Unauthorised constructions at the ‘kothis’ of about 60 Members of Parliament
The spacious bungalows of Lutyens’ Delhi, it would seem, are grossly inadequate for India’s political class, as a Right to Information petition has revealed. The information released by the Central Public Works Department pertains to the unauthorised constructions at the ‘kothis’ (bungalows) of about 60 Members of Parliament from both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
Some of these constructions, which range from whole rooms and offices to temporary sheds, have been around for several years, and in some cases, were erected by the predecessors of present occupants.
The list, which includes prominent names like L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley, Kirti Azad, Ahmed Patel, Mohammed Azharuddin, Sharad Yadav, Amar Singh, and Suresh Kalmadi, also includes secretariat officials at both Houses of Parliament and offices of political parties.
An audacious instance of unauthorised construction is a temple in the plot allotted to N.K. Sapra, Additional Secretary (Lok Sabha), and a badminton court by Mr. Ram Jethmalani in his Akbar Road residence.
At 6, Krishna Menon Marg, which was earlier occupied by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar while she was the Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, the CPWD report has acknowledged the unauthorized presence of a statue of Jagjivan Ram.
While the majority of the unauthorised constructions have come up in addition to the existing structures, there are cases where old portions of bungalows demolished to make way for newer ones. During the tenure of Mr. Sushil Kumar Shinde as a Lok Sabha MP, the kitchen, pantry and store in his residence were knocked down to construct a big hall.
The information was furnished by the CPWD in response to a petition filed by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal.
While the CPWD claims to have filed notices to the Members of Parliament who have engaged in such unauthorised construction, the report also states that these structures will only be removed at the time of change in occupancy.
Egypt’s Ambassador to India, Khaled El Bakly, on Monday acknowledged that widespread corruption over the years and spiralling food prices had contributed to the recent protests that have rocked Egypt.
However, the Ambassador said that it would be unwise to point fingers at any one individual for the growing unrest.
Speaking to The Hindu at the Egyptian embassy here, Mr. El Bakly remarked that the immediate catalyst for the uprising in Egypt were events in Tunisia that led to the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime. On the other hand, “the government is not one person”, he said, referring to President Hosni Mubarak.
The Ambassador conceded that the protesters were clamouring for political and economic reform, but declined to comment on the broad contours of the change needed.
The opposition did not have any political backing, he claimed, adding that reports of Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei having received the support of the Muslim Brotherhood were unconfirmed.
Mr. El Bakly was confident that Egypt being a “country of institutions” would be able to withstand the present crisis. When asked about the sudden volte face by the United States in pressing for reform after decades of support to the Mubarak regime, he replied that it is the Egyptian people and not the U.S. which would determine the country’s future.
He reserved his sternest remarks for the media, especially for Al Jazeera, observing that news coverage seemed to be deliberately aimed at fueling the protests. Internet and social media tools like Twitter were blocked to prevent “biased reportage”, he claimed.
However, Mr. El Bakly admitted that the status quo was definitely not an option and quick solutions must be sought to remedy the situation.
Changes were already underway, he said, and corrupt officials were being removed from office.
The Cabinet had ‘resigned’ and a new Vice-President had been appointed. All these were steps in the right direction, and the government would gradually have to adjust to what its people wanted. But will that result in the overthrow of the Mubarak regime? The Ambassador was not inclined to comment, but said that the wishes of the Egyptian people must be respected, whatever they might be.
Likening the situation to the spread of a virus, he said that conditions were around to “catch the flu”.
New Delhi: Soyabean and Tofu are two cats who spend their lives in the Imperial City of 21st Century Beijing observing the sea of humanity around them. One is a “middle class” cat who lives in relative comfort, watching its masters come to terms with the new-found luxuries in China. The other mostly mills around a group of migrant workers who labour to complete the construction in time for the Olympics.
Their feline tales chronicle the rise of China that finds it difficult to reconcile tradition and modernity. This situation, according to Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, is not altogether different from India as materialism creates a cultural gulf. What is regrettable, however, is that there is no “civilisational connect” between both countries, despite having so much in common.
Ms. Rao, speaking here at the launch of Pallavi Aiyar’s book Chinese Whiskers, pointed to the many concerns that both countries shared in their march towards development. Corruption, she acknowledged, was just as important an issue in China as was the phenomenon of price rise. There has been a great resurgence in nationalist pride, and people prefer to talk about their economic prowess than, say, the Cultural Revolution. In this new leap forward, the Chinese are trying to keep their cultures afloat with difficulty. Traditional hutongs are giving way to concrete skyscrapers, Ms. Rao said, and ancient calligraphy is being replaced by SMSes. Narrow alleyways that played a crucial role in social banter are fast becoming slum-like and ignored. But society is trying desperately to uphold its values even if it is through billboards that say “Nobility, Honesty and Humility” in public buses!
Ms. Rao and Ms. Aiyar shared their experiences in the country as a diplomat and journalist, and spoke of the need to avoid a “pathological” understanding of China. All too often it is Beijing’s “hard power” that is touted in Indian circles. Similarly the Chinese hold many misconceptions about Indian society. There is a real need, Ms. Rao said, to forge an understanding of China in India that is informed and balanced. Chinese Whiskers, addressed to a cross-generational audience and narrated through the voices of two cats, shows how Chinese society is waking up to its growth.
S. Arun Mohan
The Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS) has strongly contested the Maharashtra police decision to file an FIR against Ilina Sen, wife of Binayak Sen, for her alleged failure to inform the police about the participation of foreign delegates at an academic conference organised by the IAWS and the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Vishwavidyalaya (MGAV) in Wardha last week.
Prof. Ilina Sen, who is an Executive Committee member of the IAWS and head of the MGAV’s Women’s Studies Department, was booked under Sections 7 and 14 of the Foreigners Act on Monday. The police also arrested the owner of a local hotel where some foreigners were staying on account of the management’s failure to inform them of their arrival.
The Foreigners Act requires hotel keepers and other persons who own, occupy or control the premises where foreigners are accommodated to submit such information to the authorities in a prescribed format known as ‘Form C’. It is unclear how Prof. Sen, who is a coordinator of the IAWS, has been booked under the Act given that the relevant provisions apply only to persons who furnish lodging to foreigners for payment.
Umesh Chandra Sarangi, Additional Chief Secretary (Home), told The Hindu that the conference organisers had not informed the police about their stay. “These people came and stayed in a guest house which was booked. They were organising a conference. There is a rule that whenever a conference is organised, the police should be informed about it. The Director-General of Police is looking into the case,” he said.
In fact, the Foreigners Act itself places no such obligation on Indians who invite foreigners for conferences or social events. The four Pakistani and Bangladeshi participants named in the FIR were residing on the university campus. The IAWS sources told The Hindu that three of these women scholars were in fact staying in the Vice-Chancellor’s residence as personal guests while the fourth was put up at the university guesthouse. Ironically, full political and security clearance from the Ministries of Home Affairs and the External Affairs had been obtained in advance for the participation of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan scholars as government rules currently prescribe in order for visas to be granted.
The FIR filed by the ATS Nagpur Unit notes that Form ‘C’ as prescribed under the Foreigners Act has not been filed by the University. However, Form C pertains only to ‘Hotel Arrival Information’ and does not contemplate the present situation in any manner. The distinction is relevant as Section 7 of the Act, under which Prof. Ilina Sen has been booked, will be applicable only to instances where the accommodation is paid for by foreigners. In fact, the Home Ministry in 2001 scrapped a controversial 1971 order that required persons to report the presence of foreigners in their households.
Even if one were to hold the University responsible for failing to provide the required information, the responsibility for filing a C form belongs only to those running a hotel, inn or hostel and not to the organisers of an event in which foreigners participate.
On the concluding day of the Conference, the police entered the Yatri Niwas premises in Wardha, where a large number of women participants, mostly students and teachers, were staying to attend the event.
The organisers have condemned the actions of the police and expressed their anguish over unwarranted interference from the authorities. Mr. Sarangi denied that the police had taken action against the organisers because Prof. Sen was Dr. Binayak Sen’s wife.
(With inputs from Rahi Gaikwad in Mumbai)
Dramatic events almost always seem to upset the hard-won progress made in India-Pakistan relations. Back in 2006, when both countries were on the cusp of reaching a solution on several key issues including Kashmir, a judicial crisis in Pakistan resulted in the removal of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
Similarly, back-channel negotiations were looking to produce concrete results when terrorists struck Mumbai on November 26, 2008, bringing the dialogue to a grinding halt. But Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri feels these events should not be allowed to dictate terms in defining the way forward for both countries.
Instead, Members of Parliament from India and Pakistan must be willing to expend their political capital and stick their neck out on the line to revive the talks.
Delivering a lecture on “Evolution of India-Pakistan Relations in the First Decade of the 21st Century” at the Indian Council of World Affairs here, Mr. Kasuri said bilateral relations had registered an improvement in the past decade without a precedent, which both governments risked losing unless regular contact was maintained at the highest levels. Contentious issues ranging from Kashmir to Siachen and Sir Creek are bound to have different versions on either side of the border, but if one were to let these narratives apply pressure on the peace process, years of painstaking negotiations will come to a naught.
As he chronicled the rough and tumble ride that marks India-Pakistan relations over the past decade, Mr. Kasuri said “peace with honour” was the only way forward. Military solutions, especially after both countries went nuclear, were out of question.
Pakistan had paid a high diplomatic price for Kargil, the former Minister admitted, adding it was important that both countries look to avoid the mistakes of the past. There is great enthusiasm for peace among the people on both sides of the Line of Control, he added.
Mr. Kasuri said India with its own tardy legal system should understand judicial delays in Pakistan that had slowed bringing terrorists to the book. According to him, Pakistan has been the greatest victim of terror attacks, and there was no policy of differentiating between “good and bad terrorists”.
Grand Mufti of Egypt sees need to deradicalise the understanding of Islam
Rehabilitation of militants not possible overnight
Stresses rejuvenation of ties between India and Egypt
New Delhi: Before issuing a fatwa, a Muslim cleric should consider three important factors. It must be issued only after thorough reference to textual sources and also must be based on an investigation of the lived realities.
Most importantly, the fatwa sought to be issued must strike a fine balance between texts and the human experience. Clerics must hence adhere to a ‘clear, systematic’ methodology that is backed by credible scholarship, according to Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt.
Dr. Gomaa heads the Dar Al-Ifta Al Misriyyah in Egypt, one of the leading authorities in the world for Islamic legal research that issues nearly 3,500 fatwas a day.
A vocal proponent of a moderate and tolerant version of Islam, he is a pre-eminent jurist widely respected across the Muslim world.
In conversation with journalists at the Egyptian Embassy here, Dr. Gomaa spoke of the need to deradicalise the understanding of Islam and usher in a ‘fresh, revisionist’ perspective on critical issues that face the community.
‘Cannot happen overnight’
Observing that Muslims drawn towards militancy pass through diverse stages of literalism, rigidity and extremism, Dr. Gomaa warned that their rehabilitation was not possible overnight.
He noted that over 90 per cent of nearly 16,000 imprisoned Islamists in Egypt were absorbed into mainstream, moderate thinking through a rehabilitation project that spanned several years.
However, various forces constantly sought to sow seeds of division, as was evidenced by the bombing on New Year’s eve at the Two Saints Church at Alexandria. Condemning the attack, Dr. Gomaa said that the unity and solidarity between religious communities in Egypt was unshakeable.
The Grand Mufti stressed that there were no major ‘theological or juristic’ differences between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam. In fact, the division was created by ‘manipulative political agendas,’ more often than not.
On the independence referendum currently underway in Southern Sudan, he was personally against the ‘dividing up’ of nations, but emphasised that the will of the people to realise the modern ideal of democracy must be accepted.
Dr. Gomaa is on his first visit to India. He participated in an international Islamic conference in Kerala last week. Scheduled to meet with Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Farooq Abdullah in New Delhi, Dr. Gomaa spoke of the need to ‘rejuvenate’ ties between India and Egypt, especially relations between religious establishments. Terming ties that dated back to the age of Nehru and Nasser as ‘historic and solid,’ he said that his visit was an ‘enormous success.’
Endless talks with Israel will only prolong Palestinians’ sufferings: caravan members
Ceaseless negotiations with Israel will only prolong the suffering of Palestinians, and a united movement is required to end the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, according to members of the first Asian caravan to Gaza, which recently concluded its visit to the region.
In an interaction with journalists at the Press Club here, the coordinators of the initiative spoke of the need to galvanise public opinion in India to influence the government’s policy towards Israel vis-à-vis Gaza.
The group recalled its experience from the journey, which started in early December from Rajghat, and the hurdles created by the Israeli authorities. The caravan plan was conceived in June last to express solidarity with the Palestinian people and extend support to them in the form of humanitarian aid.
Organised by the Asian People’s Solidarity for Palestine, an alliance of civil society institutions, social movements and trade unions, the caravan comprised nearly 500 individuals from 17 countries. The group, which initially ran into problems with the Indian authorities at the Wagah border, travelled by land, sea and air through cities in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, before entering Gaza.
Describing their journey as “life-altering,” the caravan members narrated their meetings with high-level political functionaries, including Hamas leaders such as Ismail Haniyeh and Khalid Mash’al, and praised the indomitable spirit of the Gazans in standing up to “Israeli aggression.”
Firoze Mithiborwala, one of the chief coordinators, said the Palestinian question had progressed from being a pet cause of the Arab community to a point where it rallied global momentum against the Israeli occupation. The people of Palestine, he said, were entitled to their long-cherished dream of a nation state, with Jerusalem as its capital.
The story of Gazans who refuse to succumb to Israeli aggression was a lesson for the world, and the caravan was intended not just to transport relief material but to convey a firm political message against imperialist tendencies.
The group said the caravan was greeted with enthusiasm and warmth along its route, despite difficulties encountered in Egypt and the Gaza port by the authorities suspicious of its motives.
The coordinators intend to organise similar initiatives in future, beginning with an international conference on Palestine in the first quarter of this year. More ‘Free Gaza’ flotillas are planned, and a second Asian caravan is in the pipeline.
The group pointed out that the regional balance of power was shifting with the rise of Iran and Turkey as central figures in the Middle East. It thanked officials and NGOs in both countries who offered it invaluable support in planning the journey.
Mr. Mithiborwala, who emphasised that the movement was rooted in the Gandhian principle of non-violence, condemned Israel’s targeted strikes on the Islamic University in Gaza and hospitals in the area.
Acknowledging that the Gaza Strip grappled with poverty and underdevelopment, the caravan members stressed that the legitimacy of the Hamas-led government in Palestine could not be challenged, as it came to power through free and fair elections.
[The Indian Express]
June 25, 2010
The group of ministers’ recommendation to submit a curative petition in the Union Carbide case is an attempt to force a political question down the throat of the Supreme Court, expecting it to yield a legal solution. If the recommendation is accepted, the government will ask the SC to “reconsider” its decision in the 1996 case, which diluted the liability of the accused from culpable homicide to criminal negligence. The move may galvanise favourable public opinion, but petitioning the court to lighten Bhopal’s political baggage is unlikely to succeed.
What will the curative petition entail? Will the SC simply revisit its decision, look at the manifest injustice meted out to victims, weigh both, and decide to enhance culpability? Not quite.
The concept of a curative petition was introduced by the court as recently as 2002, in Rupa Ashok Hurra vs Ashok Hurra & Anr. When a decision of the SC resulted in the miscarriage of justice, the person who was thus aggrieved could challenge the judgment before the court again. Behind this idea was a noble, explicit admission of the SC’s own fallibility. Erroneous decisions based on incomplete facts, or in the face of apparent bias, could be rectified by the court through its inherent power to do “complete justice”.
In order to prevent litigants from using curative petitions as a tool to seek a “second review” of decisions, the SC maintains a very high standard for admission. Only in exceptional cases will such a petition be entertained — when there is a violation of the principles of natural justice, or lack of adequate notice to affected parties, or apprehension of bias. The court, by its own order of 2005, adheres to these criteria strictly and treats curative petitions as a “rarity”. In the absence of these deficiencies, the court is not expected to reconsider its verdict.
In fact, only one curative petition filed before the SC has ever succeeded — when a person convicted for murder was not even made party to the case. Even the inviolable right to life failed before a curative petition, as Afzal Guru found out.
The government will push for a reconsideration of the decision in Keshub Mahindra vs State of Madhya Pradesh on the same set of facts. This is problematic, since there is no match between the
political question the government wants to answer, and the legal
solution that the court has to offer. The verdict delivered by Justices A.M. Ahmadi and S. Majumdar in 1996 revolved primarily around the fact that there was no knowledge or intention on the part of the accused to cause death of human beings. While the accused could not be held liable for culpable homicide, their wilful refusal to act upon known defects meant they were criminally negligent.
Controversial as the decision was, it was based solely on an
interpretation of the law.
Does the government have a ground-breaking revelation, a smoking gun, to show the court? Whatever facts had to be considered were already taken on board by the SC, including the report of the Varadarajan Committee. There is nothing new to suggest that the disaster was planned or premeditated. In essence, the curative petition is analogous to double jeopardy, where the offender gets prosecuted for the same offence twice.
Even if one were to discount the facts, is there an error so apparent as to make the SC reconsider its application of the law? To impose criminal liability, the law says, intention is paramount. Penal provisions are meant to be interpreted strictly, and all the SC did was to go by the book.
Moreover, one cannot dismiss the proposed curative petition as a political gimmick and let it be, for it could have far-reaching and disastrous consequences. The way Justice Ahmadi has been heckled by the media, and ironically, by the Union law minister himself, sets a regrettable trend towards unhealthy criticism of the court. Now, as the government prepares to pass the buck, it could expose the SC to scathing attack if the petition were to be rejected — even if such rejection is perfectly in line with the law. The Supreme Court of India must not be expected to work miracles.