Monday, January 30, 2006

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world"

On this day in 1948, Gandhiji was killed ...

Two very apt posts on this:
     Remebering Gandhi

     Pappu meets a brother

... and a link on Epigrams by Gandhiji.
~~~~~~~~~

An interesting new blog: How the Other Half Lives
from the blog description ...
...we are not fundamentally opposed to anyone else’s ideas about how India must develop and progress. What we want to do is to raise the issues that concern us and encourage debate about them, because we think they concern us all.

India's Economy related ...

Why reforms are slow in India

Aspects of India's Economy
Budget 2005-06 and Labour Reforms (Has very interesting analysis and statistics regarding the budget and expenditure in various sectors)

About RUPE (from their website):
The Research Unit for Political Economy (R.U.P.E.), located in Mumbai (Bombay), India, is constituted under the People's Research Trust, which is a registered public trust. The R.U.P.E. runs on voluntary labour and limited finances raised from personal contributions. It is not affiliated to any other body.

The Research Unit for Political Economy is concerned with analysing, at the theoretical and empirical levels, various aspects of the economic life of India and its institutions. It aims to compile, analyse, and present information and statistics so as to enable people to understand the actual mechanics of their every day economic life. And, in this, it aims to take the assistance and insights of people engaged in every sphere of productive work and society.

The R.U.P.E. publishes Aspects of India's Economy, a journal which aims to explain day-to-day issues of Indian economic life in terms that can easily be understood, and to link them with the nature of the country's political economy. Aspects has no fixed periodicity, but about three issues appear a year. Subscriptions are thus for a particular number of issues, not months/years.

Diane Wilson Arrested

Diane Wilson was arrested on Dec. 5th in Houston and is currently serving a 120 day sentence.
Diane was wanted in Texas on Crimial Trespassing charges from 2002, when she had climbed a tower at Dow Chemical to protest the company's continued irresponsibility following its 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, where 150,000 people were poisoned. Diane refused to turn herself in for the trespassing charges until Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide, turned himself in to the Indian government, where he has been wanted for thirteen years for the Culpable Homicide of thousands in Bhopal.

On December 5th, 2005, Wilson returned to Texas to infiltrate a fundraiser in Houston for recently-indicted U.S. Rep. Tom Delay attended by Vice President Dick Cheney. While protestors outside waved placards opposing the Iraq War, Wilson purchased a ticket, entered, and unfurled a banner reading “Corporate Greed Kills—From Bhopal to Baghdad” as Vice President Cheney was speaking. Wilson was removed from the event, arrested, and subsequently transferred to Victoria County jail to serve out her sentence stemming from her earlier protest at the Dow Chemical facility.

Related links: An Unreasonable Woman; Diane Wilson Reports From Texas County Jail

Diane was at UMass about 2-3 months back, to speak about her book. It was great to hear someone speak about their activism and struggles first hand, rather than some one proposing theoritical solutions etc. Also, what was great is that she was a no-one on the coorporate front, meaning not a lawyer, a business woman etc, to lock horns with the chemical companies. She was/is just a shrimp farmer concerned about the pollutants being disposed off by the giant companies and effecting the environment. Goes to show, that anyone can make a difference, as long as they are strong enough in what they believe. One thing in particular that she said during the discussion regarding Gandhi (she has gone on many hunger-strikes): Gandhi did not want people to idolize him and said that anyone could do the things that he was trying to do ... in affect everyone could be a Gandhi.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Sainath on the media's response to the Baba Ramdev-Karat issue and in general it's weak scrutiny and patronizing approach when it comes to Babas, Swamis, etc., The republic and the wayward rationalist

***

The winter in Amherst so far has been very abnormal. Very little regular snow accumulation, regular temperature variations--right from 60 F to sub-zero--- and a couple of times real cold--- around -20 F,in general a mild winter.
Does it have anything to do with this? 2005 Warmest Year in Over a Century

Thursday, January 26, 2006

57th Republic Day of India ...


***

From the address to the nation by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
In order to strengthen this process, scientists, technologists and healthcare specialists have a special role to play.

Mission for Scientists and Technologists: For the scientists and technologists of the nation, I have five immediate national missions: (a). Increasing the Solar Photo Voltaic Cell efficiency from 14% to 45% using nano technology; (b). Research in proteomics to identify the disease causing mechanism and to develop new methods to treat diseases; (c). Earthquake forecasting using multiple parameter pre-cursors such as pre-shock conditions and electromagnetic phenomena, prior to the final rupture; (d). Building a validated mathematical model for predicting the quantum of rain for a particular cloud conditions in a particular region in a prescribed time using the new type of Polarimetric radar and; (e). Developing the products in the healthcare, electronics and materials to meet the national requirements using the convergence of nano, bio and info technologies.

Healthcare:
Health care community should give highest priority for treatment of HIV/AIDS and accelerate the development of effective anti-vaccine for certain types of HIV before 2007, by networking with national and international institutions working in this area. They should integrate research efforts of malaria, typhoid, and diarrhoeal disorders for facilitating development of combination vaccine by 2007. Healthcare personnel, doctors, psychologists, researchers, pharmacologists, economists and environmentalists should all work together coherently towards the mission of providing good health to all citizens of India and make the nation near disease free.

***

Looked up 'republic' in a few dictionaries:
- A state in which the supreme power rests in the people and their elected representatives or officers, as opposed to one governed by a king or similar ruler; a commonwealth. Now also applied loosely to any state which claims this designation.
- Any community of persons, animals, etc., in which there is a certain equality among the members.
- A state or country that is led by people who do not base their political power on any principle beyond the control of the people living in that state or country.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Role of Media!

I visit a good number of news websites daily (almost an essential graduate student duty). Stopped reading 'Times Of India' a long time back, as it appears to have transformed itself into a tabloid avatar. One good aspect of ToI is that like a few other large newspapers it has a local edition for major cities, which in my opinion is a great avenue for local reporting on local issues--- and Pune has 'Pune Times'. About 7 years back when I left Pune, it was almost turning into a tabloid but had some semblance of news on its first and second page. On my last visit about a couple of months back, Ashwin and me looked through a few issues of Pune Times and found no real news article in the entire 4-page newspaper supplement over several days. I looked up today's Pune Times epaper and below are pictures of each page. A great avenue for reporting local issues is being wasted in my opinion. Your comments?
On the flip-side several local and much smaller newspapers (compared to the scale of ToI etc) report relevant and real issues effecting the common man.

(please click to enlarge each page and see if you find any sort of news in it) ... would be glad to hear comments.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Amateur Photography!

Camera Model: E880
Equipment Make: NIKON

A few pictures with varying exposure times:

             1/1000 sec                      1/500 sec                          1/250 sec


             1/125 sec                      1/60 sec                          1/30 sec

Rural Electricity Generation

India Together: Power-play, for the people

A great application of mechanical and electrical engineering principles using cost-effective mechanisms for local power generation.
- Bicycle powered water pump
- Animal driven water pump and water compressor
- Bullock cart doubles up as power generator

Pathak's dissatisfaction with the country's present power policy is evident. He points out that the entire accent of our power policy is on exorbitantly expensive, hopelessly centralised production methods coupled with slogans about saving and vigilance against theft which are never implemented. "Privatisation has made matters worse. If instead, it could place its accent on power production by the people, not only would the per unit cost of power come down dramatically, but the entire power problem would become non-existent in a few years."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Another world is possible

Bechtel Vs Bolivia: The People Win

The Cochabamba water revolt - which began exactly six years ago this month - will end this morning when Bechtel, one of the world's most powerful corporations, formally abandons its legal effort to take $50 million from the Bolivian people. Bechtel made that demand before a secretive trade court operated by the World Bank, the same institution that coerced Bolivia to privatize the water to begin with. Faced with protests, barrages of e-mails, visits to their homes, and years of damaging press, Bechtel executives finally decided to surrender, walking away with a token payment equal to thirty cents.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Sainath talk

Posts on P. Sainath's talk at St. Xavier's College, Bombay on Saturday 14h Jan., 2006.

Vislumbres: P. Sainath on the crisis in rural India

Other worlds are possible: Sainath @ St. Xaviers

Of Nero and a breached dam

the eyes ...


from http://www.stevemccurry.com


comments?

The Clemenceau is a scandal

Two men who worked on board the French warship and now have asbestosis speak out.
The Clemenceau is a scandal
Their patent bad faith stunned me. Well, I did prove it and proved it so well, they dropped their appeal. My case made medico-legal history, set a precedent, created jurisprudence. How could they say there was no proof? I was working in some of the hottest areas of the ship — operating the steam chambers where the temperature of the steam was as high as 300 to 400 degrees Celsius. I also worked on the forward catapults and looked after the heating and the engines. These were the areas that had the most asbestos! So I am not surprised at the attitude of the Navy now. I know the Clemenceau like my pocket and I know it is chock-a-block with asbestos. To suggest, as the French government has done, that only 45 tonnes of the substance is now left on the Clemenceau is simply ludicrous.

Monday, January 16, 2006

French-side of the story!

Should be interesting to see what comes out of this: French peep into shipyard
Based on its report, the French ambassador in Delhi is likely to inform the apex court committee about the suitability of the ship-breaking yard for dismantling the vessel without creating an environmental hazard.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Dr. Martin Luther King's Legacy

Part of a speech by Martin Luther King on war: Dr. Martin Luther King's Legacy

He probably gave this speech in the early 1960's, but still holds true even today.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Food for thought

Today's Hindu editorial on the Central Government's move to cut subsidies to food distribution under PDS (public distribution system) and raise the praise of foodgrains.
The article: Food for thought

Interesting points:
In the late-1990s and the early years of this decade, the number of hungry Indians actually rose. The most modest estimate, by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), is that India's army of hungry grew by 13 million between 1995-97 and 2000-02; this constituted nearly three-fourths of the newly hungry across the world. Other estimates suggest a far bleaker picture.


Since the early 1990s, successive governments have given up billions of rupees in revenue annually in the form of tax breaks for the wealthy. (This has happened even in years filled with calls for `austerity' and `belt-tightening.') Thousands of crores of rupees of public money borrowed by the rich and the powerful have also been written off as `bad debts.' The Government needs to reflect on the wisdom and justice of such a course as it shapes the new budget. How can India afford limitless subsidies and write-offs for those who don't need them, but not the provision of the most basic sustenance for millions of poor people?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

No more just a "bai"

The day may not be too far when you would be required to sign a contract to hire a domestic worker with a minimum wage, paid holidays and better working conditions.
The Maharashtra government has agreed to set up a group in February which will consider a possible workers’ rights legislation. Still a long way to go, but a welcome move to address the long neglected sector of unorganized domestic workers and give them their much-needed rights.

Details in the following DNA article: No more just a 'bai' - Daily News & Analysis

A snipet from it:
These measures are long overdue. India cannot claim to be moving towards becoming a globalised economy if its labour force continues to function in a medieval manner.

Real wages of the professional class have shot up in recent years, but at the bottom of the working ladder, conditions have not changed.

Having said this, the sector being highly unorganized and informal, if something similar to the above happens, its implementation in itself will be very challenging.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Biased or Inaccurate Reporting?

Read two contrasting articles about the killing in Orissa (12 tribals and 1 policeman) at a protest by tribals against a TATA Steel plant construction.

Article 1: 12 killed as tribals, Orissa police clash

Article 2: People's Version Of Kalinganagar Firing

Both the articles are reporting the same incident, but very different conclusions can be drawn by the reader.

From Article 1:
The tribals allegedly started pelting stones at the security personnel. The police tried to disperse them by firing tear-gas shells and rubber bullets but the protestors retaliated with arrows.

They caught hold of Constable Gopa Mohanty and hacked him to death. Then, the police opened fire. Director General of Police Suchit Das said police had to open fire as the situation was getting out of hand.


From Article 2:
On seeing the beginning of the work, approximately 100 tribals gathered, and a four member delegation was formed to go and talk to the district officials present at the spot. People say that the four member delegation went to meet the district administration, and many of the tribals assembled there followed them at a distance. As per the warning given to the administration, many of these people were armed with traditional weapons. When the group of tribals reached the ditch dug to erect the boundary wall, and were about to cross it, they heard the police sound a whistle, and saw a policeman pull a rope. The people say that after this there were large explosions in the ditch and two persons fell down dead. There had been no warning and no indications from the police before this happened.

Simultaneously tear gas, rubber bullet firing and actual firing started. Chaos ensued, with people running helter and skelter. Even the unarmed local policemen panicked at the firing and the explosions, and people say that in this panic one or two policemen fell into the boundary wall ditch and were injured by the tribals in the heat of the moment. On hearing the sound of explosions and firing, more tribals from the nearby settlements rushed to the site and started stone pelting and firing arrows inspite of the continuos firing by the police.


Of the several questions raised about the incident and an enquiry committee etc, am not sure why always the police (in this case 12 platoons, the collector and the SP) are protecting and acting for the big fish (Tata Steel) and never for the affected (who have the most legitmate case either for or against any project).

But that aside, a few questions that come to mind are: what role is media playing in all of this? Are they too siding with the big fish and spew out biased reports? and how as reader, one believe several of the conflicting reports? and whether always an enquiry committee report is what will tell us the true picture?

Double Standards?

A report on IE (French defend toxic ship, got WTO to ban asbestos import) about how the French got all imports of abestos from Canada banned in 1997. From the article:
WTO said that no “safe use” of asbestos was possible even in a developed country like France and the country was right in banning its use, manufacture and trade.

In 1997, France banned all forms of asbestos fibres and products prompting Canada, one of the largest producers and exporters of white asbestos, to go to WTO’s Appellate Authority against what it called a barrier to ‘‘free trade.’’

France won the bitterly contested fight where a wealth of scientific evidence was presented to show why a country cannot permit ‘‘safe, controlled’’ use of asbestos.


Switching back to the aircraft carrier Clemenceau, which has a reported 50 to 500 tonnes of asbestos on it, the liability of its safe handling lies with the contractors in India. Moreover, the French authorities have reportedly not even been transparent about he details of the contents on the ship. On the heels of this comes the most positive move so far by the India authorities.
A Supreme Court Hearing Committee recommended the Supreme court not to allow the ship enter Indian waters, unless several of the conditions are met regarding the exact disclosure of contents abroad the ship. While this is certainly a positive step in making such type of activities more accoutable, we still need more to be done in setting up policies to counter the double standards of "developed" nations.

Mall Mania

Small-town goes mall town

Friday, January 06, 2006

A drop in the ocean

The French aircraft carrier Clemenceau is headed to Alang, Gujarat for getting dismantled at the biggest ship breaking yard and has is generating a lot of controversy. The biggest point of contention being the amount of asbestos on the ship, which has been banned by several countries. Two types of as asbestos exist: blue and white, both are known to be carcinogenic, Clemenceau has blue asbestos and depending on different sources, it has from 50 tonnes to 500 tonnes abroad it.

But this is just a small fraction of the annual asbestos trade in India.
Stalling one ship, letting a sea of asbestos flow in
The above article in IE reports that India imports about 1.5 lakh tonnes of asbestos per year and it is a Rs. 2000 crore industry. More interestingly, the Supreme Court, as early as 1995, indicated asbestos as dangerous and required industries to maintain a record of medical cases relating to it. Further:
Flying in the face of this, the last Budget reduced Customs duty on asbestos to 15% it was 78% in 1995-96.
asbestos is thriving in India. It is a Rs 2000-crore industry with 14 large players and 673 small-scale units. The reason: government policy and violations of apex court regulations.


We not only need a policy, to setup guidelines and ensure their implementation of strict health safety measures at the ship-breaking yards and a policy to send back the hazardous waste to originating countries, but also need to address the question of national policy on asbestos conisdering the SC directives ... else monster aircraft carriers like the Clemenceau will be drops in the ocean of asbestos.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Privatization of the Health Sector

The health of nations: seeking a way forward [The Hindu : Opinion]

An article in Hindu by P.Sainath about the state of the health sector and its privatization. There is a lot of noise to privatize the section when there is very little to privatize anyway!
One misguided notion is that great changes in rural health can be brought about "without substantial increases in public fund allocations." All it needs is that mantra, "public-private partnerships." Odd, since there is very little that is public left in the sphere of health care. Since public spending is a mere 0.9 per cent of GDP. Down there with the worst levels in the world.


Out of curiosity I checked the Union budget for the last 10 years, which is online at (http://indiabudget.nic.in/). I tallied the total expdenture per year in three sectors: health, agriculture and defence and following are the graphs for them. While the percentage expenditure on defence has grown with an increase in yearly expenditure, that of the health and the agriculture sector has remained more or less constant.

Was not able to get health sector data for the year 1996-1997 so reported as zero.



Note: I have plotted the Total Expenditure Budget numbers, which might not capture the total amount spent in each sector and hence Sainath reported 0.9% of GDP on health, whereas the number reported below is closed to 0.8 percent.

But nevertheless, the plots give a clear indication of trend and scale of investment in terms of total annual expenditure in each of the sectors. Instead of privatizing the 0.8-0.9% expenditure on health and agriculture, if we decrease 1% out of the massive 17% defence spending and we would double the expenditure in the much required health or agriculture sector.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Sting Journalism

Stop sting journalism, now! [Arvind Lavakare on Rediff]

An article looking at an important other side of sting journalism. While sting journalism certainly is great to expose scandals/frauds/corrupt officials, it has also has the potential to be used negatively in several cases. Sting journalism as I understand it cannot be used as evidence in the court of law as it is part of the scandal/fraud/corruption it is trying to expose. Certainly, the several recent operations have forced several parties and organization to take action by suspending officials and starting enquiry panels etc. All is well till, these operations are being used in the so called "positive" sense, but they are so close to misuse that they have the very real possibility of being used in other cases. As cited, in the article, the USA and a few organizations have banned sting operations or they need to be authorized.
Cannot compare this directly with the scenario in India, where corruption is punishable but escaping it is probably easier than that. Also, the government departments should be keeping an eye on these deals etc. are themeselves probably deeply involved the shady dealings. So, while the government should be accountable fot all its dealings, it probably has not done much to be transparent and open about it.
But recent developments, like passing of the RTI (Right To Information) Law are postive indications towards providing information about all government paper work to the people. Such a tool has the potential to be effectively and legally used to account for mishandlings and accountability. Hopefully, one day the officials will do there part and not get stung!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Movies of Color

Watched a "Movies of Color, Black Southern Cinema", a documentary on Independent African-American film making. Many independent African-American film makers from 1920s to 1950s made several movies and implicitly or explicitly potrayed several social issues like: segregration, the lure of larger cities, religion, social values etc. These movies may not have been the best technologically, but certainly looks like they do a pretty good in using the film media to showcase social and other important issues of that time.
Got me thinking, that how much of Indian film-making (Hindi/Marathi/Hinglish, since I have only these movies) try to showcase any of the social issues or realities of people. Most of them fall in the entertainment category, which is fine, but has very little connection with any reality! There was time, not too long till about 10-15 years ago, Marathi cinema had quite a number of films depicting several close-to-reality movies. Media---films, newspapers, radio---have entertainment as their mass appeal, but arent they also opportunities to potray and reach a large audience about the realities that exist?

Another related thought was on the other documentary I wateched, "When we were Kings", documenting the "Rumble in the Jungle" boxing match between Mohammad Ali and George Freeman. The documentary has the fight for about 5 minutes, but does a great job of building the background and offers a peak in Ali's life.
Ali had lost his heavy-weight total has he had refused the draft during the Vietnam war and put in jail. What was interesting that he merged his boxing fame with politics and took a stand and had to pay for it.
Comparing that with today's scenario, how many of our "heroes" make any kind of stand on any kind of issue. All we see is them sporting various kinds of brands in advertisments---I agree it is a very individual choice and am not suggesting that they "should" be doing things for soical causes---but do none of our "heroes" care about any social aspects? or is that the social issues are just not that "big" anymore?
Am wondering what it would be if Aamir Khan read articles about anti-Coke movements across the country and decided to stop advertising for them or went to any of these many places and found that Coke was giving out waste as fertilizer, would he take an anti-Coke stand? or Sachin Tendulkar takes stand against the state goverment apathy towards the farmer suicides in Vidarbha? What would happen then ...

Sunday, January 01, 2006

... remembering all who died in 2005 in man-made and natural disasters,
hoping 2006 will bring joy and peace to all ...