Tag Archives | Government

Actions have consequences

The Kashmiri stone-pelters of 2010

“My career is ruined. I cannot seek admission in any college. I cannot get a passport, and worse, I cannot get a government job,” said one young man, arrested for throwing stones at police, who did not want to be named.[BBC]

Dear unnamed young man from Kashmir, you should have known that before joining the gang to throw stones at policemen, indulging in arson or destroying public property. The petty cash paid by Pakistan-backed separatists for taking part in those organised protests was never going to compensate you for the losses you will incur. You were dispensable for these separatists. You have been used. The separatist leaders will find a new set of boys to do this a few years down the line again. That is the way they operate.

You made your choices in 2010. Your frustration is a consequence of the choices you made. But it should be directed against these separatist leaders who enticed you into their devious plan, and not against the government which was reacting to the events.

If you do get an amnesty from the state government, good luck to you. If not, hard luck mate. Such is life. Remember, actions have consequences.

PS – Hopefully, your own friends, cousins and community members will draw the right lessons from your example and stay away from participating in organised street violence in Kashmir in the future. Your tribulations would have served a great purpose if that happens.

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Weekend quiz

Identify the project from these pictures.

Clue: The project was started by the Government of India in 2004. It was to be completed in four years but not surprisingly, it hasn’t been completed so far. And yes, the official name of the project has ‘strategic’ in it.

Leave your answers in the comments. My post on this project comes up here tomorrow.

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Whither IAP?

A look at the progress in 60 districts covered under the Integrated Action Plan for Maoist areas.

Nearly five months after the Indian Government approved the Integrated Action Plan(IAP) for Maoist areas, it might be a good time to look at the performance of 60 districts covered by the scheme. To recapitulate, each of these 60 districts were allocated Rs 25 crore in the last financial year (ending March 2011) and were assured another Rs 30 crore in the current year. As these districts were unable to spend Rs 25 crore in the two months available to them in the last financial year, that money has been rolled over to this year. Meanwhile, another Rs 10 crore out of the Rs 30 crore for this year has been allocated to them, which means that each of the districts have Rs 35 crore at its disposal for undertaking developmental activities.

Click on the picture for a larger image

Data via here

This means that only 24.66% of the funds have been expanded so far under the IAP, with only 15.50% of the projects completed. Even this progress is extremely uneven among the group. District Jamui in Bihar is the worst performer having spent only 0.23% of the funds so far, whereas district Nuapada is at the top having expended 69.37% out of Rs 35 crore released to it.

The point being discussed is just the quantum of outlay being expended, and not the quality and utility of the outcomes being generated here. This only reaffirms what this blogger had observed when the IAP scheme was launched:

Of course, the government continues to labour under the misbegotten idea that throwing money at the problem will lead to a solution. The government continues to live in denial about the fact that it can not undertake development in the Maoist-affected districts without first ensuring security there. Even then, the problem is not of the availability of funds but of improvement in governance which is the key for capacity-building, without which the allocated money can not be utilised properly.[PE]

Alas, who cares! Especially when you have a government guided solely by what Yes Minister‘s Sir Humphrey Appleby called “Politician’s logic: We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do it.”

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Authorising wire-taps in India

There is a process in place in the government to authorise wire-taps.

Only sketchy details about the procedure in vogue via which Government of India authorises phone-tapping are available on the World Wide Web (here and here). It creates the impression in many reasonable minds that the phone-tappings can be done at anyone’s whim and fancy. Of course, this is not the truth.

Thankfully, the Union Home Secretary has now — in the context of the leaked phone tappings of Niira Radia — gone on record to explain how the phone-tapping authorisation process actually works in the government of India.

Mr. Pillai said the fears of widespread wiretapping are much exaggerated and that he follows strict guidelines in approving any surveillance.

He said the government has about 6,000 to 8,000 wiretaps happening at any point, and only about 3% to 5% of them are for corporate or white-collar investigations (with roughly 80% aimed at gleaning information about potential militant activity in the restive Himalayan region of Kashmir, troubled northeastern states and areas affected by a widespread Maoist insurgency).

Investigators must show him some evidence that a suspect has done something illegal – a document, an email, a bank statement.

Each wiretap can go for a maximum of 60 days before his approval must be sought again. And Mr. Pillai’s authorizations are reviewed every two weeks by a board including the telecom secretary, Cabinet secretary and law secretary, he says.

Meanwhile, elected politicians at both the state and central government levels are not wiretapped as a matter of policy, he says. The only way investigators could hear their conversations is if they happened to be caught on the other end of the line talking to a bugged individual, as happened when Ms. Radia had phone conversations with former telecom minister A. Raja about the status of his position in the cabinet appointments that followed last year’s election. (Those calls were among those that were leaked.)[WSJ-IRT]

More importantly, Mr Pillai has spoken about the need to change the procedure as well.

Mr. Pillai said he will likely pursue some changes to the country’s telecom laws to clarify the government’s authority for intercepts of highly secure corporate communications, part of a broader set of changes related to lawful intercept policy and privacy.[WSJ]

People can disagree with the authorisation process. Or criticise the inability of the government to protect some citizens’ private data from coming out into the public domain. But the insinuations from many quarters that the government has no processes and mechanisms to authorise phone-tappings and any government or police or intelligence official can tap anyone’s telephones, without any checks and balances in place, would hopefully stop now.

This nation certainly needs to debate, as Mr Pillai says, “a broader set of changes related to lawful intercept policy and privacy.” But for anyone who thinks that government must stay away from all phone-tapping, the answer came from James Madison in 1788:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

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The mobile towering fallacy of development

In the Maoist-infested areas, security without development is meaningless; but development, without security, is unachievable.

Even after having spent more than six years in power, the UPA government has been unable to articulate its strategy to deal with the Maoists so far; simply because the ruling alliance and the government have not yet been able to finalise a strategy for dealing with the problem. Moreover, any such strategy will be an outcome of a government policy on the subject, and policy pronouncements have been conspicuous only by their absence in this government. In the absence of such policy, the vacuum is being filled by various organs of the government trying to solve the problem on their own, and this inevitably results in them working at cross-purposes.

Here is an example of such misguided and uncoordinated action — the action plan by the Telecom ministry to install 550 new mobile towers to boost communication facilities in the Naxal-affected districts in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar.  Now, Home Ministry sources have put the total number of attacks on mobile towers over four years between 2005 and 2008 at 69. The number stood at 40 in 2009, and there have already been at least 13 attacks on communication towers in 2010 according to the SATP database. Here is the explanation of Union Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot:

“Mobile towers have become vulnerable targets and are often destroyed by the Maoists. The BSNL as well as private operators are finding it hard to re-erect destroyed towers due to security and financial reasons. But we have directed BSNL officials to keep spreading their network irrespective of disruptions by Naxalites.” Mr. Pilot said.[Hindu]

Mr Pilot’s argument makes sense only if he is suggesting that the BSNL will erect —- and re-erect — mobile towers at a rate faster than at which the Maoists can destroy them.  With each tower estimated to be costing nearly Rs  1.5 million, this amounts to sheer wastage of tax-payer’s money. But this nation is now immune to seeing its hard-working tax-payer’s money being frittered away by the government of the day and this loss won’t even register on the national conscience.

However the danger doesn’t stop there. There have been enough reports [here is one about Bihar; and Bibek Debroy puts the figure for Maoist levies at 10-15%] from Maoist-affected areas to suggest that unscrupulous government officials and civil contractors have combined with local Maoist leaders to portray that their project has been destroyed by the Maoists. The contract money is then shared between the corrupt government official, unscrupulous contractor and the local Maoist leadership. Thus, the patriotic Indian tax-payer ends up funding the anti-national Maoist leadership — only because the government has no coherent strategy in place.

These mobile-tower kind of development efforts have been nothing but a series of stop-gap measures that have often produced results that are worse than useless; it would be fair to say that they have been downright counterproductive. Suck kind of developmental efforts have actually contributed to destabilisation of the Maoist areas.

By pumping in large amounts of money into insecure areas, with limited capacity for management and oversight, the state ends up fuelling corruption, or the perception of corruption. This undercuts the government; it leads to the perception that the government is corrupt, which de-legitimises that very government. In other words, such development work actively sabotages the very phenomenon it is supposed to be bolstering: the strengthening of the state authority.

But development, as the argument goes, is the need of the hour in these Maoist-infested areas. So is the government then supposed to eschew development in these districts altogether? It might sound harsh to say so but such a politically incorrect idea might be one of the better ways to move ahead [as this blogpost suggests]. A more logical and easily comprehensible answer though comes from the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram circa August 2009:

We believe in the two-pronged approach of development and police action.  However, the naxalites are anti-development and have targeted the very instruments of development – school buildings, roads, telephone towers etc.  They know that development will wean the masses, especially the poor tribals, away from the grip of the naxalites.  Hence, these deliberate attacks on developmental activities.  Our response therefore will be police action to wrest control of territory that is now dominated by the naxalities, restoration of civil administration and undertaking developmental activities – in that order.[PIB]

That is the right order, only if the Government of India would order so.

Let it be said again: security without development is meaningless but development, without security, is unachievable.

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The answer that the PM never gave

To the question about his government’s failure to estimate the Maoist threat.

At the Prime Minister’s press conference, one of the questions that evoked a lot of interest in the media coverage afterwards came from Smita Prakash, Editor (News), Asian News International. Asked if his government had underestimated the Naxals, the Prime Minister said, “We have not underestimated the problem of Naxalism.” Here is the complete video of the question and the answer.

And here is the answer that the Prime Minister should have at least provided to the important question. Mind you that this is not the ideal, strong-worded answer one can come up with, but the least (and a politically correct answer) that the nation expects on such a grave subject from the Prime Minister.

That’s another tough one from Ms Prakash. But it is an important question which deserves to be answered in its entirety. If I were to be candid, and with the benefit of hindsight with us now, I’d agree that we could have done much more in our first tenure about finishing the Maoists. As you know, my government for the better part of its first tenure was guilty of the same misconception that continues to grip many of us even today.  Many of you out here, supported so vociferously by many intellectuals in the public domain, still hold the view that Maoists are just misguided youth, fighting for the rights of the tribals and it can be handled as another law and order problem. We in the government were also guilty of holding this view till we realised half-way through that tenure that it was the biggest internal security challenge facing the country. I have since articulated it publicly at many forums. But the government is an elephantine machinery which takes its time to change course and act. Yes, I’d confess that we have been guilty on that count to a large degree.

What is even more worrying however, that while my government, and particularly the Home Minister, seems to have realised its folly and directed all its energies towards undoing the mistakes of the last tenure, the political consensus still eludes us. As a hallmark of a vibrant and healthy democracy that India is, there are varying opinions within the Congress party and the ruling coalition, but also within the political opposition on what should be the ideal anti-Maoist strategy. While we may have different ideas about finishing the scourge of the Maoists, let me reassure the nation that we all seek the same goal and we are all fully united and committed to this onerous task.

There are a few more challenges for us going forward. The first one is to generate a consensus across the complete political spectrum, involving both the centre and the states, and convincing them about our strategy to finish the Maoists. The time for debating the strategy is well past us now. Our security forces, policemen and policewomen, and government employees involved in development of Maoist-affected areas, need the full backing and unequivocal support of their countrymen. There will be setbacks along the way, as we have recently witnessed at Dantewada in the ghastly massacre of civilians and CRPF men before that, but that should only strengthen our resolve to strike harder at these mass murderers.

The next challenge for us, and we are trying our best in this regard, is to build the capacity of our security forces and police forces deployed against the Maoists. It won’t happen overnight but if we stick to it with a sense of purpose, I am certain we will soon see a perceptible difference on ground in the efficacy and effectiveness of our security operations. There is something very important I’d like to highlight here and it is the issue of Police Reforms. Despite directions from the Supreme Court, we have not moved forward in this important field for last four years. Any more delay in implementing these reforms by the states, and we at the centre have already taken some steps with the union territories in this field, will bring further misery to innocent population in these areas. We simply cannot afford this state of affairs as a nation any longer.

Finally, I’d like to assure everyone that we are committed to bringing development to these development starved areas. Our governance structures will have to be made more robust to face these current challenges and undertake fast-paced development in these areas when we have secured them and made the areas conducive for undertaking these developmental activities. Our ultimate aim is to restore governance and bring development to these areas and concerted security operations are only a step towards achieving that final goal.

I take this opportunity to seek the support of all Indians to finish the scourge of the Maoists and assure everyone that we are committed to establishing security so that we can bring development and prosperity to these areas. Next question please.

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Three questions on national security

Only if someone could press the government in Parliament on answering these.

  1. Does the changing landscape of national security demand a change to the current national security structure as established six decades ago? If so, what is the scope of the changes required?
  2. What kind of changes are needed? Are they structural or cultural – or both?
  3. What specific reforms, if any, might be accomplished in a short-term time frame [one year and not 100 days] as a prelude to a longer-term overhaul?

It is axiomatic that effective policy begins with clarity and ends with accountability. It is essential to define the problem, assign responsibility, empower the appropriate office with resources and decision-making authority, and hold them accountable for results. If the Parliament believes that the government of the day should adhere to these sound management principles, especially on as grave an issue as national security, it should be putting the “status quoist” Mr. AK Antony — and the Prime Minister — in the dock for their inactivity on the subject.

National security  is a responsibility assigned by the nation not only to the political executive that governs the nation, but also to the elected legislature that ought to keep the government honest in its intent and dealings. What better starting point for fulfilling that oversight role than the parliamentary opposition asking the three foregoing questions in the current session of Parliament. Only if…

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Omar’s credibility at stake

Sanctioning prosecution of armymen. Timing is critical.

An angry Omar Abdullah met the Defence Minister, asking for the prosecution of armymen, who allegedly killed two innocent civilians in Sopore. While he will raise the same demand in his meeting with the Home Minister in Srinagar, the army brass has promised him the army enquiry report within the next two to three days. As with many other issues, the real question here is not the government sanction for this prosecution. The issue that should bother all well-meaning Indians is the credibility of the young CM. Do you want Omar to be seen as a lackey of Delhi, doing its bidding in Kashmir, or do you wish him to seen as a credible, strong political figure in the state?

Look at the timing — the separatists are struggling to stay afloat, security in the state has improved manifold and is at pre-1990 levels, Omar is a young CM with little political baggage and another successful parliamentary polls would provide the deathblow to the separatists. The opportunity is now. But the current lame duck government at Delhi seems to be lacking political will and wisdom to understand the significance of this decision now — when will they realise that a small, timely action will achieve much more now than what can be gotten by giving much bigger concessions later.

If the situation continues to improve at the same pace in the state, the next government at Delhi will have to take bigger decisions. It will have to seriously look at the continuation of AFSPA in the state, if it desires complete normalcy in the state. That will be a real conundrum to resolve.

P.S. — While on Kashmir, here is what the Pullitzer prize winning journalist, Steve Coll, said in his testimony before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom:

The (Pak) army took the extraordinary steps that it did to enter into these negotiations over Kashmir, essentially threatening to reverse decades of policy in this negotiation with India, it was not coercion that brought them to the table; it was aspiration. They wanted, Musharraf in particular, the international legitimacy, the credibility. He wanted to be celebrated at international events as a peacemaker. He wanted Oslo to pay attention to him.

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Omar’s bold gambit

Prosecuting soldiers. Understanding AFSPA.

After the media reports that the Magisterial enquiry by the J&K state government has blamed the army jawans for indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians in Sopore, the new CM, Omar Abdullah has come out with a very strong statement.

“Exemplary punishment will be handed over to the Army men, if found guilty, in the killing of two civilians in north Kashmir Bomai village… If the inquiry, as per the media reports, indicts any troopers, I will carry the report personally to the Union Home minister and the Defence Minister to ensure that the guilty are given exemplary punishment,” the CM said. “Bringing those responsible for the innocent killings in Bomai to book is a matter of credibility for this government.”

As Kashmir has been under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act [AFSPA] since 1990, the prosecution of any armed forces personnel can only be with the executive sanction of the Central government. The start of the silly season of elections means that the current dispensation would take no decisions, even if the CM were to beg of them. And even the new government can defer the decision to sanction prosecution indefinitely (as in the Afzal Guru hanging case).

So what exactly is AFSPA? A little backgrounder on the AFSPA makes for an interesting and educative reading.

To counter the Naga separatist movement in the early 1950s, the Indian Army and other paramilitary forces were deployed in the then Naga Hills. The introduction of the AFSPA was the outcome of this armed conflict.The AFSPA was passed by the Indian Parliament in 1958 (later amended in 1972), to enable effective counter-insurgency operations in Nagaland. But it drew largely on a draconian ordinance of the British era. When the Congress gave the call for Quit India on August 8, 1942, the then Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow declared emergency all over British India and promulgated the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, 1942 on August 15, 1942, conferring vaguely defined special powers to the armed forces to arrest and use force against (even kill) civilians on mere suspicion.

However, in its new avatar, the AFSPA made certain modifications to the ordinance. The provision for declaration of emergency was replaced by the term ‘disturbed area’; more vaguely defined powers were added (including the power to use force to even kill any person on suspicion of disturbing public order or carrying weapons, ‘to search any place without warrant or destroy any place on suspicion of being used by armed groups) to the old Ordinance; and the power to take action, given to an officer of the rank of Captain and above in the old Ordinance [Remember that the substantive rank of Major was at nearly 20 years of service then, compared to 6 years now], was delegated to lower ranks including Junior Commissioned officers and Non-commissioned officers.

The AFSPA was amended in 1972 giving the Centre the sole power to proclaim the act or to order its removal in any part of the country. The state government was left with no control in AFSPA after this amendment. In fact, the legality of the act was challenged in the Supreme Court. In 1998, Supreme Court unpheld the legality of the act, but with many riders, including a six-monthly review and clearly enunciated justifications for imposing or continuing with the AFSPA in any part of the country.

To quote Shakespeare, desperate situations need desperate measures. Without the powers of the Act, the security forces could not have opened fire until fired upon — a passive reaction, where pro-active action was the perceived need of the hour against terrorists. The AFSPA enabled the security forces to strike first. In the hostile and war-like situation prevailing in counterinsurgency operations, the AFSPA gave the army sweeping powers to protect the interests of national integrity and stability.

There is no doubt that the AFSPA, like many other strong government measures with sweeping powers, is liable to misuse. However, in today’s terror ridden times, disbanding the AFSPA altogether would amount to throwing the baby with the bathwater. A credible six-monthly review process, based on inputs from the state government and contingent on specific security related benchmarks, could perhaps be the right answer.

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A can of worms

OROP is a symptom of the wider defence problem.

Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.~Susan B. Anthony

The military veterans decided to return the medals to the President, because her government has refused to accept their demand for One Rank One Pension [OROP]. The demand was first accepted at the government level by Mr. V.P. Singh in 1990, but deferred for reconsideration by the Chandrashekhar government. It has been 18 years since, with governments of all political hues occupying the seats of power at Delhi, but no movement has been made on this demand.

By virtue of its actions on the SCPC and myriad other issues, the current UPA dispensation has come to be perceived as a weak government. This has emboldened the veterans to raise this demand more vociferously and even create a kind of emotional blackmail by making a public display of their disaffection — relay hunger strikes, returning of medals etc. While their brazen tactics may evoke strong emotions among some sections of the civil society, the larger civil society is blithely unconcerned about these shenanigans. Moreover, once out of uniform, the veterans have as much right as any one else to resort to any legal way of protesting against a government decision. And like any other law-abiding citizen, they will have to accept the final decision of the government.

So, what is the real issue? The rates of pension for a government job are dependent on the last salary earned. When the salaries are revised by the pay commission, the pensions also go up. So, a government servant, who retired in the same scale, before say the Sixth pay commission came into force, will get lesser pension than a servant in the same grade retiring after the pay commission was notified. This is applicable to civilians and uniformed personnel alike, barring a few exceptions. These exceptions are the government servants, who have a fixed salary — the President, Vice President, MPs, Secretaries to the government on the civil side, and service chiefs and army commanders (and their equivalents in navy and IAF) on the military side.

The arguments, about why this same pension for retirees of different era should only be applicable to defence veterans and not to civilian retirees, can be understood by reading these two pieces. The major arguments are: one, defence services are special, with ranks etc., which civilians don’t have; two, the civilians retire at sixty, while a soldier retires at 35 and a Colonel at 56; three, the civilians have never demanded this equivalence with defence veterans.

Now, let us not forget that since 2004, the civilian employees are not entitled to any gratis pension from the government, but only a contributory — pay as you go — scheme. Only military veterans continue to get this gratis pension from the government. And a younger retirement age, rather than being a disadvantage for the military veterans, should be an advantage to pursue a second career outside uniform. The early military retirees, in fact, get a weighed pension, to balance out the shorter duration of service. Of course, the rationale for providing a government pension at 35 is itself questionable in principle. The fight between the Home ministry and the Defence ministry has stalled the proposal for lateral movement of young defence retirees to para military forces. That proposal, if implemented, would render this whole debate meaningless.

Moreover, a civilian employee has filed a case in the Delhi HC, asking for the same pension as a civilian retiree would get after the Sixth pay commission. The government rightfully fears that  giving in to the OROP demand will lead to an unending series of similar demands from other civilian pensioners. Whatever may be the political compulsions or the willingness to oblige the military veterans, the fiscal profligacy of the UPA government will not allow any further largesse by the ensuing governments as well.

While the highly emotive arguments for the OROP are unlikely to stand a strong legal scrutiny, the disallowing of this demand will further destroy the tenous civil-military relations in this country. The urban myth, of the government — irrespective of the political dispensation — and the civil society, being indifferent to the defence services of this country, will gain further credence in eyes of those in uniform. A state, which needs synergy in all fields today, whether it be national security, diplomacy, internal security, economic policies or developmental projects, will suffer interminably from this dissonance in civil-military relations.

This will be the enduring legacy of Mr. Antony as the defence minister, besides a salaries and pensions bill for defence of Rs 65,500 crore for this year … and rising. And this is not a one-shot figure, as in a loan waiver or some other fanciful scheme devised by the jholawallas. It will be there every year, year after year, much larger than the previous year.

The issues of OROP, the gratis pensionary scheme, number of service members eligible for a pension, lateral movement of retirees, revenue expenses etc. can not be considered piecemeal. This needs a holistic review, that should start from the political aims of the government.  These political aims should lead to military aims, then to strategy and further to the issues of tactics, manpower and finally, equipment. If the current state of India’s national security setup — including the defence services — fuelled by a weak political leadership, inept bureaucrats, feckless military brass, a media uncritical of the defence services, and a lack of independent think-tanks does not warrant a Blue Ribbon Commission for Defence, what will?

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