In a startling revelation that is bound to unleash a political storm that could even eclipse the IPL controversy temporarily, the UPA government, it is alleged, used the latest phonetapping technology to monitor and tape phone conversations of important leaders within the ruling alliance, in the Congress party, and in the Opposition for routine surveillance as well as to gain an upper hand over rivals at crucial times like the 2008 trust vote.
Among those whose phones were tapped, are the likes of Congress leader Digvijay Singh, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat and even NCP chief and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.
The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), an agency created specifically to look after technical intelligence gathering after the Kargil war, was used for tapping and recording the conversations. NTRO is monitored by the NSA - National Security Advisor. NSA being directly responsible for the PM, the issue raises questions about the role of the Prime Minister's Office in the operation. It not just brings up legal questions but also highlights ethical issues about using spyware meant for enemies of the State on political rivals and opponents.
A blistering editorial comment in the wake of the torching of Dalit homes by a group of upper-caste Jats in a village in Haryana, which led to the death of a 17-year-old girl and her father:
Not only is it a slap in the face of ‘inclusive growth' and the Constitution's promise of liberal democracy, it is also a searing indictment of the sort of politics practised in India, in which politics focuses on power and pelf, leaving the task of bridging the gap between the reality of a divided, hierarchical society and the ideal of democracy to no one in particular. Since the dominant paradigm of politics continues to be competitive identity management, social fissures are reinforced and more powerful groups, with the collusion of elements within state institutions, often resort to violence against weaker sections who might be seeking to assert themselves.
How is the implementation of the Forest Rights Act faltering?
A must read for those with an eye for detail. But some suggestions made by the article to improve its implementation:
FRA will succeed if government commits to ensure that, the structures of implementation at the central and state levels are strengthened; civil society groups and PRI members are involved and the provision of social audit is built in; funds are allocated to support the verification and recognition of rights; the information system on Forest Rights Act is updated; action is initiated to bring in changes in laws and policies like Wildlife Protection Act, joint forest management (JFM), plantation programmes; and above all implementing agencies become proactive in the implementation process.
What is your take on foreign universities' entry into India?
Are they going to do any good? Is allowing their entry bad in any way? If so, why?
This article from V. Raghunathan offers very good answers for such questions. He identifies four serious concerns raised by our academic community in this respect and goes on to show that barring one, none of the four actually pose any serious problem for the country. Take a look.
Finance & Economy
Yet another committee on small savings?
Faced with another tough decision on deregulating interest rates on small savings instruments, the government is reportedly toying with the idea of appointing a committee.
But already three committees have gone into this aspect and have submitted more or less similar reports. They were headed by R V Gupta back in the 1990s, Y V Reddy and Rakesh Mohan later. All three had come to much the same conclusion: scrap the present anachronistic system of administered interest rates and link interest rates to some market-determined rate. But their reports have all been moth-balled. So, why one more committee?
The Met predicts normal monsoon
The weather office has predicted normal rainfall in the June-September monsoon period, offering hope to the country’s farm sector that was savaged last year by the worst drought in 37 years.
Rainfall is likely to be 98% of the long-term average, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in its first monsoon forecast for the year. Average rainfall for the 1941-90 period is 89 cms.
A good monsoon is vital for crops such as rice, sugar cane, soybeans, sugar, corn, groundnut, pulses and cotton. The drought had resulted in a close to 12% drop in kharif, or summer crop, output in 2009, leading to high food inflation of around 18%. Kharif crops contribute to over 50% of the country’s farm production.
Over 60% of cultivated land in India is still rainfed and even the irrigated regions depend heavily on the summer rains to recharge groundwater levels and key reservoirs ahead of the winter sowing season. In most parts of India, the monsoon accounts for 75-90% of the total annual rainfall.
What is India's interest in joining the FATF - Financial Action Task Force?
India is preparing to join FATF, an inter-government body founded by the G-7 countries in 1989 for developing and promoting national and international policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. FATF is currently evaluating India’s preparedness for its membership, which will allow the country to gain access to real-time exchange of information on money laundering and terror financing.