18-24 Jun, 2013
small world
Votebank politics
The Deshmukh-Chavan Battle over Latur Express

MUMBAI ~ The Latur Express, a train operated by the Central Railways from Mumbai to Latur in central Maharashtra, has triggered an ego clash between two Congress heavyweights. So much so that the matter has reached the doorstep of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, say sources in the party.

The tussle over the train began about five years ago between Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan, both former Maharashtra chief ministers. After Deshmukh passed away last year, the battle has been spearheaded by his son and political heir Amit Deshmukh, who is an MLA from Latur. Chavan is an MLA from Nanded, another Congress bastion.

The dispute centres around the train’s terminating point. Chavan wants the train to go up to Nanded. Deshmukh wants it to end at Latur. The train was flagged off in 2005 during Vilasrao Deshmukh’s chief ministerial tenure. In the absence of flights to central Maharashtra, this train is popular with VIPs from the region.

When Deshmukh was elevated to the Union Cabinet in 2009, Chavan took over the reins in Maharashtra. Citing public demand, he extended the train’s services till Nanded. That’s when the problems started. So packed was the train on its return journey from Nanded that when it reached Latur, people in its unreserved and second class compartments found it difficult to find seats.

While Chavan basked in his triumph, Deshmukh fumed. Complaints from his home base mounted. So he used his clout as a Union minister and ensured that the train terminated at Latur. People from Nanded called for a bandh. In response, Latur citizens took to the streets and ensured a bandh in the city this February. Dhananjay Bhemade, a hotelier from Latur, says, “There are many trains between Nanded and Mumbai. This train is very convenient to Latur.”

Chavan, who is currently out of favour at 10 Janpath, has vowed to get the route extended till Nanded again. Chavan and Amit Deshmukh were unavailable for comment.

Take Two
Spot the Crime
The fixing going on in the game played by the police to screw Sreesanth and Co

An extraordinary law like the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), or its late father, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act, is an admission of failure. MCOCA begins with this line: ‘To make special provisions for prevention and control of, and for coping with, criminal activity by organised crime syndicate…’ The word to note here is ‘special’ and the necessity for such especialness is always the criminal’s fault. So, the thinking would be that because no one is willing to testify against a gangster, he should not be given bail, a right civilised societies take for granted. Creating conditions for testifying within existing laws, like a witness protection plan, is too complicated and expensive. Inevitably, it is a short step from Special Act to Draconian Law and from there to the Law of Indian Inertia—the difficulty in arriving at a policy is nothing compared to withdrawing it, even after it is agreed to be utterly wrong. Special criminal laws are a reward that the State gives the police for its incompetence.

Two years ago, after the murder of crime journalist J Dey, MCOCA was applied against another reporter, Jigna Vora. Professional envy, we were told through media leaks, made her provoke underworld don Chhota Rajan into organising the hit. The police claimed in its chargesheet that she gave Dey’s location to Rajan. Evidence against Vora is invisible to ordinary eyes. Again, from media leaks, we get to surmise that it was a repentant Rajan himself who gave her away. The peculiarity of the murderer, free as a bird in whatever country he was in, turning in his informer went unnoticed. Vora, a single mother, spent a little less than a year behind bars before the judge ruled that there was no evidence to keep her in jail. By then, her career was destroyed.

In the case of the failed MCOCA attempt against the cricketers, we must ask how much greed for publicity is needed for the police to make spot-fixing its business, given that, as laws exist today, there is nothing criminal about it. Having made it a crime by imagination, it was just a natural progression to make the cricketers a part of the underworld. The trick is to keep making the alleged crime more and more terrifying so that the initial action is not questioned. Fortunately for Sreesanth, the MCOCA judge made simple demands like evidence.

In some distant future, if this spot-fixing episode is looked at in the cold light of reason, there will be nothing but farce. The police claim Raj Kundra, owner of Rajasthan Royals, bet on his own team. If true, then how can you not empathise with Kundra’s befuddlement? If that was a way to fix matches, every team owner would do it. And again, what makes this police business? Precisely because of the legal black holes that the police have created, Law Minister Kapil Sibal says that a law on spot-fixing is necessary. Such a law will be voted upon in Parliament. One of those passing it (hopefully) will be MP Mohammed Azharuddin, who himself was accused of these charges and banned for life by the BCCI.

Azharuddin’s ban was recently lifted by a high court, but the BCCI is still to say he is innocent. What the Board did at the time, even though in annoying secrecy, was probably the correct way to go about it. It held an enquiry, arrived at a decision and implemented it, leaving it to Azharuddin to get redress from the law. What was a dispute between two parties remained just that. Because millions of Indians love cricket does not make spot-fixing a crime. If you think so, begin by spelling out the larger social evil being committed besides hurting feelings. Cricket here is a game run by private clubs. If some players decide it is profitable to throw a no-ball at an appointed time, it is between them and the BCCI. Let the BCCI file a case of cheating or breach of contract and invite the police in to investigate. Otherwise, what you will have is a bunch of IPS officers having a tournament over who gets more headlines. Surely they have worthier things to do—like catch some rapists while they are mauling a girl in a moving bus.

Saving the Indian Bustard

There are only about 250 Great Indian Bustards left in the country. But now there is hope of the species’ survival. The Rajasthan government has launched a Rs 13 crore conservation drive for the Bustard, which has a wingspan of about eight feet and is known to be one of the heaviest birds capable of flight. It can be found in arid areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan. The Great Indian Bustard was once in contention for being named India’s national bird, but lost out to the peacock. It is, nevertheless, the state bird of Rajasthan. The conservation project involves creating a secluded space for bustards where they can mate. It will also look at ways to combat poaching in Rajasthan.