What if mother earth is 46 years old?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"The dinosaurs passed away eight months ago and the early mammal replaced them. In the middle of last week, in Africa, some manlike apes developed into ape like man and at the weekend mother earth began shivering with the latest series of extremely cold ice-ages. Just over four hours have elapsed since a new species Homosapiens came into existence and in the last hour it invented agriculture and settled down.  Just about 30 minutes back the Pre-Harappan and Early Harappan cultures started developing. Just about 14 minutes back Buddha delivered his first sermon at Saranath , and the Mauryan empire flourished about 12 minutes back. Harsha gave all, whatever he had, the religious assembly at Prayag about 7 minutes back, and Akbar made a pilgrimage to Sufi Saint Salim Chisti just about two minutes back. India became a proud independent nation hardly two seconds back!!"

I came across this interesting observation while browsing randomly. (Read on scribe, page 58). What really made me wonder was, India became proud independent nation hardly two seconds back!! When our great-great-....-great grandchildren write our history, India's partition and Jaswant Singh's controversial book will not even receive their attention!

Imagining that mother earth is 46 years old is one of the best way to understand the relation between earth and all that exists on it. When we write her life history, we find that we know nothing about the first seven years of her life, but the deeds of her later childhood are to be seen in the old rocks. Most of what we recognise on earth, including all substantial life is the product of the last six years of its life (i.e , 600 m.y.). She flowered, in her middle age. Her continents were quite bare of life till she was almost 42 and flowering plants did not appear until she was 45 - just a year ago. At that time the great reptiles , including the dinosaurs, came into existence and the break-up of the last super-continent was in progress.

If we look at our history in another way, say a picture was taken every 5000 years, we would have 1,00,000 (one lakh) negatives. If we make a film (movie) using those one lakh pictures, then the movie would last just an hour! In the last 3 seconds human beings appear and the civilized man appears just in the last tenth of a second!

All the evils in our society - wars, class conflicts, terrorism, communalism and all sorts of violence - would find no place for our attention in 46 year history of mother earth! What if all those who are responsible for all sorts of violence take a look at this simple fact and realize that life of human race is transient in the long history of mother earth? What if they realize the transient nature of human race and stop all sorts of violence? Why can't we all live in harmony as long as we are here?

Reliance gas dispute: "Three" losers in the broken empire

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"You do not require an invitation to make profits", said Dhirubhai Ambani. Today, that is exactly why Mukhesh and Anil are fighting for - to make profits. Though Kokilaben Ambani was successful in placating her sons over Reliance empire sharing, her words no more appeal to Ambani brothers. They only believe in "making profits", but both the brothers, on their way of making profits, have forgotten the larger public interest which is at stake due to their hostility. More over, it is not just theAmbani brothers who share the blame, but lack of sound policy from government on natural gas has made the situation worse.

Genesis of this problem
The court case between (Mukhesh's) RIL and (Anil's) RNRL are primarily about pricing and utilisation. The government run NTPC too has it's stake in the outcome. The genesis of this problem "can be traced back to Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas's (MOPNG) failure to act decisively at the beginning. First, the ministry was a mute spectator as NTPC issued it's global tender to buy 12 mmscmd (Million Metric Standard Cubic Meter Per Day) of gas and RIL won the tender with a surprisingly low bid of $2.4/mmbtu (Million British thermal unit). The ministry continued to watch as RNRL (then a group company of RIL, before split, now with Anil) cited the NTPC auction as reference and signed an in-house agreement with RIL (now with Mukhesh). The agreement was for 28 mmscmd for the same price, i.e. $2.4/mmbtu. So clearly, more than twice the quantity promised to NTPC! [Data: EPW, July 25, 2009 issue]."

At that time, reliance empire was not yet divided. Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas was not interested to intervene then. Now, after fresh discovery of natural gas resources in KrishnaGodavari basin, government fixed the gas price at $4.21/mmbtu. Mukhesh wants Anil to pay $4.21/mmbtu sine the price has been increased by government. But Anil says Mukhesh is not honouring the agreement that enabled Anil to buy gas at $2.4/mmbtu from RIL . Bombay High Court asked both the brothers to go back to their mother and settle the matter peacefully. But, they didn't like high court's advise and both the brothers filed affidavit in Supreme Court asking for intervention.

Government's apathy towards stronger gas policy
The confrontation of Ambani brothers is not just a matter of settling gas price but it reflects the failure of government to lay down a clear cut policy on natural gas. The exploration, development and production of hydrocarbons is being governed by the New Exploration and Licencing Policy (NELP) since 1999. Where as, the (gas) pipelines and distribution of gas is being regulated by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB). The ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is responsible for laying down the policies on natural gas so that public interest is protected and monopoly over natural gas is (as far as possible) avoided. "There are examples of countries that have controlled market structures before opening up their gas sector", but in India the "regulator has no role in determining the price of the gas - instead the price is expected to be market-determined." More over, there have been serious concerns about transparency of exploration policy (NELP) contracts which are worth billions of dollars.

Neither the Directorate General of Hydrocarbon, nor Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board have sound a framework for natural gas policy. Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is yet to play a big role in effectively regulating market structure on natural gas. "In contrast, Ministry has been silent about the developing market structure and has so far been passive. [EPW, July 25, 2009 issue]."

Oligopoly in gas sector
The exploration and production is dominated by only two players, ONGC and RIL. It's important to note that, RIL is not only the major player in the production, transmission and distribution but also a potentially big consumer of gas with its own interests in petrochemicals. The ministry needs to step in and create a healthy environment with its revised gas policy so that public interest is protected when there are issues like the one betweenAmbani brothers.

Three way struggle
Now that the issue has been taken up by Supreme court, it is expected to take a "broader perspective of the case and could consider the national significance of D6 gas project, rather than focusing only on the terms of the RIL-RNRL gas sales agreement." It is possible that both Mukhesh and Anil could end up loosing something from their side to settle the matter. Because, "gas does not belong to either Mukesh or Anil Ambani. It belongs to the government." "If Anil's RNRL is able to keep the government out of this dispute or even neutralize its stance, it will be quite helpful for them." That may not be possible because government/NTPC too has some stake in the matter. More over Mukhesh is "trying to portray the dispute as one between RNRL and the government rather than one between RIL and RNRL" due to government's decision on the gas price at $4.21. So, there is a three way struggle between Mukhesh, Anil and the government. There is no doubt that in apex court's verdict, government's apathy towards making sound policy framework on natural gas will be exposed and if there are going to be some radical changes in government's policies on natural gas in the near future, it shouldn't surprise anyone.

Ambanis conviction to uphold their father's values
Apart from this pricing issue, Ambani brothers have a long way to go. Handing over the empire to her sons, Kokilaben Ambani had said, "I am confident that both Mukesh and Anil, will resolutely uphold the values of their father and work towards protecting and enhancing value for over three million shareholders of the Reliance Group, which has been the foundational principle on which my husband built India's largest private sector enterprise." However, the way things are going, the questions are being raised over their conviction to uphold the values set by their father.

Right to Education - Free for Children, Compulsory for the State

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Almost a decade after the idea of "Right to Education" was mooted bySupreme court (Unni Krishnan vs State of Andhra Pradesh, 1993) the BJP led NDA government had brought a constitutional amendment in 2002 making education a fundamental right. A new article (21-A) was inserted in Part III of the constitution. But a "suitable legislation" was needed to give effect and make this fundamental right a reality. After a long wait of seven years, right to education bill is finally passed by both houses of the parliament. "Now it is a constitutional right for the child. It is the obligation and compulsion of state governments and the central government to provide that education." The very idea behind making education a fundamental right is that, if anyone is deprived of this right, concerned party can sue the government under Article 32 (for violation of fundamental right by govt.) and can get justice directly from supreme court (Article 32 - Right to constitutional remedies -  is available only in the case of Fundamental rights).

Though Education is a concurrent subject (meaning providing education is the responsibility of both central and state govts), "this legislation is intended not to interfere with the state government's attempts to provide elementary education. More over, there is a provision to provide elementary education, as far as possible, in the mother tongue of the child. The law would ensure that the child got free, compulsory and quality education by qualified teachers.[The Hindu]"

What does the legislation say?
The legislation clearly spells out,
  • Duties of appropriate government, local authorities and parents.
  • Responsibilities of teachers and schools.
  • The procedure to be followed in setting up curriculum and evaluation.
  • How to protect child's right.
  • Power of governments to make rules.
Section 21 of the bill makes it obligatory for the school to constitute a "School Management Committee" consisting of the elected representatives of the local authority, parents or guardians of children admitted in such school and teachers. The committee will be responsible for preparing a 'School development plan' that would be the basis for plans and grants to be made by the appropriate Government or local authority. Also, the legislation speaks about monitoring of child's right to education and redressal of grievances. The bill has even taken care of giving child a right to be transfer to other schools in appropriate circumstances.

What are the main Features of the bill?
  1. Free and compulsory education to all children of India in the 6 to 14 age group;
  2. No child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until completion of elementary education;
  3. A child who completes elementary education (upto class 8) shall be awarded a certificate;
  4. Calls for a fixed student-teacher ratio;
  5. Will apply to all of India except Jammu and Kashmir;
  6. Provides for 25 percent reservation for economically disadvantaged communities in admission to Class One in all private schools;
  7. School teachers will need adequate professional degree within five years or else will lose job;
  8. School infrastructure (where there is problem) to be improved in three years, else recognition cancelled;
  9. Financial burden will be shared between state and central government.[source]
Also, No school can collect capitation fee and subject children or their parents to any form of screening. In case a school collects the capitation fee, it can be fined upto 10 times the amount. And, if tests or interviews are conducted, a school can be fined Rs.25,000 for the first violation and Rs. 50,000 for every subsequent violation.

What are the issues raised by critics?
Disabled Rights Group (DRG), an organisation working for the differently-abled people, alleged that the current form of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2008 had left out children with disabilities while defining the "disadvantaged" group. But, If one looks at the legislation "in it's entirety", its conspicuous that state govt has "obligations" to include differently abled children. That is what HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said in the parliament. "When we frame the model rules for the implementation of the legislation, we will ensure that children suffering from disabilities must be included among the disadvantaged children," the minister said. "This would be the first time in India that disabled children would be integrated in the school system." More over, the minister said there was another legislation of the 1990s that spoke of equal opportunities and this "is being amended to include certain differently abled categories in that legislation". More over, no government can take a risk of ignoring differently-abled cildren. So this concern will be addressed adequately.

Another major concern has been on financial requirement of the gigantic task. The minister's team is going to work with 13th Finance commission before completion of its term in October this year. Since the  implementation of Right to Education is a concurrent subject and also a fundamental right, the 13th finance commission will be compelled to recommend necessary grants-in-aid for this task. More over, government will be under immense pressure to provide funds since Right to education is now a fundamental right.

Also, concern related to teacher's training, quality of teaching, school infrastructure etc have been adequately addressed in the legislation itself.

The way forward
The Supreme court had observed that, "Right to education is implicit in and flows from the right to life guaranteed by Article 21. That the right to education has been treated as one of transcendental importance in the life of an individual [and] has been recognized not only in this country since thousands of years, but all over the world. without education being provided to citizens of this country, the objectives set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution cannot be achieved. The Constitution would fail."

This bill alone cannot make India a great knowledge center - the vision set by our forefathers - but this will certainly be the first step towards achieving that objective. The minister and his government and also the citizen have a huge responsibility to move forward and make progress in secondary and higher education also. The recent report submitted by Prof. Yashpal Committe is another visionary document and if implemented, we may see some fundamental change in the higher education system. Mr.Sibal is keen on implementing Prof. Yashpal report which is definitely a good news. He has taken a big step towards making India a knowledge hub. Only time can tell us if this big step can one day change the lives around.

Read More:
  1. Right To Education bill to make India a knowledge hub.
  2. Parliament passes landmark education bill. - The Hindu
  3. Draft of Right to Education Bill.
  4. Right to education law to benefit disabled children too.
  5. NGO opposes Education Bill in current form.
  6. Supreme Court's landmark judgment on Right to Education.
  7. Education In India - wiki.

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.