Friday, December 30, 2005

On why Sourav Ganguly's exclusion is not a trivial matter

Apratyaksh: On why Sourav Ganguly's exclusion is not a trivial matter

Picked this up from a link on the prempanix blog, one of the very good blogs on the Ganguly episode and the outburst that followed.
From the blog:
What makes the question of Ganguly's inclusion in the team such an important question is that it asks the bigger question that India has now, inadvertently, been called to answer. It is a choice between past glory and continuous improvement. Between emotion and merit. And India has to answer. If it chooses emotion and past glory and asks for the reinstatement of Ganguly to the team based on the past, India can go back to its unquestioning, uncomplaining life accepting all its problems and cricket as its escape from those problems.

If, instead, it chooses to take a step forward to a system where merit and performance are not optional, it will have to answer even bigger questions. Why doesn't the same apply to every sphere of our life? Why do we accept corrupt politicians and a highly dysfunctional government machinery? When India dismisses the Bengali sentiment running high in Ganguly's favour as blind emotion, it will need to answer why it votes on the basis of language, caste, creed and religion. When it demands to know the credentials of the five selectors who choose the Indian cricket team, why doesn't India ask for the qualifications and the bonafides of its elected representatives who make decisions on its behalf- decisions that affect its daily life.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The swelling `Register of Deaths'

The Hindu : Opinion / News Analysis : The swelling `Register of Deaths'

A Sainath article on the Vidarbha suicides. The article deciphers details of the Rs 1045 crore relief package and reports that it is not had any affect at all and how the package is in reality the money from many other programs and part of which the government owes the farmers anyway.

The Government's response has been to crack down on private moneylenders. Over 500 sahucars have been booked in Vidharbha since the drive against them began a month ago.
In itself a welcome action, it has misfired for two reasons. The banks still do not give loans to farmers. And secondly, the new sahucars, that is, the input dealers and others, are left untouched. With the small village sahucars on the run, there is now no source of credit at all for many.
"None of the real issues have been touched," says Mr. Jawandia. "Not the burning problem of price. Not credit. Not the headache of mounting imports. Nor the damage that BT cotton is doing, pushing so many farmers over the edge. The package is not even about shifting money from one pocket to another. It's about stealing from both pockets. Now, with the changes in the marketing rules, private traders rule the roost. The middlemen have become the top men."

Wonder what it will take the goverments to realize the seriousness of the matter and treat the agriculture sector with the highest priority.

Related to the above news, the AP government has decided to file a case against Monsanto, the Bt Cotton seeds and pesticides supplier. Monsanto is blacklisted and its BT cotton seed banned in AP.

The State Government has decided to file a case against Monsanto Biotech Limited before the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission for collecting an "abnormally high price" from farmers for Bt cottonseed on which it enjoys a monopoly.

Would be also interesting to know how Bt Cotton is doing in Vidarbha in terms of crop yeilds.

Community Radio in India

Narayana Murthy blasts politicians

The above is an report about an address by My. Narayan Murthy at the National Institute of Technology in Bangalore. His main point being the widespread corruption in all walks of life and how it is in the interest of the politicians to maintain status quo by letting people by illiterate, ignorant and uninformed.
An interesting portion regarding the use of radio and government policy about it is:
Giving an example, he said India's private radio stations are only allowed to broadcast entertainment and not news and information programmes. "There is absolutely no good reason for this restriction. Only reason is they (politicians) do not want the poor people to know what's happening in the country."

Murthy pointed out that radio is a low-cost media with the highest penetration in India-- it reaches 27 of every 100 households in the country. It is easily accessible to low-income, illiterate people and can be an important source of knowledge, news and information.

On the related topic of opening up the radio waves in India for community radio a
link from IndiaTogether: Radio policy: untying the knots.
TRAI asked the government to drop the bidding-driven process for setting radio license fees because it was this system that led to the viability crisis. The regulator prefers a system more prevalent elsewhere in India and worldwide - revenue sharing. Under this system, stations will pay the government 4% of their gross revenue every year. Second, the regulator advised the Ministry to review its ban on private stations airing news and current affairs, currently a monopoly with All India Radio. In fact, TRAI stopped just short of asking for an outright removal of the ban.

The Ministry rejected the revenue sharing model, stating that if that were implemented, the government would suffer a decrease in fee collections of over Rs.100 crores. It further argued against revenue sharing saying that it could not be sure it was getting its fair share from the stations because it could not verify the revenues of every radio station.

To TRAI's recommendation to review the ban on news, the Ministry has said the ban will remain. And here too, the 'monitoring' argument made an appearance. The Ministry feels it will be unable to monitor news on local stations and that this constituted a grave security threat.

An ironic point being that the government has given a free hand for other kinds of media (newspapers, TV) and wonder why they are not considered a security threat?---both of them having considerable reach audience.

Community radio according to me is a great tool for local broadcasting, which can be used very effectively to broadcast not only news, but programs concering local issues, educational programs, local announcements etc etc. Hopefully the Broadcasting Ministry will consider the TRAI recommendations open up the airwaves for community radio.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Right to Education Bill

India Together: Legislative Brief: Right to Education Bill - 28 December 2005
The 86th Constitution Amendment Act added Article 21A affirming that every child between the age of 6 and 14 years has the right to free and compulsory education. The Right to Education Bill seeks to give effect to this Amendment.

Many key issues have to be sorted out if the Bill has to be implemented, a few being: budget, curriculum, role of private schools, teacher pool, per-state adherence, admissions and management, handling of minority/rural schools etc etc. The article (linked above) dicusses several highlights of the bill and issues in detail. If the Bill is passed and implemented with earnestness, would be a great step forward for basic education.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Corruption and RTI (Right to Information)

Two recent articles from Indiatogether.

(1) Warming hands to remain undertrials forever
Describes the author's first hand experience of corruption at the local court. He makes two very important points:
(i) the giving and taking bribes is not only bad as it becoming a norm for anything to be done, it is also undermining the rules that we live by. If rules can be subverted by warming hands of what use are they? A related situation is when these rules are arbitarily applied to a few and not applied to others (either through bribes or connections).
(ii) The functioning of the judicial system, where a very common scene is of the judge annoucing a future date for the hearing. The point being, it takes a real long time for each case to be heard and to conduct a trial and the need is for a more efficient process to minimize time before a judgement is passed. Got me thinking on what might be the reasons for this: corruption by the officers to just prolong the proceedings, lack of judicial staff, too many pending cases, dont-care attitude towards prisoners (anyway he is under undertrial let him/her chill in the prison) etc. I think it maybe a mixture of all this and more.

(2) Absurdly low rents, illegal occupation
On a related but slightly different note, this article describes the efforts of the author (Shailesh Gandhi) to get answers about the leases on (State) land deals in Mumbai and the amount of money lost on them due to ridiculously low pricing.
The important thing about the article being how the people are trying to put to use the new national RTI (Right To Information) Law and make the government more accountable. The RTI gives the people the right to ask for information on almost all government procedures and is landmark law in my opinion and has the potential to monitor government activities.
Several other cases related to using RTI are listed at: India Together - RTI in India

Friday, December 23, 2005

Debate won, life lost [Vidarbha Suicides]

Following is another article on the now-many suicide reports from Vidarbha, Maharashtra.
Debate won, life lost :
Initially only a few reporters even wrote about it. P. Sainath had followed the suicide trail for quite some though, through his articles in The Hindu. I read some coverage about it local newspapers too (Sakal). But none of the so called larger print or new media had prominent space for it, while they were busy discussing the lives of celebreties, ideal combination of the India cricket team and why FDI is better for India etc.
I have had a few discussions, with my friends here on the role of media in such situations. There are usually two arguments:
(1) the media delivers what the people wants to read and what sells, in this case sleaze, sensational news etc. The logic also being, it is mutual situation and the media will publish/broadcast what the people want and if they want {\bf real} issues they will have programs on those lines.
(2) the media is more than just a reflection of public interest, but one that has some social obligations and presents the entire spectrum of reality and it is for the people to choose what they wish to read. In the absence of such spectrum of choices, the people dont have a chance to get information about things that they might be interested even if they are.
I am of the opinion that media's role is the latter, where media plays a proactive role to present all matters of potential concern.

The other point regarding the Vidarbha suicides is its marked similarity in pattern with the suicides of farmers in
Andhra Pradesh (2004) and Wayanad Kerala (2005).
The Maharashtra government has announced a debt-relief package of Rs 1075 crore.
The bigger problems to be addressed being the decreasing state support for the agriculture sector, entry of multinationals, farm subsidies resulting in price crashes, increase in cost of inputs, entry of Bt cotton with mixed reponses as regards to its productivity etc. The bigger issue bein, how the state supports the agriculture sector in terms of infrastructure, controlled price inputs, seed security etc.
Unless those are addressed, the cure is for the symptoms and not the disease.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Thoughts on Unions

How often have you said that the Government takes your money? How often have you said that all politicians are a bunch of gold diggers?

I know that I have said this many times. Every time I hear about tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor, every time I hear about government banks writing off huge corporate loans but auctioning off small farm land, every time huge subsidies are announced for an already rich business, I think and say that they are all a bunch of hooligans taking our money.

But when it comes to supporting a movement that has questioned this system of appropriation of public wealth, we don’t do it. “So what if employers are exploiting workers; they are essential service providers, and should not strike! There are better ways of getting justice”. This is an all too typical middle class rhetoric.

What are the other ways of getting justice? If workers don’t come together, and fight back in the only way they can, what else can they do?

Public transit workers have a very important job to do, teachers, doctors all have an important job to do. But does that mean that they are not entitled to a decent life themselves? How fair is it that people should work as hard they can and more, and shouldn’t even complain if they are not paid well?

The poison that has been filled into the minds of the middle class against unions is part of a larger conspiracy. The establishment knows that an organized population is dangerous. But what is sad is that, even workers are disintegrating, buying into the lies of the managements, and are unsupportive of fellow workers. When the agenda of the establishment is so clear, when a movement has been attacked so vehemently, we need to stand in solidarity with our fellow workers. But instead we turn our backs and criticize the people who have the courage to stand up to power.

We have let the propaganda of those in power, the government with its corporate allies, overtake us. We have let them believe that they can rule over us, and do away with us if need be. How else can a President stand in front of the public and say shamelessly that he has committed an impeachable crime, and not regret it?

There is an attack on public movements everywhere in the world right now. Even peace activists and environmental activists can be labeled potential terrorist. The attacks on unions and the attacks on other people’s movements have come down on us simultaneously like a double edged sword. It’s the agenda of this sword to break us, scare us into inaction.

Today, more than ever, we need to stand in unison to fight this sword. We need to support our people who so courageously stand up for their rights. We need to do this for ourselves, so that we can take back that freedom which has been so mercilessly snatched from us.

For Television, Strike Coverage Is a Bonanza

An interesting article on NYT about how the transit workers fight/strike for a contract has increased television coverage and how the TV channels are grabbing the opportunity with both hands.

For Television, Strike Coverage Is a Bonanza - New York Times

In another report, the judge has said that the union chiefs may face jail.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ganguly, Protests and Lok Sabha

A few thoughts related to the non-selection of Ganguly for the third test.

(1) First cricket related, the selectors/coach are walking the talking about a bench strength and an eye on the future. The manner in which they are doing it may be questionable, but no doubt the selection committee is being radical in taking a few decisions which are seldom what they are known for.

(2) Not only did the "common" man protest, but so did the political ministers, the Bengal film personalities etc. The emotion was so high that the speaker admitted a discussion about it (and later said it was regarding Indian sports in general) in the Lok Sabha.
It is saddening to see our ministers reacting to such issues with so much urgency and intent, but ignoring many more pressing and basic issues affecting a huge number of people.

(3) Equally or even more interesting is the fact that a large part of the community feels sad because of this incident (I am not saying they should not), but the question to ask then is: Are we similarly emotionally, vocal and take a stand against other issues affecting our community? How many people are interested in taking a stand for the dam movement, for the anti-Coca Cola movement, or thousands of tribals being displaced as a result of new industries being setup or on national policies. Are we as individuals taking a stand on any of such issues? Forget taking a stand, most of us dont even care to know about these things.

(4) As usual the media also went frenzy with the controversy. But how many of them similar to the us apathetic individuals want to report anything other than the usual sleaze and sensational news items.

As individuals, ministers, film personalities or anybody, I think we can not only get hurt by Ganguly's ouster but also try to atleast get to know the several real and urgent issues affecting our community, country and maybe soon each us directly and do something about them.

NY Transport Workers Union Strike

The New York Transport Workers Union went on strike today and 6300 subway cars and 4600 buses stood idle. The last two TWU strikes happened in 1966 and 1980, each lasting about 11 days. The city filed a case in court, which has fined union $1 million per day and about $1000 per member per day.
Several points of contention between TWA and MTA, one of the points being the $1 billion surplus with MTA which is not reaching the transport workers. The TWU has a strength of 33,700.

Another strike was called in by the New York taxi can drivers in 1998, when 24,000 cab drivers went on strike. The union that organized the strike was the Taxi Works Alliance. Biju Mathew is a member of the Organizing Committee of the New York Taxi Works Alliance and recently released a book titled
Taxi!: Cabs and Capitalism in New York City
. I attended a book reading by Biju Matthew in Amherst and found the anecdotes and his experiences very original and interesting, mostly because he was part of the movement and it reveals the hardships of taxi drivers and their financial instability. He also had several analogies of the city policies and how they were to be implemented and the general topics of globalization and capatilism.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Koushik (Dada) and me participated in "Undercurrents", a radio show aired on WMUA 91.1 FM. We spoke about VSEI, its Amherst activities and education in India.

What was interesting was that producing a radio program did not look very difficult. The bigger deal being obtaning the equipment and the cost associated with it.
Dada and me wondered about why such radio stations are not common in India, something that I have thought about before too and saw a few articles about it on IndiaTogether. A community radio station, something which has non-commercial, non-mainstream, non-entertainment programming can be appealing to the audience (espically rural and working class). I feel if people are told important things like India's foreign policy on trade exports, they will listen with interest. By not airinig such programs, saying that they are too complicated matters etc. the ordinary people are underestimated and robbed of a chance to get important information. This hole can be filled with community based radio stations and has a good potential according to me.

I tried to get some details about working at the radio station and inspite of being a bit late for me to pursue it at UMass, I hope to attempt it seriously before I go. In anycase, the time at the radio station was fun.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bolivian President and WTO

Bolivia President
Evo Morales, to be elected the first indigenous president of Bolivia, the most populous county in Latin America. He belongs to the Movement to Socialism (MAS) party.

WTO deal
A WTO deal has been struck aiming to end agriculture export subsidies by 2013.
Kamal Nath, India's Commerce Minister and representative at the WTO, has
the deal and says India will benefit. While the CPM has rejected these claims.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Five Minutes Past Midnight

Have started reading the book---
"Five past Midnight in Bhopal" by Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro.

Thought about reading it after hearing the show on Democracy Now!, which featured and interview with Diane Wilson. Diane is an environmental activist from Texas and has fought against chemical industries. Diane Wilson has been charged with criminal trespass for hanging a banner at a Dow Chemical/Union Carbide facility that said "Dow - Responsible for Bhopal". She received a six month jail sentence for that, which she is due to serve.
Link to the Democracy Now! discussion.

Of what I have read so far, the book is very interesting. Presents yet another set of realities of life in India and I am sure other developing countries.
Would like to know about the current status of chemical industries in India ... working conditions, health affects, child labor etc ...

Salaam Bombay

Watched the a part of the movie "Salaam Bombay", directed by Mira Nair.
The movie presents yet a very real facet---lives of street children--of Bombay
and also applicable to other large cities in general. (1988)
Great performances by the child actors(most of them really from the streets of Bombay).

Points to ponder:
Very much the reality even today!
Got me thinking ... will research in sensor networks or web caching matter?