June 24, 2011

life in general: indian government's devious exemption to CBI from RTI Act

Here is an insightful newsreport from Tehelka that spells out the danger posed by the Indian government recently removing the Central Bureau of Investigation from the purview of the Right to Information Act:

Two steps backward, one at a time
Kunal Majumder questions the government’s motives in keeping the CBI out of RTI

The worst fear of Right to Information (RTI) activists has come true. The government has moved the premier, yet controversial, investigative agency the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) out of the RTI purview. Their excuse is national security. Ignoring the already present provisions of Section 8 of the RTI Act, that safeguards sensitive information, the government decided to give the CBI a blanket exemption. What is more shocking is the secretive manner in which this change was brought about. In March this year, RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal had filed four RTI petitions with the CBI demanding to know details of the corruption cases involving bureaucrats and ministers. In response, the CBI declined information, calling it voluminous. Agrawal then made his first appeal with the Appellate Authority of the CBI in May. However, on 16 June, the Appellate Authority refused to intervene and informed him that according to a government notification dated 9 June, the CBI had been moved from the purview of the RTI Act. This notification was not even made public before 20 June.

Meanwhile, last month, the Committee of Secretaries under the chair of then Cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar recommended the RTI exemption for the CBI, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the NatGrid. When Tehelka raised alarm about the immediacy of the decision, Chandrasekhar assured that there would be many more discussions, including at the level of the Union Cabinet and the Prime Minister. There was no timeframe specified to complete this process. But, then suddenly on 16 June, we read news reports of government’s decision to exempt the CBI from the RTI act. We probably would not have known, if it were not for Agrawal’s rejected application.

Does the CBI, whose credibility is already in question, need such a blanket exemption from the RTI Act? Is the CBI an investigative body or is it an intelligence agency? Why was the public not consulted before such an important decision was made? Has the UPA government opened a Pandora’s Box wherein various state governments would arbitrarily add any agency to the RTI exemption list?
This decision has thrown up a number of questions, which have so far been left unanswered. What we find is vague replies. Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati says that the CBI was taken out of the RTI purview because it is involved in intelligence gathering and safeguarding country’s economic security. As the top lawyer of the country, he chooses to ignore Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, which gives all necessary protection to investigative agencies. If the CBI does not want to reveal certain aspects of their investigation they can do so as guided by the present RTI Act. There are particular provisions made just for intelligence and security agencies.

Is the CBI an intelligence agency or an investigative agency? The CBI is no Research and Analysis Wing or the Intelligence Bureau. The government needs to define and differentiate between investigative, intelligence and security agencies. If any agency that gathers intelligence is an intelligence agency, then every police station is an intelligence agency. The CBI stands on the same footing as any investigation agency, whether it is the Crime Branch or even district police. After all, it is formed under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946. So, if this exemption is granted to the CBI, it should be granted to all other investigation agencies.

Of course, in any investigating agency certain things have to be kept secret. The act does not ask to reveal every bit of information. It has exemptions within the RTI Act. What the CBI and other such agencies are trying to do now is to escape from being under the RTI Act altogether. The big question for the government to answer is in the last five years of the RTI Act has it hindered the CBI’s operations in any way?

Apart from the CBI, there are 22 other bodies exempted from answering RTI queries. The NIA and the NatGrid have also been added to the Second Schedule. It is time the government laid down very strict norms on what classifies as a security and intelligence agency and is worthy of being covered under the Second Schedule of the act. A wider political consensus and public debate is a must. Even Section 4(1)C of the act states that the government should discuss policy changes with the public. In the context of corruption, this is a big policy change. At the moment, the government merely places the revised schedule in Parliament. It does not require parliamentary approval. The government just gets post-facto approval.

Transparency is the best way to show that an agency is just; otherwise people will continue to call the CBI a puppet in the hands of the ruling party. Every state police department will also start seeking RTI exemption, and what can make matters worse is that the state governments have the authority to decide on these demands. The Uttar Pradesh government has already placed civil aviation department in the list of agencies to be exempted under the act. Others will follow. If the very government that gave us the right to know starts defining what we do or do not have the right to know, isn’t it killing its own law?

Kunal Majumder is a Correspondent with Tehelka.

life in general: all need to respect the rights of servants, nannies & other domestic workers

(the picture used in this post below has been taken from http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/2490)

Here is some positive development emanating from the efforts of Human Rights Watch:


June 23, 2011

Domestic workers -- nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers -- are some of the most exploited workers in the world. But a new international treaty has been adopted to help protect them, thanks in part to 10 years of Human Rights Watch research and advocacy. The treaty is the first of its kind.

The 50 to 100 million domestic workers worldwide often face a range of abuses, from long working hours with no days off to sexual harassment or violence from their employers. Many work for months without getting paid, or are not paid at all.

This landmark treaty gives these workers the dignity they are due and the same rights other workers have under the law. This includes earning a minimum wage, a weekly day off, and limits to their working hours. It also obliges governments to protect them from violence and to monitor and enforce these provisions.

About 30 percent of domestic workers are girls, some of whom start working between ages 6 and 8, leaving them especially susceptible to abuse. Workers who have migrated from other countries also run a high risk of experiencing violence. The treaty addresses the vulnerabilities of both groups.

When we began investigating abuses of domestic workers throughout the world 10 years ago, almost no one was paying attention to the issue. Our research and advocacy, along with a growing domestic workers' rights movement, helped build widespread recognition of the problem.

We conducted investigations into the abuse of domestic workers in more than 15 countries. While investigating child domestic workers in El Salvador, Guinea, Indonesia, and Morocco, we found that some children start working at age 6 and work up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. In Indonesia we found that only 1 of 45 child domestic workers interviewed was attending school.

In Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries, we found that on any given day foreign embassies often doubled as shelters for abused domestic workers filing complaints or trying to return to their homelands.

And in Lebanon, we uncovered a grim death toll. Domestic workers, all of them migrants, were dying at a rate of more than one a week -- generally from suicide or botched escape attempts from tall apartment buildings.

We have pressured governments to improve protections for migrant women, with some success. 

June 12, 2011

life in journalism: (part 1) earlier pakistani journalist, now indian journalist, murdered

The masterminds behind the recent murders of Bombay-based Indian journalist, J. Dey, the investigations editor for Mid-day newspaper, and Islamabad-based journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief for Asia Times Online, will sooner or later be exposed.

A significant way to do justice to journalists murdered in the line of duty is to read most of their stories. For their murderers would be someone who stood exposed by their stories.

In this post, I am presenting below J. Dey's recent story on oil mafia in Bombay & Maharastra. In other subsequent posts, I will be presenting other stories written by Dey and Shahzad.

I humbly pray before our universal energy to guide the departed souls of Dey and Shahzad, and to soothe the severe pain their family members and loved ones would be going through. After Dey's recent story on oil mafia below, I present the reactions of some of his colleagues to his tragic death.

Sea-soned diesel kingpin arrested
By: J Dey           Date:  2011-05-16           Place: Mumbai

As fuel prices soared yet again, an oil kingpin was nabbed with 50,000 litres of smuggled diesel; cops say the Rs 10,000 crore racket runs deep -- from international mariners to local politicians

Less than 24 hours after the news of hike in fuel prices -- this time by a hefty Rs 5 -- formed a lump in your throat, police uncovered a sinister diesel smuggling syndicate off the city's shores. In the wee hours of Sunday, a team led by Senior Inspector Rakesh Sharma of the Special Branch, nabbed a diesel kingpin who goes by the nom de guerre of Bada Noora.
Noora was returning with his spoils of the night, from the deep seas some 100 miles off the city's shores, where stolen diesel exchanges hands and is smuggled into the metropolis. No sooner had the kingpin landed the consignment of more than 50,000 litres of the fuel valued around Rs 1 crore in his barge, than the sleuths impounded it. The development indicates that the seas around the city are fast becoming a cesspool for diesel smuggling, or what is called pani ka kaam in gangland vernacular, as it is smuggled in via sea routes.
Logistical chain
A number of agents are involved in this underground market, not the least of which are captains and officials of foreign-flagged ships, police sources detailed. These compromised international mariners, ravenous to make a fast buck, often go on an austerity drive at sea by switching off some of the auxiliary engines, air conditioners and other fuel-consuming equipment on board the vessel, to save on the fuel.

The saved quantity is then sold to clandestine operators from the city. The operators get it from the ship's captain for as low as Rs 12 per litre. The oil mafiosi sail on their transporting freights to meet the tainted mariners some 100 miles off the city's coast. The diesel is offloaded on their vessels in tanks -- the way it was on Noora's barge -- and snuck in to the city. The consignment thus smuggled in is sold in the city at a throwaway Rs 18 per litre.

Parallel economy
The business of bootlegged diesel, which is sometimes mixed with naphta and kerosene, is estimated to be around Rs 10,000 crore for the mafia annually. Moreover, there have been pointers that it is taking place with the connivance of some senior politicians and policemen, a senior police officer admitted on the condition of anonymity.

Investigations by this newspaper revealed that that there are dozens of local gangs, most of them affiliated to Dawood's right-hand-man Chhota Shakeel, which provide the oil and diesel mafia with the necessary man and muscle power. In return, they receive protection from local politicians, which was a major giveaway pointing to their complicity.

The purloined fuel is sold to dozens of tug owners and sand mafia operators in and around the city, confirmed senior inspector Sharma. A large number of fishermen and dubious petrol pump owners also thrive on the smuggled diesel to carry out their daily business, after buying it at Rs 18 per litre. Investigations indicate that transactions of more than 500 tonnes takes place almost every alternate day. The volume of the business is around Rs 180 crore for a two-month-season. The diesel smuggling business also perpetuates and enables the hawala business in the city, mainly controlled by Dawood's henchmen. Payments are made to the foreign captains and other officials in on the illegal trade in dollars.

Security threat
Other than the parallel economy the mafia is running, which puts its oar in the demand and supply of fuel in the white market, these operations also pose a serious threat from a national security perspective, as these vessels can as easily and unsuspectingly be used to smuggle arms and ammunition into the city. Cops say that Noora's arrest is just the surface of the smuggling world that they have scratched. They have launched a hunt to nab Bada Noora's key associate Akbar.

Some of the other key players in the dock areas are Chhota Noora, Rafiq, Aziz, Aziz Battiwala, Chand, Munna Maldar, Santosh, Sadiq and DK Bhai. A major player, whose real identity and role investigators have not yet revealed, is someone who goes by the alias of Pandit.

Change of guard
Initial investigations have indicated that Bada Noora has been appointed as a replacement for slain oil kingpin Chand Madar, shot dead by his gangland rivals outside his Ballard Pier office last year. The role of the underworld, the links with Dawood, and the extent to and manner in which the nexus spreads are all part of the ongoing investigations, Sharma said.

What should verily raise alarm is the fact, confirmed by the police, that a large number of foreign-flagged ships are now diverting their vessels close to Mumbai to sell surplus diesel to the mafia and make quick money. This information came to light during the questioning of Bada Noora, said Sharma. In fact, feverish illegitimate activity is expected in the seas surrounding Mumbai in the coming days. The mafia will try to stock up on as much diesel as they can because of the imminent monsoon season, which makes the seas turbulent to venture into and the business dicey.

Reactions from Dey's colleagues in Mid-Day:


Vinod Kumar Menon,

Chief Reporter

J Dey was an unassuming colleague whose fame came from his meticulously researched crime stories. Though few knew of his passion for the environment; he was also an animal-lover. Dey was very particular about his diet, which included non-oily food and kadak, sugarless chai. I recall a chat with Dey in our office canteen. He had carefully removed the foil that contained neatly folded chapattis. "My mother packed it for me," he said, looking at the chapatti, "It is a declaration of a mother's love; don't ever tell your ma you do not want to carry her dabba ”  it'll hurt her because all her love goes into making it for you and that's why it tastes so good."

Well-connected and trusted among his sources, police officers and colleagues, Dey was credited with exposes that others in the field would die for. Yet, he always keep himself busy with work. He was pretty reluctant to get himself photographed. He shied away from taking centrestage for his big crime breaking stories. A strapping 6'1", he could be mistaken for a spy at work. He never spoke of his achievements and believed in hard work.

Even at 56, he preferred to be amid his sources, at the crime scene, where he would report on-the-spot reactions.

He was a mentor and guide to young, aspiring crime journalists; they addressed him as 'Sir'. It is hard to believe that 'Sir' will not be around. The people who killed him may have succeeded, but Dey is with us. The principles he stood for, for which he fought for, will remain with us forever. A gun cannot kill that indomitable spirit.

Hemal Ashar,

Assistant Editor

The picture that went with his byline when he wrote a column for this paper, was that of a cap covering a face. Like that picture, J Dey worked in the shadowy world of crime, where most is hidden and surreptitious is a byword.

He sat only a few desks away from me in office, his head above the cubicle enclosure, attesting to his tall stature, as he typed out stories about the city's dark and deadly. It takes a man dedicated to his work to slice open the ugly underbelly of Mumbai with the precision of a surgeon. Mumbai's map is dotted by the underworld. From 'addas' to buildings where shootouts have taken place, this is all about a big city pockmarked by dons, gang wars, bloodlust and revenge.

Dey knew this world only too well. So well in fact, that he had compiled a lexicon of crime lingo in a book called Khallas which gave readers the A to Z of gangster talk ” morbidly fascinating gobbledygook to the layperson but so familiar to him. 

I would often go up to J Dey's desk and ask him ” 'Dey, could you do an in-depth article for the centrespread pages (a daily double page feature) on something about the current crime scenario?' He would answer: "Yes, when do you want it?" Sure enough, it would be in my email inbox, a few days later, sinister and compelling all at once.

Now, I remember those pieces vividly. There was one about smuggling activity on the high seas. I headlined it: Once Upon A Crime in Mumbai; an obvious twist on Ekta Kapoor's movie about the underworld. Dey had smiled broadly when he saw the headline. The other was a piece about the transformation of Mumbai's red light area, a look at how the demographics were changing at Kamathipura.

Yet, Dey was more than a crime reporter. He was a football fan. I think back now on how keenly he had watched the football World Cup 2010, sitting on a bean bag opposite the TV in office, laughing and debating the merits of a player or the chances of a team with colleagues. Just two days ago, Dey, a colleague, and I were sitting in the MiDDAY canteen, drinking tea and discussing holiday destinations. Dey suggested Bhutan, a place still relatively untouched by modernity, whose serenity and silence were in direct contrast to the hustle of Mumbai.

He passed by my desk post that discussion, on the way to his workplace and bent over to look at a plastic packet near the computer. They were hard-boiled sweets. "Oh," he remarked as he grinned and looked more closely. "I don't like sweets," he said lightly as he moved on to where he sat. Now, I wish I had something salty in that packet that day.

It has just been a few hours post the news of his death, and phones are trilling shrilly. They are calls from TV reporters wanting to get a few 'bytes' for their news channels about J Dey, ironically responsible for breaking news ” (called scoops in journalistic parlance) ”  who has today become the subject of breaking news himself.
An  emptiness wraps itself like a shroud in this newsroom, usually loud with clicking keyboards and phone interviews as journalists rush to complete their stories for the Sunday MiDDAY edition.

Early in my career, a senior journalist would remark jocularly as he saw frazzled reporters scramble to file in their stories as the clock ticked away, 'All journalists die not from heart attacks or cancer but deadline pressure'.

Not all of them. Some die from bullets.

June 07, 2011

life in general & financial markets: its just another example of ugly face of congress/upa government

The midnight violent attack by the Delhi police, at the behest of India's Congress Party/UPA government in the centre, on the people who were at the Baba Ramdev-organised gathering at Ram Lila ground in New Delhi was only another example of the ugly & authoratarian face of the Congress Party/UPA government.

Such incidences have been happening in the hinterland of India since the last 8-9 years when Congress/UPA has been in power, and even prior to that under the previous regime of BJP/NDA. In states ruled by the communist and socialist parties too, police brutality on people has been a norm.

It is good that many affluent Indians, who are the supporters of Baba Ramdev, who are now getting aware of the violent face of the Congress/UPA government. I hope they also become sensitive to the problems of non-affluent Indians so that next time a government will find it difficult to turn into a monster.

Same applies to the hordes of financial market professionals including economists who look at a government's performance throw a very narrow prism.