Mar 25, 2010

Two Bills, Two Stories

A friend and (one of the few martians who traverse the path of this blog) asked me why I hadn’t written/commented on the Women’s Reservation Bill. “What’s to comment”, I asked. Any Tom, Prick or Scary can tell you that Sonia Gandhi is one lucky lady; madam will be credited with ushering in one of the greatest legislative reforms of all times. Good for her. I have been tracking opinions, arguments, counter arguments and almost all of them make some sense. Even if I don’t support the Bill, I certainly cannot abide by those sanctimonious Yadav bastards (Mulayam and Lalloo) who have suddenly woken up to the exploitative measure of quotas.

The one thing – and forget talk of the Bill actually being regressive and manipulative, etc – that does bother me is this: according to the Bill all constituencies would be eligible for reservation on a rotational basis. What happens if a really able, committed male politician has spent the past 3 years securing and working for his constituency only to discover during election year that his constituency falls under the 33% reserved quota? Wouldn’t this ultimately translate into a loss for us, tax-payers and voting citizens who have professed faith in a Ram Naik or a Murli Deora only to have a Rameshwari Kumari or Puja Tripathi thrust at us in their stead?

Also, I think by now there’s lil doubt in anyone’s mind about the actual empowerment quotient of such reservations. One needs only to cast an eye at the tribals and adivasis of Bihar, AP, Kerala, etc too gauge how far SC/OBC reservation has benefited the intended beneficiaries. In this misguided thrust towards ensuring equality, aren’t we actually robbing our democracy of true and meaningful representation based on merit?

There’s something else that has been troubling me deeply. It’s the govt’s efforts to pass the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. Understand that the Bill is imperative as foreign companies (American) have refused to supply to India the nuclear equipment that this country needs if it has to meet its nuclear generation targets. However, surely the way ahead is through negotiations, dialogue, and winning support from select groups rather than short-selling the rights of the country’s citizens? What the Bill purports to do is this: it caps the amount of liability that the foreign company will have to bear in case of a nuclear disaster, or accident. It caps the amount at Rs 2800 crore of which the company (foreign or indian, pvt or public) operating the plant would be liable to pay only Rs 500 crore. The foreign company supplying the nuclear machinery or material will be free of all liability even if the accident is a result of some defect or fault in the material or equipment being supplied by the foreign company. Even ex-attorney general Soli Sorabjee has protested against the Bill saying it flouts the fundamental rights of the “victims of accidents” under Article 21 of our Constitution. Earlier last year, novelist and NYT columnist Suketu Mehta wrote a precise and moving editorial arguing about the principle of ‘polluter pays’ and calling for Union Carbide to clean up the site of the Bhopal Gas tragedy and bring its absconding CEO Warren Anderson to justice. What is truly galling about America is the supreme indifference with which it arm twists its way to sail smoothly across the most trying situations and emerge triumphant (look at the way we were told to suck our thumbs in the David Headley extradition request or even the simple request to grant our investigators the opportunity to interrogate him.)

By proposing a cap on the amount to be paid in damages, are we not trying to put a universal price on human lives when it should vary from every situation, circumstance, degree of damage accorded, etc? When will we grant our citizens the empowerment they truly deserve instead of handing out these quota carrots periodically to stem the flow of discontent and simmering anger?

What hurts is not when the U.S. or other foreign nations wants to rip us for their benefits – that always gives rise to righteous indignation and anger. When our own government behaves in ways that are so openly craven, there is a feeling of despair and alienation so complete that one wonders what is left for any of us to continue staying here.

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