Ubiquitous camera Thursday, Aug 6 2015 

Church camera

Camera in the Church (seen next to the tube light)

Cameras are everywhere. They are at traffic junctions and all along the highways. The objective is to check over speeding. (It is yet to be proven that highway cameras help at crime control other than traffic offences.). They are there at parks and zoos, determined not to give you any privacy. May be they are required at museums and shops to check thefts. But even the small restaurants are now having cameras. The man before the screens would be watching you eating. You cannot hide even a spill on your clothes or table or the amount of salt and pepper or sauce you consume.

Now, anybody can set up a camera. The residents associations have them on the roads and corners to keep tag on people dumping waste. Hotels have them even on lifts not to speak of the corridors. Rich people set them up for security of their homes. Traders have cameras even looking at the street in front of their shops.

Employers now watch their staff from all corners, even when they are travelling abroad thanks to Internet and video streaming. Headmasters will not spare their pupils. They cannot have any private moments in the classes. Even minor misdemeanors will be watched by the headmaster. Camera surveillance is the latest weapon in the hands of tuition masters too. What kind of children they would turn out, we don’t know—too meek or people losing control when out of camera surveillance.

CCTV warningIf you think that you can have a silent prayer and even weep when the church is empty, you will be mistaken. The vicar or his assistant will be watching you through several cameras in the church. Sabarimala has 360-degree close-circuit cameras at all strategic points. Some other major temples too are thinking of setting up cameras, I am told.

There is hardly any protest even when cameras encroach upon places where you expect some semblance of privacy. It is not comfortable to be watched at every direction. Yet hardly any Indian has protested. Indians generally don’t care much about privacy. That, perhaps, has roots in joint families, huts and houses without compound walls and colonies. May be it is illogical to wish for privacy when practically everyone has a mobile phone fitted with a camera. Yet, total lack of privacy may make you mad. It is perhaps high time that we fixed some norms.

Move to change Indian juvenile law– a critique Monday, Dec 2 2013 

scales-of-justiceThe move to amend the Juvenile Justice Act to provide for trial of juveniles involved in crimes by regular courts is ill-advised. If at all, anybody is to determine the maturity to level of juveniles at certain age, it is to be done by psychologists; and not by courts, officials or legislators. 

The maturity level of juveniles may vary depending on the cultural, social and economic backgrounds, upbringing and several other factors. However, it is safer to have a safe higher limit, in the spirit of the principle that no innocent should be punished even if 1000 criminals go scot free.  If determination of the level of maturity and understanding is left to courts, a lot of subjectivity is likely to come in.  There is also the likelihood that poorer children would come in for harsh punishments on account of bias and inability to defend their cases strongly before courts.

As the objective of imprisonment is reforming of the criminal, it is also wise to err on the safe side instead of sending juveniles to prisons with hardened criminals.  If 18-year-olds are put in regular jails, there is little chance of their reforming. (Even the record of juvenile homes in this respect leaves much to be desired.)

Even among criminal gangs, the junior members would come under severe ‘peer pressure’ and encouragement to commit crimes which even an 18 year-old would find hard to resist. So, it needs to be determined at what age children would normally be able to resist such ‘peer pressure’ from gang leaders. This is the job of psychologists.  One need only look at Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist to learn about the compelling circumstances to which a poor boy (or girl) could fall into.

The current milieu—after a lot of public outrage over the Delhi gang rape and similar incidents, is not the right time to attempt an amendment to law.  It is notable that even false reports were perpetuated that the juvenile among the Delhi gang was the cruelest of them all. However, the testimonies that came before the Juvenile Justice Board proved that those reports were wrong and Time of India had clarified that in a report.  If the juvenile was tried in a regular court under the current milieu, and reluctance of many good lawyers to appear for him, would it have been possible for the court to objectively assess the maturity level of the juvenile cleaner of the bus?

Seeking medieval justice for rape Tuesday, Jan 1 2013 

The demand for castration or death for rape victims smack of medieval justice and side lines the real need for police and judicial reforms and social reforms.

Harsh punishments will not solve the problem as long as a large number of people involved in sexual offences could escape punishment. The conviction rates are low in Indian courts, and when it comes to rape and sexual offences, it is still lower.  A high conviction rate only will help to check the crimes.

Now a lot of influential people are immune to laws and protest against this is muted. Protests occur and speedy actions happen only when the accused are less influential and backward. The demand for harsher punishments such as castration and capital sentence against such people is remnants of the medieval practice of an eye for eye and casteist systems that did not recognise equality before law.

The Union government is fully justified in not convening the Parliament to discuss harsher punishments for rapists. Changes of laws were something that is to be done with due deliberation. Discussion in Parliament should await the report of the commission appointed by the Central government. It is to be remembered that sex is not always the prime motivational factor behind rape. A criminal mentality that enjoys violence and dominance is always behind it.

What is actually needed is social engineering and better enforcement of existing laws. It is notable that many of those involved in such crimes are people who had been implicated in minor offences before they started committing serious crimes. If they had been booked and punished earlier, the chances of their thinking or getting opportunity to commit serious crimes would have been lower. In the Delhi case itself, it is notable that the bus was plying without the necessary papers. Though the operators had been caught four times, they were let off without preventive action. This calls for major improvements in the administration of justice.


Laws that make you insecure

Master strategist Achuthanandan saves his position once again Sunday, Oct 14 2012 

Achuthanandan proves himself to be a master of tactics; saves his position once again

V. S. Achuthanandan

CPI (M) leader V. S. Achuthanandan

Though a strategic move, Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan has saved his position as Leader of the Opposition once again. However, for a second time, the party has censured him.

The State unit had been seeking disciplinary action against the Opposition Leader for openly supporting the agitation against Kudankulam nuclear plant. This would even have led to his eventual removal from the position of the Leader of the Opposition.

In a pre-emptive move, Mr. Achuthanandan asked the Central leadership of the party to change party line on Kudankulam. Though the politburo rejected his demand noting that the party line was adopted at the Party Congress, the demand for action against the Opposition Leader got dented though the ensuring discussion in the polit bureau and the Central Committee. There was some support among leaders from other States to Mr. Achuthanandan’s demand that the party should support the agitation against Kudunkulam plant. Moreover, the dichotomy between the party’s stand on Kudankulam and the Jaitapur plant came to the fore though the Central Committee resolution offered some explanation for that.  The Committee also called for an independent safety review of Kudankulam nuclear plant and condemned repression of people agitating against its commissioning. “Necessary safety measures must be put in place before the reactors are commissioned.”  It said.

However, Mr. Achuthanandan proved that he can still take on the State leadership of the party. He had gone to express his support for those agitating against the plant in Tamil Nadu, defying the official leadership of the party in Kerala and general secretary Prakash Karat. Mr. Achuthanandan, who is credited with participation in the Punnapra Vayalar uprising, had just returned when stopped by Tamil Nadu police at the border. He knew that if he had gone into Tamil Nadu and got arrested, he would find none of his party leaders in Kanyakumari district would be there in his support.

The following is the full text of the Central Committee resolution:

Resolution on Comrade V. S. Achuthanandan’s Stand on Kudankulam Nuclear Plant

The Central Committee reiterates the approach of the Party on the use of nuclear power for civilian purposes. The Political Resolution adopted by the 20th Congress of the Party has opposed the setting up of nuclear parks with imported nuclear reactors which are a consequence of the Indo-US nuclear deal. These are not viable on technical and economic grounds and also from the point of view of safety.

In the case of the Kudankulam reactors, the resolution has made an exception as the agreements for these reactors were signed two decades before the Indo-US nuclear deal, at a time when the US and other western countries had imposed sanctions on India. Since then, two reactors from Russia have already been constructed at considerable cost and they are at the final stage before commissioning. However, the resolution has stressed that given the local people’s apprehensions about their safety and livelihood after the Fukushima accident in Japan, these concerns should be met. There should be an independent safety audit and necessary safety measures must be put in place before the reactors are commissioned.

Such an independent safety review has not been conducted. In the meantime, the people protesting at Kudankulam have been subjected to police repression and a large number of cases have been foisted against them. The Party has condemned the repression and demanded that the cases of sedition and other charges be withdrawn.

Com. V.S. Achuthanandan has taken a position contrary to this stand. He has also criticized the Party’s position on Kudankulam as explained by the General Secretary. The Central Committee rejects his views. It censures him for his refusal to abide by the stand which was worked out at the Party Congress. The Central Committee directs Com. V.S. Achuthanandan to adopt the stand taken by the Party.

Is God’s Own Country the land of Ginea pigs? Friday, Aug 17 2012 

IndiaVision television channel has reported on large scale clinical trials of drug trials in Kerala. http://www.indiavisiontv.com/2012/08/16/101958.html

It claims that about 100 people have died during drug trials. This and other allegations are not well corroborated.  Given the number of trials that have taken place in the State, this is, however, not an improbable figure though many of them may have died during the trial due to other causes. But were they well investigated?

Given the number of trials being done in a few of the institutions, it is clear that sufficient attention is not being paid to obtaining informed consent of the patients and proper monitoring of their health and side effects.

The report raises several questions: Is it ethical to use free medical camps as a recruiting ground for clinical trials?

It is seen that old and unhealthy patients have been used for testing new drugs. Though such patients can be subjected to studies on efficacy of approved drugs, is it ethical to try new drugs on them?

It appears that Trivandrum had at least two institutions that were exclusively engaged in drug trials. Is it right for institutions without facilities for emergency care to undertake such tests?

It is reported that a hospital used to obtain consent for testing medicines after patients have been administered with anesthetics and such medicines are injected when they are unconscious. If true, this calls for a criminal investigation.

Should not the ethical committees in hospitals be appointed and controlled by the government. Should not they at least have representatives of government in them? Should not an independent agency be recording informed consent of patients? Or, there should be a government controlled depository for such consents with authority to verify consents randomly. Details of clinical trials being done by each institution should be well-publicised and transparent.

Party surrenders Monday, Aug 13 2012 

The party has surrendered. The surrender of CPI (M) member of the Assembly T. V. Rajesh in the Shukkur murder case is not the surrender of an individual but that of the party. The party had organised a hartal that led to much violence and destruction of public property worth Rs. 3 crores when party district secretary P. Jayarajan was arrested in the same case. It had threatened investigating officers and media men when party leaders were arrested in the T. P. Chandrasekharan murder case.

In sharp contrast, party leader M. V. Jayarajan and other brought Rajesh to the court for surrender without any fuss. Even statements made by M. V.  Jayarajan was mellowed compared to the statements made during the arrest of P. Jayarajan.

The long arm of the law has reached party higher ups and it has realised that resistance would not yield much benefits. It would only lead to denial of bail to accused, if their supporters caused mayhem outside. The law has triumphed so far though it ultimate victory will be only in the successful prosecution of the accused.

Politburo and quarrelling children Sunday, Jul 22 2012 

When two children quarrel, some patients punish both children equally. They know that it is tricky to enquire into the reasons for the quarrel, who started the bouts and who received the most.

The CPI (M) politburo is acting on the same lines. It has censured Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan and proposed an enquiry into some of the main issues raised by Mr. Achuthanandan against the State leadership of the party.  It has neither addressed the issues nor resolved any.  It simply brought time. And the children will quarrel again.

Achuthanandan has gone through the usual pretentions of being apologetic about certain aspects of his conduct and being submissive to the party. And party’s benevolent punishment was fully executed with the press conference of party general secretary Prakash Karat.

What puts the politburo in a tight spot is that the official leadership is tightly in control of the State unit of the party and its assets while Mr. Achuthanandan has mass support.

Support for party as such is dwindling and the official leadership had been able to do nothing about that. Instead, it got embroiled in issues like the murder of Revolutionary Socialist Party leader T. P. Chandrasekharan and open admission of its murder politics by its Idukki district secretary.

For more information:

Achuthanandan Censured

Private professional colleges perform without infrastructure! Monday, Jul 9 2012 

Education Minister P. K. Abdu Rabb

Education Minister P. K. Abdu Rabb

If Education Minister P. K. Abdu Rabb is to be believed, all self-financing professional colleges in the State are functioning well. He has told the Assembly so in a written answer on Monday.  The only problem was that some of them lacked infrastructure. None asked how colleges without infrastructure could function well.  Could the students be given practical training without labs? Could they learn without a good library? Should not the colleges have hostels?  (Even the self-financing colleges run by government agencies do not have these facilities).

The High Court has identified as many as one and a half dozen private engineering colleges as under-performing in 2009-12 besides several Self-financing Engineering Colleges under the Institute of Human Resources Development (IHRD). The pass percentage in many of these colleges was low. (However, the parents, who push their wards into engineering colleges even if they don’t have the aptitude or ability to learn, should also be blamed here). Many did not have qualified teachers appointed with tenure.  The practice of appointing teachers on daily wages is a bane of the higher education system. (It was only last month that their remuneration of was increased to decent levels, though their monthly earnings would still be about Rs. 20000 only).

When private self-financing colleges were sanctioned liberally, it was said that the under-performing ones will fall by the wayside. This has not happened with the aspirations of parents and students seeing no limits. They hope for things that are not achievable and the colleges without administrative and teaching infrastructure or teachers make hay while the sun shines.

All kinds of people and organisations, some with dubious past, have entered the self-financing education sector. It is high time that the government insisted on enforcement of strict norms for their functioning. No college without the required facilities and qualified teachers should be allowed to function. The minimum marks for admissions should be raised to prevent the tragedy of mass failures of students.

Show cause notice issued by AICTE to colleges

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