Archive for February, 2006

Delhi Govt Tourism Agency in Liquor Business!

February 28, 2006

Did you know that the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC) is actively engaged in the liquor trade, with over half its employees working in said line of business? You don’t believe me? Go ahead and click on the link to the department’s home page. Right at the bottom of the home page is an “Application Form (Liquor Shops)” link in no small print! The header of the application form states that it is an “Application form for hiring of premises for IMFL/Beer/Country Liquor shop (free of Cost)“. (Bolded by Right Indian)

Yeah, my eyes popped out when I saw the “free of Cost” phrase I interpreted it to mean that the esteemed tourism department is serving free liquor to Delhi tourists at some special premises. Perusing the application form in more detail shed no additional light on what it means, although it did become clear that there is no free serving of liquor! But I digress.

This interesting fact was brought to my notice by the chapter on Department of Tourism in the Delhi Citizen Handbook 2003 published by the Centre for Civil Society (of India). From the chapter:

DTTDC runs 38 country liquor and 93 Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) vends in Delhi. Of the 1,035 employees in the Corporation, 550 work in these vends. In 2002-03, it made a profit of Rs 2.5 crore from country liquor sales (this amount was spent on building flyovers) and Rs 6 crore from IMFL sales.

Apparently, the latest (second) edition of the handbook has more of such interesting information. From a Rediff.com guest column by Sunil Jain:

Spending Rs 228,381 to hire a graduate!

February 27, 2006

Rs 228,381 a job?  No, that’s not the starting salary of a graduate these days, it’s the cost of placement for a graduate- over the last five years, the Delhi government spent Rs 20.6 crore (Rs 206 million) to get 902 people jobs out of a total of 539,734 registered at 20 employment exchanges across the capital, at Rs 2,28,381 a piece.

This, among a host of others, is a finding from Parth J Shah’s Centre for Civil Society’s second Delhi Citizen Handbook, a primer on various departments in the capital’s government, what they’re supposed to deliver and what they actually do.

The CCS, for those not familiar with it, is run on a shoestring budget out of a modest flat in Hauz Khas in south Delhi, and the studies are done by kids in, or just about out of, college – the team for the second handbook was primarily from the Rai Foundation’s College of Media and Communications in New Delhi.

The first Delhi handbook revealed facts that few Delhiites were familiar with, and this one does the same.

It would be a great idea to publish the book on the Internet. I went looking for the book on the Net, after reading the Rediff.com column, and came across the CCS’s website (very busy homepage with too much information, badly needs a redesign!) and the webpage of the Delhi Citizen Handbook 2003 (first edition). The site has the first edition’s table of contents, summary of chapters and a few full chapters. There is no mention of the new edition, that I could find easily. I wish I could see more up-to-date information and a better presentation.

As per the Rediff.com column, CCS has published a similar handbook on Jharkhand state. This is a great idea. I hope to see such publication on all states in India (with more and better web publishing, of course). This is an excellent example of responsible activism by independent citizens. Of course, this is something the journalistic media should be doing on a daily basis. But let us not expect too much from them!

Tailpiece: CCS has a frequently-updated blog called Spontaneous Order. It has a lot of interesting and relevant information about Indian current affairs. Worth a look! My only compaint about the blog is that it does not have a web feed I can subscribe to!

Advertisements

Guy Kawasaki on “Bozo Explosion”

February 27, 2006

Guy Kawasaki has posted an interesting blog on how to identify and prevent a “Bozo Explosion”. Here’s how he defines a Bozo Explosion:

It’s depressing to watch a mean, lean, fighting machine of a company deteriorate into mediocracy. In Silicon Valley we call this process the “bozo explosion.” This downward slide seems inevitable after a company achieves success–often during the years immediately following an IPO. The purpose of this article is to prevent, or at least postpone, this process in your company.

I found no. 5 in the top ten signs of “bozosity” to be intriguing and interesting:

5. Your parking lot’s “biorhythm” looks like this:

  • 8:00 am – 10:00 am–Japanese cars exceed German cars
  • 10:00 am – 5:00 pm–German cars exceed Japanese cars
  • 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm–Japanese cars exceed German cars

You can figure that one out if you have worked in the US! 🙂

Saudi refinery attack: Warning to India

February 25, 2006

The Financial Times reported today that Oil prices jump as bombers strike at Saudi refinery:

Saudi Arabia’s oil industry on Friday came close to the most serious terrorist attack in its history when suicide bombers targeted the Abqaiq processing plant, the world’s biggest oil producer.

The attack did not interrupt exports but oil prices jumped amid fears that terrorists were planning a new offensive in their fight against the industry.

Fadel Gheit, analyst at Oppenheimer and Company, said: “This is the nerve centre of the world’s oil trade. Damaging the facility…would be unleashing a hurricane that engulfs the world. Within days all governments would step in to curtail consumption in a co-ordinated effort.” (Bolding by Right Indian)

West Texas Intermediate on the New York Mercantile Exchange, for April, jumped $2.37 a barrel to $62.91, while London Brent rose $2.06 to $62.60 a barrel. The Abqaiq facility processes two-thirds of the kingdom’s output of 9.5m barrels of oil a day and is a critical artery for exports that supply more than 10 per cent of the world’s needs.

The bolded lines above are particularly disturbing. They are most illustrative of just how much the world economy is dependent on oil from the Mid-East.

The Abqaiq oil facility is reportedly the world’s biggest oil processing plant. It has also been described as a “spectacular target” in a Reuters report:

Former Middle East CIA field officer Robert Baer has described Abqaiq as “the most vulnerable point and most spectacular target in the Saudi oil system.”

But Aramco says it has the tightest security at all its oil plants, including helicopters, cameras, motion detectors and thousands of armed guards.

“The security measures at the oil facilities are better than those at the royal palaces,” said al Qaeda expert Fares bin Houzam.

Despite such tight security, The Financial Times reports:

at least one of the cars got through the first security perimeter, leaving it just one mile from the huge facility before it exploded under heavy gunfire from the guards.

This incident must sound a big warning to India, which is determined to tie itself up with the gas pipe-line project to transport gas from Iran to India, via the never-trustworthy Pakistan! If damaging an important Saudi oil refinery “would be unleashing a hurricane that would engulf the world”, imagine how India’s economy would suffer when it becomes dependent on the gas from Iran, and the pipe-line via Pakistan is damaged, destroyed or hijacked by terrorists! Yes, the question is of when, and not if, the pipe-line will be targetted by terrorists. After all, thousands of miles long pipe-line cannot be as well secured as the Saudi refinery, and there is not much love for India and her well-being in Pakistan and its terrorists.

Now, what part of this very valid security concern is hard to understand? Yet, officials and ministers of the Indian government almost never talk about this concern in public. They seem to be too keen to confirm, endorse and push forward this ill-fated project as reported in The Hindu:

India committed to Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline: PM

New Delhi, Feb. 17 (PTI): Sending a strong message of commitment to the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is believed to have favoured the three nations building the over 7 billion dollar pipeline together.

Singh, who spelled India’s commitment to the 2,100-km-long pipeline in a statement to the Parliament, cancelled prior appointments for meeting the visiting Pakistani Oil Minister Amanullah Khan Jadoon, and termed the project as “pipeline for peace, progres (sic) and friendship” of the three nations, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, told reporters here.

Yeah, yeah! Indian ministers never lose an opportunity to shout slogans of “peace and friendship” when it comes to matters involving Pakistan. What does Pakistan get in exchange for its peace and friendship? Hard cash! M Ziauddin, editor of the Pakistani daily Dawn is quoted in a BBC report dated June 7th, 2005:

Mr Ziauddin believes that the pipeline from Iran will not only provide the much needed boost to the Indian economy but it will also become a source of revenue for Pakistan.

“If without investing much Pakistan can start getting $500m-$600m in annual revenue because of the pipeline, there is nothing like it for Pakistan. It will hugely benefit the economy and resolve the energy crisis also.”

How committed will Pakistan be to a peace and friendship it offers “without investing much”? Even if the Pakistani government is committed, what about the terrorists who operate from its territory? Will they hesitate from damaging / destroying / hijacking the gas pipe-line, if that causes the Indian economy to suffer? What part of the $500-$600 millions revenues from the pipe-line, will Pakistan use to fund anti-India terrorist activities?

These are questions the Indian government and leaders never seem ask, let alone try to get the answers for. Meanwhile, the warning from the Saudi oil refinery attack will go unheeded in India!

Religion and the Value of life

February 24, 2006

Rajeev Srinivasan, the Rediff.com columnist, often talks about how Hindu life is devalued in India (and elsewhere). If there were any doubts about that, they should be laid to rest by this Reuters report of thousands of Kashmiris protesting youth killings:

Kashmir Youth Killed

Kashmiris gather around the bodies of nine-year-old Aamir Akbar (front) and eight-year-old Shakir Ahmad (rear). (Pic from the Reuters report).

Thousands of people in Indian Kashmir staged protests against the army on Thursday, a day after four youths were killed in a shooting incident, police and witnesses said.

Police on Wednesday said the four, aged between 8 and 18, were killed when gunmen and soldiers exchanged fire in Doodipora village, near Handwara town, 80 km (50 miles) north of Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state.

But protesters and villagers blamed the army for the killings.

The Indian army denied it was to blame, and said militants were responsible for the killings, which it says happened during a search operation for rebel fighters.

A separatist insurgency has raged in the region since 1989, killing tens of thousands of people.

An army statement said that two of the dead, who it added were both aged 20, were targeted by militants.

“Terrorists specifically targeted Samad Mir, a known worker of (militant group) Lashkar-e-Taiba … along with Shaikh Alam presuming that these two would provide information to the army about the location of the hiding terrorists,” an army statement said.

I don’t intend to disrespect the deaths of these kids. But, how many Hindu kids have been killed by terrorists in Kashmir since 1989? Have we seen anyone in Kashmir protest against that? Utter a word against that?

Murdered deer gets justice; murdered humans are denied

February 24, 2006

This month in India, we witnessed a curious spectacle of a murdered deer getting some justice (however minor), while a murdered human being was denied the same!

In Oct 1998, actor Salman Khan and a few others were arrested for poaching an endangered species of black bucks in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. It took seven-and-half years for the Indian judicial system to sentence him as reported in Radio Sargam:

SALMAN SENTENCED FOR ONE YEAR
Poaching case about to conclude  

Bollywood actor Salman Khan was sentenced to one year imprisonment and fined Rs 5,000 by Jodhpur court in Black Buck Case. Seven other accused in the case including actors Saif Ali Khan, Satish Shah, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam Kothari were acquitted in the case by Chief Judicial Magistrate B K Jain.

Salman was charged with hunting chinkaras – a deer species, during the night of September 26-27, 1998 when he was in Jodhpur for the shooting of filmmaker Sooraj Barjatya’s ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’. He and his co-stars of the film were booked by the Rajasthan Forest Department on charges of poaching of endangered animals.

40-year-old Salman was present when the judgment was pronounced in the packed court room. He was convicted under the Wildlife Protection Act. The sentence will come into effect after one month. The court suspended the sentence for a month on a petition filed by Salman’s counsel Hasitmal Sarswat to enable him to move the sessions court for an appeal.

So, although he is sentenced, justice is not entirely served. The culprit (he can be called that, for he has been sentenced) is given an opportunity to play the system and keep on stalling, as he has done for over seven years.

Apparently, this is not the only case in which Salman Khan has been hoodwinking justice. The same Radio Sargam article says:

It (Right Indian: the black buck case) was one of the four cases filed against the actor for poaching endangered animals.

The next hearing in another Ghoda farmhouse (Jodhpur district) poaching case would take place on February 27 in the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court here during which the defence council would argue. The third case of chinkara poaching under the Wildlife Protection Act and Arms Act is pending with the District Munsif and Judicial Magistrate court for which the next hearing is slated for February 20, according to the public prosecutor.

Meanwhile, Ravindra Patil, an eyewitness in the hit-and-run case (another one involving Salman Khan) failed to turn up on Thursday in the trial court, Mumbai, which deferred the matter to March two for further hearing. The court has taken a serious view of the absence of the witness and warned him to appear at the next hearing. In this case Salman Khan is charged with killing a person and injuring four by ramming his car into a bakery in suburban Bandra on September 28, 2002.

Three-and-half years after killing a human, Salman Khan lives a normal life, being free to go anywhere and enjoy life however he chooses. And then, he gets to escape trial because one eyewitness did not turn up! Incidentally, the only eye witness in the black buck poaching case, the driver of the vehicle used in the hunt, has been absconding for over two years. What are the chances of the witness in the hit-and-run case heeding the court’s “serious view” and turning up?

Jessica LalJessica Lal, publicly shot and murdered in a crowded restaurant, at point-blank range! (Click on the pic to view in bigger size).

Meanwhile, hostile witnesses enabled the nine accused in the famous Jessica Lal murder case of April 1999, to go scot-free. The Times of India reports about Justice on Trial:

The acquittal of all the nine accused in the Jessica Lal murder case is an extraordinary miscarriage of justice. If the police can’t nail a killer who shot his victim at point-blank range before several eyewitnesses, there is a serious need for a rethink on our investigative and judicial apparatus.

The case against the prime accused Manu Sharma, son of a Haryana minister for shooting Jessica on April 29, 1999 collapsed on three grounds.

First, three key eyewitnesses turned hostile;second, while the prosecution maintained that two bullets found at the murder site were fired from a single weapon, the state’s forensic agency said the bullets were fired from different weapons; and finally, the murder weapon was never recovered.

The case is a telling comment on investigating skills of the police. By depending heavily on eyewitness accounts, the police failed to marshal other forensic evidence to back their case.

The mismatch between police claims and forensic evidence points to sheer inefficiency or tampering of evidence, both of which are serious lapses.

Another reason for failure to prosecute is the inordinate delay between the crime and delivery of justice. The verdict in Jessica Lal’s case took nearly seven years.

The long gap means there is that much more scope to mess around with evidence and to exert pressure on eyewitnesses. The Jessica Lal case is an abortion of justice. If steps are not taken to remedy this situation, the nation’s police and courts will have little credibility.

Even without considering Jessica Lal’s murder case, do the “nation’s police and courts” have any credibility at all? Indira Jaising, “a distinguished Supreme Court lawyer”, frankly admits to the Indian legal system lacking credibility when she writes the following in Rediff.com guest column:

This was not a hit and run case, or a case where the killers were anonymous or unknown. This was not a riot situation where murders are committed by faceless people. This was murder at close range, in a crowded restaurant, where everyone knew everyone else.

One of the main problems of criminal trials — that is proving the identity of the accused — could not have been an issue at all. Indeed the accused were from among the rich and powerful elite of the country. And that is where the problems of the legal system begin.

A Supreme Court lawyer admits that “the rich and the powerful elite of the country” are a problem to the legal system! The rest of Indira Jaising’s column is equally damning of the police and the courts:

The acquittal illustrates all that ails the criminal justice system, not only for Jessica Lal but for many others. There can be no doubt that the police did not do a proper investigation. Not to recover the murder weapon is asking for trouble. Then, the forensic report does not support the theory that only one weapon was used.

Our institutions have such low credibility that it is difficult to come to any conclusion if the reports are manipulated.

If they were not manipulated, and if indeed the shots were fired from two different weapons, then that is a huge failure of investigation for which the police must take full responsibility.

But let us look at the more devastating aspects of the case — witnesses turning hostile. This is now the preferred method of seeking acquittals for the rich and the powerful. Turning hostile, basically means buying silence. Silence can be bought for many reasons, for a price, or for fear of reprisals.

When the accused are powerful, it could be a combination of both.

But the question still remains — was there no other outcome possible? What ails the legal system, when times without number, it comes up with acquittals, especially when the accused are powerful?

Strangely enough, Jessica Lal’s sister hit the nail on the head when she said that there is too much reliance on eyewitness evidence in our system and not enough reliance on circumstantial evidence.

Methods of crime investigation have not improved; indeed there is no desire to investigate in a scientific manner. Witnesses will and do turn hostile. But investigations must proceed independently of eyewitnesses to draw conclusions based on a chain of circumstances that led only to one conclusion.

A very major question that begs an answer is why was Manu Sharma (Right Indian: the main person accused of shooting Jessica Lal, son of former Union minister Vinod Sharma) granted bail? This is what enables witnesses to turn hostile, the opportunity provided to the accused to access witnesses.

There is no witness protection programme in the country. A law commission report gathers dust. Petitions files in the Supreme Court over the Gujarat killings asking for witness protection programmes also gather dust. There is a lethargy over the questions, a dangerous lethargy which will cause people to settle their scores outside court.

This is not just an imaginary scenario. It has happened in Nagpur, when women walked into a courtroom and killed a person accused of rape inside the courtroom out of anger, knowing that he would be let off, yet again, by the police and the courts.

Street justice seems to be the swiftest and most effective method. Imagine what you would do if you were Jessica Lal’s parent, sibling, lover or friend, and you had to see her killer and those who protected him walk away, just because they are rich and powerful!

51-Crore-Rupee Business & the Hindu time bomb

February 23, 2006

Contract killing is now a Rs 51 crores per deal public business in India! Two such contracts have been publicly announced just this month!

The Indian Express reports that a minister from the Uttar Pradesh state has announced Rs 51-crore reward for Danish cartoonist’s head:

The Minister for Minority Welfare and Haj in the Mulayam Singh Yadav government, Haji Yaqoob Qureishi, has announced a cash reward of Rs 51 crore for anyone who beheads the Danish cartoonist who caricatured Prophet Mohammad.

Even in a country like India whose politicians are revealed to be scoundrels on a regular basis, such a public call by a minister for the killing of someone is shocking! What is more shocking is the reaction of the government as reported in the same article:

While the state government has defended the Minister’s remark as the “voice of someone whose religious sentiments have been hurt,” a senior member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has slammed it calling the reward “anti-Islamic and anti-humanity.”

When contacted, UP Principal Secretary, Home, Alok Sinha told The Indian Express: “The minister’s reaction was the voice of someone whose religious sentiments have been hurt. Moreover, since the reference was to a person who is far off, there is no question of an FIR being lodged against the minister.”

That is indeed dangerous and irresponsible behavior on the part of the government! Meanwhile, the minister-in-the-limelight justifies himself as follows:

Speaking to The Indian Express, Qureishi defended his announcement saying it was a “concerted decision” and the killing of a person who blasphemed Islam was “justified.”

What else does the man support and promote that is mentioned in the Quran? What is the bet that the man also thinks the acts of Islamic terrorists across the world, and particularly in India, are justified? What is the bet that the man would enthusiastically support the activities of such terrorists? Given a choice between supporting the well-being of India and supporting the cause of Islamic terrorists, what would this man choose? And he is a minister in a state government of India!

Surprisingly, in this case, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board does not seem to be supporting this “justified” Ismalic call:

However, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board member and Naib Imam of Aishbagh Idgah, Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali, criticised the Minister’s call for the killing of the cartoonist.

“The Minister’s statement is anti-Shariat, anti-Islam and anti-humanity,” Mahali said. “The western media is already up against Islam, the minister’s statement will only add fuel to the fire.” The Prophet believed in pardoning others for “sins committed by them,” the Maulana said, “Who are we to issue such irresponsible statements?”

Glad to see the AIMPLB showing some maturity. However, it does not appear that everyone is so mature. Rediff.com reports that the Hindu Law Board offers Rs 51 cr for killing M F Hussain:

The Hindu Personal Law Board on Wednesday announced a Rs 51 crore reward for eliminating artist M F Hussain. Meanwhile, a Congress minority cell leader offered Rs 11 lakh to any ‘patriot’ to chop off the painter’s hands for hurting Hindu sentiments.

“Anyone who kills Hussain for making obscene paintings of goddess Sarswati and Bharat Mata, the Danish cartoonist, those in the German company printing pictures of Ram and Krishna on tissue paper and the French filmmaker desecrating Lord Shiva will be given Rs 51 crore in cash,” Ashok Pandey, board president, said in a statement in Lucknow.

The first question that came to my mind was, “What the hell is this Hindu Personal Law Board”? I had never heard of such a board, and I am sure that is true of almost all Hindus, the world over. So, I searched Googled and came up with this Deccan Herald report from Sept 22, 2005, about the setup of the Hindu Personal Law Board:

A Hindu Personal Law Board was constituted over the weekend to mixed reactions. Set up by a group of Hindu lawyers led by Ashok Pandey, the board is to work towards the protection of the symbols of the Hindu rashtra.

What has been christened the Hindu Personal Law Board, proposes to set up 500 courts, on the line of the Sharaiat Courts known as Darul Qaza, first in UP and then throughout the country to resolve disputes among Hindus. The target is 5 lakh courts in the next five years.

Although cagey about the number of lawyers who are with him, Pandey is emphatic that the board will evolve to acquire a status similar to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

This is a classic case-study in public reactions. A Hindu law board is setup as a reaction to a Muslim law board. A Muslim call to kill a Danish cartoonist, who offended Muslim sentiments, results in a reactionary Hindu call to kill a Muslim artist, who has offended Hindu sentiments on many occasions. What next?

The leaders of the Muslim community and the leaders of the state governments and the national government in India, especially those who insist on pandering to Muslim vote-banks, should be asking themselves this “what next?” question. In these days of fast and far-reaching media and communications, they can’t expect to get away with anything, without there being reactions. Their actions and their absurdities are noticed and reported. Despite the Indian English language media being largely sympathetic and partial to them, news does spread. And the Hindu reaction is like a time bomb just waiting for the right trigger. Unfortunately, neither the Muslim leaders nor the governments seem to be wise enough to understand this.

When the Hindu time bomb bursts, there will be no point blaming the Hindus. After all, hasn’t it been demonstrated by the Prophet Mohammed cartoons controversy that the media and the governments all over the world show respect and consideration to the sentiments of only those who resort to street violence? It has been shown that violent tantrums produce the desired results. So, we can expect more of the same.

An Appeal to Google Books for Sanskrit Literature

February 20, 2006

Google Books has set its sights on India. Rediff.com reports that Google woos Indian publishers:

Google has turned on the charm at the book fair in Delhi. “Books are written to be discovered, and that’s the challenge we’re helping publishers solve with Google Book Search,” gushes Gautam Anand, strategic partner development manager, Google Inc; “it’s a great discovery tool.”

And, get this: Hindi books are to be digitised too, as part of Google’s brand mission to “organise all the world’s information and make it universally accessible”.

In this context, I have an earnest appeal to Google: Make all known Sanskrit literature available online.

There is an immense treasure trove of ancient wisdom available in Sanskrit covering almost all important topics of human interest including spirituality, health, fiction, poetry, mythology, astrology, statecraft, sexuality, etc. So far, this invaluable treasure has been accessible only to a very small minority of Indians and non-Indians. It would be of immense benefit to the whole world, if this could be digitized and made available online to anyone, anywhere with Internet access.

For a long time now, I have dreamt of an online Sanskrit repository with the following features:

  1. Digital copy of all available Sanskrit texts in the original Devanagari script.
  2. English translations of the Sanskrit texts by respected and authoritative scholars. Where possible, multiple translations by different scholars, multiple languages, word-for-word translations.
  3. A special “comment” section where users and readers can record their own interpretations and commentaries on specific portions of the above texts.

I lack the time and resources to make such a repository possible. However, this is something that Google can achieve quite easily. Google has the resources. Google has the reach. I request Google to help create a repository like the one I have described above.

An immense volume of ancient information is locked in old Sanskrit texts, many of which are in rare or unavailable print editions. There are countless people all over the world who are interested in this information, but it is not easily available to them. Printed copies of the books are only available from specialized publishing houses, in specific stores. The few online resources are very inadequate and unreliable. Some of these ancient texts are in danger of being lost forever because publishers are not reprinting them. Organizing and making this invaluable wisdom universally accessible would be a special jewel, shining in Google’s crown forever. If this is not done, Google would have missed an important step in its mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.

I am sending a copy of the above appeal to Google Books. If you, dear reader, see value in an online repository of Sanskrit texts like the one I have described above, please send an email to books-feedback@google.com. Be sure to refer to this blog post in your email so that Google knows we are talking about the same thing. Hopefully, we will see this become a reality soon.

Update on Feb 28th, 2006: After I emailed Google Books, I got an automated email acknowledgement immediately. The next day, I received the following email. The contents of the email are rather generic, even if it was sent by a human. Here it is for what it is worth:

From: Google Book Search Support (books-feedback@google.com)
Sent: Tuesday, February 21, 2006 3:11 PM
To: Right Indian
Subject: Re: [#47394347] An Appeal to Google Books for Sanskrit Literature
Hello,

Thank you for your email.

We appreciate your taking the time to offer us this feedback and encourage you to continue to let us know how we can improve Google Book Search. As this is still a young program, new features are under consideration and your feedback is very helpful.

Sincerely,

The Google Book Search Team

—————-
To access the Google Books Partner Program home page or to log in to your account, please visit: https://books.google.com/partner

Original Message Follows:
————————
From: Right Indian
Subject: An Appeal to Google Books for Sanskrit Literature
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2006 11:58:17 -0800 (PST)

Hello,
  
  I have an earnest appeal to Google Books: Make all known Sanskrit literature available online…

Compulsory marriage registration – Is Supreme Court being the law-breaker?

February 17, 2006

The Times of India reports that the Supreme Court makes marriage registration compulsory:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that all marriages, irrespective of their religion, be compulsorily registered and directed the Centre and state governments to frame and notify rules for this within three months.

Writing the judgment for the Bench in a matter that was an offshoot of a matrimonial case, Justice Pasayat directed the Centre and the state governments to incorporate “consequences of non-registration of marriages” in the rules, which should be formalised after inviting public response and considering them.

The court said the rules so framed would continue to operate till the respective governments framed proper legislations for compulsory registration of marriages.

Giving no room for appeasement or dilution of the objective to be achieved through such legislations, Justice Pasayat said all new laws to be framed by the governments have to be placed for scrutiny before the apex court.

Now, wait a minute! Is this possible? Can the Supreme Court (SC) do something like this? All I can remember from my basic Civics classes in school was that the Judiciary’s function was to ensure legal compliance. What is happening here is beyond simple compliance assurance. The SC appears to be laying down the law. Isn’t that the job of the Legislative (and perhaps also the Executive) branch of the government?

Judging by the above report, the SC seems to be quite powerful. It directs the state and central governments to frame rules, gives a deadline of three months and even asks the government to incorporate “consequences of non-registration of marriage” (in effect, making non-registration a punishable offence)! Is it power or is it naivete of the SC that makes it expect all state governments and the central government to come up with the rules in three months, including specific punishments!

Worse, the SC itself directs the governments to make such rules operable before they could be properly framed into laws. What the heck does this mean? Any government can come up with arbitrary rules and enforce them before they can be properly tabled, discussed and voted into laws in the national Parliament and/or state legislative assemblies? The SC encourages governments to act in such less-than-legal ways?

On top of all this, the SC also takes on the role of the reviewer of the law, asking the government to submit the laws to the court’s scrutiny. Does the SC review all the legislations which are passed into laws? If yes, this was another important function of the judiciary which was either not taught in my school Civics lessons or I was not paying enough attention!

What is the role of the citizens of the country in all this? Isn’t Democracy supposed to be the rule “of the people, by the people, for the people”? Shouldn’t the people (or their elected representative) be the ones to initiate such a far-reaching law which would affect almost every citizen of the country? Is the Supreme Court’s directive legally kosher?

Tricky legal questions, eh? Actually the legal questions are the easy part of this whole issue. The implementation of such a law will be the worse nightmare!

Even in today’s India, most transactions involving the government offices are some of the worst experiences a person can go through. The rules and the process are never clear. The officials and the clerks use this lack of clarity to their maximum advantage. They treat the general public with scant respect and act as if they are lords doing a special favor for you. Things never happen on time. Corruption is rampant. You have to pay bribes to get anything done. It is far too easy to imagine the following scenarios:

  1. Expect the whole process to be complex and hard to understand in its original legislated form. Expect the implementation of the process in the marriage bureau offices country to be even more complex and inconsistent. Expect the clerks, officers, various middle-men, agents and touts to take full advantage of this.
  2. Expect to have a bunch of additional paperwork, apart from filling the marriage application form. You will have to submit your proof of identity, proof of age, proof of residence, may be even proof of gender in original notarized certificates as well as triple notarized copies.
  3. Extra expenses in the form of official government fees plus bribes to the peon at the office door, the clerk who processes your marriage application, the officer who facilitates your marriage registration (assuming he is different from the clerk).
  4. Long queues at every step of the way from getting the application form to submitting it to having it processed to actually signing the marriage register.
  5. Long queues mean you probably can’t get married on the day and time of your choice! This would not be acceptable to the majority of Indians who are very particular about getting married on the auspicious day and time chosen by the elders and astrologers.
  6. In big cities, where there are a lot of people, there will be uncertainty at every step of the way. The long wait list of people wanting to get married will not only mean that you can’t get married on the day of your choice, you will probably not even know on what date you will get married. You will submit the application and then wait indefinitely and anxiously for the government letter which will tell you the date of your wedding. Or it will tell you that there was something wrong with all the paperwork you submitted, you will have to resubmit the whole thing as per point 2 above and you will be bumped back to the beginning of the waiting list.
  7. There will be especially long queues on auspicious days. Expect long wait times. Expect the very real possibility that you will wait all day and still don’t get married because it is closing time for the registration bureau office.
  8. Expect dirty, overcrowded marriage bureau offices with a lot of prospective couples, their friends and relatives. You will be shouted at and herded around like animals by the rude and irritable peons. You can expect a rules and limits stipulating exactly who and how many people can accompany you to the registrar office. (Probably nobody other than you, your fiance and the witnesses who will sign the register)
  9. Expect to deal with middle-men, touts and agents who can get you ahead of the line, who can get you time-slots on special days and times.
  10. Decide all of a sudden to elope and get married in a hurry? Forget about it!

I am sure there are lot more complications and difficulties I am not able to think of right now. Indian marriages involve a thousand complexities in the best of circumstances. The last thing Indian marriages need is a bunch of more government-induced complexities.

Granted that registered marriages is the way of life in many countries around the world. But those are countries where the culture of registration has been around for centuries. They have a system in place. Agreed that the kind of Western processes we are following in everything including legal processes, property laws, travel (think international travel and visa applications) actually necessitates registered marriages. So, having universal marriage registration in India would actually be helpful. I don’t disput or deny that.

However, the manner in which the SC has sought to initiate this is not right. The timing is not right either. And what’s with the three-month deadline? There are better ways of legislating and implementing this type of far-reaching laws. But none of it will work until the functioning in government offices is made easier, cleaner, better in every aspect.

Clearly, India is not ready for this right now. There are better things that the Indian governments can concentrate on at the national and state levels.

End note: People’s reactions to the SC directive: Many welcome, few oppose

Voting rights for NRIs, but…

February 16, 2006

The Indian Express reports that the Cabinet OKs voting rights for Indians abroad:

Indians now working or studying abroad will now be able to have a say in who governs their constituency back home. With the Union Cabinet today approving an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1950, the definition of ‘‘ordinarily resident’’ under the Act stands amplified to include people who are absent from their original residence in India. The only catch—they have to be present in their constituency at the time of the parliamentary or Assembly elections. (bolded by Right Indian)

When I read the headline of this article, I said, “Oh, wow! But how are they going to implement that?” And then, I read the bolded line above and went, “Yeah, right!”

If an NRI was in India at the time of elections and s/he was registered for voting (and had the voter ID card, where required), s/he could always go ahead and vote. There were and are no checks to see if s/he is an NRI or not. This has always been true. So, how does this new amendment change anything?

When many Indians are disillusioned, disinterested or plain lazy to participate in the elections even when they are residing in their own constituency, who will travel from the US or the UK or any other country of residence, all the way to their constituencies just for voting?

One could suggest that the Indian government should do what the US government does during presidential elections to help its citizen vote from distant corners of the world. But then, India is a country where free and fair elections do not happen in many places within its borders. It is a distant dream to think proper gathering of votes could happen from outside the country!

Underpaid H-1B workers in the US

February 15, 2006

This news is at least 3 months old. Nevertheless, it is relevant and will continue to be so for sometime into the future. ComputerWorld reported in an article Computech Agrees to Pay $2.65M in H-1B Worker Case dated Dec 12, 2005:

Computech Corp. late last month agreed to pay $2.65 million in back wages and fines to settle a U.S. Department of Labor complaint that it underpaid workers from overseas.

The company, which is settling the dispute without admitting to any of the allegations, agreed to pay $2.25 million in back wages to employees in amounts ranging from less than $2,000 to more than $40,000.

The settlement may be the largest back-wage payment ordered under the federal H-1B visa program, according to Brad Mitchell, a Labor Department spokesman.

Computech is not the only company which routinely underpays its employees in the US. Underpaid H-1B (and also L1) workers in the US is a more common phenomenon than most employers would admit. This is widely true of Indian workers who are employed by recruiting agencies (or bodyshops) which hire them out as contractors to American companies. This is especially true of Indian workers in the US, who are employed by India-based companies which are in the outsourcing business.

The bodyshops sponsor H-1B visas for workers from India, and hire them out as contractors to American companies. They make their money by withholding a percentage of the hourly wages that American companies pay for the work done by these contractors. Depending on the arrangement between the worker and the bodyshop, they may withhold anywhere from 15% to 35% of the pay. Typically it is between 20-25%.

The contractor is lucky if there is only one bodyshop which takes a percentage of his/her pay. A lot of times, this is not the case. The bodyshops are usually not big enough to have access to a large number of job openings. So, they network with other bodyshops to find jobs for their workers. For example, a guy might be employed by bodyshop B, which has sponsored his H-1B work permit. However, bodyshop B might not have access to the job which matches the guy’s skills. So, bodyshop B networks with bodyshop C, whose clients might have a job for the guy. So, when the guy gets paid, both bodyshop B and bodyshop C get a cut out of his wages. There are cases where there might be upto three bodyshops taking their cuts from the wages a worker is paid!

It is a slightly different story with India-based companies which send their employees to work at client sites in the US on a temporary basis – normally for the duration of a project, it might be from a few months to a few years. They refer to these employees as onsite employees. These companies don’t take a percentage cut from the wages the American client pays for their onsite employees’ work. They pay their employees a fixed salary. The salary these companies pay is almost never fair and on par with the pay-levels in the market. It could be anywhere from 15% to 50% below the fair market-level. Most of the times it is lesser by 25% or more!

India-based companies enjoy higher margins of profit on the work done by their offshore employees in India. They bill their clients for such work in dollars, and pay a significantly small portion of that dollar amount as the salary in Indian rupees to their employees. Since they are used to such high profit margins for their offshore employees, they are reluctant to reduce the margins by much for their onsite workers in the US.

Another issue is one of the mind-set. From the India-based company’s point of view, when the onsite salary they pay is converted to Indian rupees and compared to offshore salary-levels in absolute terms, their onsite employees seem to earn a much higher pay than the offshore employees. So, they don’t feel a need to pay their onsite employees on par with the US market.

These practices are prevalent in small companies as well as the large ones. Right now, most companies indulging in these practices in the US are getting away with it quite easily. Indians are not a litigious people, primarily because of the corrupt and slow judicial system in India. Moreover, they are reluctant to take recourse to the law, for fear of losing their jobs and left with no means of support in a foreign country. Even in a country like the US where the judicial system is quite effective and accountability is high, the Computech settlement took as much as six to seven years to resolve, as per the ComputerWorld article.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Labor doesn’t seem to be doing much to look into this issue of underpaid H-1B (and L1) workers in the US. The article about the Computech settlement has the following to say on this subject:

Ron Hira, vice president of career activities at The Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. in New York and an assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, argued that the government’s enforcement mechanism is weak because it relies on complaints from H-1B workers. The Department of Labor doesn’t have the power to make spot audits of companies, but Hira said the agency needs to be able to do that if it is to be proactive about such cases.

So, the companies are making hay while the Sun’s light is not shining on them. When their practices become public under a scorching light, they will have to make changes in haste or pay a huge amount to settle lawsuits like Computech did.