Thursday, December 29, 2011

To see Buddha smile at Odisha!!

Assumptions and misconceptions run huge when we ignore facts or are ignorant about them. The same stands true especially when mumbaikars are treated as north indians, assameese called as nepalis and south indians given the nomenclature of madrasis. State citizens have a tendency to create countries within their states to show their dominions over them, in fact forgetting the Shakespearean quote ' all the world is a stage and all the men and women are mere actors' .. the functionality of statehood was aimed at uniting people, communities and beliefs. Unfortunately, we create fiefdoms within ourselves, to form a bigger state entity called 'individuality'.

  Raj Thakareys and the MNS, Tamil Elams and regional groups is gaining momentum in this 21st century   where West Asia is fast becoming democratic and grouping itself to form a state entity. I am awed at the challenges which our Iron Man, Vallabhai Patel was faced, with dignity and grace. Recalling one of the incidents mentioned in one of the biographies on him,he was called upon by Nehru through a representative to integrate India. In Bed for weeks due to the prevailing illness, he was not in a position to move or travel. But the moment he got the directions, he jumped and with full vigour and passion started off to convince 565 princely states across the length and breadth of India to be a part of the larger India they dreamt!! Cutting across caste, class, religion, community and statehood; he made India or Bharat united. Unfortunately there is section of people who still believe that we can never stand united among this diversity; and was better left to be ruled by princes and horses. Often my mind wavers on this, witnessing the ignorance and talking to the ignorant.

Having travelled to Orissa which earned the distinction of being a Maoist state; the state of laborers and illiterates, the state of poverty amongst rich; I was given updates and situational reports from various quarters. Given that I had traveled to Rourkela, Puri and Konark  when I was 2 years old, was excited to visit the state at the present state of affairs. The Patna Express took me 36 hours forcing to burn the morning oil at 2:30 am, thanks to Prasant Jena who was waiting for me to pick me up from Bhubaneshwar station. I was a part of the land deals which he took me; and educated me on the cost of land business. I find that Bhubaneshwar is one of the top destinations for companies to invest in and figures third in the Doing Business Report. Hard to imagine for a small city similar to Kochi in size but bigger in ambition. Hats off to Patnaik, who is a Harvard graduate in stimulating growth.

Despite the extremists efforts, the larger part of Orissa (Odisha, as it is now called) is progressing, though the poor are still disadvantaged owing to the rich divide brought by the bountiful mines and minerals of Orissa. No wonder POSCO wanted to get the deal done at any cost.The city is growing, so is the roads and infrastructure. Making way for 6 lanes and connecting Chennai to Kolkota; travelling through the industrial belt all the way to Baleshwar/ Balasore was an enriching experience. As I was witnessing the famous Kalinga War which made Ashoka repent and lead to the sprout of Buddhism only to be driven away later (allegedly by Shankaracharyas advaita). I was also standing as a mute witness to the mining goondas exploiting the sacred soil and waging war against nature. Guess Herman Hesse's would have to rewrite his 'Sidhartha'!!

Bhubaneshwar- Baleshwar Maruti 800 drive took us 3 and half hours (approx 210 kms). The road was endless and vast enough to wage a war. I stood non plussed and imagined how wars were fought in this vast track of land. The frequent tolls slowed us, while the oncoming traffic through the single line was enough to scare us on the impending accidents, not to mention the sacred cows. The road produced a tour to the butcher with carcass of the goats and dogs laying in a state of static motion. It had the right mix of all forms of human and natural inventions, lorries; industries, pollution; agri land etc....

Baleshwar is a hustle bustle small city (or rather extended version of town) which is 15 kms from our prestigious agni launch pad, Chandipur. Its only a test ground for most of the missiles, with the actual launching done in Russia, Kyrgistan and other countries. Its a product of our Industrial policy as you can see industrialist queuing to settle themselves there. Interestingly, the land value of Baleshwar is pretty higher than the capital state of Bhubaneshwar. No wonder, the road less travelled to Baleshwar is packed by POSCO's, Vedanta, Cairn India etc. Staying at my Project Manager, Prasant Jena's house; I find that unlike we mallus, he has so many identical twins in Orissa. All wear the same shirt, jeans, have fat tummy and sound similar. Quite unique in their similarity!!

Seeing and feeling the pulse of Odisha residents, I am sure they want their state to emerge as a leader in India. The mindset is positive, the situation is tending to be favourable (except for the miners) and the leadership is good. I believe we can admire the vastness of the Kalinga empire in the near future. We shoukd understand that Ashoka's contribution to India is not just the chakra represented in the Indian flag, but the great ideals and the principles he adopted; which the land of kalinga made him believe.





Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010


Introduction

The passing of Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 also forms part of the ‘To Do’ List for Indian Parliament this winter. Unfortunately, the bill seems to have evoked minimal discussion within the legal community and civil society, may be because it is clubbed with titans like the Lokpal Bill.

No one has a case against the relevance of this bill which requires judges to declare their assets, lays down judicial standards, and establishes processes for removal of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. This bill which has been pending for a while was also in the limelight in recent times, especially during instances of allegations of misconduct against judges, both sitting and retired.

Appointment of Higher Judiciary - Present System of Collegium

The Supreme Court of India in the case of Supreme Court Advocates –on Record Association v. Union of India (AIR 1994 SC 268), also known as Second Judges Case, introduced the collegium system of judicial selection within the higher judiciary wherein the judges are selected/nominated by a team of five or three senior most judges in Supreme Court and High Court respectively. This method of selection initially gained wide popularity as it kept executive influence to the minimal, contrary to the earlier practice.

However, experience over the years has proved otherwise. The noted jurist and author Fali S Nariman in his autobiography refers to the above mentioned case as ‘A case I Won: But which I would prefer to have lost’.

To quote him: “But the extra-curricular task (imposed upon five senior most judges by a judgment of the court itself), that of recommending appointments to the highest court, has not been conducted with the care and caution that it deserves. There is too much ad hocism, and no consistent and transparent process of selection. As a result, the image of the court has gravely suffered”.

Even worse, the higher judiciary have constantly maintained the position that such a system is to be secret as it is related with ‘independence of judiciary’ and has strived to keep the selection process beyond the purview of pro-transparency legislations like the Right to Information Act,2005.

Provisions of the Proposed Bill

Important Provisions of The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 can be listed as follows:

  • Judges are mandatorily required to declare their assets and liabilities, and also that of their spouse and children.
  • Bill establishes a three-tier system of National Judicial Oversight Committee, The Complaints Scrutiny Panel and an Investigation Committee to oversee the performance of judges.
  • Initiative to provide a statutory back up for judicial standards which have been always subject to discretion of Judges.
  • Any person can make a complaint against a judge to the oversight committee on grounds of ‘misbehavior’.
  • A motion for removal of a judge for ‘misbehavior’ can be also moved in the parliament, which will be referred to the oversight committee.
  • Complaints and inquiries against judges will be confidential and frivolous complaints will be penalised. Vexatious Complaints will be punished with an imprisonment of five years and also to a fine which may extend to five lakh rupees.
  • The oversight committee may issue advisories or warnings to judges, and also recommend for their removal to the President.

Conclusion

The dilemma for policy makers have always been to make judiciary accountable without compromising on the ‘independence of judiciary’, considered to be a part of the basic structure of constitution. This legislation was an opportunity for the judiciary to restore its lost credibility. But it seems to be falling short of target.

From a broader perspective, the bill is trying to deal with subjective criteria’s like integrity and credibility of the judges appointed. It also seeks to establish a complicated procedure and a three-tier system for investigating complaints against judges, ensuring that such complaints are not vexatious and justice is ensured for the judges themselves. Inspite of all such measures, interestingly even the Parliamentary Standing Committee which studied the Bill, feels that it will be only a partial success, as the bill is only remedial and the real cure lies in infusing transparency into the selection process of judges.

To conclude, the focus ought to have been on the appointment process of judges and the least on such elaborate trial procedure. Many argue that a holistic legislation dealing with appointment, enquiry and impeachment would have been a far more welcome step. Hence, until substantial reforms are introduced into the opaque system of appointment of judges, we are trying to place the cart before the horse.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Curbing Vandalism

As the proactive role of courts are being seriously debated and many argue for drawing boundaries for the seemingly undefined ‘judicial activism’, the recent decision of Kerala High Court (Hemant Kumar’s Case,2011) imposing preconditions for grant of bail, in cases involving destruction of public property, deserves attention. The judgment states that accused in cases involving destruction of public property should deposit the value of the property destroyed as security to be eligible for bail. Call it ‘judicial activism’ or a case of ‘judicial innovation’, recent media reports suggest that the judgment has started making repercussions, as major political parties in the state have instructed their cadres to be cautious on the streets. The judgment has also initiated a public debate, as the Kerala Government is trying to prepare a detailed valuation of public property destroyed in past few years and also intending to set up fast track courts to specifically deal with such cases.

Having a closer look at the issue, one is left wondering whether we were so far trying to curb the menace with an impotent legislation, Prevention of Damage to Public Property (PDPP) Act, 1994. A perusal of the legislation makes it clear that this miniature legislation have been carefully drafted as the law makers knew they would be at the receiving end quite often. Interestingly, in cases of vandalism, neither the offender nor the public at large seems to be concerned regarding the loss caused in total. On the contrary, anyone related with the government would know about the effort, time and procedural formalities after which a ‘pubic property’ is procured by the State, in addition to the cost involved and expenses for maintenance. Hence, the annoyance of the Court is justified as an authority which issues ‘writ of manadamus’ for delivering public services, Courts cannot be a mere spectators when public property is vandalised.

However, it is felt that the above mentioned judgment requires a strong statutory backing for proper implementation. This author believes that the value of a public property needs to be calculated considering the utility of the property and not solely on its physical value. Undoubtedly, we need guidelines and procedures to determine the ‘real value’ of property destroyed. On a broader perspective, it is suggested appropriate amendments needs to be brought so that obstruction of public service is also within the scope of ‘destruction’ for the meeting the objectives.

Earlier judgments, including Supreme Court observations in Inre Destruction of Public Properties(2009) and literature available on the subject, primarily accuses political parties as major destroyers of public property. But we fail to note that communal organisations and politically neutral protestors are equally liable. The protest by Gujjars last year can be sited as best example. It is also a debatable issue whether leaders of political parties can be held ‘vicariously’ liable for the act of a mob and forced to pay damages. It is for sure that the judgment will be challenged and will be subject for judicial interpretations in coming days. Many also believe that such penal amounts would be paltry for the super rich political parties. However, the bold stand by Kerala High Court and the subsequent reluctance to review the judgment has communicated strong message across political frontiers.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Negative News


Negating Negative news
By Madhu.S

“The question of negative news arises out of negation of moral principles”

Negative news have two dimensions, one in which is portrays a matter in a negative manner (context specific) and other which gives a negative view of a matter (content specific). For example, the death of a person can be given a negative outlook by incorporating ‘suspicious circumstances of the cause of death’ equal to that of a murder. This is the context specific negativity. Content specific negativity arises in case where news is shown to believe on the bad reputation of a country or a person. This type of negative news is used usually to cause discomfort or throw bad light on a person or a country, something which the western media usually does while portraying Afghanistan or like countries.
Interestingly the scope of negative news is immense, as there exists a class of people who take interest of such news and another set who uses it as an opportunity. The concept of yellow journalism is the child of the second class of people supported by the first class of people. Ex Chief Minister IK Gujaral, Former head of ISRO Mr Nambi Narayan etc are known victims of this.
Effect of negative news reporting:
 News portrayed in the negative light has a lot to do with the psychic of the creator and the end-user or journalist/editor and reader/people. Journalism exists on creating or inventing news rather than innovating news. Competition among different media and between peers has ordained the existence of such news. However, a large section of the journalists believe that a huge market exists for such negative news. Creating interesting news has direct relation to the customer satisfaction. Politicians are the major class of people who support negativity.
Jan Kleinnijenhuis (2002) in his seminal article Negative News and the Sleeper Effect of Distrust gives interesting reading on how negative news are been used to instigate and dissuade opponents, critical during the election periods. According to him, negative news creates distrusts between political peers which acts as sleeper effect on the people or persuades them to distrust the politicians. In fact various research done by Neuroscientists represent that the outcomes of elections depend largely on rapid, unreflective trait inferences of competence and reliability that occur within a one-second exposure to the faces of the candidates (Todorov et al. 2005).
When the face of the candidates is flashed through different media associated with corruption or criminal offences, the voters tend to distrust such people. Interestingly, all major political parties take the same route in this game of “winning by tarnishing”. Herein lie’s other factors as to which negative factors outweigh the other. If we measure the negativity of news and come with an index, we can see that political issues dominate the rankings. News related to sports or weather can be found to have the lowest score because of the neutrality involved into it. While sport teams and weather incidents can also be prone to negativity.
The causal effect of readership or viewership is directly linked to negative news. Richard Posner, a Correspondent of New York Times had termed the act of creating sensationalism as bad news. It was found that the arise of negative news owes to the decline of mainstream news and the arrival of visual media leading to a deterioration in quality.
In a recent poll conducted by the Hindu, it was found that Indians still believed that newspaper have wider quality and credibility spending around 37 minutes for reading it (2006:Indian Readership Survey). While visual media and mobile news reporting is considered to be least credible. The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer which studied on credibility of advertisements in different media found that advertising and social networks as news media are not considered as being credible sources of information in India by opinion leaders.  Though no formal studies have been conducted on negative news, opinion leaders believe that with the advent of new media, quality and credibility has deteriorated with an increase in negative news.
Effect on readers:
The Center for Media and Public Affairs did a study on network coverage of murder. Between 1990 and 1995, the murder rate in the U.S. went down thirteen percent. But during that same period, network coverage of murders increased three hundred percent. If you happened to watch a lot of news during that period, you would probably have gotten the impression that murders in America were escalating out of control, when in fact the situation was improving.[1] Cynicism and pessimism is considered to be one of the potent factors that drive negative news. Health experts believe that frequent exposure to negative news creates higher chance of heart failures and slow reaction against medicines.
 It is believed that inducing fear, frequent reproaching and disparagement by various media is causing a strong sense of pique among the readers. With the resultant splurge in ‘cry-till-night’ operas and cynical comedy shows proves the fact that negativity is increasing in a routine manner causing grave issues family issues caused through distrust. Factually incorrect News headlines with minimum veracity involved like “Boss runs with wedded employee”, “Raped husband kills wife” etc has been increasing clogging as Page 3 columns and newspapers.

Be-positive:
While there is no medicine to cure such illness, but there are better options for preventing it from being acute. The core of the issue of negative news lies in the demand and the supply chain. Self-regulation is a weak word to be issued to restrict the use of negative news, but can be a more effective weapon. The Norms of Journalistic conduct framed by the Press Council of India, 2006 provides a good framework for regulating the use of negative use with the sole purpose of increasing readership by doing more harm to the victimized. The Preamble to the guidelines is clear to avoid any discrepancies of negativity which states “The fundamental objective of journalism is to serve the people with news, views, comments and information on matters of public interest in a fair, accurate, unbiased, sober and decent manner.” Only if the print and visual media unequivocally stand to protect themselves to be the tools for negative news, shall it be effective.
Reviewing and editing of negative news is left to the public especially when it is a free and open field. Educating the readers shall be a mandate of all media, so that the readers themselves can shrug off negative impacts of news. The public shall be given opportunities to rate and rank articles, news and views moderated by a Readers Editor (eg: The Hindu). This will act as a check and balance in negating any attempts to promote sensationalism. The readers and the viewers have the right to be provided accurate and quality news, while the media should act as the agents of change through an impartial and unbiased and open platform. Maintaining quality standards should be the norm and the compliance with it the rule for all media alike. The fact is that only 55-60 percent of the people in India are literate and only 242 million people read newspapers in India (IRS), with a large growth opportunity for the media. There around 80 television news channels catering to the news requirements of the Indian audience spanning from agricultural price to budget for agriculture to latest films of bollywood stars to the number of runs scored by Sachin Tendulkar. It is a necessity that all media as a responsible media provide authentic and accurate news to the Indians to progress and develop.