Accidents and Ministers Thursday, Dec 31 2009 

The manner in which our Ministers react to major accidents is pathetic. Their usual reaction is that the collector has been asked to take urgent relief measures. (Do our officers from the Indian Administrative service wait for directives from the Ministers to take relief measures? If so, something is seriously wrong with our administration. Rescue and relief is something that should move without directives from the Minister after the accident.) This time (gas tanker accident at Karungappally), they went overboard in exposing themselves and their departments.

The Civil Supplies Minister C. Divakaran said in an official release that he had even given directives for rehabiltiation. He did not stop with that. He immediately called a meeting of oil company and other officials at Karunagappally for consultations on “how to prevent such accidents in future, and if such accidents occur, what should done to mitigate them.” Definitely the right time and venue to think of solutions!
He also congratulated the officials including police, who are suspected to have triggered the explosion by starting their jeep close to the leaking tanker, for their good work.

Not to be left behind, the Revenue Minister K. P. Rajendran immediately rang up the Central Disaster Management Authority and asked for advice and as to how to handle the situation in Karunagappally and protective equipment for relief workers. The fun of this is that the Revenue Department was preparing for disaster management for the past three years. However, disaster managements plans are not ready in most of the districts and preparedness is still lacking.

However, it seems that the school teacher did better this time. P. K. Sreemathy (Health Minister), who has miserably failed to contain contagious diseases in the State, this time quietly rushed to the medical college hospital in Thiruvananthapuram and reached there even before the victims arrived. Owing to her presence or not, the college was well-prepared to receive the victims, reports said. Whether it was because she chose to be silent or because the media ignored here, Sreemathy has made no statements and there is no press releases in her name on the official Web site.

Pinarayi has every right to defend himself Wednesday, Sep 9 2009 

vishnuCPI (M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan has every right to obtain information from government that would help him to defend himself in the SNC Lavalin case. The Opposition argument against that it devoid of merit.

If he has obtained information relating to the Cabinet decision on the SNC Lavalin case from the Government under the Right to Information Act and presented it before the Supreme Court, his action is perfectly in order. However, P. C. George, MLA, has raised the question whether the information in question was actually released under provisions of the Act. This is a valid question and is to be looked into.

The Opposition leader Oommen Chandy, on the other hand, maintains that the release of the information under the Act on Cabinet decisions sets a bad precedent as not only Mr. Vijayan but also known offenders like Om Prakash would be able to get information beneficial to them in criminal cases.

In an open government, every citizen has right to get information and the rights of Mr. Vijayan is not different from that of Om Prakash. Moreover, it is the duty of the government not only to ensure successful prosecution of offenders but also to ensure fair trial. If government suppresses information, that would hamper fair trial.  It is the responsibility of the State to ensure fair trial in every case.

However, the problem is that governments are not only unwilling to ensure successful prosecution of known offenders with political connections but also aid them in various ways. The accompanying picture points to open political patronage to known offenders.

Related reports:

Vishnu muder: three more held
Charges filed in Vishnu murder case
Murder of CPM Gunda-Move to blame RSS

Unprepared for disasters Tuesday, Jul 21 2009 

Kerala is becoming increasingly prone to disasters. Unsteady monsoons and unwise land use have made the State prone to floods and land slips. The deterioration of environment is also leading to disasters on the health front also. However, the State is ill-prepared to meet such eventualities.

It is several years now after the State began preparing district disaster management plan. However, these are not yet ready. The State level management plan is at the draft level. Things has not progressed  much with regard to turning the Institute of Land Management into an Institute for Disaster Management. It lacks a proper faculty and other facilities.

Though the Disaster Management Authority with the Chief Minister as chairman was formed two years ago, it met only a few times. The Chief Minister even appears to be unaware of the failure of the Authority to put in place any plans for prevention and management of disasters.

The Dam Safety Authority is also in a limbo though at least a few dams in the State needs its attention. Safety plans including dam break analysis and inundation studies are wanting in the case of major dams.

On the health front, diseases are spreading as the fundamental causes remain unaddressed despite improvement in health facilities especially in the private sector.

Infrastructure projects fail to take off Wednesday, Jul 8 2009 

Trivandrum City Roads Project

Trivandrum City Roads Improvement Programme

Important infrastructure projects in Kerala are failing to take off owing to politicking. The Vizhinjam International Transshipment Terminal Project and Smart City Project were undermined by inner party rivalries in the CPI (M).

When Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan pushed forward the Smart City Project, the Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem tried to promote other projects for formation of Special Economic Zones. Competitive politics delayed decisions. In the case of Vizhijam project, the two groups in the party tried to push the cause of competitive bidders for the project. The result of continuing litigation which has stalled the project for an indefinite period.

The Kerala Transport Project and Thiruvananthapuram City Improvement Scheme were project taken up by the previous UDF Government and the Left suspected corruption in the contract. For the very reason, Finance Minister Thomas Isaac took on the contractors, but ended up giving the contract back to the very same contractors at a higher rate. These projects are now struggling for completion.

The only silver line is initiatives for the Kochi Metro Rail project. The Centre would also be completing the Vallarpadam project as the State Government has completed land acquisition after much delay. However, proposed  railway coach factory and wagon factory are still in paper.

The renovation of Sabarigiri project is progressing only slowly. The Ramackalmedu wind power projects too is stalled.

Iyer now wants the Governor to dismiss Kerala Government Monday, Jun 22 2009 

krishnaiyerFormer Supreme Court Judge V. R. Krishna Iyer has done that again. He has written an article in the New Indian Express suggesting that the Governor should act to the end collective irresponsibility of Kerala Government. While appreciating the validity of Mr. Iyer’s legal points, KeralaViews wants to highlight the complexities and contractions involved in Mr. Iyer’s advice.

Last time, Mr. Iyer wanted the Governor not to act against CPI (M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan by sanctioning the CBI’s request to prosecute Mr. Vijayan in a corruption case. His argument was that the Governor did not have the discretionary powers to reject the Cabinet’s advice against prosecution of Mr. Vijayan.

This time Mr. Iyer wants the Governor to act against the Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan and dismiss his Cabinet for failing to exercise collective responsibility (in making its recommendation?) What Mr. Iyer wants the Governor to exercise now is indeed a discretionary power which the English Queen will hesitate to exercise even under utmost provocation. (If Cabinet did not show collective responsibility regarding  its decision to recommend against prosecution of Mr. Vijayan, that should be reckoned as a good reason for the Governor to use his discretion in the matter)

Earlier, Mr. Iyer had wanted the Governor not to exercise his discretionary powers and act in aid of an alleged attempt to undermine the rule of law. Rule of law is fundamental not only to the Constitution but to any system of governance, whereas the discretionary power that Mr. Iyer wants the Governor to exercise now is only a Constitutional principle that is open to different interpretations.

The pleasure principle is something that should be invoked with due circumspection and fair judgment of the situation. The Governor cannot easily dismiss a government even in the case of break down of the rule of law. If the Governor has erred in sanctioning prosecution of Mr. Vijayan, he will be erring more seriously if he dismisses the Chief Minister.

This is not to say that the Achuthanandan Government has a right to continue. KeralaViews has said that the Achuthanandan Ministry had breached collective responsibility much before Mr. Iyer wrote about that. However, as stated in an earlier post, Cabinet Ministers are appointed by the Chief Minister and he has every right to drop Ministers who do not enjoy his confidence. So, if Ministers breach the principle of collective responsibility, it is for the Chief Minister to take action. If it is the Chief Minister himself who is responsible for the situation, it is for the Legislative Assembly to express no confidence in him. Mr. Iyer himself notes, quoting Kashyap, that the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the House of People.

If the Achuthanandan Government is continuing in office despite the gross breach of constitutional principles, it is the Legislature that should hold the Government accountable. The Governor is to act only if the legislators fail to exercise their legitimate role for want of moral authority or other reasons. Then, what the Governor should do is not only to dismiss the Government, but also to dissolve the Assembly, paving way for the people to elect a responsible Government. However, when the legislators are not acting, the Governor is in a position similar to Bhishma, who had to remain silent when Panchali was dishonoured. Dharma is subtle, Bhishma said.

Like his previous article, this article of the Mr. Iyer is a double edged sword.


Cacophony of Kerala Cabinet on Display in Legislature

Price rise during deflation Sunday, Jun 21 2009 

labhammarketWhile the nation is experiencing deflation, Kerala is witnessing all round increase in prices of essential commodities including vegetables.

It is difficult to explain this situation through normal means. However, it becomes easy to explain it if we postulate that it is masterminded, probably with the aid of politicians. We are told that the price of rice jumped by Rs. 3 to Rs. 5 a kg because of transportation problems. Enough wagons were not made available by the Railways even while the new Minister of State for Railways E. Ahmed was talking of ending the neglect of Kerala in railway development.

So, the theory is that this is the results of elections– traders trying to recover the contributions they were forced to make to the political parties for funding the campaigns by artificially jacking up prices with the aid of those in power. The Opposition is not making any hue and cry over the price rise. The Government’s response is a lot of sound and fury from the party of the Food and Civil Supplies Minister and a few special markets in the cities. It is suggested that these special markets in the cities would help the consumers when the real sufferers of price rise is the poor villagers.

Kerala has seen such price rises, strict enforcement of helmet rules and even loss of trees from the forests when the politicians need money. This has happened under the present government also.

Feel good Budget for Kerala Friday, Feb 20 2009 


Kerala Finance Minister Dr. T. M. Thomas Isaac has presented a feel good Budget (2009-10) to the Assembly. Whether the pleasantness would remain depends on his ability to carry out the proposals. The Minister, who has failed to carry out almost half of current year’s Budget proposals, has admitted that the “proof of the pudding is in eating”.

It is indeed an election year (Lok Sabha) Budget. But the Minister has made an honest attempt to address the problems arising from world-wide recession which is arriving in Kerala. His stimulus packages would take time to implement. To some extent, they are repacks of schemes that get announced every year.

The Minister has achieved a 23 per cent increase in tax revenues which is remarkable in a year marked with economic slow down. The introduction of value added tax system and the anti-corruption drive and measures to prevent tax evasion helped.

However, the buoyancy in tax receipts may not be easy to keep in the coming year. So, the Minister has resorted to a sleight of hand to keep down expenditure. He has advanced retirement dates of government employees to the end of year. This means that all gratuity, commutation and other benefits, payable on retirement, could be delayed by one year. Around half of the government employees would get their service life extended by, on average, six months. Employees should be feeling happy in an election year.

Not to antagonise the youth, the Minister has said that appointments to vacancies arising from retirement would be filled in advance. This does not mean much as recruitment process always gets delayed. The Minister is not surely going to entertain a surplus of employees.

One of the really notable measures taken by the Minister is the decision to increase rent on Government land leased to plantations. This was a measure that was hanging fire for 28 years. Previous finance ministers including Oommen Chandy had shied away from increasing the rent. There were also allegations of corruption as plantations continued to pay only a pittance for leased land.

Dr. Isaac is also making a big plunge for energy efficiency by promoting CFL lamps and reducing tax on light emitting diode (LED) lamps. This was something that the Electricity Ministers from the time of Pinarai Vijayan had failed to do so though the advantages of energy efficiency over adding capacity was well known for more than a decade.

Budget highlights

Road policy shy of expressway Wednesday, Feb 11 2009 


The draft Road Policy, released by the Government recently, is shy of clear proposal on the proposed expressway from Kasaragod to Trivandrum.

The proposal for an expressway, mooted by former Minister P. J. Joseph in the LDF Government, had attracted much criticism when the UDF Government went ahead with the plans. Apart from criticism on environmental grounds, one factor that turned away many from the proposal was the talk about commissions and real estate deals behind the project and issues of land acquisition. In fact, corruption had become a bane of almost all major projects in the State.

However, express highway is something needed by the State, considering the growth of cars and other vehicles in the State. If the government is unwilling to develop express way on some valid grounds, it should take steps to discourage the shift towards two wheelers and cars and encourage mass transport. However, the government is not willing to do either. It did not want to touch the car manufacturers on the wrong side. Nor is it willing to face public wrath over land acquisition and other criticism.

The Public Works Minister in the UDF Government M. K. Muneer tried to wriggle around the problem renaming the expressway as access controlled corridor. The present Government is claiming that the North-South road transport corridor proposed in the Policy is not the same as the expressway.

As the policy notes, the coastal and midland region of the state contains nearly 76 percent of the state’s population and contributes to a similar share of the gross state domestic product. Hence, development of a corridor through the midland region is a must unless the State is to face serious traffic jams. It is important that the North Kerala should have fast access to the South and the capital city.

Hill highway
However, development of missing links and improvement of existing roads along the Hill Highway is unnecessary. The population in the hilly areas is limited and there is little need for North South movement along the hills. What are needed are East-West roads connecting the hilly areas to the midlands and the coast. These should also carefully developed not to cause any pressure on the remaining forests on the Western Ghats.

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