Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Land Acquisition Act . . Are we asking the right questions?

Amongst daily conversation topics nowadays (water-cooler conversations if you will as Seinfeld describes them) seems to be the topic of the Land Acquisition Act. We have a loud gang of the nay-sayers - if it's one political party today, it's another tomorrow. They seem to feel that the general public is fleeced no matter what and if it wasn't the Congress yesterday milking the country dry, it is the BJP today doing the same thing. They might be right too, for all I know. On the other hand, there are the Modi loyalists - who swear by his personality and who think that the dust under his feet is pure gold and should be kissed and kept in temples made for Lord Modi even if he might be talking utter rot (I'm not saying he is mind you). In this melee of noise about which party supports the Land Bill and which party doesn't, in this confusion and chaos reigning amongst the general public about the Land Bill, nobody seems to be asking the questions which I feel matter most - 
  • What is the Land Acquisition Act?
  • What's all the ruckus about? Which are the sections creating the conflict? 
  • What do they state? 
So I tried to find out. And here's what I have pieced together. Let's start with the history of this bill and how it came about. Since I have a tendency to ramble, I shall try to keep this as succint as possible. 


  • The Land Acquisition Act is also called "The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013". Quite a mouthful ain't it? Let's call it the Old Land Act from hereforth. This is the bill that the Congress (a minority player now), NCP, Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and other partners within the NDA (and perhaps a lot of the BJP too) want unchanged. it was originally promulgated by the UPA led government in 2011 as a bill and brought into effect as an Act in 2014. The BJP (a minority within the BJP actually) want to implement/promulgate the New Land Bill 2015 (also called The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill 2015). To summarize - we have the Old Land Act 2013 and the New Land bill 2015. 
  • The whole brouhaha is about certain sections which govern what activities can land be grabbed from us for, and the nature of the compensation we will get for it. 
    • The first contentious issue is section 2 of Chapter I which deals with consent of affected families and the definitions of affected families
    • The next contentious issue is enshrined in certain sections of Chapter IV (Notification and Acquisition). This talks about procedural formalities to be followed in order to acquire land. 
And now we come to the most important question. What are the changes and how will they affect land-owners. The table below summarizes the changes as per key issue at stake - 


Key points to consider - 
  • Land was being forcible procured. Then and now. The Old Land Act and the New Land Bill both have this clause. Land will be forcibly taken from us (as long as it is used for public purposes as defined by the act). 
  • Old Land Act (OLA) gave an immense opportunity for middle-men and power brokers to earn money and to hold up critical infrastructure projects. Furthermore, the 80% clause meant that politicians could subvert weaker landowners to their will and forcibly acquire pieces of land but not touch their own (since they would similarly be subverting affected families on their own land). The New Land Bill (NLB) seeks to do away with this only for public purpose projects. 
  • The clause of consent in the New Land Bill is waived only for the following - 
    • National security and defense
    • Rural infrastructure (including projects like electrification)
    • Industrial corridors
    • Housing for the poor
  • Land still cannot be acquired for building malls! Even in the OLA, this was not supposed to happen but politicians have subverted the clause of consent and manipulated farmers to meet their own nefarious goals. 
  • Both the OLA and the NLB talk about not touching irrigated multi-crop agricultural land unless the circumstances are exceptional (as defined by the act). No changes there. Genuine farmers can breathe easy. This provision is specifically for purposes of food security (and the government rightly said so on the international stage as well. Ties in nicely. I have already expounded in detail on the Food Security Bill and you can read my thoughts here). 
  • The NLB does make it easier for land-owners to get their compensation too. Not just the NLB but country-wide initiatives like Jan Dhan Yojana have ensured that all people are brought under the transparent banking ambit and thus middle-men are disposed of when distributing money from the government to the people. 
I realise that I may lack the legal expertise to weigh the pros and cons of the OLA and the NLB in entirety. Perhaps a lawyer can help me there. I may also lack the holistic world-view that the government and its opposition may have in debating this issue. But I realise that in this day and age, if India has to grow fast, industrialization needs to happen fast. For that to happen, critical infrastructure projects need to be initiated. We need more hospitals, dams, road-works, affordable housing and industries than we need elitist housing like Lavasa, malls, multi-plexes, large amusement parks and such-like. An extension of the toilets first and temples later analogy which Modi made in his election campaign. I also realize the need to break the hold that politicians and land-owners have over the general public. Call it coincidence or a nexus, most politicians in Maharashtra are heavy land-owners. The reason most political parties are opposing the NLB is that most of them are comprised of politicians/land-owners (the line is very thin) and they will be hardest hit if the NLB does see the light of day (this viewpoint has been elucidated in further detail here). However, I also comprehend the view that Hazare and his kin take - that how will the government ensure fair resettlement and rehabilitation? What if tomorrow Modi is not around to ensure transparency and honesty? What if the same bill that is going to be used today for a good cause is subverted through some means tomorrow (not sure how yet) for the same people that it seeks to eliminate from the current power structure? Valid questions I think . . 

What I am trying to say is; instead of the two current stands that most people are taking - berate the government or repudiate this by saying Modi is god, we ought to understand the issues at hand. We need to comprehend what the law seeks to do and weigh the advantages it seeks to bring in with possible disadvantages from a socialist view-point. It needs to be an educated discussion and not a mud-slinging match even in our daily conversations and thoughts. How are we different from the politicians if we do the same thing they are doing and yet walk away with self-righeousness and talk of societal change? We need to rise above the rabble and think about the actual pros and cons from a process-design perspective. That is the hallmark of an enlightened citizen and a responsiblity that we owe to our own conscience as Indians.

Jai Hind. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

On Occasion of Republic Day

I see all around me a fervour. A zing in everybody's step. 26th Jan 15 is Republic Day for India, and all Indians are proud. Today is the day when the constitution of India came into force 65 years ago. I see parties, celebrations, events, flag-hoisting ceremonies and patriotic songs (interspersed with the occasional Bollywood item number). I see Facebook posts, photos of the tri-colour, selfies against national backdrops, images with the tri-coloured theme as a meme on WhatsApp, nationalist sentiments everywhere. I see group admins change their group display pictures on WhatsApp, I see cover pages updated to reflect the tricolour on Facebook, I see profile pics on Google undergo a transformation into suddenly renewed "Indian-ness". I see a deluge of nationalist pride everywhere online. All good so far. 

But personally, I also sense the need for introspection. The constitution of India was a document that was drafted in a 2-year period from 1947 to 1949. 


At the outset, let me state (for the benefit of those fringe groups who take affront at leaves falling from trees) that the Constitution of India is an exhaustive and well-drafted document. It covers a vast gamut of legislation that was critical and needed. It is carefully researched and in no way do I intend to contradict that. The point of this post is different. The Constitution is a huge document that calls upon various legislations in the past (primarily the Government of India Act 1858, Indian Councils Act 1861, Indian Councils Act 1892 and the various amendments and modifications done thereto between the late 1800s and the early 1900s). Essentially, in 2015 we are celebrating a constitution created in 1949 (around 65 years ago) based on laws originally promulgated in the late 1800s (around 150 years ago). I'd say it's time to revisit this document and prune it wherever required.

Some glaring areas of opportunity where I see an urgent need for complete rehaul are - 
  • Articles 15 and 16 of the constitution which talk of allowing governmental bodies to make reservations based on caste. 
  • Article 44 which talks of the duty of the state to implement a uniform civil code. This is still a pipe-dream and needs to be picked up urgently for any social reform to happen. 
Let's go into each in a little bit more detail. 

Reservations - 
Part 3 (Fundamental Rights), Articles 15 and 16 of the constitution specifically talk about equal opportunities for all citizens. Sample extracts are as follows - 
3.16.4 - Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State. 
3.15.4 - Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. 
All points in both these articles talk about various public facilities, employment opportunities, other public amenities and the sanction given to the government to make reservations or special provisions for "backward classes" of citizens in order to protect the fundamental principle of equal opportunity therein. All good so far. But the fact of the matter is, reservation is an obsolete concept and caste-based reservation even more so. It has been misused and taken advantage of. The results of course, are there for all to see. Sub-standard teachers have churned out sub-standard students, sub-standard professionals have churned out sub-standard services and the rot is setting in deeper with each new added quota. I'm all for equal opportunity, but not at the cost of meritocracy. What is needed is to change the definition of "backward classes". Currently defined on the basis of caste, it needs to discard this framework and take into account financial standing. The poor can become the backward class irrespective of what caste they belong to. They shall enjoy privileges in order to ensure equal opportunity.

We need to take a second look at both these articles (and related articles, clauses and sub-clauses interspersed throughout the constitution) to discard the reservation/quota system and replace it with a framework that gives these rights to the poor and the financially challenged. 

Uniform Civil Code - 
The need for a uniform civil code is enshrined in the directive principles of the Constitution of India (Part 4, article 44)
4.44 - The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.
 This has never materialized. Such an explicit statement as article 44 has been ignored and relegated to the back-burner just to serve the vested interests of certain communities and people. The Shah Bano case showed us how critical it is to have all communities follow the constitution. Till some communities operate outside the constitution with impunity, we shall never have equality in any form or manner. The Constitution of India has to supersede any religious laws without exception. I have expounded on this topic exhaustively in a previous post. You can check out the full text here

Having said that, I am sure that if a panel were to be constituted along modern principles of jurisprudence to analyze the entire Constitution of India, it would throw up some interesting findings other than the two sections I have highlighted above. 

I feel we should take the occasion of Republic Day to think about the Constitution of India in a new light. As the world's largest democracy and a global power at the centre of the world stage, it is our duty to lead the way to reinvention of our own principles as a means to adapt to our constantly changing environment. Celebrating Republic Day is all very well. But it is also our duty as citizens of this country to introspect on our own tenets, analyze our own codes and improve them in order to ensure that the fundamental principles of democracy in particular and humanism in general are upheld.

Jai Hind.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Partitioning a disk to install Ubuntu

One of the biggest stumbling block for a newbie to install Linux on a machine with Windows on it is partitioning the hard drive. Partitioning a disk is tricky without the added pressure of knowing that if you mess something up, you risk losing a working installation of Windows as well. Here's the good news - Ubuntu has made it really easy. Apart from the partitioning window, things don't get too complicated when installing Ubuntu. Here's how to go about it.

First off, we need to understand the basic difference between a Windows filesystem and a Linux filesystem. Think of Windows as a block diagram where the various partitions of a hard drive sit at the same level. Your C drive and your D drive are the parent folders of their own heirarchies, something like this - 


Basically, the logical partitions of a windows hard drive are masters of their own domains (no puns intended). They command their own trees like feudal lords, so to say. Their respective drives form their own folder structures and the root folder of each logical partitiom is the beginning of the structure. Linux is a bit different, something like this - 


The folder structure itself acts as a organizing system for logical partitions in Linux whereas the partitions act as the base for the folder structure in Windows. This means that teh entire hard disk (the physical partition) needs a mount point too. This is the root folder (/). In the root folder, you will find mount points for the other logical partitions (they could be a folder in the root folder or a sub-folder within a folder too). In the example above, /home is the mount point for a logical partition and becomes the root folder for that particular partition.

Coming back from theory, what we need to remember when installing Linux and when we come to the dreaded "Something Else" option when we are installing Windows is that each partition in a Linux drive needs a mount point. In essence, we need part of the hard drive that is formatted using Windows NTFS file-system and part of the drive handed over to Linux ext4 file-system where each of its partitions have a mount point. A standard dual-boot hard drive will be configured as follows - 



When the time comes to choose partitioning (Step 4 in the installation process outlined in one of our previous posts here), and if you're thinking of being a dare-devil and choosing the "Something Else" option, understanding these concepts will give you an idea of how your hard drive needs to be structured. A sample partition table is as below - 




  • The first partition is the one allocated for Windows with 50GB labelled "Windows". 
  • We then have an extended partition which contains the following logical partitions 
    • A root partition for Linux of about 50GB with / as the mount point. 
    • A swap partition of about 4GB
    • A data partition with "/media/observer/data" as the mount point but partitioned as NTFS which both Windows and Linux can use for storing data.
This is the only tricky portion in installing Linux. The rest is as easy as falling off a log! 

For more detailed information, check Ubuntu's official documentation on partitioning your hard drive. This document provides a clear explanation of what partitions are, how to use them and what to do when installing Ubuntu. I also found a very useful and very easy instructable on doing this, which you can access here. This includes a very detailed and step-by-step process on dual-booting Ubuntu with Windows 7. 

Happy computing!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Psychiatry of Religion


Click on Image to open embedded PDF
This note examines the deep-seated connection that religion has with our brain and its link to the amygdala. It explores the evolution of the brain, the psychological evolution of religion and its connection to fear as a primal emotion. 

Happy reading!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Time to Reform

I don't see Bajrang Dal activists murdering Aamir Khan and Rajkumar Hirani because they made the movie "PK". I don't see Christian zealots killing Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris because they question the very existence of Jesus. Charlie Hebdo just shows us that Islam needs to reform. It needs to introspect. It needs to weed out the very framework that allows this intolerance.


Original Credit - Lucille Clerc (lucilleclerc.com)
Today it is a bunch of journalists sitting in some stuffy office in Paris. Tomorrow it could be you or me. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Problem with Religion



It is time we acknowledged the skeleton in our closet. Fundamentalist Islam. While the world tries to push towards the 21st century and towards collective progress, we need to acknowledge the existence of an endemic problem if a specific community or part thereof indulge in repeated violence to spread "God's" word. There's only one solution - a revamp. An overhaul of the religious psyche. A complete investigation at what drives this insanity and to cure it. The religion needs to change. Islam needs to change. And for the world to progress, it needs to change fast. Let me illustrate with examples of religious violence in the past one and a half month. 


Since 16th December 2014, 597 people have been killed and over 153 have been injured in just the major attacks that have been covered by some major news agency. Even adjusting for a 20% exaggeration, that translates to 21 deaths a day which amounts to 7923 deaths a year solely because of religion! I must say though that the 20% adjustment for exaggeration is not fair. There must be scores of other attacks which I have not culled from the news and/or have not even been reported. If we extrapolate these numbers over decades of Islamic fundamentalism, we have an astronomical number. Innocent women, children and men killed for no reason. No reason at all. Other than religion.

There can be no doubt about the fact that Islam is not a religion of peace. There is also no doubt that the West has been responsible (at-least partly) for the rise of Islamic fundamentalists. Two of the biggest catalysts for this rise are - 
  • Cold War roots - The US, UK and other NATO governments pumped money into propping up Islamic rebel fighters calling themselves the Mujahideen to stave off Russian advances in the Afghanistan region. Though this move was successful in the short term, it gave rise to the Al Qaeda and subsequently Osama Bin Laden. 
  • Iraqi War - Bush is perhaps the most idiotic President that the US has ever seen. An overtly religious man with many fingers in many pies, the juiciest of which is oil; he had no business in Iraq. He waged war on Iraq for vested interests and the fact is pretty well known. There was no reason to invade Iraq, there were no weapons of mass destruction found and the methods that the US Army deployed to execute Saddam were deplorable and cowardly. This has ultimately given rise to ISIS. 


Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return. And such has been the creed by which the world has operated. Machiavellian machinations by the western world have given rise to Islamic fundamentalists. But can we blame the west and be done with it? I think not. As Ed Hoffman (artfully portrayed by Russell Crowe) succintly quips in the movie "Body of Lies", "Nobody's innocent in this shit". The fact remains that it still does not absolve Islam of the repeated acts of terror that are committed across borders and communities. Right from Paki Taliban in Asia to Boko Haram in Nigeria, we've got a problem. This problem is compounded more so by the simple fact that the religion itself prohibits criticism. We don't have Christians in America killing people when Richard Dawkins makes fun of the faith and questions the very existence of Jesus. We don't have Hindus murdering the audience and random citizens who go to the movie PK despite the fact that the movie has made fun of religion. We don't have Jews rampaging Hitchens' office just because he laid into the Old Testament. The problem lies deeper than just a few rotten apples in each community. To take a comparable example from the more peaceful religion of Hinduism (and I'm doing this only because I value my life), Togadia's statements about a Hidu rashtra are made possible partly because we have allowed him to occupy a reasonably important position in a reasonably large organisation (VHP). If we loudly call him out as an idiot and send him off packing, a thousand other Togadias would get the message and keep their antics and remarks confined to their minds and the privacy of their own homes (if that). Similarly, it is the silent sanction of the moderate Islamists that have made these acts possible. 

The problem in my opinion is not just the fundamentalists. The real reason that fundamentalists are allowed to exist is that moderates and liberals like us allow them to exist and operate. By accepting religion, they accept the acts that are done in its name. Moderate Hindus make Togadia's statements possible, moderate christians have allowed Bush to ride right-wing religious coat-tails and cause havoc, moderate Muslims make murder possible by not stamping it out and by not admitting that religion is the problem. When a moderately religious person allows a faith-based belief system to exist, the next step is intolerance. And from there to violence is just a small step further. Because at the basis of most religions (more so for the Abrahamic religions) is the assumption that their god is the only true god. It is because moderates have stopped questioning their faith that extremists are allowed to exist. We might very well argue that the moderates are not harming anybody. They are not causing violence. They hate the fundamentalists just as much as the atheists do. The problem is not that they are actively indulging in violence. The problem is that by accepting the very concept of religion, they are sanctioning the fundamentalists. I read a rather well-thought out and well-articulated communique about moderate religion. You can read the entire article here. An extract (and I tend to agree with the gist) is as follows - 
The simple, indisputable fact is that any god belief requires faith, and if you follow my writings at all, you know that “faith,” properly defined, is “belief in a thing despite evidence to the contrary, or a total lack of evidence.” Once you get them to the point of admitting that they hold a belief despite it’s opposition to reason, you can see that the facade of moderation is just that – a facade. At their core, they are exactly the same as fundamentalists. They just pick a more socially acceptable irrationality. What they really mean when they say you should question everything is that you should question everything – except for the validity of faith as a means of acquiring knowledge.
Another way of saying this is that where religious faith is concerned, allowing a little irrationality is no different from allowing a lot. This point is so important that it needs to be made again. Accepting the belief that some things are true and irrational is what gives a perception of validity to every religious belief. Right wing fundamentalists are crazy. These are people who are out of touch with reality. The reason they are not either publicly ridiculed or maybe even forcibly medicated is that they are given a free pass — because it’s religion.  If people believed the Jolly Green Giant was making proclamations from the side of a can of vegetables, they would be examined by a psychologist.   However, when they believe an invisible man in the sky tells them to kill abortion doctors, they’re politely encouraged to be a little more moderate. 

And nowhere is this more relevant than today. With Islamic fundamentalists running havoc, the very tenets of faith need to be questioned to reform the religion using a bottom-up approach. Which brings us to the nub. 

We need to realise that morality has nothing to do with religion. We need to realise that the world has made progress despite religion, not because of it. We need to realise that the 21st century has more pressing demands. Starvation, disease, poverty, recession, unemployment and climate change to name a few. We need to realise that religion itself is the problem. It is an obsolete concept. It needs to be replaced. And we need to do it fast. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

God


While I don't usually publish my compositions, I can't resist but sharing this. The most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen was the inspiration for this short poem. While I most assuredly continue to be an atheist (and an outspoken one), the reference to god is the unity one feels with nature. Not god as a benefactor, but as a concept that embodies the deep sense of connection one feels with mother earth. It is this connection that I like to think of as spirituality. 

----

Here. At the junction;
Of sky, water and earth
The sun vows rebirth. 

Here; a symphony
Of waves crashing ashore
Lets my soul explore. 

Here is a marriage;
Of rich color and sound
Where reds and golds abound.

Here; that blessed union
Even the skies applaud
Of me and my god.