Monday, June 28, 2010

Declining appeal of mother tongue

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Who is the father of Malayalam language, music composer Sarat asked noted playback singer KS Chithra recently during a television musical reality show in which both are judges.

“I don’t know the father but I know the mother of Malayalam,” Chithra quipped. “Who’s that?” asked Sarat. “Ranjini,” she replied, pointing to the ebullient presenter of the popular programme.

The judges and the studio audience broke into laughter. The viewers, too, enjoyed Chithra’s banter. It is possible to espy a prophetic element in it. For, Ranjini is one of the young television presenters who use an admixture of Malayalam and English, which may well be the language the next generation of Malayalis speaks.

In the last century, spoken Malayalam had undergone change, helped by the spread of education and appearance of mass communication media like newspapers and films. The print media influenced the spoken language most. Television having emerged as the most popular medium, it now has greater ability than the press to shape the spoken language.

It is natural for a living language to undergo changes. It will be unrealistic to try to freeze it in a particular form in the name of maintaining its purity. However, those who love the language have a duty to watch on the trends and do what they can to ensure that the language evolves in a manner suited to the needs of the society and does not move away from the traditions of the native speakers. That does not seem to be happening.

Leading writers regularly express concern at current trends and voice anxiety over the future of Malayalam. However, they have not put forward, singly or collectively, any proposals to arrest the undesirable trends.

The proposals being canvassed by the literary and political establishments are directed more at establishing the glory of Malayalam than at promoting its healthy evolution. The demands for grant of classical status to the language and setting up of a Malayalam university are examples.

The Central government having recognised Tamil, Telugu and Kannada as classical languages, Kerala is the only southern state whose official language does not enjoy that status. Also, Malayalam is the only major Dravidian language without a university to foster its growth.

One reason why Malayalam’s claim for classical status has received short shrift is that it is of comparatively recent origin. Until a few years ago, it was projected as a modern language by playing down its ancient association with Tamil and playing up its more recent link with Sanskrit.

Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan, the putative father of Malayalam language, composed his masterpiece “Adhyathma Ramayanam” as recently as the 16th century. The late Dr K Ayyappa Paniker, while hailing “Ramacharitham,” believed to have been written by Sree Veera Rama Varma, who ruled Travancore in the closing years of the 12th century, as the oldest extant classic in Malayalam, had conceded that it was in an early form of the language “which appears to be almost indistinguishable from Tamil, except perhaps for a linguist”.

Neither classical status nor a university bearing its name can save Malayalam if it is not able to meet the needs of the people. Television channels’ increasing resort to English even for names of programmes is but one manifestation of the widespread feeling about its inadequacy.

The state government is committed to the use of Malayalam for all official purposes, but it still transacts much of its business in English. Malayalam has a low rating as a medium for acquisition of knowledge. Since English is seen as the key to upward mobility, more and more parents are putting their children in schools where that language is the teaching medium, sometimes paying fees that are beyond their means.

This year enrolment in schools under the state system was 115,000 less than last year. The fall is attributable in part to the drop in the number of children in the school-going age group as a result of the decline in the growth of population. But it is also due in part to children shifting to other systems.

From 2003-04 to 2009-10, enrolment fell from 1.6 million to 1.3 million in government schools and from 3.0 million to 2.8 million in aided schools. During the same period, enrolment in expensive unaided schools imparting education in the English medium rose from 270,000 to 365,000. It is for the government and scholars to devise measures to enhance the appeal of the mother tongue. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 28, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

'Act now to prevent Kerala becoming a police state'

On 11 May 2010, a Select Committee of the Kerala Legislative Assembly published a questionnaire seeking opinions and advice from the general public, jurists and human rights organizations concerning the Kerala Police Bill, 2010. The purpose of the exercise is to receive comments and recommendations concerning the Bill so that the aspirations of the people of Kerala are reflected in the law governing the state police, when the Kerala Legislative Assembly finally enacts the law.

Nervazhi and the Asian Legal Resource Centre jointly released on Monday a study on the Bill titled "Kerala, a police state in the making - Act Now!".

Nervazhi is a registered human rights organization, based in Thrissur district, Kerala. The ALRC is a registered regional human rights organization based in Hong Kong. The ALRC enjoys a General Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and have extensive network of partners in India and other Asian countries.

Nervazhi has considerable experience concerning human rights issues, in particular those related to the functioning of law enforcement agencies in Kerala. Justice institutions, in particular the police, prosecution and the judiciary have been ALRC's area of focus since its inception in 1986 and thus its field of expertise. The ALRC has extensive knowledge about the functioning of police in various Asian jurisdictions, in particular India. The ALRC has assisted the drafting of similar laws in South Asian countries, the latest, a law criminalizing torture and custodial death which is currently under the consideration of the Bangladesh parliament.

For preparing the comments and suggesting recommendations to the Bill, Nervazhi and ALRC have consulted experts in the field, including senior police officers serving and retired in India, jurists, academics, journalists and above all the people of Kerala. For this very reason, the comments and recommendations will reflect a combination of expertise emerging from this knowledge base.

We have no claims whatsoever that the following pages contain a comprehensive analysis of the Bill, but we are certain that the Bill, as it stands now has the potential to turn Kerala into a police state. The comments and recommendation are thus made with an intention to prevent this. We have analyzed the Bill bearing in mind various human rights cases that we have come across from Kerala in particular and India in general. We have studied the jurisprudence developed internationally concerning law enforcement agencies and their operational standards and the case law developed by the courts in India, the Supreme Court of India in particular, concerning the rights of the citizens while in custody and the duty of the state as well as that of the law enforcement agencies in dealing with the citizens while engaged in law enforcement duties.

We have held consultations with the general public about the Bill. The use of simple language in the document, understandable to the common person, is thus not an intentional use of any editorial style, but is the result of the effort taken to write down the opinions the ordinary Indian living in Kerala provided us concerning the Bill. It reflects the collective wisdom of the ordinary people, rooted in their experience of dealing with the police as a state institution.

The recommendations also reflect this collective voice of the people of Kerala and their hope that their police can be corrected, provided the law governing the police is also right. Almost everyone whom we have consulted has informed us in various forms that the state of affairs of the Kerala police is deplorable at the moment. They want the new law to be a tool to bring change to this unacceptable status quo.

The ALRC, along with the comments and recommendations is also submitting a model law for the consideration of the Legislature to criminalize torture and extrajudicial executions.

We hope that the recommendations and comments will be duly considered and appropriate changes incorporated in the Bill. We are certain that by incorporating the recommendations in the Bill, the Kerala State Police will be provided with a statutory framework to discharge their duties, thereby contributing to develop India, a country of great people into a mature democracy.

A copy of the comments and recommendations with the copy of the original Bill is sent either by email, fax or post to Honourable Governor of Kerala, Honourable Speaker and all other members of the Kerala Legislative Assembly, Judges of the Supreme Court and the Kerala High Court, the National and State Human Rights Commissions, the Director General of Police - Kerala and all print and electronic media in Kerala.

The comments and recommendations with the Draft Bill can be downloaded from here.

New group equation in Congress

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Factionalism has reappeared in Kerala’s Congress party which had presented a semblance of unity in the recent past with Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy and Pradesh Congress president Ramesh Chennithala operating like Siamese twins.

Oommen Chandy inherited the leadership of the Congress (A) faction along with the chief minister’s post when AK Antony moved to Delhi to join the Central Cabinet in 2004. Ramesh Chennithala was a protégé of Congress (I) leader K Karunakaran but had broken away from him and emerged as a group leader in his own right.

After Karunakaran’s exit from the party with his son and former Pradesh Congress president K Muraleedharan and Vayalar Ravi’s entry in the Central Cabinet, there was no one to challenge to the Chandy-Chennithala duo, which enjoyed the patronage of party president Sonia Gandhi. As a result factionalism subsided.

Karunakaran returned to the Congress after a brief sojourn in Sharad Pawar’s National Congress Party, but Muraleedharan is still waiting to be readmitted. Chandy and Chennithala are in no hurry to let him in. They don’t want his readmission to be considered until his six-year suspension is over.

There was a time when the Congress in Kerala elected its office-bearers through a transparent process. As factionalism became intense, rival groups enrolled bogus members, leading to bitter disputes over the rolls and elections became impossible. The central leadership then nominated office-bearers, as in other states.

Although Sonia Gandhi is said to be keen to restore the democratic process, the exercise now under way falls short of full-scale elections. The party is now experimenting with a form of guided democracy.

For the youth and student bodies of the party, Rajiv Gandhi, who is general secretary of the All India Congress Committee, devised a system of elections in which there are no losers. There is an open contest between two candidates. Te one who gets the largest number of votes becomes the president and the runner-up is accommodated as vice-president.

Office-bearers of the Congress party at different levels are being decided through consensus building. There is a tacit understanding not to disturb existing arrangements.

As the process got under way in the state, word spread that Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala had struck a deal to maintain the status quo. This means Chandy will be the chief minister if the Congress-led UDF emerges victorious in the next Assembly elections, as is expected, and Chennithala will remain PCC president. This led to heartburn in some erstwhile faction leaders.

Later there was speculation that Chennithala may make a bid for the chief minister’s post with the backing of the Nair Service Society, which speaks in the name of the forward Nair community. This raised hackles in the Chandy camp. The party is keen to placate the NSS leadership which has expressed dissatisfaction at the absence of a Nair acceptable to it in the Central Cabinet.

According to reports in the local media, under the emerging consensus Oommen Chandy’s Congress (A) faction will head the party unit in seven of the 14 districts. The reconstructed Congress (I) faction under Chennithala will get six districts. One district will go to Karunakaran’s nominee.

The ‘A’ faction, it is said, will get at least half of the 280 seats in the Pradesh Congress Committee, the ‘I’ faction about 115 and the Karunakaran rump about 15. That leaves just about 10 places for leaders who have stayed away from factional games.

The new group equation places the Congress at a disadvantage in the context of the realignment of caste and religious forces now under way.

There has been a consolidation of Christian sectarianism with the merger of the PJ Joseph faction of the Kerala Congress, which was until recently an LDF constituent, in the KM Mani faction, a UDF constituent, and The Indian Union Muslim League, another UDF constituent, is working for a consolidation of Muslim groups, taking advantage of the alienation of Muslim bodies which were aligned with the LDF.

That leaves the Congress in keen competition with the Communist Party of India-Marxist for the Hindu vote. The CPI-M has already made a pitch for it by talking of the growth of Muslim and Christian communalism and glossing over the growth of Hindu communalism. Karunakaran has warned that the new equation may not help the party in the panchayat elections due this year and the Assembly elections to follow next year. –Gulf Today, June 21, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

Real estate sector booms again

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Kerala’s real estate sector is booming. Overcoming the gloom imposed by the global meltdown, builders of apartments and villas are going ahead with mega projects once again.

The state began witnessing intense construction activity three decades ago, fuelled by massive inflow of funds from migrant citizens working abroad, mostly in the Gulf countries. Builders soon stepped in with offers of modern bungalows, villas and flats.

As foreign remittances grew, the demand for luxurious abodes rose. Some big players then entered the scene to cater to the high-end market. Real estate operators started grabbing property, pushing up land prices.

When the financial markets crashed, expecting a fall in the demand for costly homes, many builders switched to construction of budget flats. The appearance of advertisements offering “world-class villas and apartments” indicates that the real estate business is again on the upswing.

According to industry sources, the quick turnaround was made possible by the improved liquidity resulting from steps taken by the central government and the Reserve Bank of India to tide over the economic crisis.

They claim that speculators, who were very active before the economic downturn, have withdrawn from the field. The middlemen have also disappeared. As a result, they now deal only with genuine buyers.

Banks have helped in the recovery process by holding interest on housing loans at low levels, especially for small, short-term borrowings. The State Bank of India group, for instance, has been charging an interest of only eight per cent in the first year. In the second and third years a higher rate of 9 per cent will apply on loans of up to Rs3 million and of 9.5 per cent on loans exceeding Rs3 million. The borrower has the option to stay on 8 per cent interest for two more years, and then move to floating rates.

In Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, apartment builders, with their eyes on high-earning professionals, have gone in for projects close to information technology parks and hospitals.

The big builders, who were only operating in the cities and their immediate vicinity earlier, have now started moving into smaller towns which are flush with money like Kottayam, Thiruvalla, Kannur and Thalasseri.

The industry has begun aggressive promotional activity abroad. Last month the state’s builders organised a Property Expo in Abu Dhabi, where they sought to put across to non-resident Keralites the message that high living does not cost the earth and that the right time to buy property is now.

Much of the construction activity in the recent past has been along the waterfront. Apart from apartment buildings, many tourist resorts have also come up close to the water bodies which give Kerala its distinct identity as a must-see destination. Environmentalists have voiced concern over the impact of large-scale construction on the region’s fragile ecology.

The Indian Green Building Council, which has been promoting environmental awareness in the industry, has set up a centre in Kochi. Some builders are already claiming that their projects are in tune with the “green” philosophy.

While there is no reliable data on the size of the real estate sector, claims by builders indicate it is huge. A three-year-old firm, which has won this year’s national Emerging Developer of the Year Award, says it has completed 15 mega projects so far and has 11 on hand.

At the lower end, builders are offering “affordable homes” for Rs1 million to Rs2.5 million. At the higher end there are “super-premium condos” of 2,500 to 5,000 square feet in the price range of Rs100 million to Rs250 million.

Several builders are said to be planning to mobilise additional capital from the open market to be able to expand their operations while the boom lasts.

The housing scene testifies to the alarming growth of disparity in Kerala society. Real estate agents are grabbing farmlands and islands with the tacit support of the political establishment to build apartment complexes even as thousands of landless families, mostly Adivasis and Dalits, are clamouring for land to cultivate.

According to official statistics, more than 705,000 families in the state are homeless. Of them, about 333,000 are both landless and homeless. More than 372,000 have land but not homes.

In 2008 the state government launched the EMS housing scheme with the proclaimed objective of providing houses to all by 2011. Families below the poverty line were to get houses with a plinth area of 25 to 40 square feet. Financial constraints have impeded the progress of the scheme. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 14, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How many lanes will Kerala need in 2050?

The following is an excerpt from an article by G. Ram Mohan Nair, retired General Manager of Kerala SIDCO, now working as Chief Consultant at Industrial Consultancy Services, Kochi, which has appeared in the May 31-June 15 issue of Passline, a business publication from Kochi.

There is no dispute about the following:

The population is increasing day by day. Vehicle density in Kerala is 1:6 against the national average of 1:25.

Irrespective of anything the Government does, development takes place at a steady pace automatically. If the infrastructural facilities are also not developed in tune with it, chaos will result., and our life will become unbearable.

Vehicular traffic increases at an average rate of 10% in the State. At this rate traffic will become 2.6 times after 10 years, 4.2 times after 15 years and 6.7 times after 20 years.

This shows that if it is comfortable today with a four-lane traffic, after five years we will have to make it six lanes, after 10 years 10 lanes, after 15 years 17 lanes and after 20 years 29 lanes to maintain the same comfort level.

So in 2030 Kerala will need 29 lanes. How many lanes will we need in 2050? Any guesses?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Battle over road width

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The consensus on national highways, hurriedly worked out by the ruling Left Democratic Front and the opposition United Democratic Front barely two months ago, has collapsed.

Strident voices for repudiation of the agreement to restrict road width to 30 metres and abandonment of the BOT (build, operate, transfer) formula are now being raised by leaders on both sides of the political divide.

The consensus was reached at an all-party meeting called by Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan in the wake of protests all along the major highways against acquiring land to increase road width to 45 metres.

Nine national highways run through the state. Together they account for 1,542km. The longest of them is NH17, which runs from Panvel in Maharashtra to Edappalli, near Kochi. About 420km of it lie in the state. About 417km of NH47, which links the Tamil Nadu towns of Salem and Kanyakumari, also lie in the state.

While national highways in other states were widened during the past two decades in keeping with the revised standards set by the Central government, Kerala could not do so for two reasons. One was the state administration’s reservations over some aspects of the Central policy. The other was the difficulty in acquiring land in view of strong opposition from the public.

The revised Central specifications fixed the width of the four-lane national highway at 60 metres. The state government urged the Centre to reduce the width to 30 metres in Kerala considering the heavy density of population. The Centre agreed to reduce the width to 45 metres.

Two months after the present LDF government took office in 2006 the government of India agreed to develop 868 kilometres of national highways in the state at a cost of Rs50 billion. However, the project could not be taken up because of the LDF’s reservations about the BOT formula. By the time LDF changed its mind, opposition to land acquisition became almost insurmountable.

On the basis of the decision taken at the all-party meeting, the chief minister led a delegation, which also included the Leader of the Opposition, to the Prime Minister in April and made a fresh plea to fix the road width at 30 metres.

When reports from New Delhi suggested that the Centre was not inclined to accept the request, Public Works Minister Jose Thettayil, who belongs to the breakaway Kerala Congress faction, broke ranks and came out against the consensus on 30-metre width.

Communist Party of India-Marxist state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan followed up with a suggestion that another all-party meeting be held to look at the matter afresh.

Since then a number of trade and civic organisations have come out opposing the move to reduce the width. Most of them want the government to stick to the figure of 45 metres, which was previously decided upon. Some want the state to fall in line with the national standard and go in for 60-metre wide highways.

Those favouring wider highways argue that there will be a bottleneck if road width in the state is fixed at 30 metres. They cite the state’s high vehicle population and the increasing incidence of road accidents to reinforce their demand.

In the eight years from 2001 to 2009, the number of vehicles in the state rose from 2.45 million to 4.88 million. However, multiplicity of vehicles rather than their number appears to be the major problem. Of the vehicles on the road, 2.92 million are scooters and motorcycles.

State Crime Records Bureau statistics show that poor driving standard is the main cause of road accidents. It attributed as many as 25,899 of 26,371 road accidents reported in 2009 to “fault of driver of motor vehicle”.

The need to facilitate fast vehicular traffic on the highways is not in doubt. Some groups agitating against land acquisition have offered a formula to end the impasse. This envisages construction of four lanes in 30 metres in the land already available with the government and construction of four more lanes on an elevated highway to be built by erecting pillars.

An elevated highway will, of course, involve higher construction costs. However, since there is no need to uproot people there will be saving in rehabilitation expenses. Any gap still left can be covered by collecting toll from users of the elevated highway. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 7, 2010