Rajiv or Rao

The occasion was the 125th anniversary of the Indian National Congress. Sonia Gandhi and her party quite distinctively distanced themselves from P V Narasimha Rao denying the former Congress Prime Minister any credit for the economic reforms.

Gandhi was speaking at a function where she and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation of the Indira Gandhi Bhavan, which will be the new headquarters of the AICC, at Kotla Road. This is lamentable.

It is worthwhile to remember here that it took a major crisis for the economic reforms to happen. During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure external debts of the Government had been increasing.
He was assassinated in 1991 when the Congress Party was still preparing for the elections. Some credit can be taken by the Rajiv Gandhi government which gave special emphasis to the electronics and telecommunications industries. Rao appointed as his finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh and spearheaded the reforms of the 90s.

Success, said John F. Kennedy has many fathers.

His Sexcellency?

The 85th birthday of former Prime Minister and BJP patriarch Atal Bihari Vajpayee is front page news, especially when you have the present prime minister showing his reverence with folded hands. So is a sex scandal by a governor of the same age. Both the items had their dignified place (the latter solely from journalistic point) in the front pages of the news dailies.

News channel Andhra Jyothi broadcast a tape on Friday morning purportedly showing the Andhra Pradesh Governor, Narayan Dutt Tiwari having sex in the company of three women. The Indian Express followed the story with a juicy title “His Sexcellency?”, and a detailed coverage supplemented wherever needed with the interview of Andhra Jyothi’s managing editor, V. Radhakrishna. The editor admitted that the women purportedly having sex on tape were aware of the sting operation and had agreed to participate. The story had an overall balanced treatment bringing in the angle of the “woman broker”, Radhika who was promised a mining lease for allegedly “supplying women” to the veteran politician.

More revelations

The tabloid Mail Today that follows the story with bold headlines, and quite expectedly so, brings in more surprises in its report. It states that the Telugu TV channel that telecast the video claims that the clippings were of a bedroom at Raj Bhavan. The tabloid quotes Radhika saying that there were times when the governor would meet dignitaries in the hall in Raj Bhavan while the girls were kept in his bedroom on the first floor. She also claimed that a few Congress MPs would come to Raj Bhavan to sexually exploit the young girls and that the girls could identify these MPs.

The managing editor of the news channel has revealed that they took two months to prepare the sting. If these claims are true it will not only make a mockery of the Governor’s office but also of the High Court’s order. The Andhra Pradesh High Court had asked the channel to refrain from broadcasting the tape saying it was likely to “demean and denigrate” the gubernatorial office. How will the court save the gubernatorial office from denigration if the allegations against Mr. Tiwari is established?

One-sided story

The Hindu provides only a one-sided picture of the story. The headline, “N.D. Tiwari embroiled in a controversy” is as mild as the treatment to the story. The report states that the AP High Court has restrained the ABN channel from showing visuals allegedly of Governor Narayan Dutt Tiwari in a compromising position with three women in the Raj Bhavan. The English daily quite noticeably brings in the Raj Bhavan side of the story without even going into the allegations against the Governor and former Union Minister. It quotes extensively from a press note issued from the Raj Bhavan. The note from the Raj Bhavan argues that “Mr. Tiwari is 86 years old and in the evening of his life” and laments that “constitutional functionaries are dragged into needless controversy with utter disregard to propriety.” If the assertion of Andhra Jyoti channel is authentic, which it claims it is, it will be in utter disregard to propriety – of the gubernatorial office.

Dipu Shaw


Armed with the RTI, employee takes Steel Ministry to Court

Chandra Prakash Gandhi is fighting a lone battle against the Steel Ministry and one that concerns about 1000 public sector employees. One of his main weapons is the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

Bharat Refractories Limited, a Central public sector Undertaking under the Ministry of Steel had rolled back the retirement age of its employees from 60 to 58 years. The Ministry had approved the move in 2001.

Mr Gandhi, who was heading the Bhillai Plant of Bharat Refractories Ltd. at that time, was one of the employees affected directly by the decision. He retired at 58 as per the roll down. Sceptical of the decision of the Steel Ministry, Mr Gandhi filed RTI applications to find out about the powers of the Ministry in this regard.

The Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises noted in its reply that “the Steel Ministry at the time did not have the power to approve the rollback of age of the employees. It said that the powers lay only with the Cabinet.”

It enforced Mr Gandhi’s apprehensions. Armed with the noting of the Steel Ministry and the reply of the Ministry of Heavy Industries, Mr Gandhi has challenged the decision of the Steel Ministry at the Chhattisgarh High Court.

“I always doubted the motive of the decision to roll back the age of public sector employees”, says Mr Gandhi. He points out that there had been corrupt and dishonest activities in the company and he had issued a chargesheet against the miscreants. The manager too was involved. “It was due to this that the decision to reduce the age of retirement was passed as I too got covered under it, but, the ministry at that time was not authorised to pass the decision”, he says.

It was not Mr Gandhi alone who was affected by the decision to retire employees two years earlier. It brought an earlier retirement for about 1000 public sector employees. Mr Gandhi calls it “illegal retirement.” Mr Gandhi, who is 66 years now, still hopes that the law will take its course and the affected people will get their due.
Mr Gandhi is one of the nominees for the RTI Awards, 2009.

Anees Ibrahim dead?

It was a day when news channels gloated over the speculated death of Anees Ibrahim in Karachi. One of the Hindi news channels claimed that they had information of an attack on Dawood Ibrahim and his brother Anees.

The news of firing on the gangster brothers was thrilling enough to catch the attention of rival news channels. “Anees Ibrahim was dead reportedly from 12 rounds of bullets fired at him and the underworld Don Dawood Ibrahim was injured in the attack.” Quite ironically, none of the channels tried to verify the news before announcing it to their audience.

By 1 o’ clock in the afternoon, all the Hindi news channels had picked up this news and had their reporters analyzing on the repercussions of this on the D Company. IBN7, ZEE NEWS, INDIA TV, NDTV INDIA, and NEWS24: no one missed it. It appeared that one of them started it and the rest followed suit. Not only did the anchors speculate on how the reported death of Anees Ibrahim was a huge setback for India’s most wanted gangster, Dawood Ibrahim, but also “attributed” the crime to the Bahuchchi Bhetti Gang.

News about the underworld attracts a lot of attention. Bollywood has been benign in dedicating a number of their films to the underworld. Most of them have been a hit with the audience. But theirs is a make-belief, unreal world. Journalism on the other hand has its obligation to truth. Its essence is a discipline of verification. The news channels at this instance, flouted both.

Same source

The channels were identical in their details. All of them specified that Anees and Dawood were shot at near the Al Habeeb Bank ATM in Karachi. Anees Ibrahim was dead and that Dawood was injured, the incident reportedly took place at 12:30 p.m in the night; they unanimously pointed out without disclosing their source. It was evident that the source of the news for all the channels was the same considering the identical nature of the account. One channel started it and the rest followed. After all, any story about the D Company is too sexy not to attract the attention of the news channels.

The channels continued reporting on the make-belief incident even when they could not confirm the news. IBN7 made a call to Shyam Keshwani, the advocate of D Company who made it clear that the news was baseless and there was no such attack on the Ibrahim brothers. He explicitly said that he had spoken to one of their relatives and that both Dawood and Anees were safe. Even this did not stop the coverage.

End of the drama

It was only later in the day when Annes Ibrahim himself disclosed to Aaj Tak that “he was not dead.” He clarified in a telephonic conversation that there was no such attack on him and that he was travelling in a plane at the time that the channels claimed he was allegedly attacked and killed in Karachi.

This article was published in The Hoot

Dipu Shaw


Time to revolutionise the Indian education system

Dear Rahulji,

The state of India’s higher education is desperate and deplorable. Look beyond the IITs and IIMS, which off course caters to only a handful of our young pupils, and the dearth of quality education will be self evident.

The United States and the United Kingdom together earn over Rs. 50,000 crores from Asian students studying there. This is more than twice our entire educational budget per year. You must already be aware of this.

You have shown that you feel strongly about this. During your journey to the village schools you had asked the young students “Bete bade hokar kya banoge?” (What do you want to become when you grow up). The blank stares had disturbed you. And you had recounted it in your maiden Budget speech in the Lok Sabha.

Rahulji, you had also talked of higher education and of the need to develop India as ‘‘a global education hub’’. With a better mandate and more power in hand, can we expect that you and the UPA will do something to ensure that every child is able to answer the question ‘‘Bade hokar kya banoge?”

My best wishes,

Dipu Shaw

The three political stalwarts of 2009

Until recently, he was busy discovering India. Now, India has discovered Rahul Gandhi: says the lead of an article in a leading Indian magazine. No need to mention that this is about the Congress’s emphatic victory in the 15th Lok Sabha elections.

One cannot dispute the fact that the 2009 elections in the world’s largest democracy saw three straight winners: the young and dynamic Rahul Gandhi, son and grandson of former prime ministers Rajiv and Indira. Considered by many to be a prime minister in waiting, Rahul was marketed by Congress to appeal to India’s 43 million first time voters.

The engineer-turned-politician Nitish Kumar, seen by many as the first leader to have transcended all complications in Bihar. After all Bihar is known for its fragile and competitive caste calculus. This makes the 2009 mandate stand out as the first post-caste election in the state.

The man with a clean and simple image: Navin Patnaik. With his decisive victory in Orissa, he became the first leader to become chief minister for the third consecutive term. His party Biju Janata Dal became the first regional party to come to power on its own in Orissa. Just before the elections, he snapped his electoral alliance with the BJP. It was a calculated risk to go it alone and the gamble paid off in spades.

Bindeshwar Pathak receives Stockholm Water Prize

Bindeshwar Pathak has won the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize. As the founder of the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, Dr. Pathak is known around the world for his wide ranging work in the sanitation field to improve public health, advance social progress, and improve human rights in India and other countries.

“The results of Dr. Pathak’s endeavours constitute one of the most amazing examples of how one person can impact the well being of millions,” noted the Stockholm Water Prize nominating committee in its citation.

Since he established the Sulabh Sanitation Movement in 1970, Dr. Pathak has worked to change social attitudes toward traditional unsanitary latrine practices in slums, rural villages, and dense urban districts, and developed cost effective toilet systems that have improved daily life and health for millions of people.

Sulabh: A Simple device

The Sulabh technology is a simple device. It consists of two pits, used alternatively. After one pit fills, excreta is diverted to the second pit keeping the first in rest period where the excreta converts to solid, odourless, pathogen free manure. This does not require manual cleaning of excreta. In comparison to a traditional 10 litre flush, this technology requires 1.5 litres.

In an ideal situation toilets must be connected to sewerage networks. But, according to the 2001 census, only 232 out of 5,161 towns in India have a sewer network, that too partial coverage. The system is not complete unless a sewer line is connected to a sewage treatment plant.

As sewerage based toilets remain out of the reach of the majority in India, the challenge is to have toilets which are affordable, upgradable and easy to maintain.

Dr. Pathak will formally receive the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize at a Royal Award Ceremony and Banquet during the World Water Week in Stockholm this coming August.

“There are still 500,000 scavengers in India cleaning toilets manually”, informs Dr. Pathak. So, the task is not finished yet. He argues that nationalized banks must give loans to construct toilets, just as they provide loans to purchase fertilizers and seeds.

Declining readership of Urdu newspapers

Readers of Hamara Samaj, the well known Urdu daily of the capital would have been amused to find the same news repeated on two subsequent days. The newspaper on its issues dated 9th May and 10th May had the same “Delhi Shahar” page. It meant that all the news content of the third page of the newspaper on 9th May was repeated the next day.

Hamara Samaj was considerate enough to come out with a clarification on May 11th for the mistake. However, the point is that this is not the first instance of such a fault in the Urdu dailies. Often, news reports and pages get duplicated. Facts get twisted and reports are highly opinionated. These are perhaps some of the reasons for the depleting readership of Urdu newspapers. The Indian Readership Survey points out that the readership of Urdu Times and Inquilaab, two leading Urdu dailies of Mumbai was 6.2 lakh and 8.3 lakh respectively in 2007. In 2008, their readership has come down to 4.6 lakh and 8.1 lakh respectively.

Inqulaab, claims to be India’s leading Urdu daily established in 1938. (Mid Day Multimedia Ltd.)

Even though most of the newspapers consist of only about eight pages, the major part of the first and the last page is devoted to provocative advertisements. Hamara Samaj on 11th May carried an advertisement on its first page covering almost half the page. It had the picture of Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and aratiya Janta Party president Rajnath Singh treating each other with sweets.

The headline was: Congratulations!

The words were thus: “Are SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav and BJP president Rajnath Singh exchanging sweets to celebrate the demolition of Babri Masjid?

To be continued..

Zindagi LIVE?

As news channels reported on the high celebrity and low voter turnout at the polling booths in the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections, IBN 7 telecasted an interview with Shweta Singh, ex-wife of Rahul Mahajan in its talk show Zindagi LIVE.

The show hosted by Richa Aniroodh brings forth personal struggles of ordinary people who have battled adversities. Rahul Mahajan has acquired no less than celebrity status and anything to do with the Big Boss 2 participant is given extensive coverage by the media.

There is nothing wrong in calling Rahul’s divorced wife for a free wielding chat on television. But, continuously harping on the finest details of her broken relationship with her Ex-husband to the point that the interviewee sheds tears on screen is not what you call responsible journalism.

During the course of the interview, more than once Shweta had to repeat, “I don’t want to get into that again”, when put with uncomfortable questions by the host. Her sad story of her troubled married life was masala-mixed with equally depressing music in the background. The camera zoomed in on her sobbing face and the visual was repeatedly used before the commercials to keep viewers hooked to the show.

The tears gushing down from Shweta’s eyes, shown in slow motion depicted a sorry picture of the lady rather than one who has “battled atrocities and chosen life over defeat” as the programme claims it highlights.

The ticker below the screen read: 2006 Marriage, Divorced in 15 months.

The questions too were unmistakeably intrusions of privacy and stemmed from morbid curiosity rather than genuine overriding public interest.

How does it feel when Rahul Mahajan has been talking in the media about your (broken) marriage?

Why did the marriage break?

What was the role of other members in Rahul’s family when there was trouble in your relationship?

Had Pramod Mahajan been alive, can it be said that the relationship would have survived?

How long and how many times were you making adjustments when the relationship was in trouble?

Shweta answered to the questions in a choking voice, breaking down more than once during the show. The other members of her family including her mother also present in the show dejectedly watched as Shweta related her sad story. Her sister wiped her tears.

The larger issue is how much is the media allowed to intrude into someone’s life to share in a personal tragedy. It may be of interest to the public but the more important question is if it is in the larger public interest. In Shweta’s case, it was not.

One may do well to remember the guidelines of The Press Council of India. It lays down that the Press shall not intrude or invade the privacy of an individual, unless outweighed by genuine overriding public interest.

In situations like this it was pertinent for the interviewer to introduce her specific questions with the explicit question whether the guest wanted to talk about a specific aspect of her life or not, whether she wanted to go into details or not. This would have given her the option of saying “no”.

The interviewer could have tried not to conjure up unwanted recollections and the emotions they entail. Shweta and her family members definitely would not like to see her crying face on television.

Quite ironically, the host said in the end, “Whatever happened with you in the past we would want that you would forget them. And move forward”.

If only the media allowed it.

The article was published in The Hoot

Dipu Shaw


Four blasts in Guwahati

Guwahati, Apr 6: At least four people were killed and more than 14 injured in a powerful explosion, triggered by ULFA, at busy Maligaon area here today, just on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the state tomorrow.

According to residents, there has been five blasts instead of four.
The explosion took place at about 1340 hours at the Maligaon bus stand, barely 100 mt away from the Jalukbari police station.
The Northeast Frontier Railway headquarters is also situated about one km from the site.

Police suspected it to be the handiwork of proscribed ULFA, which would observe its ''raising day'' tomorrow.

Media jobs...OOps! Lay offs

The bad news continues. NDTV has sacked people at Metro Nation, including a couple of senior editorial staff, Mail Today has sacked several, and so has DNA. Exchange4media reports pay cuts at Outlook by less than 10 percent, of all those in the Rs 12 lakh annual salary bracket.

Bootlegging in Delhi

The village of Brahmpuri, in South West Delhi, is still in a state of shock. Villagers say 16 people have died there recently after drinking spurious liquor.

Police disagree on what caused the deaths of those residents. The people differ and say the police are not doing enough to protect them. Here's a report...

Politicians and foreign tours

Indians are parsimonious people. But, when it comes to our politicians, most of us will agree that they are spendthrifts. Their various foreign tours taking a large part of their expenditure. With Chief Minister Shila Dixit it is not so. Not that she is a miser. But she is frugal in her expenditures in her foreign tours. At least this is what the Chief Minister Office report helps us to conclude.

In a reply to a recent Right To Information petition filed in order to find out about the expenditures of the chief minister on her foreign tours from 2007 till date, the office of the Chief minister has provided the following information.

In her visit to Kuwait in March (from 16-04-07 to 17-04-07) to take part in the Asian Olympic Council Meeting, the Chief Minister spent only Rs. 10,192. Interestingly, the fare for Kuwait is approximately Rs 20,000.

She was also a part of the meeting of “Large Cities Climate Change” at New York in the United States of America from 14-05-07 to 17-05-07. Her expenditure on this tour was Rs 6,13,072.

Later in the year, (from 04-09-07 to 09-09-07) she visited Yerawan and Misk in Belarus to attend the 940th anniversary of the city of Misk. The amount that she spent during her six day trip was Rs 1,68,660. Even this is quite an economical account taking in view the number of days.

In May this year (from 25-05-08 to 31-05-08), she also visited China. The trip to Beijing and Tianjin and her six day of stay there cost her Rs 1,83,745.

The Chief Minister Office, Government of NCT of Delhi has provided this information.

Restore peace process: Indian peace delegation to Pakistan

Fresh from their visit to Pakistan, members of the Indian Peace Delegation addressed a press conference at the Indian Women’s Press Corps on Friday. A 13-member team led by veteran journalist and former diplomat Kuldip Nair had left for the neighbouring country on 22nd February.

The four-day visit was organized by South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) and included other eminent personalities like film maker Mahesh Bhatt, president of World Council of Arya Samaj Swami Agnivesh, prominent historian K.N. Panikkar, social activists Sandeep Pandey, Hanif Lakdawala and Sabnam Hashmi, former diplomat Salman Haider, Human Right Activist and Educationist Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Peace Activist Ramesh Yadav, Social Scientist Kamla Bhasin and well-known journalist Seema Mustafa.

After the Mumbai attacks, the peace process between India and Pakistan has come almost to a standstill, remarked Kuldip Nair. “We had gone in response to the visit of the Pakistani delegation to India so that the peace process between the two countries is restored at the earliest,” he said.

What came out again and again from the people of Pakistan is that they wanted peace with India. They said that they were non-state actors and should not be denied visas by the Indian Government, said the members who had gathered at 5, Windsor Place.

Swami Agnivesh pointed out that in his visits to the neighbouring country before 26/11, there could be no talks beyond Kashmir. People always said, first resolve the Kashmir issue and then talk about anything else. “After the Mumbai attacks, there is hardly any mention of Kashmir. They want to get back to composite dialogue between the two countries,” he said. “They told us that their country is a greater victim of terrorism. You support us and help.”

Asked if the response of the Pakistani government was the same as that of members of the civil society, the delegation said that they had gone as part of the civil society and met similar people there. “The ministers in the Government that we informally met also wanted restoration of dialogue and peace with India. We stressed that action by the Pakistan government on the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack should be taken to its logical conclusion.”

Security in Pakistan has deteriorated to a large extent, in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in the country. This was felt by the peace delegation too. “For the first time when we went to Lahore, we were accompanied by armed guards,” remarked Prof. Chinoy who was also part of the delegation.

The five members of the Peace Delegation who had gathered for the Press Conference recommended that people to people contact and cultural and sports exchanges between the two countries were necessary in these “difficult times”. The Indian Government had cancelled India’s cricket tour of Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks and the series between the two countries was called off. The cancellation of the tour has put a question mark on the sporting ties between the two countries.

Dipu Shaw


A healthy soft drink - cow's urine

Are you fed up of carbonated soft drinks that have bad impact on your health? Here's a solution. You can go for "Gau jal" or cow water.

Here's a drink for the true connoisseur - a new soft drink made from cow urine.

Indian inventors have spent months concocting the brew which (they claim) doesn't smell and will have a pleasant taste.

It's also meant to be very healthy.

How makers at the Hindu nationalist movement have accomplished this using waste products remains something of a mystery.

The drink has been devised by the Cow Protection Department of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who are based in Hardwar, one of four holy cities on the River Ganges.

Rather coyly, they've called it 'gau jal,' the Sanskrit for 'cow water' and say it is in the final stages of devlopment.

It is currently undergoing tests and should be launched by the end of this year. Om Prakash, the head of the department, said: 'Don't worry, it won't smell like urine and will be tasty too.'

'Its unique selling point will be that it's going to be very healthy. It won't be like carbonated drinks and will be devoid of any toxins.'

He added that it would be cheap and good competition for the American cola brands, which are popular in India.

'We're going to give them good competition as our drink is good for mankind,' he said.

'We may also think of exporting it.'

Gau jal is made from a blend of cow urine and medicinal and ayurvedic herbs.

The RSS, founded in 1925, claims to be the biggest Indian nationalist society with eight million members.

The cow is sacred to Hindus and the RSS has already promoted its urine as a cure for many things, from liver disease to cancer.

So! what next? Export it and let the foreigners too give it a try. They already consume most of its products and grow vegetables in its manure.

The struggle to keep alive the Tibetan culture

Dalai Lama at Jamia Millia Islamia Pix: Gargi Nim

About 50 years ago, the 14th Dalai Lama and leader of Tibet took a long arduous journey to cross the Himalayas and come to India. As Chinese pressure was mounting in Tibet, this monk knew that his people would fight till death to defend him. A strict adherent of peace and non violence, he chose to escape to India, to prevent any loss of Tibetan lives for his sake.

The Dalai Lama has since then stressed on the “middle path” as a solution to the Tibetan issue within the constitutional framework of the People’s Republic of China. The middle way approach aims to achieve greater autonomy within China through dialogue.

Some Tibetan exiles – particularly youths – have increasingly questioned the Dalai Lama's methods and goals. They are pushing for greater agitation worldwide to force China's hand. Many also want a fully independent Tibet.

However, the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, has managed to keep his fragmented flock united by averting a split. He has furthered the Tibetan cause in many subtle and ingenious ways.

Well-directed leadership

The role of the 73-year-old monk in preserving and promoting the Tibetan culture has been phenomenal. Dalai Lama has been the unifying force for all the Tibetans.

One of the first things that the Tibetan leader did on coming to India in 1959, was to set up an institute to preserve and promote the Tibetan culture. Therefore, at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), Dharamsala, the efforts of the Tibetans in exile are geared towards their rich ancient culture and its preservation.

Lobsang Samden, Art Director of the Institute, feels that preserving culture is even more important than independence. He says “Culture is the identity of any nation and freedom without culture has no meaning”. Almost everyone at TIPA echo the same feelings. They strive to keep their culture alive, not only because it gives them satisfaction but also because they believe in something much larger than themselves.

Samten Dhondup was born on the way when his parents were fleeting to India from Tibet. He is now an opera instructor at the institute. Early in his career, he had the option of comfortably settling in America with an offer of a handsome salary. However, he chose to do his bit for the Tibetan cause. “Here I get a meager salary but there is satisfaction, of doing something for my country.” His efforts help to keep Lhamo, the ancient dance form of Tibet alive.

“Manipulation of the Tibetan traditions”

The stories of the Lhamo or the Tibetan opera are ancient traditional tales based on Buddhist teachings. The Tibetans complain that in their country, the stories are getting manipulated by the Chinese. Mr. Dhondup says, “The people in Tibet have Chinese instructors. They portray our kings as cruel and torturous, and show to the people that this is ancient Tibet.” The theatre instructor asserts that even the techniques of performance of the Tibetan opera are different.

The music in Tibet is also not spared from Chinese influence, say the members of TIPA. Tenzing Phuntsok, a musician at the institute makes the distinction of the Tibetan music from that of the Chinese. “The Chinese sing like an orchestra using a lot of waves. We, unlike the Chinese have single notes and melodies”, he says.

The members of TIPA make sure that even instruments used in the Institute are made according to the traditional Tibetan style. “In Tibet, under Communist China, the instrument makers have to work at gun point”, says Tenzing Thinley, instrument maker at TIPA. “Here, at TIPA by the grace of the Indian Government, we can work according to the traditional culture of Tibet.” He also lays down the details of how the shapes and music of Chinese instruments are different.

The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts has systematically kept the original art forms of Tibet alive and pure. This is one of the reasons that Dharamsala has earned the reputation of being the “Little Lhasa”.

The effort of the Dalai Lama has unquestionably been most successful here.

E mail- conciousdipu@gmail.com

The aftermath of the Pakistan attack

The details of the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in the Pakistani city of Lahore is still unclear. But one thing which is clear is that cricket in the country has been mortally wounded. And that it is a blow to the nation's peace and security.

Pakistani government should now take firm action against the terrorist elements and terrorist hubs inside the country.

These are some of the things that need to be done before the world will take Pakistan seriously:

1) Admit and recognize that the problem lies in Pakistan and it’s not some weird conspiracy of the outside world.

2) Find the terrorists

3) Punish them to highest possible extent of the law.

4) Cancel ANY deals with the terrorists.

5) Do a complete over-haul of the intelligence agencies. Root out the corruption on all levels.

6) Ensure public and guest safety.

Seems like a place to start don’t you think?

Bihar Election Commission Vs RTI petitioner

Getting information under the Right To Information Act can get really tricky at times. Especially, when Government officials are so reluctant to work in a transparent and accountable manner.

Afroz Alam Sahil, an RTI petitioner based in Delhi had requested the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar to provide him the details of the funding of some leading political parties under the Right To Information Act. He had asked for the details of Form 24 (A) of Congress, BJP, RJD, JDU and LJP submitted to the State Election Commission in the last three years.

The Election Commission of India lays down that political parties shall in each financial year, prepare a report in respect of the contribution in excess of twenty thousand rupees received by such political party from any person or companies in that financial year shall be submitted in Form 24 (A) to the Election Commission.

The petition was ignored by the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar. The petitioner who is also an RTI activist filed a first appeal with the department. After waiting for another month for a reply from the office, he filed a second appeal with the State Information Commission (SIC).

The SIC of Bihar directed the Election Division of the State to provide the petitioner the requisite information by 20th January. The SIC also directed the concerned Public Information Officer to provide an explanation to why he would not be fined Rs. 37,000 (Rs 250 per day from 18.07.08 to 16.12.08) under Section 20 (1) of the Right To Information Act, 2005 for not providing the requested information.

This time it became obligatory for the Chief Electoral Officer of the state to provide information as well as the explanation for the delay.

The deputy Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar who also holds the PIO office made what can be termed the most fascinating reply.

Let’s look at the explanation first.

Their office had informed the RTI petitioner to submit a fee of Rs. 2 which the petitioner did not submit, (therefore they had not replied). “In spite of this, on the direction of the State Information Commission we are (now) providing you the requested information,” said the PIO in his reply.

The petitioner claims that he did not receive any such letter from the PIO. Even if the PIO had sent any such letter, it is amusing to note that the Electoral Office of the State sent a one page registered letter to demand money for his reply (consisting of half a page). Sending the letter itself must have cost the office appx. Rs 25.

The information is even more interesting

The deputy Chief Election Officer of Bihar, Sohan Kumar Thakur said in his reply that the petitioner could not be provided the requested information because no political parties by the names Congress, BJP, RJD, JDU and LJP were registered with the Election Commission of India.

However, if the petitioner has implied Indian National Congress, Bhartiya Janta Party, Rashtiya Janta Dal and Lok Janshakti Party, then the information can be sought from the Election Commission of India.

Quite ironically, the Electoral Officer of Bihar took six months for this piece of information and claims to have demanded a fee of Rs 2 through a registered letter.

It has been more than three years since the much-touted Right To Information Act was introduced in India. It raised hopes that the people will finally have access to the workings of the state. However, some babus are still unwilling to work in an environment of transparency.

[The hearing of this case (No.-12974/08-09 14427) is on 23.03.09 in the SIC building, Patna, capital of Bihar]

Green computers for a greener environment

What if someone tells you to buy a “green computer”? Not that the computer will be devoid of those complex electronic components. Neither will it be green in colour. What is actually meant is relatively recyclable and more environmentally safer computers.

In general, computer equipment is a complicated assembly of more than 1,000 materials. Many of these are highly toxic, such as heavy metals, chlorinated and brominated substances, toxic gases, plastics and plastic additives.

How is a green computer different?

Toxics Link, a Delhi based NGO provides a life cycle perspective for a greater understanding of the product’s environmental impact. This looks into the production, usage and final disposal of the computer.

Low energy usage and non toxic manufacturing processes are critical parameters to judge a computer on its green quotient.

The computer should have high operational power efficiency and should be designed for upgradation.

The reduction and elimination of hazardous material ensures minimum release of toxic material during the recycling process.

India’s E waste problem

E-waste, at around 4 lakh tonnes generated annually in India, is recycled mostly in informal sector in crude manner. The dismantling and recycling processes exposes the workers to the health hazards of lead, mercury, chromium, and cadmium. Once released they further contaminate the air, water and soil.

Silver linings

Toxics link, which monitors issues of e-waste, sees a positive shift in the computer manufacturing industry.

Computer manufacturers claim that they are not oblivious to the harms that their products can cause to the environment. And that’s why most companies have been coming out with greener version of the machines in the last few years.

However, Priti Mahesh, Senior Programme Officer at Toxics Link points out, “With growing awareness about environmental pollution, manufacturing companies view the green label as an USP for their product”.

There have been some initiatives globally in terms of voluntary labelling programmes to address the environment question of computers. This has also caused a notable shift in the way the products are being designed.

Simple tips to reduce energy use:

· Put the computer on standby or sleep when not in use

· Internet usage needs more energy. Go offline when not browsing the net

· LCD monitors use less than half the energy used by CRT monitors

· Laptops use less energy compared to desktops

· New processors are more energy efficient

Eco-labels are a primary tool to tell customers about the environmental characteristics of products. It can help them in making an informed choice about the products that they buy, help them in choosing a green product.

Lack of awareness

Mahesh who has done major work towards raising consumer awareness about “greener computers”, says “this is a new thing for India and therefore the awareness among consumers is also low.”

She points out that in the western countries consumers are aware and they ask for “Designed for Environment” computers. In India, awareness is low and small companies don’t see much value in adhering to the environment friendly norms.

There have been instances, informs the Programme Officer, when Western countries or organisations have sent second hand computers to Indian schools in the garb of donation. However, 80% of them have turned out to be junks.

A legislative push from the Government and green procurement policy by major users will help in driving the change. Manufacturing companies in India like HCL and Wipro have already initiated programmes for phasing out the restricted materials.

Technological advances are further helping the green drive. By just replacing the old CRT with a LCD, one can cut power consumption to more than half.

India is one of the fastest growing computer markets in the world. A growth in consumer awareness can be a major driver in ensuring environment-friendly PCs in our homes.

The Slumdog Millionaire debate...2

I watched Slumdog Millionaire. And I did it with an unprejudiced mind. I endorse all the disgust and disappointment shown by fellow bloggers and the likes of Arindam Choudhury. It is an insult on all Indians in general and Hindus in particular. In fact, Danny Boyle has repeated what the British had done to our country for about 200 years. He has played the communal card. This time to rule our minds!

When a little boy dressed as Lord Ram, looks abhorrently at Jamal, the subtle message is that the Hindu Gods or His worshippers in this country are intolerant of Muslims. And that this state of affairs is endorsed by the State (signified by the policemen being silent observers of the massacre).

Quite disparagingly, Jamal is able to answer that Benjamin Franklin's photo is on a $100 note. He remembers how his blinded beggar friend had identified the note. (As if to signify the benevolence of Britishers who give away $100 notes to beggars). To point out the truth, the parents of the child actors of SM have already accused the film's producers of underpaying and exploiting the eight-year-olds.

Paradoxically, Jamal is unable to recognize Mahatma Gandhi's picture on a 1000 rupee note. It is a pungent remark on the Mahatma and the respect that he has among his countrymen. Jamal, with an English education in primary school however, remembers the names of the Musketeers.

I think Mother India portrayed a grimmer reality of India's poverty. And in an unprejudiced way. But, we did not appreciate the film that much. Probably because it did not win a Golden Globe. And was not made by Danny Boyle.

Safe food, tasty food during Commonwealth

A waiter posse beside a hoarding of Indian paranthas. Pix: Dipu Shaw

The Delhi Government is coming up with new regulatory measures ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. After the decision to clear the city’s roads with beggars, the latest in the row is a new project to upgrade the eateries and roadside dhabas.

‘The Safe Food, Tasty Food’ project of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) will look to provide framework for holding food establishments accountable for acceptable levels of safety and quality of food served in the capital.

The Quality Council of India will also certify 1000 eateries in the city that would follow International standards. These eateries will be listed in the “recommended list” of restaurants for the visiting foreign tourists.

Under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the FSSAI will put “appropriate pressure on the food establishments to improve their safety and quality by making adherence to the required standard mandatory”.

The FSSAI as well plans to design a suitable Logo, Portal and Signage for adoption before the games. This will enable visitors to identify places where they can have a taste of traditional Indian delicacies, without worrying much about their health.

The Delhi Government is eager to portray Delhi as a hygienic and safe food destination and that it cares for the quality and safety of life in the National Capital.

Studies on the hygiene of fast-food restaurants in Delhi have pointed out that the city’s street food is not all that healthy.

The Government has already undertaken the preliminary work required for improving their safety according to basic minimum parameters which are already identified. It is all set to turn the capital's cheap, mouth-watering variety of ready-to-eat street foods into a safe and hygienic experience.

Authorities will not only monitor the quality of food and water sources but also create proper garbage disposal, sanitation facilities and a process of control on street food sales on mutually acceptable terms.

The Slumdog and Millionaire debate

I just watched Slumdog Millionaire. I had to. What if so much is being written and said about the film. Ever since, Big B reportedly expressed his disagreement about the film, the debate has heated up.

Not only the Indian media but also the International media paid their respect to Big B’s comments. The Guardian as well as BBC had reports about the Bollywood star’s views.

One question that both the critics and supporters of the film have raised is:

If this film was made by a local director and not by a Western biggie, would our reaction to the film have been the same?

Whether it is the seasoned blogger, Amit Verma who has heaved praise on the film or the critical Arindam Choudhuri who has urged Indians not to waste their time in watching the film, the same question has been raised.

But, the truth is, the film has not been made by a local Indian director and therefore the question remains unanswerable.

It is true that the film illogically shows every negative thing about India happening in the protagonist’s life...slums, open-air lavatories, riots, underworld, prostitution, brothels, begging, child labour, blinding and maiming of kids to make them into “better beggars”, petty pedlars, traffic jams, irresponsible call centre executives... It fails to provide a balanced view.

That the maestro A.R. Rahman has secured three Oscar nominations is one convincing factor. Nonetheless, it can also be asked: Is his music in Slumdog Millionaire his best performance? Has he not scored music in Indian music that was even better?

Contrarily if Slumdog Millionaire offends or pleases, it is in the nature of art to do so.

Still confused? Watch it for yourself and decide.

A treat for Hindi literature lovers

To encourage Hindi Literature in its own way, Premchand Archives of Jamia Millia Islamia has organized a literary exhibition, based on the life of famous Hindi writer Pt. Banarasidas Chaturvedi.

A feel of the colourful North East

Seven states, each with a distinct culture and subcultures within them. Yet, we call them the North East. Their differences might not be so obvious to someone from any other part of India. Here’s a chance.

The Purvottari Festival also being called the spirit of North East is being celebrated at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).

The nine-day festival showcases the culture, dance, music, handicrafts and food of all the eight States of the region Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tripura besides presenting documentaries on the region and holding seminars.

By: Dipu Shaw

For smokers and non smokers

A man walks past a No smoking Zone advertisement

“The ban on smoking is a move in the right direction” - this is one thing that smokers, non-smokers or the busybodies of the anti-smoking lobby, all agree on. However, three months after the ban came into force, there are still doubts over how much it has worked.

Smoking already accounts for 900,000 deaths a year in India, according to a study of the New England Journal of Medicine. By 2010, this toll is expected to increase to 1 million people a year, the study points out.
Government of India has notified revised rules on the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places and geared up to prohibit smoking in public zone strictly from 2nd of October, 2008.

As per the revised rules, the pubic zone has been categorized as shopping malls, cinema halls, public/private work places, hotels, banquet halls, discotheques, canteens, coffee houses, pubs, bars, airport lounges and railway stations.

But, making people aware of such no smoking zones is still a big challenge for officials.
“There are problems in executing the ban on smoking. Many people do not know how to identify these public places”, says Mohd. Iqbal, S. H. O. of Jamia Nagar police station.

However, a lot of people, mostly non-smokers believe that the ban is in the larger interest of the society. Prof. Manjula Batra of the Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia says that the objective of such an act is to promote the health of the people not only for this generation of people, but also of the future of the nation”.
She suggests methods to spread awareness among the people. “We need to educate them. Media has an effective role to play. Arranging seminars, lectures, public speaking to make people aware about the ban on the public places are available options”, she says.

Dr Sanjoy Gogia, physician, Internal Medicine in Max Hospital, New Delhi, is also one of the proponents of the ban.
“This step is basically for the non-smokers. Passive smoking is equally harmful for people just like active smoking does”, he says.

Not everyone buys the views of the supporters of no smoking zones. “We know about the pros and cons of smoking. If we are uncomfortable with someone smoking in front of us, we can straightway go and tell that person not to smoke”, says Mukut Sharma, a student of the Indira Gandhi National Open University.

There are others in the student community who are demanding for Smoking Zones where they can go and smoke without affecting the non-smokers. Mayank Khurana, a 3rd year statistics student of Hindu College, a regular smoker, feels that making the entire University campus a No Smoking Zone is not the best idea.

The Act has provisions for creating places where smokers can light up their fags and smoke freely.
Dr. Batra of Max Hospital says, “This act has clearly laid down that whereas in a hotel or a restaurant has the capacity of housing 30 people or more than that, then, it can have a separate smoking zone for it so that the general public is not affected”.
Nevertheless, places like University and college campuses do not fall in that category.

As of now, shutting your eyes to the “No Smoking Zone” boards and lighting your cigarette is a one way ticket to the police station.