ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Articles by Usha RamanathanSubscribe to Usha Ramanathan

Extending the Regime of Incarceration

Collecting intimate personal information in criminal proceedings leads to a regime of suspicion and surveillance.


Land Acquisition, Eminent Domain and the 2011 Bill

The displaced and their advocates have been campaigning for a law that will limit the coercive power of the State in taking over land. The Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2011 adopts some of the language and concerns from the sites of conflict. But by beginning with the premise that acquisition is inevitable and that industrialisation, urbanisation and infrastructure will have lexical priority, the LARR Bill 2011 may have gained few friends among those whom involuntary acquisition has displaced, and those for whom rehabilitation has been about promises that have seldom been kept.

Bhopal: As the Law Develops

Colin Gonsalves' article "The Bhopal Catastrophe: Politics, Conspiracy and Betrayal" (EPW, 26 June 2010) is neither an accurate narrative of the law nor of the Supreme Court's treatment of the Bhopal Gas Disaster case. This note attempts to set the record straight.

A Unique Identity Bill

India's unique identification number project has been sold on the promise that it will make every citizen, the poor in particular, visible to the State. But the UID project raises crucial issues relating to profiling, tracking and surveillance, and it may well facilitate a dramatic change in the relationship between the State and the people. The Unique Identification Authority of India has not acknowledged these concerns so far. And now, nowhere in the proposed draft bill that it has prepared have these issues been addressed nor have clauses been drafted to prevent abuse of information that will be collected by the agency. With so many questions on the project - regarding biometrics, security and privacy - yet to be answered, it is far from time for parliamentary approval. As has been observed, the Constitution is expected to provide the citizen with dignity and privacy; but these are missing in the UID project.

Ostensible Poverty, Beggary and the Law

Beggary laws persist in Indian jurisprudence despite evidence of abuse and presumption of criminality among the "ostensibly poor". A quartet of encounters with the law, in Mumbai and in Delhi, provides a context to exploring the relationship between poverty and criminality, and the extensive loss of rights that emerge as a consequence. Beggary laws have begun to demonstrate how the law may be made, continued, expanded and practised when the constituency affected by the laws are powerless - so rendered by the illegality that the law visits on them, the prejudice that poverty provokes, the distance between privilege and poverty, and the vanishing obligations of the state. The Bombay (Prevention of Begging) Act 1959, in particular, has led to the callous treatment of those who are "ostensibly poor" and in the denial of rights to them, thereby rendering itself unconstitutional. It is therefore necessary to repeal the law.

Illegality and the Urban Poor

"Cleaning up" the city usually employs demolition as an effective tool to clear the lands and disperse the poor. But for decades, the violence of demolition was tempered by a policy of resettlement which, even when partially and imperfectly implemented, gave demolition a veneer of legitimacy. But the notion of housing for the urban poor has acquired an "illegality" in the last five years. The judiciary has been a significant contributor to this evolving jurisprudence on shelter, housing and the urban poor. The constitutionality that ensured every citizen the fundamental rights of livelihood, housing and shelter has now been revised, reinvented and supplanted by a legality that sees the urban poor as encroachers and a threat to civic existence.

Demolition Drive

Even as the poor are kept teetering on the precipice of demolition and destruction of habitat, the assumption of powers by the state that can be exercised selectively and arbitrarily, based on a legality that it manufactures, has continued to flourish in contradiction of the inclusive interpretations developed in human rights jurisprudence. The right to housing has been rendered invisible, even non-existent, in this exertion of power, and the evolving meaning of 'housing' and 'adequate housing', and the injunction in the matter of forced evictions has been thrown into a cauldron of callous neglect.

Communities at Risk

Industrial risk was a dormant concern till it precipitated into the Bhopal Gas Disaster in December 1984. The siting of industrial risk, and its exiling, have been part of law, policy and practice over the 20 years since Bhopal. There is, however, an incoherence in the development of law and policy. The anxiety about risk and hazard exists, but legal imagination has not been able to cope with the consequences of either leaving risk where it is, or exiling it. The courts do not possess the equipment needed to work out the reorganisation of spaces to minimise, or outlaw, risk. Yet, when the question of risk and hazard is taken to the court, the judiciary cannot turn away. It has sometimes refused to be definitive, and sometimes shown a tolerance of risk, asking of persons resident around risk to become superior risk bearers.

PAKISTAN-Women and Law

Women and Law Usha Ramanathan An inevitable consequence of the manufacture of morality by the state and its engineering by statute is the power bestowed on the law- enforcing agencies, specifically the police, and the legitimation of the abuse of this power. The Pakistan experience offers an illustration of this aspect of the law.

Displacement and the Law

Usha Ramanathan The paradigm of development that has found favour with planners makes displacement of large numbers of people, even whole communities, an unavoidable event. The utilitarian principle of maximum happiness for the maximum numbers has been invoked to lend respectability to making the lives of communities into a cost in the public interest The law is ill-equipped to counter this attitude and in fact abets it by lending the force of state power.

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