Sunday, February 20, 2011

Assam ministers’ wives are crorepati

Sample this. A senior minister’s wife in the Tarun Gogoi government owns 17 plots of land. Wives of at least four ministers in Assam are crorepatis, including one who is a second-time MP.

Assam has put these and other details of assets owned by the wives of as many as 13 of the 19 ministers, including the chief minister, on its official website. Gogoi and his ministers had declared their assets on January 15.
The net worth of Gogoi’s wife Dolly is Rs 36,72,932, which includes two plots of land worth Rs 13.36 lakh, jewellery worth Rs 1,24,650, bank deposits worth Rs 5,29,868, and a Swift car valued at Rs 5,43,252. She has Rs 17,72,367 as investments in shares and NSC, the website said.
Chief Minister Gogoi’s own declared assets were worth Rs 35.90 lakh.
Interestingly, the declaration of Malati Barman, wife of State Revenue Minister Bhumidhar Barman, includes 17 plots of land in Nalbari apart from a house each in Guwahati and Nalbari. This is in addition to 14 plots her husband showed in his declaration last month.
The declarations, made public on Wednesday, show at least four spouses of ministers in the Gogoi Cabinet are crorepatis. Rani Narah, wife of Culture and Sports Minister Bharat Chandra Narah, tops the chart with assets worth Rs 3.84 crore. Rani Narah, a Lok Sabha member from the Congress, has land, houses and flats in five places including one worth Rs 1.90 crore in Delhi.
Aziza Nazrul, wife of Food and Civil Supplies Minister Nazrul Islam, has total assets worth Rs 1.65 crore. Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, wife of Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is worth Rs 1.44 crore, which includes a flat worth Rs 37.20 lakh in New Delhi and a house in Guwahati worth Rs 39.61 lakh.
The net worth of the assets of Nazreen Hussain, wife of Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain, is Rs 1.08 crore. That includes land worth Rs 17 lakh and house worth Rs 31 lakh

ICIC Bank fined for causing credit card agony

The Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum here has directed ICICI Lombard General Insurance Company Limited to credit an amount of Rs 19,049.08 in the savings bank account of one of its account holders, Kanayal Khatwani, along with seven per cent interest on the amount from the date the amount was debited from his account. The company has also been ordered to refund him Rs 2,210 illegally recovered from him, along with seven per cent interest from the date of recovery until payment. The forum also directed Healthcops, ICICI Lombard General Insurance Company Ltd. and ICICI Bank’s credit card division to pay Khatwani, jointly and severally, Rs 2,000 each for mental agony and Rs 2,000 towards litigation cost.
ICICI Bank had issued Khatwani a credit card in February 2005. On February 16, 2007, he was telephonically offered a healthcare policy free for two years, after which it would be chargeable. He accepted the offer and received a health policy from Healthcops, with an insured sum of Rs 3,00,000 and the period of insurance from February 22, 2007 to February 21, 2008. To his surprise, Khatwani received an ICICI credit card statement dated May 21, 2007, showing the total amount due as Rs 2,728.55 and reflecting EMI interest, principal, late payment fee, etc.
After Khatwani protested saying it was breach of the terms of the offer, his health policy was cancelled. But he was yet sent “dues”, inclusive of late fees, interest etc.
Subsequently, an agent visited Khatwani’s house and forced a female family member to pay him Rs 2,210. On November 24, 2007, Khatwani issued a legal notice. In response, the bank sent him a statement in February 2008 showing an unpaid outstanding dues of Rs 17,117.40 in respect of his credit card. The unpaid dues were further raised to Rs 19,049.08 and these were debited from his savings bank account.In July 2008, Khatwani and Consumer Education and Research Society (CERS) filed a case with forum and the latter recently issued the order in favour of Khatwani.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Egypt's revolution will not go home, youth groups say

Pro-democracy protesters have vacated Tahrir Square, but they insist the revolution will continue until its all of its major goals are met, creating a fully democratic Egypt As a host of goups, youth movements and organizations, created before, during or after the outbreak of the 25 Januaray Revolution, rush to expand and develop their organizational and political capacities, there seems to be a consensus among them that the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak is merely a beginning, and insist that the revolution's goals are still to be realized. Foremost on their agendas is the abolishing of the infamous 30-year-long state of emergency, the immediate release of all political prisoners, full freedom to form political parties and trade unions, and the formation of a national unity government of independents and technocrats that excludes the former ruling National Democratic Party.

Having willingly vacated Tahrir Square following Mubarak's resignation, the groups would like to see Friday continue as a day of protest, until such a time as their demands are met in full. Yet another "Million Man" demonstration has been called for tomorrow, 18 February, to celeberate the success of the revolution and ensure that it continues until democracy is achieved. The demonstration will take place in the now world-famous Tahrir square in downtown Cairo.
Dozens of small initiatives and groups have also been formed recently. One of these is the Revolution Youth Coalition (RYC) which combines the 6th of April movement, Freedom and Justice movement, Muslim Brotherhood youth, the Democratic Front Party youth, the Youth Movement in Support of El Baradei,  and the youth of the National Association for Change.
Khaled Abdel Hamid of the RYC believes that they will continue to protest every Friday until their demands are met. He adds that the outbreak of labour strikes is keeping the revolution alive and driving it towards complete success.
Mohammed Waked, a leftist activist and member of the Revolutionary Socialists, agrees with Hamid. “Labour protests are powerful because the government can neither buy them nor oppress them. So there will be more protests and they will increase and spread from one company to another, it will spread to different sectors too," says Waked, "Now it is economic but it will be political soon.”
Labour activists have been very busy lately, calling for a new independent labour union and the abolishment of the existing pro-government union.
Following the fall of Mubarak, strikes and protests spread to almost every sector in Egypt, both public and private.
Widely known Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fatah coordinates meetings for the newly formed "Professionals' coalition", which includes Doctors Without Borders, the 9 March University Professors Movement and Cinema Professionals, among others. He takes part in other initiatives as well and says “Most of these movements don’t work together, but when you see the documents and demands they come up with, you see they have a consensus on certain things like the immediate release of political prisoners, canceling the emergency law and a technocratic national unity government for at least nine months or a year until proper elections are held.” Alaa Abdel Fatah also shared his list of suggested technocrats for this new government on his blog
Other initiatives include one group that is forming a leftist party. “This has to be done, because often in Tahrir you could see a lot of leftists who don’t want to join the (legal) Tagammu party. Also, it is very important to have a leftist voice alongside the strong liberal and Islamist voices coming up,” says Elham Aidarous, a pending member of the yet-to-be leftist party.
However, many of the people who participated in the revolution and camped out in Tahrir square until the regime was forced to step down are not politically active at all.
“Many of them are middle and upper-middle class with no political experience, but they all aspire to a democratic and liberal political atmosphere,” says Waked, who works with many of these initiatives.
Aidarous agrees with Waked, but believes that in about two months time many of these people may choose to join either a liberal or a leftist party once they become more politically aware.
Abdel Hamid of the YRC agrees with Aidarous that this is how politics typically works, and is against any party that wants to hijack the revolution. "I am against any party that wants to call itself the 25 January party, or Tahrir revolution party, because the revolution is for everyone,” says Abdel Hamid, in reference to two parties currently being formed. He also accused the people setting up these parties of not having a clear political agenda, and recommends they get experience in politics first before forming a political party.
Finally, there are local committees to protect the revolution in Maadi, Helwan, Boulak and other neighborhoods in Cairo. These committees conduct community awareness campaigns in their neighbourhoods to make sure the revolution persists until its demands are met and a true democracy is established.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Defining the Tunisian Revolution

The success of a throng of Tunisian protesters who toppled Ben Ali, the seemingly unshakable dictator, caught the world off guard. Events quickly unfolded after a street vendor in the town of Sidi Bouzid named Mohamed Bouazizi, disgruntled by a lack of economic opportunity, committed the ultimate act of self-immolation that sparked nation-wide protests. These were met with deadly confrontations as police tried to stifle the uprising and the government manipulated the media to allege that the protestors had terrorist motivations.
During the dissolution of the government and parliament, the military remained the only institution the people trusted to assert control and provide security. On January 17, the incumbent Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced a temporary national unity government. Elections were set for 60 days hence.
Despite concessions made by this interim government, a crisis of trust continues to reign over the people. The government's fate remains uncertain as hundreds of people arrived in Tunis from rural areas on January 24, calling for the removal of all former government officials. This sea change in power raises several questions about the root causes of this extraordinary protest, the impact it will have on the region as a whole, and whether the theory that Arab civil societies are too inept to generate real change within their own governments has been finally disproved.
Defining the Revolution
Analysts have rushed to make sense of Tunisia's unforeseen popular revolt. The media have emphasized the economic discontent caused by unemployment, poverty, and high food prices. Others have noted the role social networks have played, characterizing the uprising as an instance of online activism and hailing it as a "Twitter revolution."
Elizabeth Dickinson has christened the uprising a "WikiLeaks revolution," speculating on the catalytic force of the WikiLeaks cables. These cables discussed the corruption of the ruling elite, the repression of journalists and social movements, and the country's economic crisis.
This extraordinary uprising is being seen as the possible start of a domino effect in the Arab world. Its potential resonance has pushed pundits to draw comparisons with Algeria in the early 1990s, the Iranian revolution, and Iran's more recent Green Movement. These speculations have some validity, yet lose sight of the specificity of the Tunisian context and risk invalidating its spontaneous and organic nature.
An Endogenous Revolution
The Tunisian uprising is a case of endogenous revolution, an event that occurred because of the particularities of the Tunisian situation. The smoldering discontent that Tunisians felt toward their authoritarian regime was only awaiting Bouazizi's spark.
Ben Ali, the deposed president who has sought asylum in Saudi Arabia, came to power in 1987 after a coup against Habib Bourghuiba, the nationalist leader and first president who led the modernization of the country. Under Ali's leadership, the country continued with economic liberal and social reforms, which fostered a relatively developed infrastructure and several social and demographic gains. The Tunisian economy has averaged five percent GDP growth since the early 1990s. According to Pascal Boniface, of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations, the economic development of Ben Ali's early years in power helped to create a highly educated middle class.
What Tunisians gained in economic reforms they lost in political freedom, a trade of civil liberties for a "system that works" with a sustainable infrastructure, liberal economic reforms, decentralization, women's rights, and access to education. Expounding on the demographic behavior in Tunisia, French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd has emphasized the role of literacy, low fertility, and high rates of intermarriage as key to its democratic transition. While touting his role in achieving these gains to the nation and the West, Ben Ali ignored the repercussions on his nation's social fabric. Moreover, he underestimated the social consciousness and maturity of his own people
The West's unconditional backing of Tunisia's president, as an ally in the "war on terrorism" and an alternative to a potential Islamist threat, gave him more confidence domestically. This presumptuous attitude furthered his isolation from the people, as he surrounded himself by a coterie that recklessly took control. The corruption of the ruling cliques wrecked the banking and the financial sectors, curbing foreign investment and causing high unemployment among the educated youth.
As noted by the U.S. embassy cables from American diplomats, the kleptocrats within Ben Ali's clan coveted everything, challenging the economic, moral, and political values espoused in the people's slogan, "employment, liberty, and dignity." This corrupt elite took over the "Tunisian miracle," as former French President Jacques Chirac described the socio-economic policies of Tunisia. Growing discontent against Ben Ali's mafia and its repressive intelligence apparatus started undermining the popular consensus around trading political concessions for "a system that works."
Social dysfunction was obvious. The escalation of the popular mobilization was catalyzed by the repression of protesters, the shootings, and the killings, as well as a distrust of the media, which continued to propagate the ruling regime's propaganda. Ben Ali clearly had lost touch with popular sentiments, crossing the line when he accused protestors of being mere agitators. People overcame their fears and tapped into a shared memory of resistance to French colonial rule. Inspired by symbols of independence, protestors declared Bouazizi a martyr and the national anthem their slogan.
The U.S. Role
During the days of ruthless police suppression, the United States chose to remain silent. According to British journalist Yvonne Ridley, "Not one word of condemnation, not one word of criticism, not one word urging restraint came from Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton as live ammunition was fired into crowds of unarmed men, women, and children in recent weeks."
Only after the popular dethroning of Ben Ali did President Barack Obama come to applaud "the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people." He eventually asked the interim government "to respect human rights and to hold free and fair elections in the near future that reflect the true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people." In a similar vein, on January 23, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi to reiterate U.S. support for Tunisia's democratic transition.
Going forward, Tunisians will scrutinize the sincerity of these statements. The Obama administration's initial hesitation exposed its unease with this transformation. U.S. policy and its national-security strategy in the Arab world need reassessment. Tunisia's democratic impulse, as well as the uprising's reverberations in other Arab countries, presents challenges for U.S. policy and that of its authoritarian allies in the region

LIC crosses 2.5 cr policies target

Life Insurance Corporation today said it has crossed the landmark 2.5 crore policies in the current year as of January 29.

"LIC has completed 2,52,44,846 policies and received Rs 34,137.12 crore in First Premium Income in the current financial year," the country's largest insurer said in a statement here.
The ULIP Plans under the new IRDA guidelines helped boost the figures substantially, it said adding that the new business under the new ULIP Plans as of January 29 stood at 1,098,663 policies generating a premium of Rs 5136.25 crore.
The Corporation's Endowment Plus, launched on September 20, 2010, has garnered 1,017,560 policies with a First Premium Income of Rs 4,804.12 crore, in just over 4 months, it said.
Pension Plus, the only regular premium pension plan available in the market after introduction of new rules has brought in 81,103 policies with a First Premium of Rs 332.13 crore, it added