Friday, July 26, 2013

Ramblings on Batla House Judgement

Ramblings on Batla House Judgement
Syed Ali Mujtaba
The judgement on the controversial Batla House encounter in New Delhi in 2008 raises some fundamental questions. The judge has convicted one person who is claimed to have fled from the L-18 flat in Batla House area. If the hon'ble judge had visited the building he could have found that the building has only one exit which was manned by police and there was no possibility to escape by jumping. In such case the accused either had to be caught or had to be shot.

The escape theory put up by the police does not hold any ground.
The judge should have taken the cops and may have asked them to escape before believing them. Unfortunately, it did not happen, and the judgement was based on what was told by the police. It’s really a travesty of justice.

 The second point in this case that requires consideration is that the input to do the Batla House encounter came from the same infamous IB special director Ravider Kumar who has provided the fake inputs that were used for 17 fake encounters in Gujarat and that are now being probed. If the judge could have considered probing the source of the encounter and had related them to the on-going probe the judgement may have been different.

Interestingly Mr Chidambram who was the home minister at that time has found the encounter as genuine. He says that he has gone through the sequence of events and has probed into the matter and those killed were terrorists and the one who “fled” their accomplice.

The popular theory is that those believed to be the terrorists were actually students who had come for admission in Jamia College. It was wrong information on which police swooped on them and killed them in clod blooded manner. They had no weapons to retaliate and that was fabricated by the police after the encounter. Shazad was not all present on the encounter scene, he could no way escape, the escape theory is totally fictions. The police officer killed in the encounter may have died due to cross firing by the police or he may have been bumped off by his colleague to settle some old score. .

In the aftermath of the Batla house judgement, I am reminded of the words of the death convict Dhananjoy Chatterjee who was hanged on August 14, 2004 at Alipore Jail in Calcutta on rape and murder charges of a 14-year-old. Dhananjoy worked as security guard in that building. While being taken to the gallows the accused told the hangman that he has not committed the crime. A dying person never tells lie.This was the biggest travesty of justice in recent times.

The most recent one was the hanging of Afzal Guru that’s still fresh in our memories. Afzal in an interview had said that he has not committed the crime and the entire charges against him was fabricated. He was a small time fruit seller who was picked up from Srinagar for hatching conspiracy to attack Indian parliament. He was convicted to death, but his hanging was deferred for some reasons. The Congress in order to save its skin from the BJP’s attack to punish the perpetrators of Parliament attackers, finally decided to execute Afzal Guru. His life was snuffed out when it seemed that he may live for the remaining part of his life in solitary confinement.  

Its really shameful that the execution of Khalistani terrorists Devender Pal Singh Bhullar is kept in abeyance for pleasing Akali Dal, Same is the case of death row convicts of Rajiv Gandhi, that is with held for appeasing DMK in Tamil Nadu. Since Kashmir do not figure in playing any decisive role in the Indian electoral politics, its always made a scapegoat for brandishing Indian patriotism.    

Well it's a very sad commentary on the developments in India and the only way a common man can express his feeling is to take recourse to some poetic lines and in this case it could be very aptly summed up as ; banna ke bhes faqiron kab, tamasha e alhe kram dekte hain….

Syed Ali mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennnai. He can be contacted at

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Problem of Alcoholism Riding a Tiger in Tamil Nadu

Problem of Alcoholism Riding a Tiger in Tamil Nadu
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Alcoholism is becoming widespread problem in the Indian society and Tamil Nadu is no exception.  The age of first exposure to alcohol in the state has dropped to 15 years. Added concern is the increasing numbers of women specially girls becoming addicted to alcohol. This trend is causing socio-economic problems but little is being done to arrest this social trend.

On the contrary, the state government is encouraging alcoholism to gain revenue. Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) is a company owned by the Tamil Nadu government which has a monopoly over wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in the state.

The state government, for years has been adding a huge amount of money to its exchequer by licensing and selling the liquor through its 2500 government controlled TASMAC shops.

Liquor sales in 2011-12 has touched 18,081.16 crore rupees, registering a 20.82% increase. Every year during the New Year and Pongal festival, TASMAC is making around Rs. 500 crores selling liquor in wholesale and retail market.

‘Whether GDP rate grows or not, the alcohol consumption rate has been growing at 8 per cent every year, says Lakshmi Vijaykumar, head of the department of psychiatry at the Voluntary Health Services, Taramani, Chennai.

‘No government is willing to stop it because they get revenue from it, but the costs are higher’ she says adding, ‘dealing with problems caused by alcoholism costs three times more than the amount of revenue the government gets from liquor sales.’

In order to understand the magnitude of the problem and to feel the pulse of the society, Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai based NGO conducted a survey in Tamil Nadu to ascertain the views of the people about the TASMAC shops, believed to be the root cause of this social problem.

This study was necessitated because in recent times, there have been number of agitation by group of people in several places in Tamil Nadu, demanding that TASMAC shops to be removed from the residential areas.  There were also protests that the TASMAC shops should be barred near the places of worship and educational institutions.  Judiciary have also given instructions that the highways should be free from the TASMAC shops.

However, all this is having little impact on checking the sale of liquor in the state. The sales turnover of TASMAC shops are steadily increasing and proportionate to it the number of liquor addicts is growing among various age groups.

The study was conducted to find out what the common man thinks about the proliferation of TASMAC shops in the state, given the fact that the government itself is managing such liquor shops.

The study was conducted on the basis of primary survey that was randomly spread all over the state. Around 243 men and women were interviewed both in rural and urban areas through questioner method. The respondents include; higher secondary and college students, youth, software professionals, senior citizens, domestic maids, etc.

There were respondents who regularly take liquor did not feel guilty about their habit. They view consuming liquor nothing differently from taking other beverages. They cannot visualise their life without consuming liquor. To a question, in the event of government imposing prohibition, the respondents had no hesitation in saying they will opt for liquor from the black market. Some even justified the TASMAC shops as they were necessary to prevent illicit liquor trade.

The NGO ‘Nandini- Voice for the Deprived’ found that the liquor habit is fairly well spread throughout the state. However, its impact is clearly evident in the rural areas, where more than 40 % of the male population are addicted to consuming liquor regularly.

The study has also found that serving liquor has become a fashion in marriage parties and in funerals, particularly amongst lower income groups in Tamil Nadu.  What was noticed that for sake of social status, even those who do not consume liquor, arrange liquor for others during such events.

It’s not uncommon site to find students stacking liquor bottles in their rooms at college hostels with the warden keeping a blind eye.  Much to its surprise, the study has found out the students of higher secondary schools are getting addicted to liquor.

The study has also found that women from affluent families are also taking liquor, though occasionally. Some girls are also picking up this habit, especially those living in hostels.  Seeing women in the lower income group visiting TASMAC shops is not an uncommon site in Tamil Nadu, though their numbers remain microscopic.

With men increasingly becoming alcohol addicts, large numbers of poor families in Tamil Nadu are suffering economically and emotionally.   Women getting beaten up by drunken husband and sometimes even by drunken sons and sons in law, desperate women hitting back the drunken men to protect themselves , children unable to  concentrate in their studies in such disturbing conditions  and  sometimes  women  even committing suicide, unable to bear the torture, have become a regular feature of Tamil Nadu society.

As alcohol addicted men seem to lose values in life, the trend of promiscuity and Illicit relationships is growing, leading to breakdown of marriages. This phenomenon is common both in the lower as well as upper income groups, the study has found.

What is even more disturbing is that while such matter is regularly reported in the media, they no more shock the people. Everyone seems to be reconciling to the fact that it is inevitable development of modern times.

 In many poor families, the household is mainly run by the earnings of women. With the men folk frittering away the earnings in liquor and several of them not going to jobs regularly, due to poor health condition and indiscipline, life has really become hard for women in such households.

Mothers shoulder the responsibility and are seen pleading with NGOs and others for financial support for the education of the children, particularly due to the increasing realisation that imparting good education to the children, especially to their daughters, is the only way to protect their long term economic and social well being.

There was an overwhelming response from the non alcohol consuming people, particularly among the women in lower income group that the TASMAC shops have encouraged liquor consumption in a big way. They also blame political parties in power for many decades in the state in providing legitimacy and sanction to such social evil.

The respondents widely felt that the Tamil Nadu government alone can set the conditions right. The best way to do so is to gradually close the TASMAC shops and create a climate w
here liquor consumption is once again seen as a taboo. Such response mainly came from the poor women who are not informed about the revenue earned from liquor sales and have high hopes that government may educate the people of its ill effects.

However, well informed people responded that the government will not close the TASMAC shops as it is one of the main sources of its revenue. Without it several social measures and freebies offered by the government may be withdrawn. This may create social unrest and may lead to mass agitations and protests among the poor people. This may also have an effect on the vote banks particularly from lower income group, who are the recipients of the freebies. In such case, no government may like to face such conditions and think about clamping prohibition.

Speaking on this issue Mr. N.S.Venkataraman, founder of the NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, said that situation in Tamil Nadu has changed a lot from the fifties and sixties. There was a time particularly during the Chief Minister Kamaraj’s rule, when liquor consumption was seen as a social taboo. Liquor was taken in privacy and secrecy and families were unhappy about it.

Venkataraman cites the names of stalwarts like Kalki Krishnamurthy, Rajaji, Kamaraj and others who in 50s and 60s with their social campaign kept this problem under check.

He says the root cause of today’s condition is the passing of an amendment to the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act, 1937, by the Tamil Nadu government in October 2003.  This has led to increase in the habit of liquor consumption and this habit has spread amongst all age groups and all economic groups, he rues.
Similar efforts that were made in fifties and sixties to check this growing trend is required today, says Venkataraman, adding unfortunately, now we do not have any political leaders of such caliber, sagacity and wisdom who can initiate such anti liquor campaign. It appears that this habit has come to stay forever, he laments.

In such situation it’s only the people, particularly the women in the lower income group who are the worst hit and are desperately looking for relief should come forward and advocate prohibition in the state. They can democratically exercise their will in the forthcoming election and vote for the party that feels their sentiments, Venkataraman suggests.

However, the question remains, in a politically charged state like Tamil Nadu, which political party can convincingly assure people on this and which political party enjoy the credibility and   has consistency in its stand on such issue, he asks?

He goes on; not everything is lost, the well informed people who think ahead of the time and feel concerned about the serious damage being done to the posterity due to rapid spread of alcoholism should come forward and rally behind this social cause. This alone can kindle a ray of hope in other wise depressing situation to control the growing trend of alcoholism in Tamil Nadu, Venkataraman, concludes.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Himalayan Fury – Causes and Remedies

The Himalayan Fury – Causes and Remedies
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Utrakhand, is the 27th state of India carved out of the Himalayan region and adjoining north-western districts of Uttar Pradesh in the year 2000. It’s a sacred place for the Hindus, as two of the most sacred rivers, the Ganga at Gangotri and the Yamuna at Yamunotri originate from Utrakhand. Along with it, places like Badrinath and Kedarnath form the Chota Char Dham, for Hindu pilgrims to Utrakhand. In June 2013, the Himalayan region witnessed heavy rainfall that triggered devastating floods and landslides in Utrakhand. The floods left a trail of destruction, over 70,000 pilgrims and tourists were trapped in various places who were rescued. There was huge damage to the infrastructure and urban construction in the state.   
Various reasons are attributed to the tragedy. Some blame it on nature, other call it a man made calamity waiting in the wings. Various suggestions are made to avoid such large scale destruction and to be better prepared for such eventuality next time.

Reasons for Calamity 

The forests of the region are an important reservoir of biodiversity; as they provide protection against soil erosion and increased flooding in the plains. One of the reasons for the Utrakhand tragedy is attributed to the extraction of forests resources of the region. The huge deforestation led to increased vulnerability to the floods and landslides that got exposed in the recent floods.

The region’s other key resource is the water that flows from high glaciers and mountains to the plains. Currently, there is a mad rush to build run-of-the-river projects and dams across the region to generate hydro power.  While dams are needed to meet energy requirements, building them is a construction-intensive activity. It involves blasting, excavation, debris dumping, movement of heavy machinery, diversion of forests and rivers.

It was seen that poorly planned dams in Utrakhand which were constructed without paying heed to their environmental impact was one of the reasons why floods turned so devastating in the state.

Since Utrakhand holds special place for the Hindus, a large number of the pilgrims make a beeline to the state. The monsoon season also coincides with the peak pilgrim season and people in large numbers from across the nation come to visit Hindu holy sites in the state. These places become overcrowded and their cumulative impact poses a threat to the environment of the region.

It’s said that recent Utrakhand calamity was a classical case of how commercial interests can open the gates to disaster. Road construction activity to cater to the pilgrims and tourists went on unchecked. Apart from convenience and comfort, ever increasing economic opportunities in the vicinity of the roads encouraged people to settle down in the proximity of the roads, even if it implies being exposed to disaster risk.

Increasing tourist and pilgrim traffic further exacerbated this tendency. The huge deluge of urban settlement in Utrakhand was because it was located in the disaster risk zone.

The huge amount of urbanization going on in the fragile mountainous area without any consideration of the environmental impact aggravated the problem. The hotels and lodges in most of the cases come up in the most fragile areas of the state. The unplanned urban growth in Utrakhand is considered to be the key factors for magnifying the human tragedy in the state.

The recent Utrakhand floods suggest that du
e to the given reasons, the risk-prone and ecologically fragile region of the state became vulnerable to the nature’s fury.

Future Strategy 

Now, in its aftermath its required to build a strategy to prevent such disaster in the future. This strategy has to take into account the vulnerability of the region and the ways to protect its environment.

First of all, the Himalayan states like Utrakhand should build a viable and sustainable forest-based economy. A common policy should be evolved to value the forests better for better use. This policy should include the voices and concerns of local communities, dependent on forests for their agriculture and basic needs. A comprehensive planning should be made centering on forests be used for building local economies.

Then the strategy for water development must balance the opportunity for energy and threat to livelihood, particularly in the age of changing climate and hydrology. It is feared that the hydrology will be impacted because of climate change—and extreme events.  In such case the hydro projects in Utrakhand should be reviewed and if needed even scrapped.

The ecosystem-based tourism should be developed with safeguards and local benefits. There is need to promote homestead tourism, instead of hotel tourism, based on policy incentives. These incentives would include fiscal benefits provided to house-owners for providing tourist related facilities.

There is need for an inventory of key pilgrimage sites in Utrakhand, with an understanding of its ecological capacity based on location and fragility. Then there is need to control the number of visitors to the important pilgrimage sites based on the carrying capacity estimates.

There should be a ban on construction of roads for the movement of people within 10 km of the high-altitude pilgrimage areas. There should be areas marked as special zones, which are to be maintained with minimal human interference.

There is need to build policies for sustainable urbanisation in the state. The towns need to be planned, particularly keeping in mind the rush of summer tourists.

The Utrakhand flood teaches us that we must learn to build sustainable models for pilgrim-based tourism in the fragile regions of the country.  There is a problem of pollution, litter and solid waste disposal in all the tourist sites.

To control this, a tourism tax for entry into fragile ecosystems should be charged exponentially. An action plan to create facilities for tourists, particular facilities for sanitation and for garbage disposal should be made out of such revenue.

There should be high parking charges in fragile areas of hill towns to restrict the number of vehicles and reduce pollution and congestion.

Finally, in order to build local interest in these areas, rules to give communities living in the area advantage of the pilgrimage activities are framed and implemented vigorously.

The recent Utrakhand foods bear resemblance to 2004 Tsunami the coastal regions of the east coast of India. In its wake a coastal disaster management plan that was formulated for better preparedness in future. A similar proposal can be made for the preparation of disaster management plan for the hill regions particularly the Himalayan region of the country.  

These suggestions and more can come handy in checking the calamities like Utrakhand that has occurred due to cloud burst, heavy rains and causing unprecedented floods.  

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hard facts of Ishrat Jahn’s fake encounter case

Hard facts of Ishrat Jahn’s fake encounter case
Syed Ali Mujtaba

There are two points of reference in Ishrat Jahan’s alleged fake encounter case. The Gujrat High Court has asked the CBI to file its charge sheet before July 4, 2013 on two references, first whether the encounter was a fake and second all those killed were terrorists?

This is a very interesting case that has all the ingredients of Bollywood potboilers like 'Shootout at Wdala'.  This is because the forensic report has revealed that, those shot dead were done so from the range of mere .25 cm only.

Now assuming that they were terrorist, as claimed by the police, the recovery of AK 47 from the encounter spot, raises the question why did they not retaliate and opened fire in their self-defence?

The answer is they had no weapon in their possession and they were killed from a point blank rage in a  clod blooded manner. So, the first reference is well established that it was a fake encounter.

The second reference, whether they were terrorists is something the  investigative agencies needs to establish.  The onus on the investigators to prove those dead were terrorists. The general perception is, they  were innocent and deliberately were picked up and later killed on the basis of misinformed report.

The third point that needs to be investigated is the role of the IB officials who tipped the Gujarat police about Ishrat Jahan and co. How he got the input and from where he got the input. This is very sensitive issue as it involves political masters and at its thread reaches to Delhi. At that time both centre and state governments were ruled by the BJP.

The last point in this case is who gave the orders to the police official to kill Ishrat Jahan and co. Obviously, it’s state leadership headed by the  Chief Minister Narendr  Modi who is in dock, as he holds the last pillar of this post. Will the buck stop at Gujrat Chief Ministers’s office and in this case charges will be framed against him for his implicit complicity is something that remains to be seen.

The Ishrat Jahan fake encounter took place on 15 June 2004, and involved killings of four people on an empty road stretch between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar in Gujarat, by officers of the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch.

The alleged terrorists were Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year old girl from Mumbai, and three men: Pranesh Pillai (alias Javed Gulam Sheikh), Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar.

The encounter was carried out by a team led by DIG D.G. Vanjara, who was later jailed for his alleged involvement in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter of 2005.

The police alleged that Ishrat Jahn and her associates were LeT operatives involved in a plot to assassinate the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi.

An Ahmedabad Metropolitan court investigated the case and the Metropolitan Magistrate S P Tamang submitted its report in the metropolitan court Ahmedabad on 7 September 2009. The report implicated a number of top police officials saying that the four persons were killed in police custody.

Tamang in his 243-page report named K.R. Kaushik, who was then the Ahmedabad Police Commissioner, P.P. Pandey, who was then the chief of the Crime Branch, and encounter specialist Tarun Barot, the then head of the DCB, D.G. Vanzara, among others.

Tamang's report said the Ahmadabad Crime Branch police kidnapped Ishrat and co  from Mumbai on 12 June 2004 and brought them to Ahmedabad. The four were killed on the night of 14 June in police custody, but the police claimed that an "encounter" took place the next morning on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

Tamang said there was no evidence to link the victims with the terrorists outfit LeT. There was also nothing to indicate that they had come to Gujarat to kill Modi. The report said explosives, rifles and other weapons allegedly found in the car, and the weapons found on their person were all planted by the police.

The Gujarat High Court stayed the Tamang report on 9 September 2009 but said that Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Court can use the report.

The Gujarat State Government challenged the report of the metropolitan magistrate, saying that the accused policemen were not given an opportunity to present their side of the arguments. The case was then taken to the Gujarat High Court.

On 21 November 2011, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) submitted its report to Gujarat High Court saying it was staged encounter. The Court ordered that a complaint under Indian Penal Code Section 302 (murder) to be filed against 20 policemen, including senior IPS officers, in this fake encounter.

The Gujarat government had faced strong criticism by human rights groups for anti-Muslim human rights violations, following the communal riots of 2002. During this period, there had been several police encounter deaths in the Gujarat, three of which have been attributed to attempts to kill Narendra Modi in retaliation for the alleged involvement of the state machinery in the riots of 2002.

According to People's Union for Civil Liberties, the Gujarat police did not follow normal procedures in their investigations. No FIR was lodged with the local area police station where the encounter occurred, no charge sheet, no inquest report, and no witness statement. No bullet marks or damage was observed on the road or surrounding area.

The human rights activists have alleged that many of these alleged encounters actually happen in police custody. They claimed that there was a pattern that many of these encounters: they always took place in the wee hours of the morning in a deserted area, with no witnesses; a vigorous exchange of fire resulted in the deaths of all the terrorists, while the police received no injuries; and the diary of the accused was often recovered, and contained incriminating evidence.

This case has come to a very critical stage. In June 2013, the Tehelka magazine published an expose that revealed that the CBI has in its possession an audio recording of a conversation between Gujarat's former Minister of State Praful Patel, senior IAS officer G C Murmu, and other top officials in a meeting called to chalk out a plan to safeguard the interests of the officers whose names could crop up in the investigation. The conversation was secretly recorded by a meeting attendee, Girish Laxman Singhal, one of the two accused police officers who have been arrested by the CBI in the case.

The charge sheet is being filed in this backdrop. Will the court bring the culprits to justice all those involved in the fake encounter is something that’s being eagerly watched. The bottom line of this case is that the anti-Muslim program policy adopted by Gujarat Government after the ill-fated Godhara train tragedy continued beyond post Godhra communal riots in 2002, and Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case in 2004 is the case in point.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at