'Corruption cannot be tackled merely by enacting laws'

The Inquirer

Sen and his colleagues at the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) have launched a campaign for the abolition of the laws relating to sedition and hope to put pressure on the government for doing away with the same by garnering public support on the issue.

Deccan Herald correspondent Sanjay Pandey caught up with the controversial personality when he was in Lucknow recently to take part in a seminar on human rights. Excerpts.
Your nomination to the steering committee on health by the Planning Commission seems to have created a huge controversy, especially in Chhattisgarh.

Do you think it could affect your plans for the state you have been active in for the past many years as a medical professional?

I fail to understand why Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh has made it such a big issue. It appears that he has almost made it a prestige issue. Chhattisgarh urgently needs to augment its health infrastructure. That is something we all should focus on.

You have been active in the naxal-infested areas in Chhattisgarh as a doctor treating people. How do you think the naxalite problem could be tackled?

I am no expert on naxalism. I am a human rights worker. I cannot give any advice on this issue. All that the government has to do is to follow the observations of the Supreme Court order on Salwa Judum by Justice Sudarshan Reddy and Justice S S Nijjar. The apex court judgement must serve as a foundation statement. If the government looks at the order in its true spirit, it may help tackle the issue to some extent.

Do you support Anna Hazare’s agitation against corruption?

Corruption is a big issue in the country and the recent agitation by Anna Hazare and the support it received only underscores the peoples’ anger. But the problem cannot be tackled only by enacting laws. The problem has to do with the kind of economic policy we have adopted. Corruption did not grow because some people in the country became corrupt.

Why are you against the law of sedition? Is it because you were sentenced under its provisions?

It is a draconian law and must be abolished. It had been enacted in 1870 and was used to punish freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Moulana Abul Kalam Azad. The British had enacted the law to punish the freedom fighters. It is no longer required. Even Nehru was opposed to it. It is interesting that the Britishers, who had enacted the law, have abolished it in UK. There are many people like me, who were either in the jail or have been to prison only because of the laws related to sedition.

Judicial process is being misused to crush dissent. Dissent must be legitimised or else it will turn into anger. Democracy will be in peril if public criticism is crushed. PUCL official Seema Azad, who has been in jail in Allahabad, is an example in this regard. Her bail application is pending in the Supreme Court. Her case has not been heard for many months in the court.

How do you plan to take your campaign against the law of sedition forward?

We plan to collect at least 10 lakh signatures and write to every member of the parliament for the purpose. The campaign has already started. We plan to send the petition to  parliament members seeking abolition of the law so that something concrete could happen in the winter session of parliament.

What do you think is the most serious problem the country faces on the health front?

The biggest problem that the country faces today is that of malnutrition. Among the adults as many as 37 per cent are suffering from malnutrition. Their body mass index (BMI) is less that 18.5 which is the international standard. The malnutritution gets worse among the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes as around 50 per cent 40 per cent of their populations are undernourished. According to the international standards, if there are 40 per cent people suffering from malnutrition in a community, it should be declared famine stricken. Many pockets in the country have been living under chronic malnutrition.

47 per cent of children are victims of malnutrition while 23 per cent newborns are underweight.

How, according to you, should the government deal with the problem?

The Public Distribution System (PDS) needs to be re-visited. The above poverty line (APL) and below poverty line (BPL) is all a farce. Right to Food must be enacted at once. People should be given pulses and oil also along with the foodgrains. The government should increase the spending on health from the existing one per cent and take it to three per cent of the GDP. The treatment should be cashless.

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