its workplace by 30,000 during one decade, as per estimate."

The Left which supported the principle of land-for-land rehabilitation in Narmada Valley and elsewhere, is dispensing the present oustees with cash. With little investment opportunities, lack of alternative skills and the temptation of demonstrative consumption, they are soon going to become impoverished slum dwellers. Just the way numerous tribals ousted from Srisailam are found begging and selling earbuds on the crossroads of Hyderabad.

Much has been made out of the Mr. Bhattacharjee’s repeated offers to Ms. Mamata Banerjee, in a “civil tone”, to discuss the issues and his decision to set up a consultative mechanism within the Left Front has been recommended to be emulated by others. If the intentions of Mr. Bhattacharjee are truly as angelic as it is being projected, then why isn’t he allowing Ms. Medha Patkar to visit Singur? If the Chief Minister’s claims that there is absolute consensus in the land acquisition among the land holders, then why did he confine Ms. Medha Patkar to a youth hostel in Salt Lake? Wasn’t the State Police well-equipped to handle even 1% of the dissenting local population? It was the same CM who gleefully invited the media to show the vandalism caused by the Trinamool legislators in the Assembly.

Mr. Bhattacharjee, is not just re-inventing Marxism in economic terms, but also in political terms. He is adopting the same tricks which his so-called arch rivals, the capitalists use. The Singur media blockade and the extended videography of broken furniture in the West Bengal Assembly are the pointers towards manipulative dissemination of information. Even the majority of Pre-Award consents, happen to be sourced from the members of Gram Panchayat [predominantly manned by their own party workers] and not the Gram Sabha.

Religion, something which the Communist never recognize, too, is being use. At Nandigram, Mr. Bhattacharjee sought to take refuge under Jamait Ulema-i-Hind. It is not surprising as saffron and red have very similar wavelengths.

With so much going on, The Hindu, has been publishing one-sided stories which have become a joke on journalism. A sample.

“West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said here on Tuesday that a notification issued by the Haldia Development Authority….”
Said? I thought he admitted that the notification was issued. Admitted because he was consistently denying any such move, even when six persons were killed. But how can Buddhadeb or for that matter any Marxist be wrong in the eyes of The Hindu. And when they are not wrong, what can they admit?

He goes on to say that the notification was “used by certain forces to create confusion in the minds of the locals to incite them to violence.” But a few lines down the article he contradicts himself saying “Confusion among the local people is only natural if such a document from a State agency is brought to their notice.” Mr. Bhattacharjee, please clarify if the confusion was incited or natural? I am confused more than the locals. Or is it that you yourself are confused?

And it seems that the unbiased the reporting of “The Hindu” has forgotten to mention in the article that the head of the Haldia Development Authority is a CPI(M) MP, Lakshman Seth. So Mr. Bhattacharjee, what we need is not an All-Party Meet which you want to convene, but please convene your own party meet or atleast a meeting of your legislators and parliamentarians. May be they will clear (y)our confusion.

It is high-time that the Marxists and their unofficial Media Partner realize that the emperor is wearing no cloths.

Crossposted at Desicritics.