Widespread corruption in the Public Food Distribution System causing starvation deaths in India

May 31, 2007
A Written statement submitted by the Asian Legal Resource Centre

The Prime Minister of India in his foreword in the ‘Report to The People’ dated May 22, 2007, claims: “In this 60th year of independence, the country should have the satisfaction of recording for the fifth year in a succession a rate of economic growth of over 8.5%.” The Asian Legal
Resource Centre (ALRC) however is not sure whether the estimated over 200 million Indians who are presently suffering from malnourishment, and the many more million who have done so during past decades, will be satisfied with this growth.

The country’s overwhelming population is often given as an excuse to justify poverty and starvation in India. This theory is applicable only if the State itself is poor and has no means to procure enough food for its people. India is not poor, even though 70% of Indians are. India’s
projected defense budget for 2007-08 is 24 billion US$ and it plans to spend further on its weapons upgrade programme. Defense spending of such proportions in a country where a section of the population equivalent to 2/3rds the size of that of the United States is undernourished or
suffering from malnourishment, is difficult to stomach. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has highlighted this contradiction of priorities in his report following his mission to India in 2005.

India is a country of contradictions. A country that has a projected 9% development index performs worse than some Sub-Saharan countries with regard to addressing starvation and malnourishment within its territory. The National Minimum Programme promulgated by the Government of India in 2004 speaks about the Rural Employment Guarantee programme, which is also reflected in India’s voluntary pledge to the United Nations Human Rights Council. However, millions of Indians in rural villages are not benefiting from this programme and remain unemployed. The programme is not properly implemented and in places where there are possibilities of implementation and thus employment, recruitment to the programme is based on caste bias and nepotism.

Poverty and resultant starvation in India is not limited to the lower caste, although they suffer the most. The lower caste forms only about 20% of the Indian population, whereas starvation and malnourishment affect about 53% of its entire population. Starvation and malnourishment are the  direct result of the failing administrative system in India. A malfunctioning administrative system has a direct bearing upon the living conditions of the poor. For example, for the distribution of food to targeted population the government has established the Public Food Distribution System (PDS). However, the management of this system suffers from corruption; particularly black marketing, caste prejudices and the utter failure of various local governments.

The targeted PDS was introduced in India in 1997. The shift from a universal PDS to a targeted PDS was performed with the intention of avoiding the misuse and wastage of subsidised food materials.  However, owing to a lack of proper screening methods and transparency in the
procedure, the PDS is still a failure in India. For example, the licensing procedure for running a PDS shop is plagued by corruption. Licenses are awarded by the respective state governments and the authority to issue them is delegated to the district administrations, which are notoriously
corrupt.

To receive subsidised food a family is required to posses a ration card, which also serves the purpose of determining the family’s financial status. This process involves obtaining certificates from the village-head and officers at the district administration. While the village-heads often
refuse to issue such certificates, district administration officials demand bribes. The ALRC has documented several cases where the refusal of the village-heads to issue certificates to the poor is the part of a larger plan; to prevent the poor, particularly those from the lower castes, from accessing government welfare schemes such as the PDS shop. This is because the longer the people remain poor and near starvation, the easier it is for the village-head to continue subjecting them to bonded labour.

The continuation of caste-based discrimination is yet another factor that perpetuates poverty and deprivation of food, as was briefly mentioned in the Special Rapporteur’s report. 60 years after independence, the prevention of caste-based discrimination remains on paper rather than
being enforced in practice. Due to this, caste-based discrimination is widely practiced and discrimination prevents the lower castes from accessing food. Additionally, the lower castes are deprived of landed property and those who have titles to particular pieces of land are
frequently prevented from actual possession by local feudal lords.

In addition to this, large-scale land holding still continues in various States, including States that have enacted the land ceiling laws. Holdings of large extents of land (by individuals or families) deprive the poor from having arable lands of their own. However, the poor can still benefit
from such large-scale cultivation, by being employed by the landlord, although in reality this tends to be for much less pay than that stipulated in the Minimum Wages Act. However, when landlords find that agriculture is not profitable for various reasons and sell off their land to property developers, the most affected are the poor landless communities, as this often results in the starvation of the agricultural labourers who depended upon such large-scale cultivations.

In addition to poverty caused by human interference, large-scale poverty exists in remote regions of the country. One such example is the Murshidabad district of West Bengal. This district shares a border with Bangladesh. Land erosion by the river Padma has rendered large numbers of persons landless. Those who could afford to, left well in advance, but the poor had to stay until their land was taken by the river. This situation is exploited by cross-border smugglers based in the state who employ the poor to smuggle articles across the border to Bangladesh.

The smuggling involves crossing the river at night, which often claims peoples’s lives, while others are shot and killed by the Border Security Force stationed along the Indian border. Ironically, a major portion of the smuggling involves food — grains collected from PDS shops are smuggled across the border to be sold on the black market. The West Bengal State Government considers the people living along the international border in Murshidabad as being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and does nothing for their welfare.

The situation of hundreds of families in the Jalangi block of Murshidabad involves grave cases of exploitation, starvation and malnourishment, many of which have been documented by the ALRC’s sister origination, the Asian Human Rights Commission, and which has also been mentioned by the Special Rapporteur. The state and central government schemes remain highly ineffective and are totally failing the starving population in Jalangi. However, the government of India has not taken any credible action regarding this issue.

The government of India has formulated and is executing several welfare programmes intended to prevent starvation and malnourishment in India. While proper planning and implementation of these programmes are necessary, what has been mostly ignored is the poor state of functioning of the PDS. The system itself, as claimed by the government, covers only 16% of the total population. The actual number of households using the PDS is around 91 million, significantly less than the 160 million being claimed by the government. 78% of these persons are trying to make use of the system – 26% are from urban areas while 52% are rural households. Of these 91 million households an alarming 61% claim that the PDS is plagued by corruption and 49% claim that corruption has increased in the past year. The PDS is viewed as the most corrupt institution in India.

Such corruption exists in the PDS due to the failed criminal justice system in India. Illegal dealing with rationed articles is a crime in India. A crime registered under the relevant domestic law must be tried in a special court constituted in each state. However several states are yet to establish such a court, meaning that cases registered under the law in those states will have to wait for years to be decided through the regular courts. Additionally, states most frequently withdraws from prosecutions related to cases registered under the Essential Commodities Act as compared with other prosecutions. This shows not only the tolerance that various state governments exhibit towards corruption within the PDS, but also the influence of the licensees upon the government.

Even though the Rapporteur expresses his concerns about corruption in the PDS, there are no concrete proposals suggested by the Rapporteur in his report to address this issue. To achieve any improvement in addressing the food security in India, there must be a multifaceted approach to the issue focusing on: the implementation of welfare schemes; increasing the existing network of the PDS within the country; and taking effective steps to prevent corruption within the PDS.

The prevention of corruption within the PDS cannot happen in a vacuum. It will require equipping the criminal justice mechanism in India to specifically address this problem. In addition to an increase in the number of special courts to try offenses related to the distribution of rationed food articles, a separate and independent mechanism must be constituted to investigate such cases.  This must be independent from the local police since the latter is itself corrupt and will therefore fail to effectively investigate crimes related to food distribution. There is also a need to change domestic law, in particular the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.

As a country that has a surplus of food, it is a pity that in India, food that is distributed to the poor does not reach them, but is either spoiled and lost or sold on the black market. To change this, there are no quick-fixes. However, the prevention of corruption within the PDS is a critical starting point. The specifics of this are often ignored or overlooked in favour of various other issues.

In this context, the Asian Legal Resource Centre requests the Human Rights Council to:

1. Recommend that the Government of India take immediate steps to prevent widespread corruption within the PDS — these steps must include the establishment of independent and separate mechanisms to investigate cases of corruption in the PDS. This mechanism must be independent from the local police, as the latter is corrupt and therefore inefficient in investigating corruption. This requires a change in the existing domestic law — The Essential Commodities Act, 1955, and the government of India must be urged to make such changes and facilitate this process;

2. Request the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to further study the specifics of corruption within India’s PDS system, so that the Rapporteur can help the government to address this issue more effectively;

3. Request the Government of India to urge its state governments to set-up the required number of special courts to deal with cases of corruption within the PDS;

4. Urge the Government of India to expand a functioning PDS network within the country, so that it covers not only the 16% currently being covered, but covers all persons in need of food security assistance.

5. Request various UN bodies such as the UNDP and the FAO to assist the Government of India in addressing the issue of hunger and starvation in India, particularly through proper and vigorous implementation of development programmes in the country.

6. To further request the Government of India to immediately implement the recommendations made by the UN Rapporteur on Right to Food in his report – E/CN.4/2006/44/Add.2 – and to make necessary policy changes required to address this situation.

About ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human
rights issues at local and national levels throughout Asia.

Indian’s migration history is 2500 years old

NRI saga goes back over 2,500 years

For most of the new NRI generation, the Indian migration started about 60 years or 100 years at the most. But this saga goes back over 2,500 years ago much before Biblical times to distant shores of Africa, South-East Asia and the Far East. Considering that they travelled by sailboats into uncharted seas in voyages that took months to the Far East, it remains a humongous achievement.

Most of the second NRI generation in the US and Britain traces its roots to their fathers who left their motherland after India became independent. Canada is an exception as sturdy Punjabi farmers settled there earlier around 1930s. NRIs in East and South Africa, Mauritius and the Caribbean go back to just over a century when their forefathers went abroad to work as labourers to build a railway in East Africa or work on sugar plantations.

While Sri Lanka and Myanmar are just over the horizon for Indian seafarers, negotiating tricky straits and storms to land in Java, Sumatra, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bali and the Philippines demonstrated their real test of skill and endurance over 2,500 years ago. Sailing west was relatively easy as the annual monsoon winds carried their sailboats from Kutch to the Gulf and then south to East Africa and a few months later, they returned as the winds changed into the opposite direction.

‘The diaspora of Indians in ancient times to the countries of South East Asia and the annals of those kingdoms by the Hindu colonists were quite unlike the later European ways of colonization,’ writes Utpal K. Banerjee in his new book ‘Hindu Joy of Life’, ‘Among the European powers were the English, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spaniards, all five of which acted with explicit support of home government and were accompanied by military forces to back them to forcibly impose supremacy over the people of other countries; mainly to exploit the resources of the colony and benefit their homeland.’

The Indians, on the contrary, enriched the native populations by introducing the art of writing, high degree of culture, improved methods of cultivation, improved handicrafts and introduced new industries, claims Banerjee. ‘Indians went out of their country without any sort of backing of any of the Indian states,’ he said. ‘Hindus left their motherland to settle abroad in colonies and not to make fortune and run back to motherland. It was diaspora in the truest sense, where the penetration of Hindu civilization, culture, languages in South East Asia took place so peacefully that the indigenous population never felt that their country had been taken over.’ Here is a book that chronicles the 2,500 years of Indian settlement abroad in lucid terms in one of its chapters. This highly readable panorama of the Hindu way of life, as opposed to narrow religion described in dry, abstract terms, presents the full canvas of the arts and culture that endures in all NRI communities to this day. In full colour, it is an ide

al introduction for the new NRI generation to learn about their heritage from their gods, scriptures to their fine arts, dance and music. The author writes with the experience of travels to almost all the countries with NRI populations and many more where he was sent to lecture on Indian art and culture.

He scripts the NRI saga right up to the present day. He outlines how the British rulers channelled the recent waves of Indian settlement abroad. After the abolition of slavery, the planters needed farm workers and so they tapped the huge manpower resource of India for the sugar plantations of Jamaica, South Africa and Mauritius from UP and Bihar. They needed workers to build the Kenya Uganda Railway towards the end of the 19th century, so they sent them from Punjab. They needed farmers for the hostile lands of Canada and so Punjabi farmers were allowed in.

After the Second World War, both Britain and the US needed factory workers, skilled professionals and admitted Indians in large numbers from 1960 onwards. The latest flow of Indian immigrants to the US, Britain and Canada came from east Africa in the 1960s to 1980s when the independent African governments wanted to provide jobs for their indigenous peoples. At the end of the last century, Indian IT workers went to fix the Millennium Bug in the computer systems followed by thousands of IT professionals.

Wherever NRIs settled, they have prospered. As law-abiding citizens by and large, they have preserved enduring Indian values. And they have maintained their links with India from distant lands through their way of life. Banerjee pays NRIs a warm tribute by writing, ‘This is no mean achievement, in spite of the initial handicaps and owes a lot to the innate vitality of the Indian civilization.’ In brief, India has always been ‘a soft super power’.

29 May 2007

(A media consultant to a UN Agency, Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has traveled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at: kulbhushan2038@gmail.com)

1,493 custodial deaths during 2004 -2005, India’s National Human Rights Commission

Custodial Torture is rampant in India

The National Conference stated the statistics of torture as provided by National Human Rights Commission such as 1,493 custodial deaths, including 136 deaths in police custody and 1,357 deaths in judicial custody during 2004-2005 represent only minuscule of the cases of torture in India.

New Delhi, June 25 : The “National Conference on Prevention of Torture in India” organized today by Asian Centre for Human Rights urged the Government to create national law to prohibit and prevent torture.

Participants at the seminar said that the onus should be put on the accused law enforcement personnel for putting in place guarantees for the protection of the victims and witnesses of torture.

The National Conference also called for the repeal of laws which facilitate the perpetration of torture, ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and extend an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit India.

The inaugural session of the National Conference was addressed by P C Sharma, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation and Member of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Parimal Bardan of the Delegation of the European Commission to India and Larry Maybee, Regional Legal adviser of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

With 19 out of 28 States of India presently being afflicted by internal armed conflicts, violence and torture by the security forces and the armed opposition groups have become more blatant, acute and rampant.

The armed opposition groups are responsible for barbaric torture such as chopping off tongues, firing at legs and mutilation of the body parts in order to create fear. Often victims are brutally tortured in full public view and then sentenced to deaths by the so called Jana Adalats. The International Committee of the Red Cross must be permitted to ensure the respect for the Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions on Non-International Armed Conflicts.

The National Conference also censured India’s continued refusal to extend an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The National Conference also urged the Government of India to implement recommendations of the Justice (retd) Jeevan Committee to Review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 and to do away with the regime of impunity by repealing Sections 45 and 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code which make it mandatory to seek prior permission of the governments for prosecution of the law enforcement personnel accused of human rights of violations.

Monday 25th June, 2007 (ANI)

Only 17out of 474 Indian civil service winners are Muslims

New Delhi: A total of 17 Muslims have cleared the written and interview process of the Civil Services Exam of 2006. The top Muslim candidate Shamim Abidi appears on rank 16.

The written exam was help in October-November of 2006 and interview held in April-May of this year. The List of 474 candidates was released by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) today. The successful candidates are recommended for appointment to Indian Adminstrative Service, Indian Foreign Service, Indian Police Service and Central Services.

The list of 474 candidates include 214 General (including 13 Physically Challenged candidates), 144 Other Backward Classes (including 03 Physically challenged candidates), 80 Scheduled Castes (including 02 Physically challenged candidates) and 36 Scheduled Tribes candidates.

17 Muslims among the list of 474 successful candidates give Muslims a representation of 3.59% which considering their lower number in higher studies is quite remarkable and indication of hard work put on by Muslim students. Another welcome trend this year is an increase in number of Muslim girls clearing the Civil Services Exam.

Appointment to various services is based on available vacancies and merit ranking of candidates. The number of vacancies reported by the Government for the Indian Administrative Service is 89 (45 General, 24 Other Backward Classes, 13 Scheduled Castes and 07 Scheduled Tribes); for the Indian Foreign Service is 20 (10 General, 05 Other Backward Classes and 05 Scheduled Castes); for the Indian Police Service is 103 (51 General, 28 Other Backward Classes, 16 Scheduled Castes and 08 Scheduled Tribes); for the Central Services Group ‘A’ is 294 (152 General, 80 Other Backward Classes, 43 Scheduled Castes and 19 Scheduled Tribes) and for Central Services Group ‘B’ is 27 (15 General, 07 Other Backward Classes, 03 Scheduled Caste and 02 Scheduled Tribe). This includes 18 vacancies for Physically Challenged candidates in the Indian Administrative Service and Central Services Group-“A”& “B”.

17 Muslims selected for Civil Services, By TwoCircles.net staff reporter, Thursday, 17 May 2007

186 million Indians don’t have voter ID cards!

A decade-and-a-half after the electoral photo identity card (EPIC) scheme began, and despite Rs 1,500 crore having been spent so far on the project, more than 186 million Indians — or more than a quarter of all eligible voters — still do not have these cards. It is a failure that could lie at the heart of voter fraud and low voting percentages. Until recently, even former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) JM Lyngdoh was among them. “We have been living in this area for four years now. Our photographs were taken about half a dozen times, but it was only recently that we were issued the cards,” Lyngdoh said on the telephone from his home near Chevella in Ranga Reddy district, Andhra Pradesh.

Only about 510 million out of more than 697 million voters in the country — or 73 per cent of the electorate — have so far received the cards, according to Election Commission records accessed by HT. The scheme was begun in 1993 when T.N. Seshan was the CEC.

Assam — the state represented by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha — has had no cards distributed at all. “As it always happens, the last-mile problem affects this work also,” CEC N Gopalaswami told HT.

There are 18 other documents — such as passports, driving licences, PAN cards, government ID cards and ration cards, among others — that voters are allowed to use to establish their identity at polling booths.

But officials feel that millions of rural voters still have no access to any of the 18 documents. Gopalaswami said a new strategy of preferentially covering the rural population with EPIC was being planned.

Neelesh Misra, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, May 15, 2007

India needs 124 years for clearing pending cases in its courts

Backlog of cases has become a big problem for the judiciary — from the Supreme Court to the subordinate courts. At the current speed, the lower courts, may take 124 years for clearing 2.5 lakh cases.

In the last seven years, the disposal rate has increased by 48 per cent in the high courts and by 28 per cent in the subordinate courts, but the pendency has increased. Thus, it is the system (and not the judges) which is at fault. Unless the disposal rate improves, the backlog will keep mounting. To make rule of law a reality, the arrears will have to be reduced.

Speedy justice is an assurance extended to a citizen under the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution. Right to speedy trial is an important right in the UK and US. The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees all persons accused of criminal wrongdoing the right to a speedy trial.

The US had enacted the Speedy Trial Act of 1974 which had fixed standard time requirements for timely prosecution and disposal of criminal cases in district courts. In 1990, the US Congress enacted another legislation that directs each district court to devise and adopt a civil expense and delay reduction plan. Similar laws need to be enacted in India.

While new cases in the high courts exceeded 16 lakh cases in 2006, the disposal rate was 15 lakh. Thus, new cases exceeded the actual disposal of cases. For the first time in past eight years, disposal of criminal cases by high courts exceeded. Pendency in subordinate courts had increased from 2.04 lakh in 1999 to 2.57 lakh in 2005. In 2006, the figure has slightly come down to 2.49 lakh. In all, 40,243 cases are pending in the Supreme Court as on Jan 31, 2007.

The executive and the judiciary have taken many corrective measures for speedy disposal of cases. The Centre has been extending the judge strength from time to time, but not to the extent of the recommendations of the Law Commission. Due to these efforts, the disposal rate has risen by 48 per cent in the high courts and by 28 per cent in the subordinate courts. But then, pendency has also increased due to more fresh filing of cases.

Delay is an issue in the US courts too, but it is not to the extent of decades as in India. In the US, numerous reasons for delay have been assigned most of which are outside a court’s control. Judges have many duties. In addition to trial, judges conduct sentencing, pretrial conferences, settlement conferences, motion hearings, write orders and opinions, and consider other court matters both in the courtroom and in their chambers. Attorneys and/or litigants may be responsible for delays.

Cases may be delayed because settlement negotiations are in progress. Some courts also experience shortage of judges or available courtrooms. The number of judges in a court is decided by dividing the average institution of main cases during the last five years by the national average, or the average rate of disposal of main cases per judge per year in that high court, whichever is higher.

The ratio of judges per million population in this country is the lowest in the world. The population and judges ratio in India is 13.5 judges per 10 lakh people as compared to 135 to 150 per 10 lakh people in advanced countries. The ratio of judges per million of population is about 58 judges in Australia, 75 in Canada, 51 in the UK and 107 in the US. Due to this low judge-population ratio, the courts are lacking requisite strength of judges to decide the cases.

The average disposal per judge is about 1300 cases in subordinate courts if calculated on the basis of disposal and working strength of judges in 2006. The average disposal of all Indian high courts is about 2400 cases per year. The national average of disposal of cases per judge per year in major high courts is: Kerala, 3,103; Madras, 2,979; Calcutta, 2,919; Punjab and Haryana, 2,900; Karnataka 2,817 and Andhra Pradesh, 2,625.

The national Indian average is 188 cases disposed of among 21 high courts everyday. The Madras High Court leads in terms of speedy disposal of 648 cases, on an average, each day. Tamil Nadu is followed by Uttar Pradesh where the Allahabad High Court (Lucknow and Kanpur benches put together) dispose of 445 cases everyday. Applying the national average of 2400 cases per judge per year, the time for disposal of backlog of cases can be calculated by any one.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court had been successful in increasing the disposal of cases due to special efforts of the judges. The average disposal of cases in this High Court is 2900 as against the national average of 2400 per year. The number of cases pending in this High Court is around 2.60 lakh and old cases over the age of two years are 1.70 lakh.

In the same period, the number of pending cases in the subordinate courts is around 11.8 lakh. This means on an average every thirteenth person of Punjab and Haryana is affected by litigation.

Plaintiffs in most European courts must also pay the legal costs for the defendant if they lose the case. This ‘loser pays costs system’, which is in vogue in nearly every common law jurisdiction outside the US, cuts down on many cases without merit by forcing a claimant to hesitate before filing a questionable lawsuit. But the litigation cost in terms of court fee and award of costs is very low in India and this is the main reason for frivolous litigation.

The advocate fee and other costs have increased many times in the last 50 years, but the court fee is hardly realistic to generate more revenue for creating infrastructure and appointing more judges to strengthen the legal system. There was a time in India when in all civil proceedings costs were invariably awarded or reasons for not awarding costs were given. But nowadays costs are rarely awarded.

The inadequate judge strength, low court fee and not awarding costs against the loser resulting in frivolous litigation are three major causes of delay in the disposal of cases. Owing to the shortage of judges, even if judges work beyond their normal capacity, the arrears are bound to increase. The total number of judges is not adequate to clear the backlog of cases. It is not possible even to dispose of the actual fresh institution.

Clearly, the backlog cannot be cleared without additional strength. To tackle the problem of backlog within a timeframe, we need to allocate additional funds for employing additional judges. Later, as the backlog comes down, these judges would be crucial in keeping the fast pace of the judicial system.

The Tribune, May 20, 2007, Chandigarh, India The writer, Advocate, Supreme Court, is based at Chandigarh

Maloy Krishna Dhar

Maloy Krishna Dhar

Maloy Krishna DharCard  holder of world’s largest terror organization, Rashtriay Syamsevak Sangh (RSS)  Like many hindutva scribes,  M.K. Dhar started life  as a junior reporter for Amrita Bazaar Patrika in Calcutta and a part-time lecturer. Joined the Indian Police Service in 1964 and was permanently placed at the Intelligence Bureau. After retiring in 1996 as joint director, he took to freelance journalism and writing books which includes Open Secrets-India’s Intelligence Unveiled. By spinning for weapon procurement, Maloy is considered to be working for the global weapon trade network.