Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Building Roads .....and destroying Mountains?

We are shocked to see how the Himalayan Range is being impacted by the road improvement going on.

Early this month, we had gone to Gangtok. While the trip was otherwise excellent, we also had the opportunity of driving to Tsomgo (Changu) Lake and observed that the road was being repaired / widened. Appeared to be a good thing but on our return we were stunned to see the destruction this was causing. While widening the roads, the resultant boulders and large stones had to be removed – the easy way adopted was merely to drop them along the side of the mountains causing rivulets of forest destruction along their paths. Several such areas could be seen, a photograph of the largest one we saw is enclosed. The wide scale destruction caused can be easily seen in this photograph; there were several other “streams of destruction. I wonder who is overseeing this.

Impact of road widening - Enroute to Tsomgo (Changu) Lake
The movement of debris appeared to have led to severe environmental degradation with huge risks for landslides. Greater efforts towards environment protection appear essential.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Today is India Ruled? .....or Led?

I thought that when we became a democracy, the British rulers had left our country and we were now independent. Is this not so?

Why is it then, that we find that the media very frequently refers to the ruling party to depict the party in governance in the country or the state? This always raises the question in my mind as to why the term ‘ruling’ is used. Rulers set their own standards where the good of the masses has low priority vis-à-vis their own self interest. The ruler has a superior and subordinate relationship with the common man.

Wikipedia states that a democracy is a form of political organization in which all people, through elected representatives, exercise equal control over the matters which affect their interests. Other definitions of democracy abound – it is a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system. Or it is a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges. The common people are considered as the primary source of political power, and governance is by the common people of the country as distinguished from any privileged class.

Yet one and all would agree that today the politicians are definitely a privileged class of persons in our country – and more importantly, that they have begun to consider this their right. The party in power are our elected representatives, not our rulers. If they represent us, how is it that they have taken upon themselves rights greater than ours? Is the party in power not the party with the responsibility of ensuring the welfare of those who have elected them, those whom they represent? Or do they join politics only to increase their own self-importance?

I would, in place of rulers use two other terms – ‘leaders’ or ‘persons with responsibility’. Leaders show the way forward, have vision, and look to the future. It is incumbent upon the leaders to set practices that can be emulated or followed by the others. They have duties and obligations which are ahead of their self interest; their rights are at par with other citizens. A leader must possess moral courage, pride, self esteem; he or she shows high concern for the task and the people, grit and determination, has credibility and conviction, is respected by all and looked upon with awe.

Today, are our elected representatives a set of people that we look up to? Or a set from whom our expectations go down each succeeding term, whom we suffer with diminishing hope? Ones we look up to with respect for their sterling qualities or with disgust for what they have managed to get away with? With the passage of so many years, the so-called ‘rulers’ have only perpetuated their rights. And, by using this term again and again, we reiterate the concept of a dynasty, of the further representatives coming from their genes and the family they belong to, with merit and ability being given a go-bye. Professional knowledge and competence to handle the job have none, or only an insignificant role to play in today’s politics.

In parliamentary democracies, ‘ruling party’ cannot be the normal term for the party that is in power or government. Let us from now onwards remove the word ‘rulers’ from our lexicon and use the term ‘persons with responsibility’.  Maybe the re-naming will slowly and gradually start developing into action, and the principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community again become meaningful concepts.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The silent heroes of our Horticulture Departments

Today’s newspaper talks of the increase in green cover in Noida. Mayawati has indeed done a commendable job.
Delhi, or rather Central Delhi has always been green – courtesy the Britishers. But the entire credit of maintaining this would, I presume go to NDMC. New Delhi now is beautiful most times of the year with great greenery and wonderfully flowering plants in lovely colours. And then of course one must not forget the continuous line of magnificent trees alongside the avenues. It is a delight driving along these roads.
 Old Delhi however remained congested with narrow lanes and few trees. South Delhi had patches of green, mainly in the government colonies but the “posh”  or the then newer colonies of say Greater Kailash, Green Park, Defence Colony have never kept pace. This is despite the fact that there are parks, jogging areas, playgrounds for children, forest covers etc.; maintenance of these is not comparable to that of New Delhi.
 Amongst the adjoining area of Delhi –Gurgaon, the old city followed the pattern of any other town. The newer part of Gurgaon developed with wider roads and somewhat better in terms of open spaces, but these have not been maintained at all and can hardly be considered beautifully green. On the other hand, Noida has had more open spaces and the drive from the Nizamuddin bridge along Noida link road has always been a cynosure, an opportunity to observe, to appreciate, to enjoy.
Over the years we have been seeing the increasing greenery around us, usually as a consequence of the efforts of the various departments. An occasion where the funds allocated have been utilized fruitfully and very skillfully. This has led, not only a visual treat, but also to increased jobs for the malis (gardeners), fresher air, a better water table, and a greater awareness within us – the common man.
Hats off to the concerned Horticulture Departments.  And thanks, Noida.

Does Probity of the PM and others allow consciously overlooking and doing a wrong act?

Today 4th March 2011, The Times of India mentions the Prime Minister’s reputation for probity (I quote this newspaper because it is one I read, but I am sure many papers and magazines say the same). But this comment brought to my mind the question of what is honesty or rather, what is dishonesty?  Is the mere taking of bribes by way of cash, dishonesty? Or even gifts i.e. something in kind? The key criteria of course would be that one’s behavior pattern or actions are affected because of the receipt of cash or kind.
Going a step further – Is the child’s admission say in a school or college not a bribe? Or the child getting a job even though he or she may not be qualified or suitable for it. Here again there are not that many shades of grey involved, and all would agree that the act is dishonest – though many of us might have actually been in such a situation of either giving or taking these advantages.
But what about one’s own appointment in a position of importance or of power?  What if the appointment or selection, or its continuance thereat is a pre-requisite or a quid-pro-quo to overlooking wrongdoings? Would this be honest, dishonest or fall under shades of grey?
Let us look into matters that today are current. Today’s headline news is on the Supreme Court’s judgment on the appointment of Mr. Thomas as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Without going into the merits of this judgment and what will happen next, several issues came to my mind.
-      The Chief Vigilance Officers Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Personnel,
 Public Grievances and Pensions require that only the names of suitable candidates with proven integrity be offered by various organized services and PSUs for the posts of CVOs. The “proven integrity“clause would have been logical for the position of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner too.

-     CVC has issued instructions from time to time to improve the vigilance administration in the organizations under its purview and to ensure that the posts in the organizations are occupied by persons with exemplary service and clean vigilance track records. The intent of the CVC is clear, at least for other organisations. But apparently these rules do not apply to CVC themselves.
-     DoPT is reported as stating that the responsibility for updating the ER sheets  lay with the State Govt. But the Govt. has a system of calling for the Vigilance report of the candidates, and, in the instant case, both DoPT and the CVC were aware that there was already a court case against Mr. Thomas.
The questions that come to my mind are:
-     Why is the chargesheet /departmental action pending against Mr. Thomas? Why has the sanction for his prosecution not been granted?  Or if there was no real case, why was the file not closed?
-     What was the responsibility of DoPT while putting up the file of Mr. Thomas? Once one member of the selection committee raised the issue of the pending charge-sheet, did it not behove the officials concerned to get the clearance and / or obtain the status of the pending court case? Even if the Committee had cleared the appointment, was the matter not to be re-clarified BEFORE issuing the order of appointment? While it has passed on the buck to the State Govt in the matter of the contents of the file, what did it do after the case was brought to notice in Sept. 2010?
-     The three member committee was a High Powered Committee. The fact of the possible taint of Mr. Thomas came to its knowledge before approving the order, yet both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister preferred to overlook the matter. Why did they at least not ask for a clarification? They have stated that only the bio-data of Mr. Thomas was before them – but why did they not ask for a re-confirmation of the position before rushing through with the appointment? Here it must be remembered that both of them were not mute spectators to this, but active participants who took the decision, so why did they  deliberately ignore certain information.
-     Is probity only the not taking of cash or kind? Is it also not taking or continuing in a position of power? I am sure that both of them are happy in their positions, but can they be considered honest?
-    And what about the “honesty” of the officials of of DoPT, CVC and the State Govt.?