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.

People’s verdict may not shake the CPI (M) Wednesday, Oct 27 2010 

CPI(M) march

Times have changed, vehicle jathas replace marches.

The CPI (M) and its allies chose wealth over virtue; and the results have come. The party lost its dominance at the local level of panchayats and municipalities after two decades. The results of the elections to about 1200 local self government institutions in Kerala should come as a blow to the CPI (M). However, there may not be much remorse or regret in the CPI (M) camp. At least some of its leaders had the capacity to predict what was to come and identify the causes. But most of them chose trend the path of mammon.

It notable that urban areas with not-so-committed people are fast abandoning the party. The wave has reached the villages and is brushing party-strongholds. Yet, it has not penetrated strong holds like Kannur and backward areas like Ksaragod where people who were loyal to the party remain loyal. However, it would be hard for the party to stem the trend now.

People have learned that the party has changed a lot from the times its leaders slept on wooden benches in the party office and survived on brunches of ‘parippuvada’ and black tea. They have now migrated to party-built flats and five star comforts. That might have been inevitable. But, simultaneously, they abandoned values and paid only lip service to the ideology that sustained the party.

It would be wrong to relate the defeat just to the recent controversies such as the lotteries issue. The State Cabinet has become an epitome of collective irresponsibility while the party leaders embraced mega projects. The government could not deliver on the developmental front and failed the weaker sections (Eg. Attappady tribals, endosulfan victims, Chengara agitators and many small fries who tasted the injustice from the administration). An increase in welfare pensions cannot do the trick anymore. Why should the people credit a government for dolling out what they have paid in taxes? Any fool could undertake such enterprises and pocket his commissions. You would not appoint him to govern you.

Tailpiece (added on 29th):

The BJP claims that it has improved its support. What it could do was to harness the support that was already there. It is not a political victory. Rather, what it gone in terms of votes is spill overs from the wave against LDF.

LDF faces electoral defeat, admits Minister Balan Monday, Sep 13 2010 

Welcome to A. K. Balan

There are a few places like Chinnakkanal near Munnar where the newspapers did not have much reach. There the squatters on government land welcome Mr. Balan. (File Photo)

Kerala’s Electricity Minister A. K. Balan has finally admitted that: the LDF is not going to be returned to power in Kerala.

Well, he said it in a different way. The newspapers were unseen enemy of the people. If people continued to read newspapers, the LDF government would not be able to come back to power despite it carrying out programmes for the welfare of the people. (Mathrubhoomi, September 12, 2010).

He claimed that the Kerala government had surpassed even China in respect of developmental activities. But only if the people stopped reading newspapers could the government return to power.

Of course, Balan is not Thomas Jefferson to say: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter “(Thomas Jefferson, 1787).

Nor is he a democrat like Nehru who said: “I would rather have a completely free Press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated Press.” (Speech at the Newspaper Editor’s Conference. 3/12/1950).

He is a communist who had for long wished that the dictatorship of the proletariat, as practiced in China, could be established in India.  But India embraced democracy.  As a consequence, he could not wish away the Press or keep them under control as in China.

So, defeat of the LDF has become a certainty in Kerala with the newspapers flourishing and free to write anything about the contributions of the government to the masses. It has been encouraging lotteries and encroachment of land as a means to become rich quick and toddy shops and bars for a kick.  The newspapers portray them as the opium of the masses. The people do not see that their real enemies are the media and not liquor barons and lottery distributors. They had turned the people against the government at Kinalur, Attappady, Kannur, Kochi and several other places where the government had planned developmental projects.

The media even fail to see the advances made by Kerala over China. While the Chinese could not take up construction of the Vizhinjam International Transshipment Terminal owing to conspiracy by the Central government, the State government itself has now decided  to take up the construction of the road to the proposed project site. The work has been inaugurated though it is yet to start. The Chinese could not even win the contract for building the terminal while the State government is now busy awarding the contracts for building the roads to the State’s own PWD contractors.

Bhopal: Congress has a lot to answer for Sunday, Jun 13 2010 

Bhopal Memorial

Bhopal Memorial

The Congress bosses, especially Arjun Singh, have a lot to answer for the aftermath of the Bhopal tragedy in 1984. The government not only failed to prosecute all those responsible for the accident but also failed to force Union Carbide and its successor from cleaning up the site.

Union Minister of Finance Pranab Mukherji’s statement on June 12 that Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson was let off because of law and order problems in Bhopal comes of not just as a very weak excuse but confirmation of the government’s culpability. If there were threats to Mr. Anderson, the accused could easily have been moved to any place outside Bhopal.

The role of Mr. Arjun Singh, then the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, in speeding up the bail and transportation out of Bhopal for Mr. Anderson is evident. What is not known for sure is who from the Centre had directed him to do so. As Chief Minister and later as the member of Union Government’s committee that dealt with the tragedy, Mr. Singh failed to stand by the victims of the man-made disaster.

Mr. Mukheriji’s statement that the government would appeal against the court verdict in Bhopal case is intended to hoodwink the public. An appeal can serve little when the prosecution case was not presented strongly in the trial court.

The government breached the trust of the people in the Bhopal case after enacting law that made the government the sole trustee of victims in legal proceedings. It should not be allowed to go ahead with the Nuclear Liability Bill which would cause much more injustice if a nuclear accident occurs.

Related: Bhopal gas victims get some promises after 24-years

Cabinet demonstrates gross irresponsibility Thursday, Apr 8 2010 

The Kerala Governor’s address to the Assembly this year, which did not, truly, had the approval of the State Cabinet points to gross irresponsibility.

The Chief Minister, V. S. Achuthanandan, has denied that the speech did not have the approval of the Cabinet. However, facts that had come out through information obtained under the Right to Information and Act and widely reported in the media suggests that the Chief Minister taking refuge in the fact that a Cabinet subcommittee had finalised the speech on authorization from the Cabinet. However, this has no constitutional validity according to the Opposition.

However, the incident is a symptom of a chronic disease. KeralaViews has written in the past about the lack of collective responsibility and deterioration if not absence of governance. It has also written about the itinerant Ministers who hardly attend to the job they had been entrusted with. And the Assembly failing to keep a tab on the Government. Having failed in administering the State properly, the Ministers are now turning to large scale distribution of benefits including title deeds for land to win the coming elections.

The Cabinet has actually shown disrespect to the Assembly by sending the Governor to the House with a speech that the Cabinet Ministers had not cared to read and approve. It can even be considered a breach of privilege of the House whatever be the explanation that would be offered by the Chief Minister.

Now we know GM food is dangerous Sunday, Mar 28 2010 

BrinjalKeralaViews did not know whether GM food is safe. Till recently, we thought that the introduction of the GM food would not be desirable until the technology is proven. But, now we are sure that it is indeed dangerous.  Otherwise, the government, or precisely those driving the government, would not have thought of a legislation to gag its critics.

The National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) Bill proposes jail for those who “misleads public about safety of the organisms and products” listed in its schedules, without any evidence or scientific record. The schedules cover genetically engineered vaccines for use in humans and animals, cellular products including products composed of human, bacterial or animal cells as well as genetically engineered micro- organisms that may have application in agriculture, fisheries, forestry or food production. The punishment proposed is imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or both.

Though the provisions in the Bill are talking about “those who mislead”,  they sure to be used against any critic of genetically modified food and other genetically engineering products. As to evidence and scientific record, we know that the main criticisms against GM crops and other products is the absence of evidence and scientific data. The Bill also has provisions that would prevent the public from obtaining such data from public funded scientific institutions under Right to Information Act. From the history of litigation by multinationals, we know that any campaigner would face legal actions with such provisions in the statute book.

The farmers would not be able to speak out though often they would be the first to see evidence of damage done by GM foods. But what they say would not be taken as authentic evidence.  Thus ill-effects of GM crops would be hidden from public for long. The surprise is that such a measure is happening in a democratic country like India.

Thomas Issac: the man after ideas Friday, Mar 5 2010 

Finance Minister Dr. T. M. Thomas Issac

Kerala Finance Minister Dr. T. M. Thomas Issac

Kerala’s Finance Minister Dr. T. M. Thomas Issac is an economist who is bold enough to embrace ideas. His latest Budget (for 2010-11) is an example for that. However, the problem is that he lacks an efficient government capable of turning his Budget proposals into reality.

The ideas in the Budget are not new. The campaign for environmental conservation was there for at least three decades now. The difference Dr. Issac makes is that he has shown willingness to promote the idea in a big way. The major proposal is to have a Rs. 10000 million green fund. (The onus of raising this fund largely falls on the next government. Current year’s allocation is just Rs. 1000 million). There are a slew of measures proposed including assistance to private individuals and organizations for conservation. The Finance Minister has put environmental conservation the agenda of the government in a big way.

There are also multi-pronged efforts to promote energy efficiency. This is an idea that was in the air for more than a decade— saving energy could be equivalent to building additional generation capacity. The State Electricity Board and the government had been late in embracing this by a decade. (This was the case with small hydel projects also.  The Board woke up to the idea almost a decade late.) Better late than never, and Dr. Issac is making the plunge.

However, the LDF government is a non-functioning government.  Mafias flourish and governance drifts. Dr. Issac alone could not put governance back on the rails. It should be admitted that he had been able to push certain things as far as his department is concerned and check tax evasion. (But gold merchants continue to evade tax. The compounding scheme brought by him helped to realise only Rs. 132 crores in taxes against target of Rs. 180 crores.). He has also been able to push Water Resources Minister N. K. Premachandran a bit. But that was that.

His plans to revise lease rent last year did not take off.  Now, he is talking of legislation. The process may lag on as has happened with many a Bills proposed by the Law Reforms Commission.  Several proposals in the current year’s budget for additional resources mobilization such as desilting of dam and collection of fines for reclamation of paddy fields did not yield results during the year.  The Minister is now hoping that he would be able to do that this year. One time settlement for evaded stamp duty too would continue this year. The realization last year was just two per cent of the anticipated revenue.  Naturally, the proposed infrastructure projects did not materialise as fast as hoped for. This time also, there are projects galore.  However, most of them are unlikely to become a reality during the administration (or lack of it) of the present government.

Related: Subsidising Energy Efficiency

Last minute efforts to stall delays Sunday, Jan 17 2010 

Vizhinjam projects

A common factor of the the wave energy project and the latest transshipment termimal project at Vizhinjam was delay and cost escalation

The Kerala government is looking for ways to avoid delays in implementation of its programmes and projects. It has been proposing many things for the past three and a half years. But it is no where near completing implementation of most of them. All it has done is to delay projects like the Kerala Transport Project and City Improvement Project started by the previous government.

It is learned that Finance Minister Thomas Isaac has asked former Chief Secretary V. Ramachandran to submit a report on avoiding delays. However, no miracles could be expected in the fourth year of LDF government as a result of the report. Mr. Ramachandran can take credit for many things but he don’t have a reputation for doing anything spectacular to avoid delays when he was the Chief Secretary and Vice Chairman of the State Planning Board. What he could not do when he had executive power is not going to be achieved through his desk work.

Moreover, his experience is with the civil service. The major chunk of the problem lies with the politicians and not the civil service. Civil service can be improved upon only if the politicians show the will to do so. First of all, accountability should be ensured. The current level of protection guilty officials get should be removed by changing rules regarding suspensions and dismissals. A fast track and independent system (devoid of political interference) should established in government to enquire into charges against officials and take disciplinary action.

Currently, the administration is being managed by private staff of the Ministers and party men in Secretariat associations. This situation should change. Department heads and other officials should be given functional freedoms while maintaining accountability. Ministers and their staff should not interfere in day to day functioning of officials but set policies and see to it that they are implemented.

Governance today is complex and it needs dedicated work. Ministers should remain in offices and do their work instead of going around the State for most days of the week. Several Ministers and officials now push only the projects in which they have monetary (read corruption) or political interest. Other projects remain unattended. This problem can only be addressed by voters who should elect representatives who have a commitment to the State’s development.

The Opposition should form shadow cabinets and do detailed preparatory work for assuming office, if they are elected to power. The should have their plans ready the very day them assume office.

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