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Ease of doing business studies incomplete without parameters of corruption

By Venkatesh Nayak* Readers will recollect, much has been made of India’s 30-point jump in the latest round of World Bank’s rating of 190 countries for the Ease of Doing Business (EDB). On International Ant-Corruption Day (9th December), I am sharing with you an argument pointing out a major weakness in the study, namely, the omission of ‘corruption’ as a parameter and some RTI-based evidence to how poor the State’s reaction is to the phenomenon of corruption in some key areas which affect the ease of doing business in major cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Why should “corruption” be factored into studies on the ‘ease of doing business’? Readers will recollect that the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business Study focuses only on the following 10 parameters: a) Starting a Business; b) Dealing with construction permits; c) Getting electricity; d) Registering Property; e) Getting credit; f) Protecting minority investors; g) paying taxes; h) trading across borders; i) enforcing con

Funding political secrecy: FinMin, ECI, RBI have no information on Electoral Bonds

By Venkatesh Nayak* “The name’s Bond, Electoral Bond- a sovereign guarantee of donor secrecy for political party funding!” In the near future, this is how an Electoral Bond might introduce itself to large donors (money-wise, not girth-wise or chest size) to seduce them to put money in the pockets of any political party (with apologies to Mr. James Bond immortalised on the silver screen by Sir Sean Connery, the Late Sir Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig and others). Readers may recall the “big idea” of Electoral Bonds (EB) that was announced in the Annual Budget presented in Parliament, in February, 2017. The Government amended three laws relating to elections, income tax and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to create this new method of making monetary donations to political parties. Briefly explained, anybody will be able to buy EBs in the form of bearer bonds from a designated commercial bank for any sum of money and donate it anonymously to a political party that he, she or it

Secrecy around J&K hydel project breeds suspicion on authorities’ intentions

By Venkatesh Nayak* Earlier this month, the Central Information Commission (CIC) refused to direct NHPC Ltd to open up details of negotiations regarding the return of hydel projects it operates in Jammu and Kashmir. The CIC treated NHPC — the Respondent in my second appeal matter, as a ‘third party’ as well and held that information about the negotiations would fall under the category of “commercial confidence” under Section 8(1)(d) of The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act). Ordinarily, while disseminating information about my RTI interventions, I only circulate the CIC’s order along with the relevant RTI documents without commenting on the decision, out of respect to the wisdom of the CIC. However, in the latest case, the CIC’s interpretation of Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act requires detailed comment. Further, the NHPC’s efforts to maintain secrecy about the negotiations contradict the repeated assertions of the Union Ministry of Power, since March 2015 that the Central Gover

What can learnone from Godhra train burning case: Do we need to invest in hi-speed trains?

By Gagan Sethi*  The Gujarat High Court’s decision to commute the death sentence into life imprisonment to 11 of the convicts involved in the gruesome Godhra train burning case of February 27, 2002, even as sharply criticising the Gujarat government and the Indian Railways for miserably failing to maintain the law and order, has opened up fresh possibilities of re-examining the event, which triggered one of the worst anti-minority riots in independent India. While the HC has, at the same time, refused to change the trial court verdict, which acquitted 63 persons, including Maulvi Umarji, accused of being the mastermind behind the fire, there is reason to wonder what led to the incident, which was immediately described by the Gujarat government as a “criminal conspiracy” hatched in Pakistan, without even waiting for the investigators begin doing their job to find out how on that fateful date 58 people, most of them kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, were burnt alive. While one can never

Sporting moustache: To Dalit women it's symbol of humiliation, exploitation

By Martin Macwan* The father of the boy who was assaulted by sharp razor on October 3 by two assailants riding a motorcycle without number plate and covered faces sports the biggest and twisted moustache I witnessed in village Limbodra of Mansa taluka. His moustache is not new or recent, as I saw his past photographs. He has been working as an agricultural labourer, mostly on the farms of Kshatriya landowners, engaged in specialized job of cross fertilizing the BT cotton flowers. He also has the work award of chopping the wood in the village Panchayat that adds to his income. Never before his moustache has been a problem to the Kshatriya population, which forms the majority in the village. I met about 40 Dalit men in the village, young and old, and most had moustache, although not big and twirled. Everyone had grown moustache and unshaved beards, which is due to the fact that, on account of untouchability, the village barber does not give them a shave or haircut. They have to travel ab

Corporate social responsibility won't be taken seriously until Dalits have seat on table

By Gagan Sethi* In the new economic scenario, the State is increasingly investing in the infrastructure sector at the cost of social sector. In fact, there is an increasing tendency to leave implementation of developmental programs for the vulnerable sections to contracted NGOs, especially those that are dependent on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). These NGOs are registered as public bodies and enjoy tax exemptions. Time has come to focus on their good governance, to bring them under public scrutiny. Till the mid-1980s, the civil society had three major roles: (a) Reaching out to the most vulnerable sections, and directly intervening in their lives by provisioning basic survival needs and/or special services through an empowerment lens, which seeks to fight dependency. (b) Work with people and technology to innovate and search for solutions with communities on issues of poverty, health, basic service delivery, so that communities begin controlling their own lives and move on to

How reluctant Gujarat govt allowed Dalit rally with India’s largest national flag

The rally reaches Gandhinagar By Rajiv Shah  In an unusual move, the Gujarat government on August 11 agreed for a rally — albeit “silent” — starting at Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK) in Nani Devti village, not very far from the upcoming industrial hub of Sanand in Ahmedabad district, to about 50 km away, Gandhinagar, the state capital. The decision for allowing the rally was especially surprising, because the state government, of late, has been found to be averse to giving permission for rallies and meetings which may embarrass the powers that be. Martin Macwan talking with Dalit rights activists The order allowing the rally said that there shouldn’t be slogan shouting of “provocative” nature, nor should there should be any slogans which harm the “reputation” of the authorities. Worse, the order not only did not allow the use of loud speaker, it stated that even songs shouldn’t be sung. The official permission for the rally came on August 10 evening, just about 16 hours before the rally was

Banaskantha floods: Caste distinctions, prejudices have failed to wash away

By Martin Macwan* As I was driving down the road from village Baspa (about 15 km from Sami) to Radhanpur, my mind traced the memories of 2001 earthquake of Gujarat. I could see that once again the human disaster was greater than the natural, in the wake of floods. Banas waters had washed away one side of the national highway, but at a distance, one could see the minor Narmada linked canals, washed away like paper trash. Was it the poor construction or the speed at which they were constructed to hit the time target, was a question no one seemed to ask at this point when the chief minister himself is focusing on distributing relief that is limited to food packets, clothing and cash doles of Rs 65 and 45 for an adult and a minor, respectively, covering a period of ten days. The Maldharis had taken over one side of the road with their buffaloes as self-possessed shelter. The relief truck before me was flinging bundles of used clothes at the local people that eagerly waited for such relief

Cow vigilantes, tool to silent democratic dissent: Have we entered lawless state?

By Martin Macwan* The year 2016 brought new perpetrators for Dalits—the cow vigilantes. Absence of preventive measures to curb such violence by the state has been the gauge of its complicity. Unfortunately, such violence in the silent presence of the law and order machinery has not yet been the subject of suo motu judicial purview. It is apparent that the trained and organised cadres of cow vigilantes are rising in number. Is this a political tool tested to silence civil and democratic dissent? Or, have we entered a lawless state? Is it a part of conspiracy to strengthen Hindu nationalism by perpetuating caste, and belittle the fabric of diversity interwoven by the Constitution? Such groups have not swelled overnight, nor is there lack of political patronage. These are disturbing questions that will haunt our minds until 2019. Violence on Dalits is not new. What is new is the response. There seems to be a shift from judicial approach to punish the perpetrator, to replying in the very l