Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Rage of the Nation

There always comes a time in history when it becomes difficult for the people to continue to bear the injustice and tyranny around them. It leads people to revolt against the existing system, demand justice and look for better governance. This time the history is being repeated in India. It all started with the movement against corruption led by the noted Gandhian, Anna Hazare. The movement and the initial response to it showed how people desperately want to get rid of the corruption that has been plaguing this country.

The rage against the injustice and lawlessness is now visible in the anti-rape protests going on in various parts of the country, right from Delhi to Manipur. It is not just a protest against the assault on a woman’s dignity, but a protest against the poor policing and lack lustre attitude of the government. India has been witnessing a spurt in crimes against women. The newspapers during the last few days have been carrying various statistics which verifies this trend. Indian women, it seems, are no longer safe in their own country. What kind of a society are we in, if we cannot even give respect to that gender which has given us birth? In the ancient days, women were considered sacred because of their ability to reproduce a new life. Where have those ideals gone?

The lawmakers of today are also very much insensitive to this issue. How can a female expect safety from a police officer who thinks that no rape happens unless the woman provokes the man? If the mentality of some police officers is such, then just guess what is the mentality of those sick people responsible for raping women.

The protests against rape are the outcome of years of subjugated emotions, years of “chalta hai” attitude, years of toleration. People now want justice, people now want their elected government to act and not just be meek spectators, people want that government exhibit its presence by punishing the guilty and instil confidence among its people.

Government has now constituted the Justice Verma Committee to recommend amendments to the existing laws related to this issue. As concerned citizens, we need to provide our suggestions to the committee. All of us may not be taking part in the protests, but we all are behind the victims of such brutal act. We have to contribute in whatever way possible so that such ghastly acts do not repeat again. Please send your suggestions at the following mail address:

I am planning to send the following suggestions to the committee:

1) A rape victim should be provided psychological counselling for a specific time period, which may be three months.

2) Death penalty should be awarded to guilty persons when the rape victim is a child below 5 years of age or if the victim has to stay in the hospital for more than 15 days.

3) The statement of a rape victim should always be taken by a female official and it should be videographed always.

Kindly provide comments if I can amend them further.

The nation is rising and so do we should be too.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kasab gone but has justice been done?

On the morning of November 21, 2012, when people in India were getting ready for their daily routine of life, there came a news, unexpected and truly “breaking”. Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving assailant of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, was hanged to death at the Yerawada central prison in Pune at 7:30 am. The complete process was done in a secret manner, codenamed Operation X, with only a few people being kept in the loop of things.

As soon as the news of the hanging spread, the reactions came pouring in. People expressed their surprise and joy at the news. There were reports of people bursting crackers to ‘celebrate’ the hanging. The survivors and the relatives of the deceased in the Mumbai attack welcomed the news.

But the question is: Has justice really been done? Does the hanging of Ajmal Kasab imply that the Mumbai attack conspirators have been punished? No, this has not happened. Kasab was just a ‘foot soldier’ of Lashkar-e-Taiba, who was brain-washed and trained to kill people. He was one among the many unemployed and frustrated youths of Pakistan, who fall into the grip of the militants and become a part of the ‘jihad’ these groups preach.

The actual conspirators of the Mumbai attack are yet to be caught and punished. Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind the attack is still free. Apart from him, there are 34 more persons in the list who are yet to be arrested in connection to the case. So, it cannot be said that justice has been done.

Unless and until, a strong position is taken by India in the matter, justice will still be eluding. The Indian government has to apply appropriate diplomatic pressure with its Pakistani counterpart to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice. Only then the killings of the 2008 Mumbai attacks will be avenged.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Look East Policy and Northeast India: Establishing Backward Linkages

India’s Northeast is a land which boasts of vast natural resources and a blend of different people and cultures. The region is blessed with biodiversity, huge hydro-energy potential, oil and gas, coal, limestone, forest wealth, fruits and vegetables, flowers, herbs and aromatic plants, and rich flora and fauna, many of the extremely rare variety. The Northeast comprises of eight states, namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. With an area of 2.6 lakh sq. kms, it occupies 7.8 per cent of India’s total land and with a population of 45 million, it is inhabited by 3.75 per cent of the population of the country. The region shares borders with China in the North, Myanmar in the East, Bangladesh in the Southwest and Bhutan to the Northwest.

Northeast India is often described as the Gateway to Southeast Asia. The proximity of the region with Southeast Asia provides it with the potential to transform into a commercial hub and tourist paradise. The Northeast has a very crucial role in the ‘Look East Policy’ of the Indian government, which was framed in 1991 to increase India’s economic interactions and linkages with its eastern neighbours. The Look East Policy aims at connecting the Northeast with the Southeast Asian nations through a network of highways, railways, pipelines, and transmission lines crisscrossing the region.

India has entered into quite a few regional agreements to ensure better ties with its neighbours and also to improve its trade and economy. Some of these agreements are the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and India-ASEAN agreement. India has also entered into bilateral agreements with Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore on trade and other related issues. The Northeast of India has a major role in all these agreements.

In order to connect the Northeast with Southeast Asia a lot of focus is being given in strengthening the linkages between them. But what is perhaps more important is the establishment of proper backward linkages between the Northeast and the Indian mainland. The connectivity between the mainland and the Northeast, whether through road, rail or air, is very poor.

Northeast is connected to the Indian mainland only through a narrow strip of land, 22 km-long, passing through Siliguri in the eastern state of West Bengal. The road network within the Northeast is very poor. The road density in the northeastern states is among the lowest in the country. Arunachal Pradesh has a road density of 21.9 km per 1000 sq. kms. , Mizoram 23.58 km, Sikkim 28.07 km as compared to road density of 74.42 km per 1000 sq kms. at the national level. The railway network in the region is also poor. The railway route density in the northeastern states, except Assam, is very low. As compared to railway density of 19.21 km per 1000 sq. kms. of India, Tripura has a railway density of 4.29 km and Nagaland has 0.78 km per 1000 sq. kms. Almost 97 per cent of the railway routes in the Northeast are in Assam.

The air connectivity also is in quite pathetic condition in Northeast and is centred mostly around the airport at Guwahati in Assam. Though almost each of the states has their own airport, yet it is not very well connected to other parts of the country. The network among the states in the region is also not satisfactory. In 2009, the Ministry for Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) was keen on setting-up a dedicated regional airline for the region but it didn’t receive an appropriate response from private airlines despite the subsidy offered by Government for an exclusive “intra-State” operation for the eight States.

After India’s partition in 1947, the access of Northeast to its nearest port got cut. The nearest port was Chittagong, which went to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The region's access to the sea is now about 1,600 km away, in the form of Kolkata port. Goods from the Northeast headed for China or Southeast Asian countries are shipped via Kolkata through the Strait of Malacca and on to China. Though Bangladesh has now agreed to allow India to use the Chittagong port as another outlet for its goods, most of the cargo is still send from the Kolkata port.

Without improving these linkages, if the government only focuses on creating more linkages between Northeast and Southeast Asia, there still would be very little development. That is because though products from Southeast Asia will enter the Northeast, the lack of proper connectivity with the mainland will result in poor penetration of these products in the mainland Indian markets. And this will also result in excess foreign products in the Northeast with very few buyers, making the Northeast a dumping ground of Southeast Asian products.

The same is the case with the products manufactured in the Northeast. The region has many indigenous products but lack of a proper market has restricted the production of such products. Because of poor connectivity problems, the producers don’t produce these products on a commercial scale. These products are of very good quality and can match the products of other Southeast Asian nations but the inability to transport these products to bigger markets lowers the quantity of production.

In Assam, a place called Sualkuchi, situated 32 km to the southwest of Guwahati, is famous for its silk fabric. The hand-woven silk fabric of Sualkuchi on Muga and Mulberry occupies a place of eminence in preserving the Assam heritage and culture and plays a vital role in economy of Assam. The silk industry of Sualkuchi gives direct and indirect employment to more than 25,000 people throughout the year in silk weaving and allied activities. The annual consumption of mulberry silk in Sualkuchi is nearly two lakh kg and Muga and other allied silk is nearly 98,000 kg. Sualkuchi produces more than 31 lakhs linear metres of silk fabrics valuing Rupees ninety crores approximately. This silk industry has a lot of potential and opportunity to export large quantity of product. But it is facing problems due to lack of reach to bigger markets owing to poor connectivity.

In order to improve the backward linkages a few major steps has to be taken. Some of the steps that could be taken are listed below:

·        The East-West highway connecting Silchar in Assam with Porbandar in Gujrat, which was scheduled to be completed in 2009, is still under construction. The government should see that the construction work is finished as soon as possible.

·       The air connectivity between the capitals of northeastern states should be established. International flights between Guwahati and the capitals of the major Southasian countries should also be started. Air cargo services should be provided with storage facilities at the Guwahati airport.

     Bringing a hope for improved air connectivity within the Northeast, the  Civil Aviation Ministry in May 2011 decided to set up its regional hub of operation  at the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati. The proposed hub is expected to become operational in 2012. Soon regional hubs would also be set up at Agaratala, Imphal and Dibrugarh airports.

·        Railway connectivity should be ensured between the state capitals. In this regard, Railways have undertaken an ambitious project to link all capital cities in the region at an estimated cost of Rs 17,000 crore by 2017. The project has been undertaken as a part of the Northeast Vision 2020, a blueprint for overall development of the region.

·        The Chittagong port in Bangladesh should be used more by India to ferry goods from the Northeast. This would save a lot of time and money and would also entail quick transport of materials to this land-locked region.

·        The number of border trade points has to be increased in the Northeast. The major border trade points in the region are Moreh in Manipur and Dawki in Meghalaya. Champhai in Mizoram was also identified as a possible border trade point but it is not functional. Steps should be taken to make it fully functional. India is also proposing to set up two additional centres in Avangkhu in Nagaland and Zowkhathar in Mizoram. Along with this, a few more border trade points could be opened at Lungwa, Pongru and Pokhungri in Nagaland and Nampong, Vijayanagar and Khimiyang in Arunachal Pradesh.

·        Adequate modern facilities like electronic weighbridges should be made available at all the border trade points. The Roads, Railways, telecommunications and banking infrastructure has to be improved around these points. And before opening new border trade points, the facilities in the existing ones has to be first upgraded.

·        Northeast India has a large perennial water system comprising the Barak and Brahmaputra rivers. Both these rivers are navigable for most parts of the year. Developing the river route would provide a very cost effective means of transportation to and from the region.

India’s Northeast has all the potential and resources of becoming a major commercial hub. It has all the possibilities to become the gateway to the dynamic Southeast Asian economics. The Look East Policy is of added interest to the Northeast. Once the region is connected with the Southeast Asian economies, the region would move steadily towards economic prosperity and development. But before that, all the bottlenecks have to be removed and the government has to be really keen in continuing its approach towards the integration of these two regions.

In order to enhance and create linkages between the Northeast and Southeast Asia, adequate infrastructure needs to be created along with a conducive environment for free movement of resources. An appropriate economic policy for the region as a whole and creation of support infrastructure would surely help the region realise its economic growth and trade potential. The state governments in the Northeast should also be prepared to play its role in the economic integration of these two regions and should fully promote the potential of their respective states. Effective coordination among the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is also essential for the achieving the goal of a well connected Northeast and Southeast Asia.

Northeast India has remained underdeveloped than the rest of India for a long period. Only during the last 10-15 years, this region is experiencing some conscious developmental activities. The Northeast is now a major part in the scheme of things for strengthening ties with the Southeast Asian nations. Improving the linkages with these countries through the Northeast has become a major priority for the Indian government now. However, at the same time, it should also be ensured that the backward linkages connecting the Northeast with mainland India should also be developed. Strengthening these forward and backward linkages can only ensure proper ties between India and the Southeast Asian nations. And once this is realized, both these regions would be moving faster in the track of economic growth and prosperity.

(The article has been earlier published in QUASOFIESTA 2012 magazine, GCC Centre of Management Studies, Gauhati Commerce College)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The BANDH Legacy

Few years ago I had read a short story in a magazine. The story was about a few youths. These youths were all unemployed and they had recently formed a youth organization. One day they were discussing as to how they could make their organization popular. While their discussion was going on, they saw that one of their group members was sitting quietly at a corner and was looking quite sad. They asked him why was he sad. He replied that the girl he loved was getting married the next week and he could think of no way of stopping the marriage. The other group members started thinking of a way to help him but they also could not find out any solution. Suddenly one of the group members, who was sitting silently during the whole conversation, exclaimed, “Let’s Declare it.” The others asked him what to declare. He then said, “Let’s declare an Assam Bandh on the day of the marriage of the girl. It will serve twin purpose. The marriage will not take place on that day and have to be postponed to some other auspicious date and it will also make the name of our organization popular.” The others were impressed and they resolved to follow the idea.

The frequency of bandhs declared in Assam reminded me of that story. Last month, bandhs declared by two non-influential organizations in Assam invoked a total shutdown in the state. The main reason behind this response may be the present violent situation in the BTAD area but it showed how our state is getting crippled by these bandhs. Last week, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi revealed in a press conference that from January 1 till August 30 this year, Assam has witnessed 23 Assam bandhs, 48 district bandhs, 65 road blockades and 13 rail blockades. All these in just eight months of time. What a distinction for our state!

The loss caused by these bandhs to the state economy cannot be fully quantified. According to a report by the Federation of Commerce and Industries in the North Eastern Region (FINER) in 2005, a day’s bandh in Assam costs the state exchequer Rs. 41.14 crore. Thus we can safely assume that these frequent bandhs are causing a substantial loss to the economy of our state.

These bandhs affect every aspect of the normal life of the people. The most badly affected are the traders, small businessmen and the daily wage labourers. These bandhs have a negative impact on their earnings. The low attendance in government offices during bandhs result in a backlog of files, many of which are related to important developmental projects. Closure of financial institutions also affects the people.

These bandhs also have a deep and profound impact on the educational atmosphere of the state. Disruption in the studies cause a loss of concentration among students and due to less amount of classes in leads to non-completion of syllabus, which in turn means the students do not learn all they need to learn in that year. It puts pressure on teachers to finish their chapters in lesser number of classes, meaning which the teacher is not able to devote more time on the chapters. All these just because some organization has decided to make a point by declaring a bandh, which is of no benefit to anybody.

The Assam government on August 29 decided to ban calling of bandhs for the next one month in the state, in accordance with the order passed by the Gauhati High Court in 2010. The bandhs were termed ‘illegal’ first by the Kerela High Court in 1997. In the same year, the Supreme Court upheld the order of the Kerela High Court. The Gauhati High Court passed its order terming bandhs as ‘illegal and unconstitutional’ in January 2010.

It is a good step for the time being. But what after one month? Will the same cycle of bandhs continue again? The sane voices in the state need to take up this issue and make a complete and detailed assessment of the loss caused by these bandhs. This has to made aware to the various organizations declaring bandhs. These organizations have to be made to understand that there are better ways to protest and present their points. Hope sanity prevail and we are spared of the Bandh legacy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Social Media: Boon or Bane

We are presently living in an age where a portion of our lives have become a part of the various social networking sites available on the vast world wide web. With the increasing penetration of these networking sites, a new term has also entered our vocabulary – Social Media. Yes, we are living in the age of the Social Media. According to Wikipedia, “Social Media includes web and mobile-based technologies which are used to turn communication into interactive dialogue among organizations, communities, and individuals.” News now travels faster than ever before. Breaking news appears first in the Social Media than in traditional mediums like TV and newspapers.  The most famous Social Media platforms now are Facebook and Twitter. The reach of the Social Media has also been increasing manifold over the years. And, interestingly, Social Media has now overtaken pornography as the No. 1 activity on the web!!

Many a breaking news, like the attack on Bin Laden’s house in Abottabad and the death of Michael Jackson, were reported first in Twitter. Almost all the news providers are now present in the online Social Media platforms, providing us news even before they air or print it. The Social Media has also played a great role in organizing revolutions in a few nations. The power of the Social Media allowed people to overthrow dictatorial governments from countries like Tunisia and Egypt. Thus, advent of the Social Media has been a boon for many.

But, boon also carries with it a bane. The same is also applicable in the case of the Social Media. Social Media has been spreading some falsified and fabricated news and information also. This has led to many a conflicts and untoward incidents. It has led to spread of hatred and mistrust among people. Recently, we have witnessed the unhappy incidents of clashes in our state which has led to deaths and displacements of people. As the situation was returning to normal and violence was subsiding, suddenly came some outbursts in the Social Media leading to mass exodus and fear among certain sections of people living in other states of India. Doctored images and videos spread in the Social Media, leading to rumours and also mistrust among the people. Dead bodies of people who died during earthquake in Tibet were shown up as people killed in clashes in Assam; picture of a Tibetan youth self-immolating himself for the Tibetan cause was shown to be a person burnt alive by people in Assam. Such incidents show how the Social Media can be used to create and spread false information.

With more and more people having a presence in the social networking sites, the reach of the Social Media has now become immense. It has now the capability of influencing public opinion in a large way. As such, Social Media has a big responsibility on it to be sensible and factual. With no proper watchdogs on Social Media, it is the imperative of the people using the Social Media to decide what is right or wrong. It is the responsibility of the people to not blindly believe all the information coming up on the Social Media and should always verify it with other sources. Social Media is here to stay and we are the people responsible to see that it is a boon for us and that it doesn’t turn into a bane.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Burning Hearts, Burning Souls

The recent bout of violence in Assam has left about 77 persons dead and nearly 4 lakh people displaced. These incidents of clashes between two communities have again brought a recurring question to the forefront: Do the various communities and ethnic groups in Assam still do not trust each other? Are the people so weak that a little instigation from “external forces” leads them to slaughter people from other communities? Yes, it is true that illegal migration from our neighbouring country is changing our demography and putting pressure on the land resources of our region. But is killing people a solution to that problem? No, it can never be a problem. Violence can lead only to more violence and there will always be some forces to take advantage of this violence.

Sadly, in the violence-hit areas, proper steps are yet to be taken for resolution of the conflict. The people living in the relief camps are yet apprehensive about returning to their homes. Fear still lingers in the minds of the people. The need of the hour for the administration is to arrange meetings between representatives from the clashing communities and bridge the trust deficit between the two communities. Till now no steps have been taken in this regard and in the meantime, violence is spreading to new areas.

We have an accord signed 27 years ago which promised to deport illegal migrants from our country. But sadly the accord is yet to be fully implemented. Successive governments has only played politics with the issue and never showed any real will to implement the clauses of the accord. If the accord was implemented, today’s problem would not have arisen at all.

At present, the immediate response of the government should be to arrange meetings between representatives of both the clashing communities. The administration should see that rumours do not spread in the violence-hit areas. Such rumours make the situation far worse. People should also verify the facts before being taken in by the rumours. The process of implementing the clauses of the Assam Accord needs to be expedited and periodic review of the same should be done. The Foreigner’s Tribunal in the state is facing shortage of judges and also a lot of cases are pending in front of it. This issue needs to be addressed quickly.  Also many detected foreigners have not been deported because of the Bangladesh government not taking them back. Diplomatic talks at high level have to be taken by the Indian and Bangladesh government in order to resolve this issue.  

Assam had been witnessing a relative period of calm after the ceasefire of many major insurgent groups of the state. But with these fresh incidents of violence, the peace has again broken down. We hope that such incidents stop soon and good sense prevail among the people. After all this is our state, our country and we want it to be peaceful and developed.