Thursday, December 17, 2009

High time....

Getting business to care about civil rights

This is Sudeep Chakravarti's column in Mint.
He lists pointers for businesses as listed out by London's Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB)

Here they are: (excerpts from his column)

• Clarifying responsibilities “beyond borders”. IHRB says “pressure is mounting to lift the corporate veil”.

• Establishing universal criteria for operating in conflict zones. This will prove useful to control both violations of human rights by governments, and the contribution of business to wilfully, or inadvertently, add to, or perpetuate, violations.

• Developing standards for human rights due diligence.

• Protecting migrant workers—in global and local situations.

• Using corporate law to strengthen respect for human rights.

• “Addressing challenges relating to land acquisition and use.” This goes beyond the concept of Eminent Domain to “clearer understandings and good practices around principles such as free, prior and informed consent/consultation”.

China's south-north water diversion project

A blast from the past
By Jamil Anderlini
December 15 2009, Financial Times.

Here is a great story about the biggest construction project in China executed by The Party's top brass most of whom are engineers. It also talks about the rising discontent among the rural poor and the potential for rebellion. It beats me how thousands of people can be displaced to make way for an artificial snow park for the elite.

India had a similar bizarre project for diversion of rivers. Somehow sense prevailed on whoever it was in the water resources ministry. The plan has hopefully been shelved forever.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Power of a journo

I had the opportunity to speak with award-winning Philipino journalist Sheila S. Coronel about investigative reporting.

Read her interview here. This was a part of NYU's new media website.
Also: The Power of One

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What's brewing in Iran?

Iran: The enemy within
By Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Roula Khalaf
Financial Times, December 11 2009

This article examines how the tide of protest has gone beyond Ahmadi-Nejad and is turning against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – the Islamic Republic’s highest authority.

Friday, December 11, 2009

For the cause of judicial accountability

The following is a copy of the affidavit filed by senior advocate Prashant Bhushan in the contempt of court matter against him in the Supreme Court of India. He spoke out about judicial corruption and was slapped charges of contempt of court.

For The Record: Published in Outlook India
'My Honest And Bonafide Perception'

Poverty fuelling insurgency in India

Low rural poor count key to Maoist wave?

This Mint story links poverty is six states in India to Maoist insurgency in the region. The govt. of India knows that without addressing poverty and social sector spending in these areas, it cannot control Maoists and tribals.

Dangers of an ad-hoc foreign investment policy.

Foreign investment & Bhopal tragedy

Editorial by Manoj Pant, The Economic Times.

Here's an excerpt:

From the point of view of foreign investment, the first thing to remember is that in 1985 we were just opening up to foreign investment. At that time the foreign investment policy was largely ad hoc and guided by considerations of encouraging technology rather than equity flows. A well-defined policy only came in the industrial policy of 1993. The rather hasty attempts by the government in the ’80s to decide a compensation package and keep out the ‘ambulance chasers’ was probably guided by concerns of the impact on foreign investment. So keep the regulatory system weak. But is that wise?

The fact is that a weak regulatory system does not encourage foreign investment. Foreign investment is guided more by the transparency, clarity and certainty of a policy. This is why the US is still the primary destination of foreign investment. A weak regulatory environment only encourages what we now call ‘footlose’ investment: one that is guided by short-run considerations. The government response to the Bhopal tragedy may well have been the typical response of a developing nation to a big TNC. But it did nothing to encourage foreign investment.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

India's internal intolerance

Migrant workers’ protest turns violent, curfew in Ludhiana, Punjab. Indian Express. (This time, not in Thackeray's Bombay)

Indians are increasingly becoming intolerant of poor migrants. The country is no where close to become accommodating towards immigrants. So much for a 21st century emerging economy.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Land rights in Africa

Land Grab and Africa.
This short video was made for New York University. Special thanks to Dr Hamid Rashid, United Nations.

The Invisible Population

My slide show on the working class in New York City.

Music courtesy: Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring
From the album 6- And 12-String Guitar
By: Leo Kottke
Amazon Digital Services, Inc

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Globalized crackdown

Courtesy Pic: International Freedom of Expression eXchange

Journal article on how technology is helping the Iranian government to crackdown of Iranians outside Iran.

Iranian Crackdown Goes Global

This is precisely what the people who had featured in my video on Iran protests in NYC in September feared.

Excerpts from the story:
The post-election violence has turned Iran's relationship with overseas Iranians on its head. Previously, Iran generally enjoyed good relations with its diaspora. Most opposition movements were on the fringe -- for instance, royalists calling for the shah's return. But the violent suppression of street protests "showed people the true nature of Iran's regime," says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

There are approximately four million Iranians abroad. The U.S. is home to the largest number, totaling at least several hundred thousand. They rank among the nation's best educated and most affluent immigrant groups.

To cut communication between Iranians inside and outside the country, Iran slowed Internet speeds so that accessing an online email account could take close to a half-hour. It blocked access to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. For a while, an automated message warned people making international phone calls not to give information to outsiders.

Tracking Internet crimes -- from political dissent to pornography -- has long been a priority of the regime. Iran's local media openly report on Internet-monitoring centers inside the country's judiciary and armed forces that are staffed with English-speaking, tech-savvy young people.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Also read: Suketu Mehta in NYT
A Cloud Still Hangs Over Bhopal

Here's a brilliant piece but slightly dated now:
Warren Anderson’s silence: tracking down the man who presided over Bhopal
Kirk Nielsen, The Progressive Magazine, May 2006 Issue

Update: The great Bhopal whitewash
Business Standard, Dec 7

Bhopal 25 years on: Trapped in a wasteland
3 Dec 2009, The Economic Times, New Delhi
By Praveen S Thampi

BHOPAL: Shahnawaz Khan hasn’t heard of Dennis Kucinich. And it’s highly unlikely that the US Congressman — a candidate for the Democratic
nomination for President in the 2004 and 2008 elections — would have come across the name of the Bhopal lawyer. But together, they represent the story of this city, 25 years after the biggest industrial disaster in history.

In 1983, almost a year before Tank Number 610 at the Union Carbide factory leaked, spitting out 42 tonnes of the lethal methyl isocyanate into the air, Khan sent a legal notice to the management asking them to install fool-proof safety measures at the unit. “It had become impossible to sit in my office, which was just across the plant. My eyes would start burning, and the skin would constantly itch,” says Khan, now 58, and still practising in Bhopal.

On April 29, 1983, Union Carbide works manager J Mukund sent a reply to Khan, threatening legal action “to be defended at your risk and cost”.

On December 3, 1984, the disaster struck, killing thousands instantly, and compromising the health of a generation. The legal war that started afterwards to punish the culprits, compensate the victims, and remediate the environment has now taken a life of its own. Cases are still pending — from the courtroom of the Bhopal’s chief judicial magistrate to the Supreme Court to the US District Court in Manhattan.

In the latest, 24 US Congressmen, including Mr Kucinich, have written to Dow Chemicals — which later acquired the Union Carbide Corporation — asking the firm to heed the “polluter pays” principle and meet the demands of the survivors for medical and economic rehabilitation, besides cleaning up the ground water near the factory premises.

“Although Dow Chemicals set aside $2.2 billion in 2002 towards Union Carbide’s pending liabilities in the US, it has continued to evade the liabilities it inherited from Bhopal,” says the letter urging Dow to represent itself in the numerous court cases still pending in India.

Back in Bhopal, Abdul Jabbar Khan of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sansthan (BGPMUS) says it’s all about the social value of the victim. “If you are poor, then you better learn to live with it,” says Mr Jabbar, whose organisation imparts vocational training to gas-affected women, besides fighting their legal battles.

To this day, Dow maintains that Bhopal is a closed matter for the company post the controversial out-of-court settlement it struck with the government of India for $470 million in 1989. Babulal Gaur, Madhya Pradesh’s minister for the department of Bhopal gas tragedy relief and rehabilitation, told ET that he has grand plans to build a Hiroshima-like monument at the 80-odd acre factory compound for Rs 116 crore.

That’s around a third of the Rs 600 crore or so that the central government has distributed thus far among Bhopal’s 5,74,367 victims. The first cheque arrived in 1992 in the form of an interim relief of Rs 200 per month, three years after Dow deposited $470 million in its account.

Each cheque, regardless of when it was distributed, was pegged to the dollar-rupee exchange rate of 1989, when a dollar was quoting at Rs 15. By
2004, when the last cheque was issued, the exchange rate had gone up to Rs 45, but the cheques were locked to the Rs 15/$ rate.

A third of Mr Gaur’s planned Rs 116-crore kitty would have been enough to close another chapter of the tragedy: the remediation of the plant, and supply of safe drinking water to the 20,000 people living in the slums around the factory. The minister claims that the polluted ground water in the area is the result of a petroleum depot nearby, but a host of studies point to the presence of mercury, lead, chromium, chloroform, hexachlorocyclohexane, chlorobenzene and Sevin, most of them not known to originate from oil.

The studies differ only in their estimates of the percentage of the toxins present, and the state is finding succour in two reports — by the National Environmental Engineering Institute, Nagpur, and the Defence Research Labs in Gwalior. “Well, that’s progress in a perverse way,” says Mr Jabbar. “Till 2000, they were not even willing to accept that the site is a toxic dump.”

The 25th year of Bhopal will be marked in 16 countries on Thursday, including the US, where the former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson, who has been declared a fugitive by Indian courts, lives in retirement.

A fresh arrest warrant was issued against him in July 2009 by the Bhopal chief judicial magistrate, the latest in a series of such efforts. At Bhopal, no one’s waiting in anticipation. Not a single person has been convicted so far, 25 years after the tragedy, though there is no dearth of trials and charges.

Shahnawaz Khan says he went himself to depose to a special team from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which was camping in Bhopal, a month after the tragedy. “They seemed the least interested,” he says. The CBI finally made him a witness in the case in 2002, 18 years after the first chargesheet was filed.

Meanwhile, life goes on in Bhopal, in and around the six “dedicated” hospitals that the state government has built for the gas victims out of an express fund
provided by the Union Carbide, prior to its acquisition. Civil society activists like Rechna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group of Information & Action say some 6,000 people visit these hospitals every day while Dr N Banerjee, who runs the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies in Bhopal, pegs that figure at around 3,500.

“We are all like foxes howling at the government and the bureaucracy, night after night. But they go on,” says BGPMUS’ Jabbar, lifting up his hand in desperation.


p.s. The author is a former colleague.