Sunday, 28 June 2015


 Lets first define the terms I am talking about.
OLIGARCHY-- a small group of people having control of a country or organisation.
PLUTOCRACY-- a form of oligarchy. Defines a society or system ruled and dominated by the small minority of the wealthiest citizens.
NETOCRACY-- a perceived upper class that bases its power on net-working skills.

Any observer of the events that have been unfolding over the last few weeks in this country could not have failed to notice how deep the rot has spread in our polity and society. Its no longer a question of Congress or BJP, government or business, judiciary or media- the cancer has metastatised through all the organs of the state. As Lalit Modi regurgitates dirty secrets on the twitterverse on an hourly basis and our rulers and erstwhile conscience keepers retreat deeper into their carapaces, a distinct pattern appears to be emerging of how a few individuals and families have taken over this country by manipulating the processes of democracy, and are now sucking it drier than the East India Company ever did. And the inevitable question that arises in my mind is: are we a democracy at all, or have we been hijacked ?
It is becoming clearer each day that the BJP refuses to take action against its errant Ministers that our democracy is just a facade. All the four pillars of a democratic dispensation- the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the press- have developed deep fractures and have been taken over by termites and weevils who have hollowed out the innards of the edifice. They have been fattening themselves at our cost all these years; once in a while one of these insects tumbled out but we took little notice, and suspected no real danger. But now the Queen Bee itself is talking( or tweeting) and as the secrets tumble out the extent of the infestation is becoming clearer.
It is my contention that a few families and individuals in our four vital organs- executive, judiciary, legislature, press- have taken them over and have moulded and disfigured then to suit their own purpose, and the country be damned.
Consider first the political executive. State after state has been commandeered by the likes of the Badals, the Dhumals and Virbhadra Singhs, the Yadavs and Mayawatis, the Patnaiks, the Karunanidhis and Jayalalithas, the Pawars, the Hoodas and Lalls of various denominations, the Abdullahs, Raos and Naidus. The states have become privately owned businesses. It is impossible for anyone not owing allegiance to one or the other of these sicilian-style families to enter the power structure. Parliament itself is the personal fiefdom of a few dozen families, a franchise of the dominant families; and the franchisees are doing very well, thank you: according to the website of the Association for Democratic Reforms the average wealth of an MP in the current Lok Sabha is now Rs. 15 crore, up from Rs. 9 crore in the last one. And this is only the declared assets! The state legislatures are no different, packed with sons, daughters, their spouses etc. of the Dons. And so we have the scandalous situation of the Badal family having twelve Ministers in Punjab, and Mulayam Singh has so many of his family in the government that even he probably can't remember the number.
The judiciary too is not exempt from a few question marks, the biggest of them being: why is it so keen to retain its choke-hold on appointment of Judges ? In no other genuine democracy do judges appoint judges, but here we have a circus playing out on a daily basis in the Supreme Court where a perfectly reasonable NJAC Act is being scrutinised for its constitutionality, and in the interim all appointments have been put on hold- and that too when as many as  251 posts of judges are lying vacant and more than 40 million cases are pending in the courts. Why? Maybe the answer lies in the following statistics which a Mumbai lawyer M.J. Nedumpara recently submitted to the Supreme Court, based on information gleaned from the websites of the SC and 13 High Courts: 33% SC judges and 50% of High Court judges are " related to higher echelons of the judiciary", which translates to 6 in the former and 88 in the latter. This has been the result of the existing Collegium system of appointments ( which the NJAC seeks to replace) in which vacancies are neither notified/ advertised nor is there any transparency in the appointments. Further, a succession of judgements in the past has ensured that retired judges have almost complete monopoly over appointments to various Commissions and Tribunals, guaranteeing them post retirement sinecures. If this does not smell of an oligarchy or netocracy I am not sure what does.
Take our so called " free" press or media. Most of our leading newspapers and News Channels are owned/ managed by business interests ( Bennet Coleman, Mukesh Ambani, Bhartiyas) or politicians( Jayalalitha, the Marans, Rajeev Shukla, Chandan Mitra, the Badals, Karthikeya Sharma). Their agenda is naturally set by these behind-the scenes puppeeteers whose sole objective is to preserve the oligarchic status quo. They will not tolerate any change or any " outsider" trying to crash the party. That explains their almost vitriolic hatred of Narender Modi when he first made his bid for Delhi, or of Arvind Kejriwal even today. Mr. Modi is now acceptable to them partly because they have no choice now that he is the Prime Minister, and partly also because he is gradually getting co-opted into the cosy club himself. But Kejriwal is still fair game for a disgustingly biased reporting because he will not abide by their rules.
Consider next India Inc. as our world of business is grandly termed. They are the real plutocrats who pay the piper and call the tune. Protectively nurtured in the licence- raj nursery they have now attained adulthood and have claimed their legacy. There are 180,000 of them- dollar millionaires. But the real barons of the business world, the dollar multi-millionaires number 14800 ( India Today, 10th November 2014) and they are the real oligarchs. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report of October 2014 the top 1% of Indians own 49% of the country's wealth, and this continues to grow: in 2000 the figure was 36.8%. The top 5% own 65.5%. In contrast the bottom 50% Indians own just 5%! And this in a country where a quarter of the world's destitutes reside, more than 400 million people still live below the poverty line- now we know why they are there. Even in a far wealthier country like the UK the top 1% own only 23.3% of the wealth.
These then are the four sub-oligarchies which coalesce into a grand whole which is the democratic republic of India. The four guard their turf zealously,both individually and collectively, and also network with each other to ensure that no harm befalls any of them. They do not allow any meaningful action to be taken against any of them and ensure that wrong-doing is never punished. The Radia tapes exposed the most venal complicity between politics, media and big business but were quickly erased . 2G and coal allocations were not a one-off mistake or malfeasance: they were part of a mutually beneficial public policy, and many more names than those charge-sheeted are involved, but the lid has been hastily lowered on the investigations. It is common knowledge where the SAHARA moneys came from and where they went, but our oligarchs are certainly not interested in the truth becoming public, so Subroto Roy remains in jail: he will pay the bail amount some day and walk free and everyone will breathe easier. Jayalalitha's bail application is heard in record time while the victims of UPHAAR still wait for their application to be heard even after one year. Convicted members of our privileged netocracy can get bail within hours while unconvicted undertrials rot in dungeons for years. A High Court judge passes a patently illegal order and threatens to register an FIR against his own Chief Justice; another defies the law by refusing to sentence a convicted rapist and instead ordering a " mediation" between the rapist and the victim (!!)- and both continue to serve in the courts, no doubt to pass similar illegal orders in the days to come. Five thousand poor farmers have committed suicide in the last one year under pressure to repay their loans, but one of our high flying( literally) multi-millionaires who owes more than Rupees seven billion to the banks continues to party in his private jets and Mediterranean villas and produce movies for his son. The country's banking system is collapsing under the weight of Rs. 300,000 crores ( US$ 50 billion) " non-performing assets" which is just a euphemism for loans taken by big business which they just refuse to return, with no consequences for them: of course, you and I have to pay for it by more expensive loans and lower returns on deposits. Official secrets are stolen from central ministries and the companies doing so identified ( yes, they belong to our 1% club) but only class four employees and middle level managers arrested: the long arm of the law in India shrinks in direct proportion to the moneys and oligarchs involved. ( I can guarantee that we will hear no more of this case). No less than four retired Supreme Court judges give ( paid) legal opinions to help an absconding Lalit Modi, knowing fully well that his case is sub-judice and is likely to come up before the same court they were a part of till the other day. Can money speak any louder?
One can go on ad-nauseam but I think I have made the point intended-viz. that our oligarchs look after their own. In the first place laws and policies are made to suit them. If they still fall foul of them, then the laws are bent to breaking point. If even that doesn't help then perverse legal interpretations are floated ( such as drawing a distinction between an " affidavit" and a " disposition" and " absconder" and " evader" and so on.) And if, by some miracle, even that is of no avail then the final frontier stares us in the face: an impenetrable thicket of laws and lawyers, judges and judgements, adjournments and appeals that somehow ensures that the innocent is incarcerated and the guilty is freed.
Is it any wonder then how the present Lalit Modi burlesque is playing out? The Congress may be shouting " thief!" now but it took no action against Lalit Modi when it was in power itself- how could it, when it has been feeding at the same trough in our own Animal Farm?  In fact, Mr.Lalit Modi has rendered a great service to this country- he has exposed the putrefied core of our democracy and revealed how every institution meant to strengthen it has actually been undermining it from within. It would appear our tryst with destiny has been postponed indefinitely, for surely it cannot be our destiny to be an oligarchy? To take another metaphor from " Animal Farm":
    " The creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which."
   The bestial transformation is complete. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


The short answer is: no, we can't.
Mr. Javadekar has donned the mantle of India's Minister of Environment and Forests at a critical moment, when time is running out for the preservation of our once abundant natural assets, and environmental disaster is staring us in the face. His NDA government took over from the UPA, which, notwithstanding its many failings ( and there were many of them) at least was sensitive towards the need for conserving the environment, and had taken many steps in that direction. We had expected that Mr. Javadekar would be equally responsive and would build on these initiatives to repair and reverse the degradation that mindless policies of the past had caused. A few facts about the current state of our environment and forests, as reported from time to time by the UN, WHO, IPCC and our own agencies, deserve mentioning as a context for assessing Mr. Javadekar's performance in the last one year:
*  13 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in India: Delhi heads the list.
*  76 of our 150 major rivers are polluted; the waters of 3/4th of them are not fit for drinking.
*  Our groundwater reserves are in a critical state, thanks to the 21 million borewells dug in the last 50 years: 30% of them in western India alone have dried up. 50% of underground water sources in the Indo-Gangetic plain are polluted.
*  Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2050, effecting 400 million people.
*  Climate change has arrived: it will eventually lead to a 36% decline in food production in South Asia, and a 5.8% loss in wheat production post 2030 in India.
*  The IPCC report of April 2014 predicts a 4* C rise in temperature for India by 2100. A trailer of this was witnessed in peninsular India this summer, where average temperatures rose by 1.4* whereas the normative increase was only 0.8*C: more than 2000 people died in this " heat wave"
*  Environmental degradation costs 5.7% of our GDP, or US$ 120 billion every year.
* 620000 people die every year just from outdoor air pollution.
* 60 million people have been displaced by projects till 2000. These " GDP refugees" are primarily from the most marginalised sections, including tribals and landless labour.
* The World Bank Environment Quality Index rates India at a terrible 155 out of 176 countries.
* We have now become the third largest emitter of carbon in the world.
* As per estimates of our own Zoological Survey of India the list of endangered species of animals has DOUBLED in the last two years- from 190 in 2010 to 443 in 2012: in other words, 253 more species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles are destined for extinction very soon. ( I don't for a minute believe the govt's figures of a 30% increase in tiger population: this appears to have been contrived by a change in the earlier method of conducting the count. This doubt is lent credence by the govt's own recently released figure of 23 tigers having been poached in just the last year.)
*  830, 244 hectares of forest land , or an area which is seven times the size of Delhi, has been diverted for projects in the thirty years from 1981 to 2011. The tempo of diversion has been increasing instead of slowing down: 210,000 ha. has been diverted in just the four years from 2007 to 2011. 12000 ha. of forest land has been sacrificed by the present NDA govt. in just THE LAST SIX MONTHS.
* 50% of the country's wetlands have been lost to urbanisation.
* 67.3% of urban sewage flows directly into our rivers.
*  Our cities generate 60 million tonnes of waste every year: only 30% of it is treated or re-cycled- the rest of it continues to contaminate our rivers and forests. This quantum of waste is predicted to go up by 243% by 2025, according to a World Bank study.
This is not the picture of a " developing" country, as our govt. would like to believe: this is an image of an Elliotsian wasteland. This is what Mr. Javadekar inherited, and with the kind of mandate which his govt. has, one expected him to get down to some hard policy making and ruthless implementation to reverse this slide to ecological perdition. We have seen little so far of this: yes, there is the Clean Ganga campaign, but it has not yet gone beyond the chest thumping stage and it is in any case doomed to failure if Mr. Jadavekar goes ahead with his plan to construct another 150 dams on the upstream Ganga and its tributaries. Yes, there is also the Swacch Bharat programme: its success can be gauged by the 20000 tonnes of garbage that had piled up on Delhi's roads last week because Mr. Modi wished to tell Mr. Kejriwal who is Bossman in Delhi- evidently, garbage conveys a stronger message than votes.
Mr. Javadekar's Ministry has become a hand-maiden of Modi's industrialisation vision. Its mandate is not to conserve the environment but to dismantle the checks and balances that had been put in place to maintain the equilibrium between GDP and natural assets. I cannot think of one single policy or decision by him in the last one year which has promoted the cause of sustaining the environment. To the contrary, however, there have been dozens which will cause long lasting and irreparable devastation to our natural resources and ravage the environment for ever. Here is an illustrative list:
*  Under Mr. Javadekar's prodding a truncated National Wildlife Board. at just one sitting in August 2014, cleared 130 projects related to mining, power, defence, all within 10 kms of protected wildlife areas( which had hitherto been a no-go zone). These PAs include Mukandra Hill Tiger Reserve( Rajasthan), Kanha Tiger Reserve( MP), Dudhwa Tiger Reserve( UP), Kapilash Wildlife Sanctuary( Odisha), and an Olive Ridley turtle nesting site in AP's Krishna district. Diversion of forestland of the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala has been allowed to enable an increase in the height of the Kunnar Dam. And, most shocking of all, a four-lane National Highway has been approved over a 23 km. stretch of the Sariska Tiger Reserve ( all of it in the core area) over the protests of the state forest department. It is clearly of no consequence to our Minister that more than 600 rivers and streams originate from tiger habitats, supplying water to the teeming millions in the cities. A case in point is the Ramganga river which flows from the Corbett National Park and provides Delhi with 190 million cubic feet of water. By chipping away at these habitats, therefore, we endanger not only the ecology but also the future of these cities.
* There is a strong move to replace the Expert panel on Ganga constituted in pursuance of Supreme Court orders to take a view on the number of dams that should be permitted in the upper reaches of the Alaknanda and the Mandakni, the major tributaries of the Ganga. The present panel, headed by Prof. Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur, had recommended that only six of the two dozen odd hydel projects proposed on these rivers should be allowed, and that too after reducing their capacity by about 30%-40% to ensure minimum water flows to sustain aquatic life. A sensible recommendation, you would think. Not so Mr. Javadekar whose loyalty is to the power sector and not to his own Ministry. Unhappy with the paring down of projects, he has now proposed a new Committee headed by one BP Das, who is a known proponent of power projects, with the Joint Secretary of his Ministry as the convenor, and all the scientists being replaced by technocrats. Mr. Javadekar will get the report he wants, and the Ganga will not flow for much longer.
*  There is also a proposal in the pipeline to trim the powers of the National Green Tribunal, the only body in the govt. today which is showing some interest in protecting the environment: precisely for this reason it has become a thorn in Mr. Javadekar's " make in India" flesh. The proposal is to emasculate the NGT by making it a recommendatory, rather than a judicial, body; and to take away its autonomous status by bringing it under the Ministry. This will make Mr. Javadekar lord of all he surveys, even if all he surveys is a barren waste.
*  Mr. Javadekar is very thorough, if anything. He has also set in motion a review of the three pillars of our environmental regulatory edifice viz. The Indian Forest Act, The Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act. His objective is to extirpate from them all provisions which make it difficult to quickly implement Mr. Modi's " make in India" vision- in other words, environmental considerations, no matter how legitimate, will not be allowed to stand in the way of the GDP God. By the time Mr. Javadekar is through with his mission Veerappan will start looking like a saint, in comparison.
*  In order to leave nothing to chance Mr. Javadekar has also proposed to dilute the Forests Right Act to takeaway the powers of gram sabhas to reject projects in their area. He has obviously been rattled by the Niyamgiri fiasco, where( pursuant to a Supreme Court order directing that the gram sabhas be allowed to have their say) 12 gram sabhas voted to disallow the mining of minerals in their forests by the Rupees 50,000 crore Lanjigarh aluminia plant of Vedanta. Once again, this erstwhile spokesman of the BJP cannot appreciate the fact that there are more than 200 million deprived Indians living in and around forests and dependent on their eco-systems for their livelihood, and that they MUST have a say on the use of these eco-systems for other purposes. With such blinkered visions, is there any wonder that the Naxalite problem just won't go away ?
*  Mr. Javadekar is also re-defining the word " forest" ( currently the definition given by the Supreme Court in 1997-98 prevails): he finds that the present definition is not " user friendly" ( guess who the " user" is that he has in his mind ?). He is proposing that areas which do not have trees on the ground, even though they may be classified as forests; plantation areas; and areas which were not notified as forests before a particular date, even though they may have tree cover now- all these areas shall cease to be considered as forests and will not enjoy the protection of the FCA. Tens of thousands of sq. kms of forest land shall thus be made available to builders, industrialists and assorted cronies, and the people who are actually dependent on these forests shall join the millions of ecological refugees.
* Coastal Regulation Zone Rules, meant to protect vulnerable coastal areas, mangrove swamps, deltas and aquatic life in these zones, are also slated for large scale amendments to enable construction of real estate, ports and highways.
* Wherever possible, and under the garb of stimulating production, environmental and social impact assessments and public hearings are being done away with. For example, coal mines which extract less than 16 million tonnes per annum and want to increase production by 50%, are no longer required to hold public hearings. Dhanbad and Jharia are the historical results of such short-sighted policies earlier, and the reasons why such hearings were introduced in the first place. But history appears to have stopped for Mr. Javadekar with the Mahabharat and the Rig Vedas.
*  The NDA govt. suffers from a Mohammad bin Tughlaq like megalomania: nothing else can explain its insistence on going ahead with the river-linking project despite warnings from scientists and enviromentalists. It is going full steam on the project without conducting any environmental or socio-economic impact assessment studies. It boggles the mind that any country can link 58 rivers through 12550 kms of canals, build 3000 dams and divert 173 billion cu.mtrs. of waters without carrying out these basic studies! The first phase of the project-linking of the Betwa and Ken rivers- has been formally announced yesterday.
*  Having worked in both state and central governments for many years, one can say with confidence that the former are far more venal and subject to pressure; it is therefore necessary that the central govt. act a check on the states, and have the final say in environmental and forest clearances. But Mr. Javadekar, in his hurry to open the flood-gates, is empowering the states to give approvals at their level. This  will create complete mayhem in a few years.
There is much that Mr. Javadekar could have done, and even more that is just crying out for policy initiatives and interventions. The Kasturirangan Committee report on the Western Ghats, that seeks to protect just 37% of its 164,280 sq.kms by declaring them as Ecologically Sensitive Areas, is awaiting approval since 2012. The Western Ghats are a priceless hot-spot that gives birth to 58 rivers and sequesters 10 million tonnes of carbon every year; it has already shrunk by 25% in the last two decades and is screaming for some protection. But our articulate Minister just won't approve the report because the politician-builder nexus in six states is opposed to it. True to his style, he will probably keep appointing more Committees till he gets the report that he wants.
Nothing concrete is being done about reducing our carbon emissions. We are fond of quoting China as a model for industrial development but are learning nothing from its efforts in this field: China has reduced its its carbon intensity( emissions per unit of GDP) by 20% in the last five years and has set a target of 45% reduction by 2020. Mr. Javadekar continues nonchalantly in his oxygen deprived fog. 
Urban waste, which is probably the biggest polluter of our rivers, is another area of concern that is just begging for some attention, but the MOEF is a silent spectator, leaving it to the cities to sort out the mess. China has already installed 180 high volume incinerators and is setting up 200 more with a target of incinerating 60% of the waste by 2020: this shall not only reduce the land required for land fills but also prevent leaching of chemicals into the soil and produce power. We have no comprehensive plan for this.
The NGT has taken the bold step of banning diesel vehicles older than ten years in Delhi, which has 14 lakh of them. This is commendable since 27% of carbon emissions are generated by the transport sector. One would have expected that the MOEF would, in conjunction with the Transport Ministry, have by now formulated a plan for the disposal of such vehicles, instead of merely allowing them to be sold in other towns, adding to their pollution. Many countries, including Mauritius, have evolved schemes whereby such car-owners are paid a sum of money for handing over these vehicles to the govt, which then breaks them down and recycles their various components. This is a programme that could be considered under the PPP mode if only Mr. Javadekar had the inclination to attend to this. But he is more involved in addressing press conferences where he can bad mouth the opposition.
The list is endless but the scenario is clear. Mr. Javadekar not only lacks the long term vision which an Environment Minister in today's challenging context should possess but he also has no interest in preserving the environment. His only agenda is to undo the good work done in the last two decades. The country shall pay a heavy price in the years to come for his stewardship of this Ministry.