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Sunday, October 20, 2013

India on the Top of Slavery's List of Shame-- Report

A new report claiming to be the most comprehensive look at global slavery says 30 million people are living as slaves around the world.
The Global Slavery Index, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, lists India as the country with by far the most slaves, with an estimated nearly 14 million, followed by China (2.9 million) and Pakistan (2.1 million).
The top 10 countries on its list of shame accounted for more than three quarters of the 29.8 million people living in slavery, with Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh completing the list.
In terms of countries with the highest of proportion of slaves, Mauritania in West Africa topped the table, with about 4% of its 3.4 million people enslaved, followed by Haiti, Pakistan, India and Nepal
The index, whose authors claim it contains the most authoritative data on slavery conditions worldwide, is the product of Australian mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest's commitment to stamp out global slavery.
Forrest, ranked by Forbes as Australia's fifth richest man, with an estimated net worth of $5.7 billion, adopted the cause after his daughter volunteered in an orphanage in Nepal in 2008, where she encountered victims of child sex trafficking. Forrest is a signatory to the Giving Pledge started by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, whose members commit to donating at least half their wealth to philanthropic causes.
The index, which draws on 10 years of research into slavery and was produced by a team of 4 authors supported by 22 other experts, is the inaugural edition of what will be an annual report. It ranks 162 countries according to the number of people living in slavery, the risk of enslavement and the robustness of government responses to the problem.
Walk Free policy and research manager Gina Dafalia told CNN the report was intended to shine a spotlight on the issue, and quantify the extent of the problem in different countries before anti-slavery initiatives were launched. So far, she said, Walk Free, along with partners Humanity United and the Legatum Foundation, had pledged a total of $100 million to stamp out the practice.
"When we started working in this area we realized that we didn't have a good understanding of what exactly the situation of slavery is in the world," she said. "We needed that information before we started doing any interventions."
The index gives a higher estimate of the global number of slaves than other reports -- a report by the International Labor Organization last year pegged the number at 20.9 million.
Dafalia said this was a result of the Global Slavery Index using a broader definition of slavery, which included human trafficking, forced labor, as well as practices such as forced marriage, debt bondage and the exploitation of children.
"Our definition of modern slavery includes, for example, forced and servile marriage, a concept not included in the ILO estimate, given the focus on 'forced labor,'" she said.
The explicit definition used in the report was "the possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. Usually this exercise will be achieved through means such as violence or threats of violence, deception and/or coercion."
Kevin Bales, one of the report's authors and co-founder of Free the Slaves, said that the global number of slaves was difficult to quantify. But through methods including random sample surveys, researchers were able to arrive at an estimate. "We were able to go to households and say 'Has anything like this happened to anyone in your family?'" he said.
He believed the index, which he hoped would provide "a bit of a wake-up call" to the world's governments, had a margin of error of between 5-10%. "We always erred on the conservative side."
Asked why 30 million continued to live in conditions of slavery in 2013, Dafalia said the reasons varied from country to country, but one constant was that it remained a "hidden problem."

In some of the worst-hit countries, the report said, the affected parties were citizens ensnared in endemic, culturally-sanctioned forms of slavery -- "the chattel slavery of the Haratins in Mauritania, the exploitation of children through the restavek practice in Haiti, the cultural and economic practices of both caste and debt bondage in India and Pakistan, and the exploitation of children through vidomegon in Benin."
In other examples, including Nepal, Gabon and Moldova, it was migrants who were most vulnerable to exploitation. In many examples, noted the report, child and forced marriage was prevalent and child protection practices weak.
It noted that in India, the country with the most slaves, the risk of enslavement varied markedly from state to state.
The Middle East and North Africa, it said, showed the highest measured level of discrimination against women, with one result being a high level of forced and child marriages within the region, and widespread exploitation of trafficked women as domestic workers and prostitutes. Vulnerable male migrants also frequently found themselves in exploitative working conditions.

In contrast, said Bales, countries like Brazil led the world in anti-slavery efforts. "It has a national plan to eradicate slavery. It has a dirty list where it has every company that's ever had slavery pollute their products, they have special anti-slavery police squads."
He rejected the suggestion that the term "slavery" was an overly emotive or misleading way of defining people who were trapped by crushing poverty.
"I spend a lot of time talking to people who have been or are in slavery, and when you talk to them about it, they know what the situation is," he said.
"We're not talking about bad choices, we're not talking about crummy jobs in a sweatshop. We're talking about real life slavery -- you can't walk away, you're controlled through violence, you're treated like property."

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Current Affairs and News about Syria

Syrian rebels to discuss military needs as US weighs options:-The Hindu

The Syrian opposition was to meet in Istanbul with representatives of Western and Arab countries to assess the rebels’ military needs as the US weighs its options on military support.
Louay Mokdad of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said on Saturday, “Military chief General Selim Idriss will discuss with the various representatives the needs of the rebels and give an assessment of the military situation inside Syria.” U.S. President Barack Obama will use next week’s G8 summit to explain his new support for arming Syrian rebels, while lobbying Russia to help press Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, the White House said on Friday.
The United States on Thursday reversed its long-standing Syria policy limiting aid to non-lethal assistance, and said it would begin sending military support to moderates among the rebels, after accusing Damascus of having used chemical weapons.
Syria and its ally, Russia, reacted negatively to both the accusation of chemical weapons use and to the plan to send military aid...........Read More......

U.S. says political solution to Syria conflict in jeopardy:- Al Arabiya

The use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces and the involvement of Hezbollah fighters show President Bashar al-Assad's lack of commitment to negotiations and threaten to “put a political settlement out of reach,” the U.S. State Department said on Saturday, citing comments by Secretary of State John Kerry.

The State Department issued a statement after Kerry spoke with Iraq's foreign minister.

“The secretary reaffirmed that the United States continues to work aggressively for a political solution with the goal of a second Geneva meeting, but that the use of chemical weapons and increasing involvement of Hezbollah demonstrates the regime's lack of commitment to negotiations and threatens to put apolitical settlement out of reach,” the department said.......Read More......

White House: Syria crosses 'red line' with use of chemical weapons on its people:- CNN

Syria has crossed a "red line" with its use of chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin gas, against rebels, a move that is prompting the United States to increase the "scale and scope" of its support for the opposition, the White House said Thursday.
The acknowledgment is the first time President Barack Obama's administration has definitively said what it has long suspected -- that President Bashar al-Assad's forces have used chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war.
"The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete," Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said in a statement released by the White House..........Read More......

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Gujarat FDI fact or farce ?

Going by the Gujarat government’s figures, memorandums of understanding (MoUs) for Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) worth $876 billion were signed during its five biannual Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summits from 2003 to 2011 and a whopping 84 per cent of the projects have already been implemented or are under implementation.
This would mean Gujarat has overtaken all of China, whose FDI inflows during this period were to the tune of $600 billion. And, interestingly, after the 2013 Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit, the government chose not to give out any MoU numbers when Chief Minister Narendra Modi declared that, “Gujarat is now the gateway to India.”
Behind the envelope calculations show that if the State had implemented even 60 per cent of the investments promised, it would have left the dragon behind.
But, as it were, the latest figures of FDI inflows for the financial year 2012-13 up to January this year indicate that Gujarat ranks sixth in the country with Rs. 2,470 crore or 2.38 per cent share.
Maharashtra continues to top the FDI numbers with FDI of Rs. 40,999 crore or 40 per cent, followed by Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
Gujarat was slightly ahead of West Bengal in 2012-13, which got FDI of Rs. 1,934 crore.
In fact, Gujarat’s share in the FDI kitty has been heading southward during the last three financial years from 3.38 per cent (Rs. 3,294 crore) in 2010-11, 2.85 per cent (Rs. 4,730 crore) in 2011-12 to 2.38 per cent (Rs. 2,470 crore) now. These numbers contradict the State government’s claim that Gujarat had bucked the worldwide overall economic downturn to become the engine of India’s growth.
Nothwithstanding the government claims, it is an open fact that Gujarat’s FDI numbers have always been the same or lower through the years.
Reserve Bank of India’s FDI figures encompassing the decade of 2000 to 2011 reveal that while Gujarat received just about $7.2 billion in FDI, Maharashtra got $45.8 billion and Delhi over $26 billion. Even Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with a $8.3 billion and $7.3 billion share, got a larger piece of the national FDI pie.
Albeit the overall FDI inflow into India fell by some 30 per cent during 2012-13, Gujarat has beaten this, as the numbers suggest, with a bigger decline close to 50 per cent.
The Hindu

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ten Years On Bombs Over Baghdad

Roaming through the al-Jazeera Arabic headquarters in Doha, Qatar, last month, I was struck by its wall of relics. Behind glass lay the remains of their journalists who were either killed in action or else held in Guantanamo under false pretenses. The one tableaux that most affected me was that of Tareq Ayyoub (1968-2003), the reporter killed when US forces fired on the al-Jazeera station in Baghdad on April 8, 2003 – three weeks into the Iraq War. It was a day when the blood of journalists flowed through the streets of the city: US aircraft struck Abu Dhabi Television’s station that day, and a US Abrams Tank struck the Palestine Hotel, killing Taras Protsyuk (Reuters) and Jose Couso (Telecinco).
After an internal US investigation, General Colin Powell said, “Our forces responded to hostile fire appearing to come from a location later identified as the Palestine Hotel.” Nothing was further from the truth. Journalist Robert Fisk was on the ground in Baghdad. He wrote at that time, “I was between the tank and the hotel when the shell was fired. There was no sniper fire – nor any rocket-propelled grenade fire, as the American officer claimed – at the time. French television footage of the tank, running for minutes before the attack, shows the same thing. The soundtrack – until the blinding, repulsive golden flash from the tank barrel – is silent.” Mohamed Jassem al-Ali, al-Jazeera’s then head, had given the US the coordinates to its Baghdad station so as to protect it from attack; it was precisely those coordinates that were targeted. A month later, al-Ali was fired by al-Jazeera allegedly for hiring three “Iraqi agents” to work at the station. Pressure to silence the buzz of criticism from al-Jazeera and to remove the images of civilian casualties and suffering from its screens was fierce.
During the war, the US government either embedded journalists or tried to excise them. The war could have only one story-line, particularly given the unseemly means by which the US and the UK went into the war: with lies and evasions told to the UN to strong-arm a compliant set of governments into allowing the Bush-Blair team its way against an already prone Saddam Hussein and his regime. Now, with the war gone ten years, the challenge has been to try to remind ourselves that it happened in the first place. The US “withdrawal” of troops in 2011 is treated as an opportunity to withdraw the world’s attention from Iraq. We are told to forget the criminal
conspiracy that led the North Atlantic into a war of aggression. We are told to forget the way a country has been systematically destroyed not only since March 19, 2003, but perhaps since the West colluded with Saddam Hussein’s regime against Iran in 1980, flattering Hussein’s immense ego to take his people into a murderous conflict with its neighbor (1980-88), selling Hussein’s army chemical materials to allow him to launch them against the restive Kurds (1983-88), and then trying to contain his ambitions when he came asking for payment for Iraq’s services to the West against Iran (1989-91). There is an imposed amnesia about imperial motives and war aims, about the fact that many opposed the war on grounds that came to pass, and about the sheer suffering about the war.
What have we forgotten?
* The total number of dead – a figure impossible to fathom, somewhere near a million or maybe higher (the Lancet’s figure from 2006 if updated would lead us higher yet).
* The total number of refugees – around seven million according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Many fled to Syria, where the two-year bloody war has now left these Iraqis in a position of great peril.
* The destruction of infrastructure – now reconstructed on lines that favor the sectarian impulses of the new political class.
* The war crimes – Abu Ghraib, Falluja, the very rush to war itself.
Obama, who had staked out his own position on the impending Iraq War clear in 2002 (“a dumb war, a rash war”), could not revisit them in 2011: he was now the Commander in Chief and would find it awkward to belittle the sacrifices of troops who were sent to fight a false war. At most Obama could acknowledge the debate before the war, with the lead-up “a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate.” The Iraq war was not perfect, he accepted, but its outcome was good, with the troops leaving behind “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.” American liberalism is not capable of any more than that. It is why American liberalism will not be willing to register its complicity in such a grotesque imperialist project, nor be willing to break with that project in the first place. Too much is to be gained through its silence.
To go beyond Obama’s anodyne comments from last year is to accept that Iraq was not a “dumb war” but the outcome of a system premised on militarism and one that is capable of the harshest violence against its enemies. During the week of the US withdrawal from Iraq, a reporter for The New York Times found 400 pages of US military investigations on the 2005 massacres at Haditha, where US marines killed 24 Iraqis (including a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair, children and toddlers). Most of the US troops had been acquitted by their justice system, leaving a bad taste in the Iraqi body politic. As Michael Schmidt put it in The Times, “That sense of American impunity ultimately poisoned any chance for American forces to remain in Iraq, because the Iraqis would not let them stay without being subject to Iraqi laws and courts, a condition the White House could not accept.”
It was the aftermath of Haditha that forced the Iraqi government to no longer give a carte blanche to US troops. The Iraqi Parliament, in a sense, ejected the US because Washington would not allow its troops to come under Iraqi jurisdiction. That is how the Iraq War finally ended – not with a withdrawal but with an ejection.
I write this essay in New Delhi, remembering the day ten years ago when Shock and Awe began and remembering the months that led to the war. I remember two friends and teachers who departed over this decade, and write these words with their memory in mind – Edward Said (1935-2003) and Alexander Cockburn (1941-2012). Till the very end, Said, who died ten years ago, held fast against the imperialist project. Not long before he died, Said told al-Ahram that he felt that the imperialist states wanted to “terminate some countries” and “install regimes friendly to the United States,” a “dream that has very little basis in reality. The knowledge they have of the Middle East, to judge from the people who advise them, is to say the least out of date and widely speculative.” There were no flowers and sweets thrown to US troops as Fouad Ajami and Kanan Makiya assumed; more likely the troops were fired upon or found themselves victims to roadside bombs. I saw Edward speak bravely in late 1990 against Gulf War 1 in Chicago, when the tide was decidedly in favor of that bombardment and only a handful of people saw the ruse for what it was.
One of those other people was Alexander Cockburn. During 2002-03, I had several wonderful interactions with Alexander as he edited the essays I wrote for CounterPunch on the lead-up to the war. There was no fine line to be walked – the war was being based on false pretenses. We already knew that, and Alexander encouraged as much honest writing as possible against imperial mendacity on Iraq. I remember once asking him how he kept his nerve. His ancestor had burned down the White House, he told me. Nothing his pen can do matches that. High standards set by his past, not only for him but also for journalists with the memory of Tareq, Taras and Jose in mind.
Vijay Prashad’s new book, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, is out this month from Verso Books.

After CAG now ECI

Dangerous for democracy

The ‘counter-affidavit’ submitted by the Union government to the Supreme Court in the Ashok Chavan case is a scandal. Simply put, it argues that the Election Commission of India has no power to disqualify a candidate on the basis of his or her poll expenditure accounts, even if those have been falsified. It holds that the ECI’s power to disqualify a candidate “arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses and not for any other reason…” The government is, in the process, calling for a radical and dangerous change in the way polls are conducted in India. If there is one issue on which there is a consensus in the country, it is on the damage inflicted on free and fair elections by the unbridled rise of money power. Now the government argues that the “correctness or otherwise” of the accounts is no concern of the body that conducts and regulates elections. The United Progressive Alliance government is behaving with the ECI the way it has with the Comptroller & Auditor General. It is trying to bat its way out of ugly scams and scandals by seeking to curb the independence of these constitutional bodies. This is dangerous for accountability and for democracy, given the signal role assigned to the Election Commission in our political system.
The fact that this affidavit has been filed in the Ashok Chavan case — notoriously known as the ‘paid news’ case — makes things worse. Mr. Chavan was facing a rough time in the Election Commission’s inquiry into his poll expenses in the 2009 election campaign — especially the money he allegedly spent for ‘paid news’ in his favour in several newspapers. He has challenged the jurisdiction of the ECI on this matter in the Supreme Court. Though the Supreme Court is still seized of the matter and has made no ruling in the matter yet, the Centre’s affidavit raises troubling questions about the government’s motives. Why is it challenging the jurisdiction of the Election Commission over elections? Why is it taking such a blatantly unscrupulous stand, and to help whom? Yet, the damage this would do goes far beyond even the pernicious realm of paid news. If the government has its way, it would mean there is no institution or body that is empowered to regulate poll expenditures in the country. It would also mean the serious erosion of the powers of constitutional bodies like the ECI and the CAG that have performed their duties with diligence and integrity. Over a decade ago, a full bench of the Supreme Court held that the Election Commission had the power to disqualify a candidate whose accounts were not filed in a true and correct manner. That is the way to go. The government should withdraw its ill-advised affidavit at once and not stand in the way of the ECI doing what it is constitutionally mandated to do. 
Editorial of The Hindu

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Crisis and the Left - Change will come as the third world’s economies are hit harder -Prabhat Patnaik

In his new book, Power Systems, Noam Chomsky raises the question: why has the present economic crisis not evoked the sort of massive protest from the working class in the United States of America that the Great Depression of the 1930s did?
True, the scale of unemployment today is not as large as it had been during the 1930s. Nonetheless it is substantial; and the crisis has already lasted five years with no end in sight. And yet, America remains a ‘desert’ in terms of any militant working-class mobilization against it.
The proximate answer he provides for this difference is the collapse of militant trade unionism in today’s US; but underlying this, according to him, is the collapse of the US Communist Party, which had played a major role in mobilizing the workers during the Depression. Since Chomsky, as an anarchist, is not known to be particularly well-disposed towards communist parties, his lauding the role of the US Communist Party during the 1930s, cannot be dismissed as a paean from the faithful.
Elsewhere too the communists had played a crucial role in mobilizing the workers during the Great Depression. In Germany, for instance, the party’s support among the young and unemployed workers had soared before Hitler’s coming to power. Large-scale unemployment provides the soil not only for the growth of fascist tendencies that pit one segment of the people against another (“outsiders are stealing your jobs”), or that invoke a mythical conspiracy by an almost non- existent minority as the cause of the people’s woes (half a million Jews in the 1930s are responsible for the woes of 70 million Germans), it also nourishes the growth of a militant Left that mobilizes workers’ resistance.
The question then arises: why has the Left not emerged as a powerful force mobilizing the people in the current crisis? Of course, the growth of Syriza in Greece, of Beppe Grillo’s “Five Star” movement in Italy (and possibly of Yair Lapid’s movement in Israel), can be seen as part of people’s resistance in the context of the crisis. But these movements are not just amorphous (which is not surprising); they lack, as yet, any clear-cut socio-economic programme.
Their being ‘reformist’ is immaterial, for any significant mobilization of the people must necessarily begin with a ‘reform’ agenda; what they lack, however, is a clear programme of ‘reform’ with a thought-out strategy of coping with the implications of putting such ‘reform’ into practice. Their rise is more an expression of anger among the people than a reposing of people’s trust in an alternative economic trajectory. And the traditional communist Left continues to languish even in the midst of the crisis, which needs an explanation.
To say that the quietude of communist formations is because of the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough: many communist formations in the advanced capitalist world had broken with the Soviet Union long before its collapse; they surely should not have been shell-shocked by it. Likewise, to say that such formations are too small to matter at present unlike in the 1930s when communism represented a nascent, vigorous tendency, is not enough. The US Communist Party, like its German counterpart, grew because of leading people’s resistance; why is today different?
There is, in my view, a deeper reason behind it. Communism developed as an internationalist movement at a time when capitalist countries were engaged in a world war that apotheosized national chauvinism. Lenin’s slogan of converting the imperialist war into a civil war, so that workers of the belligerent countries did not have to kill each other across trenches in the interests of finance capital, or Rosa Luxemburg’s slogan of a European workers’ movement for peace, raised the banner of internationalism against the national chauvinism promoted by capitalism.
The finance capital against which they sought to mobilize workers was national finance capital, British, German, or French. The ideology of this finance capital, as analysed by Rudolf Hilferding in his opus, Das Finanzkapital, or as expressed in Erich Maria Remarque’s classic work, All Quiet on the Western Front, was the glorification of the ‘National Idea’. Socialist internationalism stood against capitalist national-chauvinism, and mobilizing the people in each country against the hegemony of such national capital created no theoretical problems for the communists.
What contemporary globalization has entailed, however, is globalization of finance, and hence the formation of an international finance capital, which champions, not national-chauvinism, but its own brand of internationalism. And mobilizing the people of any particular country for an alternative agenda in the context of the crisis, which means a struggle against the hegemony of such international finance capital, necessarily means a retreat into nationalism, a de-linking of the nation, presided over by a particular nation-State which the Left hopes to capture, from the internationalism essayed by contemporary finance capital. This puts the Left in a dilemma.
Matters would be different if international mobilizations of workers could be carried out against the impact of the crisis; but this remains a far cry, even in the European Union, which, in spite of being a supra-national entity, has witnessed no significant supra-national workers’ organizations or even movements. Communists of all kinds, and the Left in general, have thus appeared curiously devoid of any serious alternative agenda, since any such agenda, if voted to power, would necessarily risk a retreat from the internationalism promoted by finance, howsoever inadequate, into a nationalism that the Left in advanced countries has traditionally found distasteful.
For many in the European Left for instance, the EU with all its flaws represents an advance in a continent that had been torn apart by two world wars. The fact that the EU is dominated by finance capital whose cause is championed by Germany and which has brought crisis and unemployment to the workers, is not sufficient reason for them to abandon the European project. Unwilling to retreat, in spite of the crisis, from even the inadequate internationalism brought about by finance capital, and unable to put into practice any alternative internationalist project, the Left appears paralysed for the moment. It is the fascists, who have always revelled in national-chauvinism, with no such inhibitions about de-linking from a supra-national project, who appear better-placed to profit from the people’s anger at the predicament to which they have been reduced by the crisis.
In the third world, where nationalism has been associated with anti-imperialist struggles and hence has had an inclusive character (against which the effort has been to pit other narrow, sectional “nationalisms” like “Hindu nationalism”), the Left has had no such dilemma in opposing the ‘globalization’ brought about under the aegis of finance capital. But in many third-world countries the crisis has had only a muted impact till now. The fact that globalization of capital has led to some diffusion of activities from high-wage advanced countries to low-wage third-world countries, and in the process caused high growth rates of gross domestic product in some of the latter, has created the illusion, even within Left circles, that these countries will be able to avoid the crisis.
Of course, even their high GDP growth has been accompanied by rampant dispossession of peasants and petty producers, without any corresponding increase in organized sector employment; and, hence, by a swelling of the relative size of the labour reserves, and of the magnitude of absolute poverty. But this is something which many, including within the Left, are either oblivious of, or do not take seriously enough on the grounds that a development of the ‘productive forces’ is always to be welcomed. Additionally, they also believe that this phenomenon of high growth will continue in spite of the crisis, that any interruption in it is only temporary.
We are thus in a peculiar situation where both in the first and in the third world, the Left is paralysed in spite of the persistence of the crisis, unlike in the 1930s when the crisis had provided the setting for a massive worldwide growth of the Left.
This stasis, however, is likely to break soon, at least in the third world which is now being hit by the crisis to an extent far greater than before. Indeed China, the biggest gainer from the diffusion of activities from the advanced capitalist world, has experienced such social unrest that it has already started moving towards an alternative growth trajectory with far greater emphasis on the home market. This would require substantial measures of income redistribution towards the working people, especially in rural areas. Similar measures will become necessary in other third-world countries too, as they begin to experience the crisis in all its severity. And it is the Left alone that can lead the struggle for such a change of course.

How UPSC got its English wrong - Kankipati Rajesh

The suspended proposal to give the language a decisive place in the civil services examination will exclude large numbers of aspiring candidates
After a nationwide outcry, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has suspended its proposal to make English a predominant component of the Civil Services Mains examination from this year. The UPSC must scrap the proposals altogether. This is why:
Page 11 of the notification says: “Candidates will have the option to answer all the question papers, except Section 2 of the Paper-I (English comprehension and English precis) in English or Hindi. If the candidate has had his/her graduation in any of the following language mediums using the particular language medium for qualifying the graduate level examination, then he/she may opt for that particular language medium to answer all the question papers, except Section 2 of the Paper-I (English comprehension and English precis). [Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.]”
This indicates that if an aspirant’s mother tongue is, say, Gujarati, but his language medium while studying for the first degree and writing his graduate examinations, was not Gujarati, he will not be allowed to write the exam in Gujarati. Many students study in regional languages till Class 12. Though they shift to English medium for their college education, their level of proficiency in English cannot be compared with those studying in “convents” and cities. When Hindi is allowed as a language medium for the UPSC mains examination unconditionally, why not other languages like Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati? This step is a negation to the “idea of India” that the founding fathers of the Constitution envisaged.
To elaborate further, in Gujarat, my cadre, 90 per cent of the candidates clearing the exam qualify with a language as an optional subject, and write the exam in Gujarati.
This is true for many other States of India. Any move to change this will be a retrograde step that will disrupt, destroy and dismantle the dreams of many of my fellow Indians.
My brother officer, Mohammed Ali Shihab of the Nagaland cadre, an orphan who worked as peon, pump operator and later as a teacher, made it into the civil services examination with Malayalam as an optional subject and with Malayalam as the language medium. Under the new rules, this man of humble origins from Kerala would never have become a civil servant unless he knew English (in which he was not proficient), because his college education was not in Malayalam.
Page 13 of the notification mentions that in Paper 1 of the mains examination: “Essay: Candidates will be required to write an essay on a specific topic. The choice of subjects will be given. They will be expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression (200 marks). English Comprehension & English Precis will be to test the English language Comprehension and English precis writing skills (at 10th standard level) (100 marks).”
Paper 1 consists of 300 marks, and the marks obtained in this paper will be taken into consideration while deciding the overall ranking in the examination. This provision is anti-rural and anti-poor. As 100 marks of English comprehension and English precis can create many a disparity in the merit ranking, this is another retrograde step. In the preliminary examination, the screening process for the Mains, the aspirant is tested for English language skills. So, it is understood that a candidate appearing for the Mains has already proved his English language abilities in the preliminary examination. While the marks in preliminary examination do not affect the overall ranking of the candidate, the mains marks will. This will place many a rural and vernacular language aspirant at a disadvantage.
During the training of IAS officers at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, 40 per cent of the time spent in Phase-I of the programme is for the language of the State where the officer will serve. The excessive focus on English will only hamper the aspirations of rural India, and is a step that will widen the divide between India and Bharat.
Page 11 of the notification says that: “However, in the interest of maintaining the quality and standards of examination, a minimum number of 25 (twenty-five) candidates should opt for a specific language medium for answering the question papers in that language medium. In case there are less than 25 (twenty-five) candidates opting for any approved language medium (other than English or Hindi), then those candidates will be required to write their examination either in Hindi or in English only.”
This provision will seriously limit the aspirations of many in the country. If there is only one aspirant who wants to write, say in Santhali, why is his freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution being curtailed?
Optional subject
Page 16 of notification says: “Optional Subject Papers I & II: Candidates may choose any optional subject from amongst the list of subjects given in para 2 (Group 1). However, if a candidate has graduated in any of the literatures of languages indicated in Group-2 , with the literature as the main subject, then the candidate can also opt for that particular literature subject as an optional subject.”
This provision implies that literature cannot be chosen as an optional if the candidate hasn’t graduated in it. This means a medical science graduate cannot opt for Telugu or political science graduate cannot opt for Gujarati. This restrictive provision on the rights of the candidates to choose his optional paper serves no purpose and suggests a lack of application of mind and logic.
Page 10 of the notification says: “NOTE: (i) Marks obtained by the candidates for all papers (Paper I-VII) will be counted for merit ranking. However, the Commission will have the discretion to fix qualifying marks in any or all papers of the examination.”
This provision is again ambiguous. In the CAT examination, each section has a cut-off. This is already notified by the examination conducting agency. But the UPSC only says it has the discretion to fix qualifying marks in any or all papers of the examination.
Aside from all this, I may point out that the examination cycle is a one year process. There are candidates who prepare over years for this examination. Introduction of a new pattern without giving them reasonable time to adjust to the changes is in violation of the principles of natural justice. The proposed changes will only increase the role of coaching centres. Candidates who have been already coached will now be further coached to face the new subjects, shelling out vast amounts for this.
The proposed changes are in violation of the Right to Equality (Article 14) and Right to Expression (Article 19).
(Kankipati Rajesh, IAS, is assistant collector (under training), Junagadh, Gujarat cadre. E-mail:
The Hindu 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

India’s rich are the problem - C. P. Chandrasekhar

Even as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) frets over the high rate of inflation and wards off pressures to cut interest rates, it is faced with another challenge. Balance of payments data for the second quarter of 2012-13 show that the current account deficit continues to rise, and has touched a record 5.4 per cent of GDP. Both of these developments that would be considered signs of “overheating” occur at a time when growth is slowing.
However, the high current account deficit to GDP ratio is not merely because the denominator – GDP -- is lower than expected because of slower growth. It also reflects certain structural problems characterising the numerator-the current account deficit-which prevent its contraction when the economy grows more slowly.
Consider figures for the first half of this financial year relative to the corresponding period of the previous year. As Chart 1 shows, the current account deficit is higher this year when compared to the previous one partly because the trade deficit has risen from $59.1 billion to $61.1 billion despite slowing growth. This has meant that despite absolutely large net capital inflows into the country, of as much as $40 billion over the first six months of this fiscal, India is just able to finance its current account deficit. The period when a large share of capital inflows went to buttress India’s foreign exchange reserves seems to be over. In fact, if inflows shrink or the deficit widens, the rupee would be under much pressure.
This raises the question as to why the trade deficit remains high. One reason, emphasised by the government, is that exports, especially to Europe, have been adversely affected by the global recession. As Chart 2 indicates, goods exports over the first six months of this fiscal year have fallen with respect to the last and the increase in services exports has been inadequate to neutralise that fall. But this is not the only problem. While India’s exports are sensitive to global income declines, India’s imports have been less responsive to the slow down in income growth. It is well known that two items of imports have played an important role in keeping India’s import bill high-oil and gold. In the case of both these commodities, prices have declined in international markets during the period in question. However, in the case of oil the quantum of imports has increased to push up the import bill. And in the case of gold, though the decrease in the import bill is a noticeable 13.7 per cent, high growth rates and levels in the past have ensured that the outgo on this account has remained high.
In sum, the import bills on account of both oil and gold do not seem to fall much despite rising prices and slowing GDP growth. A feature of both these commodities, especially gold, is that it is the rich that largely account for the growth in their demand. Over the year ended September 2011, demand for gold in India was 1059 tonnes, as compared with 214 tonnes in the US and 770 tonnes in China, whereas per capita income in the three countries stood at $1,410, $48,620, and $4,940 respectively. The “average” Indian could not be responsible for such “excess demand” for gold. It is the rich who are clearly responsible. The incomes of the rich are not affected as much by the slow down. And, the demands of the rich are relatively inelastic or non-responsive with respect to price changes. This structural feature influencing India’s import bill is what accounts for the asymmetry in the response of exports and imports to world and domestic incomes respectively. What is needed is an effort at curbing such elite consumption. While this may be difficult to implement through physical controls in the case of oil, it can easily be done in the case of gold.
With the government failing to do so, the balance in the trade in goods and services has turned increasingly negative. But that is not all. Corporate India, which has been borrowing heavily from international markets to exploit the lower interest rates prevailing there, has also begun tapping the nation’s foreign exchange earnings to meet its foreign debt service commitments. As the RBI’s Bulletin for March 2013 notes: “Net outflow on account of primary income not only continued in Q2 of 2012-13 but also showed an uptrend mainly on account of higher interest payments under external commercial borrowings (ECBs) and FII investments in debt securities.” In the event, despite increase remittance receipts from Indian workers abroad (Chart 3), there has been a decline in net receipts from income payments.
The consequence of all of this is a worsening of the current account deficit, which the RBI sees as having entered the danger zone. Addressing this requires reining in the import bill, which in turn requires curbing elite consumption. India’s rich are the real problem.
The Hindu

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A spartan leftist looks at 4th term as CM

Manik Sarkar, Tripura Chief Minister, does not own a house or a car. His bank balance is Rs. 10,000. As Chief Minister, he is expected to carry a mobile phone but he refuses to do so saying the cell will give him a “lavish flavour.”
At a personal level, Manik Sarkar may be a throwback to another era — of scrupulousness and honesty in public life. But that quality is not entirely novel in Tripura where one of his predecessors, Nripen Chakraborty, was well known for his probity.
Coming from a Congress family, this CPI(M) stalwart recalls attending a public meeting by Jawaharlal Nehru. But in his student days, Mr. Sarkar was more impressed by communism than by the Congress brand of socialism.
A member of the party’s politburo, Manik Sarkar has led the Left Dront to three successive election wins — from 1998. His biggest achievement may well be curbing the State’s extremist problem that used to cripple its economy and development. He has personally visited all corners of the State to oversee development activities and taken note of problems faced by the local population.
The captain of the CPI(M) team has made no changes to his daily routine despite the vigorous campaign. Every morning he does some physical exercise, washes his clothes and does other household work.
Before this assembly election the CPI(M) invited many prominent leaders to campaign for left nominees, but he was in the driving seat of the campaign. He did so despite being a contestant from Dhanpur constituency from where he won three times in a row.
In an interview, an optimistic Manik Sarkar believes it’s only a matter of time before the Left Dront records another “massive victory” in Tripura.
In its manifesto, the Congress has promised jobs, allowance to unemployed youths, implementation of pay commission recommendations and free ration to the poorest section of people. What do you think?
All Congress governments since 1952 have been voicing a sea of assurances, but hardly anything has been implemented. The nation is now burdened with 20 crore unemployed youths. People understand the reality and will not fall prey to false promises.
More than 40 per cent of electors vote for Congress despite the fact that CPI(M) has swept several elections in Tripura. Do you think that is a failure on part of your party organisation?
I don’t think there was any failure on our part. Some people could be dissatisfied with us. We cannot do much. I have no power, everything lies with Delhi.
CPI(M) has made the extremist problem an issue this election.
Even Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh branded terrorism as a serious threat to nation. Here his party has tied up with INPT, which is a mask of extremists, for the sake of vote. Congress always shakes hand with subversive groups. But people will reject this tactical alliance and bring back Left Front in power.
There is a sense of resentment among government employees over their pay structure. What is your take?
We have made things better for the employees. By and large they are happy though some are confused.
Trinamool Congress has abstained from contesting in Tripura. How do you see that?
This could be a tactical decision by the party. Its leaders knew that if their party contests all its candidates would lose deposit.
How is it that you have been Chief Minister for three terms?
I don’t see anything as personal. We have done everything collectively, so credit goes to all. We were successful in restoring peace in the state with enormous support from people at large. We have achieved integration of people from all sections. Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Buddhists are all living like brothers. This is something unique in light of the situation in the country.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Union budget and cosy ties with business houses

The Union budget provides an occasion for the UPA government to end its cosy ties with business houses and recognise the political economy of pain and deprivation
In his memoirs of his years as Finance Minister, Confessions of a Swadeshi Reformer, Yashwant Sinha writes, somewhat regretfully, that “economics in India has always been dominated by politics. My experience as Finance Minister proves this point beyond any doubt.” After detailing many attempts from within and outside the sangh parivar at contesting and suborning his presumably good policies and equally good intentions, Mr. Sinha sums up a Finance Minister’s conundrum: “Elections were important and winning them was also important. But we had to remember our responsibility was not only to the present but also to the future. Good economic policies could not, and should not, be sacrificed at the altar of political gain for the present.”
It remains to be seen whether Finance Minister P. Chidambaram will be able to avoid the “populism of the present.” After all, this will be the last serious budget before the political system drifts inexorably towards partisan battles of the next general election. Hence, the last chance to rectify not just a difficult economic situation but also to rescue it from political opportunism, and to salvage the idea and principles of economic reform from a soggy moral calculus.
In the process, Mr. Chidambaram also gets another shot at restoring the United Progressive Alliance dispensation’s reputation as competent manager of the national economy. On a personal note, he can be expected to want to use the budget to reverse the damage the economy suffered under Pranab Mukherjee these last three years.
Three obligations
However, a budget is not just an exercise in balancing books; it is the finest instrument for showcasing a regime’s political philosophy and notions of public morality behind its economic priorities. The power to impose taxes — and the expectation that citizens should joyfully submit to this demand — carries with it the ultimate democratic responsibility. When on February 28, he stands up to present his budget, Mr. Chidambaram will have to be mindful of at least three specific obligations that any Finance Minister needs to always keep in mind.
First, the budget cannot be an exercise in favouring and rewarding (or punishing) this or that business house. Easier said than done. Mr. Chidambaram is known to have friends in the corporate crowd. Perhaps it would be unfair to suggest that the Finance Minister would allow his friendships to cloud his judgment; nonetheless, it will not hurt if he were to be reminded of The Economist’s sound advice to policymakers: “promote capitalism, not capitalists.” This decade-old mantra remains valid and Finance Ministry mandarins will need to demonstrate that they are capable of making a distinction between the shabby interests of this or that capitalist and the healthy requirements of a complex and lawful economy.
There are good political reasons to heed this sage advice. The Finance Minister knows — as do his colleagues in the Congress party and the government — that much of the UPA’s political difficulties have arisen on account of bad blood among the business houses. The genesis of the 2G controversy can be traced to greed and rivalry among corporate honchos. This un-moderated rancour within the corporate world soon sought — and found — passionate partisans and motivated advocates in ‘civil society.’
A mock anti-corruption “movement” was unleashed to distract attention away from the excesses and illegalities of the corporate world. If Mr. Chidambaram still chooses to play favourites among the corporate houses, there will be a heavier political price to be paid by his party.
Business rivalries have already produced a different kind of disequilibrium. Corporate disputes have allowed the Supreme Court — rather some judges — to impose their own ideas and principles on the political executive. Judicial interventions and pronouncements are then worked upon to crank up anger and partisanship against selected political rivals.
Nonetheless, it must be presumed that the Congress has not totally shut down its political antennae. Its leadership knows that many of these captains of industry have an interventionist political agenda. It is no secret that a sizeable section of the Mumbai club is keen to rearrange the ruling arrangements in New Delhi around, say, a Sharad Pawar or a Narendra Modi after the next Lok Sabha elections. There is no earthly reason why the budget should seek to mollify these very greedy and politically ambitious business houses that have proved so intractable these last few years. Rather, the corporate bluff must be called.
Promoter of social good
Secondly, the budget should reveal a government that is not just wedded to the idea of wholesome public interest but is also cognisant of its obligations to be the ultimate promoter and protector of the social good. This basic democratic obligation has somehow been lost sight of in recent years. The budget provides yet another opportunity to the UPA government to satisfy the citizens that it is not in thrall of crony capitalism. It is not a mere platitude. This is an imperative, all the more because there are at least half a dozen senior Cabinet Ministers who are known for their proximity to this or that industrial house, and who at times find it difficult to resolve the conflict between their oath of office and their unhealthy ties with these super-affluent gentlemen. It is this soft corner for a tainted corporate crowd that has fed the perception of collusion and contributed to the alienation of the middle classes. The middle class quest for lawful governance cannot be satisfied without bringing the so-called economic entrepreneurs within the ambit of the law.
Thirdly, Mr. Chidambaram has an obligation to use the budget to signal that the democratic system has the will and the stamina to roll back the corporate offensive in running this country’s national priorities and its collective affairs. No doubt, recovery of the Indian Growth Story is a national imperative; no doubt, the global economic slowdown has complicated this recovery; and, no doubt, “animal spirits” need to be unleashed. Yet, it should be unacceptable to liberal and sensitive voices that the national narrative has simply been hijacked by the presumed need to appease market sentiment, that too at the expense of democratic values. As a centrist party, the Congress in particular has to be always cognisant of the larger political economy of pain and deprivation. A democratic government cannot act as if it has no option but to behave like a hostage to the manipulators of the market sentiment.
Striking an equilibrium
Above all, the state-market equilibrium needs to be reworked in morally defensible terms. Even within the framework of a liberal economy, it is the obligation of the public authority to ensure that the relationship between the corporate and the citizen is a balanced, fair and two-way affair.
It is the task of democratic governance to see to it that the citizen as a consumer gets a sense of fairness, and is not being helplessly taken for a ride by large corporate organisations every time he or she makes a commercial transaction. Many business leaders in India think they have arrived, and that they neither need nor care for the “political crowd” and its democratic obligations. In particular, the business leaders are prone to believe that they are entitled to chafe at any suggestion of lawful restraint on their greed and profits. On the contrary, there is more than a hint of a threat: if elements of the policy regime are not arranged to the satisfaction of corporate interests, “they” will take their investments out of India to friendlier markets. This attitude has already produced unhappy economic and political aberrations.
The larger democratic arrangement has lost its moral lustre and the political and constitutional system has incurred a debilitating legitimacy deficit partly because there remains a perception of collusion between the public authority and the corporate practitioners of unethical practices. Recovery of the lost moral sufficiency of the economy can no longer be postponed.
(Harish Khare is a veteran commentator and political analyst, and former media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh)

Ex-Qaddafi PM critical after torture in Libya

Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmudi, the last premier of deposed Libyan leader Muamer Qaddafi, is in critical condition after being tortured in a Libyan prison, his Tunisian lawyer said on Wednesday.

Mahmudi "is in critical condition as a result of the torture he has suffered," said Mabrouk Kourchid, adding that "he could die".

The lawyer did not provide any further details nor reveal his sources for fear they could suffer reprisals.

Mahmudi fled to neighbouring Tunisia in September 2011, shortly after rebels seized Tripoli and effectively put an end to more than four decades of Kadhafi's iron-fisted rule.

He was arrested there and extradited to Libya last June, despite warnings from rights groups that he could face the death penalty.

He went on trial in November for what the prosecutor general's spokesman said were "prejudicial acts against the security of the state and financial crimes."

In July, Mahmudi protested his innocence to journalists visiting his prison.

"I am not guilty, not guilty, not guilty," he told reporters during a visit organised by the authorities in an apparent bid to quash rumours he had been tortured.

A physician by training, Mahmudi was loyal to Qaddafi until the end, serving as premier from 2006 up to the final days of his regime.

Along with Seif al-Islam, the toppled dictator's most high-profile son who is also on trial, Mahmudi is one of the few remaining keepers of the many state secrets under Qaddafi, who was captured and killed by rebels in October 2011.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

‘Yes, insurance needs better cover but not with foreign capital’

The article by V.K. Shunglu in The Hindu, “The risk business needs better cover” (Op-Ed, February 14, 2013) is one-sided and conspicuously understates certain key aspects of insurance reforms undertaken in the country a decade ago. It misses the basic premise on which an insurance business is run — that of “trust” and the long-term “promises to be upheld.”
This industry should not be seen merely in economic terms. The settlement of the death claim of Hemant Karkare, chief of the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad, who was killed in Mumbai’s 26/11, presents a clear-cut example of Trust.
Mumbai’s Dadar branch of the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) had settled the death claim amount of Rs.25 lakh within five days whereas a private company (name withheld), where Karkare had coverage for a similar amount, had rejected the claim — and, after a lapse of six months — by stating that the deceased had wilfully risked his life, even after knowing that his life was in danger. That’s why I said the insurance business should not be seen in purely economic terms.
The tag of public sector should not be the reason for spewing venom. There are certain “Crown jewels such as LIC”; it settles 98.6 per cent of claims, the only insurance company in the world to do so. It is true, as Mr. Shunglu says, that the insurance business has become a key player in underpinning the long-term foundations of India’s capital markets and financial system. But for satiating the needs of India’s capital markets, these private insurance companies have done little good for gullible policyholders and their hard-earned monies.
This is an industry in which even with a small amount of investment i.e. Rs.100 crore, thousands and lakhs of crores of public money can be garnered. It is firmly believed that the Foreign direct investment (FDI) hike will allow foreign capital with small investments to gain greater access and control over large domestic savings. The annual report (2011-2012) of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) points out that FDI brought in by private life insurance companies up to March 31, 2012, was a meagre Rs.6,324.27 crore, which was to meet share capital requirements prescribed by the regulator. Not a single pie was invested in the infrastructure sector. It is LIC which is a saviour, and the government of the day is utilising it as a captive investor, just as it has done in the case of petroleum major ONGC.
In our country, insurance companies are mopping up people’s savings. During 2011-12, domestic savings were 32 per cent of GDP. Financial experts say that domestic savings, and not FDI, are crucial for any country’s economic development. In India, LIC has provided Rs.7,04,151 crore to the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-2012) while the four general insurance companies and GIC of India have contributed about Rs. one lakh crore. Where will the government get these huge investments from if it tries to weaken the public sector insurance companies?
The World Economic Forum Financial Development Report 2012 tells the success story of LIC. It shows that given the low level of income and low disposable income of most Indians, insurance penetration in India is much greater than in countries with a per capita income that is 10 times higher. It is remarkable that with a per capita GDP of $1,388.80, India has achieved a life insurance penetration of 3.61 per cent as against 3.56 per cent of the United States with a per capita GDP of $4,8386.77. It is also a matter of pride that the report places India at the top of global rankings in terms of Life Insurance Density (measured as a ratio of direct premium to per capita GDP of 2011).
The LIC, the four general insurance companies in the public sector and GIC of India are doing an excellent job despite competition from private insurance companies. In 2011-12, LIC earned a premium of Rs.81,514.49 crore registering a market share of 71.36 per cent in premium income. It sold 3.57 crore new policies, to take an 80.9 per cent market share in the number of policies. Similarly, the four insurance companies have earned a premium income of Rs.30,532 crore and registered 58 per cent of market share.
The financial crisis in the U.S. and Europe has seriously eroded confidence in the banking and insurance sectors. At the same time, our domestic private insurance partners hardly need capital to be infused by their foreign counterparts, as put forth by the votaries of FDI increase.
Partners of private insurance companies in India like the Tatas and Reliance are on an acquisition spree, spending billions of dollars, both on the domestic and foreign fronts during the last five years. The others, like the State Bank of India and other public sector banks have capital reserves of their own. Some foreign partners have exited not due to a delay in the increase of FDI cap but because they are in search of greener pastures.
The author has also put forth another interesting argument — that shareholders and company boards be left free to determine whether additional investment should be through FDI or FII or by other means.
The world saw the bubble burst in 2008 due to such flawed and mistaken judgements by company boards and shareholders, when they invested the earnings/savings of innocent policyholders into Collateralised debt obligations, or CDOs. India was saved from such a situation because of the domination of the public sector in the banking and insurance sectors. Even the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister have shared this view.
Looking back, it is time to learn lessons from the global collapses of banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions like Lehman Brothers, etc. Foreign investment per se, does not bring any good with it, especially in fragile sectors like insurance. This sector is the pillar of any upcoming and growing economy.
(M.S.R.A. Srihari is a former joint secretary, Insurance Corporation Employees Union, Warangal division. E-mail:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"In this revolution the citizens are in charge, not capital,"

Ecuador's Correa breezes to 2nd re-election

 Quito, Feb 18 A landslide second re-election secured, President Rafael Correa immediately vowed to deepen the "citizen's revolution" that has lifted tens of thousands of Ecuadoreans out of poverty as he expanded the welfare
"In this revolution the citizens are in charge, not capital," the leftist US-trained economist said after winning 56.9 per cent of the vote yesterday against 23.8 per cent for his closest challenger, longtime banker Guillermo Lasso.
With 57 per cent of the vote counted, former President Lucio Gutierrez finished third with 6 per cent. The remainder was divided among five other candidates. Lasso conceded defeat late yesterday.
The fiery-tongued Correa has brought surprising stability to an oil-exporting nation of 14.6 million with a history of unruliness that cycled through seven presidents in the decade before him.
With the help of oil prices that have hovered around USD 100 a barrel, he has raised lower-class living standards and widened the welfare state with region-leading social spending.
The 48-year-old Correa dedicated his victory to his cancer-stricken friend President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who some analysts have suggested he could succeed as the standard-bearer of Latin America's left.
"We are only here to serve you. Nothing for us.
Everything for you," Correa told cheering supporters from the balcony of the Carondelet presidential palace yesterday shortly after polls closed.
Yet Correa has also drawn wide rebuke for intolerance of dissent and some analysts have questioned how sustainable his economic policies are. The number of people working for the government has burgeoned from 16,000 to 90,000 during Correa's current term if office, Ecuador's nongovernmental Observatory of Fiscal Policy reported in December.
Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, called Correa's ramping up of social spending "simply applying the standard recipe for many populist governments in the region." While it succeeds in building
political support in the short term, he said, it is not clear whether it is sustainable.
And while Correa has shown himself to be the "undisputed rhetorical leader of Latin America's left" and should now see his standing enhanced there Shifter said Correa's consolidation of power have damaged Ecuador's "already precarious institutions" and he lacks the clout, the ambition
and the coffers to build a coalition that could curtail US power in the region.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The growing Venezuela is a achievement of Hugo Chavez

Reading the international press, one would be forgiven for thinking that Venezuela is on the verge of collapse.
Over the past decade, all sorts of predictions have been made, ranging from catastrophic election defeats to the implosion of the Venezuelan economy. But the fact these predictions have failed to materialize has not deterred many of Venezuela's most fervent critics in their quest to engineer a constant and misleading narrative of impending disaster.
The reality is that ever since President Hugo Chavez was first elected, Venezuela has defied these negative predictions and brought unprecedented social progress to the country over the last 14 years. Since 2004 poverty has been reduced by half and extreme poverty has been cut by 70%. University enrolment has doubled, entitlement to public pensions has tripled, and access to health care and all levels of education have been dramatically expanded.
Venezuela now has the lowest levels of economic inequality of any Latin American country as measured by the Gini coefficient. Our country has already achieved many of the Millennium Development Goals, and is well on target to achieve all eight by the 2015 deadline.
This progress has been achieved by using Venezuela's vast oil revenues to transform the lives of ordinary people. The sheer scale of our oil reserves -- the world's largest -- guarantees the complete sustainability of the model in which the country's resources are used to stimulate growth in the economy and aid development.

But Chavez's most significant achievement has been to trigger the awakening and empowerment of the majority. A majority of Venezuelans have seen vast improvements in their living standards and, as a consequence, they have continued to defend their interests at the ballot box.
The Venezuelan people are very clear about what they want. President Chavez was re-elected in October 2012 with 54% of the vote in an election that boasted an 81% turnout. The Venezuelan people showed their support for the government again in December 2012 in the gubernatorial elections, which saw Chavez's political party win 20 out of 23 states.
Governments in Europe and other parts of the world could only dream of these levels of support after 14 years in power. This shows that social progress in Venezuela has been consolidated and that there is a desire to further expand this progress.
In the coming years, the Venezuelan government will continue to respond to the needs of the Venezuelan people. Hundreds of thousands of new homes have been built over the last two years which have not only greatly improved living standards but also provided jobs and contributed to a boom in the construction industry. The government is well on its way to meeting its target of building three million new homes by 2019.
While many economies around the world are shrinking, the Venezuelan economy grew by 5.5% in 2012. Against the backdrop of a continuing international financial crisis, commerce in Venezuela grew by 9.2% and communications by 7.2%, manufacturing grew by 2.1% and the oil sector grew by 1.4% -- making Venezuela one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America.
At a time when many countries are attacking the rights of the most vulnerable sectors of society, Venezuela is providing ever greater protection for low-income senior citizens and single-parent families with younger children or disabled dependents.
The failed development models of previous governments condemned millions of Venezuelans to poverty. Before the election of Chavez in 1998, Venezuela suffered years of falling GDP. The country had one of the worst economic records in the world -- a record that led to mass social unrest and violent military crackdowns.
Venezuela will continue on its path of social progress and empowering ordinary citizens. The greatest hope for the future is the people know that they alone hold the power to determine the direction the country will take.
After so many failed predictions, isn't it time to respect Venezuela's democracy and the will of the people?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The cost of food security - C. P. Chandrasekhar

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, which examined the draft food security bill, has recommended one more version in terms of the coverage and support that the Act should guarantee. It has reportedly argued for mandatory coverage of 67 per cent of the population based on multiple criteria that would separate the population into groups either “included” or “excluded”. However, it has scaled down the monthly entitlement of subsidised grain to a uniform 5 kg per month for every person covered under the act. Assuming five persons per household that amounts to an entitlement of 25 kg per household per month. In the view of the committee, identified beneficiaries should be provided the stipulated quantity at Rs. 3, 2 and 1 per kg respectively for rice wheat and millets.
There is no unanimity here. One member of the committee, T.N. Seema, submitted a note of dissent objecting to, among other recommendations, the reduced entitlement and the cap on coverage. This is not surprising since the Left in and outside Parliament, civil society groups like the Right to Food Campaign and many analysts and academics have been arguing for universal coverage on the grounds that targeting would in many ways defeat the purpose of the bill. The recommendations of the Standing Committee not only fall short of this but put out a scheme which is one among the many involving less-than-universal coverage.
The government’s draft bill, for example, seeks to cover 63.5 per cent of the population, consisting of 75 per cent of the population in rural India and 60 per cent in urban India. These proportions have been broken down into “priority” and “general” groups with the former eligible for 7 kg of subsidized grain at the low prices mentioned above, whereas the general category will be eligible for 3 kg each at half the economic cost of grain distributed through the public distribution system. The National Advisory Council (NAC), on the other hand, had made a case for providing food grains using the Rs. 3-2-1 pricing formula to 75 per cent of the population (90 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas) divided into “priority” (46% rural; 28% urban) and “general” (39% rural; 12% urban) categories. Priority households were to be entitled to 35 kg of subsidized food grain per month and general households to 20 kg, at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the minimum support price (MSP).
Finally, the Expert Committee set up by the Prime Minister and chaired by C. Rangarajan, which took on the task of pruning the NAC’s recommendations, elected for a substantial reduction in the population that is to be guaranteed access. It favoured a scheme that would “restrict the assured delivery of foodgrains at Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 3 per kg for rice, to the really needy households and cover the rest through an executive order with a varying quantum depending on the availability of foodgrains.” This would in effect give the government the option of dropping those not “really needy” from the scheme. The “really needy” households were defined as the set of those falling in income terms below the revised official Tendulkar poverty line plus an additional 10 per cent above that line. This was a clumsy concession to keeping coverage equal to at least the “priority” section identified by the NAC.
Given this potpourri in terms of schemes defined by coverage, quantum of access and price, the debate is being shifted from one between those demanding universal coverage and those wanting to restrict the right to food to the so-called needy, to one about how much of India’s current population should be seen as needy. However, there can be no agreement on what being “needy” means, as the scorn widely poured on the government’s earlier poverty line made clear. And having a multi-dimensional perspective on deprivation, while appropriate, creates significant difficulties in identifying beneficiaries leading to errors of exclusion.
The real reason why such targeting is still favoured by sections in government is that they see it as a way of reducing the cost of the programme. This effort to reduce cost has been backed by arguments to suggest that a food security programme with universal or even extensive coverage would either be infeasible because of inadequate food supplies or would be impossible to sustain because of the burden it would place on the government’s budget.
In the elaboration of the first of these arguments the emphasis is on the inadequacy of the domestically available surplus of foodgrains and the fact that if India places a significant demand in global markets to support its food security programme it would result in a spike in prices that would be damaging for all. That such arguments, advanced by both the Rangarajan Committee and the Parliamentary Standing Committee, could even be made is shocking. It amounts to stating that production in India is not in current circumstances and can never be adequate to support an effort to ensure minimum access to food at affordable prices for that segment of the population that would choose to avail of grains supplied through the PDS. Besides the fact that this judgement is based on questionable assumptions on availability and offtake, it also ignores the fact that India’s current plight is the result of long years of neglect of agriculture and food grain production that has resulted in a long-term decline in the per capita availability of food grain in the country. This neglect is now being made the reason to prune the food security programme by a government that celebrates the high growth rates of recent years and makes tall claims about India’s current position in the global order.
The other argument, which has been the focus of the case against an extensive or universal food security programme, is that the cost involved is too high for a government already burdened by a high fiscal deficit. It may be useful to reiterate once more that a fiscal deficit can also be pruned by mobilising more resources through increased taxation, reduced tax concessions and better implementation. The controversy surrounding the capital gains demand made on Vodafone makes clear that this government is committed more to incentivising investors, including foreign investors, than to mobilising resources to finance crucial expenditures.
To conceal the failure to mobilise required resources official discussions on the food security programme quote absolute numbers of the subsidies entailed in even the current programme and the way they have risen over time in nominal or current price terms. This, to start with, exaggerates the real increase in food provided. Thus while the central food subsidy bill rose in nominal terms from Rs.23,280 crore to Rs. 60,573 crore between 2004-05 and 2011-12, the figure in 2011-12 after adjusting for inflation in the wholesale prices of food articles between those dates was Rs. 30,239 crore. One reason why food prices rise is the adjustment that the government has to make to the Minimum Support Price for food grains to compensate for cost of production increase. To use that to declare food subsidy as the burden is clearly disingenuous.
But without making this clear nominal figures are quoted and taken as being irrefutably indicative of how burdensome it is. The Rangarajan Committee estimated that the subsidy required to support the NAC’s scheme could go up to Rs. 92,000 crore and the Parliamentary Standing Committee estimates the subsidy required to support its recommendations at Rs. 1.12 crore. These figures are controversial and involve strong assumptions.
Further, besides the inflation factor, there is another reason why absolute figures convey little. Take for example the numbers reported in Chart 1 giving the ratio of actual food subsidies over the last decade relative to GDP. In most years subsidies have amounted to between 0.6 and 0.8 per cent of GDP, and touched 1 per cent in only a single year. Raising this figure to more than one per cent is a reasonable demand given the fact that the World Food Programme estimates that, despite high growth over two decades and more, a quarter of the world’s hungry population resides in India and around 43 per cent of children under the age of five years are malnourished.
Moreover, Chart 2 shows that during the 2000s, when corporate profits were soaring, tax concessions in different forms provided to the corporate sector amounted to well above one per cent of GDP. Thus the sum estimated by the Parliamentary Standing Committee as needed to support its recommendation was at 1.35 per cent of GDP in 2011-12, less than the 1.36 per cent of GDP transferred to the corporate sector through these concessions in 2007-08. And corporate tax rebates are only one form in which the corporate sector is favoured, as the controversies over spectrum sale, coal blocks and even gas pricing suggest. Anyone with a sense of social priorities should, in the circumstances, recognise that the argument that the money is not available is without much basis. What is lacking is the will to mobilise the surplus and allocate it to where it is needed most.

Current Affairs-Shahbagh rally in Bangla Desh rolls into sixth day

Dhaka, 10 February: The spirited demonstrators in their thousands gathered at Shahbagh intersection for the sixth straight day today (Sunday) to stage sit-in demanding execution of Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah and all other war criminals.
As in the last five days, people from all walks of life, mainly students, started gathering at the intersection, now known as Prajanma Chattar, since morning shouting various slogans in support of their demand and against anti-liberation forces.
Today’s programme started with a slogan demanding return to the 1972 constitution.
Vehicular movement which remained halted since Tuesday resumed on the left side of Birdem Hospital from Bangla Motor to Press Club at 9 am.
But the traffic may be halted again with the growing of the crowd.
The cricketers of the national team are likely to express their solidarity with the demonstrators today.
Meanwhile, Duronto Rajshahi, a team of Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), expressed solidarity with the demonstrators. “We’re lucky that Pakistani cricketers are not there in BPL. In the future, Duronto Rajshahi won’t hire Pakistani cricketers either,” Duronto Rajshahi its Chairman Mushfiqur Rahman Mohan, said
On Tuesday, International Crimes Tribunal-2 (ICT-2) sentenced Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant general secretary of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, to life term imprisonment for his war crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971, triggering widespread protests.
The mass uproar at Shahbagh erupted just hours after the verdict when an online activists’ group, Blogger and Online Activists Network (BOAN), gave a call through online social networks to wage protests against the verdict. (UNB)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

World Report-2013- Finger U.S. judiciary System

US: Injustices Filling the Prisons 

(Washington, DC) – The enormous prison population in the United States partly reflects harsh sentencing practices contrary to international law, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2013. The sentencing practices include disproportionately long prison terms, mandatory sentencing without parole, and treating youth offenders as adults. The US maintains the world’s largest incarcerated population, at 1.6 million, and its highest per capita incarceration rate.
Human Rights Watch research in 2012 found that the massive overincarceration includes a growing number of elderly people whom prisons are ill-equipped to handle, and an estimated 93,000 youth under age 18 in adult jails and another 2,200 in adult prisons. Hundreds of children are subjected to solitary confinement. Racial and ethnic minorities remain disproportionately represented in the prison population.
"The United States has shown little interest in tackling abusive practices that have contributed to the country’s huge prison population,” said Maria McFarland, deputy US program director at Human Rights Watch. "Unfortunately, it is society’s most vulnerable – racial and ethnic minorities, low-income people, immigrants, children, and the elderly – who are most likely to suffer from injustices in the criminal justice system."

In its 665-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including an analysis of the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The willingness of new governments to respect rights will determine whether the Arab Spring gives birth to genuine democracy or simply spawns authoritarianism in new clothes, Human Rights Watch said.
The World Report chapter on the United States covers human rights developments related to US criminal justice and immigration, as well as issues related to health, labor, and the rights of women, children, people with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It also addresses abuses related to the United States’ deeply flawed counterterrorism policies.
Human rights developments within the United States over the past year include:
• Connecticut joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia in abolishing the death penalty. However, 33 states continue to allow it;
• In May, the US Department of Justice issued final standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to detect, prevent, and punish prison rape. The standards are immediately binding on all Justice Department facilities;
• In fiscal year 2012, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported a record 396,906 non-citizens. A dramatic increase in federal prosecutions of immigration violations, and in the number of immigrants in detention, has fed a nationwide detention system that includes more than 250 facilities;
• Illegal re-entry into the US has become the most prosecuted federal crime. In 2011, prosecutions for illegal entry and re-entry into the US surpassed 34,000 and 37,000 respectively. Many of those prosecuted for these crimes have minor or no criminal history and have substantial ties to the US;
• The US Senate, in December, failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Sixty-one of the 100 Senators voted in favor, but 66 votes were needed for passage. Several senators have promised to make another attempt to ratify the treaty in early 2013;
• In April, the Labor Department withdrew new regulations proposed in 2011 that would have updated, for the first time in decades, the list of hazardous agricultural tasks prohibited for children under age 16;
• Congress failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the primary federal law providing legal protection and services to victims of domestic and sexual violence. Sexual assaults remained underreported and poorly investigated in many jurisdictions. Certain groups, such as unauthorized migrant farmworkers, face particular challenges to seeking justice;
• In June, the US Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, which significantly expands many citizens’ access to health insurance and medical care;
• HIV infections continued to disproportionately affect minority communities, men who have sex with men, and transgender women. Many states have failed to protect HIV-positive people from discrimination or to provide adequate funds for HIV prevention and care; and
• For the first time anywhere, popular votes in two states and the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage. However, federal law continued to bar recognition of same-sex marriage while offering no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Both the Obama administration and Congress supported abusive counterterrorism laws and policies, including detention without charge at Guantanamo Bay, restrictions on the transfer of detainees held there, and prosecutions in a fundamentally flawed military commission system.
Attacks by US aerial drones were carried out in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, with important legal questions about the attacks remaining unanswered.
The administration has taken no steps toward accountability for torture and other abuses committed by US officials in the so-called “war on terror,” and a Justice Department criminal investigation into detainee abuse concluded without recommending any charges. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence completed a more than 6,000-page report detailing the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program, but has yet to seek the report’s declassification so it can be released to the public.
“The Obama administration has a chance in its second term to develop with Congress a real plan for closing Guantanamo and definitively ending abusive counterterrorism practices,” McFarland said. “A failure to do so puts Obama at risk of going down in history as the president who made indefinite detention without trial a permanent part of US law.”

Current Affairs India- World Report-2013 on women

India rated poorly against protection of women

India has been accused of “failure” to curb incidents of sexual violence against women and for “restrictions” on right to free speech by global rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said the country continues to have “significant human rights problems.”
“India has a thriving civil society, free media, and an independent judiciary”, the city-based rights group said in its assessment of rights abuses in India. However, it added “longstanding abusive practices, corruption, and lack of accountability for perpetrators foster human rights violations.”
In its 665-page World Report 2013, it said government initiatives, including police reform and improved access to health care and education, “languish” due to poor implementation. “Many women, children, Dalits, tribal communities, religious minorities, people with disabilities, and sexual and gender minorities remain marginalised and continue to suffer discrimination because of government failure to train public officials in stopping discriminatory behaviour,” HRW said.
The rights group was critical of India for the way it has addressed the problem of violence against women, saying that incidents of violence against women and girls continued in 2012, with increased reports of sexual assault, including against those with disabilities.
“India has yet to enact amendments to reform its penal laws to recognise a wide range of sexual offences,” it said.
While the Central government modified its protocols for handling rape investigations, removing questions on the degrading “two-finger test”, the changes still fall short of World Health Organization guidelines on sexual assault, especially regarding medical treatment for victims.
On India’s performance in the area of freedom of expression, HRW said the government used laws to tighten internet censorship, raising concerns about restrictions on the right to free speech.