Thursday, July 31, 2008

Media needs to be more circumspect in literate Kerala

Indo Asian News Service (IANS) distributed on Wednesday a commentary by me on how Kerala responded to the recent bomb threats.

Here is the link to the commentary, as it appeared at the site

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tears In God's Own Country

As the Kerala government goes on an overdrive to sell tourism, its major destinations are beginning to resemble garbage dumps, says K.A.Shaji in an article, distributed by

See Tears In God's Own Country

Monday, July 28, 2008

Kerala law to save rice crop unlikely to succeed

THE Kerala Assembly, before going into recess last week, adopted a measure aimed at saving the State's vanishing rice fields. There are good reasons to believe that it is doomed to fail.

The measure contains loopholes which may well defeat its purpose. One of its provisions permits the government to acquire the fields for any public purpose. Another allows the land owner to raise other crops by way of "rotation of crops."

Rice, once a major crop of Kerala, has been on the decline since the birth of the State. The process has gained speed in recent years. According to official figures, during the eighth, ninth and tenth five-year plans, covering the period 1992-2007, the area under paddy shrank annually by 22,000 hectares, 13,000 hectares and 11,657 hectares respectively. Currently, the area under paddy is less than 275,000 hectares. Many farmers abandoned rice cultivation as high wages and input costs made it uneconomical.

Wage levels in the State are among the highest in the country, thanks to the farm labour unions' bargaining capacity. Fragmentation of holdings resulting from the rise in population in the early part of the last century also contributed to the development. Many holdings were too small to permit the use of machines. Even large ones could not use machines because of opposition from the unions.

The much acclaimed land reform made its contribution too. The tenants, who benefited from it, wanted their children to take up white-collar jobs instead of going into farming. In their hands, land became an asset to be used to further their middle class ambitions. Those who retained interest in farming switched to remunerative cash crops. Those who lost interest in it either sold the land or left it fallow and switched to other occupations.

Over the years, the government took several steps to restore rice to its former glory, but did not succeed. In 2004-05, the Agriculture department launched a scheme to grow paddy on fallow land. Two years later, an official report acknowledged that it had not been effective.

A law that prohibits the use of paddy fields for other purposes except with the government's prior permission has been in force for many years already. This has not prevented the raising of other crops in such fields or their conversion into housing plots.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, while in the opposition, had personally led a campaign to save paddy fields. The agitation took the form of wanton destruction of banana plantations raised on paddy fields.

The disappearance of paddy fields, which were an important element in the State's natural drainage system, has disturbed the ecological balance. This has brought environmental groups into the campaign to save the fields.

The Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Bill, which the Assembly passed on Thursday, contains provisions designed to encourage rice cultivation and protect the environment.

The bill came before the Assembly with several changes recommended by the select committee. One of them provides for payment of bonus to rice cultivators. The bonus will be fixed taking into account the cost of production and the need to assure the farmer a reasonable income.

The government accepted a few more amendments on the floor of the house. One of them allows the farmer to convert up to five cents in urban areas and ten cents in rural areas for residential purposes.

The bill prescribes a jail term of six months to two years and a fine of Rs50,000 to Rs100,000 for offenders. During the debate, Kerala Congress leader KM Mani pointed out that the provision to award punishment even for offences committed before the bill was enacted was unconstitutional. Thereupon Revenue Minister KP Rajendran agreed to drop it.

The Nelkrishi Samrakshana Vedi (Paddy Cultivation Protection Front), an umbrella organization of environmental groups, has said the government will be able to permit continued conversion of paddy fields by invoking the "public causes" provision. It wants a moratorium on reclamation of fields and wetlands even for public purposes until the State has achieved food security.

Recently the State government took up a food security scheme which envisages raising crops on fallow lands with the help of Kudumbasree, comprising women's self-help groups. The scheme is not limited to rice.

Like earlier measures, the new ones too do not address the core problem. Farmers cannot be forced to raise a crop that is not remunerative on pain of imprisonment.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 28, 2008.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Delhi developments land small parties in trouble

The political crisis at the Centre has upset the calculations of some of Kerala's small parties, mostly breakaway factions of various entities. They now have to make fresh plans to ensure their survival.

The State has a plethora of small parties, all breakaway factions of parties which saw better days in the past. Some of these factions were in the process of migration to other parties. The new national equations will compel them to review their plans.

Some of the small parties have been aligned with the Left Democratic Front or the United Democratic Front since long. As constituents of the fronts, which have been alternating in power, they command influence far in excess of their strength. Despite their weak base the fronts have been ready to carry them along as they have pockets of influence and are credited with the ability to tilt the balance in closely fought elections.

When the UDF was in power, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy tried to cut to size the Kerala Congress factions led by TM Jacob and R. Balakrishna Pillai. Both pulled out of the alliance. On the eve of the Assembly elections, the Congress wooed them back.

When the LDF came to power, the CPI-M denied Cabinet representation to the Congress (Socialist), which later became part of the National Congress Party, and to the Kerala Congress (Secular), which had only one member each in the Assembly. Both the parties are now out of the LDF.

The NCP's legislative strength rose to two when K. Karunakaran's Democratic Indira Congress merged in that party. Yet the LDF threw it out of the alliance since the CPI-M's central leadership did not favour any truck with the Karunakaran faction.

The secular credentials of the Janata Dal (S) became suspect in the eyes of the LDF when its Karnataka unit broke its alliance with the Congress and entered into a power-sharing arrangement with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The move was spearheaded by HD Kumaraswamy, son of the party's national president and former Prime Minister, HD Deva Gowda.

The Karnataka development embarrassed the party's Kerala unit. Its president, MP Veerendrakumar, is a member of the Lok Sabha. The party also has three members in the Assembly. They include Transport Minister Mathew T. Thomas and Veerendrakumar's son, MV Shreyamskumar. They were all elected as LDF candidates.

In a bid to save its membership of the LDF, the State unit disowned Deve Gowda's leadership. Thereafter Veerendrakumar negotiated for its merger in Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party. Yadav having gone to the United Progressive Alliance government's rescue when the Left Front withdrew support to it, he has no option but to drop the merger plan.

It is not clear how the new developments will affect the fortunes of A. Neelalohitadasan Nadar, who broke away from the Janata Dal (S) some time ago and is now in Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party. A Janata Dal (S) nominee in the EK Nayanar Ministry, Neelalohitadasan Nadar had to quit following allegations of sexual harassment, levelled by Nalini Netto, an IAS officer, and Pragati Srivastava, an Indian Forest Service officer. In the Srivastava case, he was convicted. His appeal against the decision is pending. The Netto case is still before the trial court.

The Delhi developments have enhanced the BSP's clout. CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat was in Lucknow recently to make friends with Mayawati. All this may not help Neelalohitadasan Nadar since the LDF may not be willing to do business with him in view of the pending cases.

Another person whose fate hangs in the balance is Karunakaran's son, K Muraleedharan. He did not return to the Congress with his father and remains president of the NCP's State unit.

The NCP is a constituent of the UPA, and its national president, Sharad Pawar, is Agriculture Minister in the Manmohan Singh government. Muraleedharan feels that his interests will be best served by joining the LDF rather than the UDF. However, Pawar does not want to give up his association with the Congress. It remains to be seen how Muraleedharan resolves the dilemma.

The lone MP elected on the Kerala Congress (Joseph) ticket has been under pressure to vote for the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha or at least abstain from voting. Since the KC (J) is a constituent of the LDF and has representation in the State Cabinet, it cannot be a party to any such arrangement. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, July21, 2008.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Can Kerala become a civilized society which resolves its problems peacefully?

Political parties organizing agitations as the election approaches and creating the necessary provocation if they believe clashes will do them good are not unusual. However, the events of the last few weeks of conflict cannot be dismissed in that vein. There were several events which raised questions like whether we are a civilized society and whether we still have the ability to find solutions to problems in a peaceful, constitutional manner. Among them are the violent incidents that occurred during the agitations conducted by political parties using student and youth affiliates and the response of the government to them. The arrogance involved in the declarations of panchayats, managements and teachers’ organizations that they would not teach textbooks prescribed by the government and the childishness in the student movement’s statement that in that event of their not teaching the book they would are equally deplorable. But when the big brother sitting in the State Assembly takes foreign policy in his hands how can the little brother sitting in the panchayat be blamed for taking the education policy in his hands? The toad wants to fly over the hill and the frog wants to fly over the mountain.

The accepted Kerala style is to solve problems at someone else’s expense. The newest example is the decision to revise bus fares. The Electricity Board’s rate revision plan is cooking in the kitchen. It is the people who taxes, direct or indirect, who have to bear the burden. Corruption and inefficiency are the main reasons why public sector institutions, controlled by public servants or officials, are in the red.

This year the Finance Minister donated Rs. 700 crores to the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, which has been incurring losses for years. The government certainly has a duty to help a public sector organization in distress. But he should not be like Santa Claus who comes dressed up year after year to distribute gifts to children. A good administrator, while employing tax-payer’s money to rescue an institution, has to ensure that it spends the money well and improves its performance. Otherwise he will have to keep putting money in again and again.

It was in the name of fuel price rise that the government sanctioned an increase in bus fares last week. The decision has invited criticism from many quarters. It has been pointed out that while Kerala revised the rates more than once in the last seven years on this ground there was not even one revision in Tamil Nadu, and that at present the rates her are twice as much as in the neighbouring State. In comparing the State transport system with Tamil Nadu’s we cannot overlook the fact that both per capita income and wage levels in Kerala are higher. At the same time, we ignore the possibility of the KSRTC losing passengers to the railways as the bus fare is now twice as much as the rail fare. Tamil Nadu has a decentralized transport system. All transport corporations except the one operating in Chennai city have been making profits for years. If their working is studied, it may be possible to find ways to save the KSRTC.

In the first year of the present government, the Cooperation Minister arranged crores of rupees to save the writers’ cooperative, Sahitya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangham. The latest information is that its financial situation continues to be bad. It would have been a wonder if it were otherwise. Why should the people who run an institution bother to improve its performance if there is some to write out cheques from time to time to bail them out? It is the belief that the public is an ass that gives the rulers the courage to spend public money as they like. So long as this belief is not corrected, more burdens will keep falling on the public. After all, it is the ass’s duty to carry burden.

For some years, whichever front is in power, the Electricity Minister has been going to New Delhi regularly to seek more time for reorganization of the Electricity Board. AK Balan is no different. Recently he sought and got a few more months’ time from the Union Energy Minister. A law enacted by Parliament requires all States to reorganize the Electricity Board. The time fixed to complete the process is over. Just as the Walancherry panchayat has the responsibility to follow the curriculum adopted by the State government the Kerala government has the responsibility to ensure that the Electricity Board functions according top the scheme laid down in the Central law. The former United Democratic Front could not discharge that responsibility. The present Left Democratic Front is also not able to do it.

In the Board there are forces that can frighten any minister. So the reorganization is not taking place. The minister does not also have the courage to tell the Centre that he is not able to do what is needed and get himself freed from the responsibility to reorganize the Board. This is not the problem of the Electricity Minister alone. When one looks at the working of the police, it is difficult to say the minister is running the department or the department is running the minister. It has been said that a people get the kind of government they deserve. Is it that the Malayalis deserve a government that shivers in front of seen and unseen powers?

Many problems that Kerala faces today evade solution because the government lacks the strength to face them truthfully. “Truthfully” needs to be underlined. Official centres themselves have admitted the presence of mafia gangs in different fields. The authorities fail to prevent the activities of not only powerful vested interests but also those involved in small crimes. Since there is no fear of getting caught or being punished, crimes increase.

In this disgusting scenario, it is comforting that there are indications that we have not completely lost our ability to become a civilized society. Fining for throwing garbage out, cancellation of permit of vehicle involved in an accident and prosecution for damaging a bus during a demonstration are not a big deal. Yet such news conveys the message that the authorities are ready to apprehend wrongdoers and bring them to book.

The most hopeful news is the interim recommendation of the KN Panicker Committee to make some changes in the controversial Social Science textbook. Those agitating against the book did not have faith in the committee. In fact, the UDF has set up a parallel committee. Many, including not only LDF supporters but also two UDF constituents, had rejected the allegation that the book was anti-religion. This writer had pointed out that though there is no substance in the allegations the standard of the book is of low. The committee’s proposal to rewrite parts of the book provides an opportunity to raise the standard.

The controversial book was prepared as part of a comprehensive programme for revision of textbook. Its low standard shows that those who were entrusted with the task had failed in their duty. In the circumstances, it will be appropriate to examine all textbooks prepared as part of the programme and ensure that they are of good quality. If the government is not ready to do this, there will be room to suspect that the committee’s recommendation is aimed at appeasing a religious group which has been alienated by the book and drawing it close to the LDF in the name of the nuclear deal.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated July 17, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hands off China campaign in Britain

The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), of which Harpal Brar, an Indian immigrant, is the chairman, is launching a campaign to defend the sovereignty and integrity of China.

The campaign will be formally launched at a meeting in London on Saturday. Apart from Brar, two other communists, Jack Shapiro and Keith Bennett, are listed as speakers.
Brar, who went to Britain as a student, first set up a Stalinist party and later became a Maoist.

A notice at the CPGB-ML website says, “The Hands off China campaign is being set up in the light of the vitriolic and deceitful propaganda campaign being waged in the imperialist press against China, as well as the protracted campaign being waged by the US and its allies aimed at destabilizing, weakening and encircling the country.”

Monday, July 14, 2008

Left in election mode after split with Congress at Centre

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front, has gone into election mode following the collapse of the pact between the Left Front and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance at the Centre.

It was in 2005 that the Left Front, of which the CPI-M is the major partner, decided to support a UPA government from outside, on the basis of a common minimum programme, to prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party's return to power.

The camaraderie with the Congress in New Delhi was a source of discomfiture to the State CPI-M since that party is its traditional rival in Kerala. It could not lose sight of the fact that at election time it would have to ask the people to vote for it, rejecting the Congress.

In the last Lok Sabha elections, the CPI-M and its allies had given a sterling performance, winning 18 of the State's 20 seats. The Congress drew a blank. However, its ally, the Muslim League, managed to win a seat.

Former Kerala Congress leader PC Thomas won one seat for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. He is now a part of the LDF, his party having merged in the Kerala Congress (Joseph).

The Left's decision to withdraw its support to the UPA government over the issue of the civilian nuclear deal with the United States has freed the CPI-M from the embarrassment of having to face the electorate as a supporter of the Congress at the Centre. The party has already started attacking the Congress viciously not only on the nuclear issue but also a number of other issues like price rise.

Although during the past four years the Left was able to persuade the UPA government to take several steps in terms of the common minimum programme and dissuade it from taking some steps which it did not like, the party's leaders now talk as though it was anti-people regime.

If the Central government loses the confidence vote, scheduled for next week, immediate elections will become necessary as there is little chance of the present Lok Sabha throwing up an alternative government.

Even if it wins the confidence vote, with the help of the Samajwadi Party and smaller parties who are eager to prevent early elections, the Congress is expected to make a bid for a fresh mandate later this year, when it expects favourable conditions to emerge.

Since the inflation rate has been in two digits for several weeks, price rise is perhaps the best stick to beat the government with. However, the CPI-M is wary of relying on it as it can boomerang. As the party which heads the State administration, it is certain to face questions about rise in bus fares, power tariff and water tax.

Political observers take a dim view of the usefulness of nuclear policy as an election issue as it is a complex matter and the voters may not understand its implications fully. Yet there are indications that the CPI-M plans to make its opposition to the Indo-US deal a major electoral plank at least in Kerala.

Before rising for the weekend, the party pushed through the Legislative Assembly a resolution opposing the nuclear deal, although, not being a State subject, the house is not competent to discuss it. The debate provided ample opportunity to use anti-American rhetoric, which goes down well with the party's traditional supporters.

The party evidently believes that the anti-American slant will help the party to enhance its appeal among the Muslims, who constitute an estimated 25% of the State's population.

The Muslim League, which is a major force in the Muslim-majority areas, is a constituent of the UDF in the State and the UPA at the Centre, and its nominee, E.Ahamed, is minister of state for external affairs. It is under pressure to pull him out.

When the Samajwadi Party decided to support the UPA on the nuclear issue, CPI-M Politburo member MK Pandhe warned that it would lose the support of Muslims if it did so. General secretary Prakash Karat clarified that the party did not consider the nuclear deal a Muslim issue.

Yet Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and State party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, both Politburo members, last week described the Indo-US deal as one that runs counter to the interests of the Muslims. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 14, 2008.

Al Jazeera’s English channel facing possible bar in US

Burlington, Vermont, USA is discussing whether the local population must have access to the Arab-owned Al Jazeera’s English channel.

A report on the subject by Jalal Ghazi circulated by New America Media can be accessed here.

Jalal Ghazi is the associate producer of the Peabody Award-winning show Mosaic: World News from the Middle East, and writer of the column “Eye on Arab Media” for New America Media.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nepal Maoists’ Muslim affiliate

Here is some interesting information. In Nepal, there is a Muslim Mukti Morcha (MMM), which is “a mass people’s organization affiliated to to the party of the Maoist Revolutionaries”.

According to a report circulated by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), CPN-M Chairman Prachanda addressed a gathering of the MMM on Wednesday.

Excerpts from the report:

The Nepal Maoists, who played a key role in abolishing the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy and turning the country into a secular state, have vowed to ensure special rights to the minority Muslim community in the Himalayan nation.

"It is not enough to provide equal rights to the Muslims but they should be given special rights as compensation for having been suppressed," Prachanda said.

His support for special rights for the Muslims is seen as an attempt to mobilise the muslim community, which mainly resides in the Terai-plains bordering India and unleash potential for Revolution. Also the aim is to show to oppressed Muslim masses the world over that only Maoist-led people's revolution is key to liberation and new life!
Declaring Nepal a secular nation was one of the 40-point demands put forth by the Maoists in 1996 when they started the peoples war in the country.

Prachanda, who is poised to lead the new government in Nepal, promised to form a `Muslim Commission' for the welfare of the minority community and develop historically important pilgrimage sites of the community as tourist destinations.

MMM leader Mohammad Kasim Miya asked the Terai-based Madhesi leaders not to categorize Muslims as Madhesis, alleging that the regional parties of the plains were trying to deny Muslims their rights.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Countercurrents is back in action

I am happy to announce that is back in action. Here is a message received from its Editor, Binu Mathew, just now. :


Countercurrents came back fully online by yesterday midnight after a hacker destroyed it over the weekend. If anyone finds any problem in accessing any pages or services just write to me.

If you find this news letter useful, kindly forward it to your friends and encourage them to join this mailing list.

In Solidarity

See report below about the hacker attack which put the site out of commission for a few days.

Hackers immobilize Countercurrents

Hackers have temporarily immobilized the Kerala-based, which rendered valuable service during the past six years as an alternative media outlet.

In a message circulated to friends and clients, Binu Mathew, Editor of Countercurrents, says:

Hello All,

Countercurrents was nastily hacked over the weekend. We were offline for two days. I was really shocked by the attack and didn’t know what to do at first. I am working hard to get it back online.

Thanks for your patience


I had posted a message in this blog on November 16 last year to introduce Countercurrents. I had also taken the liberty of drawing attention to various articles circulated by Countercurrents from time to time.

I am looking forward to the early reappearance of Countercurrents.

Contact address:,
PB No. 5,
Kumaranalloor PO,
PIN 686 016

Monday, July 7, 2008

A global player shows interest in Malayalam media market

Rupert Murdoch, who has already established a presence in the Indian media through the Hong Kong-based Star network, has cast his eyes on the growing Malayalam television scene.

Murdoch's Star India, which owns English, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Marathi channels, is negotiating with Asianet, pioneer of Malayalam satellite television, to gain controlling interest in it, according to market watchers.

There has been no word from either side on the progress of the negotiations. However, Asianet's plan to restructure its set-up is believed to be part of the preparations for a deal which will give the global major a stake in the Malayalam media.

Asianet, promoted by Shashi Kumar, who had been Gulf correspondent of The Hindu and head of Press Trust of India's television division, went on the air in 1993. It was not possible to uplink from India at the time. The channel, therefore, hired a studio in the Philippines and beamed programmes to India using a Russian satellite.

As Asianet showed financial promise, the Rahejas, who held 50% shares in a sister company, which was operating a cable network, sought a stake in it. In 1999, Shashi Kumar's uncle and co-promoter, Reji Menon, eased him out of both the companies. Reji Menon gave the cable company to the Rahejas and kept the channel company with himself.

Asianet expanded under Reji Menon's leadership. Today it operates a news channel and a youth channel, besides the wide-spectrum mother channel. Reaching out to viewers in 60 countries, it links Malayalis worldwide.

Asianet also operates radio stations in Kerala and the UAE. Its forays into Tamil and Kannada were unsuccessful.

Two years ago, a Bangalore-based Malayali businessman, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, acquired controlling interest in the channel from Reji Menon.

Under Chandrasekhar, who is a Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka and president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Asianet re-entered the Kannada market with an entertainment channel and a news channel and made plans to break into Telugu as well. Industry sources currently value its assets at Rs. 5 billion.

There are now a score of Malayalam channels competing for viewers and advertisers. The only player from outside the State is the Chennai-based Sun network, which runs an entertainment channel and a youth channel.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Congress party, the Catholic Church and the Hindu saint Mata Amritanandamayi are among those who promoted channels in Malayalam.

Malayalis in the Gulf States contributed substantially to the capital of three channel companies -- the CPI (M)'s Kairali, Muslim League leader MK Muneer's Indiavision and the Congress party's Jaihind.

While a Dubai-based Malayalam channel, Middle East Television, folded up quickly, there has been no fatality in Kerala so far. However, most channels are deeply in the red and kept alive by continuous infusion of capital.

Kerala, with only one percent of India's territory and three and a half percent of its population, accounts for more than 10% of the country's consumer goods sale. But the State media's share of the national advertising pie is only about four percent.

Big national and international players have steered clear of the State until now presumably because the market is not large enough to tempt them. Star India's interest stems from its desire to build a national network, which covers all major language groups. A deal with Asianet will enable it to complete coverage of the South.

Rajiv Chandrasekhar reportedly plans to reorganize his holdings in such a way that there will be separate companies for general entertainment, news, radio and infrastructure assets. If a deal with Star India materialises, it may be limited to the general entertainment business.

A network which can offer complete national coverage will have a distinct advantage over the rest as an advertising medium. So, if Star comes, can Zee be far behind? There are also other media enterprises, like the Hyderabad-based Eenadu TV, which have national ambitions.

Some global players like CNN and CNBC have already established presence at the national level. As the regional language markets grow, they may want to enter them. The struggling Malayalam channels may find their offers too tempting to refuse.

When the Times of India group acquired minority shares in the Mathrubhumi daily two decades ago, there was a furore in the State. Channel ownership does not evoke the same interest in the public as newspaper ownership.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 7, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A law that begs for failure

The Lokayukta Act requires legislators to provide statements regarding their assets, as also those of their family members, once in two years. It is said 64 members of the Assembly were required to file statements this year. Monday, June 30, was the last date for the purpose. According to a report in Kerala Kaumudi, by 6 p.m. on that day 78 MLAs had filed statements. Obviously at least 14 persons who were not required to file statements came forward to do so. Such tremendous enthusiasm to respect the law!

Many MLAs were actually making up for arrears. Only 19 of them had filed statements of assets before the competent authority by the due date last year, according to information provided by the Governor’s office to D. B. Binu, general secretary of the Human Rights Defence Forum, who had filed an application under the Right to Information Act. The Governor’s office apparently does not like parting with such information. The RTI Act says the information sought must be provided within a month of receipt of an application. The Public Information Officer at Raj Bhavan did not provide the information for six months. Thereupon Binu, who is a lawyer, then approached the State Information Commission seeking action against the defaulting official. It was only then that he was given the information. The Commission imposed a fine of Rs. 25,000 on the PIO for failure to provide the information in time.

Some questions arise from the information given by the officer belatedly. One of them is: how many ministers were among those who did not file statements? The Chief Minister, the Speaker and the ministers add up to more than 19. Since only 19 MLAs filed statements, it appears that the defaulters include not only ordinary MLAs but also some who hold higher positions. Are the citizens not entitled to know who those honourable members are?

Not only MLAs but all public servants at various levels are required to furnish statements about assets. The Lokayukta Act provides a long list of persons who come under the definition of public servant. According to this list, those who were Chief Minister, ministers or MLAs earlier and those who are or were chairmen, vice-chairmen and members of local authorities, companies, boards and cooperative institutions under the control of the State government are also public servants. All those who draw pay from these institutions as also from cooperative societies and universities also come within the definition of public servant. All of them have to submit statements regarding their assets and liabilities, as also those of family members, every two years in a prescribed form to the designated authority.

Those who drew up the law have included in it enough provisions to defeat it. The form in which the public servant has to furnish information about assets and liabilities can be seen at the government’s website. The only information it seeks about assets is the monthly salary. It seeks more information about liabilities: the extent of liabilities, what kind of liabilities, when incurred.

The law stipulates that if a public servant does not furnish the statement of assets and liabilities in time the competent authority must report the matter to the Lokayukta or Upa-lokayukta as the case maybe. A copy of the report must be sent to the person concerned. He will then get two more months to file the statement. That is his last opportunity to do so. What if he does not file the statement even then? Still nothing will happen to him. For, the Lokayukta does not have the power to punish a defaulter. All that he can do is to publish the names of the defaulters in three widely circulated newspapers of the State.

It is eight years since the Lokayukta Act came into force. I have no recollection of seeing a list of defaulters in any newspaper during this period. Have you?
Although government officials come within the definition of public servants, they are not required to furnish statements of assets under this law. Judges, too, are outside its purview. There are other laws and rules applicable to them. The fact, however, is that there is no mechanism for scrutiny of information provided under any law. The statement furnished by an official is looked into only if there is a corruption inquiry against him. So long as there is no inquiry the information will remain in the file as an official secret.

It is said that the practice in Kerala is for a minister to provide the statement in a sealed cover to the Chief Minister, who sends it to the Raj Bhavan without opening. Even if the minister forgets to put the statement in the envelope, the Chief Minister or Governor may not know it. To dispel possible suspicion that I am unnecessarily casting doubts on the efficiency of ministers and their personal staff, let me narrate an incident that actually happened. On the morning of August 15, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru drove to the residence of the Governor-General, Earl Mountbatten, and gave him an envelope in the presence of photographers, saying it contained the names of the members of the first Council of Ministers of Free India. Mountbatten took the envelope. When he opened it after Nehru had left, it was empty. The cover had been sealed without putting the list of ministers in it.

Now, under the Representation of the People Act, a candidate seeking election is required to furnish information about his assets as also those of the members of his family. The Election Commission immediately publishes the information so received. In the circumstances, what is the need to keep the information given by an elected member under the Lokayukta Act secret?

Kerala can follow Karnataka’s example in this regard. A few weeks ago the Lokayukta of that State ordered that charge-sheets be filed under Section 177 of the Indian Penal Code against three MLAs and one former MLA for providing false information in their statements of assets. If the Kerala law, as it now stands, does not permit such action, the government must be ready to amend it. There must be provisions for not only collecting but also publishing information about the assets of those high-up in the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary periodically. If the information furnished is incomplete or false, the public must have the opportunity to point it out. The state has to demonstrate its faith in transparency through faultless legislation.

Based on column ‘Nerkkazhcha’ appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated July 3, 2008