Asian Correspondent » Subir Ghosh http://asiancorrespondent.com Asian Correspondent Thu, 28 May 2015 01:43:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 India: Supreme Court judgment on fatwas needs close eye http://asiancorrespondent.com/124605/the-sc-judgment-on-fatwas-needs-to-be-seen-closely/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/124605/the-sc-judgment-on-fatwas-needs-to-be-seen-closely/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 15:23:45 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=124605 Supreme Court, India

Supreme Court, India / Wikimedia Commons

Too much hot air is being blown into Monday’s Supreme Court judgment clarifying that fatwas are not binding on Muslims. That’s possibly because there’s a new government in New Delhi that is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and some people have a morbid tendency of contextualising issues. In fact, if anyone contextualised anything, it was the Supreme Court.

The court ruled that fatwas are not illegal, but are also not legally binding on those against whom they are made. It was hardly a historic judgment, as some would have one believe, that can set the stage for the possible enactment of a Uniform Civil Code that has been high on the priority list of the Hindu nationalist party, which is now at the helm of affairs. If anything, the Indian apex court has only clarified a number of things – both for Muslims, and their detractors. That’s all.

What the two-member Supreme Court bench did on Monday, while categorically disposing of the petition which had challenged the validity of Sharia courts, was to ink that proverbial thin line between the black and the white. The confusion, if any, had been in the minds of radical Muslims and their equally steadfast opponents. The court only dispelled the clouds of confusion. The judgment, as such, is a sane reminder for those who are too myopic to notice that thin line.

It is important to examine closely what the two-member bench comprising Justices Chandramauli Kumar Prasad and Pinaki Chandra Ghose had remarked while passing its 17-page judgment on the writ petition filed by advocate Vishwa Lochan Madan arguing that the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) was establishing was a parallel judicial system in the country in order to impart justice under the Shariat, or the Islamic canonical law. The petitioner had cited the infamous Imrana case where a fatwa had decreed that the woman, who had been raped by her father-in-law, should leave her husband and instead marry the rapist. Madan had contended that this fatwa and another similar one had the ostensible support of the AIMLPB.

The board, which was a respondent in the case, admitted that it was indeed establishing Dar-ul-Qazas (personal law courts) and training Qazis and Naib Qazis (clerics), but also said that these Dar-ul-Qazas had no authority. The Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband also admitted issuing the fatwa in the Imrana case, but again pleaded that it had no agency or power to enforce its fatwas.

The bench remarked, “The power to adjudicate must flow from a validly made law. Person deriving benefit from the adjudication must have the right to enforce it and the person required to make provision in terms of adjudication has to comply that and on its failure consequences as provided in law is to ensue. These are the fundamentals of any legal judicial system. In our opinion, the decisions of Dar-ul-Qaza or the fatwa do not satisfy any of these requirements. Dar-ul-Qaza is neither created nor sanctioned by any law made by the competent legislature. Therefore, the opinion or the fatwa issued by Dar-ul-Qaza or for that matter anybody is not adjudication of dispute by an authority under a judicial system sanctioned by law.”

The judges agreed that the Dar-ul-Qazas were an informal justice delivery system with an objective of bringing about amicable settlement between parties. “It is within the discretion of the persons concerned either to accept, ignore or reject it.” In other words, a fatwa is not illegal, but it is ‘not legally binding’. The two are not the same. Moreover, since these ‘courts’ are not legal entities, defying a fatwa cannot be either a civil or a criminal offence.

But on a cautionary note, the judges said, “One may not object to issuance of fatwa on a religious issue or any other issue so long [as] it does not infringe upon the rights of individuals guaranteed under law. Fatwa may be issued in respect of issues concerning the community at large at the instance of a stranger but if a fatwa is sought by a complete stranger on an issue not concerning the community at large but individual, then the Darul-Qaza or for that matter anybody may consider the desirability of giving any response and while considering it should not be completely unmindful of the motivation behind the fatwa.”

The bench went on to say, “We would like to advise the Dar-ul-Qaza or for that matter anybody not to give any response or issue fatwa concerning an individual, unless asked for by the person involved or the person having direct interest in the matter.” That would be like giving unsolicited advice (on part of the Dar-ul-Qazas). It is important not to miss the context here: in the Imrana case, neither the husband nor the wife had asked for the clerics’ opinion.

Issuing a fatwa cannot be illegal, per se, but coercive imposition certainly can be. The judges said, “Issuance of fatwa on rights, status and obligation of individual Muslims, in our opinion, would not be permissible, unless asked for by the person concerned or in case of incapacity, by the person interested. Fatwas touching upon the rights of an individual at the instance of rank strangers may cause irreparable damage and therefore, would be absolutely uncalled for. It shall be in violation of basic human rights.” This is what those issuing fatwas that go beyond solving ordinary disputes need to heed. Simply put: don’t exceed your brief.

And if you do, you would be breaking the law: “Any person trying to enforce that (a fatwa) by any method shall be illegal and has to be dealt with in accordance with law.”

The judgment was far-reaching only in this sense: Indian courts can well reach out to those who break the law through fatwas. That’s all there is to Monday’s fatwa story.

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India: A film festival that’s about celebration, not competition http://asiancorrespondent.com/75527/india-a-film-festival-thats-about-celebration-not-competition/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/75527/india-a-film-festival-thats-about-celebration-not-competition/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2012 04:36:28 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=75527 Persistence Resistance, a documentary film festival that celebrates cinema, will unveil its fifth edition in New Delhi on Thursday, February 9. The festival is organised by Magic Lantern Foundation (MLF), a not-for-profit trust which works on issues pertaining to culture and human rights. Persistence Resistance challenges and questions the understanding of contemporary political films.

An animated crowd at Persistence Resistance 2011.

An animated crowd at Persistence Resistance 2011.

The festival has come a long way since it was started. Persistence Resistance 2012 has expanded to new locations across the city and will be held at the British Council, India International Centre, Delhi University North Campus and Max Mueller Bhavan. Persistence Resistance 2012 will present films, images and interactions that will move between spaces, from the inside to the outside, between times and between ideas. The spectator is invited not simply to view but to engage, argue, articulate and to participate. Along with screenings in auditoriums, films will also be shown in simulated video parlors, in a multi-hub video library and as installations, encompassing linear, circulatory, on-demand and transitory ways of screening and viewing.

Persistence Resistance is curated by MLF Director Gargi Sen, and will showcase 46 documentaries from the US, Italy, Germany, the, Netherlands and Estonia, apart from India. In all, there will be 15 premieres.

Sen has always insisted that film festivals are about celebration, and not competition. In other words, there are no such things as awards. There are no themes, so to speak, either. Sen and her team have their own way of celebrating cinema: this year Persistence Resistance pays homage to Lucia Rikaki (filmmaker and Festival Director from Greece), Tareque Masud, (filmmaker from Bangladesh) and Homai Vyarawalla, (the first woman photographer in India).

According to Sen: “The intention to celebrate the changing limits of history, narrative, ideology, culture and aesthetics forms the backbone of Persistence Resistance 2012. Persistence Resistance is premised on the belief that documentary practices in any place actively participate in the shaping of our times. Therefore, debates on healthcare, information policy, freedom of speech and expression, democracy and governance will be some of the themes around which Persistence Resistance 2012 will be located.

“So while Sameera Jain’s film My Own City is the experience of a gendered urban landscape of Delhi, Deepa Bhatia’s film (Nero’s Guest) is a conversation with noted journalist P Sainath on the growing agrarian crisis in India. Interestingly, both these directors test the complexities of the gaze of the camera, the subject and the quest for knowledge leads to ruptures in the visible evidence as well the notional ‘I’ that feminists have been critiqued with.”

The festival will screen a special package of five films from the archives of the Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft (DEFA) and never-seen-before animation films by graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee. Fried Fish, Chicken Soup and a Premiere Show by Mamta Murthy would be screened as well as the IDPA and Green Screens Winner, Bitter Seeds by Micha Peled.

Six in-depth conversations with filmmakers would be a highlight of the festival; 13 filmmakers will be present for Q&A sessions after the screening of their respective films. Environmentalist Vandana Shiva would lead the discussion after the screening of Bitter Seeds at the British Council Theatre on February 10, and the director, Micha X Peled would join in via Skype from San Fransisco.

The average visitor to the Persistence Resistance film festival over the years has been the college student – the audience is young, very young. This has been one of the main reasons why films would be screened at a number of locations around New Delhi, especially the North Campus of Delhu University.

The schedule of the festival can be found here.

[Disclosure: This writer has been closely associated with Magic Lantern Foundation and Persistence Resistance since 2010]

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India blacklists Danish journalists over damning documentaries http://asiancorrespondent.com/75340/india-blacklists-danish-journalists-for-damning-documentaries/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/75340/india-blacklists-danish-journalists-for-damning-documentaries/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2012 03:30:39 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=75340 Journalists from Danish public broadcaster DR have been allegedly blacklisted by India. The news came out on February 1 after award-winning investigative journalist Tom Heinemann was denied a visa by the Indian Embassy in Copenhagen.

Tom Heinemann and his wife Lotte la Cour

Tom Heinemann and his wife Lotte la Cour

The immediate trigger was said to be the broadcast of a documentary series “Blood, sweat and T-shirts”, which shows the plight of Danish youth working in the Indian textile industry. Heinemann has apparently been in the bad books with the Indian authorities since he made a film in 2005 called “A Killer Bargain”, an indictment of Danish companies violating Indian labour laws.

Emails to the Indian Embassy in Copenhagen went unanswered, but the authorities confirmed to Jyllands-Posten newspaper that doors had been closed to reporters from the state-funded corporation.

“We had a very bad experience with DR, so they are excluded,” a spokesman who declined to be named said. “All other Danish journalists are welcome.”

The 2010 film followed a group of young Danes sent to work in the booming Indian textile industry. Episodes showed the youngsters living in squalid conditions, arguing with employers over wages, and struggling to get enough cash together to even purchase a few items of fruit for breakfast.

Heinemann has himself not been on good terms with Indian authorities since his 2005 film, which he had made while visiting the country on a tourist visa. What has made matters worse is that the Indian embassy on Wednesday stamped three letters ‘VAF’ on his passport, as well as that of his wife Lotte la Cour, his regular cameraperson. VAF stands for ‘Visa Application Failed’ and, according to Heinemann, this stamp makes his passport virtually useless in many of the countries he would like to visit.

He said: “It’s something you write in the passport of alleged terrorists and villains. I am persona non grata in India for life. And now I have to switch passports; otherwise I can’t go into a lot of other countries.”

So what can he do? Heinemann told this correspondent, “We can only do one thing. Throw away the passports – and get new ones (it will cost us around US$275)”.

Heinemann has even apologised to the Indian Embassy for making the earlier film while on a tourist visa. He has so far not not received a response.

The Danish journalist is also being hounded by the US-based Grameen Foundation after he made “The Micro Debt” which looks at the darker side of the microcredit finance success in Bangladesh.

A still from the Film 'A Killer Bargain'. The workers are mostly from Bihar and they work in the acid baths in Sanganer outside Jaipur, bleaching cotton for western companies. The fumes are highly toxic and have an adverse effect on the health of workers.

A still from the Film 'A Killer Bargain'. The workers are mostly from Bihar and they work in the acid baths in Sanganer outside Jaipur, bleaching cotton for western companies. The fumes are highly toxic and have an adverse effect on the health of workers.

Meanwhile, a Facebook event has been set up by Lene Rimestad, an associate professor at the Centre for Journalism, University of Southern Denmark, to take up the issue of Heinemann and other DR journalists. Rimestad said, “Yes, the Danish Union of Journalists has taken up the issue, and the Danish Foreign Ministry has declared it will go into the issue, too. The union website has an interview with an employee who is in charge of the Asia-division from the foreign ministry, Martin Bille Hermann. He says that the ministry will talk to the union. But there is no news yet.”

Elisabeth Geday, DR’s head of communication and human resources, told the Copenhagen Post that she first became aware of the problem late last year. “I don’t know all of the details. We are working with the Foreign Ministry, so I can’t say too much. We are hopeful that a solution will be found.”

More about Tom Heinemann here

More about A Killer Bargain here

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India: Over 14,000 people killed in custody in 10 years http://asiancorrespondent.com/70054/india-over-14000-people-killed-in-custody-in-10-years/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/70054/india-over-14000-people-killed-in-custody-in-10-years/#comments Mon, 21 Nov 2011 05:05:31 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=70054 More than four persons per day were killed in police and judicial custody in India between 2001 and 2010. The total of 14,231 persons includes 1,504 deaths in police custody and 12,727 deaths in judicial custody from 2001-2002 to 2009-2010 as per the cases submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

The NHRC registered only six deaths in police custody in Jammu and Kashmir from 2001-02 to 2010-11. This is despite the fact that on March 31, 2011 Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in a written reply before the Legislative Council stated that 341 persons had died in police custody in the state since 1990.

The New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights in its report, Torture in India 2011, released today said that a large majority of these deaths were a direct consequence of torture in custody. These deaths reflect only a fraction of the problem with torture and custodial deaths in India as not all the cases of deaths in police and prison custody are reported to the NHRC. Further, the NHRC does not have jurisdiction over the armed forces and the NHRC also does not record statistics of torture not resulting into death.

“The failure of the Ministry of Home Affairs to introduce the Prevention of Torture Bill drafted by the Rajya Sabha Select Committee headed by Ashwani Kumar, the current Minister of State for Planning, in December 2010 in the Parliament session beginning on November 22 demonstrates India’s lack of political will to stamp out torture,” said Suhas Chakma, ACHR Director.

During 2001-2010, Maharashtra recorded the highest number of deaths in police custody with 250 deaths; followed by Uttar Pradesh (174); Gujarat (134); Andhra Pradesh (109); West Bengal (98); Tamil Nadu (95); Assam (84); Karnataka (67); Punjab (57); Madhya Pradesh (55); Haryana (45); Bihar (44); Kerala (42); Jharkhand (41); Rajasthan (38); Orissa (34); Delhi (30); Chhattisgarh (24); Uttarakhand (20); Meghalaya (17); Arunachal Pradesh (10); Tripura (8); Jammu and Kashmir (6); Himachal Pradesh (5); Goa; Chandigarh and Pondicherry (3 each); Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland (2 each); and Sikkim and Dadra and Nagar Haveli (1 each).

“About 99.99 per cent of deaths in police custody can be ascribed to torture and occur within 48 hours of the victims being taken into custody. Though Maharashtra has a total population of 112 million in comparison to 199 million in Uttar Pradesh according to 2011 census, the fact that 76 more persons were killed in police custody in Maharashtra shows that torture is more rampant in police custody in Maharashtra than Uttar Pradesh,” said Chakma.

During 2001-2010, 12,727 deaths in judicial custody took place. Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of deaths in judicial custody with 2171 deaths, followed by Bihar (1512); Maharashtra (1176); Andhra Pradesh (1037); Tamil Nadu (744); Punjab (739); West Bengal (601); Jharkhand (541); Madhya Pradesh (520); Karnataka (496); Rajasthan (491); Gujarat (458); Haryana (431); Orissa (416); Kerala (402); Chhattisgarh (351); Delhi (224); Assam (165); Uttarakhand (91); Himachal Pradesh (29); Tripura (26); Meghalaya (24); Chandigarh (23); Goa (18); Arunachal Pradesh (9); Pondicherry (8); Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland (6 each); Mizoram (4); Sikkim and Andaman and Nicober Island (3 each); and Manipur and Dadra and Nagar Haveli (1 each).

The number of deaths in police custody recorded from conflict-afflicted states like Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur do not reflect the gravity of the situation. The NHRC registered only six deaths in police custody in Jammu and Kashmir from 2001-02 to 2010-11, while only two cases of deaths in police custody were recorded from Manipur during the same period. This is despite the fact that on March 31, 2011 Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in a written reply before the Legislative Council stated that 341 persons had died in police custody in the state since 1990.

Custodial rape remains one of the worst forms of torture perpetrated on women by law enforcement personnel and a number of custodial rape of women takes place at regular intervals. NHRC recorded 39 cases of rape from judicial and police custody from 2006 to February 28, 2010.

Maoists remain the worst violators of human rights including torture and they have been responsible for brutal killing of their hostages after abduction. Often the hostages were killed by slitting their throats or beheading. The suspects were tried and handed over death sentences or subjected to torture through the socalled “Jan Adalats” (Peoples’ Courts) in full public view to instill fear among the people.

“India is yet to realise the cost of not having anti-torture law in compliance with UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) that led to rejection extradition of Kim Davy, the prime accused in the Purulia arms drop case by the Danish High Court in June 2011; the direction of a British Court in July 2011 to depute a human rights expert to visit the prisons in Gujarat to examine the prison conditions before it grants extradition of Mohammad Hanif Umerji Patel, alias Tiger Hanif, the alleged mastermind of the 1993 bomb blast in Surat; and cancellation of the extradition of Abul Salem by the Portuguese High Court in September 2011 on the ground that he was tortured in custody following extradition. That torture is non-derogable even in war and a crime against humanity is yet to be recognized by India,” said Chakma.

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Manipur police burn down 200 floating huts to clear Loktak http://asiancorrespondent.com/69922/manipur-police-burn-down-200-floating-huts-to-clear-loktak/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/69922/manipur-police-burn-down-200-floating-huts-to-clear-loktak/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2011 13:46:33 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=69922 The state government in Manipur is forcefully evicting families living on Loktak. Since Tuesday, the state police have used brute force to chase alleged illegal settlers away from their homes, including burning nearly 200 huts. It is being alleged that the eviction is in fact a security operation, and not to preserve the environment under the controversial Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, as claimed.

Loktak's floating islands called phumdis. Photo: Subir Ghosh

State government officials started burning down floating huts, khangpokshang, built over phumdis (floating plant mass) of the fishermen living in the Loktak wetlands in central Manipur on Tuesday. The officers from the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) and the Manipur state police carried out the burning down of the huts. The LDA had earlier issued an eviction notice to the residents on November 11. Nearly 200 floating huts had been already burnt by Thursday, and the remaining 1,132 floating huts are to meet a similar fate. There are about 5,000 people living in these floating huts located in the Khuman Yangbi, Nambul Machin and Karang Sabal areas within the Loktak Lake.

The burning down of the floating huts is in accordance with the provisions of the controversial Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, in particular Section 19 and 20 of the Act, which divides the 236.21 sq km Loktak Lake into two zones – a core zone comprising 70.30 sq km, which is a ‘no development zone’, or ‘totally protected zone’, and a buffer zone of other areas of the lake excluding the core zone. A vital aspect of this division is the prohibition on building huts or houses on phumdis inside the lake, or athaphum fishing, a destructive form of fishing using vegetation enclosures in the core area. This, however, will adversely affect over 10,000 people living in phumdi huts, as well as others dependent on the lake.

The eviction has led to the displacement of nearly 950 community members so far who have been living in these floating huts for generations. The number of affected families is expected to increase since the burning down of huts continues. The victims, including women, children and the aged have sought refuge at the Ningthoukhong Makha Leikai community hall in the Bishenpur district. The fishing gears and nets of the communities, their only means to catch fish from the Loktak wetlands, were also burned. This has left the community with no means to find food for survival. Having lost all their belongings, including books, uniforms and school bags, many children can no longer go to school. With the winter already setting in Manipur, the displaced villagers are left to fend for themselves during the harsh weather.

Each household was offered Rs 40,000 as compensation before their huts were burned. However, most of the villagers rejected this amount as too meagre. The Manipur police commandos were alleged to have threatened and intimidated the affected villagers before burning down their huts. In many cases, the police also forced the displaced family members to burn their own huts.

Affected people on several occasions had been raising vehement opposition to the introduction of the controversial Loktak Protection Act, 2006, which they feared would break the age-old bond between the lake and its people. Indigenous people depending on the Loktak Lake for survival continue to demand the complete scrapping of the Act.

The state government, through the LDA, has been blaming the indigenous people dwelling in Loktak for polluting and causing contamination of the lake. However, the impact of the Ithai Barrage of the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, commissioned in 1984, which led to a largescale devastation of the Loktak wetlands ecosystem, loss of indigenous plant and faunal species, disturbance of the wetlands’ natural balance and cleansing system leading to an accumulation of pollutants in the lake, has been ignored.

There is no comprehensive government policy to protect the environment in Manipur. Under the pretext of protecting wetlands to mitigate climate change and also to conserve wetlands, there is an increasing effort to evict poor fishermen and villagers who depend on the Loktak Wetlands and Lamphelpat Wetlands. The Loktak wetlands ecosystems have already been destroyed by the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric project.

Furthermore, the government has been adopting an indiscriminate policy of converting the Lamphelpat Wetlands for heavy and widespread construction, including several government offices, military camps, Imphal Sewerage Treatment Plant, National Information of Technology buildings, National Games village, Langol Housing complex and the Police Housing complex, all of which has led to widespread destruction of the Lamphelpat Wetlands.

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Bangalore move on working hours for women seen as dangerous http://asiancorrespondent.com/69388/bangalore-move-on-working-hours-for-women-seen-as-dangerous/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/69388/bangalore-move-on-working-hours-for-women-seen-as-dangerous/#comments Sat, 12 Nov 2011 06:42:04 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=69388 An ill-conceived move by the Karnataka government allowing the extension of working hours for women working in the IT industry in Bangalore is drawing flak both from women and IT professionals.

IT companies in Bangalore at a recent conference had adopted a resolution urging the government to extend working hours deadlines for female employees to 10 pm. Till now IT/ITeS companies were responsible for providing transport to female employees after 8 pm.

Currently, due to the deadline of 11.30 pm for commercial establishments in Bangalore, the streets become deserted by 11pm. This renders women vulnerble to both petty crimes (like chain-snatching, robbery etc) as well as serious ones (like molestation, rape, murder, etc).

“Extending the deadline will make them responsible for providing transport only after 10 pm. This means that if a woman finishes her work at 9 pm or 9.30 pm, she would have to wait till 10 pm in the office for transport or take her own. Considering the extra responsibility that a woman has at her house and also considering the many attacks that have been carried out against women in Bangalore after 8pm, such a move would be extremely dangerous,” said an activist with ITHI, a women employees forum working in the IT/ITeS sector.

BPO/IT/ITeS companies in Bangalore are registered under the Karnataka Shops and Establishments Act, 1961. The Act clearly specifies that women should not be employed after 8pm. However, in 2002, the state government amended the Act to enable female workers to work in the IT sector during night shifts provided that the companies took full responsibility for the transportation and security of their female workers.

As a result, all IT-BPO companies now provide transportation to/from the workplace to women employees who work in the US shifts (i.e. login after 8 pm) and those who work in UK shifts (i.e. logout around 9.00 – 9.30 pm). In spite of this, the gruesome rape and murder of 28-year-old BPO employee, Pratibha Srikanthamurthy, by a cab driver who came to pick her from home for her night shift took place in December 2005. Incidents such as this, have further emphasised the need for proper security measures for female employees who work late or in night shifts. Instead of improving security measures to avoid such tragedies in the future, several major IT/ITES organisations approached the state labour department requesting a change in the Act so as to extend the time limit from 8 pm to 10 pm.

“If the current deadline for women employees is extended to 10 pm, then the companies would no longer be responsible for their safety and transportation if they work in office till 10 pm. The biggest casualty in this would be those women whose timings end between 8pm and 10pm, especially those who work in UK shifts whose usual shift ends around 9.30pm,” an online petition bu ITHI and ITEC (IT & ITeS Employee Centre), a welfare support forum of IT/ITeS profe, has argued.

The Indian BPO/IT industry currently gets around 20-30 per cent of its work and revenue from contracts from the UK. Employees who work on these projects will be affected through increased transportation costs and dangers to personal security. Currently, due to the deadline of 11.30 pm for commercial establishments in Bangalore, the streets become deserted by 11pm. This renders women vulnerble to both petty crimes (like chain-snatching, robbery etc) as well as serious ones (like molestation, rape, murder, etc), the petition contended.

The online petition on Change.org can be accessed here

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India’s car sales slump signals major economic slowdown http://asiancorrespondent.com/69335/indias-car-sales-slump-signals-major-economic-slowdown/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/69335/indias-car-sales-slump-signals-major-economic-slowdown/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2011 04:26:08 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=69335 If the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was still looking for obvious signs of a slowdown, it cannot get find a better than this one. India’s new car sales in October fell the most in more than a decade in the face of rising fuel costs, expensive loans, and prolonged inflationary pressures.

Sales of passenger cars were down 23.8 per cent, while production dropped 28.1 per cent when compared to the same period last year, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). This is the biggest drop in sales since December 2000, when car sales had fallen close to 40 per cent. Sales fell to 138,521 vehicles last month, down from 181,704 units a year earlier. However, commercial vehicles, including buses, trucks and light commercial vehicles, recorded 19 per cent growth in October to 61,800 from 52,138 sold a year ago, the industry body said Thursday.

New car sales in India slid 24 percent in October compared with the same month last year. Photo: AFP

Car sales have been slowing in India for four straight months now. Traditionally, this (the festive season) is the period when car sales surge. India’s festive season from the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramzan to the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, is seen as a lucky time for big purchases like cars, property and gold.

Sales of cars were dragged down in part by labour unrest at leading carmaker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, the biggest producer in Asia’s third-largest car market. Maruti estimates the stoppages cost the company more than 40,000 units in lost production last month alone. With three strikes crippling production at its Manesar unit since June this year, MSIL has recorded production loss to the tune of 74,500 units. Revenue losses have mounted to Rs 2,200 crore.

The slump report comes shortly after ratings agency Moody’s downgraded India’s banking system to negative on Wednesday, citing concerns the global economic turmoil and a domestic slowdown may trigger more defaults and curb profitability. The reason for economic momentum slowing down was given as high inflation, monetary tightening, and rapidly rising interest rates.

Everything else looks bad, since the market is driven by a swelling aspirational middle class that mostly relies on bank financing for purchases. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has raised key lending rates 13 times since March 2010 in a bid to curb inflation, which has been hovering at about 10 per cent for the last year. Moreover, India’s trade deficit widened to a 17-year high of $19.6bn in October. The gap was accentuated by a fall in export growth, which grew at its lowest rate in more than two years last month, due to worsening economic jitters and slowing demand in the US and Europe, India’s biggest export destinations.

While the situation looks grim for the middle class and far worse for the working classes, it is ironically the auto industry which is seeking a bailout. Automobile companies want the government to reduce excise duty on large cars to 16 per cent from 22 per cent. The government had reduced the excise duty on small cars from 12 per cent to 8 per cent in 2008 to boost demand in a depressed market. In 2010, after the sector revived, the tax was increased to 10 per cent.

The car sales slump cannot be seen as mere warning signals of an economic downturn. Those, in fact, had come a long time ago. This is evidence.

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India: Wipro rated greenest electronics company http://asiancorrespondent.com/69315/india-wipro-is-most-green-electronics-company/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/69315/india-wipro-is-most-green-electronics-company/#comments Thu, 10 Nov 2011 17:39:14 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=69315 Wipro has retained the top slot in environmental NGO Greenpeace’s latest Guide to Greener Electronics. HCL Infosystem is placed second in the Indian rankings. The international version ranks the IT manufacturing company HP at the top, taking the lead over Dell and Nokia.

Three new companies are included in the latest version of the guide. Research in Motion (RIM), manufacturer of the BlackBerry phone, is included in the international league table while Chirag Computers and SAI InfoSystem are included in the Indian rankings.

While the latest international version of the Guide to Greener Electronics ranks 15 companies across three areas – energy, greener products and sustainable operations – it also sets new criteria for companies, challenging them to reduce their carbon footprint across manufacturing, supply chain through to the disposal of their products and to set ambitious goals for the use of renewable energy. The latest version of the guide also features new criteria for the sourcing of paper, conflict minerals and product life cycle. The Indian version, which is the 11th edition, assessed four IT manufacturing companies on the same criteria.

“After the successful notification of the e-waste rule, supported by leading Indian and international electronic companies, we are now challenging leading electronic companies to improve their energy sourcing quality and commit to reduce their growing carbon emissions,” said Greenpeace India campaigner Abhishek Pratap.

The Indian government recently notified the E-waste (Handling and Management) Rule, 2011. The rule places liability on individual companies to phase out six hazardous chemicals from its products and establish effective e-waste management practices including financial responsibility for recycling of the discarded products of the company.

“HP and Wipro take the top slot due to their strong and visible efforts to curb their own emission while advocating for strong economy-wide climate legislation. It is now time that all the companies included in the guide show strong support for the acceleration of policies which enable a substantial uptake of renewable energy in India,” added Pratap.

In the Indian version of the guide, Wipro scored 5.4, closely behind the international version topper HP (5.9) for its strong initiatives on reducing its own carbon emission, establishing effective take-back policies and making its entire product line energy star 5.0 compliant. HCL, which scored 4.3, also performed well compared to other electronic manufacturers (both Indian and international). HCL scored well for its chemical management policy and has become the first Indian company to initiate the process to prevent the use of conflict minerals in products and the measurement and reduction of emissions from its supply chain.

Chirag Computers and Sai Info System, new entrants in the Indian version of the guide, performed poorly due to lack of clear policies on their carbon emissions reduction and the absence of any products free from hazardous chemicals.

The Greenpeace guide is a part of the organisation’s wider campaign to persuade the IT industry to find solutions aimed to reduce global emissions. This includes urging Bharti Airtel to power their network operations substantially with electricity sourced from renewable energy.

[The 11th Indian Guide to Greener Electronic is available here (PDF file).]

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India: Most RTI rejections made by Finance Ministry http://asiancorrespondent.com/68932/india-most-rti-rejections-made-by-finance-ministry/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68932/india-most-rti-rejections-made-by-finance-ministry/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2011 16:31:00 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68932 Almost one in four Right to Information (RTI) rejections in India have been made by the Ministry of Finance, according to the RTI Annual Return Reports for 2005-2010.

Adjusted for the number of requests received, the Finance Ministry tops the rejection rate at 24 per cent, followed by the Prime Minister’s Office (12 per cent) and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (11 per cent), an analysis of the reports by the PRS Legislative Research (PRS) has revealed.

The Finance Ministry possibly has a large number of rejections because of the larger number of requests that it receives. PRS feels may also be a result of the fact that the Finance Ministry receives a larger number of requests related to private and confidential information (such as income tax returns) as well as those which are held in a fiduciary capacity (such as details of accounts in nationalised banks).

India’s Right to Information Act, 2005 contains several exemption clauses which enable public authorities to deny requests for information. These are primarily mentioned in three sections – section 8, section 11, and section 24. Section 8 lists nine specific exemptions ranging from sovereignty of India to trade secrets, Section 11 provides protection to confidential third party information, and Section 24 exempts certain security and intelligence organisations.

The three most frequently used subsections in the 2005-2010 period were sections 8(1)(j), 8(1)(d) and 8(1)(e), accounting for almost three-fourths of all exemptions invoked. The percentage count for these sub-sections were 40, 18 and 15.

Section 8(1)(j) provides protection to personal information of individuals from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. Section 8(1)(d) provides protection to trade secrets and intellectual property from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. Section 8(1)(e) provides protection to information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest.

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India falls 15 places in UN Human Development Index http://asiancorrespondent.com/68673/india-falls-15-places-in-un-human-development-index/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68673/india-falls-15-places-in-un-human-development-index/#comments Wed, 02 Nov 2011 11:08:40 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68673 Things are not improving in India at all. In fact, things are going from bad to worse. India’s rank in the Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has fallen from 119 in 2010 to 134 this year.

India’s HDI value for 2011 is 0.547—in the medium human development category—positioning the country at 134 out of 187 countries and territories. Between 1980 and 2011, India’s HDI value increased from 0.344 to 0.547, an increase of 59.0 per cent or average annual increase of about 1.5 per cent.

The rank of India’s HDI for 2010 based on data available in 2011 and methods used in 2011 is 134 out of 187 countries. In the 2010 HDR, India was ranked 119 out of 169 countries. However, the report cautioned, it could be misleading to compare values and rankings with those of previously published reports, because the underlying data and methods have changed, as well as the number of countries included in the HDI.

Norway, Australia and the Netherlands lead the world in the 2011 Human Development Index (HDI), while the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Burundi are at the bottom of the Human Development Report’s annual rankings of national achievement in health, education and income, released today by UNDP.

The United States, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Germany and Sweden round out the top 10 countries in the 2011 HDI, but when the Index is adjusted for internal inequalities in health, education and income, some of the wealthiest nations drop out of the HDI’s top 20: the United States falls from #4 to #23, the Republic of Korea from #15 to #32, and Israel from #17 to #25.

The 2011 Report—Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All—notes that income distribution has worsened in most of the world, with Latin America remaining the most unequal region in income terms, even though several countries including Brazil and Chile are narrowing internal income gaps. Yet in overall IHDI terms, including life expectancy

The HDI is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living. As in the 2010 HDR a long and healthy life is measured by life expectancy, access to knowledge is measured by: i) mean years of adult education, which is the average number of years of education received in a life-time by people aged 25 years and older; and ii) expected years of schooling for children of school-entrance age, which is the total number of years of schooling a child of school-entrance age can expect to receive if prevailing patterns of age-specific enrolment rates stay the same throughout the child’s life. Standard of living is measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita expressed in constant 2005 PPP$.

Between 1980 and 2011, India’s life expectancy at birth increased by 10.1 years, mean years of schooling increased by 2.5 years and expected years of schooling increased by 3.9 years. India’s GNI per capita increased by about 287.0 per cent between 1980 and 2011.

India’s 2011 HDI of 0.547 is below the average of 0.630 for countries in the medium human development group and below the average of 0.548 for countries in South Asia. From South Asia, countries which are close to India in 2011 HDI rank and population size are Bangladesh and Pakistan which have HDIs ranked 146 and 145 respectively.

India’s HDI for 2011 is 0.547. However, when the value is discounted for inequality, the HDI falls to 0.392, a loss of 28.3 per cent due to inequality in the distribution of the dimension indices. Bangladesh and Pakistan show losses due to inequality of 27.4 per cent and 31.4 per cent respectively. The average loss due to inequality for medium HDI countries is 23.7 per cent and for South Asia it is 28.4 per cent.

India has a Gender Inequality Index (GII) value of 0.617, ranking it 129 out of 146 countries in the 2011 index. In India, 10.7 per cent of parliamentary seats are held by women, and 26.6 per cent of adult women have reached a secondary or higher level of education compared to 50.4 per cent of their male counterparts. For every 100,000 live births, 230 women die from pregnancy related causes; and the adolescent fertility rate is 86.3 births per 1000 live births. Female participation in the labour market is 32.8 per cent compared to 81.1 for men. In comparison, Bangladesh and Pakistan are ranked at 112 and 115 respectively on this index.

The most recent survey data that were publically available for India’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) estimation are from 2005. In India, 53.7 per cent of the population suffer multiple deprivations while an additional 16.4 per cent are vulnerable to multiple deprivations. The breadth of deprivation (intensity) in India, which is the average percentage of deprivation experienced by people in multidimensional poverty, is 52.7 per cent. The MPI, which is the share of the population that is multi-dimensionally poor, adjusted by the intensity of the deprivations, is 0.283. Bangladesh and Pakistan have MPIs of 0.292 and 0.264 respectively.

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India slips in Global Gender Gap Index, ranked 113th http://asiancorrespondent.com/68679/india-slips-in-gender-gap-index-ranked-113th/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68679/india-slips-in-gender-gap-index-ranked-113th/#comments Wed, 02 Nov 2011 09:09:05 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68679 India is simply not doing enough for its women. The country has fallen from 112 out of 134 countries in 2010 to 113 out of 135 countries in 2011 according to the Gender Gap Index 2011 released by the World Economic forum (WEF) on Wednesday.

Over the last six years, while 85 percent of countries are improving their gender equality ratios, the rest of the world the situation is declining, most notably in several African and South American countries. The sixth annual World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2011 shows a slight decline over the last year in gender equality rankings for New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom this year, while gains are made in Brazil, Ethiopia, Qatar, Tanzania and Turkey.

Members of a women's self-help in Madhya Pradesh. Photo: mckaysavage (Flickr 3.0)

Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) continue to hold top spots having closed over 80 percent of their gender gaps, while countries at the bottom of the rankings still need to close as much as 50 percent. The figure for India stands at 61.9 percent.

India’s ranking has been falling steadily since 2006 when the Index was launched. In 2006, India was ranked 98th. Between 2007 and 2011, the ranking has swayed between 112 and 114.

India fares worst in terms of economic participation of women. India ranked 131 with a percentage of 39.6 – fifth from bottom. Though India scored well in political participation of women with a rank of 19, the percentage was abysmal: 31.2 per cent. India is doing relatively well in absolute terms on the educational attainment and health & survival fronts, but in terms of rankings it is way behind others. India is ranked 121st (83.7 percent) in the former, and 134th (93.1 percent) for the latter.

The Global Gender Gap Report’s index assesses 135 countries, representing more than 93% of the world’s population, on how well resources and opportunities are divided amongst male and female populations. The report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four areas:

  • Economic participation and opportunity –salaries, participation and highly-skilled employment
  • Education – access to basic and higher level education
  • Political empowerment – representation in decision-making structures
  • Health and survival – life expectancy and sex ratio

The Philippines (8) remain the highest-ranking Asian country, primarily due to success in health and education. Thailand (60), which this year elected its first woman Prime Minister, remains well positioned with women making up more than half of tertiary education enrolled and high overall labour force participation. While China remains the third-last ranking country on the health and survival sub index (133) due to a skewed sex ratio at birth, its strength lies in high female labour force participation (74%). India (113), the Islamic Republic of Iran (125), Nepal (126) and Pakistan (133) occupy the last places in the regional rankings.

India is the lowest-ranked of the BRIC economies featured in the index.

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India ranked 19th in foreign bribery index http://asiancorrespondent.com/68664/india-ranked-19th-in-foreign-bribery-index/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68664/india-ranked-19th-in-foreign-bribery-index/#comments Wed, 02 Nov 2011 06:48:30 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68664 India ranks 19th among 28 countries where public officials have to be bribed when doing business abroad, according to a survey of 3,000 business executives from developed and developing countries.

Transparency International’s 2011 Bribe Payers Index, released today, ranks 28 leading international and regional exporting countries by the likelihood of their firms to bribe abroad. Companies from Russia and China, who invested US $120 billion overseas in 2010, are seen as most likely to pay bribes abroad. Companies from the Netherlands and Switzerland are seen as least likely to bribe.

Photo: yago1.com (Flickr 3.0)

Addressing foreign bribery is a priority issue for the international community. A year ago the group of 20 leading economies (G20) committed to tackling foreign bribery by launching an anti-corruption action plan.

When looking at changes on a country-by-country basis, no country has seen a change in score of more than one point on the index. India’s score improved the most with an increase of 0.7 over the last survey that was carried out in 2008, but it still remains near the bottom of the table.

The scores based on business executives’ responses when asked how often firms, with which they have a business relationship, from a given country engage in bribery (0=always, 10=never), placed the Netherlands and Switzerland jointly at the top with 8.8. India was 19th with a score of 7.9.

The Bribe Payers Index scores are anchored to the 0–10 parameters of the scale. A score of 0 corresponds with the perceptions of business people around the world that companies from that country always pay bribes when doing business abroad. The 28 countries and territories ranked in the index are Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States. The countries and territories ranked in the Index cover all regions of the world and represent almost 80 per cent of the total world outflow of goods, services and investments.

International business leaders reported the widespread practice of companies paying bribes to public officials in order to, for example, win public tenders, avoid regulation, speed up government processes or influence policy. However, companies are almost as likely to pay bribes to other businesses, according to the report, which looks at business-to-business bribery for the first time.

The 2011 Bribe Payers Index also looks at the likelihood of firms in 19 specific sectors to engage in bribery and exert undue influence on governments:

  • Public works and construction companies scored lowest in the survey. This is a sector where bypassed regulations and poor delivery can have disastrous effects on public safety.
  • Oil and gas is also a sector seen as especially prone to bribery. The extractives industry has long been prone to corruption risk. Companies operating in oil-rich Nigeria have already been fined upwards of US $3.2 billion in 2010-2011 for bribery of public officials.
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India: Domestic mismanagement sparks food price rises http://asiancorrespondent.com/68660/rising-prices-in-india-due-to-failure-of-domestic-food-management/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68660/rising-prices-in-india-due-to-failure-of-domestic-food-management/#comments Wed, 02 Nov 2011 04:42:34 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68660 Food prices in India continue to rise when when international prices are stable because of the failure of domestic food management, wherein temporary shortages have led to price spikes, the Interntional Labour Organization (ILO) has said.

Over the past two years wholesale food prices have increased by 40 per cent much more than during the mid-1990s and 2004, and the retail food prices have increased faster, the ILO said at the release of World of Work Report 2011: Making markets work for jobs. The rising food inflation has led to tightening of the monetary policies, which has led to the slowdown in economic activity, especially the last two quarters. This puts further pressure on the labour market, where there is huge underemployment, it said.

Photo: Michael Foley Photography (Flickr 3.0)

Food prices in India have sky-rocketed over the past few years compared to the general price increases and harming the poor.

The increase in food prices in India was, however, much lower compared to sharp increases in global prices due to various measures. Food prices in India certainly increased when global prices rose, but it has been lower especially during the 2008 peak period largely due to various commodity-based policies: creation of grain banks through government procurement, storage and distribution, and restrictions on international trade. To regulate commodity futures in wheat, an outright ban on speculation was also introduced instead of outright export bans.

Despite these measures food prices in India continue to rise. The ILO said this requires having a medium-term strategy which addresses the problems of agriculture – investments in irrigation, research and development, and making farming financially more viable for the farmers. The National Food Security Act proposed, it remarked, was in the right direction but for it to be effective it is essential that the storage and distribution system is drastically improved so that it ensures universal access to basic food items to all at an affordable price.

The ILO report also features a new ‘social unrest index that shows levels of discontent over the lack of jobs and anger over perceptions that the burden of the crisis is not being shared fairly. It noted that in 45 of the 118 countries examined, the risk of social unrest is rising. This is especially the case in advanced economies,
notably the EU, the Arab region and to a lesser extent Asia. By contrast, there is a stagnant or lower risk of social unrest in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

The report’s other main findings include:

  • Approximately 80 million net new jobs will be needed over the next two years to re-attain pre-crisis employment rates (27 million in advanced economies and the remainder in emerging and developing countries).
  • Out of 118 countries with available data, 69 countries show an increase in the percentage of people reporting a worsening of living standards in 2010 compared to 2006.
  • Respondents in half of 99 countries surveyed say they do not have confidence in their national governments.

  • In 2010, more than 50 per cent of people in developed countries report being dissatisfied with the availability of decent jobs (in countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain, more than 70 per cent of survey respondents reported dissatisfaction).
  • The share of profit in GDP increased in 83 per cent of the countries analyzed between 2000 and 2009. Productive investment, however, stagnated globally during the same period.
  • In advanced countries, the growth in corporate profits among non-financial firms was translated into a substantial increase in dividend payouts (from 29 per cent of profits in 2000 to 36 per cent in 2009) and financial investment (from 81.2 per cent of GDP in 1995 to 132.2 per cent in 2007). The crisis reversed slightly these trends, which resumed in 2010.
  • Food price volatility doubled during the period 2006-2010 relative to the preceding five years, affecting decent work prospects in developing countries. Financial investors benefit more from price volatility than food producers, especially small ones.
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Young Indian couple claim Baby 7 Billion crown http://asiancorrespondent.com/68485/baby-7-billion-is-nargis/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68485/baby-7-billion-is-nargis/#comments Mon, 31 Oct 2011 08:27:46 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68485 With the birth of Nargis in a village 40km from Lucknow this morning, the world’s population touched seven billion. Lucknow is the capital of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh.

Photo: Plan / Davinder Kumar

Nargis, weighing 3kg, was born at 7:20 this morning to Ajay (25) and Vineeta (23) at a local community health centre in Mall village, about 40km from Lucknow, Davinder Kumar, Global Press Officer (Asia & Americas), Plan International, told this correspondent over phone.

The parents want to see her educated, and, if possible, to become a doctor. Nargis is the couple’s first child. The local authorities presented them with a birth certificate in the morning.

Nargis and six other children will be sponsored by seven female personalities for the first seven years of their life, reckoned to be the most crucial in child development.

Plan International chose Uttar Pradesh to mark the birth of Baby 7 Billion as the state accounts not only for the highest number of births but also the highest number of ‘missing girls’. With a population bigger than that of Brazil, it has just 899 girls for every 1,000 boys. The situation is similar in other states such as Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and the country’s capital Delhi.

Photo: Plan / Davinder Kumar

In India, Plan works in 10 states and has directly impacted lives of over a million children and their families. As a response to India’s worst child sex ratio since records began, Plan India has launched ‘Let Girls Be Born’ (LGBB) campaign and its main objective is to realise a gender balance in society by eliminating sex selective abortions (SSA) and ensuring the right to identity, name and citizenship for girls.

According to provisional Census totals, India’s population at 1210.2 million is almost equal to the combined populations of the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan.

World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development says globally, “missing” girls at birth and excess female mortality after birth account for an estimated 3.9 million women each year in low-and middle-income countries. Almost one million of these deaths are in India.

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Probe ordered into Kerala move on online tracking of students http://asiancorrespondent.com/68344/probe-ordered-into-kerala-govt-move-on-online-tracking-of-students/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68344/probe-ordered-into-kerala-govt-move-on-online-tracking-of-students/#comments Fri, 28 Oct 2011 14:37:29 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68344 The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights has ordered an inquiry into the allegation against the Government of Kerela, India. According to the allegation,  a coercive circular by the State government to its public education department was meant to deploy a questionable online school management software. Named “Sampoorna”, this software was to be implemented in schools across the State in a manner that it would violate the right to privacy and dignity of children there.

In a letter to the Secretary of the Education Department, Govternment of Kerala, the NCPCR on Friday asked the department to investigate the matter and take further necessary action. A factual report, along with authenticated copies of relevant documents, would have to be sent to the Commission within 15 days.

A circular issued by the Kerala government directing the public education department to deploy online school management software called Sampoorna in schools across the state drew flak from civil liberties activists. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The report would have to look into the matter urgently and provide details on how the department planned to safeguard the children’s right to privacy and dignity in the use of UID/ Sampoorna software.

The NCPCR has been constituted under the provisions of the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act, 2005 for protecting child rights and other related matters. One of the functions assigned to the Commission under Section 13 (1)(j) of CPCR Act is to inquire into complaints and suo motu cognisance in relation to deprivation and violation of child rights.

The Commision’s move came following a complaint filed in August this year by civil society activists Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Anivar Aravind and Usha Ramanathan drawing attention to a circular, based on which details of as many as 6 million students spanning over 15,000 schools in the state would be captured under the scheme. All schoolchildren would have had to have unique identification numbers (UID), which would help in tracking their movements in educational institutions and academic records. The circular said: “The headmasters of the schools should ensure that all students have filled in the forms before 31/08/2011, ordered by class and division. The education officers are directed to monitor these explicitly.”

The complainants said that a law to govern the UID project was yet to be passed by Parliament. The National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 was introduced in Parliament on December 3, 2010, and sent to the Standing Committee of Finance on 20th December 2010. The committee has reportedly expressed serious reservations about the project. The project is, in other words, currently operating outside the protection of law.

“It has been acknowledged that there are abiding concerns about privacy that the project has to address before it can be allowed to proceed. There is a draft Privacy Bill that has not yet been introduced in Parliament. There are no protections that the law provides. There are no protocols about who can access the information, how the UID number may be used, what will happen if there is identity theft and identity loss. There are no protections against tracking and profiling. The collection of biometrics increases the concern,” they said.

“There is no means of controlling the recording and retrieval of data about children, and that is especially serious since our jurisprudence clearly states that the records relating to children except public exam marks should not be carried into adulthood. This is especially important where the child has had a difficult growing up and may have encountered problems of being a ‘neglected child’ or a ‘child in conflict with the law’. These are specifically proscribed from being carried into adulthood, with good reason. The UID, with its ability to link up data bases poses a threat to this important area of personal safety and protection of the child.”

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Dams threaten Manas WHS status http://asiancorrespondent.com/68224/manas-could-lose-its-world-heritage-site-status-again-thanks-to-dams/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68224/manas-could-lose-its-world-heritage-site-status-again-thanks-to-dams/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2011 06:16:03 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68224 When Manas National Park was removed from the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger List in June this year, there was a lot to cheer about. The hard work put in by conservation groups has been recognised, but a bigger danger lies in the future — one that can virtually wash away the national park. Well, almost.

If a recent study conducted by Partha J Das (Head, Water, Climate & Hazard Programme) and Bibhab K Talukdar (Secretary General) of Aaranyak is to be taken even with a pinch of salt, there’s much to be apprehensive about. Manas was put in the World Heritage Site danger list in 1992 because of hightened poaching incidents and militant activities. Those threats may be gone, but the ones that loom large on the park known for its rare and endangered endemic wildlife come from dams being built in the Himalayas.

Manas is known for its rare and endangered endemic wildlife. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The existing Kurichu HEP (60 MW) and the proposed Mangdechu HEP (720 MW) power projects in Bhutan are likely to affect the forests and water bodies of Manas National Park (MNP) in a way which would make the ecosystems less supportive of wildlife. Manas is a WHS having unique species diversity such as pigmy hog, tiger, elephant, greater one horned rhino, hispid hare, golden langur, Bengal florican, etc. Both the Kurichu and the Mangdechu rivers contribute to the flow of the Manas-Beki river system while the MNP is considerably sustained by the waters of the Manas River and many of its small tributary streams.

The Kurichu dam has already affected the forests and wildlife of MNP. A landslide dam that formed in the Tsatichu river (in Bhutan) in 2004 breached on July 10, 2004 resulting in a large flood wave flowing through the Kurichu river inside Bhutan. The Kurichu Hydropower Project (60 MW) in Bhutan released the excess water that flooded several rivers in Assam including the Hakua, the Beki and the Manas. Moreover, it was a period of heavy monsoon.

As a result, it created an unprecedented flood hazard in western Assam. Flash floods carrying trees and huge amounts of silt washed away parts of MNP killing a large number of wild animals. A large number of fibre glass and inflatable boats of the Forest Department in the park were also washed away leaving the staff stranded. The road from Barpeta to Kokrajhar was breached completely cutting off access to the park. Release of water from the Kurichu dam has been reported on several occasions in the last six years creating flood in areas belonging to the Manas Biosphere Reserve (MBR) while the excessive siltation caused by such flooding has made large areas of agricultural land unproductive, thus creating a crisis in livelihood for the farmers.

Unfortunately, although such negative effects of the dams on both Manas and Kaziranga National Park are being observed, no significant study was done for assessing the probable impacts of these dams on these forests before these projects were given environmental clearance.

Aaranyak feels that UNESCO, the apex authority that selects and monitors the status of the natural world heritage sites, should take cognisance of the serious threats posed by the large dams being constructed in Arunachal Pradesh (India) and Bhutan to Kaziranga and Manas, and ensure proper assessment of impacts and mitigation thereof so that the rich natural heritage of these two sites can be protected and conserved at any cost. Unless sincere efforts are made to check the large number of ecologically harmful and unsustainable dams being constructed and planned in the Eastern Himalayas, it will only be a matter of time before Kaziranga and Manas become severely degraded, impaired and lose their prestigious WHS status.

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India tops as biggest shoplifting nation in the world http://asiancorrespondent.com/68214/india-tops-as-the-biggest-shoplifting-nation-in-the-world/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68214/india-tops-as-the-biggest-shoplifting-nation-in-the-world/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2011 05:13:59 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68214 Indian retailers suffered the highest loss of stocks to theft in the world for the fifth year in a row in 2011. Half of this loss was attributed to shoplifting by customers. The silver lining here was that India is the world’s only country where the shrink rate (loss of stocks because of thefts by customer, employees and supplier) came down in 2011, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer 2011.

The shrink rate as a percentage of sales was 2.38 per cent, costing local retailers Rs 3,470 crore, according to the annual survey conducted by the Centre for Retail Research in Nottingham, UK, and underwritten through an independent grant from Checkpoint Systems. The study was conducted across 43 countries between July 2010 and June 2011. In India, it covered 100 retailers, of which 60 were part of modern chains and 40 were from the unorganised sector.

A mall in Bengaluru. Photo: Cedric SF (flickr 3.0)

Shoplifting, employee or supplier fraud, organised retail crime and administrative errors cost the retail industry US$119 billion in 2011 or 1.45 per cent of sales. This global shrink rate is 6.6 per cent (0.8 per cent in Asia-Pacific) higher than the previous year. Dishonest employees were responsible for US$41.65 billion or 35 per cent of shrink. In Asia-Pacific, a majority of retailers perceive dishonest customers as the single most important source of loss, responsible for US$9.7billion of losses or 53.3 per cent. However, the average amount admitted stolen by employees was more than four times the average stolen by shoplifters.

“Shrinkage reported by most retailers is due to multiple causes, not only outright theft. This includes factors such as supply chain and storage losses, quasi-shrinkage due to poor data integrity, and due to causes that lie outside the store rather than in-store,” pointed out Devangshu Dutta, Chief Executive of Third Eyesight, a New Delhi-based consulting firm which focuses on the retail and consumer products ecosystem. Third Eyesight works with retailers (including e-tailers), brands and manufacturers, as well as service organisations and suppliers to the retail sector and the consumer goods supply chain.

“Although there are commentators who view retail crime as a harmless or intriguing social phenomenon or simply as cost of doing business, this ignores the impact of criminal gangs, growing levels of violence against employees and customers, and the links between retail crime and drugs, fraud and extortion,” said Professor Joshua Bamfield, Director of the Centre for Retail Research and author of the study. “Moreover, retail crime on average cost families in the 43 countries surveyed an extra US$200 on their shopping bill, up from US$186 last year. In the U.S., that figure was US$115 in Asia-Pacific.”

The 2011 study also found that while retailers increased their spending on loss prevention and security by 5.6 per cent over 2010 to US$28.3 billion globally, loss prevention equipment’s share of total loss prevention expenditures actually declined slightly. This may be why fewer thieves were apprehended globally. The region with the sharpest decline in loss prevention equipment’s share of expenditures was Europe, down 6.25 per cent. Notably, shrink in Europe increased 7.8 per cent, topping the global average.

“Of the top 50 global retailers who responded to the survey, the ones which reported a decline in shrink from the previous year did not construe loss prevention merely as a matter of theft, but worked across their operations to systematically combat shoplifting, employee theft, vendor loss and administrative errors. Ninety-six percent of these retailers’ stores used audit programmes to monitor the use of loss prevention policies and above all, the retailers increased their loss prevention spending almost twice as much as the global average,” said Bamfield.

In Asia-Pacific, shrinkage was highest among categories like cosmetics, perfumes, health and beauty, and pharmacy; apparel and accessories; and video, music and gaming. The most-stolen items from the cosmetics category globally included shaving products, perfumes, lipsticks, scissors, nail clippers, and tweezers. High quality seafood, alcohol and fresh meat made up the top three most-stolen grocery ‘high-risk’ product lines.

So, where does this place India? Is there more than meets the CCTV eye?

Said Dutta: “The articles that I have read about the study do not provide a comparison of modern retail stores in India and their counterparts in the west. It would be useful to look at a like-for-like comparison, rather than comparing unlike retail formats, or taking an ‘industry’ average, when the research samples in different countries are so varied. Smaller stores lack sophisticated information systems to capture and transmit data as accurately as the large stores, as well as storage and handling processes are also less sophisticated. This increases the shrinkage due to non-theft factors, which would also reflect in the ‘total shrinkage’. Having a higher proportion of traditional retail outlets in a study sample can compound this inaccuracy.”

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Indian govt’s Diwali gift: Pay hike for print media journalists http://asiancorrespondent.com/68086/indian-govts-diwali-gift-pay-hike-for-print-media-journalists/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68086/indian-govts-diwali-gift-pay-hike-for-print-media-journalists/#comments Tue, 25 Oct 2011 13:31:45 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68086 The beleaguered United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has decided to give a Diwali gift to Indian journalists. The Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved the final Majithia Wage Board recommendations, which will benefit more than 45,000 journalists and non-journalists in the country.

The revised wages, with hikes ranging from 10 per cent to 30 per cent, will come into force with retrospective effect from July 2010. Allowances, such as transport, house rent and hardship shall be effective from the date of notification of the awards in the Gazette.

The move comes in the wake of the Supreme Court refusing earlier this month to stay the Wage Board recommendations.

The government had constituted two wage boards in May 2007 under the provisions of Section 12(1) of the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (conditions of Service) & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955. The Chairman of the Wage Boards, Justice GR Majithia submitted the final report to the Government on December 31, 2010. The recommendations contained in Chapter XIX and XX of the final report will be published in the Gazette of India for implementation by the newspaper establishments and news agencies.

In July, the Supreme Court had asked the Union government not to go ahead with the implementation of the recommendations of Justice Majathia Wage Board. The apex court bench, however, did not pass any formal order restraining the Union government from implementing the recommendations. The court order came in the course of the hearing of a petition by the Anandabazar Patrika media group, which contended that the wage board recommendations were being sought to be implemented without them being given a copy of the report.

On September 21, the Supreme Court permitted the Union Cabinet to take a decision on implementing the recommendations. Any decision would, however, be subject to the outcome of the case filed by ABP Pvt Ltd, the Indian Newspaper Society, Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd, and two others challenging the board’s final report submitted in December 2010, the two-member bench said. The matter was listed for final hearing on October 11. The court refused to stay the wage relief.

The newspaper managements had argued that the wage board recommendations, if implemented, would cause chaos in the industry. They also challenged the validity of the Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, under which the board was formed, and wanted it declared null and void and ultra vires the Constitution. They sought a direction to restrain the Centre from taking any decision based on the board’s “faulty and flawed” recommendations.

The Centre justified the report and said the wage structure had been determined on the basis of the employer’s capacity to pay. Though it was constituted specifically to fix or revise wages, the board, in its wisdom, made recommendations on retirement age and other issues also. The Centre rejected the charge that the recommendations would infringe the petitioner’s right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution.

Newspapers have been classified into eight categories and news agencies into four on the basis of their gross revenue. Newspapers with a gross revenue of Rs 1,000 crore and above have been put in the top category of Class I, Rs 500 crore (II), Rs 100 crore and above but less than 500 crore (III), Rs 50 crore and above but less than Rs 100 crore (IV), Rs 10 crore and above but less than Rs 50 crore (V), Rs 5 crore and above but less than Rs 10 crore (VI), Rs 1 crore and above but less than Rs 5 crore (VII) and less than Rs 1 crore (VIII). In the case of news agencies, those with gross revenue of Rs 60 crore and above have been put in the top category of Class I while those above Rs 30 crore but less than Rs 60 crore (II), Rs 10 crore and above but less than Rs 30 crore (III) and less than Rs 10 crores (IV).

House rent allowance (HRA) will be applicable at the rate of 30, 20 and 10 per cent respectively for the X, Y and Z cities, while the same in the case of transport allowances will be at the rate of 20, 10 and 5 per cent. Night shift allowances of Rs 100 per night will be paid to employees of newspaper establishments in classes I and II, Rs 75 per night in classes III and IV and Rs 50 per night for V to VIII. The employees of news agencies falling in classes I and I shall be paid Rs 100 per night shift and those falling in classes III and IV Rs 50. Hardship allowance of Rs 1000 would be paid for the first four classes of newspaper establishments and first two classes of news agencies and Rs 500 for the remaining classes. Medical allowance of Rs 1000 would be paid per employee per month to top two classes of newspapers and news agencies and Rs 500 for III and IV categories in newspapers.

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$5.8bn Indian luxury market spreads beyond big cities http://asiancorrespondent.com/68064/5-8-bn-indian-luxury-market-spreads-beyond-big-cities/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/68064/5-8-bn-indian-luxury-market-spreads-beyond-big-cities/#comments Tue, 25 Oct 2011 08:56:19 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=68064 The Indian luxury market, estimated at $5.8 billion (nearly Rs 28,500 crore), is spreading beyond the big cities as adoption of global trends is catching up in smaller cities.

According to India Luxury Review 2011, published by the Confederation of India Industry (CII) and AT Kearney, the luxury bug has not bitten big cities alone. One in four luxury stores are established outside Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. This could very well be the trend for the next few years, what with the Indian luxury market growing at over 20 percent per annum. The luxury market here will be worth an estimated $5.8 billion by end-2011. The CII-AT Kearney report also revealed that despite the high tariffs, the prices here are on par with those of Singapore, making domestic luxury purchases more practical.

Car dealerships are the most penetrated with more than 50% of their dealerships outside the metros - Mumbai/Delhi/Bengaluru/Chennai/ Hyderabad.

The most marked trends are of new cities and catchments on the luxury map. Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune are now confirmed luxury destinations with several brands opening stores in these cities (Hermes, Paul & Shark, Diesel, Canali, Tumi etc). Stores in cities beyond Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru now account for 23 percent of the stores. In addition new catchments in Mumbai (North Mumbai/Juhu) and Delhi (Gurgaon) are becoming popular destinations for luxury. This is where the future of the luxury market lies.

Car dealerships are the most penetrated with more than 50 percent of their dealerships outside the metros (Mumbai/Delhi/Bengaluru/Hyderabad/Chennai) – towns where luxury car dealerships are present are Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Coimbatore, Goa, Guwahati, Jaipur, Kochi, Kolkata, Ludhiana, Pune, Raipur, Surat. These are potential destinations for luxury products as well as services and assets.

The second major trend is that Indian consumers are accepting and adopting international customs and trends at a much faster pace than anticipated. India no longer continues to be the ‘lagging’ market that takes time to adapt to global changes. Consumers are well-informed and increasingly demanding about latest trends – especially in the luxury products space. In categories like apparel & accessories and personal care, the key criteria for purchase is no longer price parity with international markets (which is almost expected as a ‘given’ criteria), but the availability of the latest collections. The report said: “In fact, while brands do launch their latest collections in India at the same time as they do in other markets, consumers still complain about width and depth of range.”

Traditionally, selling ‘famous brands’ and products with prominent logos has always been easier than introducing new brands in India. The CII-AT Learney report however says, “While the ‘badge’ is – and will probably continue to be – an important factor in our market for some time to come, consumers are now increasingly willing to move beyond the very popular brands, brands that are well known in other markets and have a clear and unique value proposition.”

In the apparel space for instance, there are a growing number of takers for brands that are differentiated and have a strong ‘point of view’. Several new brands like Etro, Paul & Shark, Hackett and Superdry are making their mark in a market that wanted to stick only to the likes of Armani, Versace and Hugo Boss.

The report also talks of challenges, especially in effectively reaching the target consumer. Reservations on luxury purchases are declining, with price parity with Dubai/Singapore being very clearly attempted and communicated. The need for Indianisation is also being felt by most players, and some efforts are already visible in apparel, watches and cars. There has also been limited progress on the infrastructure front.

According to CII-AT Kearney, there are three paths that luxury players could choose to take: grow cautiously by getting the basics right, experiment selectively to adopt a differentiated position in the market, or gain first mover advantage in high potential sectors by bold ‘market making’ moves.

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Future shock for Kaziranga wildlife: 70 dams in Arunachal http://asiancorrespondent.com/67977/future-shock-for-kaziranga-wildlife-70-dams-in-arunachal/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/67977/future-shock-for-kaziranga-wildlife-70-dams-in-arunachal/#comments Tue, 25 Oct 2011 04:04:59 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=67977 The main threat to Kaziranga National Park in the next 25 years will come not from poachers or encroachers, but the 70 dams that are being built in the Eastern Himalayas of India’s Northeast. Experts who have just completed a study of the region fear that Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park, both World Heritage Sites of natural importance, might be adversely affected by dam-building on the Brahmaputra and its tributaries.

Partha J Das (Head, Water, Climate & Hazard Programme) and Bibhab K Talukdar (Secretary General) of Aaranyak say that the 168 dams planned in the region will have serious impacts on the life-sustaining ecosystems and the fragile environment to various degrees in the the entire region which has the largest forest cover in India (24.6 per cent of the country’s forest area) in a relatively small area (7.76 per cent of the country’s total geographical area) as well as an integral part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, one of the 34 in the world.

The large dams on the Siang, Dibang, Lohit and the Subansiri are likely to trigger changes in the flood cycle and hydrological relationship of the Kaziranga forests with the river Brahmaputra maintained through exchange of surface, sub-surface and ground water flow. Photo: Aaranyak

For Kaziranga, located in the floodplain of the Brahmaputra and known for its population of the greater one-horned rhino, elephants and tigers as well as many other important species of flora and fauna, the threat comes from the Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project (2000 MW) on river Subansiri, the Lower Siang HEP (2700 MW) on river Siang (the mainstream of the Brahmaputra that flows from Tibet), the Demwe Lower HEP (1750 MW) on river Lohit and the Dibang Multipurpose Project (3000 MW) on river Dibang, projects. All these are in various stages of development.

Diurnal fluctuations in flow discharge and water level due to calculated pattern of release of water from these run-of-the river projects will create a high flow-low flow cycle on a daily scale rather than the natural seasonal scale. As a result of this high flow-low contrast occurring every day, the hydrostatic pressure on the riverine and inner aquatic habitats will vary drastically all the time pushing the wildlife of Kaziranga, especially the aquatic wildlife to severe stress.

Increase in rate of river bank erosion and uncertainty in anticipating the places where banks will be eroded is commonly observed in alluvial plains downstream of dams. Any increase in bank erosion along the riparian stretch of Kaziranga will lead to loss of area of the wild habitat and even might lead to excessive sedimentation of inland water bodies and grasslands during annual peak floods and during those sure but unpredictable cases where floods are created by release of water in the event of extreme rainfall or landslide dam outburst floods in upstream of these basins.

This kind of erosion on the Brahmaputra will be commonplace. Photo: Aaranyak

In simple worlds, the Kaziranga ecosystem may undergo such changes that may reduce their productive and carrying capacity to sustain different species of flora and fauna due to changes in the local hydrological characteristics of the Brahmaputra which will be caused by the dams. If the cumulative impact of these dams is added to those due to the Chinese ones reportedly under construction, the impacts could still be more adverse than being assessed at present.

The scary part is that a total of 70 large dams have been proposed by the Government of India over the basins of the Siang (20), Lohit (11), Dibang (17) and Subansiri (22).

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Indian telecom sector shies away from low-carbon model http://asiancorrespondent.com/67988/indian-telecom-sector-shies-away-from-low-carbon-model/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/67988/indian-telecom-sector-shies-away-from-low-carbon-model/#comments Mon, 24 Oct 2011 18:53:21 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=67988 Bharti Airtel and the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) have reneged on their commitment of disclosing a detailed and sustainable emission reduction plan, including a substantial substitution of diesel with renewable alternatives to power their network operations by September 2011, environmental organisation Greenpeace India has alleged.

The public commitment was made following a meeting between Bharti Airtel, representatives of COAI and Greenpeace India on June 10, 2011.

“Not only have they failed to deliver on their commitment, they are now looking to backtrack by abdicating their responsibilities to address this problem. While they are happy to make positive statements, they are unwilling to back these up on the ground with tangible and substantive commitments,” said Mrinmoy Chattaraj, Climate and Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace India.

In June 2011, Bharti Airtel, along with Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) representatives met Greenpeace India and promised to disclose its emission reduction plan, and a plan to use clean energy to power its network operations by September 2011. Now they refuse to act.

The meeting between Greenpeace India and the Bharti Airtel led COAI was preceded by a public campaign where over 70,000 individuals from across the country urged the company to substantially shift to renewable sources for its energy requirements.

At that time, COAI had committed that within three months it would develop a clear, detailed and sustainable emission reduction programme with realistic timeframes for achievement and share this with Greenpeace and other interested parties. Such detail would have included issues of a common approach to measurement, comparability of results, common definition of terms, identification of initiatives that have the best promise of effectiveness, efficiency and scalability and defined milestones for implementation. In addition, COAI committed within this timeframe to engage a competent third party entity to assist its members with “best international practices” and provide independent verification of achievement of programs and milestones. Efforts have already begun with the adoption of the GSMA programme for energy use reduction.

Rajan S Mathews, Director-General COAI, had stated that it was time that serious companies with a serious intention of reducing carbon emissions, rolled up their sleeves and focused their energies together on the real task at hand, instead of “dissipating their energies on cheap headlines and sound bites played out in the media.”

Recently, Vodafone Essar and Google have disclosed their carbon emissions and renewable energy goals publicly. In the absence of public reporting by any of the companies in the Indian telecom sector so far, this could have far-reaching consequences for the long-term sustainability and profitability of the telecom industry in India.

Vodafone released its sustainability report in August, the first in the Indian telecom industry. The company disclosed carbon emissions from operations under its direct control and set a tentative emission reduction target of 20 per cent by 2015. The company will finalise its emission reduction target by early next year. Though, the content of the Vodafone sustainability report in terms of disclosure and target-setting is far from satisfaction, it sets the stage for transparency on the use of energy sources in its operation and is being seen as an important development. This will push other major telecom operators in India to follow the same path. So far, however, this has not happened.

“Quite clearly, we now have a precedent to suggest that the transit to a low-carbon profitable model is feasible for India’s telecom sector. The question before Bharti Airtel is whether it is willing to act in line with its professed commitments to decouple its growth from growing carbon emissions, in a manner befitting a responsible market leader,” said Chattaraj.

The issue grabbed centre stage earlier this year through Greenpeace India’s report Dirty Talking – A case for telecom to shift from diesel to renewable which exposed how the subsidy on diesel has been aggressively exploited by the telecom sector, resulting in an annual loss of around Rs 2600 crore to the state exchequer. The report also showed how the sector can become a transformative force by adopting renewable energy for their business operations and advocating economy wide climate and energy solutions.

Since the release of this report, Greenpeace has been urging Bharti Airtel to:

  • Publicly disclose the carbon emissions of its entire business operation and establish progressive emission reduction target.
  • Commit to shift the sourcing of 50% of its energy requirements towards renewable energy sources and phase out diesel use in its business operations by 2015.
  • Catalyse a low-carbon economy wide growth, by using its brand power to advocate for strong policies that promote renewable energy.
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India on the brink of wiping out polio http://asiancorrespondent.com/67921/india-sees-longest-polio-free-period-ever/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/67921/india-sees-longest-polio-free-period-ever/#comments Mon, 24 Oct 2011 05:49:13 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=67921 For a country where health care is a sordid joke on the poor, India finally has something positive to show on this front. Polio, going by the law of averages, is on the verge of being eradicated from India.

Only one polio case has been detected so far this year in the country, making it the longest polio-free period since eradication efforts were launched in 1995. The only case of polio reported this year (on January 13) has been from Howrah district in West Bengal compared to 39 cases in the same period of 2010. For the first time no case of polio has been reported either from Uttar Pradesh (since April 2010) or Bihar (since September 2010). No case of type 3 polio has come up for over a year either.

Incidentally, today (October 24) is World Polio Day.

Photo: Ramesh Lalwani (Creative Commons)

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare feels this is the closest it has come to eradicating polio, and has decided to treat any fresh case of polio as a “public health emergency” in order to achieve polio eradication from India at the earliest. Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Ghulam Nabi Azad, issued his customary statement:

We are close to our goal but are not taking any chances. Efforts will be further intensified in the country to stop any residual poliovirus circulation and also to prevent any polio cases following an international importation.

To mitigate the risk of polio importation from Pakistan, which is experiencing a surge in cases and has re-infected China, polio immunisation is being carried out at the Wagah border and Attari train station in Punjab since September and Munabo in Barmer district of Rajasthan since early October. All children crossing into India by road and train are being administered the polio vaccine. An alert has been sounded in the states bordering China to step up polio surveillance. Continuous polio vaccination is also being carried out at 81 transit points along the Indo-Nepal border in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar since April this year.

A number of new initiatives have been taken up this year. The ministry has put in place an emergency preparedness and response plan (EPRP). All states have been asked to prepare their EPRPs. As a part of this plan, rapid response teams have already been constituted and high-risk districts, blocks and villages identified to roll out measures to scale up routine immunisation, among other things.

A new communication campaign personalising the message for polio immunisation from ‘har bachcha har bar’ (every child every time) to ‘mera bachcha har bar’ (my child every time) has been rolled out. This campaign encourages parents to take action to protect their children against polio. These measures are in addition to the efforts already being made in the polio-endemic states of UP and Bihar. A 107 Block Plan that addresses actions to improve polio coverage and routine immunisation in 107 high risk blocks of UP and Bihar, in addition to tackling risk factors such as reducing incidence of diarrhea, improving sanitation and water quality, is also being implemented.

For once, India’s efforts are being lauded. The International Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in its October report has said that India is on track to interrupt transmission in 2011.

The wake-up call came in 1985 when 2 lakh (200,000) polio cases were estimated. Polio vaccine was subsequently universalised and integrated in the Universal Immunisation Programme for administration across the country. In 1995, when Pulse Polio Programme was launched, there were still an estimated 50,000 polio cases in the country. The turning point came in 2010 when only 42 polio cases were reported. Every year two National Immunisation Days (NIDs) are carried out in January and February. During each NID nearly 17.2 crore children are immunised. Nearly 23 lakh vaccinators under the direction of 155,000 supervisors visit 20 crore houses to administer oral polio vaccine to children under the age of five years.

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Baby 7 Billion: Countdown begins for a girl in India http://asiancorrespondent.com/67368/baby-7-billion-countdown-begins-for-a-girl-in-india/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/67368/baby-7-billion-countdown-begins-for-a-girl-in-india/#comments Mon, 17 Oct 2011 06:58:00 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=67368 Plans are afoot to celebrate the birth of a girl on October 31 as the world’s 7 billionth child near Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh. Plan International is using the occasion to draw world attention to India’s growing gender gap. The world’s emerging economic superpower, estimated to overtake China to become the most populous nation by 2030, has 7 million girls ‘missing’ from its population.

Hundreds of thousands of female foetuses are terminated in India every year even though sex-selective abortions and use of ultrasound technology for foetal sex-determination are illegal in the country.

Girls drawing in class at an Early Childhood Care & Development Centre (ECCD) in Badarpur, on the outskirts of Delhi. Photo: Plan / Davinder Kumar

According to India’s 2011 Census, the ratio of girls to boys has dropped to an all-time low since records began. Today, the national figure has fallen to an alarming 914 girls for every 1,000 boys between 0 and 6 years. In some states like Punjab that ratio is as low as 846 girls to 1,000 boys.

Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director of Plan India, said: “We are the world’s most rapidly growing nation, yet among the most challenging for girls. Plan has been working in India for the last three decades and survival rights of girls have been a key focus of our community development work. With ‘Let Girls be Born’ we hope to reach out to people to make them realise the consequences of the declining sex ratio, and encourage them to be active in celebrating girls.”

The organisation has chosen Uttar Pradesh to mark the birth of Baby 7 Billion as the state accounts not only for the highest number of births but also the highest number of ‘missing girls’. With a population bigger than that of Brazil, it has just 899 girls for every 1,000 boys. The situation is similar in other states such as Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and the country’s capital Delhi.

On October 31, Plan will celebrate the birth of ‘Baby 7 Billion’ at a public function near Lucknow. The newborn will be issued with a birth certificate by state authorities. The organisation has made registration of birth an integral part of its girls’ rights campaigns.

Nadya Kassam, Plan’s Global Head of Advocacy said: “A birth certificate is recognition of a valued life and is a passport to citizenship and many rights. In places like India particularly, it gives live data on the gender gap and serves as a vital indicator to track where girls are being lost.”

In India, Plan works in 10 states and has directly impacted lives of over a million children and their families. As a response to India’s worst child sex ratio since records began, Plan India has launched ‘Let Girls Be Born’ (LGBB) campaign and its main objective is to realise a gender balance in society by eliminating female foeticide/ infanticide and ensuring the right to identity, name and citizenship for girls.

According to provisional Census totals, India’s population at 1210.2 million is almost equal to the combined populations of the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan.

World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development says globally, “missing” girls at birth and excess female mortality after birth account for an estimated 3.9 million women each year in low-and middle-income countries. Almost one million of these deaths are in India.

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India: Anti-Naxal forces leave a trail of devastation http://asiancorrespondent.com/66934/india-anti-naxal-forces-even-ate-up-mid-day-meals-meant-for-children/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/66934/india-anti-naxal-forces-even-ate-up-mid-day-meals-meant-for-children/#comments Tue, 11 Oct 2011 06:02:26 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=66934 A 30-year-old woman was repeatedly gang raped by security forces for a week during August in the Saranda forests of Jharkhand. Jawans of the anti-Naxal Cobra force captured her house, and made her to live with and cook for them. Today, she does not dare speak out against the barbarity since the jawans subsequently arrested her son for being a Maoist. She fears more for the life of her son, than speaking out against the atrocity that was heaped on her.

This woman’s story is not an isolated one. Innumerable accounts of gross human rights violations are trickling out of the Saranda forests where the anti-Maoist exercise Operation Anaconda was carried out in August. More than 500 Adivasis were brutally tortured by the forces and 15,000 were directly affected by the atrocities, according to rights activists.

Saranda, literally meaning a forest of seven hundred small hills, is known as the largest sal forest in Asia, situated in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. Approximately 125,000 Adivasis / 10,000 families live in these forests, which have rich iron ore deposits. Maoists rule the area, and hence the security operations. Operation Anaconda was the last of these.

During Operation Anaconda, which was carried out jointly by the Jharkhand police and the paramilitary forces, the jawans ate, mixed and spoiled food grains in many villages, besides destroying the harvest. They also ate the meat that villagers had in stock. In many places, the security forces broke down doors and destroyed houses. They took the edible materials in three private ration shops, and later destroyed them. They also damaged most of the utensils (made of steel and silver) and seized the bronze ones, traditional weapons, axes, clothes and agriculture equipment to show that these were recovered from Maoist camps. The security forces destroyed land entitlement papers, ration cards, education certificates, voter identity cards and job cards in Tholkobad, Gundijora, Baliba, Tirilposi and Bitkilsoy villages.

Schools remain closed even now and midday meals were suspended in 25 villages during the anti-Naxal operations. The jawans even ate up the food meant for the midday meals of schoolchildren in Baliba, Tirilposi and Tholkobad villages. They captured the primary school in Tholkobad and destroyed books, schoolboxes and science kits. The jawans severely beat up a teacher, and destroyed the utensils, land patta and voter card of the convener of the midday meal committee. The construction works of two new school buildings were stopped at Baliba and Tirilposi villages. No one now dares to send their children to school.

There are no health facilities available within 30-50km of the Saranda forests. Villagers have to depend on the “jholachap doctors” (untrained medicine practitioners) or traditional medicine practitioners for treatment. The National Rural Health Mission does not exist for any practical purpose. The security forces have created a livelihood crisis by terrorising, torturing, raping and even killing villagers. Most of the youth in the 25 villages have fled. The region remains cut off. The forces have cordoned off the villages, and the media barely have access to the area.

The ostensible reason behind the anti-Maoist operations in the area is mining. A Chinese company, Electro Steel, has been given a lease on the Dinsumburu mines, which is situated near Baliba and Kudliba villages. This is where the most heinous atrocities were committed by the security forces. There are 17 other groups/companies – including the Tatas, Mittals and Jindals – which have been given mining leases in the Saranda forests. The Adivasis have not been given land entitlements under the Forest Rights Act 2006. Without these, the mining companies can comfortably acquire the forest and environment clearance for mining purposes.

Saranda, literally meaning a forest of seven hundred small hills, is known as the largest sal forest in Asia, situated in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. Approximately 125,000 Adivasis / 10,000 families live in these forests, which have rich iron ore deposits. Maoists rule the area, and hence the security operations. Operation Anaconda was the last of these.

A team from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) visited the area in September following a plea filed by the Jharkhand Human Rights Movement (JHRM). Senior police officials of the region however tried to sabotage the visit, according to JHRM. First, they tried to cancel the visit by giving NHRC false information about heavy rains in Saranda. When this disinformation was refuted by the JHRM, the police and the administration changed the route chart for the investigating team. They coordinated the visit in a manner to ensure that the team did not reach the most affected villages. Tirilposi village was even struck off the itinerary.

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UNFCC approves controversial Reliance power project in Jharkhand http://asiancorrespondent.com/66810/unfcc-approves-controversial-power-project-of-reliance-in-jharkhand/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/66810/unfcc-approves-controversial-power-project-of-reliance-in-jharkhand/#comments Sun, 09 Oct 2011 19:40:14 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=66810 The CDM Executive Board has approved two controversial Indian mega projects: a new coal fired power plant and a hydro power plant which had recently made headlines because of its non‐additionality and the harm reportedly caused to the local population.

The CDM Executive Board once again ignored criticism of the environmental integrity of coal projects by approving yet another supercritical coal project. The project is part of Reliance Power Ltd, owned by Anil Ambani. Over the next 10 years the plant will receive 21 million CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) credits while emitting 240 million tons of CO2.

Jharkhand Integrated Power Ltd, a 100 per cent owned subsidiary of Reliance Power Ltd, is implementing a 3,960 MW project activity using ‘higher efficiency super-critical technology’, near Tilaiya village in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand.

In order to qualify as a CDM project, a project developer must show that the project would not have used supercritical technology without CDM support. The newly registered project failed to do so because the Government of India has required by law that this project use supercritical technology. Moreover, because of skyrocketing coal prices and severe shortages, power producers are increasingly switching to supercritical technology regardless of CDM support.

Steven Herz of Sierra Club, who has independently evaluated a number of Indian coal projects seeking CDM registration, said, “This is not a project that slipped through the cracks of the CDM review process. The CDM Executive Board was well aware of these fundamental problems and closely reviewed the project. Their decision to approve the project anyway raises serious questions about their willingness to enforce CDM rules in an objective matter.”

This statement is supported by Reliance’s annual report to its shareholders that explicitly states that the CDM is a “new revenue stream for the company,” making it clear that CDM support is not necessary to finance the project.

Jharkhand Integrated Power Ltd, a 100 per cent owned subsidiary of Reliance Power Ltd, is implementing a 3,960 MW project activity using ‘higher efficiency super-critical technology’, near Tilaiya village in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand. Six plants of 660 MW each will be deployed as a part of the project activity.

“This is a remarkably poor use of CDM resources. This project will fill the coffers of a billionaire while emitting massive quantities of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants. It not only undermines the goal of addressing climate change, but also completely fails to support sustainable development in India,” said Anja Kollmuss from CDM Watch.

The same criticism also holds true for the second project – the 412 MW Rampur Hydroelectric Project located near Rampur in Himachal Pradesh. The project has long faced criticism about its additionality claim and stiff local opposition as a result of its lack of public consultation and failure to deliver sustainability benefits. Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVN), a hydropower company originally created by the World Bank, signed an agreement with the state government to implement the project back in 2004. The Indian Prime Minister laid the foundation stone in 2005. The World Bank approved a major loan for Rampur in 2007. This project would clearly have gone forward with or without the support of the CDM.

Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP) said, “It is pretty shocking to see that Rampur project has been registered. This shows how inadequate, poor and weak are the capacity, will and intention of the UNFCCC to enforce the criteria that the Executive Board is supposed to enforce. Most fundamentally, the project is non-additional as proved by the official documents that we provided to UNFCCC in our comments filed with UNFCCC in June 2009 when the project’s Design Document was put up for validation.

“Again when the project was put up for registration in May 2011, we wrote a detailed letter to UNFCCC showing how the validation report was giving wrong and misleading information and was also changing basic aspects from comments phase to registration phase. The validation report in fact had failed to respond to the comments from the local Himachal Pradesh groups. Our letter to the Designated Operating Entity on June 1, 2011 and to the members of the Executive Board of the UNFCCC on June 8, 2011 remains unanswered. The Executive Board members requested review of the registration on June 14, 2011, but the grounds of the request were so inadequate and weak that it raises the question if the members were serious or were going through the motions to show that they are doing something.”

“The Rampur project is the latest example of an Indian project that undermines the credibility of the CDM. Now that the project has been registered, it will increase global CO2 emissions, at a cost of €120 million to unsuspecting energy consumers in Sweden,” said Katy Yan from International Rivers.

Said Thakkar, “The whole episode raises suspicion that the UNFCCC board is being pushed into registering such unjustified projects by powerful elements like the World Bank and the Government of India, or is there also corruption involved, considering the large sums of money involved (Rampur project claims that it will get 14.1 million Carbon Emission Reduction Credits, which is equivalent to over 141 million Euros). It also shows how poor is the role of the Designated National Entity, namely the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests in certifying that the project is a sustainable development project, when the project has such huge social and environmental impacts and also its track record has been so poor.”

A diplomatic cable from 2008 published last month by WikiLeaks provides additional evidence that most CDM projects in India are non‐additional. Asked about the allegations Martin Hession, chair of the CDM Executive Board said in an interview with Nature that “the CDM is much more transparent and predictable than the tenor of these remarks might suggest.”

“The CDM too frequently promotes projects that neither cause additional emission reductions nor support sustainable development,” said Eva Filzmoser from CDM Watch, “facing criticism that decisions by the CDM Executive Board are often tainted by conflicts of interests, we are asking the Board to publish the findings of the review assessments that state how these contentious CDM projects comply with CDM requirements,” she added.

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