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Monday, January 31, 2011

Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access

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an initiative by Kolkata's WB National University of Juridical Sciences, aims to draw grossly under-represented and disadvantaged sections into the ambit of legal education

Our Einsteins live in our villages: that assertion by Dr CNR Rao, principal scientific advisor to the Prime Minister, has found an echo in the spirit that drives Shamnad Basheer's dream project, 'Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA) in legal education'. 'Our Palkhivalas are in our villages,' he could well be saying.

Does the late jurist and economist Nani Palkhivala need an introduction? In a nation driven by the "either-a-doctor-or-an-engineer" credo, he probably does. And that explains why legal education remains out of bounds for large swathes of India.

In June, a project team engaged in the IDIA sensitisation programme in Tumkur, Karnataka, faced a similar situation. As a part of the programme, some clippings of famous lawyers such as Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Jawaharlal Nehru, SM Krishna, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were played. Surprisingly, the students seemed most excited when told that Malavika Avinash, a Kannada television actress, was a lawyer who graduated from the National Law School of India University. In fact, the number of students who recognised Malavika was far more than those who could identify the US President.

After the IDIA pilot project at Pelling, Sikkim, Prof Basheer admitted one of the main challenges: "Some of our brightest students (in Sikkim) who had done well in the aptitude test and seemed eager to seriously consider law as a career faced resistance from parents and teachers because they wanted them to be either doctors or engineers.' The situation is similar in Basanti High School in the Sunderbans. Here the IDIA team realised that school students had little idea about law as a career. Though they had heard of the three-year course they did not have any idea about the five-year integrated course that the National Law University offers.

But the team IDIA still believes that 'if all goes well, we can all hope that a legal Phunsuk Wangdu (the protagonist of 3 Idiots) will come out of a National Law University soon. After all, the 400 patents of the fictional Phunsuk Wangdu will need a good patent attorney!'

With this notion, IDIA the 'mass movement' for a more diverse legal profession, kicks off at WB National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. IDIA is an initiative of the institute to make law education popular among economically and socially backward classes, the minorities, ethnic groups and the physically challenged.

The national law schools are widely seen as the preeminent legal institutions in India. But over the years these institutions have turned into elitist hubs with a severe lack of representation from marginalised sections, particularly economically weaker sections. A variety of factors have contributed to this, including the extremely high fee structures, an entrance examination (CLAT) that now requires extensive and expensive coaching as a prerequisite, and most important, a lamentable lack of awareness about law as a career among low income students in small towns, rural areas and non-mainstream institutions. An 'IDIA' whose time has come The net result is that the current student composition in many of these law schools lack any serious diversity and comprise mainly English-medium educated students from middle class or upper middle class families. The numbers from rural areas, small towns or non-English speaking schools are deplorable.

IDIA seeks to find ways to reach out to the hitherto marginalised and under-represented groups and help those interested to acquire admission to law schools. It is hoped that such access to legal education in favour of the marginalised and under-represented would empower them and the communities that they represent. According to Prof Basheer, who heads the project: 'An efflux of diverse student populations would make for a more optimal melting pot of views and perspectives at such law schools and consequently enrich the process of education.'

The programme has already travelled to Murshidabad and Pelling (in Sikkim). For the immediate future, apart from Bengali medium schools in Kolkata, southern India (Kerala) and central India (Chhattisgarh) will be covered. Keeping CLAT in mind, earlier this year, NUJS student Ramanuj Mukherjee, under the inspection of the university, independently launched an online social networking platform 'CLAThacker: don't just crack CLAT, come hack CLAT with us'. The main idea is to help those from poorer backgrounds to "crack" the CLAT online. Not only that, in June IDIA Hyderabad conducted an aptitude test in an intermediate college run by Devnar Foundation in Ranigunj, Hyderabad.

Talking to TSI, Mr Mukherjee expressed concern regarding the present scenario in legal education, 'I can still remember when I decided to quit medical school after a year and get into NUJS, an army of relatives/well-wishers/acquaintances descended upon my parents asking how they could allow me to do something so "stupid"! Thankfully, my parents are of the opinion that children should be allowed to choose their own careers. But how many parents in India think along the same lines?'

No doubt this is a great effort by the NUJS team. But will it at all be helpful for the masses? Questions have already started emerging. As one NUJS alumnus speculates, 'A diverse selection of students would mean that more students would opt to litigate - their command over their local languages, added with premier education, would be an advantage that the entire legal community in the country will benefit from. But the fact is most of those who account for a majority of the students in law schools, do not litigate. Most actually opt for a comfortable life with a high-paying desk job instead of running around in courts and learning the "real" stuff.'

'But yes, the fact remains that we need more "good" lawyers from different walks of life - law is, after all, meant for everyone, and not just for a high-flying, English-speaking bunch,' he says. That is why the idea that IDIA has come up with is so welcome.

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Father, son and the holy vote

Delhi University Students' Union (DUSU): Students' Unions can not be banned

Naresh Nunna reviews Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy's political play called 'Condolence Tour' and finds him slipping against a seasoned K. Rosaiah and an adamant Congress High Command

Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy (Jagan) keeps repeating that his Odarpu Yatra (Condolence Tour) is merely a 'personal tour', which the party and the government have nothing to do with. But the cause of Jagan's dissidence is too obvious. The plans of this Kadapa MP, the only legal heir of the late Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy who was killed in a helicopter crash in Nallamalla forest in last September, to step into his father's shoes were dumped aside by the Congress High Command. But, Jagan, with his many business ventures, some known and many unseen, needs a lot of government support. In other words, he must be at the helm of the government to run those ventures uninterruptedly.

Thus, frustrated by the High Command's stubborn reluctance to make him the chief minister, Jagan has been allegedly planning major political disturbance to dethrone K. Rosaiah, trying to prove the latter as inefficient.

'The real strategic role of chief minister K. Rosaiah lies in provoking stone pelting openly,' sources close to the chief minister told TSI under the condition of anonymity. Rosaiah, a 76-year-old veteran with five decades of political experience and a man who has introduced the state budget 16 times, including seven in a row (a record in the country), is apparently weak and an abiding loyalist of the High Command. With the same visible weakness, he started poking Jagan silently, leading the High Command to take a dig at Jagan.

After taking over the reins of the state after YSR's sudden demise, Rosaiah shunted out bureaucrats and police officials close to his predecessor. Major among them was the replacement of V. Rajagopal, director of mining and chairman of Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC), with an IAS officer Praveen Prakash. Rosaiah also transferred another senior IAS officer, Y. Srilakshmi, secretary in industries and commerce department, who was handpicked by YSR and entrusted with key task of handling mining lease and licences. Both Rajagopal and Srilakshmi allegedly aided and abetted YSR's kith and kin, as most of the galaxy mines of Prakasam district and Barites mines in Kadapa district are in their control. YSR's close aide and later the mining minister of AP, Balineni Srinivasa Reddy, YSR's co-brother Y. V. Subba Reddy, YSR's nephew Dushyant Reddy, Raghava Reddy of Midwest Company, Koneru Prasad and a few other luminaries of the mining world have been often accused by opposition parties for illegal mining. The loot during the YSR tenure was estimated by opposition parties to be worth a whopping Rs 75,000 crore.

Rosaiah made the department levy heavy penalties on YSR's kith and kin i.e. of Jagan following fresh enquires into the old irregularities. It was the last straw and Jagan trained his guns directly on Rosaiah. Meanwhile, Rosaiah silently leaked truce proposals from the Jagan camp to national dailies, including The Hindu. Rosaiah also added fuel to the fire with his direct interaction with the High Command during his visits to Delhi. Thus, the subtle tactics of Rosaiah made Jagan wage a direct war not only with Rosaiah but also with the High Command. Rosaiah was also successful to wean away Jagan's loyal cadre in the state Cabinet. Several ministers in the Rosaiah Cabinet used to call on Jagan whenever the latter visited city. The shift of loyalty is clearly evident when a section of YSR loyal ministers made a scathing attack on Jagan, countering the latter's remarks on Rosaiah. The ministers accused Jagan of amassing thousands of crores of rupees in a short span. The ministers and some MLAs have understood this and are gradually isolating him. Father, son and the holy vote Jagan's condolence tour is meant to console the families of those who died after the demise of his father. It has drawn serious flak from the Telangana agitators as Jagan claimed himself as a pro-United Andhra leader. The Congress High Command has issued a 'no yatra' writ which Jagan defied, asserting that his tour had no political overtures. However, the police arrested Jagan and put an end to the drama on the grounds of a law and order problem. So, in a do-or-die situation, Jagan has initiated the next phase of his tour on his father's birth anniversary i.e July 8 from the northern coastal region of Srikakulam with multiple political aims. First among them is to understand the real strength of the 'YSR constituency' and flaunting the same before the High Command. The YSR constituency refers to the number of loyal voters of YSR. Jagan wants to assess the size of that loyal constituency and weigh the chances of transfer of that votebank to him.

'It is difficult to statistically separate the loyalty of the voters between the party and the individual leader,' senior journalist Ashok Tankasala told TSI. In the 2009 elections, the Congress won 33 MP seats. Each MP constituency has 7 Assembly segments, but the party won only 156 Assembly segments.

'If YSR's charisma was the reason for the Congress party's success, the party should have won more than 230 Assembly segments or at least 200 seats. The empirical evidence further shows that the difference between the victorious Congress and defeated TDP was only 1.8 per cent votes. If one factors in Chiranjeevi, whose PRP party obtained 16.22 per cent of the total votes, had not been present, the results would have definitely been different,' another analyst said.

'Jagan is able to mobilise people due to the power of his money which is in abundance,' Rajya Sabha member V. Hanumantha Rao told TSI. Some senior Congress leaders also alleged that many lorries were and trucks were engaged to transport people and that the Jagan camp was pumping in enough money to make his Odarpu Yatra a grand show.

'Chiranjeevi, in terms of crowd pulling ability, definitely supersedes anyone else. But, drawing crowds does not mean that will translate into votes,' veteran Congress leader Palvayi Govardhan Reddy told TSI.

Political analysts are sensing a haste in Jagan towards floating a regional party or towards creating a fissure in the state Congress with a YSR-loyal faction. If his 'dissident' act (yatra) provokes any disciplinary action from the Congress High Command, Jagan is ready to portray it as the Congress party's ungratefulness towards his father. But veteran strategist Rosaiah and the High Command has made Veerappa Moiley, the party's AP affairs in-charge, a close confidant of the Jagan camp, announce the suspension note of loquacious Rambabu Ambati. Enthralled by the versatility of the drama, the media swarmed around a seemingly disgruntled Jagan and sought his reaction on the 'warning' from the High Command. 'God is there and above all my father's blessings are there,' Jagan replied, indicating a fierce battle ahead.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mamata Banerjee is drawing flak for neglecting the ministry

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but as a response to an RTI query from TSI shows, the railway minister isn't doing as badly as her immediate predecessors. A report by Vikas Kumar

If despair often blurs reality, chaos completely engulfs it. With the Indian Railways being rocked by another tragic mishap, the second in Bengal in two months, that is exactly what supporters of mercurial Trinamool Congress leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, must be thinking. The feisty lady is being pilloried ' and not entirely unjustifiably ' by her political rivals for neglecting her ministerial work and focusing her energies on Bengal politics even as the railways under her charge lurches from one devastating wreck to another.

But the question is: is the 63,000-km stretch of the railways and the musty corridors of Rail Bhavan any worse off under her than they were under her predecessors of the past two decades?

The fact is that Mamata is running for cover. The Railway Ministry, which was adjudged the best performing ministry during the tenure of Lalu Prasad Yadav, has suddenly started hogging the limelight for all the wrong reasons. But what may be apparent is not always true. Going by cold statistics, Mamata certainly isn't the worst Railway Minister of the last two decades.

Data available with the Commissioner of Railway Safety for the period 1991 to 2010-11 shows that she has fared much better than her predecessors. During the tenure of CK Jaffer Sharief, who served as Railway Minister from July 21, 1991 to November 22, 1995, Indian Railways saw more than 500 accidents every year. The number of accidents in 1993-94 was 587, resulting in a death toll of 226. In the year prior to that, when two railway ministers, George Fernandes and Janeshwar Mishra, held the post, the number of mishaps was 532 and the death toll crossed 200.

Nitish Kumar, the current Bihar Chief Minister who loses no opportunity to take swipes at Mamata Banerjee for running the railways from Kolkata, seems to suffer from selective amnesia. During his tenure of almost a year, the number of fatalities was 374, which is the second highest during a single-year tenure of any railway minister. Similarly, with 302 fatalities, Lalu Prasad's record as railway minister is only marginally better. Mamata is fifth on the list of worst performers in terms of rail mishaps. Mixed signals When it comes to misusing the railways, Mamata's record is once again far better than that of her immediate predecessors. The Railway Ministry, in a response to an RTI query filed by TSI, gave out data of railway passes issued by respective railway ministers. This makes interesting reading and reflects the differing approaches of the ministers.

As far as free distribution of railway passes is concerned, Ram Vilas Paswan was generosity personified. During his one-and-a-half-year tenure from June 1, 1996 to December 29, 1997, he issued 597 complimentary rail passes. Of these, 445 were issued in the last year of his term.

Nitish Kumar does not seem to be lagging far behind. He issued 414 passes during his first one-year tenure in New Delhi's Rail Bhavan. On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee, during her first term as Railway Minister, issued no more than four passes.

Nitish probably took a leaf out of Mamata's book and improved his record during his second term. He issued no free pass from 2001 to 2004. This discussion will remain incomplete without mentioning Lalu Prasad Yadav, who issued 352 passes, out of which 134 passes were issued in a single year span of 2008-09.

A senior level officer, on condition of anonymity, told TSI, 'During Nitish Kumar's second term, some steps were taken to improve safety standards of the railways. However, during the Lalu Prasad regime, safety concerns were put on the back-burner in a mad race to generate revenue. Modernisation of the railways was put on hold. The negative impact of that trend is being felt now.'

Subhash Chandra Agrawal, who filed a separate RTI regarding the Ministry of Railways, says, 'No recommendation has been made by the Railway Minister for her personal staff." On the other hand, another RTI response revealed that Lalu Prasad had made free lifetime passes for himself and an assistant. When Mamata assumed office she cancelled all these passes. She also drastically reduced VVIP quotas on all Bihar-bound trains. The RTI response also revealed that she does not use the official vehicle that she is entitled to as railway minister.

A hue and cry after a major mishap is nothing new for the railways. Lalu Prasad said, 'One should see why such accidents are taking place. This is a big lapse.' However, the Rs 17000-crore fund for the railways has remained unutilised. Ramavatar Singh, general secretary of the Railway Workers' Union, says, 'Two years ago, there were 7000 gangmen in Delhi. Today it is only 800. This is the situation in every department of the railways. How can we assure safety?'

Mamata can be criticised for not devoting enough attention to her Ministry, and it is true that the railways is suffering as a result, but her track record is much better than many of those who have handled the ministry in the recent past.