Monday, June 30, 2008

Poverty eradication programme provides new hope to women

When the Kudumbashree programme was launched, the government of Kerala presented it as one aimed at eradicating poverty within ten years. The deadline has passed without achieving the goal, but the programme has won high praise for giving new hope to the poor.

Kudumbashree was born out of a Central government scheme designed to reduce poverty by encouraging those belonging to the weaker sections of society, especially women, to organise self-help groups (SHGs), which will promote the habit of thrift and organise credit to take up activities that will supplement the family income.

To begin with, SHGs were formed in selected areas in different States. In Kerala, pilot projects were taken up in Malappuram district and Alappuzha town. Encouraged by their success, the Centre asked the States to extend the programme.

The previous Left Democratic Front government redesigned the programme and christened it Kudumbashree. A Local Self-government department order, issued in October 1997, envisaged the formation of Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs) comprising women from families below the poverty line, area development societies (ADSs) at the ward level and community development societies (CDSs) at the panchayat or municipal level for the conduct of the programme.

At the State level, responsibility for the programme vests in the Poverty Eradication Mission, headed by an IAS officer. It has an advisory committee headed by the Chief Minister and a governing body headed by the Local Self-government Minister.

The State government widened the scope of programme and introduced additional elements into it. Going one step ahead of the Centre, it set the goal of poverty eradication in ten years.

Kudumbashree was formally inaugurated by then Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee at a function at Malappuram on May 17, 1998. As the ten-year deadline has passed, Mission documents now speak only of poverty reduction, not poverty eradication.

Today Kudumbashree is a big institution with 185,071 NHGs, with a total membership of 3.65 million women, 16,950 ADSs and 1,058 CDSs. The members have mobilised more than Rs. 9 billion by way of small savings and received nearly Rs. 25 billion as loans from financial institutions.

The massive enrolment indicates that the programme now covers the entire population below the poverty line, with at least one member of each BPL family enrolled in a neighbourhood group. In the tribal areas, too, enrolment appears to be complete, with 2,347 NHGs covering 40,572 families.

There are also 44,241 children's groups with a membership of 776,000.

The NHGs are involved in a variety of activities from garbage clearance to small enterprises of different kinds. The enterprises cover such fields as information technology, hotels, food products, readymade garments and furniture.
A souvenir brought out to mark Kudumbashree Mission's tenth anniversary lists a number of success stories.

The Mission has demonstrated considerable skill in innovation. Its Ashraya scheme to help destitutes has rehabilitated 56,389 people. Its Santhvanam groups visit homes to check blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Under its rural micro-enterprises scheme, 3,893 units under group ownership and 1,268 under individual ownership have come up. It is encouraging NHGs to play an active role in the development of responsible tourism.

In the context of the steady decline of agriculture in the State during the past three decades, Kudumbashree's entry into farming is a hopeful development. It has brought nearly 250,000 families in 820 panchayats into agriculture. They are cultivating 54,513 acres of land.

The State government, which is working on a scheme to bring more land under the plough with a view to ensuring food security, is looking up to Kudumbashree units to make it a success.

The Mission's Bhavanashree project is helping BPL families to build houses. The CDSs received 61,026 applications for assistance under the scheme, of which 52,604 were forwarded to banks. So far the banks have advanced Rs. 1.86 billion to 44,586 applicants and 38,449 of them have completed their houses.

The Kudumbashree programme is closely linked to the panchayats. As the party which dominates the panchayats, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is able to wield considerable influence over it. This has prompted the Congress party to form its own micro credit project, styled as Janashree.

The CPI (M) has criticised the move, viewing it as an attempt to divert Central grants which may otherwise go to Kudumbashree. The appearance of partisanship in this area bodes ill for the future. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 30, 2008.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Vatican newspaper launches Malayalam edition

Beginning July 3, a Malayalam edition of the semi-official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano will be available in India.

According to a report circulated by the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), Pope Benedict XVI, in a message, has described the appearance of the Malayalam edition of the paper as “a highly significant event in the life of the Church in India”.

It is expected to keep millions of Catholics in Kerala fully informed about the ministry of the Pope and the work of the Holy See.

The Malayalam edition is the Vatican newspaper's first in any non-European language.

L’Osservatore Romano is published daily in the Italian language. What will appear in Malayalam is a translation of its weekly English language edition, which is also available online. (The Pope's message can also be seen there.)

For more details, please see IANS report.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Political lessons from Social Science

The Congress was heading the Kerala government until two years ago. If the State’s voters continue with their present survival strategy, it may have to take charge of the administration again after three years. The Indian Union Muslim League was in charge of the Education department until two years ago. It may be in charge of the department again three years from now. The madness these parties have been displaying in the name of the Seventh Standard textbook in Social Science shows how far removed we are from the concept of a modern democratic society.

Parties which are part of the scheme of power politics have many opportunities to voice their differences over the contents of a textbook. They certainly have the right to agitate if a solution cannot be found through constitutional means. When agitation becomes inevitable, responsible parties must conduct it directly. It is deplorable to drag youth and students organizations into the street instead. When the agitating youths resorted to violence the League leaders distanced themselves from them. No Congress leader had the courage to do the same.

The police forget the newly learnt people-friendly lessons when they saw the agitators. An MLA was among those who were injured. When a Left Democratic Front leader was asked about this in a discussion, he sought to put up a defence by drawing attention to injury suffered by an LDF MLA when the United Democratic Front was in power. That answer explains why there is continuous decline in political standards. When the UDF makes the LDF its role model and the LDF makes the UDF its, there can be no escape from going down. For, each side picks up from the other not its best traits but its worst.

Of the five lessons in the Seventh Standard textbook, the first three are the ones that have invited criticism. The opening lesson looks at the changes that have come about in the agricultural sector. The second deals with some problems relating to caste and religion. The third tells the story of the freedom struggle. Opposition parties and caste and religious organizations have raised objections to these lessons. They allege that the book has been prepared with a view to propagating Communist ideas. They see denial of religion and denunciation of God in it.

In a prefatory note, the director of the State Council of Education Research and Training says the book has been prepared to equip the new generation to intervene in issues that they face in life’s immediate surroundings. So we have to find out if it can achieve this aim. When the lessons which have attracted criticism are analyzed in this light, it would appear that the critics’ fears are misplaced.

Some documents have been included in the book to enable students to understand the changes that have taken place in the farm sector. It then asks them to find answers to some questions. When did the farmer obtain right to the land? What all changes did land ownership make in the lives of the farmer and the farm labourer? What changes occurred in Kerala society after the farmer got the land? These are the questions.

EMS Namboodiripad, who headed the first Communist government, had said that it only tried to give effect to the limited land reform proposals which the Congress had earlier approved in principle. Namboodiripad had to bow out twice without completing the task. Later the legislative process was completed with the support of the Congress and other parties which are now part of the UDF. Why is the Congress afraid of students learning all this? The table given in the book to help understand the changes that occurred as a result of land reform makes it clear that since the 1970s the area under paddy has continually declined. Shouldn’t students know this? This lesson will give them an opportunity to understand the problem of landlessness faced by farm labourers who were ignored at the time of land reform.

The book draws the students’ attention to caste discrimination by presenting a report which refers to caste supremacists killing of a Dalit youth because his sister had drawn water from a public well. Needless to say the incident occurred in some other State. The book also contains some documents which show that various kinds of discrimination were practised in Kerala, too, in the past. It then gives a short account of the social reform efforts in the State. A notable feature of the account is the absence of any reference to Ayyankali or Sree Narayana Guru.

One question raised in this lesson is whether divisions exist among followers of religions. Another is whether there is any ban or curb on mode of dressing. The book asks the students to make inquiries and prepare a note on the subject. Must this disturb religious leaders? Any suspicion of a hidden CPI (M) agenda here can be dispelled by recalling the figure of the bearded, turbaned former party general secretary.

Going by media reports, what has upset religious leaders most are the lessons relating to the son of an inter-religious couple and to Jawaharlal Nehru’s will. Where is denial of religion or denunciation of God in the parents’ decision to leave it to the son to decide his religion when he attains majority? While asking that religious rites be avoided at his funeral, Nehru wanted his ashes to be immersed in the Ganga at Allahabad and strewn over the Himalayas. This reveals his willingness to respect tradition even as he disliked religious rites. Disregarding Nehru’s wishes, Indira Gandhi had got a priest to conduct religious ceremonies. Anyone who knows all this will realize that Education Minister MA Baby’s enthusiasm for this lesson and religious leaders’ fears about it are equally misplaced.

The Congress leaders’ charge that the book gives more prominence to Communist agitations than to the freedom struggle under Gandhiji’s leadership is also not in accord with facts.

In short, the objections raised against the book will not survive an objective scrutiny. At the same time, it has to be said that the book lacks the quality expected of a school textbook. There is reason to doubt whether those who prepared it possessed the necessary qualifications.
Based on column ‘Nerkkazhcha’ appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated June 26, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

Agitation over textbook lands government in trouble

The Opposition parties and various religious groups have come together to demand scrapping of a school textbook, landing the Left Democratic Front government in a fix. The last thing it wants is a gang-up of the kind that the first communist regime faced 50 years ago.

Last week the pro-Congress Kerala Students Union staged violent demonstrations all over the State, saying the Social Science textbook, prescribed for Class VII, was unacceptable. The Youth Congress also participated in the agitation.

The police resorted to harsh measures against the students.Among those injured in the incidents were a Congress MLA, TN Pratapan, and the KSU president, Haibi Eden.

Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan accused the KSU of resorting to Naxalite style of agitation. Pradesh Congress president Ramesh Chennithala said Balakrishnan was acting like Hitler.

The police repression brought the Congress directly into the battlefield. The party's top leaders, including Chennithala and former Chief Ministers Oommen Chandy and K Karunakaran participated in a protest sit-in outside the State Secretariat.

Congress leaders have charged the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling coalition, with attempting to spread its ideology through the Social Science textbook, which was prepared after the LDF came to power two years ago.

They have raised two specific objections to the book. One is that it seeks to promote atheism. The other is that it seeks to belittle the freedom movement and glorify Communist-led peasant struggles.

The book in question was introduced this year on the basis of the new curriculum adopted by the State Council of Educational Research and Training last year.

According to SCERT director MA Khader, the new curriculum is based on the one adopted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training in 2005. He claims the teachers involved in the preparation of the textbook were selected through a written examination, without regard for their political affiliation.

Few will give credence to the claim since the political parties are known to exert influence even when selection is based on written examinations.

The CPI (M), which commands the loyalty of a large majority of teachers and other employees, is particularly adept in this regard. K.Vikraman Nair, a former president of the pro-Congress Government School Teachers Union, has stated that the controversial book did not come before the curriculum committee at all.

Vikraman Nair, who was a member of the curriculum committee, has alleged that textbooks in various subjects were being prepared secretly even before the syllabus was finalised.

The Indian Union Muslim League and the Kerala Congress (Mani) have also come out against the Social Science textbook.

At a meeting called by Muslim League president Panakkad Mohammed Shihab Thangal, representatives of several Muslim organisations endorsed the view that the book propagates anti-religious sentiments.

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Mar Powathil, who heads the Inter-Church Council of Education, has also criticised the textbook as anti-religious. The latest to join the chorus against the book is the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. It has planned a series of agitation at the State and district levels from Wednesday.

Education Minister MA Baby's initial response was to dismiss the KSU agitation as a cheap political exercise. He said the textbook was prepared on the basis of an approach paper, which was discussed widely, down to the panchayat level.

However, as the agitation snowballed and the UDF prepared to raise it in the Assembly, which begins a month-long session today (on Monday), he put out feelers aimed at assuaging the feelings of critics on a selective basis.

He said if Mar Powathil and KM Mani gave their objections to the book in writing, the government would examine them. While ruling out withdrawal of the book, he offered to make amendments if critics should show that it contained objectionable material.

Baby did not extend the offer of talks to the Congress or its affiliates. Even so, Ramesh Chennithala and Youth Congress president T.Siddique said they would not enter into any talks until the textbook was withdrawn.

Various political parties and caste and religious organisations had come together in the so-called 'liberation struggle' which ended in the dismissal of the first communist government.

It is no longer possible to overthrow an elected government under similar circumstances. However, the LDF is aware of the need for caution when the possibility of early Lok Sabha elections is looming large on the national scene. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 23, 2008.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Growing popularity of Chinese language in Nepal

Many Nepalese people learn English, French, and Japanese. But for the past few years, many Nepalese are also learning Chinese.

In the past, some public and private institutions used to run limited Chinese language classes. But with the increasing interest of many Nepalese in learning Chinese, some institutions have begun teaching Chinese. The Confucius Institute, affiliated to Kathmandu University, has been teaching Chinese for about a year to many different levels.

The institute runs basic, intermediate, Diploma and Degree levels. The institute teaches Chinese through English, so Nepali students can sharpen their English while learning Chinese. Writing, speaking, audio and visual aids are used in the classes.
With the increasing number of Nepali people learning Chinese, it is playing an important role in developing a good relationship between the two countries.

The Confucius institute celebrated its first anniversary on 13th June.--The Red Star, Kathmnandu, June 16-30, 2008)

Another report from the Red Star is reproduced in BHASKAR Blog

Friday, June 20, 2008

Govindan Kutty’s blog

P. Govindan Kutty, Editor, People’s March, is back in action. He now communicates through a blog.

Govindan Kutty was arrested by the Kerala police on December 19, 2007, from Thrikkakkara, near Kochi, and charged under different sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The district authorities also cancelled the registration of People’s March, which was publicizing the activities extreme Left groups. (See earlier post)

He was subsequently granted bail, but the registration of the magazine was not restored.

It is in these circumstances that he has set up his blog, Peoples Truth.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Civil wars in God’s Own Country: no more justified than Bush’s Iraq war

Kerala is today a big battlefield. The fight between the government and the opposition is intensifying. Since Lok Sabha elections are due in less than a year, it is sure to get bloodier than at present. Within the government and the ruling front, there are battles which are even fiercer than this traditional conflict. The CPI (M) is at war with the CPI, and the departments under their control are at war. There is fighting within some departments too. There is a thin silver lining in the war clouds. The truce in the CPI (M) following the Kottayam conference is holding. When there is strong public reaction, the government sometimes places a police sub-inspector under suspension and when the tempers cool it quietly reinstates him. In the same manner, the party has been able to bring EP Jayarajan back as general manager of Deshabhimani without encountering any opposition.

There are signs of war lust not only in the government and the front but also in other machineries. After reading reports that the State Women’s Commission has decided to recommend to the government enactment of a law to set an age limit for initiation of nuns, someone approached the State Human Rights Commission with a petition. A Commission member immediately turned towards that body like Hanuman, who jumped to seize the Moon turned to Rahu.

Although the hunt for god-men, which appeared to be growing into a great war, has subsided, it still rumbles. Disciples of Mata Amritanandamayi, who gave the world a message of peace in Malayalam from the United Nations headquarters, are preparing for war against Sukumar Azhikode for demanding that her sources of funds be investigated. And the Sahitya Akademi is raising a battalion to face Amma’s children. Another AMMA is at another battlefront. It’s a dishum-dishyum war.

When those moving in the magic world of power get into a fight, it can be attributed to the character of the power establishment. But what can you say when activists of non-government organizations are involved in fracas? According to press reports, someone has filed a petition in a court seeking a probe into the assets of Anveshi president K. Ajitha. It appears the petitioner is a human rights activist too. Even human rights activists are answerable before the law. But if someone has material to establish that Ajitha has amassed wealth illegally, there is no need for him to move the courts. There are agencies under the Central and State governments who are empowered to handle such matters. If the accused person is a leader who is a part of the Establishment, official agencies may hesitate to take action and so they cannot be relied upon. There is no need for such fear in the case of Ajitha.

Most of the people involved in the wars going on at different levels must have joined the battle in good faith. But the question whether they are fighting to uphold the wide interests of the people is relevant. Institutions and individuals involved in service to the people must ask themselves if it is right to turn their attention to comparatively unimportant matters when grave issues remain unresolved.

Political parties competing for power are essential for sustaining a democratic set-up. To that extent, their seeking power and striving to maintain it are not only natural but inevitable. What occasionally create problems are the means they adopt.
The goals set in the Preamble of our Constitution are based on principles that are applicable as much to civil society as to the constitutional institutions. They include the ideals of Equality, Fraternity and Liberty that are the contributions of the Western tradition. These were not ideas that were alien to Indian thought. But the Indian tradition was built upon inequality. Consequently injustice prevailed in the society. That was why the makers of the Constitution wrote at the very outset of the Preamble that the ultimate goal was justice, social, economic and political.

Years ago Gandhiji suggested a formula to decide whether a decision was right or wrong. He said that if the decision helped the poorest of the poor it was right. Otherwise it was wrong. In the light of the proclaimed objectives of the Constitution, we can update it as follows: what ensures social, economic and political justice is right; what does not is wrong. When tested by the touchstone of justice, many of the civil wars being fought in God’s Own Country have no greater justification than Bush’s Iraq war.

Today India is the fastest producer of billionaires. There is also a fast growing middle class here. The country also happens to have the largest number of poor people. This indicates that an unbalanced social and economic system is developing here. In this situation, social and economic justice assumes great relevance. The situation in Kerala is no different from that in the rest of the country. Socially,
Kerala has been a front-rank State for a long time. In the last few years, economically, too, it is in the forefront. But the depressed classes have not benefited proportionately from the State’s social and economic progress. The condition of the State’s Dalits and Adivasis and many of the backward communities must open the eyes of the political leadership.
Based on column ‘Nerkkazhcha’ appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated June 19, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Plea to convert golf course into biodiversity park

The Global Anti-Golf Course Movement (GAG'M) asked the Government of Kerala to convert the Thiruvananthapuram golf course into a public biodiversity park. The following is the text of a letter it has addressed to the Chief Minister in this regard:

We are writing to you to express our concerns over the negative impacts of golf courses and kindly ask you to support the proposals of Kerala Tourism Watch and other civil society organizations for a moratorium on all golf course developments in Kerala and for the conversion of the controversial Trivandrum golf course into a public biodiversity park for conservation and education.

To introduce ourselves, we belong to an alliance of citizens and non-governmental organizations who in 1993 formed the Global Anti-Golf Movement (GAG'M) in Penang, Malaysia, as a response to the worldwide outcry of thousands of communities harmed by environmentally and socially damaging golf course projects. For more than fifteen years, we have been involved in actions to raise public awareness on the multi-dimensional problems related to golf course and resort developments and to foster an open and frank debate with decision-makers on the impacts of golf courses and golf tourism.

Case studies from around the world clearly show that golf course projects that are often part of large-scale tourism schemes can cause immeasurable environmental losses and hardships for local residents. Such developments devour huge stretches of land, destroy forest, coastal and marine areas, and wipe-out invaluable biological diversity. High-standard golf courses require a package of imported grass, fertilizers and a wide range of chemical products, including colouring, soil hardening and coagulating agents, and the yearly spraying of thousands of kilogrammes of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, all of which contribute to pollution and degradation of the local environment. On top of that, golf resorts consume enormous amounts of water, tens of millions of gallons, all year round, often resulting in chronic water shortage crises in neighbouring areas.

Local governments tend to believe that golf courses will raise their city's image, attract investors and bring in tourist dollars. But often such projects create skewed land use and deprive local residents of land and resources they depend on.
In these times when all efforts are needed to work for food and water security for common people, it is highly irresponsible to promote the elitist and exclusive lifestyle of golf and golf tourism. In China, critics called golf 'green opium' as more and more precious farmlands were turned into water-guzzling and toxic fairways. The central government responded in December 2006 by banning the building of new golf courses, residential villas and race tracks on undeveloped land in order to protect China's rapidly diminishing farmland. And in the face of a looming food crisis, the government of the Philippines recently also decided to prohibit the conversion of agricultural lands into luxury housing, resorts and golf courses.
We do hope that the concerned government agencies in Kerala and New Delhi will also give priority to land for people's livelihood, food production and the protection and enhancement of your environment.

Therefore we are sending out this appeal to respectfully request that you heed the citizens' call for a moratorium on golf courses in Kerala. We agree that all existing and proposed projects in the state should be given up immediately.
We also agree with the local civil society groups that it would be unreasonable and not in the public interest to maintain the controversial Trivandrum golf course with state subsidies. To convert it into a public biodiversity park for the enjoyment and education of both local residents and tourists is a highly recommendable plan that should be realized by the concerned authorities as soon as possible.

In this age of growing environmental awareness, there is no more place on Earth for destructive, wasteful and exploitative golf courses!

Yours sincerely,

Anita Pleumarom

Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team)
On behalf of the Global Anti-Golf Course Movement's (GAG'M) coordinating groups:
Third World Network (TWN)
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), Malaysia
Friends of the Earth (FoE), Malaysia
Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team), Thailand
Global Network for Anti-Golf Course Action (GNAGA), Japan
Helping Our Peninsula's Environment (HOPE), USA
GAG'M liaison initiative UK (Desmond Fernandes)
Additional signatories:
Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), United Kingdom

Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team)
P.O. Box 51 Chorakhebua
Bangkok 10230, Thailand

Monday, June 16, 2008

LDF differences turn governance into spectator sport

When Justice S.Siri Jagan of the Kerala high court takes up the Golf Club case again, he will have before him two affidavits filed by different officials of the State government, making contradictory claims.

In an affidavit, filed on Friday, U. Shajimon, Under Secretary in the Law department, said Revenue Principal Secretary Nivedita P.Haran had made false statements in her affidavit, filed earlier in the week.
Obviously, both of the officials cannot be right. Justice Siri Jagan has the onerous task of distilling the truth from their sworn statements.

According to Food and Civil Supplies Minister C. Divakaran, this is a matter between two officers, and the government will not get involved in it. Actually, however, this is not a matter between two officials, but one between two departments of the government.

At the political level, it is also a matter between the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front, and the CPI, the second largest constituent of the coalition. Revenue Minister KP Rajendran, who belongs to the CPI, endorses the contents of the Revenue Secretary's affidavit. Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and Law Minister M. Vijayakumar, both of whom belong to the CPI-M, support the Law official's affidavit.

The war of affidavits is the latest episode in the serial drama touched off by the administration's ham-handed attempt to take over the Trivandrum Golf Club.
The club, located on government property, was closed and sealed by the District Collector, during a weekend, acting on a directive issued by the Revenue Principal Secretary in pursuance of a cabinet decision.

The cabinet took the decision on Friday and asked the official to give effect to it within two days. Evidently, the time-frame was set with a view to completing the takeover before likely court intervention the following Monday.
The club filed a writ petition challenging the cabinet decision on Friday itself. Justice Siri Jagan instructed the Registrar of the high court to inform the Advocate General about the petition and advise the government against taking any action until the matter was taken up on Monday.

A government lawyer and the Law Secretary informed Haran of the judge's direction, but she did not recall the order issued to the Collector to take over the club.
Justice Siri Jagan took a dim view of the government action. He asked the government to return the property to the club within 24 hours. He also directed the Principal Secretary to appear in person to explain her conduct.

However, on a review petition filed by her, he exempted her from personal appearance.

In her affidavit, Nivedita P. Haran said she had consulted the Revenue Minister and he had told her to go ahead with the takeover decision since she had received no written instructions to the contrary.

This is not the first time that the LDF government has revealed itself as a divided house. From the very outset, governance has been reduced to the level of a spectator sport.

In the early days of the government, the public was treated to the spectacle of the Chief Minister and CPI-M ministers loyal to party State Secretary pulling in different directions.

The drive against encroachments in the hill resort of Munnar left both the government and the parties divided. The Chief Minister, who sent a team of officials to evict the encroachers, faced opposition from the organisational wings of both the CPI-M and the CPI.

The present situation is more complex than anything witnessed during the past two years. The LDF government now stands before the high court as one incapable of speaking with one voice.

Although the high court summoned Nivedita P. Haran in her official capacity, her review petition is a personal response. She has engaged her own lawyer instead of relying on the government's law officers to get her off the hook.

The government's top law officers also stand divided. On Saturday, the Chief Minister conceded the Revenue Minister's demand that the golf club case be taken away from CPI(M)-nominated Advocate General Sudhakar Prasad and entrusted with CPI-nominated Additional Advocate General Venganoor Chandrasekharan Nair.

However, Sudhakar Prasad will represent the government before Justice Siri Jagan during the hearing on Nivedita P. Haran's review petition.

The government will probably have a lot of egg on its face when this drama ends. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 16, 2008.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A plea to take up the case of film-maker Ajay T.G., held on false charges in Chhattisgarh

The following is a message from Sudha Bharadwaj (, which has been circulated by Rights Support Centre (

Dear friends,

This is an appeal to you to actively campaign for the freedom for film-maker Ajay T.G, who was recently arrested in Bhilai under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act (like Dr. Binayak Sen) on charges on sedition!

Ajay, who would be about 35, hails originally from Kerala. Coming from a very ordinary family, he has been involved in CPI politics and is still an office-bearer of the local youth federation. He learned film-making at "Jan Darshan" an effort of journalist Lalit Surjan (of Deshbandhu fame) to train local youth in the audio-visual media.

As a research assistant of the well known sociologist Jonathan Parry of the London School of Economics, Ajay made several films on the interface of caste and class among the permanent workmen of the Bhilai Steel Plant, which were widely appreciated

As a member of PUCL, he had the courage to accompany several fact-finding teams including into fake encounters, and capture on film the statements of victims. (Presumably it is this activity of Ajay's that is being dubbed "sedition"?)

He had started a foundation called "Drk Sakshi" (Eye-witness) to make socially relevant films and under this banner he made a number of films for various people's movements and organizations. For instance "Phool Nahi Chingari Hai" a film capturing the 8th March programme of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, and a film on the rich diversity of rice varieties in Chhatisgarh for social organization Rupantar. Ajay had also made an interesting film on the lathi charge on the Honda workers at Gurgaon in the wider context of liberalization based on TV footage, which proved invaluable material for educating workers. Just before his arrest he was planning a documentary on displacement.

Ajay also ran an informal education centre for women and children in one of the bastis of Bhilai. This unassuming, sensitive and courageous young man was the much loved "Bhaiyya", and always there for the people of Dabrapara - taking a cancer patient to hospital, intervening on the behalf of the girl children against patriarchal attitudes, helping to deal with insensitive authorities....

In the year 2004 Ajay had accompanied a group of researchers to Dantewada and there his camera was snatched away from him by youthful villagers, possibly frontal organization members of Maoists. Later an unknown young man came to him and offered that the camera or its cost would be returned and asked him to write down information about the make of the camera and its cost. Ultimately neither the camera nor its cost were returned to him, but it is possibly the seizure of some such letter that forms the flimsy basis that Ajay was the member of a the banned organization CPI (Maoist). It is pertinent that the Act under which this organization was banned itself came into existence in April 2006.

Of course, the real crime committed by Ajay was that he insisted on standing in solidarity with Dr. Binayak Sen even after his arrest. He made a film on Dr. Sen, ironically called "Anjam". In a recent hearing he had been unduly harassed when a pocket knife (cum nail cutter cum corkskrew - one of those handy kits) was found in his rucksack while entering the court. This was splashed in the media as a "weapon"! Interestingly the so-called "incriminating letter" is said to have been seized in January. It took the police five months to decide whether or not to book Ajay. There could be no greater evidence that there is no evidence!!

Be that is it may, Ajay is now in a jail. Clearly the Chhattisgarh government is hell bent on clearly giving the message: "Speak about the conditions in Bastar and you go to jail. Of course we know you are not Maoists, but so what .... rot in jail till you prove your innocence!"

And it’s not only Ajay. The journalists who tried to expose atrocities of the police or Salwa Judum were sacked, bashed up or otherwise threatened. Many TV journalists had their cameras and footage snatched away. Out of the 52 detainees under the Chhattisgarh Act, two are journalists.

If you think you can take up the campaign for the release of Ajay, we can send a detailed profile, a list of films and selected CDs etc.

The campaign of doctors in favour of Dr. Binayak Sen has gone far beyond the borders of Chhattisgarh, and even India, and has forced them to think deeply over their Hippocratic Oath which tells them to "treat a patient irrespective of political affiliation". It has also made them question "How should a doctor act in a conflict situation". This time it is the turn of the film makers to turn their attention to Chhattisgarh.

Hoping you will respond. With warm wishes,

Sudha Bharadwaj,
on behalf of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, and Chhattisgarh PUCL

Kindly see reports on the arrest of Ajay T.G., posted in BHASKAR blog in May.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Those who frighten and those who get frightened

When the Communist Party of India first came to power through the ballot box, I was working in Chennai. The people of Tamil Nadu viewed the election results with surprise. There, too, the Congress party’s influence was on the wane. But the Tamil people did not have the courage to remove it and put another party on power. They did not hide their admiration for the Malayali who hard the courage to do it. “He is a real guy,” they said. They used that paternalist phrase only to denote courage.

Today the Malayali is a coward. The way we join hartals, whoever calls them, proves this. People get frightened when there are people who frighten. Fear of power, which flows through the barrel of a gun, is universal. In Kerala, there are others, too, who can frighten. Hartals succeed because people fear the muscle power of the political parties. These days the big parties rarely send their cadres to the battlefront. Usually they deploy members of affiliated organizations.

The first Communist government commanded a majority of only two votes in the State Assembly. If the Opposition could win over one member, the majority will be wiped out. If it could win over two members, it will have two more members than the ruling party. Placing their faith in this arithmetic, some persons were moving around with sacks to capture legislators. At that time, addressing a public meeting in Thiruvananthapuram, party leader M. N. Govindan Nair said, “Whatever happens, we will maintain the two-vote majority.” He did not say we will take two legs or two lives. But those who listened to him came with the impression that even that might be done. Today leaders hold out dire threats publicly. Did not one leader say the other day that if anyone tried to demolish the party’s building his legs would be chopped off? How can one not be frightened?

Even before political parties took birth, religious establishments had the capacity to frighten people. Later caste organizations also acquired that capacity. In Kerala, some other organizations like those of traders and businessmen also possess that capacity, though not in the same measure. Film industry organizations are now trying to develop that capacity.

Sometimes there are needless attempts to fright people. The declaration of war made by Church leaders in the wake of the State Women’s Commission’s recommendation to enact legislation to prevent young girls from becoming nuns is an example. Chairperson Justice D. Sreeedevi has said the Commission also proposes to recommend that parents who force daughters to enter the nunnery must be prosecuted, the property rights of nuns must be protected and those leaving the convent must be rehabilitated.

Spokesmen of several Churches have claimed they are already following most of the regulations the Commission wants to enforce. The head of the Syro Malankara Church said in a press release that it did not allow one who has not completed 18 years to become a priest or nun. Kerala Regional Latin Catholic Council Secretary Fr. Stephen G. Kulakkayathil clarified that girls entered the convent after completing school education and no one became a nun before 18. Catholic Bishops Council of India spokesman Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph said no one became a nun before the age of 20, Orthodox Bishop Paulose Mar Milithios Bava said his Church too did not ordain nuns before the age of 18.

All Churches maintain that the girl and her parents have to give full consent before training as nun can start, that there is no compulsion to bequeath her share of the family property to the convent, that a nun can leave the order at any time and that they help in the rehabilitation of those who leave the nunnery. In other words, the Women’s Commission’s recommendations are in accord with the rules that the Churches follow or are bound to follow. What was then the need to declare war on the Commission?

There is no need to disbelieve what the spokesmen of the Churches say about the procedures they follow. At the same time we cannot forget that rules might be broken in the Churches, as elsewhere. Indeed, persons like Joseph Pulikunnel, who have been campaigning against undesirable practices in the Churches, have pointed to breach of the rules. The Women’s Commission’s mandate is to protect the rights pf women. It drew up its recommendations in the light of a study conducted after receiving a complaint.

The charge that the Commission’s recommendations constitute interference in religious affairs is absurd. As the Women’s Summit at Beijing declared, women’s rights are human rights. The Churches cannot claim the right to flout human rights in the name of religious freedom. The real issue involved in the controversy is who must have the right to frighten the people. If a law is enacted, that will become the last word. So long as it is not there, the Church has the last word. The people need fear it alone.

The way Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President Ramesh Chennithala, who is capable of understanding all this, has jumped into the fray to make political capital is highly deplorable. The dealings the political parties have made with religious and caste organizations at the national and regional levels for temporary gains have already caused immense damage. Chennithala may make a ruckus and Pinarayi Vijayan may turn his face away, but the constitutional machinery cannot ignore human rights violations.

One criticism levelled by those who have come forward to oppose the Women’s Commission’s recommendations is that there is no Christian representative on it. This is not sufficient reason to reject the Commission’s recommendations. However, it needs to be acknowledged that lack of representation for a significant section of the population on such bodies exposes a grave weakness in the political arena.
Based on 'Nerkkazhcha' column appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated June 13, 2008

Monday, June 9, 2008

NGOs demand closure of golf courses

KERALA TOURISM WATCH, a coalition ofcivil society activists and local communities, EQUATIONS and KABANI –the other direction, have, in a joint statement, urged the Kerala government to wind up the Trivandrum golf club and abandon its golf course. They believe environmental and social impacts warrant a more fundamental approach of dissolution rather than changing the ownership from private to public.

The golf courses are being increasingly brought in to focus due to the environmental and social problems that they engender. Everywhere in the world golf courses have been a major threat for local communities primarily in terms of uncontrolled ground water depletion. Trivandrum golf course, for example, has been reportedly consuming lakhs of litres of water every day to maintain the grass turf.
Conservative estimates by various international agencies show that an 18-hole golf course would consume five million litres of water a day, enough for nearly 10,000
families in a state like Kerala. We must remember that the water consumption by the Coca Cola plant at Plachimada was 500,000 litres a day. It is hardly surprising that the arrears towards water charges of Trivandrum Golf Club ran in to several lakhs of rupees.
At a time when the common people in the city face acute water shortage, maintaining a golf course with direct and indirect state subsidies violate principles of social justice. The argument that the golf courses would promote tourism in the state is completely unfounded. While we are critical of state's tourism policies in general we would like to point out that this argument is particularly flawed. Studies have shown that tourists visiting destinations in developing countries including India belong to the low
spending segment of international travellers. It is unlikely that they will be interested in golf. Alternatively golf courses will not be an adequate incentive for high spending travellers to visit destinations in poor countries. Allowing golf courses to flourish disregarding their environmental and social impacts will only serve the interest of
the local elites.

We understand that the government has been forced to take over the golf course in Trivandrum due to repeated failures on the part the club to comply with the administrative, legal and social requirements. However, taking over the club from its current leadership while the space could continue to be used as golf course will not bring any fundamental change.

The coalition demands that government should take back this valuable property and sees this opportunity to convert it into a bio diversity park. The coalition strongly condemns the attempt by club authorities to use the tourism façade to legitimise their elitist biases and vested interests.

No more golf courses should be allowed in Kerala while the existing ones should be immediately closed down. In this connection we demand the closure of Trivandrum and Kochi golf courses and shelving of the proposed one in Nedumbassery. We note with extreme concern that the Nedumbassery project involves land acquired by evicting local people in the name of Nedumbassery international airport. Tourism department and government of Kerala should pay attention to the concerns raised by national and international movements which oppose golf courses on environmental and social grounds.

The coalition would initiate a state level campaign with the support of civil society organizations to highlight the harmful impacts of golf courses and for abandoning all golf course projects in the state.

EQUATIONS - 9447079763
KABANI – the other direction - 9388402948
Kerala Tourism Watch

Protests add to burden imposed by petrol price hike

Last week was one of double jeopardy for the people of Kerala. On Wednesday the Government of India, after long deliberations, raised the prices of petroleum products, placing a huge burden on them. The next day the Left Democratic Front, which is ruling the State, and the Bharatiya Janata Party organised separate but simultaneous hartal (work stoppage), putting an additional burden on them.

Ironically, on hartal day, activists of the parties that call the strike do not stay away from work. Actually, on that day they work harder than ever. They leave home earlier than usual and go around making sure that no one goes to work defying the party fiat.

Among those who stayed away from office on Wednesday, responding to the LDF's strike call, were the State's ministers. They also reportedly advised members of their staff not to report for work.

Transport Minister Mathew T.Thomas used the enforced holiday to pay a courtesy visit to his neighbour, Health Minister PK Sreemathy. His wife and children joined him on the outing. They did not use their government car for the trip. Television cameras followed them as they walked to Sreemathy's official residence.

The strike was from 6 am to 6 pm. Official functions scheduled for the day were either cancelled or put off until after hartal hours.

Co-operation Minister G. Sudhakaran, who was due to attend a public function at Kayamkulam, went from his official residence to the railway station on a borrowed bicycle and boarded a train.

The unwritten hartal code bars the use of motor cars and auto-rickshaws, but not two-wheelers and trains.

The petrol price hike has come when the country is experiencing mounting inflation. Last week the inflation rate rose to 8.24 per cent. Financial analysts expect the rising fuel costs to push it further - probably up to 9.5%.

As a consumer State which depends upon other States for most of its needs, Kerala is in a highly vulnerable to price fluctuations. Generally, commodity prices rule higher in the State than elsewhere. According to official figures, last year the consumer price index for agricultural workers in the State rose by 8.99% as against the national average of 7.63%.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the LDF, is the leading member of the Left Front, which supports the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre from outside. It strongly disapproved of the petrol price hike, saying it was substantial and would push up the price of food and other essential commodities.

Even before the week ended, truck operators in the State announced an increase in hire charges to cover the hike in petrol and diesel prices. Their organisation had consulted industry unions before deciding on the increase.

Most of the workers in the transport industry are under the CPI-M banner. As far as is known, the unions controlled by the party went along with the truck operators' decision without raising any objection.

There is no official estimate of the loss suffered by the State as a result of the week's protests. The chambers of commerce and industry, which usually come up with unofficial estimates, has also remained silent.

Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac had provided more than Rs7 billion in this year's State budget to write off the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation's debts and set it on the path of economic recovery. The increase in diesel prices will hamper its efforts to achieve financial stability.

The KSRTC had suspended most of its services on the day of the strike. As a result, it suffered significant revenue loss. In all likelihood, it will be forced to revise passenger fares.

For the first time, the State Consumer Federation brought rice from West Bengal to meet the food shortage. The rice could not be unloaded from the rail wagons because of the strike. The railways charged the federation demurrages at Rs100 per wagon for every hour of delay.

The BJP did not stop with a day's strike. On Saturday, it organised road blockade at different places in the State. The CPI-M also has plans to stage more protests.

The two parties are sure to keep alive the issue of petrol price hike, which has come to them as a godsend as the nation moves towards the parliamentary elections, due next year. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 9, 2008.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Chithralekha presented with new auto


At a simple function held at the Police Club auditorium in Kannur on Saturday (June 7), Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha president C.K.Janu presented the keys of a new diesel auto to Chithralekha.

Chithralekha, a Dalit woman, who sought to make a living plying an auto, was constantly harassed by male auto drivers. Her means of livelihood was lost when one of them set fire to her auto. Neither the auto drivers’ union nor the party that controls it came forward to protect her.

Concerned citizens formed the Chithralekha Punaradhivasa Committee, with Dr. D. Surendranath as chairman, to help rehabilitate her. The June 7 function marked the culmination of its efforts. It proclaimed civil society’s firm resolve to extend to her all support in her continuing struggle for the right to work and live with honour.

K.M.Venugopalan, Convener, Chithralekha Punaradhivasa Committee, writes:

A.Vasu (Vasuettan), Dileepraj, V.P.Zuhra, Advocate P.A.Pauran, Mini K Philip, M.K.Jayaraj and Munderi Balakrishnan spoke at the function. Dr. Surendranath was in the chair.

Jenny Roweena and Carmel Christy, authors of the much debated report "Chithralekha's Burning Auto: Caste and Gender in the Urban Space of Keralam" (published in Sarai), who had stood by the Chithralekha Punaradhivasa Committee in its campaign, were present on the occasion.

After receiving the keys of the auto from Janu, Chithralekha said she would name the vehicle Mayilamma, after the heroic Adivasi woman who had led the anti-Coke
agitation at Plachimada until her death last year.
It was Mayilamma who had inaugurated the Convention for Protection of the Rights of Dalits and Women, held at Payyanur in February 2006. The convention, organized by the Citizens' Action Committee, was part of the early stage of the agitation sparked by the burning of Chithralekha’s auto.

Messages received from B.R.P.Bhaskar (senior journalist and human rights campaigner), Dr.A.K. Ramakrishnan (Jamia University, New Delhi), Prof.Shiva Shankar(Chennai Institute of Mathematics), J.Robin (Editor, Keraleeyam Monthly), Dr.J.Devika
(CDS,Thiruvananthapuram), Benjamin Paul Kaila (Ambedkarsholarships) and Dr.
Hari P.Sharma of South Asian Network for Secularism and
Democracy (SANSAD) were read out.

Messages expressing solidarity were also received from Dr.T.T.Sreekumar, Anivar
Aravind, Salim.T.K, Aftab Ellath, K.Ajitha, K.Venu, Sunny Kapikkad, P.V.Ayyappan, Rekha Raj, C.Padmanabhan, K.K.Kochu, Dr.K.M.Seethi (M G University, Kottayam), Dr.A.K.Jayasree, Sarathchandran, Mitesh Domania (US),Dr. Ranjith (Indira Gandhi Open University, New Delhi), Deepa V.N, Joy Charles(US), Prof. Alladi Sitaram (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore), Prof. Sujata Ramodari, Stalin.K (documentary film maker) and many others who had reiterated their support to the 10-month campaign for Chithralekha’s rehabilitation on various occasions.

Earlier, K. M. Venugopal welcomed the gathering. P.K.Ayyappan, Treasurer, Chithralekha Punaradhivasa Committee, proposed a vote of thanks.

A few words about the accounts:

A sum of Rs 1,53,700 was received as donations as against the targeted amount Rs 1,50,000. Some outstation cheques received in the later phase are yet to be credited to our account. Delay of several weeks in collecting money received as cheques considered normal!

There is already an understanding that the balance left after realizing the actual expenses of the campaign and the expenses incurred for the purchase of the auto, insurance, road taxes, body etc will be credited to the personal account of Chithralekha

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Behind the club-centred class war

In the none-too-distant past it was easy to identify the bourgeois in Kerala. They travelled by car. They alone did. The proletariat relied on their legs. Sometimes they also used the bicycle or the bus. But neither they nor their leaders used automobiles. The class enemy could, therefore, be recognized without much difficulty. That made class war easy. If the car hit a pedestrian, the driver could be pulled out immediately and beaten up. What if he is not a bourgeois? Isn’t he an agent of bourgeois?

When leaders of the working class started using motor cycles and cars, the situation changed. Today even the guy in an air-conditioned car need not be a bourgeois. So there is no class war on the national highways. In the circumstances, it is necessary to find other ways to distinguish the bourgeois from the adopted sons of the proletariat who travel by car. Here lies the relevance of golf.

Marx, Lenin, Mao and Ho did not play golf. One can’t be too sure of Jyoti Basu. After all, he studied in England. Although he ruled West Bengal for 30 years without the help of any Congressman, he did not close down the gold course in Kolkata. The China Line may have influenced him. In the 20 years since Deng opened China to foreign investors, 200 golf courses were built there. In the whole of Asia there are only about 500 of them.

Just as Krishna needs Kamsa and Bhima needs Keechaka to kill, the proletariat needs the bourgeois to exterminate. By and large, Kerala is a middle class society. The middle class cannot take the place of the bourgeois. Especially so when the proletariat looks to it for adopted sons. A recent study by the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad revealed that a new rich class is emerging here. How can this section, which contributes liberally for the success of all enterprises from party channel and newspapers to football competitions, be put in the enemy camp?

Whatever may be the situation in West Bengal and China, it is possible to divide the classes on the basis of golf in Kerala. EMS and AKG did not play golf. Pinarayi Vijayan and Veliyam Bhargavan do not play golf. Research by Dr. TM Thomas Isaac or G. Sudharakan can be expected to establish that cricket and golf were introduced by Imperialism to destroy our traditional games. Cricket has been able to produce a brilliant player like Shreesant and earn the support of some cultural personalities like Sukumar Azhikode. Golf has no such achievements to its credit. So the party can certainly decide that businessmen and bureaucrats who play golf are the new reactionaries. But it cannot be said that such ideological calculations are behind the government takeover of the Golf Club at Thiruvananthapuram on Monday.

The legal validity of the government action is under the consideration of the High Court. Let us not go onto that issue here. Even if the action was valid, the question whether it was necessary is relevant. That the land belongs to the government is not in dispute. The government says the lease amount is in arrears. The club claims it is holding the land not on lease but under a licence. In either case, if the club owes the government money, the proper course is to collect the dues. There is no need for the club to lock up the place and take the keys away. The government has also alleged that the place given to the club for playing golf is being used for other purposes. The basis of the allegation is that a bar functioned there. In a State where bar licences are granted most liberally, it is ridiculous to treat the running of a bar in a club as a crime.

Former club secretary EM Najeeb was heard saying in channel discussions that six officers from the Chief Secretary downwards are on the 11-member executive committee of the club. If this is correct, the government can easily correct the club when it does something wrong. The Chief Minister has said facilities for playing golf will be provided.
But he has not said facilities will be provided at the same place. In the circumstances, one may infer that the government proposes to turn out the club and use the premises for some other purpose. It certainly has the right to do so. But it must act in a transparent manner.

Land is needed urgently for developmental purposes and to meet the needs of weaker sections like Dalits and Adivasis. But what Kerala, which has placed hopes in tourism, needs is not development which will turn the land into a concrete jungle. The State is witnessing large-scale urbanization. We must take particular care to retain open spaces which can serve as lungs of the cities. Leaders who have set their eyes on the land held by clubs must understand this.

Golf is a sport with economic significance. Scotland’s 550 golf courses attract a lot of foreign tourists. China, too, has built golf courses as tourist attractions. But there have been allegations that the huge building complexes have been built under cover of golf. There have been agitations in the United States against the building of new golf courses because of the environmental problems they pose. It is the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers and exploitation of water resources that create problems. The experience of the US, which has about 18,000 golf courses, need not scare us, but we must learn appropriate lessons from it. New methods permit the creation of golf courses without causing much damage to the environment.

How is it that the eyes of the rulers who are looking all around for land that can be seized have not caught the Mavoor property in the hands of the Birlas? Industries Minister Elamaram Karim recently said that the Birlas have submitted to the government a proposal which envisages employment of about 100,000 people. It is a real estate project similar to that of the Mumbai firm which got some land with Karin’s help. All this creates doubts about the government’s intentions.
Based on column ‘Nerkkazhcha’ appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated June 5, 2008.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Media scrutiny of ministerial performance proves embarrassing

Who is Kerala's best minister? This was the subject of an enquiry by a leading television channel during the Left Democratic Front government's second anniversary celebrations last month. Another channel looked for the worst minister.

Obviously, only one individual can emerge totally unscathed from a contest to pick the best minister. Even his closest competitor can only be the second best.

Malayalam television channels have established in recent years a reputation for caricaturing the political leaders mercilessly almost daily. The tallest leaders are perhaps the ones lampooned the most.

Most of the leaders have fans whose loyalty to them can put to shame the most ardent admirers of the superstars of Malayalam cinema. Yet the channels have not encountered any significant hostility on account of their political spoofs, possibly because the viewers treat them as mere entertainment.

The leaders, too, have raised no objection. Some of them even claim to enjoy the mimics' version of them. They would rather be ridiculed than ignored.

Asianet, which pioneered reality shows on Malayalam television, was the one which organised the quest for the best minister. The selection procedure closely parallelled that of the reality shows.

An account of each minister's work was presented and viewers were invited to send SMS to boost his chances. Low-scoring ministers were eliminated, three at a time. The process was continued until only one was left.

The winner was Water Resources Minister NK Premachandran, the Revolutionary Socialist Party's lone representative in the cabinet.

Premachandran is unlikely to feel elated by the honour since he had reservations about the fairness of the exercise. While the elimination round was still on, this writer had occasion to talk to him about the programme.

Labour Minister PK Gurudasan and Fisheries Minister S. Sharma, both belonging to Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan's camp, had just been eliminated. "They are both good ministers, working quietly," Premachandran said sadly.

The "worst minister" contest was organised by Jaihind channel, promoted by the Congress party, emulating the example set by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which set up the Kairali group of channels.

All ministers, including Education Minister MA Baby, who was voted the worst, suffered the electronic humiliation in stoic silence.

There was a lone exception: the garrulous Co-operation Minister G. Sudhakaran. He said he would get the State Consumer Federation, which is under his department's control, to pick the worst journalist.

In a sense, grading of ministers by the electronic media is an extension of the system of awarding marks to them, initiated by the print media a few years ago.

Newspapers gave up the practice, possibly because many opinion leaders, who were asked to evaluate the performance of ministers, disapproved of the system of awarding marks.

Is it proper for the channels to grade ministers on the basis of SMS messages? Media persons and others have discussed the issue in private in recent days, and many of them are known to view it an unhealthy practice.

In the first public discussion on the subject, former Additional Chief Secretary D. Babu Paul asked in a magazine article last week, "Who are we to line up the ministers who rule over us as if they are children competing to pick up lozenges at the school anniversary competitions and determine the winner?"

In a democracy, ministers are not the masters, although some of them seem to imagine they are. They must be ready to face public scrutiny at all times, and not just at the end of their five-year tenure.

While the media and even the general public are entitled to evaluate the performance of ministers, it is incumbent upon them to do so in a responsible manner, without doing damage to the dignity of the high office they hold. Viewed in this light, the procedures adopted by the channels to determine the best and the worst were clearly objectionable.

It is, however, unfair to lay the blame for the general lack of respect for high offices in Kerala on the media. Political parties have contributed more to devaluation of public office and the dignity attached to their holders than anyone else, and it is for them to take the lead to correct the situation.

The spurious contests on the small screen, like the spurious discussions the channels organise, are manifestations of the lack of sufficient professionalism. In a situation of declining values, competition brings out not the best but the worst. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 2, 2008.