Environment and Society in India – The Challenges Ahead

In this article, the authors provide an overview of the environmental challenges that India faces and how the civil society has stood up to the challenge. 


by Tamanna Adhikari and Anusha Ghosh, 11th November, 2013

Society and environment are intricately intertwined, linked together by societal habits that determine the relationship between a certain community and the environment. With growing urbanization India has witnessed an increase in environmental problems such as land degradation, deforestation, air and water pollution and climate change. Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased between pre-industrial period and 2005. Air quality data has shown that air pollution and its resultant impacts can be attributed to emissions from vehicular, industrial and domestic activities. Air quality has been, therefore, an issue of social concern in the backdrop of various developmental activities. The total forest cover of the country, as per the 2005 assessment, constitutes 20.60 per cent of the geographic area of the country. Between 2003 and 2005, the total forest cover had decreased by 728 sq. km. With resource needs having remained unchanged, forests have come under increased pressure of encroachment for cultivation, and unsustainable resource use rendering the very resource base unproductive.

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A Mozambican Newspaper With a Difference

The author brings to light a Mozambican newspaper – named @Verdade – which does not follow traditional financial models, and has in turn become a “tool for change”. The name of the newspaper curiously contains an @ symbol. Their English language website can be found here


By Roberto Valussi, 27th August, 2013

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the birth of a very rare creature in the contemporary media landscape: an independent, respected, profitable, popular and free newspaper. The square was circled not in some glitzy borough of London, but in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

The product in question is the weekly newspaper @Verdade (‘Truth’ in Portuguese, the country’s official language), which has become the most read national newspaper since 2010, only two years after its first number was fit to print. Its slogan is ‘A Verdade não tem preço’, which translates to, ‘the Truth is priceless’.

@Verdade is more than a newspaper; as its founder Erik Charas put it, “I did not start the venture for the business or for the media aspect. My intention was to uplift the country, to contribute in order to do change.”

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The Unhappiness Factory of Kashmir

In an April 2012 issue of Open Magazine, the editor Manu Joseph wrote a provocatively titled essay, “Sorry, Kashmir is Happy”. Unsurprisingly, this article became the subject of heated discussion. In this InPEC article, the author – Sualeh Keen, a Kashmiri writer, poet and cultural critic – brings some perspective to this issue.  


By Sualeh Keen, 7th May 2012

Trauma in Kashmir is like a heritage building—the elite fight to preserve it. ‘Don’t forget,’ is their predominant message, ‘Don’t forget to be traumatised.’ They want the wound of Kashmir to endure because the wound is what indicts India for the many atrocities of its military. This might be a long period of calm, but if the wound vanishes, where is the justice? India simply gets away with all those rapes, murders and disappearances? So nothing disgusts them more than these words: ‘Normalcy returns to Kashmir’; ‘Peace returns to the Valley’; ‘Kashmiris want to move on’.

When Manu Joseph wrote these words in the Open Magazine article ‘Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy’, it was but expected that ‘they’ would get disgusted and outraged. ‘They’ are the intellectual writers and online activists that constitute the second generation of Kashmiri Muslim separatists, the first generation being the Pakistan-trained mujahideen who fought with AK-47s, grenades, rockets, and bombs against ‘Hindu India’ in search of Azadi (literally, ‘freedom’). While originally Azadi meant the valley’s accession to Pakistan, after the Pakistan-sponsored armed uprising in the early 90’s failed and with the onset of internal turmoil in Pakistan, the meaning of Azadi has shifted from accession to Pakistan to independence from both India and Pakistan. This demand is largely confined to the Kashmiri Muslim community of the Kashmir valley, while finding little or no support in the Jammu and Ladakh regions of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State. Even in the valley, opinions are divided in favour of independence, accession to Pakistan, greater autonomy or self-rule within the Indian union, and political status quo.

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Heyns, the Final Straw for AFSPA in India?

In this article, the author discusses the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 of India, which has been used in the North Eastern states of India, and Jammu and Kashmir where counter-insurgency operations were carried out in the past several decades. This Act has come under heavy criticism from human rights advocates.


By Rithika Nair, May 1, 2012

Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings described India as “a living document … [of] human rights jurisprudence respected worldwide.” This extolling statement preceded his review of the country after brief visits to New Delhi, Gujarat, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and West Bengal. His detailed report on the issue will be submitted before the United Nations Human Rights Council only in 2013.

In a press release after his visit, he expressed concern regarding unlawful killings by State actors and non-State actors, delay in prosecution and lawful impunity. He touched upon the disproportional and unnecessary use of force by the police, encounter killings, custodial deaths, the death penalty, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, communal violence, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, violence against women, and most significantly measures of impunity and rewards instead of prosecution.

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The UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Sri Lanka’s Alleged War Crimes

In this article, the author explores the resolution’s impact on Sri Lanka, and its probable implications with reference to Sri Lanka.


By Rithika Nair, 3rd April, 2012

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) judgment on Sri Lanka’s efforts at post-conflict reconstruction, invited an abundance of opinions and debate globally. Newspapers cried out country decisions to the US sponsored resolution with regard to their foreign policies, domestic policies and moral policies. In lending an ear to all the global justifications and rationalizations, the importance shifted away from what Sri Lanka had to say with regard to the resolution and its possible impact on the island.

In 2010, the Government of Sri Lanka created the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) suo moto, to look into the causes of the conflict, its consequences on the people, and to promote national unity and reconciliation. The LLRC, though criticized for overlooking the violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the Sri Lankan army, stated that there were “considerable” civilian casualties. This was opposed to the government claims, which insisted on a zero-casualty rate.

The international community had already begun to push Sri Lanka to begin its post-conflict reconstruction agenda.  The LLRC report increased this demand for the Sri Lankan government to act – prosecute those who were accountable for civilian massacres, and bring relief to those displaced and devastated by the war.

This never happened.

The disappointing LLRC report largely exonerating the government, and the subsequent government inaction to suggested accountability procedures encouraged the international community to act.

In March 2012, the US submitted a resolution at the 19th session of the UNHRC, urging the Sri Lankan government “to address serious allegations of violations of international law by initiating credible and independent investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for such violations.” The resolution, after being slightly amended to word that the implementation of any external advice or investigation by the Human Rights Commissioner or Special Procedures must unfold only “in consultation with and the concurrence of ” the Sri Lankan government, was passed with 24 votes in favour, 15 against, and 8 abstentions.

The closing of Sri Lankan embassies in Europe, the threats to human rights defenders and the anti-Americanism in Sri Lanka are some of the immediate effects of the resolution. But it’s long-term implications – constructive and destructive, are nothing but analytical renderings as of now.

The resolution with its honorouble intentions could be a possible check on the quasi-dictatorship of Mahinda Rajapaksa. It could be the warning hand on the back, reminding Sri Lanka of what it had promised to deliver three years ago, a paternal gesture offering assistance if needed. It could imply that dialogue and soft diplomacy may harden, and the whispers of a ‘South Asian Spring’ may jump to reality with an international demand for the removal of Rajapaksa from his throne. With the Sri Lankan Tamils still dissatisfied with their government’s empty promises of reconciliation, and Sinhalese human rights activists being called traitors if they stood up for the Tamils, it would not be long before Sri Lanka could walk the line with Maldives, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. If such a future be predicted, then the precautionary resolution – a very fair and balanced one, has been passed at a very appropriate juncture.

The resolution may have been a UN step to avoid being blamed for not taking action. Perhaps the UN was guilty of its own lack of action while the crisis unfolded over 26 years. Then, the resolution is but a ticking pendulum, softly but notably reminding Sri Lanka of its obligations and responsibility – and in doing so, delivering rehabilitation and hopeful justice to the victims of the war – the people of Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, the resolution placed the ball back in the Lankan court, and it ordered the multi-faced Lankan king to finish what he had promised to do. It asked him to submit an action plan detailing what he had done, and will do to implement the LLRC recommendations, and to address all matters that violated international law.

The king, with all ten heads, rejected the resolution.

Neither he nor his court thought that it added any value to the humanitarian and justice implementation process in Sri Lanka. They felt the resolution was ‘counterproductive’, ‘ill-timed’, and ‘an unwarranted initiative’. They perceived the supporters and sponsors of the resolution to be LTTE sympathizers – those who underestimated the violence and trauma that the LTTE had unleashed upon them. They felt that the unpunished situations in Afghanistan, Iraq and India removed the moral legitimacy of the resolution.  Lobbying against the vote in Geneva transcended into anti-America lobbying, and human rights activists and defenders of the resolution were threatened in Sri Lanka. In such circumstances, the significance of the resolution is undermined.

This resolution should not and cannot be rejected by comparing them to conflict situations where deeds committed by the sponsors and supporters go unchecked. This matter pertains to and reflects on Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka alone. This does not mean that this case supersedes any of the other situations, but the current context is Sri Lanka, and that should be respected. If the world and its leaders were to act and re-act following the policy of every eye for an eye, and every tooth for a tooth, the vicious cycle of blame and revenge would never stop spinning.

However, as the ambassador for Bangladesh very prudently stated at the Council session, if Sri Lanka is not on board, then the resolution will have a very limited impact. Without the Sri Lankan nod to implement efficient rehabilitation and accountability measures, the resolution is but an empty bell with no sound.

Marriage Equality: What’s the Big Deal?

In this article, the author looks at how marriage equality has become one of the most popularized social issues du jour in American national politics. By examining racial attitudes and the Obama administration’s evolving stance on the matter, LGBT activists are brimming with hope that a reelection of Obama could pave the way for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage on a federal level by 2016. 


By Matthias Pauwels, 31st March, 2012

‘They’re losing California. Inch by inch, sit back and watch it go.’ 

If film director Gus Van Sant ever decides to follow up on his critically acclaimed Harvey Milk biopic with a Proposition 8 film adaption, ‘Losing California’ by Canadian rock band Sloan could easily wind up on the film’s soundtrack, voicing the bitter and biggest defeat gay activists in California have faced since Milk’s unabashed activism of the 1970’s.

The United States has always liked to boast its much vaunted liberalism on social issues, but when Californians cast their ballot vote in favor of a state-wide constitutional ban on gay marriage in November 2008, it not only marked the end of same-sex unions in the Golden State, but also of the most expensive social-issue ballot in American national history. A triumph for social conservatism, Proposition 8 had crushed the LGBT community’s hopes that California would become one of the vanguards for the legalization of same-sex marriage across the nation, and turned liberal America into an emotional wasteland. To many, the actual passing of Proposition 8 defied all logic, especially in the context of  California’s rich history as a historical trailblazer in the fight for gay rights. And even though New York  fared a better deal with the passing of the Marriage Equality Act in a tight majority vote in 2011, it was a legislative tour de force fuelled only by a favorable power momentum in the New York Senate amongst Democrats and Republicans.

From a concept cradled by John Locke to the dominant political force in the Western hemisphere today, liberalism has triumphantly survived two world wars and major ideological challenges from fascism and communism. For several centuries now, a strong focus on human rights has been one of the paramount liberal tenets. But for gay men and women everywhere, the harsh reality of liberalism’s shadow side often revealed that human rights did not encompass gay rights, a perception which was publicly invalidated only last December by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at International Human Rights Day in Geneva. The gay community has come a long way since New York’s Stonewall riots in the late 1960s or Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978 but  nonetheless the 21st century was ushered in without absolute gender equality.

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‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, a controversial military policy barring openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers from military service was only recently repealed under the Obama administration, setting the official end date of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for September 20, 2011. Furthermore, the sodomy law in Texas, classifying consensual, adult homosexuality as illegal sodomy, was only struck down in 2003 in the landmark Lawrence vs. Texas Supreme Court case.

For the past five years, the intensifying debate over same-sex marriage has become the new social issue du jour, marking a clear and distinct cleavage between religious traditionalism and progressivism.  Widening the gap between social conservatives and liberals, the issue of marriage equality echoes the growing pains of gender equality in the 21st century. Its global legislative struggle fully testifies to the fact that it is still a deeply divisive and emotional issue on both sides of the fence. From the majestic Golden Gate Bridge to the Big Apple, the United States has been a perpetual arena of conflict and contention on the issue of marriage equality. The religiousness of America’s social conservatives and their moral objections have more than once provided a filibuster on the matter, but what the Rick Santorums or Kirk Camerons of this world fail to see is that gay people’s longings to be wedded is fundamentally conservative, as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni notes. Once denounced as sexual libertines who brazenly flouted society’s norms, the fundamental message of the LGBT community is that marriage is an institution worth aspiring and fighting for. In a time where more than half of births to American women under 30 happen outside marriage and the divorce rate estimate of first marriages flirts with the 50% mark, the LGBT community is surprisingly pleading for a return to conservatism – only to be told by many, including political leaders, that that’s not O.K. either. So is the only possible takeaway for gay couples then to remain outliers forevermore, unworthy of the experiences and affirmations accorded others?

Not recognized on a federal level due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [1], same-sex marriages are state-bound with marriage rights granted in Massachussets, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Iowa, plus Washington D.C. and Oregon’s Coquille Indian tribe. Earlier this year, Maryland approved a draft bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The Maryland vote came one day after Washington became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage, adding to national momentum for gay nuptials across the States.

But why do some states succeed in legalizing gay marriage where others, such as New Jersey, have failed? In the end, does it all depend on a favorable Democrat vs. Republican power momentum in the State Senate? There are two main elements that are instrumental in gaining state-wide support for a gay marriage bill. Firstly, any bill  – especially those which touch upon the social fibres of society – trigger a period of lobbying to build support for the respective piece of legislation, which can be a long and tedious process. On the issue of same-sex marriage, New York saw its judicial system stymied by a political cat-and-mouse game between the Assembly and the Senate that eventually dragged on for seven years. Each time, a draft bill was approved in the Assembly but shot down consecutively in the New York State Senate. As Senators came and went and a long process of shadow diplomacy unfolded, it was eventually the adding of a discrimination clause for religious institutions, allowing them the freedom to refrain from performing same-sex marriages, that provided the much-needed swing vote in favor of the Marriage Equality Act. A similar clause was paramount to the legalization of gay marriage in Maryland and has also been added to a draft marriage bill introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives in February.

Across the pond, the United Kingdom faces the exact same challenge. The UK government has launched a 12-week consultation in support of a process that would legalize same-sex marriage by 2015 for England and Wales. And while Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said that the state should rejoice in people’s desire to marry, senior church figures, as well as a number of conservative MP’s, were getting in gear to oppose the measure. Here the inclusion of a discrimination act, regarding protection against discrimination lawsuits for ‘benevolent organisations or religious groups refusing to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges related to the solemnisation or celebration of marriage’ could appease members of the Church of England, giving the Cameron administration an incentive to unequivocally approve on the measure.

Gay people have a dream too: the racial minority vote on legalizing same-sex marriage

Another interesting factor relating to the perception of gay marriage is how the racial factor will play out. In the aftermath of the narrowly approved Proposition 8 in California and in the search for answers, it did not take long before another well-publicized story made national headlines, pointing the finger at a rather surprising culprit for swinging the ballot in favor of Proposition 8: California’s racial minorities. Exit polling indicated that roughly 70% of blacks had cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 8, together with 53% of Latino Californians, 49% of Asians, and 51% from those of other racial or ethnic identity.  The American media quickly dubbed this the ‘Obama effect’, since the 2008 presidential election happened to coincide with its Californian state counterpart, causing racial minorities to cast their votes in large numbers. These figures quickly sparked the debate that Latino and black Californians had backed the proposed same-sex marriage ban at rates higher than whites, aiding to provide the margin of victory. These results were disappointing to many gay rights activists who had hoped that the election of Barack Obama to the White House would usher in a new era of advances on gay rights, but gave cheer to Proposition 8 proponents who believed that the issue of same-sex marriage had been revealed to be a potent issue dividing liberal Californians on the basis of race and ethnicity. In California, the evangelical community was well aware of the black community’s sensitive stance on gay rights, and chose to target Californian African Americans in a manner they saw fit. Just days before the general election on the 4th November 2008, the ‘ProtectMarriage.com – Yes on 8’ campaign targeted African Americans in Oakland and the San Francisco Bay area with rather misleading mailers featuring Obama and several African American pastors, suggesting that Obama heavily favored a ban on same-sex marriage. Efforts to target the black and Latino community were primarily channeled via a clerical framework, and since both ethnic communities traditionally strongly identify themselves with Christian movements, the stakes were high for Evangelicals in reeling the Latino and black communities in to join their crusade against same-sex marriage.

Religion is a powerful tool that has been shown to structure attitudes across an array of issues, and it is particularly relevant to the discourse-framing dynamic investigated here, given the importance of gay issues to religious communities and churches. While Latino and African American communities tend to embrace traditionalism on matters of morality and are highly religious, they usually affect ballot voting in different ways, with strongly Latino districts traditionally enhancing support for gay issues, and strongly African American districts depressing support for them. However, this theory can easily be undermined. In the case of Proposition 8, registered Latino voters clearly did not support the concept of same-sex marriage as gay activists would have hoped.  Gay marriage has recently become legal in Maryland, but a draft bill on the issue died in the Maryland House of Representatives last year following strong opposition from several African-American lawmakers. In fact, race has proven to be a sharply divisive factor on the issue of same-sex marriage in Maryland. Maryland Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers of the legislature, are sharply divided by race. A Washington Post poll published in January showed that among whites in Maryland, 71% back same-sex unions, while only 41% of blacks support it. Button, Rienzo, and Wald’s research [2] indicate that while African Americans tend to support the notion of equality opportunities for homosexuals, they tend to be less supportive of civil rights advancements or protections, which in the case of Propostion 8 could explain the alleged high number of African American proponents. Moreover, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released in March 2012 showed support for marriage equality amongst African Americans at 50% – which may prove that there still is a great deal of division amongst the black community on the issue.

But is the ethnic community really to blame for America’s sluggish and capricious advancements on gay marriage? Not really. A number of important characteristics that shape Americans’ view on many important political issues – including party identification, ideology, and religiosity – have simultaneously played strong and pivotal roles in determining the choices of individual votes. Research has shown that a thorough analysis of the structure of black, Latino and white attitudes on same-sex marriage finds that after accounting for differences among demographics, partisanship, and core values, interracial group differences in opinion on the issue are unsubstantial.

In California, all Latino, black and Asian registered voters were still a minority compared to its Caucasian counterpart. Even if all Latino, black and Asian registered voters had voted against the ballot initiative, Proposition 8 still would have passed due to the high number of Caucasian voters eligible to vote, and their high support for the same-sex marriage ban.

Earlier this week, confidential memos were made public in a courtroom in Maine, revealing the National Organizaton for Marriage’s attempt to drive a wedge between the LGBT and ethnic communities during its winning campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the US state of Maine. The documents detail the anti-gay organization’s active interest in fanning the hostility between the LGBT and the black and Latino communities in an attempt to stymie any advancement of gay civil rights in Maine. For anti-gay lobbying groups, the stakes remain high in targeting ethnic communities to endorse the crusade against same-sex marriage. But with the tides of time turning and support for same-sex marriage reaching an all-time high, how long will a conservative approach on the issue hold out?

The Obama administration and marriage equality

So where is marriage equality to go from here in the United States? As gay activists nationwide count their wins and losses, the only certainty they seem to have is that any advancement on LGBT rights is highly dependent on who is in the White House.

During his 2008 presidential election campaign, Obama took what many on both sides of the gay marriage debate viewed as a straddle. While publicly denouncing the California ballot proposition measure, he also communicated his opposition to same-sex marriage, leaving gay activists puzzled by his unwillingness to endorse gay marriage. And although Obama criticized the divisive and discrimatory nature of Proposition 8, the abstruseness of his argument was reflected in how he squared his position for overall equality with his refusal to embrace actual equality in marriage.

Once elected, Obama has upped the ante in conveying his equality message. Although having never publicly endorsed same-sex marriage, the Obama administration has been adamant towards communicating its progressive stance on equality in a post-Proposition 8 era. By repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, endorsing initiatives such as the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, offering hope and support for LGBT youth who are struggling with being bullied, and hosting a high-profile LGBT event at the White House in 2011, the President of the United States has made no secret of his firm belief in equality for all. And for those willing to read between the lines, Obama’s opposition to a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, indicates that his full endorsement of civil unions with federal benefits for all is similar to his understanding of the institution of marriage, although his Christian beliefs do not allow him to communicate this. Praising New York in 2011 on the legalization of same-sex marriage while tiptoeing around a public endorsement of the issue testifies to the aforementioned.

If anyone has taken the least equivocal stance on gay marriage, it has to be First Lady Michelle Obama. In March, while campaigning for her husband’s second term in the Oval Office, Michelle Obama reminded people twice that it is the president who makes appointments to the US Supreme Court and that those appointments could impact gay marriage.

Asked about the First Lady’s comments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney later issued the following statement: ‘the president and first lady firmly believe that gay and lesbian Americans and their families deserve legal protections and the ability to thrive just like any family does. The first lady has said she is proud of his accomplishments, including the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ ensuring hospital visitation rights and calling for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and obviously our actions attached. Our decision not to defend DOMA is well known.’

Having famously remained neutral on the same-sex marriage issue throughout his first term, Obama has communicated he is ‘evolving’ on the issue. But what does evolving really entail? Is that just a clever word politicans throw around not to take a stance? An unexptected surge in support to place same-sex marriage on the Democratic Party platform at the August 2012 convention has energized LGBT advocates and complicated an already delicate situation facing Obama’s reelection campaign. Gay activists are brimming with hope that any evolvement which will affect their civil rights further on a federal level will happen in his second term in office. Obama has done reasonably well during his first term in office on gay rights, and a reelection could give him the political green card to further push for equality and possible tackle the Defense of Marriage Act.

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The issue of LGBT rights and marriage equality has already proven to be an important factor in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, and it will be incredibly interesting to see how this social issue will play out in an Obama vs. Romney showdown.

[1] The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted 21st September 1996, is a United States federal law that defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman. The law passed both houses of Congress by large majorities and was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton on 21st September, 1996..

[2] Button, J.; Rienzo, B.; Wald, K., 1997. Sexual Orientation and Education Politics. Gay and Lesbian Representation in American Schools. In: APSA (American Political Science Association), 1999 Annual Meeting.

India’s Anti-graft Protests: Why Demands for Inclusiveness are Not a Distraction From Fighting Corruption

In this article, the author brings to light some of the criticism that the Anna Hazare led anti-corruption agitation is facing on counts of not being inclusive enough.

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By Arvind Iyer, 5 Jan, 2012

Team Anna, as the group of largely ex-bureaucrat activists headed by anti-graft agitator Anna Hazare has been christened by commentators, had earned praise through much of 2011 for being able to articulate a unanimous-sounding consensus of Indian civil society across the barriers that render it notoriously fractious. Even some of their detractors had conceded Team Anna’s success in rallying a typically apathetic citizenry around a cause backed by a mobilization and momentum which is thought of by many educated city-dwellers as grievously lacking in a parliamentary system crippled by the ‘politics of identity’ and coalition compulsions.

By the year-end however, the response to Anna Hazare’s latest edition of his hunger-strike protest was underwhelming and the growing unease with an apparent authoritarian streak in Team Anna became palpable. What was just months ago one of the most successful campaigns in recent Indian history looked no less dysfunctional than the Parliament it takes potshots at. The dilemmas of ‘Coalition Dharma’ which complicate governance in India are no less applicable to Team Anna if it claims to represent Indian society in its identity. The manufactured unanimity of Team Anna seems sustained by a self-assured insularity from dissenting voices, which if heeded would give Team Anna pause. This is in part because activists besides the telegenic Team Anna get scanty mainstream media coverage, thus creating an illusion of nationwide consensus. Following are some voices which ought to give Team Anna and its supporter’s pause, if not from their legislation-obsessed agitation, at least from their repeated accusations of their critics as divisive and unpatriotic.

  • Team Anna’s way of addressing concerns about inclusiveness have been transparently stage-managed and tokenist. Shekhar Gupta, the editor of the Indian Express daily, writes: “Representative inclusiveness, they probably believed, was part of our cynical electoral politics though that did not stop them from having a Dalit and a Muslim girl help Anna break his fast, making it the first time that a child was described as “Dalit” on a public stage in a mass rally.” The photo-op which seems to have been hastily ‘Photoshopped’ on to a movement largely indifferent to concerns of diversity, also raised concerns among some viewers about the unintended consequences of religious labeling of children.

  • The boundaries of ‘peaceful protest’ are always in the risk of being breached by Team Anna’s implicit endorsement of elements whose commitment towards adhering to constitutional propriety and prevention of civil unrest, seems questionable. A case in point is a black-flag demonstration against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by alleged supporters of Team Anna, during his New Year visit to the Golden Temple at Amritsar. The choice of protest venue in Amritsar was irresponsible for the obvious reason that it could potentially open the wounds left by the upheavals of the 1980s in the said shrine, which is viewed by a significant portion of the said community as a site of a government assault on their faith. If this irresponsible choice of protest venue did not lead to something untoward, it is in part due to the unimpressive numbers of the protestors and the overwhelming security presence. Better civic sense is expected of a movement supposedly representing ‘Civil Society’ than such an exacerbating of security concerns. Also, a better explanation is expected from Team Anna than doublespeak simultaneously defending and disowning supporters, if it is to retain its credentials as movement insisting on public probity.

  • When it is well-known that India suffers more from lack of enforcement of existing laws than the absence of laws in statute books, the Lok Pal model is inordinately obsessed with augmenting the lists of penalties, leaving intact the slackness of enforcement and lack of transparency that provide the opportunity for corruption in the first place. Also, an informer-rewarding ‘police-state’ that the proposed Jan Lok Pal regime resembles, may have the side-effect of inducing officials to recruit and reward officials who are pliable and willing to exchange favours for silence, thus exacerbating inequities like nepotism and workplace discrimination in government offices which affect delivery of service to citizens besides graft.

  • Inclusiveness has rightly been part of the national agenda at least in letter if not in spirit and Team Anna’s attitude towards mechanisms of inclusiveness has been either indifferent or borderline hostile. There has been a tendency among Team Anna supporters in online discussions to accuse anyone raising concerns about inclusiveness of playing ‘identity politics’ and being establishment lackeys. A case for critics of government intervention for inclusiveness to consider, is this measure by the Karnataka government for inclusive hiring in school-meal kitchens. A point to ponder for critics of the ‘politics of representation’ is, would people divided by caste have voluntary chosen to mingle in a school kitchen without that nudge from the elected government?

  • Team Anna’s vision of an India which, far from its professed aim of ‘Direct Democracy’ involves a replication of the Ralegan Siddhi model nationwide i.e. a series of ‘Ashram-cracies’ revolving around a patriarch, in a proto-industrial setting with curtailed civil liberties, is a vision that does not resonate with much of India’s aspirational youth.

  • Land acquisition policies and resulting displacements, the denuding of natural resources by a corporate-political nexus and imposition of near-martial-law conditions in some parts via the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, are contributing on at least as large a scale as government corruption in disenfranchising citizens and even turning some towards insurrections; thus calling into question Team Anna’s description of corruption as the greatest national risk which must be fought mindless of all others.

In the interest of genuinely playing their legitimate and very timely role as a civil-society group, this is an opportune moment for Team Anna to introspect on how their protests can sometimes be counterproductive, how the loose cannons among their supporters can be appropriately restrained and marshalled and how to broaden their dwindling base of support.

Redressing Grievances: Why India’s New Administrative Reform Legislation May Not Work

In this article, the author analyses the structural problems of India’s administration which are likely to hamper the functioning of the Citizens’ Right to Grievance Redressal Bill, 2011.


By Siddharth Singh, 16 Dec, 2011

The Citizens’ Right to Grievance Redressal Bill is set to be tabled in the Indian Parliament in the current parliamentary session, after a delay of several years. In the recent months, the Jan Lokpal (Citizens’ Ombudsperson) agitation led by Anna Hazare, which brought to light the people’s frustration with the corruption and inefficiency of the administration, has brought a sense of haste to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government in the passing of this legislation.

The draft of the bill was posted on a Government website a few months ago (infuriatingly, in the Comic Sans font). This bill is not significantly different in its key tenets from the already-enacted state-level service delivery acts and the other drafts that have been put out by civil society groups such as Anna Hazare’s team.

The bill makes it mandatory for government departments to lay out ‘Citizens’ Charters’, which is a document which specifies the obligations and duties of the department and the administrators, along with the time frame of the delivery of the services. In other words, this bill legislates the right to time bound delivery of services by the government. The bill proposes that violations of service delivery are identified and the erring administrators punished.

This legislation is hence purported go a long way in improving service delivery and even fighting corruption. However, there are structural issues with the administrative setup in India which may render the bill ineffective.

Who defines the services?

The foremost problem with the bill is the lack of the definition of “public service”. The draft of the bill does not have an appropriate definition of what constitutes a service. Even if it did, it would be difficult to implement it across the board. For instance, the passport department is obligated to provide passports after appropriate verification. It would be easy to time-bound the delivery of passports, and to punish those administrators who violate the deadline for reasons they could control.

However, the issue is significantly different in the case of the roads and highways departments in the country. The construction of roads is contingent on budgetary allocations, the status of tenders and contracts with private contractors, technical feasibility and other issues. In case there was a substantial demand for the construction of roads where there are none, the responsible administrator would be swamped with work he or she may not be able to complete within the specified time frame.

The government, possibly for this reason, has left the creation of the Citizens’ Charter in the hands of the heads of the respective departments. This too can be problematic. If the head of the passport department refuses to add the time bound delivery of verified passports, then there is nothing a citizen can do about it. On the other hand, in case the citizens themselves or public representatives were made to create the citizens’ charter, then they would add provisions that would be administratively infeasible and unreasonable to meet. Appointing representative committees to address this issue would also be difficult given the multiplicity of departments.

Who is responsible?

The other issue is that of responsibility. This issue is twofold. Firstly, the draft bill and the existing state-level acts legislate that in case the administrator fails to meet the deadline of service provision, the matter would go straight to the head of the department. The administrators involved in service provision are often at the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy. This has serious implications on the work of the department since the heads are put in place manage and plan at organisational levels. In case they are swamped with such complains, they will not be able to concentrate on their core duties of, inter alia, planning and modernisation.

Secondly, service provision is like often like a relay-race. The service is often linked to to a chain of decision making and operational processes which lead all the way to the top of the administration, and even beyond. In order to win the relay-race, all the runners will have to do their share of running. If any of them fails to do so, the team loses. However, the Grievance Redressal bill purports to only punish the final runner.

To take a more relevant example, in the past few years, the state of Rajasthan has seen protests in villages because the schools in that region have an inadequate number of teachers. In some cases, there are schools with no teachers at all! In order to address this issue, the administrators responsible for ensuring the postings of teachers have done what they could do – they transferred teachers from different villages to the ones where the protests were on. This pacified the protesting villages, but didn’t really address the problem at all, since other schools were made to face the shortage.

In such cases, the administrators often had no choice: there is a shortage of teachers because bureaucrats at the top have not recruited in adequate numbers. They, in turn, have not been able to do so because the ministers of their department have not sanctioned enough posts. (This, in turn, may be because the state doesn’t have the finances for the extra jobs.) However, the Grievance Redressal bill does not account for such structural issues. The only entities responsible are the service-providing administrators at the bottom.

A cylindrical administration

When India got its independence in 1947, the literacy rate was less than 20% and the average life expectancy at birth was in the early 30s. Over the years, with rising standards of living, increasing prosperity and growing state expenditure and finances, the awareness of people has also increased. Naturally, the demand for public services has increased by magnitudes, but the government hasn’t been able to keep pace.

The administration has not grown in size proportionally, which has led to woeful staff shortages. The primary reason for this is financial. Increases in public finances since Independence have led to increases in spending in social schemes and subsidies. Curtailing hiring has been an easy way to save money to divert towards other vote-winning initiatives. On the other hand, given the work load (and political considerations), high ranking bureaucrats have been retained in the administration without concern for administrative structure.

The result of this is that the department structures now are cylindrical rather than pyramidal. Often, the reason for delay in service provision is a result of this, as departments get burdened with more work than they can handle. Many departments are said to run with 40-50% capacity. The police to population ratio, for example, is 145 per 100,000 population, far short of the UN stated minimum of 222 (most advanced nations far exceed this number). That makes it a shortage of over 80,000 police personnel in the country! Of course, administrative sloth, corruption and incompetence are major reasons for delays in work too. While the Grievance Redress bill can take care of the latter, it will end up delivering perverse outcomes as it attempts to deal with the former.

If genuine cases of delays due to overwork are penalised, it will lead to the able administrators leaving for greener pastures. This problem is compounded because the bill (and the draft presented by Anna Hazare’s team) state that any act of repeated delay in service provision will be deemed as an act of “corruption.” This issue is hence very grave and is also the reason why heads of departments in states where such acts are already in place are not adding core functions to the Citizens’ Charter.

Making the bill work

In order to make this bill work, it is imperative that the governments at the centre and in the states work towards filling up the vacancies. Reforms to reshape administrative structures are important. Additionally, it must be ensured that “services” are properly defined and only those services are included in the Citizens’ Charters that are not directly dependent on budgetary allocations. Without these, the Citizens’ Charters will likely look empty or full of non-critical services, hence rendering the bill ineffective.


Postscript: In an interesting anecdote, a senior bureaucrat was once imprisoned in the state of Andhra Pradesh for not following a District Court’s directive. The court had directed him to appoint a junior level administrator to a certain post within a given time frame. In fact, the bureaucrat was helpless as the orders for recruitment had not been passed by the minister-in-charge. Given there was no one to appoint, he couldn’t possibly fill up the vacancy. However, the judge wouldn’t hear any of it. The bureaucrat ended up in jail for no real fault of his, and the case moved up to a higher court for appeal.

Reviving Global Disarmament

In this article, the author seeks to revive the debate around the issue of global disarmament by calling civil society to engage with the issue critically and constructively. Disarmament, he argues, ought to deal simultaneously with conventional weapons and armed forces, so called inhuman weaponry, and WMD, and be considered within the broader context of human rights, development, and climate change. The author concludes that more action-oriented debate is necessary.


By David J. Franco, 18 Nov, 2011

Under the provisions of the UN Charter the Security Council is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security while the General Assembly may, inter alia, make recommendations in matters governing disarmament and the regulation of armaments. To date the General Assembly has issued numerous resolutions calling for disarmament but despite some progress a lot remains to be done. In extreme synthesis, when looking at disarmament matters we are referring to three interrelated areas: conventional and armed forces, humanitarian, and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Contemporary examples relating to each of these areas include, respectively, the 1990 European Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces, the 1997 Convention on landmines, and the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions of 1972 and 1993.

Surely the aforementioned achievements (and many others) constitute positive steps but many questions remain unresolved. For example, why keep the three disarmament fronts separate? Or why are past regional agreements not extended to other regions? In a Study on Conventional Disarmament[1] prepared in the early eighties experts in the field stated that ‘conventional disarmament should be pursued in conjunction with nuclear disarmament’. Further, they underlined that conventional disarmament ‘should not jeopardize the security of any State and it should be aimed at achieving general and complete disarmament’. The same conclusion must be reached when considering nuclear disarmament. The two, conventional and WMD, are mutually reinforcing and interlinked. Humanitarian disarmament is not different in that respect. Only a month ago Pakistan delivered a Statement to the UN First Committee on Disarmament reinforcing these points[2] -of special significance is the following paragraph taken from the Final Document of the 1978 First Special Session of the General Assembly on Disarmament:

“Together with negotiations on nuclear disarmament measures, negotiations should be carried out on the balanced reduction of forces and of conventional armaments, based on the principle of undiminished security of the parties with a view to promoting or enhancing stability at a lower military level, taking into account the need of all states to protect their security”.

But why is all the rhetoric on disarmament not accompanied by real, holistic proposals? Is it because of the daunting difficulties that such a project entails? Because of a lack of vision? Or is it simply the result of the absence of political will on the part of the P-5? It is often argued that nuclear disarmament should be given priority based on the tremendous destructive capabilities of nuclear weapons but in a time where these are now spread in at least nine different countries total nuclear disarmament would ultimately leave conventional strong states in an even greater position of power. After all, reducing power asymmetries is one of the reasons why countries seek to develop nuclear capabilities (although it is not the only reason[3]). Unfortunately, weapons and war remain for many states an instrument of power (not for all states though as some twenty one countries in the world do not have an army). Great powers still believe they can posit themselves over and above the law. Double standard policies have caused much harm. In cases such as the NPT regime, nuclear powers act as if they were part of an oligopoly similar to that of powerful companies trading with precious commodities.

An aspect we need to bear in mind when it comes to disarmament is the notion of issue-linkage. Disarmament needs to be approached in conjunction with human rights, development, and climate change. In mid September I attended the Third SGI-UK Peace Proposal Symposium[4] where I listened to a presentation by Dr Michele Lamb[5] who drew the attention to the lack of connection between the human rights movement and the movement for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The human rights movement has managed to cross boundaries and communicate and unite with disarmament initiatives aimed at light weaponry and other conventional weapons (for example, landmines and cluster munitions –the so called humanitarian disarmament). But why is it failing to communicate with the movement for the abolition of nuclear weapons? Are WMDs less of a humanitarian concern than conventional weapons or weapons inflicting unnecessary suffering to combatants and non-combatants alike? Is it not our right as citizens to be informed on how our governments and armies spend our money in WMDs?[6]

One possible explanation is the sense of helplessness and anxiety that common and ordinary people feel when confronted with the rather incomprehensible nature of nuclear weapons and WMDs more generally (I have pointed elsewhere to denial as another possible explanation[7]). Furthermore, the level of state secrecy with which these weapons are surrounded does not help increase either the level of awareness or the willingness to engage in a fruitful debate on the usefulness (rather the uselessness) of these weapons (someone has elsewhere described these weapons as “invisible”[8]). We have seen pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki yet we are not capable of understanding what nuclear weapons are. Nor are we capable of accepting that we, the West, used them in the past and that we risk using them again in the future –instead, we are always pointing the finger to others.

Moreover, military budgets have a direct impact on development and human security. At a lecture at the London Imperial War Museum, Sir Richard Jolly[9] opened his talk with the following statement: “Disarmament is the kindest cut of all for development”. He then added that a shift of spending away from the military brings immense benefits including a rise in education and employment, a decrease of inflation, and a notable increase in human security and development. Further, as a lady in the audience rightly noted we cannot look at disarmament and climate change from separate orbits. With environmental change, the world will see a rise in conflict as states and non-state actors will likely increase their struggle over natural resources and energy and food security. The more weapons are spread around the globe the more likely we are to resort to these to resolve our differences (thus failing to follow the UN Charter provisions on the use of pacific settlement of disputes).

Civil society needs to engage with all these issues simultaneously. After a decade of huge military spending, reviving global disarmament is much needed. Of course, that does not mean that other less universalizing and all-encompassing initiatives cannot take place in the meantime. Take for example the case of the Middle East. Does a global, holistic approach to disarmament mean that no interim steps should be taken there? Or should WMD disarmament in the region be subjected to parallel conventional disarmament and/ or agreement on the adoption of a regional security framework? Should, on the contrary, WMD disarmament be detached from the politics of the region? These are all questions that were raised and addressed at the 6th Annual Conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone held at the London School of Oriental and African Studies.

The authors of the aforementioned Study on Conventional Disarmament also noted that ‘in order to facilitate the process of disarmament it is necessary to take measures and pursue policies (…) including commitments to confidence-building measures’. Confidence security building measures are indeed necessary at all stages and levels of disarmament as they can help further develop a move from a culture of violence to a culture of peace. But then, what if nuclear disarmament could be achieved regionally without simultaneous conventional disarmament? Would that be a positive step for the region or should weaker conventional states with nuclear capabilities resist it because it would lead to further asymmetries of power and a breakdown of regional balance of power? Would the removal of WMDs from the Middle East not amount to a confidence building measure in itself?

According to some, disarmament needs no debate for it is neither a political nor an ideological matter. Let me disagree. When debate fails, silence reigns and all sorts of abuses take place. Debate is necessary, provided it is not sterile, provided it raises the relevant questions, and provided it is followed by action. Reviving global disarmament is mostly needed, the world can only benefit from it. Producing more weapons does not amount to more security. Neither does the current pervasive talk of non-proliferation and counter-proliferation.


[2] Available online at http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/1com/1com11/statements/18Oct_Pakistan.pdf. In the same document, Pakistan further stresses the importance of linking conventional and nuclear disarmament with humanitarian disarmament and the implementation of confidence building measures.

[3] See for example ‘Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb’, International Security, 21:3, pp 54-86

[5] Dr Michele Lamb is principal Lecturer in Human Rights and Sociology at Roehampton University

[6] Note that the terms human rights and humanitarian are used here interchangeably and free of academic and theoretical constraints

[7] See ‘Farewell to nuclear weapons or the failure of civilisation’

[8] Watch a video available at www.hairtriggeralert.com

[9] Sir Richard Jolly is Honorary Professor and Research Associate of the Institute for Development Studies, University of Sussex, and former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. He has also worked with UNICEF and UNDP