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Sri Lankan President Removes Chief Justice

January 15, 2013

In a major blow to constitutionalism, President Mahinda Rajapaksa removed Chief Justice Dr Shirani Bandaranayake, from office on Sunday after the Sri Lankan parliament passed a motion asking him to do so on grounds of proven “misbehaviour”.

The Sri Lankan Parliamentary Council is already set to nominate former Attorney General Mohan Peiris as Chief Justice according to some sources, though the Daily News in Sri Lanka has not officially confirmed this.

Additionally, in a curious move, and perhaps weary of the impact of similar movements in Pakistan, President Rajapaksa has requested that the bar and lawyers group do not engage in activity that would “disparage the dignity of the legal profession and Judiciary”.

Pakistan: Supreme Court Orders Arrest of PM Raja Pervez Ashraf in Corruption Case

January 15, 2013

The NY Times reports on the latest news regarding the escalating conflict between Chief Justice Chaudhry and the Court and the Government, .

The Pakistani newspaper Dawn has much more in-depth coverage on the crisis–noting that the turmoil is already having effects on the stock market.

Former cricket star and head of the PTI party Imran Khan is calling on President Zardari to resign immediately.


NY Times on Violence Against Women in India

January 13, 2013

The NY Times features a report today on how the horrific and tragic rape of a young woman in Delhi has highlighted the broader issue of massive violence, discrimination, and mistreatment of women, resulting in the death of approximately 2 million women a year.The article discusses the horrific incidence of dowry killings, domestic violence, and other violence against women:

Such crimes are routine in this country, where researchers estimate that anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 women a year are killed over dowry disputes. Many are burned alive in a particularly grisly form of retribution.

“While a horrific gang rape in New Delhi has transfixed India and drawn attention to a violent epidemic, rape is just one facet of a broad range of violence and discrimination that leads to the deaths of almost two million women a year, researchers say. Among the causes are not only sexual violence but also domestic violence, family disputes and female infanticide, as well as infant neglect and poor care of the elderly that affect girls and women far more than boys and men…

…As many as 100,000 women are burned to death each year and another 125,000 die from violent injuries that are rarely reported as killings, according to government figures and other data analyzed by the research team.”

The article notes that as more women in India enter professional careers and challenge traditional notions of women’s role in families, violence against women as increased:

“Women are breaking through and advancing toward greater attainment — but in a society that continues to be patriarchal, that is increasing tensions,” said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. “And one of the manifestations of that tension is increased violence against women.”

The scale of the problem of violence, discrimination, and mistreatment against women in India is of such a magnitude that it will, without question, require broad-based, systemic reforms that take on reform in the area of community policing/law enforcement and reform of the courts and criminal justice system, education and socialization of men to counter traditional and cultural norms,  and a broader social movement that fundamentally challenges basic traditions and cultural norms that are blindly accepted and followed, and uses a combination of legal, social, and educational, and policy reforms to achieve reductions in violence and discrimination. In short, leaders need to take this moment to usher in a massive social awakening in the nation that forces each individual to take an active role in the protection of women, children, and all other groups who are subject to horrific levels of violence on a daily basis.

India Launches CashTransfers to Fight Poverty

January 6, 2013

The New York Times features a good article on the Indian government’s new efforts to prevent corruption from reducing total payments to the poor through the launch of a program that involves direct cash transfers into the accounts of recipients.  Unfortunately, increasing levels of corruption have made the problem worse, as reflected in this quote from the story:

 “Rajiv Gandhi, who served as prime minister for five years in the late 1980s   before being assassinated in 1991 while running for office, once estimated that only 15 percent of the money spent on the poor actually reached them; his son Rahul Gandhi said recently that this level may now be as low as 5 percent.”

According to the article, critics of the new policy claim that the new program doesn’t represent that much of a change to existing policy, while others contend that the new program is yet another form of patronage aimed at bolstering support for the ruling Congress party.  Other critics are warning that the new policy should not substitute for programs that provide food and other goods to the poor.

The article reports that this new program is modeled on successful programs in Brazil and Mexico “in which poor families receive stipends in exchange for meeting certain social goals, like keeping their children in school or getting regular medical checkups. International aid organizations have praised these efforts in several places; in Brazil alone, nearly 50 million people participate.”  Indeed Brazilian policies under the regime of Lula  da Silva were credited with lifting more than 20 million out of poverty.

India faces extraordinary challenges in the implementation of this policy, as only one-third of households have bank accounts.  And the nation still has a long way to go in rooting out corruption in the government bureaucracy and in countering patronage-based networks of political support.    Of course, this new program needs to be part of broad-based reforms aimed at improving education, health care, and economic opportunities for the urban and rural poor.

As Surendra Rao, a former director general of the National Council of Applied Economic Research notes  “the rural poor would need a vastly improved social and commercial infrastructure — better shops, schools and hospitals — for any cash-based welfare plan to significantly improve their lives.”

The Hindu: Supreme Court of India to hear PILs on fast-tracking rape trials and enhanced safety measures for women

January 2, 2013

As nation-wide protests and demands for change continue across India in the wake of the horrific rape of a young woman in Delhi on December 16, new PILs have been filed in the Supreme Court of India.  The Hindu reports on two PILs that will be heard by the SCI on Thursday:

“The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a PIL filed by a former woman IAS officer seeking directions to the government to ensure safety of women and conducting fast-track court proceedings in all rape cases.  A bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir will hear on Thursday the PIL which also sought suspension of MPs and MLAs in case a charge sheet is filed against them for crime against women. In her PIL, retired IAS officer Promilla Shanker has pleaded with the court to direct the government to set up fast-track courts in all states for speedy trial of rape cases.”

A second PIL filed by advocate Mukesh Kumar “demanded creation of women police stations in every town to investigate complaints of rape and sexual assault against women. It also sought steps for implementation of U.N. convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.”


India Abroad Article on Facebook Arrests about Mumbai Shutdown after Thackeray’s death

November 26, 2012

India Abroad just published an article, by Ritu Jha, which features an interview I gave about the recent arrests of Shaheen Dhada and Reenu Srinivasan over comments made on Facebook about the  shutdown in Mumbai following the death of Bal Thackeray.  The article is entitled, “Protecting the ability to openly challenge government policies crucial for democracy”.  Here’s an excerpt of the article with my interview:

Manoj Maté, assistant professor of law, and director, Center for International and Comparative Law, Whittier Law School, California said, “The application of the two laws in this case .— Section 505(2) and Section 66(a) — was clearly problematic. He suggests that both needed to be amended. Section 66A of the IT Act, he says, provides law enforcement with too much subjective discretion, allowing law enforcement to arrest individuals based on Internet speech.

Maté thinks the arrests in this case are a clear indication of a shift toward reduced protections for freedom of speech and expression by the government of India. “While it is protected under the Constitution, free speech is still restricted in India,.” Maté says. .“India faces unique challenges because it has so many diverse religious groups and communities and many of these groups are politically influential at the state and local level, and can influence the enforcement of laws aimed at speech. And on top of that, India is still facing the challenge of combating terrorism..”. “This helps explain why the Indian government has been so restrictive of free speech..”

“There needs to be greater effort to provide greater protection for political speech, because that is important in a democracy.” Maté says.“People must have the ability to criticize their leaders. Otherwise, things cannot change. Protecting the ability to openly challenge government policies is crucial for democracy. There needs to be an effort to provide for greater protections for fundamental rights..”

“My recommendation would be that the laws need to be amended to restrict the discretion of local and state officials, by adopting more precise language, and requiring court approval for the issuance of arrest warrants..”

“Police should be made more independent, because most law enforcement officials at the local level in India are still under the control of state politicians..”. “Increasing the role of judges in the process will also provide a greater check on law enforcement and limit the ability of police to target speech that does not directly affect security..”

“I think you could still have laws that effectively enable you to target and prevent terrorism,.” Maté felt,.” but at the same time still provide protections for legitimate free speech..” He acknowledges that even in the United States employers have been able to fire individuals based on what they are posting on their Facebook pages, but “If the same statement has been made in the United States, you could not arrest that individual under US law..”

India’s Rural Development Minister on Collapse of Public Health System

November 16, 2012

The Hindu features a report today on the current state of India’s public health system.  Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh discusses how over 70 percent of health expenditures in India are private, not government expenditures:

This was the “single most important” reason for indebtedness in rural areas, he added. “Today the single most important reason for rural area indebtedness is expenditure on health. We all know that the health system in India has collapsed. India is unique country in the world where 70 per cent of the health expenditure is private expenditure,” he said at the Hindustan Times leadership summit in New Delhi.

In many part of India, he said, public health system simply does not exist. Mr Ramesh also noted that countries all over the world are debating the issue of increasing public spending on health. To improve the social indices, the outspoken Minister wanted States to make a fundamental commitment for creating elected institutions and institutions of participation, noting that such measures has helped States which have abided by this commitment.

Ramesh’s comments highlight how public spending on health services must be a central part of national efforts to reduce poverty in India.  Additionally, Ramesh’s comments also highlight the crucial linkage between strong representative governance institutions and social outputs at the state and local level.

A recent article by Professor Nirvikar Singh at U.C. Santa Cruz highlights how high levels of corruption and mismanagement have affected the overall efficacy of the delivery of  public health services in India. (Another recent article by Vishal Arora also highlights how corruption in the public health system has affected the delivery of medical services and care in India.)  Singh’s article makes a compelling argument for comprehensive decentralization-based reforms as part of a broader strategy for reforming India’s public health system


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