Crisis of civilisation
he Chief Minister&’s attitude towards the West Bengal Human Rights Commission has been condescending at best and contemptuous at worst. Nonetheless, it is fervently to be hoped that Mamata Banerjee will draw a lesson from the HRC&’s directive to pay a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to Shiladitya Chowdhury, a farmer who was shouted down as a “Maoist” and arrested for raising a query on fertiliser prices at a public rally in Belpahari in West Midnapore last August. No less significant, a full Bench of the HRC has had to remind the Chief Minister that “as a democratically-elected popular leader, she has to abide by constitutional norms. This is the oath she has taken before assuming office”. As important as the compensation order is the text in which it has been couched, one that the government might find a little difficult to digest. The fineprint is the severe criticism of the Chief Minister&’s impetuosity ~ “Shiladitya&’s social dignity and status were badly affected as the Chief Minister had labelled him as a Maoist publicly”. The HRC has described Miss Banerjee&’s outburst as a “wild allegation”. This clearly is a reflection on the head of government&’s customary use of strong and irresponsible language ~ exemplified most recently after the Barasat gangrape and murder… “the thief&’s mother has a loud voice”. Indeed, the decidedly off-the-cuff reference to Shiladitya as a “Maoist” has been reckoned as a violation of human rights.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the HRC order is an indictment of the Chief Minister, and the subtext is more than obvious ~ Miss Banerjee needs to be circumspect with her choice of words. Equally, she needs to be serious about executing the commission&’s directives. The fate of the HRC&’s compensation orders do not quite inspire confidence, however. Jadavpur University&’s Prof Ambikesh Mahapatra is yet to be compensated for his arrest and harassment over an innocuous e-mail. In the net, both the farmer and the academic have been victims of police high-handedness at the behest of a mercurial Chief Minister. Sad to reflect, her response to HRC directives has been as fickle as her governance. Which perhaps has provoked the commission to quote Will Durant and suggest that civilisation is under threat.
lapping charges of violating laws like MCOCA providing for stringent punishment does not compensate for pathetic investigation. That is the message for the CBI, other investigating agencies too, from an Additional Sessions Judge in Delhi who declined to deny bail to Sansar Chand ~ the notorious trader in animal skins and body parts who heads a poaching syndicate allegedly responsible for eliminating all the tigers in the Sariska park. The man and his associates have been arrested time and time again, the charges simply do not “stick” and he succeeds in securing bail or serving short jail terms. Wildlife enthusiasts are appalled at the prospects of him walking free again, and await the CBI&’s processing the case further. Other enthusiasts are more worried over indications that Sansar has over the years put an effective machinery in place, the trade will continue to flourish even if he does not personally supervise operations. It is truly a slap in the face of both the local and national investigating agencies that the man who has been notorious for decades, has his “clearing house” in the Capital&’s Sadar Bazar, has been convicted more than once, still calls the shots. It was in some obvious desperation that he was booked under MCOCA in which bail is the exception rather than the rule, but the ploy did not work. Just as it similarly failed in the IPL spot-fixing cases. Strong laws flop in the wake of weak investigation.
A few weeks ago there was much fanfare at a CBI-sponsored international meet that focused on poaching and the body-parts trade, it has proved a lot of jaw-jaw. A dedicated, specialised agency to prevent/punish wildlife crime might prove more effective. Ordering CBI probes, invoking MCOCA etc are only “for show”.
he North Eastern Council with its headquarters in Shillong and formed in 1972 to forge a strong socio-economic unity among seven geographically-disadvantaged states (Sikkim joined it later) and oversee balanced and integrated development of the region, is fast losing its significance, thanks to the Planning Commission&’s lackadaisical treatment of it. The credit for whatever exists today, like power projects, inter-state roads, sponsored bridges and technical and professional institutions ~ Imphal&’s prestigious Regional Institute of Medical Sciences is a shining example ~ goes to the NEC, and significantly it executed all those when insurgency was at its height. The mistake of making the NEC a mere adjunct of the Union home ministry was rectified years later when it was brought under the Planning Commission, but it has not brightened the council&’s future.
Member-states have often threatened to quit complaining of discriminatory treatment in the allocation of funds. As per the 12th Plan document, the project outlay for 2013-2014 was estimated at Rs 2,504.37 crore, but all that the Planning Commission has sanctioned is Rs 770 crore, and out of which Rs 390 crore is earmarked for roads, bridges, civil aviation and inland waterways. Perhaps, it will pay to strengthen the NEC given the fact that even a central government committee has recommended the scrapping of Doner.