Thursday, May 03, 2007

President Kalam's tenure: An unexplored episode

President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam finds himself in the midst of a debate whether he should seek a second term in office. I was one among those who was unhappy with the then NDA Government for having reduced Rashtrapati Bhavan as an award for a person’s outstanding accomplishment in science in 2002. Many were critical of the choice because President Kalam was the first President without a political or legal background, and without even a stint as Vice-President; therefore, there were genuine doubts about his suitability for the high office. As his term comes to a close this July, it is perhaps time to look back, and examine whether the skeptics including me were correct. I must acknowledge that Kalam –as the Constitutional head - not only brought freshness of approach to politics, but proved to the skeptics that his non-political and non-legal background could actually be assets in breaking with the past baggage of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Here, I intend to deal with just one episode, though there are a few firsts with which he must be credited with including, for instance, the first time use of Article 111, when he returned the Office of Profit Bill to Parliament for reconsideration. On the question of dissolution of Bihar assembly which invited the Supreme Court’s strictures, I felt his office had reasonable arguments why he could not have returned the recommendation for reconsideration of the Cabinet without any material or ground to his knowledge at that time.
The event which interested me most, however, was his acceptance of the then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee’s recommendation to dissolve the Lok Sabha six months prior to completion of its tenure in February 2004. Not many knew that Kalam did not accept the recommendation immediately. He mulled over it, consulted the then Attorney-General, Soli Sorabjee, went through the materials, including the Supreme Court’s judgments concerning the President’s powers sent to him by Sorabjee, before making up his mind. No other President prior to him had taken this responsibility more seriously than him. Yet, contemporary history seems to have deprived him his due place, probably because of the wrong legal advice tendered to him. The media too blacked out this episode as of no interest, or consequence, even though I had sought to bring the details into the public domain during the Lok Sabha elections.
President Kalam’s query to Vajpayee was whether he should resign, following the recommendation to prematurely dissolve the Lok Sabha. The question, on the face of it, appeared innocuous, as well as naïve. Perplexed, Vajpayee promised Kalam that he would get back on this issue. Why should Vajpayee resign, when he enjoyed majority in the Lok Sabha, was the response of Kalam’s critics in the NDA and within the legal community. If he resigned, then it would be an invitation for attempts to form an alternative Government, and the dissolution recommendation would not be binding on the President, so went another argument. Others including the Law Minister, Arun Jaitley argued that if the Prime Minister who enjoyed a majority in the Lok Sabha had given the dissolution recommendation, then it is binding on the President, and the Prime Minister, who still enjoyed majority support in the dissolved Lok Sabha, need not resign.
Unconvinced with this informal advice from the Government, President Kalam sought a specific legal opinion from the AG. The opinion he sought was clear and unambiguous: whether as President, he was bound by Vajpayee’s advice to dissolve the Lok Sabha. The opinion he sought was much more specific and embarrassing to the then Government than the one he posed to Vajpayee whether he should resign, following the submission of dissolution-recommendation. AG not only confirmed to me the President’s official request –in writing to him– but to another legal journalist, Mr.Manoj Mitta, whom I sounded. (He later wrote an edit page article in Indian Express on this.) Our inference at that time was that a President would seek such an opinion whether he was “bound” by the advice, only when he wanted to reject it. Rashtrapathi Bhavan sources, however, had a different story at that time: That Kalam, being a scientist, has always posed several questions and sought answers, before he took any decision. Therefore, too much should not be read in the opinion he sought from the AG. Whatever the truth, from Sorabjee’s own account of the episode – he not only gave a written and oral advice, but cited a few Supreme Court’s judgments, with enough reading material for Kalam to read and understand himself, that he was “bound” by the advice – it is clear that Kalam had taken his decision very seriously, rather than mechanically endorse the Government’s recommendation as his predecessors would have done. ( I have my reservations on whether President K.R.Narayanan must have done more than what he did, during the shameful Gujarat pogrom of 2002. He must have done more, brought much more pressure on the Government of the day, to get the State Government dismissed, and impose President’s rule. But this would require a separate post to elaborate)
Sorabjee referred to the Supreme Court’s judgment in the U.N.R.Rao v.Indira Gandhi case (AIR 1971 SC 1002), to underscore the legal basis for the argument that the Council of Ministers need not resign along with the Cabinet’s advice to the President to dissolve the Lok Sabha. However, this judgment was not relevant in satisfying the President. U.N.R.Rao had appealed in the Supreme Court against the Madras High Court’s judgment rejecting his plea to declare that Indira Gandhi, after the dissolution of the Fourth Lok Sabha had no constitutional authority to hold office of and to function as Prime Minister. His contention was that under the Constitution as soon as the Lok Sabha was dissolved, the Council of Ministers ceased to hold office, as Article 75(3) provides that “the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of the People (Lok Sabha)”. Once the Lok Sabha was dissolved under Article 85(2), he argued that it would not be possible for the Council of Ministers to be responsible to the Lower House. In that event, he suggested that the President could exercise the Executive Power of the Union either directly or through officers subordinate to him as provided in Article 53(1) of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court, rejecting Rao’s appeal, held that Article 74(1) – which says “There shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President in the exercise of his functions’ – is mandatory, and, therefore, the President cannot exercise the executive power without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, Article 75(3) must be read as meaning that it applies only when the Lok Sabha does not stand dissolved or prorogued, the court ruled. It is obvious that this judgment was not relevant in answering Kalam’s query to the Prime Minister. Kalam wanted to know whether the Prime Minister should resign and continue as the caretaker prime minister, and not whether the President himself could run the affairs of the Government without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. Although Indira Gandhi’s Government did not resign along with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha in 1970 and 1977, it is reasonable to suggest that the President, on both the occasions, was prima facie satisfied –along with the rest of the nation - about the bona fide ( in ital.) reasons for the dissolutions, and did not simply accept the Cabinet recommendation because her Government enjoyed majority support in the Lok Sabha. On December 27, 1970, when the President, V.V.Giri dissolved the Fourth Lok Sabha on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, told the nation in a broadcast that a new election was necessary, a year ahead of schedule, because “we are concerned not merely with remaining in power, but with using that power to ensure a better life for the vast majority of our people and to satisfy their aspirations for a just social order. In the present situation, we feel we cannot go ahead with our proclaimed programme and keep our pledges to our people….Time will not wait for us. The millions who demand food, shelter and jobs are pressing for action. Power in a democracy resides with people. That is why we have decided to go to our people and to seek a fresh mandate from them.”
What seemed to have influenced Indira Gandhi’s timing of elections was a Supreme Court verdict, delivered only 12 days earlier, invalidating the presidential proclamation that had abolished privy purses of the princes by derecognising the former rulers. This judgment, coming on top of the earlier ones throwing out a succession of laws concerning bank nationalisation, led to intense criticism among Indira Gandhi’s supporters that the higher judiciary, determined to protect private property and vested interests, had become an obstacle to social justice, and therefore, there was need to muster enough support in Parliament to overcome the judicial hurdle to progressive legislation. By contrast, India under Vajpayee was purportedly shining and feeling good, and the ruling combine was enjoying a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha to enact any legislation it wanted. Vajpayee made no effort to take the nation into confidence about his compulsions for dissolution, as Indira Gandhi did in 1970.
The dissolution of Fifth Lok Sabha –whose tenure was extended by a year -in 1977, prelude to holding of general elections, was necessitated to lift the Internal Emergency, proclaimed in 1975, and to revive democracy. As such there was sufficient bona fide ( in ital.) reason to justify dissolution. Indeed, the Constitution makers intended no distinction between Governments enjoying majority support in the Lok Sabha and the ones which have seemingly lost it, while discussing the draft Article in the Constitution dealing with the President’s power to dissolve the Lok Sabha. It is instructive to go through the relevant debates in the Constituent Assembly when it discussed draft Article 69 (corresponding to Article 85 of the Constitution of India, dealing with the President’s power to summon, prorogue and dissolve the Lok Sabha) on May 18, 1949. Moving an amendment, an eminent member of the assembly, Professor K.T.Shah suggested the following addition to the Article: “on the advice of the Prime Minister, if such dissolution is earlier than the completion of the normal term as provided in section 68(2); provided that the reasons given by the Prime Minister for such dissolution shall be recorded in writing.” B.R.Ambedkar, while rejecting Shah’s amendment, said: “If the object of Prof.K.T.Shah is that the Prime Minister should not arbitrarily ask for dissolution, I think that object would be served if the convention regarding dissolution was properly observed.” Ambedkar pointed out, citing the British convention, that the King was not necessarily bound to accept the advice of the Prime Minister who wanted a dissolution of Parliament.
He explained: “the President of the Indian Union will test the feelings of the House whether the House agrees that there should be dissolution or the affairs should be carried on with some other leader without dissolution. If he finds that the feeling was that there was no other alternative except dissolution, he would as a Constitutional President undoubtedly accept the advice of the Prime Minister to dissolve the House.”. Ambedkar added after rejecting Shah’s proposal for a written request from the Prime Minister: “There are other ways for the President to test the feeling of the House and to find out whether the Prime Minister was asking for dissolution of the House for bona fide ( in ital.) reasons or for purely party purposes. I think we could trust the President to make a correct decision between the party leaders and the House as a whole.” It is thus open to history to judge whether President Kalam erred in accepting the Cabinet advice to dissolve the 13th Lok Sabha in the face of clear indications that the Government was doing so to favour the ruling party and in the absence of any clear explanation from the Prime Minister stating the bona fide ( in ital.) reasons for dissolution.
In his advice to the President, Soli Sorabjee had referred to the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench judgment in the Samsher Singh v State of Punjab (AIR 1974 SC 2192) case to drive home the point that he was bound by the Council of Ministers’s advice to him. Here, I am giving below the relevant paragraph in Justice Krishna Iyer’s concurrent Judgment in that case to suggest why Sorabjee might well be wrong. (Paragraph 156)
“We declare the law of this branch of our Constitution to be that the President and Governor, custodians of all executive and other powers under various Articles, shall, by virtue of these provisions, exercise their formal Constitutional powers only upon and in accordance with the advice of their Ministers save in a few well known exceptional situations. Without being dogmatic or exhaustive, these situations relate to (a) the choice of Prime Minister (Chief Minister), restricted though this choice is by the paramount consideration that he should command a majority in the House; (b) the dismissal of a Government which has lost its majority in the House but refuses to quit office; (c) the dissolution of the House where an appeal to the country is necessitous, although in this area the Head of State should avoid getting involved in politics and must be advised by his Prime Minister (Chief Minister) who will eventually take the responsibility for the step. We do not examine in detail the Constitutional proprieties in these predicaments except to utter the caution that even here the action must be compelled by the peril to democracy and the appeal to the House or to the country must become blatantly obligatory.”
Even as per Samsher Singh, Kalam must have been well within his powers to refuse a dissolution in 2004, because, Vajpayee’s recommendation was not accompanied by the obligatory appeal to the country, or to the House, explaining the rationale for premature dissolution.






10 comments:

Srinivasan said...

Interesting piece. The President is a ceremonial titular head in our system. If Kalam had rejected an advice given by the Council of Ministers who enjoyed the confidence of Lok Sabha, would that not be a dangerous precedent, breaking the central tenet of our constituitional set up? Here the mere reason that Vajpayee did not provide a "obligatory reason" to Kalam sounds a tad light to warrant its rejection. We won't even know the full details of what transpired between Kalam and Vajpayee.

Mr.Venkatesan's may wish to take Indira's bombastic political reasons in 1971 at face value. But to expect all readers to accept it as such is asking too much.

Morever even following Dr.Ambedkar's argument, was there an alternate Government possible in the 13th Lok sabha without NDA? Unlike K.R.Narayanan who searched in vain for 2 weeks for such an outcome in the 12th Lok Sabha, Kalam did the right thing; on both legal terms and practical terms.

Srinivasan said...

Interesting piece. The President is a ceremonial titular head in our system. If Kalam had rejected an advice given by the Council of Ministers who enjoyed the confidence of Lok Sabha, would that not be a dangerous precedent, breaking the central tenet of our constituitional set up? Here the mere reason that Vajpayee did not provide a "obligatory reason" to Kalam sounds a tad light to warrant its rejection. We won't even know the full details of what transpired between Kalam and Vajpayee.

Mr.Venkatesan's may wish to take Indira's bombastic political reasons in 1971 at face value. But to expect all readers to accept it as such is asking too much.

Morever even following Dr.Ambedkar's argument, was there an alternate Government possible in the 13th Lok sabha without NDA? Unlike K.R.Narayanan who searched in vain for 2 weeks for such an outcome in the 12th Lok Sabha, Kalam did the right thing; on both legal terms and practical terms.

tarunabh said...

another aspect of Kalam's presidency not remembered any more was his intervention in the death penalty case. he demanded pardon for all death row convicts - http://www.indianexpress.com/res/web/pIe/full_story.php?content_id=80206
argued for abolition of death penalty http://www.indianexpress.com/res/web/pIe/full_story.php?content_id=80547
and also called upon the parliament to frame a law to guide discretion in death penalty cases http://humanrights-india.blogspot.com/2005/10/law-to-guide-discretion-on-mercy.html

V.Venkatesan said...

Dear Mr.Srinivasan, Thanks very much for the quick response. Both the CAD and Shamsher Singh clearly suggest that PM who recommends dissolution must take the nation, the House, and the President into confidence, explain the reasons for calling early polls. Vajpayee had no explanation: none was asked for, and all assumed that the NDA wanted to advance the elections to derive electoral benefits from the feel-good factor, then believed to be predominant among the voters. The suggestion in CAD, Shamser Singh was clearly to carve out an exception to the 'binding rule' and not allow an incumbent PM play havoc with the institutions for the sake of narrow party interests.
Indira Gandhi in 1970-71 was perhaps guided by party interests in going for early elections. But she articulated reasonable, convincing political arguments, which seemed to go beyond narrow party interests - whereas Vajpayee had taken all of us for a ride, by illegally reducing the life of Lok Sabha by six months, and without bothering or articulating any reason. If you followed the 2004 election campaign, none of the NDA leaders including Vajpayee bothered to explain it. In my view, on this issue, we cannot be guided by conventions in the U .K., because we have very clear guidance in the CAD and Shamsher Singh.
Alternate Govt. might not have been possible in 13th Lok Sabha. The question did not arise because Vajpayee had not resigned, but only sought dissolution. So, Kalam could have been legally advised to counsel Vajpayee not to insist on his request, go back and govern for the rest of his term.

Red said...

Fascinating, James Manor in his article in Public Institutions in India (Pratap Mehta, Devesh Kapur eds.) argues that the president is underequipped with resources for his constitutional role. Apparently he is served by a single IAS officer who serves him as a constitutional/legal/procedural advisor.

Interestingly, Austin recounts Prasad's attempt to define a role of a more powerful president, relying on the similiarity of the GOI Act 1935 and the Gov-General's role in it. Prasad was repeatedly checked by Nehru's threats to resign

Srinivasan said...

Thanks again to Mr.Venkatesan for his reply. I went back and read the archives around Jan 28 - Feb 2nd week and also the article he wrote for Frontline about this issue. He seems to concede the play of politics in 1971 ( BTW Congress faced a vertical split, reducing Indira's govt to a minority, supported by Left). In early 2004, NDA was undergoing some reconfigurations. DMK was out, ADMK was in. George Fernandes was trying to get Mulayam in too.

Without passing value judgements about Indira or Vajpayee's motives, this argument boils down to whether Vajpayee gave a reason to justify dissolution and whether the absence of obligatory reason was sufficient to reject the advice. My contention is that if Kalam had pointed out this to Vajpayee, Vajpayee could have countered him with his own set of bombastics.(This might have happened in private between them, we never know). That would have left Kalam with no other alternative. Then we will come to the question of whether his reasoning was genuine or not. If Kalam were to pursue this line, of investigating the reasoning of the advice rendered by the council of ministers, he would have been treading dangerous uncharted territory.

V.Venkatesan said...

Dear Red, I have the book which you have referred to in your comment, but I missed reading it earlier. After you suggested, I read James Manor's piece, and found it insightful. Thanks for the suggestion.

V.Venkatesan said...

Dear Red,
Can you give me the reference to Austin's article as well? Thanks.

Gopal Krishna said...

Dr Kalam's Obsession with DIVERSION of RIVERS

Dr Kalam's role from 2002 to 2007

Dr Kalam has been talking about "diversion of rivers" terming it as Networking of Rivers since August 2002. On the eve of the 55th anniversary of our Independence, he said, "It is paradoxical to see floods in one part of our country while some other parts face drought. This drought - flood phenomenon is a recurring feature. The need of the hour is to have a water mission, which will enable availability of water to the fields, villages, towns and industries throughout the year, even while maintaining environmental purity. One major part of the water mission would be networking of our rivers. Technological and project management capabilities of our country can rise to the occasion and make this river networking a reality with long term planning and proper investment...Such programmes should have a large scale people participation even at the conceptual and project planning stages. The entire programme should revolve around economic viability leading to continued prosperity for our people with larger employment potential, environmental sustainability, grass root level motivation and benefit sharing."

If one were to evaluate his performance keeping, it would appear that he did not do justice to the august office of President by proposing Diversion of Rivers/Interlinking of Rivers which was rejected by S R Hashim Commission on Water Resources, a High Power Committee of Government of India as per its Integrated Water Resource Development Plan.

Dr Kalam paid no heed to the solemn words of the Constitution. He proposed something which will cause millions of water disputes across the country and in South Asia. He did it perhaps under the influence of the ruling alliance at that moment which made the ILR project appear as if it was the panacea of all ills afflicting India nay South Asia.

Referring to diversion of rivers which he termed networking of rivers, in his 2002 speech Dr Kalam said, "Such programmes should have a large scale people participation even at the conceptual and project planning stages." He did not talk about any such participation after his proposal of ILR started taking shape at least on paper. It seems according to Dr Kalam, "people's participation" means saying "yes" to whatever governments propose be it diversion of rivers/ILR or SEZ or land acquisition.

Although Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources had promised to the nation a debate on Diversion of Rivers in both houses of the parliament. He did not call for any people's participation when in utter contempt towards parliament Ken-Betwa MOU was signed although the much-advertised debate is yet to take place? Is the debate if any meant ask the nation to accept the fait accompli?

What is most shocking is that he has till date not taken cognizance of the sane voices, which say the project is 'Not the litmus test for patriotism'. Dr Kalam chooses to hear and read only those views which support his proposition anything is contrary to his views is anti-development and anti-national.

Given below is an extract of Dr Jairam Ramesh's speech in the Rajya Sabha debate on the working of Ministry of Water Resources.

Sir, since 1951, according to the Tenth Plan document,
there have been 1,300 irrigation projects that have been taken up
for implementation, out of which, only 900 have actually been
completed. So, in this country today, there are 400 irrigation
projects being implemented at some critical levels of financing, and
I think, really this reinforces the point that I want to make that
it is really project implementation, projects under implementation, that need to be completed. You don't need a new category called 'projects under contemplation'.

Sir, so much has been said on river linking. This was made the touchstone of Indian nationalism by the NDA Government.

Sir, there is an Integrated Water Resource Development Plan. This is
the Report of the National Commission for Water Resource Development set up by the Ministry of Water Resources. That submitted its Report in September, 1999. Sir, I am just reading from page 9 of its Summary. This is an official, Government of India document. This was submitted to the Ministry of Water Resources. And it is so
confidential that when I asked for this Report, without casting
aspersions on anybody, I should say, I got a small note from the
Ministry, hand written, saying that "Volume-II is highly
confidential for which a specific request has to be made, and get
the written approval of the Secretary or the Minister." But I did
manage to get Volume-I, which is obviously in the public domain.
What does Volume-I say? Volume-I says:

"The Himalayan river linking data is not freely available, but on
the basis of public information, it appears that the Himalayan river
linking component is not feasible for the period of review up to
2050."

And then it goes on highlighting what the problems are in the entire
plan of linking the Himalayan rivers.

As far as the Peninsular river component is concerned, the
conclusion of this National Commission for Integrated Water
Resources Development is that "there is no imperative necessity for massive water transfer. The assessed needs of the basins could be met from full development and efficient utilisation of intra-basic resources except in the case of Cauvery and Vaigai basins. Some water transfer from Godavari towards the south should take care of the deficit in the Cauvery and Vaigai basins."

Sir, the point which I want to make here is that the entire weight
of technical opinion has been to proceed with caution on the river-
linking scheme.

If you look at the actual feasibility study, one feasibility study that is actually put on the website of the Ministry, which is Ken-Betwa link for which a feasibility study has been done, even there, you will find, not only from a financial point of view, not only from a project implementation point of view, but also from a human and ecological point of view, that the implications of this river-linking scheme are going to be quite stupendous and quite enormous. Rather than making the river-linking scheme the touchstone of patriotism, rather than making the entire scheme to be the litmus
test of who is Indian and who is not Indian, by these self-styled
patriots, I think we should go cautiously.

On the scale and magnitude that is being talking about, I think we
need to proceed with some caution; obviously, it needs to be
sequenced. There may be some cases where intra-basin transfers could
be financially feasible, but I do believe that in today's day and
age, with today's media, with today's civil society, it is not
possible for us to overlook the ecological and human population
resettlement consequences of such a massive scheme. Yesterday, you
would have seen in the newspapers, Sir, that there is a new study
that has come out, that has called into question the utility of
Bhakhra Nangal Dam. Sir, even today's day and age, I do not think
that we can rush into this project oblivious of the consequences of
resettlement of millions of people, and let us also face it, Sir,
India's track record in resettlement and rehabilitation has been pathetic, has been poor. This is a blot on our collective
conscience.

With the type of track record that we have had, if we embark on this
fanciful scheme of river linking with 30 storage reservoirs
involving massive displacement of people, I think, it is going to be
fraught with grave consequences.

The above speech shows that there are parliamentarians and ministers who are aware of the concerns of the citizens but Dr Kalam pays no heed to them.

One is beginning to wonder as to why is that the President of India seems to be representing only the State of Tamil Nadu, the only state which informed the Supreme Court that it wants this project to happen because it has exhausted all its water resources. Will Dr Kalam explain to the nation as to how does he represent others for instance Kerela, which has unanimously rejected the project?

We all know our ministers and officials get post retirement enlightenment. Will Dr Kalam respond to the issues and concerns raised in a point by point manner before his retirement? or will he become enlightened only after retirement?

Why has "Inconvenient Truth" and reality of climate change not compelled a rethinking with regard to such mega projects?. Will our government pay heed? Will so called Surplus and Deficit rivers remain so?

Dr Ramesh's speech does show that there are sane voices within the government. Is Dr Kalam listening?

Gopal Krishna said...

Obsession with DIVERSION of RIVERS

Dr Kalam's role from 2002 to 2007

Dr Kalam has been talking about "diversion of rivers" terming it as Networking of Rivers since August 2002. On the eve of the 55th anniversary of our Independence, he said, "It is paradoxical to see floods in one part of our country while some other parts face drought. This drought - flood phenomenon is a recurring feature. The need of the hour is to have a water mission, which will enable availability of water to the fields, villages, towns and industries throughout the year, even while maintaining environmental purity. One major part of the water mission would be networking of our rivers. Technological and project management capabilities of our country can rise to the occasion and make this river networking a reality with long term planning and proper investment...Such programmes should have a large scale people participation even at the conceptual and project planning stages. The entire programme should revolve around economic viability leading to continued prosperity for our people with larger employment potential, environmental sustainability, grass root level motivation and benefit sharing."

If one were to evaluate his performance keeping in mind the Preamble of the CONSTITUTION OF INDIA, it would appear that he did not do justice to the august office of President by proposing Diversion of Rivers/Interlinking of Rivers which was rejected by S R Hashim Commission on Water Resources, a High Power Committee of Government of India as per its Integrated Water Resource Development Plan.

Dr Kalam paid no heed to the solemn words of the Constitution. He proposed something which will cause millions of water disputes across the country and in South Asia. He did it perhaps under the influence of the ruling alliance at that moment which made the ILR project appear as if it was the panacea of all ills afflicting India nay South Asia.

Referring to diversion of rivers which he termed networking of rivers, in his 2002 speech Dr Kalam said, "Such programmes should have a large scale people participation even at the conceptual and project planning stages." He did not talk about any such participation after his proposal of ILR started taking shape at least on paper. It seems according to Dr Kalam, "people's participation" means saying "yes" to whatever governments propose be it diversion of rivers/ILR or SEZ or land acquisition.

Although Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources had promised to the nation a debate on Diversion of Rivers in both houses of the parliament. He did not call for any people's participation when in utter contempt towards parliament Ken-Betwa MOU was signed although the much-advertised debate is yet to take place? Is the debate if any meant ask the nation to accept the fait accompli?

What is most shocking is that he has till date not taken cognizance of the sane voices, which say the project is 'Not the litmus test for patriotism'. Dr Kalam chooses to hear and read only those views which support his proposition anything is contrary to his views is anti-development and anti-national.

Given below is an extract of Dr Jairam Ramesh's speech in the Rajya Sabha debate on the working of Ministry of Water Resources.

Sir, since 1951, according to the Tenth Plan document,
there have been 1,300 irrigation projects that have been taken up
for implementation, out of which, only 900 have actually been
completed. So, in this country today, there are 400 irrigation
projects being implemented at some critical levels of financing, and
I think, really this reinforces the point that I want to make that
it is really project implementation, projects under implementation,
that need to be completed. You don't need a new category
called 'projects under contemplation'.

Sir, so much has been said on river linking. This was made the
touchstone of Indian nationalism by the NDA Government.

Sir, there is an Integrated Water Resource Development Plan. This is
the Report of the National Commission for Water Resource Development
set up by the Ministry of Water Resources. That submitted its Report
in September, 1999. Sir, I am just reading from page 9 of its
Summary. This is an official, Government of India document. This was
submitted to the Ministry of Water Resources. And it is so
confidential that when I asked for this Report, without casting
aspersions on anybody, I should say, I got a small note from the
Ministry, hand written, saying that "Volume-II is highly
confidential for which a specific request has to be made, and get
the written approval of the Secretary or the Minister." But I did
manage to get Volume-I, which is obviously in the public domain.
What does Volume-I say? Volume-I says:

"The Himalayan river linking data is not freely available, but on
the basis of public information, it appears that the Himalayan river
linking component is not feasible for the period of review up to
2050."

And then it goes on highlighting what the problems are in the entire
plan of linking the Himalayan rivers.

As far as the Peninsular river component is concerned, the
conclusion of this National Commission for Integrated Water
Resources Development is that "there is no imperative necessity for
massive water transfer. The assessed needs of the basins could be
met from full development and efficient utilisation of intra-basic
resources except in the case of Cauvery and Vaigai basins. Some
water transfer from Godavari towards the south should take care of
the deficit in the Cauvery and Vaigai basins."

Sir, the point which I want to make here is that the entire weight
of technical opinion has been to proceed with caution on the river-
linking scheme.

If you look at the actual feasibility study, one feasibility study
that is actually put on the website of the Ministry, which is Ken-
Betwa link for which a feasibility study has been done, even there,
you will find, not only from a financial point of view, not only
from a project implementation point of view, but also from a human
and ecological point of view, that the implications of this river-
linking scheme are going to be quite stupendous and quite enormous.
Rather than making the river-linking scheme the touchstone of
patriotism, rather than making the entire scheme to be the litmus
test of who is Indian and who is not Indian, by these self-styled
patriots, I think we should go cautiously.

On the scale and magnitude that is being talking about, I think we
need to proceed with some caution; obviously, it needs to be
sequenced. There may be some cases where intra-basin transfers could
be financially feasible, but I do believe that in today's day and
age, with today's media, with today's civil society, it is not
possible for us to overlook the ecological and human population
resettlement consequences of such a massive scheme. Yesterday, you
would have seen in the newspapers, Sir, that there is a new study
that has come out, that has called into question the utility of
Bhakhra Nangal Dam. Sir, even today's day and age, I do not think
that we can rush into this project oblivious of the consequences of
resettlement of millions of people, and let us also face it, Sir,
India's track record in resettlement and rehabilitation has been
pathetic, has been poor. This is a blot on our collective
conscience.

With the type of track record that we have had, if we embark on this
fanciful scheme of river linking with 30 storage reservoirs
involving massive displacement of people, I think, it is going to be
fraught with grave consequences.

The above speech shows that there are parliamentarians and ministers who are aware of the concerns of the citizens but Dr Kalam pays no heed to them.

One is beginning to wonder as to why is that the President of India seems to be representing only the State of Tamil Nadu, the only state which informed the Supreme Court that it wants this project to happen because it has exhausted all its water resources. Will Dr Kalam explain to the nation as to how does he represent others for instance Kerela, which has unanimously rejected the project?

We all know our ministers and officials get post retirement enlightenment. Will Dr Kalam respond to the issues and concerns raised in a point by point manner before his retirement? or will he become enlightened only after retirement?

Why has "Inconvenient Truth" and reality of climate change not compelled a rethinking with regard to such mega projects?. Will our government pay heed? Will so called Surplus and Deficit rivers remain so?

Dr Ramesh's speech does show that there are sane voices within the government. Is Dr Kalam listening?