a) Coal comeuppance

It is arguably the logical consequence of the 2014 Supreme Court order declaring all coal block allocations made since 1993 illegal and arbitrary. The conviction of three Coal Ministry officials, including former Secretary H.C. Gupta, marks the first case in which individual criminal liability has been fixed on public servants in the coal block scam. Two previous trials had ended in convictions, but those held guilty were officials of private companies who had deceived the authorities into allotting them blocks. Mr. Gupta was the chairperson of the screening committee that recommended allocations. It functioned for years without regard for guidelines, norms or transparency, until the apex court halted its irregular run. He and two other public servants have been found guilty of abusing their positions to procure a coal block for Kamal Sponge Steel and Power Limited. While it was fairly clear that the screening committee route was only a mechanism to push through the applications of all and sundry for coal blocks, especially under the first UPA government, it was not certain if it could be proved beyond reasonable doubt that public servants had manipulated the system to their advantage. Special CBI Court Judge Bharat Parashar has now ruled that Coal Ministry officials deliberately allowed an incomplete application from an ineligible company to be taken up for consideration. Far from ‘screening’ applications, he finds that the accused actually let all applications pass without any checking so that “they will have an open field to arbitrarily exercise their discretion in favour of any company”. The verdict is a studied indictment of government processes, or the lack of processes, during the period. Looking at the prosecution charges and the defence claims, it appears there was little clarity on whether the guidelines were being adhered to. The former Secretary and Joint Secretary said in their defence they could not verify applications for completeness and eligibility, as it was the job of the section concerned. The section says this is the job of the administrative ministry or the State government to which applications are forwarded. Other omissions include the failure to evolve any inter se criteria to decide eligibility, or to do any verification either before or after the screening committee recommended allocations to the Minister. Whether there was a conspiracy between the officials and the company and whether the prosecution proved that these omissions amounted to deliberate abuse of their positions will be matters that will, no doubt, be taken up on appeal; but the significance of the verdict is that it may become a benchmark for other ongoing prosecutions on similar lines. The case also raises questions about the role and responsibility of a Secretary to the government, who is not only the administrative head of a department but also an adviser to the Minister on matters of policy.

b) Rouhani’s moment

The resounding victory of President Hassan Rouhani, who had sought re-election on a platform of moderation and engagement with the outside world, is a strong endorsement by the Iranian people for political change. He won one of the most polarised elections in Iran’s recent history, one in which the clerical establishment backed a candidate who was running against a sitting President. The hardliners rallied behind Ebrahim Raisi, who challenged Mr. Rouhani’s economic policies, slammed his outreach to the West and even lung corruption allegations against him. Still Mr. Rouhani won 57% of the vote against Mr. Raisi’s 38.5%. In 2013, Mr. Rouhani was an accidental candidate of the moderates. It was a time when the moderate movement had not recovered from the 2009 crackdown by the state apparatus after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial re-election. Then both the moderates and centrists led by former President Akbar Rafsanjani backed Mr. Rouhani as a consensus candidate. This time there was no Rafsanjani; Mr. Rouhani fought on his own. During the campaign, he assailed Iran’s deep state in a way no sitting President had done. He reached out to women and the ethnic and religious minorities. The numbers suggest a vast majority of Iranians repose great faith in this cleric who promises them hope and change. Now that he has won, the spotlight turns on the challenges ahead. In the First term, Mr. Rouhani treaded cautiously. His focus was on the nuclear negotiations Iran was undertaking with six world powers and he was averse to upsetting the conservative establishment. His record in offering more civil liberties fell short of expectations as young Iranians are still waiting for meaningful changes in the clergy-defined social order. The reformist politicians who were put under house arrest in 2011 are still not free, and Mr. Rouhani hardly spoke for them during his first term. And unemployment has not eased under his government. Now that the nuclear deal is done and he has a second term, it is time for Mr. Rouhani to act boldly. It is unrealistic to expect radical changes in a society that is tightly controlled by the Ayatollahs. Though the President is the highest elected official of the republic, real powers lie in the hands of the Supreme Leader. Any attempt to introduce rapid changes will meet with strong resistance from the deep state. But Presidents can pursue a gradualist reform agenda with popular support. Over the years, Iranian civil society, working within several constraints, has kept the moderate current that powers this reform agenda alive, in sharp contrast to several other countries in West Asia where elections are a sham and dissent is a crime. Mr. Rouhani’s biggest challenge is to respond to this current constructively, by launching gradual reforms at home that offer more civil liberties and better economic opportunities to the people.


1) Arguably

Meaning: Used when stating an opinion or belief that you think can be shown to be true.

Example: He is arguably the world’s best football player.

Synonyms: Debatably, Disputably.

Antonyms: Assuredly, Authentically.

2) Arbitrary

Meaning: Based on chance rather than being planned or based on reason.

Example: He played a few arbitrary notes on the piano, to try it out.

Synonyms: Despotic, Absolute

Antonyms: Rational, Deliberate

3) Convictions

Meaning: The fact of officially being found to be guilty of a particular crime, or the act of officially finding someone guilty.

Example: He has a long record of previous convictions for similar offences.

Synonyms: Ideology, Creeds.

Antonyms: Disbeliefs, Doubter.

4) Halted

Meaning: To (cause to) stop moving or doing something or happening.

Example: Security forces halted the demonstrators by blocking the road.

Synonyms: Ceased, Stayed.

Antonyms: Activated, Accelerated.

5) Abusing

Meaning: To use something for the wrong purpose in a way that is harmful or morally wrong.

Example: She is continually abusing her position/authority by getting other people to do things for her.

Synonyms: Degrading, Defiling.

Antonyms: Caring, Cherishing.

6) Manipulated

Meaning: To control something or someone to your advantage, often unfairly or dishonestly.

Example: Throughout her career she has very successfully manipulated the media.

Synonyms: Plied, Rigged.

Antonyms: Clarified, Concealed.

7) Discretion

Meaning: The quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offence or revealing confidential information.

Example: She knew she could rely on his discretion.

Synonyms: Caution, Wisdom.

Antonyms: Indecency, Crudeness.

8) Indictment

Meaning: A formal statement of accusing someone.

Example: The charges on the indictment include murder and attempted murder.

Synonyms: Accusation, Allegation.

Antonyms: Vindication, Apology.

9) Conspiracy

Meaning: The activity of secretly planning with other people to do something bad or illegal.

Example: The three men are accused of conspiracy.

Synonyms: Intrigue, Cabal.

Antonyms: Accuracy, Reliability.

10) Deliberate

Meaning: Done consciously and intentionally.

Example: A deliberate attempt to provoke conflict.

Synonyms: Ponder, Cogitate.

Antonyms: Abrupt, Impulsive.

11) Polarised

Meaning: Restrict the vibrations of (a transverse wave, especially light) wholly or partially to one direction.

Example: Some of the light is polarized so that it vibrates in only one plane.

Synonyms: Converse, Contrary.

12) Rallied

Meaning: (of troops) come together again in order to continue fighting after a defeat or dispersion.

Example: De Montfort’s troops rallied and drove back the king’s infantry.

Synonyms: Assembled, Converged.

Antonyms: Disperse, Ruin.

13) Pursue

Meaning: To follow someone or something, usually to try to catch him, her, or it.

Example: The car was pursued by helicopters.

Synonyms: Haunt, Trace.

Antonyms: Retreat, Shun.

14) Assailed

Meaning: To attack someone violently or criticize someone strongly.

Example: He was assailed with insults and abuse as he left the court.

Synonyms: Mugged, Barraged.

Antonyms: Defended, Protected.

15) Spotlight

Meaning: (of a person) receiving a lot of public attention.

Example: The senator has been in the spotlight recently since the revelation of his tax frauds.

Synonyms: Accentuate, Emphasize.

Antonyms: Periphery, Ambience.

16) Conservative

Meaning: Not usually liking or trusting change, especially sudden change.

Example: Older people tend to be more conservative and a bit suspicious of anything new.

Synonyms: Lingering, Persistent.

Antonyms: Liberal, Radical.

17) Liberties

Meaning: The freedom to live as you wish or go where you want.

Example: For most citizens, liberty means the freedom to practise their religious or political beliefs.

Synonyms: Privileges, Familiarity.

Antonyms: Dominations, Constraints.

18) Dissent

Meaning: A strong difference of opinion on a particular subject, especially about an official suggestion or plan or a popular belief.

Example: When the time came to approve the proposal, there were one or two voices of dissent.

Synonyms: Protest, Discord.

Antonyms: Assent, Concur.

19) Radical

Meaning: Believing or expressing the belief that there should be great or extreme social or political change.

Example: These people have very radical views.

Synonyms: Fanatic, Prime.

Antonyms: Pedant, Moderate.

20) Launch

Meaning: An event to celebrate or introduce something new

Example: Illness prevented her attending the launch party for her latest novel.

Synonyms: Throw, Hurl.

Antonyms: Keep, Cease.