Quest for justice

Published : Sep 12, 2003 00:00 IST

The Cover Story ("Quest for Justice", August 29) is an awakening account of the muzzy attempts under the Narendra Modi regime in Gujarat to fiddle with justice.

When the riot-affected minority community's wounds are still to heal, instead of honest introspection, Modi's petition to the President, asking for a chronological record of communal riots in the country after Partition, is absurd. Before presenting such a petition, he ought to have checked the record of the fundamentalists of the majority community.

Justice is the right of every individual. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), by filing a special leave petition, now to be heard by the apex court in the form of a public interest litigation (PIL), acted within the limits of constitutional propriety and in keeping with its role as a constitutional body. On the other hand, instead of appreciating its quest for justice by peaceful means, BJP spokesperson V.K. Malhotra dubbed the NHRC "anti-Hindu". Are people expected to learn who is a Hindu and who is anti-Hindu from Sangh Parivar zealots like Malhotra? The BJP's earlier confrontation with the Chief Election Commissioner amounted to rigging the parliamentary, democratic system. Let the quest for justice continue in spite of hurdles.

Mahesh Inder SharmaNew Delhi

The Kalpakkam `incident'

The report on "the Kalpakkam `incident' " (August 29) shows the chinks in the armour of the Indian nuclear power establishment. That is, the establishment's two arms, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC), can have different safety norms and that BARC, which is entrusted with `strategic' matters, has a safety system that is less than reliable and not transparent, especially at Kalpakkam. Thickly populated Chennai is hardly 50 km away - a frightening scenario, indeed.

The real culprit is the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, an undemocratic piece of legislation with no parallel, which removes `safety' and `costs' relating to nuclear reactors completely from parliamentary oversight. Without such accountability, it was possible for BARC to keep the recent "incident" or "accident" at Kalpakkam under wraps for six months.

It is a matter of common knowledge that Japan's nuclear power industry has been plagued by accidents and cover-ups in the last decade, deeply eroding public confidence. Such a situation should not be allowed to develop in India.

Kangayam R. RangaswamyWisconsin, U.S.

Ayodhya obstacles

In the article on the Ayodhya question ("A new phase of adventurism", August 1), in considering the possibility of legislation as demanded by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) due importance has not been given to two basic aspects.

1) The secular state has the power to acquire even a place of worship or a place of religious significance (as it did in 1991, which was withdrawn, and again in 2003, which was upheld by the Supreme Court) for a public purpose, not for a private purpose. A denominational purpose is not a public purpose but a private one. This means that no secular government worth the name can acquire a mosque site for construction of a mandir and vice versa. This is the real constitutional obstruction in the path of the VHP and the Government of India.

2) The Act of 1993 and the Supreme Court Order of October 24, 1994, try to overcome this obstruction by justifying the acquisition of the sites of both masjids and mandirs for the construction of both a mandir and a masjid in the acquired area for the sake of promoting communal harmony. No government can ignore or reverse the Supreme Court order, which ordains the construction of a masjid or a mandir on the disputed site, depending upon who wins the title suite, and of the other structure nearby within the acquired area (apart from the infrastructure).

3) Under the Act, the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (RJN) is out of court, unless the Act is amended to change the provision that the construction of a mandir may be entrusted by the government to a trust formed after January 7, 1993, which obviously the RJN is not.

These obstacles are in addition to the legal and historical points made in the article.

Syed Shahabuddinreceived on e-mail

Supreme Court on strikes

This is with reference to the reports on the Supreme Court's remarks on the right to strike ("A right under attack" and "The end of a trauma") and to the column by Praful Bidwai ("A blow to citizenship rights") in the August 29 issue. The central premise is that the workers are an underprivileged lot and that in certain circumstances they have no option but to resort to strikes and hence they must be allowed to do so.

While there is merit in the argument, it is equally true that under such circumstances, the workers must be ready to face the consequences of their actions. If they are so confident about their cause, they must be ready to pay the price for it.

That is what the workers in Tamil Nadu failed to do. They succumbed to the first blow they received and never made any attempt to recover, which reinforces the opinion that they used strike as a blackmailing tool. If they were really fighting for a life-and-death situation, they would not have been so supine. And in that context, the Supreme Court's observations indeed have merit.

Vinoo RamakrishnanNew Jersey, U.S.

Mercury's victims

This has reference to the article "Mercury's victims" (August 29), on the effect of an industrial pollutant as potent as mercury on unsuspecting people. One acknowledges the revelations, but there must be no attempt to victimise one party or the other. We need industries and we need to maintain the good health of our people. In the first place, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) should have been closely monitoring the process and procedure carried out at the plant and should have ensured compliance with safety norms. The company, on its part, should have lived up to its professed standards and addressed the sensitive issues with more transparency, including handing over the medical history of the employees concerned.

All the parties concerned should sit together and assess the extent of damage caused to the health of the employees and the local people, the environment and the water body around. A committee formed by such people can take opinion from independent experts.

Jayaram PuthusseriThalasseri, Kerala

Nanotechnology next

It has always been a wonderful experience to read the articles on science and technology published in Frontline and the special features on ISRO (August 15) and biotechnology (August 29) were no different. India lost out on the era of micro technology and regrets it. Can it afford to lose out on the era of nanotechnology?

The potential for nanotechnology is immense. It can generate wealth and eradicate poverty from India in one stroke. We cannot afford to miss nanotechnology.

Jagdev Singhreceived on email

Mid-day meals

I congratulate Jean Dreze and Aparajita Goyal on the excellent survey and analysis of the mid-day meal scheme ("The future of mid-day meals", August 15). Very useful insights are now available for policy makers to implement the scheme in a more targeted and effective manner.

It would be a good idea to explore the possibilities of extracting learning opportunities out of a mid-day meal for students, teachers and communities on issues of food security and health. A `school yard garden' as an educational space for students to become `ecologically literate' - to learn issues of sustainable farming, crop biodiversity, nutrition and health in their localised contexts.

A study by the Deccan Development Society in Andhra Pradesh found that local recipes were as nutritious as those provided under government schemes. A mid-day meal could foster a healthy debate between `People's food' production systems and `Government's food' production systems. The mid-day meal programmes could be taken further in schools across India by realising the potential of localised environment education possibilities. With a willing state of course.

Rustam VaniaBangalore

Caste and class divide

"The great caste and class divide" by Bhaskar Ghose (August 1) is a piece way below expectations.

He has ignored the real divisions of caste and class that have been in existence in modern India, during and after the Independence struggle. Apparently, he is concerned about caste only because it partially yields power to a section of Dalits, because "Dalits are asserting themselves". He is apparently eager to "see the removal of the provisions in the Constitution giving the `disadvantaged' castes protection". He says that "whatever the Constitution may say, caste is a major factor in society today", but does not explain what the role of this factor is. His statement that "Dalits are asserting themselves, wielding power and laying claim to more" is misleading. Is that to be welcomed or to be seen with alarm? In fact, his admission that Dalits are wielding some power testifies in support of the constitutional provisions giving them protection.

His view on what he calls class divisions "created by the educational system in our country" is replete with distortions, misconceptions, deliberate confusions, and bigotry. His so-called class divisions are imaginary, having no support in the fact of Indian political economy. Even if one takes a too liberal view of Ghose's analysis, one would imagine that he is talking about one generation of Indian politicians and elite (the parents - the government-school-education: Ghose's second group) contrasting it with the newer generation (the wards, the public-school-educated: Ghose's first group). One wonders, where he would put Rajiv Gandhi & co? And are not both the groups acting in concert, plunging the nation into a quagmire of neo-liberal policies, pauperising millions, combined with an undeclared war against the minorities and the downtrodden?

The real class and caste divisions seem to have been glossed over - both the groups that Ghose has described have already broken away from the rest of the nation as far as their future is concerned, and have joined the communalists at home and the imperialists abroad.

Ramprasad JoshiPune

Palni Hills

This is with reference to the article "On the danger list" (August 15) by Ian Lockwood, on the threat to Kodaikanal's biodiversity and his arguments for declaring Palni Hills a wildlife sanctuary or a national park. His arguments are well documented but seem to be more supportive of the Forest Department's view and the view of big people with high stakes in the Palni Hills.

I am one of the early social workers of Palni Hills and have lived in the Lower Palnis with the tribes and undertaken many development and educational programmes for tribes and children.

The biodiversity of Palni Hills should be preserved and protected. The grasslands-shola eco-system of Palni Hills has been there even before the British and the Forest Department and the big-business settlers reached Palni Hills. Even before the establishment of Kodaikanal as a hill station first by the British rulers and then by the establishment of American missionaries, Kodaikanal and Palni Hills preserved its rich fauna and flora and the green forest was protected by the native tribes.

The natural green-belt and `rich biodiversity was destroyed' only after the foreigners and rich businessmen migrated to the hills for discovering `new pastures'.

Lockwood speaks on "Monoculture plantations" and planting of pine trees, which reduced the green cover and shola ecosystem, but does not say a word on coffee cultivation on Palni Hills. Thousands of acres of green cover and native vegetation were destroyed for coffee cultivation in the Upper and Lower Palni Hills by migrators from the plains.

Native tribal lands were also forcibly occupied by the coffee planters. The tribal people were driven far away and lost their land-holdings and rights. The same tribals now work as coolies and bonded labourers in their own land. This is the untold story of Palni Hills and the tribes. Tribal people never cut a tree or natural vegetation; trees are their "native worshipping gods".

It is imperative to protect the rain forests and vegetation and wild animals, but declaring Palni Hills a wildlife sanctuary or national park should not be at the cost of the tribal people.

The relationship between the Forest Department's lower level officials and tribes is well known. The officials always side with big business and timber merchants.

Ian Lockwood and others who write on Kodaikanal and Palni Hills, praise the Palni Hills Conservation Council's efforts in raising nurseries and shola nurseries, but did the PHCC raise its voice again tree felling in Kodaikanal and Palni Hills? Did the PHCC do anything to protect the flora and fauna of Palni Hills? It has not done anything for the tribal and native people.

As a social activist, I have been distressed over the present campaign for "declaring Palni Hills a wildlife sanctuary and national park". This move of the Forest Department and so-called environmentalists will restrict access of tribal people to forests and impinge on the tribal people's rights to forest produce, cultivation and even the right to live in the nearby forest area. I appeal to the Forest Department and the Government of Tamil Nadu to drop the proposed move.

S.M. UsmanTirunelveli, Tamil Nadu

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