Onward to polls
The war of attrition is over and the Supreme Court&’s verdict last Friday ~ reinforced this week ~ signals the victory of the constitutional engagement that must of necessity guide the panchayat elections in West Bengal or indeed any other state. After the controversy had raged for more than three months, this is the first major step towards upholding the citizen&’s right to vote ~ a democratic prerogative that had been overshadowed by the bitter joust between the West Bengal government and the State Election Commission. There is no winner or loser within the political spectrum; it would even be puerile to gloat over the impression that the state government has been rapped on the knuckles or that Mira has scored over Mamata; both have been equally gracious in their response to the court order though the Chief Minister does have a point when she avers that the elections will coincide with the month of Ramzan. It is apparent too that the Division Bench (coram: AK Patnaik and Ranjan Gogoi, JJ) has been guided by ground realities, the increasing volatility in rural Bengal in the aftermath of the Saradha collapse, the possible resurgence of Maoists after the Chhattisgarh mayhem, and the farcical nominations and uncontested battles. That farce, it needs to be underlined, has been the Trinamul&’s creation. Hence the reshuffle of the dates, the increase in phases from three to five, and the robust emphasis on central forces for all the phases. There is little or no faith in the neutrality of the state police at the level of the electorate, let alone the judiciary.
On the face of it, the SEC&’s point of view has seemingly been accepted. Equally and arguably most importantly, its primacy vis-a-vis the government has been kept in abeyance though the fineprint of the order must be that it is the constitutional entity that calls the shots during elections. Indeed, there is much that is implicit in the order, pre-eminently the fact that the determinants ought to be the grim reality in the villages, the disenchantment that is spreading from the urban areas to the rural, and the collapse of the panchayati raj over time. Ergo, political exigence ~ uppermost in the Trinamul government&’s agenda ~ has cut no ice. The Supreme Court has advanced the blueprint that must ~ at least theoretically ~ take care of rural Bengal&’s tryst with democracy. No, this is not judicial activism, let alone the overdone variety. With respect, the matter need not have gone to court. That it did is but a reflection on the conduct of the government and SEC, essentially a clash of bruised egos. The government&’s wound is self-inflicted.

A space milestone
Two decades after America&’s Global Positioning System became operational, the Indian Space Research Organisation on Monday successfully launched the first of seven regional navigation satellites by a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, ISRO&’s workhorse. But it will become operational only in 2016 or later when the remaining six satellites in the constellation are put in geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of 36,000 km. With the seven satellites, the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System will transmit signals primarily over the Indian sub-continent, Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal and to regions extending up to 1,500 km beyond the country&’s borders. The IRNSS is a boon to the aeronautical sector and the shipping industry as it would receive micro-level data from the indigenous system. India now uses America&’s GPS and Russia&’s GLONASS. Satellite-based navigation has become indispensable for both civilian and military uses. The delay in commissioning the IRNSS is due to a series of failures suffered by ISRO in developing its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle.  ISRO scientists are yet to perfect a cryogenic engine needed for the GSLV. Meanwhile, the PSLV has been re-engineered to place heavier satellites into a geosynchronous transfer orbit and move into geosynchronous orbit using thrusters. ISRO at present has the capacity for only four PSLV launches in a year. China has put in orbit Beidou Satellite Navigation System covering its territory and surrounding areas which will be expanded to global coverage by 2020.
ISRO should get its priorities right. Having launched the first of the seven IRNSS satellites, its endeavour should be to complete the launch of the remaining six in the shortest possible time.  The life-span of each satellite is said to be 10 years. By the time the last satellite is launched in 2016, the first one would have lost three years of its life span. According to ISRO scientists in Bangalore, these satellites would remain ‘white elephants’ in the sky till the constellation is completed.  Instead of conserving its limited PSLV capacity for the IRNSS project, ISRO is in discussion with the French space agency to launch its SPOT 7 remote sensing satellite, because the price quoted by Antrix Corporation, commercial arm of the organisation, is so low compared to that of the European Space Agency. Another PSLV mission is reserved for the launch of Mars Orbiter later this year which is a sheer waste of tax payer&’s money. It is supposed to explore sustainability of life on the Mars whereas Mars Curiosity rover of NASA, a self-contained science laboratory on six wheels, has already established evidence of habitable conditions and continues to drill and collect Martian rocks. Considering ISRO&’s poor record in adhering to schedule, there is no guarantee the launch of IRNSS satellites will be completed by 2016. The satellite-based navigational system is undergoing such rapid changes the present one could become obsolete by the time ISRO completes the project.