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.

Chief Minister VS embraces constitutionality Tuesday, Feb 3 2009 

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan with a few of his Cabinet colleagues

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan with Cabinet colleagues

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan has taken an unassailable position. He has stated that he is not only a party functionary but also a Constitutional functionary elected to carry out Constitutional duties. The call of duty finds him at variance with the party policy.

This is something unprecedented in the CPI (M). Under communist rule, party controlled the Chief Minister not the Constitution. He hardly ever carried out his duties without fear or favour towards the party. Now, Achuthanandan, the staunch communist, has defied the communist tradition with immense consequence to the party.

Though party principles and Constitutional principles were at odds with each other, it did not cause much of a problem when E. M. Sankaran Namboodiripad was the Chief Minister. Nor did it as long as Naboodiripad was the doing the backseat driving for E. K. Nayanar. However, corruption started to rule the roost at various levels when party proxies with no Constitutional positions started running the government from behind. All the present day problems of the party including the SNC Lavalin case had their origins during that period.

So, Achuthanandan’s proposition that he and his Cabinet should be allowed to carry out their Constitutional duties is good for the party and the government. There is nothing worse than power without responsibility, of extra constitutional entities running the government. Party machinery could become self serving. It is more difficult for the government machinery to become one like that. So, the writing on the wall is that communist parties should change their party principles to accommodate certain separation of powers between the party and Constitutional functionaries unless Achuthanandan is not to be tempted to follow the path of Lok Sabha Speaker Somanath Chatterjee with some variations.

However, Achuthanandan’s present stand is not without consequence to himself and the Cabinet. Achuthanandan has implied that his Ministers are not towing the Constitutional line he is adopting. So, according to the very Constitutional principles he is upholding, he has to drop the Ministers who refuses to act according to the Constitution. However, if he does not have majority support in the Assembly, he will have to resign. Thus, Achuthanandan’s principled positions cannot be maintained without a cost and his victories would turn out to be limited.

America is redeeming itself Thursday, Nov 6 2008 

World Trade Centre many days before the terrorist attack

World Trade Centre many days before the terrorist attack

As commentators have said, the United States has voted for change in electing Barack Hussein Obama for the top post. However, how far the country will deviate from Bush’s policies once Mr. Obama is in Office is yet to be seen.

Looking back, once finds that if it was not for 9/11 and subsequent developments, Mr. Obama would not have got elected. For the religious, it would look ordained.

The foolhardiness of his predecessor in Office has seen that the terrorists actually win. The very objective of the attack on World Trade Centre was to hit at the economic might and prestige of America. By jumping for costly was, especially in Iraq, President Bush ensured that the economy and prestige of America suffered– much more than what the terrorists would ever have hoped to achieve. And economic collapse was the last nail on the Republicans in the elections. In a way, Osama bin Laden had his revenge.

Now the world is watching how America would change from a democratic country (!) fighting numerous wars in all corners of the World, often in business interest. Will Mr. Obama have a worldview different from his predecessors and even the average American? (The average American, at least most of them, knows little about rest of the world and cares little.)  Surely, he can connect to the world more than any of his predecessors. He has relatives in Kenya. He spent some years of his childhood in Indonesia. He studied law with students from all over the world at Harward Law School, and had a classmate from Kerala (now practicising in Kochi bar). Even culturally, a Hanuman icon has reached him from India and he is said to be carrying that as a talisman. Though not very significant in this context, his name is a mixture of the Jewish, Muslim and the African while being a Christian.

However, these factors would not overcome the compulsions of his Office. After all, he is to be the President of America, a country whose riches had been usurped from the first nations (Native Americans) and built upon using African slaves and neocolonialism. However, the man occupying the Office will be different. In a sense, he is the rightful inheritor— biracial, and his country has always been willing to change.

He will not be as selfish as the Bush administration. We can expect enlightened selfishness from him, an America redeeming itself.

Land policy may be an eyewash Sunday, Jan 6 2008 

Cropping patternsThe draft Kerala Land Policy, released by the Government last week, is to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It is an attempt to refurbish the image of the Government tarnished by its failure to reclaim encroached Government lands. It also vows by the land reforms to neutralise the publicity over the Industries Secretary’s proposal to roll back land reforms. (The law, he said, had outlived the need.)

Policy contains hardly any specific proposals on crucial and controversial issues. Where it states something specific, it is established policy like land and titles for the poor (including tribals) and settlers and the poor. The test of the policy will be whether the government takes clear stand on various issues and implements the policy

The policy tries to create the impression that it is absence of laws that lead to encroachment and irregular land transactions. However, it is the government’s failure to enforce the laws that lead to irregularities.

Here is a sampler from the policy: The Government will take measures, including legislative measures, to strongly prevent illegal purchases of land and amassment of properties. Note that the sentence itself says that the purchases in question are illegal. Then, who do the Government need another law to prevent them?

The Government may argue that it needed stringent laws to check the abuse. However, experience shows that stringent laws with bigger punishments are not the answer when the problem is basically the unwillingness of the Government machinery to enforce the laws. A case in point is the Anti Social Activities Act, providing for preventive detention. The law has not served to bring down crimes.