Salary, ration eats up most of MHA allocation: Parl panel

Expenditure on salary and ration eat up maximum of budget allocation earmarked for central police forces and police organisations under Union Home Ministry while modernisation suffers due to insufficient funding, a Parliamentary panel has found.

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs, headed by Congress MP P Bhattacharya, has found this “shocking” in its latest report on Demands on Grants tabled in Parliament recently

“The Committee is shocked to note that out of total allocation under Demand No 55, 89.13 per cent of total allocation is utilised for salaries and ration and only10.87 per cent is meant for important schemes/projects viz. modernisation of police forces, Security Related Expenditure, CCTNS, research etc,” the panel noted.

The Demand No 55 is the most important head under budget allocation for Home Ministry and it pertains to meeting expenditure on paramilitary forces, National Intelligence Grid, Delhi Police, Intelligence Bureau, NIA etc and schemes under modernisation of police.

The 2014-15 budget had allocated Rs 59,450.76 crore under this head while in the revised estimates, it had come down to Rs 56,372.45 crore. In the budget allocation for 2015-16, Rs 62,124.52 crore has been earmarked under this head.

The panel said it is of the view that the percentage share of important components under this should be “progressively increased” in the coming years for “maintaining operational efficiency’.

The panel also found fault with Finance Ministry for “drastically” reducing the allocation for housing of police personnel by half under Demand No 55, saying it would adversely affecting their housing needs.

The committee’s remarks came after Union Home Secretary L C Goyal informed it that the present level of housing satisfaction in central paramilitary forces is 11.63 per cent when the desired level is 25 per cent.

Giving details, Ministry officials told the panel that while they demanded Rs 1,334.30 crore, it was allocated only Rs 1,016.88 crore during 2014-15. Finally, the Ministry allocated only Rs 628.72 crore for this purpose.

However, in 2015-16 allocation, it was even worse for the Home Ministry as its Finance counterpart allocated only Rs 650.02 crore when it had demanded an allocation of Rs 1,312.35 crore.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 28, 2015)

Noticeable decline in public support for terror outfits in JK: HomeSec

There is a “noticeable decline” in public support for terror outfits in Jammu and Kashmir though Pak-based groups like LeT continued their efforts to disturb peace there, Union Home Secretary L C Goyal has told a Parliamentary panel.

Briefing the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Ministry last month, Goyal talked about “four theatres” in the internal security situation in the country — cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, naxal menace in some states, militancy in north-east and terrorism in hinterland with cross-border links.

Goyal told the panel that terror groups like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen were trying continuously to create trouble in the state but the establishment could manage to conduct “free and fair” elections in the state.

He emphasised the point that there was “higher turnout”, which apparently showed waning support for terror groups’ dictats during elections to boycott it.

“Our security forces have been able to neutralise a good number of terror modules and also to foil a large number of infiltration bids. There is a noticeable decline in public support for terror outfits. In such a situation, Pak-based terror outfits may sponsor more terrorist incidents in the state,” he said.

Goyal also emphasised the need for keeping “constant vigil and surveillance along our borders and also to effecitively deal with incidents in the state”.

On naxal menace, he said in the last three to four years, authorities have managed to “make a dent here and we have been able to reduce the number of incidents as well as civilians killed and security forces killed”.

As there were no major terror incidents in the recent past, he said it was mainly because of neutralising a number of Indian Mujahideen modules in 2013-14.

But, he warned, “some remnants of Hizbul Mujahideen based in Pakistan are still creating a situation where we need to be on our guard”.

He said the government is putting in place necessary security and intelligence apparatus to effectively deal with these challenges.

“The main focus in the coming year would be to do more to increase the capacity infrastructure of central paramilitary forces and also to upgrade the institutional mechanisms,” he said as he identified the need for upgrading Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and NATGRID.

He also emphasised the need for upgrading coastal security apparatus in the country.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 25, 2015)

HS argues against FinMin; Parl panel agrees with him

With Home Secretary L C Goyal passionately arguing for central oversight on security related central schemes, a Parliamentary committee on Friday recommended reversal of Finance Ministry’s decision to hand over such schemes to states.

In its report on Demands for Grants of Union Home Ministry, the Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Congress MP P Bhattacharya said it was of the view that the role of central government in such schemes, which are “largely meant” for creating long term infrastructure and assets for a robust internal security architecture, should “not be undermined”.

Deposing before the panel on March 26, Goyal had flagged concern over the transfer of three components of centrally sponsored scheme Modernisation of Police Forces. The three components were Modernisation of State Police Forces, Special Infrastructure Scheme of naxal-affected states and Crime and Criminal Tracking Network Systems.

“These three components of that scheme, unfortunately, have been transferred to the states from 2015-16 onwards. We would want these components to remain with the Home Ministry, primarily for the reason that these schemes were giving us effective leverage and instrument to seek engagement with states in managing various internal security-related challenges or problems,” he said.

Goyal goes on to seek committee’s “support” so that “we could take it up with the Finance Ministry”.

Voicing its support, the panel felt resting the responsibility of such schemes with states was not advisable. “

“The committee is of the considered view that the matter of national pursuits ranging from national security to territorial integrity cannot be left at the dispensation of state governments alone with no monitoring and accountability of Union government in spite of clear constitutional mandate to the Union government to the effect,” it said.

Advising “caution”, the panel was of the view that the issue of transferring the national security related scheme to the stats should be “reviewed” and the “central government must have a say in the matter of national importance, particularly pertaining to internal security”.

“The Committee recommends that the Finance Ministry should positively look into the matter and reconsider its decision,” the panel said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on April  25, 2015)

Jogen draws CPI(M) man’s caricature!!!

Rajeeve

Trinamool Congress may “hate” CPI(M) ideology but it did not resist its MP Jogen Chaudhary, a painter of repute, to draw a caricature of former Rajya Sabha MP P Rajeeve and gift it to him or Derek O’brien to wish him well “by choice and not by compulsion”.

Same was the case with Sachin Tendulkar, who faced the ire of Rajya Sabha after Rajeeve raised his absence in the House, to gift him his autographed autobiography as the CPI(M) leader bid farewell to Rajya Sabha after a six-year tenure.

Chowdhury, whose party is CPI(M)’s archrival in West Bengal, wrote in the caricature, “with best wishes to Rajeeve and congratulations for most successful six years innings in Rajya Sabha” while Tendulkar also scribbled “best wishes” to the MP, who retired on Wednesday when the House was not in session.

If this was outside the House on Thursday, the Rajya Sabha witnessed a rare occasion when Rajeeve (48) and CPI member M P Achuthan (66) sat in visitor’s gallery to witness leaders praised their tenure. Both were described as “extremely industrious” in digging out new procedures and ways of putting forth their points of view.

But Rajeeve received more praise than his Left party colleague Achuthan did with leaders cutting across party lines asking Sitaram Yechury, the newly elected CPI(M) General Secretary, to re-elect Rajeeve and send him to Upper House again. Akali Dal’s Naresh Gujral even asked the government to bring him in as a nominated member.

Rajeeve was praised for using rules effectively to raise his points and not willing to let go until the last minute. Leaders felt he studied the rules very well and he researched the provisions well.

Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister and Leader of House, jokingly said, Rajeeve’s “departure makes our job easier because whoever was in the government, he used to keep them on their toes” and “now that Yechury is in a position of greater authority, I think he will give full consideration to our desire to have Rajeeve back sooner or later”.

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said Rajeeve is an “encyclopedia on rules” and added in a lighter vein, “I would request him to exchange that laptop with me. I will give him a fresh laptop, so that I don’t have to go through various books to find out which rule fits in where.”

Also Read https://sheminjoy.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/two-mps-retires-without-farewell-speech-in-rs/

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 24, 2015)

After Greenpeace, Ford Foundation under radar

After Greenpeace, Ford Foundation has come under Centre’s radar with Union Home Ministry on Thursday putting it under a watch list and asking RBI to ensure that all donations coming from it be routed through it due to “national security concerns”.

The government action came days after Gujarat government complained to the Centre regarding Ford Foundation’s funding to an NGO Sabrang, run by Narendra Modi-critic Teesta Setalvad, and subsequent inspection by Home Ministry’s FCRA Wing.

The action against Ford Foundation is also seen as an attempt by activists to send a signal to civil society as it came a fortnight after the Home Ministry restricted Greenpeace from receiving foreign funds and freezing its bank accounts besides issuing a show cause notice asking why its registration is not cancelled.

The government wrote to RBI’s Department of Banking Operations and Development that it has been “decided to keep watch on all the activities funded by Ford Foundation, USA which contributes to NGOs/associations in India” under relevant provisions of FCRA.

The letter said it is done to regulate the receipt of foreign contribution by NGOs and ensure that it is “utilised for bonafide welfare activities without compromising on concerns for national interest and security”.

“In exercise of the powers conferred under Section 46 of FCRA 2010, RBI is, requested to instruct all banks and their branches to ensure that any fund flow from the above mentioned agency to any person, NGO, organisations in India may be brought to the notice of this Ministry so that the funds are allowed to be credited into the accounts of the recipient only after clearance of this Ministry,” letter said.

It also reminded the RBI that government organisations can avail of foreign funding only with the clearance of Department of Economic Affairs under Finance Ministry and “any instance of a government organisation receiving funds directly from this agency may be withheld and brought to the notice of this Ministry”.

Though the letter did not mention any wrongdoing by Ford Foundation, sources said recipient NGOs has not filed mandatory annual reports and balance sheets with the government.

Gujarat government had last month written to the Union Home Ministry against Ford Foundation claiming that the US-based organisation was “interfering in the internal affairs” of the country and also “abetting communal disharmony” through the NGO run by Setalvad.

“It is revealed during the course of investigation that Ford Foundation, established with the stated goal of promoting communal harmony, democratic principles and social justice, has been indulging in covert activities of promoting interests that are completely contradictory to the said goals,” Gujarat government had said.

Ford Foundation had been on the radar since the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption agitation against UPA government after it came to light it had provided USD 1.97 lakh to an NGO ‘Kabir, which is linked to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, in 2007.

Ford Foundation Reacts:

In light of recent communication from the Ministry of Finance, our nodal ministry in the Government of India, the Ford Foundation has officially learned that the Ministry of Home Affairs is reviewing information related to their ongoing investigation of Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt Ltd.  We have not been contacted directly by MHA and have no information about latest news reports.

Over many decades, the foundation has built strong relationships with the people, institutions, and governments of India, and has contributed to the remarkable growth and development of the nation.  We have been and continue to be deeply respectful of the laws of the land and, therefore, of the process now underway.  As the current inquiry, progresses we will continue to respond fully to official queries directed to us.  We are confident in our work and compliance with the law and look forward to the outcome of this inquiry.  If the Government suggests methods by which we can strengthen and improve our grant-making processes, we will take appropriate steps to incorporate them.

As a charitable foundation with a global presence, everything we do is transparent and readily available on our web site, http://www.fordfoundation.org and in the public domain. This information includes highlights from across our history both in India and globally.

BOX: Prominent Funding by Ford

Association for Democratic Rights (ADR) 2007 – USD 2 lakh 2009 – USD 2 lakh

Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) 2007 – USD 5.5 lakh (for two projects) 2010 – USD 1.4 lakh

Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad 2008 – USD 2.0 lakh

Housing and Land Rights Network 2010 – USD 2.0 lakh 2014 – USD 2.5 lakh

IIM, Ahmedabad 2007 – USD 1.64 lakh 2011 – USD 1.50 lakh

IIM, Bombay 2011 – USD 1.15 lakh 2013 – USD 5.30 lakh

Jamia Millia University 2008 – USD 1.5 lakh

Kabir 2007 – USD 1.97 lakh

National Council for Applied Economic Research 2010 USD 2.3 lakh

National Law School 2011 – USD 6 lakh

Sree Chithira Tirunal Hospital 2013 – USD 75,000

Tata Institute of Social Science 2008 – USD 1.9 lakh 2010 – USD 1.75 lakh

Source: Ford Foundation website 

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 24, 2015)

Two MPs retires without farewell speech in RS!!!

retiring-MPs

(P Rajeeve, MP Achutan and Vayalar Ravi)

In a first, two Rajya Sabha MPs, whose term ended on Tuesday, will not be able to make their customary farewell speech but will witness other lawmakers make tributes to their tenures from VIP visitor’s gallery.

The six-year tenure of Kerala MPs P Rajeeve (CPI-M) and M P Achutan (CPI) ended on Tuesday but as the House is not in session, they could not make their farewell speech. When the House convenes on Thursday, they will not be able to enter the House as their tenure has ended.

Following this, Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari is learnt to have suggested that the MPs be present in VIP visitor’s gallery and witness the proceedings when other members make speeches on their contribution.

The unprecedented scenario emerged as government decided to prorogue Rajya Sabha soon after the first leg of Budget session to enable it to re-promulgate an ordinance on land acquisition.

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“We have been told that a new precedent is being set in our case,” Rajeeve, who was Deputy Leader of CPI(M), said. “We could have spoken in March if it was known earlier that it would happen this way,” Achutan told Deccan Herald.

When the issue of their farewell was raised in March, it was pointed out that the Rajya Sabha session would restart on Monday and there would be two days to deal with the issue. However, the government’s plan to prorogue the House left these two MPs, who made critical interventions, without an opportunity to deliver a farewell speech.

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Rajeeve (48) was a vocal Left MP, who along with his party leader Sitaram Yechury, managed to move an amendment motion to the President’s speech during the Budget session and get it passed in an embarrassment to the NDA government. Another amendment moved by Rajeeve forced the government to send two bills to Select Committee.

He also managed to make eight nominated MPs to allocate money from their MPLAD funds in health related investments in Kerala.

Achutan’s (66) intervention on linking of Aadhar with LPG and question on Walmart’s investment in Bharti Enterprises even before retail FDI was allowed had huge ramifications. The government then admitted that Walmart put money without RBI permission.

While both these MPs would miss their chance to speak, another member Vayalar Ravi (Congress) whose tenure ended with them is lucky enough, as he has been re-elected.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 22, 2015)

There is nothing called protest-creation: Aich

Greenpeace India has faced the government’s wrath. Government says it obstructs country’s economic development and questions its finances and other activities. Samit Aich, Executive Director of Greenpeace India, shared his views with me. Excerpts:

SAMIT AICH

There are so many NGOs operating in India. Why Greenpeace is being targeted?

It is for the government to say. But if you ask me, it could possibly because we have asked the right questions at the right level. Some of the campaigns we run had asked fundamental questions and this perhaps have made them extremely worried. So they started targeting us. Greenpeace is made out to be an ideologue or icon of what is wrong the way they see it. It will also send a chill factor or fear factor to many other NGOs and civil society. Therefore, in one stroke, they will get the message across. But I do not think this is not the right way to address the issue. It is a bad step.

Government argues that foreign funded NGOs are hindering economic development. What is your taking on that?

These are all arguments or statements that are not substantiated. We should debate what we mean by national security, economic security and stuff like that. Merely repeating those lines would not mean that those were right or true. Several IB reports and other documents keep coming out from time to time, which the media gets incidentally much before we get to see it or read. I think the issue of development needs to be debated. Greenpeace clearly works on clean air, we talk about forests, food and sustainable environment. Every organisation and individual has the right to have a definition on what is development. Trusting one line on development and terming everyone differing with it as -national is wrong. It needs to be contested.

One of the gravest allegations is that Greenpeace use foreign funds for protest-creation. How do you respond to it?

First, let me clarify that in the last financial year, over 70 per cent of the funding came from Indian citizens in India. Second thing, there is no such thing called protest-creation. Protests cannot be created. Situation leads to organisations and people coming together to defend their democratic rights. It is wrong to assume that protest-creation can happen only by international funds. It has to be completely debunked as a myth. India has a history of protests. We got independence through protests in the most non-violent form. It is also wrong to assume that people of India do not have brains of their own and need money and international brains to decide whether to protest some wrong done to them. This is a crude statement and needs to be contested. The government clearly has a different definition of development, which is heavily pro-corporate instead of being pro-people, and is seeking to dismiss any criticism of its actions as protest-creation.

The notice to you says there are discrepancies in accounts, foreign funds were misused.

We will respond to every point raised by the government. We believe that the government allegation is not right at all. As an organisation, we believe in high level of transparency. Our auditors have assured us that we have not violated any FCRA rules. All the foreign grants have been deposited into the designated bank account and transfers for utilisation are made into the FCRA approved account only. Payments listed by the FCRA division in their show cause notice are to third parties or reimbursements to local accounts, which is within the law.

Government report says salary given to some Greenpeace employees is very high and it is against the spirit of charity.

FCRA has no right to decide on whether the salary is high or low. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has no mandate on what salary we should take. As an organisation, we believe that our people need to be paid reasonably well. When we decide on the salary of people in India, we determine that it needs to be viable. In fact, Greenpeace India’s secretariat staff’s salary is the lowest among international NGOs operating in India. That is a deliberate attempt. We believe that as an organisation, we have to be responsible. The MHA response seems to make us believe that those working in NGOs need to lead their lives like destitute and creep and crawl to make a living. That is wrong. What is high or what is low is subjective and the MHA has no right to contest it. Greenpeace believes that the issues the MHA raised on salaries and consultancies are absurd, as it does not substantiate how this is a violation of the FCRA. If the donors have no problem, then nobody else should have a problem.

Has the FCRA become a weapon in the hands of government to tame NGOs?

Absolutely. The law itself is quite draconian. It is used in the most arbitrary manner. What we are facing currently is an example.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight section on Apr 19, 2015)

Fall in Line: Message to NGOs via Greenpeace

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Journalists were swamping officers of Foreigners Division in Union Home Ministry as the action against Greenpeace India poured in on April 9 afternoon, first on TV channels. The confirmation came fast and details were on Ministry website. Aided by a dossier they prepared after a six-month “painstaking investigation”, officials explained where all Greenpeace erred. Officials wondered how someone be allowed to function when they “prejudicially” affected “national interest”, “public interest” and “economic interest” of the State. Citing its over half-a-dozen actions, Government suspended the permission granted to Greenpeace to take foreign donations and asked it to explain in 30 days why its registration should not be cancelled. Reasons ranged from maintaining accounts in a “non-professional manner”, “protest creation” in localities where there were none, paying high salaries against the “spirit” of charitable work and “depriving” the country of energy through protests in coal sector.

The move surprised not only journalists but a section of officials too as it came after government tasted defeat twice in courts against Greenpeace in a span of three months. The court cited insufficient documentation and reasoning besides questioning how one could infringe upon the right to dissent in cases related to freezing its accounts and preventing activist Priya Pillai from going to London to appear before British MPs in January. Conspiracy theories were also abound with some even linking the presence of a senior Intelligence Bureau official, known for his watch on NGOs, in the Ministry corridors to the action against Greenpeace. Some questioned the rationale and feared the move would not stand judicial scrutiny. “This may not serve the purpose. Wait for an international backlash now,” a top official told Deccan Herald. However, Foreigners Division is very confident. They believe they have done their homework as they checked account books to find a “lot of discrepancies”. The NGO, however, is confident of showing the government its place once again in courts.

The action against Greenpeace is not the first as governments love to hate NGOs. Indira Gandhi brought in a stringent Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in 1976 during ‘Emergency’ to squeeze Jaiprakash Narayan-led Opposition, which she believed was aided by “foreign funded” civil society. She did not leave three NGOs, including Gandhi Peace Foundation, for opposing her when she returned to power in 1980 and set up Justice P D Kudal Commission to enquire into their foreign donations. Almost 30 years later, one of her successors Manmohan Singh questioned ‘dollar funded’ protests as he “lamented” that NGOs, “often funded” from the US and Scandinavian countries, are “not fully appreciative” of the development challenges that India faces. Now, the government under Narendra Modi, who also views them with suspicion for their campaign against him on Gujarat riots, has raised the bogey against NGOs.

If UPA institutionalised a mechanism to engage NGOs through Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council, it fell out with civil society towards the end of its ten-year rule. Government’s suspicion grew as international NGOs like Greenpeace spearheaded or supported movements against power projects, GM food and cotton, nuclear energy and human rights violations. With its “spread and deep pockets”, Greenpeace attracted special attention. Government sources said Greenpeace was on the radar from 2012 onwards specially due to its “anti-coal activism”. An Intelligence Bureau report, commissioned by UPA and leaked in June soon after Modi assumed power, said its activists were “focussed on ways to create obstacles” in India’s coal-based energy plans and methods to pressure India to use only renewable energy.

Why Greenpeace is singled out? Officials give a variety of reasons for it ranging from its “reach” in the country to its ability to “strike where it hurts” and the mobilisation of locals against big projects. By taking on the biggest in the ground, they said, the government wanted to send a message to other NGOs, especially those with international links, not to mess up with it. Government is angry with Greenpeace for its “success” in mobilising locals against projects like Mahan Coal Ltd and preventing a 15,000 MW thermal power plant in Singrauli, according to the Ministry dossier. The Singrauli protests were to be followed by “protest-creation” in eight other locations, impacting 40,000 MW thermal power generation plans under the “direct guidance of since black-listed foreign activists”. The government, sources said, believes that Greenpeace’s activities on blocking projects are helping foreign governments.

In the dossier, it goes on to suggest that Pillai’s “foreign funded” travel to London to brief British MPs on Mahan coal block would “advance the foreign policy interests” of British government only. It goes on to cite a series of protests by Greenpeace like the mobilisation of 2.50 lakh people from drought affected areas to stop diversion of water supply from agriculture and drinking, establishment of Mahan Sangharh Samiti to protest against Mahan coal block and anti-GM protest on Parliament Street in Delhi. Its report on pesticides in tea and activists climbing billboards in Mumbai for 50 hours asking Indian tea companies to remove pesticides from tea was another irritant for the government. Intelligence reports suggested that the NGO also decided to target other “commonly consumed goods” like rice and wheat by highlighting abuse of pesticides in it.

Government “found out” that Greenpeace selected five ultra mega power projects – Sasan (MP), Krishnapatnam (AP), Giriye (Maharashtra), Sundargarg (Odisha) and Mundra (Gujarat) – and thermal power projects in four coal dependent industrial areas – Korba and Raigarh (Rajasthan), Jabalpur (MP) and Varanasi (UP) – as its targets. It was also apprehensive of “unrest” as Greenpeace organised construction workers in urban areas for “use in agitation”.

The detailed notices to Greenpeace and the dossier show the schism between government and the NGO on what it perceives as development. Activists believe that the government’s fear and opposition to NGOs are “exaggerated” and those sitting in South (PMO) and North Block (Finance and Home Ministries) decide what is national interest. Government, on the other hand, feels that it has to work for the welfare of people and it could not compromise national interest at the behest of foreign funded NGOs who works in the garb of charitable work.

You may love or hate NGO. However, the question remains whether government can “harass” voice of dissent by selectively using FCRA, which activists demand should be re-looked at.

Post Script: Will Ford Foundation, one of the main funding sources of Modi-critic Teesta Setalvad’s Gujarat-based NGO, be the next NGO on the block to face trouble for “direct interference in the internal affairs of the country and also of abetting communal disharmony in India”. Home Ministry officials are examining the findings of an FCRA team, which inspected the files of Setalvad’s NGO.

Climate Protest at COP 17

FOR EXTRA READING

From MHA Notice

— The Central government having regard to the information and evidence in its possession is satisfied that the acceptance of foreign contribution by Greenpeace India has publicly affected the public interest and has prejudicially affected the economic interest in violation of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010.

— Under-reported and repeatedly mentioned incorrect amount of foreign contribution received

— Most glaring example being foreign contribution opening balance for 2008-09, which was reported as NIL in the auditor’s certificate but was actually Rs 6,60,31,783. Greenpeace has admitted the same and claimed it to be a typographical error, which is not tenable.

— Incurring more than 50 per cent of foreign contribution on administrative expenditure in two fiscals without prior govt approval

Foreign Funds for terror financing?

** While it is not proper to make sweeping generalizations, it is necessary to note that the NGO sector in India is vulnerable to the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing.

** Although there is no centralised database on the number of NGOs in the country and the quantum of finance involved in their operations, unofficial figures indicate that there are over 20 lakh NGOs registered under Societies’ Registration Act, Trust Act etc.

** Thus, the number of NGOs registered under FCRA would be less than 2 per cent of the total number of NGOs.

Source: Report on Receipt and Utilization of Foreign Contribution by Voluntary Associations 2011-12, Union Home Ministry

Counter View

There is little possibility of FCRA route being used for terror funding as there are other channels of transferring funds meant for creating internal disturbances, terrorism etc. Making the provisions in the FCR Bill stringent may result in stifling the legitimate activities of the NGOs more than their illegitimate activities. It can also impose burden on NGOs dependent on small grants received from abroad.

— Former RBI Governor Bimal Jalan deposing before Parliamentary Standing Committee on FCRA Bill in 2008

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight section on Apr 19, 2015)

Don’t suppress data on death and destruction: BlueBook

cyclone-main4

Government is looking at ensuring “zero casualty” during natural disasters through proper mitigation measures but has warned states against “artificial suppression” of data on death and destruction.

The suggestion is part of a draft ‘Blue Book’ to guide relief and rehabilitation efforts before cyclones, learning from the experience of successful management of cyclone ‘Hudhud’ in 2013.

“Care should be taken to see that the call for ‘zero casualty’ should not lead to artificial suppression of data,” the draft report, which was send to states seeking comments by April 30, said.

After disasters, there have been allegations from victims as well as civil society that the authorities were not providing the real numbers and suppressing figures to avoid giving compensations.

The proposal for ‘Blue Book’ came from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Union Home Ministry set up an inter-ministerial panel  in October last year to draw lessons from the experience of management of ‘Hudhud’ cyclone and prepare a document for better management of cyclones.

With “looting” of relief materials during relief efforts a trend, the draft also warns against police action during disaster situations as it is “neither feasible nor will serve the need to roll out relief work”.

“If any relief material is looted by the restless crowd, the strategy should be to send more relief material along the same route, in order to saturate the need at the intervening areas and to ensure that the material reaches interior areas quickly,” it said.

Another proposal was the construction of helipads at regular intervals along highways. Earlier, the main problem in dealing with disasters were the accessibility factor and choppers will be able to land on such helipads giving an impetus to movement of man and material, a senior official said.

“If the roads are constructed on a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) mode, this should be a part of the construction agreement/ contract. Besides, helipads along the highways, school playgrounds and other open spaces in isolated vulnerable locations may be identified with their geographic coordinates long before the cyclone to be used as helipads or sites for air landing,” the draft said.

With the National Disaster Management already publishing ‘Guidelines on Management of Cyclones’, the official said, the Blue Book does not seek to duplicate the work.

“However, this is meant to be a brief document containing the practical points essential for management of cyclones, to minimise the loss of human lives and property,” he said adding it has been attempted based on the best practices in the management of cyclones.

cyclone-phailin-satellite1-537x402

** Comprehensive state insurance cover to people, homes and cattle

** Underground duct for power, communication, gas lines should be planned in all urban bodies

** Evacuation routes should be laid or restored before onset of monsoon

** Telecommunication systems need to be made robust and foolproof

** Coastal mobile towers need to be built to withstand 250 kmph speed

** Alternatives to electricity should be kept ready.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 17, 2015)

Freedom of speech means right to dissent also: Shreya

Shreya Singhal

Young Shreya Singhal walked into Supreme Court in November 2012 to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) after two girls, whom she had not met or spoken to, were put behind bars for a Facebook post on the shutdown in Mumbai following Bal Thackeray’s death. Twenty-eight months later, she and a clutch of petitioners emerged victorious with the apex court scrapping Section 66A in Information Technology Act and underlining the freedom of expression. I spoke to Singhal, who is pursuing law from Delhi University’s Faculty of Law.

Excerpts

Sec66A was introduced in 2010. While admitting your PIL, then Chief Justice of India Altamis Kabir wondered why no one had approached the court yet. Why no one approached court until then?

The thing was that it was not misused much (earlier). The really famous case was that of Palghar girls’ (Thackeray) case. Till then, people did not know of the misuse. We found about it only because of media. The arrest of Palghar girls was very shocking. It would have happened to anyone for liking one post. You would have liked many things, a post or a blog post. It is so innocuous that it cannot land you in jail. No one approached us to file it or something. We went to court and impleaded as a party.

Are you happy with the verdict?

It is a brilliant verdict because the court has also done its research. This bench sat every day from morning to afternoon. They have really thought about it. They also saw that it was not protecting anything. Sec 66A was pre-emtively putting you in jail. All it did was criminalise anything you put up on the internet. Here criminalisation is not of an act. By an act, I mean stealing someone’s identity or so. For acts like fraudulent use or identity theft, there are provisions in the IT Act and IPC. However, what Sec 66A did was that it gave a cause to arrest you if some one does not like what you posted. There are bound to be someone who does not like it or finds it offensive. What does a police officer does at the end of the day? They could be bribed. How in a rural area you expect a policeman to make a choice whether one should be arrested under Sec 66A or not.

Police is also not adequately trained to handle such cases

If someone comes and say this has been posted and I do not like it, police have to follow procedure. You see, within 24 hours of the post being put up, they are arrested. If you see the arrests, all of them are made within 24 hours of the post being put up. It takes longer for them to arrest murderers and rapists.

There are apprehensions that it will be free for all now.

I do not agree. The legislative intent in bringing Sec 66A was to stop spamming. Judges also said there was no malafide intent. In theory, it was fine. But in practice, look at what had happened. If you want to control defamation, pornography, child pornography or identity theft, there are provisions in the IPC and IT Act. Our laws have changed to include internet as a medium.

Our legislature cannot be lazy and make a blanket provision. I am not saying internet should be free for all. But you have to see what has happened to the internet, how it is expanding. Reasonable restrictions are fine. Even our Constitution sets reasonable restriction under Article 19(2). But you cannot gag an entire view. The thing with 66A was that if you have written the same thing in newspaper or said it on TV or said it in person, there is no arrest. It was not a crime. The crime is that you have put it on the net. You see, after Thackeray died, newspapers had photographs of Mumbai completely shut down. What did those girls do? One of them posted a comment why is Mumbai shut down, was it out of fear or respect and another liked it. By this logic, half of our population will be in jail because the other half does not like their view. There is a line between being sensitive and over sensitive.

Take any party, be it Congress or BJP or SP, everybody wants a this law in one form or another.

It was misused by everyone. Congress government drafted it and BJP government now has backed it. It was misused by Shiv Sena, Trinamool Congress, SP and many others. When the bill was passed, it took just six minutes to pass it. It is the failure of Parliamentarians who were present there as well as those not present there for not having the bill debated before passage. Frankly, it is their failing in protecting the citizens of the country.

There are different views on present social media discourse. Do you think it is enriching democracy?

It is. Someone may agree with your opinion while some other might find it offensive or annoying. But that does not give anyone the right to get someone arrested. We are not in a tyranny. We are not a dictatorship. We are a democracy. When you have a minority, that is where you have to exercise right to free speech. Right of freedom of speech is also the right to dissent. That is what the judges have said.

(Interview appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 16, 2015)

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