Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Regional moot on judicial activism launched

A two-day India-Pakistan regional workshop on ‘Judicial Activism, Public Interest Litigation and Human Rights’ was launched on Tuesday with sharing views by judiciary activists, retired judges and renowned lawyers from both the countries on the status of public interest litigations.

The conference, jointly organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) and the Hamdard University School of Law in collaboration with the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) India at a hotel, was attended by lawyers, civil society activists, retired judges and the media.

Indian senior lawyer Colin Gonsalves, Mukul Sinha Advocate, Nijhari Sinha Advocate, Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, Faisal Siddiqui, Piler’s Karamat Ali, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Chairman Muhammad Ali Shah and others spoke on the occasion.

Justice (retd) AK Ganguly from India and Justice (retd) Rashid A Razvi from Pakistan gave detailed overviews of the constitutional and judicial systems in their respective countries and discussed the status of public interest litigation and constraints at judicial level.

Ganguly gave examples of revolutionary changes brought in public interest cases in different countries of South Asia, while Razvi gave examples of prominent judgments and amendments in the Pakistan judiciary to understand the public interest activism within judiciary and impacts of increasing religion extremism.

He criticised military adventurism, which badly affected the judicial system. He lauded the role of lawyers and other civil society activists in Pakistan for restoration of the judiciary.

He said that after restoration of the judiciary in 2009, the country witnessed that the cases of missing persons and bonded labour were taken up by the judiciary, which provided an important forum to the citizens, especially the marginalised people.

Talking about the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners, Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid said the judicial committee has helped the prisoners on both sides by visiting their jails.

He said that there were 437 Indian prisoners in Malir Jail Karachi, of which 284 are those who have completed their sentences, but they were still in jails because of bureaucratic hurdles. It is a violation of the constitutions of both India and Pakistan, he added.

He said that when he visited Indian prisons to meet Pakistani prisoners to confirm their nationality, it took a few minutes, but because of bureaucracy, they had been languishing in jails for years. He urged the judiciary members to play their role and make the process easy.

The lawyer couple Mukul Sinha Advocate and his wife Nijhari Sinha Advocate gave a joint presentation on judicial intervention in cases of communal conflicts in India.

They said that if any party wanted to get votes of minority, the counter political parties use majority votes and in this way communal conflict rises.

In this situation, it depends on the active judiciary how it plays its role to avoid communal conflicts and resolve the issue of minority, they added.

Colin Gonsalves from India said that revolutionary changes in laws and public interest cases were being taken. According to him, developed countries, even Europe and the US, could not understand the public interest cases, but the situation was different in developing countries.

He said: “In India, 40 percent people earn below PKR 100 a day. Due to this, there is malnutrition and poverty. A court could give orders, but it could not implement it. It is the responsibility of the state to implement the orders. Tracing history, there is a tradition that prisoners used to write letters to the courts, and the judges would turn those letters into petitions for hearing to provide relief to the victims.”

The World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Bank (WB) and multinational companies force the governments to breach their own laws just to safeguard the interests of their organisations, he added.

He said that apart from this, the private sector was being promoted in the education, health and water sectors. “In this situation, how can poor people survive, as their children are even victims of malnourishment?” he asked. He also opposed public-private partnership, terming it a dangerous trend for the marginalised people.

Piler’s Karamat Ali said that since 1971, the situation of the people living in Pakistan and India had been adverse, especially the fishermen who were being victimised by the neighbouring governments to keep their political rivalry intact.

He said that in Pakistan, there was no voice of the common people. “Those associated with trade unions do not have stronger voice to protect their rights. There were issues facing the minority and the women in the society. If we all want to end terrorism and extremism, we should come forward and fight together,” he added.

Talking about the public interest litigation (PIL) situation in Pakistan, Faisal Siddiqi Advocate said the people were tired of filing petitions to resolve their issues. He said seeds of PIL were sown in 1972. “The Darshan Masih case was the first PIL case in Pakistan,” he added.

Talking about judicial activism, he said that when martial law was imposed in 1977, the entire judiciary kept silent till 1988; similarly, in 1999, when Musharraf took over, the judiciary was divided.

“But the citizens’ mobilisation came to surface in 2007. There was massive growth of the media after 2007. Gradually, the change came to surface in public interest litigations,” he added.

He said the law might be a part of the solution of the people’s basic problems. Pro-labour judges were described as anti-industry judges, he added.

He said judges could not implement their judgments because it was the responsibility of the state to implement the orders. For example, in the Karachi violence case and the Balochistan case, the judiciary passed the order, but the state did not implement it, he added.

Trade unionist Nasir Mansoor, Javed Qazi Advocate, Pakistan People’s Party leader Taj Haider, human rights activist Zulfiqar Halepoto and others also took part in the discussion during the question-answer session.

Prashant Bhushan Advocate from India said the culture of suo motu in India was rare. He said that there was a need to make systematic changes to protect the rights of the citizens.

He said that it was observed that the police were pressurised by political ministers, using them for their interests, instead of allowing the police to safeguard the rights of the people.

When the government failed to formulate legislation, the courts gave judgments; but for the past seven years, their orders are yet to be enforced, he added.

PFF Chairman Muhammad Ali Shah gave a presentation on prisoners’ issue, saying that the issue of detaining fishermen in Pakistan and India started surfacing in 1965.

But later in 1985, both the countries exchanged fishermen under a mutual agreement and those released travelled to their countries via their fishing vessels, he added.

He said that later, the issue became further complicated for the fishermen due to restrictions. “The colour of the sea is the same. There is no clear demarcation of sea border. Fishing boats sometimes cross mistakenly and as a result, the crew are caught and put in jails, he added.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Discovering – and encouraging – 'bourgeois dignity'

I have just read a most remarkable book, “Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World,” by Deirdre McCloskey, a distinguished professor of – get this – economics, history, English and communications at the University of Illinois, Chicago. It is part of a body of work making great waves in three academic disciplines. It is worth noting that Professor Deidre McCloskey has for some time been among the most revered of the big thinkers in economics, and was so when she was known as Don McCloskey. That is the focus of another of her books.

The main thesis of this book is that all the explanations of the explosion of economic growth that occurred about 300 years ago are inadequate. You see, from the beginning of recorded time until the 17th century, the average human lived daily on $3 worth of goods and services (in today's dollars). This means uncertain meals, two or perhaps three sets of clothes, and a short life lived within a hovel. Think of eastern Afghanistan or Pakistan, or Papua New Guinea today.

About 300 years ago, in the western world this changed rapidly so that within three generations economic growth in western Europe and North America had exceeded that of all previous recorded and archaeological history.

Several theories try to explain this. Some have failed spectacularly, such as those offered by Karl Marx, others explain only elements of that historical shift, such as modern economic-growth theory. McCloskey argues (and I abbreviate dangerously) that sometime during the 1700's attitudes changed in a way that accepted a set of values, which have since been labeled as bourgeois. These include honesty, industry or effort, hope and faith in the future. McCloskey argues that a belief in these values manifested itself in a few places in western Europe, and through observed changes to language and rhetoric (she cites Jane Austen's novels for example), gave what we might call the middle classes a dignity that had beforehand been reserved only for the nobility.

Once liberty was mixed with the dignity of what we might call middle-class toil, an economic renaissance emerged. She recounts the spread of growth along with this rhetoric over the past two centuries. More important, McCloskey outlines where it continues to emerge in places where bourgeois dignity mixes with freedom: in India, China and Africa.

Like truly great intellectual innovations, it is simultaneously brilliant and once revealed so utterly simple that one is left wondering why it took so long to uncover. It is one of the great intellectual achievements of the new century. It should leave us asking some important questions. If the encouragement of a young Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison or Bill Gates is key to economic growth, how are we doing as a nation? Is the sort of industriousness that McCloskey argues propelled us from great poverty to great wealth still common or is it increasingly derided in popular culture? Has the rhetoric dignifying hard work been supplanted by valorization of easy riches and effortless talent? These are questions to ask one another after reading this marvelous book.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mumbai doctors dole out tips on healthy living

More than 300 women turned up at Mulund and Vashi branches of Fortis Hospital over the weekend to attend the interactive sessions and take tips on ways to stay fit and healthy.

The sessions were followed by free health camps, organized by TOI and facilitated by the hospital.

Speaking to the gathering on Saturday, Dr Kaushal Malhan, orthopaedic surgeon with the hospital, told the participants that osteoporosis can also be fatal. "Nearly 20% patients can die because of osteoporosis," he said. "30% patients are left disabled for life, 40% cannot walk as they used to and 80% lose at least one aspect of their daily independence," he added.

The women present for the session were explained the importance of measuring bone density too. "Up to the age of 30 years, the bone mass can be increased with the help of well-balanced diet, calcium and Vitamin D. However, the foundation of the bone is more or less made by this time. Which means that what happens to the bones in the later years depends on this foundation," said Dr Malhan.

This was followed by a talk about healthy heart. Dr Hasmukh Rawat, cardiologist with Fortis Hospital, provided women some simple tips. "Oil is the most important part that is in the hands of women. Using olive oil is a very good option. Families should keep in mind the poly unsaturated fats (PUFA) while eating. Apart from that brisk walking at least three times a week for 30-45 minutes, keep an active lifestyle, which will help avoid heart problems," he said.

Gynaecologist Dr Bindhu KS made similar suggestions during her talk at Fortis Hospital in Vashi on Sunday. She explained how eating right and physical exercise still remain the golden rules even though a lot has changed about Indian families. "Earlier, pregnancies were by chance but now they are mostly by choice. What women need to know is that they should remain fit even before conception and not only during pregnancy for long-term health benefits," she said.

Women, mostly between the age group of 30 to 55 years, were also given a low down on ways to prevent breast and cervical cancer and how self-awareness is the key by gynaecologist Dr Vandana Gawdi.

Gawdi also said that women should opt for the vaccine that offers protection against cervical cancer. "The best age to take the vaccine is between 9 and 11 years. But women can take it till the age of 45," she said, adding that India still loses 200 women to cervical cancer every day.

The women turned up for consultations with physiotherapists and cardiologists, checking blood pressure, BMI, ECG and bone densitometry.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Tirah valley: The land of pure hashish

Trekking through the secret, narrow passes in the mountains of Tirah, Landikotal and Jamrud tehsils of Khyber Agency, Haji Zubair Afridi and his aides smuggle goatskins in a pickup through Kacharo Kosa. Hidden underneath it are kilos of hashish – what Afridi refers to as his “black gold.”

Their final destination is a clandestine warehouse in Jamrud Bazaar, where Zubair exchanges the animal skin for bundles of cash. He hands out Rs5,000 to the pickup driver and Rs3,000 to a teenage assistant. The rough terrain, he says, has nothing much to offer except for the unending clashes between rival groups. It is, however, rich in abundance as far as hashish is concerned.

The moderate climate and red soil make it a child’s play for Tirah Maidan’s local farmers to grow cannabis. The crop’s stems are hung for two weeks to dry, after which a thin cloth is used to carefully thresh the plant to extract the dust power called “garda.”

Converting garda into consumable hashish is a long process. It must be wrapped inside a fresh goatskin for as long as three months until it turns into a greenish black substance. One skin can contain around 10 kilogrammes of garda.

The skin provides the oil needed to solidify ingredients, said Nisar Afridi, a veteran hashish dealer. The longer the garda is kept inside the skin, the better it tastes. June, July and August are the best months to do this, but direct sunlight should be avoided so the final product is not dry, he added.

Hashish is supplied to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as well as Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi where consumers are willing to pay nearly 10 times more than those in Jamrud, Nisar said.

“We don’t transport it. We just sell it in the agency,” he said, adding that people buy it from them and smuggle it through the Karkhano check post on mules, horses and in vehicles.

Taj Muhammad, a real estate agent and builder in Hayatabad, while loading his cigarette with moist green hashish said that if the hashish is dry, it loses its effect and gives a headache. He has been addicted to it for 15 years and believes it is less harmful than tobacco.

There are no official statistics on total hashish production in the valley. A tribesman familiar with the matter, however, said that a banned outfit controls the price and is heavily invested in the business. In November and December last year, a kilogramme was being sold for Rs65,000 while in June, July and August, the supply increased, dropping the price down to Rs45,000. There are about 250 shops selling hashish in the Wazir Dandh area, Jamrud.

Wahid Gul Afridi, a khasadar force official, is known for recovering thousands of kilogrammes of hashish and has been especially posted at a checkpoint to do just this.

“My instincts can catch hashish dealers, even when the drugs are hidden in vehicles,” he said, adding that he can sense traffickers by their “strange looks”. Gul claims that his resolve has not been broken by the numerous bribes offered to him. “I do this work to get a promotion; I don’t do it for bribes.”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Teens Prefer Text Messages for Health Tips

The world has set new trends for teenagers in every age and era, so why this age be any different. Mobile phones are an essential part of life these days and teenagers spending most of their time glued to the technological device is a common sight to see. What might surprise many is the fact that every teenager receives about an average of 3,417 text messages every month or as estimated 114 messages in a day as per a US survey.

When the technological trends are clubbed with health notes to prevent and control diseases, a grand blend is procured. Recently an idea to start promoting health tidbits to teens using text messages was coupled with a report prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which advices students on the consumption of fruits and vegetables. It informs students to consume fruits and vegetables on an average of 1.2 times per day as opposed to the prior recommended of five times. These messages when sent through SMS have created a major impact on the students who are highly inclined to message as reported by TOI.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour reports, a study done by the University of Arizona that in order to motivate and inform teens about the reality of today's adolescent lifestyles via text messages is ideal to reach out to the obsolete teenagers.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tweet anti-fireworks tips, DOH urges public

Health officials are trying a new approach in their efforts to discourage the public from using fireworks this holiday season: crowdsourcing.
National Epidemiology Center head Enrique Tayag urged tweeps to send in their tips with the hashtags #newYear, #DOH, #gangnam, and #IwasPaputok.
"Mag-post po kayo nang inyong mga tips for a safer #newYear OR show the nation ur version of #gangnam #IwasPaputok and let us #DOH it together," Tayag said on his Twitter account.
Early replies included a stricter implementation of the "no fireworks" policy on the streets.
Meanwhile, an ecological group warned revelers planning to celebrate Christmas and New Year with a bang of the consequences of fireworks on the environment and health.
The EcoWaste Coalition said recent tests have showed the presence of heavy metals in some firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices.
“On top of the deafening noise and unsightly trash, the explosion of firecrackers and fireworks creates a toxic cocktail of chemicals that is indisputably bad for public health and the environment,” said group campaigner Aileen Lucero.
It said its tests of some fireworks bought from Divisoria yielded significant levels of heavy metals such as antimony, barium, chromium, copper and lead, and even mercury.
According to the group, these metals are often added to the black powder mixture of charcoal, sulfur, potassium or sodium nitrate to create the desired sparkles and colors.
The group also noted none of the samples provided details about their chemical ingredients, much less their heavy metal contents.