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Editor's Says

The slow grind of judiciary

PRESS COUNCIL Chairman Markandey Katju seems to comment on every issue under the sun.  These range from the quality of administrations of Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi to the need for minimum qualifications and entry barrier for journalists and most recently a mercy plea on behalf of Sanjay Dutt. As Chairman of Press Council, he has been commanding regular and extensive free space in the national media. With the love of media for controversy and with the penchant of Katju for such controversy, understandably, he gets liberal coverage.

I, however, wish Justice Katju could focus on an area that needs attention and reforms most – the judiciary. With his experience of over four decades in matters relating to law and judiciary and with a fair reputation earned by Katju as a practitioner of law and justice, there is a lot he can do to contribute to this field. Look at the travesty of the Bombay blast case reaching the finale a good 20 years after the occurrence. Look at the Bombay riots. Look at the several cases relating to the legitimacy of the victory of those elected as MPs/MLAs including such high profile personalities like Finance Minister P Chidambaram not decided almost till the end of their terms. Look at the cases against politicians like A Raja, Kanimozhi, Suresh Kalmadi or Jayalalithaa remaining undecided for so long.

There is systemic collapse at the high courts. In the Madras High Court that recently celebrated 150 years, a typical schedule for a two-judge bench lists 50-60 cases a day. Some 300 persons, including advocates, clients et al are present at this court from 1030 hrs. Almost till lunch most of these idle their time until the honourable judges give their ruling. Except a couple of cases, all others get adjourned. One also witnesses the judges routinely shifted from one bench to another at intervals of around two months. In some cases when a case is in advanced stage, one of the judges of the bench decides to recuse himself/herself.  I have experienced this first hand.

Just look at the time involved in cases relating to appeal: a presentation by the appellant’s advocate, one by the defence counsel and if needed, some responses/clarifications. In the American courts, I understand, each party is provided 30 minutes; which means the entire hearing could be completed in a day. In the Madras High Court such appeals extend over a year. Adjournments are sought and granted at the drop of a hat.

Katju, who headed the Madras High Court, is certainly familiar with these humongous inefficiencies that cost the litigants dearly. The judges get paid. The lawyers also have no penalties for procrastinations caused by them and benefit by prolonging the cases and the number of cases pending before courts bulge by the day.

For a change, I request the super- active Katju to focus on this issue. He would earn the gratitude of millions of hapless litigants.

Duelling dual pricing

OUR ENERGY expert, Dr Bhamy Shenoy, has been pointing to the impracticality of dual pricing for petroleum products. We have yet another instance proving this point.

A couple of months ago the Union government announced dual pricing for diesel, with a higher price of over Rs 10 for bulk consumers. Since the state transport undertakings belonged to this category, and since state governments are wary over raising bus fare, this proposal had given rise to a lot of resentment and opposition, especially from the states ruled by parties opposed to the Congress.

The Tamil Nadu government effected a steep increase in bus fares last year. Understandably it is reluctant to add further to the burden of the passenger. It instructed the busses to get fuel filled from retail outlets which charge lower rates. I notice large factories that buy diesel in bulk directly from the oil marketing companies, have drastically reduced such purchases and buy their requirements from retail outlets. Retail traders are only too happy over the big spurt in sales made possible by such a practice.  OMCs report of a steep drop in bulk purchases and a large increase through retail outlets.
The Madras High Court ordered a stay on the differential pricing and permitted state transport undertakings to get their fuel requirements directly from the oil companies at lower prices. Curiously, large bulk private consumers complain that OMCs do not follow this dictum of the High Court! So such companies play safe, continuing to buy from retail outlets!

So mostly the sections that pay the higher prices are the Central government and public undertakings, notably the Indian Railways. Understandably the railway is planning a fuel surcharge that means yet another bout of fare increases.

Man is an economic animal. His behavioural pattern cannot be changed easily by government dictats.

Technology for demolition

FOR YEARS, I used to wonder over the large buildings in US demolished by planting explosives and the whole edifice crumbling to ground level in minutes. The contrast is provided in the conventional method of employing muscular manpower to demolish buildings physically. This field is dominated in Chennai by several Muslim entrepreneurs who employ specialist gangs for this purpose. These endeavour to recover as much as possible of the materials-doors, windows, electrical goods, cables and wires, sanitary ware, glass, steel, bricks. Understandably these require care and involve considerable time.
I was looking at the evolution of this business. With scarcity of labour, there is resort to mechanisation. The employment of JCB machines has been increasing.

In recent times, the speed and sophistication of such jobs have increased manifold. High-end bulldozer-mounted machines by large MNCs like Hyundai are employed. The level of sophistication is impressive.

K K Nagar in Chennai gave priority to mass housing by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board. On easy mortgages, hundreds of houses were built with liberal 1:1 FSI, which meant space for lot of greenery. A common size is construction of four flats over two floors, each of 900 sq. ft in a plot of measuring 7200 sq. ft. One could spot a dozen trees and a lot of lush vegetation around.

I witnessed such a structure raced to the ground in just about a week with the Hyundai machine working during nights, not just demolishing the buildings but in recovering bricks, steel and in quickly clearing the debris. It was a sight to watch steel separated from concrete blocks, with the powerful machine crushing cement and mortar.

There are restrictions in the operation of such machines that can operate only during the night; the debris had to be shifted to designated places during night. A lot of speed money is involved in the whole process. The crowding of the real estate business by politicians can now be better understood.

Pharma pioneer succumbs to cancer

IN THE death of Dr Anji Reddy, South India has lost one who took the pharma industry to great heights. With a market cap of close to Rs 30,000 crore (as on 25 March 2013), Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd is the Number One pharma company in south India and ranked fifth among the region’s most valuable companies (see IE March 2013 issue). Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd (IDPL) and the rich cluster of CSIR labs that included the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology nurtured rich talent in and around Hyderabad. Reddy was a product of IDPL who ventured on his own. He founded Uniloids Ltd in 1976 and later he founded Standard Organics Ltd, before setting up Dr Reddy’s Lab with a capital of Rs 25 lakh. This evolution turned the pharma bulk drug industry from an import-dependent stage to export-oriented.

Research was always the forte of Reddy. He established Dr. Reddy’s Research Foundation in 1992 to focus in the area of new drug discovery.  For his extensive contribution to the pharma industry, Government of
India honoured him with Padma Bhushan.

Muthumalla Reddiar is no more

SADLY, MARCH also witnessed the demise of another pioneer, Muthumalla Reddiar (MMR), who died at the ripe age of 102. MMR experimented with scientific agriculture in Chenglepattu district. I remember the small arboretum nurtured by Reddiar that had several hundred-year-old trees of rich variety, including rose wood, saal, teak and mahogany.

I had occasion to meet with MMR. Well into his nineties, he used to talk with passion on the role of agriculture for economic development.

Senior Advocate C Ramakrishna (CR), who has so liberally bequeathed for posterity the Yerrangadu Arboretum with munificent funding (See IE December 2012) and a close friend of MMR, used to refer to the pioneering work done by MMR in the development of agriculture in this region. He recalled instances of MMR’s philosophical outlook: “his farm suffered extensive damage in the aftermath of the severe cyclone of 1985. Over thousand coconut, papaya and other trees at his farms were uprooted and MMR could not even reach his farms for a few days. But as a true karma yogi, he took this on his stride.”

CR recalls MMR performing over fifteen Kumbabishekams of a large number of temples in and around his village.

MMR’s grandson Dr R Srikanth, an Assistant Professor in theoretical physics and an alumnus of IIS-Bengaluru, aptly described MMR as “a builder and renovator of schools, nature lover, farmer, leader, upholder of sacred ways, cricket fan… who inspired love and respect by his action.” CR recalled the several innovative practices he introduced to farming and in the spread of productivity improvements in and around his village of Polampakkam.

CR also referred to the high moral rectitude of MMR: “in 1993 MMR sold 140 acres of his land to Brakes India, a unit of TVS, at a price of around Rs 35,000 an acre. Land prices shot up in quick time. The  conscientious chief executive  of the company, R Ramanujam, offered to pay an additional Rs 10 lakh towards the cost of the land. MMR literally chased CR out stating that he sold his land at the then prevailing market price!

“Six years later Ramanujam noticed MMR still using an old Ambassador car. He sent through CR the keys of a new Ambassador car. MMR again refused the gift.” 

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