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Saturday, 12 October 2019


If you're still wondering why India ranks at 177 out of 180 countries in the World Environment Performance Index ( we were at 141 in 2016), you need look no further than what happened in Mumbai's Aarey forest last week. Every concerned institution and civil society contributed to the massacre of thousands of trees, a deed which, befitting a dastardly crime, was performed in the dark of the night- the political executive, the administration, the judiciary, civil society( barring a few hundred brave souls). The whole process, clothed in frayed legal garb, was a travesty of the legal process, something which is recurring with greater frequency these days as the courts appear to be wary of rubbing the government the wrong way.
  No reasonable person would hold that 2600 trees do not constitute a forest, and yet the Mumbai High Court did precisely that, on the basis of a technicality and perhaps missing out on an order of the Supreme Court itself. The Forest Conservation Act 1980 does not define a "forest" but the Supreme Court did, in the 1996 Godavarman case: it ruled that the dictionary meaning of the word would apply, regardless of the title of the land or its categorisation in forest or revenue records. The Oxford Dictionary defines a forest as " a large area covered chiefly with trees and undergrowth." The court asked all states to notify forests as per this definition, and further stipulated that no non-forestry activity would be permissible in these areas without a strict process of approval. Some states complied; for example in Himachal any area of 5 hectares or more with a canopy density of 40%, by itself or in contiguity with a wooded area, would be deemed to be a forest, in Gujarat it is 2.5 hectares. Unfortunately most states have not done so, including Maharashtra, even 24 years down the line. Their nefarious motive is clear: by not defining forest areas they can continue to divert valuable forest land for mining, industry, dams, real estate development etc. without seeking environmental approvals that forests would attract. Rent seeking would continue to flourish while the environment would continue to be devastated. It's happening in the Aravalis, in Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh, in the Western Ghats.
  Aarey is the last remaining green lung of Mumbai and covers an area of 1287 hectares, with an estimated 500,000 trees on it., abutting the Sanjay Gandhi national park and the Mithi river. It is home to Adivasis and is rich in wildlife. However, it remains an undefined area, but the government's deliberate and venal lethargy in defining it does not make it any less of a forest. The metro car washing shed proposed on it is in the Red category of industries- that is, most polluting- and the millions of liters of toxic water from the washing activity ( mixed with oil, grease and sludge) is bound to leach into the soil of the forest and also the river. The project should never have been allowed in the middle of Aarey. In fact there were eight other alternative sites the BMC or the MMRCL could have chosen from, including the Backbay Reclamation area and the Kanjurmarg marshes, but they opted for Aarey because it was the "cheapest" as no price is ever attached to the natural environment in India: trees are only priced at their current wood value, not for the far more important ecological services they provide, and that too for a life span of 50 to 80 years. If these values were also factored into the project cost then perhaps forest areas would not be the first choice for industrial projects.
   It boggles the mind that the High Court did not consider these aspects but chose to resort to the technicality that since Aarey had not been categorised as a forest by the state govt. it did not merit any protection. In effect, it rewarded the state govt. for NOT DOING SOMETHING IT WAS DIRECTED BY THE SC TO DO IN 1996, VIZ. DEFINE WHAT CONSTITUTES A FOREST AS PER THE COURT'S "DICTIONARY MEANING" INTERPRETATION.
   The High Court further concerned itself with the procedural aspects rather than the merits of the petition, loftily noting that the petitioners " had lost touch with the procedures to be followed": since  the issue of declaring Aarey as a forest/ eco-sensitive area was pending before the SC and the NGT, therefore the petitioners should seek relief there- " sink or swim" there, I believe were the exact unguent words. This raises two points. One, if the matter was still pending a judicial determination then why was MMRLC allowed to go ahead with the cutting of the trees on the next two nights? Surely the correct course would have been to stay the fellings till the higher courts decided the matter? And secondly, my lordships, it is not just the petitioners who will "sink" if Mumbai's last remaining green tract is destroyed, it will be the whole city, including the High Court.
   The Supreme Court has of course stayed the felling of trees now, in an intervention which must be appreciated. But the order is practically non est- meaningless and without any significance- since the trees have already been slaughtered. The govt. counsel in the SC triumphantly stated( crowed?) that 2141 of the required 2185 trees had already been cut, they did not need to cut any more, and now the construction work on the shed will begin. As has become almost the rule now, the govt. has presented the court with a fait accompli which it will be happy to accept. Don't rock the boat( or the bench) appears to be the current motto.
  It is not just a question of the 2141 trees that have been massacred in the night of the chainsaws. The court should have recognised the govt's intentions for what they really are- salami tactics, chipping away at the forest a few hectares at a time. Aarey has already lost a large part of its priceless greenery to the Aarey Milk Colony and the Filmcity ( 600 acres); it was time now to draw a red line. For the plain truth is that India has never had a government so unmindful of the natural environment, willing to sacrifice it all for a blind pursuit of the GDP gods. There is enough testimony to this in the almost total dismantling of the environmental approvals regime, felling of trees in Chhatisgarh, Uttarakhand, Aravalis etc. for mining, unnecessary highways, real estate development, dams, failure to declare the ESZ ( Environmentally Sensitive Zones) in the Western Ghats as recommended by the Gadgil and Kasturirangan Committees, ramming roads through tiger reserves, denotifying sanctuaries for the Ganga Waterway, and so on. All this is hidden under the bluster of grandiloquent announcements and fudged statistics which the world is now beginning to see through.
   Given the collapse of all other forms of opposition and checks to the state it is now only the judiciary that can act as a brake. It has had many opportunities to do so but has not seized them, including the 53000 mangroves being slaughtered for the Bullet train, the 40000 deodars for the Char Dham highway, the desecration of the Yamuna flood plains for the Art of Living jamboree. It is no longer about maintaining a balance between the imperatives of the environment and "development", as it would like to believe: the need now is to correct the imbalance which is destroying the planet. Our courts will be doing a  great dis-service to the ecology by laying more store on procedures, technicalities, choosing to believe the assurances of the government. As Aarey shows, the government deals with a marked deck and speaks with a forked tongue. The time for sitting on the fence is now over. The judiciary needs to be more proactive in saving the environment, it cannot continue to look at its wanton destruction through the prism of legal technicalities and procedures. It needs to dispel a worrying perception that it is reluctant to take on the government of the day in such matters. After all, judges too reside on the same planet as the petitioners. In any struggle between right and wrong, professing neutrality means siding with the wrong. In the final analysis the majesty of the law is but a legal fiction and is as nothing before the majesty of Nature, which is the reality. In matters of the natural environment there is no place for the dictum- "Nemo judex in causa sua" ( nobody should be a judge in his own cause)- for when this boat sinks there will be no survivors.


Friday, 4 October 2019


                            IAS RESIGNATIONS--MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING ?

   A recent spurt in resignations by some IAS officers is attracting media and political attention. A BJP leader has advised these officers to go to Pakistan, which is the normal reaction from this party to anyone who dares to differ. Of graver import is an interview by Jawhar Sircar to Newsclick on the 23rd of last month. Mr. Sarkar, who has served as Secretary, Culture and the Chairman of Prasar Bharti till he hung up his well worn boots in 2016, is among the very few articulate and erudite retired officers from this service who have the courage to speak up, and is well worth listening to. He sees in these resignations a shadow of hope, a pushback from the IAS against the increasing dictatorial tendencies of the present Union Government. He expects more resignations to follow as officers are forced to choose between the Constitution and the unlawful proclivities of a vindictive government that will brook no alternative view. How correct is his assessment?
   Before we do so, however, it will be useful to recall the context of this debate. So far five IAS officers have resigned: Subhash Garg ( Gujarat), Shah Faesal ( J+K), Shashikanth Senthil  (Karnataka), Kannan Gopinath( Kerala), Kashish Mittal ( AGMUT). They are not all conscientious objectors, however. Mr. Garg was the all powerful Finance Secretary - the demonetisation man- and had no option but to quit when he got his come-uppance for proposing a sovereign, foreign loan in the Budget. Mr. Mittal too was not driven by any ideals: unwilling to give up a cushy assignment in Delhi, he put in his papers when he was transferred to the dreaded north-east. We need not shed any tears for this duo. But the other three- all youngsters with barely fifteen years of service between them- are perhaps the gentlemen Mr. Jawhar Sircar speaks of, officers who still retained in large measure the ideals, values and professionalism with which they had joined service. All three have left no doubt whatsoever as to why they quit: undemocratic functioning of the union government, denial of basic freedoms, trampling of human rights.
   There is also a second context: the manner in which the BJP government is systematically dismantling the civil and central services in order to recast them in its own image. All other services have already gone belly up, as have the so called autonomous institutions- CAG, RBI, ECI, CBI, SSC, Revenue, ED and the dozens of others; the judiciary too is well on its way down this slippery slope. The IAS needs a little bit more effort to be brought to heel, partly because it functions under a dual control- the centre and the state- and the former cannot claim exclusive rights over it, and partly because its members are descended form the ICS and can still recall a Seshan, a Noronha, an NC Saxena or a Butch, and some still try to live up to this pedigree.
   The political onslaught is from all sides: rules have been/ are being amended to change the system of assessment and allotment of services and cadres; lateral inductions being made to ensure the loyalty of such appointees to only one party, even UPSC question papers are being realigned to project the BJP's ideology. ( HW channel recently revealed one such question in a paper, it goes like this- " What are the challenges to our cultural practices in the name of secularism?" The message to prospective examinees is clear: start thinking like the BJP if you want to do well in the competition.) Crucial appointments are being made by-passing existing codes, as in the appointment of the Chairman, Staff Selection Commission. " Inconvenient" persons are being eased out, pliable collaborators rewarded with sinecures. Read my lips or you  will be treated like the Lavasa family, is the not so muted message. The centre's  "cadre controlling authority" powers are being exercised to override, in many cases, a state government's control. The CBI is always lurking in the wings when push comes to shove.
   In this suffocating, and worse, context three young officers decided to quit rather than become willing collaborators. But is it the beginning of a trend, as Mr. Jawhar Sircar feels, or is it just a lonely cry in the wilderness? On this I'm afraid I have to disagree with my batchmate .
  The IAS is no longer the service it was even twenty years ago. It has been hollowed out from within by the wrong kind of inductees- the KOTA type of engineering, medical and management graduates who are decidedly intelligent but lack a broader vision of history, of liberal traditions, humanism and social empathy. They are driven by algorithms and not by the values of a Gandhi or a John Stuart Mill, by the hardware of material aspirations, not the software of a troublesome conscience. It is not their fault, they are products of an uncaring, amoral if not immoral society. They are the products of an educational system that prioritises material success and power as the new religion and the Apex scale as the new deity: there is no other meaning to life. Their belief in the utilitarian principles of today is total; they have no self-doubts, they exemplify what Mills called " the completeness of limited men."                                                                 Perhaps because of their training in the dog eats dog IIT type of exam system, they are competitive to a fault which is why there is no esprit de corps left in the IAS- it is every man and woman for him/herself and the CBI take the hindmost. There is no rallying around when one of its members is subjected to unfair persecution- like a herd of wildebeest, they stand around observing the massacre till it's the turn of one of them to be on the menu. The IAS Associations can do little to protest, they are mere choir boys who can just about organise a farewell party when pushed to their outer limit. This suits the government of the day just fine. Politics and politicians have made deep inroads into the vitals of the service by holding out the promise of lucrative postings and post retirement sinecures, balanced with the threat of a departmental inquiry or FIR. There was a time when the senior officers mentored the junior ones, and trained them in the sterling ethos of the service. No longer, for the honour of serving the nation has now been replaced with naked ambition and self aggrandisement. They are now taught how to survive, not how to serve. They are like frogs in that famous experiment: comfortable in their slowly heating cocooned saunas, making no attempt to get out while they can, till it reaches boiling point and then it's too late.
   Don't get me wrong. There still are plenty of fine officers, but they are a silent minority and today its all about majoritarianism. And the IAS alone should not be singled out for blame either. Even the heavily insulated defense services have caved in and can no longer distinguish between the legitimate civilian  control of the armed forces and the wholly unconstitutional political control. They too have fallen in line like a platoon on the parade ground. The IAS has not yet become the Praetorian Guard, but it will soon. I do not see many more Senthils or Aruna Roys who stand by their convictions. It's more comfortable, and less dangerous, to have the courage of others' convictions- especially that of your political bosses. One swallow does not a summer make, but it does make one wonder- where have all the other swallows gone?

Saturday, 28 September 2019


   Traditionally, for untold decades, the Indian male's staple of conversation has been the movement of his bowels, or the lack of it. Go to any public park of a morning and you will find many ongoing panel discussions on the subject, with as much heat being generated as on Republic TV, which is one big bowel movement in any case. You will find two distinct categories of citizens: the first, doing their laughing exercises ( notwithstanding that there is very little left to laugh about in Bharat these days), are the "relieved" ones, in gastrointestinal parlance. The second type are the ones who are walking vigorously, hoping to stimulate their innards into some action, not unlike Mrs. Sitharaman's efforts to get the economy moving, sadly with about the same degree of success.
   But things are changing, and our fixation now is centered on the humble underwear which of late has been getting a lot of centimeter columns in newspapers. Having little to do since the sarkari files stopped coming to me some years back ( not that one had much to do even when they were coming) I have made notes of the more newsworthy cases involving underwears and propose to brief the reader about them, if you'll excuse the ghastly pun.
   The underwear came into its own during the run up to the 2019 elections when, in an election to the municipal council in Alleppey down south, one lady candidate was allotted a pair of panties as her election symbol. Now, it's just possible that the Returning Officer was trying to send her a risque hint or that he was a closet admirer of Hugh Heffner, but my own view is that he was surfing a porn channel when allotting symbols, as govt. functionaries are wont to do, and simply ticked something which was uppermost in his mind at that moment. Be that as it may, the consequences were a blow to the free exercise of one's franchise. I'm told that no voter who was wearing any kind of underwear- not just panties- was allowed to vote, because the Election Commission rules stipulate that a candidate's polling symbol is not allowed within 200 meters of a polling booth! It is rumored   that the turn out was lower than Baba Asa Ram's sperm count. Sadly, I have no idea whether the lady won or not, but the law of the land certainly did.
   This, the better informed among you may remember, was followed in quick succession by Mr. Azam Khan ( of the missing buffaloes fame) revealing the swadeshi colour of a rival candidate's underwear. Suddenly, her underwear became more important than her ideology and many prime time hours were spent on speculating on the actual colour and the brand name. Fortunately, Tehelka refrained from doing a sting job to find out. The lady candidate could have saved the day by announcing that, since her party belonged to a rainbow coalition, that precisely was the colour of her unmentionables, thus maintaining her eclectic credentials. Unfortunately, she did not do so and lost. The voters apparently did not like the colour she was tarred with.
   Coming to more contemporary times, our economy too seems to have got entangled with the underwear- we appear to have got our economic knickers in a royal twist, as it were. Purveyors of the underlinen solemnly announced that their sales were falling. Economists, who track knickers as well as tickers, immediately proclaimed that the " Underwear Index" had come into play and that the naked truth which the government had tried hard to conceal was there for all to see. They were promptly dubbed by the right wing as " leotards", a variation of libtards. An indigenous Baba contradicted the economists by saying that the sales of his "langots" had gone up, India had gone back to its cultural roots, and that things were actually looking up. But the Finance Minister hastened to darn the damage, lest  Moody's get into a bad mood or foreign investors start putting their money into thongs in Bangkok instead. She declared that the fault was that of the millennials who either did not wear underwears or insisted on Boxers only. In any case, India's strength lay in its diversity and sales of branded underwear was not a good criteria to judge the genre- people also bought katchas, chaddhis, langots, janghiyas, loin cloths etc. from the unorganised sector, which went unreported. She did not, of course, state that this sector had been destroyed by demonetisation and GST and could not now manufacture even a G-string. In her rare compassionate moments she could perhaps have considered this question: how do millions of the newly unemployed buy underwears when they don't know where their next meal is coming from?
   And as usual the piece d' resistance comes from Uttar Pradesh where all rules and laws have been hung out to dry but you can now be arrested for hanging out your underwears to dry. The Hindustan Times has reported on 23.9.2019 that a police case was filed against an activist, Vijay Singh, under Sec. 509 IPC ( " word, gesture or act intended to insult a woman's modesty") for drying his undergarments on the walls of the Muzaffarnagar DM's office. Vijay Singh was protesting against encroachment on 1600 acres of public land. He had a lot of chaddhis to dry because he has been sitting in dharna there for the last 24 years, for which feat he has also made it to the Guinness and Limca Books of Records! How's that for a state where you can get away with naked body massages and worse by your female student but cannot display your Boxer shorts on a clothes line? The case has now been withdrawn after much protests, but I would not be surprised if Mr. Singh has now stopped wearing underwears because he now can't dry them. And we are still wondering why folks have stopped buying the ruddy things?
   It's time to lift this country up by its jockstraps. Can we have some rational discourses, please, and not the Piush Goel kind of epiphanies ? For, as the wit observed: Intelligence is like underwear. It is important that you have it, but not necessary that you show it off. Especially if it has a hole  big enough to push the annual Budget through .

Saturday, 21 September 2019


                                    THE  GHOST  OF  ADM JABALPUR  STILL HAUNTS US.

     1976 is a year the Supreme Court would like to forget because that is the year it reached its nadir. Legitimising Mrs. Gandhi's imposition of Emergency, it ruled in Shashikant Shukla vs ADM Jabalpur that " under emergency provisions no one could seek the assistance of any court in India to try and save his life, liberty and limb." In other words, a citizen did not have a fundamental right to life or liberty when emergency was declared. All habeas corpus petitions against the thousands of arbitrary arrests were dismissed.The four judges who authored this outrageous and disgraceful judgement duly received their reward as all of them subsequently became CJIs. The lone dissenting judge, HR Khanna, was superseded for the post of CJI and resigned, with honour, something which the other four will be denied forever by history.
   In the forty years since then it seemed that the court was correcting itself and making amends for 1976 by standing up to the executive. But in the last five years or so we have once again begun to see the chinks in its armour when confronted by a rampaging executive: the Collegium is unable to enforce its recommendations( just today it has capitulated to the govt. and revised Justice Kureshi's posting from Madhya Pradesh to Tripura), " sealed cover" communications between the government and the court has become the order of the day, enforcement agencies have run amuck with no check by the judiciary, senior and respected lawyers have made public the irregularities in the allotment of cases to various benches, a perception is gaining ground that the judiciary has become totally unaccountable, whether it is the quality of their judgments or their personal conduct. The politician smells blood: the BJP Delhi chief earlier this year defied the SC by breaking open a house sealed by the Court's committee and got away scotfree, last month the Law Minister, no less, dismissed the Collegium's recommendations by asserting that his Ministry was " not a post office", last week a UP Minister proudly boasted that " both the Ram Mandir and the Supreme Court are ours!", and on the 17th of this month Mr. Subramaniam Swamy even pre-empted the court by announcing that the Ram Mandir judgment would be delivered before 15th November and it would be in favour of the Hindus. Displaying a tolerance and benevolence the common litigant rarely gets to see, the court has taken no action against any of these contemnors.
   And now we have the tragedy playing out in Kashmir over the past six weeks, and with every passing day of state repression the judiciary appears to be heading for a new nadir. In many ways the lockdown in the valley of Kashmir is worse than the Emergency- not just a few thousands but millions have been virtually imprisoned for six weeks now, schools are not functional, mobile network is cut, businesses are shut, troops occupy virtually every square foot of space, unknown thousands have been detained and no one knows what the charges against them are. Unlike in the Emergency, now only a particular people, a specific region is coming in for all this heavy handed state attention. One would have expected that the Supreme Court would not allow the ghost of ADM Jabalpur to rise again from the grave.
   That expectation is being belied. It has been more than six weeks now and a large number of habeas corpus petitions, challenges to the shutting down of the media in the valley, and writs against the J+K Reorganisation Act have been filed. In a shocking expose by the Indian Express yesterday, it has been revealed that as many as 252 habeas corpus petitions have been filed in the J+K High Court since the 6th of August but not one has been decided. 147 of them are still at the admission stage and 87 are listed for orders. The state is routinely being granted time to file replies, as much as four weeks. This defeats the very purpose of a habeas petition. But the courts have shown no urgency in deciding them. The Reorganisation Act has been referred to a constitution bench which is yet to take up the matter. Only one habeas corpus case has been decided, that of the CPI leader Mr. Tarangini. God only knows where the others are languishing. Three or four well connected politicians have been allowed to visit Kashmir- why not the other citizens of the state, the hundreds of students stranded in other cities outside the state, running out of funds or news of their family? Why has the Kashmiri press not been unmuzzled yet? Why are no questions being asked about this extended suspension of the internet and mobile telephony, fundamental to the very concept of free speech and liberty ? Why is the Court accepting at face value the govt's "national security" argument and giving it so much latitude to "restore normalcy"?
   Contrast this with how the higher judiciary in the UK is conducting itself in the legal challenges to the suspension of the British Parliament by Mr. Boris Johnson on the 29th of August. Within a week of this, three High Courts ( Scotland, Ireland and London) ruled on the matter, two upholding the govt's action and one striking it down. The subsequent appeals have already been argued and heard in the country's Supreme Court, which has announced that it will deliver its verdict next week. All signed, sealed and delivered in three weeks! This is how vital constitutional matters should be decided in mature judicial systems, this is how the courts should function as a bulwark between a rampaging executive and the defenceless citizenry, this is how genuinely autonomous institutions should function in a democracy.
  It appears that the ghost of ADM JABALPUR is alive and kicking. Kashmir is the judiciary's last opportunity to exorcise it- there won't be a third chance.

Saturday, 14 September 2019


    "Satire": ( noun) ridicule, irony, etc. used to expose folly. [ The Little Oxford Dictionary.]

    Art Buchwald ( Washington post columnist):" You can't make up anything any more. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."

   It's that time of the year when Delhi-wallahs start planning for their winter vacations. They begin their google search for  locations which are exotic but still serve " chhola bhatura", hotels which do not sell bananas at 250 bucks per piece, and airlines which can still afford to buy their fuel. Aggregators like " Make Me Trip", " OHO Rooms!" and " Ube(tte)r not" redouble their efforts to can these sardines as quickly as possible. Toll barriers prepare to take a heavy toll on frantic motorists, like the Kodak bears on migrating salmon in Canada. Traffic cops prowl the highways, anxious to recoup the moneys spent on the Diwali festivities- a job now made so much easier by Mr. Gadkari's fines.
   I too briefly considered running the gauntlet of falling boulders, landslides and mile long traffic jams better known as the Kalka- Shimla national highway to spend some quality time at my cottage near Mashobra, but decided that more urgent things need my declining powers of attention. I have decided instead to go to my ancestral village in Fatehpur in UP, which I have not visited in 40 years. I really had no choice- the decision was made for me by our Home Minister, Mr. Amit Shah, when he announced-again- in Assam that the NRC( National Register of Citizens) would be extended to the whole country and that every single " ghuspaitia" would be thrown out of the country, perhaps in the manner of Satan being hurled out of Heaven. Watching him on TV, I had the uneasy feeling that he was looking accusingly at me. If there's one thing we have learned in the last three months ( other than the "fact" that Section 370 has been responsible for all of Kashmir's problems) it is that you can't mess with this gentleman- he must be taken seriously.
  You see, I'm a classical migrant: born in Odisha ( not my fault, one has to be born somewhere), I've been on the move constantly in my 68 years- to Asansol, Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Kanpur, Fatehpur, Calcutta, Delhi, Himachal. Not only have I gathered no moss, I've also not gathered any papers to prove that my family has been in this country since it became a country! As 1.9 million wretches in Assam found out, one or two documents will not do since in India every type of document can be forged; one has to provide, I learn, about ten different documents. The logic of NRC appears to be that if you can forge ten docs then you are exactly the kind of intrepid, Fake-in-India citizen that India needs.
   There are no Shuklas left in Fatehpur, something which the local Fatehpurias are grateful for, but that is not my point. The point is: how do I find the voter's list of 1952 or 1954 to prove that my grandfather's/ grandmother's name was on it? Everybody whose name was on it is now certainly dead, or wishes that he were. The Deputy Commissioner's office , equally certainly, has by now become a gaushala and the voter's list served as breakfast to the starving cows. I suppose I could go to the Election Commission of India in Delhi, but they can't even find the statement of statewise votes cast/ recorded by EVMs in the 2019 elections! What chance is there that they will be able to confirm that Pandit Kalicharan Shukla was a voter in 1954?
  I was born in 1950 so my birth certificate should do, I suppose. But back then my Dad tore up the certificate after having one look at my crumpled face. I don't even have a School Leaving certificate because I didn't leave school- they threw me out because I insisted on being the first, and not the seventh, dwarf in " Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."  My pension order is another life line, it has my date of birth. But the Treasury Officer won't certify it either: for the last three years he has been insisting that I first prove that I am still alive. The last option, according to the NRC rules devised after much thought and little logic by the Supreme Court, is to produce what is called a " legacy document". Here too it's a no go; the only legacy document left for me by my father in 2017, by which time he had had enough of New India, was a note to state that I should pay the milkman, an honest tradesman, for he mixed only RO water with the milk. But  that won't convince Mr. Hajela.
   I need to find some DNA to establish my kosher descent. We Shuklas, pedigreed Brahmins all, are descended from Bharadwaj Rishi who prowled the Himalayas long before Mr. Modi meditated in that cave in Kedarnath. Since now even the Supreme Court has accepted that the Raghuvanshis are descended form Lord Ram, Bharadwaj Rishi's descendents cannot be denied the fruits of this res judicata. If my DNA matches the Rishi's ( he MUST have left some in another, two-star cave), I would be home and away. But I have a feeling my search would be futile, for all ancient DNA has now become NDA. Maybe I should go to Bangladesh and re-enter as a victimised Hindu when the Citizenship Amendment Act has been passed. But even this not without its risks- what if I am mistaken for a Rohingya ? Looks like it's going to be a long and bitter winter for me.
   They'll be coming for you too, folks: it doesn't matter how you voted.

Saturday, 7 September 2019


    You're not going insane, dear reader, the world ( more particularly, India) is. It needed the prescience of a Lewis Carrol to express our current perplexity in these words from " Alice in Wonderland":
" If I had a world of my own everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it is. You see?"
You don't? Well then, just consider the nonsense that has been playing out over the last  week or so on our march towards a five trillion economy and a one messiah polity.
   It began with a Congress triumverate of Abhishek Singhvi, Jairam Ramesh and Shashi Tharoor heaping encomiums on Mr. Modi for the " good work" done by him, in a reversal of the Mark Antony elegy over Caesar's body: " I come to praise Narender, not bury him."  OK, not bury, but they could at least have waited till he attained the Margdarshak age. The nation is now a-twitter with speculation: do the three penitent confessors have a 10/10 vision that they could see " good work" when most of us can only see the ruins of an ancient civilisation, are they preparing to jump ship a-la Mr. Hooda in Haryana and Mr. Scindia in MP, are they holding out the white flag or the white feather?
  None of the above, I believe. The truth probably is that the three ( all urbane, polished, articulate Parliamentarians with a combined IQ in excess of the NDA's bench strength in Parliament) think they are boxing by the Queensberry rules while Mr. Modi is doing a WWE bout where the only hold that is barred is holding anyone worthy of any respect. Only this misconception can explain why they have asked people not to "demonise" Mr. Modi when the latter has left nothing undemonised or undemonetised . As the walrus would no doubt have said if he had met Mahatma Gandhi: There is no point turning the other cheek when you're getting kicked in the backside. Or, as Mr. Shashi Tharoor himself would have put it if he had seen the light: "It is futile to gyrate the buccae when it is the posterior brachial region that is being belaboured."
   Consider next the VC of JNU( Jawaharlal Nehru University) whose eureka moment came one morning in the bathroom when he realised that the mirror image of VC is CV! Elated, he decided to ask Romila Thapar to furnish her CV in order to continue as Professor Emeritus. Immobilised by his own intellectual rictus, he forgot that she was India's leading historian, had taught in JNU for 20 years,had published more books and papers than he had read, was a winner of the Kluze prize. Most important, he did not seem to know that a PE is not a job but an honour, and that the honour is entirely that of the university. It's a strange world where Education Ministers don't have degrees but a Professor Emeritus has to submit a CV to a VC. It is under such VCs that our universities have become the" slaughter houses of intelligence" and are being reduced to a binary: a slaughter house or a gaushala. Ms Thapar, I hope, voluntarily resigns her position- there is no longer any honour being a Professor Emeritus of an institution presided over by such time servers.
   But all is not lost: there is some good news from Ulta Pradesh. If the District Magistrate of Mirzapur is to be believed ( notwithstanding that villainous cap he wears on TV), in UP these days they are serving five course banquets for the school mid-day meals! That at least was his anemic explanation to rebut a video which showed the poor waifs being given only dry rotis and salt. He said that the other dishes were to follow when the journalist shot the video prematurely- the roti and salt was just the apertiff. And this two days after he had suspended the school staff for what is clearly embezzlement of mid-day meal funds. The journalist, of course, has been arrested for not waiting for the main course. The DM was being true to his salt and masters but my question is this: what kind of training do they impart to the IAS these days? In our time we were taught to lie with more intelligence and conviction, our untruths were more credible-obviously, all is not well at the Academy in Mussoorie.
   Rounding off this crazy week, I am happy to see that doctors are finally getting a taste of their own medicine. We spend most of our unhealthy lives trying to read their illegible prescriptions, wondering whether our dysfunction as recorded in the prescription is tactile or erectile, whether the gastric condition is due to corpulence or flatulence, whether the prescribed medicine is Allegra or Viagra. So it was only poetic justice when a senior cardiologist in Delhi was summoned by the NIA to explain why he had sent a text message to the jailed Yasin Malik stating " Value INR 2.38." The NIA, expert at cracking arcane codes, was sure it referred to a payment of Rs. 2.38 crores for terrorist activities. Turned out that the good doctor was simply conveying the result of a blood test, INR being  "International Naturalised Rate", being the time it takes for blood to clot! Hope the medical fraternity now reads the writing on the wall- an illegible prescription or report is now a non-bailable offence, even if the patient survives the treatment.
  And finally, a rooster in France has just conveyed a resounding message to our government and "independent" institutions. An HT report of 6th September informs us that a rooster named Maurice on the island of Oleron was wont to express himself vigorously and freely every morning. A neighbour, not impressed by this seditious free speech, approached a court for a gag on the rooster. The judge ruled that the said bird had every right to sing whenever it wanted. A huge blow for free speech which, hopefully, our courts will take note of while they dither over the curbs in Kashmir! Last heard, the rooster was cocking a snook at the neighbour with a loud Cock-a-doodle-do. So, dear reader, don't take everything you read or hear too seriously; as the walrus would have said: My desire to be well informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.

Thursday, 5 September 2019


[ This piece was published in THE WIRE on 4.9.2019, with slight editing, under the title: THE AVIATION SECTOR'S RAMPANT GROWTH MUST BE REINED IN.]

                                    THE  SKY  CANNOT  BE  THE  LIMIT.

   It’s just not working. The sixth Global Environment Outlook ( GEO6) report released on 13.3.2019 warns that even if countries achieve the nationally determined contributions ( NDCs) under the Paris accord 2015- which they are far from doing- this will be just a third of the mitigation needed to restrict rise of global temperatures to 1.5-2.0 degress celsius by 2100. In fact, it has stated that this limit will be reached by the middle of this century and is likely to reach 2.7 to 3.0 by 2100. To prevent this  emissions have to drop by 40%-70% globally by 2050, and to net zero by 2070. Instead, they went UP by 3% in 2017. We are staring at environmental Acopalypse.
   The problem is simple: the world, especially the developed countries, simply has to change its lifestyle, its reckless consumption patterns, move to a more simple and sustainable way of living. It has to waste less food and water, travel more sensibly, reduce its ever increasing dependence on power guzzling technology to make life more easy going and convenient, shop less, use recycled materials rather than plunder more from nature. It has to shift from consumption to “ nonsumption” and accept “minimalism” as the biggest NDC of all. One area of human activity which could do with more attention on this score is aviation, which poses a looming threat that most people are not even aware of.
   The global aviation sector accounts for 3.5% of total emissions, and in absolute terms the figure is expected to reach 1.250 billion tonnes by 2030 because of its continued dependence on fossil fuels. It has been allowed to grow like an unchecked carcinoma because it has been excluded from any restrictions under the Kyoto protocol; it is growing at 7.5% per annum ( the figure for India is 17%); the total number of flyers in 2017 was 4.1 billion- in other words, every second person in the world is a flyer!  There are 42000 commercial flights a day in the USA, 34000 in Europe. If this did not cause enough pollution, the uber rich add more than their fair share by the indiscriminate use of private jets: according to the website there are between 25000 and 30000 private aircraft globally. The future projections are even more worrying: according to a study by Boeing 39600 additional aircraft shall be required by 2038, doubling the current number. The number of flyers shall grow to 7.8 billion. Just recently there was widespread criticism when the BBC revealed that 1500 private jets were used to ferry world leaders to Davos in January 2019.
   It’s not just emissions that concern us here; more flyers mean more airports, more runways, for which thousands of additional hectares of land has to be acquired. This land has to be denuded of all green cover, right next to urban centres which need trees most; thousands of families are displaced and fertile agricultural land is concretised with serious implications for recharging of ground water. ( The Civil Aviation Ministry in India has just announced the construction of 20 more airports). Acquisition of 5000 hectares of prime agricultural land has already commenced for Delhi’s second airport at Jewar in neighbouring UP; hundreds of farmers will be displaced. 4500 acres of priceless wetlands ( including 70 acres of mangroves) will be devastated for Mumbai’s new airport which is coming up in total violation of all CRZ rules. This can only accentuate Mumbai’s annual flooding woes and destroy the habitat of at least 250 identified bird species.Separate terminals and even private airports are being built for the rich and their jets. How long can this wanton decimation of nature continue ?
   This cancerous growth of a sector that caters essentially to the rich at the cost of the poor has to stop. Mitigation measures will not work- a recent report of the US Govt. Accountability Office( the counterpart of our own CAG) has stated that measures such as technical innovations in air-frames/engines, improvement in fuels, mandatory emission reduction targets or even tax on emissions will be insufficient to curb the expansion of the aviation sector. Governments all over the world have to find more draconian and innovative policies to rein in this monster.
   They should stop building more runways and airports, and if they do not, then residents of the areas effected should oppose them. This shall automatically restrict the number of flights. (A struggle has been going on for the last ten years to approve a third runway for Heathrow, with Londoners opposing it tooth and nail.) Railway systems should be upgraded to offer an alternative almost as fast but less expensive. In this context the plan to introduce 160 super-fast trains in India over the next two years is a welcome step, but the identification of the routes should not become populist: the emphasis should be to connect metros and routes where there is maximum air traffic. A single train can obviate the need for at least six wide bodied aircraft. Rail tickets should be subsidised: after all, if the govt. can spend tens of thousands of crores on constructing and maintaining airports, it should not balk at this incentive. A heavy carbon tax should be imposed on all air tickets to bring down demand; this would also recoup the subsidy on rail tickets. Private aircraft should be banned altogether: why should someone be allowed to pollute the air just because he has the money? The natural environment is a common heritage and everyone has just one share in it, it is not a corporate entity in which the rich can be allowed to have a “controlling interest”.
   A global pushback against rampant expansion of this sector has begun. There was a public outrage when the BBC revealed that 1500 private jets were used to ferry corporate honchos to this year’s Davos summit, with demands that they should use commercial flights instead. Megan Markel, the Duchess of Essex, had to face widespread criticism when she too flew the Atlantic in a private jet in February to attend a baby shower in New York. Even more interesting, BBC has reported that an environment group in Sweden has launched a campaign to persuade people not to take a flight in 2019; their target is to obtain 100,000 pledges this year: by March they had obtained 10000 pledges. They make a very important point: governments cannot do everything- citizens themselves have to exercise choices that are in the best interests of the planet and themselves. For, as the poet Mahmoud Darwish lamented:
“ Where should we go after the last frontiers?
   Where should the birds fly after the last sky?”