When Openness is Unfreedom (alternatively, when data is unfreedom) – Part II

This is the second post in the series that I began in October. I want to thank Rasagy Sharma for prompting me to put down the second post in this series.

This evening, Rasagy raised a question on twitter about whether the effort of a developer to make the database of the Indian railways downloadable is ‘official’ or not? As Rasagy later explained, the downloadable database is a list of trains, stations and the railway timetable. This list has has been made available in various downloadable formats (such as .csv, .pdf, etc) to encourage developers/interested persons to make web/mobile based applications. Rasagy’s question was more in the nature of checking the legality of  the act of putting this information/database on another website when it is explicitly copyright of the Indian Railways (as declared on their website). He argued that cities such as New York and some countries across the world have made this information ‘open’, meaning available to the ‘public’. Hence, it is unreasonable for this government entity i.e., the Indian railways, to be ‘closed’ about reuse of this information by private entities and individuals.

Continue reading “When Openness is Unfreedom (alternatively, when data is unfreedom) – Part II”

When Openness is Unfreedom (alternatively, when data is unfreedom) – Part I

“I think we need to remember that a point of view brought under public scrutiny and discussion in an isolated manner may sometimes present a distorted or incomplete picture of what really happened in the process of making the final decisions.”

Dr. Manmohan Singh, talking in the context of RTI and decision-making

Lately, one of the things that has been bothering me about news reportage in the media is its propensity to react to any and every quote from a politician on issues of corruption, freedom of information, transparency and the likes. Beginning from April this year, newspapers such as the Times of India have latched on to every quote they have felt to be controversial, without even so as much reflecting on the veracity, validity or the thinking that has gone behind the statement.

Continue reading “When Openness is Unfreedom (alternatively, when data is unfreedom) – Part I”

The Sublime Object of Anti-Corruption: Sumandro

 Guest post by SUMANDRO

Recent discussion around the issue of corruption in Kafila has generated several references to and logical possibilities of understanding anti-corruption as an ideology, however, without finally drawing that conclusion. In this post I argue that the specific ideological functioning of this idea of anti-corruption is central for understanding the nature of the movement.

Partha Chatterjee writes: “The word [‘corruption’] creates an illusion – a fundamentally false image – of equivalence between two very different practices.” But for Chatterjee, this illusory character of ‘corruption’ is not comparable to the kind of illusion involved in the ‘mystical character of commodities.’ He argues: “But it is this illusion of equivalence that has been achieved, for the moment at least, by the rhetorical and performative adroitness of the Anna campaign and the spectacular bungling of the Congress leadership.” The multivalent illusion of ‘corruption,’ for Chatterjee, is shaped by the skilful performance from the activists’ side and lack of the same from that of the government. I would later argue that on the contrary, the skilful performance by the activists and the lack of the same from not only the government’s side but also that of different left positions are actually made possible by the essentially multivalent nature of the ideology of anti-corruption.

Continue reading “The Sublime Object of Anti-Corruption: Sumandro”

Letter from Ladakh

13th August 2011

Dear Chintan,

Some days ago, I was at Pangong Tso. Pangong is a lake, a large saltwater lake. I heard some days ago that the lake is not very deep. The waters were blue, green and clear at different spots, reminding me of my first visit to Robben Islands in Cape Town in 1999 where I was awed at the different colours that the sea assumed in the course of its course. There is no fish in Pangong lake, as I was also told some days later. We only saw a mother duck swimming with her babies and a few insect-like fish. Also, there is no boating permitted on the lake. This is because Pangong Tso is a border area where India border with China and for security reasons, no activity is permitted on the lake.  Continue reading “Letter from Ladakh”

Cities and Infrastructure – The Road Widening Saga in Bangalore

This evening, I was sitting in a coffee shop and writing about the sociology of information, how information is mired in relationships and how trust, suspicion and social relations develop in the course of circulation and exchange of information. As I was beginning to disentangle the complex web of legitimacy and regulations surrounding information, a friend called to inform that some activists and citizens had been arrested for protesting against the tree felling and road widening at Sankey Road in the northern part of Bangalore. In the last few days, the conflict regarding road widening and tree felling at Sankey Road got strong coverage in the media because citizens began gathering around the trees and the roads to prevent authorities from felling the trees. Despite this, the authorities went about felling the trees for widening the roads. The activists and protestors were clearly becoming a nuisance for the government officials and institutions who have not been able to execute the works. Hence, today, at some point, some of our activist friends were arrested on the false charges that they had assaulted public officials in their conduct of ‘government’ duty. The charges were filed under section 343 or 353 CrPC which also implied that the arrest was non-bailable. Over the course of the evening, news went about on FaceBook and Twitter about these arrests, and people from in and around Sankey Road were called to silently protest at the Aiyyappa Temple where the trees were being felled for enabling the road widening. The arrested activists and citizens were released from jail and all the charges against them were ‘dropped’ at about 6 PM. The court also granted a stay order on the tree felling around the same time, with further hearings and orders to arrive on Monday. Continue reading “Cities and Infrastructure – The Road Widening Saga in Bangalore”

Mediation, Middle Grounds and Meddling – The Medley of Middlemen

[Dedicated to Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay on account of “receiving ends”]

Couple of weeks ago, I was attempting to rent out the apartment that my mother and I own in an urban sprawl in South Bangalore. Among others, a broker – referring to himself as a ‘property consultant’ – approached me with a client. I met the client and conducted some negotiations. Eventually, however, I rented the apartment to persons who had approached me before the broker and his client saw our place. I politely refused the broker’s client. The broker contacted me soon thereafter and began issuing threats for not renting the place to his client. He threatened that it would be dangerous for me to spoil my business with him. Initially, I was also nervous and upset because I was unsure if the broker had an office in the neighbourhood and whether he was powerful enough to spread false rumours about our property which could potentially devalue the property and/or spoil my relations with the new tenants who had just come in. He then came to the apartment complex where the flat is situated and created a small ruckus. Finally, failing on all counts, he threatened to lodge a false police complaint against me for allegedly taking a deposit from his client without issuing a receipt. The broker’s threats turned out to be empty and damp squib as him. He never showed up after that dramatic afternoon of back-and-forth(s). Continue reading “Mediation, Middle Grounds and Meddling – The Medley of Middlemen”

Of Fakes, Duplicates and Originals – the Tale of Ration Cards and the Trail of Transparency in Governance

On 2nd May 2011, the front page of the Times of India (TOI) beamed and screamed: “Don’t pay a bribe, file an RTI application – Equally Effective in Ensuring Service”. Two doctoral candidates at Yale University’s political science department had conducted field experiments in the bastis in Delhi in the year 2007 regarding poor people’s experiences in making applications for ration cards. The researchers – Leonid V Peisakhin and Paul Pinto – found that persons who paid bribes had their ration cards processed faster. However, those who filed an RTI request to know about the status of their ration card application, were “almost as successful”, the TOI report claimed. (The details of the study and the outcomes can be accessed through Peisakhin and Pinto’s paper “Is transparency an effective anti-corruption strategy? Evidence from a field experiment in India.” The paper was published in 2010 in Regulation and Governance Journal, volume 4, pp 261-280.) The researchers had also put people in two other control groups – one which neither paid a bribe nor followed-up and a second group which had filed their applications along with a letter of recommendation from the local NGO. Both these groups were not as successful as the former two groups in obtaining their ration cards. The researchers’ analyses veered towards two conclusions: first, that the RTI Act serves the poor who are usually denied/deprived of information. Secondly, reforms/laws which give more ‘voice’ to citizens and allow them to scrutinize the functioning of officials and elected representatives are more effective in ensuring transparency and gaining access to public services. Continue reading “Of Fakes, Duplicates and Originals – the Tale of Ration Cards and the Trail of Transparency in Governance”