Sunday, 30 January 2011

Whose responsibility?

At the CII Conference on 'Big Society' in November 2010, some delegates said India had little need for CSR (Corporate & Social Responsibility) managers because it was every worker's responsibility.

This is both true and false.

Of course India is not merely every worker's responsibility, it is everyone's responsibility whether employed or unemployed. That is what it means to be a democracy.

But, where corporations have the status of legal persons, and are accorded more privileges than most real persons, to argue that CSR is not needed is a silly way of trying to evade corporate responsibilities.

Individuals have to take responsibility and are not taking sufficient responsibility. That is why our politics is in such a mess.

Corporations too have to take responsibility, and they are taking nowhere near sufficient responsibility. If they did, our society and economics would be in much better shape.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The choice between coal and elephants

I have today received the following message from Preethi Herman, the Climate Campaigner for Greenpeace India.

Naturally, it is biased - as all viewpoints are biased.

Please read the following, and then judge for yourself which side you are on:

"The dangerous forest versus coal tussle has claimed its first victim – the endangered Indian elephant. The Chhattisgarh government has scrapped plans for an elephant reserve in order to allow the same forests to be mined for coal. [1]

"Last year the environment and forest ministry defined regions rich in forest cover and biodiversity as No-Go areas for mining. [2] The coal ministry wants the government to scrap this classification. [3] A Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted to resolve this will take a decision later in the year. [4]

"These No-Go areas are among the last remaining forests in our country. They are home to wildlife such as tigers, leopards and elephants, and crucial to the livelihoods of millions. [5] If mining is allowed here, we can bid good bye to all of these. We need to pick our sides for this epic match. Big ministries backed by private lobbies are siding with coal – and against the forests.

"Can you show your support for the elephants and our forests?

"This is the first preparatory step for our massive fight to save our forests and the communities who depend on them. The government needs to know that millions of Indians want their forests protected and declared No-Go for mining.

"Instead of increasing its dependence on coal the government needs to invest in exploring renewable energy options. [6] Once destroyed, these forests will never get resurrected even with the best reforestation efforts.

"Clearing forests will only hasten climate change. Coal mining not only destroys forests and displaces communities but also contaminates nearby rivers and water sources.[7] India's remaining forests and wildlife and communities must be protected from mining.

"Show your support for the elephants and their forests now.

"Thanks a billion!"

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Different procedures at different Indian airports

At Bhubaneshwar, they screen for boarding passes twice for some reason! After that, you have to screen your luggage BEFORE you can proceed to Check In (reversing the usual order).

This does make sense from a security point of view, but it is explained nowhere in writing or verbally, resulting in much confusion right at the entry to the airport.

Further, there is no system for removing luggage torlleys once luggage has been checked in, resulting in a log jam of trolleys immediately in front of the Check In desks

At the Check In desks, the signboard in front of one of the two relevant desks said "Delhi" but it was actually checking only passengers for Hyderabad as that flight was first! So Delhi ppassengers kept joining that queue and then, when discovering their "mistake", kept wanting to jump into the middle of the other desk's queue, which was processing Delhi Check Ins!

After Check In, when one tries to clear another round of security in order to get through to the Gate, there was further confusion quite unnecessarily:

In fact, there is probably totally unnecessary confusion there every morning, as late paasengers for Mumbai and then Hyderabad have to be speed processed while passengers who turn up on time for the Delhi flight have to wait in a separate line - but there is no system to indicate that, so the poor security staff and stewards have to shout, and repeat the same information over and over again, to get the non-system to work.

One would have thought that while the police and security staff rotate (at least, one hopes so, for security reasons!), the airline stewards work there regularly, so would have an interest in helping to create a system for their own comfort and health if not for the convenience of passengers, but for some reason, even the stewards seem to be content with or resigned to the non-system.

I wonder why?

I did not ask anyone but, in my experience, whenver such a question is raised, one is met with looks of blank incomprehension - even such simple questions seem impossibly huge.

Monday, 17 January 2011

India Marches Against Corruption on 30 January

I have received the following informaiton by email from a friend:

India Marches Against Corruption

Thousands of people will take to streets to demand effective anti-corruption law.

J M Lyngdoh, Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi, Anna Hazare, Prashant Bhushan, Most Rev Vincent M Concessao, Archbishop of Delhi and others will march from Ramlila Grounds to Jantar Mantar on 30th January, the day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, at 1 pm to demand enactment of a law to set up an effective anti-corruption body called Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta in each state. The existing Lokayukta Acts are weak and ineffective.

Kiran Bedi, Justice Santosh Hegde, Prashant Bhushan, J M Lyngdoh and others have drafted this Bill. A nation wide movement called "India Against Corruption" has been started by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Swami Ramdev, Swami Agnivesh, Most Rev Vincent M Concessao Archbishop of Delhi, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Anna Hazare, Devinder Sharma, Sunita Godara, Mallika Sarabhai and many others to persuade government to enact this Bill.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi recently announced that Lokpal would be set up. However, the Lokpal suggested by the government is only a showpiece. It will have jurisdiction over politicians but not bureaucrats, as if politicians and bureaucrats indulge in corruption separately. And the most interesting part is that like other anti-corruption bodies in our country, the government is making Lokpal also an advisory body. So, Lokpal will recommend to the government to prosecute its ministers. Will any prime minister have the political courage to do that?

Here briefly is how this Bill will help in effectively checking corruption.

Can India turn around?
There was much worse corruption in Hong Kong in 1970s than we have in India today. Collusion between police and mafia increased and crime rate went up. Lakhs of people came on the streets. As a result, the government had to set up an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which was given complete powers. In the first instance, ICAC sacked 119 out of 180 police officers. This sent a strong message to the bureaucracy that corruption would not be tolerated. Today, Hong Kong has one of the most honest governance machinery. India can also turn around if we also had similar anti-corruption body. Hong Kong government enacted ICAC Bill because lakhs of people came on streets.

How will the Lokpal Bill drafted by citizens help curb corruption?

Existing System: No politician or senior officer ever goes to jail despite huge evidence because Anti Corruption Branch (ACB) and CBI directly come under the government. Before starting investigation or initiating prosecution in any case, they have to take permission from the same bosses, against whom the case has to be investigated.
Proposed System: Lokpal at centre and Lokayukta at state level will be independent bodies. ACB and CBI will be merged into these bodies. They will have power to initiate investigations and prosecution against any officer or politician without needing anyone?s permission. Investigation should be completed within 1 year and trial to get over in next 1 year. Within two years, the corrupt should go to jail.

Existing System: No corrupt officer is dismissed from the job because Central Vigilance Commission, which is supposed to dismiss corrupt officers, is only an advisory body. Whenever it advises government to dismiss any senior corrupt officer, its advice is never implemented.
Proposed System: Lokpal and Lokayukta will have complete powers to order dismissal of a corrupt officer. CVC and all departmental vigilance will be merged into Lokpal and state vigilance will be merged into Lokayukta.

Existing System: No action is taken against corrupt judges because permission is required from the Chief Justice of India to even register an FIR against corrupt judges.
Proposed System: Lokpal & Lokayukta shall have powers to investigate and prosecute any judge without needing anyone's permission.

Existing System: Nowhere to go - People expose corruption but no action is taken on their complaints.
Proposed System: Lokpal & Lokayukta will have to enquire into and hear every complaint.

Existing System: There is so much corruption within CBI and vigilance departments. Their functioning is so secret that it encourages corruption within these agencies.
Proposed System: All investigations in Lokpal & Lokayukta shall be transparent. After completion of investigation, all case records shall be open to public. Complaint against any staff of Lokpal & Lokayukta shall be enquired and punishment announced within two months.

Existing System: Weak and corrupt people are appointed as heads of anti-corruption agencies.
Proposed System: Politicians will have absolutely no say in selections of Chairperson and members of Lokpal & Lokayukta. Selections will take place through a transparent and public participatory process.

Existing System: Citizens face harassment in government offices. Sometimes they are forced to pay bribes. One can only complain to senior officers. No action is taken on complaints because senior officers also get their cut.
Proposed System: Lokpal & Lokayukta will get public grievances resolved in time bound manner, impose a penalty of Rs 250 per day of delay to be deducted from the salary of guilty officer and award that amount as compensation to the aggrieved citizen.

Existing System: Nothing in law to recover ill gotten wealth. A corrupt person can come out of jail and enjoy that money.
Proposed System: Loss caused to the government due to corruption will be recovered from all accused.

Existing System: Small punishment for corruption- Punishment for corruption is minimum 6 months and maximum 7 years.
Proposed System: Enhanced punishment - The punishment would be minimum 5 years and maximum of life imprisonment.

Contact: India Against Corruption
A-119, Kaushambi, Ghaziabad ? 201010, UP. Ph: 09717460029. Email:

Saturday, 15 January 2011

What's the solution to soaring food prices?

The government is doing its best by banning food exports. But, in a global market, the only real solution is global. See:

If you don't have time to read all 35 pages, read just the Conclusion which is on pages 29 and 30.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Chilka Lake and Satpaada

Some others visited this along with me yesterday, and it was a disappointment.

The country-style boats are powered by makeshift, noisy and evil-smelling outboard motors which ruin the peace of the lake and actually make the experience quite stressful.

The lake is relatively shallow, apparently, so the he engines are not hung vertically down from the back of the boat - if that was done, it would send the exhaust vertically up, so that the boat and the passengers would be going away from it. Rather, the engines are angled at 45 degrees facing forward in order to utilize the rotary thrust in the shallow lake, so the exhaust blows directly over the boat and therefore comes down into it....

There are several hundred boats on the lake - all painted the same scrappy blue and peeling off - some boats require a full-time person to bail out the water that comes into the boat. We saw a few boats without an outboard motor, and they were all local fishing boats - our boatman tells me that it takes about twice as long to go the length of the lake using manpower as against using boat power - that's about 2 hours to one.

Birds: though the area is famed for them, we saw only one variety of wader at a distance of about 100 meters - in addition to egrets which are plentiful in the whole state or Orissa as far as I can make out - and two individual black birds that I took to be some variety of cormorant. I also saw three birds that were gull-like in behaviour but not in appearance - though white in colour, they flew more like swallows or swifts.

The main reason for the visit was to see (if possible) the famous fresh-water dolphins. What we did see was several flashes of dolphin about 100 metres away at the closest, but nothing that I would regard even remotely as an encounter with a dolphin.

According to "our" boatman, two further special attractions of the lake are supposed to be (a) pearls (white, black and pink - supposedly formed when the mussels rise to the surface at the time of the full moon and open their mouths to receive a special ray of energy from the heavens (a particular nakshatra)); and (b) an extremely hard sort of barnacle, which the boatman called a "skeleton" (in English!) which the local vendors break apart to reveal a blue, green, orange or black stone, though they also flaunt a bit of what is apparently cut glass which they try to sell at an exorbitant price.

What I bought (exorbitantly priced anyway!)was two of the other stones for Rs 500 and one black and two white pearls for Rs 650 - partly because these were mementos, and partly because the local people too have to live and this wasn't that much of a contribution to the local economy.

The shallowness of the lake probably accounts for where the dolphins frolic - the deeper parts.

The lake is beginning to suffer from pollutants (engine oil residue abounds) and I counted four abandoned plastic bottles on the water, as well as one cigarette packet: hardly anything much in our country, but the problem is that once the rot starts, it spreads very rapidly.

If going another time, I would entirely avoid the visit to the local temple as well as to the sea mouth, and insist on a hand-poled boat that would skirt the lake by any unusual route that avoided the other noisy and smelly boats. I would go as far as the dolphin area, but not with any expectation of seeing dolphins, regarding that as a special bonus if it really happened.

By the way, several visitors, obviously used to visiting here, focused simply on the nearby local eateries which seem to provide an excellent, fresh and tasty range of dishes. But that's hearsay.