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Amidst all the hype and hoopla that surrounds Obama’s first days in Office, it maybe worthwhile to take a step back and evaluate the implications of the Bush Presidency. Seldom has the post-Cold War world seen such tectonic shifts in many matters of global concern. These eight years, starting right from the doorstep of the new millennium, have dictated our thought, outlook and course of action. From January 20, 2000 to 2009, the most powerful political position of responsibility today was held by a mercurial personality, who managed to emerge both as the most and least popular President of the United States of America. Whether you adored him (like the corporate and industrial lobbies of the US) or loathed him (pretty much like the rest of the World), you just could not ignore George Walker Bush Jr. Here’s our take on what the Bush Era has meant for tomorrow.

1. Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and the War on Terror.

Within one year of his taking over the US Presidency, George Bush witnessed the first major terrorist attack on an American metropolis in decades. 9/11, hence immortalized through its suffering and consequence, was pivotal in influencing the Bush administration’s foreign policy outlook towards West Asia and the Middle East. Following the launch of a global ‘War on Terror’, a belligerent Bush pursued the Al-Qaeda to the footsteps of the Taleban. Months later, Afghanistan was left in tatters, besieged by the armies of the West in a futile attempt to capture the masterminds behind the WTO strikes.

The President then trained his guns further East, onto Iraq, where the ‘outrageous’ and ‘tyrannical’ regime of Saddam Hussein had allegedly held Weapons of Mass Destruction. Portraying Iraq to be a threat to the precarious stability of the Middle East, the US assumed the patriarchal role of a superpower to chastise the rogue nation. The extant situation in Iraq is left for everyone to see; while the US is fighting a trillion-dollar war, Iraqis are struggling to find a foothold on the world map.

As the Bush Presidency is all set to be a bygone era, the world has been left reeling from an increased spate of terrorist attacks, raising incisive questions of the efficacy of a costly ‘War’.

2. The Environment and Climate Change

As a presidential candidate, Bush began his campaign with a pledge to clean up power plants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. During the initial months of his first Presidency, he even sought to commit billions of dollars to fund ‘clean-energy’ technology. The President also assured the Congress, environmental groups and the energy industry of his full co-operation to secure a reduction in emission rates within a reasonable period of time. However, his subsequent volte-face on the matter, terming greenhouse gas reduction to be adversely affecting energy prices, shocked the environment-conscious community.

The Bush Administration also refused to implement the substantive content of the Kyoto Protocol, stating that “ratifying the treaty would create economic setbacks in the U.S. and does not put enough pressure to limit emissions from developing nations”. After years of subservience to the powerful oil and energy lobbies, environmental surveys at the end of Bush’s tenure indicated a marked increase in the US’ contribution to global warming and sustained ecological recklessness.

3. Human Rights and Guantanamo.

Guantanamo merits a separate post. The connecting link will be uploaded in a day’s time.

4. The State of the Economy.

The fag end of George Bush’s stint as the President witnessed the implosion of the mighty US financial sector, triggering a global economic meltdown. A consequence of hasty and often unmonitored actions of the corporate lobby, the financial downturn meant a loss of jobs for millions of people around the world in professional services. The chain-reaction of such a collapse is yet to cease, and major banks and industries continue to be bailed out by the day.

While we may have to dig deep to find positive lessons from the Bush regime, it is suffice to say that the period is dead and gone. May the Bush Presidency rest in peace.

This comes as news to all the politicos in Andhra Pradesh wanting to form Telangana.

The AP High Court has now reserved its order on a PIL on whether the government has the power to divide a state into smaller states.

The petition is based on the contention that a state cannot be bifurcated without the consent of its people and going by this; Amendments 5 and 7 to Article 3 of the Constitution should be declared unconstitutional.

“Article 3 of the Constitution gives the power to the Parliament to form a new state or alter areas or boundaries. Under the Constitution, the State legislature has no role to play in this act. Though the President is bound to refer the Bill to the state legislature; in Babulal v. State of Bombay, AIR 1960 SC 51, it was held that the Parliament is not bound to accept or act upon the views of the State Legislature.”

 

On a political front, this case may have a huge impact on the upcoming AP state elections where Telangana can now again become an issue.

On a legal front, the consequences are much greater. It was after IR Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu that amendments to the Constitution were open to challenge to the basic structure and the rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21. However, it was held that only those amendments after 1973 would be open to challenge.

Challenging the 3rd and 5th Amendments now would be against the ruling in Coelho’s case and it would interesting to see how the Court goes about to answer this question. 

PS: The Article was in the TOI issue dated 24th Jan 2009 in the HYD “times city” section. I cannot get the link and shall upload it as soon as i get hold of it. 

I learnt today that apparently the Chief Justice and his office do not constitute a ‘public authority’ under the Right to Information Act.

This, after the Supreme Court petitioned the Delhi High Court against an order passed by the Central Information Commission asking the CJI to disclose as to whether the judges of the Supreme Court were disclosing their assets to him.

 

In a brief background to the situation, a resolution was passed on May 7, 1997 requiring every judge to declare to the CJI assets including properties or any other investment in the name of their spouse and any person dependent on them.  Earlier petitions regarding the disclosure of assets of judges under the RTI were dismissed on the ground of such information not being in the ‘public domain’. However, in this order, the CIC did not ask for the disclosure of assets but as to whether the practice set out in the resolution of 1997 was still being followed.

 

In the petition before the Delhi High Court, the Supreme Court (as a petitioner) stated that this practice was only ‘informal’ in nature and that there was nothing in the Constitution or any other law ‘mandating’ the judges of the Supreme Court to disclose their assets to the CJI. I now know that the Delhi High Court has issued a stay on the CIC order and the next date of hearing is set on 12th February 2009.

Questions are raised when the most powerful organ of the Government sheds and denies any degree of accountability upon itself. In Association of Democratic Reforms v. Union of India, the Court had asked candidates standing for elections to disclose their assets stating that in a democracy, those in power must behave responsibly and know that they ultimately work at the behest of the people. Much earlier, it had asked IAS officers to disclose their assets and ordered authorities to keep a check on them.

At both the above instances, the Court judged on the basis that the Right to information was a constitutional and fundamental right of the citizens; thus holding that in the case of the legislature and the executive, this right must not be denied to the citizens. The Right to Information Act was passed to give effect to this constitutional right.

However, when the Apex Court denies this responsibility upon itself and ensures its performance among other organs of government, it is using double standards. There is a tint of supremacy of the Court over the Constitution here which I would say is no where mandated by the Constitution. In the Hamlyn Law Lectures, MC Mehta had stated,

“there is no theory of judicial supremacy in India, but that of Constitutional Supremacy”.

So if there does exist a theory of Constitutional supremacy in India, surely the Court should not place itself above the Constitution. If the argument is that the Right to Information Act does not look upon the Court as a public authority, surely under the rights guaranteed by part III, this disclosure of assets can be achieved; just as done in the case of the executive and the legislature (In both cases, the RTI Act did not exist).

V Venkatesan of Law and Other Things wrote a post here on the CIC decision that was passed on the 6th of January 2009. He says;

“Although the decision pertains to the RTI question on the declaration of assets by the Judges of High Court and the Supreme Court, it has set an important precedent to make the Higher Judiciary truly accountable. It will be unfortunate if the Supreme Court appeals against the decision in the High Court, in which case, the Judges hearing the appeal may not be able to decide the appeal objectively in view of the apparent conflict of interests.”

I will not be faltering when I say that I share the same concern. 

 

 

Mark Felt, former FBI officer who revealed himself to be the key informant in exposing the Watergate Scandal (‘Deep Throat’), has died.

Felt, 95, breathed his last yesterday in a clinic close to his home in Santa Rosa, California. During the years of the scandal he was one of the highest ranking officers in the FBI, instrumental in investigating the break-ins and burglary at the Democratic National Office in Watergate Complex. The investigation subsequently uncovered a nebulous network of campaign fraud, illegal tax audits, political espionage and wiretapping associated with Nixon’s Re-election Committee; mounting bipartisan political pressure coupled with a series of futile court battles forced the President to resign in 1974.
Many of you might have seen Hal Holbrook’s performance as ‘Deep Throat’ in the famous movie ‘All the President’s Men’. Deep Throat’s identity was kept anonymous for 30 years by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, until Mr. Felt himself revealed his informant status in 2005.

‘Deep Throat’ remains a legendary figure in investigative journalism circles and continues to be an inspiring icon for righteous officers of the State. Felt himself had come under heavy criticism for being a ‘traitor’ and letting down the Commander-in-Chief; many attributed his opposition to the President’s scheme to vindictiveness, for being superseded in the FBI Directorate by Nixon’s close political associate. However, there were many who disagreed.

As he himself wrote later,

The President wanted a politician in J. Edgar Hoover’s position who would convert the bureau into an adjunct of the White House machine.

Individuals like Felt are a rarity in today’s bureaucratic set-up; the extant legal regime must ensure that whistle-blowers and vanguards against corrupt official practices are protected.

To quote the American prosecutor, John Nields, from The Washington Post in 2005,

As Deep Throat, Felt helped establish the principle that our highest government officials are subject to the Constitution and the laws of the land.

The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Balakrishnan and Justice Sadashivam, today heard the petitioners’ (Nandini Sundar and ors, Kartam Joga and ors) response to the NHRC report on Salwa Judum. The counsel for the petitioners, Mr. Ashok Desai, pointed out that the report contained a number of findings which supported the petitioners’ grievances, such as the burning of villages by Salwa Judum, complicity of State Police and administration in arson and looting of property; Government and political sponsorship of Salwa Judum rallies;forcing of villagers into camps; inhibition of freedom of movement, extra judicial killings by SPOs; suspect encounters and non-recording of deaths, recruitment of minors as SPOs, and arming of civilians as a vigilante force.  The NHRC report notes with respect to sangham members who are unarmed villagers,

“these villagers were specifically targeted when Salwa Judum was on the rise. The enquiry team has come across instances where some of these villagers were even killed (no criminal cases were, however, either reported or registered). Though the State has taken action against SPOs in some cases for violations like murder and attempt to murder, but these cases do not pertain to the violence let loose on innocent villagers during operations against Naxalites.”
(5.04).

The Chhattisgarh Government, which has continued to publicly justify Salwa Judum, admitted in its affidavit and annexures to the Supreme Court that villages had been burnt by Salwa Judum and security forces, and there had been serious offences committed by Salwa Judum, SPOs and security forces in which no action had been taken and no FIRs had been registered.

On 17th October, in response to the Supreme Court’s order that the CG government take some immediate steps on the NHRC report, the Home Secretary of Chhattisgarh issued orders to the Collectors of Bijapur and Dantewada that “necessary action be taken for rehabilitation of uninhabited villages; necessary relief money be given in the cases of properties damaged by Salwa Judum activists/security forces, besides naxalite violence, after village wise analysis, security forces be not allowed to stay in school/ashram buildings; facilities of ration distribution, PDS, health, toilet etc. in the relief camps be ensured.” In addition, the DGP has issued orders to all SPs to register FIRs on receipt of information, and to prepare a village wise list of missing persons.

When counsel for the petitioners pointed out that despite admission of violations, till date no compensation had been publicly announced, leave alone carried out, CG counsel made the excuse that they could not do anything because of the election code of conduct (though this did not stop them from distributing free rice and blankets).

Chhattisgarh government has been asked to file an Action Taken Report to the Supreme Court on the implementation of compensation and rehabilitation measures on a village wise plan and register FIRs against all cognizable offences, by January 28. This will involve bringing back refugees from Andhra Pradesh and compensating them.

The Supreme Court has given time for a detailed hearing in the first week of February, to go into all matters of killing, rape etc. The Judges recognized that the cases mentioned in the NHRC report are only a fraction of the total charges, and will go into the prosecution and other issues in greater depth at that time.

More on;

Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh
Email: cpjcindia@gmail. com;
Website:www.cpjc.wordpress. com
Contact for further information: Nandini Sundar 9868076576, MJ Vijayan
9868165471 (Delhi),
Manish Kunjam 09425260360 (Dantewada),
Himanshu Kumar 09425260031 (Dantewada)