Monday, March 29, 2010

Feminisation of poverty in Kerala

Gulf Today

Education has sharpened the Kerala woman's intellect, widened her outlook and tuned her social and civic senses, the state government proclaims at its website. But statistics belie the claim.

They show that the women in the state lag in many areas despite educational advance. On a superficial view, the women are in a happy situation. Kerala is the only Indian state with a favourable sex ratio. At the time of the 2001 Census there were1,058 females for every 1,000 males, and female literacy was 87.86 per cent.

The University Grants Commission's report for 2000-01 said enrolment of girls in higher education in the state was 3.3 per 1,000 people, while the all-India average was only 2.9. In the rest of India boys led in the matter of higher education. In Kerala, the situation was reversed. Boys' enrolment was only 1.9 per 1,000 people as against the national average of 4.8.

Ironically, educational achievements have not helped women to improve their position in the state's job market. The Economic Review presented in the State Assembly in advance of this year's budget says, "Women's education has not translated into employment."

It adds, "Low levels of female employment and persistence of gendered work structures limited women's claim to independent sources of income."

Male work participation in the state compares favourably with that in the country as a whole. A national survey conducted in 2004-05 showed that male employment rate was 55.9 per cent in the rural areas and 54.7 per cent in the urban areas.

The corresponding all-India figures were 54.6 per cent and 54.9 per cent respectively. Female work participation was much lower -- 25.6 per cent in the rural areas and 20.0 per cent in the urban areas.

The corresponding all-India figures were 32.7 per cent and 16.6 per cent respectively. This shows that while rural women are worse off than their counterparts elsewhere urban women are doing better.

Officials attribute the comparatively favourable situation of urban women in the state to education. This, however, is a matter which calls for detailed examination.

According to published official data, male employment in the primary sector in the rural areas, which was 54.3 per cent in 1993-94, dropped to 43.4 per cent by 1999-2000. During the same period, female employment came down from 51.4 per cent to 46.3 per cent. Women now outnumber men in this sector.

Male employment in the secondary sector rose from 17.8 per cent to 22.9 per cent in the rural areas and from 27.3 per cent to 33.3 per cent in the urban areas. The increase in female employment was more modest: from 27.5 per cent to 28.9 per cent in the rural areas and from 33.5 per cent to 36.0 per cent in the urban areas.

These figures show that women, who constituted a large segment of the labour force in the traditional industries, are retaining their dominant position even though male presence in this sector is growing.

Unlike in the primary and secondary sectors, men were ahead of women in the tertiary sector. While male employment in this sector was 33.6 per cent in the rural areas and 59.3 per cent in the urban areas, female employment was only 24.9 per cent and 56.1 per cent respectively.

Although urban women are not faring too badly in this fast growing sector, the rising proportion of women in agriculture and manufacturing industries point to increasing feminisation of poverty.

When the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the highly acclaimed poverty alleviation programme, was introduced in the state more women than men came forward seeking work.

Women account for less than half of all work under NREGS in the country. However, in Tamil Nadu (79.1 per cent), Rajasthan (69.6 per cent) and Kerala (66.0 per cent women are its main beneficiaries.

Apart from women, Dalits and Adivasis also form part of the poverty brigade. The Dalits, who constitute 9.8 per cent of the state's population, account for 16.0 per cent of all NREGS work. Adivasis, who form only 1.1 per cent of the population, get 8.6 per cent.

The Kudumbasree Mission, built around the Central government sponsored women's self-help scheme, has more than 180,000 neighbourhood groups in the state with a total membership of more than 3.3 million women.

Lowly jobs like garbage clearance, for which there are no takers in the state, are being entrusted to such groups.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 29, 2010.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

DHRM’s English and Malayalam blogs

Dalit Human Rights Movement, which the Kerala police has branded as a terrorist organization, has set up blogs in English and Malayalam to convey information about its activities.

Here are the URLs:



Monday, March 22, 2010

Absurd play is dragging on

Gulf Today

Two months after the Kerala high court ordered steps to remove all encroachments at Munnar in Idukki district the state government has taken no meaningful action in pursuance of the court order.

Munnar used to be a quiet place until three decades ago when real estate interests invaded the area, grabbed land with the help of politicians and started building holiday resorts. Apparently corrupt officials helped them to create titles for the property.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front, and the CPI, the second largest constituent of the alliance, are also said to have interest in resorts.

Eviction of encroachers was one of the first steps initiated by VS Achuthanandan, who had become the Chief Minister outmanoeuvring CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan in 2006. He sent a team of three officials who enjoyed his confidence to perform the task.

The team, which started demolishing unauthorised structures with bulldozers under the eyes of television cameras, encountered opposition from two sides. Some affected resort owners rushed to the court and obtained stay orders. The CPI-M's Idukki unit, led by a follower of Achuthanandan, switched its loyalty to Pinarayi Vijayan, and raised stiff opposition to the move locally. The CPI unit also joined the campaign.

The chief minister, who was isolated in the party and the Cabinet, had to pull out his men from Munnar. The government formally reiterated its commitment to oust the encroachers and deputed another team to continue the mission. But, for all practical purposes, the mission was dead.

Munnar came to the fore again as One Earth One Life, a non-government organisation, sought the high court's intervention, stating encroachments and land transactions were continuing there unabated.

It pointed out that Nivedita P Haran, Principal Secretary, Revenue department, had proposed a moratorium on land transactions and constructions in the Pallivasal, Devikulam and Udumbanchola taluks until all doubts about bogus titles were cleared. The government had not acted on her recommendation.

At the hearing stage itself, Chief Justice SR Bannurmath and Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan made it clear that they believed stern action was needed to remove the encroachments. They said they would look into the steps taken by the government since 2007.

Justice Bannurmath, who has since retired, stated later that during a visit to Munnar to attend a seminar he had the opportunity to acquaint himself personally with the situation there.

In a 470-page action taken report, filed in response to the court's directive, District Collector Ashok Kumar Singh said the Kannan Devan company belonging to the Tata group was the biggest encraoacher and it held thousands of acres of government land. Action initiated to repossess the land had been halted by stay orders issued by the courts.

He claimed action had been taken against 119 resorts and 14,000 acres recovered from encroachers between 2007 and 2010. The nature of the action taken against illegally constructed resorts was not clear.

The Collector's report mentioned encroachments made by some politicians or their relatives too. His attempt to project the Tatas as the biggest villain is in tune with the tactical line adopted by the ruling parties.

The court's response to the Collector's action taken report will be known when it takes up the case again in the next few days.

When Forest Minister Binoy Viswam announced the government's decision to declare 17,000 acres of land taken back from the Tata firm under a law enacted in the 1970s, the Collector had shot off a letter raising doubts about the status of the land.

In reply, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests TM Manoharan wrote to him saying his letter was based on lack of appreciation of the history of the Kannan Devan hills. He devoted much of his letter to narrate how the land had changed hands since the 19th century.

Meanwhile T Damu, director of a Tata firm, has come out with a book titled Munnar Rekhakal, which essentially presents the company's side of the story.

While the absurd drama involving the government departments and the ruling parties goes on with no end in sight, there are indications that other actors will soon enter the picture.

A technical committee deputed by Union Forest and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is due to visit Munnar shortly. The empowered committee appointed by the Supreme Court to look into environmental issues is also expected to take up the case of Munnar soon.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 22, 2010.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Kerala's ancient glory revealed, but creators untraced


Thiruvananthapuram, March 18 (IANS) A multi-disciplinary project launched three years ago has yielded archaeological evidence of Kerala's ancient glory. The official establishment plans to exploit the find to boost tourism but has little interest in identifying its creators.

Kerala has boasted of a long history on the basis of references in ancient Tamil texts and the accounts of foreign travellers. However, barring a stray find of Roman coins, no tangible proof of its antiquity was available until now.

Tamil literature of 2,000 years ago contains references to a prosperous port city of Muchiri, where ships from distant lands came with gold to fetch pepper. Romans called it Muziris and said there was a temple of Augustus Caesar north of the city.

Apparently, it was through Muziris that Christianity and Islam entered the subcontinent. Jews fleeing from Jerusalem found refuge there. The younger generation having migrated to Israel, the Jewish community is now almost extinct.

Muziris, which according to foreign accounts could be reached from Egypt in 40 days under favourable wind conditions, disappeared 10 or 12 centuries ago in circumstances that are unclear. Until recently scholars believed Kodungallur, 35 km north of Kochi, was the legendary port city but no evidence of maritime mercantile activity could be found there.

According to Roman and Tamil literature, Muziris was located at the mouth of the Periyar. A few years ago, K.P. Shajan, a geoarchaeologist, pointed out that the river had changed course over the centuries and suggested the ancient port might have been at Pattanam, where broken pottery and ancient fired bricks had been found during digging.

In 2007, the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), of which eminent historian K.N. Panikkar is chairman, began excavations at Pattanam with the permission of the Archaeological Survey of India. KCHR director P.J. Cherian led the field team, which included Shajan and V. Selvakumar as co-directors.

The team made a rich haul of broken Roman and Indian pottery. Other finds included early coins of the Chera kingdom, human bones, storage jars, a gold ornament, glass beads, stone beads and utilitarian objects made of stone, copper and iron.

The team also found an ancient brick wall, a brick platform, a ring well and a wharf with bollards. The structures indicated that there was a big urban settlement. A six-metre-long wooden canoe lay parallel to the wharf, about 2.5 metres below surface level. Carbon dating done by the Institute of Physics, Bhubaneswar, showed that Pattanam's story goes back to the first millennium BC. The place was probably under continuous occupation from 2nd century BC to 10th century AD and Roman contacts were at the peak from 1st century BC to second century AD.

The state government, recognising the tourism potential of the Pattanam finds, sanctioned a Muziris heritage project, the first phase of which will cost Rs.1,400 million. It also decided to approach Unesco to declare Muziris a world heritage.

The project envisages preservation of identified monuments and restoration of old bazaars, roads, canals and bridges, spread over two municipal towns and six panchayats. They will form part of a cultural tourism circuit, dotted by a coir museum, an aquatic museum, a fishing tools museum and a spices museum, producing a new product for Kerala Tourism.

Many of the elements that form part of the project actually relate to a comparatively recent period. But, says Benny Kuriakose, a Chennai-based architect who is the chief project consultant, the Pattanam finds, which prove the area's long history and ancient maritime links, will be the key component.

When did Muchiri disappear and how? Who were the makers of the glory that was Muchiri, and what happened to them? With the official establishment turning the history project into one of tourism, there is no serious attempt to find answers to these questions.

The official Kerala Tourism website attributes the port's disappearance to natural causes and European colonisation. It says, "The Muziris port underwent a tragic incident some time around the middle of the 14th century in a massive flood and resultant silting triggered by the river Periyar. Since the 15th century, the region began to come under the influence of foreign powers, starting with the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and the British."

Available historical material does not warrant the conclusion that the port flourished much beyond the 10th century. Whatever the explanation for the disappearance of the structures, it is reasonable to assume that the port's decline began with the establishment of a feudal order dominated by the Vedic community, which looked down upon seafaring, between the 8th and 10th century. Historians have noted that in the north, too, several prosperous Buddhist towns declined as feudalism struck roots and the caste system relegated their builders to an inferior status.

Kerala's cultural ancestry goes back much farther than Muchiri. According to noted historian, M.R. Raghava Varier, the engravings in the Edakkal Caves in the Wayanad district include a man with jar cup, which was a symbol unique to the Indus Valley Civilization.

"We do not claim that the Indus people reached Wayanad," Raghava Varier said. "Nor do we argue that Edakkal was a continuity of the Indus civilisation." However, he added, the presence of a rare and interesting Indus motif in Edakkal was striking.

Edakkal and Pattanam testify to the vibrant cultural and economic traditions of societies that were overrun by migrants in the last millennium.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A march from Antony’s Cherthala to Sharmila’s Imphal

A march from Cherthala in Kerala to Imphal, capital of Manipur, will begin on April 16. It is being organized by social activists of Kerala in solidarity with Irom Sharmila, whose fast demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in the tenth year.

Sharmila has been in police custody during this period, except for short breaks. She has been charged with attempted suicide and is being fed forcibly through the nose.

The Sunday Theatre of Kozhikode has been staging a solo play titled “Women with Torches”, based on Irom Sharmila’s life and struggle, in different parts of Kerala for some time. Beginning yesterday, a march is being held in the State as part of the preparations for the long march to Manipur.

Writer and feminist activist Sara Joseph will lead the march. It will pass through Bengalooru, Chennai, Nellore, Vijayawada, Bhopal, Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. Jnanpith award winning writer Mahasweta Devi will join the march towards the end.

The sponsors of the march have raised a series of questions: In a democratic society, must there not be space for democratic struggles? Must not the government seek to settle such struggles? Must not civil society give its support for the success of such struggles? Why is it that popular agitations from Narmada to Chengara do not get such consideration? Why is it that no responsible person has talked to this woman who is engaged in a non-violent struggle, which has attracted national and international attention, against a black law that does not even allow complaints to be lodged against army excesses? What justification is there for President Pratibha Patil or Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or First Lady of Indian power structure Sonia Gandhi or Defence Minister A. K. Antony not talking to her even once?

Explaining the choice of Cherthala as the starting point of the march, they say: “The first reason for taking out the peace march from Cherthala is that our Defence Minister is a Malayali and Cherthala is his home town and (former) constituency. We are trying to address the conscience of a democratic leader who has considered his mother as his main inspiration while she was alive and even after her death and claims to be the personification of political correctness.” The march will terminate at the Imphal hail where Sharmila is lodged.

T. R. N. Prabhu and Civic Chandran are the coordinators of the march.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Global warming casts its shadow

Gulf Today

The worst global warming scenario envisages the Arabian Sea rising and gobbling up part of Kerala's 550-kilometre-long coastal belt where a large chunk of the population lives. That may be only a distant possibility but climate change appears to have cast a shadow on the state already.

Over the last few days, nearly 20 persons have reportedly suffered burns in different parts of the state. While sunburn cases have been reported from half of the 14 districts, the worst affected is Palakkad, where the maximum temperature was above 42 degrees Celsius last week.

On Saturday the media reported a sunstroke death from Thrissur. Television channels and newspapers said the victim was a man who was found dead in a field with burns on the body. Officials, however, said the man had died of a hear attack.

About 1,000 people reportedly die of sunstroke in India each year. Kerala has been free from the menace, thanks to the moderate climate. The average maximum summer temperature is 32 degrees Celsius in the state's coastal areas and 37 degrees Celsius in the interior. The sunburn cases, therefore, caused a minor alarm.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan asked the Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) at Thiruvananthapuram to send a team of scientists to Palakkad to study the phenomenon. Revenue Minister KP Rajendran dispatched a disaster management team to the area.

The CESS team, comprising Dr EJ Zachariah, Dr PVSSK Vinayak and Dr S Muralidas, who have specialised in microwaves, meteorology and oceanography and atmospheric sciences respectively, visited Palakkad and met the affected people on Friday. Its preliminary finding is that the burns were the result of direct exposure of the body to the sun.

The team is expected to submit to the state government a detailed report which will take into account data relating to solar activity. Lack of adequate information on ozone conditions may diminish the worth of the report.

More than 25,000 people are engaged in physical labour district under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Palakkad. The Collector has ordered that the work be regulated in such a way that there is no exposure to the sun between 11am and 3pm.

The Health department has issued guidelines outlining measures to combat the unusual heat. It has asked schools to dispense with assemblies and drills to avoid exposing the children to the sun. They have also been instructed to keep drinking water in every classroom.

The school leaving examinations, which about 500,000 students take, begin today (Monday). In view of the harsh weather conditions, the students are being allowed to carry water bottles into the examination hall. Education Minister MA Baby has said that in the light of the current year's experience the government will consider changing the examination time from next year.

The disaster management team, comprising Revenue and Health officials, which reached Palakkad on Saturday, said there was no need for panic. However, people are bound to worry since they know that the worst summer months of April and May are still ahead.

Already there are reports of rivers and water bodies drying up. Summer rain offers the only hope of respite. Weather officials are holding out the promise of some showers in the coming days.

The situation is not entirely unexpected. Five years ago, Dr CK Rajan, head of the department of atmospheric sciences at the Cochin University of Science and Technology, had pointed out that the evolving weather scenario, marked by sudden drenchers and long dry spells, was "indicative of the shadow of global warming creeping into our backyard."

Long before climate scientists warned of rising global temperatures environmentalists had drawn attention to the fast depletion of groundwater, which was directly attributable to denudation of forests.

With the slogan "tree is the answer to global warming" the state government has taken up a scheme under which hundreds of thousands of saplings are planted each year. The current developments suggest that response may be too little and too late.

Ecological sensitivity is low in Kerala, especially in the corridors of power. The Left Democratic Front government's attempt to push through the Athirappilli power project, which the Centre has blocked on environmental grounds, and the opposition United Democratic Front's support to the move bear this out.

In all likelihood the first summer showers will wash away the fears engendered by the sunburn cases and the state lapse back into the normal state of environmental unconcern.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 15,2010.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dalits greet DHRM leaders released on bail

Dalits gave a rousing reception outside the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram today to Dalit Human Rights Movement organizing secretary Das K. Varkala, and others who were released on bail after being in custody for nearly five months as accused in the Varkala Sivaprasad murder case.

Several hundred Dalit men and women had come from different districts to greet the DHRM activists.

The police has described DHRM as a terrorist organization and alleged that its activists had murdered Sivaprasad, who was on a morning stroll, to proclaim the strength of the organization.

Das, who addressed the gathering, said DHRM was a human rights organization and the police had falsely implicated it in the murder case. While the police alleged it was a terrorist organbization and they could not produce a shred of evidence in support of that allegation.

The police charge-sheet said that he was arrested from Aluva, near Kochi, but he asserted that police had called him out while he was inaugurating a seminar at Varkala and placed him under arrest.

He gave a detailed account of the torture to which he was subjected in various police stations in Thiruvananthapuram district and in the Central Jail. The torture took place at police stations where boards mentioning the protection to which Dalits were entitled under the law were displayed.

He said DHRM worked strictly within the bounds of law. The political parties had turned against it because they realized that its activities were weaning Dalits away from them.

Earlier, inaugurating the function, I pointed out that the treatment meted out to Dalits in Kerala was indicative of the regression taking place in the society, which had made big strides towards equality and equal opportunities in the last century. The political parties were trying to keep the poor in perpetual slavery. The government was taking no steps to help them to stand on their own legs.

Budget spells double trouble

Gulf Today

For the people of Kerala, the central budget presented on Feb.26 spelt double trouble. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), whose members walked out of the Lok Sabha when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced a hike in petrol and diesel prices in the budget speech, followed it up with a hartal last Tuesday.

More trouble is on the way with the party planning to organise blockade of central government offices even in some small towns to focus attention on the price rise.

There was no work stoppage in the other CPI-M strongholds of West Bengal and Tripura. Nor will there be blockades in those states. This is because the agitations are organised by the party's state committee, and are not part of any national campaign.

Evidently the CPI-M wants to keep the pot boiling in the state with an eye to the panchayats elections due later this year and the Assembly elections due next year.

Meanwhile, the CPI-M-led state government is making its own contribution to the rise in living costs. Ahead of the state budget, it raised bus charges and taxi rates. The rate revision was unrelated to the latest petrol price hike. In fact, transport operators had been demanding rate revision for some time.

After presenting his budget in the Assembly on Friday, State Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac said he had adopted a different approach from the central minister. Patting himself on the back, he claimed he had placed before the country a model which other states could follow.

There are no doubt differences in the approaches of the two ministers. But, then, there are also similarities in their approaches.

Reactions of the political parties to the two budgets were along predictable lines. The Congress and its allies hailed the central budget and criticised the state budget. The CPI-M and its allies denounced the central budget and praised the state budget.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party criticised the two budgets, most non-partisan analysts characterised both as populist.

One of the areas where differences are discernible in the approaches of the central and state governments relates to the public distribution system, which, in theory, covers the entire population of Kerala.

Pranab Mukherjee said in his speech that the centre would like to switch from the rationing system to a coupon system, which will allow poor people to buy their requirements of food grains at subsidised rates from any outlet.

The state government is keen to retain the public distribution system, although very few persons other than those holding below-poverty-line cards actually buy grains from ration shops now. It is well known that the ration shops divert the unsold supplies to rice mills.

The centre and the state are involved in a dispute over the number of people who are below the poverty line. While the centre puts the number at less than 1 million, the state reckons it is more than 2.5 million. The finding of a BPL survey conducted by the state government is awaited.

Thomas Isaac announced plans to supply rice at the subsidised rate of Rs2 a kilogramme to all labourers. The proposal is expected to benefit 3.5 million people.

Another area where the centre and the state differ relates to the public sector. The centre has been divesting the shares of public sector companies year after year to raise money. The state government, which claims to have turned round most of the losing public sector units, has decided to float a few new ones in the coming year.

Selective distribution of largesse is an area where the approaches of the two governments are similar. While the centre earned the gratitude of the middle class by lowering income tax rates the state sought to please the working class by offering a small rise in the paltry pensions besides extending the subsidised rice to all labourers.

The rich have reasons to be pleased with both the central and state governments. Both have showered concessions on the real estate sector. If industrialists are the major beneficiaries of central budget, traders are the major beneficiaries of the state budget.

Thomas Isaac has demanded only a nominal increase in the compounded tax paid by jewellers for the last few years. Those who evaded registration charges have been given more time to get themselves off the hook by making a small one-time payment.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 8, 2010.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Right in conflict with privilege

Gulf Today

Five years after parliament enacted a law to give Indian citizens access to information under the control of public authorities, all limbs of the state are still fighting shy of its mandate.

Several government departments and the Supreme Court of India have come into conflict with Central or State Information Commissions on whether or not certain information sought by citizens can be provided.

In Kerala, a dispute between the Legislative Assembly and the Information Commission is threatening to develop into a confrontation between the two, which may, willy-nilly, draw in the other limbs of the state too.

The preamble of the Right to Information (RTI) Act states that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information is vital to its functioning and to contain corruption and hold the government and its instrumentalities accountable to the governed.

In April 2008, DB Binu, an advocate and secretary of the Human Right Defence Forum, sought from the Kerala Legislature secretariat copies of the video recording and printed version of the speech delivered by Kerala Congress (Jacob) leader TM Jacob in the Assembly during the debate on a no-confidence motion in 2005.

V Jayalekshmi Amma, Additional Secretary in the Legislature Secretariat, who is the designated State Public Information Officer (SPIO) under the RTI Act, gave him a copy of the printed version of the speech. She, however, refused the request for a copy of the video recording.

Binu then approached R Prasanna Kumari, Special Secretary, who is the designated appellate authority. She rejected his appeal, saying the matter involved encroachment on the privileges of the legislature.

The decisions of the SPIO and the appellant authority had the sanction of the Speaker, K Radhakrishnan, who is the 'competent authority' in respect of the Assembly under the RTI Act. The Speaker, incidentally, is also the custodian of the privileges of the house.

Section 8 of the Act, which gives citizens the right to access information, makes it clear that it does not cast an obligation to provide "information the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament and State Legislature." Apparently, the Speaker is relying upon this proviso.

Dissatisfied with the appellant authority's decision, Binu exercised his right to prefer a further appeal to the State Information Commission.

Chief Information Commissioner Palat Mohandas and Information Commissioner PN Vijayakumar, who heard the appeal, held that there was no justification for denying the video record when the SPIO had given the applicant the printed version of the member's speech. They ordered her to supply the video record within 15 days.

Failure to comply with the Commission's directive renders an SPIO liable to pay a heavy fine for every day of default.

On January 14 Jayalekshmi Amma wrote to Binu saying the commission's order was prima facie an encroachment on the privileges of the house and the Speaker had referred the matter to the Privileges and Ethics Committee.

While talking to the media ahead of the Assembly session, which began last week, the Speaker said video recording of speeches did not come under the purview of the RTI Act as they were not part of the proceedings of the house.

"Only the documents printed and published by the Assembly form part of the Assembly proceedings," he said. "The video recordings are only a temporary arrangement."

The Assembly's decision to treat the print and electronic versions differently is based on a fine distinction it draws between the two. It puts the video recording on a different footing from the printed version of a speech, which is an approved text, scrutinised and edited by the Speaker who has the authority to expunge, delete or remove any word or sentence.

This aspect was examined by the Information Commission while considering Binu's appeal. It pointed out that supplying an edited copy of the videotape would do harm as the proceedings of the house were telecast live with the approval of the Speaker.

The privileges of Parliament and the legislatures constitute a grey area since they have not been codified into law, as envisaged by the Constitution. Technically, these bodies have the same privileges as were enjoyed by Britain's House of Commons at the time India became free.

The concept of right to information was unknown at that time. The question to be decided now is which must prevail when there is a conflict between the citizen's right to know and the Assembly's privileges. The people will probably respect their elected representatives more if they respect their right to know.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 1, 2010.