This week’s front-page lead story tells us everything we need to know about the premium value of Right to Information in any democracy. Indian advocacy groups making use of new Right to Information laws have unearthed an evaluation report which exposes startling information that has implications not just for South India and Sri Lanka, but almost the entirety of the Indian Ocean — particularly the Bay of Bengal.
For those who have not read the story, the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu is poised to deposit dangerous quantities of nuclear wastes in the Indian Ocean, which is a potential calamity facing our people, and possibly a calamity facing the people of India as well.
The story speaks for itself — and what action the Government of Sri Lanka will take in this regard remains to be seen. This is in short order, a disaster waiting to happen.
Indian environmental scientists themselves are saying so, as could be gathered from our front-page story and the other feature story in perspective on page 5.
How all these dangers were exposed is another issue in its entirety. No Indian could have got close to ferreting out the truth on the calamitous dangers of the nuclear plants in Tamil Nadu had they not had the benefit of Right to Information laws.
So, the Koodankulam example is one in which it could be said without hyperbole that Right to Information legislation possibly meant the difference between life and death.
No doubt the Indian authorities would heavily contest the assertions of the environmental lobbyists, but it clearly is a tall order to contradict the Site Evaluation Report (SER) which states unequivocally that a good part of the Indian Ocean is bound to become a dumping site for nuclear wastes once the T’ Nadu plants are commissioned.
How the entire issue would play out in India, and with reference to Indo-Sri Lankan relations would be interesting, and would be moot, but the success of the Indian lobbyists in making use of Right to Information legislation leaves us Sri Lankans envying our Indian neighbours, trying as we have been to get similar legislation passed in our parliament.
The government stymied the UNP’s efforts to ram through such laws, but this was at that time on condition that the government would come up with its own draft. It was argued as many observers of events at that time would recall that the UNP Bill was in fact redundant as the government had plans for a Right to Information Bill, and was close to making the whole thing a fait accompli.
But no Bill on the Right to Information has materialized, and despite the fact that noises are being made about Private Members’ motions etc., that might gift the people this vital legislation at last — everybody including lobbyists, journalists and private citizens have waited in vain.
There could be larger calamities than the Koodankulam plants that are waiting to happen, particularly at a time when concerns of ‘development’ seem to take precedence over all rational considerations.
Please also read about the flouting of environmental legislation to install an entire village in the Nilagala/Gal Oya forests, elsewhere in this newspaper. How many more such depredations are being kept under a lid, simply because we do not have the right to know?
From 24, to 48
Any time is not the time to amend the Criminal Procedure Code to extend the period a suspect could be detained for prior to being produced before the officers of the law, but certainly this seems to be the worst time in which to do it due to the justifiable or not so justifiable finger-pointing at the state apparatus in various quarters, for impunity and other legally untenable circumstances.
The public is being told that certain procedural issues have prompted the extension of the period of detention of a suspect from 24 to 48 hours. It is supremely ironic that what is in fact an undermining of the fundamental tenets of justice masquerades as something being done in the furtherance of justice itself. That is because those in government advocating the legislation never tire of telling us that the law is being changed to make it easier to deal with the culprits.
But the step being taken is so fundamentally flawed that it is in fact a case of interfering with what is universally considered sacrosanct. There is universally an accepted judicial tenet that suspects shall not be kept in custody beyond what is absolutely necessary to facilitate producing such persons before the officers of the law. A clear perusal of the law as it is applied in jurisdictions as diverse as Bangladesh, India the United Kingdom or Australia, and a majority of others in civilized democracies indicates that there is a consensus that 24 hours is the maximum period a suspect could be held in custody without being taken before a magistrate or an equivalent legal authority.
This has not become a basic expectation from the law, without substantial reason. This is the presumption of innocence at work, and the fundamental premise that no person who has not been pronounced guilty in a court of law could be kept against his will without justifiable reason, in custody. There are also several other ramifications with regard to this law — a great many of which deal with the possibility of police abuse of persons under detention. The reader could find out more elsewhere in these pages, but what can be said unequivocally here is that making 24 hours 48 is a big step in the wrong direction.
- An Open Letter to the People of Russia- from Million of Indian Citizens (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- India’s nuclear radiation threat to Sri Lanka (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Koodankulam: Protests all over India, activists being arrested in Tamil Nadu (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Invitation: AP Shah Committee report release on Koodankulam and Democracy- 4th June (kractivist.wordpress.com)