In Saradah Cauldron
When the Supreme Court, after eleven hearings spanning about ten months' time, ordered a CBI investigation into the Saradah scam, Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, commented that she hardly cared for the CBI because 'I am safe'. When a person, who considers herself absolutely innocent of the matter, says 'I am safe', the words themelves become suggestive. They suggest that the lady had earlier fallen into trouble and now she has come out of it. To put the matter somewhat coarsely, this means that she had been able to destroy the evidence that might implicate her or her men. It has been revealed after the CBI's interrogation of Sudipto Sen, the Saradah chief that money used to be given to 'influential' persons on the basis of hand-witten orders of Sen, but these orders are missing. Evidently they have been destroyed. One may form one's opinion about the motive of destruction.
Besides, a large amount of non-monetary assets of Sudipto Sen, hitherto untraced, has been found out. The fact that these assets have been traced by the CBI and the ED, and not by the Special Investigation Team appointed by Mamata Banerjee's government, is proof enough that the investigation by the SIT was merely a show. The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate, at the time of writing, have reportedly got the names of quite a few influential persons, whom they may interrogate. Justice demands that these influential persons be traced and duly punished, because they have embezzled public money. Mr Kunal Ghosh, MP was arrested after he demanded a CBI probe. Mamata Banerjee's shameless and spurious defence of him when the matter was first brought to light can be recalled by all those who do not have a vested interest and /or are not unconditional Mamata loyalists. It is noteworthy that most of the depositors in Saradah chit fund were from the countryside of West Bengal, and it is here that the impact of the scam was more severely felt. It could not however influence the poll results, because what the ruling party had lost in terms of goodwill was adequately made up for by its rigging machinery, helped by the 'active passivity' of the Election Commission. The final outcome of the CBI probe, however, remains to be seen.
A Reader, Kolkata
Delhi University is caught in a fix for its own misdoings. The University Authority has no respect for dissenting opinion and has been in a hurry to push its agenda of Four Year Undergraduate Program (FYUP). Most people do not see how it was to revamp the existing system of education excepting to point out the undefined differences here and there. In this regard the University Authority in general has been oblivious of the views of thinking minds including those of the Students Unions and Teachers' Associations. The beauty is that they always manage to find supporters in all sections of the community in a manner akin to family-owned political parties. It is interesting to see how despite their tail having been clipped by Nature, humans can still wag their tails so well; a reminiscence of evolution perhaps. So what shall people do? The least one can is to have faith and respect in each other's view point and keep a room for dissent. The decision making bodies need to be visionaries and stake-holders in the University affairs and not a hand-picked someone. A University is an autonomous institution and that brings to it a lot of responsibility of charting its own agenda and finding its own destiny. It should therefore be given the right: to elect its own guide. Whatever one might say, the FYUP had been passed through the University's statutory bodies like the Academic Council which retain some semblance of participation and democracy unto them. If it was passed through stormy discussions and by voice vote, it might still be invalid. Under the given circumstances, the Vice Chancellor would be doing a good job by tendering his resignation from his position if the UGC does not withdraw its orders.
As a course correction measure, now comes the University Grants Commission whose chairpersons have, at least in recent times, been selected following debatable procedures more than their credential as a University Teacher. Despite all, it is beyond the domains of the UGC Chairperson to issue orders to a University in matters of design of an academic program, under-graduate or post-graduate. The UGC can certainly issue guidelines for reference of operations of special goal-oriented programs which it can certainly monitor but has not been doing. The premier universities in the country, DU being no exception, have been defining their priorities often at diametric variance from the defined goals of the program. During the 11th 5-year Plan, there was a major funding by UGC under the head "Capacity Building". The grants have been happily usurped by the universities and now they resist any increase in the number of students to be admitted under various programs. The situation of the number of additional positions of Faculty and their recruitment has been similar without any monitoring or review by the UGC while the honorable chairman of UGC has overstepped his domains by issuing an order to the University to implement its proposed program in a certain manner. He would be well within his rights to give his observations and ask the University to review its proposed FYUP policy and revert to the original format for the sake of uniformity or another stronger reason. It sets a wrong precedence if UGC starts ordering a University and is bound to have its consequences. Faulting twice would not correct the course of the University.
Pramod Yadava, JNU
Binding International Norm
The Human Rights Council just adopted a resolution presented by Ecuador and South Africa that establishes an intergovernmental working group with the mandate of developing an international legally binding instrumert to regulate the activities of transnational corporations.
"This is a historic decision that can potentially contribute to end the impunity that transnational corporations too often enjoy for the human rights violations committed, in particular in developing countries, and ensure access to justice for the victims of their activities", said Melik Ozden, Director of the Europe-Third World Centre (CETIM), an organizition based in Geneva that has been fighting for many years for new binding norms.
The western countries have attempted till the last minute to oppose this resolution using all means available to pressure other member states of the Human Rights Council. The vote was requested by the US delegation. The resolution was finally adopted by 20 votes in favor, 14 against and 13 abstentions. All western states members of the Human Rights Council voted against the resolution. The great majority of developing countries, including most of African states as well as China, India and Russia, voted in favor.
"We can only regret the non-constructive attitude of western countries that choose too privilege the interests of transnational corporations over the protection of human rights", added M Ozden. "They have also already announced that they will not participate in the work of the intergovernmental working group."
The working group will held its first session in 2015 to define the elements, the scope, the nature and the form of the future international instrument. "This is only the beginning of the process, but that represents already a big victory for the peoples of the world, and in particular for the victims in developing countries, that have been demanding binding norms to end corporate impunity since many years", highlighted M Ozden.
While TNCs have a number of binding laws, mechanisms and instruments available to defend their interests, only voluntary codes of conducts and soft laws exist to control their impacts on human rights and ensure access to justice for the victims of their activities. "It was time for the Human Rights Council to act to correct this asymmetry in the international system that affects primarily the poorest and weakest countries", said M Ozden.
Since several months hundreds of civil society organizations and social movements in the Global North as in the Global South are mobilizing to support this initiative. A number of them gathered in Geneva for a week of mobilization from 23 to 27 June. Many delegates from the Global South and representatives of the victims came to demand new binding norms to end corporate impunity. The CETIM has been strongly involved together with the Global campaign to dismantle corporate power and stop impunity. The cases of Chevron in Ecuador, Shell in Nigeria, Coca Cola in Colombia, Glencore-Xtrata in the Philippines and Oceana Gold in El Salvador, among others, have been presented to demonstrate the need for a new international instrument.
"In 60 years of oil exploitation in the Niger Delta, loca1 communities have known no rest", said Godwin Ojo, of Friends of the Earth Nigeria. "Shell has systematically violated human rights and destroyed the environment as well as the livelihoods of communities but neither international campaigns nor national laws and regulation agencies have been able to end those practices. This level of impunity demonstrate the need for a binding international instrument that forces TNCs to respect human rights."
"In 26 years of oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian amazon, Chevron has polluted more than 450'000 hectares of one of the planet's richest biodiversity regions, destroying the living and subsistence of its inhabitants" explained Pablo Fajardo, defensor and representative of the victims of Chevron in Ecuador. "And after 21 years of litigation and in spite of a sentence of the Ecuadorian justice, Chevron still refuses to pay. And in the meanwhile, the victims of its activities in Ecuador are still waiting for justice and compensation", he added. "Voluntary codes of conduct have clearly shown their limits, only a binding international instrument can end the impunity of TNCs."
"Dozens of union leaders are murdered each year in Calombia with complete impunity" said Javier Correa, president of the union Sinaltrainal in Colombia. "In the case of Sinaltrainal, 23 of our affiliates working for Coca Cola or Nestle have been murdered in the past years. And those TNCs use complex schemes of subsidiaries, subcontractors and franchises to escape justice. The Colombian justice is not doing its job and courts in the US and Switzerland, where those two TNCs have their headquarters, refuse to hear the cases", he added. "Only binding international norms will enable us to hold TNCs accountable for their crimes in Colombia".
The journey will still be long but today, and after nearly 40 years of discussions and failed attempts at the United Nations, the process is finally launched The CETIM would like to congratulate the governments of Ecuador and South Africa for their leadership, as well as all other states that voted in favor of that resolution in spite of the numerous pressures received.
Europe—Third World Centre
Vol. 47, No. 5, Aug 10 - 16, 2014