The Wire’s Most Read Articles of 2017

They were on topics as diverse as the sand mafia, an attempted kidnapping, corporate corruption, ISRO and the RSS.

This is a list of ten articles that were read the most on The Wire in 2017. They were on topics as diverse as the sand mafia, an attempted kidnapping, corporate corruption, ISRO and the RSS. And they’re worth revisiting on this last day of the year: for a snapshot of 2017’s most popular preoccupations.

1. The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah

Though the Ahmedabad civil court lifted its injunction against The Wire discussing the contents of its October 8, 2017 story, it stayed the lifting for 14 days to allow Jay Shah time to appeal in the high court, which he has done. Arguments in the high court on the issue took place on December 28 and will continue on January 10. The trial court’s stay will operate until then.

2. The Law is Clear: Reserved Category Candidates Are Entitled to General Seats on the Basis of Merit

Second on the list is Anurag Bhaskar’s article on the Supreme Court’s judgment in Deepa EV v. Union of India.

Thus, there is no law prescribing reservation for general category candidates in public employment and therefore there does not arise any question of the reserved category candidates occupying or being selected against “their seats”. Since there is no concept of providing reservation to general category candidates, there cannot be any concept of “their fixed seats”. Such seats can be claimed by everyone on basis of merit. The judgment in the Deepa E.V. case is incomplete. Based on the precedents mentioned, the correct position would be that there can’t be any limitation on the reserved category candidates to claim a seat in the general category on the basis of merit. The relaxations provided are merely to bring the candidates of the reserved” category in a level-playing field, which is the spirit under the text of Article 16(4) of the Indian constitution.

3. The Countdown Begins For Tamil Nadu’s Beach Sand Mining Cartel

Third is Sandhya Ravishankar’s series on the beach sand mining mafia in Tamil Nadu. As she wrote in the first article in the series:

The Centre and the Tamil Nadu state governments finally seem to be taking seriously the blatant irregularities and violations committed along the southern shores of the country. The allegations are numerous and amply documented and are being fiercely litigated in the Madras high court in the form of a suo motu PIL taken up by the first bench. Before the court are major questions: Did the beach sand miners cart away Rs 1 lakh crore worth of rare and precious atomic minerals, as one petitioner alleged? Did state and central government officials actively collude with the miners to sell national resources? Is monazite (thorium) being exported illegally to countries like China and Korea?

While we await definitive answers to these questions, what is certain is that laws have been tweaked, ignored, blatantly violated, falsehoods written in official reports, and illegalities which are obvious have been condoned by the authorities at the state and central level. The environment has been destroyed in the miners’ hunger for more money and more power, and the national exchequer drained.

The stakes are high when it comes to mining beach sand. The law is complex and should necessarily be unyielding, as it also concerns radioactive material allegedly being mined and illegally exported. The stakes, then, also concern national security.

4. Attempted Kidnapping Case: CCTV Footage ‘Unavailable’, BJP Leader’s Family Resorts to Victim-Shaming

Next is a staff copy on an attempted kidnapping in Chandigarh involving the son of the Haryana state BJP chief, Subhash Barala. Both party leaders and the family of the accused took to social media to try and blame the victim for the incident and undermine her testimony.

In a Facebook post, that has now been deleted, a member of the Barala family, Kuldeep Barala – who also describes himself as having “worked at Bharatiya Janata party” –  shared a photo of the victim with two men and implied that she was drunk at the time of the incident.

In another post, the man shared an old photograph of Kundu with glasses of alcohol in the foreground, again trying to raise questions about her character, and claimed that the incident was being blown our of proportion by the Opposition to malign the BJP leader’s image. The images were lifted from her Facebook page.

Curiously, Kuldeep Barala also slammed the police for speaking to the media about the incident – he used the word ‘leak’ – and said this meant that the police would not be willing to go back on its word of slapping serious charges on the goons. In fact, the police has gone back on its word, with the same officer, DSP Satish Kumar first telling reporters that non-bailable charges had been filed and then later saying that those charges were not found suitable to the crime.

5. ISRO Is Not Going to Mine the Moon for Helium-3

The bunking of a bit of fake news that went viral in April is the fifth on our list. Multiple people had quoted the words of Sivathanu Pillai out of context, and suggested the Indian Space Research Organisation was going to mine helium-3 on the Moon and use it to power nuclear fusion reactors on Earth. As one scientist said, it was just moonshine. Excerpt:

The report is referring to comments made by the noted space scientist Sivathanu Pillai at the Observer Research Foundation’s Kalpana Chawla Space Policy Dialogue 2017, held in New Delhi in February. Those who attended the conference say that Pillai had said mining helium-3 from the Moon was possible – but that he didn’t say anything about ISRO planning to do it.

“Although helium-3 fusion may be an attractive alternative if sufficient quantities can be mined and transported at an economical rate, the main difficulty is technological,” Jayant Murthy, a senior professor at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru, told The Wire. “Helium-3 fusion requires temperatures much higher than the deuterium-tritium fusion that is the basis of current fusion research. It would only be prudent to wait until the technology is mature before even planning for helium-3 extraction from the Moon.”

… Even others have questioned the wisdom of using helium-3 for nuclear fusion altogether. The most prominent critique was penned by physicist Frank Close for Physics World in August 2007. He wrote that in a reactor like ITER’s tokamak – a donut-shaped hollow in which light atoms are confined by magnetic fields, heated to 150 million degrees C, made to form a plasma and then fused – “deuterium reacts up to 100 times more slowly with helium-3 than it does with tritium”.

And then there’s the jurisprudential barrier. According to Ashok G.V., an advocate and space law expert, Moon-mining is a “very, very dicey area”.

6. History Shows How Patriotic the RSS Really Is

Sixth on the list is Pavan Kulkarni’s article that looked by at the RSS’s actions during the freedom struggle, and how the organisation was subservient to the British, with its leadership prohibiting participation in mass movements.

A year-and-a-half after the Quit India movement was launched, the Bombay government of the British Raj noted in a memo, with considerable satisfaction, that “the Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942.”

However, as in the previous case of the Dandi March, the cadres of the RSS were frustrated by their leaders who were holding them back from participating in the movement. “In 1942 also”, Golwalkar himself pointed out, “there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many…. Sangh is an organisation of inactive persons, their talks are useless, not only outsiders but also many of our volunteers did talk like this. They were greatly disgusted too.”

But the RSS leadership had a curious reason for not participating in the struggle for independence. In a speech given on June 1942 – months before an unnecessary, British-made famine was to kill at least three million Indians in Bengal – Golwalkar said that the “Sangh does not want to blame anybody else for the present degraded state of the society. When the people start blaming others, then there is basically weakness in them. It is futile to blame the strong for the injustice done to the weak…Sangh does not want to waste its invaluable time in abusing or criticising others. If we know that large fish eat the smaller ones, it is outright madness to blame the big fish. Law of nature whether good or bad is true all the time. This rule does not change by terming it unjust.”

7. ‘It’s a Decentralised Emergency… A Pyramidal Mafia State’: Arun Shourie on Modi Sarkar

Next is Swati Chaturvedi’s interview of former BJP leader Arun Shourie, where he talked about some of the Centre’s decision and his disagreement with them, and his unhappiness with the manner in which things were run. On being asked if the current situation is at all similar to the Emergency, he said:

It’s a decentralised emergency. What we are going towards is a pyramidal decentralised mafia state, where local goons will belabour anyone whom they think is doing something wrong. The central people will look the other way. The central people will provide a rationale for the goondas at the local level. Like “gau rakshaks’’, like “love jihad” – this becomes the rationale for me to beat up anybody. It’s not love for the cow but just an instrument for domination.

The one big difference is at that time Mrs [Indira] Gandhi still used the law. Now it is not the law. These people are acting outside the law. This is true fascism because you say what is the law? I am the law. All this action is being done outside the government, worse, things are being done inside the government to choke the existing laws – for instance the Right to Information (RTI) is being choked, the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is being denigrated unless it’s in your favour. The judiciary is being denigrated, therefore you keep the vacancies going the same way, probably about a hundred vacancies. The judiciary keeps saying, and these people keep denying on one ground or another. And, to hell with the people who suffer because of want of courts.

8. Of Government, God and Gharial: The Ecological Pogrom in Chambal’s Badlands

A chronicle of infrastructural recklessness around the Chambal river by Tarun Nair, a conservation biologist, revealed the sorry plight of the gharial native to this region. At over 6,800 words, our eighth most read article in 2017 was also our longread of that month. Excerpt:

For how long the Chambal continues to flow, and for how long we will continue to see and hear its untamed sights and sounds, will depend on how soon we can wean away from our exploitative dependence on this river, on how effectively we keep the many ecologically divisive forces at bay, and on when we finally restore its natural flow regimes. Our rivers are deserving of reverence for their ability to nourish and nurture life, not merely to wash away our sins and sewage. According rights, and even personhood, to our rivers may help reverse the damage, and countries like Bolivia, Ecuador and New Zealand have shown us the way. But are we willing?

The gharial may never again ‘abound in all great rivers of Northern India‘, as Andrew Leith Adams (1867) had once observed in the latter half of the nineteenth century. But we can surely allow it to survive and flourish in the few remaining areas that the species lives on in, and hope that it eventually recolonises at least parts of its historic range. The gharial certainly has the tenacity to do so. We just must play our part.

9. ‘Thanks for 90 Votes’: In Four Words, an Elegy for Indian Democracy

This article by Krishna Kant looked at the electoral performance of Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila, who was on hunger strike for 16 years demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

Sharmila decided that she would fight against this black law by taking part in electoral politics. In the assembly elections this time, she contested against the chief minister of Manipur and secured only 90 votes. The very people whose right to live she had fought to defend for over 16 years have brutally killed her political dream. Irom had entered the electoral arena with a dream in her eyes; on Saturday, her eyes brimming with tears, she announced her departure from the ring. ‘I will never set foot in here again’, she declared. For 16 years, she denied herself food, and love and companionship. Now she has been forced by the system to renounce electoral politics without ever having the chance to experience what a life in politics would look like.

Irom Sharmila, who went on an epic fast against AFSPA for 16 years, has lost, just as Manorama, the woman killed in custody in 2005 by the Assam Rifles lost, just as the women of Manipur who staged a naked protest to demand justice for Manorama lost, just as Madkam Hidme and Sukhmati in Bastar have lost. Responding to this defeat, Irom Sharmila’s supporters stoically said, ‘Thanks for 90 votes’.

Sharmila has been struggling and losing for 16 years. All she is saying is that the army should not be given the right to shoot whoever it likes merely because it suspects them of wrongdoing.

10. ICICI Officials Accused of Tricking Hundreds Into Buying Insurance Instead of FD Schemes

The last article on the list was published earlier this week, and looks at how Rajasthan’s state police special operations group is investigating multiple ICICI officials for misleading customers and violating IRDAI norms.

When Sohandas, a 75-year-old farmer from Udaipur, sold the only piece of land he owned, he hoped the money would help him and his 65-year-old wife with financial security during old age. After building a small house, he deposited the rest of his money (Rs 7,50,000) in a fixed deposit at ICICI bank’s Udaipur branch.

“Nine months later, I started receiving calls from Mumbai asking me to deposit another Rs 7,50,000, failing which I’d lose my original deposit. When I showed the bank documents to a lawyer, I was told it was an insurance policy, which required me to deposit the same amount every year”.

“I don’t know what to do now,” he said. “Both my wife and I are too old to find labour jobs. We have medical bills of Rs 5-7,000 every month. We don’t have 7.5 lakh rupees to deposit every year”.

Sohandas, however, is not alone. There are hundreds like him – a labourer who was relieved of the insurance money she received upon her husband’s death; a government employee whose gratuity melted away; a poor farmer whose agricultural loan was appropriated.

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