CWG, Kalmadi, Indian Media and Paid News

Few days ago, I saw a status message on the Facebook page of a very senior and respected investigative journalist. The message was: “How many journalists are willing to admit that their bosses in channels, newspapers and magazines actually blatantly refused to carry anti-CWG stories before July 2010 because of advertising carrot that CWG was offering to media organisations? Isn’t it true that media was also warming up to be part of this racket till CWG went bust and the media organisations realised that there is no money to be earned from it?”

It was a very valid argument as the negative news reports with regard to Commonwealth Games 2010 and its Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi suddenly increased after July. A series of investigative news reports by various newspapers/TV channels have given sufficient hint of a large-scale corruption in the organisation of the games. But the main point here is why was media silent for so long.

Canary Trap brings you exclusive details of deals that were proposed and made with regard to “positive media coverage” for CWG 2010. We have constantly highlighted the malaise of paid news phenomenon through our posts but this goes beyond the “paid news” phenomenon.

According to sources in the CWG OC, sometime in October last year, Suresh Kalmadi met with officials of top media companies and urged them to support the games. He focused on the English media as he was advised that it was a preferred choice of the opinion makers.

During this time, a leading English newspaper (with largest circulation in India) sent a proposal to Kalmadi for positive coverage of the Commonwealth Games in November 2009. The entire deal was worth Rs 12.19 crore. The media group wanted an “Official Newspaper” status for its flagship newspaper.

As a part of its exhaustive coverage, the newspaper promised special features, CWG quiz, seminars, marathon in major cities and towns, Q&As, and even a coffee table book.

The proposal stated: “We do not solicit any financial assistance from CWG for the above activities apart from the regular advertising support for encouragement.”

The newspaper proposal lists down the content plan for CWG 2010, while also clearly mentioning that some of its editorials will solely focus on the Games in a credible non-advertising format. The proposal mentions editorial content plan for milestone days (Republic Day – Jan 26, Commonwealth Day – March 8, QBR reaching India – June 25, 50 days to go – August 14, and September 15).

The proposal lists its benefits wherein it mentions that the proposed coverage plan has the “potential to form opinions of the public at large”. And then comes the clincher. It says: “It is also expected that with the influence that the ‘Response’ department has over editorial, the OC can get neutral and positive coverage from now to the Games.”

The media group also hinted that if the proposal is accepted it would consider beneficial and extended deals with its other properties (Internet, TV, Radio).

Click here to read the proposal

Kalmadi also received a similar proposal from another leading English daily, which claims to have highest circulation in Delhi. Eventually, the deal was finalised with the latter for a sum of around Rs 9 crore, sources say.

The only question that arises here is: Had Kalmadi agreed to a deal with the former, would they have still gone ahead with kind of negative coverage of the Games that they are doing now?

Same is the case with the electronic media. Two top English news channels were competing to get the “Official Broadcast Partner” status from the CWG. The first channel in question is a pioneer in English news in India and the second one is run by a distinguished editor who also worked for the first one. Anyways, the deal in this case went in favour of the second channel and the former suddenly woke up to the CWG mess and started doing investigative stories on alleged corruption in the organising of the Games.

As mentioned above, Canary Trap has highlighted the Press Council of India’s allegedly diluted report on paid news, which states that self-regulation is the best option to check this problem. But after going through the above details and documents, one can easily imagine what kind of self-regulation the media companies can/will undertake.

Vinod Mehta, the Editor-in-Chief of the Outlook group, had recently written in one of his articles that Indian media doesn’t do introspection. He goes on to say that while the media advises our MPs, political parties, militants, judges, scientists and many others to look deep inside their trade and clean up the rot, it has studiously ignored or airbrushed the rot creeping into the fourth estate.

(This post in no way suggests that allegations against the CWG OC should be over-looked. It only highlights the problem of paid news in the Indian media.)

Is the Nuclear Liability Bill good for India?

BY GOPAL KRISHNA

While British Petroleum (BP) is facing a bill of up to $34 billion from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster after US senators demanded the oil company deposited $20 billion (about Rs 92000 crore) into a ring-fenced account to meet escalating compensation costs, the way Indian legislators are agreeing to a Rs 1500 crore cap on nuclear disaster from large nuclear power plants, Rs 300 crore cap for institutions involved in reprocessing fuel and  Rs 100 crore cap for small research reactors is unacceptable and condemnable.

Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission and ex-officio Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, one of the drafters of the Bill is guilty of ignoring the consequences of possible nuclear disaster because his text has privatized profits and made liabilities public. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is in-charge of Department of Atomic Energy, appears to be guilty of dereliction of duty as well.

The Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests chaired by T Subbirami Reddy reveals their culpability quite categorically. This report was tabled in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha on August 18, 2010 (Report attached at the end of the post). What else can explain their indifference towards other concerned ministries like Health, Agriculture, Labour, Water Resources etc. Aren’t they relevant? What can explain the lack of consensus among the committee members even in matters of national interest?

India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 is meant to pave the way for India to sign International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) for Nuclear Damage, 1997. The question that stares citizens in the face is: whether or not the proposed liability Bill and the pre-existing IAEA’s compensation treaty in the supreme interest of present and future generation of Indians?   If India decides to join the CSC, it will be an exercise in surrendering its sovereignty to a conflict of interest ridden regime like IAEA which is both the promoter and regulator of nuclear commerce. Like IAEA, India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is dependent on the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) whose mandate is to charge with promoting nuclear power in India.

The Parliamentary Committee enquired from Nirupama Rao, the Foreign Secretary, that “whether there are other considerations apart from the legal requirements that necessitated the Bill.” She informed that “since the Government is operating within the ambit of international agreements and on the basis of certain principles the nation should have provisions of the Nuclear Liability Bill.”

This was further corroborated by two members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, Saman Pathak and Barun Mukherji. Both have observed categorically that the provisions of the Bill will unduly favour the foreign suppliers of nuclear equipment and it is being done to make the provisions compatible with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC).  Like all Indians both these members are not convinced with the rationale of India joining the CSC because this legislation on civil nuclear liability does not “keep the interests of the Indian people, who may be affected in a nuclear accident, as its core concern”.

In its 25 page report on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests observes, “When the Committee inquired from the Secretaries of Ministries/Departments of Government of India who appeared before the Committee as to whether the draft nuclear liability Bill was referred to them for their views/comments, some of them viz. Ministries of Health & Family Welfare, Agriculture, Labour & Employment, Food & Public Distribution, etc. replied in the negative. The Committee is of the opinion that Government must have sought the opinion of Ministries which are even distantly related to any provision of the legislation. The Committee, therefore, recommends that in future Government should consult all such Ministries/Departments which are even remotely concerned with the provisions of a proposed legislation.”

Radioactive contamination

It is noteworthy that the 25-member working group on Civil Nuclear Energy 2009, constituted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) under the chairmanship of Dr S K Jain (Chairman and MD, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) came out with a 57-page report with the format of the proposed Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. Dr Jain was present during the testimony of the experts and citizens to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests. The government of India has an ambitious target “to increase our installed capacity more than seven fold to 35,000 MWe by the year 2022, and to 60,000 MWe by 2032.” Established in pre-independent India in 1927, FICCI is the largest and oldest apex business organization of the country. It claims to be a “non-government, not-for-profit organisation”. FICCI has direct membership from the private as well as public sectors, including SMEs and MNCs, and an indirect membership of over 83,000 companies from regional chambers of commerce. As part of its corporate lobbying, “FICCI works closely with the government on policy issues, enhancing efficiency, competitiveness and expanding business opportunities for industry through a range of specialised services and global linkages. It also provides a platform for sector specific consensus-building and networking.” In such conflict of interest ridden circumstances, Dr Jain claimed that the health hazards from Chernobyl nuclear disaster is no more visible. Therefore, he implied that the questions of inter-generational adverse effects do not arise. Are his claims factual and trustworthy?

Under the influence of FICCI and US nuclear industry, Dr T. Subbarami Reddy, Dr Mammohan Singh and Dr Srikumar Banerjee have chosen not to learn from the mistakes of US firms who embarked on a nuclear power strategy under the assumption that the radioactive waste management problem was not difficult and would be solved relatively quickly. Subsequent events have proved otherwise because radioactive waste management efforts are quite different from industrial and municipal waste management.

Observations of G K Pillai (Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs) illustrate how Banerjee has not been rigorous in the drafting of the Bill. While commenting on the conditions in which the operator of a nuclear power plant, who could be made liable for nuclear damage, Pillai stated that the Bill contains such terms as armed conflict, hostilities, civil war, insurrection or an act of terrorism that have wide meanings but have not been defined in the present Bill. Therefore there is a need for inserting meanings of these terms from other laws, in Section 2 of this Bill. Such vagueness in connotations can make the operators negligent in observing security procedures and can create situations of disputes between the operator and the central government.

It is frightening to know that any nuclear incident may induce radioactive contaminations in surface, ground water bodies, and other water resources. U N Panjiar (Secretary, Water Resources) was of the opinion that the Ministry does not have any facility for testing water quality, from point of view of nuclear contamination because this work has been done by the DAE. The efficiency of Department of Atomic Energy gets routinely revealed in issues ranging from radioactive steel, ship breaking industry, Mayapuri scrap market, Kaiga incident etc. Didn’t AERB reveal its incompetence when it declared Mayapuri scrap market radiation free when it was proven later that the radiation still existed in the area? Didn’t it do the same after inspecting the obsolete ship Blue Lady?

While Secretary, DAE responded by saying that Ministry of Water Resources has not been involved in checking and monitoring the quality of water because this job is done by the Environmental Survey Laboratories of the DAE, the fact remains the Bill should have been sent to the Water Resources Ministry as well because Department of Atomic Energy deals with point source of radioactive pollution and not with non-point source of pollution. It is saddening that Ministry of Water Resources conceded that since expertise is available in DAE alone, the Ministry need not be consulted. Panjiar rightly stressed upon the need to study the impact of nuclear contaminated water on human beings, animals, plants and crops. The Bill does not make any provision for such efforts.

In such a context it is germane to recollect that more than 51 years ago, on May 28, 1959, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) assembly voted into force an agreement with the IAEA, a UN agency that prevented the WHO from investigating, warning and revealing the dangers of nuclear radiation on health (Agreement attached at the end of the post).

Health concerns

Coincidentally, K Sujata Rao (Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) while deposing before the Parliamentary Standing Committee mentioned that “while drafting the Bill the DAE did not consult them. Since the response system to deal with any kind of emergency of such type, the hospitals are not well-equipped, it is natural that mortality and morbidity due to multiple burn, blasts, radiation injuries and psycho-social impact could be on very high scale and medical tackling of such a large emergency could have enough repercussions in the nearby areas of radioactive fallout.  She also mentioned that in the entire Bill, there is not a single clause which speaks about taking health care during radiological emergencies. It reflects only about payment of compensation due to health impacts of such radiation. She suggested while setting up nuclear plants consideration may also be given to the fact that there should be hospital having trained doctors near such establishments and arrangements should also be made for free treatment of people who are affected by serious nuclear fallout.” She confessed that her Ministry is nowhere to meet an eventuality that may arise out of nuclear and radiological emergencies.

Objectives of Health Ministry and DAE are at loggerheads in the same way as objectives of WHO and IAEA are. The former is dedicated to promoting health and the latter exists to promote nuclear commerce. Under the agreement, the UN two agencies must “keep each other fully informed concerning all projected activities and all programs of work which may be of interest to both parties”. Notably, probe into the health impacts of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine on April 26, 1986 was taken over by IAEA and dissenting voices were suppressed. The health effects of the nuclear accident were the subject of two major conferences, in Geneva in 1995, and in Kiev (Ukraine) in 2001. The full proceedings of those conferences remain unpublished (Conclusions of the Kiev Conference attached at the end of the post). The Kiev conference was organised by WHO Association of “Physicians of Chernobyl” in co-operation with UN agencies. There is no evidence to suggest that our DAE or the Parliamentary Standing Committee had accessed the documents of these conferences and drew lessons from it.

IAEA’s International Conference on Chernobyl – Looking Back to Go Forwards Towards a United Nations Consensus on the Effects of the Accident and the Future in Vienna on September 2005 was a public relations exercise by the nuclear industry that promoted such risk models for nuclear radiation that understated the true hazards. Chris Busby, the scientific secretary of European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) and visiting professor at the University of Ulster’s School of Biomedical Sciences observes, “The subordination of the WHO to IAEA is a key part of the systematic falsification of nuclear risk which has been under way ever since Hiroshima, the agreement creates an unacceptable conflict of interest in which the UN organisation concerned with promoting our health has been made subservient to those whose main interest is the expansion of nuclear power. Dissolving the WHO-IAEA agreement is a necessary first step to restoring the WHO’s independence to research the true health impacts of ionising radiation and publish its findings.”

Disregarding lessons from 26 years of Bhopal disaster, even in the 24th anniversary year of the Chernobyl disaster the WHO-IAEA Agreement is yet to be abandoned. ECRR has called for its abandonment. India too should call for freeing WHO from hiding facts about health effect from nuclear hazards due to the agreement.

Amidst public relations blitzkrieg of nuclear companies, it is not surprising that Banerjee (DAE Secretary) expressed his touching faith in the nuclear power companies of all ilk and informed the Parliamentary Committee that the “Reactor at Chernobyl did not have a containment, while old reactors in India have containment and, therefore, Chernobyl type incident can never take place in India.” Is it because of such divine belief in the nuclear technology that he was starkly negligent in choosing not to consult relevant ministries while drafting the Bill? Is it for this very reason that doctrine of “absolute liability” for the operator, supplier, builder and owner has been subverted?  Business enterprises are “strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all those who are affected by the accident and such liability is not subject to any of the exceptions which operate vis-à-vis the tortuous principle of strict liability,” as per Supreme Court’s order. The liability of the operator should be made “absolute” to ensure that there are no exceptions.

The Bill ignores the fact that Union Carbide Corporation was also in the business of nuclear power and its current owner, The Dow Chemicals Company (since February 6, 2001), too offers a range of nuclear grade resins that are designed and manufactured to meet the requirements of the nuclear power industry. As part of its ‘policy perspectives’ to “accelerate development of alternatives and renewable energy”, Dow calls for “an increased reliance on safe nuclear power and technologies for effectively managing nuclear waste”. Radioactive waste is not a single “thing” that can be isolated and dealt with.

Reddy, Singh and Banerjee should have recommended more openness, increased public access to information so that no agency hides problems to be solved by the future generations. Current draft of the Bill is doing so.

Poor disaster management

This is illustrated by what Alka Sirohi (Secretary, Department of Food & Public Distribution) informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee. While explaining the functioning of her Ministry, she emphasized the ill-effects of nuclear radiation on food items and its subsequent repercussions on human health and safeguards to be taken to prevent nuclear contamination of food during radiological accidents. She further mentioned although radiological damage to food items may fall within the generic definition of the property as mentioned in Clause 2f (ii) of the Bill, it would be better if the said Clause could provide a separate definition food-grains along with of storage of food-grains. Additionally she also mentioned that safety norms, distance, location and operating procedure, which should be defined in the Bill during the construction of the warehouses for food-grains storage to be followed, near a nuclear facility. She also mentioned about the establishment of laboratories for the standard testing of food articles to ascertain radiation levels. Sirohi merits appreciation for her considered submission before the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The Bill remains silent on the grave issues raised by Prabeer Kumar Basu (Secretary, Agriculture) before the Committee. According to him the disaster management structure in the country is oriented in such a manner that emergencies arising out of floods, earthquakes and droughts could be managed in an efficient manner. However, on the other hand, unfortunately the disaster management structure in the country, as per his opinion, is not well tailored in meeting radiological fall out and more unfortunate to mention that even educated section of the people is not well aware about the implications of a serious nuclear disaster. He therefore, felt that more public awareness needs to be built in respect of nuclear disaster and its hair-raising impact on biological population. He further pointed out that as a consequence of a nuclear disaster of the Chernobyl type, it is quite possible that agricultural crops around 30 to 100 km from the site of the incident could be wiped totally. This may affect seriously the biodiversity of the crops in the radiation area and the farmer may loose their traditional variety of crops. In this connection he mentioned that the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources and Gene Bank in the country who are keeping a sample of each variety of crops can preserve these varieties which could be planted for further production if a variety of crops is entirely lost due to radiological emergency. He however, mentioned that there should be suitable rules, regulations and guidelines and compensation model for agricultural damage that could be inserted at an appropriate place in the legislation which may work after a radiological eventuality takes place.

Further revealing the criminal negligence of the drafters of the Bill, Prabhat C Chatirvedi (Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment), while referring to Clause 5 (1)(i), which provides for non-liability of operator for any nuclear damage arising out of a grave natural disaster of an exceptional character, pointed out that grave natural disaster should not include earthquakes or floods. He advised the Committee that if nuclear plant is placed in a seismic zone, it should be properly designed to withstand earthquake of severe character. The word natural disaster is too general. He further mentioned that concept of absolute liability of the operator in case of a nuclear damage whether it is on worker or someone else should be invoked in the Bill.  The Secretary, while referring to Clause 39 (1) of the Bill, drew the attention of the Committee that no specific monetary quantum has been mentioned in regard to the fine to be imposed under the chapter on offenses and penalties. He therefore, suggested that specific quantum of fine in monetary terms should be defined in the Bill.

In compliance of the suggestion of Chairperson, Parliamentary Standing Committee Science & Technology, Environment & Forests during my testimony on August 3, 2010 and pursuant to my written submission dated July 7, 2010, Toxicswatch Alliance (TWA) had specifically drawn the attention of the Parliamentary Standing Committee with regard to the narrow definition of the word “installation” and conflict of interest ridden existence of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). In a letter to the Parliamentary Standing Committee dated August 12, 2010, TWA has highlighted the backdrop of the deliberations on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. Meera Shankar (Indian Ambassador to the US) and William Burns (US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs) signed the Agreement on Arrangements and Procedures for Reprocessing on July 30, 2010 in pursuance to Article 6(iii) of the Agreement for Cooperation concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy between India and the US. TWA has questioned the merit of centralised power stations like nuclear stations given 35-40 percent transmission and distribution loss from power grids.

Secretary, Financial Services submitted before the Parliamentary Committee that “any increase in premium of insurance will lead to increase in the cost of production of electricity for nuclear power. It is argued that higher the liability limit higher will be the insurance premium and subsequently higher will be the cost of electricity production.”  Unmindful of such concerns its business as usual for the US nuclear companies and FICCI. A press release from the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC noted, “The historic bilateral cooperation agreement for peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the 123 Agreement that we signed two years back provided for reprocessing of US obligated nuclear material in an Indian national facility under IAEA safeguards.”

Issue of radioactive waste

It observes, “The government of India has already designated two sites for nuclear power plants to be established in cooperation with the US and the companies of the two countries are now engaged in discussions” as a follow up of the last month’s Strategic Dialogue and the meeting of the CEO’s Forum prior to the visit of President Barack Obama to India in November 2010.

Reddy, Dr Singh and Banerjee have failed to discourage nuclear power companies to locate “sinks” like deep waters of ocean, sea, rivers, air and landfills etc in which it could dump, flush, or vent radioactive waste products. They have skirted the issue of India’s radioactive waste management and it should desist from NIMBY-ism. NIMBY stands for “Not In My Back Yard”. The US state of Nevada is fighting a classic NIMBY battle against the Yucca Mountain facility. In India too, communities should be empowered and not harassed for asserting their right to safe environment and the rights of future generations. It was once argued that reprocessing spent nuclear fuel was another important waste management strategy. Although the act of reprocessing still generated volatile waste products which exacerbated the waste management problem even as it reduced the overall volume of radioactive waste material but it only made radioactive waste problem a long-term disposal option. Notably, US itself has stopped reprocessing nuclear fuel during the late 1970s by order of President Jimmy Carter.

Reddy, Dr Singh and Banerjee do not realize that the difficulties with radioactive waste cannot be dealt with by imposing a legislative fix on a problem that has not been clearly defined or fully understood. Such legislative fixes are hardly a solution as became evident from US Nuclear Waste Repository Act of 1982 and a 1987 Congressional amendment to the Act which mandated consideration of only one location, Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository leading to major litigation as well as significant opposition from people in the US state of Nevada. Nuclear power cannot and should not expand in India as is the case with the US until the problem of where to dispose of radioactive waste is solved.

The Secretary, Ministry of Power apprised the Committee about the Clause 3 of the Bill, wherein the notification regarding the occurrence of a nuclear incident is to be issued within 15 days by the AERB. According to him, “the nuclear power station incharge/director will immediately declare nuclear emergency, and forthwith the disaster management plan will start, without waiting for the publication of the notification and the 15 days time-period also needs to be reduced. “ This is quite sensible but it appears that DAE did not consult even the Power Ministry.

Testimony after testimony before the Committee had asked for deletion of the word terrorism from the Bill but the same is not reflected in the Committee’s report despite the fact that Pradeep Kumar (Defence Secretary), who also appeared before the Committee categorically stated, “under different layers of protection, nuclear assets including nuclear installations are being protected through Defence. However he admitted that absolute and fool proof protection cannot be guaranteed for any nuclear or other assets in the country during peace or war.” Exceptions for acts of terrorism can easily be used by the supplier and the operator to wash their hands off any nuclear disaster.

In view of the above observations, there is a very urgent need for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (sans conflict of interest) to probe and examine the current liability regime in general and nuclear liability regime in particular in the developed countries besides a High Powered Trans-disciplinary Independent Experts Committee to study the status of adverse enviro-occupational hazards world over. Human cost of industrial disasters have create compelling logic to do away with the idea of limited liability to companies, the proposed Companies Bill should make a beginning in order to make these legal-artificial persons accountable to our legislature.

Documents Attached with the post:

Parliamentary Standing Committee Report on N-Bill
WHO-IAEA Agreement
Conclusions of the Kiev Conference

(Gopal Krishna is a social activist and lawyer. He is a guest writer with Canary Trap.)

PCI’s final report on “paid news” a sham?

As promised, Canary Trap is back with updates on the paid news controversy that has hit the Press Council of India (PCI). I told you about the objections of the powerful lobby in the PCI to the draft report which exposed the corrupt practices of some media houses during the Lok Sabha polls 2009 and the subsequent Maharashtra Assembly polls.

The draft report, prepared by a two member sub-committee of the PCI (Kalimekolan Sreenivas Reddy and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta), was discussed in detail by the PCI at its two meetings (Indore and New Delhi) held on March 31 and April 26, 2010. After suggestions from the members, a drafting committee was formed to prepare the final report for the consideration of the council. The 12-member committee included H N Cama, Lalit Mangotra, U C Sharma, Y C Halan, K Sreenivas Reddy, Kalyan Barooah, S N Sinha, Anil Jugal Kishore Agarwal, Kundn R L Vyas, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, P Javadekar, and Keshav Rao.

The final report of the PCI is nothing but an exercise in futility. The report is so watered down that if one compares it with the draft report, the extent of corruption in the media itself gets exposed. Let me explain it to you point-by-point.

  • The draft report was 71 pages long (around 36,000 words) and the final report has just 13 pages. A little over 3 pages have been wasted in listing down the guidelines of the PCI (this can be easily downloaded from their official site) with regard to poll coverage. The most notable difference between the two reports is that while the draft report listed specific instances of paid news with the names of media publications, the final report does not mention even a single name. This, at a time when the entire Indian media is going all-out against the corruption in the Commonwealth Games 2010.
  • While the draft report highlighted the innovative concept of “private treaties” practiced by companies like Bennett, Coleman Company Limited in great detail, the final report only makes a minor mention of it (hardly a paragraph). The draft report mentions SEBI’s letter to the PCI regarding “private treaties” and its suggestion to deal with the problem. But the final report has surprisingly failed to mention that.
  • The final report focuses only on the paid news incidents observed during the Lok Sabha polls 2009. It ignores the paid news incidents during Maharashtra Assembly polls (many of which were prominently highlighted by noted journalist P Sainath in his article in The Hindu).
  • The final report strangely states that self-regulation is the best option to check the “paid news” phenomenon, and at the same time admits that it offers only partial solutions to the problem.
  • The most shocking part of the final report is the footnote at the end of the report which states: “The Council decided that the report of the Sub-Committee may remain on record of the Council as reference document.” The draft report was not even added as an annex to the final document.
  • Another footnote states: “The issue of strengthening the Working Journalists Act to be taken up separately.” According to P Sainath, the members “acted as owners and employers, not as members of the PCI guarding the integrity of the press and its standards.”

To fully understand the fraud that has been committed on the people of this country, I have uploaded both the reports. You can click on the links below to read them and arrive at your own conclusions.

The “watered down” report came out with recommendations to tackle the problem of paid news. They are:

  • Representation of the People Act 1951 be amended to make incidence of paid news a punishable electoral malpractice.
  • The Press Council of India must be fully empowered to adjudicate the complaints of “paid news” and give final judgement in the matter.
  • Press Council Act be amended to make its recommendations binding and electronic media be brought under its purview.
  • Press Council of India should be reconstituted to include representatives from electronic and other media.

READ MORE HERE:
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta interview
Who voted how in the Press Council meeting

Why banning BlackBerry is not the answer?

What would the Indian Government do in case they have to monitor something and they don’t have the technological competence to do so? You guessed it right; BAN IT. That is exactly what it has threatened to do in its latest tussle with Canada-based Research in Motion (makers of BlackBerry phones).

And its not just BlackBerry. The government wants RIM, Skype, and Gmail to make available the data going through their networks in a readable format to the security agencies. Also, the Home Ministry has directed the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to put all the 3G plans on hold till it puts in place an infrastructure to monitor it. Now what is the logic of putting a spanner in the already delayed launch of 3G in India? Who is accountable for such gross incompetence? Accountability, it seems, is a word that should be taken off from Indian dictionaries.

The idea of this post was to rebuff the Indian Government’s arguments for monitoring these devices by raising the bogey of national security.

Let’s start with BlackBerry. The government wants to monitor two elements of the BlackBerry phones: BlackBerry Mail and BlackBerry Messenger

BB mail is securely transferred through BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (BES). RIM is the only company which manages data sent via its phones through its own global networks. In the case of other phones, like Apple iPhone, the data is managed by either the telecom operator or by customers. This is what makes BlackBerry unique.

The mails (official/business) sent using BES are most secure as that is one of the main reason why corporate organizations select BlackBerry over any other smartphone. BlackBerry’s contention that it does not have any master key to give the government a back door access to its system is true as the data sent through BB is encrypted at the BES located at the organization which uses it and is decrypted only at the BB user’s device. Hence if the government wants to access the data sent by BB users, it can directly approach the organizations that use BES for its communications.

The government’s contention that terrorists might use BB’s secured services to communicate also falls flat because of the extensive identification process that one has to undergo to get his/her BES services activated.

And now that RIM has agreed to give ‘lawful’ access to the security agencies what is the guarantee that the government will not spy on legitimate communication (personal, business, legal) between citizens. Given the Indian Government’s record in illegally tapping phones, there is a huge possibility of them using the access to BB devices to monitor communications of business leaders, journalists, social activists, political rivals, and bureaucrats among others.

RIM has said that it will only allow Indian security agencies to legally monitor the data of its subscribers, which the latter is not willing to consider.

“The only time it allows carriers to access the data sent via BlackBerry devices is in the case of national security situations, and even then, only as governed by the country’s judicial oversight and rules of law,” RIM said in a statement.

Will monitoring BB’s data services on a real-time basis decrease the possibility of terror attacks? Some terrorists may have been using modern technology but India’s failure in preventing terror attacks primarily has been poor intelligence gathering on the ground. The manner in which the terror cells (sponsored by Pakistan) operate in India is so sophisticated that one cannot penetrate it without proper human intelligence.

This brings us to the point of government’s efforts to monitor Gmail data too. The argument for doing so is same as it is with BB. But does the government know that even if they monitor mails, people can still pass on messages using the same mailbox without getting detected. The modus operandi (shown in the movie Traitor) is very easy.

  • Log in to the mail account (for eg: Yahoo, Gmail)
  • Write a mail
  • Once complete, save it instead of sending it (remember, do not press send)
  • Log out

Give the user details to the person who you want to communicate with and he/she can login and read the mail in the “drafts” folder. This way the mails are undetected as they are not sent.

The Indian Government and the security agencies have to realize that monitoring communications is one way of getting raw intel data but not a sure-shot way to prevent terror attacks or catch terrorists.

Had it been the case, the US government would have captured Osama bin Laden by now. With billions of dollars in budget, sophisticated surveillance equipment, satellites, drones and soldiers on the ground, the US has no clue about where Osama is. The last time they tracked Osama was when he used a satphone. After locating his position based on the tracking data, the US launched cruise missiles to kill him but he survived. Since then, the most wanted terrorist has never used a satphone. And even if he has, nobody knows when and how.

The point I am trying to make is one can invest in electronic surveillance and all that but it is not a full proof way to secure our country. This is substantiated by a report which has prepared a list of top 10 intelligence agencies of the world. Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) — one of the least funded agency among the top 10 — is the most feared intelligence agency in the world, whereas the US’s CIA — despite being the largest and richest — stands at No. 4 position.

India’s R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing), by the way, stands at No. 9 in the list.

Peepli Live: A brilliant farce on India, its Politics, Media and People

BY SATYEN K. BORDOLOI
Director: Anusha Rizvi
Actors: Omkar Das, Raghuvir Yadav, Shalini Vatsa, Malaika Shenoy, Vishal Sharma, Nowaz
Rating:
4 out of 5

Watching Peepli Live makes you wonder – does Aamir Khan possess a magic lamp? Of course, the film is not about this Midas-touch man. Yet it is about him. Because every year scores of beautiful films like this one never reach your eyeballs.

A simple comment, “Brother what will happen if our land goes”, a satirical song Desh Mera by Indian Ocean and a ride on a rickety transport locally called ‘Jugaad’ opens the film and sets the mood. The transport where everyone hangs for a ride and our ‘hero’ pukes out of is an analogy for India.

Brothers Natha (Omkar) and Budhiya (Raghuvir) are two ‘insignificant’ farmers barely living in the CM’s constituency. Like farmers everywhere, no one gives a damn about them. A stray, drunk comment by Natha reported by a local stringer that he will commit suicide to get govt. compensation, sets off a chain of events that sees the national media camped in this rustic village and Natha becoming a national celebrity. With politics embroidered in his life and one faction pressuring him to die, and the other rooting for his life, the question that looms like the Sword of Damocles is whether he will live or die?

Though the basic story is inspired by the 1951 Billy Wilder film Ace in The Hole, the satire, the pun, the rural touch makes it entirely Indian. Anusha Rizvi with her brilliant direction makes us roll with laughter, cry and squirm with disgust.

And all because Peepli Live (a pun on ‘People Live’) is not fiction, but a mirror to our disgusting society, politics, government, media and each one of us. It stamps a hard slap at the bloated sense of existence of each.

And like a good satire, it is filled with brilliant observations like the contrast between an obnoxious Hindi media and the uncaring, elite English media. Add this to the satirical attention to detail (a patient trying to hang his own saline bottle), the juxtaposition of dialogues and images (the psychological analysis of Natha’s excreta on national television), the subtle surrealism (Natha on a bride-horse, the emaciated earth digger) etc. and you’ll see seer brilliance. One must also thank the Censor Board for not cutting out curse words, giving us an actual feel of how life really is.

The acting of theatre veterans is spot on.

There are a lot of hints made at actual figures and companies e.g. the American company Monsanto responsible for thousands of farmer’s suicide in India, becomes Sonmento.

Hopefully the film will stir you into realizing that the after air and water, food is most crucial for our existence and it is these dying farmers (at least 15 thousand of whom committed suicide every year) who toil to make them. With their death, dies our civilization.

In the land of the blind, the one eyed is king. Aamir Khan’s magic genie is common sense. He knows that all that a film needs to succeed is a heart-tugging story, good performance and direction. A film that would otherwise have died at the festival circuits gets a new life by Aamir’s genius for promotion. What remains to be seen is whether he will become the god of small films. The way Bollywood is going, it is in urgent need of one.

(Satyen Bordoloi is a guest writer with Canary Trap. You can read his blog at 0-9 – A-Z)

Mining Mess: Open letter to Manmohan Singh

To
The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India,
Govt of India,
South Block,
New Delhi
6th August 2010

Re: Nationalisation/Resumption of Iron Ore Mining valued at over Two Trillion Dollars

Dear Hon’ble  Prime Minister,

I write as a citizen, one among the 125 crores, for whose beneficiary interest you are the trustee in chief, for the minerals resources in general and iron resources in particular.

That these resources are covered by the doctrine of public trust has been clarified by the Supreme Court in RNRL vs RIL and others, (better known as Anil Ambani vs Mukesh Ambani). The court held:

“Our legal system-based on English Common Law includes the public trust doctrine as part of its jurisprudence. The State is the trustee of all natural resources which are by nature meant for public use and enjoyment. Public at large is beneficiary of the seashore, running waters, airs, forests and ecologically fragile lands. The State as a trustee is under a legal duty to protect the natural resources. These resources meant for public use cannot be converted into private ownership. This doctrine is part of Indian law and finds application in the present case as well. It is thus the duty of the Government to provide complete protection to the natural resources as a trustee of the people at large.”

It would therefore not be wrong to conclude that the doctrine of public trust extended to natural gas also covers another natural resource – iron ore – a resource that India is richly endowed with and probably is the single largest source of mineral wealth.

The Supreme Court further held that it would be ideal for the PSU to handle such projects exclusively. In the words of the Supreme Court:

“It is relevant to note that the Constitution envisages exploration, extraction and supply of gas to be within the domain of governmental functions. It is the duty of the Union to make sure that these resources are used for the benefit of the citizens of this country. Due to shortage of funds and technical know-how, the Government has privatized such activities through the mechanism provided under the PSC. It would have been ideal for the PSUs to handle such projects exclusively.”

From the foregoing it would not be wrong to conclude that the natural resource iron ore is covered by the doctrine of public trust, that the ownership control and distribution of the iron ore should be done in a manner so as to best subserve the common good — Article 39(b) — and that it would be ideal for the PSU to handle such projects – exploitation of the resources exclusively by the State.

The reason for privatizing oil industry, as stated by the Hon’ble Court, was shortage of funds and technology know-how.

Neither of these reasons are applicable to iron ore.

The PSU engaged in exploiting iron ore is the sixty year old NMDC.  It is 90% government owned. Its operating profit margin for the last three years has been 78%, 78% and 80.5% (after treating royalty payment of 5% of turnover as  expenses for the year 2009-10). It has no debt and has not paid a rupee as interest in the last eight years. It has reserves of over Rs 14,000 crores. Its one rupee share was recently subscribed for Rs 300 when the government diluted its stake from 98% to 90%. It neither needs money from the government nor the bank to make fresh investments, and is financially and technologically capable of mining the entire iron ore of the country, In other words, it fully meets the mandate of the Constitution and the Supreme Court judgment, in the above mentioned case, to exploit the natural mineral resource of iron ore for the benefit of the people of the country.

It is ironic that while iron ore worth Rs 100 crores is being pilfered and looted by private interests each day in a cosy crony capitalistic relationship, NMDC is looking for fresh investment for iron ore in Australia! Add to that the proposed allotment of iron ore to private barons worth trillion of dollars for petty royalty and not to NMDC, the tragedy of a poor nation suffering at the hands of corrupt politicians is complete.

Unlike private miners, NMDC does not indulge in slaughter mining. It has the best equipment and their method of exploiting of the minerals are not only better than any private miners but better than that of the captive mines of SAIL and Tisco.

Both the conditions for privatization applicable to the gas sector, as stated in the Supreme Court judgment, is not applicable in case of iron ore

There is no other company in the entire private sector which has a higher operating profit margin than NMDC. It is also among the top ten companies in terms of market capitalization.

In contrast, the private sector companies engaged in mining of iron ore are over mining, under invoicing the price, mining without license or mining plan, under reporting their turnover, paying a small fraction as  taxes or royalties (1.5%), generating large amounts of profits in cash for payoffs to various interests.

The annual loot from iron ore by private miners is around Rs 50,000 crores and involves around 150 families in a relationship which can be best described as crony capitalism. If their balance sheet is made public – which it should as they are dealing with property belonging to the people – it will show that their profitability ratios and efficiency is one-fourth that of NMDC. More important, almost all the profit goes to the private miners. The amount of profits on account of illegal mining runs into tens of thousand crores each year.

For every Rs 100 that NMDC earns, Rs 90 belongs to the government while for every Rs 100 that the private miners earn less than Rs 5 comes to the government as royalty and tax.

The illegal profits of the mining industry has been used to purchase political power either by the miner barons themselves or by the politicians who allot the mines. Every state is heavily into illegal mining and most of them have non-Congress governments.

The sterling record of NMDC, the 60 year old PSU engaged in the mining of iron ore, is being contrasted with that of the private sector to show that there is no justification for the government, which is a trustee of the mineral wealth, not to nationalise (in fact the mines are owned by the government and therefore technically cannot be nationalised)/takeover the iron mines leased to the private barons  and earn thousand of crores for the benefit of the people of the country on whose behalf the mines are held in trust by you as the Prime Minister of the country.

It cannot be the case of the government or the private sector that the best of the companies in the public sector cannot be better than the worst of the companies of the private sector and there must be privatisation of national mineral resources belonging to the people of the country because the government should not be in the business of business, especially if it is a profitable business and the profits are used for the benefit of the people.

Let FICCI, CII, ASSOCHAM, and more important Federation of Indian Minerals Association (FIMI) — who have hundreds of crores to lobby for policies in their favour — show to the people of the country as to how the private miners match upto even 30% the performance of the NMDC in terms of profitability, price realization, royalty payment and income tax payment. This also includes private steel mills who have been allotted captive mines.

The reason for addressing the issue of nationalisation of the iron ore mines urgently is attempt  made by the BJP government in Karnataka (a government by, of, and for the mining lobby) to appropriate the entire iron ore wealth of the State to private interests in perpetuity.

The Government of Karnataka has signed MoU with various companies (ArcelorMittal, Posco, Brahamani Industries, Hazira Steel, JSW Steel, Bhushan Steel) for setting up steel plants of 6 million tonnes capacity each at the Global Investors meet on June 4 and June 5 this year. In addition to the MoUs, other applications for manufacture of steel pending with the government would take the total capacity to be set up in the State to over 60 million tonnes.

The proposed production signed by GOK in a few months is in excess of the total existing steel capacity set up in the country in the last hundred years starting from the first steel plant of Tisco set up  in 1907.

The reasons for the iron rush of the State (which surpasses the gold rush) is two-fold: all the profit of iron ore of the State goes to private coffers and not to the people, and to pre-empt policy and the provisions of the new law relating to the allotment of the iron ore. The iron ore lobby knows that the loot cannot continue indefinitely and it cannot suppress its production and profits indefinitely. The only way to retain their stand alone mines in the future is to make them as suppliers to the integrated steel plants. Hence the brilliant scheme to assure the steel barons of fifty percent iron ore from captive mines on payment of token royalty of 1.5% and fifty percent from privately leased. It is a win-win situation for everybody. Steel producers get 50% raw material for free and the standalone mine owners get to keep their mines and profits.

Why the hurry? It is because the new MMRD Act, to be taken up by Parliament in the current session, compels competitive bidding but exempts existing applicants from the provisions of competitive bidding. Hence, the need to pre-empt the operation of the law.

Sixty million tonnes of steel capacity will require 3000 million tonnes of iron ore valued at Rs 15 lakh crores at current international prices. The benefit of the iron ore will go to the steel producers and the private miners and the true owners of the mine – the people – will have to make do with the pittance of royalty of 1.5%.

These resources are of the value of over Rs 15 lakh crores at current prices and belong to the people of the country and cannot be made over to the likes of Mittals,  Posco etc on payment of 1.5% of market value as royalty. It will be a total betrayal of public trust mentioned in the above mentioned judgment of the Supreme Court.

It cannot be the case of liberalization that when people buy steel capitalistic principles are applied and they are made to pay international price, but when the capitalist requires raw material socialistic principles are applied and they are given the iron ore for almost free.

It is pertinent to note that no steel producers — except TISCO, SAIL, JSPL, JSW Steel (in part through MML, a PSU) have captive mines and the rest of the producers purchase their iron ore from NMDC and some of the private mine holders. The NMDC price is 30 to 40% cheaper than international price. In spite of the purchase of iron ore from NMDC, the steel manufacturers make substantial profits because steel price is linked to international price and price has been decontrolled and removed from the list of items on essential commodity list. Essar Steel has steel capacity of over 5 million tonnes, purchases ore from NMDC and makes substantial profit.

If the iron ore is nationalised then the steel production will not suffer on account of paucity of iron ore. It is a bogey that the steel producers, who have signed MOUs with various state governments (Madhu Khoda style), will raise against nationalisation (apart from the usual foreign investment will suffer) because of their MoUs for  captive mines.

There will be no scarcity of iron ore because SAIL and Tata Steel, JSPL and JSW Steel (in part) account for 25 million steel production for which they have captive mines. NMDC’s current capacity of 30 to 35 million tonnes of iron ore  is sufficient to take care of another 20 million tonnes of steel capacity which leaves a deficit of iron ore for around 10 million tonnes. Steel production of six million tonnes is  from scrap, imported and domestic. The balance ore for 5 million tonnes can be easily provided from the mines taken over by the government as these mines produce over 100 million tonnes of iron ore and the balance exported for profits to the government.

On economic consideration alone can make a strong case for nationalisation of the iron ore industry. The legal and the constitutional consideration make it obligatory, more so when you are the chief trustee for the mineral wealth.

However, it is the political consideration which should be of the greatest concern to the Congress government. The BJP has reportedly amassed a war chest of Rs 10,000 crores for the next election through its rule in the mine rich states and proposes to spend Rs 30 crores in each of 300 constituency. For thirty crores, three lac votes can be purchased at the rate of Rs 1000/vote and with 7-8 lakh votes cast per constituency it will be victory for the BJP and curtains for the Congress.

Unfortunately it is the survival of the corruptest (sorry for the word which does not exist in the English dictionary for obvious reason).

The manner in which the valuable mineral resources have been plundered in various states is the greatest economic scandal of India, which includes the period under which it was under colonial rule. British had to conquer country to exploit its mineral resources, the present day robber barons have to merely pay a small bribe to do so (refer Madhu Khoda).

It may be considered inappropriate to point out to the greatest living Indian economist of our times, that the situation in India is no different than that of African nations which are resource rich nations with poor people. Should we then derive satisfaction from the fact that the developmental index for eight of our states – mostly mineral rich states – is worse than the 22 nations of Africa for similar reasons?

I , therefore beseech you to do right by the people and the constitution of the country and takeover all the iron ore mines in the private sector.

If you will not do it, who will?

Like the bank nationalisation, it will be your legacy to the nation for which the coming generation will be grateful.

With sincere regards,

Arun K Agrawal
Bangalore

(Arun Agrawal is the author of the book Reliance: The Real Natwar)