Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Sikkim. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Sikkim. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Kochi Makes Delicious 'Momo' Eateries A Super Success

By Swamy Parthasarathy | Kochi

WEEKEND DELICACY A mushrooming of dedicated momo outlets in the city is proof of the Kochiite's growing love for it

Small, neat, moon-shaped white pouches with pleated edges arranged in a circle around a red dot. This plate of momos, from Shifu’s Momo’s, looks more like a ten-petalled white flower with the fiery red chutney as a centre. Steamed, fried, white, brown, red, sweet, pungent….momo in its many avatars is in. In fact the city has stand-alone kiosks with momos as the main item.

Kashyap Saigal started his momo counter in Panampilly Nagar market in March 2012. It was, then, an informal stand outside the verandah of a shop. Today Kashayap has a shop in the market. When he started out, he was sending out 50 plates of momos from his kitchen, today he sends anything between 200-250 plates. Ten momos make a plate.

Friday, March 07, 2014

General Elections 2014 - The 'New India' With 'Power One'

By M H Ahssan | INNLIVE

Almost exactly a decade ago, the day after the 2004 Lok Sabha elections were announced, INNLIVE launched its special ‘General Elections 2014’ coverage, bringing readers a 360 degrees ringside view of one of the great wonders of the modern world. 

In every election since, whether general or state, ‘General Elections 2014’ has sought to empower, entertain and enlighten you with ground-level reportage, numbers-driven analyses, and agenda-setting thought pieces. We will do all that and more in the weeks to come, capturing the sights, smells and sounds of the mother-of-all political carnivals on earth, even as we help you separate choice from noise. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When Will Indian Politics Wake Up To 'Climate Change'?

By Aditi Kapoor (Guest Writer)

IN FOCUS Initiatives that do not factor in climate resilience and related gender concerns cannot address development challenges, but the manner in which state-level climate action plans are being implemented shows these are yet to become electoral planks. 

The Uttarakhand floods and Cyclone Phailin, which ravaged the coast of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in 2013, have illustrated how the effects of climate change can erode development gains, greatly impacting the lives of the poor, especially women.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Lok Sabha General Election 2014 To Be Held In Mid April

By Kajol Singh | Delhi

The Lok Sabha polls will be held between mid-April and early May in five or six phases and will involve about 800 million voters, highly-placed sources in the Election Commission revealed. Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will also elect their state assemblies along with the Lok Sabha elections. 

"The announcement of the poll schedule will be done in the last days of February or at best the first two-three days of March," the sources told INN Live. During the 2009 polls, there were 714 million voters as against 671 million voters in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Indian Defence Scenario: An Army In Search Of Artillery

By Rahul Bedi | Delhi

Despite the efficacy of artillery firepower unleashed by the Bofors howitzers during Kargil, the Army’s longstanding Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan stands stymied. God, Napoleon said, fights on the side with the best artillery. 

The legendary French general’s foot and horse artillery repeatedly demonstrated its lethal capacity against his European adversaries by degrading their formidable formations before his cavalry and infantry moved in to victoriously conclude the fighting.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Analysis: BJP, Congress Political 'Mirror Masks' Unveiled

By M H Ahssan | INN Live

Economic policies. Corruption. Civil liberties. Public Discourse. There is nothing to distinguish the two national parties. Growth junkies. US-friendly. Anti-labour and pro-business. Anti-poor but pro-subsidy. Is there a choice between the economic policies of the Congress and the BJP?

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s Rs 100-crore Bharat Nirman campaign ran into trouble this September. One of its print advertisements featured the same women models in an almost identical frame that was used in the Antyodaya Yojana campaign launched by the BJP-led NDA back in 2000. The two parties apparently hired the same agency. But then, fittingly, the NDA’s Antyodaya scheme was the precursor to the UPA’s Food Security Act too.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

'World’s Most Vulnerable Coast Is Still The Least Prepared'

By M H Ahssan / INN Live

The 1999 super-cyclone killed more than 10,000 people in Odisha. So far, cyclone Phailin’s death toll is yet to reach double digits. While the wind speed turned out to be less severe than feared, the state evacuated nearly nine lakh people, in three days. Remarkable feat, yes, but this does not tell the entire story.

After it was caught hopelessly unprepared in 1999, the state set up the Odisha State Disaster Mitigation Authority (OSDMA) in 2000.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

India Speaks 780 Languages, 220 Lost In Last 50 Years

By Nikhil Chinappa / Mumbai

No one has ever doubted that India is home to a huge variety of languages. A new study, the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, says that the official number, 122, is far lower than the 780 that it counted and another 100 that its authors suspect exist.

The survey, which was conducted over the past four years by 3,000 volunteers and staff of the Bhasha Research & Publication Centre (“Bhasha” means “language” in Hindi), also concludes that 220 Indian languages have disappeared in the last 50 years, and that another 150 could vanish in the next half century as speakers die and their children fail to learn their ancestral tongues.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Under Siege, Over-Amended: Does RTI Act Still Matter?

By M H Ahssan / INN Bureau

Eight years after the Right to Information (RTI) Act was passed, the landmark legislation continues to face threats from the very political class which enacted it. Experts say that the cabinet decision to keep political parties out of the ambit of the transparency law is just the latest attempt by the political class to circumvent the Act.

If passed in the Parliament, the amendments to exclude parties will render ineffective the 3 June ruling of the Central Information Commission (CIC) which brought political parties under the purview of the RTI Act.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Utt'khand Tragedy: Why Development Couldn’t Save Live?

By Jay Mazoomdaar (Guest Writer)

Nearly all the visitors who survived the catastrophe in Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region have been rescued. All that is left now is a ravaged valley and its hapless residents who will have to cope with the consequence of this calamity for years to come.

While offering to rebuild Kedarnath and much of Garhwal’s infrastructure that has been washed away, chief minister Vijay Bahuguna flatly refused to acknowledge that the disaster as manmade. Since he is not alone in his obsession for growth and contempt for the environmental bogey, it may be useful to examine a few myths that were reinforced in the past two weeks.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

MPS GROUP, ANOTHER 'CHIT SCAM' IN THE MAKING!

By Sandeep Roy / Kolkata

Having burnt its hands in the Saradha chit fund scam, the Trinamool government has now turned the spotlight on similar chit fund companies and are probing if any irregularities have been committed by them.

While Kolkata-based chit fund company Rose Valley’s Sikkim office was raided by the police today, the Mamata government is turning its heat on another group of companies that rests on a chit fund investment enterprise.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

'ARUNACHAL' TOPS IN HANDLING 'CHILD NUTRITION'

By M H Ahssan / New Delhi

The problem is likely to be less severe than UN statistics indicate, given faulty yardsticks. If asked to name the state with the lowest incidence of child malnutrition in India, readers will overwhelmingly pick one of Kerala, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab or West Bengal. But they will all be wrong by a wide margin: none of these states appears among even the top five performers. 

SUSPICIOUS CHINESE WHISPERS IN THE BORDERLAND

By Kajol Singh / Delhi

Used in the political sense, the term ‘Buddhist problem’ conjures up images of Sri Lanka. But India could well be sitting on an evolving problem on the other end of the map. A spurt in activities in Buddhist monasteries and caves strung along India’s border with Nepal and Bhutan has of late aroused suspicion and unease.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

'SARABJIT'S BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL IN LETHAL JAIL'

SARABJIT SINGH IS A SUFFERING IN PAKISTAN JAIL
By M H Ahssan / Hyderabad

Several innocents Indians are suffering the 'cross border politics' over their lives in Pakistan since decades of their detention in lethal jails and facing the inhuman attitude towards their country.  

Last summer, an ageing Sikh man with the full grey beard of the pious came across the Wagah border, at the end of thirty years and six months in a maximum-security Pakistani prison. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Over 1,000 IAS Officers Fail To Submit Property Returns

Over 1,000 IAS officers have failed to submit their immovable property returns (IPRs) to the government within the stipulated time frame this year.

Of the total of 1,057 officers who did not submit their IPRs for 2012, a highest of 147 are from Uttar Pradesh cadre, 114 of Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram-Union Territories (AGMUT), 100 of Manipur-Tripura, 96 of Jammu and Kashmir and 88 of Madhya Pradesh cadre among others, according to Department of Personnel and Training data.

Suspended IAS couple Arvind and Tinoo Joshi of MP cadre are also among the list of erring officials. Joshis, both 1979 batch officers of Madhya Pradesh cadre, made headlines after Income Tax department raided their residence in February, 2010 and allegedly unearthed assets worth over Rs 350 crore.

58 IAS officers of Karnataka cadre, 53 of Andhra Pradesh, 48 of Punjab, 47 of Orissa, 45 of West Bengal, 40 of Himachal Pradesh, 35 of Haryana, 25 of Jharkhand, 23 of Assam-Meghalaya, 22 of Rajasthan, 20 of Tamil Nadu, 17 of Maharashtra, 16 of Nagaland, 14 of Gujarat, 13 of Bihar, 10 of Kerala, nine each of Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh and eight of Sikkim cadre have not given their IPRs, it said.

The total sanctioned strength of IAS is 6,217, including 1,339 promotion posts. Of these, 4,737 officers are in position.

An all-India service officer is bound to file property returns of a year by January end of the following year, failing which promotion and empanelment to senior level postings may be denied.

Besides, there are 107 IAS officers who have not submitted their IPRs for 2011. As many as 198 IAS officials did not give their property details for 2010. “A circular has already been sent to all cadre
controlling authorities to inform them about timely submission of their IPRs,” said an official of the DoPT, which acts as a nodal agency for administrative matters of the IAS officers.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Defeat of an Idea - Head Hunting

By M H Ahssan

Hindutva is embarrassed by Hinduness. A new generation of confident Indians has started to move beyond its logic of fear and hate. Will the BJP be able to seize this moment for creative reinvention?

THE CASCADING crisis within the BJP since May 16 and their confused debate about the role Hindutva has played in their electoral defeat tells a fascinating story. It would be premature to read any of this as a signal of either the disintegration of the party or Hindutva, but one could safely say the idea of Hindutva has been defeated by India for the moment. Put on a backburner and challenged to reinvent itself.

The BJP’s dependence on Hindutva as its defining characteristic was bound to become problematic for it. Data shows that less than 10 percent of Indians have ever voted for the BJP on ideological grounds. The Hindutva project was constructed on tapping into and fostering fear and a siege mentality within Hindus: a sense of being a minority in a country in which they are clearly a numerical majority. In itself, this was not a bad thing. You need a political party to ‘summit’ these emotions so you can manage them. The Republican Party in America, for instance, also encourages and allies with Christian fundamentalists. They know a small marginal part of the vote comes from there — small, but a crucial vote percentage. So they woo them pre-election. Post election, though, there could be indirect rewards but no official rewards are handed out to them. The BJP did not understand this art of political management. They did not learn how to treat Hindutva groups as merely a sect within them; they believed their entire existence depended on the ideology.

This whole ideological stand — making Hindutva their central official line – was a myopic mistake. (The RSS of course has never been in politics so their understanding of politics is even worse.) The Indian genius is to manage contradictions. Most people forget, the Congress Party, the original party of the freedom movement, allowed many of its members to simultaneously belong to both the Congress and the Hindu Maha Sabha or other Hindu nationalist formations. This was very prevalent in Bengal because a huge proportion of Bengali freedom fighters came from a background of Hindu nationalism. Tagore himself was a member of both the Congress and the Muslim League. It is because these political impulses were accommodated within the Congress as factions that they were easier to negotiate in the early years. The BJP’s dilemma is that it thought its existence was predicated on Hindutva: now that they have lost drastically, they think Hindutva has become a liability and should be jettisoned. But the fact is, the relationship between the BJP and Hindutva will only become more clandestine. The debate they are trying to have within the party is actually nothing more than a power struggle wearing the garb of ideological challenge.

In itself, this power struggle is a healthy thing. Contrary to all the speculation around them, the BJP is not necessarily slated to disintegrate like the Janata Party. The Janata party was a coalition of factions; the BJP has merely become a party with factions. With Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani past their time, all the top posts are vacant. If the BJP wants to survive and do reasonably well, they should “do a Congress”: they should find a Narasimha Rao or Manmohan Singh to lead them. All their current and prominent leaders are too high-pitched.

The BJP may be short-sighted in analysing its defeat dominantly through the Hindutva lens, but its electoral defeat does point to a kind of defeat of Hindutva itself. At the core of the Hindutva project is a war between Hindusim and Hindutva that is around 150 years old. It began in the middle of the 19th century, when ideas of Hindtuva began to take shape with the Hindu reform movements. In a sense, the defeat of Hindutva today is also a defeat of the West because the Hindutva project was one of the last remnants of the colonial West in Indian consciousness.

TODAY, BOTH detractors and defenders of Hindutva are confused about what it stands for. The truth may not be palatable to many, but Hindutva grew out of an admiration of the western European nation state and our attempt to have an indigenous form of it. When Veer Savarkar, the Hindutva fountainhead, insisted that Hindus must not read the Vedas and Upanishads but read science and technology and western political theory, this is what he had in mind. He was looking for a way to transform a chaotic, diverse, anarchic society into an organising principle for a masculine, western-style nation state, something akin to Bismarck’s Germany.

To achieve this, the Hindutva project required Indians to repudiate their Indianness, and Hindus to repudiate their Hinduness. That was part of the war. It required a chaotic, diverse society to homogenise itself into something that could be more globally acceptable and to live according to European norms. Again, public memory is short. Few people remember that Savarkar was very secular in his personal life – in the western sense. He refused to have his funeral rights according to Hindu custom; he wanted his body taken for cremation in a mechanised vehicle rather than the shoulders of relatives. He also refused to give his wife a Hindu funeral though women members of the Hindu Mahasabha sat in front of his house on a dharna.

Savarkar’s main criticism of Gandhi, in fact, was that he was unscientific, irrational and illiterate in modern political theory. He was wrong about that. Gandhi did understand political theory, but it had deeper roots, taken not only from Indian society but from the dissenting West. Gandhi did not believe in the modern nation state or in conventional ideas of nationality, nation and nationalism. He went on record to say that armed nationalism is no different from imperialism. At that point in our history, he seemed a romantic fuddy duddy. The fact is, he was way ahead of his time. He understood that India was particularly well-equipped to craft its own version of a modern nation state. It was under no obligation to follow European textbook definitions of the nation state. The irony is that today many western nations are moving away from the old model and becoming more flexible: 14 countries in Europe do not maintain any armies and have opened their borders to become the European Union. On the other hand, because of our colonial past, India and China are two of the purest forms of 19th century nation states you can find in the world today. Tagore’s friend, Brahmobandhab Upadhyay, a Catholic who called himself a ‘Hindu Christian’. Vivekananda himself said the ideal Indian would be one who had a Hindu mind and a Muslim body. But very early in his intellectual journey, Savarkar decided mere geography was too insipid a basis for nationality and began to advocate a more strident Hindu nationalism. The distasteful, clenched-teeth hatred of Muslims and other minorities associated with Hindutva took root then.

After its defeat this election, the BJP feels its middleclass base has moved away from it because it is disenchanted with Hindutva. This, perhaps, is not entirely true. The Indian middle-class has a natural affinity with the less strident aspects of Hindutva. Primarily, this is because the RSS and BJP had very strong links with the Hindu reform movements, particularly the Arya Samaj. Both Munje and Hedgewar, though, were also inspired by Ramakrishna. The project was very clear. There was a seamless continuity between these reform movements and European concepts of a nation state. This continuity began to transform Hinduism and partly led to a form of religion compatible with a modern nation state – in the same way that Protestant Christians in Europe had become more comfortable with the nation state, industrial capitalism and secularism. In many ways, all Indian religious reformers were trying to produce house-broken, tamed versions of religion which could sustain a pan- Indian consciousness and pan-Indian nationalism. All these reformers had internalised aspects of masculine Protestant Christianity. Angarik Dharmapal’s Maha Bodhi society in Calcutta, in fact, produced a kind of Protestant Buddhism which the Sri Lankans find very convenient for their majoritarian state. Hindu society was even more diverse and cruel. Anyone wedded to the conventional idea of a nation state naturally found it too chaotic, unmanageable and subversive. The idea of Hindutva was supposed to be something Hindus could hold on to and yet remain good citizens of a modern nation.

The middle-class — which is the most privileged and therefore naturally most invested in the conventional notion of the nation state — is therefore also a natural constituency for Hindutva and its version of Hindusim. In Savarkar’s fearsome novel Kala Pani, the only futuristic novel produced by a Hindutva ideologue, he paints a (for him utopian) vision of a future India that will be a totally homogenous society. People would marry across caste and sect and language and become good, pan-Indian citizens — almost like the over-insipid, boring, lowest common denominator Indians one sees nowadays in India’s metropolises. Indians with no difference in language or custom: everyone speaking in the same accents, everyone having the same choice in music, cinema, clothes. Absolutely homogenised — almost like uniform clones.

SAVARKAR WAS prescient because this, in fact, is almost a mirror image of contemporary urban middle class Indians. A class that has access to a globalised economy, speaks English as its primary language, and is shaped by a uniform media. What resonance does this new-generation Malayali or Bengali or Tamilian brought up in Delhi have with the vernacular Hindusim of his grandparents, or even parents? Do all those myriad gods and goddesses with strange names, family priests, ishta dev and ishta devis make any sense to them? What is emerging instead is a pan-Indian Hinduism that allows you to dip into a bit of Onam and a bit of Diwali and a bit of Durga puja, and not be too deeply invested in any of it. Contrary to the ‘milleniaold’ milleniaold’ tradition Hindutva ideologues claim they are a part of, this new kind of Hinduism is a very new faith. It is no more than 150 years old. It was born in the 19th century and is directly inspired by Protestant Christianity in the wake of the Arya Samaj. And this faith is also a kind of lack of faith. You can carry it with you wherever you go. It is a kind of laptop Hinduism.

The Hindutva project in India is destined not to ever occupy centre space though, because it is challenged by Hinduism. When one talks of this Hinduism which is 4,000 years old, we have in mind a religion or tradition – a sentiment — that might be shrinking everyday but still moves a majority in India. It is this concept of faith — diverse, local, intimate and highly ritual — that most Indians live with. Apart from economic reasons and the crunch on jobs and infrastructure, one of the reasons why the Shiv Sena could garner so much support for their opposition to the influx of Biharis in Mumbai was the proliferation of chhat puja. The Mumbai-wallahs felt threatened, there was a sense of ‘itni chhatt puja kahan se aa gayi’? The Biharis would have had less of a hostile backlash if they had participated in the Ganesh pujas instead. Interestingly, there are many more Durga pujas in Mumbai and Delhi than in Kolkata, but there is no hostility against this because it has graduated into an all- India phenomenon. Chhat hasn’t — yet.

It would be a mistake to conflate the occasional eruption of these hostilities with a belief that the idea of India’s plural traditions is a romantic myth. Religious groupings and sects — within Hinduism, and even between different religions — have always participated in each other’s local festivals, but they were not homogenised into an anodyne laptop religion. India was not an imitation of the Enlightenment model, in which you are deemed cosmopolitan only when you feel the other person to be completely equal. In traditional Indian societies, you are equal only in the sense that you have the right to think the other community is inferior to you, and the other person has a right to think you are inferior to them — even though neither of you might say so openly. In a homogenised, individualised society, the former is seen as cosmopolitanism. In a communitybased society, it is the latter cosmopolitanism that works.

In this continuing war between traditional, chaotic, diverse Hinduism and ordering, homogenising Hindutva, the BJP’s electoral defeat is a sign that Hindusim (which is by far the stronger force in electoral numbers) has defeated Hindutva. Hindutva expects Indians to live according to European norms of nationhood. But we are Indians: we are incorrigible, cussed, we have learnt to live with contradictions for centuries, we have learnt to live with chaos and ill-defined, half-baked ideas. We also want to keep options open for the next generation. These are the attributes that have ensured our survival when so many other major civilisations have failed. These are attributes that the BJP has to find ways to accommodate and respond to.

(I once interviewed Madanlal Pahwa — one of the Hindu militants who was among Gandhi’s assasins — in his old age. Ultimately, his most memorable years were of his childhood spent in a district in Pakistan’s West Punjab, which had Baba Farid’s mazar. There was a religious fair he would go to where qawwalis were sung. He called himself a kattar Hindu but that’s what his most nostalgic memories were about. This tells you something. We Indians are accustomed to living with multiple ledgers. He was a Hindutva wallah and all his language came from there, but his memories came from elsewhere.)

None of these arguments add up to an assertion that Hindutva will die out. What is true, though, is that, unless it metamorphoses, it will never enjoy the same vigour it did in past decades because it is inherently uncomfortable and embarrassed by Indianness and traditional Hinduism. For a generation newly emergent from colonial dominance, there was a fascination and sense of respectful subordination to things Western. But with this new post-independent, post-colonial generation, things are different. Indians have gone back to their own rhythms now, so even for the middle-classes, Manmohan Singh’s ‘West’ — with its idea that anyone can be a Tata or Ambani — is more attractive to many than Savarkar’s ‘West’. The aspiration for a global, material identity has overtaken cultural identity.

GIVEN BOTH the perceived and electoral defeat of Hindutva, it will be interesting to see what future route the BJP charts for itself. In many ways, Advani is a tragic figure. It is possible that no one has yet been able to read him correctly. Unlike Vajpayee, Advani had lived in a Hindu minority state and went to a Christian missionary convent. Having lived in a Muslimmajority state, Muslims were not unknown to him, and, perhaps, he did not feel the intrinsic discomfort expected of him. He was a part of the RSS – and probably believed in it — but there is a strong possibility that he also recognised in some ways that Hindutva was a political instrument rather than an all-encompassing ideology.

There is much Advani has to answer for. He is culpable for the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and cannot escape history’s judgement by saying he was talking of Ram as a cultural icon and not a religious figure. He knew he was creating an explosive communal situation. But his party’s reaction to his statement on Jinnah makes him tragic. There was nothing new he said about Jinnah – it is an indication of where our political culture has reached that no one seemed to understand this. Strangely enough, despite a tremendous difference in personality, like Savarkar, Jinnah was a person who thought entirely in Western liberal terms. Their ideological bouquet were almost exactly the same. Advani was only recognising that when he called Jinnah secular. Pakistan’s first law minister was a Hindu, its first national anthem was also written by a Hindu, upon Jinnah’s invitation. Both men shared the idea that nationality is crucial in a nation state and a certain amount of violence and bloodshed is normal in the jostling for dominance. In fact, Jinnah was less accepting of this notion of violence than Savarkar.

Advani tried to cast himself as a statesman in the Vajpayee mould, but could not repudiate his past. At the same time, he could not project himself as an ideologue that could be cast in a heroic mould as, say, Narendra Modi seems to have become for the Gujarati people. He did wear different masks at different times in his career to take political advantage, but it is possible he personally remained somewhat distanced from all of them.

But this only intensifies the riddles for the BJP because it is quite possible that Narendra Modi too has passed his zenith. This election has indicated a decline in his popularity. The problem is, he did not leave any escape routes for himself, not even a cosmetic apology or expression of regret for the events in Gujarat 2002. This is likely to haunt his entire career. So the search for the correct leader has become the BJP’s biggest challenge – a leader who can lower the divisiveness and high temperature the party has become associated with.

But other questions remain for the party. If the BJP abandons Hindutva, what shape can its right of centre politics take? Its economic program cannot stretch too right of center because a majority of Indians live outside the spoils of the neo-liberal economic system. If only for electoral gains, they have to be accommodated.

What this means is that the BJP could be headed for a different kind of ideology, in which Hindutva will play a part, but there will be other competing concepts. There is no reason why Hindutva itself cannot take on a more benign form. Tagore, for instance, makes extremely powerful arguments for Hindutva in his novel Gora. This was a response to both Kipling’s Kim and Savarkar, and almost anticipated Gandhi in some ways. But even if the BJP and RSS’ think tanks are unable to come up with such innovations, it is quite certain that the party will retain some links with the ideology, and even if it is not part of its functioning ideology, it will be a party more tolerant of Hindutva groups.

VAJPAYEE, FOR instance, held Hindutva as a kind of vague, emotional frame. There’s no problem with that; in fact, it’s probably necessary in the Indian context. As Nawaz Sharif told Vajpayee, as part of the Muslim League and BJP, they were best positioned to break fresh ground in Indo-Pak relations as neither of their constituencies could accuse them of being wishywashy liberals. Above everything else though, like the Maoists who were encouraged to come overground and become part of the democratic process, the Hindu right wing must be politically accommodated. They cannot be annihilated or wished away, just as the Naxals could not be wished away. (Charu Mazumdar’s group in Bengal was wiped out with police action, but in barely 30 years Naxalism has come back again with greater force. These are idealistic people. It is a pity they have opted for the gun, but the problems they represent are real. Sitting in urban citadels, one might imagine that one can solve these problems over a 100 years and wait for some “trickle down” effect, but if millions of people are condemned to die in the meantime, one cannot expect everyone to remain unmoved.) In the same way, there are rump groups who are rabid enough to believe they should break down the Babri Masjid. They cannot just be wished away. They have to be politically accommodated and tamed.

The Mughal empire has some lessons that could be of great significance to contemporary India. The empire was so successful that the British left the Mughal system intact for 100 years. Even the Delhi Durbar of 1911 followed all conventions of a Mughal court. It allowed different levels of allegiance to the centre. The Jaipur Maharaja, for instance, was closer to Mughal Delhi than a sultan in Bengal: this meant he had more power and influence, nothing more.

The BJP has been demanding Article 370 should be abolished and the Uniform Civil Code brought in to India. These are legitimate demands in a European-style modern nation state. But why must we follow that route? Instead of hedging on Article 370, one should use it more effectively – go the whole hog with it. Why didn’t we give Article 370 to Sikkim instead of gobbling it up? Why didn’t we give it to Nagaland, rather than go in for 30 years of bloodshed which has made a whole generation bitter? If there is a worry that it is a border state, why not innovate and come up with Article 370 (a) – which defines more and less rights, with a clause put in for renegotiation at a later date? This would have increased the maneuverability of the Indian state immensely.

As Gandhi intuited, we are uniquely well-equipped to design our own version of a nation state. By pure default, we have gone in for some innovations — Indian secularism is one example. Both secularists and communalists complain about its compromises. But we will last as a society only as long as we compromise. The moment we try to harden it into something too defined, things collapse.

The current upheaval could be a creative moment both for the BJP and the RSS. Unlike the RSS heads that have gone before him, Mohanrao Bhagwat is not a very conspicuous ideologue. Nobody expects anything out of him. Because of this, he has the opportunity to be truly creative. But westernised Brahmins and modernity can be a lethal combination. It cuts you off from your native Indian genius. So will they be able to spot the moment?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

River basin studies: A half-hearted attempt

By M H Ahssan

Impact assessment studies to understand the consequences of large dam projects have been de-linked from the actual implementation of the projects, thus diluting their value.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects of the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Government of India has recently approved the Terms of Reference for conducting basin level studies of the Bichom and Lohit river basins in Arunachal Pradesh. The EAC has been constituted under the EIA notification 2006 to examine projects that apply to the Ministry for environmental clearance.

According to the TOR, the basin studies envisage "providing optimum support for various natural processes and allowing sustainable activities undertaken by its inhabitants". The Bichom and Lohit basins are among the river basins in the Himalayas where massive plans for building large dams and developing hydropower are being rolled out. More than a hundred projects with installed capacities totalling to 54,000 MW are at various stages of planning and implementation just in the state of Arunachal itself.

Often, a large number of dams are planned on single rivers or in single basins. For example, in the Lohit basin, a cascade of six projects totalling to 7918 MW are being planned, all within a length of 86 kms.

Such cascade-type development or a number of dams in a single basin raise the critically important issue of cumulative impacts. Often, the impact of all projects taken together is much greater than the sum of impacts of individual projects. Unfortunately, cumulative impacts are hardly ever assessed, as individual projects are planned and evaluated separately. One of the strongest criticisms against the recent plans of dam building has been the complete lack of any assessment of the carrying capacity - what level of development, and in particular the number of dams a basin can sustain - and of the totality of impacts of the number of dams and projects in the basin.

Indeed, when the impact assessment of even individual projects is patchy at best and often farcical, it would be too much to expect a proper cumulative impact assessment.

Against this background, the decision to undertake basin level studies in the Lohit and Bichom are welcome steps in the right direction. The TORs of the basin studies indicate that wide-ranging and extensive examination has been called for, as is necessary for any such study. The TORs call for "inventorisation and analysis of the existing resource base and its production, consumption and conservation levels, determination of regional ecological fragility/sensitivity based on geo-physical, biological, socio-economic and cultural attributes, review of existing and planned developments as per various developmental plans, and evaluation of impacts on various facets of environment due to existing and planned development."

The studies are to then assess the stress/load due to various activities and suggest environmental action plans that can involve preclusion or modification any activity and measures. Unfortunately, the good part ends with this. The way the studies have been structured ends up defeating the very purpose of carrying them out.

First and foremost, the basin studies have been effectively de-linked from the implementation of the projects as there is no requirement that the projects be conditional to the findings of the basin studies. Neither is there any explicit stay on the consideration and implementation of any of the projects pending the studies.

Logically, the basin studies should suggest what level of development, including hydropower projects, the basin can sustain. The projects should be planned based on this. However, the current planning and decision making turns this on its head. The numbers, locations, capacities, types and other details of the projects have already been decided. Many of these projects have already been allotted to (mostly) private developers who already have or would soon be approaching the Ministry for environmental clearance. In Bichom basin, the 600 MW Bichom (or Kameng) project is already under construction.

It is clear that the Expert Appraisal Committee understood this issue. The Minutes of its meeting dated 15 and 16 December 2008 record that "The committee noted that the study will be completed in two years and M/s WAPCOS has been entrusted with the job. In case, any project on this basin is submitted during this study period for environmental clearance, how the outcome of the study will help to take a decision could not be clarified." The obvious solution is to put on hold the projects till the studies are done. However, what the Committee decided is that "the report may be submitted within six months by reducing the TOR and the study should focus only on hydroelectric projects."

Thus, studies that would need about two years are to be done in six months (later this was extended to nine) with reduced TORs. How the outcome of such truncated studies would help rational environmental decision making is a question. It is clear that the environmental objectives have been sidelined with an eye to build as many dams as possible.

The TOR for the studies does state that they can recommend the "preclusion of any activity", which presumably means that they can call for any or some of the hydropower plants not to be built. In reality, such an outcome is highly unlikely, as is seen from the reluctance to explicitly put on hold the projects in the basin pending the results of the study. While the Committee has from time to time discussed with concern the possible impacts of large number of projects in a single basin, it has fallen shy of taking the right, but hard decision when actually dealing with the problem.

For example, the Lohit basin study was originally envisaged and put forward as a condition while granting clearance for pre-construction activities to the Upper and Lower Demwe projects in March 2008. But the Minutes of the EAC meeting of July 2008, while discussing the basin study note that "Environmental Clearance to Demwe Upper and Demwe Lower HE Project should not be linked up with the completion of basin study." These two projects add up to 3430 MW, a full 43 per cent of the total 7918 MW planned in the basin.

Further, considering that the studies are to be paid for by the project developers - in proportion to the size of the projects they have been allotted - the conflict of interest is clear.

An earlier such basin study - to determined the carrying capacity of the Teesta basin in Sikkim, initiated in 2001 - at least had a condition that no project will be considered for environmental clearance till the carrying study is completed. That study took over five years. However, the MoEF violated its own condition and accorded clearance to several projects even before the study was completed. On the other hand, based on the recommendations of the study, the MoEF has asked the Sikkim Government to drop five hydropower projects above Chungthang, and restrict the height of those below it. This shows that findings of such studies are likely to require significant rethinking of dam building plans in the river basins.

Neeraj Vagholikar, who is with the environmental organisation Kalpavriksh and has studied dam projects in the North-East since 2001 says about the Bichom and Lohit studies: "The reluctance to put on hold individual project clearances till comprehensive river basin studies are completed puts a question mark on the utility of the entire exercise. Moreover, the river basin studies will now be much shorter exercises instead of the comprehensive ones envisaged earlier, which are necessary for proper environmental decision-making. It appears that the Bichom and Lohit studies are more likely to be used to create a justification for the large scale hydropower development already planned than protect the ecological integrity of these river basins. One of the two key outcomes proposed for the studies - to provide sustainable and optimal ways of hydropower development - is a clear indication that the environmental objectives are of secondary importance."

The silver lining to this is that the second key outcome specified by the TOR is to "assess requirement of environmental flow during lean season with actual flow, depth and velocity at different level". It is significant that the Committee has recognised the importance of environmental flows, the flows necessary to maintain the ecological existence of the river, an issue that is increasingly being acknowledged as critical to sound river basin planning. One has to wait and see if the studies would have the independence to recommend preclusion or modifications to some of the hydropower projects if this is found necessary to maintain environmental flows, and if so, whether such recommendations could be implemented.

While there are several other important issues with the basin studies not discussed here, there is one that is essential to point out. The TORs for the basin studies lay out in detail many parameters that need to be studied, field data that needs to be collected, but fail to require that the local communities be consulted and involved in the process. This is a major shortcoming, and an indicator that the studies are reinforcing the technocratic approach instead of a participatory one that is the essence of environmental decision-making.

The basin studies for Bichom and Lohit are examples of a good initiative gone awry. The Committee's recognition of the need for basin studies is a welcome step. It is clear that this is an acknowledgement of issues of cumulative impacts and carrying capacity that activists, researchers, academics, dam affected people and others have been consistently raising for the last many years. At the same time, it does not go to the logical conclusion and hence has become self-defeating.

What the Committee needs to do is to re-define the TORs for the studies allowing them the two years that the committee itself feels are necessary, and redesigning them to require meaningful participation of local communities and civil society. Meanwhile it should put the projects in the basin on hold, and make them conditional to the findings of the study. If this is done, it will be a significant step in the direction of environmentally sustainable and holistic approach to development.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Rural Tourism: It’s A Niche That India Can Offer

By M H Ahssan

Rural India has much to offer to the world. Rich in traditions of arts, crafts and culture, rural India can emerge as important tourist spots. Those in the developed world who have a craze for knowledge about traditional ways of life, arts and crafts will be attracted to visit rural India if the concept of rural tourism is marketed well.

It is not that the concept is not workable. In absence of any promotional activity for rural tourism, thousands of foreign tourists visit rural areas in Rajasthan, Gujarat and south India every year. This itself is the proof of viability of the concept of rural tourism.

The government, of late, has realised what the rural India can offer to the world. The Tenth Plan has identified tourism as one of the major sources for generating employment and promoting sustainable livelihoods. The Union ministry of tourism in collaboration with UNDP has launched the Endogenous Tourism Project linked to the existing rural tourism scheme of the government. The UNDP has committed $ 2.5 million for the project. UNDP will help in areas of capacity building, involvement of NGOs, local communities and artisans, forge strong community-private and public sector partnerships. The the government has decided to develop necessary infrastructure for facilitating rural tourism.

So far the government has identified 31 villages across the country as tourist spots. These are - Pochampalli in Nalgonda district and Srikalahasti in Chittor district in Andhra Pradesh, Durgapur in Golaghat district and Sualkuchi in Kamrup district in Assam, Nepura in Nalanda district in Bihar, Chitrakote and Nagarnar in Bastar district in Chhattisgarh, Hodka in Kachchh district in Gujarat, Jyotisar in Kurukshetra district in Haryana, Naggar in Kullu district in Himachal Pradesh, Banavasi in Uttar Kannada district in Karnataka, Aranmulla in Pathanamthitta district and Kumbalanghi in Kochi district in Kerala, Chaugan in Mandla district and Pranpur in Ashok Nagar district in Madhya Pradesh, Sulibhanjan-Khultabad in Aurangabad district in Maharashtra, Pipili and Raghurajpur in Puri district in Orissa, Rajasansi in Amritsar district in Punjab, Neemrana in Alwar district, Samode in Jaipur district and Haldighati in Rajsamand district in Rajasthan, Lachen in North District in Sikkim, Karaikudi in Sivaganga district and Kazhugumalai in Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu, Kamlasagar in West Tripura district in Tripura, Bhaguwala in Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh, Jageshwar in Almora district and Mana in Chamoli district in Uttaranchal, Ballabhpur Danga in Birbhum district and Mukutmanipur in Bankura district in West Bengal.

This does not mean that India has only 31 potential tourist spots in rural areas. There are many more. These spots have been selected on pilot basis keeping in view available infrastructure. There are many other spots of potential tourist interest where adequate infrastructure needs to be developed.

Some state have by their own initiatives have begun promoting rural tourism. For instance the forest department of the Uttaranchal government has set up ‘Centre for Ecotourism and Sustainable Livelihoods’. This centre aims at capacity building of local communities and promotion of rural tourism.

The pilot project on endogenous tourism is rightly conceived with the involvement of central and state governments and all stakeholders. Concerned district administration and the local NGOs are partners. The central government has pledged assistance to the states amounting to Rs 0.5 million for developing a site for rural tourism.

The project conceives to establish common facility centres for craft persons and village ‘Kala Kendras’ (arts & craft centres) to showcase the arts and crafts, history and culture, nature and heritage of the identified sites. The project will facilitate construction of ‘Vishram Sthals’ (rest houses for tourists). These ‘Vishram Sthals’ will be made using locally available materials and traditional skills and knowledge of building and construction. With a view to provide services of global standards, local communities will be trained in different aspects of hospitability, lodging and cuisine.

Tourism is one of the major earner of foreign exchange for the country. Rural tourism will definitely add more to what we earn in foreign exchange. Rural tourism will hasten the process of development and give a chance to the village folks to interact with the outside world. It will also boost employment opportunities in rural areas and the products of rural artisan will find a ready market.

India resides in village and for the world to know the real spirit of India, it is essential to have a peep into the rural areas. The government had earlier conceived of a Buddhist Tourism Circuit comprising of places of pilgrim interest. This project is in progress. Rural India has a lot to offer to the world!

Pochampally - a hub of rural tourism: Pochampally, a village in Andhra Pradesh is today renowned worldwide for its beautiful weaves. The world knows this quaint town for its spectacular Ikkats. Spread over a charming part of the Deccan plateau, Pochampally is the largest centre for Ikkat. Tucked amid the beautiful hills, this is a result of the Bhoodan movement by Acharya Vinoba Bhave(1951) wherein land was donated by the erstwhile zamindars towards community welfare. Hence the name 'Bhoodan Pochampally', which is in fact the first village to be created by this movement. The place has been declared a Model Village due to its cleanliness and civic amenities.

‘Rural Tourism Will Succeed With Local Community Participation’
Jose Dominic, chairman, CGH Earth Group of Hotels speaks to HNN about his expansion plans and the concept of rural tourism.

CGH Earth has properties in Kerala and is now venturing into Karnataka too. Which other states are you looking at?
Jose Dominic: We are planning a 16-room heritage hotel in Karaikudi in Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu. This will be our foray into Tamil Nadu. We have taken a Chettiyar palace in a village, which will be converted into a heritage property celebrating the Chettiyar culture, their cuisine and architecture. CGH Earth believes in rural tourism, which is more authentic, more experiential and less touristic. When I say less touristic, I mean, nothing is made for the tourist. Whatever is perceived to be a tourist’s demand or need, be it architecture, food or lifestyle, is negated from the rural tourism concept. It is totally self-sufficient with the rural resources, its ideas and its character. We are also looking at Thanjavur and Madurai for expansion in Tamil Nadu.

What are your expansion strategies and investment plans?
Our strategy is to have about 12 properties in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala in the next 2-3 years. Most of them will be small properties with about 16-20 rooms. The investment towards our Karaikudi property would be about Rs 3.5 crore. For the upcoming projects, the scale could be different. A property could also cost about Rs 10-15 crore. We are in discussions with private equity funds and if it materialises, the scale will go up.

What about Andhra Pradesh?
I am yet to study the Andhra Pradesh market. If we go for a property in the state, it would definitely be near the coastline.

CGH Earth has been following the rural tourism path. What makes this segment unique?
The concept of rural tourism is not about escaping but that of fulfillment. Rural tourism has to be in small numbers because rural infrastructure cannot handle large numbers, which will end up in ruining the character of the place. The main factor for the success of rural tourism is the complete involvement of the local community. Until and unless there is total participation by the rural community along with their strong acceptance, the concept cannot survive. The entire concept has to reflect the local ethos and this is the unique bit of rural tourism.

What could be the estimated size of rural tourism in the country?
If one takes the pure leisure component leaving the MICE, VFR or business travel, then I feel, the rural tourism comprises about 60% of travellers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

FAKE CURRENCY MEANCE GRIPPING INDIA

By M H Ahssan

A country’s currency is one of its cornerstones. Its value against other currencies reflects the strength of its economy and is also a matter of national pride. What it buys is of great importance to its citizens. Consequently, its effective management is a great concern for any government.

Today this pillar of our country is under attack from an insidious and invisible enemy. A proliferation of fake currency over the last three years has grown to dangerous proportions.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 2,204 cases of counterfeiting were reported in 2007. Small states like Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh witnessed an average increase of 185 per cent in counterfeiting cases between 2006 and 2007.

Today this pillar of our country is under attack from an insidious and invisible enemyThere have been seizures of fake Indian currency in Colombo, Bangkok and Nepal. There are reports of fake currency notes now being dispensed by banks and ATM machines.

As India grapples with a financial downturn, the spread of counterfeit notes leads to greater uncertainty, undermining a country’s confidence in its financial system and the strength of its currency. Counterfeit currency has always been used to fund criminal activity, be it drugs or arms smuggling. Today it is being used by India’s enemies, namely by Pakistan’s ISI, to carry out what can only be called economic terrorism against our country.

Indian intelligence agencies have traced the routes used by counterfeiters, all of which lead back to Pakistan. The money is printed across the border, stocked in Dubai and then shipped out to our neighbours, from where it is moved into the Indian market through our porous borders. These fake notes spread through the economy and are also used to fund the operations of terrorist groups. Today it is estimated that eight or nine notes of every thousand in circulation in India are counterfeit.

HNN story on fake currency was put together by Senior Editor Malini Bhupta along with our correspondents from all across the country who spoke to officials at the Reserve Bank, private and public sector banks as well as intelligence sources. Bhupta found that the impact of the fake currency racket was being felt at all levels. Staff at a bank told her that they get about a dozen dud notes in a day. The owners of very small shops were investing in currency detection machines, tired of having their earnings destroyed by banks because the notes had turned out to be counterfeit. Our story tells you how to recognise a fake note from a real one and what to do if you happen to be given a counterfeit currency note.

Everyone in the Government understands just where this problem can lead. In the course of our investigation, we found that just like in our response to conventional terror, there was no co-ordination between various agencies involved in this case. It is an appalling state of affairs.

Our economy, the foundation of India’s strength and confidence, is under attack and this situation requires an intelligent and swift response. The currency notes may be fake but their consequences are very real.


Fake Currency: Terror’s Tool
When a thief enters a house the watchdog barks. If the inmates do not wake up, it barks again, and then again. If the inmates still do not awaken, should the watchdog stop barking? This scribe is facing a similar dilemma. According to official sources the threat of terror has reached new heights. The amount of fake Indian currency in existence today is huge. According to one national daily, in UP alone over Rs 40 crore is estimated to be in circulation.

The CBI has confirmed that two sets of currency notes with the same serial numbers have been seized in branches of nationalized banks. It has claimed that the fake notes were brought into India through Nepal by Pakistan's ISI. The CBI has also confirmed that the fake currency notes are of such fine quality that they are indistinguishable from genuine notes. That is why branches of the State Bank of India can pass off fake notes as genuine currency. But, all said, can this happen if some bank officials are not complicit with anti-national elements? Elements that use the fake currency for crime and terrorism?

Every single element of this information has been written about explicitly and repeatedly by this scribe: he wrote these facts in March 2000, in June 2000, in March 2002, in July 2004 and in August 2006. All this time, the fake currency racket was expanding, but had not reached its present dimension. It was pointed out that fake currency greatly facilitated terrorism – that it was masterminded by foreign powers. Indeed, it was pointed out that the sheer volume of fake currency, indistinguishable from genuine notes, could destroy India's economy without terrorism! It was pointed out, too, that the Reserve Bank's admission that it could not authenticate currency notes in a particular fake currency police case meant that, for all practical purposes, there was no legal tender in the country. Finally, it was pointed out that using the same machines to print currency notes and stamp paper was a procedure followed for both fake currency notes and fake stamp paper. The money thus generated in both scams was of course exploited by terrorists.

This scribe's involvement in the subject originated in 1995. A section of the bureaucracy made available to him information regarding the government's decision to purchase inferior and unreliable printing machines for manufacture of currency notes, thereby replacing machines of a tried and tested firm which had served the country well for over a hundred years. He filed public interest litigation against the RBI in the High Court of Judicature in Mumbai to prevent use of the new machines for printing currency notes. His plea was that the proven record of the new machines, Komori of Japan, endangered national security because fake notes not distinguishable from genuine notes could be easily manufactured for deployment by terrorists. To cut a long story short, the RBI accepted every single argument of the petitioner. It conceded that Komori machines presented "a risk factor" and "teething troubles". It admitted that the earlier machines, Giori of Switzerland, which printed currency for ninety per cent of the nations in the world, were markedly superior. It confirmed that the use of Komori machines in Russia had ended in disaster. The machines had to be abandoned for printing currency.

Despite these admissions, all on record, the court rejected the petition. RBI's main argument was that the monopoly of Giori needed to be ended! Without a thought for national security, and the facts marshaled by the petitioner's counsel, the court rejected the petition.

An eminent lawyer argued for RBI. This scribe was acquainted with him. The lawyer impertinently suggested that this scribe's petition was in some way linked to those who were contesting the award to Komori on behalf of its Swiss rival, Giori. When the national security angle was drummed into his ears he said: "Why did you not approach me earlier?" Had that been done would he have changed his view of the case? Was that all that the case meant to him – a clash of sordid commercial interests? My respect for him fell many notches. The judiciary and the legal fraternity failed miserably in this case.

The politicians fared no better. Even before the public interest litigation was filed, Parliament had discussed the government's proposal to buy these new untried machines for printing currency. Among the several MPs who criticized the government's move was Somnath Chatterjee. But once Komori got the award the MPs lost interest. It seemed that they were interested mainly in the commercial aspects of the case. A Kolkata based industrialist was rooting for Giori to get the award. Dr Manmohan Singh was the Finance Minister when Komori got the contract to print currency notes. He maintained silence throughout the controversy. When a few years later it transpired that fake notes with the same serial numbers as genuine notes could not be differentiated even by the RBI, rendering the notion of legal tender defunct, Yashwant Sinha was the Finance Minister. He too remained silent on this affair. So, regardless of party affiliation, the politicians as a class failed miserably in this case.

During the decade or so when this scribe fought the case in court and wrote about the danger of fake currency in the media, not one newspaper highlighted the scandalous manner of awarding the contract to Komori for printing currency notes, and how this endangered national security. This scribe personally phoned and requested colleagues better placed than him, and occupying key positions in the media, to take up the matter. Not one obliged. So, in this case the media also failed miserably in this case.

The National Security Adviser has revealed that there are over 800 terrorist cells operating in the country. With the kind of easy money floating around, should that cause any surprise? And with the easy attitude evident in the establishment to matters related to national security, as revealed by the fake currency scam, was not escalation of terrorism inevitable? The government took security steps to prevent exact replication of currency notes. These steps became effective after 2005. The fake currency notes therefore are dated before 2005.

Politicians, experts, retired bureaucrats and media pundits favor the enactment of tougher new laws to fight terrorism. They sound pathetic. Considering the approach to fighting terror revealed by the fake currency racket, do they seriously believe that new laws would help solve the problem of terrorism?

Fake currency notes, new mode of terrorism?
Barely weeks have passed since we lost hundreds of innocent lives in Ahmedabad and Bangalore terror blasts. In the recent days, several live bombs have been found in the ’diamond city of India’, Surat. Terrorism is changing its face; sometime, it’s in a radio, sometime it’s in a pressure cooker and sometime it’s on a bicycle.

Indians are being terrorised by such acts. People are killed and probes are done. Our economy is hoped to reach the eight to nine per cent growth. But, what will happen to an economy, which is being flooded by fake currencies? Somebody has termed as ‘economic subversion’ while others call it as ’economic terrorism’. When ‘legal tender’, the ‘fiat money’ of a country is quietly being replaced by good quality ‘paper’ but sometimes have the same numbers and series (as real one), who can question the ‘legality’ of those ‘papers’, which are in huge circulation in this country?

An estimate suggests that stupendous more than Rs 1,69,000 crores of fake currencies are in wide circulation in our country and out of which more than Rs 40 crores may be in Uttar Pradesh itself.

Recent acts of economic terror has been found in Abid, in Doomariaganj of UP where from a bank’s currency chest fake notes have been seized. Though quantum of currency note is officially seized is not more than Rs 5 lakh, the deadliest part of this seizure is the modus operandi of this conspiracy, which is having enough potential to derail our bugging economy.

Look, the serial numbers on the fake money lying in the currency chest of the bank were the same as that of genuine notes. This establishes the two facts, the gang members would have known the number of currency notes lying in the currency chest of the bank and at their ‘printing press’ these numbers would have been informed. Second fact is more dangerous that there must be collusion between these gang members and the bank officials handling cash of that branch. If the hands of terrorists are spread to an institution which is nerve of economy, the catastrophe may not be far away.

Apart from that it has been told that the quality of papers, the quality of printing are of such a fine quality that it is not possible to differentiate between a genuine and a fake one. It also highlights the facts that advanced technology is being used to print such fake notes.

The fake currency notes are certainly posing grave threat to the Indian economy and the government is also aware of these facts.

Fake Currency: A Threat
More than a quarter of the currency in the hands of the public in India currently may be counter-feit. Intelligence Bureau (IB) estimated that fake currency amounting to a mind-boggling Rs 1, 69,000 crore is floating in India. It appears that this fake currency is being pumped in through the official banking system. In Uttar Pradesh in the first week of August, fake currency amounting to nearly Rs 3 Crore was found stashed in chests of the SBI and ICICI Bank.

The banking system is now being used by insiders to circulate fake currency. This was corroborated by what the suspects held in Uttar Pradesh had told police. The central bank has been largely ineffective in monitoring the banking system to check the circulation of counterfeit currency. They have not been able to put in place any comprehensive mechanism to check the entry and spread of fake currency.

Intelligence inputs that Pakistan’s Infer Services Intelligence (ISI) pumps in over Rs. 13 crore annually to fund terrorist activities in Mumbai alone has startled the city police. The fact that this funding is being carried out by dumping fake India currency has put both the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) and the crime branch on alert. Obviously the ISI is cleverly fighting a proxy war in India, that too with Indian money, bleeding our financial system while spilling blood on the streets. The counterfeit currency smuggled in by air and land is handed over to local agents for distribution.

This money is used to finance terror-related activities and make payments to cadres of terrorist organizations and underworld outfits close to the ISI. According to the crime branch, small amounts of fake currency are smuggled in by Bangladeshi nationals through India’s porous eastern borders from places like Murshidabad and Bashirhat. The larger quantities arrive from Dubai, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Karachi and Kolkata.

The entire terrorist network is sustained using genuine currency acquired from within India. A key sector where intelligence and security officials believe that large amounts of fake currency have entered the system is the property market. Unless the property market is regulated it is very easy for an individual to pump a few lakh rupees into the official economy every few days. Many of the officials are now calling for immediate measures to flush out fake currency from the system. Random checks across India in currency chests and bank branches should be the first step. Simultaneously state governments have to put in place a system to curtail the movement of large amounts of cash into the system and from the system in the form of, say, property deals.

The amount of fake currency being pumped in overland has come down over the years. But the state is still to take strict action at sea. The Jhakhau and Mendhi stretches near Kutch are considered the most vulnerable sea routes. These counterfeit notes are hard to identify and come in handy for terrorists while arranging logistic like rented accommodation and vehicles for travel. The money is being pumped in from almost all over the country which is a big threat to the country and need to be checked.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are X-rays, CT scans ignoring patient safety?

By M H Ahssan

Before prescribing an xray, does your physician ask you when you last underwent a radio-diagnostic test? Is he willing to accept test reports done at the suggestion of other doctors? If your answer to both questions is no, you may be among the growing number of Indians who get unnecessarily exposed to harmful radiation emitted by diagnostic machines.

According to guesstimates by industry insiders, demand for x-rays and CT scans have gone up by 50% in the past five years. This poses a clear danger of radiation over-exposure, especially for the seriously ill who are often asked to repeat diagnostic tests each time they consult a new expert. The absence of a watchdog or set treatment protocols only makes matters worse.

What’s worse, doctors often may not have a clue about the dangers of exposure. According to a study done by AIIMS in Delhi in 2006-07, 80% of physicians were found to be ignorant about the levels of radiation exposure in radio-diagnostic tests. “When awareness is so little, over-prescribing is inevitable. X-rays are the most over-prescribed tests. It is estimated that nearly 100 million x-rays are performed each year in India,’’ said Dr Pratik Kumar, assistant professor, medical physics, AIIMS, who conducted the study.

For a person, 1 milli Sievert (mSv) per year radiation exposure is considered within permissible limits. Limited x-ray exposure is considered “safe’’ as each test results in a 0.02 mSv exposure. “It is safe but should be judiciously prescribed,’’ said Dr Kumar.

According to the Radiation Protection Act, 2004, all x-ray machines have to be registered with the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). CT scan machines, too, should have an AERB licence. Nearly five years after the Act was revised, AERB is still in the process of registering equipment and says that those bought before 2004 are “very difficult to trace’’. S P Aggarwal, director, radiology safety division, AERB, admitted that x-rays and CT scans are being overprescribed. “But, it is not our job to monitor this. Doctors have to be cautious,” he said.

Dr Omprakash Tavri, who formerly headed the Indian Radiological and Imaging Association, said it was difficult to estimate if x-rays were being over-prescribed. “It depends on what a patient is suffering from. There is an accepted radiation dose per person per year and patients should see that they don’t exceed that.’’

The Medical Council of India (MCI) says it’s not possible to monitor overuse as there are no standard treatment guidelines. The health ministry had tabled the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation Bill) in the Lok Sabha in 2007 to bring all clinical facilities under one umbrella. Legislatures of four states (Arunachal, Himachal, Mizoram and Sikkim) have started the move by passing resolutions requesting Parliament to enact a comprehensive law to regulate both government and private sector medical services. “The Centre can’t force states to adopt this Bill as health is a state subject. We need stringent laws to stop the misuse of these diagnostic facilities,’’ said Dr C M Gulhati, editor, Monthly Index of Medical Specialities (MIMS-India).

But the MCI says it is difficult to monitor over-prescription of these tests. “There is no set rule or guidelines to diagnose a disease. It has to be left to the physicians to decide how many tests are needed,’’ said Dr Ketan Desai, president, MCI.

Doctors privately admit that many physicians have “arrangements’’ with diagnostic centres that give them a commission for every referral.

The advent of sophisticated machines has popularized CT scans, too. “Earlier, it used to take nearly 30 minutes, but now it is done in a few minutes. People think that less time under the machine means less exposure, but that’s not true,’’ said Dr Kumar. “The demand for CT scans has gone up drastically. Today, doctors don’t want to take a chance and are writing CT scans even for headaches.,’’ said a radiologist.

Said Dr Veena Choudhary, HOD, radiology, GB Pant hospital, “These tests tell you the real picture and no doctor wants to take a chance. In court, evidence counts and these tests are hard evidence.’’