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

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

From favouritism to communalism Sunday, Apr 1 2012 

Vellappally Natesan

Vellappally Natesan

SNDP  Yogam general secretary Vellappally Natesan has urged that Ministers should not show partiality towards members of their community. The general secretary’s complaint is that the ministers are mostly appointing people from their own community in their personal staff and government agencies in their control. The posting of government officials were also being influenced by communal considerations.

Mr. Natesan’s complaint is genuine and need to be addressed. However, the problem is that Mr. Natesan’s organization represents one of the major communal lobbying groups in the State. It is not unknown that the NSS, SNDP, the churches and others lobby for “adequate representation” of their communities in the choice of candidates for elections and minister ships.

Naturally, those who become ministers on the basis of communal lobbying tend to favour their communities disproportionately. The malady could be cured only if communal groups stop their lobbying and allow democratic parties and governments to make their choices based on merit.

Mr. Natesan has also complained that discrimination in the allotment of land at Vagamon. He said that while the Muslims were given 300 acre at Thangalmala and Christians 270 acres at Kurisumala, the Ezhavas were given only 25 acres at Murukanmala.

However, the larger issue here is whether it is proper for governments to donate large extents of public lands to religious entities. What we see at Vagamon is that the government is now catering to various communities instead of evicting large scale encroachments at Vagamon by various individuals and groups.  There is little doubt that the donations are for favour received by politicians during elections and other occasions from religious groups.

Positive verdict in favour of UDF in Kerala Wednesday, Mar 21 2012 

Anoop Jacob

Anoop Jacob

The electoral verdict in Piravom bypoll is a positive vote in favour of the Chief Minister Ooomen Chandy. It unequivocally shows that the people want the Chandy government to continue whatever be its shortfalls.

The unity and support of various communities have indeed played a role. However, a 12000 plus margin would not have been possible because of such factors. For UDF voters have already been swayed in favour of (late) T. M. Jacob and his son Anoop Jacob who won the election.

It is ridiculous to argue that the resignation of Neyyattinkara member of the Assembly R. Selvaraj (CPI-M) had an impact on the by-election. More prominent leaders of the CPI (M) have quit the party in the past and their impact was limited. Whoever, wanted to vote against the CPI (M) had already voted against it in the 2011 elections and hardly anyone else would have joined those ranks in Piravom constituency after Selvaraj’s resignation.

However, it might be true that Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan’s as a vote-puller has further diminished with the mounting allegations against him and his son and increasing realisation that he was not being sincere to the causes he expounded.

The results should be a lesson to Mr. Achuthanandan and the CPI (M). People demand honesty and sincerity and the Chief Minister is saying that the bypoll victory is the reward for his sincerity to people. But the cunning politician that he is, can he be really sincere? May be in responding to representations from people. He doesn’t have to live up to any other ideal than this as he expounds none.

Giving Mullaperiyar waters on a platter Wednesday, Dec 21 2011 

Dams are not for ever: 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala

Kerala is offering waters of Mullaperiyar to Tamil Nadu in a platter. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has reportedly promised Tamil Nadu Minister Paneer Selvam that Kerala Assembly would pass a resolution to grant waters of Mullaperiyar to Tamil Nadu. Kerala has already assured the Centre that it would provide water without even the pre-condition that Tamil Nadu should reduce the water level of existing dam to 120 feet for the safety of people of Kerala.

Since Tamil Nadu is not agreeing to construction of a new dam below the existing Mullaperiyar dam for whatever reasons, it is high time that Kerala abandoned the proposal. Instead, it should insist on gradual lowering of the water level to ensure safety, taking Tamil Nadu’s refusal to accept the new dam proposal as an opportunity. Alternate intake structures could be considered at lower levels, if feasible, to allow Tamil Nadu to draw water at current levels or reduced levels. Eventually, Mullaperiyar dam should be reduced to a diversion structure.  It might be possible for Tamil Nadu to draw water for an indefinite period though that may not be at the current levels.  The engineering aspects of this should be studied in detail and alternative to new dam should be drawn up.

There is no reason why Kerala should continue to accept a ‘primitive’ agreement signed between erstwhile princely State of Travancore and the British. It was, in fact, an annexation of territory of Travancore as the agreement provides for diversion of all waters falling on 8000 acres. It was an international agreement. And it is at odds with current international law that recognises lower riparian rights. It ignored the ecological impact of total diversion of a river into another basin (Vaigai basin of Tamil Nadu) as those who signed the agreement were never aware of such an impact. The government should realise the eventual need to decommission several dams in Idukki district towards eco-restoration.

Hundreds of dams have been decommissioned in the United States and are not being rebuilt. Similar trend is happening in Europe also. Kerala need not try to buck the trend by building a new dam to replace the 116-year-old dam.

Related linkAny dam has a life

Save Mullaperiyar, Save Kerala

Kerala government don’t want to win the Mullaperiyar case! Saturday, Dec 10 2011 

Poster announcing fast by S. Rajedran MLA at Vandiperiyar in Idukki district seeking resolution of the Mullaperiyar issue. The poster is in Tamil because a substantial part of population in and around Vandiperiyar is Tamil

Kerala government does not want to win the case filed by Tamil Nadu challenging the State’s dam safety legislation before the Supreme Court! This argument may appear strange; but that is what many in government wish.

If the Supreme Court upholds the legislation – the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, then the State will have all the powers to reduce the water level of Mullaperiyar reservoir, dismantle it or replace it with a new dam.  Politicians and officials here are acutely aware of the difficulties in using the power they will get in case of a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court, against the background of emotional opposition from Tamil Nadu.

This is why Water Resources Minister P. J. Joseph is calling for speedy enactment of Dam Safety Bill proposed by the Centre. (The Centre has drawn up a Bill for this, but it has not been introduced in Parliament). If a Central Act is passed, it will supersede the State legislation (which is what Tamil Nadu also wants.  However, it has its own objections to the provisions of the the proposed Central legislation). When that happens, the State will lose all its powers to ensure safety of dams in the State. When the Centre enforces the Act, things are not likely to work in favaour of Kerala. (Note the reluctance of Centre to Act against Tamil Nadu, even to insist on its officials and Chief Minister to attend talks with Kerala). Many issues may also get close attention of proposed Central Dam Safety Authority.  However, Mr. Joseph is willing to sacrifice power, if Kerala government and the State  Dam Safety Authority could escape from a tedious task of taking control of a dam in its territory.

It is notable that the Authority had not even moved a finger to ensure safety of any dam in the State though it was established five years ago.  The Supreme Court has ordered status quo regarding water level in the Mullaperiyar dam, but no other powers of the Authority has been curtailed by the Supreme Court. It has not stayed any of the clauses of the Act. So, there is nothing that prevents the State Authority from issuing orders to the custodian of the dam (Tamil Nadu)  to take precautionary steps. (The dam falls within in its jurisdiction.)

For example, it could have ordered that all the seepage from Mullaperiyar should be collected and measured. As all the seepage is not getting collected in the galleries (which exist only on the concrete back up provided by Tamil Nadu as part of the strengthening measures),  it is necessary to have structures downstream to catch all the seepage. Seepage can give an indication of damage to the dam, especially from tremours if compared with earlier volumes.

Another direction that the Authority could have given is regarding increasing of the efficiency of existing spillways  for achieving marginally better safety from floods. A technical committee had recommended as back as in the nineties that the earth behind the spillways should be removed and a slope should be ensured to enable speedy discharge of water. It was only this year that the State government intervened and removed the earth and debris dumped behind the spillways. However, no slope is being ensured. The State government acted only after the water level rose to 136 feet. So, the bulldozers are now working practically in water.

Assembly: much ado about nothing Wednesday, Nov 2 2011 


KP Mohan attempting to jump over the desk as Opposition stages sit in in the well of Kerala Assembly

The happenings during the Kerala Assembly session that concludes this week did not raise the prestige of the House a bit, but diminished it considerably. KeralaViews does not propose to detail the happenings as they have been widely reported in the media.

The Opposition overdid the show to the advantage of the ruling United Democratic Front. The ruling Front would have concluded the session with some credit, but for the behavior of Agriculture Minister K. P.  Mohanan and UDF Chief Whip P. C. George. The self-goals by K. B. Ganesh Kumar and George outside the Assembly followed.

The penchant for exaggeration among politicians is understandable. Sometimes, it may even be good for rhetoric. However, use unparliamentarily words are not even expected of policemen.

What they don’t realise is that though their rhetoric may seem to yield some immediate gains; it is decent parliamentarianism that would decorate the annals of legislative history.

Minister for Water Resources T. M. Jacob, who died on Sunday, would be remembered just for that.  He was a legislator who studied the bills and issues and presented his points with notable legal comprehension. He had a few records too to his credit regarding performance in the Assembly. May his soul RIP.

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