Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jaitapur Meets Chernobyl

Jaitapur Meets Chernobyl, by Lina Krishnan (c). 
is this what the future has in store for this verdant ecosystem

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Listen to Jaitapur

As Japan grapples with the nuclear crisis at the plant in Fukushima, apocalyptic images of death and devastation conceived in fear have prompted the people of Jaitapur, in Maharashtra, to protest against the decision of France’s Areva and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) to build a nuclear plant there. Their anxieties will perhaps be stoked further today, the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which killed thousands, devastated some two lakh lives and caused widespread environmental damage. To ascribe these protests only to the machinations of a spoilsport Shiv Sena is to underestimate the fears and genuine doubts experienced by the people of Jaitapur.

For long, France has been caught in the nuclear debate. In 2002, a French government report had described the nuclear industry as a “monster without future”, engendering hopes among activists that a reversal in nuclear policy would follow. Such expectations, however, were belied as oil prices rose and the spectre of global warming prompted a clamour for clean energy. (Though nuclear power doesn’t emit carbon, nuclear waste remains radioactive for generations.) The opposite happened: France established itself as a leading exporter of nuclear power technology, which President Nikolas Sarkozy began to deploy as a diplomatic tool. However, there’s far greater transparency in France. Officials of Electricite de France, which is building two EPRS for Areva at Flamanville, Normandy, say that before they started setting up their plant, they had to secure approval from the French Public Debate Commission, which gave its nod after conducting 21 public hearings over four months. Such public hearings in India are, more often than not, farcical.

Areva, which is state-owned, hopes to sign the commercial agreement with India later this year. Till then, they expect queries from New Delhi on the safety standards of EPRS. Says a French diplomat, “We have chosen India as our key strategic partner. Jaitapur, and our cooperation in civil nuclear energy, are increasingly becoming the backbone of the two nations’ growing relationship.” India will keep its end of the bargain, not only because Paris helped New Delhi emerge out of nuclear apartheid, but also because this energy is considered vital to sustain India’s growth.

As India vets the answers to the queries about the safety of EPRS, it should perhaps emulate the French in adopting not only their technology but also their best practices. This includes taking into account the opinion of Jaitapur, allaying its fears and anxieties, and ensuring that support for the nuclear plant is won through dialogue, not by teargas, lathicharges or firing.

Source: French ‘Reactors’ [the pros & cons of Jaitapur]

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Obama's human rights record takes a notch

Laurence Tribe, Barack Obama's former teacher at Harvard University, has written to the President, along with 300 fellow professors and legal experts, condemning the United States' treatment of Bradley Manning and appealing to President Obama, as a former professor of constitutional law himself, to uphold “fundamental standards of decency”.

The 23 year-old former U.S. Army intelligence analyst held responsible for leaking government documents to Wikileaks, was charged with giving the whistleblower website documents pertaining to the U.S. military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and also a controversial cache of State Department cables. He has been in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, for the last nine months. Describing the confinement as “illegal and immoral,” and under “degrading and inhumane conditions” that violate the U.S. constitution, Tribe joined numerous peers to argue that if Manning's harsh treatment was continued by the Pentagon, it may well amount to a violation of the criminal statute against torture, defined as, “the administration or application…of… procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.” Numerous other groups and prominent individuals have called on the Pentagon to end it, some controversially. Last month, the former U.S. State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, highest-profile casualty over the Manning affair thus far, resigned after calling the Pentagon's actions “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”. Crowley argued that the manner of Manning's detention had “undermined the investigation into his role as the alleged source for Wikileaks”.

Bradley Manning's routine in the Quantico military facility confines him to his cell for 23 hours a day, the legal specialists wrote. They said during the remaining hour, he was only permitted to walk in circles in another room, with no contact with any person whatsoever. Manning was also banned from dozing or relaxing during the day, subjected to constant monitoring, and during the past week he was said to have been “forced to sleep naked and stand naked for inspection in front of his cell, and for the indefinite future must remove his clothes and wear a “smock” under claims of risk to himself that he disputes”. This is is illegal under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits punishment without trial.

The letter, written by Yale law school professor Bruce Ackerman and Harvard law school professor Yochai Benkler, said the Obama administration had supplied no evidence that Manning's treatment reflected any concern for his own safety or that of other inmates, and “Unless and until it does so, there is only one reasonable inference: this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistleblowers, or to force Manning to implicate Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both.”  The letter appears in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books and was also published online in March, where it attracted 295 signatories.

Sources: The Hindu and The Yale Daily News

Manmohan Singh's deliberate attempt to mislead the Indian people?

Julian Assange has finally discovered what the Indian people have known for some time about their prime minister. That he is really committed - to covering up corruption in his government.

Part of this effort was directed against the Indian Cables of Wikileaks, transcripts of which have been shared by The Hindu, one of our leading newspapers, for the past few weeks. Understandably, this led to a furore in the Parliament. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose to react to the House by saying in the Lok Sabha, that his government “cannot confirm the veracity, contents or even the existence of such communication.”

Outraged by this, Assange in an interview to the same paper, has this to say. “We have not come across this reaction and that reaction disturbed me. Because Hillary Clinton had been involved in informing the Indian government, in December, as well as many other governments, that this was coming. There has been no question as to the credibility of any document we have ever published in the last four years, let alone the [U.S. Embassy] cables – which have been authenticated by the very aggressive action of the State Department towards us and by hundreds of journalists from the most reputable institutions across the world.

“That is why I said I find that statement a deliberate, knowing attempt to mislead the Indian population...Because it is directly from Prime Minister Singh's mouth and he knows better than to do that. While I have heard – I have no proof but the consensus seems to be that – he is not personally corrupt, here's a clear attempt to cover up for the possible corruption of other people. Rather than simply playing it straight, which he should have done, and say, ‘Look, there are allegations. They are serious and we will investigate them and come to the truth of the matter and give a full report to Parliament. I think if he had taken that approach, he would have been served a lot better. So he has acted against his own interests and acted against the interests of his party, which is odd. So I would suggest it means that he has a habit that he was following rather than thinking things through – and a habit of reactively covering up allegations of corruption.”

Wonder what Singh will say to that bit of analysis!

Read more

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Gandhian Logbook: the Ides of April

Anti-graft crusaders, led by veteran Gandhian Anna Hazare, called off their fast Saturday after 96 hours after the government agreed to their demand to introduce a more stringent Lokpal Bill to fight corruption. A look at the time-line of the crusade:

Jan 30: People take out march against corruption in over 60 cities to demand an effective anti-graft Lokpal bill. Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh and lawyer Prashant Bhushan were among the key participants in the rally in Delhi.

Feb 26 : Anna Hazare calls press conference, announces that he would go on fast unto death from April 5 if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not take a decision on including civil society in drafting the Lokpal Bill. Expresses frustration on several letters written to PMO on the issue being ignored.

Feb 27 : Rally taken out from Jantar Mantar to Ramlila ground under banner of Bharat Swabhiman, for stringent Lokpal Bill and to bring back black money stashed in foreign banks.

March 3: Prime minister writes to Anna Hazare, invites him for discussion.

March 7: Anna Hazare meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along with Kiran Bedi, Swami Aginvesh, Prashant Bhushan, Shanti Bhushan.

March 8 : Prime minister sets up sub-committee to look into the Lokpal Bill, members include ministers A.K. Antony, M. Veerappa Moily, Kapil Sibal and Sharad Pawar.

March 28: Activists meeting with sub-committee remains inconclusive, Anna Hazare says he will go on fast as scheduled.

April 4 : Anna Hazare confirms fast from April 5, calls upon the nation to join in. Prime minister expresses his "deep disappointment" at the decision.

April 5: Anna Hazare, along with supporters pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat, marches from India Gate to Jantar Mantar where he starts fast. Supporters join the protest from 400 cities, more than 5,000 gather at Jantar Mantar. Main opposition BJP extends support, Congress calls it premature.

April 6: Fast enters second day, government members say they are not adverse to civil society's suggestion. Sharad Pawar withdraws from a sub-committee following verbal attack from the activists.

April 7: Fast enters third day; activists meet sub-committee members, meeting remains inconclusive. Movement gathers momentum, film personalities, politicians extend support. Candle light march taken out in Delhi.

April 8 : Anna Hazare announces he will end fast Saturday morning after government agrees to notify formation of a panel, with 50 percent civil society members, to draft the anti-corruption law and introduce it in the monsoon session of parliament.

April 9 : Anna Hazare ends fast around 11 a.m. after government issues notification. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the Lokpal Bill will be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament.

Source: Timeline

Friday, April 8, 2011

Knew you were blind, PM Manmohan Singh

Dear Prime Minister

We knew you were blind when you professed undying love for George Bush from our side. We did not love him. We knew you were blind when you wanted to sign the nuclear deal when we didn’t. We knew you were blind when you let all the scams happen and did not see anything wrong with what was happening. We knew you were blind to Bhopal, to the injustice, to the suffering. We knew you were blind to the fact that Prithviraj Chavan quoted Monsanto’s leaflets to you. We know this blindness Mr. Prime Minister. You have made a sport out of it at CWG and played hockey with it along with Kalmadi. And we know you probably cannot see the great man Anna Hazare. And the rising tide of people. We know you think it must be the noise of another protest that you can safely ignore. And get back to hearing what the hotline to America says, instead.

But let us ask you this question, for once.What have you got to lose? Why not become a hero of the country and join the fight against corruption? Why not usher in a new India? We still don’t want to believe that you cannot really see that this country has had enough of corruption. For one last time, come out stand up for your country. Our country.

It's called India, in case you're wondering.

Courtesy: The Great Indian Clearance Sale

Saturday, April 2, 2011

In India, domestic helps work in an unsafe environment

The Shiney Ahuja case - the Bollywood actor convicted for raping the 20 year old maid working in his house - reflects two disturbing facts. One, that domestic help in this country work in conditions that are not always safe or harmonious. Add to this, the possibility of abuse, overwork, withholding of pay, employment of child labour and other indignities of working in middle class households. Given the social divide between the employer and the employee, the dice is already loaded. This was especially so in this case where the girl was a poor villager lately come to Mumbai for her livelihood, and who was so unlearned in self-defence that a preliminary pass made by the actor a couple of days before the rape did not alert her to the horrors in store.

The second aspect is the relentless defence of Ahuja by his wife. Ok, so he is her husband, albeit one who cheated the minute she was away, but did the unfairness of his attack - one can call it nothing else given the brutality revealed in the medical evidence - on a young girl mean nothing in the face of so called family values? Family here may also include the larger Bollywood family, who have as always, swung together to defend one of their own, spearheaded by that actor with the most 'records' in various police districts, Salman Khan himself, castigating the judge for bias against actors. Actors are as subject to the due process of law as any other citizen, yet it is they who expect special dispensation whenever they indulge in criminal activity.

The media has been largely ambivalent. An exception is today's editorial in the Deccan Herald, which talks of the way the Ahujas tried everything from threats to bribery until the victim retracted from her initial complaint. "Convictions in cases of rape are rare in this country. This is because assailants often use intimidation to silence the victims. There are social pressures too that prevent victims from going to the police and the courts. Initially, Ahuja’s maid overcame her fears and inhibitions to go to the police but relentless pressure saw her withdraw her charges." [Read more]

Kudos to the judge therefore, who ignored this 'hostile evidence' and based the sentence on the medical evidence instead to sentence Shiney Ahuja to seven years rigorous imprisonment. One hopes the higher courts will also uphold the sentence.

Lina Krishnan