Monday, October 29, 2007

Marad case accused languishing in jail without bail

YEARS AGO the Supreme Court of India laid down a dictum: bail is the rule, jail exception. It was signalling a message to the lower courts not to deny bail to the accused unless there were compelling reasons to do so. However, even now many undertrial prisoners remain in jail for long periods.

People's Democratic Party leader Abdul Naser Mahdani, who was arrested nine and a half years ago and tried in the Coimbatore bomb blasts case, remained in custody without bail or parole until the special court found him innocent and acquitted him this year.

One hundred and thirty-nine persons taken into custody in connection with the Marad killings have now been in jail for four and a half years as undertrial prisoners. Like Mahdani, they too have been denied the benefit of the principle laid down by the apex court.

Marad, a fishing village on the Kozhikode coast, was the scene of a clash in which five persons belonging to two communities were killed and about 100 houses destroyed in January 2002. Police filed a case against about 300 people in connection with the incident.

On May 2, 2003, Marad witnessed another ghastly event. Nine persons were killed on that day in a mob attack, which, according to the police, was an act of revenge by relatives of one of the victims of the earlier clash. One of the nine was said to be a member of the raiding party, who was killed accidentally.

The 2003 incident was widely seen as a watershed. There had been stray communal clashes in Kerala even earlier, but this was the first instance of organised violence inspired by religious fundamentalism.

According to Dr KN Panikkar, a left-wing historian and former Vice-Chancellor of the Sri Sankara Sanskrit University, it indicated that "communalism has arrived in Kerala." He wrote, "It is a proof that the stage of proto-communalism, which had a long period of incubation, is over."

In the earlier phase, he noted, a sense of religious division had slowly emerged, socially articulated through organised religiosity. Organisations of different religions vied with one another to bring the faithful to the streets. Religious practices spilled over from the domestic and sacred spaces to the public space, eliminating in the process the distinction between religious beliefs and religiosity.

P. Parameswaran, the foremost exponent of Hindutva in Kerala, also saw the second Marad incident as different from what had happened earlier. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's organ, Organiser, quoted him as saying in an interview that it was not a clash, but an unprovoked, premeditated and one-sided attack.

Nearly 500 families belonging to one community fled the village after the incident fearing retaliation. Many of them have still not returned. Some who came back left again following threats.

A total of 139 persons are facing trial in connection with the killings of 2003. They include members of different political parties. The examination of prosecution witnesses having been completed, the trial has entered the closing stages. The police usually oppose grant of bail on the ground that the accused may interfere in the investigation or tamper with the evidence. Since the charge-sheet has been filed and all prosecution witnesses have been examined, that argument no longer holds good in this case.

There is evidence of gross discrimination in the treatment of those charge-sheeted in connection with the two rounds of violence in Marad. While those involved in the events of 2002 were granted bail, those taken into custody in connection with the events of 2003 were not given bail or parole.

Like Abdul Naser Mahdani, the Marad accused are victims of the apathy on the issue of human rights violations among the authorities as well as the people. The system of jurisprudence, which the country has adopted, demands that an accused be presumed innocent until proved guilty. But many people presume the accused in cases of extremist violence to be guilty until proved innocent. They are ready to acquiesce in the denial of human rights to such persons.

Looking beyond the legal process that is under way, the problem of restoring the social equilibrium that the violence in Marad destroyed is yet to be addressed seriously. As Dr Panikkar noted, "the social base of the secular parties has been eroded and a fairly large section of the population has become ideologically communal, even if not politically so."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Malayalam Blog

Here is the URL of Malayalam blog വായന which will be functional from November 1, 2007.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


കേരളപ്പിറവി ദിനമായ നവംബര്‍ ഒന്നിനു മലയാളം ബ്ലോഗ് തുടങ്ങുന്നതാണ്.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Only limited knowledge can be accessed through the window the State has opened

THE ambitious Akshaya project, drawn up by the Government of Kerala to achieve total computer literacy in the State, is moving towards the final phase. It was launched as a pilot project in Malappuram in 2003 with the aim of making one member of each family computer literate. Encouraged by its success, it was later extended to eight of the State’s 14 districts. On its completion, at least one member of each family is expected to be able to handle the computer.

The project evoked much interest abroad. UNESCO offered financial assistance. Several foreigners came to study the working of the project, and everyone expressed appreciation. A new technology usually creates a divide between the haves and the have-nots. Everyone welcomed the scheme as an effort to bridge the digital divide and extend the benefits of information technology to all sections of the people.

The project envisages the establishment of 3,000 e-centres in the State. They are expected to yield two benefits: one, they will generate employment opportunities; two, they will help realize the concept of e-governance. However, first reports from Malappuram raise doubts about some of the calculations behind it. Nearly 40% of the centres opened in that district have downed the shutters after incurring losses. If such centres cannot be run profitably in Malappuram, what will happen in districts which lack extensive overseas contacts?

Computer prices have come down drastically since the project was drawn up. Consequently, more people now have the capacity to buy them. This leads to a lowering of demand on public facilities. The authorities must take note of such developments and make suitable corrective measures. Otherwise, the e-centres may meet with the same fate as the industrial estates which ended up as graveyards of small industries.

An attractive feature of the Akshaya project is that it envisages use of IT to hasten economic and social development. One of its proclaimed objectives is “the creation of a society which is ready for capitalizing on Knowledge for economic and social development”. It also seeks to promote e-education, e-agriculture and e-commerce. However, it is doubtful if the necessary infrastructure is in place.

The use of the Internet is continuing to grow worldwide. The number of Internet users in India is said to have grown from 1.4 million to 42 million during the past decade. China is ahead of India in this area. It already had 1.2 million Internet users when India had only 200,000. People use the Internet for different purposes. A recent global study showed that Indians are leading in access to sex-related websites. Considering the repressive approach to sex in Indian society, this is not surprising. Kerala’s situation is probably no different from that of the country as a whole.

In discussing use of the Internet, we must remember that it is essentially a tool. Many tools can be used for good or bad purposes. A favourable climate is necessary to ensure that this tool is used for good purposes. Today the Internet is a popular forum where opinions are expressed freely. The appearance of Malayalam blogs indicates that in Kerala too it is gaining recognition as such a medium.

Computer literacy alone will not make Kerala a knowledge society. A person with proficiency in the English language can access information that is available anywhere through the Internet. The Akshaya project has merely opened a window. There is not much scope for one who knows only Malayalam to access information using the computer. Even with printed literature, the possibility of acquiring knowledge through Malayalam is limited. This is because there are not many books in the language that impart knowledge.

Gathering the information available on different subjects and making all of it available in Malayalam through the Internet can be a trying exercise. There is actually no need for it. The Internet has mechanisms for instant translation of material available in English into various other languages, including Japanese, Chinese and Korean. If a similar mechanism can be created for instant translation from English to Malayalam on the computer, all knowledge available in the English language will immediately become accessible in Malayalam. However, no one appears to be working on the creation of such a mechanism.

Universities in the United States had made a big contribution to the development of the Internet. No university in Kerala has shown interest in promoting the use of Malayalam on the computer. The apathy of our institutions and scholars in this matter has already caused incalculable harm. A Unicode converter capable of rendering in Indian scripts any matter keyed in using the Roman script is available on the Net. When you use it for Malayalam, you find a couple of half-sounds missing. If our authorities had taken some interest at the time the Unicode was adapted for Indian languages, this would not have happened. Some individual efforts to remedy the situation are going on.

Those interested in the survival of Malayalam must help create systems for imparting knowledge through the language. An Internet translation mechanism has great relevance in this context. Until it becomes available, Malayalees can acquire very little knowledge through the window the Akshaya project has opened.
Based on Nerkkazhcha column appearing in Kerala Kaumudi of October 25, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Politicians keep controversy-chasing media occupied

CONTROVERSIES are the staple of the media. The print media in Kerala was already well established as a purveyor of controversies when the electronic media arrived. As news channels proliferated and competition intensified, channels replaced newspapers as the main vehicles of controversy.

Since the attention span of the public is notoriously short, channels and newspapers do not dwell long on any issue. They keep moving from one controversy to another.
The hour-long night bulletin is where controversy rages most furiously. The channels compete with one another to get the newsmakers of the day and their detractors to make the discussion lively.

Recognising that channel debates can influence public opinion, the main political parties choose their spokesmen carefully. The CPI (M) official leadership regularly fields the three Jayarajans – EP, MV and P -- from Kannur and the Pradesh Congress deploys MI Shahnavas and MM Hassan. As rival spokesmen confront each other directly, viewers are treated to the verbal equivalent of a battle between gladiators.

It was MV Nikesh Kumar of Indiavision who first came up with a one-hour package of news and views. Some later entrants like Venu Balakrishnan of Asianet News and Shani Prabhakar of Manorama News have a well-deserved reputation for trenchant questioning of guests.

The news channels deserve credit for taking up several issues of vital interest to the people. For instance, the sad state of the roads was the subject of discussion on the all the channels. Unfortunately, Kerala is too small a place and politics in the State is too narrowly focused to generate sufficient material for debate on a daily basis. They, therefore, find it necessary to pick on lesser issues and blow them up.

Three issues which the media played up during the past few weeks illustrate how politicians keep the controversy-chasing media occupied. They are the alleged participation of late Communist Party of India (Marxist) legislator Mathai Chacko in religious ceremonies, the selection of Mons Josesph as the Kerala Congress (Joseph)’s ministerial nominee by draw of lots and the circumstances surrounding eminent thinker MN Vijayan’s death.

The United Democratic Front had raised the issue of Mathai Chacko’s religious affiliation during the by-election to fill his Assembly seat. However, it did not come in the way of the LDF’s victory in Thiruvambadi and did not evoke any interest outside the constituency.

The Bishop of Thamarassery raised the issue again in a speech last month. He said a priest had held a service at the request of Mathai Chacko’s family as he lay dying at hospital. CPI (M) State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, speaking in Thiruvambadi a few weeks later, castigated the Bishop for defaming a Marxist.
The channels repeatedly played recordings of the speech in which Pinarayi Vijayan likened the bishop to a “hideous animal”. In the discussions that followed, both sides marshalled evidence in support of their claims.

Pinarayi Vijayan stood his ground in face of strident demands for retraction. The Church released some documents in support of the bishop’s claim but the other side was able to cast doubts on the reliability of at least some of them. Amid the verbal pyrotechnics that they generated, the vital fact that the Church and the Party are both political players and that both tend to demand total loyalty from their followers did no receive adequate attention. It is not uncommon for individuals to try and please both, giving unto the Party what is its and unto God what is His.

Kerala Congress (J) leader P. J. Joseph enjoys such clout in his party that it would have readily endorsed anyone whom he picked to occupy its berth in the State Cabinet, which fell vacant when TU Kuruvila resigned following a land scandal. Reluctant to choose between the two legislators, both of whom advanced claims, he allowed the party to settle the issue by drawing lots.

The loser’s disclosure that the winner was chosen by drawing lots embarrassed the party. In the channel discussions, many criticised the procedure as undemocratic. Joseph said lots were drawn as the two candidates were equally meritorious.

Pinarayi Vijayan’s obituary tribute to MN Vijayan as a “distinguished college teacher” and Sukumar Azhikode’s insinuation that MN Vijayan’s associates had hastened his end provided grist to the channels’ mill. Mercifully, the channels dropped the controversy quickly.

In dropping the MN Vijayan and Mathai Chacko controversies following appeals by their families, the media demonstrated that it retains the good sense to respond positively to public sentiments. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 22, 2007.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two more years of education will not make a better policeman

THE police is one of the fastest growing government outfits in Kerala. Fifteen years ago, its strength was below 25,000. Now it is above 42,000. It is doubtful if any other department has grown as fast during this period.

As society progresses, crime goes up. This has been the experience worldwide. To deal with growing crime, the police force has to grow proportionately. Judging by standards adopted by modern societies, the State police force is small. But, then, it is not enough to raise the strength of the police. Its performance must also improve. However, the authorities do not take as much interest in qualitative growth as in quantitative growth.

At present, the minimum educational qualification for recruitment to the police is the Secondary School Leaving Certificate. Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has stated that the government proposes to raise this. Youth organizations, which stand in the way of raising the age of superannuation from 55 years on the ground that it will result in loss of employment opportunities, have not responded to this. The minister’s justification for revision of educational qualification is that 60% of those selected in the last round of recruitment were graduates.

Of the four million registered jobseekers in Kerala, one and a half per cent, that is about 60,000, are postgraduates. With so many postgraduates wandering in search of jobs, there maybe enough takers even if the government prescribes post-graduation as the minimum qualification for recruitment as police constable. That, however, is no justification for doing it.

As is clear from the minister’s statement, despite the onrush by degree holders, those without degrees got 40% of the posts. About 60% of the jobseekers, that is about 2.4 million people, have only studied up to SSLC. It is unjust to make such a large number ineligible for the post of police constable.

The popular impression that there is a serious problem of educated unemployment in Kerala is not correct. According to the figures of 2005, given in the Economic Report, which was presented to the State Assembly this year, 76.5% of the jobseekers have educational qualifications of SSLC or less. The Information Technology and tourism sectors in which the government and the people place hope will not do much good to those with such low educational qualifications. Doors now available to them must not be closed without opening new ones.

When A. K. Antony was Chief Minister, the police was given freedom of action and a commission with former Supreme Court judge K. T. Thomas as chairman and former Additional Chief Secretary T. N. Jayachandran and former Director General of Police K. V. Rajagopalan Nair as members was appointed to study the performance and accountability of the police force and make recommendations. Raising the educational qualification for recruitment from SSLC to Pre-degree Course was one of the measures the commission proposed. It is not known whether it was of the view that a person who has studied for two more years will make a better policeman. There is no basis for such a belief. That human quality improves with education is a superstition prevalent among the educated.

The Home Minister revealed in the Assembly recently that 607 members of the police force are facing criminal charges, including rape and murder. That one out of 70 policemen is involved in criminal cases is not something that can be lightly dismissed. Those at the helm of the force are persons with high educational qualifications. Since there are persons with criminal tendencies even among them, we cannot assume that a higher entry qualification will lead to a better police force.

Besides raising the educational qualification, the K. T. Thomas Commission proposed some other measures, too, to improve the performance of the police. These included lowering the maximum age limit for recruitment from 30 years to 25 and the creation of a new agency for recruitment. Some of these are also under the government’s consideration. There is one topic that merits even greater attention than these: better training. We have a police set-up devised by foreign rulers and the maharajas to meet their needs. It has still not been recast in keeping with the requirements of a democratic society. Meanwhile political infiltration in the police force is taking place. The police still follows the colonial-feudal tradition of protecting wrongdoers in its ranks. This is possible because democratic regimes are willing to accept the argument that the morale of the force will be affected if action is taken against them.
Based on article appearing in “Nerkkazhcha” column of Kerala Kaumudi dated October 18, 2007.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Kannur prison under control of political convicts

THE head of the Jails Department told the Kerala high court last week that officials at the central prison at Kannur are scared of the prisoners lodged there. A large number of the prisoners belong to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI (M), which heads the Left Democratic Front government.

Responding to the official's explicit appeal, the court ordered that the political prisoners be shifted to the central jail at Viyyur.

Kannur is a CPI (M) stronghold. The party's domination over some villages of the district is so complete that they remain out of bounds for other political outfits. During the past three decades, CPI (M) activists have clashed frequently with workers of other organisations, notably the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

There has been a lull in political violence in the district in recent years. However, the public still remember with a sense of shock some atrocities perpetrated by political hit gangs earlier. These include the cold-blooded murder of a leader of the pro-CPI (M) Students Federation of India in front of the members of his family and the hacking of a schoolteacher belonging to the RSS in front of his pupils.

The Kannur prison has about 1,500 inmates. They include several hundred convicts serving jail terms in connection with political killings. Prisoners belonging to rival groups have clashed in the jail premises on several occasions. A CPI (M) worker was killed in a clash in 2003. Following the incident, the State government shifted some prisoners to Viyyur.

The United Democratic Front was in power at the time. CPI (M) legislators, led by Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who was then deputy leader of the Opposition, in a memorandum, asked the government to send the prisoners back to Kannur so that they could be nearer home. Oommen Chandy, who was the Chief Minister at the time, conceded the request in keeping with his policy of accommodating the wishes of legislators to the extent possible. The State's jails are overcrowded.

The central prisons, located at Thiruvananthapuram, Viyyur and Kannur, together have a sanctioned capacity of 5,415 prisoners. A report of 2005 said there were 6,950 inmates at that time, not counting those on parole.

While the number of prisoners exceeds the sanctioned strength, the number of employees is far short of requirements. The Kannur jail has only 105 warders, and 45 of them are trainees.

According to media reports, after the LDF came to power and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan became the Home Minister, CPI (M) prisoners, numbering more than 320, took over effective control of the prison. With the help of the party's district leaders, they even erected a memorial inside the jail premises for their comrade who was killed by RSS men.

The reports also said that CPI (M) prisoners were able to get mobile phones, liquor, cigarettes and even their favourite dishes from outside. During a recent raid, the authorities seized some arms, 10 mobile phones and 23 mobile chargers from them.

Concerned over the reports, the CPI (M) State Committee directed the district leaders to intervene and ensure that the prisoners do not gang up and flouts the norms.

The high court decided to look into the affairs of this prison after it received a letter from an inmate stating that jail was under CPI (M) control. The letter said Marxist convicts attacked those belonging to other parties. It mentioned the names of some alleged assailants.

The district judge, whom the high court deputed to the jail, said conditions were worse than the inmate indicated in the letter. The prisoners were able to get even drugs.

The high court, noticing a factual inaccuracy in the statement furnished by the Jail Superintendent, regarding grant of parole, directed him to appear in person on October 10.

MGA Raman, Director General of Police (Prisons), also appeared in the court on that day. Raman told the judges that there had been problems in the Kannur jail after the return of the prisoners who were sent to Viyyur.

Although the government had given jail officers freedom to act according to the law, they were scared, he said. The Home Minister has said the government will take a decision on shifting of prisoners after studying the court order.

The Director General of Prosecutions has in a report to the government pointed out that Raman acted improperly in appearing before the court without being summoned and seeking a directive on transfer of prisoners without prior consultations. --Gulf Today, October 15, 2007.

UPDATE: On October 17, the State Cabinet decided to remove M. G. A. Raman from the post of Director General of Police (Prisons) and appoint him as Managing Director of Kerala Books and Publications Society, Kochi.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Pinarayi Vijayan vs M. N. Vijayan: who will be the ultimate winner?

ALL VIJAYANS are not winners. There are Vijayans who are winners and Vijayans who are losers. When two Vijayans are locked in struggle only one can win. So the other must lose. In a long drawn out war, there are many battles and there is a winner and a loser in each of them. The real winner then is the one who wins the last battle.

M. N. Vijayan and Pinarayi Vijayan came up winning battles in different fields. Pinarayi Vijayan won until he became Kerala State Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a member of the party’s Politburo. M. N. Vijayan won until he became the guiding force of the pro-CPI (M) art and literature organization, Purogamana Kalasahitya Sangham, and Editor of the party’s Deshabhimani weekly. While fighting their separate battles they were friends. When M. N. Vijayan took over as Editor of Padham magazine, which was attacking the CPI (M) leadership, even as he remained editor of the party publication, they became foes.

In the condolence message distributed to the media on M. N. Vijayan’s death, Pinarayi pointedly referred to his friendship and enmity with the party. He also certified that M. N. Vijayan was a distinguished college teacher. He saw in M. N. Vijayan no other quality worth mentioning. Pinarayi’s message prompted Advocate Jayashankar to speculate in a television programme on how the party State Secretary would remember Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan at some future date. He came to the conclusion that Pinarayi would describe him as “a distinguished tailor”. If Jayashankar had gone one step farther and tried to figure out how Pinarayi would be remembered at some future, the question that M. V. Devan asked might have come up. Unlike Devan, M. N. Vijayan never asked if Pinarayi had done a spot of work. In fact, in an interview published last year, he had evaluated Pinarayi in these words: “He had the capacity to organize workers. In those days Pinarayi Vijayan was the name of efficient organizational effort.” As for the present, avoiding personal references, he said, “We assess a person in politics by the political impact that he makes. Political effect is always a decisive factor. The persona is very irrelevant. Its place is elsewhere.”

The political effect of Pinarayi Vijayan and M. N. Vijayan needs to be studied. They reached the heights of left-wing politics through different routes. Pinarayi reached the top fighting his way up from the lowest levels. Entering public life without any special circumstances that favour him, he was ready to offer the sacrifices that the Communist Party demanded. Europeans had brought together Marx and Freud even before World War II. M. N. Vijayan attracted attention by doing that in Kerala. After attaining a high place in the cultural sphere, he made a lateral entry into politics. He then took up the task of tying up Malayalam literary and cultural activities with the CPI (M). Without being a party member, he became the party’s cultural commissar.

He did not hesitate to justify party men hacking a school teacher, who belonged to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in front of his pupils. He saw nothing wrong in burning to death the snakes of Pappinassery to settle scores with M. V. Raghavan. There was really no need for a person who demonstrated such loyalty to the party to quarrel with the party leadership. Yet he quarrelled. It was the feeling that the party was on the wrong track that led to it.
An organization must change with the times. The CPI (M) could not make timely changes because party minds had remained frozen at some point in the past. The political gains made by the leadership through tactical moves at a time when Kerala society was sliding backwards enabled the party to hide this fact. In the absence of any adversary with a modern face, this weakness did not become a big problem.

Pinarayi Vijayan entered the scene as a leader capable of leading the way for changes as a time when the need for changes was being recognized increasingly by the party and the public. But he soon came to symbolize the wrong kind of changes. Both friends and foes made their contributions to the transformation of his image in this manner. It was M. N. Vijayan’s role in this matter that prompted Pinarayi Vijayan to state that he was a fierce foe of the party in his last days.

M. N. Vijayan’s charges against the party leadership conveyed the impression that he wanted the party to remain unchanged. But, essentially, what he raised was a moral issue, not an ideological one. His quarrel was against the moral decline at the leadership level. Since he was not a party member, the leadership could not contain his revolt by expelling him or demoting him to a lower committee.

When he was a friend of the party, M. N. Vijayan could easily have got any post and position it could offer. But he did not become an Ezhuthachchhan Award winner, an academy chairman or a vice-chancellor. Because of that, he remains high above those who received such rewards.

M. N. Vijayan departed after winning a battle. He realized that it was not the final battle and went to the Press Club of Thrissur to sound the bugle for the next battle. Though he is no more, the war goes on. Hence the party leadership’s eagerness to pull him down from the high place that he had reached during his lifetime, drag him to his old college and tie him down there.

M. N. Vijayan’s revolt and the party's response to it have circumscribed left-wing thought in such a way that it looks as though Stalinism and capitalism are the only alternatives before us. This betrays the intellectual limit of those engaged in debates here. We must be able to understand that there are various possibilities outside them and explore them. In trying to figure out which Vijayan will finally win, we must keep in mind these words of M. N. Vijayan: political effect is the decisive factor; persona does not matter.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated October 12, 2007

Monday, October 8, 2007

Gangsters with political connections pose a problem

TWO daring attacks by gangsters, which left three dead in the capital city a week ago, served as a rude reminder that the law enacted recently has not diminished the ability of criminal elements to strike at will.

Shaji, one of the deceased, is believed to have been a victim of inter-gang rivalry. He was an accused in eight cases. Dipulal, another deceased, has been identified as a member of the Democratic Youth Federation of India, youth wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He is said to have been a victim of the feud in the party.

The police, whose anti-goon record is poor, redeemed its reputation somewhat by making quick arrests in connection with the latest killings. The two incidents took place at an interval of 15 minutes in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday night. The police picked up 11 men in Kochi on Monday morning after a short chase.

Since long the State police had been demanding an anti-goon law, saying tough legislation was needed to deal with habitual offenders. Acceding to its demand, the United Democratic Front government promulgated the Kerala Felonious Activities (Prevention) Ordinance in 2005. Its provisions were never invoked.

The Left Democratic Front government, which came to power last year, allowed the ordinance to lapse. Later, it brought forward its own anti-goon law. It altered the definition clause in such a way as to keep political, trade union and student activists out of the purview of the law.

Congress leader VM Sudheeran accused the LDF of diluting the law to help those engaged in illicit liquor trade. Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the law would be used against bootleggers too.

The anti-goon laws essentially invest the police with power to detain habitual offenders without trial for a specified period. The only safeguard available to the detainee is the review of his case by a committee set up by the government.

Human rights activists opposed the measures brought forward by both the Fronts. They argued that there were provisions in the existing laws to deal with habitual offenders. What the new laws did was to vest in police officials the powers that were exercised by magistrates under normal laws.

The LDF government was only slightly less tardy than its predecessor in invoking the new law. The police drew up a list of 125 goons in and around the capital, but detention orders were issued only against eleven persons. Of them, only five were traceable. Police sources concede that the other six may have fled the country. They were known to be in possession of passports, some of them probably forged ones.

Even after the enactment of a special law, there is no effective action because many gangsters have political connections. Several newspapers highlighted this aspect in investigative reports published after the latest killings.

Gangsters who control the main markets of the capital are known to collect protection money from shopkeepers. Several instances of attacks on shops and shopkeepers for failing to pay have been reported.

According to information gathered by the police, gangsters operating in and around the capital are involved in a wide range of criminal activities. At one end are hit men who specialise in killing or maiming. At the other end are musclemen whose services are engaged by real estate operators, moneylenders and even some new generation banks.

Some gang leaders operate under respectable cover. One newspaper report said they were running transport services and food stalls and helped politicians and officials by providing facilities to invest their ill-gotten money in profitable ventures.

If some gangsters began life as musclemen of political parties and broke away to operate independently, some others appear to have moved in the opposite direction. They started their career as small-time criminals and then sought shelter under political wings.

Media reports have identified several persons involved in recent incidents of gang attacks as DYFI members. DYFI denied some of the reports. It is a large organisation with more than 4.5 million members. The possibility of criminal elements infiltrating it for personal protection cannot be ruled out.

The gangs get recruits from the ranks of the large body of young men who are jobless and lack the educational qualifications needed to land a white collar job. Once caught in the net, the young men find it difficult to get out. Measures to wean away such youth must form part of any scheme to rid the State of gangsters. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 8, 2007.

Monday, October 1, 2007

No firm measures to tackle continuing financial crisis

SOON after the Left Democratic Front government took office last year, Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac said the State government's finances were in a mess. He promised a status paper on the subject and spoke vaguely about mobilisation of additional resources.

Early this year, while interacting with traders before preparing the budget, he again said the state was facing a financial crisis. The only way to tide over it was to mop up additional revenue, he added.

Last week, as the first half of the current financial year was drawing to a close, he sang the same tune again. There was once again talk of mobilising resources with no indication as to what he planned to do and when.

An economist by training, Dr Thomas Isaac was a fellow of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, before becoming a full-time politician. Having served as a member of the State Planning Board during the last LDF regime, he is quite familiar with the working of the government machinery.

Why are his expertise as an economist and experience as a planner of little avail in tackling the financial crisis, of which he keeps talking all the time? He himself provided the answer to this question in a television encounter with another economist, Dr BA Prakash, a few days ago.

When Prakash, who is professor of Economics in the University of Kerala, spoke of the need for harsh measures to overcome the fiscal crisis, Thomas Isaac made it clear that he would not take any such measures that would hurt the common man.

Thomas Isaac's reluctance to raise taxes was evident when he presented his first full budget in March. He estimated a revenue deficit of Rs52.51 billion in 2007-08, but provided for additional resource mobilisation of less than Rs2.5 billion.

The provision was clearly inadequate. Some months earlier Thomas Isaac had indicated that additional revenue of Rs9 billion was needed for just one item: revision of state government employees' wages.

Three-fourths of the state's revenue goes into payment of salaries and pension to its employees. In just 10 years, the annual salary bill shot up from Rs22.16 billion to Rs80.55 billion and the pension bill from Rs7.53 billion to Rs40.54 billion.
Pension expenditure has been galloping since the government holds down the age of superannuation at 55 years even though life expectancy in the Srare has risen above 75 years.

Another major item of expenditure is interest on loans. It now accounts for 29 per cent of the State's expenditure. Public debt, which has been rising from year to year, stands at a record Rs535 billion. Together, salary bill and interest liability now exceed revenue. Yet Thomas Isaac is reluctant to resort to additional taxation. He prefers public borrowing.

Taxation in Kerala is comparatively low. The Planning Board, in its latest annual review, points out that in the last 15 years the state's tax revenue has remained stationary at slightly above nine per cent of the gross state domestic product. During this period, the other southern States raised the tax-GSDP ratio "quite significantly," it adds.

The LDF and the United Democratic Front, which alternate in power, are equally reluctant to raise the tax burden. While they justify their stance in the name of the poor, the real beneficiary is the business community, which has profited by the growth of consumerism.

The state government's main source of revenue is sales tax. Its record of tax collection is poor. The introduction of value added tax by the Centre has considerably limited the state's manoeuvrability with regard to sales tax.

Thomas Isaac recently initiated two measures to augment sales tax revenue. One is centred at the Walayar check post and the other at Kochi . Both aim at plugging revenue loss, primarily by checking corruption. Preliminary reports indicate encouraging results.

However, it is too early to make a realistic appraisal. The government is planning to raise Rs200 billion from non-resident Keralites, mainly those in the Gulf States, to build infrastructure. The Cochin International Airport Limited, which is cited as the model, succeeded mainly because it received strong support from Central undertakings.

Lack of resources is just one of the government's problems. Thomas Isaac acknowledged in the channel debate that the inefficiency of the official machinery was resulting in Central grants remaining unspent. However, he outlined no plan to address the problem. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 1, 2007.