Starvation Amidst Plenty


Food bowl overflowing, but 25% of population still hungry

Subodh Varma TIMES INSIGHT GROUP

     T he Indian government is sitting on one of world’s biggest hoards of food grains, about 667 lakh tons as of January 1, 2013. This is not some bizarre seasonal twist – monthly stocks of food grains averaged over 671 lakh tons for the whole of last year, including an all time high of 802 lakh tons in June. Just five years ago, in 2008, the food grains stock was 192 lakh tons in January. Since then, it has zoomed up by almost 250% to the present level.

       Government rules say that a buffer stock of 200 lakh tons and a strategic reserve of 50 lakh tons need to be maintained. But current stocks are more than two and a half times this benchmark.

      This would be a matter of celebration except that even as food grain stocks keep piling up, hunger and malnutrition continue to haunt a quarter of the population, over 200 million people, according to various estimates. Last year, India was ranked 65th in a list of 79 countries where serious hunger and malnutrition persists, made by the International Food Policy Research Institute. With over 43% babies suffering malnutrition, on this count alone India is ranked below Ethiopia and Bangladesh. So how come a mountain of life-giving grain is surrounded by a sea of hungry humanity? The reasons can be found in a mix of subsidy cutting government policy, bureaucratic bumbling, corruption and even profiteering, say experts .

      Successive bumper harvests since 2006, and better prices offered by the government procurement agencies have created these stocks. In April-March 2012, a record 380 lakh tons wheat was procured, while rice procurement during October 2011-September 2012, was also 350 lakh tons.

      So that explains the huge stocks. But why can’t it be distributed to the millions who need it? The government insists that it can only distribute food grain through its targeted public distribution system, fixed amounts, at low prices to those BPL, and at higher prices to those above poverty line.

        There are many problems with this approach, points out Biraj Patnaik, principal adviser to the Commissioners of the Supreme Court who are assisting the SC in tracking government policy.

        “The number of BPL families is based on projection for the year 2000 based on the 1991 Census. So their figures are off by 8-10 crore. We are trying to persuade them to adopt the 2011 population data,” he says.

        The committee headed by justice Wadhwa to suggest reforms in the public distribution system confirms this pointing out that the population of India was projected at 99cr in 2000 whereas in 2012 it is 122cr.

     The poverty line itself is a matter of serious dispute because it is pegged at Rs. 18 in urban areas and Rs. 12 in rural areas per person per day. Many families that are technically above the poverty line are so poor that they can’t afford the wheat and rice offered by the government.

         The most obvious solution is distribution to everybody. Economist Jean Dreze, a member of the NAC, sees the excess stock as a “great opportunity” to consolidate the Public Distribution System under the National Food Security Act. He said, “ It could be used to facilitate the transition to a more inclusive if not universal PDS within a few years.”

        The government, however, is not comfortable with this idea. And so, the warehouses will remain full in the months to come.

SIM CARDS: Perverts and Terrorists & Criminals Have Easy Access


SMS perverts use fake papers to hoodwink cops

V Narayan TNN

Mumbai: The incessant ringing of her cellphone in the dead of the night woke up Reema (name changed) from her deep slumber. The Chembur resident, who works as an executive with a private firm, answered the phone, only to hear the maniacal laughter of aman. A few days later, Reema received an obscene text message from the same number. To make matters worse, Reema’s two female flatmates also started receiving vulgar SMSes from the same number. They then approached the police. “The man told us the cops will never find him as he had procured six SIM cards using fake documents,” said Reema.

     The cops traced the number to a Goregaon man and learnt that he was unaware that his papers had been used to obtain the SIM card.

     Reema and her flatmates are not alone. Many women are still waiting for the perverts, who harassed them through obscene SMSes and emails, to be brought to justice. Investigators, too, admit that very rarely do such persons get caught. “Mobile service providers do not thoroughly check documents while giving out SIM cards. This negligent approach helps the perverts get away with their crime,” said an officer.

    According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Mumbai has the maximum number of registered cases of sexual harassment or obscenity through SMS, MMS or email.

Between 2007 and 2012 (till August), 84 such cases were registered in the city. When it comes to states, Maharashtra, too, doesn’t fare better. The NCRB data shows Maharashtra has the third highest number of such cases (169) registered in the country in the same period.

    JCP (crime) Himanshu Roy said, “We will take up the matter with the information technology ministry so that proper action is taken against erring service providers.”

     A spokesperson of a leading telecom operator said the cops were trying to pass the buck by blaming operators. Times View: Crack the whip B oth service providers and cops need to be more proactive when it comes to helping victims of online/mobile sexual harassment. The trauma that the victim goes through should not be compounded by official apathy and the gloves should be off while dealing with these predators. They are a real enough menace though they may be operating in the virtual world.

1984 Riots: 28th Anniversary


’84 riots: Rights group starts campaign

    New Delhi: As the 28th anniversary of the 1984 anti-sikh riots draws near, many human rights groups have come together to “stir” the government in order to secure punishment for those responsible.

     Launching a two-week plan, several groups like Lok Raj Sangathan, Socialist Yuvajan Sabha, the Sikh Forum, etc came together on Friday to make an appeal to the government to bring justice to the families of those who lost their lives in the carnage. For the first time, a photo-exhibition — depicting the scenes of the riots — is going to be held in the capital. From October 21, the human rights groups will begin a ‘mobile photo exhibition’ from Jalianwala Bagh in Punjab and will reach capital on October 30.

    “A petition has been signed by many prominent citizens, including former Justice Krishna Iyer. It will be released online for obtaining signatures in support thereof. This petition will then be sent to the Prime Minister,” said lawyer H S Phoolka, who has been fighting for the families of the victims.

      The group will also hold a candlelight vigil on November 3. TNN

Tamil Nadu : Future Judges with past criminal Records?


15 names for judge posts withheld

TIMES NEWS NETWORK

     Chennai:The names of 15 of the 185 candidates provisionally selected for appointment as judicial magistrate/district munsif have been withheld by the state government since criminal cases are pending against them.

    A September 10 government order contains 185 serial numbers but only 170 names. The numbers of the 15 candidates facing criminal cases have the ‘X’ mark printed by the side.

    The decision to leave out these candidates followed a consultation with the higher judiciary, officials said. “Since they could not clear the mandatory police and intelligence verification, the GO contained the ‘X’ mark against their names,” said an official.

    With 184 civil judge (junior division) posts, lowest rung in the judicial ladder, lying vacant, the high court in association with the TNPSC notified 185 vacancies for appointment through written examinations and viva voce. More than 8,000 law graduates and practising lawyers appeared on March 23 and 24.

    After the court authorities short-listed 560 successful candidates, they sent it to the government to finalise the selection list by applying the rule of reservation and other such criteria. The present list is the provisionally selected candidates.

Mumbai Police officer Run Over By Car Thieves


Policeman hit by car thieves dies in hosp

Vijay V Singh TNN

Mumbai: An assistant sub-inspector attached to the Kherwadi police, who had been knocked down last month by car thieves while he attempted to nab them, died in a hospital on Saturday.

       The victim, Dutta Sanobat, was admitted to a private hospital in critical condition.

      On August 31, the accused who had stolen an Indica from Dharavi were searching for a place to hide the vehicle. Around 3.30am, the car developed a snag in Bandra, when they spotted a tourist vehicle.

    The tourist vehicle’s driver, Kaushik Tiwari, had stopped by to answer nature’s call. In a bid to hijack the tourist vehicle, the accused threatened Tiwari with a chopper.

      Sanobat, who was part of a police patrol team that was passing by at that time, stepped out of his police vehicle and asked the thieves not to start the car. But the accused didn’t pay heed and rammed the vehicle into him.

     Sanobat was dragged along for 20 ft before being thrown off the vehicle.

     Tiwari alerted the police control room and the two constables on night patrol rushed Sanobat to a hospital.

Cartoonist Jailed by Congress Govt in Maharashtra


Maharashtra Government  drags its feet over Aseem sedition charge

Sanjeev Shivadekar TNN

Mumbai: Nearly a week after its announcement to seek legal opinion on whether sedition charges should be maintained or withdrawn against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, the home department is yet to forward a formal proposal to the law department.

      According to senior Mantralaya official, the law and judiciary department till Saturday had not received any formal communication from the home department on the Trivedi row. “Our department does not give verbal opinion. We give opinion only when we receive any proposal from the government,” a senior official attached to law and judiciary department said.

      “In such a crucial matter too, the government has not moved a proposal within a week. This shows how government’s approach is in on the entire Trivedi issue,” the official added.

     Following the controversy over the cartoons drawn by Trivedi and the police slapping sedition charges against him, state home minister R R Patil on September 11 stated that his department is reviewing the case and legal opinion from the law and judiciary department is being sought.

        When asked about the law and judiciary department’s opinion on the controversy, the official said, “We have not received the file asking for legal opinion, hence it would not be appropriate to comment on the issue. If the proposal comes to the department, then one will have to see the intention of individual for his/her involvement in the “crime”.”

      He added, “In this case it seems that Aseem was expressing his anger against corruption through cartoons and had no intention to wage a war against the country. Taking all this into consideration it would not be appropriate to frame sedition charges against him.”

      Patil had ordered a probe against the official who registered FIR (sedition charges) against the cartoonist.HC slams ‘frivolous’ Aseem arrest

Rosy Sequeira TNN

Mumbai: “We live in a free society,’’ reminded the Bombay high court on Friday even as it lambasted the state for “arbitrary’’ and “frivolous” arrest of political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for sedition under the Indian Penal Code’s Section 124A.
The court said, “Parameters need to be laid down for application of sedition, otherwise there will be serious encroachment of a person’s liberty guaranteed to him in a civil society.”
“Today you attacked a cartoonist. Tomorrow it could be a filmmaker and then a screenplay writer. We are living in a free society. Everybody has freedom of speech and expression,” said a division bench of Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud and Justice Amjad Sayed. The court was hearing a public interest litigation urging the court to declare Trivedi’s arrest as illegal and bad in law. On September 11, 2012, the high court directed the release of Trivedi on a personal bond.
When the matter came up for hearing, additional public prosecutor Jayesh Yagnik objected to the “maintainability” of the PIL. Justice Chandrachud snapped, “Don’t take such frivolous objections. First you arrested him on such frivolous grounds. Stop these things. You have arrested a cartoonist on charges of sedition and breached his liberty to freedom of speech and expression.” He further said, “We have one Aseem Trivedi who is courageous enough to stand against this action. But what about several others whose voices are shut by the police?” said Justice Chandrachud.
The judges sought to know what the state has to say. “What is the state’s stand? Does the government intend to drop the charge? Someone has to take political responsibility for this. Why didn’t the police apply its mind before charging him with sedition?” asked Justice Chandrachud. Yagnik replied that he has to take instructions and added the assistant commissioner of police investigating the case is consulting Mantralaya to ascertain the maintainability of the sedition charge.
The judges pointed out that Section 124A (sedition) is a pre-Independence provision included in the statute books. “In that era, the government wanted protection from citizens. In the constitutional era, citizens need safeguards against the government,” said Justice Chandrachud. The judges said in foreign countries, the sedition charge is applied only if someone attempts to topple the government by using undemocratic means. Trivedi’s advocate Mihir Desai said, “In fact, in USA, there is a concept called ‘fighting words’, which says that unless there is a clear and present danger of violence because of the words, a person cannot be stopped from saying those.” The judges said from the arrest of Trivedi “ìt is prima facie evident that there is arbitrariness with which the matter was handled by the police”.
The judges directed Trivedi to be made a party in the PIL. “We shall file an affidavit substantiating why sedition charges cannot be levelled in such cases,” said Desai. Directing the state to file a comprehensive affidavit explaining reasons for applying the sedition charge against Trivedi, they posted the hearing to October 12, 2012.

Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was recently arrested on charge of sedition under IPC’s Section 124A

CITY CITY BANG BANG

Overvaluing the symbolic

Santosh Desai

A cartoon that got its  maker locked up on charges of sedition. A crudely provocative film that has set off riots in several parts of the world; this coming on the back of a doctored video alleging atrocities in Assam that triggered another violent riot. Go back a few months and rewind to another cartoon that made a chief minister jail a professor. And another one about a revered Dalit figure, excavated after 60 years, that created a storm of protest.

      Something significant is afoot. A new touchiness seems to be visible across the world; lines are getting blurred between the symbolic and the real, the abstract intent and the concrete action. Take the instance of the anti-Islam video that has sparked such a violent reaction in parts of the Muslim world. It is an obscure, tacky production that does not carry the support of any identifiable religious or political group and its current prominence is almost entirely a product of the protests against it, a pattern that is a recurring one–— even the anti-corruption and Mamata Banerjee cartoons would have died in obscurity had it not been for the action taken against their makers. What explains this inclination to look for disrespect, and then to explode with anger upon finding it and attributing it falsely to one’s perceived enemies? Why is it that outbreaks of anger have much more to do with perceived representational infractions than substantive behaviour in the real world?
In the case of the anti-Islam video, it is difficult to understand what is the source of the outrage. Given that one of the functions of the internet is to enable lunatics to have their say in the medium and font of their choice, reacting to such a crude attempt at incitement by getting incited seems like a remarkably short-sighted reaction. Apart from the fact that it is technologically infeasible to do too much about such attempts, it is a invitation to every other fringe group to gain easy notoriety on the cheap. No religion or political formation can believe that it does not have its share of people who dislike it, and in some cases hate it with a venomous passion. The desire to eradicate the world of any sign of this hatred is a fantasy; what most groups settle for is to keep
reasonable boundaries that prevent the faithful from being involuntarily exposed to views that they would find offensive and insulting.
In an earlier world, it could be argued that the device of blasphemy and the consequences it invited had its uses. It cordoned off the touchy areas of our life by keeping adherents in check and creating well demarcated boundaries between one social group and another. Today the operating conditions have changed substantially. Due to the enormously inter-connected nature of our existence, whatever we feel about others is now easy to broadcast to everyone else at little cost, both material and otherwise. The ordered nature of social groups with a few ports of communication have dissolved in a cacophony of individual untamed voices. In such a situation, a device like blasphemy needs to be invoked with restraint, for it is in danger of expending itself otherwise.
There is another factor at work too. In an earlier world, important people and lofty ideas enjoyed a natural protection from too much intemperate criticism. One lived in a smaller, self-contained and largely homogenous world under a canopy of exaggerated respect. Truly public platforms were rare, and could in most cases be managed. For the important, the exposure to such volumes of vituperation is an unfamiliar and deeply disorienting experience. It is also why the current touchiness is shown most by groups that have enjoyed unchallenged power—the state, powerful leaders in all facets of public life and religious and quasi-religious groups. The desire seems to be to protect themselves by retreating into an enclave of guaranteed respect.
If we think about it, what Aseem Trivedi was really accused of was not sedition but blasphemy. In a lot of the cases, the reactions to criticism have followed the codes of blasphemy, rather than any other label that might have been used. In an ironical way, the role of religion is increasing in our life not only through its organized form, but also by way of treating other arenas of our life as if they were religion. When Mamata reacts to a cartoon, or a book is banned because it contains something unpalatable, it is not because these are threats to the public but because they are seen to be blasphemous in nature. The reason why cartoons feature in so many of the issues of the day is because they are by definition rooted in the notion of blasphemy—they make the lofty and sacred look ridiculous. The touchiness about things symbolic is a sign that more subjects are asking to be treated with reverence rather than real respect; the problem is not with a specific criticism but with the very idea of criticism.
Attempts to understand these reactions by invoking notions of taste and historical injustice are misguided, particularly given the new context in which we all operate. If we start legitimising extreme reactions to any and every provocation, a swift descent to medievalism seems unavoidable. On the other hand, It is also true that the easy circulation of such material, available in such volume, is not easy to adjust to. The volume and velocity of hate are going up dramatically while the capacity to handle the same has not grown significantly. The process of negotiating with the changed conditions is not going to be easy, but a retreat into the past is not an option. We will be living in a world with greater knowledge of who hates us and why, and reacting to every perceived slight with brute force will be an exercise in self-defeating futility.
santoshdesai1963@indiatimes.com

COAL MAAL: Some Cartoons