Raging controversy over the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award cannot be confined to the Krishna Poonia-Ronjon Sodhi “clash”: there have been earlier disputes over sporting awards, there is no reason to suspect that more will not follow. All awards are intended to be matters of pride and recognition of outstanding performance, but since that goal has not been attained it would perhaps be best to scrap the awards, or suspend them as was done a few years back when the Padma awards kicked up a storm. Far too many vested interests come into negative play: federations compete in making nominations and recommendations, seek brownie points from players by publicising such moves. Members of the selection panel, generally sportspersons with high credentials, then examine the nominations but since no specific yardsticks can be prescribed the panel is often targeted by those who lose out. The media is exploited to press one case against another and things get messy. In the present matter a member of the selection squad is alleged to have “leaked” what transpired at the meeting; Poonia has publicly stated she is “contesting” the panel&’s decision; and her attempts to meet the sports minister to complain were recorded on an hour-to-hour basis, splashed in some newspapers. Does the Khel Ratna not stand demeaned: hardly worth being conferred on Sodhi, or anyone else for that matter?
Sport, admittedly, is no longer the pristine manifestation of the best in human activity it was once projected to be. There is too much money, commercialism and sick competition involved. In an Indian context “award-fixing” is fast becoming the “play of the day” for every award not only brings its own goodies but serves as a bargaining chip for securing “higher” returns. Honour and pride have become bit-players in the farce, and why eminent persons would wish to serve on selection panels is a query difficult to answer. For in such a murky environment they could well be accused of being “motivated” in their selection. Restoring a sense of esteem and grace to the entire process would now be close to impossible: few Indian sportsmen would compete for a wreath of laurels as in yesteryear, or even for personal glory as just achieved by Yelena Isinbayeva. Until there are strong signals of dignity and decorum being retrieved all sports awards should be junked. Sportspersons, administrators etc must learn to behave sportingly.
The Supreme Court&’s intervention to stop the wanton defiance of nature in Uttarakhand deserves to be welcomed in the aftermath of the recent devastation. No one denies that the brakes have been applied on the hydro-power projects, on which the state depends for electricity and, as it turns out, at the cost of ecology and hundreds of thousands of human lives. This is the cruel irony of governance in Uttarakhand. Only a gross misreading of the judgment (coram: KS Radhakrishnan and Deepak Misra, JJ) explains the Chief Minister, Vijay Bahuguna&’s spin that the order is tantamount to a cap on hydro-power projects which, as he claims, have not been disturbed in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh with much the same terrain.
The Court hasn’t imposed a blanket ban on the projects; it has instructed the Union ministry of environment and forests to constitute a committee that will have to take a call on the impact of hydro-projects in Uttarakhand, most importantly in terms of bio-diversity. So too must the state government that has sanctioned sensitive projects and high-rise constructions alongside the Alakananda and Bhagirathi rivers with scant regard to the consequences. The state&’s potential in terms of hydro-power generation may not be open to question; equally the inherent potential for a tectonic shift and catastrophe ~ as witnessed in June ~ has scarcely been assessed either by the state or the Centre. The judiciary has now placed the onus on the Centre as well; the ministry of environment and forests has been directed not to approve any hydro-power project without a thorough study of its feasibility and impact on the land, the river… and the people. The assessment will also establish whether the colossal devastation two months ago was the result of unplanned construction of hydro-power projects.
People and places
As Israel and Palestine gear up for their talks this week, the outlook remains uncertain. Two very recent initiatives by Israel appear to have conveyed conflicting signals. Of course, Israel has made a critical concession before the two sides head for the negotiating table ~ the decision to free Palestinians, including legally convicted murderers. Indeed, the gesture to free prisoners long after their terms have lapsed is worthy of consideration by India and Pakistan before they agree on the next round, in particular the release of fishermen languishing in both countries. At another remove, however, Israel has antagonised international opinion, most importantly that of the Palestinians, by signaling its intent to construct Jewish settlements on disputed territory, indeed what it reckons is the natural expansion of its communities. The carrot of freeing prisoners has unfortunately been matched with the stick on settlement plans to ratchet up the pressure on Palestine. In a calculated move, the contentious issue has been raked up days before the conference and this could well turn out to be the spanner in the works. A two-state solution is a long way away as neither side will sacrifice land for peace.