Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Time travel is not possible

I can best explain this through an every day example. Imagine you have an mp3 player with shuffle mode on. When you choose "Forward", you have no idea which song will play next. Likewise, if you were to choose "Previous", then too, you will have no idea which song will play.

Switch off shuffle mode, then you get total predictability on which song will play and in which sequence. No matter which way you navigate, you will always have the songs playing in the exact same sequence.

Now assuming your mp3 player is not made that it can work in shuffle-on mode in one direction and shuffle-off mode in the other, either you will have total predictability or total uncertainty.

So if we expect to go back in time and find things exactly as we saw them while there, then we are in shuffle-off mode and hence we should have a completely predictable future, i.e. some one some where has already written a complete script and we just enact it without an iota of control.

But, if anything we know for certain it is that uncertainty is the hallmark of our Universe. We have no idea how life will turn out, much less what the next moment holds for us. There is no shuffle-off mode. So even if we were able to travel back in time, whatever that means, there is no way we can expect things to be what they were when we experienced them.

In a shuffle-on mode, "Forward" and "Previous" make no sense, no matter which "direction" you choose, you end up with a song that you cannot predict. "Direction" ceases to exist.

Ergo, time travel to the past, even if possible, makes no sense. And even if you were able to travel in any one "direction", there is no way you could trace back to the exact time and place you left from.

In conclusion, we just travel; there is neither a forward or previous, no future or past - we just perceive it that way. The songs keep playing and you have no idea where that song is placed in your playlist. All we can do is hope that our playlist has songs we like.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

CoalGate: Beyond corruption

Nothing riles Indians as much as corruption. And if the scale of the corruption is to the tune of INR 1.86 lakh crores (or roughly 34 billion US dollars), then heads must roll. This is the amount that the CAG estimates is the gain that will accrue to the private firms that have been allocated coal blocks. A percentage of this gain is therefore the perceived loss to the Indian ex-chequer.

The basic findings of the CAG are: Coal blocks were allotted to private firms AT NO COST by an arbitrary steering committee in a completely ad-hoc fashion. No one is clear what guidelines were followed in the allocation process. Several of these allocations were through recommendation letters of Members of Parliament (MPs), favouring private firms with vested interests.

Some private firms that were allotted these coal blocks went to banks and raised huge sums of capital which was not invested in the development of the coal blocks. Moreover their share prices multiplied several times over. Obviously a lot of people made a lot of money and no one really doubts the Congress Party and some of its ministers and party functionaries would have made a fortune.

No sooner was “Report 7” released by the CAG, the opposition parties, led by the BJP pounced on the adverse findings and asked for the head of the Prime Minister, since the latter was also the Minister of Coal, during the period the allocations were made. Understandably, the Indian public is mad as hell and for once, even the staunchest Congress supporters want the guilty to be punished.

But is CoalGate (yes, one more “Gate”) about corruption alone? Is it only about recovering ill-gotten money and punishing the guilty? By paraphrasing CoalGate as a case of corruption in high places, we trivialize its implications.

That the Ministry of Coal had allocated 142 coal blocks to both private and public companies in the most ad-hoc manner from 2004 onwards is no secret. The allocations did not happen behind iron walls. We did not need Report 7 for the “revelation”. The manner in which the allocations were made, to whom they were made and reasons for allocation are available in the form of “minutes of meeting” on the website of the Ministry of Coal (

Why did it need the CAG Report to bring to life the collective consciousness of the Indian polity and citizenry? Why is that no one – the opposition, the major players in the power, iron and steel and cement industry, the media, you and me – raise any objection or prevent the government from carrying out what was a brazen act of looting the country of its precious resources?

Our collective culpability does not end here. The ostensible reasons for de-reservation of 48 coal blocks from Coal India Limited to private players were to increase the production of coal and thereby reducing our reliance on imports. Out of 86 coal blocks which were to produce 73.00 million tonnes of coal during 2010-11, only 28 blocks which included 15 blocks allocated to private sector, could start production by 31st March 2011 and produce only 34.64 million tonne of coal during 2010-11.

A delay of a few hours invites a censure in any accountable organization. A delay of a few days or weeks could mean losing a job. In this case we are talking of delays of several years. Now that we the citizens know, we will deal with the party that forms the government in the next elections. But how do we deal with the entire opposition that clearly knew but did not bother to question the government in parliament in all these many years? How are we to deal with the captains of industry amongst some of the most well known and “respected” organizations in the country who were clearly derelict in their responsibilities and accountability?

Why is it that in 2012, we still haven’t forced our government to enact a law that will ensure equitable distribution of natural resources through a transparent and well defined process?

Why is it that even after the 2G scam – which has striking similarities – no one bothered to look around and ask obvious questions regarding the manner in which other common resources were being managed?

Folks, this is not about a corrupt Congress party or about the removal of Manmohan Singh (refuse to use the prefix Dr. – does not deserve it anymore).

This is about the collective failure of the Indian leadership (political and industry). This is why on 31st July 2012, India faced its biggest ever power failure. This is why despite the promise of double digit growth, we are barely registering 6%. This is what stops us from becoming one of the greatest nations in the world.

The time has come for ordinary citizens to introspect and decide how India will be lead…

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Letter to Karan on Friendship Day

Dearest Karan,

On this friendship day, I would like to share with you how my life was shaped by important lessons I learnt from my dearest friends.

Kedar taught me to always stand by your friend - he exemplified "a friend in need is a friend indeed". By his actions, I learnt to give and share unconditionally, for that is true help and anything else is an obligation.

Raj once told me why he always smiled, particularly at children. "They are the future of this world", he said, "and when they see us elders smile, they will grow in the comfort and confidence that all is well in the world." From him I learnt, how important it is that we treat all children with affection so they can grow up to be better citizens and continue to spread cheer and goodwill in the world.

Sadu taught me to never be afraid of asking questions - in those days, it irritated and embarrassed me when he did, but later in the professional world, the value of asking questions became apparent and the import of it sunk in.

Jayesh's courageous decision to go "back to school" after a gap of several years made me realize it is never too late to pursue what you believe in.

From Aninda, I got the amazing gift of treating life's most complex problems in the most simple and clinical fashion. Dealing with his mother's cancer treatment, was "just another project" he said. When you treat life's problem as just another project, it allows you to focus on the solutions and not be overwhelmed by the problem.

When I first encountered Deven's ability to be brutually honest, I thought he was being suicidal or downright stupid. It takes great courage to be honest to someone's face, even when you are aware of the consequences.

I am thankful for the great times I had and will continue to have with my dear friends, but above all, what I have learnt from them, I cannot ever thank them enough for.

I am glad you have some very close friends already and you will continue to meet more. Cherish them and respect them - for there is nothing better in this world than a friend.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bold ideas for a New India - #1

In year 2009-2010, Air India Ltd. spent a humungous 3,356 crores in salaries and crew allowances. It spent an additional 13,224 crores in operational costs and yet ended with a loss of 5,552 crores.

If Air India Ltd. were to divest itself completely, here is what the GOI could do with the money that goes into a dark hole year after year:

Average gross monthly salary of a Professor in a National Institute of Technology, Warangal is INR 1,00,000. Which means, the salary and crew allowances can fund a staggering 27,960 Professors every year. The annual operating costs for Year 08-09 at Warangal less salaries, was around 22 crores. In other words, Warangal could be funded 600 times in the same cost that the GOI spends in running AI annually (excluding salaries in both cases). Considering 30 NITs across India and assuming each has an average operating expense (less salaries) the same as Warangal, each of them could be funded 20 times over in 1 year.

What happens to the employees of Air India? Well, this is where some of the boldness comes in. Let the buyer decide, the competent employees will either be asked to continue or find jobs with other competing airlines. The rest, well, there will be collateral damage, but in the worst case scenario, a VRS could be offered as a graceful exit.

What does India need more? A sinking airline, which is resurrected regularly using tax payer money OR provide millions of children access to a world class education system?

Link to PDF versions of the Balance Sheet and P&L for AI Year 2009-2010

Pay structure of employees at Warangal NIT 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

America: Iran is not the enemy, its the economy!

The fetish of certain hawkish elements in the American establishment for enemies - mostly imagined, sometimes real - remains undiminished.

Their latest enemy #1 is ofcourse Iran. Reasons?

First, Iran is set on a unstoppable course to develop nuclear bombs and drop it on Israel and the US. Second, it exports terror around the world and third that it supports brutal regimes and meddles in its neighbours' affairs.

There is no doubt that Iran has embarked on a nuclear program and there can be little doubt that the reasons are to develop a nuclear weapons capability. That they may end up using it for peaceful, domestic purposes such as nuclear power may be incidental.

So yes, they will eventually develop a nuclear bomb. But does that mean they will drop it over Israel or the US? We are told that the leadership in Iran - a couple of "maniacs" - is itching to wipe off Israel from the face of the earth. We were told the same things about the "maniacs" in the former Soviet Union, most of whom are now in their graves. And ofcourse, these "maniacs" are total "idiots" as well. They have no clue that Israel has nuclear capabilities that is far superior including armed submarines that can instantly inflict far greater annihilation in Iran, in response to an Iranian first strike. These "maniacs" obviously have not heard of the word "deterrent". That Iran will strike first, if and when it develops its nuclear bomb is entirely speculative.

Even if the above argument is not acceptable, I have an issue purely on the grounds of basic principles. What gives America, Israel or any of the current nuclear powers the right to stop Iran or any other country for that matter the right to develop its nuclear program? And for those countries that do not have nuclear capabilities, what right do they have to stop Iran or any other country for that matter and at the same time let the current nuclear powers continue to retain their capabilities? If it is good for one, it cannot be bad for others. If even one nation can have it, then every other sovereign nation must have the right to decide if they want it or not. And if it is bad for one, then it is bad for everyone else. Either the hypocrisy or the exclusivity must stop, we cannot have both.

Now, let's examine the claim that Iran exports terror. The persons drumming up this claim are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ably supported by certain sections of the media in the west. The basis of this claim are the three recent attacks on Israeli diplomats in New Delhi, Bangkok and in Tbilisi. There is little doubt these were carried out under instructions from Teheran. Within two days of the attack, Thailand charged two Iranians in what Thai intelligence officials said was a botched attempt to attack Israeli diplomats. There is no case for condoning these attacks, period. And then a few months ago, there was the bizarre incident of an Iranian Manssor Arbabsiar and his alleged handler Shakuri, who is described as a member of the Quds force, a special unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, recruiting the Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US, on US soil. Duh!

Apart from these two incidents - one proven and most likely provoked by the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists and the other unproven to date, there is very little that can be blamed on the Iranians. Over the past decade, there have been several hundred suicide bomb attacks around the world by Saudis, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Pakistanis, but never by an Iranian. so on the basis of these two isolated events, one of which is not proven, and the other an obvious (non-condonable) tit-for-tat, should we rush to paint Iran as a terror state, an exporter of terror to the world?

The third argument is that Iran meddles in the affairs of its neighbours. That it arms and supports the oppressive Assad regime in Syria. That the Hizbullah and Hamas are its proxies. That it does not have good relations with regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey. Most countries with regional and global ambitions have their "dirty tricks" departments, so does Iran. But it must be left to the affected countries to deal with Iran as they deem fit. In those cases, where they are unable to do so, the US must necessarily be part of a global consensus on how to deal with Iran. Unilateral action will only serve to box the US into a situation where the final recourse is military action.

The recent filibuster may help garner a few votes in the coming elections, but we have already seen the devastating effects of the flip side - galloping increase in the price of oil. So, to all the hawks out there, a grim reminder - America's biggest enemy and most clear and present threat is from its economy. A relentless war waged against a failing economy is what the American people deserve, not a third (after Afghanistan and Iraq) mindless, thankless war.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Original Cowboys?

If there is a discussion on inventions and discoveries with Indians of my generation or earlier, chances are you will be met with a "But we Indians already knew about it" or "this is mentioned in our Vedas/Ramayan/Mahabharat".

We had our vimanas (aeroplanes) long before the western world even figured out the Pythagoras theorem. Ravana, the King of (ancient) Lanka, had his private jet, in which he would visit his holiday and hunting destinations in India. He even used it as a getaway vehicle when he abducted Sita. Other Indian deities had their custom designed planes as well. Vishnu had Garuda (yes, this is where the Indonesian airline derives it name from) and Indra had Airavata (actually an elephant, who on occassion could fly as well).

And then we had Brahmastra - the original WMD/nuclear weapon. The Brahmastra never missed its mark and had to be used with very specific intent against an individual enemy or army, as the target would face complete annihilation. In the wrong hands, it could cause the end of the world, total destruction and extinction of all life.

So, did ancient Indians actually invent planes and nuclear weapons (no matter the technical differences with modern day equivalents)? Well, that is another article...

But what I can tell you with certainty is that India had its version of cowboys long before they propped up in the lands of America or were made famous by Louis L'Amour.

The early Rig Vedic Arya tribes were predominantly pastoral. They did have the concept of wealth and their currencies were cattle and horses. The importance of cattle to these people can be gauged from just one hymn, 28, of Mandala VI of the Rig Veda.

Verse 1 says:
THE Kine (cattle) have come and brought good fortune: let them rest in the cow-pen and be happy near us.
Here let them stay prolific, many-coloured, and yield through many morns their milk for Indra.

The fortunes of these people have a direct co-relation of their possession of cattle. The cattle were sheltered in separate cow-pens and it was important that were cared for - "happy near us". Their breeding in prolific numbers would have mattered as well, given that the cattle were the "wealth" of these people. Verse 6 enforces this thought further, "Prosper my house, ye with auspicious voices. Your power is glorified in our assemblies".

Tending well to their cattle is paramount, as suggested by verse 7:
Crop goodly pasturage and be prolific drink pure sweet water at good drinking places.
Never be thief or sinful man your matter, and may the dart of Rudra still avoid you.

The caretakers, made an effort to provide proper water, and guarded them from thieves and other that could cause them harm.

In Verse 3, it is clear that cattle rearing is their occupation. "The master of the kine (cattle) lives many a year with these (the cows), whereby he pours his gifts (milk and ghee) and serves the Gods (during a sacrifice)".

In the same verse,  their concern over protecting their wealth is conveyed. The Gods are propitiated that "These (the cows) are ne'er lost, no robber ever injures them: no evil-minded foe attempts to harass them". And then again, in verse 4, "These Cows, the cattle of the pious worshipper, roam over widespread pasture where no danger is".

Evidence of their dietary habits and dependence of cattle based food products can be found in verse 6, "O Cows, ye fatten e'en the worn and wasted, and make the unlovely beautiful to look on". Good beauty tip there for the ladies, any takers?

The corollary to owning wealth, is its protection, amassing, even hoarding. So there were battles and there were battles. With non-Arya tribes such as the Panis and within the Arya clans.

Hand-to-hand battles amongst small groups and fierce battles fought with spears and arrows with hundreds of men on either side. With the winner takes all of the "booty" and "spoil".

Verse 4 of Hymn 25, Mandala VI, provides us evidence of such hand to hand combat:
With strength of limb the hero slays the hero, when bright in arms they range them for the combat.
When two opposing hosts contend in battle for seed and offspring, waters, kine, or corn-lands.

Evidences of armed battles are too many to recount here, suffice to say they did occur in plenty. They obviously did not sling guns around their waist, but they did carry their own mean weapons - the spears, shafts and arrows.

So, these cowboys from ancient times, may not have donned on cowboy hats and boots, but sure as hell, they were there all those thousands of years ago. In a quirky way, parts of the Rig Veda do make interesting reading as would passages from a Louis L'Amour novel (needs a lot of imagination, but one could get there).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A case for Emergence as the cause of the birth of the Universe

Glancing at the evening sky and watching a flock of birds return home has never failed to amaze me. Why? The seemingly coordinated movement of the flock is not controlled by any leader. Instead, it emerges naturally as each individual follows a few simple rules, such as go in the same direction as the other guy, don’t get too close, and flee any predators. This phenomenon, is called emergence.
"It's not magic," the physicist Doyne Farmer once said about emergence, "but it feels like magic." Birds, atmospheric disturbances, and city dwellers self-organize, giving rise to flocks, hurricanes, and distinct neighborhoods. Such entirely new properties and behaviors "emerge," with no one directing and no one able to foresee the new characteristics from knowledge of the constituents alone. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts and can be very distinct and unpredictable.

As long as there is an inherent affinity to self-organize, chances are emergence will occur. The propensity to self-organize is abundant on earth and since natural laws that hold good on our planet holds good for the Universe as a whole, it must be that self-organization occurs everywhere in the Universe as well.

It is this basic premise that I base my un-scientific theory on the birth of the Universe upon. Un-scientific, because it is neither based on facts nor evidence. But the circumstantial evidence, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, is so strong, I feel compelled to put it out there and maybe, just maybe, some scientific community might just decide there is an iota of merit in the proposition.

In the beginning, there was just dark matter. We know nothing about dark matter, but, I will ascribe it one property – the affinity to self-organize. When sufficient dark matter self-organized, the emergent result was a Bang. The self-organization did not occur at one single point but throughout the Universe, as long as sufficient dark matter could come together. Thus, there was not one single Big Bang, but multiple Bangs. How the Universe evolved after the Big Bang is well known and the same applies to each of these Bangs, with one significant difference – INFLATION.

The first version of the Big Bang theory (aka standard Big Bang) could not explain what is known as the Horizon problem. Our observations tell us that distant regions of space in opposite directions of the sky are so far apart that, assuming standard Big Bang expansion, they could never have been in causal contact with each other. Why? This is because the light travel time between them exceeds the age of the universe. So if nothing can travel faster than light how come these regions are at a distance much further than the distance light could possibly have traveled since the birth of the Universe? Yet the uniformity of the cosmic microwave background temperature tells us that these regions must have been in contact with each other in the past.

To explain this observation, the Inflation theory was introduced. It proposes a period of extremely rapid (exponential) expansion of the universe followed by the more gradual Big Bang expansion. Since Inflation supposes a burst of exponential expansion in the early universe, it follows that distant regions were actually much closer together prior to Inflation than they would have been with only standard Big Bang expansion. Thus, such regions could have been in causal contact prior to Inflation and could have attained a uniform temperature.

I always found myself not being able to reconcile to this Inflation theory. It appears to me to be a classic case of “retrofit”. Strange things do happen in the Universe, but this hyper expansion just for an exact period of fractions of a second, hmmm….

 Now let us go back to the idea of multiple Bangs. Since each of these Bangs occur at points in the Universe which are already at distances from each other, even if each of the expansions follow the standard Big Bang, none of these have to travel so further away from any one central point as needed by the single Big Bang. It thus resolves the Horizon problem. Since the Bangs occur at various points in the Universe, it would also explain the uniform background temperature found in the Universe.

Now through this theory, there is purpose and reason for dark matter, rather than being around just to provide the gravitational mass missing in the other “non-dark” matter (the galaxies, stars etc.) of the Universe. Present observations suggest that 380,000 years after the birth of the Universe, the amount of dark matter was roughly 63% of all matter. Now, nearly 14 billion years later it is roughly 23%.

I have an explanation for why this amount reduces all the time. Because, there are Bangs taking place all the time in the Universe. Dark matter continues to self-organize and give birth to new galaxies, stars, etc. And with each Bang, the Universe expands even further. What does this mean? That with each Bang, there is an expansion and each expansion, results in the acceleration of some parts of the Universe away from the rest. The constant acceleration of the Universe away from itself in every direction is another strange phenomenon and the incessant occurrence of Bangs explains this phenomenon.

Does this then obviate the need for dark energy? After all dark energy was introduced to explain the accelerating expansion of the Universe and I believe we have a plausible explanation in the preceding paragraph.

Now, I am not a cosmologist, not even a scientist and everything I have written in this article might be wrong, but then, I believe I have raised some interesting points worthy of consideration.

Would be interesting if some one chances upon this and thinks it worth a scientific scrutiny!

 Note: Certain text in this article have been re-produced verbatim from a) and b)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Monster called Lokpal

The IndiaAgainstCorruption website (, in an article comparing the handling of Class C government employees proposed by the Lokpal Bill v/s the Jan Lokpal Bill makes certain interesting observations.

Since the government has proposed that cases of corruption related to Class C be handled by the CVC, it criticizes this proposition with the following reasoning:

“There are 57 lakh Group C employees and 3 lakh Group A and Group B employees. Internationally, one anti-corruption staff is provided to check corruption of 200 government employees. So, you would need 28,500 anti-corruption staff in CVC to check corruption of 57 lakh employees. CVC has a staff strength of 230 employees. Does the government plan to provide 28,500 additional workforce to them?”

Totally agree. The government proposition just does not fly in the face of simple logic.

The article then goes on to provide several other reasons to criticize the government’s proposition, but I have not re-produced them here as they are not relevant to the main theme of  this article.

While elaborating their model, the IAC article makes the following points:

It starts by suggesting that the CBI be given jurisdiction over all the government employees, including Class C. Then it goes on to state, “However, CBI suffers from severe staff shortage and is under government’s control. Through our proposal, we are only proposing that the workforce of CBI should be increased five-fold, as demanded by CBI and they should be taken out of government’s control and merged with Lokpal. Likewise, in states, the Anti-Corruption Bureaus and State Vigilance Departments should be merged into new Lokayuktas.”

So everyone agrees that no matter which dispensation will perform the investigation, there is a severe shortage of staff.

Let us move on to see how the exact model will look like. The exact paragraph is reproduced below:

“So, how would this system work? Lokpal would have an office/ Police Station is each district in the country (CBI already has one police station in each state. This is proposed to be increased to one police station in each district) and Lokayukta would have a Police Station is each block of that respective state. For corruption in a Central Government department, a citizen could register an FIR in the nearest Lokpal Police Station in the district and for corruption in any State Government, a citizen could register FIR in the nearest Lokayukta Police Station in that block.  It should be noted that the complaints would not go to Lokpal members sitting in Delhi or Lokayukta members sitting in state capitals.”

The essence of the above paragraph is that there would be one person per block who would handle corruption cases under the Lokpal.

There are roughly 10,000 blocks in India (5,161 towns and 6,404 C, D blocks).

What does this mean? That to make the IAC’s model operational, we need to recruit at least 10,000 persons.

Quick digression, before I return to the main point. The IAC article conveniently does not mention a single number while elaborating its model but does drop the 28,500 number while it discusses the government model. I found that rather strange. The nearest they come to quantification is the mention of “workforce of the CBI should be increased five-fold”. But then, by their own argument of “Internationally, one anti-corruption staff is provided to check corruption of 200 government employees”, the workforce needed HAS TO BE 28,500. But the way the content is organized, the subtle conclusion that reader arrives at is that such a huge workforce is NOT required.

Be that as it may, we are talking of a workforce anywhere between 10,000 to 28,500 by their own reasoning, not mine. Let us accept the lower figure so they get the benefit of doubt.

Where will these 10,000 persons work in and as? We are told they would work in a Lokayukta Police Station one in every block. I assume, in the absence of any clarification, that they these persons would be of the rank of at least Sub-Inspector and drawing salaries in keeping with what other Sub-Inspectors in every State Police Station are paid.

If that is the case, and again, in the absence of any direct mention in their article, I have to make this assumption, here are some basic question that arise:

  1. Where are we going to find 10,000 honest persons who would be willing to work as Sub-Inspectors at a block level in India?
  2. If we can find them, then why should we create a parallel system and have them work in a parallel system, why not work in the ambit of the existing system?
  3. If the answer to 2 is that the existing system is corrupt and that eventually these persons would turn corrupt as well, what is going to prevent them from becoming corrupt eventually in the new system? And whatever it is that can be done to prevent them from being corrupt in the new system, why cannot those measures be introduced in the existing system and reform the existing system, instead of creating a new one?
  4. If the answer to 2 is that the existing system will never allow such honest persons to enter it, then my response is that we agitate on this issue rather than create what is very obviously a gargantuan parallel system that is completely at odds with what exists.

What pleasantries are the two Sub-Inspectors from the two Police Stations going to exchange when they meet each other?  For the sake of this nation, let us create an environment that will incentivise and motivate the current Police and CBI personnel to be honest and not create a new police system to police the police and several other government servants.

If we go along with the proposed Jan Lokpal or even the government proposed Lokpal, we will end up creating a police state with unlimited and unbridled power in one institution which is not elected by the people of this nation, nor accountable to it in any way whatsoever. We just have to hope and pray they don’t turn rogue. This is what we want to leave our future generations?

The way to resolve a problem is to treat its root cause, not to treat its symptoms. Electoral reforms, police reforms, these are some of the solutions to the fundamental root causes. Creating a Lokpal is similar to having a nurse who keeps monitoring a patient’s pain and administers medication to alleviate the pain, hoping that in due course the cause of the pain will go away.

I hope better sense prevails and that Team Anna’s agitation is focused on cleansing the system from within and not create a monster that we all hope will threaten its way to cleanse this nation from corruption.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Is there nothing that is good in the government drafted Lokpal Bill?

Contrary to popular views, there are certain aspects of the government Lokpal Bill which have merit.

  • First of all there is the Lokpal Bill, for whatever it is worth.
  • Elected representatives, persons convicted of any charges, persons connected with political parties are not eligible to become members of the Lokpal. Thus the fear of "infiltration" and eventual "corruption" of the Lokpal by the political class or government employees against whom the offenses would be registered is eliminated.

  • At least 5 members of the Lokpal need to have prior judicial background and need to be or have been the Chief Justice of India or Supreme Court Judge or Chief Justice of a High Court. Persons of such eminence would be expected to deliver, rather than not.

  • The jurisdiction of the Lokpal covers all elected representatives, including Ministers and the Prime Minister, all classes of government officials and even officials belonging to non government bodies that are funded or controlled by the government or receive funding above a certain amount of foreign funding. Thus no one is spared, never mind the restrictions on the Prime Minister.

  • All complaints brought to the Lokpal are to be dealt within specific time limits. This means complaints have to be dealt with one way or the other in a time bound fashion. Even cases filed in the Special Courts have to complete the trial proceedings with a maximum of two years. So accept or reject the decisions, every activity from preliminary inquiry to trial has to be completed within a maximum of  2 years and 9 months.

  • Special courts and not normal courts will examine cases that are taken up for prosecution by the Lokpal. This means all cases filed by the Lokpal will not enter the black hole that is our judicial system.

  • No sanction is required by the Lokpal to initiate action on a complaint.

  • The Lokpal and its officials can examine any person it believes is connected with the wrong-doing or has information relevant to the wrong-doing. It does not need any prior sanction in order to do so.

  • The Lokpal can have its own Inquiry (not Investigative) Wing  and Prosecution Wing. To this extent, the Lokpal has some independent bodies under its direct supervision.

  • The Lokpal can move for provisional attachment of assets or any other artifacts or material that it believes may have been obtained as "proceeds of offense".

  • All Lokpal members have a maximum term of 5 years and cannot be appointed again.

  • Lokpal members can be removed or suspended by the President and consent of the Supreme Court.

  • Procedure to deal with false complaints, where the complainant may be fined upto INR 1 lac or imprisoned for a maximum of 1 year and also be asked to compensate the public servant.

So am I arguing that there are no flaws in the government Bill? Not at all. But surely there are some merits, and it is important they are recognized and appreciated.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Basic FAQ on the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011

I had many unanswered questions on the Lokpal Bill. Basic questions, which many of you, like me, would have, but do not have the time to go through the details of the bill and find the answers.

I have made an attempt to go through the Bill as passed by the Lok Sabha and tried to interpret it as best as I can. Based on the contents of the Bill and my interpretations, I have compiled a set of basic questions I had.

I am working on some of the more involved "intricacies" and also on a comparison between the government Bill and the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Till such time, I hope you find this useful.

Q1. What is the purpose of the Lokpal bill?
The purpose of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, is to provide for the establishment of a body called the Lokpal for the Centre and bodies called the Lokayukta for States to inquire into allegations of corruption against certain public functionaries.

Q2. Is the Lokpal a person or a body?
It is a body consisting of 1 Chairperson and as many as 8 members. Of the 8 members, 4 need to be Judicial members and 4 would be non-Judicial members or simply, Members.

Q3. Are there any eligibility criteria for the members of the Lokpal?
Yes, there are eligibility and non-eligibility criteria for all three types of members, Chairperson, Judicial Member and Member.

The eligibility criteria for Chairperson are:

a)    Current or ex-Chief Justice of India
b)    Ex-Judge of the Supreme Court

The eligibility criteria for Judicial Member are:

a)    Current or ex- Judge of the Supreme Court
b)    Current or ex-Chief Justice of High Court

The eligibility criteria for Member are:

a)    Person of impeccable integrity and outstanding ability having special knowledge and expertise of atleast 25 years in matters relating to anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance, finance including insurance and banking, law and management.

Q4. Can elected representatives or government officials become part of the Lokpal?
No elected representative - MP, MLA, member of Panchayat or Municipality, can be part of the Lokpal. Infact, any person connected with a political party, even if not an elected representative cannot be part of the Lokpal.

A government official can be part of the Lokpal, provided such a person has not been removed or dismissed from service, and has to resign from current service to become eligible. In any case, such a person has to meet the eligibility criteria in order to be considered.

Q5. Who selects the Lokpal panel?
The President appoints the Chairperson and other members based on recommendations made by a Selection Committee consisting of:

a)    Prime Minister
b)    Speaker of the Lok Sabha
c)     Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha
d)    Chief Justice of India or a Judge of the Supreme Court nominated by the Chief Justice
e)    One eminent jurist nominated by the President

The Selection Committee in turn, make their recommendations from a pool of persons recommended by a Search Committee.

The Search Committee is set up by the Selection Committee and is required to have at least seven persons of standing and having special knowledge and expertise in the matters relating to anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance, policy making, finance including insurance and banking, law and management or in any other matter which, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, may be useful in making the selection of the Chairperson and Members of the Lokpal.

Q6. Are there any reservations set aside for the Lokpal members?
Yes, a minimum of 4 or more members of the Lokpal have to be amongst the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Minorities and women.

Q7.  For how long can a Lokpal member hold office?
The maximum term is for 5 years or if the member reaches the age of 70.

Q8. What are the major powers of the Lokpal?
The Lokpal has the power to conduct a preliminary inquiry, investigate and prosecute any offence brought to its notice through an appropriately filed complaint. No special sanction is required to initiate the investigation and prosecution.

The Lokpal has the power to summon and examine any person as it deems necessary and even attach any property or material it believes are “proceeds of offense”. It may also recommend disciplinary action if the inquiry/investigation concludes that an offense was committed.

Q9. Who will handle the investigation and prosecution for the Lokpal?
The Bill has the provision of the Lokpal to set up its own Inquiry Wing and Prosecution Wing, each headed by a Directory.

The Inquiry Wing has the power to conduct a preliminary inquiry on a complaint and submit a report within 60 days of the receipt of the complaint. For certain categories, such as government officials, the Lokpal, will also refer the case to the Central Vigilance Committee and seeks its report as well. A bench constituted of not less than 3 members from amongst the Lokpal members will go through the reports and decide if there is a case to conduct a detailed investigation.

The investigation is to be conducted by an external agency such as the CBI and is as such not directly under the Lokpal as is its Inquiry Wing.

Upon completion of the investigation, the agency is required to submit a report to the above mentioned bench, which will decide if it merits proceeding with prosecution.

In case it does, the case is now transferred to the Prosecution Wing of the Lokpal and the case is tried in Special Courts established for the purpose of cases under the purview of the Lokpal.

Q10. Will the cases under the purview of Lokpal be tried in the normal courts?
No. All cases under the purview of Lokpal will be tried in Special Courts to be set up under the provision of the Bill.

Q11. What category of government officials / public servants comes under the ambit of the Lokpal?
The following categories of elected representatives, government officials, and individuals or bodies come under the ambit of the Lokpal:

  • Prime Minister (with several restrictions)
  • Ministers
  • Members of Parliament
  • Group A, B, C and D officials of the Central government. (Group C and D cases are handled by the CVC but supervised by the Lokpal).
  • Any person associated in a position of power such as Director, Manager, Secretary etc. of any body or organization that receives full or part aid from the government, or from the public if that exceed an amount to be notified by the government or foreign funding.
Q12. Can members or Chairperson of the Lokpal be removed?
Yes, any member including the Chairperson can be removed by the President after making a reference to the Supreme Court, providing sufficient grounds for removal. If the Supreme Court finds the grounds valid, then the President can remove the member. The President can make a reference to the Supreme Court:
  • On his own
  • On a petition signed by at least 100 MPs
  • On a petition made by any citizen, as long as the President is satisfied with the petition
There are several grounds for removal. Some of them include: misbehaviour, insolvency of the member, or violation of any of the conditions of holding the office such as being in paid employment outside of the Lokpal.

 The member could be suspend till such time the Supreme Court gives a decision.

Q13. Is it true that armed forces are not covered under the Lokpal?
Yes, the armed forces as well as the coastal guard as not under the ambit of the Lokpal.

If you have any questions that you would like answered, please post them as a comment and I will attempt to update as soon as I can.