Few things the new government must do
Gopal Krishna is an activist and associated with ToxicsWatch Alliance, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), IMOWatch, MediaVigil & WaterWatch Alliance. He is also researching the corporate crimes in India after Independence. He can be contacted at krishna2777[at]gmail.com.
Congratulating Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and his ministers, I suggest the following few things that the new government ought to do to chart a new course discarding the beaten track:-
1. Adopt the Contesting Election on Government Expenses Bill, 2012 which is pending in the Rajya Sabha to combat black money. This Bill has been long due for putting a check on increasing use of black money in elections and political activities to facilitate State funding of elections. This six page long Bill introduced by Prabhat Jha, Member of Parliament from BJP merits the attention of Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of the country. This Private Members’ Bill reiterates what several Parliamentary Committees have recommended.
One used to hear that Asif Ali Zardari was called Mr 10 % during Benazir Bhutto’s regime in Pakistan. Radia tapes revealed that there was a Mr 10 % in Indian National Congress led Government too.
I submit that if corporate donation directly to political parties is justified then why are they stopping at 7.5 % (through Companies Act, 2013), how about having a 50-50 partnership!
I submit that by shaping not only the strategies, rational choice but also their goals, political parties as institutions structure political situations and leave their own imprint on political outcomes. This significance underlines the inference that parties cannot be left at the mercy of non-state actors. As long as these actors shape the outcome no matter who wins in electoral battles, democracy is not a winner because our deformed political system is turning legislatures into a forum for legalized bribery.
The way out could be to ensure corporate donations are pooled into an electoral fund which can be used for state funding of elections.
2. Adopt the 20 page Bill titled “The Intelligence Services (Powers and Regulation) Bill, 2011” that was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Manish Tewari, “to regulate the manner of the functioning and exercise of powers of Indian Intelligence Agencies within and beyond the territory of India and to provide for the coordination, control and oversight of such agencies…”
The Bills’ Statement of Objects and Reasons reads: “Intelligence agencies are responsible for maintaining internal security and combating external threats to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. These responsibilities range from counter-terrorism measures tackling separatist movements to critical infrastructure protection. These agencies are operating without an appropriate statutory basis delineating their functioning and operations. This tends to, among other things, compromise operational efficiency and weakens the professional fabric of these agencies. It also results in intelligence officers not having due protection when performing their duties. Assessments and gathering of information by intelligence agencies are catalysts for law enforcement units to act, necessitating that these be reliable, accurate and in accordance with law. This kind of efficiency has been hindered by obscured responsibilities that have plagued the functioning of the agencies.”
This Private Members’ Bill further reads: “Article 21 of the Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. The Supreme Court of India has carved a right to privacy from the right to life and personal liberty. Such rights to privacy are compromised when agencies undertake surveillance operations. In Re: Peoples Union of Civil Liberties v/s Union of India, the Supreme Court issued detailed guidelines regarding telephone tapping. A proper legal framework is required to regulate surveillance of the forms, using different technologies, as well. There is an urgent need to balance the demands of security and privacy of individuals, by ensuring safeguards against the misuse of surveillance powers of intelligence agencies. Therefore, legislation is imperative to regulate the possible infringement of privacy of citizens, while giving credence to security concerns.” This Bill was introduced by Manish Tewari, a MP of Congress party.
It states, “In view of the reasons stated, the Bill seeks to enact a legislation pursuant to Entry 8 of List I of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India to provide:
a) A legislative and regulatory framework for the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing and the National Technical Research Organisation;
(b) Designated Authority regarding authorization procedure and system of warrants for operations by these agencies;
(c) A National Intelligence Tribunal for the investigation of complaints against these agencies;
(d) A National Intelligence and Security Oversight Committee for an effective oversight mechanism of these agencies; and
(e) An Intelligence Ombudsman for efficient functioning of the agencies and for matters connected therewith. The Bill seeks to achieve the aforesaid objectives.”
I submit that this Bill merits your attention. It needs to be examined by a High Powered Parliamentary Committee whose recommendations are mandatory. There is a need for a law and a Commission for Parliamentary Scrutiny and Audit of Intelligence Operations.
It is indeed a sad commentary on the state of affairs in India that Congress led Government of did not express its support for the Ecuadorian declaration regarding “Transnational Corporations and Human Rights” before the UN Human Rights Council session in September 2013. This action of the Ecuadorian government has been ratified in Geneva at the 2nd Forum on Business and Human Rights on 3-4 December 2013. The declaration has received wide support from UN member-countries, such as the African Group, the Arabic Group, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru. Although India used to be at the forefront of initiatives like Code of Conduct for TNCs, its silence with regard to September 2013 declaration is inconsistent with India’s past stance on the issue and is contrary to the interest of present and future generation of Indians.
In view of its significance, one of the first few tasks the new government must to do is to publicly endorse the declaration ahead of the 26th Human Rights Council Session scheduled to be held in Geneva from 10 to 26 of June 2014 to discuss a proposed legally binding international instrument on business and human rights to be included within the UN system.
I submit that voluntary and self regulatory frameworks have failed consistently to regulate corporations. There is an urgent need for a legally binding treaty is adopted to regulate admittedly undemocratic organisations like corporations which have become bigger and more powerful than democratic governments.
4. End the Congress culture of tribunalization of judiciary and ensure mandatory translation of all court orders in Hindi and other vernacular languages in High Court, Supreme Court. Official transcripts of arguments in the courts like the proceedings of the parliament must be put in public domain.
I submit that delivering the fifth V.M. Tarkunde memorial lecture, former Supreme Court judge Ruma Pal described the increasing tribunalisation (the executive decision to set up specialised tribunals) as a serious encroachment on the judiciary’s independence. The judiciary, she said, had been “timorous” in not fighting these tribunals that force it to share its adjudicating powers with the executive.
I submit that how can it be forgotten that ‘Tribunals’ are established under Article 323A or Article 323B of the Constitution, which were inserted in 1976 via the 42nd Constitutional Amendment, which was enacted during the Emergency imposed on the country by Indira Gandhi’s Parliament. She was annoyed with ‘independent’ Judiciary which had been bold enough to strike down her policies for being illegal and unconstitutional. The idea of tribunals was to transfer some substantial powers of the Judiciary to these tribunals. They do not have the same safeguards for judicial independence that High Courts and Civil Courts did. In a revenge of sort against High Courts because one of them, the Allahabad High Court had declared her election to the Lok Sabha void on grounds of electoral malpractice on 12 June 1975. To shield herself from rulings of likes of Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha who had given the verdict, these tribunals were exempted from review by High Courts. These amendments expressly kept reviews out of the jurisdiction of High Courts. As envisaged by her the Companies Act 2013 gives only limited rights of review to the Supreme Court under its discretionary powers mentioned in Article 136.
I submit that Congress led Government asked us to believe that what 24 High Courts and over 600 District Courts and thousands of magistrates in remote parts of the country could not do, Tribunal like one envisaged under the Companies Act can do it. Only the gullible, the beneficiary and the vested interests will believe it. Likes of Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha and Justice Ruma Pal have underlined the emergence of collusion, complicity, connivance and incestous institutions in myriad ways.
I wish to take the opportunity to suggest that the new government must ensure that the minutes of the deliberations and arguments in the courts across the country are documented and published. Unless the transcripts of arguments in the courts like the proceedings of the parliament are made available, the ongoing erosion of faith in judiciary cannot be reversed.
I submit that Indians who continue to be compelled to surrender their self-respect before a colonial language, culture and dress. What is the rationale of wearing black gowns-the colonial leftovers-in hot summer in Indian courts? The sweat soaked black gown is an insult to common sense of Indians. Is there any justification for such ongoing foolishness?
I submit that a significant step can be taken through mandatory translation of all the orders of all the courts in Hindi and other vernacular languages. The can immediately be started in the High Court and Supreme Court as a first step.
5. Impose a moratorium on use of internet communications networks by government agencies in the light of report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Cyber Security at least till the time communications between government agencies is secured.
This is required given the fact that Government of USA and Government of UK and their intelligence allies are undertaking “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple” as per document of National Security Agency revealed by Edward Snowden to ensure that all the computers used in all sensitive government offices are de-linked from internet and webcam in the wake of leakages and secessions from key intelligence agencies. All the government officials and ministers who used the account of these private companies (including other private agencies) for official work must be asked to surrender their email accounts with passwords for a thorough cyber probe.
I submit that Prof Nicholas Negroponte, the author of Being Digital revealed in 1995 that the Internet was conceived and designed by a man named Larry Roberts in 1963. Larry was invited to Washington by Ivan Sutherland, the then head of Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA)’s computer research. Internet was called ARPA network (ARPAnet) then and was designed to be a fail-safe messaging system that packetized information. The military was funding ARPAnet at a time when the cold war was almost at its peak. Some countries including United States, want to make sure that there is some means for them to listen into messages, like wiretapping.
I submit that the new government will have to devise a method to secure the interest of Indians from IT companies that have the potential to turn into Trojan horses at strategic moments on signals from their home countries.
The new Prime Minister should pay heed to the statement of Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who may have to stay in Eucadorian Embassy until 2022 saying, “Who arrogates the power to spy on the entire earth-every single of us-and when he is caught red handed, explains to us that “we’re going to have to make a choice. Who is that person? Let’s be careful about who we call “traitor”. Edward Snowden is one of us. Bradley Manning is one of us. They are young, technically minded people from the generation Barack Obama betrayed. They are the generation that grew up on the internet, and were shaped by it.” India must explicitly or implicitly take a position on the revelations made about Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance and surveillance on head of States that has come to light thanks to the efforts of Assange and Snowden.
A High Powered Committee needs to be given the task of analyzing and verifying the revelations made by Wikileaks and Snowden in a rigorous manner. India’s foreign policy and other related policies need to be guided in the light of these disclosures and should not remain caught in a time warp.
I submit that likes of Shri P Chidambram, Shri Nandan Nilekani, Shri Sam Pitroda and Shri C Chandramouli have been advocating national identity cards as if “everyday forms of identity surveillance” is natural and rational. How is it that when heads of states are put under round the clock surveillance by colonial and imperial powers it is deemed an assault on national sovereignty but when a national government undertakes the same over their masters, the citizens, it becomes natural and rational.
The democratic mandate is against electronic and biometric identification exercises like aadhaar and national population register and Bihar’s E-shakti card project, the new government should retrieve data collected by foreign intelligence companies like Mongo DB, Safran Group, Accenture, Ernst & Young and others and fix accountability now that Shri Nilekani stands exposed and defeated.
I submit that the new government must take a position on cloud computing especially in the aftermath of disclosures by whistleblowers like Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, Snowden and the recent report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Information Technology on Cyber Crime, Cyber Security and Right to Privacy reveals how Aadhaar number and NPR number compromise both national security and citizens’ sovereignty for good. The database of these numbers is being stored on cloud which is beyond India’s jurisdiction.
The servility of the previous regime towards agencies like NSA and their infantile reactions recorded in the report of the PSC in the face of evidence that the entire union cabinet was under NSA’s surveillance must be remembered as one of the dark chapters of Indian history. In their abject meekness Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) did not hide even an iota of information from the NSA but it has been reluctant to share its correspondence with Nilekani under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
6. Abandon ILR project, the trials for GMOs, examine the desirability of nuclear projects in view of disasters and accidents, impose ban on trade in hazardous wastes in myriad disguises and ban lung cancer causing white chrysotile asbestos and waste incinerators that emit war chemicals like Dioxins
Paying heed to the pearls of wisdom from Mahabharata that describes the Divine Being saying, “The mountains are his bones. The earth is his fat and flesh. The oceans are his blood. Space is his stomach. The Wind is his breath. Fire is his energy. The rivers are his arteries and veins. Agni and Soma, otherwise called the Sun and the Moon, are called his eyes. The firmament above is his head. The earth is his two feet. The cardinal and subsidiary points of the horizon are his arms,” the new government should reject the idea of “inter-linking of rivers based on feasibility”. This is narrated by Bhishma in conversation with Yudhishthira by referring to the reply of Rishi Bhrigu to sage Bharadwaja. This verse occurs in the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata.
I submit that interlinking of rivers entails mutilation of the veins and arteries of the divine nature. Rivers shape the terrain and lives of people by its waters which are always in a dynamic state. Breaking this dynamic would unleash forces of uncontrolled change and invite the ‘law of unintended consequences’. Let’s remember the terrible Aral Sea disaster caused by the mistakes of Soviet Union in which two Siberian rivers were diverted. If water scarcity is the perennial question, there better answers like the groundwater recharge master plan available with the government. Water can be made to “Reach to All Homes, Farms and Factories” by adopting this plan as well at a minimal cost.
I submit that whenever there is conflict between financial gains and rivers, the latter must get priority over monetary benefits because by any yard stick economic value of a free flowing river is bigger than dammed and mutilated rivers. The capitalist, communist and colonial legacy of treating rivers as material flow that flow through pipelines must be abandoned and rivers must be treated as living beings that nourished our civilization for centuries and can nourish all the coming generations if cannibalistic tendency of diverting waters in bottles, dams and banks is stopped.
With regard to pollution in rivers, if the new Prime Minister can demonstrate the political will to stop all the effluents and sewage from entering into river streams through a single executive decision, he would have done an exemplary act of arresting ecological collapse and for safeguarding the quality of blood flowing in veins and arteries of the present and future generations.
I submit that the new government ought to abandon field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) crops and organism in the country. Some 100-odd GM food crops in the pipeline for field trials. These include rice, wheat, okra, onion, groundnut, bamboo, tomato, apple, cucumber, sugarcane, cabbage, cauliflower, tea, coffee, corn, ginger, ragi, yam, castor, sunflower, mustard, black pepper, pea, soybean, papaya, cardamom, carrot, banana, tobacco, orange, pearl millet, potato and pulses. Bt Brinjal was stopped following massive public protest.
I submit that among the many sins committed by Dr Manmohan Singh, his sin to disregard a precautionary principle-based approach towards any open release of GMOs at the behest of Shri Sharad Pawar led Agriculture Ministry is the most unpardonable. Shri Veerappa Moily was brought in place of Smt Jayanti Natarajan who resigned from the post of Union Minister of Environment & Forest after her recommendation for a precautionary principle-based approach was vetoed by the Prime Minister himself.
I submit that the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Agriculture in their 59th report has reiterated their earlier recommendation on stopping all kinds of environmental releases of GM crops including for field trials. The PSC noted that contrary to its recommendations in the 37th Report, Moily as the Minister for Environment and Forests has decided to allow field trials of transgenics and has strongly deprecated it. Notably, the approach of the PSC is similar to the majority report of the independent experts of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court on the matter of open air field trials.
I submit that the government should note that France has stopped all GM field trials. A Mexican Court has suspended GMO field trials. A Brazilian Court has ruled against a GM crop. China has rejected GM corn imports. Russia has put in place a policy against transgenics. It refers to GMO producers as “terrorists”. India should follow the example of France, Russia, Mexco and Brazil and safeguard food chain from poisoning through GMOs.
The new Prime Minister should set up a commission to examine nuclear projects being undertaken in the aftermath of Chernobyl disaster of the Soviet era in Ukraine, the Fukushima disaster in Japan and Three Mile Island accident in USA.
I submit that there is no sane justification for continuing with the Congress’s legacy of allowing free trade in hazardous wastes by indulging in linguistic corruption under the influence of international recyclers?
Our country generates about 7.90 million tonnes of hazardous wastes per annum. The seven states (Maharashtra (22.84%), Gujarat (22.68%), Andhra Pradesh (13.75%), Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) together are generating about 82% of the country’s total hazardous wastes. In a situation where we have failed to manage our own hazardous waste, why is hazardous waste from foreign countries is being dumped in India with policy support from Ministry of Commerce and meek obedience by ministry of environment & forests? The Ministry of Commerce must be made to stop such practices that turns India into a dust bin of industrialized countries and belittles India’s stature among the comity of nations.
I submit that Manmohan Singh Government let down the country when India’s delegation to the sixth meeting of the UN’s Rotterdam Conference on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade in Geneva, Switzerland took an untenable, inconsistent and unscientific position with regard to white chrysotile asbestos being non-hazardous substance contrary to domestic laws such as Factories Act, 1948 and India’s Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India that lists ‘asbestos’ at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals in international trade which is imported in India. This inventory was prepared by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), under Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India. India opposed the listing of chrysotile asbestos under Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention during the meeting held from 28 April to 10 May 2013 based on an irrelevant, flawed and conflict of interest ridden study by the National Institute of Occupational Health, (NIOH), Ahmedabad. Its listing has been recommended by Rotterdam Convention’s Chemical Review Committee.
The Indian delegation was misled by Ministry of Chemicals. It has made India’s position quite self-contradictory because how can some substance be designated as hazardous under national law and non-hazardous under an international law. The new government must rectify this grave error and support listing of white asbestos in the PIC list of hazardous substances at the earliest before the Seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention which is scheduled to be held back‐to‐back with the meetings of the conferences of the UN’s parties to the Basel and Stockholm conventions in May 2015.
The continued use of lung cancer causing white chrysotile asbestos is a legacy of the Soviet era has been promoted by companies close to the Congress party. There are established substitutes of these killer fibers of asbestos which need to be adopted to prevent incurable diseases but preventable deaths. In keeping with the recommendations of World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation and our Supreme Court, India too should prohibit use of asbestos based products like more than 50 countries of the world.
Dr Manmohan Singh government unleashed environmental lawlessness by permitting waste incinerator based waste to electricity plant amidst Okhla’s residential colonies and bird sanctuary and exposing local population to chemical emission that have been used in wars. It has set a very bad precedent. This must be undone because every rule in the rule book has been violated in the heart of the national capital.
7. Make India a sustainable public transport democracy instead of promoting myopic car owning democracy. To begin with one day in the week should be declared as a car free day as has been done in many countries.
8. Encourage village and agriculture and artisan centric economic activity which has been India’s strength for centuries before colonization instead of blind urbanization and industrialization for myopic monetization at any human and natural cost.
9. Set up a commission to prepare a blue print for Indian economy so that country’s share in world trade reaches a target of 25 percent and to examine the contribution of companies in increase or decrease of India’s share in world’s wealth between 1750 and 2014.
10. Bring a White Paper of land acquisitions undertaken by East India Company, British Government and government of independent India so far in the name of public purpose and reject the recommendations of Dr Vijay Kelkar committee’s report which recommended sale of government owned lands which has been acquired for ‘public purpose’ since 1894. This report was accepted by Shri Chidambram in his 2013 budget speech. The Kelkar committee had submitted its report on September 3, 2012. The committee recommended that over the next two-three years the government should raise resources by selling unutilised and under-utilised land of the PSUs, port trusts, and the railways, to fund the infrastructure sector. Such stance with regard to government owned land for public purpose is totally immoral and erodes peoples’ trust in government.
11. Stop contractualization of Secretariats of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha
Parliamentary function has been softened by giving post retirement contracts to former IAS officers who have been made Secretary Generals of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha by sidelining officials of the Parliament.
It was only recently that the impropriety of having T.K. Viswanathan, a retired IAS officer as the Secretary General of the 15th Lok Sabha been rectified. Prior to that P D T Achary too was a retired IAS officer who held the position of Secretary General of the 14th Lok Sabha and 15th Lok Sabha from 2005 to 2010. The post of Secretary General is of the rank of the Cabinet Secretary in the Government of India, who is the senior most civil servant to the Indian Government. Till the time of G C Malhotra who relinquished the office of Secretary-General of Lok Sabha on July 31, 2005, the officers of Lok Sabha Secretariat held this position who were well versed with parliamentary conventions and rules. This was discontinued during 14th and 15th Lok Sabha and in a bizarre act of flouting parliamentary norms Secretary Generals were hired on contract. When the writing became clear on wall that the Speaker is going to lose the parliamentary election, P. Sreedharan from Loka Sabha cadre was appointed as the Secretary General of the Lok Sabha with effect from March 1, 2014. The question is that when officials of Lok Sabha were available why they were ignored by Speaker to favour retired IAS officers. Why were officers of executive appointed as officers of legislature? An inquiry must be order by the 17th Lok Sabha to undo the damages done due to such unhealthy corrupt practices.
But as far as Rajya Sabha is concerned it is yet to rectify its mistakes. Shumsher K. Sheriff who is the current Secretary-General of Rajya Sabha since October 2012 onwards is a retired IAS officer with does not come from the cadre of those in the service of the Parliament. Prior to this Dr V K Agnihotri who was the Secretary General from 29 October 2007 onwards too was a retired IAS officer. Dr Yogendra Naraian, the Scretary General who preceded Dr Agnihotri was also a retired IAS officer. This system of ignoring Rajya Sabha cadre and hiring retired officials of executive on contract must change.
Besides rectifying these anomalies, the parliament building needs to be debugged after undertaking a thorough examination of surveillance gadgets that may have been planted. The newly elected members may consider having a security force directly under the command of Secretariats of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha so that the security forces of the executive does exercise even an iota of impact on the legislative functions. The incident that happened during the passage of Telengana Bill creates a logical compulsion for such measures.
12. Initiate efforts to ensure regulation of technology companies whose affairs have gone beyond democratic control of governments
13. After the passage of Bhopal Gas Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985, Government of India is the guardian of the victims. The new government should seek the extradition of Warren Anderson from USA who was allowed to leave the country despite having been arrested for the industrial genocide that happened during the Congress regime in the chemical pesticide plant of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), currently owned by Dow Chemicals Company. It should ensure that Dow bears the liability of Bhopal disaster, the way it is bearing the UCC’s liability for asbestos related diseases and deaths by allocating 2.2 billion dollars.
14. In the light of the fact that in the previous government there were many ministers and cabinet minister ranking officials who seem to have violated the oath of office and secrecy, I wish to request you to constitute a judicial commission to examine whether oath of office and secrecy has been adhered to by the ministers in the previous governments.
15. There are Indians who are prisoners in foreign countries about which the previous governments’ feigned ignorance. The new government should declare the list of Indian prisoners in the jails of China, Pakistan and all the other foreign countries. Indians everywhere must be made to feel that their government is aware of their plight and is making efforts to bring them back to their homeland. The condition of under trials in the prisons of India and the need to decongest the jails in general through creative interventions also merits attention.
It has been said that by 2025, India could become a $5 trillion economy, and among the top five in the world. If India does become a $5 trillion economy but get all its rivers polluted, food chain poisoned and genetic pool depleted and biometric database of Indians sold or stolen at the behest of commercial czars, will it not be a pyrrhic victory?
Our new Prime Minister and his advisers must ponder over such a scenario before following the path that has been paved by the previous governments’ policies and programs and consider reversing them.