Tag Archive | United States

Chinese Help Sought For Sailors’ Release – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                             October 8, 2008

 

Chinese Help Sought For Sailors’ Release

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – The Chinese authorities were urged by an Indian woman today to help secure release of a Hong Kong-registered chemical tanker and its 22 crew members seized by Somali pirates in the Aden Gulf 24 days ago.

English:

(Photo: Wikipedia)

They said they would see what can be done to expedite matters, Seema Goyal, wife of Stolt Valor’s Captain, Prabhat Goyal, said in a telephone interview while she was on her way to Dehradun to be with her children.

Mrs Goyal met China’s Charge d’affaires in New Delhi, Ambassador Zhang Yan being away travelling.

The Japanese-owned tanker flying the Hong Kong flag was on way to Mumbai from Houston in the United States when it was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on September 15.

The pirates demanded $6 million– subsequently pared down to $2 million– for letting the ship sail.

The tanker is carrying phosphoric acid and lubricant oil for end-users, including Kandla-based Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited.’ Besides 18 Indians, the crew includes a Russian, a Bangladeshi and two Filipinos.

Nine of 22 hostage crew members on board have taken ill waiting for freedom from Somali captors holding out for the ransom, relatives say.

The hostages have been running low on water and food.

On Monday, Mrs Goyal met a Japanese Embassy official in New Delhi in an effort to build up pressure on the ship’s Japanese owners to secure a quick end to the crisis.

Mrs Goyal and other members of the group have been meeting Indian authorities– ministers, senior bureaucrats, politicians– to bring home the urgency of securing the sailors’ release.

Experts say much of the initiative in the matter rests with authorities in Hong Kong, where the ship is registered, or Japan, where the owners belong.

On Tuesday, Mrs Goyal addressed a rally of seafarers unions in Mumbai and was handed a petition for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging steps to ensure hostages’ safe return and preclude such acts.

UNI MJ MIR HT2137

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9 Hostages Sick Aboard Seized Ship – Kin – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                October 7, 2008

9 Hostages Sick Aboard Seized Ship: Kin

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – As many as nine of 22 hostage crew members aboard Stolt Valor have taken ill waiting for freedom from Somali captors holding out for a $2 million ransom, relatives said tonight.

The hostages, 18 of them Indian, have been running low on water and food in the captivity of Somali pirates who seized their Chemical tanker in the gulf of Aden on September 15.

Somali pirates in the 21st century (Photo: somaliareport.com)

Somali pirates in the 21st century (Photo: somaliareport.com)

In a telephone interview from Mumbai, Seema Goyal, wife of the tanker’s Captain, Prabhat Goyal, indicated ”no tangible headway” in the 23-day-old crisis.

She is visiting the key port city meeting Shipping officials– including Shipping Director General and Nautical Advisor M M Saggi– and addressing sailors’ unions and ”gathering support.”

Mrs Goyal, who addressed a rally organised by several seafarers unions, was handed over a petition for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging steps to ensure hostages’ safe return and preclude such acts.

On Tuesday, she met a Japanese Embassy official in New Delhi in an effort to build up pressure on the ship’s Japanese owners to secure a quick end to the crisis.

The Japanese-owned tanker flying the Hong Kong flag was on way to Mumbai from Houston in the United States when it was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on September 15.

The tanker is carrying phosphoric acid and lubricant oil for end-users, including Kandla-based Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited.’

Besides 18 Indians, the crew includes a Russian, a Bangladeshi and two Filipinos.

Mrs Goyal and other members of the group have been meeting Indian authorities– ministers, senior bureaucrats, politicians– to bring home the urgency of securing the sailors’ release.

They held a candle light vigil on Saturday night drawing attention to the seafarers’ plight.

The pirates had demanded $6 million– subsequently pared down to $2 million– for letting the ship sail.

Experts say much of the initiative in the matter rests with authorities in Hong Kong, where the ship is registered, or Japan, where the owners belong.

UNI MJ PK AS2221

 

 

Indian Hostages Running Short Of Water, Food: Captain’s Wife – By Mukesh Jhangiani

English: GULF OF ADEN (July 7, 2009) Coalition...

Gulf of Aden (Photo: Wikipedia)

                                                                                                                                    September 30, 2008

Indian Hostages Running Short Of Water, Food: Captain’s Wife

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – With 18 Indian seafarers reportedly running short of water and rations after their ship was seized by Somalian pirates 15 days ago, relatives and friends urged ‘immediate’ steps this evening to secure their release.

”Bring an end to the ordeal of these innocent seafarers,” Seema Goyal, wife of Captain Prabhat Goyal urged in a petition to Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Minister T R Baalu.
Chemical tanker Stolt Valor, a Japanese-owned ship flying the Hong Kong flag and manned by a crew of 22, was sailing from Houston, in the United States, to Bombay when it was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on September 15.
The tanker was carrying phosphoric acid and lubricating oil for Indian end-users, including Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited at Kandla.
As many as 18 of the 22, including Captain Goyal, are Indian, one Russian, one Bangladeshi and two Filipinos.
The hijackers appeared to have originally demanded six million dollars but lowered the demand to 2.5 million dollars, Mrs Goyal told a meeting at the Indian Society of International Law.
She said Capt Goyal and crew members have been in touch with her from the ship’s bridge, presumably using a satellite phone.
”For last 18 days, these 22 sailors are living under the shadow of guns with constant threat to their lives, and look upon the government of India as their last hope.
”Yesterday, a crew member telephoned me and said they will be out of fresh water in a day or two, and rations, in another 3-4 days,” Mrs Goyal said.
”I do not understand what the delay is about,” Ms Goyal said after submitting a petition in the Shipping Minister’s office.
Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1958, the Director General of Shipping, who licenses recruiters of Indian seamen and officers, is also responsible for the welfare of Indian seamen, experts say.
The post has been vacant since the last incumbent, Kiran Dhingra, was transferred to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation 19 days ago.
The delegation of seafarers’ relatives and friends she led also met some Society officers, including secretary general Rahmatullah Khan and former treasurer Joginder Singh Gill.
She has also requested a meeting with United Progressive Alliance chairman Sonia Gandhi.
As many as 55 ships have been attacked off the coast of Somalia since January and 11 were still being held for ransom, published accounts indicate.
The International Maritime Bureau has issued an advisory urging ships to stay 250 Nautical Miles away from the Somali coast.
The ship was reportedly in a corridor made ”safe” by a coalition of US, British and French forces.
An official for the recruiting agent declined to comment on negotiations under way.
UNI MJ AB SK KP2054

Use Norms – Not Discretion – To Punish Crime: ARC – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                         July 8, 2007

Use Norms – Not Discretion – To Punish Crime: ARC

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Government experts have called for guidelines ”so that sentencing across the country for similar offences becomes broadly uniform.”

Inconsistency in punishments judges award is among issues figuring in the latest report of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission on Public Order.

English: An unfair administrator barnstar

Justice v Discretion – A matter of balance (Photo: Wikipedia)

”To effectively deter crime, penalties must not be discretionary,” Commission Chairman M Veerappa Moily told United News of India Special Correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani.

According to the findings Moily gave Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week, ”there is a view that in India there is a real problem arising from a lack of consistency in sentencing practices across the country.
”This is also compounded by broad executive discretion in commuting sentences and granting pardon,” the Commission said.
With Dr Singh’s approval, a 12-member Group of Ministers headed by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was set up three months ago to consider the recommendations.
Feedback is yet to come.
The first such Commission headed by Morarji Desai functioned during 1966-70, but some of its key recommendations are yet to be implemented.
The Moily Commission underscored that sentencing guilty persons is an important and ultimate phase of the criminal justice system.
The trouble, experts say, is that not all laws specify a minimum punishment, which gives judges the leeway to let the guilty off with a slap on the wrist– undermining deterrence.
Thus offences like bribery and cheating are punishable under the Indian Penal Code with imprisonment ”which may extend to one year.” The fact that they are among the commonest crimes is a reflection of the level of deterrence law effects.
The IPC was enacted in 1860. But even the Biological Diversity Act 2002 makes contravention punishable with imprisonment ”which may extend to five years.” No minimum punishment.
”Criminal laws normally provide for a maximum sentence that may be imposed if an offence is proved,” the Commission said, adding that a minimum punishment is prescribed in only ”a certain category of offences.
”The courts have a wide discretion in deciding the quantum of punishment,” according to the Commission.
Advocates of such discretion say it ”is necessary in order to enable the judge to impose a punishment depending upon the circumstances of each case.” They say criminal courts do not have ‘total discretion’ in deciding the sentence and, for subordinate courts, the rulings of the High courts and the Supreme Court also act as guidelines.
They also argue that in a big and diverse country like India it may not be possible to codify each and every situation, and may be best to leave it to the courts’ judgement.
But critics say ”there are instances when such wide discretion has resulted in varying punishments for similar crimes in similar circumstances.”
They say there should be statutorily-backed guidelines to help judges arrive at the quantum of punishment in each case.
The Commission has recommended that the Law Commission lay down guidelines for Trial Courts ”so that sentencing across the country for similar offences becomes broadly uniform.” It has also recommended strengthening the training for trial court judges ”to bring about greater uniformity in sentencing.”
Western experience is that guidelines help ensure ”certainty and fairness” and avoid ”disparities” among defendants with similar records and criminal conduct, while allowing flexibility for mitigating factors.
Britain, for instance, set up a Sentencing Guidelines Council to frame or revise sentencing guidelines to which ”every court must… have regard.” In the United States, a Sentencing Manual and Table lay down a range in months within which the court may sentence defendants based on nature of their offence and criminal history.
Originally mandatory, the guidelines were made discretionary two years ago by a US Supreme Court decision, which cited Americans’ constitutional right to trial by jury.
Starting June 2006, the 2nd Commission has so far submitted five Reports:
— Right to Information – Master Key to Good Governance;
— Unlocking Human Capital – Entitlements and Governance – a case study;
— Crisis Management;
— Ethics in Governance; and
— Public order.
The Commission proposes to submit nine more and has been given a 7-month extension by the Union Cabinet up to March 31, 2008.
UNI MJ

 

A 21st Century Dark Age Cries Out For Rule Of Law ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                   March 02, 2004

Persecution of witches

Persecution of ‘witches’ (Depiction: Wikipedia)

A 21st Century Dark Age Cries Out For Rule Of Law !*

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Lives of helpless women branded as witches by men out to exploit them left a woman cop-turned-international civil servant almost speechless.

After watching a two hour film titled Jeet, Kiran Bedi said it made her wonder what she was doing flying to New York when there is so much to be done here.

Bedi, currently United Nations Civilian Police Adviser assigned to helping bring rule of law to UN Peacekeeping, was in New Delhi the past week. Almost impulsively she remarked that is work and service, too.

Efforts to quell complex conflicts over the past decade appear to have finally brought home to the UN that for peace to sustain, rule of law must be established first. To that end, the role of police officers– domestic and global– has taken on growing significance in the mandates of UN peacekeeping missions.

Rule of law– or its absence– was also the theme underlying the film at hand sponsored by the Human Resource Development Ministry’s National Literacy Mission screened at Habitat over the weekend.

It tells the story of a widow and her teenaged daughter preyed on by a village head and his henchman who is a ‘witch-doctor’ or ojha.

Both women are branded witches. One is burnt, the other dragged into the forest and gang-raped.

Emancipation comes from exposure to education brought to the village by a journalist-turned-teacher who exposes the exorcist with the help of a professional magician.

India, said Bedi, is broadly three worlds. At one end of the spectrum is the Infosys world, at the other, this. ”In between,” she told audience, ”it’s us.”

Clearly, she went on, there is a lot to be done. Watching the movie made her wonder how many times she would have to be reborn to do it all, she said.

English: Witchmonument at Anda, in Gloppen, No...

Witch-hunt outlawed and consigned to history – a Norwegian monument in memory of victims (Photo: Wikipedia)

Another viewer, former Information and Broadcasting Minister Vasant Sathe, said he felt impelled to look within and think of superstition that abounds among India’s educated even in the 21st century.

According to film-maker Lavlin Thadani, witch branding takes a toll of several hundred victims year after year in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and elsewhere.

The problem is a manifestation of failure to deliver on several fronts– education, health care and law and order.

”Violence against women is part of rural life, resorted to by the upper castes to keep the disadvantaged under economic and social subjugation and inflict political lessons,” she said.

”It is one of the ways for preservation of caste structure and upper caste hegemony, witch branding just being a cover for exploitative social arrangement.”

In absence of a proper medical support system, tribal communities rely on ojhas for magic spells to cure the sick. They enjoy power over the community. Many illnesses run their course and disappear.

When their mumbo-jumbo or potion fails to relieve a patient, a scapegoat is found, invariably in the poorest and most vulnerable women. Whether it is tuberculosis or any other virus, villagers readily believe it is a result of witchcraft.

At times, ojhas are used to target widows or single women who come into property or land. At times, because a woman has spurned a man’s advances. Given high levels of morbidity, blind faith and greed, ojhas have little trouble making a living.

Women accused of witchcraft are hounded, dragged into the forest and hacked, hanged or burned to death. Their teeth are knocked out, heads shaved or breasts chopped off, or they are forced to strip and walk naked through villages– anything to wreck their spirit.

Laws have been enacted but seldom result in convictions. Bihar, notorious in the matter, was reported to have passed a tough law requiring a three-month prison sentence for so much as calling a woman a witch.

One woman branded a witch by relatives, expelled from the village and rejected by her husband, fought back. She sued her kin, who were found guilty. The judge let them off as first-time offenders.

UNI MJ KS

Workers – Not To Be Toyed With ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                            December 01, ‎2011

Labour law concerns the inequality of bargaini...

Labour law concerns the inequality of bargaining power between employers and workers (Photo: Wikipedia)

Workers – Not To Be Toyed With !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – A retiring High Court Chief Justice is paid a High Court Judge’s pension. The mistake is rectified– but not before a 15 year court battle.

An Indian Institute of Technology professor invokes his Right to Information– to know why his gratuity is withheld.

After a Japanese executive kicks a worker and tosses the turban of another one, 3,000 employees at a Gurgaon plant form a union– prompting dismissals. Protest brings brutal thrashing from Haryana police in full view of news cameras.

Fired en masse, 362 union-led newspaper employees spend 20 months in Delhi High Court without relief– only to start afresh before a labour tribunal.

Tens of thousands of farmers persuaded to borrow for modern tools, chemicals and seed incur a crop of debt they cannot cope with– and end their lives.

Hired on merit, a scheduled tribe teacher harassed at work goes to the Central Administrative Tribunal, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court– her battle and hounding cut short by her death in the premature delivery of a stillborn.

Those are some glimpses of what India’s so-called strong labour laws are doing for– and to– some of its officially counted 400 million workforce Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls ‘toiling masses’.

Labour and Employment Ministry officials say India has 154 labour laws to ensure welfare of roughly 30 million organised workers and 370 million unorganised workers, including some 250 million farmers and farm hands.

Set up 36 years ago to research labour issues, V V Giri National Labour Institute has yet to produce a comprehensive study of workplace disputes, their causes and outcomes– that might have shown the way to reform.

As in instances cited at the outset, those guilty of making life miserable for some of India’s workmen and women seldom suffer personal consequences under the law.

That, experts acknowledge, defeats right there a key purpose of any legal system– to deter crime by instilling the fear of law in potential offenders.

“Where we fail is in punishing our crooks or offenders,” says former Calcutta High Court Chief Justice D S Tewatia, stressing the urgency of reforms to remedy the situation.

Knowing, for instance, that the worst consequence of denying employees’ wages is having to pay after 10 or 15 years, employers may take such recourse capriciously at the slightest pretext or even without any.

Quite unlike elsewhere in the civilised world, employers in India do not face jail or hefty punitive damages that may make them behave.

In the United States, for instance, former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling was given more than 24 years in prison for fraud and conspiracy involving more than US40 billion dollars debt, thousands of lost livelihoods and duped clients.

Before sentencing, an outraged Enron employee of 17 years, Kevin Hyatt, had asked the judge to ‘send a message’ to other corporate executives by giving Skilling the maximum sentence.

About labour legislation in India, a Western expert observes with an almost audible smirk, ”these laws are of little broad significance. They have long been circumvented in practice in most areas of the economy.”

Such laws as Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970, Industrial Disputes Act 1947, Factories Act 1948 and Minimum Wages Act 1948 provide imprisonment for violators.

But strangely the option to invoke those provisions is controlled by government officials.

Headquarters of the International Labour Organ...

International Labour Organisation – Presiding (United Nations Photo)

For any harassment they inflict on employees, employers cannot be prosecuted on those counts without express sanction of labour inspectors or commissioners.

Here are some examples:

— Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923 section 18A(2): No prosecution under this section shall be instituted except by or with the previous sanction of a Commissioner.

— Industrial Disputes Act 1947 Section 34(1): No Court shall take cognisance of any offence punishable under this Act or of the abetment of any such offence, save on complaint made by or under the authority of the appropriate government.

How that works out on the ground was indicated when Lok Sabha Members Sunil Khan, Basudeb Acharia, Amitava Nandy and Gurudas Das Gupta drew attention to labour law violations some years ago.

The Labour Ministry gave data on the violations handled in 2003-04 and 2004-05 by the Central Industrial Relations Machinery headed by the Chief Labour Commissioner.

Of 9,826 and 9,538 disputes received under the IDA, for instance, 3,533 and 3,583 were settled while ”FOC– failure of conciliation–reports (were) submitted” in 4,276 and 2,743 disputes respectively.

The Ministry gave no account of how many violators, if any, went to jail.

“The Ministry and its machinery should be protecting labour– not employers,” was how Acharia, a Communist Marxist MP from Bankura, West Bengal, put it.

Asked then if he knew of any case in which an industrialist has had to go behind bars for breaking labour laws, Acharia said, “not one.”

As it is, given poverty and unemployment on one hand and the state of law and courts obtaining on the other, employees find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

The reverse appears to hold for affluent industrialists. Matters are filed in courts where they take years before it is time for appeals and more years.

How workmen or women survive without wages or relief may be hard to grasp for authorities not familiar with such hardship.

Thus it is that workers lose jobs while employers keep running industries and establishments– unmindful of consequences not in evidence. There is little to deter employers’ misconduct.

A published source says even West Bengal, the left bastion, saw 274 lockouts in 2000, more than half– 143– declared to reduce workforce on “the pretext of loss of economic viability.”

Short of sound laws and implementation, half measures abound.

The Institute of Company Secretaries of India proposed some time ago requiring independent professional assurance from practising company secretaries on labour law compliance.

But critics stress the importance of sound labour laws and effective enforcement.

Experts point out how professional auditors have for decades approved accounts without raising an eyebrow– while Swiss numbered accounts of Indians have grown.

Given such facts or data, it may appear natural that workers representatives agitate to rectify things.

Strangely, it is employers’ associations which have been demanding greater facility to hire and fire employees, a Labour Ministry statement noted some time ago.

“The employers have been vehemently pressing for labour reforms on the plea that these are necessary for making Indian industry globally competitive and for attracting more of foreign direct investment.

“The existing laws, it is contended by employers, slow down growth and job creation. They say that under the existing labour laws the churning of new skills is slower; companies lose cost cutting flexibility and ability to bounce out of recession quickly.

“The employers further contend that Labour Market will become more flexible with the amendments; more workers can be hired legitimately and can ask for better benefits including better work conditions, safety standards, welfare measures and health benefits,” the statement said.

Some of these arguments are backed by such institutions as the World Bank.

But critics ask how governments reconcile promises to workers of more jobs with bigger pay packets and better work conditions with promises held out to foreign investors of abundant cheap and skilled labour.

English: Official Portrait released by the Off...

Labour & Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge (Photo: Wikipedia)

At a conference in New Delhi, WB experts spoke of better work contracts.

Asked who will fix a contract if an employer breaks it, the experts promptly replied: the Courts.

Asked if it was fair for employees to have to go through years of litigation for wages of their work, the experts conceded the incongruity of the situation and spoke of judicial reforms.

They argued that reforms would follow in the legal system as pressure builds up. But that, critics say, is like putting the cart before the horse, especially considering some recent trends in labour-related adjudication and judicial orders.

On the other hand, experts say it is important to note that the associations seeking to change the rules are made up of industrialists who are themselves often subsidised by taxpayers in any number of ways.

Apart from receiving concessions in tax and costs of land and other public resources, many have been notorious in building up lakhs of crores of rupees of India’s Non Performing Assets– a euphemism for unrepaid loans.

Unlike tens of thousands of debt-ridden farmers who end their life unable to face the ignominy, no one appears to have heard of NPA defaulters making such choices.

Experts agree that the government must strike a balance. Citizens must not only be proclaimed to be equal, they must also be treated as equals. Just as workers must work, so must employers manage properly and pay wages.

Any failures or abuses, including manipulation of unions, must lead to consequences, they say.

Laws and fora must be put in place or firmed up to deliver justice in time– not at leisure, experts say.

UNI MJ TBA RP 1454

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TV Covered Polls For Viewers – Not Voters ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                May 31, 2009

TV Covered Polls For Viewers – Not Voters !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Key social issues, law and governance took a back seat while television news channels focused on personalities and alliances in the 72-day run up to Poll 2009, a study reported today.

A count by CMS Media Lab shows that six of India’s leading news channels between them spent 25,266 minutes or about 421 hours airing election news in their 7PM-11PM slots between March 1 and May 11.
Analysing bulletins, the Lab found DD News, Aaj Tak, NDTV 24X7, Zee News, CNN-IBN and Star News spent more airtime on politics than on entertainment and sports– mainstays for ratings and revenues.
”Even though TV remains the popular medium of communication,” it appeared ”largely unsuccessful in shaping public opinion,” the study said.
It pointed out, for instance, how a campaign by some major media houses urging citizens to vote failed to motivate, keeping voter turnout low.
Issues Indians struggle with day in and day out– affordable food, housing, jobs, water, unbridled crime– blue-collar and white-collar, health, and social, economic and judicial inequities—barely got much attention.
Consider:
— Notwithstanding green revolution or claims of self-sufficiency, affordable food remains an issue. Foodgrain availability has fallen to 152 kg per capita, 23 kg less than in the 1990s, an e-source says. Some 47 per cent of Indian children, the nation’s future, are estimated to suffer from under-nutrition. India ”accounts for 21 per cent of the under-five children dying in the world… (and) is home to nearly 40 per cent of all low birth weight babies in the developing World.” In eradicating hunger, India ranked 66th among 88 developing and transition nations two months ago. A Hunger Index 2008 published under the auspices of Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute highlighted ”the continued overall severity of the hunger situation in India. Most States have a ‘serious’ hunger problem, and one State, Madhya Pradesh, has an ‘extremely alarming’ hunger problem.” At least one manifesto pledged to enact a Right to Food law that guarantees citizens access to sufficient food.
— With experts estimating that barely six per cent of heinous offences end in convictions– letting 94 per cent offenders walk free while law-abiding victims suffer, crime is a major concern. A serious example of white-collar crime in a company curiously named Satyam surfaced shortly before elections when its founder proclaimed himself a fraud, possibly to escape severer jurisdictions. The revelation raises questions about inept regulatory system– be it boards of directors, auditors or registrars of companies, not to mention investigators. Indeed, authorities have yet to make clear their response or consequences for such perpetrators.
— Given a billion plus citizenry, the government acknowledges a deficit of 22.4 million houses. Authoritative sources say even 180 million dwellings in existence include 108 million in a dilapidated condition– unfit for healthy living. A television jingle some months ago cited the soaring prices of Delhi Development Authority flats as an accomplishment– rather than a criminal failure to ensure adequate housing. As the Law Commission recently pointed out, former President Zail Singh once suggested that no person in India be allowed to have more than one house– any extra houses given to the needy on installments.
Issues abound. Critics say when it comes to parity and justice, Indian governance, no matter the political label, has been long on talk, short on delivery.
But little of all that showed up in the election campaign or related coverage.
The study said the channels spent more airtime on politics but the bulk of it was ‘superficial,’ not hard news that might have informed, educated or influenced voters.
The channels gave politics 42.75 per cent news time– against usual 10-12 per cent, or 33 per cent in 2004 elections– but ”a major chunk of it remained superficial.”
Almost a third or 30.87 per cent of this time– 7,801 minutes or about 130 hours– was devoted to political personalities and another 10.62 per cent– 2,683 minutes or 45 hours– to alliance prospects.
Instant replays, trivialisation and reality formats– gimmicks to drive entertainment or sport viewership or television rating points and ad revenues– were liberally evident. The channels also played up hate speeches, verbal duels and bickering.
The overall coverage of elections ”bordered on entertainment” as issues were trivialized– instead of being clarified to help broaden perspectives and build opinion in public interest.
The study said the channels spent 10.62 per cent news time reporting political formations or breakups but barely 4.82 per cent on security, nuclear deal, jobs, development, governance, recession, farmers’ suicides and amenities.
Many key issues made just fleeting appearances– in talk shows and debates.
”Communication that could empower voters with vital information needed to make an informed decision was negligible,” it said.
Attention given to voting added up to 1,786 minutes or almost 30 hours or 7.07 per cent.
There was virtually no television coverage about electronic voting machines although there have been some complaints of possible malfunction or tampering.
‘’There was not even a cursory debate on the subject,’’ Lab spokesman Prabhakar told United News of India Special Correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani.
”Broadly stating,” the study said, ”there was a clear disconnect between the voters and the media, which was apparent in the coverage priorities of news channels.”
Skewed distribution of news time meant that insignificant issues ate up precious minutes that might have been used to air such pressing concerns as health, environment, water, electricity or roads.
The study showed the time spent on basic concerns– jobs, crime, housing, price rise, justice– was miniscule. Governance, education, infrastructure, not to mention the controversial nuclear deal with the United States, figured even less.
The six channels between them spent 414 minutes– 1.64 per cent– of airtime on corruption, an issue raised nationwide in the 1970s by veteran socialist Jayaprakash Narayan– and yet to be taken care of.
Even word that Indians have trillions of rupees stashed in secret Swiss accounts, posed as a poll issue by a novice party, Youth for Equality, failed to fire up coverage.
Almost equally little attention was paid to two of the most serious menaces– terrorism and criminalisation of politics– 314 minutes and 313 minutes– or 1.24 per cent of the coverage.
This, notwithstanding the spate of incidents, including the ghastly 26/11 Mumbai raid, nor the rising clamour against allowing lawbreakers to blend in with lawmakers.
Airtime spent on candidate selection or ticket distribution stories: 572 minutes or 2.26 per cent of the total.
A quick check by an activist group, Election Watch News, shows the number of electees facing criminal charges went up on May 16 from 128 in the 14th Lok Sabha to 153 in the 15th Lok Sabha.
As many as nine of them were appointed United Progressive Alliance Ministers.
A ‘positive’ aspect of the coverage, the study said, was DD news, NDTV 24X7 and Star News highlighting some serious neighbourhood issues– 7.37 per cent airtime.
The channels spent 1,361 minutes reporting on the Election Commission, 1,344 minutes, on opinion polls, 1,276 minutes, on parties’ campaigns and 605 minutes, on their strategies.
UNI MJ ATI AS1109

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