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CRPF SUKMA BLAST: Did not check the road for mines admits Chhattisgarh Police

Does the left hand know what the right is doing? Not always.

In a stunning revelation, it is now emerging that neither the local police nor the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – both tasked with countering the left-wing Maoist violence in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh – bothered checking the road for mines before allowing troops to ply on it leading to the carnage on March 13 where nine policemen were killed in an mine explosion.

Around noon on Tuesday, in the state’s Sukma district, men from 212 battalion of the CRPF were commuting from the Kistaram camp to the one at Palodi when their Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) was blasted by insurgents using an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

Two more policemen who were in the same vehicle are currently being treated for the injuries they sustained.

While the CRPF maintained that the state police was tasked with clearing the road from all forms of threat on that ill-fated day, the state police said did not have the resources required for that task.

Sundarraj Patilingam, the Chhattisgarh Police Deputy Inspector General (DIG) who looks at the violence-hit region said, “On that day, the state police undertook an area domination exercise (this involves occupying the dominating features along a route to secure a large area) between Kistaram and Palodi. It was a decision taken based on resources available before the officials on ground. In hindsight, we believe a more intensive de-mining and ROP (Road Opening Party is specifically tasked with minutely scanning the road to terminate threats like the IEDs) could have resulted in detection of the IED. Therefore the incident could have been averted”.

He added, “But ideal conditions don’t always exist and senior officials have to visit camps”.

For years now, Maoist rebels have used IEDs planted underneath the road surface to target security personnel. A thorough ROP is thus the only way to counter the threat.

Vehicular movements are generally avoided unless personnel actually conduct an ROP exercise and give the green light.

Warning was ignored 

Barely five hours before the mine blast, the Maoists fired upon personnel from the CRPF’s special unit, CoBRA (208th battalion) ahead of the Kistaram camp at about 7am.

“We’d hardly covered three kilometres on our way to Palodi, nearly 250 Maoist insurgents attacked us. We hit them back and they retreated,” said a policeman who was aware of the fight.

As a result of this, a pre-planned visit to the Kistaram and other camps by the Sukma Superintendent of Police and senior CRPF officer was cancelled.

Nevertheless, at around 9am, the SP, Abhishek Meena, landed in a helicopter at Kistaram, unaccompanied by the senior CRPF officer.

“Our 208 CoBRA had warned about the presence of large number of Maoists with sophisticated arms in the area. The Sukma Superintendent of Police (SP) went ahead with his pre-planned visit after assessing the situation. Our Commanding Officer sent the MPVs one of which got caught in the IED blast”, said the Director General of CRPF, RR Bhatnagar.

Asked if the SP Sukma should have paid heed to the caution advised by his force, Bhatnagar said, “There is no point in conducting these post mortems. We have to look ahead”.

When contacted, the Sukma SP Meena declined to comment.



Time ‘We The People’ return to the centre stage

Unlike every other Republic Day, this one brings with it a sense of gloom.

I say this for the friends, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters as well as grandparents who are no more amidst us. Their exits were forced and absolutely avoidable.

Am referring to the deaths in Mumbai’s Kamla Mills fire, Saki Naka eatery fire, the Elphinstone bridge stampede, the Bawana fire tragedy in Delhi, pollution catastrophe in the whole of north India and pothole accident deaths in Bengaluru and other cities and the list goes on.

What is common here?

A sign of obvious danger that was left unattended and it ended up consuming innocent lives.

In each of these instances, authorities reacted after the tragedy had run its course. They then pointed to flaws and regulations that were violated.

When justice is eventually done, there is little solace either for the victims or the society.

Tragedies mentioned above aren’t new. What worries me is that our response isn’t either.

On January 23, the apex court said the following: Human life does not seem to have great value. (

What can be done?

Everyone agrees that government machinery is inefficient. Some may even say it is understaffed and overworked. It is my belief that it can do with assistance from citizens.

Legislation which eases access and accountability between the governed and governing can work wonders. Making citizens their eyes and ears will go a long way in restoring harmony.

Remember what the government did in the aftermath of 26/11 tragedy? Mindful of the fact that the navy, the coast guard and police can’t monitor every inch of the ocean they co-opted the local fishermen. Few would know that this exercise has been practiced and refined to an extent that fishermen by the pressing of a button now can alert that authorities to anything they find amiss.

Coming back, can’t we harness the likes of WhatsApp or other digital tools in alerting and expecting response from the authorities? A damaged bridge, an open manhole, a street lacking street lights, a restaurant flouting rules and the like.

Regrettably, legislation that empowers citizens and holds the system to account like Lokpal, Citizen’s charter etc lie wasted.

Founding fathers of the republic did not envisage the Republic Day parade. They also did not envisage it as a day to make grand diplomatic statements like it seems to have become the norm of late.

They envisaged a republic dedicated to ‘We The People’.

It is time we, the citizens, force ourselves at the centre of the discourse.

(Featured image courtesy: The Quint)

MAOIST MENACE: Fewer attacks, fewer Maoist casualties but MORE SECURITY MEN killed. This and more that the govt won’t tell you.

Few paid attention to Ginugu Narsimha Reddy alias Jampanna (55) when he began as a technician in Hyderabad. But in the last week of December 2017, when he returned to the city with his 37-year-old wife Hinge Anitha, taking note was a posse of beaming Telangana policemen and excited journalists. Reddy, after all, had lived his life as a celebrated operative of the outlawed Communist Party of India (CPI) (Maoist). Joining the group in 1984, he started as a dalam commander and grew to the coveted position as a member of the apex, decision-making body, the Central Committee (CC).

2017, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) saw the decline in instances and intensity of Maoist violence. Recently, Home Minister Rajnath Singh pointed out “overall reduction of 21% in violence incidents over corresponding period of last year”.

But that is just one side.

While the attacks on security personnel may have reduced, Maoists have been able to carry out more intense attacks leading to increased casualties for security forces. At the same time they have been able to reduce their own casualties. Data accessed using the Right To Information (RTI) Act 2005:

Instances of security forces being attacked by Maoists

·         2016 – 111

·         2017 – 73

Killing of security force personnel by Maoists

·         2016 – 65

·         2017 – 72

Killing of Maoists by security forces

·         2016 – 222

·         2017 – 109

Surrenders by Maoist cadre

·         2014 – 623

·         2015 – 565

·         2016 – 1420 (1190 from Chhattisgarh alone)

·         2017 – 666 (till December 15, 2017)

Yet, as this report in THE HINDU ( claims, nearly 90 per cent of the surrenders  out of Chhattisgarh last year were fake.

Violence involving Maoists

·         2014 – 1091

·         2015 – 1089

·         2016 – 1048

·         2017 (till Nov 30, 2017) – 813

In this period, Maoists killed more than 212 security personnel and 616 civilians.

The Maoist movement was born before India became independent and it has survived by choosing when and where to fight. So it is hardly a surprise when the MHA notes that the Maoist have made efforts in “Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border areas, establishment of a base at the tri-junction of Kerala-Karnataka-Tamil Nadu and formation of a new Zone at the tri-junction of Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh”.

In trouble-prone areas, police is often the first and only significant arm of the administration. Yet instead of achieving the ideal average ratio of one policeman for every 547 citizens, India continues to field one policeman for every 720 citizens.

On ground, most admit that while Maoists can still pull a surprise, there exists better domination and coordination between various governmental agencies. “Instead of camping in villages and seeking food from the locals, Maoists are now camping in jungles and through emissaries are arranging their food since they fear locals will alert us,” said an officer posted in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district. In Odisha, “Barring the Malkangiri-Nuapada belt, they are nowhere”, said another officer.

Another theme emerging from the ground is the militarisation of Maoist insurgency. “Earlier their People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) was a significant component of the Maoist organisation, now increasingly it is becoming the only component. This works well for us as we are able to win over the people with sops and facilities,” said a source. In contrast, in addition to ramping up security, the government is avowedly constructing roads, mobile towers, schools, skill development centres, post offices, banks and ATMs to present its humane face.

The aging leadership and the lack of an effective second-rung in the CPI Maoist are bright spots when seen from the government’s viewpoint. Sources point to Jampanna and many before him to say, “several senior Maoist leaders are in touch with their families and through them with the police in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. We can expect big surrenders in 2018”. “The average age of their leadership is beyond 55 now. These people began in their 30s and 40s. Health is increasingly a concern for them. If you look at the Maoist hierarchy, they have no next generation to takeover”, said K Durga Prasad, former Direcor General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer with rich experience in tackling the Maoist menace agreed.

So what should the approach be in 2018?

“The government should consciously work to prevent another lease of life to the Maoists. Fake surrenders, fake encounters, death of civilians by security personnel, or large-scale displacement of people is what helps Maoists expand their reach. We have to be careful,” said a source.

India’s record on this front is far from inspiring. In his book, ‘Blood Red River’, Rohit Prasad quotes from a study on displacement of native population in India. In it, he states how between 1947-2000, nearly 60 million were displaced – of which only 1/3rd have been rehabilitated. Among the displaced, nearly 40 per cent are tribals.

General election of 2019 aside, states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand which are at the heart of the Maoist insurgency are barely 24 months away from local elections. As a result, in addition to security-related efforts, political and developmental activities too are picking up pace.

In the battle for the heart of India, 2018 is not just another year.


What goes down need not necessarily come up. RIP San Juan: Vice Adm KN Sushil (R)

Vice Admiral KN Sushil retired from the navy in May 2012, after nearly 40 years of service. The Admiral is a doyen submariner and was among the pioneers who inducted the modern Shishumar Class submarines in the Navy. The Admiral as the first Inspector General Nuclear Safety of Indian Navy, had laid the ground work for induction of advanced nuclear submarines like INS Chakra


The ARA San Juan disappeared a few hundred kilometers off Argentina’s coast on November 15, and despite an extensive air and sea search no sign of the sub has been found. Eight days after the sub vanished, the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation said that it had detected hydro-acoustic anomaly” about 30 nautical miles (60km) north of the sub’s last-known position at 10:31 (13:31 GMT) few hours after the sub’s last contact. The analysis of the acoustic incident was reported as follows.

The acoustic signal associated with the loss of the Argentina Submarine ARA SANJUAN confirms the following:

That acoustic signal originated near 46-10S, 59-42W at 1358Z (GMT) on 15 November 2017. It was produced by the collapse (implosion) of the ARA SAN JUAN pressure-hull at a depth of 1275-feet. Sea pressure at the collapse depth was 570 PSI. The frequency of the collapse event signal (bubble-pulse) was about 4.4Hz. The energy released by the collapse was equal to the explosion of 12,500 pounds of TNT at the depth of 1275-feet. That energy was produced by the nearly instantaneous conversion of potential energy (sea-pressure) to kinetic energy, the motion of the intruding water-ram which entered the SAN JUAN pressure-hull at a speed of about 1800 mph.
The entire pressure-hull was completely destroyed (fragmented/compacted) in about 40 milliseconds (0.040s or 1/25th of a second), the duration of the compression phase of the collapse event which is half the minimum time required for cognitive recognition of an event. Although the crew may have known collapse was imminent, they never knew it was occurring. They did not drown or experience pain. Death was instantaneous.
The SAN JUAN wreckage sank vertically at an estimated speed between 10 and 13 knots. Bottom impact would not have produced an acoustic event detectable at long range

The ARA San Juan was an IKL(German) designed type 1700 submarine built by TKMS in their Essen yard in 1985 at about the same time the Indian type 1500 was being built at HDW(Kiel). Both the submarines have great deal of similarities. Therefore, having commanded two type 1500s I will venture to hazard a guess on what could have afflicted the submarine.

The ARA San Juan was an IKL(German) designed type 1700 submarine built by TKMS in their Essen yard in 1985 at about the same time the Indian type 1500 was being built at HDW(Kiel). Both the submarines have great deal of similarities.

Facts as gleaned from various reports.

15 Nov 0030Hrs. Submarine surfaced to report Water ingress through snort system causing a short circuit in the forward battery group. The forward battery group was isolated. The submarine charged her batteries on surface

At 0600 The message is transmitted through normal communication channels.

At 0730 the Captain informs base that he intend to continue his passage dived (Presumably because the sea was rough) At 1031, according to the CTBT report the submarine imploded at a depth of 1275 ft.

From the above it would appear that the submarine was snorting before she surfaced at 0030hrs. If there was water ingress through the snort mast that caused a short in the forward battery group then the submarine was unable to maintain snorting depth, because the sea may have been too rough and the “head valve” (that prevents water from coming into the mast, when the mast dips even momentarily) was not functioning. As part of the SOP the snort induction drain, which drains into the bilges is kept open for the duration of the snort.  In any case during the snorting, the diesel engines are used to create the suction that draws all the foul air from all over the submarine. The fresh air coming from the snort mast merely spreads to fill the vacuum. Therefore flooding through the snort system would normally have no effect on the battery groups.

The submarine remained on surface for seven hours post an incident of fire and smoke, which was attributed to short circuiting of the forward battery group. The crew, it seems, did not see any fire but managed to clear the smoke after isolating the forward battery group.

A fire in a battery group is one of the most dreaded emergencies on board any submarine. Therefore the damage control actions and subsequent analysis would have been painstakingly thorough. If there was a fire in the battery pits the firefighting system would have been activated (manually or automatically). Once the system is activated the battery pits are to be kept in a sealed condition for at least one hour. Thereafter the pit is ventilated for at least an hour before inspecting it. In these types of submarines one has to lie down on a trolley and manoeuvre manually over the batteries. If the sea is rough it becomes extremely difficult and dangerous.  It may therefore be possible that they may have dispensed with the inspection whilst on surface.

In the seven hours on surface the crew must have thoroughly examined the power distribution network and come to the conclusion that the problem was contained, and the submarine was reasonably safe to continue dived with a single battery group. They may even have considered that it would be safer and easier to inspect the battery pit while the submarine is underwater.

ARA SAN JUAN disappeared while on its way to the naval base in Mar Del Plata, in the early hours of November 15

The submarine dived at 0730 hrs. After 3 hours it appears to have imploded at a depth of 388 Meters. 388 Meters is of course below the normal operating depth but well above the crushing depth. If the submarine did indeed implode at that depth the inescapable inference is that there were severe structural problems that had weakened the pressure hull. The Argentinean Navy must have known if any structural limitations were reported or imposed.

If the structural problems were not severe enough then some event that occurred in the 3 hours she was submerged must have been responsible. That event was so catastrophic that the submarine was unable to prevent an uncontrolled descent. Given the background situation the captain would have ordered the submarine to dive to 50 Meters. As soon as he settled down to that depth, he would have ordered the inspection of the battery pit. Unless there are clear tell tale signs, it is possible to miss some things which may have the potential to cause damage. Anyhow the inference and action post this inspection is not known. Did they reconnect the forward group? We will never know. The inspection would have taken about 45 minutes to an hour. The fact that they did not surface immediately after the inspection indicates that they did not notice anything alarming.

In the three hours that the submarine was under water, if there had been a gradual flooding, the crew would have taken action to mitigate the effects, and would have ample reaction time to surface. Therefore loss of control must have been triggered by a sudden event. A pressure hull breech and flooding that must have cause to rapidly lose depth. The most immediate response is to use speed to create dynamic vectors to aid depth control. Since the submarine had only one battery group connected the speed of the submarine would be restricted to about 8 Knots ahead and about 4 Knots astern.  This would not be sufficient to delay the descent so that de-ballasting and pumping out capacities can effectively annul or reduce the rate of flooding. The rate of flooding keeps on increasing with depth.

Now we have a situation where the submarine with the forward (or all) ballast tank probably blown going down. At depths greater than 180 meters the effect of blowing ballast with High Pressure air (250Bar)is painstakingly slow. The next stage is when the submarine crosses 15 meters more than the operational depth the Hydrazine emergency de-ballasting system will be triggered. This system is designed to clear the forward and aft main ballast tanks in 12 seconds at any depth. The problem would be if the Ballast tanks already contain air the Hydrazine will cause an explosion in the ballast tanks. If that happens there is nothing left to create positive buoyancy.

The Next question is why did the submarine implode at 388 meters? As brought out earlier it clearly points to structural weakness in the pressure. If such a situation did not pre-exist then it may be possible that the battery pit event may have cause massive spillage of acid into the pit causing the pit to corrode in the almost 10 hours this corrosion may have weakened the hull sufficiently to cause a substantial breech in the pressure hull. The flooding of the pits could an explosion as the water level reaches to short the terminal connectors.  This is only a conjecture.

San Juan went down without a trace. The crew did not even have the time or opportunity to release the systems and tell tale indicators that were meant tell the outside world that the submarine is in distress.

It is said what goes up must come down. Submariners know that what goes down need not necessarily come up. San Juan RIP.

In the language of the submarine community San Juan is on eternal patrol.

#SANJUANSUBMARINE: Its disappearance should ring alarm bells in India. My explainer.

Argentina is in grief and the world is anxious. Days have passed and leads on the disappearance of submarine ARA San Juan and its 44-member crew have turned cold. The Argentine Navy said there was an explosion near the last known location of the submarine.

In brief, here is what happened:

Midway through its journey from the naval base in Ushuaia to the one in Mar del Plata, on November 15, the ARA San Juan surfaced and reported a short-circuit in the batteries of the submarine. That was resolved. At 7.30am, the submarine stated it would submerge and reach Mar del Plata. Nothing was heard from the boat thereafter.

Watching these developments is the small community of Indian submariners. As one of the largest navies operating 15 submarines most of which are nearing or past their shelf lives, the concern is genuine. There is one more reason.

“Our Shishumar-class of submarines (Type 1500) is similar to the missing Argentinean sub in design and equipment fit (ARA San Juan is a German-designed Type 1700 submarine built in 1983 in erstwhile West Germany),” said vice admiral KN Sushil, a veteran submariner, who retired as the head of the Kochi-based Southern Naval Command.

Subsurface, like space, is where nature did not envisage human presence. Thus submariners leave nothing to chance.

To start with, the underwater arm is a volunteers-only affair and “earning your Dolphins” is as challenging a task as it can get. While in other arms of the service as well as in other services, an individual is expected to be the master of his/her domain, the underwater arm requires an individual to master all domains.

The most important part of their training is how to escape, should the worst happen and the boat is rendered dysfunctional. Proof of how intense and treacherous the exercise is lies in the fact that the Indian Navy provides every trainee with a trainer.

WATCH: Short film on the Indian Navy’s Escape Training School in Vizag

Depending on the depth, personnel are imparted the skill to self-evacuate using tubes meant to fire torpedoes.

Caution goes beyond training.

WATCH: My comprehensive documentary on the INDIAN NAVY’s EKM-class submarine INS Sindhukirti shot in November 2015

Ingrained in the very design of a submarine is layer after layer of redundancy to ensure the worst does not take place. “In fact, our Shishumar-class submarines have a rescue sphere which allows the entire crew to escape when all efforts have failed and if the submarine continues to descend below operational depth,” said the admiral.

Those onboard ARA San Juan did not have the rescue sphere.

But they still had multiple mechanisms to guide rescuers. “All submarines have emergency indicator buoys which when released help locate the submarine and have a search and rescue beacon. In addition, there is an underwater pinger which can be picked by sonars and sonobuoys. If the submarine is sunk at depths from which escape using escape suits is possible, the crew can abandon the submarine and float on the surface.

These submarines also have life rafts which can be released from a depth of 150m,” added vice admiral KN Sushil (retd).

What if an Indian submarine suffered a similar fate?

Though the Indian Navy did lose INS Sindhurakshak in a tragic explosion inside the Mumbai Naval Dockyard in August 2013 where the crew on board was killed, it has never lost a submarine at sea.

“Operation centres keep a track of submarine positions. During peacetime a ‘check’ signal from the sub, sent over Very Low Frequency (VLF) transmission is received and anything to be conveyed is relayed. If there is no ‘check’ signal for 24 hours then in the 25th hour, the hunt with all available assets will begin,” explained a submariner who did not want to be quoted.

Within 48 hours of India requesting, based on a pre-existing arrangement with the United States, the US Navy would fly out its Deep Search and Rescue Vehicles (DSRVs) to aid the Indian efforts. “The entire logistics of flying out the DSRVs, bringing it and welding on to a ship which would take the material to the sea has been worked out,” revealed an officer aware of the matter.

By the end of 2018, India will operationalise two DSRVs of her own using which distressed submarines located as deep as 650m can access. It will help pull sailors to safety.

Since 2004-05, India has also been a participant to various international arrangements like NATO’s Submarine Escape and Rescue Working Group under which even non-NATO countries come together on a single platform to cooperate in case of submarine mishaps. “The best of what is available in the world can be pooled in. We’ve worked out these arrangements and practised the drill over the years,” said a source.

But all of this and more is at play in the waters of Argentina. Yet, the admiral said, “There are no happy stories of a lost submarine crew having been rescued alive using these techniques.”

In searching for an unresponsive submarine, ironically, its biggest strength becomes the biggest hurdle – stealth.

“A submarine’s build and shape prevents the ships from getting its picture. Bad weather can make a difficult job, more difficult,” said commander Ashok Bijalwan (retd), who has served onboard the Indian Navy’s Foxtrot and Kilo class submarines.

Another factor is crush depth – the depth at which the submarine will collapse inwards by the pressure exerted on it. Crush depth comes into the picture when the submarine is in a freefall, a downwards spiral.

“Generally the crush depth is two times the maximum depth to which a submarine can dive and operate. However, since the ARA San Juan is more than 30-years-old, the chances of it imploding even at lesser depths are possible”.

The takeaways for India are clear.

A group of relatives of the ARA San Juan crew left the President of Argentina Mauricio Macri speechless when they asked him why he couldn’t invest the state budget into buying newer and safer submarines.

With a submarine fleet whose average age is 25 years, India is only inching closer to an underwater disaster. If and when that happens, there will be no one to blame but ourselves.


Bharatpur: Birds on Holiday

By Sapna Nair-Purohit and Jugal R Purohit

“Maidam, aapko pata hai, mor pankh kyu failata hai?” asked Totaram, as his namesake, a parakeet, flew by. I answered enthusiastically, “Girlfriend attract karne ke liye.” “Naheee!” he replied, visibly glad that he was about to impart a valuable trivia to an urban babe in the woods, “phemale ko rijhaane ke liye.” Well, okay then.

Our trip to the the Keoladeo National Park, formerly Bharatpur bird sanctuary, a World Heritage Site was full of such amusing moments and more.


Situated four-and-a-half hours away from Noida (180km), this is a good weekend getaway. The journey is made easier by the fact that Yamuna Expressway connecting Noida to Agra is your road for most part. The worst begins once you get off that road at its Mathura exit and make your way to Bharatpur. Upon crossing the chaotic town followed by its cantonment, you will be greeted by the 40km-long State Highway 33 to Bharatpur. It is preferable to cover this in day time since the flyovers, roads are ridden with potholes and random speedbreakers that people have erected. The average speed drops to about 20kmph. A pitiable condition given how famous these two destinations are! We could not even see a single decent dhaba on that route.

Roads are ridden with potholes and random speedbreakers that people have erected. The average speed drops to about 20kmph!

Coming to Bharatpur, we had booked a two-night stay at Hotel Sunbird. At first sight, we were troubled by its proximity to the main road. But once inside, we felt adequately insulated from the noise and chaos. Our room was tastefully done, and the hotel owner was kind enough to offer us weary souls hot cups of masala tea. The place was just 5 mins away from the park. We had an early dinner (greasy as most Rajasthani foods are) and retired. We had to be up at 6 to start on our birding tour next day. Our hotel staff was accustomed to this and ensured breakfast was packed and ready.

Deluxe room at Hotel Sunbird came under Rs 5000 a night and included one meal and breakfast


Hotel Sunbird

While Masai Mara has hot air balloon safaris, Bharatpur has cycle rickshaws. 150 rupees an hour; rickshaw puller doubles up as guide; stop as many times; ask anything – too good, right? Old man Totaram was our ride and guide. Armed with a packed breakfast and a pair of binoculars – a last minute crucial decision – we jumped into his cycle rickshaw. Totaram gave his pedal a shove and off we went with many other rickshaws into the wilderness.


For the more serious bird watchers, there are guide services available. Totaram was a knowledgeable fellow but incoherent. We couldn’t quite grasp most bird names but it seemed like he knew most of them (or we knew nothing at all). Teal Duck, Saras crane and Snake bird are a few birds I can identify if I really strain my memory. But the excitement of spotting a rare bird through the binoculars, hearing their calls and cries and seeing the world’s tiniest bird – tailor bird – in front of our eyes are experiences that I will cherish.

Lesser whistling ducks


Keoladeo National Park is recognised as one of the world’s most important bird breeding and feeding grounds. The royal hunting reserve of the Maharajas and the British – where Lord Linlithgow, Viceroy of India from 1936 to 1943, famously shot thousands of ducks with his hunting party in a single day – was declared a national park in 1982. Today it is home to over 370 species of birds and animals such as the basking python, painted storks, deer, nilgai, hyenas and more.


Birds fly in from places like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Central Asia, China, J&K, Mongolia and Russia; some to escape the harsh winters of their regions and others in search of food. According to UNESCO, the park was the only known wintering site of the central population of the critically endangered Siberian crane. But, mysteriously, Siberian cranes have stopped visiting since 2002, locals inform.

The Sarus crane
Little Cormorant


One has to traverse 12 km to be able to see the park in its entirety. We managed to cover 6 km in 4.5 hours. With the sun beating down hard, we decided to head back from the mid point – which is what most people do. Despite the influx of tourists, the park is clean, boundary walls in place, there is no untoward traffic. If you buy a packet of chips from one of the inside shops, it will be served on a plate, so there’s no chance of littering. Garbage bins are actually used diligently.

Wetlands of Bharatpur play the most important role in attracting the migratory birds

Winter has started and birds too have begun arriving. However, planning a trip in January is a better idea as, by then, all the migratory birds come in and the weather is perfect, too. While planning take into account the fact that you’ll need at least two trips inside to get a somewhat complete picture of the park. Also, located very close to the main gate is the interpretation centre named after ornithologist Dr Salim Ali.

Brief history of time

Happy bird-spotting!




#StateOfPlay: Barely 12, the RTI is already sputtering, needs intervention.

The Right To Information (RTI) Act 2005 turned 12 this week.

It carries a different meaning for different people.

To the poor, it is a way to ensure the government delivers what is entitled to them. To the activist, it is a tool to unearth what is wrong. To the politician, it offers a chance to play the victim and strengthen his defence. To a cheat, it grants an opportunity for blackmail. To a journalist, it remains the easiest access to a scoop without putting one’s source in discomfort.

How popular the act is can be gauged by the fact that over 6 million (and counting) applications seeking information are filed annually with authorities at the centre, state and district level. As activist and former Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi told me, “At least on three occasions, the government tried changing the Act and failed. It speaks of how strongly the citizenry and civil society upholds it”. Few are aware that RTI Rating which analyses the ‘quality of world’s access to information laws’ ranks our legislation as the fifth best in the world. Mexico tops the chart and our neighbour Sri Lanka is a close third.

Let me stop you right now if your chest is swelling with pride.

The RTI Act is choking. Or as Nikhil Dey, a senior activist from the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information said, “The Act has been able to withstand a lot but will it not be injured?”

At play is a devious scheme, a quiet and cunning stifling of the act’s implementation. The players remain faceless, beneficiaries too obvious to state.

The ailment can be identified by reading the superbly documented report, ‘Tilting the Balance of Power: Adjudicating the RTI Act’ by RaaG and Satark Nagrik Sangathan. Some of its points:

  • Of the over 6 million applications filed every year only about 5 per cent reach the Information Commissions on appeal. Citizens either lack awareness or resources.
  • Not more than 45 per cent of the applications seeking information are successful. Less than 10 per cent of the unsuccessful 55 per cent end up file an appeal.
  • Collective backlog of unresolved application (where data was available) as of December 31, 2015 was 187974 cases. Pendency is rising implying the time taken in attending to your appeal is growing longer. In Assam, where no State Information Commissioner was appointed from January 1, 2012 to December 2014 and not a single Information Commissioner from March 2014 to December 2014, the waiting period for an appeal is 30 years! Not too long ago, even Madhya Pradesh had a waiting time of 60 years! It didn’t really reform – it stopped sharing data on its site.


How has it come to this?

“Unfortunately, Act gives the govt of the day a big say in who it wants to appoint as Information Commissioners,” stated Dey.

That is when the government wants to.

In the national capital, in 2015, the centre was shamed into appointing a Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners after activists knocked the doors of the Delhi High Court. By then, the Central Information Commission was headless for over ten months.

And what happens when the government, whether at the centre or in the states want to make appointments?

Section 12(5) of the Act says ‘persons of eminence in public life’ and belonging to a wide variety of fields can be appointed as Information Commissioners.

Here is what really happens.

The report cited earlier says, “A 2014 survey says 60 per cent of the Information Commissioners (ICs) across the country and 87 per cent of the CICs were former civil servants. 77 per cent of the CICs were from IAS cadre”.

The commissions have power to punish by penalising erring government servants and ordering the release of information. But, “Only in 1.3 per cent of the cases where penalty on erring civil servant was imposable did the Information Commissioners impose the same”, says the report.

Gandhi’s experience from the time he was a commissioner made him state, “Commissions use penalty very rarely as if it was death penalty. The total number of penalties levied by all the commissioners since beginning in 12 years is 1211. Out of these I alone had levied 520 penalties”.


Dey said, “This govt at the centre came in reaping the benefits of RTI act yet a pro-disclosure approach is hardly seen”.

I’d like to end on a positive note but the story shared by the tireless retired naval officer, Commodore Lokesh Batra, who also is an RTI activist, is difficult to overlook. Worried over growing vacancies in the Central Information Commission, Batra wanted to examine how the issue was being dealt with. In a reply dated September 29, 2017, the CIC told him, “The said subject has not been dealt with in any file”.

Since President John F Kennedy told us ‘sincerity is always subject to proof’, I ask – what do you see?