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A Different Route to Justice: The Lalit Mehta Murder Case

By refusing to investigate and prosecute the alleged killers of Lalit Mehta, the agencies of Jharkhand state had abdicated their duties in delivering justice. The Maoists lived up to their promise of taking on the alleged murderers and administered justice of a different kind by killing some of them. The incidents following Mehta's death show up the inadequacy and failure of the Indian state as an agency that guarantees justice.

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 21, 2009 vol xliv no 1219A Different Route to Justice: The Lalit Mehta Murder CaseFrom a correspondent“We know the killers of Lalit Mehta and they will be brought to justice. We will make the perpetrators of heinous crimes such as mur-der pay with their lives. We have started the process for this and it will soon culminate in strong and decisive action.” – from a pamphlet issued by the Commu-nist Party of India (Maoist) in Palamau, Jharkhand on 22 June 2008 (reported in Frontline magazine, July 2008). Lalit Mehta was a young civil engineer who devoted his life to transform the lives of people in one of the most backward areas of this country. This region of Jharkhand has been afflicted by hunger deaths, lack of basic healthcare and other such debilitating miseries that could have been resolved by the Indian state if only the rulers cared. The illusion of a “shining India” dissolves into a black hole if one visits Palamau – 60 years of independence with no development in sight. Lalit stepped in where the Indian state had failed – he worked tirelessly to build several hundreds of small irrigation projects at half the cost it would take for any governmental agency, thereby earn-ing the wrath of the local contractor lobby. He taught people to be vigilant about mis-use of public funds by educating them about their rights vis-à-vis the State, espe-cially on issues related to the right to food, thereby angering the officials and leaders who have earned crores from siphoning off foodgrains meant for the public distri-bution system. Most importantly, Lalit and his cousin Jawahar were pioneers in social audit, long before this democratic right had become the buzzword for the advo-cates of civil society and governance. The social audit they had conducted brought several instances of state failure vis-à-vis the right to food (eg, issue of hunger deaths, discrepancies in the BPL process, etc) in Manatu and Chattarpur blocs, Palamau into national focus. Predictably, when the United Progressive Alliance government launched its much touted flagship programme, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), it was again Lalit and his associates who led the way and performed one derivatives in parity with spot transactions. These measures need to be reversed with active official steps as are needed.Measures as above may dampen the in-centives to move away from real sector in-vestments to the financial which used to be more profitable. However, the demand and profitability of real sector investments would only expand with direct fiscal ex-pansions to revamp this sector. Inciden-tally, monetary measures to instil liquidity in the system (as was done inUS under the Bush administration and already prac-tised in India by the RBI) would not work for credit expansion unless the economy expands and generates adequate demand for credit. This demands a shift in priori-ties with fiscal expansion and real sector growth taking precedence over monetary measures to instil credit.Curbs on speculatory finance and an aggressive expansionary fiscal policy are the answers to what has gone wrong in the world today. Notes1 Tobin’s q is the ratio of the market value of a firm’s assets (as measured by the market value of its out-standing stock and debt) to the replacement cost of the firm’s assets (Tobin 1969).2 “Thus, Enron boasted of creating the ‘regulatory black hole’ that left energy derivatives unregu-lated. Enron exploited this systems capacity limitation to form a cartel and produce the California energy crisis by taking production plants off line. During the S&L debacle the most audacious control frauds used their political contributions to fend off the regulators by influ-encing key members of the Reagan/Bush admin-istration and Congress CEOs use the company’s assets to burnish its apparent legitimacy by making charitable contributions. The political and charitable contributions also enhance the CEO’s status and reputation.” See Black (mimeo), op cit.3 This view is based on the notion that uncertainty and knowledge are both “gradable”. Thus “...if uncertainty is gradable, government action may reduce it and thereby increase confidence” (Dequech 1997).ReferencesBlack, Fischer and Myron Scholes (1973): “The Pric-ing of Options and Liabilities”, Journal of Politi-cal Economy, Vol 81, No 3, pp 637-54. Black, William K (2005): “When Fragile becomes Friable – Evidence Contro; Fraud as Cause of Eco-nomic Stagnation and Collapse” (mimeo). – (2005): The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One (Austin: Texas). Davidson, Paul (1988): “A Technical Definition of Uncertainty in the Long-run Non-Neutrality of Money”,Cambridge Journal of Economics, September. – (1991): “Is Probability Theory Relevant for Uncer-tainty? A Post-Keynesian Perspective”,Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol 5, No 2, pp 129-43.Dequech, David (1997): “Different Views on Un-certainty and Some Policy Implications” in Paul Davidson and Ja Kregel (ed.),Improving the Global Economy (London: Edward Elgar). Financial Times (2008): “Crackdown on Hedge Funds after Madoff Affair”, 29 December.– (2008): “Money Flows Out of Hedge Funds at Record Rate”, 30 December.Martens, Paul (2008): “A Two Trillion Dollar Black-hole”, Counter Punch, 13 November.Merton, Robert C (1973): “Theory of Rational Option Pricing”,Bell Journal of Economics and Manage-ment Services, Vol 4, No 1, pp 141-83.Minsky, Hyman P (1986): Stabilizing an Unstable Economy (New Haven: Yale University Press).Pressman, Steven (1996): “What Do Capital Markets Do? And What Should We Do About Capital Markets?”, Economie et Societé, Serie M P No 10 2-3, pp 193-209.Shackle, G L S (1974): Keynesian Kaleidics: The Evolu-tion of General Political Economy, Edinburgh University Press.Tobin, J (1969) “A General Equilibrium Approach to Monetary Theory”,Journal of Money Credit and Banking, Vol 1, No 1, pp 15-29.By refusing to investigate and prosecute the alleged killers of Lalit Mehta, the agencies of Jharkhand state had abdicated their duties in delivering justice. The Maoists lived up to their promise of taking on the alleged murderers and administered justice of a different kind by killing some of them. The incidents following Mehta’s death show up the inadequacy and failure of the Indian state as an agency that guarantees justice.


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COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 21, 2009 vol xliv no 1221Giles Ji Ungpakorn ( was teaching politics at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, until he had to flee the country in February 2009 because of lese-majeste charges. Class War for Democracy in ThailandGiles Ji UngpakornThe current dispensation in Thailand is based on a political reaction to stem and reverse some of the populist measures of the deposed prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra who himself was a neoliberal with a few pro-poor schemes. Even this was unacceptable to the elites who used the courts, the military and the monarchy to depose him and institute an anti-democratic constitution which protects their privileges. But now that Thaksin is gone, a grass roots movement of the poor is emerging to challenge the hold of the elites, the military and the monarchy over Thailand.Today, the Thai government, and their elite supporters, are once again using the language of the cold war and the era of military dictator-ships in order to throttle free speech and democracy. Every thing in Thailand is not as it seems. The so-called Democrat Party is in government, but not because of support from the majority of the elec-torate. In fact, the Democrat Party has never won anything approaching a ma-jority and this is why the party welcomed the military coup in 2006. The Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy (PAD), those yellow-shirted royalists who seized the two international airports, are neither an alliance of the people nor are they for democracy. Their membership base is among the extremist middle classes who believe that the Thaksin Shinawatra government spent “too much” money on welfare and populist policies for the poor. They believe that only they are the true guardians of the monarchy and that the majority of the Thai electorate, who are poor, should not have the right to vote. The PAD has an armed “guard” and has used violent tactics on the streets of Bangkok to destabilise elected governments. They propose a “New Order” in Thai politics where only 30% of the parliament is elected. They want members of parliament (MPs) to be elected by “professional groups” rather than through a one person one vote sys-tem. This would ensure that doctors and professionals have much more voting power than poor agriculturalists or factory workers. Tragically, most so-called “liberal” academics supported the 2006 coup and thePAD. Amazingly, so did half the Thai non-governmental organisation (NGO) movement. The PAD work hand-in-glove with the army and they have received endorsement from the queen.The Assault on DemocracyFive years ago, under the elected Thaksin government, Thailand had a thriving and developing democracy with freedom of expression, a relatively free press and an active civil society where social move-ments campaigned to protect the interests of the poor. This was not, however, the work of the Thaksin administration, since there were serious problems of human rights abuses. Thaksin’s government used murderous repression in the predomi-nantly Muslim southern provinces of Malay and killed over 3,000 people in the so-called “war on drugs”. The situation, though, has become much worse since the 2006 coup which overthrew his govern-ment. Today, the country is creeping towards totalitarianism. The present had kept their promise to the people of Palamau. The police (according to reports in the Indian Express on 6 January 2009) have now closed the case relating to Lalit’s mur-der as they claimed that the note left be-hind, allegedly by the Maoists, with Raju’s body mentions highway robbery as the reason. The powers to be are now inter-ested in investigating the link between the Maoists, Lalit Mehta and surprisingly, the economist Jean Drèze himself, who had visited these parts as part of several moni-toring teams studying NREGA implementa-tion. The least the police could have done is to have checked with Jean Drèze him-self about the alleged links with the Maoists. Clearly, it is facile to suggest that the economist is anyway connected with the Maoists. The Maoist link is just an excuse to cover up the powerful nexus of deceit. Further, Lalit’s motorbike was re-covered from Chattarpur some months back. It had been carefully buried between two walls – putting paid to the ridiculous theory that Lalit was killed during a high-way robbery. Why would highway robbers kill a person, rob his motorbike and then carefully bury it?Even if the agencies of the Indian state fall way short in guaranteeing to its citi-zens basic health, one square meal a day, basic education, housing, and opportuni-ties for a decent livelihood, the least that can be expected from the state is that it at least delivers justice. The case of Binayak Sen’s continued incarceration also comes to mind. Sen had painstakingly over years set up holistic structures of delivering public health in some of the remotest are-as of Chhattisgarh. Binayak Sen’s work on providing public health to the rural poor should have inspired the state to adopt his model on a national scale. He now lan-guishes in jail for 20 months because he, like Lalit, delivered where the state failed. The Indian state might pride itself as the largest democracy but delivering justice tothe poor and to those who take up their cause seems not to be in the nature of this democracy.

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