NGOs: Voice of Dissent or Agent of Disruption?

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The Foreigners Division in Union Home Ministry seems to be burning midnight oil these days to take on NGOs for the past few months. Since the leakage of an Intelligence Bureau report on NGOs in June last year, the efforts to teach a lesson to those civil society organizations for “putting the clock back” had gathered steam. It is now reaching a crescendo with news spilling out every other day about an NGO coming under the scanner. For authorities, NGOs have suddenly become an “agent of disruption” who should be “contained” even at the cost of facing allegations of muzzling dissent.

On its own, the government apparatus has declared it to be the sole custodian and guardian of “national interest” while those voices of dissent, whether it is an individual or an organization, are branded anti-development and anti-national. No doubt, one has to follow the law of the land. They have to be accountable and transparent. Erring NGOs will have to face music. At the same time, question arises whether the recent overdrive against NGOs stand the question of reason. Does government’s high moral ground on safeguarding country’s interest act as a buffer to stifle rights based protests?

Last two months have witnessed a variety of activities against NGOs despite the Home Ministry having egg on its face after Delhi High Court on at least three occasions ruling against the government. The Ministry was asked to defreeze accounts of Greenpeace at least twice while it also ruled as illegal the offloading of London-bound Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai. Despite the reverses for government, Greenpeace India still faces closure with the government squeezing it with a show cause notice. Ford Foundation has been put on prior permission list while Greenpeace International activist Aaron Gray-Block was denied entry in India, permission to 8,975 NGOs to collect foreign funds were cancelled and draft amendments to make have a real time monitoring of receipt and use of foreign funds – the Home Ministry has been busy throughout this summer.

The latest in this string of actions is the CBI probe into the “misuse” of foreign funds by Teesta Setalvad’s NGO Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace and Sabrang Communication and Publishing Pvt Ltd. If one may find this action curious, he cannot be blamed as Setalvad was in the forefront of a relentless fight against Narendra Modi, then Gujarat Chief Minister.

One may have a view about the whole NGO concept like CPI(M)’s Prakash Karat who wrote one of the finest critiques in 1984 on such outfits. He emphasized the need for a “sustained ideological campaign” against the “pseudo-radical postures” of such action groups. Their role and the question of what interests they serve should be debated. That exactly is not happening. Over a period of times, governments are using strong-arm tactics to deal with them. Government and political leadership have reasons to fear NGOs and it lies in their failure to connect to people and take up their cause. That is why they fear NGOs, which uses their networking and other skills to reach out to the affected masses. NGOs reach out to people who are otherwise not attended by mainstream parties.

If a mainstream politician does not find time and energy to address the concerns of affected parties in a far-off Mahan or Niyamgiri or Narmada or Kudankulam on the pretext of developmental concerns, the victims will flock to those who provide succor. If a government bulldozes development through the throat of common man, then there would be dissent. It is this dissent that government fears as it can turn into hurricane that can question its very existence.

The problem with the government is that it perceives civil society as an extension of governance structure where it is just meant to help officials with reports and suggestions. Government always wants pliable NGOs. They want to create a pool of NGOs which would be sympathetic to them. They have to understand that civil society is not an extension but an independent arm of any democratic set up. In such a scenario, there will be dissent and government will have to listen.

During UPA regime, the consultation with NGOs was institutionalized through National Advisory Council (NAC) but the relationship with the civil society hit a rock bottom as they took on corruption in the government. The NDA government as a whole shares the distrust Prime Minister Narendra Modi has for NGOs. Modi government has heightened the decibel levels, repeating UPA argument that many NGOs are acting against the economic interests of the country. The question remains whether political leadership is listening to grievances of common man. Instead of addressing the grievances, government is, sadly, trying to muzzle dissent in the name of development in which a majority has little stake and only loss of livelihood.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight on June 28, 2015)

Mahan: Flashpoint for Govt and NGOs in India

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Mahan in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli, where one of oldest Sal forests in Asia is battling for its survival, has become the biggest battleground for the government and corporates on one side and civil society on the other. Government and corporates like Essar and Hindalco are trying to unearth the untapped coal to fuel their power projects while NGOs like Greenpeace are battling possible devastation to lives of men and women as well as flora and fauna, and their livelihood.

Several power projects are envisaged in this region with some estimating that around 35,000 MW of power would be generated from the plants situated in the otherwise nondescript Singrauli. Among them, four projects hog the limelight. The Essar-owned Mahan Super Thermal Power project (Unit 1 operational and Unit 2 under construction), Hindalco-owned Mahan Captive Thermal Power project (3 out of 6 units operationalised) and Mahan Aluminium Ltd as well as their joint venture Mahan coal block, meant to supply coal to their power projects. The coal block allocation was recently scrapped by Supreme Court due to irregularities in its distribution.

Both Essar and Hindalco plants plan to draw coal from Mahan coal block, which has some 150 tonnes of coal, but mining cannot be started as clearances are yet to come.

Greenpeace has brought the struggle against the projects in Mahan in international limelight since 2012. “Government is reviewing major environmental laws, including the Forest Rights Act that has been key in protecting forest dwellers. This is why a fight such as Mahan in India is critical,” Greenpeace campaigner Priya Pillai said recently.

In a sense, Pillai became the face of Mahan protests after government offloaded her from a London-bound plane when she was headed to brief UK MPs about the project. It was alleged that Greenpeace used foreign funds to create protests in Mahan and the NGO was acting at the behest of foreign countries to pull back India’s development projects.

The fight is still on in Mahan and one has to wait to see who will have the last laugh. (ENDS)

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight section on June 28, 2015)

‘Baap’ of entertainment, Maa’ of cricket — IPL for Sony

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IPL has always attracted adverse comments from pure sports enthusiasts for its entertainment quotient and its official broadcaster ‘Sony’ wanted it to be a “biggest block buster event” on TV.

In its presentation before the IPL Governing Council in November 2007 while competing for broadcasting rights, the Sony team said, they “want to make IPL the ‘baap’ of entertainment and ‘maa’ of cricket”. By this, the broadcaster meant they wanted to make the event the ultimate sporting extravaganza.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Sony’s emphasis was that IPL should be “shown as an entertainment and not against any sport”. Sony warned that IPL has the power to “kill any sport and any form of cricket”, the minutes said.

Separate anthems for teams and separate team colour were other suggestions from them who also wanted to pitch franchise fans against each other. “Divide the country into various factions to get local regional support,” they said.

It suggested that one of the keys for success would to move beyond male viewers and take steps to “co-opt kid/family” into viewing matches. While Sony did not want to “acquire a franchise as it may make them biased”, one of its competitors Nimbus said broadcaster might be accorded preferential option to acquire a team.

ESPN-Star Sports (ESS) was another in the ring for broadcast rights but Sony, which later tied up with World Sports Group (WSG) won the rights.

After the presentations, IPL governing council members deliberated on the issue with then BCCI Treasurer N Srinivasan pointed out that the broadcaster should enhance the product and not only be valued on money. Then IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi said IPL is a new product and it was a “do or die situation” for them and the reach of the broadcaster was “very important”.

BCCI member Arun Jaitley, now Finance Minister, said it should be ensured that the criterion set for selecting broadcasters should not be stringent else many bidders will not fit the bill and the “value of the bid can/will come down”. The minutes quoted Jaitley as saying, “Hence we need to be flexible and marketing procedures should be predetermined.

The award of media rights to WSG-Sony later ended in controversy with Enforcement Directorate questioning the BCCI decision to guarantee payment of Rs 425 crore to WSG in case Sony refused to pay the agreed facilitation fee.

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

MHA adamant on handling airport security

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Civil Aviation Ministry may want a dedicated force under its control to man airport security but the Union Home Ministry is opposed to the proposal, expressing fear that a force under civilian control could lead to “unionism” and “questionable” standard of discipline.

The demand for a dedicated airport security force was renewed by Civil Aviation Ministry recently after the incident in Karipur (Kozhikode) airport in Kerala where one CISF personnel was killed following a scuffle with airport staff.

Security sources said the Home Ministry and the CISF, which is presently guarding airports across the country, are against such a move saying it would be detrimental to the whole security scenario in the country and they have opposed it.

The Home Ministry’s argument is that CISF is a central paramilitary force and it has established mechanisms of intelligence sharing through agencies like Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and Subsidiary Multi Agency Centre (SMAC). A new force under a different Ministry, sources said, would find this “extremely difficult” to replicate

Emphasising that establishment of any institution has a long gestation period, the official argued that the CISF over the years established itself as a dedicated aviation security force. Any change in this set up would set the “clock back by more than a decade” and expose these vital and sensitive installations to “unwarranted situations and threats”, it said.

It said airports require a “well-trained, competent, professional and disciplined” force due to prevailing threat scenario.

“Any proposal for a separated dispensation like the ASF would fall short on many counts. As a separate component under civilian control, the standard of discipline would be questionable. Unionism too would be an issue any strike at the Airports would be a bad scenario,” the official warned.

An aviation security force under a different ministry would find it difficult to “act optimally” due to co-ordination issues. CISF being part of Home Ministry would be able to ensure real time response thorough collaboration with other agencies, which also fall under its jurisdiction.

Security sources also said CISF has already achieved standardisation in implementation of aviation security rules and procedures across the country, which was “totally” lacking earlier.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on June 27, 2015)

Don’t bring Congressman to meet NaMo, says Lalit Modi to RR

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‘Rajasthan Royals’ officials, who were looking at Gujarat as its second venue, wanted to meet then Chief Minister Narendra Modi but IPL chief Lalit Modi cautioned them against bringing a man who was perceived to be close to Congress for the meeting.

A well-connected man, Lalit knew the need for not offending prominent personalities and that was why he advised them in September 2009 not to bring one ‘Ranjit’ for a meeting with Modi, who was also the president of Gujarat Cricket Association.

It was not known whether Rajasthan Royals met Narendra Modi following this.

Rajasthan Royals Vice Chairman Santanu Chari wrote an email to Lalit on September 16, 2009 seeking his help in setting up a meeting for ‘Ranjit’ and himself with Narendra Modi and office bearers in the next two weeks to work out key relationships.

They wanted to start interaction with office bearers to work out IPL plans and also hospitality and ticketing issues. Chari said he wanted to check with Lalit his “thoughts or anything that we should consider” as they wanted to meet the newly constituted Gujarat Cricket Association office bearers and build relationships.

Lalit replied two-and-half hours later saying let him meet Modi, whom he projected as someone who was close to him, first. He also said he did not want politics to seep into IPL.

“Let me meet him first. I am meeting him on Sunday. Ranjit – no. Seen as Congressman. Operating team to do that. I don’t want politics here. They will do what’s needed. He is very close to me,” Lalit’s reply said.

The mails were also marked to Rajasthan Royals co-owners Manoj Badale and Suresh Chellaram, who is Lalit’s brother-in-law.

While Chari thanked him for “the advice”, Badale replied to Lalit’s mail saying it “makes sense”.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on June 26, 2015)

BCCI bigwigs never challenged Lalit in IPL meetings!!

Lalit Modi’s colleagues in BCCI seem to have given him a long rope as they “hardly” discussed or expressed dissent on decisions taken by the former IPL Chairman.

Former cricketer Ravi Shastri has told Enforcement Directorate that he does “not remember” any member objecting to any major decision” taken by Modi.

Former BCCI Chairmen Sharad Pawar and Shashank Manohar and other cricket administrators N Srinivasan, Arun Jaitley and Rajiv Shukla were among those who attended IPL Governing Council meetings chaired by Modi.

Shastri, who was inducted into the IPL Governing Council, said he agreed to be part of IPL as he thought it was a “unique and much needed concept for the game to evolve”. Shastri, a former all rounder, is presently Indian cricket team Director.

While recording his statement in August 2011, the ED specifically asked him about the decision making process of IPL Governing Council.

“I was not involved in the minute details of the League and my role was limited to advising the IPL on cricketing issues. The major decisions were taken by Modi since he was the Chairman of the IPL. I can say that there was hardly any discussion regarding the decisions taken by Modi and generally his decisions were ratified by the Governing Council,” Shastri said.

To another question whether any issue was discussed and deliberated in the Governing Council before a final decision was taken, he said till IPL3 (2010), there was “hardly any discussion in the meetings” and the decisions taken by Modi were approved in the meeting.

“Generally the decisions were communicated in the minutes or in the subsequent meeting of the Governing Council. After IPL3, decisions are taken after thorough inspection in the Governing Council,” he said.

Queried whether any objection was raised against any decision taken by Modi, he said he does not remember any member objecting to any major decision taken by the then IPL chief.

Shastri was also asked about agreement signed with domestic and foreign players and negotiations with foreign cricket boards to which he answered that he was not involved in such exercises.

He said Pawar approached informing him, Sunil Gavaskar and M A K Pataudi about the concept of IPL. Modi briefed Shastri in 2007 about IPL.

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

Lalit’s fight with Srini continues

Former IPL chief Lalit Modi has made a sensational allegation in his latest response to Enforcement Directorate that former BCCI president N Srinivasan’s actions cost the cricketing body a whopping Rs 2,882.04 crore.

In his 76-page defence to a 54-page showcause notice on irregularities in awarding media rights of IPL, Modi declined to take responsibility for the actions and sought to shift the blame to Srinivasan and others.

The latest reply filed on April 30 was in response to the showcause notice on the Rs 425 crore facilitation fee paid by MSM Singapore to WSG Mauritius. In this issue, notices were issued to 14 people that included Srinivasan and then COO of IPL Sundar Raman.

After recording statements of several officials of BCCI, Sony, WSG and others, the ED said Modi was “actively involved” in the negotiations on media rights. The ED complaint has also spoken about Modi trying to circumvent procedures to help WSG Mauritius get facilitation fee, which agencies are investigating whether it went to Modi’s coffers.

In the written response prepared by his lawyers that was posted on his website late Monday night, Modi claimed that Srinivasan reduced the number of IPL matches, gave up free commercial time of 150 second per match as well as theatre rights to help MSM.

According to Modi, BCCI lost Rs 1,255.44 crore due to reducing number of matches, Rs 869.60 crore due to loss caused giving commercial exploitation of commercial time, Rs 560 crore by giving up entertainment rights and another Rs 197 crore for giving theatrical rights. Modi arrived at these figures using his own calculations.

Srinivasan could not be reached for his comments on the fresh allegations. While recording his statement with ED in July 2010, Srinivasan said that Modi handled the media rights issue on his own and the IPL Governing Council had no role in it.

Modi, in a post in his website, claimed the ED has not found any “misdemeanour on my part” and “concluded responsibility in BCCI was collective rather than individual”. He said 16 show cause notices were served on him and he has replied to every single one.

Modi’s fight with Srinivasan is not new, as both had crossed swords earlier also. However, in earlier responses to ED notices, Modi had not made such allegations though he had put the onus on Srinivasan for the irregularities in other issues like receiving performance deposits from franchise deposit.

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

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