Queen of the Inane

"It's a CPI(M) conspiracy....and someone's trying to kill me"
“It’s a CPI(M) conspiracy….and someone’s trying to kill me”

The Indian porn industry seems to be facing competition from an unlikely quarter. Mamata Banerjee, the garrulous Chief Minster of West Bengal who is known to blame everything from bad weather to potholes in south Kolkata roads on CPI(M) and its perceived comrades, the Naxalites, seems to have found a new target to vent her ire upon. This time the unfortunate victims of her frequent and high pitched wrath are the social workers and activists who appear as guests on certain local TV channels to discuss the rise in instances of rape in the state.

“Every evening, these people have juicy discussions about one or two incidents (of rape)…Children are getting to know about things they should not know about. Who are being called to the channels? Many of them are involved in pornography. They claim to be social workers but they are actually money workers,”.

Soon after she made these comments in a public rally in Burdwan, she faced severe criticism from all sections of the society, including from the ones she had just given a new career in the porn industry. What was startlingly evident to all was the fact that the esteemed Chief Minister seemed more interested in finding conspiracy theories everywhere than actually acknowledging that there was a problem in the state which needed attention.

The latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics attest the magnitude of the problem. With 30,942 cases of crimes against women reported in West Bengal in 2012, the state tops the list, closely followed by Andhra Pradesh (28,171) and Uttar Pradesh (23,569). With 2,000 cases of rapes registered in 2012 alone, West Bengal accounts for 12.67 percent of total crimes committed against women. Kolkata, the erstwhile “City of Joy” now holds the notorious distinction of being the third most unsafe city for women in the country, behind Delhi and Bangalore.

Mamata Banerjee however, seems barely perturbed by these disturbing figures. She seems to have ascended (or descended) into a realm where facts and figures count for nothing. They are but a blip in her radar, to be dismissed either as a conspiracy by CPI(M) or a story made up to malign her administration. If that doesn’t work, she pulls out the ace in her sleeve alleging that there is a conspiracy being hatched to kill her. The last point has nothing to do with rape but that’s how her mind seems to work- tell people someone is trying to kill you and people would be shocked into silence, refraining from making any more comments. She has done it once, she has done it twice and there is no reason why she won’t do it again.

There are certain people who, by virtue of their intelligence, have established such a place in the society that it’s hard to imagine them ever saying anything even remotely stupid. Like Stephen Hawking. And then there are others, those who are infamous for shooting their mouths off, dropping one ludicrous inanity after the other. Mamata Banerjee seems set to establish herself as the queen of the second group, becoming, in the process, a female version of Lalu Prasad Yadav, equally infamous for his idiocy riddled gaffes. If only people found it funny.

Death toll rises to 600 in rain-ravaged Uttarkhand

Flash floods that hit Uttarkhand last week
Flash floods that hit Uttarkhand last week

Dehradun: Nearly 18,000 people, rescued by the Indian Army, were shifted to safer areas on Saturday, even though the death toll due to the flash floods and landslides neared 600 as rains struck the Himalayan state of Uttarkhand last week.

Government reports claim that more than 30,000 people are still stranded in the hilly regions as rescue teams make their way to areas such as Gangotri, Joshimath, Badrinath, Kedarnath and Pindari glacier region.

GOC-in-Chief of Central Command, Lt Gen Anil Chait told reporters in Lucknow, “About 8,500 Army jawans are continuously working to locate the people still stranded in most difficult of places and shift them to safer areas and so far some 18,000 people from various parts of the state of Uttarkhand have been evacuated.”

Officials stated that majority of the flash floods in the rivers occurred due to cloud bursts in the Char Dham region blocking over 400 km of road network. “About 40,000 square km area in the hill state has been affected by the floods but along with the dispatched rescue teams, we have set up nearly 19 medical centres and rest houses for providing medical aid and rest to the rescued people,” added Chait.

Nearly 18,000 stranded victims were rescued by the Indian army from the flash floods in Uttarkhand on Saturday.
Nearly 18,000 stranded victims were rescued by the Indian army from the flash floods in Uttarkhand on Saturday.

Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who arrived in state capital Dehradun on Saturday, said a total of 73,000 people had been rescued so far with up to 32,000 still stranded. Shinde also added that the rescue operations were being speeded up as a fresh downpour is being expected in the next 48 hours in the state.

26-year-old, Kavita Tyagi, who had been stranded, for more than a week, at the pilgrimage spot of Badrinath was rescued by army choppers on Saturday morning and dropped at Gauchar, a hill town in Chamoli district of the state.

“We had been stuck for more than a week. We ran out of food and all our money. My three-year-old son is with me and we can’t describe the harrowing times that we have faced,” Kavita told AFP. She added that her mother and brother were yet to be rescued from Badrinath. “I am just praying that they too land safely,” said Kavita.

Special trains and buses have been acquired to ferry tourists back home while medical and food supplies were also being flown in to the stranded people.

“We are trying our very best to efficiently carry out rescue operations to save the remaining victims by Sunday,” said Lt Gen Anil Chait.

From Ladakh to Uttarakhand, we’ve learnt nothing

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An incessant downpour, ravaging torrents of water, livestock being swept away along with people as mighty river currents gushed through sub-urban streets and pilgrims seeking refuge midst the Gods. These were the scenes witnessed not just in Uttarakhand in the past few days, but also 1500 kilometres away in Ladakh. The difference just happened to be time.

On August the 6th, 2010, the area around Leh saw perhaps its most unusual natural phenomenon. It was described as a ‘high altitude cold desert’, for even at 3,500 metres from sea level, Ladakh stood under a constant rain-shadow. The average annual rainfall for the month was a meagre 15 mm. Not that day. Survivors would recall horror stories of cars, trucks and even people being carried away by flood water, after a massive cloudburst resulted in over 250 mm of rain in about 30 minutes in some parts.

For all those who don’t know, a rain gauge measure the intensity of rainfall by allowing water to trickle down its funnel in drops. These trickles when stacked up are measured by a scale on the gauge in millimetres. Now imagine the amount of rainfall over the area which amounted to 25 centimetres of water in a gauge. It was almost beyond imagination.

The following morning, Ladakh wasn’t as everyone remembered. The flood water brought in silt from the mountains that piled mud as high as 10 feet. Long forgotten boulders were tossed into houses as if stones flung by a child. Rescue efforts lasted well into the week. 255 people lost their lives that night. The Government described it as an unforeseen event of nature; an occurrence that no one could predict. Strangely enough, that wasn’t the case in Uttarakhand.

The Char Dham Yatra began on June the 13th of this year. The Indian Meteorological Department [IMD] predicted moderate to heavy showers in the region and notified the state government of the same. Over 60,000 pilgrims were set to embark on this journey and the state asked the IMD to confirm with its stations in the region. The IMD was unable to predict the exact intensity of rainfall over the dhams of Kedarnath or Badrinath because the proposed weather centres were never established in those areas. It was impossible to give an accurate forecast. The government flashed the green light on the yatra.

Graphic courtesy: downtoearth.org.in
Graphic courtesy: downtoearth.org.in

For the next three days, the IMD predicted heavy rains in the area, summarizing between 3.5 cm to 12 cm. It rained moderately in Dehradun that day. All was well for the journey, the state assured. The next day’s forecast was similar – heavy to very heavy rainfall. The government took no efforts to warn the pilgrims to find shelter as a precautionary measure. What followed those three days was something both the IMD and the state never saw coming. Dehradun itself measured 37 cm of rain on the 16th of June. The flooding had begun. The state still hadn’t reacted. Only an advisory committee was set up. The morning of the 17th of June, India woke up to nature’s fury. It was as if the mythical tales of devastation by Lord Shiva had come true. The holy shrines of Kedarnath was swept away by water and covered with 5 metres of silt. The government finally reacted. The army was called in. Roads were being repaired. Food was being transported. Sadly, it was all too late. 550 people were no more and some 100 hundred were still missing.

What happened in Ladakh was unforeseen, but in Uttarakhand, the IMD had warned about the weather. The state had sanctioned over 15 weather stations to be set over the past year in and around the holy dhams. They never happened. Even a slight degree of caution would have ended up in many lives being saved. Uttarakhand 2013’s flash flood’s page on Wikipedia was avoidable.

India Spying on Indians

Image courtesy - i.huffpost.com
Image courtesy – i.huffpost.com

With debates about Internet confidentiality raging miles away in the U.S., India is developing its own system which permits its various intelligence agencies and even income tax officers swifter access to information on citizens held by telecoms and internet service providers. At a time when claims of colossal US digital probing beyond American coasts has sparked a worldwide outcry, this expanded surveillance in the world’s largest democracy – which, according to the government, will assure national security — has left privacy activists distressed and skeptical.

The Central Monitoring System (CMS) was announced in 2011, but since then, there has been no public deliberation and the government has been tight-lipped about its functioning or how it can safeguard the abuse of the system. Since April this year, the government started to silently roll out the system state-wise and eventually, it will be able to focus on any of the country’s 900 million land-line and mobile phone subscribers as well as 120 million internet users.

Officers have said that making details of the project public would curb its value as a covert intelligence-gathering tool. A senior telecommunications ministry official, who is directly involved in developing the project, told Reuters, “Security of the country is very important. All countries have these surveillance programmes.” He further advocated the need for an all-encompassing system like CMS by saying, “You can see terrorists getting caught, you see crimes being stopped. You need surveillance. This is to protect you and your country.”

This means that through this scheme, the government will be able to not only listen to, but also tape phone conversations, intercept e-mails and text messages, screen posts on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and even trace search results on Google. In 2012 itself, India sent over 4,500 requests to Google Inc. for specific user data – the highest in the world after the U.S.

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The CMS will eventually be able to focus on any of the country’s 900 million landline and mobile phone subscribers as well as 120 million internet users.

Now, security agencies need not seek court orders for inspection or depend solely on internet or mobile service providers to provide them with data. In the past, the government has detained people for critical social media posts, though there haven’t been any prosecutions.

So how far can an agency venture into an individual’s private life without breaching the individual’s right to privacy? Right to privacy, in some cases, is indirectly related to Freedom of Expression and modern invasion of privacy laws essentially protect people in four different ways: intrusion of solitude, public disclosure of private facts, false light, and appropriation. In 1948, the United Nations made the Universal Declaration of Human Rights laying down certain freedoms for the mankind.  Article 19 of the Declaration enunciates the most basic of these freedoms, thus: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression’, the right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The topic of free speech is one of the most contentious issues in liberal societies. If the liberty to express oneself is not highly valued, as has often been the case, there is no problem: freedom of expression is simply curtailed in favour of other values. Free speech becomes a volatile issue when it is highly valued because only then do the limitations placed upon it become controversial.

Minister of State for Information Technology, Milind Deora, asserted that the new data collection system would in fact, develop citizens’ privacy since telecommunications companies would no longer be directly involved in the observation – only certified government officials would.

Power projects are corruption-free: Ajit Pawar

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Energy Minister Ajit Pawar claiming zero corruption in Power projects

BJP’s allegation on power department of escalating cost of Mahagenco’s 10 generation projects by Rs.8,616 crore in the last seven years was dismissed by Energy minister Ajit Pawar. He also refused to accept the party’s claim of doing such things to help political leaders and officials concerned to charge hefty bribes from private generators, selling power to the state company Mahavitran. Pawar also blames the delay in the project on the Center-owned companies, supplying equipment to this generation plant.

“Disappointed company officials have provided ambiguous information to BJP, based on which the party made allegations of upcoming polls”, said Pawar.

He also said that, strict action would be initiated against the officials, if their role in  indulgence in corruption was proved and also if that had lead to delays. Power tariffs in Maharashtra are far much lower than in BJP-ruled states.

“BJP seems to lack political agenda, so they are using this issue as an agenda before polls”, he added.

Pawar stayed mum on giving out any figure on the escalated cost, and also didn’t explain the elevation of senior officer SC Thotve, as DOP(Director of Project) in 2007, despite lacking qualification and experience.

Although several power projects were on track and generating more than 2500 MW daily, the vendors delayed the delivery of equipment, said Mahagenco.

“The information was based on documents procured under the RTI from Mahagenco”, said BJP-state spokesperson Madhav Bhandari, while alleging charges against Ajit pawar.

He also added that, this was something bigger than the irrigation scam, which benefited the leaders of NCP. “The major reason for making the state power cut-free is our capacity addition. We also have ready-to-execute plan in place to complete the remaining projects without any delay” said Mahagenco.

 

Rotting Grains in Hungry India

Image source: outlookindia.com

 

It is hard to believe that India is the same country that transformed from a “begging bowl” to a “bread basket”. After high-yielding varieties of seeds were first introduced in India in 1968, the wheat production rocketed from 6.4 million tonnes in 1948 to 20 million tonnes. The Green Revolution converted India into a shining new nation brimming with success and sufficient wheat stalks. But 45 years after the hopes of converting a country that was once on the brink of mass famine to a self-contained nation, the situation continues to be shaky.

India continues to remain the second largest producer of wheat. According to a Food and Agriculture Organization report, it is likely to export 7.5 million tonnes by the end of June 2013. India today has about 40 million tonnes of surplus grain, and yet it ranks 65 out of 122 countries on the World Hunger Index of 2012.

One of the biggest reasons of this conundrum is shocking.

Read the full story here.

Nitish Kumar V/S BJP

Nitish Kumar – All by himself

The tussle between Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP) and Bihar CM, Nitish Kumar continues with him attacking BJP for continuing to support Modi. The Chief Minister established his leadership in the state by winning the trust vote on Wednesday in the Bihar State Assembly by 126 votes. After the vote, he thanked Congress for their support. About Modi, Kumar said that he would not be able to do justice to the many cultures and needs of our country and the Gujarat CM would not be fulfill BJP’s dream of winning the polls next year.

Even though they didn’t participate in the trust vote, BJP has not been able to prevent a split within the party, with six BJP MLA quitting to continue supporting Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) government. Tensions continue to be high amongst the two parties, especially with the clash amongst the cadres of the two parties on Tuesday when BJP called for a statewide shutdown to protest against the alleged betrayal by JD(U) in light of the split. Nitish Kumar replied to those allegations by blaming the split on BJP. He said that those who do not know how to treat their seniors should not talk about betrayal, a clear reference to BJP’s treatment of L.K. Advani  and A.B. Vajpayee.

With the split from BJP, the way for JD(U) has become unclear. Reports indicate a growing closeness with Congress, but with UPA government being still allied with Lalu Prasad’s RJD, that option seems like a distant possibility. As the elections in 2014 draw closer, it would be a deciding time for the JD(U) leader about his future in the state. Ending a 17 year old alliance may turn out to be a rewarding step as in the case of Naveen Patnaik’s BJD which won a bigger margin in Odisha after it’s split with BJP or it can return RJD to power. Meanwhile, the secular, development oriented JD(U) looks for an ally.