Thursday, 9 June 2016

Yechury, will you be hosting an iftar party?

The chances of the CPM Boss daring to talk against the Xinjiang ban look as remote as him turning up for Yoda Day

M Rajaque Rahman
It isn’t a mere social media mock when one hears about Indian Communists opening their umbrellas when there is rain in Moscow or China. Indian Comrades still look up to their foreign mentors as much as they accuse BJP of looking up to Nagpur for ideological inspiration.

It’s only natural to emulate one’s mentors. With the Chinese government imposing a ban on fasting during Ramzan in mainly-Muslim Xinjiang region, I was curiously watching which way Indian Communists will go. Going by their penchant for things Chinese, one would have expected them to make some noise about Indian Muslims keeping fast! After all, ‘religion is the opium of people’ and Ramzan represents one of the most overt displays of masses getting high on that ‘opium’!

Frankly speaking, I didn’t expect them to barter their ideological cap for a skull cap so easily! But then in the days of vote-bank politics, who cares for ideological sincerity. Though Indian Comrades work overtime to show how they are against religion, they often give in to the lure of its political dividends.

They always find cheap ways to be seen as pro-Muslim while pretending to be anti-religion. Take the curious case of what happened when West Bengal CPM stalwart Abdur Rezzak Mollah wanted to go to Haj pilgrimage a few years ago. All ideological resistance evaporated when Mollah threatened to tell his constituency (read Muslim voters) of the ideological opposition of the party to Haj. He was allowed to go after a not-so pious manipulation of making it look like a fun-trip to Mecca rather than a pilgrimage.

The harsh fact is that Mollah not only performed Haj, but also openly proclaimed that his devotion to the faith he was born into and the almighty is always hundred per cent.

Does it signal a readiness to smoke the opium pipe? Or is it just another case of speaking in many voices for political expediency? Unfortunately, the later was the case. The keenness to relax the ‘no religion in the cadres’ norm seems to be driven by pure vote-bank politics. The intellectual hypocrisy was further exposed when a party senior from the same state was reprimanded for being seen around the Tirupati shrine!

Last year when the Left parties debated whether they should attend Sonia Gandhi’s iftar party, the contention was less over whether Comrades are ideologically allowed to be pro-religion and attend iftar parties, but more over whether they should seen as pro-Congress! Pro-Congress, they already are. Pro-religion, they don’t have the courage. Nor are they ready to pay the price of denouncing it totally. That explains why they are seen swinging between crying foul about Yoga Day or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s spiritual Olympics and putting on a skull cap for the next iftar party.

It will be foolish to expect CPM boss Sitaram Yechury’s much talked-about pragmatism to go much beyond ignoring the Beijing diktat for the sake of appeasing Indian Muslims. The chances of him daring to talk against the Xinjiang ban look as remote as him embracing Bharatyata by turning up for Yoda Day or chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. Looks like India Comrades take Leon Trotsky seriously, albeit with a twist. The end may justify the means as long as there is something to gain politically.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Satellite images confirm AoL did no damage

Sri Sri's NGO says it’s being penalized for tempering something that didn’t even exist on Yamuna floodplains

M Rajaque Rahman
The ongoing high-profile tussle between the Art of Living and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is set for an interesting turn with former alleging that it has been penalized for damaging something that didn’t even exist.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s NGO made a high-pitched presentation to media in New Delhi claiming it has scientific evidence that will vindicate its contention of causing no damage to air, water and soil to the site where it hosted the World Culture Festival in March 2016.

“All the allegations of damage to floodplains are scientifically mala fide. An analysis of available independent satellite images of the site taken in 2000 and 2016 clearly proves that the site had no water body or wetland,” said a statement from the organization issued after the presentation. It also added that a Survey of India’s map of Delhi dating 1986 confirms the site was no wetland. Claiming that Spot Google Images show the site as leveled and ploughed agricultural land with crops like sugarcane, it says vegetables are found to be grown there since 2005.

If these claims are true, the allegations of drastically tampering with water bodies and wetlands for which the Art of Living is being made to compensate will fall flat and will raise serious questions about the motives behind raking up the case. Does NGT really think the Art of Living process an unseen power to tamper with something that doesn’t even exist?

The Art of Living reiterated its contention that all conclusions on the issue so far have been reached without any scientific studies or investigations. “Ecology, environmental science and biodiversity being established disciplines of modern science with clearly defined scientific procedures, we demand that any conclusion on the same must be based on established scientific method(s),” the statement added.

It alleged that decisions with huge implications are being taken on the basis of ballpark calculations and by casually surveying acres of land in less than an hour. It also termed the allegations of destroying the natural flow of the Yamuna as outrageous, saying the only activity over the river was construction of three temporary pontoon bridges which were dismantled immediately after the event.

“The arguments against us that we destroyed natural vegetation also falls flat as there were no signs such biodiversity on the site in the images available with us. Instead native plants and crops like gobi and palak were spotted,” it added.

Responding to the allegations of harming aquatic life around Yamuna, the statement said the Yamuna had already sunk to a pit with toxic levels which has severely affects not only the aquatic life, but also the birds that feed on them. It alleged an attempt to put the blame for years of neglect of the Yamuna on three days of Art of Living event and make it pay for it.

It also denied constructing any ramp or paved road on any portion of the Yamuna floodplains. It cited satellite images that show the existence such road even in 2000.

Saying it is committed to restoration of the floodplains if damages are scientifically established, it expressed apprehension that the compensation amount collected from it could be used up in the guise of restoring damages which are yet to be established.

Alleging that process of natural justice has been severely violated, it demanded an independent panel of experts to assess the alleged damage as per fair and scientific parameters for damage assessment.

With the Art of Living pegging its stance on standing up for the sake of saving the principle of justice, no quick end seems to be in sight. Or is it time to give medi(t)ation a chance?  

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

It's unfair to deny Art of Living a fair treatment!

M Rajaque Rahman

With the National Green Tribunal (NGT) disallowing the Art of Living’s appeal to reconstitute a fresh panel to scientifically assess the alleged damage to the Yamuna floodplains due to its World Culture Festival (WCF) and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar vowing “to fight till the end for justice”, the high-profile case seems set for a long-drawn legal battle.

Soon after the verdict, Sri Sri tweeted, “Since the Art of Living has not created any air, water or soil pollution, we will fight till the end for justice.” The latest development begs the vital question why a revered saint like Sri Sri is being compelled to talk of a fight-to-finish for justice. Ever since the NGT randomly imposed a Rs 5-crore environmental compensation on the eve of WCF in March, Sri Sri has always maintained that his battle wasn’t about the money, but about standing up for justice. “I have been exhorting people to stand up against injustice and I couldn’t just bow and take the unjust verdict. We will contest this till the end,” he recently wrote in a blog post.

What is making Sri Sri’s stance look justifiable is the series of glaring inconsistencies in the handling of the case, which has been shrouded in contradictions from the beginning. Initial media reports then suggested the first assessment by a member of the NGT Principal Committee perceived no visible damage to the floodplains from the proposed event.

Even before the dust could settle on the debate over the likely damage to the Yamuna ecosystems, the NGT committee suddenly came up with a figure of Rs 120 crore as compensation cost for restoring the damage. That a responsible committee comprising eminent members can arrive at a fine of this magnitude on the basis of a visual assessment belies all logics. But what was more baffling was that the figure suddenly came down to Rs 5 crore when NGT delivered its interim order. NGT itself has proved that its assessment for damage was just a wild guess and has no sanctity.

This inconsistency gives credence to the conspiracy theory that the NGT committee overstated the damage to sabotage the event which was set to be attended by a galaxy of national and international guests. From that perspective, the same committee assessing the damage after the event defeats the principle of fair-play. For the sake of its credibility, NGT should have acceded to the Art of Living’s plea for a fresh committee as it has repeatedly questioned the logic of some of the decisions of the existing committee. 

It’s reported that the NGT committee sent a team to the spot for assessment armed with a JCB even when the Art of Living was still cleaning up the ground to live up to its promise of returning it in a better condition. More than the haste, what’s making it look illogical isthat the committee needed a JCB to dig out damages. When the pre-event assessment was purely visual, what would be the reference point for the findings of the soil tests planed? If there were a scientific assessment before the event, it would have given a clear picture of the pathetic conditions of the floodplains. Such an assessment would have accounted the fact that the very venue where the WCF took place was rotting under construction debris(malba) and there are several unauthorized permanent constructions and settlements in its vicinity.

In the absence of a reference point, there is a risk of putting the blame for years of neglect on three days of Art of Living event. It’s no secret that the Yamuna and its floodplains have already been mercilessly ravaged well before the Art of Living appeared on the scene. The contamination in the Yamuna has long crossed the threshold not just for the humans, but also the aquatic life along the river bank. Findings published in the International Journal of Environmental Sciences as early as 2014 revealed that pollution has lowered the dissolved oxygen (DO) level of Yamuna waters to zero mg/l. The biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) level was found to be in the range of 4 to 29 mg/l as against the desirable value of 3 mg/l.

The Art of Living has consistently insisted that it handed back the ground “in a better condition than they received it -- greener, cleaner and with no damage to the air, water or soil.” Given the track record of the organization which is credited for rejuvenating many water bodies across the country, and in the absence of any pre-event scientific assessment, it would be unfair to dismiss the Art of Living’s claim as mere propaganda.

The Art of Living also claims that it received all necessary permissions before hosting the event. If the authorities have granted the permission to host a huge event like the WCF and expected not even a blade of grass will be touched, then they are either totally out of sync or believed too much in the divine power of Sri Sri!!! That DDA granted permission implies that the Art of Living was permitted to clean up and make the filthy and stinky place fit to host a global event.

For a fair conclusion to the case, NGT should have not only gone for an independent panel to assess the actual damage and also set fair parameters for damage assessment. Blindly reaffirming a huge compensation without proper due diligence on a reputed organization will only hurt the image of a public institution like NGT. Already questions have been raised over its attitude of seeing any complainant as a messiah and the defendant as a criminal. 

Credibility, consistency and commonsense are the cornerstones of any justice system and when there is a digression, people’s faith in the system takes a beating. The emerging inside stories behind the Ishrat Jahan encounter and Samjhauta Express blast have already exposed that the process of law in the country is not totally aboveboard.  In this context, the green watchdog need to act fast and shows that it is above suspicion.

(A former business journalist, the author is now driven by a passion to find the depth of the matter. His writings focus on adding spiritual aspects to things worldly.)