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Thursday, August 6, 2009

EDITORIAL 04.08.09

August 04, 2009

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Month August 09, Edition 000263, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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The UPA Government should have known better and resisted the temptation to sneak in a crudely drafted Bill ostensibly meant to make it mandatory for judges of the higher judiciary to declare their assets. In the event, its efforts to hoodwink the Opposition have failed to yield the desired result and Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily has had to withdraw the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill, 2009, slated for introduction in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. The Bill, meant to herald a series of reforms in the judiciary to make it more transparent and accountable, and thus halt the erosion of people’s confidence in this institution, should have categorically stated that not only would judges have to declare their assets, the details would be placed in the public domain for scrutiny. Instead, Clause 6 of the now withdrawn Bill sought to subvert the very purpose of the exercise by stipulating that the details of the assets would not be made public. The Government, more precisely the Congress, justifiably stands accused of being too-clever-by-half: While pretending to address popular concerns about probity in the judiciary, it was really trying to protect the interests of those judges who are reluctant to make public their assets and liabilities. The reluctance came to the fore when the Supreme Court decided to block the disclosure of details as instructed by the Central Information Commission in response to an application moved under the Right to Information Act. Implicit in that decision of the Supreme Court is the presumption that judges should not be treated at par with public servants — namely, bureaucrats and politicians who hold elected office — and hence must be allowed immunity from full disclosure. The presumption is, of course, deeply flawed, not least because by all definitions judges are public servants although this does not impinge on the independence of the judiciary.

The Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill, among other things, was meant to correct this mistaken notion of judges not being bound by laws applicable to public servants. Instead, the Bill, in its present form, served to strengthen the untenable position of the higher judiciary — the assets and liabilities of judges should be kept a well-guarded secret from the people. Not surprisingly, the Opposition prevented its introduction with Mr Arun Jaitley pointing out that Clause 6 was both bad in law and against the spirit of judicial reforms. It flies in the face of constitutional provisions and cannot be countenanced in any manner. Mr Moily, realising that the Government’s game plan had been exposed and the Bill would fail to muster sufficient support for its passage in the Rajya Sabha, has been quick to withdraw it. That’s good for the country as well as the judiciary. Having suffered a huge embarrassment, the Government is now trying to save its face by indulging in rhetoric in which it obviously does not believe. Indeed, had the Government been truly interested in seeking consensus instead of courting confrontation with the Opposition on an issue of such importance, it would not have tried to smuggle in the Bill. Mr Moily is intelligent enough to know the difference between keeping details of the assets and liabilities of judges a secret and making them public. Hopefully, he will now suitably amend the Bill and reintroduce it. That would restore his, as well as the Government’s, credibility.






Sportsmen are great role models. But when they start acting like they are bigger than the sport itself, it is a sheer recipe for disaster. The reluctance of some of our top cricketers to comply with the guidelines of the World Anti-Doping Agency can only bring disrepute to the game and its billion-plus fans in this country. At the heart of the issue is out-of-competition dope testing. According to WADA rules — those which the International Cricket Council is trying to get each of its member boards to abide by as part of its drive to ensure cricket remains doping free — players are supposed to furnish details of their whereabouts throughout the year so that they can make themselves available for random dope tests at any given time. The requirement is enshrined in the ‘whereabouts clause’ in the WADA anti-doping code and is one of the fundamental provisions to deter athletes from the temptation to dope. Nonetheless, some of our cricketers, including Indian team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, have expressed apprehensions about the whereabouts clause saying that it infringes upon their privacy and jeopardises their security arrangements. As weak as this argument is, what is even more surprising is that the Board of Control for Cricket in India has actually come out in support of the players.

The reservations that have been cited by the players are totally unfounded. As responsible sportsmen at the pinnacle of their game, it is their duty to uphold the spirit of sportsmanship and set an example by unequivocally coming out against doping. As far as their privacy is concerned, given that our cricketers have such a hectic playing schedule throughout the year, most of the time we know where they are. And when they are not playing, they are either tied up with sponsorship work or busy using their brand image to further one cause or another, or getting photographed at Page 3 parties. The bottomline is if you are an international-level cricketer it is not very difficult to track you down. On the security front there could be an issue. But this again can be sorted out and a system can be devised whereby the whereabouts of a cricketer is treated as strictly confidential information between the player, the BCCI and WADA. Therefore, there is no reason why our cricketers should shy away from the WADA guidelines. After all, the WADA anti-doping code has been adopted by 571 sporting organisations around the world, including the International Olympic Committee, and has been approved by 191 countries. Also, in cricket, it is only our players and the BCCI that have objected to the code. Thus, the governing body of Indian cricket and our cricketers should drop their high-handed attitude and accept the anti-doping guidelines in letter and spirit.





                                                          EDIT DESK



Almost every Indian Prime Minister (barring Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar and Mr HD Deve Gowda) has been possessed by a desire to be ranked in the league of world statesmen. It is said the Chinese aggression of 1962 shattered Jawaharlal Nehru in more ways than one, not the least being the evaporation of his hope of getting the Nobel Peace Prize. His daughter was unlikely to have ever entertained such hopes, but her achievement in dismembering Pakistan to create Bangladesh undoubtedly ranks as India’s greatest military-diplomatic achievement. She did not go down in history as a great peacenik, but the country still salutes her for the unflinching commitment with which she pursued the national interest in international matters although not at home. But most of her successors, including Rajiv Gandhi, have sought to resolve the Partition’s bitter legacy — a hostile neighbour on the west. They have periodically appeared to make breakthroughs, none of which lasted beyond a few years.

Perhaps the boldest initiative was taken by the BJP-led Government when Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to an impromptu summit with then Pakistani President, Gen Pervez Musharraf, at Agra in 2001, shortly after grandly launching the Delhi-Lahore bus service in the company of Mr Nawaz Sharif. Mr Vajpayee persisted in his efforts, making a historic trip to Lahore in the concluding months of his tenure, putting the ISI-sponsored attack on Parliament behind him. He extracted a solemn commitment from Gen Musharraf not to allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorist activities against India, a promise broken before the ink could dry on the statement. Mr Manmohan Singh went out of his way soon after assuming office, conducted more bus diplomacy, talked of borders becoming irrelevant and tried in many other ways to placate the Pakistani Establishment. His efforts were met with a series of ISI-masterminded terrorist outrages in India, the most dramatic being the gruesome attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

It is in this background the alarming wording of the Indo-Pak joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh last month needs to be examined. What has baffled experts and laymen alike is the series of concessions made to Pakistan without getting anything in return. The two points that have rightly come under scrutiny are the de-linking of cross-border terrorism from the normalisation of relations, including resumption of the composite dialogue, and, second, the stupefying reference to Balochistan implicitly equating India with Pakistan in promoting terrorism in each other’s territory. Arguably, the statement refers to Balochistan as a matter of concern for Pakistan and the Government is right in claiming it was a unilateral reference inserted into the document at Pakistan’s insistence without any acknowledgement or comment by India. However, the Government’s subsequent attempts to dilute the serious implications of that insertion could hardly hide Pakistan’s unrestrained jubilation at having trapped India to concede the unthinkable.

Islamabad has never offered concrete evidence of India’s alleged involvement in efforts to destabilise Pakistan by promoting separatist movements in that country. However, it has been consistently claimed in the Pakistani media as well as official statements that Indian intelligence agencies (read R&AW) have instigated separatist forces particularly in Sindh and Balochistan — two provinces that continue to chafe under Islamabad’s Punjabi-dominated yoke. Apart from offering periodic lip sympathy to ramshackle Sindhi groups, this so-called involvement never acquired any serious dimension. Pakistan’s focus thus shifted to Balochistan where it is busy conducting a brutal campaign of repression against disgruntled indigenous people. This campaign reached a gory climax two years ago when Islamabad launched a full-scale military campaign against Baloch leaders resulting in the killing of the region’s most respected tribal leader Khan Mohammad Bugti.

There is no doubt that there exists widespread disaffection in Balochistan whose residents have consistently opposed the rampant exploitation of the province’s natural resources, especially vast reserves of gas, without passing on its economic benefits to the local people. Pakistan has also been steadily militarising the region with Chinese assistance, acting as a surrogate for Beijing’s commercial and military expansionism. The construction of a gigantic port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea coast, not far from the Iranian border, is adequate proof of Pakistan’s determination to eliminate the last vestiges of indigenous resistance.

Faced with sharp criticism at home, the Government has come up with a series of incredible explanations for the inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement — ranging from “bad drafting” to “mere diplomatic paper of no legal consequence” and the latest “we have nothing to hide”. Not only are these defensive arguments contradictory, the Government is also guilty of misleading the country on the implications of the supine surrender at Sharm. Pakistan’s hyperactive diplomatic spin-doctors have over the years successfully put India in the dock over Kashmir. At various points of time, world opinion has asked India to agree to a plebiscite, questioned the validity of the State’s accession, urged demilitarisation of Jammu & Kashmir, pilloried India’s allegedly adverse human rights record and put New Delhi into acute discomfort. In other words, a substantial section of international opinion believes India has a questionable case on Kashmir, even if it doesn’t go the whole way to concur with Pakistan’s claim that India is forcibly occupying most of the erstwhile princely State, which is why the “will of the Kashmiri people” must be taken into account in resolving the issue, periodic elections to the State Assembly notwithstanding.

Following the Balochistan reference, the Pakistani Establishment has gone into overdrive by planting stories in the media that a dossier detailing India’s ‘mischief’ has been handed over to the Prime Minister. Mr Manmohan Singh categorically denied having personally received any such file, but that still does not eliminate the possibility that Pakistan passed on a fictitious list of Indian activities in Balochistan through diplomatic channels. We now have to only wait for selective leak of its contents by Islamabad. The impact of this transparent skulduggery leaves little to imagination. It is a matter of time before Pakistan portrays India as a destabilising and terror-sponsoring state in South Asia in addition to ‘forcibly occupying’ Jammu & Kashmir.

The Prime Minister said in Parliament that the only alternative to dialogue is war. This was a crude attempt to cower India into acquiescing in the huge political blunder committed at Sharm el-Sheikh. Nobody opposes dialogue, nor does anybody want war. But the point is what kind of dialogue. Are we going to spend the next few years strenuously denying our alleged role in Balochistan while Pakistan jubilantly pursues its agenda in Kashmir and paints India into a corner before world opinion? Was it mere “bad drafting” Mr Singh? Did you not read the joint statement before it was issued? Or did you succumb to pressure, possibly from Washington? Either way, Mr Manmohan Singh has a lot to explain. No wonder even Ms Sonia Gandhi is not fully convinced and skipped referring to the Baloch booboo while defending the Prime Minister’s Lok Sabha statement. She can afford to ignore it, but can the people of India?







A lot has been said and written regarding the recent India-US end use agreement on the supply of American military hardware, which authorises American authorities to inspect Indian military sites or installations to verify where and how the items are being used or are intended to be used. Supporters of the agreement defend it saying that this is a normal condition according to US laws, applicable to all, including for supplies made to Israel.

It’s noteworthy that Israel uses American weapons against its adversaries on grounds of self-defence. So, practically there should be no bar on India using American weapons against any one, including Pakistan , in self-defence.

The argument is misplaced for several reasons. First, Pakistan is a foster child of the US, whose security is also an important factor for the Americans. Therefore, the US will not allow India to use American weapons against Pakistan, whatever be the provocation, though it has had no objection to Pakistan using American weapons against India. Second, India should not forget that during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, America had banned the supply of spares for military equipment of American origin, and during the 1971 war it had moved its Seventh Fleet to the Indian Ocean to coerce India to stop the war.

America’s hand of friendship towards India is solely to secure American interests in South-East Asia, without causing unpleasantness to Pakistan. The strong Pakistan lobby in the US Senate and Pentagon has convinced the US Administration that Pakistan’s failure to control the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s terrorist activities is solely due to indirect Indian intervention in Balochistan and the fear of an Indian invasion through the long and porous border for which it needs more money and military equipment to augment its force level to at least equal that of India.

The fact is that Pakistan is blackmailing the US. It can never be a trustworthy ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism of which it is itself a major partner. Pakistan will ultimately ditch America. The question is, who will effectively convey this truth to the Obama Administration?

For these reasons, it will be a great waste of money to buy American military hardware, unless America stops its blind support to Pakistan.








White America, represented by Vice-President Joe Biden, was forced to put its weight behind first African-American President Barack Obama to tide over an ugly spat over racial profiling in a nation where everyone admits skin colour and associated socio-historical issues still resonate deeply. It is to be hoped this will be a profound lesson in humility to a nation that tries to bully and police the world, to the detriment of humanity at large.

Whichever way one looks at it, last Thursday’s beer party on the White House lawns failed to deliver the desired racial reconciliation. Sgt James Crowley, the police officer at the centre of the crisis over race, barely six months into the Obama presidency, firmly asserted that he and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr were “two gentlemen who agreed to disagree” about the confrontation that led to the latter’s arrest.

On July 16, Prof Henry Gates Jr, a friend of Mr Obama, was arrested by Sgt Crowley for disorderly conduct. Prof Gates, who broke into his own home after his front door jammed, refused to step out of his house when the police arrived to investigate a possible burglary. As he later explained, “All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realised that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct.”

This instinct, according to honest American analysts, was valid, and rested on a continuing history of lynching, cross-burnings and Black men disappearing into the night at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. There is also a real history of police perceptions ending in the shooting deaths of coloured people. To list just two incidents this year: On January 1, 2009, African-American Oscar Grant was killed by a White BART police officer while handcuffed and face down; on May 28, 2009, NYPD off-duty officer, African-American Omar Edwards, was killed by a White fellow officer who mistook him for a criminal.

Prof Gates’s arrest became controversial after Mr Obama said the police officer had “acted stupidly”, a mild remark by Indian standards. But Sgt Crowley stuck to his guns and the police complained; Mr Obama’s popularity took a hit with White voters, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. He backtracked and invited both men for beer and conversation.

In a gesture of deference to the President, Prof Gates said he hoped the experience would prove an “occasion for education, not recrimination”, and that he and Sgt Crowley should use the opportunity to foster wider awareness of dangers facing police officers and Black fears about racial profiling. Said Sgt Crowley: “We agreed to move forward.” Cute.

Though officially over, the episode has led to a sobering realisation that American society is far from achieving its ‘post-racial’ dream. Economist Greg Palast regretted the hype over Prof Gates’s Harvard post, as it gave the impression that merely race-neutral rules of class privilege were breached. The truth, he said, is that there is an endemic, systemic cruelty that is routinely visited upon Black Americans outside the charmed circle of the Harvard Alumni Club.

He cited a United Auto Workers member with five children and a mortgage payment of $ 1,100 a month on a Detroit home worth just $ 40,000. This is exorbitant as he pays 11 per cent on his mortgage balance, double the national average interest rate. On such terms, he’s sure to lose his home. Mr Palast said that this African-American was “steered” into a sub-prime loan by Countrywide Financial; ‘steered’ being a polite term for forcing Black people into shoddy loan terms. Over 60 per cent of African-American mortgage applicants were (and are) ‘steered’ into ‘sub-prime’ predatory loans.

Detailed studies by the Federal Reserve Board and the Center for Responsible Lending show that African Americans are 250 per cent more likely to get a loan with an ‘exploding interest’ (read usurious) clause than White borrowers. Moreover, the higher the income and better the credit rating of a Black borrower, the more likely the discrimination!

Mr Obama has completely failed to tackle this endemic racism in the finance system, which is even killing hope of America’s economic recovery. The CRL estimates that the ‘exploding rate’ attack focussed on Black and Hispanic communities has caused 40.2 million homes to lose value due to their proximity to foreclosed properties. This has laid waste Black neighbourhoods. But Mr Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is honoured guest of the board of directors of JP Morgan, which owns one of the worst financial predators, Washington Mutual. JP Morgan was sued last week by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People for “systematic, institutionalised racism in making home mortgage loans”.

These financial attacks on the Black community continue under Mr Obama (as under Mr George W Bush), though he can end it by banning loan-sharking as a condition for bank bailouts. Instead, Mr Obama directed the FDIC to guarantee JP Morgan loans, saving it $ 3.1 billion this year; loan-victims were given ‘hope’.

Structural racism has deep roots in the economy, voting stations, schools, health care system, jails, indeed every aspect of life. Unemployment among African-Americans is more than twice the rate of White Americans (four times in New York) and a Black family’s income is little more than half that of a similar White family’s income. The block-and-purge of Black voters is a gigantic scam which the Obama Administration does not even want to admit.

One swallow does not make a summer. Mr Obama does not signal transition to ‘post-racial’ America. Indeed, the furore momentarily profiled him as a Black who would have to sacrifice his race consciousness if he wanted to be appreciated by the Whites. Undoubtedly, White America stood its ground that day.

To triumph, Black Americans will have to rise in public life by mobilising their community as a core constituency, like the Bahujan Samaj Party, something they cannot aspire to in the foreseeable future, if ever. Only such strength makes a cornered farmer leader like Mahendra Singh Tikait realise Ms Mayawati is “like his daughter”. But Sgt Crowley and Prof Gates failed to discover common humanity or Christian brotherhood even on the White House lawns!








The pronouncements made by Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal can well infuse a breath of fresh air in the stale environs of the education system. Subsequent clarifications from the Minister indicate that he is open to conduct a nationwide debate on the proposals he has initiated. He will initiate the process of consultations shortly. A good number of apprehensions thus stand settled. The past record of MHRD very clearly indicates: Consultations only with those ‘who think alike’. In still clearer terms, it was ‘those who think what the comrades approve’!

Everyone else was branded communal or a bourgeois. Will the Minister be conscious of this anomaly? Will he be willing to break the coteries and the nexus that operate within and around the HRD Ministry? One would expect a courageous response from the Minister who has already indicated his earnestness to proceed with the reforms even in the sensitive domain of education. In this regard, the example of the deemed universities should suffice. People are eagerly waiting to watch the outcome of the MHRD’s intervention in this domain. Surprisingly, even the University Grants Commission is flexing its muscles now, to show it is not responsible for the mess!

The recent raids on the residences of top AICTE officials and their subsequent arrests have not come as a surprise. And it is not confined to the AICTE alone. Their credibility already in a shambles, national-level regulatory bodies like UGC, AICTE, NCTE, MCI are likely to be eclipsed by another overarching regulatory body that the MHRD intends to set up. It is a rare case that none of these bodies has earned any sympathy from the people and no objective interpreter of the situation would be able to defend their existence. Practically, the MHRD has no role in deciding individual cases of these institutions. Even in the case of deemed universities people should know on how many occasions the MHRD has turned down UGC’s recommendations.

These bodies have failed to exercise their autonomy and in the process they have totally ignored the critical fact that they were performing a pious task assigned to them by the nation. If they succumbed to any pressure from bureaucracy or political leaders, they themselves have to accept the blame!

Further, while granting approval to an institution or a deemed university, the list of the visiting committee experts, their recommendations and the subsequent file notings must be made public. There should be no need to take recourse to the RTI and waste time and money. Till now, all approvals were recommended by academics and professionals. Let the people know how objective their recommendations were!

To bring a worthwhile change, the MHRD must come out with a studied compilation on what should ‘not’ be referred to the Ministry for decisions. Over the years the bureaucratic hold over the functioning of these bodies has been so dominant that for every small change approval of the Ministry is made almost binding. Even individual cases of pay fixation, leave accounts and increments, which essentially should be the task of that particular organisation, are routinely referred to the Ministry. In this process it takes ages to get a response. It compounds the hold of bureaucracy and demoralises functionaries, particularly academics.

Take this as an example. The faculty of the NCERT in New Delhi and in its Central institution and five regional institutions are appointed on the basis of UGC-prescribed qualifications and they get salaries according to UGC pay scales. Each pay revision in the past was implemented without any hesitation. But not so after the recent Pay Review Committee of the UGC submitted its report after the Sixth Pay Commission report. All of a sudden someone came up with the idea that the faculty are not entitled to the UGC grades and that the files should shuffle to and fro and ‘mistakes of the past be corrected’. The result: Apprehensions, demoralisation, frustration and a sense of humiliation! An entire organisation suffers for no fault of its academics. Staff have got no arrears, no revised pay scales and even the pensioners above 80 years of age are awaiting the benefits of the new pay scales and the arrears. Where is the need of the MHRD interfering in such cases?

The excessive presence of bureaucracy in education can be seen all around. Positions of chairperson, school board, Commissioner of Education, Director of the SCERT, Director of the Textbook Corporation are generally all occupied by IAS officers. In the 1960s, all of these were with academics. Even the functioning of the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti and Central School organisations are handled by the bureaucrats.

There was a clear attempt to put IAS officers as heads of NIOS and CBSE, which thankfully has been properly managed by the new Minister. This encourages one to ask why academics should not be trusted and allowed to grow up? The MHRD can show the way and let academics manage the educational institutions. This way the nation will have even better educational institutions of excellence.

It is the MHRD’s relationship with the institutions and organisations linked to it that deserves a total overhaul. There is a dire need to reduce its presence in the routine functioning of the organisations — whether existing or new — and make them take their own decisions.







Georgia accused Russia on Monday of trying to take more territory outside the breakaway province of South Ossetia as tensions rose before the first anniversary of the Russian-Georgian war last summer.

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry said Russian troops entered the village of Kveshi near South Ossetia on Sunday and erected posts marking a new border.

“It’s very alarming that as the first anniversary of the Russian agxre kion against Georgia comes close, Russia and its puppets are deliberately inciting tensions and behave defiantly,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov would not immediately comment on the situation. However, Russian border guards on Monday removed the border posts they had erected several hundred metres (yards) away from the administrative border of South Ossetia, Georgia’s Interior Ministry said.

Mr Steve Bird, a spokesman for the European Union’s observer mission in Georgia, said monitors were following the situation closely but Russian border guards had assured them they had no plan to move their checkpoint to the new marked-off area.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin discussed the situation around South Ossetia in a phone call on Sunday with Mr William Burns, US Under Secretary of State for political affairs, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“It was emphasised that it’s necessary to prevent military provocations which could further destabilise the already explosive situation on the border,” the Ministry said in a statement. The situation near South Ossetia has become increasingly tense as the first anniversary of the war approaches, with Georgia and Russia blaming each other for provocations and intentions to resume fighting.

South Ossetia’s separatist authorities have accused Georgia of firing gunshots and mortar rounds near the provincial capital of Tskhinvali on two separate occasions last week. Georgian authorities dismissed the allegations and accused separatists of firing at Georgians. No one was hurt.

The Russian Defence Ministry warned Georgia on Saturday that it “reserves the right to use all available forces and means to protect the citizens of South Ossetia and Russian servicemen” in case of further Georgian “provocations.”

Georgian officials said that statement reflected Moscow’s hostile intentions.

Mr Temuri Yakobashvili, a Georgian Cabinet Minister, reaffirmed on Monday that Georgia has no intention to use force. “There is no military solution to the conflict,” he told the AP. The August war began when Georgia launched an offensive to regain control over Moscow-backed South Ossetia. Russia quickly sent in thousands of troops and tanks that routed the Georgian military and drove deep into Georgia. A truce negotiated by the European Union ended five days of fierce fighting.
Georgian authorities claimed they had to launch an artillery barrage on Tskhinvali because Russia had troops into South Ossetia hours earlier. Moscow denied the claim and said it acted to protect its peacekeepers and civilians there.

After the war, Russia recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist region in Georgia, as independent nations and permanently deployed thousands of troops there.

The EU monitors are the only remaining international ones in Georgia, but they are blocked from traveling inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia.








When Chief Minister Omar Abdullah recently posed the question as to why human rights activists in Kashmir were not raising the issue of the gruesome killing of a three-year-old child by militants, it was a truth more relevant on this side of the Pir Panjal in Jammu region. Terming the killing as a “gruesome inhuman act” and a “slap on the face of humanity”, Mr Abdullah said that those who participate in protest marches to highlight human rights ‘violations’ are “mysteriously silent on such a gruesome murder of a child”.

Children in Jammu have over the long years of militancy borne the brunt of insurgent violence. They have either been killed by militants or killed in encounters as militants. But the glaring fact remains that killings of innocent children in this region has largely been ignored by human rights activists, whose prime focus has been human rights violations in Kashmir, an issue which has always received international attention.

What can be worse that while playing in the playground or taking a stroll or grazing cattle in the fields on the hills their lives can be cut short or else leave them maimed or injured. They are too naïve to know what terror means or how to be wary of dangers lurking near. In 2001, two teenage boys, Mohammad Saleem, 14, and Mohammad Nazir, 11, were playing in the fields in Surankot Poonch when an exchange of firing suddenly erupted between two rival groups of militants.

While fleeing, one of the militant groups gunned down the boys and fled before army and police could come. The two died on the spot.

This summer on July 11, another teenage boy was killed and two girls were injured by an improvised explosive device at Bhati Dhar forests in Mendhar tehsil of Poonch district. According to official sources, the youngsters had gone for grazing cattle in Bhati Dhar forests, where a number of militants had holed up last year. One of the children stumbled upon an IED reportedly abandoned by militants which led to the powerful explosion. Twelve-year-old Vakar Shabir succumbed to his injuries. His accompanying playmates Shahida Kousar, 13, and Nahida, 14, have been scarred for a lifetime.

There are hundreds of such examples in Jammu, where children have suffered on account of the militancy. They have been killed in blasts, encounters, militant strikes, their psyche has been scarred by witnessing violent incidents, whether the killing of their close family members, neighbours or simply the toll it is taking in living a life of constant fear and uncertainty. Many children have lost both parents to militancy.

Killing children is sometimes used a tactic to spread terror. In December 2002, three children between the ages of four to eight years, were killed by a group of militants who opened indiscriminate firing on the family of Munshi Khan, a resident of Poonch.

The killings of seven infants and girls by militants in Jammu & Kashmir also in December 2002 was seen as an attempt to disturb the return of peace in the border areas and to once again create panic and fear amongst the communities. These tactics had the desired effect. The gruesome killings of three children of a single family sent shock waves. It was the second incident in a row following the beheading of three girls in neighbouring Rajouri district in the same month. The beheading of the girls was meant to terrorise others to wear burqa while venturing out of their homes which was a diktat of the militants holding sway in the region.

The continuing violence have forced many families to leave their homes in Doda, Udhampur, Rajouri districts and upper reaches of the Pir Panjal and migrate to towns in Jammu division. The children face trauma of loss of their homes, disruption in education and often develop mental health problems. Many of them suffer from depression, heavy stress and post-traumatic stress disorders. The fear and alienation in their hearts and minds, hatred for those who have forced them out of their homes, killed their family members and inflicted this trauma may unfortunately leave future generation scarred.

There have been continuous incidents to show that children are not only the victims of the militancy but they are also being recruited into militancy. Militants have lured the economically weak youngsters in far flung areas of Jammu into joining their ranks. School dropouts desperately seeking employment are easy targets for recruitment by militants scouring the region. Despite the United Nations adopting an Optional Protocol on May 25, 2000 on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, which enjoined upon parties involved in conflict to ensure that children below 18 years did not take part in hostilities, the ground situation in Jammu region remains to the contrary. It is time that those who work for child rights recognise the gravity of the situation and instead of turning a nelson’s eye to their plight, wake up and take action on the behalf of the countless children living in the twilight zone.








The BCCI and ICC are at loggerheads yet again. This time it's over Indian cricketers refusing to abide by a clause in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code, which was implemented by ICC earlier this year. The provision in the WADA code that has sparked the controversy requires cricketers in the ICC's international testing pool to reveal before every quarter details of their location for an hour every day for the next three months to facilitate testing.


The 11 players, which include M S Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar, have cited privacy and security concerns and have missed the July 31 deadline for filling up the 'whereabouts' information for the next quarter. On Sunday, BCCI decided to back the players.

Though there is some merit in the concerns of the Indian players, we can't see how an exception could be made for cricketers when 571 international sporting bodies have accepted the anti-doping rules. Despite doubts, cricketers from other countries have accepted the WADA code.


Tennis stars, such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, have spoken out against the whereabouts clause, but have agreed to abide by it. Other Indian athletes, such as Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, athlete Anju Bobby George and former badminton star P Gopichand, have no problems with the clause.

The BCCI, by refusing to accept the WADA code, is for the umpteenth time being seen as arm-twisting the world cricket body. The argument made by a BCCI official that performance-enhancing drugs are of no use to cricketers doesn't wash. There have already been a few high-profile cases of cricketers using drugs. And it's quite likely that there are others who haven't been caught.

Instead of opting for a collision with ICC, the Indian cricket body should confer with other members of the ICC to chart a course of action. BCCI and ICC officials are expected to meet soon with some Indian cricketers likely to attend the meeting.


If the ICC decides to adopt a cricket-specific code, it would most likely scupper chances of cricket ever being a part of the Olympics or Asian Games. It would be far better to accept the WADA norms for now and then work with other sports bodies to iron out glitches. Football's governing body, FIFA, also has problems with the whereabouts clause.


There is a meeting of world player associations, including the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA), in London early September with WADA to discuss concerns about the whereabouts requirements for those who participate in team sports.


Indian players are not part of FICA, but they should make their voices heard at the meeting. Indian cricketers and BCCI must keep in mind that doping is something that has to be combated, for the sake of the future of the game, even if it entails some inconvenience.








The waters have been muddied further in the Emraan Hashmi imbroglio. The actor has been in the limelight for filing a complaint with the State Minorities Commission regarding his difficulties in purchasing a flat in Mumbai. Allegedly, this has been because of an anti-Muslim bias on the part of the cooperative housing society involved. However, BJP worker Sanjay Bedia has now filed a complaint against Hashmi and director Mahesh Bhatt for making statements along communal lines. And not unexpectedly, various other celebrities have chimed in as well, some castigating Hashmi, others backing him. It is par for the course when such issues are raised in the public sphere in this country. But that does not make the general approach to the debate any less disappointing.

It is unclear whether there actually was religious prejudice as Hashmi alleged or not. In a sense, it is also irrelevant. The matter is being looked into and the truth ought to be ascertained at some point. More important than this specific instance of discrimination or not, as the case may be is the reactions it has evoked in a larger context. The problem of religious bias cannot be wished away. What is needed is a constructive, mutually respectful public dialogue.

The reality of what happens when such issues are brought up, unfortunately, is quite different as evidenced by Bedia's complaint. It is an unjustified, wholly unnecessary attempt to stifle free speech. Hashmi has spoken out for what he perceives to be an infringement on his constitutional rights. How this can be interpreted to be communal in nature is difficult to comprehend.

Bedia's gambit is a pointer towards the dominant trend in Indian public discourse. Hot-button topics such as religion and caste invite knee-jerk reactions characterised by shrill demagoguery and unbridled aggression. Such conflicts are waged at two levels inflammatory protests on the streets, often with little understanding of the issues at stake, and a war of sound bites and pithy putdowns waged via the media. Neither approach is particularly conducive to arriving at a lasting solution. Whatever the truth of the complaint lodged by Hashmi, he deserves to be heard.







NEW YORK: As Asia emerges from the global economic crisis faster than the rest of the world, it is increasingly clear that the world's centre of gravity is shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is equally clear that Asian states are not yet ready to assume the more meaningful leadership in global affairs that will be necessary to ensure that this tectonic shift can make the world more stable and secure than it has been. Asian states have a tremendous opportunity to rise to this challenge.

The signs of Asia's rise are unmistakable. Over the past five years, China's contribution to world GDP growth has steadily increased from one-fifth to one-third, and India's from approximately 6 per cent to 16 per cent. Given their growing footprints on global economics, politics, and the environment, it is now impossible to imagine any major international agreement without China, Japan and India on board.

Asia's new clout holds tremendous promise. If Asian domestic consumption increases, for example, global economic growth will depend far less on over-consumption by debt-laden Americans. This would help all economies. If Asian countries other than Japan commit to binding caps on greenhouse gas emissions, a global deal on climate change will be possible at this December's Copenhagen Summit, even if developing Asia's caps are implemented more gradually than those for the developed world.

Moreover, if China, India and the ASEAN states take the lead in promoting a just resolution for the people of Burma, or if China proves more willing to press North Korea on nuclear weapons, these states will demonstrate that a world with multiple leading stakeholders can be safer than a world led by a single superpower.

Critics of America's record as a global hegemony make a strong case against a unipolar world. America's interventions in Vietnam and Iraq, its opposition to the Kyoto Protocol and insatiable consumption of natural resources, its role in creating the current financial crisis, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, and much else highlight America's flawed record.

Yet America's legacy of global leadership over the past six decades, warts and all, is unprecedented in its relative benevolence and positive impact. America played the lead in creating the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and international humanitarian and human rights law. It resuscitated its World War II enemies and fostered economic development in countries around the world and established a security umbrella that helped Europe and Asia focus more on diplomacy and economic growth than on military competition. It opened its markets and laid the foundations for globalisation and the information revolution, kept sea-lanes open for international trade, and catalysed the Green Revolution.

But weakened by the financial crisis, deeply indebted to foreign countries, bogged down in Iraq, facing major challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and feeling psychologically humbled, the US may no longer be in the same unrivalled position to lead the international community, even under the inspiring leadership of Barack Obama.

Despite the growing promise of a multipolar world with Asian powers playing a greater role in addressing global challenges and sharing leadership with a weary US, that world does not yet exist. America may be recognising its limits, but no new system has emerged to take up the slack. If Asian states are to play this role, they must do far more to address their own regional challenges and to promote a positive, universal set of norms.

Asian states could do far more, for example, to address the dangerous nationalism that persists in Asia. Unlike Europe, which largely put its historical ghosts to bed after 1945, Asian countries remain mired in 19th century-style nationalisms that weakens collaboration and makes the region more dangerous than it needs to be. China and Japan, Japan and Korea, India and Pakistan, Singapore and Malaysia, and many other pairings of states connect on some levels, but remain dangerously divided on others.

Asian states should also strengthen Asia-Pacific regional structures like APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum in order to ensure stronger collaboration on issues of regional and global concern. Although states in the Asia-Pacific region have come a long way in this regard, regional structures are nowhere near as strong as Euro-Atlantic structures. If the 21st century is to be the Asia-Pacific century, they must be.

Until such changes occur, many challenges will fall through the cracks that exist between a strained Pax Americana and a rebalancing world. Issues such as Burma, North Korea, Darfur, Zimbabwe, climate change and nuclear proliferation all appear to be falling, because they are being insufficiently addressed, into this crack.

All nations must work together to revise our models for international cooperation in a way that incorporates the global shift in economic power. Until this structure emerges, let us hope that America can lead wisely and that other countries, particularly Asia's new powers, will assume more meaningful responsibilities in managing global crises.

The writer is executive vice-president of the Asia Society. Copyright: Project Syndicate.









That malnutrition is a severe health issue in India is well documented. There are differing views on how best to tackle the problem among experts. The government's stated policy is to promote the use of freshly cooked food to mitigate the malnutrition crisis. This is a line endorsed by the Planning Commission and the National Advisory Council, and adopted by the ministry of women and child development (WCD).

It has now come to light that UNICEF imported millions of dollars worth of a packaged nutritional supplement, called Plumpynut, which is made by a French company. It gave them to severely malnourished children in several Indian states. This appears to have been done without consulting, or getting permission, from the relevant authorities here. While aid agencies are more than welcome in this country, they must follow the rules that are in force. If external agencies started making interventions as and how they please, without the government's knowledge, we have a problem on hand.

The indiscretion of the agency in this particular case is just one aspect of the issue. The debate over packaged and locally produced fresh food is of crucial importance. India has for long followed a system of providing hot food prepared from locally produced ingredients to children in need of nutritious food. And this is with good reason. A simple, balanced, freshly prepared meal has been proven to be both effective and beneficial to the health of the consumer. When Renuka Chowdhury - the former WCD minister - plumped for packaged food, she was roundly criticised. Packaged supplements cannot replace a diet of nutritious staples.

Moreover, it is not wise to import and use an alien product without fully investigating its merits and demerits vis-a-vis the foods that are being given now. Rooting for locally produced foods also acts as an incentive to local agriculture and livelihood practices. Whether seen as a health issue, or from an economic angle, local and fresh is the way to go in our fight against malnutrition.







Under the Integrated Child Development Scheme, malnutrition in school-going children is to be combated by providing them hot cooked meals prepared in anganwadis. Renuka Chowdhury once campaigned for nutrient-enriched packaged food instead and had her knuckles rapped by government higher-ups. Today, UNICEF is in the dock.


The international agency has been admonished for distributing ready-to-use fortified food apparently without authorisation, and asked to restore the money spent. But, reportedly UNICEF says its distribution of imported packaged food in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar was in line with World Health Organisation-stamped protocols on humanitarian intervention.

How many times will the government slam the rulebook on those who disagree with it? If the midday meal scheme debate is proving something of a periodic jack-in-the-box, surely that says something for relaxing the rules. If packaged food is being used the world over with good results, India needn't be an exception. If nutritional supplements in such food didn't have their strengths in terms of delivering health and hygiene, India's minister for food processing industries wouldn't propose the bundling of a processed food item with midday meals so that "the promise of quality and nutrition" can be kept.

That leads to the key question of the quality of cooked meals and standards of hygiene related to storage of raw materials and preparation. Thanks to local level callousness or corruption, substandard ingredients are in countrywide use. Disturbing headlines appear with sickening regularity about children falling ill and being hospitalised on consuming spoilt or contaminated food. Government data says 3,273 children were thus afflicted over the last three years.


Factor in unreported cases, and the number is likely to go up. If this is the situation under one of its flagship programmes, the government can hardly take the moral high ground with those advocating hygienic packaged food whether as a supplement or an alternative to cooked meals. Malnutrition is an urgent problem and UNICEF was actually doing something about it. Let's not make the ideal the enemy of the actual.







In 1996, i rode the circus train to Mexico City where i lived for a month, pretending to be someone's husband. (Don't even ask.) I remember my time there as we remember most of our travels vivid and thrilling, everything new and strange. Which is funny, since, if i think back honestly, while i was actually there i did not feel "happy". In fact, i griped incessantly about the noise and stink of the city.

I was similarly miserable throughout the happiest summer i ever spent in New York City. I was recovering from an affair that had ended badly, and during my convalescence i was subletting a cool, airy apartment a block from Tompkins Square Park, with a kitchen window that looked out on a community garden. One of the happiest memories of my life is of sitting on top of the little knoll in the park with my friend Ellen, eating a sweet Hawaiian pizza and waiting to see what movie would play on the outdoor screen. Even though this whole time i was preoccupied with thoughts of the woman I'd lost, in retrospect it's obvious now that the main thing i was doing that summer was falling in love.

I wonder, sometimes, whether it is a perversity peculiar to my own mind or just the common lot of humanity to experience happiness mainly in retrospect. I think i recall that summer with such clarity and affection for much the same reason that i remember my month in Mexico City so fondly. The fresh heartbreak was, in a sense, like being in a foreign country; everything seemed alien, brilliant and glinting. It was as if one had been flayed, so that even the air hurt.

When you're that unhappy, any glimmer of beauty or consolation feels like running into an old friend abroad, or seeing mountaintops through smog. Maybe we mistakenly think we want "happiness", which we tend to picture in very vague, soft-focus terms, when what we really crave is the harder-edged intensity of experience.

We do each have a handful of those moments, the ones we only take out to treasure rarely, like jewels, when we looked up from our lives and realised: "I'm happy." One of the last times this happened to me, inexplicably, i was driving on Maryland's unsublime Route 40 with the window down, looking at a peeling Burger King billboard while Van Halen played on the radio. But this kind of intense and present happiness is heartbreakingly ephemeral; as soon as you notice it you dispel it, like blocking yourself from remembering a word by trying too hard to retrieve it. And our attempts to contrive this feeling through any kind of replicable method with drinking or drugs or sexual seduction, buying new stuff, listening to the same old songs that reliably give us shivers never quite recapture the spontaneous, profligate joy of the real thing.

I suspect there is something inherently misguided and self-defeating and hopeless about any deliberate campaign to achieve happiness. Perhaps the reason we so often experience happiness only in hindsight, and that chasing it is such a fool's errand, is that happiness isn't a goal in itself but is only an after effect. It's the consequence of having lived in the way that we're supposed to by which i don't mean ethically correctly so much as just consciously, fully engaged in the business of living.

In this respect it resembles averted vision, a phenomena familiar to backyard astronomers whereby, in order to pick out a very faint star, you have to let your gaze drift casually to the space just next to it; if you look directly at it, it vanishes. And it's also true, come to think of it, that the only stars we ever see are not the "real" stars, those cataclysms taking place in the present, but always only the light of the untouchable past.






The proceedings of the Lok Sabha while it is in session are regularly telecast live on Doordarshan. It is amusing to watch some of the events that unfold each session-day.


Many MPs are caught napping by TV cameras, though they can easily claim to actually be meditating on crucial national issues. Many have a bored look on their faces, as if the topics being discussed are of little interest or importance to them.


The honourable Speaker always comes across as someone playing the role of a schoolteacher trying to keep rowdy students under control. Do our honourable members really need such an authority to control and discipline them constantly? One would think that these pillars of the nation would be able to conduct themselves without constant directions from the chair to behave.


It is, however, a fact that Lok Sabha speeches and discussions resemble a school debate function, lacking serious content on crucial issues facing the nation, on past performance, about future action plans or any concrete steps for improvements.

That apart, the show often turns nasty when a group of members of a party, piqued by some comment from the treasury benches, lose all self-control and become so agitated that they try to stall the proceedings of the assembly by slogan-shouting. If the issue is not resolved quickly, they move to the well of the House in an attempt to gherao the Speaker.


The resulting cacophony and chaos result in the adjournment of the House. In the past, many working days of Parliament have been lost in this manner. It appears that there is no provision to penalise the members who disrupt the House. Knowing that each minute of Parliament time costs taxpayers upwards of Rs 25,000, or Rs 1.2 crore per day, such colossal wastage cannot be pardoned.


Viewers are also treated to chappal-throwing matches when MPs find that words cannot adequately express their points of view on an issue. In the course of a healthy discussion, there have also been instances of members shoving and pushing each other much like the wrestling shows one sees on TV. Surely, taxpayers have the right to expect our worthy MPs to behave in a more dignified and purposeful manner.









Even before we could forget the havoc that a turbulent Kosi unleashed in Bihar last year, we have yet another flood in the northern part of the state this year. This time round, it’s the Bagmati, which crosses three districts of Bihar — Sitamarhi, Sheohar and Muzzafarpur — before it joins the Kosi river. News reports say that the river flooded 11 panchayats (200 villages, as of now) in Runisaidpur block, Sitamarhi district, after it made a 60-metre wide breach in the main embankment at Tilak Tajpur. More than one lakh people have been affected and officials say more villages could be flooded in the coming days.


Though the state government has been quick to react this year by sending flood relief measures unlike in 2008, some questions remain: how could such a disaster take place this year too when the monsoons have been below average and late? The embankment that the Bagmati breached was a new one and the government had spent Rs 8 crore to build it. So, was the design or material used faulty? If that is so, then who’ll be held accountable for the terrible loss of life and property? In the recent Metro rail mishap in Delhi, contactors were blacklisted for shoddy work. Similar punishment must be visited on those responsible in Bihar. Erring officials should be held accountable, notwithstanding the collusion that exists between politicians, bureaucrats and contractors. Just a ‘high-level’ probe will not do any good.


However, the bigger question that needs to be debated is the one on embankments, which don’t seem to be a solution against the angry tides. But unfortunately no one wants to take a call on this. Instead of shying away from examining their merits and demerits,  the government should open a public debate and look for other feasible solutions. Even though it is evident that embankments are not working, the Indian government recently gave Rs 82 million to Nepal for constructing embankments along the Lalbakeya and Bagmati rivers in southern Nepal. Lastly, stop blaming Nepal and Maoists for breaches in downstream Bihar. No country, and Nepal is no different, will hold back water and allow its dams to burst to save another riparian neighbour. We need to let rivers flow free; restricting them to certain man-made routes will not work, as is evident from the yearly floods.







That there are morons among us has been proved once again after the Chhattisgarh government has banned Charandas Chor (Charandas the Thief), the iconic play by the late Habib Tanvir. The cavemen of Raipur caved in to the demand made by Satnami Dalit community leader Baldas to prohibit Habib’s satirical work as the latter, a sensitive fellow, felt that the play ‘insults’ the Satnami community’s religious idol Guru Ghasidas. Tanvir’s play, based on the classic folk tale narrated by Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha, deals in the absurdist tradition with the impossibility of being truthful. The adventures of Charandas, a petty thief with a heart of gold, is a darkly comic take on human nature.


But then, Mr Baldas thinks otherwise and believes — 34 years after Tanvir first produced his play — that the playwright was calling all Satnami Dalits thieves. What next? A ban on the Ramayana simply because Valmiki is described as starting off as a bandit (Ratnakar) and thus tarring all members of the Kirata Bhil community? A ban on Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy because the Muslim Prophet is described amid uncomfortable settings? A ban on Munshi Premchand’s short story Shatranj ke Khilari (The Chess Players) because it showcases Awadhis as effete softies?


If the Chhattisgarh government can ban the great literary work of Padma Bhushan Habib Tanvir, a giant of Indian theatre, what chance do lesser writers have of writing freely and growing as creative forces? Someone or the other always gets piqued by some book or the other. And governments here comply without a murmur. The truth is India, with its ‘cottage industry’-demographic understanding of art and literature, doesn’t deserve its great writers. What it celebrates is being the paradise for pen-pushers.







The realisation is now dawning across the globe that development which the world has pursued in the past is not sustainable. This derives from the growing evidence of damage to various ecosystems, but also most glaringly from mounting evidence of climate change. The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly brought out the influence of human activities on the earth’s climate and its impacts, resulting from the cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases, the most dominant of which is carbon-dioxide. The rate of these emissions has grown in recent decades with an increase of 70 per cent between 1970 and 2004. Consequently, the world’s climate is changing far more rapidly than in previous periods.


Indian society has traditionally lived in harmony with nature, emphasising conservation of natural resources. The Indian way of life has not come into conflict with our ecosystems, except in the second half of the 20th century. The problem has been accentuated by massive pressure on land with a growing population, as well as lifestyles emulating those of the developed world almost to a fault. The result has been an increase in our resource intensity of growth to more or less the same levels as in the developed world. This is particularly true of energy consumption where certain sections of society have emulated the lifestyles and consumption patterns of the developed world. If we continue on the same path we would have serious problems in securing adequate imports of oil for our expanding economy and population. The answer lies in efficient use of energy and innovative solutions by which renewable energy can be used on a large scale.


As it happens, unfortunately, we have been conditioned to adopt solutions used only in developed countries, seldom seeking innovative options suiting our own resource endowment, socio-economic conditions and technological opportunities, all different from those of the developed world. There are, for instance, 400 million people in India today who have no access to electricity among 1.6 billion worldwide. Tragically, it is very unlikely that the current generation among these deprived 1.6 billion would ever receive electricity in their homes. We, therefore, have to find innovative solutions to this problem today.


Against this background, Teri has launched its campaign ‘Lighting a Billion Lives’, which is based on the use of solar lanterns specially designed and manufactured on a decentralised basis. Typically, this activity is centred around one person in a village, usually a woman, who is able to charge a number of solar lanterns using a solar panel during the day and rents them out to all the villagers at night. The entire village benefits from clean, pollution-free lighting which enhances their incomes and wellbeing.


It is estimated that last year the under-recoveries of kerosene in the country amounted to approximately Rs 30,000 crore. Over 40 per cent of the kerosene sold with this subsidy is diverted for adulteration of other petroleum products. We are, therefore, not only imposing a fiscal burden on the oil sector, but unwittingly promoting adulteration. Solar technology would also eliminate pollution emitted by kerosene lamps.


Innovative thinking is also required in another area likely to become a major problem in the future, with demand for mobile phones increasing dramatically. For servicing these mobile phones, base stations are dotting the skyline all over the country. Each base station typically requires around 4 KW of power. Given the unreliable power supply in many locations, diesel generators have become the preferred source of electricity supply. Consequently, the 250,000 base stations in India, it is estimated, consume 1.8 billion litres of diesel annually. These units are ideally suited for electricity supply using renewable energy sources, such as photovoltaics, biomass gasifiers or even wind energy where windspeeds are suitable. However, such options need to be driven by effective regulation or suitable incentives provided by the government. In the absence of such policies, we are creating a system that increases our dependence on oil imports, with high levels of noise and pollution in these locations.


India has the capacity and intellectual power to devise ‘out of the box’ solutions for our own benefit with a welcome break from developed world practices, and yet we are heading towards unsustainable outcomes, blindly following the prosperous nations of the north. A sharp departure is called for, and it is hoped the Prime Minister’s National Action Plan on Climate Change will provide an impetus for bringing this about. 


RK Pachauri is Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Director-General, The Energy & Resources Institute (Teri)









If there is one lesson that Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has learnt from his predecessor, it is what Martin Luther King Jr termed “the fierce urgency of now”. Sibal’s approach to reform has been as energetic as Arjun Singh’s was staid. The 100 days within which Sibal wants to pass the landmark Right to Education Act is evidence of his fierce urgency. But if speed is the only change that the new minister has brought with him, then that would be only half the lesson learnt. For, while speedy legislation on primary education is important, it is more important that the bill reads right.


One major shortcoming in the proposed legislation is its silence on the needs of disabled children. While the 2005 version of the bill was sensitive to these concerns, the new version has dropped many of the original provisions that dealt with disability. Specifically, the disabled are now not included in the definition of “disadvantaged” children, meaning that they cannot benefit from the 25 per cent quota for the “disadvantaged” in schools. Second, the definition of “disability” in the bill only covers the physically handicapped, excluding those with mental handicap. And third, the bill does not mandate disability-friendly facilities in schools (such as ramps and special teachers). Of these three concerns, the first two are easy changes to make, without weighty financial consequences. But the third concern — making schools across India disabled-friendly — will perhaps involve some cost. Already, estimates suggest that the financial cost of the Right to Education Bill will be between Rs 54,000 crore and Rs 73,000 crore a year. Perhaps, departmental mandarins fear the additional costs of ramps and other facilities in every single school across India.


Such fears are misplaced. As disability activists point out, the money is already there: funds for the disabled have been allotted under a host of government schemes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and the 11th five year plan. Besides, there is the principle of inclusiveness. The bill provides for toilets for girls in every school, which obviously adds to the costs. Should we remove this facility? Of course not — even the idea seems laughable. Similarly, special facilities for the disabled must never be held hostage to possible budgetary worries (more so when such worries are imaginary). It is hoped that these provisions for the disabled once again find their way into the Right to Education Bill, before it is okayed by Parliament and the president into law.









Indian cricket is becoming reflexively disposed towards standoffs. And the more weighty the powers gathered against it, the more inspired tend to be the BCCI’s statements of principle. So, now that BCCI President Shashank Manohar is invoking the Indian Constitution to shield his players from a clause in the global anti-doping protocol, sport has got itself a brand new controversy. The BCCI was setting up its defiance of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code, which ICC had signed on to in 2006. By this code, sportspersons have to submit a quarterly update, saying where they may be found for a particular hour each day for the next three months, and therefore be available to a surprise dope test by WADA. On Sunday, the BCCI stood by its cricketers’ reservations on adhering to this “whereabouts” clause, citing issues of security and privacy.


Is the BCCI picking a fight where none need exist? Unless the board can come up with more compelling reasons, it would seem so. The board has come up with its own solution: that WADA hush the “whereabouts” clause for its cricketers — all other cricketing nations have signed up — to the extent that it would commit to producing any cricketer for a dope test within 48 hours of WADA’s summons. The merits of the argument would be more convincing, however, if the BCCI could make a case for this exceptionalism. After all, cricket is asserting its candidature for inclusion as an Olympic sport. In fact, it will find a place at the 2010 Asian Games. Cricket must commit itself to a protocol to keep itself dope-free under any circumstance. But at a time when it is stepping outside its historically separate universe, its administrators must ask whether differences in protocol are sustainable. For example, every Olympic sport is not afflicted by the possibility of performance-enhancing substances to the same extent, but they all submit to the same standards of testing and monitoring.


The BCCI may yet have its way. But the question before the board will remain a larger one: when it is leading, with the IPL, innovations in abbreviating the game and making it more tenable in the shorter competition schedules of other sports, is it in Indian cricket’s interest to resist the wider protocols of sport?







Mahatma Gandhi was one of those people, simultaneously inspiring and three-dimensional, who will always continue to surprise — sometimes when their influence on someone unexpected is revealed. Not many would have expected, for example, that the world leader most desirous of writing a book about him would be Gordon Brown, Britain’s embattled prime minister.


What is it about Gandhi that appeals to Brown? Not, presumably, his personal austerity or his views on the economy. No, it was that “he sought to win by changing people’s hearts and minds and he managed to do so,” Brown said, in an interview to a British Asian magazine. Brown’s enemies will be startled: a common criticism of the premier is that he loves power a little too much, was willing to wait for it a little too long, and doesn’t want to give it up once he’s got it — even if his party might want him to. So Brown saying that Gandhi was one of “the great leaders of the twentieth century” precisely because he “didn’t seek power” will strike some of them as a little infuriating.


But even more striking was Brown’s casual usage of Gandhi as one of the great contributors to “our civilisation”. What did he mean? “Western” civilisation, which Gandhi famously described as “a good idea”? More probably, however, he meant modern Britain’s cultural landscape, an effortless, organic pastiche of the unreconstructed and the postcolonial, one where Churchill and Gandhi seem to be united in memory as they pretty definitely weren’t in life. How else to explain how even Brown’s least presentable rival, the far-right leader David Griffin, also said this week that Gandhi was a personal hero — for his “distributism, a philosophy opposed to big government and big corporations alike.” Gandhians, it appears, come in as many varieties as Gandhi had facets — and those were very many.








Attention on the subject of climate change appears to wax and wane in this country, having reached a peak in 2007 when the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out providing strong evidence of human influence on the earth’s climate. The report also detailed the serious impacts of climate change that would occur worldwide if no action was taken to deal with this challenge. Recently, however, the media has focused on India’s position in the global negotiations towards an international agreement expected in Copenhagen in December 2009. As is generally the case with issues involving long-term implications, several mis-impressions and myths have been aired by some in positions of responsibility. While discussing issues related to climate change and India’s stand in international negotiations, it is important to recall some of the scientific findings of the AR4.


There is now “unequivocal” evidence of the human influence on the global climate and its impact which would become far more serious in the future. During the 20th century, the average temperature increase across the globe was 0.74°C and sea level rise 17 cm. But climate change is not occurring merely as a smooth, steady and linear increase in temperature. It is in essence a disruption of the entire climate system, resulting in increased frequency, intensity and duration of floods, droughts and heat waves worldwide. There are also major changes in the water cycle, not only in the nature and magnitude of evaporation from land and water bodies across the globe but also in precipitation patterns. In general, at the upper latitudes in the northern hemisphere an increase in precipitation is observed while in some sub-tropical and tropical regions as well as the Mediterranean there is a decline. But there is also a global increase in extreme precipitation events, essentially with large quantities of rainfall or snow during short periods, creating problems of water availability. With hundreds of millions of farmers in developing countries dependent on rainfed agriculture, these changes in precipitation patterns spell increasing crises in several locations which not only have serious implications for food security but also social stability. Such effects and the overall disruption of climate are likely to increase if the increase in concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs), which creates human induced climate change, continues unchecked.


Based on the scientific evidence provided by the IPCC the global community agreed on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 and to implement its provisions in the


Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Unfortunately, the US and Australia refused to ratify the protocol, thereby reducing its political effectiveness as well as the quantity of emissions reduction envisaged. Commitments under the protocol are designed to run out in 2012 and will be succeeded by the agreement expected to come into place in Copenhagen.


India’s negotiating position has been guided by the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” included in the UNFCCC, which requires the developed countries to take action initially and provide financial assistance and access to technology to the developing countries for adaptation to the impacts of climate change as well as for mitigation. However, India can ignore the reality of climate change at heavy loss to Indian society. We are not only affected by sea level rise along our vast coastline but should also be concerned about the low lying country of Bangladesh and small island states not only in our neighbourhood like the Maldives but elsewhere too. Melting snow and other impacts will affect the availability of water in different parts of this country quite apart from negative impacts of climate change on agriculture and human health. There is, for instance, growing evidence that climate change is already affecting the yields of wheat negatively.


Against this background India has to take a forward looking and responsible position in dealing with this overall challenge. Undoubtedly, reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases must be carried out urgently and adequately by the developed countries. But to label India’s agreeing to limit global temperature increase to 2°C as a sell-out is a truly distorted view. It is in the interest of India and the citizens of this country both in this generation and those yet to come to ensure that global temperature increase is limited to 2°C. By emphasising this ceiling India can in fact put additional pressure on the developed countries to mitigate emissions of GHGs. The IPCC AR4 has clearly assessed the trajectory for stabilisation of temperature increase between 2.0 and 2.4°C requiring the peaking of global emissions of GHGs no later than 2015. To that extent the G-8 Summit setting a target of 2°C but not specifying goals for reduction of emissions in the short term, say by 2020, clearly ignores this significant finding of peaking by 2015.


India should also be concerned about other developing countries which would become the worst victims of the impacts of climate change, such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa and most of the small island states. It has been projected by the IPCC that as early as 2020 there would be 75 to 250 million people in Africa living under conditions of water stress on account of climate change, and in some parts the decline in agricultural yields may reach 50 per cent. Not to accept the upper limit on climate change on the part of India would represent a complete dereliction of moral responsibility to the global community and our own people. If anything, India agreeing to the 2°C limit should be hailed as an achievement and a step forward.

The prime minister has taken a timely initiative in developing the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), which adequately reflects India’s responsibility in dealing with this problem. Of the eight missions identified under this plan, the Solar Mission represents the most important strategic component. It is, therefore, important that India should launch this mission with very clear goals, because urgent action is required for ensuring energy security for our expanding population. The NAPCC also provides adequate attention to adaptation measures, because irrespective of the most ambitious global efforts to reduce emissions of GHGs, a certain level of climate change would continue for several decades, for which adaptation would have to be put in place effectively.


Copenhagen represents an extremely important opportunity for the world to deal with the challenge of climate change, and India must continue with a principled role in the negotiations leading up to Copenhagen. But to ignore the scientific realities of climate change would go against the interests of Indians of this generation and those yet to come.


The writer is Chairman, IPCC, and director-general, The Energy & Resources Institute








Moscow is paranoid about what the world intends to do with the Soviet past and the Russian present. It cannot afford a European historical consensus negating how it sees itself, the only way it wishes to be seen. The Putin-Medvedev regime sometime back resurrected the ghost of Stalin and rehabilitated the Soviet past. Now, it is institutionalising the construction of a national historical narrative connecting Imperial Russia, the Soviet empire, and the post-Soviet era in a whole — with the emphasis on “continuity” rather than the rupture or “break” that the Soviet collapse meant, something Putin calls the “greatest tragedy of our times”. But the battle for memory is not Russia’s alone to fight.


History is a political tool used to serve the present. So when Dmitry Medvedev recently announced an Orwellian-sounding commission to “counter the falsification of history”, Oxford historian Robert Service aptly called it “absolute poppycock”. Russia’s bludgeoning through history, its identity and memory compounded by geo-political and economic ambitions, however, has to be seen against a project that EU historians have embarked upon.


Forget 40 years of the moon landing, 20 of Tiananmen or the first burning of The Satanic Verses in Bradford. 2009 is also 70 years since the outbreak of World War II; 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down and East Europe exited the Soviet orbit. What Europe lost was compensated for in the EU — a re-baptised continent, yet a work in progress as evident in its eastward expansion, gathering in states and cultures some of which should have rightly belonged or once belonged to Old Europe. Milan Kundera is an iconic voice of this desire of the East to be included in the Western narrative. This, however, is also an anachronistically Orientalist idea whereby East Europe demarcates itself from the real East — Asia, or the “barbarians”. Now, Russia refuses to belong to the West; yet it fears not just accountability for Soviet crimes but being re-bracketed with the barbarians, even as the West comes closer to Moscow via former Soviet



Europe is witnessing a clash of memories, in a historical culture increasingly commemorative.


Western historians have realised that eastern newcomers don’t accept their post-1945 consensus about the 20th century. With its post-war grand narrative wrecked, Europe is slouching towards another, but would be happy to merely accommodate the current plurality of national memories. But the EU project is the people’s — history debated in the public cultural space and the academy — even if individual state machineries (particularly in East Europe) actively construct new histories. For Soviet apologists Messrs Putin & Medvedev, however, a historical narrative must be handed down to the people and jealously guarded. (And Leszek Kolakowski is dead!)


Russia is the name of the EU’s dilemma. It still defines the politics of memory for the former East Bloc. That’s why Moscow, which speaks of the Great Patriotic War again, saw red when Estonia decided to remove a Soviet WWII memorial from Tallinn in 2007. 1945, in the West European narrative, signifies liberation; but countries that threw off the communist yoke 20 years ago, see the end of WWII as the substitution of one occupation by another. That explains their re-intensified communist head-hunting, and their clamour for memorials to Soviet victims. But their post-1989 political experience is also disparate, their national opinions fractured, with many people rejecting a blanket censure of the past. For instance, the Red Army, while still “liberators” for eastern Ukrainians, are equal “oppressors” for western Ukrainians (of former Polish Ukraine) and the Baltic states as the Wehrmacht. Likewise, Ukrainians debate labelling Stalin’s Collectivisation as genocide against them, while Soviet-hating Victor Yushchenko never really carried eastern Ukraine with him.


The East’s post-Soviet worldview stems from memories West Europe is just beginning to recognise. It’s a competitive commemoration of contesting and overlapping memories of victimhood: I too was there; I too suffered, perhaps more than you. While the Holocaust forms the core of the narrative of victimhood, East Europeans, even as they begin to accept its centrality, also posit their twice victimisation by the Nazis and the Reds. In Holocaust studies itself, an emerging narrative challenges the focus on Auschwitz, where the majority of West European Jews died, since the eastern camps killed East European Jews (more numerous) and Poles. The archaeology of memory reveals layers suppressed underneath layers and overlapping circles of trauma. Moreover, a European history of only the Holocaust and the Gulag overlooks ethnic expulsion and colonialism. How will Turkey and the EU resolve the Armenian question? Shouldn’t the few bricks left of the Berlin Wall be preserved as a Cold War memorial?


Russia knows that the EU’s battle over memory has just begun. Without a pan-European history, it will be difficult to delegitimise the repellent Putin-Medvedev project. But a Grand Narrative today sounds self-defeating. And even if, say by 2015, Europe reaches a consensus, Russia may still not call it the end of history.









As you must know, Rakhi Sawant did, ending the speculation of whether she would or wouldn’t chose her “life partner” in front of millions. Resplendent in all the jewellery she could find, and a pink/gold confection, she garlanded her man in front of a ‘live’ TV audience. Elesh Parujanwala, everyone’s favorite for the job of her bridegroom, then garlanded her. Dewy-eyed, they exchanged rings and ‘I love you’. Now, you thought, now they’re going to seal it with you-know-what and we’ll get what we’ve waited a long time for: the television kiss. Alas, they didn’t oblige us and the moment passed.


Rakhi ka Swayamvar (NDTV Imagine) ended with platitudes, pledges and ‘pandit’ of ceremonies Ram Kapur assuring us that when the couple got married, we’d be there. Aha, that’s the catch: while Rakhi has met her match, they want to get to know each other before, you know, marrying. Will they, won’t they...?


What stood out in the show, other than the tall Elesh, is this new Rakhi — demure and ceaselessly mouthing homespun philosophy right out of Ramayana on family values, traditions, the duties of a bahu etc. This wasn’t the Rakhi we knew. Although she was dressed the part of Rakhi S, item girl, the Rakhi of Swayamvar was the girl next door. Which was for real? Was the show for keeps? Maybe that’s for Elesh to find out.


Meanwhile, the first sensible contestant took her money and ran from the truth on Sach Ka Samna and on Dadagiri, the hunterwali anchor cracked her whip, plunged her chin into her well-displayed bosom and spat abuse at the contestant whose mouth was plunged inside a septic tank (or the equivalent): this fool, bl... What a dumb are. Before he could return the compliments, he was tossed out of the tank, and show, raging like a bull.


Plenty raging inside Pooja whose husband shoved her face into the floor because, well, he likes to. Poor Pooja is a good Indian naari so she suffers in silence (Ladies Special, Sony). In Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo (Zee), a young girl is sold as a daasi to a wealthy landowning family which treats her like a communicable disease and she sits mute as stone as they heap indignities upon. In Balika Vadhu, child bride Anandi’s mother in law swallows her protests at the injustice perpetrated in her family so frequently she must have more bile than can be good for her. In Pavitra Rishta (Zee), uneducated Archana is eating her words all the time because her rampaging mother can’t stop talking. Last week, she spent an entire 23-minute episode in outraged silence. Antacid anyone?


Perhaps a reason reality shows like Sach Ka Samna or Dadagiri are finding a responsive audience is because serials such as Ladies Special, Agle Janam, Balika and Pavitra are suffocating us with their repressed emotions, suppressed responses. In the current crop of social serials on the sorry state of the girl child, none of the ‘good’ may raise their voices against the ‘bad’ without monstrous punishment — so they never speak up or out. They surrender, submit, suffer and suffer. They’re waiting to exhale — and so are we.


Sach ka Samna and other reality TV leaves little unsaid. On shows like Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao, Dadagiri or earlier Bigg Boss, people can’t stop telling each other or us what they really think and feel in parliamentary and unparliamentary language peppered with four letter words. They do as they wish, letting it all (hang) out. What’s more, they’re doing it, if not with a smile on their faces, at least without all the tears in India. So when the man on Sach agreed, last week, that he shirked his responsibilities by feigning illness, he did so with a sheepish grin. He’s behaving like a human being not the human sacrifice we see in serials.








Global warming. Three current realities; one subjective surmise and a concluding call for public opinion to drive the case for urgent and collaborative action to prevent, mitigate and adapt to the consequences. This is the essence of the article.


Reality 1: The earth is warming at a rate that human and natural habitats cannot adapt to. The earth has historically been characterised by climate change but at a pace that shifting patterns of the ecosystem have been able to accommodate. Today human action threatens to disrupt this balance. The concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere has moved the temperature trajectory to dangerous levels. Scientists differ on the precise implications but if temperatures continue to rise, the consequential warming will do irremediable damage to the planet.


Reality No. 2: Read any document on the subject whether authored by governments, NGOs or scientists and one cannot help but be struck by the commonality of the recommendations. There are of course differences over details, timings and statistics. There is no consensus on issues like the mechanics of carbon trading, taxes and prices; the optimal mix between risk and reward, efficiency and equity; the role of legislative fiat, and of course the paymaster — who should pick up the tab — the industrialised world that is responsible for the crisis, the multilateral agencies like the World Bank’s climate change investment funds and/or the market via avenues like the clean development mechanism?


But there is little or no difference in the recommended future pathway. Almost everyone agrees that the most effective way of containing GHG emissions is to invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy and forestation. A disproportionate quantum of GHGs are emitted from four sectors — power, industry, transport and buildings. They should be subject to efficiency standards and codes. Investment in renewable energy, ‘smart’ infrastructure and R&D for clean technologies is a key factor for long term sustainability. Deforestation must be checked and reforestation encouraged. This is of course, an all too simple summary, but the reality is that we know what needs to be done; the roadmap is clear, and the technologies are familiar and accessible.


Reality 3: ‘Politics as usual’ continues to define the dialogue on climate change, no surprise given the shackles of national politics. Thus even though Obama has ‘successfully’ pushed a climate change bill through Congress, he cannot ignore the fact that 212 members voted against the bill not because they had problems over specific clauses but because they still challenged the scientific evidence. Georgia’s Paul Brown, even asserted that climate change was a ‘hoax’ perpetrated on the world by the scientific community. His remarks drew broad applause.


Politics limits the space for ‘out of the box’ initiatives by the developing world too. In India too, the PM has faced criticism for endorsing the goals set at the Major Economic Forum (MEF) to limit the increase in global temperatures to no more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and for agreeing to “substantially reduce emissions by 2050”. This endorsement is not a legal commitment; nor does it represent a dilution of our refusal to accept binding limits on emission. All it does is to implicitly acknowledge that India will actively participate in overcoming the global challenge of global warming. The criticism is without substance and yet it has compelled a formal explanation. And most likely it will now straitjacket our delegates at the climate change conference in Copenhagen.


The reality is that while global warming is a crisis that recognises no borders, the political responses have been and are likely to remain strongly ‘bordered’. The divide between the industrialised world and the developing countries does not appear bridgeable.


Subjective Surmise: Against these realities, Copenhagen will most likely conclude with an agreement that

reflects the lowest common denominator of consensus. The agreement will contain no doubt some specific action points especially regarding the development and deployment of existing technologies but it will not create the post-Kyoto platform for collaborative initiatives. It will also not have the teeth to push countries and companies off the path of “business as usual”.


The caveat to this surmise is public opinion. Most segments of society are now engaged — some, of course, more than others. Governments have set up specific climate change departments; businesses have entered the phrase into their corporate lexicon; NGOs are active with grassroots technical and public awareness initiatives, and scientists and academics are debating not the issue but statistical and chronological details. In theory this should make it easy to forge a clear and focused collaborative program of next steps. In fact the opposite is the case. This is because each of these different groups continue to view climate change as a discrete problem rather than as a component part of a sustainable future. It is also because public opinion has not been galvanised.


For the man on the street, global warming is an arcane subject — an issue that troubles the intellect but has limited physical or material resonance. The public must now be brought into the discussion. How, is of course, a difficult proposition.


The mathematician Blaise Pascal offered a strong argument for devout behaviour. He said that even if one believed that the existence of God was highly unlikely it was best to act as if He did exist. This is because the ‘finite’ price of such an act would be small compared to the infinite costs of eternal hell fire. The public needs to be reminded of Pascal’s precautionary principle. However abstract the current impact of global warming, people must pay the relatively small price of changing their lifestyles and compelling politicians to move off their politics-as-usual perch, rather than risk the enormous implications for the yet unborn.


The author is chairman of the Shell group in India. Views expressed are personal.








The Supreme Court’s judgment upholding the location of the Commonwealth Games and rejecting the objections does not come as a surprise. What surprises is the form that the judgment has taken.


The high court took a very long time over the PIL on this issue, and must take a part of the blame for making a decision difficult in the end. However, after prolonged hearings during which all the relevant points were argued and a good deal of documentation submitted, the high court, instead of pronouncing a final judgment, ordered the establishment of an expert committee to examine the proposed constructions, for impact on river ecology and compliance with the conditions of environmental clearance. The DDA and a cluster of government departments and ministries appealed to the Supreme Court against that order.


What were the options before the Supreme Court? It could have upheld the high court’s order; or it could have allowed the expert committee to be set up, but ordered that this should not affect the work on the Games, and that remedial measures, if any, recommended by the committee should be implemented after the Games; or it could have simply set aside the order for the establishment of a committee. In the last case, the high court would have had to proceed without the report of a committee and pronounce final judgment. Of course, an appeal could then have been made to the Supreme Court against the (putative) final judgment of the high court.


What the Supreme Court actually did was to go beyond the question of a committee and into the merits of the matter, set aside the high court judgment in toto, and give a clearance for the construction work on the site for the Commonwealth Games to proceed. Why did it do this? One presumes that the governing consideration was the urgency of the matter. If that were the case, the Supreme Court could have said “This matter has become very urgent and will brook no further delay. The time for argument is over. We are therefore bringing finality to the case by rejecting objections and allowing construction to proceed”.

However, that is not what the learned judges have done. They have said that the area in question is not riverbed or floodplain. That question had been gone into at great and learned length by both the judges (Justice Sikri and Justice Rekha Sharma) in the high court judgment. Their treatment of the subject was persuasive. However, the Supreme Court brushes it aside and comes to its own conclusion. The expert opinion it relies on is that of government bodies which cannot be expected to be objective and which tend to provide convenient opinions to the powers that be.


The basis for saying that the area is not in the floodplain of the Yamuna is that it now stands protected by the embankment built to protect the Akshardham temple complex. This was the argument in the high court, and it had been dismissed as fallacious. The high court had questioned the manner in which NEERI and the ministry of environment and forests had changed their positions. It is that disingenuous and discredited argument that the Supreme Court has accepted as an expert finding.


It is a curious argument. If areas protected by embankments technically cease to be floodplains, it is possible to narrow the floodplains progressively by building embankments closer and closer to the river. The culmination of this process would be two walls very close to the river on either side; we can then say that the river has no floodplain. Did the Supreme Court consider this reductio ad absurdum?


Besides, the important point is not whether the area in question is riverbed or floodplain or neither. Though the high court had discussed the riverbed/floodplain issues, its order does not talk about these. It refers only to the impact that the proposed constructions will have on the ecology of the river. It is to determine this that it orders the setting up of an expert committee. The Supreme Court’s ex cathedra pronouncement that the area is not riverbed or floodplain commits two errors: it sets aside the high court’s order on the basis of a wrong understanding of the order; and it leaves the crucial question of impact unanswered.


What the judgment reveals is a certain way of thinking prevalent not merely in government but in society in general, and now evidently in the judiciary as well. The Commonwealth games are important; the Yamuna is not. The environment minister can take the Yamuna off his agenda.


The writer is a former civil servant.









The first-quarter results for financial year 2009-10 show better-than-expected earning numbers for India Inc on the back of better operational efficiency, stake sales and low commodity prices. But demand growth and sales have continued to remain sluggish in the first quarter. Given that, is the current price-to-earnings (PE) multiple at 20.35 for Sensex companies justified by fundamentals or is there some ‘bubble’? The current PE is still lower than the figure of 25 it had hit in December 2007 when the market was trading at 20,000 points, but the rapid rise in the PE multiple since April is still noteworthy. Clearly, if earnings don’t grow as fast as share prices, the PE multiple will bloat, which is always a predictor of a market slump. China may have already been there partly—after a steep rise in the stock market, the Shanghai index slipped 5% last Wednesday triggered by the massive sell-off in Chinese stocks. It was sparked by concerns over banks capping their lending targets and pricey valuations, after the country’s banking regulator instructed banks to ensure that loans flow into the real economy rather than into stock markets and real estate. The authorities fear that a large chunk of the money from recent stimulus packages has entered these assets, as with China State Construction Engineering Corp—the world’s biggest IPO in recent times—and BBMG Corp, were heavily subscribed. Various reports suggest that IPOs worth $45 billion are in the pipeline in China, fuelling foreign investors to ramp up investments. In fact, EPFR estimates that investors globally ploughed a record $35.5billion into emerging market equity funds in the first half of the year, and withdrew $61billion from developed market equity funds over the same period.


The Chinese trigger had a ripple effect on Indian equities too, with the Sensex dropping marginally 160 points on that day. Analysts fear a build-up of bubble in the Indian market with the MSCI Index—formerly Morgan Stanley Capital International, which is used as a common benchmark for global stock funds—rising around 58% since January, the fastest ever in any emerging economy. On the other hand the MSCI rose just 10% since January in developed countries and this disparity between developed and emerging markets has prompted analysts to talk of corrections, particularly in India and China. Also, for the second time in almost 15 years, price-to-book values show that the Indian stock market offers a premium valuation compared to developed market equities valuation. Retail investors are getting out of the market after booking profit in the current rally. That makes prospects of a bubble larger. Should anything be done about this? Not really. If FII money has ‘over-invested’ in Indian stocks, there will be a correction. There’s no parallel as yet with China of bank lending flowing into stocks. But even if there were, the case for heavy regulatory intervention is still not made.







It may not have lasted long, but the threat by India’s major private airline operators to go on strike was a shocking indictment of the manner in which entrepreneurs in this sector operate. One would have to look really hard to find other instances of the capitalist class threatening a strike—that is usually the domain of trade unions or senior management of some public sector companies. In this instance, rather ironically, the state-owned company, Air India, was the only major airline that did not join the other potential strikers under the banner of the Federation of Indian Airlines. Surely, there are better ways for the private airline operators to convey their views to the government and public at large. If anything, the threat of a strike robbed them of credibility and led them on to the wrong side of public opinion.


That is a particularly unfortunate outcome for the private airlines because some of their grievances are justified. Perhaps their strongest case is on the extremely distortionary government policy on aviation turbine fuel—taxes are not only very high, which makes ATF in India more expensive than most places in the world, but they also vary greatly across states, going up to 30% and above in some cases. There is an urgent case for reducing the tax rate and making it uniform. The other alternative is to allow airlines to import ATF, which is not allowed in the current regime. The second grouse that private operators have is on the issue of Air India receiving a government bailout. After all, it isn’t the only airline facing rough weather because of a weak economy, so if the government is inclined to bailouts, surely everyone should get one. Our argument in these columns has been simple: no one, including Air India should get a government bailout. In fact, all the airlines in India, including Air India, need to rework their business models in the context of the changed economic scenario. Most of the private operators had over extended in the period of boom and are paying the price in the slump. Any bailout will simply prevent restructuring. Airlines need to work on alternate strategies like sharing infrastructure, leasing out aircraft and rationalising routes. That said, the government too must take its share of the blame in this fiasco. There is no independent regulator for the airline industry which can take a neutral view of some of the most contentious issues, including airport charges. DGCA is simply inadequate. Also, the Competition Commission of India ought to awake from its slumber—if this potential, coordinated strike is not evidence of cartelisation in the civil aviation sector, then what is? Even on earlier occasions, there have been suspicions of coordinated action on the part of private operators. In the absence of a regulatory authority for civil aviation, the competition commission needs to urgently step in.









The economic transformation of India rests on three things. Macro economists like myself get agitated about issues of exchange rate policy, interest rates or the institutional structure between the RBI and the securities regulator. Fiddling around with these things is not unimportant, but it is not going to make the difference between success and failure. And let us be clear what failure means, because for armchair intellectuals like myself, and those who do most of the writing and reading, national economic failure does not have huge consequence. It means, quite literally, life and death for our poor neighbours. It means more, and more sustained poverty, and poverty means high infant mortality rates, low life expectancy rates and much misery in between. Slumdog millionaire is fiction. The three things that will make a difference are, in order, of importance, education reform, judiciary reform and public sector reform.

Many of my socialist friends will consider this a right-of-centre agenda. All I know is that the single most important way to empower poor people, to lift them out of poverty, to transform the life chances of their children, is to educate them. And at the same time, the State is very poor at doing this. It spends not insignificant amounts of money on education, but too much of it is spent on State administration, failing schools or underperforming teachers. Administrators and teachers’ unions are at the centre—not children and parents. Which is why you have the ridiculous situation of poor parents scratching and scrambling to send their kids to private school. This is a generalisation. Some public schools are a success. But at a national level, publicly funded education is not doing enough to educate and empower the poor.


We need to take the entire education budget, divide it by the number of children and give it to parents to spend only on education and guarantee a real increase of 5% per year in this parental entitlement. Publicly funded education, privately delivered, with set standards and obligations. There are many who deep down actually hate the idea of empowering the poor. They would rather get paid to line them up, shout at them and tell them what’s best for them and their kids. Unsurprisingly, parents are abandoning the system. Huge resources, expensively corralled and collected, are spent on a service that most would reject if they could.


We have touched on re-arranging public education before and so let me move to another issue. Judicial reform. One of the reasons why India will overtake China in my lifetime is that India is a democracy—of sorts, I know, but more of a democracy than China. A critical component of democracy is an independent, and efficient judiciary. If you get justice, but only if you wait for ten years and spend a fortune on lawyers, this is not the kind of justice that all can share. Nor is it the kind of justice that businesses and investors can rely on.


Today, international big business loves China and hates India. They can cosy up to the Chinese government, talk in grand tones of national strategic partnership and walk away with a State monopoly somewhere. In India they are stuck in the courts for ten years. We can say with equal amounts of shame and pride that what really brought down Enron was not US regulators, its blue chip banks or world-class auditors, but the length of time they spent in Indian courts. There are other countries, some poor, some large, who manage a more efficient legal system and we need to learn from them. The economic consequences, far less the human and social consequences, of letting the lawyers hold us to ransom is too large to countenance any more.


Once we have helped to empower people through education, provided health care and safety nets for the most vulnerable, defended the country and established fair and efficient rule of law, the next role of government is not to get in the way of law abiding citizens doing their business. We have some competition between state governments and there have been advances with e-government. There is much more than can be done. Queuing up for half a day to get my driving licence, or waiting six months to get a business permit, or lying in hope for the positive outcome of a random planning process are considerable costs that impede our daily lives and inhibit investment. It is a big problem for those who cannot send their driver to queue up for them, or did not go to private school with the public servant.


Policies in these directions, if not detail, would make a big difference to India’s economic success. But they are unlikely. Each would threaten a powerful group: teachers unions, lawyers, the public service and the middle classes who have learned to ride “the system”. No government wants to do that, unless of course, they are in government to lead.


The author is chairman, Intelligence Capital, chairman, Warwick Commission, member, UN Commission of Experts and member of the Pew, US Congressional Task Force on Financial Reform








Global warming—three current realities; one subjective surmise and a concluding call for public opinion to drive the case for urgent and collaborative action to prevent, mitigate and adapt to the consequences.


Reality 1: The earth is warming at a rate that human and natural habitats cannot adapt to. The earth has historically been characterised by climate change but at a pace that shifting patterns of the eco system have been able to accommodate. Today human action threatens to disrupt this balance. The concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere has moved the temperature trajectory onto a higher and dangerously upward level. The consequential warming will do irremediable damage to the planet.


Reality 2: Read any document on the subject whether authored by governments, NGOs or scientists and one cannot help but be struck by the commonality of the recommendations proposed for tackling global warming. There are of course differences over details, timings and statistics. And there is no consensus yet on issues like the mechanics of carbon trading, taxes and prices; the optimal mix between risk and reward and efficiency and equity; the role of legislative fiat and of course the paymaster— who should pick up the tab —the industrialised world that is responsible for the crisis, the multilateral agencies like the World Bank’s climate change investment funds and/or the market via avenues like the clean development mechanism. But there is little or no difference in the recommended future pathway. Almost everyone agrees that the most effective way of containing GHG emissions is to invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy and forestation. The reality is that we know what needs to be done; the roadmap is clear and the technologies are familiar and accessible.


Reality 3: “Politics as usual” continues to define the dialogue on climate change. This is no surprise given the shackles of national politics. Thus even though Obama has “successfully” pushed a climate change bill through Congress, his hands are tied. He cannot ignore the fact that 212 members voted against the bill not because they had problems over specific clauses but because they still challenged the scientific evidence. One representative Paul Brown of Georgia even asserted that climate change was a “hoax” perpetrated on the world by the scientific community. His remarks drew broad applause.


Politics limits the space for “out of box” initiatives by the developing world too. In India, the PM has faced criticism for endorsing the goals set at the Major Economic Forum to limit the increase in global temperatures to no more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and for agreeing to “substantially reduce emissions by 2050”. This endorsement is not a legal commitment; nor does it represent a dilution of our refusal to accept binding limits on emission. All it does is to implicitly acknowledge that India will actively participate in overcoming the global challenge of global warming. The criticism is without substance and yet it has compelled a formal explanation. And most likely it will now straitjacket our delegates at the climate change conference in Copenhagen.


The reality is that whilst global warming is a crisis that recognises no borders the political responses have been and are likely to remain strongly “bordered”. The divide between the industrialised world and the developing countries does not appear bridgeable.


Subjective surmise: Against these realities Copenhagen will most likely conclude with an agreement that reflects the lowest common denominator of consensus. The agreement will contain no doubt some specific action points especially regards the development and deployment of existing technologies but it will not create the post Kyoto platform from which collaborative and collective initiatives can be actioned. The caveat to this surmise is public opinion.


Most segments of society are now engaged—some of course more than others. Governments have set up separate “climate change” departments; businesses have entered the phrase into their corporate lexicon; NGOs are active with grassroots technical and public awareness initiatives and scientists and academics are debating not the issue but statistical and chronological details. In theory this should make it easy to forge a clear and focused collaborative programme of next steps. In fact the opposite is the case. This is because each of these different groups continue to view climate change as a discrete problem rather than as a component part of a sustainable future. It is also because public opinion has not been galvanised. The public must now be brought into the discussion. How, is of course, a difficult proposition.


The author is chairman of Shell Group of Companies in India. These are his personal views








On American primetime news, not unlike in India, the more stridently an anchor takes on the bully pulpit, the more his TRPs climb. CNN’s Lou Dobbs has built his brand by being an immigration bully. The latest ‘alien’ to draw his wrath is of course the US President himself. To be fair to Dobbs, the birther storm does not originate with him. While, say, the charge that Obama was a secret Muslim got more mainstream press during the presidential campaign, the birther issue was thriving on the fringes. Here, Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate was named a forgery, and thus his eligibility to be US President challenged. Crackpot litigation with this theme was dismissed everywhere, including at the US Supreme Court.


Dead is how the CNN president, forced to give an accounting for the hullabaloo, described the topic. Archconservatives Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly agreed. Alas, Dobbs got more and more play with each disclaimer. And there is now a birther Bill with 11 House cosponsors. It seeks that all presidential candidates provide copies of birth certificates, carrying on the pretense that Obama’s copy is questionable, with the allied suggestion that the state of Hawaii has colluded in a forgery. This too can go down as profit in the ledgers of Dobbs-style advocacy.


A public opinion poll now making the headlines found only 42% of Republican respondents thought Obama was a natural born US citizen. Only 47% of respondents from the South, whether Democrat or Republican,concurred. But, overall, 90% of Democrats kept the faith. So, here’s another idiocy into which Dobbs has managed to breathe life: despite much recent play on hope and reconciliation, the US lives a deep chasm between the left and the right, the North and the South.


On the flip side, there is the Schwarzenegger for President campaign. There are people asking if it matters that Obama was born in Kenya or grew up in Indonesia. There is the hope that the US will get what India did, when it put the question of Sonia Gandhi’s eligibility to rest








Despite decades of intervention, child malnutrition remains a shameful paradox in an India that aspires to occupy a larger global economic space. As a recent report in this newspaper revealed, “severe malnutrition” claimed the lives of over 450 children under the age of six in Madhya Pradesh since May 2008, reflecting the State government’s abdication of a basic duty. This is also symptomatic of a chronic social failing: the inability of governments to put deprivation issues at the centre of economic policy. Decades after planned economic development and targeted interventions, India has not achieved acceptable child nutrition levels: 38 per cent of its children aged under five are too short for their age (stunted), 15 per cent are wasted (too thin for their height), and a shocking 43 per cent are underweight, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) data. The percentage of underweight children in other developing countries such as Brazil (four per cent) and China (six per cent) makes it clear that India has to go a long way before it could stake a realistic claim as one of the world’s emerging economic powerhouses. The country also risks the possibility of losing out on its advantage of “demographic dividend,” unless it makes urgent political and administrative interventions.


Action is required on two fronts. At a broader level, a nation’s nutritional well-being is directly linked to local food security. The frequent recurrence of the blight of malnutrition, despite an improvement in the food inadequacy status of households — the figure dropped from 4.2 per cent in 1993-94 to 1.9 per cent in 2004-05 — proves the continued validity of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s proposition that food deprivation is the result more of distribution inequalities than the lack of food. Correcting this systemic inadequacy is the larger challenge; but improving the working of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is something the State governments can do if they had the political will and vision. The World Bank’s 2005 study on the working of the ICDS highlighted three important mismatches: the gap between design and implementation, the neglect of the poorest and the most vulnerable, and the poor quality of services. The National Family Health Survey-3 showed the States that had well-designed health intervention schemes such as immunisation programmes and maternal care fared better. There is much the State governments can do to prevent such shocking relapses into deprivation. Making local administrations accountable is a much-required first step to mainstream development issues into the political agenda.








While replying to the debate on the budget in Parliament, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced two major concessions for the lower and the middle class housing sectors. First, the government will provide one percentage point interest subsidy for loans. Estimated to cost the government Rs.1,000 crore, this will be available for loans up to Rs.10 lakh for buying houses costing not more than Rs.20 lakh. Secondly, in a move to increase the supply of houses, profits from housing projects approved by a local authority between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008 will be exempted from income tax, if they are completed by March 31, 2012. The apex body of builders wants the deadline for the tax holiday to be extended to all projects approved by 2012. It is, however, the interest subvention that needs to be scrutinised closely for its effectiveness in promoting low cost housing. It is not clear whether the interest subsidy will continue into the future. Home loans are generally for long durations and concessions in the initial years alone may not be a good enough incentive. Moreover, most home loans in India carry floating interest rates and building a subsidy into a repayment schedule that runs for a long period with variable rates could be complicated, and the outlays uncertain.


The point has been made repeatedly that the cost of finance is not the only, or even the major, determinant in making a house affordable. The cost of land and connectivity are crucial considerations. In the metros and bigger towns, it is the exorbitant price of land that stands in the way of affordable housing. The proposed measure may, at the most, benefit residents in smaller cities where land costs are low. The general housing pool has to be enlarged and the construction industry revived through fiscal incentives of the kind announced. There is also uncertainty whether the benefits extended to the developers through tax exemptions will be passed on to the end-users, either fully or in part. A distinction, however, has to be made between affordable housing meant for the lower and the middle income groups and the other housing projects. Much of the housing supplied by the private developers and funded by the scheduled banks and financial institutions is not targeted at the lower income groups. Hence the proposed incentives, welcome as they are, would not be very effective when it comes to addressing deficits in low income housing. Radically reworked housing and land policies involving the Centre and the States and a well planned subsidy regime will be necessary for this task.









The Samajwadi Party revolutionised the concept of ‘Samajwad,’ as opposed to the principles of the Indian National Congress. That was why Ram Manohar Lohia opposed the functioning approach and ideology of the Congress. During the Emergency, Indira Gandhi imprisoned Mulayam Singh Yadav for 19 months.


Congress-SP relations were always sore. But after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the SP decided never to have any ties with the Congress, which was partly responsible for the December 1992 event. The SP has, however, always attempted to support the Congress at the Centre in order to strengthen the secular forces. However, the Congress has only sought to weaken the SP and its leaders. In fact, after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power in 2004 it has toughened its stand against the SP. In order to weaken the SP, the Congress has even allied with the BJP and the BSP.


During the period of SP rule in Uttar Pradesh, the UPA government at the Centre meted out a step-motherly treatment to the State by not providing enough financial support. The UPA government even tried to sabotage developmental work initiated by the State government. The setting up of the Dadri power plant in the State created a stir among Congressmen, who felt the provision of 24-hour power supply would make Mulayam Singh a hero. The UPA government did not initiate any step to supply gas to the plant. The Noida airport proposal was discarded by the UPA government. The Congress used the then Governor of Uttar Pradesh, T.V. Rajeswar, to dampen the developmental spirit of the SP. The Congress tapped my telephone line, targeted SP MP Jaya Bachchan in the office-of-profit matter, and instigated the Central Bureau of Investigation to file false cases against Mulayam Singh and his kin.


Finding that the SP’s morale was undampened by vendetta politics, it tried its last option: to dismiss the elected government and impose President’s Rule in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress could not do so because the Left offered resistance. With the Congress’ hostility towards the SP growing, the BSP got a lion’s share of seats in the 2007 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.


At that juncture, even as the Congress was losing its sheen to the saffron brigade in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Uttarakhand on the nuclear deal issue, the SP supported it. When the BJP, the BSP and the Left parties tried to send the UPA out, the SP saved the government. In return, the SP could well have bargained for up to six ministerial berths.


When the communal forces tried to corner me in the ‘votes-for-cash’ issue, the Congress ignored the efforts I had made to ensure smooth sailing for the nuclear deal and said it was my personal affair. They targeted me because I did not let them pull down the UPA government. How could the false issue of ‘votes-for-cash’ be my personal issue? The matter is still with the Delhi Police, and the outcome seemingly depends on the Congress’ whims and fancies.


In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, under the conventional seat-sharing formula the Congress would have got only 13 seats, but the SP offered it 19. This deal did not materialise as a Congress general secretary derailed the process on an industrialist’s instructions. The seat-sharing and ticket distribution process in the Congress-SP alliance dragged on, confusing SP workers.


During the seat-sharing process the Congress attempted to use the CBI against Mulayam Singh, in order to blackmail the SP. Strangely, the SP leader gets a clean chit when he is with the Congress and becomes an offender when the SP is against the Congress. The unconstitutional use of the CBI by the Congress became clear when Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh admitted in public that the Congress uses the CBI to settle scores against its political opponents. In an interview, Hansraj Bhardwaj, a former Law Minister in the UPA government, admitted that his party had used the CBI to settle scores with the SP.


After the 2009 elections the SP decided to support the UPA government unconditionally, for the sake of secularism. Instead of giving the SP due importance, the Congress has shown its true colours by simultaneously inviting the BSP to support the UPA government — the same BSP that opposed the nuclear deal. The SP is still willing to accept this — provided the Congress achieves the feat of getting the support of the AIADMK and the DMK, and the TMC and the Left parties, simultaneously and in one go!


Over the last two years the SP leadership has made every effort to be friends with the Congress, but its leaders have been humiliated time and again. The SP’s offer of friendship to the Congress has now become a liability. For the Congress the relationship is nothing but politics. Congress leaders play politics while the SP goes by its heart. Here relationships do not matter and it is the politics of numbers alone that matters. The SP witnessed this in the 2009 elections.


The SP does not agree with some of the policies of the UPA government: its submission to the U.S. on the Pakistan policy, the delinking of terrorism in the Indo-Pakistan joint statement, and the blunder of referring to Balochistan. The SP opposes the UPA government’s acceptance of the U.S. proposal of ‘end-user monitoring’ and of the developed countries’ proposal for “reticence to set a carbon reduction emission target” in Italy. The SP is dissatisfied with the UPA government’s casual approach in dealing with the issue of frisking of the former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, by Continental Airlines staff. The SP fears that the UPA government might jeopardise India’s traditional relations with Iran at the behest of the U.S.


The SP sought to have a comprehensive dialogue with the government, and proposed an SP-Congress coordination committee. But the Congress inviting the BSP to such a forum is unacceptable to the SP; it is as good as refusing the SP’s proposition. The SP opposes the massive tax concession offered to Reliance Industries, and the Petroleum Minister undermining the National Thermal Power Corporation’s interests in favour of an industrialist in the Cauvery Basin gas issue. The SP is concerned about the Rs.2,500-crore rice scam and the scam relating to the purchase of an aged aircraft carrier. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has pointed attention to these. The SP fears that as a party that supports the UPA government, it would have to share the fallout of the scams.


In Uttar Pradesh, the SP is fighting a straight electoral battle with the BSP. At this juncture, a statement by a Congress general secretary that “for the Congress, the SP and the BSP are equal” has hurt the SP. Giving equal status to a party that saved the UPA government and one that tried to pull the government down, reflects a dual policy. The Congress’ love and affection to the BSP has resulted in the UPA ignoring the poor governance by the Mayawati government. The UPA wanted to impose President’s Rule when the SP was in power, but remains a silent spectator with respect to the BSP’s actions.


The Congress makes a hue and cry over the development of Uttar Pradesh, but never thinks beyond Amethi and Rae Bareli. A railway coach factory has been allotted to the region; this facility should have been allotted to a backward region like Bundelkhand and eastern Uttar Pradesh as Amethi and Rae Bareli have several development projects running. The SP government took the initiative to extend the benefit of reservation to many most backward class groups in Uttar Pradesh, but this issue has been left in limbo by the Congress and BSP governments. The BSP has misused the state machinery and resources by building parks and installing statues. The SP wants President’s Rule imposed to check the growing menace posed by BSP leaders and the corruption. Meanwhile, the Congress is busy being regretful for State Congress president Rita Bahuguna’s statement against BSP supremo Mayawati.


The verbal clashes between BSP and Congress leaders on atrocities against women, Dalits and the poor are but gimmicks. The BSP instigated the arson at Ms Bahuguna’s house. And, amazingly, the Mayawati government has rewarded those who were involved in the incident. The invoking of the SC and ST Act by the BSP government against a Congress leader as part of a personal duel, and the Congress leaders’ callous attitude to the issue, reflect Congress-BSP intimacy.


The Mayawati government is misusing state funds to build castles, parks and statues, and the Central government is turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to it. The SP hesitates to lend its support to such a government. SP workers are disturbed over the manner of governance in the State and at the Centre, and the growing Congress-BSP intimacy. SP workers are confused and do not know who is friend and who is foe. Its leaders including seniors like Janeshwar Mishra are in a dilemma over supporting the UPA government. It is expected that a solution could be worked out and the issue sorted out at a national executive meeting to be held this month under the leadership of Mulayam Singh Yadav.


(Amar Singh is general secretary of the Samajwadi Party. He wrote this from a hospital-bed in Singapore.)









Political legends and legacies are not always created or sustained by leaders who can pass the scrutiny of history with mathematical rigour. The legend and legacy of Filipino leader Corazon Aquino, who passed away in Manila at the age of 76 on August 1, should be seen in this light. That does not, however, mean that political greatness was simply thrust upon her.


A long-term test of the Corazon legacy of “people power” does not have to be solely related to her political spirit and achievements as “the leader of destiny.” In many respects, the record of her one-term presidency, from1986 to 1992, paled in comparison with the dizzy drama and promise of her rise to power. In a turn of post-modern metaphor, she soared to extra-terrestrial heights in Filipino politics but failed to perform the arduous space walk. A real test of her legacy, therefore, is that of its being a benchmark for pro-democracy campaigns elsewhere in East Asia. “People power,” as articulated by Corazon in 1986, not her innings as President, has proved inspirational for pro-democracy activists across East Asia. This includes the Philippines, where some later-day variants of “people power” campaigns have been seen by critics as parodies.


In all, the magic of “people power” has sometimes been invoked by the anti-establishment forces in South East Asia. They have tried to advance a general agenda of democracy or equal rights for the minorities. The most conspicuous recent example is the effort by a section of the ethnic-Indian minority in Muslim-majority Malaysia. A relevant campaign for equal rights has been characterised as “Makkal Sakthi” or “people power.” Coincidentally, thousands of protesters, chanting “reformasi” or “reformation,” swarmed the streets of Kuala Lumpur on the day Corazon breathed her last. The protesters, belonging mostly to the majority-Malay community, were demanding the repeal of Malaysia’s tough Internal Security Act (ISA). Like most other street demonstrations in Malaysia, this protest, too, was quelled by the use of tear gas and water cannon. But the issues at stake go beyond such a protest-response pattern in the public domain. Anwar Ibrahim, Leader of the Opposition and a one-time Deputy Prime Minister, has not had the kind of political space that opened up for Corazon in the mid-1980s. Moreover, the Malaysian military establishment has been mindful of democracy’s cardinal principle of civilian control over national affairs.


On balance, the intangible Corazon factor as an inspiration for protest cannot be missed, although her name is not invoked as a political ritual. In fact, the triumph of “people power” over the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986 raised visions of new political paradigms in South East Asia. Yet, this sub-region continues to be hospitable to some ambivalent attitudes towards full-scope democracy. And, a few governments do advance “smart” arguments in defence of such attitudes.


“Reformasi,” an agenda-based variant of the “people power” platform, is the rallying cry of anti-establishment activists in some pockets of South East Asia today. The “people power” theme of the 1986 Filipino model had its first spill-over effect in Thailand. Today, political leaders and pundits across South East Asia are, therefore, at a loss to make sense of the “unfinished democratic revolution” in Thailand. The long shadow of the Thai military forces over the country’s civilian politics is still visible.


In the big picture of “people power” in South East Asia, Indonesia has come a long way out of the shadows of “praetorian politics.” Reflecting a conclusive say for the military forces over civilian affairs, such politics defined Indonesia’s governance at the time Corazon rose to power in Manila. By contrast, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s latest re-election in a peaceful poll is widely seen as a stabiliser of democracy in that country. Surely, the election has not been devoid of controversies. However, regional leaders and experts do not detect any significant democracy-threatening trend in today’s Indonesia. The journey to this point began, of course, with the “reformasi” movement which toppled Suharto’s authoritarian regime in Jakarta in 1998.


Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of a founder of modern Indonesia, was the passive but non-conformist dissident under Suharto’s regime. In this perspective, Ms Megawati’s passive politics during the Suharto era was somewhat similar to Corazon’s initial reluctance to hit the political trail. She required much persuasion to do so, in the wake of her husband’s execution by the minions of Marcos’ martial-law administration in August, 1983. Also, Ms Megawati was ineffective during her brief tenure as Indonesian President in the initial post-Suharto phase of politics. This matched Corazon’s lacklustre performance as an executive President. However, the comparison should end there.


Unlike Corazon, a rallying figure for diverse anti-Marcos forces in 1986, Ms Megawati never captured the commanding heights of acceptance by all anti-Suharto forces. Moreover, Indonesia has had several “reformasi” bandwagons in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This aspect was not only the consequence but also the cause of Ms Megawati’s wayward performance as a potential leader of “people power.”


Myanmar’s celebrated democracy leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, is unique among those with the ability to mobilise “people power.” However, her continuing travails have only confounded the larger international community. In the Philippines, the Communism-wary church made common cause with a range of political forces to end Marcos’ rule. In a recent uprising in Myanmar, too, Buddhist monks teamed up with other forces but failed to dislodge the military rulers. A poser, therefore, is whether the larger international community can succeed in Myanmar. The task is to match, if not replicate, the success of the Corazon coalition nearly a quarter century ago.







For a few weeks only, visitors to Westminster Abbey in London can gaze on the second-last resting place of Oliver Cromwell, the grave which the Lord Protector occupied for less than three years before being dug up, ritually executed, decapitated, and buried again in quicklime at the foot of the gallows.


The stone slabs engraved in the 19th century with the name of Cromwell and his relatives are usually covered by a carpet bearing the RAF crest. Recently, moths were discovered in the building’s historic textiles. So the carpet has been lifted and sent off to be deep frozen to kill any grubs, leaving the chapel’s extraordinary history exposed until the end of August.


By the time he died of malarial fever in September 1658 aged 59, Cromwell ruled in such grandeur that many speculated he would soon be crowned king. Instead he was buried in the abbey in a tremendous ceremony.


The bodies were not only exhumed by order of Charles II within months of his restoration; they were hung, mutilated, and reburied at Tyburn like those of common criminals.









Jagdish Bhagwati, University Professor at Columbia University and Senior Fellow in International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, is regarded as one of the foremost international trade economists of his generation. He has been Economic Policy Adviser to Arthur Dunkel, Director General of GATT (1991-93), Special Adviser to the UN on Globalization, and External Adviser to the WTO. In this interview to The Hindu in Chennai, Professor Bhagwati outlined some of the key challenges that remain for India in the climate change discussions in Copenhagen in December 2009 and in the upcoming negotiations on the Doha Round. Edited excerpts:


On climate change: how much progress do the recent discussions, including agreeing a cap on global temperature rises, represent for countries like India and China? In some cases domestic constituencies may be hard to convince on the actions required to meet targets.



If you look back at Kyoto, we have two problems. One is that there is a carbon sink up there and the bulk of it, something like 80 per cent, has come from the West, predominantly from the United States and the European Union (EU). So you have that as one fact. The other fact is the current flow obligation. Call the carbon sink the stock problem. Then we have the flow problem because we are currently discharging CO{-2} into the air. That is where China in particular, in gross emissions, is almost exceeding the U.S. now and we are the third or the fourth.


There the compromise was arrived at when people said, “You have been doing a lot [of polluting] in the past, you have damaged the environment, do not blame us, we should have no obligations now” – that was taken at face value. Tim Wirth, who represented the U.S., and Madeleine Albright, agreed that the way to fix this disparity between flow and stock obligations is to say “You do not have to pay anything now.” That was stalled in the Senate. Senator Byrd and Senator Hagel led the fight in the bipartisan [debate]. But the resolution was passed 95-0; they said: “We should not let off India and China; it will affect the competitiveness of our industries.”


I came up with the idea that we should address the stock problem separately from the flow problem. We should expect India and China to assume flow obligations but part of that solution has to be that the stock obligation is fulfilled by the West. Then I found that the Americans themselves have what they call a “Superfund,” under which strict liability is assigned for past damage – they have a tort liability.


But this addresses the stock side; what do you propose for the flow side?

If we say that the West has to give us money for us to adopt new technologies, why should they want to do that? They are all saying “No” right now. But if you say “You have got to pay for past damages if you want us to accept current obligations;” that is fair and equitable. Then that money, once the superfund is established, can be used for exactly the kind of things India is asking for — for mitigation, for accommodation, and for financing the creation of public goods and so on.


I have also tried hard to get the Indian side to accept this. I have sent my paper to the Prime Minister. Sometimes they say “But we have already asked for funds.” But that is not the issue. If you simply ask for funds, that sounds like asking for aid. This is not aid – it is really a matter of what the West owes if they want us also to do something. That is fair and equitable. So I think that is an area where you can really make progress on this issue. We will also have to decide what the current flow obligations we take on are. On the stock side, I think it should really be a way to get at this problem.


The U.S. has taken the approach of the Waxman-Markey Bill which was just passed in the Congress House. They are going to use cap and trade, which is the quantitative equivalent of a carbon tax. If India, for example, does not have a similar carbon tax, then they will put in a tax adjustment, meaning essentially it is a tariff against the Indians, thereby making them pay for it. At one level it is a matter of intimidation. I do not think it will work when we are objecting to it.


Supposing we lose [this debate] — do we then surrender? We cannot go against the WTO but the only thing we have to and should say is, “We can also take WTO action against you, if you start playing this game.” For one thing, we can say our petroleum tax is much higher than that of the U.S. and we can call it a carbon tax as it does relate to carbon also. So we can say “We will put a tax on your exports to us.” We can do that. We can play the same game within the carbon game or we can shift the two nuclear reactor sites under the G8 to the French or the Russians. We are now big enough, in my opinion, to contemplate such options.


Recent reports have indicated that 83 new measures that go against free trade principles have been enacted across countries. Are you not worried that these will be difficult to roll back?

Most of the actions reported are safeguard actions and anti-dumping actions. Those are actions where you are exercising your rights. One wishes they were not doing so, but you cannot really object to them as such exit strategies are built into WTO rules, at least on a temporary basis. Especially when things get rough – and right now they are – the ability to toe the line is being strained in many democratic countries. So that part does not really bother me that much. But if you go beyond that and look at protectionist interventions where you are violating your obligations, by doing things that you agreed not to do, that is something that is still not on a scale that you need to worry about.


In terms of effects on trade, are they any different from actions that violate WTO rules?

The effect would be identical. But the effect in terms of the prospective impact may not. When you undermine rules, people feel they can do a variety of things and they are not constrained. Therefore the expectations you set up are important. This is the problem about settling the Doha trade negotiations. Therefore the rules such as we have built in will get undermined. That is what people are worried about – the effect on the system. It is hard to quantify that because that is actually a matter of how the situation will unfold.


Do you not think protectionist “Buy American”-type clauses associated with the bailout funds will stall the Doha process further?

If you look at all these actions, it is a matter of what value of trade they cover. Look at anti-dumping actions. You find, typically in the literature, the argument that India is the worst user of anti-dumping actions, not the U.S. or the EU. But when you actually look at the value of trade you discover that it is minuscule compared to what [the U.S. and the EU] are doing. So you have to put it into some perspective like that. I do not think in the value of the trade covered, it amounts to anything very substantial.

[Regarding policies] like “Buy American”, they are going to realise as soon as they are out of trouble that this is not really what they want to do because there has been so much criticism. Even Obama, because of all these criticisms coming particularly from people who are worried about export markets, like Caterpillar and GE and so on, put in a rider or qualifier saying it has to be consistent with our WTO obligations.



What would be the elements of the open world economy? You mentioned trade and investment and the movement of natural persons.

What we are talking about is temporary immigration. We should be able to export services, but embodied in people. That is what we call the movement of natural persons. We are talking about service transactions. So the second leg is GATS, the General Agreement on Trade and Services.


These are some of the issues that can be put into the Doha Round but so far we have no real concessions on these issues. It is something which could be taken up by the Indian administration. But against that you have to give something in the services sector. What would we give? In areas like banking and insurance we are sufficiently developed and resilient to be able to offer something. It is difficult to offer, in my view, any entry subject to a given level of protection simply because we do not have a safeguard clause in the services sector.


This is what we could do – have a service sector quid pro quo, where both countries would be better off. But I think we need rules also on hiring and firing because that is where everybody is going now. Even in India there is great pressure. Is not that what the recent trouble in the airline industry is about?










In backing the 11 cricketers who have refused to accept the "whereabouts requirement" clause of the World Anti-Doping Agency code, the Board of Control for Cricket in India appears to have fallen in line with the players’ demands ahead of its obligations to the International Cricket Council. The 11, who include the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, national captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, and women’s skipper Jhulan Goswami, are in the International Registered Testing Pool that is drawn up for every country affiliated to sporting federations accepting the Wada code of conduct. And doing so, the BCCI could well have set the stage for yet another faceoff with the ICC as it is the international body that nominates the players for each country’s IRTP, besides being a signatory to Wada’s attempts to bring doping in sport under control. At the heart of the matter is the business of these players intimating Wada of their whereabouts for a fixed hour on a daily basis to be available for out-of-competition. The Indians have objected on the grounds of a perceived "security" threat and of the move being violative of the Indian Constitution. For one, how this is so is not clear. Are they suggesting Wada will leak information on their whereabouts to all and sundry while the many involved in a photo or advertisement shoot — of which they do dozens in a season — will not? Also, what appears to have escaped the attention of those pushing the second line of argument is the fact that India is a signatory to the Unesco convention accepting the Wada code, and this thus flies in the face of the nation having accepted the code in toto, and indeed thereafter setting up a National Anti-Doping Agency. Another argument used in defence of the defaulting 11 is that other international federations such as Fifa, world football’s ruling body, too have rejected the "whereabouts" clause is not strictly accurate. For its part, Fifa has not rejected the Wada code, but has objected to the number of players on the IRTP list and is negotiating to have that reduced. The 11 Indians are, therefore, almost unique in the sporting world, and there are raised eyebrows as to why the BCCI risks going out on a limb for them.


By itself, the ICC can do little to disturb the BCCI in any way. The bigger picture is that if cricket seeks acceptance as an Olympic sport, then complying with anti-doping moves is a pre-requisite, and any opposition will bring that possibility under threat. Looked at in its most charitable light, the 11 on the Indian shortlist are not fully aware of the larger ramifications of their move, while the BCCI itself has admitted it was unaware of all aspects of the fine print. Yet it is hard to shake off the feeling that the Indian step is no more than a short-sighted move, and one that appears extremely churlish in the light of the fact that modern sporting legends like Lance Armstrong in cycling, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in tennis, Usain Bolt in athletics and swimmer Michael Phelps have all accepted the Wada code in its entirety. There have — and will continue to be — protests against the "whereabouts" clause, but that has not stopped athletes signing on, keeping the bigger picture — the very real threat of drugs in sport — in mind. It is here that the Indians appear to be at their most churlish, having put self before their sport.








We hear a lot of talk nowadays about how Indian big bourgeoisie has come of age. The media are agog with the exploits of corporate honchos and how much they have achieved, especially in the past two decades. Those in government, both elected and unelected, increasingly see the private sector — interpreted as large corporations — as not just the mainstay of the economy but the essential means through which to achieve both growth and development. Corporate leaders themselves are among the first to proclaim and celebrate their achievements in the era of liberalisation.


These perceptions of recent success are predicated upon the notion of independence from government. Much is made of how rapidly and effectively business has grown, once it was unshackled from all the controls imposed by government. Many representatives of the more prominent recent business successes claim that their achievements are entirely their own, without any help from government.


In actuality, of course, these perceptions of independence are fundamentally misleading. Even those businesses that now claim to have done it all on their own — such as those in the IT sector, biotechnology and aviation — have been the beneficiaries of past or current government support. Publicly subsidised higher education provided them with skilled workers and professionals at rates much lower than in most other countries. State policies regarding cheap land and infrastructure provision reduced their initial costs of setting up. Prolonged tax holidays and recent tax breaks benefited such industries significantly, along with implicitly preferential credit allocation that was simply not available to most small entrepreneurs.


Several of the large business houses in India that have established international presence were able to do so because of crucial support from the Indian government. Some Indian companies who made major (and in hindsight foolish) acquisitions of other companies abroad in 2007 and early 2008, were able to do so because of high leverage achieved by borrowing from public sector banks in India. Other explicit or implicit ties are too numerous and complex to mention, but is obvious that big business continues to benefit from the government in a multitude of ways: through changes in tax and trade policy, through direct and indirect subsidies, through access to land and credit, through government procurement policies, and so on.


The global recession has further intensified demands upon the state by large business. While the bailouts in India so far may not have been as gigantic and dramatic as those seen on Wall Street, they have already cost the Indian taxpayer a significant amount of money. It is interesting to see how the same industrialists who proudly brag about their independence and maturity, and fiercely resist any attempts at government regulation of their activities, are the first to demand assistance when economic conditions turn even somewhat adverse.


These demands have become louder and more insistent in the recent past. And the tone has also come more closely to resemble blackmail, as industrialists threaten of the job losses and other collateral damage that will occur if they are forced to close. But even in this overall context of shamelessness that we are now accustomed to, the latest demands from the private airline industry are remarkable.


On July 31, 2009, a group of private airline companies threatened to go on strike for a day on August 18, unless they were immediately given a range of concessions by the government. (Note that the managers of these companies are not known for much sympathy for strikes by their own workers.) The strike was called off on August 2.


Their demands — ranging from reduction in aviation fuel prices to lower airport charges and cuts in airport development fees — would cost the public exchequer tens of thousands of crores. This would benefit a handful of airlines run by some influential and high-profile businessmen, to encourage the tiny proportion of the Indian population that is able to use private airlines to increase their consumption. No matter that this is calling for taxpayers to pay for the mistakes made by over-bullish private investors.

When aviation was deregulated in India, it led to a proliferation of private airlines and very rapid rates of growth. Capacity creation and turnover have grown at around 20-25 per cent per year over the past few years. Passenger airfares tumbled as a result of the competition between carriers, leading many to laud this as one more of the beneficial outcomes liberalisation can produce.


However, it was then argued — and is now evident — that this rapid expansion was inherently unsustainable, based on excess capacity and an unviable business model in which air fares were artificially lowered in the effort to drive out competition. This is why most domestic airlines showed losses even during the previous boom. While the airlines are now blaming global recession and higher input costs for their current woes, including estimated losses of around Rs 10,000 crores in 2008-09, the fact is that they were mostly not profit-making companies even before the current slowdown. In the circumstances, a shakeout is both necessary and inevitable.


But market mechanisms are apparently to be encouraged only when they are to the advantage of private investors. The pattern is now familiar: industrialists who are perfectly happy to demand complete freedom from all government regulation and insist that the government get out of any productive activity, are even more adamant that they deserve immediate and large bailouts from the government when they are in trouble.


The irony is that "objective" media commentators who pillory the public airline company for inefficiency and loss-making are remarkably forgiving of both the losses and the importunate demands of the private airline companies. At a time when the government’s latest Budget has shown extreme parsimony towards essential spending that affects the bulk of the population, in areas such as rural infrastructure, food distribution and primary education, it will be interesting to see how these demands of the rich spoilt kids in private aviation are going to be dealt with.








It is rather startling to note how the powerful "Women’s Lib" movement in the 1970s was manhandled by certain sections of Western society. They scrapped the intellectual aspects of the movement and used its fruits by simply exhibiting it as a way to justify nudity and questionable sense of dressing. This is what most frontline women activists of the movement bemoaned, alluding to the fact that their movement had been misinterpreted and its many positive social outcomes were misused.


Such is also the view of a majority of conservative Muslim thinkers — especially those who have been at the forefront of encouraging the use of the veil among Muslim women. Interestingly, a lot of young Muslim women who adorn hijab/burqa suggest that veiling demonstrates their liberation from becoming a slavish object of the pitfalls of the Women’s Lib movement. But just as one is correct to point out that these pitfalls involve "emancipated" women who shroud their obvious objectification by describing it as liberation, one isn’t too far off the mark to also question the other side of the divide.


For example, can it be that when a woman who observes hijab and explains it as a liberating act, may as well be submitting to the historical Muslim male-driven tradition of claiming control over women? The immediate history of the misinterpreted aspects of the Women’s Lib movement suggests that its negative pitfalls, such as the widespread proliferation of commercial objectification of the female body, was/is largely the handiwork of men. At the other end, various Muslim women authors and thinkers believe that the observance of veil remains a dictate of Muslim men.


They say that the practice is an outcome of laws and social mores constructed over the last many centuries by judges, ulema, scholars and lawmakers who were all men. The Quran addresses "the faithful women" who are told to shield their private parts and not to display their adornment "except what is apparent of it". Scholarly disputes in the Muslim world revolve around what this last phrase means.


To modern Muslim thinkers like Professor Ziauddin Sardar, Iranian woman activist and art historian, Dr Faegheh Shirazi and a renowned Algerian scholar, Muhammad Arkoun, much of the Quran must be understood allegorically. This means its message is largely in the abstract domain that when comprehended and related in a literal manner may lead to misinterpretation. Such scholars believe that Muslim women enjoyed great autonomy in public and private life during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) — an autonomy that later Muslim rulers and ulema took away.


According to Prof. Omid Safi, and Muslim women activists such as Asra Nomani and Amina Wadud, the issue of hijab is often used by conservative Muslims as a weapon against the struggle by those Muslim women who want to understand the autonomy enjoyed by women during the Prophet’s time, and who want to undo what came afterwards in the shape of various gender-biased laws and social practices aimed at subduing and controlling women. Reacting to the forced veiling practiced in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and in some parts of Pakistan, Prof. Ziauddin Sardar says that modesty should not be reduced to a piece of cloth; rather it should be a total package of behaviour and a distinctive moral outlook.


He says that when the Quran talks about the "garment of piety", it is suggesting a state of mind and of being as opposed to actual garments. He adds that (thus), no style of veiling will be sufficient if the moral intention of righteousness is not within the heart and mind of the person and that pieces of cloth have no moral conscience in and of themselves. For years, most progressive Muslim scholars have accused traditional and literalist interpretations of the faith on this issue. They practically propagate that it is women who alone are responsible for the lack of moral probity and modesty in society, and not men’s obsession with sex.


There have been cases in various Muslim countries where men after assaulting or raping a woman said that they did so because "she was asking for it"; meaning that not observing the veil amounted to an invitation to abuse. Such thinking unfortunately is not uncommon amongst many men in Muslim countries. While we busy ourselves in discussing the veil issue in Western counties like France and secular Muslim republics like Turkey, bemoaning the discrimination faced by Muslim women there who observe the veil, we conveniently forget that in most Muslim countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and increasingly, Pakistan, women who believe that modest dressing can be demonstrated without observing hijab are coming under pressure.


Much of this pressure, of course, is coming from men — most of who blame an unveiled woman for their own sinful thoughts. Yet unveiled women also face a telling pressure from the ever-increasing numbers of veiled women. This begs the question: is it really liberation that a woman feels behind a veil, or is this liberation only about freeing oneself from the thought of ever daring to challenge male-dominated interpretations of exactly how a Muslim woman should dress and behave?

By arrangement with Dawn










THE people are happy that the private airlines’ attempt to arm-twist the government for concessions has backfired. Not only have the government, the public and the media reacted strongly to their blackmail tactics, the budget airlines deserted Jet Airways and Kingfisher in their bid to go on strike and inconvenience passengers on August 18. Since IndiGo and SpiceJet, the no-frills carriers, had made profits in the first quarter of this fiscal despite a difficult business environment, they had little reason to side with the loss-making major carriers. With egg on their faces, Jet Airways and Kingfisher were left with no alternative but to withdraw the strike threat.


The Federation of Indian Airlines would not have dared to adopt a belligerant posture had Aviation Minister Praful Patel adopted a tough stand and made the no-bailout statement right at the start. The danger now is he might give in at the negotiating table what he has resisted in public. Some private airlines had earlier wrenched relief from the government by threatening staff retrenchment. They were also allowed to defer the payment of their dues to the oil marketing companies. The airlines’ main demand for cutting the tax on aviation turbine fuel is unjustified as the ATF price has already plunged to almost half of what it was a year ago. Besides, the ATF has always been costlier here than elsewhere and is not a new development that has wrecked their business.


Since air travel is a luxury enjoyed by a privileged few in India, finance ministers are often tempted to tax it as much as possible. It is the competitive lowering of fares and unplanned and wild expansion plans that have landed the airlines in losses. The airport and development charges cannot be faulted as these are levied to create better infrastructure for future convenience. The loss-making airlines have to revisit their business models and resort to cost-cutting. They have money for formula one racing and sponsoring cricket shows, but not for paying taxes. Those that cannot run efficiently are welcome to shut shop, get out of civil aviation business and leave the skies for others who can. None will force them to carry on if they don’t want to.







IT is a pity that the Haryana and Punjab Assemblies’ sessions are getting shorter year after year. Consequently, while the legislators are fast losing their representative character, the Assemblies are also losing their meaning and relevance as the powers-that-be do not seem to treat legislatures as forums for examining the people’s problems and thinking of solutions. How can the MLAs do justice to those who have voted for them if the Assemblies meet just for a few days in a year? The Tribune report (August 3) highlights how the Haryana Assembly has abdicated its responsibility to the people under successive governments. Surprisingly, while the Assembly had barely 66 sittings during the Chautala regime, the present government boasts of only 70 sittings in the past five years. It has just completed its two-day monsoon session! This is particularly unfortunate for a state which is said to be on the fast track of development.


If the Haryana legislature is not following the All-India Speakers’ Conference recommendation (2007) for at least 60 sittings every year, Punjab is no exception. Its sittings have drastically come down over the years — 121 (Tenth House), 96 (Eleventh) and 83 (Twelfth). The number of sessions would have come down further but for the constitutional requirement that the state legislature must meet once in six months. In March 2009, it passed seven Bills in 15 minutes without debate. Even this brief session, extended by two days, was marred by disruptions and boycotts.


While a state government has the prerogative to decide about the Assembly’s sittings, the people expect it to meet more often and have longer sessions to examine their problems comprehensively and exercise effective financial control over government expenditure. Sadly, the malady starts from Parliament itself. In December 2008, it cleared nine Bills in 17 minutes! There is no serious debate on important bills and issues.








THE refusal to comply with the “Whereabouts Clause” of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is irresponsible; and the claim that what is good for others, including cricketers from other countries, is not good enough for our cricketers is absurd. BCCI president Shashank Manohar has also made the BCCI look silly by claiming that the clause is violative of the Indian Constitution, which, according to him, guarantees the “right to privacy” to its citizens. Mr Manohar is evidently not aware that India is a signatory to the UNESCO Convention under which WADA was set up in 1999 and that India too has a National Anti-Doping Agency ( NADA) which coordinates with the world body.


It is either arrogance or ignorance, which is behind the BCCI’s defiance. The “Whereabouts Clause” is a universal code which has been accepted by over 571 sporting organisations. The clause requires sportspersons in the test-pool to provide details of where they would be available for an hour on each day during a three-month period, when no match is being played, so that random testing can be carried out without any advance notice. Significantly, WADA allows sportspersons to inform of any change in schedule through SMS or e-mail. What is more, the agency requires the sportspersons to be available at the designated place for just one hour of the day, leaving them 23 remaining hours to do what they feel like doing. Indian cricketers’ misgivings are clearly misplaced.


The BCCI must realise that cricket is not above other sports. Rather than subverting the system by suggesting that the game of cricket should have a separate and independent anti-doping body, it would do well to fall in line. If international players like Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal, and indeed European football players who enjoy more popularity can accept the code, there is no reason why our pampered cricketers should get away.











THE English language has stood India in good stead before and after the success of the Independence movement. Mahatma Gandhi wrote his Experiments with Truth, which remains a classic. And India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, created a worldwide awareness of the country’s struggle for Independence through a series of books, including his landmark autobiography, and in his interactions with world leaders.


After India became free, the country was punching much above its weight, thanks partly to the eloquence of Indian leaders in English in articulating their own and other developing countries’ urges for independence, development and dignity, the last in particular in apartheid South Africa.


More recently, the boom in India’s information technology is at least partly due to Indians’ fluency in English, in addition to their mathematically attuned mind. Yet the mushrooming of English language news television channels broadcasting 24 hours a day foreshadow the bleak prospect of India losing the language advantage within a generation.


The truth is that the young are more inclined to learn from television than the print medium, and the distortions and plain bad English that is the norm of major English-language channels today mean that the language they are learning and how it is pronounced and accented will render communication with the rest of the English-speaking world more and more difficult.


No one expects anchors and reporters of Indian news channels to speak in Oxbridge accents. What one has the right to expect in broadcast journalism is legibility, the ability to pronounce words intelligibly and correctly and to follow the basic rules of English grammar. And one does expect anchors to take some trouble to pronounce non-English words accurately.


Let me take some examples of India’s major English-language television channels. Take grammar first. How often is the basic rule of “accused of” and “charged with” abused and reversed? And patients are hardly ever admitted “to” hospital, as they should be, instead of “at”. Times without number running streamers at the bottom of the television screen spell “defence” and “licence” as “defense” and “license” in their American avatar, as is “practise” spelled with two “cs” as a verb. And our anchors delight in using split infinitives.


Hearing some of the anchors and reporters on English-language channels is often a revelation. One would expect of the major channels, particularly those with a prosperity bulge, to run in-house training courses to put their staff through the paces. Is it too much to expect of our broadcasters to pronounce and articulate words correctly?


Must “development” be invariably mispronounced or “industry” and “interesting” wrongly accented? One had not imagined that “mechanism” would be so difficult to pronounce correctly.


Little attempt is made to discover how foreign names are pronounced, that the former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who recently committed suicide, for instance, is pronounced Noh.


The piece de resistance was a news anchor’s conversion of the legendary French artist Gauguin into our very own Gagan! He must be turning in his grave.


And no one has apparently informed our TV channels that the surname in Chinese names, unless anglicised, is the first word. The veteran Singapore politician is Mr Lee, not Mr Kuan-yew.


Sometimes, it is difficult to discover the criteria for selecting anchors and reporters. Voice, presentation and ability to communicate are essential ingredients in broadcast journalism.


Yet some reporters are barely intelligible and some anchors have such a strong Hindi diction that it is difficult to find out if they are talking in Hindi or English. Here I am writing about English-language commercial television channels because Doordarshan often has other compulsions in appointing staff.


Indeed, the conclusion is inescapable that sloppiness is the rule, rather than the exception. There is no inclination to focus on quality and accuracy in running television channels.


It is sloppiness, not “Indian English”, that is responsible for not following the basic rules of grammar. Indianisms have a contribution to make in enriching the language of Shakespeare but there can be no excuse for speaking bad English and shelter behind the slogan of “Indian English”.


There are, of course, honourable exceptions as anchors who speak impeccable English and know the virtues of voice inflection, rather than relying on belligerence, in seeking information from those they interview.


Yet these anchors, even those who have managerial and decision-making functions, treat the distortion and abuse of English with placidity.


Our major English-language television channels do not seem to be starved of money. Either they do not bother about enforcing quality or they do not wish to devote resources to running classes for staff to train them in speaking English correctly.


Are we then, a generation hence, destined to see our language advantage frittered away in bad, unintelligible English? Will the breed of Indian writers in English – God bless them – remain the only Indians reminding us of a time when Indians spoke English well and fluently and were listened to around the world with admiration?








TWO of Asia's most oppressive regimes may have joined forces to develop a nuclear arsenal, according to

strategic experts who have analysed information supplied by a pair of Burmese defectors.


The men, who played key roles in helping the isolated military junta before defecting to Thailand, have provided evidence which suggests Burma has enlisted North Korean help to build its own nuclear bomb within the next five years.


Details supplied by the pair, who were extensively interviewed over the past two years by Professor Desmond Ball of the Australian National University and Thai-based Irish-Australian journalist Phil Thornton, points to Myanmar building a secret nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facility with the assistance of North Korea.


Thitinan Pongsudhirak, the head of Thailand's Institute of Security and International Studies, said: "The evidence is preliminary and needs to be verified, but this is something that would completely change the regional security status quo.


"It would move Myanmar [Burma] from not just being a pariah state but a rogue state – that is one that jeopardises the security and well-being of its immediate neighbours," he said.


The nuclear claims, revealed by The Sydney Morning Herald at the weekend, will ring alarm bells across Asia. The newspaper said the testimony of the two defectors brought into sharp focus the hints emerging recently from other sources, supported by sightings of North Korean delegations, that the Burmese junta, under growing pressure to democratise, was seeking a deterrent to any foreign moves to force regime change.


Their evidence also reinforces concerns expressed by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, in Thailand last week about growing military co-operation between North Korea and Myanmar. "We worry about the transfer of nuclear technology and other dangerous weapons," she said at a regional security conference.


The two defectors whose briefings have created such alarm are both regarded as credible sources. One was an officer with a secret nuclear battalion in the Burmese army who was sent to Moscow for two years' training. He was part of a nuclear programme which planned to train 1,000 Burmese. "You don't need 1,000 people in the fuel cycle or to run a nuclear reactor. It's obvious there is much more going on," he said.


The other is a former executive of the regime's leading business partner, Htoo Trading, who handled nuclear contracts with Russia and North Korea. The man, who died in 2008, provided a detailed report which insisted that Myanmar's rationale for a nuclear programme was nonsense.


"They [the generals] say it is to produce medical isotopes for health purposes in hospitals. How many hospitals in Myanmar have nuclear science? he asked. "Myanmar can barely get electricity up and running. It's a nonsense," he said.


Professor Ball and Mr Thornton reported that the army defector claimed that there were more than five North Koreans working at the Thabeik Kyin uranium processing plant in Myanmar and that the country was providing yellowcake – partially refined uranium – to both Iran and North Korea.


The authors concluded that the illicit nuclear co-operation was based on a trade of locally refined uranium from Myanmar to North Korea in return for technological expertise.


What is missing in the nuclear chain at the moment is a plutonium reprocessing plant, but according to the army defector, one was being planned at Naung Laing in northern Myanmar, parallel to a civilian reactor which is already under construction with Russian help.


The secret complex would be hidden in caves tunnelled into a nearby mountain. Once Myanmar had its own plutonium reprocessing plant, it could produce 8kg of weapons-grade plutonium-239 a year, enough to build one nuclear bomb every 12 months.


If the testimony of the two defectors proves to be correct, the secret reactor could be operational by 2014, The Herald reported. "These two guys never met each other, never knew of each other's existence, and yet they both tell the same story basically," said Professor Ball.


"If it was just the Russian reactor, under full International Energy supervision, then the likelihood of them being able to do something with it in terms of a bomb would be zero," Professor ball said. "It's the North Korean element which adds danger to it."


By arrangement with The Independent







AS the date for the BJP's much-touted "Chintan Baithak" comes closer, the party appears to be in a pensive and reflective mood.


This was evident in its leader, L.K. Advani's postures in Parliament. Advani was seen sitting in the House mostly quiet and pensive, rarely interacting with his party colleagues and fellow leaders or even reacting much to the barbs from the treasury benches on the other end.


This is in sharp contrast to the earlier "avtar" of Advani, who would spring to his feet the moment he saw an opportunity to score a political point against the UPA government.


Advani alone is not afflicted by this melancholic mood. You have any number of leaders suffering from the same syndrome. The other day a party leader candidly admitted how the party was entrapped by the mother-son duo of Maneka and Varun Gandhi to defend and stand by Varun on his controversial anti-Muslim vituperative speech in Pilibhit.


BJP leaders felt that having damaged the party's political prospects, they have now happily settled taking it easy now that both mother and son have reached the Lok Sabha.


When Tharoor was embarrassed


Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, a first-timer in Parliament, went to the Rajya Sabha the other day and occupied the seat reserved for the Prime Minister, who is also the Leader of the House.


Even as members were engaged in debating the working of the External Affairs Ministry, the ever-vigilant Congress member Rajiv Shukla walked up to Tharoor and whispered something in his ears. Tharoor immediately got up and went to occupy a seat in the front row of the treasury benches, which again is meant for Cabinet Ministers.


The minister preferred to just smile when several BJP members attacked him for his controversial statement that the India-Pakistan joint statement was not a legal document.


Meanwhile, an SMS being circulated by the alumni of the prestigious, St Stephen's College reads "halka, halka Tharoor hai, St Stephen’s ka kasoor hai." Tharoor happens to be a Stephenian.


Menon acts like a true diplomat


Surrounded by controversies over the India-Pakistan joint statement towards the end of his illustrious career, Shiv Shankar Menon was working tirelessly even on his last day in office as the country's top diplomat.


Seated in the official gallery of the Rajya Sabha alongside his successor Nirupama Rao, Menon was passing small notes to his boss, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, every time a member asked him an important question during the debate on the working of his ministry.


Knowing fully well that he was sitting in the official gallery, several Opposition members criticised Menon for his statement that the India-Pakistan statement could be a case of bad drafting. However, there were many who recounted his contribution to India's several major foreign policy achievements during his tenure. He gracefully accepted both bouquets and brickbats.


Contributed by Faraz Ahmad and Ashok Tuteja











Shankar Barua, a 1974 batch Indian Police Service officer, assumed office as the Director General of Police on August 31 and he is facing a challenging task ahead as he has assumed office at a crucial juncture with the Independence Day approaching and his first major task will be to ensure peaceful celebration of the Day all over the State. The militant groups always step up their acts of violence in the run up to the Independence and Republic Days to make their presence felt and the death of 13 women and children in a blast in Dhemaji on the Independence Day in 2004 is still fresh in the memories of all sections of people of Assam. Of course, the militant groups are keeping a low profile for some time, but the police and security forces should not be complacent and all possible steps must be taken to prevent the militants from indulging in any kind of violence during the run up to the Independence Day. The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the anti-talk faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) suffered severe setbacks in recent months as the police and security forces managed to eliminate or arrest a number of cadres, but the groups will definitely try their best to hit back and the police and security forces must take serious note of the reports of possibility of both the groups joining hands to create disturbance in the State. The DJD (J), commonly known as the Black Widow group, also suffered serious setbacks with the arrest of its chief Jewel Garlosa and killing of its foreign secretary Frankie Dimasa. These setbacks forced the outfit to declare a unilateral cease-fire to express its desire to come for talks, but the forces must keep a close watch on the situation and should not lower their guards.

Immediately after his appointment as the head of the police force, Barua said that building up team spirit in the force would be one of his main goals, which proved that he has started his tenure as a positive frame of mind. It is often said that a leader is as good as his team and strengthening the police force is a must to deal with the situation and to reduce the dependence on Central forces. Barua is also keen on improving police-public ties, which is a positive development as close ties with the common masses will definitely improve the functioning of the force. If the common masses can be brought closer to the men in uniform, it will also act as force multipliers and one should not forget that at one point of time, the citizens’ committees played a key role in helping the police in controlling crimes in Guwahati city. In the early part of this decade, the Assam Police launched several projects like “Prahari”, “Aaswas” etc to bring the men in uniform closer to the common masses, but unfortunately, over the years, due attention was not given to carry forward the project. The new head of the police force should look into the implementation of the projects and give those a new lease of life.







It is not only that the Commerce and Industry Ministry of India has by now completed the negotiation process for foreign trade agreement with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), but has also finalised all necessary ground work to enter into FTA with South Korean Government probably in the early part of October, 2009. Apart from the impending FTA with 10-nation ASEAN countries on trade in goods during India’s seventh summit with them in Thailand, to be followed by the same with South Korea, there is also the possibility of opening trade relations with the larger 16-nation East-Asian group comprising India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China and South Korea among others. India’s External Affairs Minister, SM Krishna who was on a three-day visit to Thailand during 22-24 July, 2009 to participate in the 16th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) at the Thai city of Phuket on 23 July, witnessing Asia’s biggest annual security gathering to discuss mainly the issues of terrorism, the North Korean nuclear development and the global financial crisis, did hold talks on the previous day with his counterparts from all the 16 countries of East Asian summit and underscored India’s keen interest for economic and strategic engagement with economically vibrant East Asian region that produces an annual output quantum of the order of $ 1.1 trillion worth and represents more than half of the planet’s human race. While giving a fresh momentum to India’s much talked-about Look-East Policy through disclosure of its preparedness for foreign trade agreements with Asian neighbours, SM Krishna reiterated that Indian people are committed to bringing their nation and the ASEAN closer to each other through exploring their synergies to realise full potential of relationship. It may be noted here that the FTA has the potential of multiplying manifold the India-ASEAN bilateral trade which currently accounts for $ 38 billion and that the finalisation of agreement-text on trade in goods is a major step forward in this direction.

Significantly, the free trade agreement with both the South-East Asian block and South Korea has been on 100-day agenda of the new United Progressive Alliance government to help restoring a sufficiently comfortable level of growth in our economy. It is also significant to note that the long-awaited FTA hit repeated road blocks over the tariff issue in negotiation period since June, 2006 whereupon India softened its stance by offering to reduce its negative list-items not subjected to duty cuts, but still the ASEAN nations insisted on further concession. Perhaps, it is the incidence of global financial melt-down and the ongoing recessionary slow down drying up developed countries’ export markets that have hastened the FTA process. Happily, with the trade agreement already finalised with BIMSTEC nations comprising Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan, the whole of South-East Asia will expectedly be covered under trade relationship, and that is perhaps the required economic strategy of the hour.







It wasn’t the best of times; it was certainly, the worst of times. It was a travesty of justice. It was a mockery of justice. The element of equilibrium in the scales of justice seems to have vanished into thin air. The wheels of justice had come to a grinding halt. There wasn’t any ray of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel of hope. Justice indeed, had been subverted. The cantankerous and murky underbelly of the underworld had their last laugh. They were unrepentant. They were brazenly blase. The straight jacketed ‘Third Estate’ (read judiciary) was taciturnly reticent. The ‘Third Estate’ had trampled upon the ‘Fourth Estate’, at least at face value.


Parag Kumar Das, former Editor of Asomiya Pratidin, had sadly died a second death once again. Parag Das was shot dead in the city’s Rajgarh Road near Chandmari in broad daylight on May 17, 1996 as he was picking up his 7-year-old son from school. On July 28, 2009, after a wait of thirteen agonisingly long years, District and Sessions Judge, Kamrup, Justice Dilip Kumar Mahanta, acquitted Mridul Phukan alias Samar Kakati, the prime accused in the murder of Parag Das, due to “lack of solid evidence”. The court also pulled up the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for not being able to back their claim by adequate substantial evidence against the accused, a surrendered ULFA militant, who was charge-sheeted by the investigating agency along with three others. Among those charge-sheeted, Biswajit Saikia alias Tapan Dutta and Diganta Kumar Baruch were killed before the charge-sheet was filed. Another accused, Nayan Das alias ‘Guli’, was killed later during the pendency of the trial. Two other suspects, Promode Gogoi and Prabin Sarma, were not charge-sheeted by the CBI for lack of evidence against them. The CBI had botched up the entire case; a sloppy investigation to say the least; a sort of procedural-legal hara-kiri. It was indeed a “terror Tuesday” for the ‘Fourth Estate’.

The ‘Fourth Estate’ it seems, is bleeding profusely; here, there, everywhere What’s even more lamentable is the fatal fact that it has been constantly in the ‘line of fire’ while diligently trying to be in its ‘line of duty’; a lamentable paradox indeed. Characterised by its perpetual vulnerability, the ‘Fourth Estate’ has had to constantly bear the brunt of saying things as it is; in an open, non-discreet and no-nonsense manner. Consequently, this ‘Trojan warrior’, in its untiring zeal to debunk a putrid coterie of spurious, self-proclaimed zealots, hell-bent on the blatant and arbitrary usurpation of power, seems to have ruffled quite a few feathers in the process. The resultant effect is not only shatteringly catastrophic, but emotionally lacerating to the core as well. This “messenger of the masses” forlornly has had to pay a very heavy price and that’s a harsh reality.

Present-day journalism has always been pretty much servile to the instruments of State power. Exceptions, if any, may vary from individual integrity to personal bravado or even to an innate penchant and an equally passionate zeal for raw investigative journalism-, indeed a rare breed in today’s cut throat world where the element of money really matters for homo sapiens, all and sundry. This apart, it’s a totally different matter that this very ‘minuscule group of exceptions’ ultimately gets pummeled and pulverised by a coterie of political mandarins, who are very much wary of them being openly exposed and then relegated to a state of eternal political oblivion.

In India, ever since the dark days of emergency, imposed on June 25, 1975, the notion of a free press has been a misnomer. Instances are galore, where hundreds of journalists, who dared to speak their mind with their opinionated writing, were ruthlessly shoved into jails. In fact, it was during this emergency period that media gagging in India reached its zenith. But sadly, even after the restoration of democracy in 1977, this brazen trend continued to rule the roost in somewhat intermittent bouts, with sporadic incidents of journalists being attacked here and there, especially between the 20 years, starting from 1977-1997. But as if this was the lull just before the inevitable storm, the capital city of Delhi was witness to a series of four gruesome murders in a span of just two years, 1997-1999. Shockingly, out of the four, three were young ladies, related to the media fraternity. On November 19, 1997, Shivani Jajodia, a young NDTV producer was murdered in her Vasant Kunj flat. On November 17, 1998, Sudha Gupta, an announcer with All India Radio widely known to her AIR listeners for the popular hindi-film based programmes Aap ki Chitthi and Aap ki Farmaish was found strangled and clubbed to death at her Park Street, Mandir Marg residence. On January 23, 1999, Shivani Bhatnagar, the principal correspondent of Indian Express was found murdered in her flat in East Delhi. On March 8, 1999, Irfan Hussain, the affable, mild-mannered editorial cartoonist of Outlook magazine was brutally killed, with 28 stab wounds, strangled and his throat slashed, while driving homewards to Sahibabad in Uttar Pradesh, just beyond the capital’s eastern border. More recently, on September 30, 2008, Soumya Viswanathan, a 26-year old TV journalist of Headlines Today, who was earlier working with CNN-IBN, was found dead on the Nelson Mandela Marg in Vasant Kunj.

The scenario in our very own backyard seems to be more unnerving and insidious. North East, especially Manipur and Assam seems to have registered the most number of cases, where scores of journalists are being killed with impunity. The state of affairs in Assam shockingly stifles everyone to cringe in utter disbelief, as more than 20 editors, correspondents and reporters were mercilessly killed since 1987. The killing spree officially started in 1987, when Punarmal Agarwala, a correspondent of The Assam Tribune was killed by suspected ULFA cadres in Kampur, Nagaon, On August 9, 1991, suspected ULFA cadres again gunned down Kamala Saikia, Ajir Asom’s local correspondent in Sivasagar. On August 19, 1995, suspected timber smugglers killed Pabitra Narayan, the correspondent of The Northeast Times in Sonari, Sivasagar. In the same year, on September 24, unidentified miscreants killed Goreswar based journalist, Dipak Swargiary. On April 26, 1996, suspected BLT cadres gunned down journalist, Manik Deuri in Diphu. In 1997, local journalist, Panja Ali was shot dead by unidentified miscreants in Kasugaon, Kokrajhar. In 1998, suspected mafia killed local journalist, Nurul Haq in Hojai, Nagaon. In 1999, photographer Alfarid Shazad and journalist Jiten Chutiya were killed in a grenade explosion inside Sivasagar SP’s office. On December 31, 1999, suspected ULFA cadres gunned down senior journalist, Ratneswar Sarnia Shastri in Barpeta. On March 24, 2003, journalist Dinesh Brahma fell to assassin’s bullets in Dhubri. In 2003, Amar Asom’s local correspondent, Indramohan Hakasama was killed in Aagiya, Goalpara. On January 6, 2005, Asomiya Khobor’s correspondent, Prahlad Gowala was killed in a preplanned conspiracy in Golaghat. On October 29, 2006, Suwalkuchi based journalist, Kanak Raj Medhi died under mysterious circumstances. In 2007, Hojai based journalist, Mohammad Muslimuddin was killed. On April 1, 2007, Bodoland TV director Bodosa Narzary was shot dead by suspected former BLT and BPF youth wing members at Bhabanipur, Kokrajhar. On November 22, 2008, Jagajit Saikia, the Kokrajhar correspondent of Amar Asom was killed in cold blood in the heart of Kokrajhar town, just in front of his office. On March 24, 2009, Anil Mazumdar, the Executive Editor of Aji was gunned down in front of his Rajgarh Road residence as he was returning home from office. Sadly, these ‘unsung heroes’ have been relegated to mere statistics, having sacrificed their lives in the perennial search for truth.

If taken at face value, these perennial brazen attacks on the ‘Fourth Estate’ seem to be a sheer travesty; even a grotesque misrepresentation, where ‘freedom of the press’ is pitifully relegated to a mere catchphrase and nothing else. These fetid lumpen elements and obnoxious troikas of marauders, whose ‘feathers seem to have been ruffled’, much to their dismay and discomfort though, continue to bleed our civil society with effortless ease and sadly, without any condign punishment. They have glorified themselves with their unabashed acts of thuggery, but at the same time, are grossly oblivious of the fact that their misdemeanours of “shooting down the messenger itself’ would sooner rather than later, boomerang hard on them. It’s only a matter of time. After all, time, like they all say, is indeed is a great leveller! Isn’t it?








‘Ragging’ is a term, which has acquired a larger than life image in recent years. We all are acquainted with it and have realised that it is a stigma in the education system. This practice of ragging is not new; it has existed in Europe since a long time. It is a form of abuse and humiliation on the new comers taking admission in various institutes. It has prevailed in Australia, Britain, India, Sri Lanka and many other Commonwealth countries. Ragging is similar to the American practice, which is known as ‘hazing’, though more severe. The unorganised new comers to various institutes are forced to put up with severe forms of mental, physical and sexual abuses by the senior students. The freshers are too frightened to oppose their tormentors and the seniors are quick to take advantage of their fear and nervousness.

We all know the bare facts of ragging. But we have not tried to delve deeper into this barbaric phenomenon, which has become a nightmare to the young freshers and have ruined the future of many a brilliant student. This evil practice of ragging exists in various countries under different names like hazing, pagging, bullying, horse-playing etc. Ragging is not a new phenomenon – it can be traced back to 7th or 8th century. Apparently it existed in Greece long back. The new entrants to the sports organisations were subjected to all kinds of humiliations and ridicule with the purpose of encouraging team spirit in them – so that they could identify themselves with the team. This practice of ragging went through lots of changes and in course of time it was adopted by the military forces with the same motive. They also wanted to make the new entrants bold and strong. Ultimately it entered the educational scenario. In the educational institutes ragging went through lots of modifications before acquiring the present form of campus violence without any positive motive. It has become a barbaric practice indulged upon the new comers by the senior students to derive perverse pleasure.

During the 10th century in the European countries student organisations were formed in various institutes and later on this practice was adopted in the USA as well. Several student organisations emerged in different universities in the USA. During that period ragging or hazing, as it was called in the USA, existed in its most rudimentary form. It was a practice used only to test the courage and the stamina of the freshers. But in course of time ragging gradually became more and more violent. The first death due to ragging occurred in 1873, when a fresher from Cornell fell into a gorge and died. During the first World War ragging became more brutal. Some soldiers returning from the war re-entered the college and brought the practice of ragging and when they left it was passed on to others.

India once did not have the practice of ragging and this practice was actually imported from the west along with the English education. At the beginning it existed in the Army and English public schools and gradually it spread to other institutions. Till a few decades back ragging was not a serious problem in India possibly because higher education was not so wide spread then. But when higher education became accessible to all the people, ragging became a means to settle enmity amongst the students belonging to different castes or communities. Then during the 80’s ragging became more barbaric in India. And during the 90’s this practice became more and more savage. Ragging-related cases of death and suicide began to increase. In 2001 the Supreme Court of India banned ragging through out the country. It became the responsibility of the college authorities to enforce the law and stop ragging. As a result ragging was stopped in the college campuses during the day but it became more brutal in the hostels.

Today the situation is such that the students are afraid to enter the hostels. We have forgotten that ragging is a foreign culture and it is disastrous to the nation. It is harmful for our country. Many people believe that ragging is necessary to make freshers bold and sociable, which would be beneficial to them in the long run. But this is nothing but a myth. Ragging does not do a mite of good to the students, it rather harms them in a terrible way.

Ragging, an imported legacy, is wide-spread in India’s education system. Various Sate legislatures have passed anti-ragging legislations, yet it is still going on. The tragic consequences of ragging have often been reported by the newspapers, yet they have not been given as much importance as they deserve by the people in general. In case of some ragging-related death, it seems to be the individual families, who suffer. Ragging violates Human Rights and as such it deserves proper attention of the concerned authorities.

Students come to enter the colleges with abundant hope for a bright future, and some parents go through immense hardship to get their children admitted into some college. These new comers away from home need compassion, help and consideration from the senior students. But when they find that the famed institution where they were so happy to take admission is nothing but a ‘centre of horror’, they naturally get petrified and some end their lives to escape the severe humiliation and acute torture inflicted on them by some senior students.

Mere enforcement of law cannot possibly eradicate the evil practice of ragging. College authorities should be more vigilant and the students should be motivated to get actively involved to end ragging once for all, so that the bright future of so many brilliant students is not ruined. Otherwise the whole system of education would collapse.


(The writer is former Head of Philosophy, Cotton College).












The metaphysical, existential question, "Why am I?" (the purpose of life) has intrigued humans only marginally more than the psycho-social query "Who am I?". Shakespeare's answer ("...a rose by any other name would smell as sweet") would gladden the generics industry, but offend individualists.

For those with a taste for the absurd or macabre, the metamorphosis of Kafka's Gregor Samsa raises deep questions of identity. Now, instead of psychologists, sociologists or philosophers, the government of India will help you answer the question.

At long last, after years of dithering, the government is going ahead with the project of providing a single, unique identification for all adult residents of India. Like the TV commercial of a telecom company, multiple — often divisive — identities (caste, religion, region, role) will be subsumed into a single number.

While many parameters are yet being defined, few projects anywhere match the scale and complexity of this effort. What is known is that the Unique Identification Authority (UIDA) will itself not — as was commonly presumed — issue any kind of ID card; it will confine its role to providing a number, as a unique identification, to each individual.

Identification will be through biometric characteristics: probably multiple-finger prints as also face. To ensure non-duplication, the system must be capable of comparing each new set of biometrics with those already stored — which will ultimately be hundreds of millions — so as to determine if it is unique.

Thus, apart from massive data storage, the system must also have the capability of doing such complex comparisons in quick time. In addition, the data will not only need to be backed-up in a disaster recovery site for "business" continuity, but must also be protected from hacking or other security infringements.

It is not yet clear whether children will be included and issued an ID; apparently, discussions are on and a decision is yet to be made. Amongst the challenges is the fact that biometrics recorded at this age will change over time.

Yet, having an ID for children is critical, for this will enable recording and tracking of individual data on health, education, etc., facilitating follow-up at individual level and appropriate planning at the macro level. Given the importance of this, one hopes that a solution will be found — either technologically or sociologically (for example, through the identity of the mother or guardian).

An ID from birth to death will facilitate a whole host of applications. It will make possible the tracking of vaccinations, school entry, health and nutrition status, age at marriage and a range of other parameters. While aggregated data would provide valuable inputs for monitoring specific projects, individual data can be used to ensure appropriate attention to each person.

In all this, UIDA's role will be crucial, but limited to providing the universal, unique ID for residents of India (hopefully, including those below 18 years). It will be for others to evolve and implement various applications.

Thus, while creating an ID database is absolutely necessary, true value will emerge only if others use it to do things better and — more interestingly — do new things. More often than not, high value-added applications will require the working together of different organisations.

For example, the simple process of crediting wages into the bank account of a NREGA beneficiary will require that the bank, local administration and NREGA authorities work together, with the UID serving as the base for authentication, payment and opening of bank-account.

More complex applications, correlating transactions with an individual, will require greater coordination, access to each other’s databases, and information-flows across organisational or ministerial divides.

Such applications will necessitate sharing — and occasional ceding — of turf and free flows of information. It will require re-engineering of processes and of organisations; gate-keepers will lose power and many hierarchies will be demolished. Training and change-management will be essential, as will a major shift in mind-set.

If this can be handled well, the pay-off can be huge. Transparency, efficiency and accountability will be spin-offs; better delivery will change the life of the disadvantaged; migrants will get an identity; financial "inclusion" will move from concept to reality. Doubtless, this will have a positive impact on GDP. More importantly, it will be a big step towards greater social and economic equity.

These are exciting prospects. What provides hope that they are not mere dreams is one name: Nandan Nilekani. With an outstanding record of entrepreneurship and management, and a clear and optimistic vision, there could be no better choice for this onerous task. Navigating the shoals of bureaucracy and channelising the divergent forces of politics will, of course, pose major challenges. A universal smart-card project has been talked of for many years.

Each time, it has floundered on the excessive or proprietary requirements enunciated by various ministries, and the inability of apex levels to get them to agree to minimum commonalities as a basis for moving forward. Persuading various departments and state governments to cooperate with each other and even cede turf is, therefore, not going to be easy.

In this, he might find useful the successful experience of organisations like Isro, which has coordinated and orchestrated similar "horizontal" efforts in space applications projects related to education, health, rural development, etc.

Along with the immense and obvious potential of UID, one must also note the possible concerns. Prime amongst these is the fact that correlation of all the data about an individual from various databases can easily result in abuse of civil rights.

Of course, in these days of security-mania, such individual rights are easily trampled upon, with minimum protest; yet, it is noteworthy that many European countries have safeguards against possible misuse and even in UK, there has been much debate about whether to have a common ID at all.

While the US has had a Social Security number for decades, the safeguards against abuse have traditionally been strong. We need serious thought to make sure that UID does not become a means of infringing on individuals' rights and privacy.

(Author is a strategy and policy analyst)








The good news is that, globally, risk appetite seems to be returning. Spreads on credit default swaps are narrowing and Indian corporates are once again able to tap global capital markets.

External commercial borrowings (ECBs) by Indian companies rose (for the first time since September 2008 when the collapse of Lehman Bros in the US sent international capital markets crashing) 19% in June 2009 to $1.92 billion. While a substantial chunk of the borrowing was by National Aviation Company of India ($904 million), many smaller and lesser known names such as Sainik Mining and Allied Services, RAK Ceramics, Madhucon Projects, etc., have also tapped the market, suggesting Indian corporates are once again being seen as credible risks.

The bad news is that as risk appetite returns and central banks continue their easy money stance, many corporates may be tempted to repeat the excesses of the past: borrow abroad merely because it is available without realising that once these central banks begin to withdraw this liquidity — the much-hyped exit policy — rates of interest could rise dramatically.

As a result, a decision that made commercial sense could very rapidly cease to do so when interest rates rise. Today many Indian corporates are privately ruing the aggression that led them to buy up overseas companies funded by cheap debt at the peak of the euphoria of the pre-crisis days. Examples abound — the Tatas purchase of Jaguar-Land Rover, the Birlas purchase of Novelis, etc.

At the macro level there is an additional danger that mindless recourse to overseas funds could see the country’s external debt situation deteriorate. It is now comfortable, the amounts involved are small and both the RBI and government have followed a fairly conservative policy when it comes to allowing access to overseas funds, especially debt. Thus there is an informal cap on the total quantum of ECBs.

There are also restrictions on how much can be borrowed by individual companies through the automatic route/with prior approval and so on. Even so the authorities would do well to keep an eye on such borrowings and caution corporates about the perils of taking on dollar liabilities.







The parallels between state-owned BSNL and Air India are striking, the only difference being that the latter is perhaps a few years ahead on the declining curve. Interest income has allowed the telecom major BSNL to remain in the black even as it makes operating losses.

But if it continues on the current path, it is a only a matter of time before it rushes to the government for a dole, a situation Air India finds itself in today. Policy and paralysis of decision making has held back these former market leaders, allowing the private sector to occupy the space vacated by them.

Air India had to wait over a decade to expand its fleet as successive governments dragged their feet. BSNL, on the other hand, has suffered because of equipment delays, even as the telecom sector thrived. Being a state-owned company it has to follow a prescribed procedure while tendering for equipment and, more inimically, put up with political and administrative whims.

Effectively, it has been asked to compete with feisty private sector rivals with one hand tied. Over the last 24 months, BSNL has not awarded any major contract for mobile networks and equipment. The capacity constraint has meant Bharti Airtel has over the last 12 months added nearly three times new subscribers compared to BSNL.

BSNL now stands a distant fourth, behind Bharti, Reliance and Vodafone. While aggressive number additions have made up for the declining average revenue per user for the private sector operators, BSNL has no such cushion.

Mismanagement, deliberate or otherwise, is largely the reason why these companies are in a mess. Interestingly, both BSNL and Air India are not listed. Their performance comes up for public scrutiny only occasionally, more frequently in the case of Air India as it needs government help to stay afloat.

In contrast, listed PSUs are subjected to a close stakeholder scrutiny quarter after quarter. It is time these entities are allowed to function on commercial terms, even while retaining their public sector character. A successful and large state-owned sector in France and Scandinavian countries suggest this is possible.

Sure, listing is not a panacea for all ills, but to the extent it subjects these companies to some market discipline, it is a desirable first step.










In backing the 11 cricketers who have refused to accept the “whereabouts requirement” clause of the World Anti-Doping Agency code, the Board of Control for Cricket in India appears to have fallen in line with the players’ demands ahead of its obligations to the International Cricket Council. The 11, who include the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, national captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, and women’s skipper Jhulan Goswami, are in the International Registered Testing Pool that is drawn up for every country affiliated to sporting federations accepting the Wada code of conduct. And doing so, the BCCI could well have set the stage for yet another faceoff with the ICC as it is the international body that nominates the players for each country’s IRTP, besides being a signatory to Wada’s attempts to bring doping in sport under control. At the heart of the matter is the business of these players intimating Wada of their whereabouts for a fixed hour on a daily basis to be available for out-of-competition. The Indians have objected on the grounds of a perceived “security” threat and of the move being violative of the Indian Constitution. For one, how this is so is not clear. Are they suggesting Wada will leak information on their whereabouts to all and sundry while the many involved in a photo or advertisement shoot — of which they do dozens in a season — will not? Also, what appears to have escaped the attention of those pushing the second line of argument is the fact that India is a signatory to the Unesco convention accepting the Wada code, and this thus flies in the face of the nation having accepted the code in toto, and indeed thereafter setting up a National Anti-Doping Agency. Another argument used in defence of the defaulting 11 is that other international federations such as Fifa, world football’s ruling body, too have rejected the “whereabouts” clause is not strictly accurate. For its part, Fifa has not rejected the Wada code, but has objected to the number of players on the IRTP list and is negotiating to have that reduced. The 11 Indians are, therefore, almost unique in the sporting world, and there are raised eyebrows as to why the BCCI risks going out on a limb for them. By itself, the ICC can do little to disturb the BCCI in any way. The bigger picture is that if cricket seeks acceptance as an Olympic sport, then complying with anti-doping moves is a pre-requisite, and any opposition will bring that possibility under threat. Looked at in its most charitable light, the 11 on the Indian shortlist are not fully aware of the larger ramifications of their move, while the BCCI itself has admitted it was unaware of all aspects of the fine print. Yet it is hard to shake off the feeling that the Indian step is no more than a short-sighted move, and one that appears extremely churlish in the light of the fact that modern sporting legends like Lance Armstrong in cycling, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in tennis, Usain Bolt in athletics and swimmer Michael Phelps have all accepted the Wada code in its entirety. There have — and will continue to be — protests against the “whereabouts” clause, but that has not stopped athletes signing on, keeping the bigger picture — the very real threat of drugs in sport — in mind. It is here that the Indians appear to be at their most churlish, having put self before their sport.








The tale of two states — Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu — reveals a marked north-south divide in India. The recent report by Bengaluru-based Public Affairs Centre (PAC), an organisation dedicated to improving the quality of governance in India, throws light on this divide. Backed by statistics, the report shows how Uttar Pradesh, which was ahead of Tamil Nadu in the 60s, now lags behind in the same sectors where Tamil Nadu has made significant progress. Per capita income disparity between Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in 2005-2006 was 128 per cent. In the 60s, the gap was not that much.
Recently, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati, blamed the Congress for the backwardness of her state. But we cannot hold only the Congress responsible. All those parties who ruled Uttar Pradesh should be held accountable. But even after admitting the backwardness of the state she rules, Ms Mayawati remains focused on installing her statues and wasting the state’s time and money.
According to the PAC report, in the first three decades after Independence, large number of people from the southern states migrated to Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and other cities. But now it is not so.
Tamil Nadu has made great progress in agriculture as well as in the industrial sector, as a result of which migration has reduced considerably.

Earlier, the extent of poverty in Tamil Nadu was worse than it was in Uttar Pradesh, but the southern state succeeded in reducing the deprivation to a significant level. It was able to make these strides after late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi launched schemes for technological improvement, and followed that by opening up the economy under P.V. Narasimha Rao. Then the United Progressive Alliance government, under the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, introduced various measures which have taken economic indicators to new heights. But Uttar Pradesh did not take advantage of the changed atmosphere as Tamil Nadu did.

According to the report, Tamil Nadu was helped by several factors, including political stability. After the Congress was ousted from power, Tamil Nadu was governed by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) or All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).

Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, experienced political instability and incompetent governance. Though the state has reasonably adequate water resources, all governments have failed to harness it to bring in a thriving economy. A drought-prone state like Gujarat has achieved agricultural and industrial growth, but not Uttar Pradesh.

Political stability may have worked for Tamil Nadu, but it is not the sole factor. West Bengal is politically much more stable than any other state in India, but it does not enjoy a pre-eminent position as the party in power is hamstrung by its outdated ideology. Punjab and Haryana cannot be termed politically stable, but they are not as backward as Uttar Pradesh and are way ahead of West Bengal.

Technically qualified manpower and power generation and consumption are two factors critical for growth. Tamil Nadu encouraged investment in these two sectors long before it logged any increase in per capita income.

Tamil Nadu gave preference to technical education unlike Uttar Pradesh. It had 540 engineering colleges in 2008. The state led the country in the reservation policy. So when the economy was opened up, Tamil Nadu had a reservoir of technically-equipped workforce. Successive governments also adopted investment-friendly policies. That’s was why during 2000-2006, Tamil Nadu attracted foreign investment proposals worth Rs 8,500 crores while Uttar Pradesh received Rs 15 crores.

All the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu were keen on spreading education. Various social movement leaders also opened schools and colleges. Under chief minister K. Kamraj, mid-day meals were introduced in primary schools and later this popular scheme was implemented on a wider scale throughout the state. This helped improve literacy levels.

It is true that the number of school buildings has increased in Uttar Pradesh, but classroom activity has not improved accordingly. In 1996, about half the time classes were not even conducted in schools. The situation was the same in 2006 — only half of the government-run schools conducted classes.
The PAC report quotes from a book by T.S.R. Subramanian who was chief secretary of the Uttar Pradesh government in 1991. He writes that while on an official tour in a hilly area, he went to a small village’s primary school. The school had five teachers on payroll but only one was present. After enquiry Mr Subramanian found that the five teachers would take turns and teach for 15 days each. No block level officer or school inspector had visited the village.

The political parties who came to power in Tamil Nadu spent a good deal of money on health. That is why the child mortality rate in Tamil Nadu is lower as compared to Uttar Pradesh.
It is not that only Tamil Nadu has surpassed Uttar Pradesh in several fields. All the southern states are ahead of the northern ones, not including Punjab and Haryana.

Urbanisation has positive impact on economic growth. Tamil Nadu was always ahead of Uttar Pradesh in urbanisation and this gained momentum since the 90s. This and industrialisation were helped by power generation. The installed capacity for electricity was much higher in Tamil Nadu than in Uttar Pradesh even in the 60s. Moreover, since the 80s, their capacity increased while that in Uttar Pradesh declined. Tamil Nadu also scores over Uttar Pradesh in telephones and communication infrastructure.
The number of small and medium businesses and industries has risen considerably in Tamil Nadu, and this has helped swell the number of people in the middle class, and this in turn has helped the growth of schools and colleges.

The per capita development expenditure is higher in Tamil Nadu. Till 1990, both the states were practically on the same level, but after 1990, expenditure in Tamil Nadu grew by leaps and bounds while in Uttar Pradesh it stagnated if not declined.

Who used their resources efficiently? Take the case of roads. The PAC report says that from 1980-85, Tamil Nadu spent Rs 22,389 for every additional kilometre of road, while Uttar Pradesh spent 10 times that amount.









Americans are angry at Wall Street, and rightly so. First the financial industry plunged us into economic crisis, then it was bailed out at taxpayer expense. And now, with the economy still deeply depressed, the industry is paying itself gigantic bonuses. If you aren’t outraged, you haven’t been paying attention.
But crashing the economy and fleecing the taxpayer aren’t Wall Street’s only sins. Even before the crisis and the bailouts, many financial-industry high-fliers made fortunes through activities that were worthless if not destructive from a social point of view.

And they’re still at it. Consider two news stories.

One involves the rise of high-speed trading: some institutions, including Goldman Sachs, have been using superfast computers to get the jump on other investors, buying or selling stocks a tiny fraction of a second before anyone else can react. Profits from high-frequency trading are one reason Goldman is earning record profits and likely to pay record bonuses.

On a seemingly different front, Sunday’s Times reported on the case of Mr Andrew J. Hall, who leads an arm of Citigroup that speculates on oil and other commodities. His operation has made a lot of money recently, and according to his contract Mr Hall is owed $100 million. What do these stories have in common?

The politically salient answer, for now at least, is that in both cases we’re looking at huge payouts by firms that were major recipients of federal aid. Citi has received around $45 billion from taxpayers; Goldman has repaid the $10 billion it received in direct aid, but it has benefited enormously both from federal guarantees and from bailouts of other financial institutions. What are taxpayers supposed to think when these welfare cases cut nine-figure paycheques?

But suppose we grant that both Goldman and Mr Hall are very good at what they do, and might have earned huge profits even without all that aid. Even so, what they do is bad for America.
Just to be clear: financial speculation can serve a useful purpose. It’s good, for example, that futures markets provide an incentive to stockpile heating oil before the weather gets cold and stockpile gasoline ahead of the summer driving season.

But speculation based on information not available to the public at large is a very different matter. As the University of California, Los Angeles, economist Jack Hirshleifer showed back in 1971, such speculation often combines “private profitability” with “social uselessness”.

It’s hard to imagine a better illustration than high-frequency trading. The stock market is supposed to allocate capital to its most productive uses, for example by helping firms with good ideas raise money. But it’s hard to see how traders who place their orders one-thirtieth of a second faster than anyone else do anything to improve that social function.

What about Mr Hall? The Times report suggests that he makes money mainly by outsmarting other investors, rather than by directing resources to where they’re needed. Again, it’s hard to see the social value of what he does. And there’s a good case that such activities are actually harmful. For example, high-frequency trading probably degrades the stock market’s function, because it’s a kind of tax on investors who lack access to those superfast computers — which means that the money Goldman spends on those computers has a negative effect on national wealth. As the great Stanford economist Mr Kenneth Arrow put it in 1973, speculation based on private information imposes a “double social loss”: it uses up resources and undermines markets.

Now, you might be tempted to dismiss destructive speculation as a minor issue — and 30 years ago you would have been right. Since then, however, high finance — securities and commodity trading, as opposed to run-of-the-mill banking — has become a vastly more important part of our economy, increasing its share of GDP by a factor of six. And soaring incomes in the financial industry have played a large role in sharply rising income inequality. What should be done? Last week the House passed a bill setting rules for pay packages at a wide range of financial institutions. That would be a step in the right direction.

But it really should be accompanied by much broader regulation of financial practices — and, I would argue, by higher tax rates on supersized incomes.

Unfortunately, the House measure is opposed by the Obama administration, which still seems to operate on the principle that what’s good for Wall Street is good for America.

Neither the administration, nor our political system in general, is ready to face up to the fact that we’ve become a society in which the big bucks go to bad actors, a society that lavishly rewards those who make us poorer.










We hear a lot of talk nowadays about how Indian big bourgeoisie has come of age. The media are agog with the exploits of corporate honchos and how much they have achieved, especially in the past two decades. Those in government, both elected and unelected, increasingly see the private sector — interpreted as large corporations — as not just the mainstay of the economy but the essential means through which to achieve both growth and development. Corporate leaders themselves are among the first to proclaim and celebrate their achievements in the era of liberalisation.

These perceptions of recent success are predicated upon the notion of independence from government. Much is made of how rapidly and effectively business has grown, once it was unshackled from all the controls imposed by government. Many representatives of the more prominent recent business successes claim that their achievements are entirely their own, without any help from government.
In actuality, of course, these perceptions of independence are fundamentally misleading. Even those businesses that now claim to have done it all on their own — such as those in the IT sector, biotechnology and aviation — have been the beneficiaries of past or current government support. Publicly subsidised higher education provided them with skilled workers and professionals at rates much lower than in most other countries. State policies regarding cheap land and infrastructure provision reduced their initial costs of setting up. Prolonged tax holidays and recent tax breaks benefited such industries significantly, along with implicitly preferential credit allocation that was simply not available to most small entrepreneurs.
Several of the large business houses in India that have established international presence were able to do so because of crucial support from the Indian government. Some Indian companies who made major (and in hindsight foolish) acquisitions of other companies abroad in 2007 and early 2008, were able to do so because of high leverage achieved by borrowing from public sector banks in India. Other explicit or implicit ties are too numerous and complex to mention, but is obvious that big business continues to benefit from the government in a multitude of ways: through changes in tax and trade policy, through direct and indirect subsidies, through access to land and credit, through government procurement policies, and so on.

The global recession has further intensified demands upon the state by large business. While the bailouts in India so far may not have been as gigantic and dramatic as those seen on Wall Street, they have already cost the Indian taxpayer a significant amount of money.

It is interesting to see how the same industrialists who proudly brag about their independence and maturity, and fiercely resist any attempts at government regulation of their activities, are the first to demand assistance when economic conditions turn even somewhat adverse.

These demands have become louder and more insistent in the recent past. And the tone has also come more closely to resemble blackmail, as industrialists threaten of the job losses and other collateral damage that will occur if they are forced to close. But even in this overall context of shamelessness that we are now accustomed to, the latest demands from the private airline industry are remarkable.
On July 31, 2009, a group of private airline companies threatened to go on strike for a day on August 18, unless they were immediately given a range of concessions by the government. (Note that the managers of these companies are not known for much sympathy for strikes by their own workers.) The strike was called off on August 2.

Their demands — ranging from reduction in aviation fuel prices to lower airport charges and cuts in airport development fees — would cost the public exchequer tens of thousands of crores. This would benefit a handful of airlines run by some influential and high-profile businessmen, to encourage the tiny proportion of the Indian population that is able to use private airlines to increase their consumption. No matter that this is calling for taxpayers to pay for the mistakes made by over-bullish private investors.
When aviation was deregulated in India, it led to a proliferation of private airlines and very rapid rates of growth. Capacity creation and turnover have grown at around 20-25 per cent per year over the past few years. Passenger airfares tumbled as a result of the competition between carriers, leading many to laud this as one more of the beneficial outcomes liberalisation can produce.

However, it was then argued — and is now evident — that this rapid expansion was inherently unsustainable, based on excess capacity and an unviable business model in which air fares were artificially lowered in the effort to drive out competition. This is why most domestic airlines showed losses even during the previous boom. While the airlines are now blaming global recession and higher input costs for their current woes, including estimated losses of around Rs 10,000 crores in 2008-09, the fact is that they were mostly not profit-making companies even before the current slowdown. In the circumstances, a shakeout is both necessary and inevitable.

But market mechanisms are apparently to be encouraged only when they are to the advantage of private investors. The pattern is now familiar: industrialists who are perfectly happy to demand complete freedom from all government regulation and insist that the government get out of any productive activity, are even more adamant that they deserve immediate and large bailouts from the government when they are in trouble.

The irony is that “objective” media commentators who pillory the public airline company for inefficiency and loss-making are remarkably forgiving of both the losses and the importunate demands of the private airline companies.

At a time when the government’s latest Budget has shown extreme parsimony towards essential spending that affects the bulk of the population, in areas such as rural infrastructure, food distribution and primary education, it will be interesting to see how these demands of the rich spoilt kids in private aviation are going to be dealt with.








The month of July has been dominated by four incidents that occurred in various parts of east and southeast Asia. These events occurred in different countries, and while they may seem disparate and unconnected, collectively they fit into a larger regional mosaic that will remain significant for some years to come.

What is interesting is that the incidents are threaded together by a common concern that emanates from a regional threat perception with regards to terrorism and its ability to destabilise the region.
The first has been the threat from the Al Qaeda groups operating in areas of northern Africa. According to reports of Stirling Assynt, a risk analysis company based in London, the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has threatened Chinese workers and Chinese investments in Africa. This comes in the aftermath of the riots between the Uighurs and Hans that took place in the first week of July. In fact, the outbreak of ethnic clashes in the northwestern province of Xinjiang forced Chinese President Hu Jintao to cut short his meetings at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit and return to China to deal with this potentially explosive situation in which about 156 people died.

While the incident was quelled, sparring continues, particularly because of the visit of Rebiya Kadeer, leader of the separatist World Uighur Congress (WUC), to Japan last week which once again brought the Uighur issue to the diplomatic forefront in the region. Ms Kadeer has been accused by the Chinese government of fuelling ethnic clashes in the region and orchestrating it through the WUC.

China has already indicated its displeasure to Japan regarding this. Given that Ms Kadeer lives in exile in the United States, this is likely to impact US-China ties too in case she is seen as having a role in fuelling ethnic clashes. The links from the AQIM threat and the Chinese reaction to Uighur nationalism are likely to be crucial.

The second incident was the twin blasts at Jakarta and the linkages that have been traced to splinter groups of the Jemaah Islamiyah, the prime suspects of the July 17, 2009 bombings. Since the blasts there have been public statements from the Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono (SBY) government, which has once again provided indications of what direction the country may take given that the threat perception seems likely to alter the course set for their second term in office. Moreover, groups of Islamic protestors called for a jihad against China in the second week of July outside the Chinese embassy in Jakarta, to avenge the death of ethnic Uighurs. While the SBY government seemed to be focusing on democratic consolidation and addressing domestic economic concerns, the focus of the July bombings once again alters the scenario and keeps the focus on terrorism.

The third incident relates to a blast on July 23, 2009, at the venue of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) meeting at Phuket. Thai troops numbering 10,000 were present at the venue to ensure that the ARF meetings proceed as per plan. This was a precaution that the Vejjajiva government took following the cancellation of the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit after protests from Shinawatra supporters in April 2009.

However, the reaction to the blast was that an unidentified motorcycle found near the venue was destroyed as a precautionary measure. While the incident was a minor one, it indicates that terrorism continues to be a significant threat. Also, until the Thai government resolves the ongoing unrest in the south, there will be a constant state of preparedness to deal with issues of Islamic fundamentalism.
The fourth incident, which took place on July 29, 2009, is the attempt by the Philippines government to broker a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and return to the stalled peace negotiations. Washington welcomed the possibility of returning to negotiations since it has been funding economic development in the region to the tune of $300 million.

Also, US troops are maintained in southern Philippines as part of counter-terror measures. The US’ presence in the region has also been critical in identifying the Philippines as the coordinating country for US engagement with the Asean. Moreover, since Mindanao remains a vital arena of Jemaah Islamiyah activity, the peace deal with MILF becomes more important in terms of containing their presence.
A common thread emerges from these four incidents. While they have occurred in different places, they critically bring together a coherent perception that issues of terrorism in the region are far from resolved.
This finally links these incidents to the ARF meeting in Phuket. At the ARF meet, the US had signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which was one of the initiatives the Obama administration was expected to take for its re-engagement with Asean. In fact, this kind of renewed engagement through normative frameworks and institutions within the region will be critical for the Obama administration. This will also pave the way for its entry into the East Asia Summit which is a strong indicator of the US re-calibrating its presence in the region.

What is interesting about the ARF meeting on July 23-24, 2009, is that it was to focus the US’ attention once again on the region of southeast Asia which has seen several ups and downs in its relations with the US since the end of the Cold War.

One of the attempts of the Obama administration was to divert its attention from terrorism and focus on a more nuanced policy for the region — primarily by orchestrating a different policy that set it apart from the Bush administration whose focus on the region was narrowly defined by counter-terror strategies and was critically linked to its perceptions of the region being a second front in the war against terror.
While US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s statements at the ARF meeting did touch upon issues such as Burma and North Korea, there has been sympathy and support for the incidents that have critically brought the focus back on terrorism in the region.

The US’ re-engagement with the region may be drawn on political realignments and defining critical areas of interest, but given that these four events are not seen as disconnected incidents, there is little scope but to keep threats from terror related incidents in the forefront.


Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU








It is rather startling to note how the powerful “Women’s Lib” movement in the 1970s was manhandled by certain sections of Western society. They scrapped the intellectual aspects of the movement and used its fruits by simply exhibiting it as a way to justify nudity and questionable sense of dressing.
This is what most frontline women activists of the movement bemoaned, alluding to the fact that their movement had been misinterpreted and its many positive social outcomes were misused.
Such is also the view of a majority of conservative Muslim thinkers — especially those who have been at the forefront of encouraging the use of the veil among Muslim women. Interestingly, a lot of young Muslim women who adorn hijab/burqa suggest that veiling demonstrates their liberation from becoming a slavish object of the pitfalls of the Women’s Lib movement.

But just as one is correct to point out that these pitfalls involve “emancipated” women who shroud their obvious objectification by describing it as liberation, one isn’t too far off the mark to also question the other side of the divide.

For example, can it be that when a woman who observes hijab and explains it as a liberating act, may as well be submitting to the historical Muslim male-driven tradition of claiming control over women?
The immediate history of the misinterpreted aspects of the Women’s Lib movement suggests that its negative pitfalls, such as the widespread proliferation of commercial objectification of the female body, was/is largely the handiwork of men. At the other end, various Muslim women authors and thinkers believe that the observance of veil remains a dictate of Muslim men.

They say that the practice is an outcome of laws and social mores constructed over the last many centuries by judges, ulema, scholars and lawmakers who were all men.

The Quran addresses “the faithful women” who are told to shield their private parts and not to display their adornment “except what is apparent of it”. Scholarly disputes in the Muslim world revolve around what this last phrase means.

To modern Muslim thinkers like Professor Ziauddin Sardar, Iranian woman activist and art historian, Dr Faegheh Shirazi and a renowned Algerian scholar, Muhammad Arkoun, much of the Quran must be understood allegorically. This means its message is largely in the abstract domain that when comprehended and related in a literal manner may lead to misinterpretation.

Such scholars believe that Muslim women enjoyed great autonomy in public and private life during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) — an autonomy that later Muslim rulers and ulema took away.
According to Prof. Omid Safi, and Muslim women activists such as Asra Nomani and Amina Wadud, the issue of hijab is often used by conservative Muslims as a weapon against the struggle by those Muslim women who want to understand the autonomy enjoyed by women during the Prophet’s time, and who want to undo what came afterwards in the shape of various gender-biased laws and social practices aimed at subduing and controlling women.

Reacting to the forced veiling practiced in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and in some parts of Pakistan, Prof. Ziauddin Sardar says that modesty should not be reduced to a piece of cloth; rather it should be a total package of behaviour and a distinctive moral outlook.

He says that when the Quran talks about the “garment of piety”, it is suggesting a state of mind and of being as opposed to actual garments. He adds that (thus), no style of veiling will be sufficient if the moral intention of righteousness is not within the heart and mind of the person and that pieces of cloth have no moral conscience in and of themselves.


For years, most progressive Muslim scholars have accused traditional and literalist interpretations of the faith on this issue. They practically propagate that it is women who alone are responsible for the lack of moral probity and modesty in society, and not men’s obsession with sex.

There have been cases in various Muslim countries where men after assaulting or raping a woman said that they did so because “she was asking for it”; meaning that not observing the veil amounted to an invitation to abuse. Such thinking unfortunately is not uncommon amongst many men in Muslim countries.

While we busy ourselves in discussing the veil issue in Western counties like France and secular Muslim republics like Turkey, bemoaning the discrimination faced by Muslim women there who observe the veil, we conveniently forget that in most Muslim countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and increasingly, Pakistan, women who believe that modest dressing can be demonstrated without observing hijab are coming under pressure.

Much of this pressure, of course, is coming from men — most of who blame an unveiled woman for their own sinful thoughts. Yet unveiled women also face a telling pressure from the ever-increasing numbers of veiled women.

This begs the question: is it really liberation that a woman feels behind a veil, or is this liberation only about freeing oneself from the thought of ever daring to challenge male-dominated interpretations of exactly how a Muslim woman should dress and behave?


By arrangement with Dawn




*************************************************************************************THE STATESMAN




THE Democratic Youth Federation of India may have been spared a stricture by the Calcutta High Court for last December’s environmentally damaging congregation on the Maidan. But there is no mistaking that both the administration and the organisers of future rallies have been put on notice. Friday’s order (coram: Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Tapan Dutta, JJ) has placed the onus fair and square on the police and the sponsors, even if backed by the establishment, as DYFI undoubtedly is. The latter violate every rule in the book, assured as they are of police inaction.


The law-enforcement authorities, however politicised, have been made accountable; no longer will they be able to ignore or even tacitly condone what the court specifies as the “lighting of open ovens on the Maidan and damaging the greens”. The police will now be duty-bound to video-record both the preparations for and proceedings of the rally... and at the expense of the organisers. The camera doesn’t lie, although it may not pan on inconvenient truths. But it will henceforth be of vital evidentiary value.
The Bench only underlines the failure of the administration when it observes that “owing to the lack of sufficient material, it is not possible for us to hold the DYFI guilty of having violated an earlier court order”. The ban on the parking of vehicles within three km of the Victoria Memorial should help check the mess during such annual rituals as the Ganga Sagar mela. Along with the civil administration and the rally organisers, the court has also censured the army. “The photographs of the vehicles parked on the greens, clicked by army personnel, did not distinctly show the number plates”. The visual evidence, therefore, will have to be conclusive to stem the rot.

It would be no exaggeration to submit that rallies, whether political or in memory of martyrs, have only aided and abetted what this newspaper had described in the early seventies as the “murder of the Maidan” in the context of the Metro rail construction. The noise pollution has been no less damaging than ovens belching smoke in parallel with the verbal hot air. The High Court alert applies uniformly to the military ~ the custodian of the Maidan ~ the police and the rallyists, whatever their political hue.







THE time-tested schoolboy theory that a bully is really a coward at heart has found fresh re-validation. For once, and hopefully there will be no back-tracking, the government stood firm, and with very vocal expressions of adverse public opinion the Federation of Indian Airlines was left with little alternative but to abandon the threatened one-day strike by private operators. The spin that the proposed action has put their problems on the front-burner hardly suffices as a face-saver; it is apparent that the two overly egoistic “tycoons” who spearheaded the agitation went into a tailspin when it was obvious that this time around their feathers would be plucked ~ not preened as is customary, by a beleaugured civil aviation ministry. In seeking similar treatment (it was a bailout package they sought, call it whatever name they wish) as the now run-to-the-ground national carrier the private operators were actually undercutting what they had projected as their USP: efficient management.

Apart from philosophic arguments whether the government must come to the rescue of private units as it does for state-owned enterprises, the recent debate has brought focus on the sick manner in which the private airlines, certainly the two that claim to be market leaders, took reckless gambles and cried foul when their horse went lame. This is no simple recession-triggered “bust”, for the “boom” was really a mushroom growth of an industry that took wing before it had learnt to fly. It is significant that the truly low-cost carriers have not had things as bad as those with inflated ambitions, hence their so quickly disassociating themselves with the strike call. Disappointed, however, might be Air India (provided it retains a trace of professional pride) for an 18 August shut-down might have provided it opportunity to prove it has not collapsed, and a chance to redeem its public image.

This is not to deny that the industry does not have genuine problems ~ high local taxes on fuel, exorbitant user charges at some airports ~ are issues that require addressing. But when the government and operators get down to negotiations there must be no going soft on the bullies. Whether those calling the shots in Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan can remedy those maladies remains a matter of doubt. Had they been on the ball the mess might well have been averted.








HAVING reconciled itself to the presence of pavement hawkers as an impediment to urban development, the concern expressed by Bengal’s urban development minister over a Central legislation is misplaced.
Ashok Bhattacharya appears to have taken strong exception to the fact that hawkers, occupying railway land, have been excluded from the purview of the Bill that provides for state protection of the rights and livelihood of the vendors. The minister, who presides over an apology for urban development just as he makes confusion worse confounded in the Hills of Darjeeling, must admit that the Government Railway Police and local police forces around stations have tacitly condoned the hundreds of vendors who hawk their merchandise within the station complex and clog the platforms in suburban stations. And if they need to be evicted to implement the budgetary proposal on commercial complexes at stations, so be it. It would be less than fair for Mr Bhattacharya to blame Mamata Banerjee for excluding these hawkers from Central cover.

The state can’t be impervious to the fact that their number has grown over time. The Railways have always viewed this encroachment as an illegality, one that obstructs passenger movement on the platforms. But over the years again, they have come to enjoy political patronage within the state. Whether hawkers’ stalls or shacks alongside tracks, the Railways have been unable to convince the state administration that they should be removed.

It would be unreasonable for the urban development minister to expect the Centre to provide protection should the railway minister have her way with the shopping malls. These outlets are geared to generate revenue for the railways. At best, the state and the Railways should think in terms of working out a rehabilitation package, preferably to allot the hawkers an alternative site. The urban development minister ought to realise that development of stations can’t suffer on account of the firmly entrenched hawkers. He, as much as the KMC, have pretty much failed to clear Kolkata’s pavements. This is a uniquely local problem as is the presence of hawkers inside station complexes.







TRUE to her character, Mamata Banerjee, the railway minister, stood up against the Land Acquisition (LA) Amendment Bill and the Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) Bill. Her courageous and ethical stand on this issue was resented by the ruling establishment. Predictably, a section of the national print media criticised her position as anti-development and populist. The utter insensivity displayed by this group is at the root of many of our current problems, including what is commonly known as Naxalite extremism.

One could, perhaps, applaud the Government of India for giving teeth to the national R&R policy, 2007, by bringing in the Bill along with the legislation for the comprehensive amendment of the LA Act of 1894. The R&R policy 2007 and the R&R Bill indicate that a section of the establishment is pragmatic enough to realise that in the current scenario of popular awareness and unease, some concessions have to be made before any hard and harsh policy could be put in place. But a larger section among them, committed to total market economy reform measures, is totally averse to any such adjustment and compromise.

The amending LA Bill, instead of being people-friendly, incorporates features which are patently anti-people. Its first and formidable assault is on the definition of “public purpose”, reflecting the dominant philosophy of withdrawal of the State from the economic and social welfare domains. The current LA Act in Section 3(f) defines the expression “public purpose” which includes such features as provision of village sites, provision of land for town and rural planning, provision of land for residential purposes to the poor or landless or to persons living in natural calamity prone areas or persons affected by development projects, etc. There was a definite slant for the poor, the landless and people living in the rural areas.



THE impact of Nehruvian welfare was obvious in the definition of “public purpose”. But the proposed amendment totally negates the concept of welfare of the poor and downtrodden. It has three aspects: (i) Strategic purposes necessary for the state; (ii) Infrastructure projects where benefits accrue to the general public; and (iii) Any other purpose useful to the general public for which 70 per cent of the land has been purchased by “a person” through negotiation, but the remaining 30 per cent is yet to be acquired. The explanation of “a person” includes “any company or association or body of individuals, whether uncorporatedornot.”

To take the last point first, a government is not expected to resort to trickery or, chicanery or double-dealing. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the government has done. Having omitted the word “company” from the preamble of the Bill, it brought back not only incorporated companies, but “a person” including association or unregistered body of persons, through a big back door. The law could now be used or abused or misused by any realtor, land speculator, private companies or by any land mafia gang under the cover of any respectable name.

And what is the sanctity of the magic figure of 70 per cent? Why not 80 per cent or 90 per cent or 100 per cent? In fact, it would have been better to allow a person to acquire through negotiated purchase 100 per cent of the land with the government acting as a “regulator” to protect the small and marginal farmers from being coerced, to part with their lands by the strong arm methods of the purchasers. After all what is the bargaining power of even a big farmer against mega corporate bodies whether national or multinational? They could be intimidated, browbeaten, bullied or frightened or induced to part with their land without the fair process of bargaining. In fact, the present law with Chapter VII for the acquisition of land for companies is more transparent, equitable, non-discriminatory and fair than the proposed amendment.

The proposed expression “public purpose” is not acceptable. One is compelled to comment that the State has skilfully withdrawn from welfare activities. The proposed law could be utilised by the government for strategic reasons or by “a person”, which means basically corporate entities. The implications are grave. It would imply that the government wishes to privatise welfare activities. If the private sector were to take up such activities, they would be able to earn a profit. Either they will not take up such activities; or such enterprise will be priced so high that intended beneficiaries will be excluded. “It would seem that the state is entirely fixated on infrastructure, security related concerns and corporate economic growth and is disowning individual oriented development and welfare activities targeted for the poor and weaker sections.” (Saxena,KB ~ The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007, Council for Social Development, July 2003, New Delhi, page 29).

A major deficiency of the Bill is that it totally ignores the problems of the Scheduled Tribes, particularly, those living in the scheduled areas. There are many protective laws for the Sts   and more so for those in the scheduled areas. One could argue that since the original Act did not provide for any special provisions for the STsliving in such areas, an amendment to that Act could as well disregard the issue. A look at the map of Central India, where “Naxalism” or “Maoism” is widely prevalent, will reveal that the bulk of the area is covered by Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. Ignoring the problems of the tribals in the proposed amendment would only add fuel to the already raging fire.


STATISTICAL data will substantiate the point. According to Walter Fernandes, scholar and social activist, about 60 million Indians were compulsorily evicted from their hearth and home between 1954 and 2004 because of the land acquisition process. They included 20 million members of the Scheduled Tribes. Further, according to government’s own admission only 28 per cent of the ousted ST population was rehabilitated.

What happened to the remaining 72 per cent of unrehabilitated tribal people? To put it bluntly, they had become the flotsam and the jetsam of our development process. The displaced tribals constitute 25 per cent of the 80 million tribal population. The map of the area where Maoists are active and the map of the displaced tribal belt broadly coincide. The whole issue needs to be viewed from the internal security angle. The new Bill should incorporate the relevant provision of the Panchayat (Extension and Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (PESA), the important features of the Supreme Court’s “Samtha” judgment (Civil Appeals No 4601-02 of 1997) and the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. In addition, there are various laws for the protection of the Scheduled Tribes in every state. The Bill should try to harmonise the beneficial aspects of these protective laws. Any attempt to bypass these issues will intensify the Maoist movement in the hills and jungles of Central India.

There are several laws for the acquisition of land by different Union ministries and the state governments. The present Bill does not address the incongruities and contradictions that exist among these laws. Either the new amendments should have overriding authority over these Acts or those acts should be amended in conformity with the proposed Bill. It is a difficult task, but it has to be done to avoid future complications.
(To be concluded)

The writer is a retired IAS officer








A government runs out of ideas before it runs out of steam. That seems to be the case with West Bengal’s Marxist government. The latest evidence comes in the reshuffle of portfolios for ministers belonging to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). So inconsequential are the changes that one wonders about the intentions behind the exercise. Whatever other purposes the reshuffle may serve, there should be absolutely no doubt that it would do nothing to improve the performance of the government. No minister has been dropped; several of them who are known to be suffering from serious illnesses stay on. The case of the transport minister, Subhas Chakraborty, who died on Monday after suffering from cancer for some time, should have been a warning to the CPI(M), especially in view of the serious issues that confront the government in the transport sector. But the party did not think it necessary to drop such ministers, although it is public knowledge that their ill health prevents them from doing justice to their ministerial responsibilities. This shows not just utter disregard for the obligations of governance, but also a craving for power without responsibility.


For the CPI(M), though, the roots of the problem lie deeper in its regimented organizational structure. The party’s choice of minister has little to do with vision or administrative ability. It has everything to do with the importance of the chosen ones in the party and with hierarchical structure. If someone like Surjya Kanta Mishra, whose record as health minister is a case study in incompetence, is allowed to retain the portfolio, it is simply because of his importance in the party. If a cancer-stricken Mrinal Banerjee continues to hold the important post of power minister, it is because he is a senior leader of the CPI(M)’s trade union wing. An ailing and aged Sailen Sarkar has to carry on, because he is the lone leader in the cabinet from his district. All these ministers have had their additional portfolios taken away from them. But that is a half-measure that is not going to make any difference to either their reduced responsibilities or the functioning of the government as a whole. The fake makeover attempt, it seems, is purely a political move forced by the Marxists’ recent poll debacle. Improving governance was never part of its agenda. The dispirited party is perhaps incapable of doing any better.






The word, ‘autonomy’, has a faintly revolutionary ring when it emanates as a positive idea from the Union ministry of human resource development. It has figured recently a number of times in the rather dramatically unfolding plans of the HRD minister. Autonomy seems to be emerging as part of the art of the possible that Kapil Sibal has envisioned for higher education and research in India. He wants top-level colleges affiliated to overburdened universities to work towards autonomy so that they can eventually conduct their own business and award their own degrees. A few days ago in Calcutta, Mr Sibal reiterated this — perhaps with Presidency College and the state government’s stranglehold over it in mind. But he further elaborated his vision of universities functioning “independently”, a word that invokes, without explicitly endorsing, the notion of autonomy, which is more absolute than independence. But he seems to be edging close.


“Internal freedom” from the State and its bureaucracy is what Mr Sibal wants to ensure for universities everywhere. These institutions must determine their own character and ethos down to the appointment of staff, designing of courses and the setting of academic standards. And this model of freedom should be aspired to not only by the Central government, but also by the state governments. It all sounds rather trail-blazing, but it is little more than simple common sense, or perhaps good sense, that should have been put into practice a long time back. It is precisely this sort of independence that the HRD ministry must have a clear and realistic vision of. Paternalistic control has always been its attitude to dealing with institutions of higher education, be they universities or institutes of technology or management. Independence cannot just be invoked rhetorically, its exact implications will have to be understood and acknowledged by the State. At the other end of the equation, institutions also have to be prepared for the independence or autonomy that they will be allowed to enjoy. Everything from pedagogy to fundraising, together with a host of other infrastructural skills, have to be learnt in order to do justice to this independence. This is a question of responsibility, and also of being able to comprehend the distinction between freedom and accountability. Independence is an excellent idea, but it also necessitates hard thinking.








It is ironic that in the midst of a red alert of another possible terrorist strike in Mumbai, where allegedly seven specific targets were identified, India should have given cause to the Pakistan army’s general head quarters in Rawalpindi to celebrate. The reason, a joint statement by the prime ministers, Manmohan Singh and Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, after their meeting on the sidelines of the non-aligned movement summit at Sharm el-Sheikh.


What has bewildered many in the Indian strategic community is the volte face by India in accepting that “action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and that these should not be bracketed” — contrary to the stand India had taken after the 26/11 (and earlier) terrorist attacks. The message to the Pakistan army and the ISI is that they can continue unhindered with their “silent war of inflicting a thousand cuts” on India, while the Pakistan government will sit on the diplomatic table with India signalling to the international community their involvement in banishing the scourge of terrorism


The United States of America and its Nato allies are presently concerned with Afghanistan, al Qaeda and the Taliban, and not with terrorists fathered and nurtured by the Pakistan army to wage jihad in Kashmir. They need Pakistan’s support for operations in Afghanistan. Hence it surprises no one when the US secretary of state, on a visit to India, cheers this diplomatic feat.


Among other issues, the joint statement agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries and the leaders affirmed their resolve to fight it and to cooperate with each other to this end. No mention was made of who qualify as terrorists as there is no agreed definition of a terrorist even among the international community. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. There is even talk in Western capitals of differentiating between good and bad Taliban in Afghanistan. Nations are guided solely by national interests and India needs to recognize this reality.


Endless reference to both nations being victims of terror without differentiating who the perpetrators are, distorts the entire picture. India is a victim of terror born out of Pakistan’s state policy where outfits have been created by the ISI as strategic assets to wage asymmetric war on India. Pakistan, on the other hand, is victim of its creation, the Taliban, who now are reacting to Pakistan supporting the US and Nato presence in Afghanistan. To overcome this rather obvious contradiction, Pakistan has now succeeded in trapping India into bringing “Balochistan and other areas” into the equation. Having introduced a red herring, the stage is set to bolster Pakistan’s oft-repeated claims that India is interfering in these areas. Worse still, every attack in Balochistan and other areas by the Taliban will be painted as an Indian-sponsored terrorist attack with suitably fabricated evidence.


Not surprisingly, on his return, a combative Gilani fired the first salvo by claiming that the joint statement “underlines our concerns over India’s interference in Balochistan and other areas of Pakistan”. In one go, India has achieved the diplomatic feat of moving from being an internationally accepted victim of Pakistan-sponsored terror to being accused of sponsoring terror in Pakistan.


It was in January 2004 that Pervez Musharraf reassured Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used for supporting terrorism in any manner. This solemn pre-condition resulted in an agreement to move forward with the process of the “composite dialogue”. That this rapprochement had the nudging of the US became apparent when Colin Powell, then secretary of state, boasted to US News and World Report about the US’s role: “We have been working with the Indians and Pakistanis for almost two years, from a period of ‘We’re going to nuclear war this weekend’ to, you know, this is a historic change. And so I think a lot of the seeds that were planted are now germinating and you’ll (see) us harvesting crops.”


In July 2006, when seven bomb blasts took place in Mumbai suburban trains leaving 209 dead and 700 injured, the truth of dealing with Pakistan should have dawned on us. A strong statement made by the prime minister was followed by the minister of state for external affairs announcing that India would suspend talks with Pakistan until Musharraf abided by his 2004 promise of ending all support to cross-border terrorism. This proved to be hollow rhetoric.


Barely two months later on his flight to Havana for the summit of the NAM in September 2006, the prime minister surprised everyone by mentioning that Pakistan was also a victim of terror. At the conclusion of the meeting with Musharraf, the PM read out a joint statement that said, “They have decided to put in place an Indo-Pak anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations.” Not only had we forgotten the Mumbai train blasts, but clearly we continued to put blind faith in Musharraf, the architect of Kargil and of a subsequent coup in his country.


Our belief in ‘setting a thief to catch a thief’ naturally produced nothing tangible except some sharing of intelligence, to our detriment.Then followed the July 2008 suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, during which 58 people including two Indian diplomats were killed and 141 injured. The New York Times on August 1, 2008, reported allegations by unnamed US officials of Pakistan’s ISI having aided the attack. During the 15th SAARC summit in Colombo in August 2008, Gilani assured India that his government would carry out an independent investigation of the attack. India should have known that these were hollow words, as it is common knowledge that the GHQ Rawalpindi and the ISI do not share their plans even with their own government. Both India and Pakistan were now playing the game of hollow rhetoric as far as terrorism was concerned.


The most daring of all attacks was on Mumbai on November 26, 2008. No ordinary attack, this bore the marks of one that was planned and supported by the military, clearly indicative of what the future holds. Mumbai was held hostage for three days and glaring shortcomings in our intelligence and anti-terror planning were on display to the world. Among the 173 people killed were some foreign nationals, and over 300 were injured. One terrorist who was captured has recently confessed guilt during his trial. The US and Israel, which lost citizens, have since conducted thorough investigations, but have revealed little to the public. It is possible that the US now realizes that containing the Pakistan military and ISI was easier said than done. Their own anxiety in Afghanistan coupled with the Pakistan military’s craftily exaggerated fear of India has made the US conclude that the only option from their own perspective was to work on the soft Indian state. So when Hillary Clinton welcomes the Sharm el-Sheikh initiative, she knows too well the part the US is playing behind the scenes in nurturing and harvesting the crop that Colin Powell had sown.


General Shankar Roychowdhury, an former chief and Rajya Sabha MP, quotes Brigadier S.K. Malik to conclude that hatred of India is a deep-rooted article of faith in the Pakistan army, deliberately nurtured over the years and handed down through the ranks for generations. The Indian security establishment would do well to heed these and many other such warnings. That there will be another terrorist attack on Indian soil is not in doubt. What is in doubt is how the Indian State will then react. From events of the last few years we seem to be running out of options and indulging in hollow rhetoric. It’s time to get real and accept that the Pakistan army and the ISI are committed to a silent war and unless the internal structure within Pakistan changes, India is at a grave risk. Talk by all means, but know your enemy.


Ad hoc handling of national security issues is detrimental to the long-term security interests and morale of the country. The nation needs to be taken into confidence. The government needs to assess the long-term security threat shorn of short-term national or international pressures, to share it with the people in clear terms and to tell the people what is being proposed to safeguard the security interests of the country and the price the nation should be prepared to pay. A white paper on national security should be prepared by the government and be discussed across the country and in Parliament. The matter is too sensitive to be politicized or deferred. On the issue of national security, let the nation display unity, resolve and some spine.


The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force







A new bug has bitten the the Opposition — ‘Manmohan bashing’. This has continued relentlessly over the last few days, much like the debates in Parliament over the nuclear deal. Accusations hurled freely, with no empirical backup, were the norm in the House then, and continues to be the ‘style’ of the discourse today too, as our parliamentarians discuss the Indo-Pak joint statement carelessly, aided and abetted either by the jingoistic visual media or by the hysterical English-language electronic media during their boring talk shows. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, thinking out-of-the-box and operating differently from the usual bureaucratic way of maintaining a comfortable status quo, will leave an indelible mark on the politics of the sub-continent.


The threat by private airlines to strike unless the government bailed them out since they were in debt was another farce that was played out before the unsuspecting public watching telly during the weekend. The best shows were the food shows — inspiring, funny and promising, with all the truths there for us to see and savour! The airlines have now backed off from the strike claiming that they merely wanted the government to restructure the price of aviation fuel and settle other such matters. The press helped them to successfully remodel their claim and strategy, much like a PR company. Our private players looked like spoilt, high-flying rich kids who have been denied their demand for a free lollipop and so have put on a huge sulk to blackmail their parents. It was so embarrassing to watch them as they tried to play the games that their automobile counterparts in the United States of America play. It appeared as though they were desperate to make the government feel vulnerable, and extract some dole in the process. I always thought that the private sector was against subsidies and believed in the forces of the free market.



During budget time every year, many of the movers and shakers of the corporate world have attacked the government subsidies for the poor. They called the national rural employment guarantee programme, for instance, an expensive ‘sop’ handed out by the government for populist reasons. Midday meals have been criticized. Agricultural subsidies have been censured by the private players even though their mentor country, which celebrates the free market genuinely, subsidizes its own agricultural sector. Surely, giving subsidies to the underprivileged is better than subsidizing privileged private companies that over extended themselves and so became hugely unprofitable? In this scenario, the government airline has a far greater right to ask its ‘owner’, the government, for a bailout. Sadly, there is no consistency in the intellectual debates on such issues. The cry to unshackle the corporate sector is now countered by pleas for bailouts. Maybe, a joint-sector model is the future of our country if free market players are unable to take the highs with the inevitable lows.


The strange reality in India is that whenever an individual performs, delivers or acts outside the borders of status quo politics, the rest in the larger ‘club’, who have not made it, pounce on the person, usually surreptitiously, in a desperate effort to destroy the credibility and dignity of that individual. This happens in politics, in business, in the service sector, everywhere. If you are under attack and being abused, accused and more, it means you have arrived. That is the insane way in which India celebrates its best and its brightest. Examples from the realm of politics are Manmohan Singh, who was deemed ‘weak and malleable’, Sonia Gandhi, who was damned by the Opposition for decades, and Rahul Gandhi, who was pooh-poohed as an incompetent ‘heir’. When the trajectory changes, critics become sycophants.











President George W Bush decided to make up for the four decades that India and the United States lost to mutual suspicion in the four years of his second term in office. This was also a personal mission for him, because India — as the world’s largest democracy, its second fastest-growing economy, and home to its third-largest population of Muslims — seemed to exemplify everything that he was being excoriated for promoting: democracy, religious freedom and capitalism.

Bush began by tearing down the Clintonera sanctions against India, and left office after signing an exceptional civilian nuclear deal passed by Congress last year, which effectively ended India’s status as a nuclear pariah. But for many Indians, his most lasting contribution was the ‘de-hyphenation’ of India from Pakistan. Bush viewed India as a long-term strategic ally, a democratic counterweight to China. New Delhi responded by voting against Iran at the United Nations.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to India came at a time when much of the goodwill generated by Bush’s efforts has soured. There is growing concern in New Delhi that the Obama administration, in its quest to win Pakistan’s wholehearted support for the war in Afghanistan, is pushing India to make extraordinary concessions to Islamabad. Last week, India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, signed a joint declaration with his Pakistani counterpart to carry forward the ‘composite dialogue’ with Islamabad regardless of Pakistan’s evident failure to prosecute the perpetrators of the November attacks in Mumbai.

The Indian government denies it, but the view that the declaration was a consequence of intense US pressure is unanimous in New Delhi. The Indian government, as if compensating for this controversial concession, has bluntly refused to sign any binding agreements on climate change with the United States.

During Hillary’s visit, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, went about personally distributing copies of his exchange with her to members of the press as she stood by silently.

Hillary made a gesture of solidarity with the victims of the Mumbai attacks by staying at the Taj Mahal hotel, a principal target of the terrorists in November. But Washington should move beyond symbolism and push Pakistan to close down anti-India terrorist fronts on its soil. And there are numerous such groups.

 In Pakistan in May, I interviewed the deputy leader of the Jamat-ud-Dawah, the organisation accused of sponsoring the Mumbai attacks. He told me that his group would continue its ‘fight’ to “liberate Kashmir from Hindu rule”.


Three weeks later, Hafiz Saeed, the Jamat-ud-Dawah leader who had been detained after India produced evidence that it said linked him to the Mumbai attacks, was freed. Among the reasons cited by the Lahore high court was this: “The security laws and anti-terrorism laws of Pakistan are silent on al-Qaeda being a terrorist organisation.”

In the country that is supposedly at the forefront of the fight against terrorism, association with al-Qaeda invites no legal sanction because it is not a banned organisation.

In its bid to appease Islamabad, Washington risks alienating the Indian people. But New Delhi’s discomfort with President Obama goes beyond Pakistan. If his appointment of Representative Ellen Tauscher, a trenchant critic of the US-India nuclear accord, to undersecretary of state for arms control and international affairs raised serious doubts in India about its full implementation, his choice of Tim Roemer, an Indiana congressman not particularly known for his knowledge of India, as ambassador to New Delhi looked like a snub — when contrasted with his pick for China, the high-profile Governor Jon Huntsman of Utah.

Obama has often said that he views India as a crucial partner for the United States. But judged against his actions, his assurances sound like platitudes. Hillary’s visit to India was meant to assuage New Delhi’s growing anxieties; it may have served only to aggravate them.










 I hear the same litany of complaints from other parents whose children want to get into the science or engineering stream. Of course very few want to do ‘unemployable’ subjects such as English or History. “One can only become teachers, aunty,” is the crestfallen response to my suggestions.

This trend of struggling to get into colleges of one’s choice is not endemic to India alone. My own granddaughter, who has a grade point average of 4.0, plays the piano, takes voice lessons to enhance her ballad singing ability, is a creative photographer specialising in black and white portraits, coaches an academically challenged child in school and is now in a backward Honduran village on a seven week volunteering programme, is finding this whole college thing extremely stressful.

In one college application form, my daughter tells me, Tara was asked to list all the international awards she may have won: national awards would be useful too, it seems! My daughter, usually a balanced sensible woman, looked at another application form and blew her cool. The form asked her for the child’s ‘passion’. And my poor Tara was asked to find a passion in two week’s time and work on it!

So what are we creating? Adults who do not learn for the joy of learning but for creating a portfolio? Children today have no time to be themselves, to play or sing for the sheer bliss of it.

When I ask a stressed out child what his day is like, I shudder. Up at dawn for tuition (for that extra two marks in the dreaded (board), school, back for tuition, then homework and fall exhausted into bed. No time for play, friendships or for smelling the roses.

Parents are caught in a bind, even though they realise the gravity of situation. Standards are set to heights impossible to scale or involves stress of great magnitude. And it manifests in many ways. One young person who sat in front of me cracked his knuckles, over and over, until I winced every time it happened. It was so painful. Some take the extreme step of suicide, and yet the bar is raised higher every year.

I think of my school days with pleasure. What will our children look back on? And with what feeling?








This should, by all rights, be the year that Congress passes a tough chemical plant safety bill, protecting the public from one of the most serious terrorism vulnerabilities. There are already signs, however, that the chemical industry and its Republican allies may succeed yet again in blocking effective safety rules. The White House, which has remained in the background, needs to speak out, and Democratic leaders in Congress should work to make sure a strong bill is enacted without further delay.


Since Sept. 11, 2001, experts have warned that an attack on a chemical plant could produce hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries. Public safety and environmental advocates have fought for strong safety rules, but the chemical industry used its clout in Congress in 2006 to ensure that only a weak law was enacted.


That law sunsets this fall, and the moment is right to move forward. For the first time in years, there is a real advocate for chemical plant security in the White House. As a senator, President Obama co-sponsored a strong bill, and he raised the issue repeatedly in last year’s campaign. Both chambers of Congress are controlled by Democrats who have been far more supportive than Republicans of tough safety rules.


A good bill is moving through the House. It would require the highest-risk chemical plants to switch to less dangerous chemicals only in limited circumstances, but Republicans have still been fighting it. In the House Homeland Security Committee, the Republicans recently succeeded in adding several weakening amendments, including one that could block implementation of safer-chemical rules if they cost jobs. Saving jobs is important, but not if it means putting large numbers of Americans at risk of a deadly attack.

The Obama administration needs to come out forcefully for a clean bill that contains strong safety rules without the Republican loopholes. Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, said last week that she considers chemical plants a major vulnerability and promised that the administration will be speaking out on the subject in the days ahead.


It is looking increasingly likely that Congress will extend the current inadequate law for another year to take more time to come up with an alternative. That would be regrettable. There is no excuse for continuing to expose the nation to attacks that could lead to mass casualties.







As everyone who has ever bought a chip knows, there is only one sure way to make money gambling: own the house. So how is it that New York City’s off-track gambling parlors are nearly bankrupt? These seedy, storefront operations take in almost $1 billion a year, yet the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation is about $46 million in debt.


Attorney General Andrew Cuomo — or somebody with subpoena power — needs to investigate how operations that should be able to help keep the state afloat manage to lose so much money instead.


Investigating OTB operations in New York State will be like digging into a toxic swamp, but here’s the place to start: politicians have used these betting parlors for years to house friends and family who needed jobs. They are patronage nests. And the extra layers particularly infuriate those in the horse-racing business in New York State because they siphon off profit that is supposed to go to the Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct racetracks, which really need it.


During a recent interview with The Saratogian newspaper, Charles Hayward, president of the New York Racing Association, described the problem succinctly. “Racing in New York could be profitable if we just solved the OTB problem,” he said. “They really have become places where good local politicians are sent to max out their pensions.”


Gov. David Paterson has made an attempt to address this scandal. He established a task force to look at the inefficiencies at the six corporations that run off-site betting operations across the state. But each of these places has political angels that will fight against any loss of patronage jobs.


Gambling is destructive enough in the way it cleans out the pockets of too many people who need every dollar. When these parlors don’t make enough money to pay for themselves — much less help the state’s horse-racing industry — they are a drag on everybody. Mayor Michael Bloomberg wisely stopped New York City from subsidizing these dreary establishments. Governor Paterson must also make sure not a single taxpayer dollar is going to keep New York City’s gambling dens alive.








Nights often bring out the best in the Adirondacks. The darkness comes with great variety, from an opaque, inky blue to a moonlit silver that flattens the familiar landscape into an exotic silhouette. Throughout these various nights and over many summers, the bats have always been there. They came at you swiftly, leaving only a faint gust of air as they detoured at the last possible instant.


This year, however, the bats are missing. In their place are their favorite delicacies — the mosquitoes, the flies, the all-purpose bugs that now freely inhabit the north country air. A night ride on a boat, even a slow one like ours, now means weathering tiny assaults. “I feel like a human windshield,” one rider lamented amid a recent swarm.


Bats usually eat half their weight in bugs every evening, but anyone who cares about the balance of living things knows the bugs are not the real problem.


As explained by Alan Hicks, a bat specialist for New York State, the little brown bats dying in the caves of New York signal a wider environmental problem — like the loss of frogs or any of the other millions of species now disappearing rapidly.


In the last three years, New York’s experts on bats have been trying to save them from a dreaded fungus called geomyces destructans, or white-nose syndrome. The fungus creates a little white ring around the bat’s tiny nose, and wildlife experts are not yet sure why it is killing so many of these nocturnal creatures.


Suspicions range from a poison in the fungus to the possibility that it wakes the bats during hibernation and causes them to die of starvation. Whatever it does, white-nose syndrome has killed about a half-million bats in New York in the last two or three years.


“We had one cave. It used to have about 200,000 little browns,” Mr. Hicks sighed. “Now it is down to a few thousand. It’s heart-wrenching.”


With the disease spreading, Dr. Ward Stone, a New York State pathologist, is among those trying to find a treatment. One possibility is a spray made from the anti-mold substance used in bread. Others are closing bat caves from human spelunkers who may carry the disease on their clothes. Wildlife experts know that saving the bats is important for nature. Some of us simply miss the little animals every beautiful moonlit, bug-laden night.







By now, most states have balanced their budgets for the fiscal year that began on July 1. To do so, they had to fill the deepest budget holes in modern memory — shortfalls totaling nearly $143 billion.


Yet, their problems are far from over. Already 10 states and the District of Columbia are coming up short for this year by $4 billion. And 33 states currently foresee deficits for next year, mainly because high unemployment is expected to depress tax revenues even as it increases demand for state aid. The coming deficits — estimated at $160 billion to $180 billion — are likely even if economic growth resumes, because hiring is not expected to pick up until well into a recovery.


Continued fiscal stress on the states will severely impair Americans’ ability to withstand the downturn. Both state officials and the Obama administration must prepare now for a situation that is bound to get worse before it gets better.


In general, this year’s budget gaps were closed with federal stimulus dollars, state rainy-day funds, spending cuts, tax increases and one-time accounting maneuvers.


For next year, roughly $40 billion in federal stimulus will be available for state fiscal relief. But the states’ own emergency funds will be largely depleted and, obviously, one-time fixes will be tapped out. Spending cuts on the scale of those enacted this year would be brutalizing. Cuts have already fallen heavily on services for low-income families, the elderly and the disabled, on early education and child care, and on public schools, colleges and universities. Most states also have cut their public work forces, impeding access to services and harming the economy by reducing income and consumer spending.


Ever deeper spending cuts risk long-term damage to institutions like social service agencies, school, health care networks, parks and cultural forums. As employees leave and downsizing, neglect and disrepair become the norm, it gets increasingly difficult to rebuild.


That leaves two main ways to fill the anticipated gaps: More federal stimulus in the form of direct fiscal aid to states and more state tax increases. The administration has said that talk of more stimulus is premature. Politically, that’s probably true. Congress has its hands full with health care reform and other issues. Current stimulus spending also will deliver its biggest punch in the next few months, so administration officials may prefer to wait until they can quantify those effects before asking for more. But there’s virtually no doubt that more will be needed. Obama officials must ensure that they are not putting themselves into a position where asking for more stimulus later is perceived as a policy reversal.


States cannot avoid raising taxes to help balance their budgets. Both tax increases and spending cuts are bad in a downturn because they lower demand. But tax increases on high-income residents are less harmful than spending cuts; wealthier taxpayers tend to pay higher taxes from savings, not money they would otherwise spend. That said, states will have a harder time raising taxes if health care reform includes higher federal taxes, which would make the need for more stimulus greater.


There are no cheap, easy or fast ways out of the Great Recession. Political leadership is crucial to ensure that fiscal fixes are both fair and adequate.







Following the Supreme Court verdict of July 31, there has been a flurry of activity. A few judges have resigned or indicated they are ready to do so. A presidential notification has been issued under which 76 judges of the Supreme Court and the four high courts will cease to hold office and the Supreme Judicial Council could also meet on the issue. Meanwhile parliament is set to consider which of the ordinances promulgated under the period of emergency declared on November 3rd 2007 should be validated. The urgency with which the matter is being seen has been demonstrated in the meeting held at the presidency on Sunday to review the ordinances that would come up before the National Assembly.

Through this process, perhaps some precedents can be set. The court has acted to empower parliament and strengthen its place in the system. This sends out a strong message, especially at a time when debate continues about the role of the president and the powers he still enjoys to dissolve assemblies. The steps taken under the emergency which drew most fervent protest was of course the ouster of judges and measures against the media. The apex court ruling which declares the steps of a military dictator illegal may in the future serve as a deterrent and mean that, at the very least, more thinking is carried out before putting in place laws that stifle free expression or under which television channels are removed from air. As it looks at these ordinances, parliament must also examine what it can do to protect basic freedoms and ensure there are no attempts to subvert it. Offering safeguards to the judiciary that would prevent future attempts to tamper with its working may be still more significant. Parliament then needs to take up the matter from where the court has left it and see how it can contribute to bolstering a system that has too often in the past come under threat. The attorney general has meanwhile said parliament can decide on the matter of bringing General Musharraf to justice. The events of the next few weeks will thus be closely watched, as will the impact they have on the system of governance in our nation.







In Landi Kotal, a militant group shot dead four people who they say had confessed to kidnapping for ransom. A 'jirga' apparently met and decided on their guilt. This is yet another case of the kind of 'instant justice' we have repeatedly seen meted out by militants. While an 'eye for eye' justice without trial or a chance for the accused to defend themselves may hold attractions for some, the fact is that there are immense dangers of a grave miscarriage of justice. The reason why a process of law has been laid down is to guard against errors or decisions made on the basis of emotion rather than facts. It is also known that in many cases 'jirgas' rule against the most vulnerable and least influential members of society.

Such extra-judicial killings need to be stopped. Parallel tribunals must not be permitted to exist. But this can happen only if the existing system of justice is able to deliver. For too long it has failed to do so. Long delays and inefficiency at the lower tiers of the system have been a key factor in this. The Supreme Judicial Council has already taken note of this and put into effect plans to bring about a change. Its success in tackling one of the most difficult problems we face as a society will have an impact on building opinion against the arbitrary judgments of 'jirgas'. But at the same time, it must be acknowledged that what happened in Landi Kotal is an illustration too of people's despair over crumbling law and order. The authorities need to act to restore the writ of law and regain control of areas that have effectively slipped out of state hands.







Sufi Mohammad is to face charges of treason according to police in Peshawar who have detained the leader of the TNSM. Some of the charges stem from a speech made by Sufi in April in which he had said the judicial system of Pakistan and its judges were 'un-Islamic'. The fact that Sufi, freed last year in an attempt to broker a peace deal in Swat, has gone from being a hero to a villain in a short space of time is of course a reminder of all that went wrong in Swat and why that valley has now been reduced to ruins as a result of the fighting. But at this point we need also to remind ourselves why Sufi – and other militant leaders succeeded. The reality is that some at least in Swat and elsewhere backed them and saw them as saviours. It is pointless to argue how many fell in this category, or how many became disillusioned by the Taliban after they came to power.

The issue of justice raised by Sufi made some impact. Now that he is back behind bars, these matters need to be sensibly considered. If this does not happen the risk of another uprising in the future will continue to hover. What people yearn for is some mechanism that grants them access to justice. This too is the reason why nostalgia for the reign of the Wali of Swat still exists four decades after the status of the region as a princely state was abolished. Similar desires for the redress of grievance exists in other places in the country. It has in fact been identified as a key need of people. In the aftermath of the events in Swat we need to put in place mechanisms that can help solve the basic issues of people. This includes a system of justice that does not discriminate on the basis of wealth and influence and is not steeped in corruption. Administration, the delivery of healthcare, education and civic amenities to people must also be made priorities. This is a challenge the provincial government must now rise up to.









IN the wake of propaganda campaign being launched by some vested interests, former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, in a comprehensive and thought-provoking interview to a private television channel, has refuted allegations that he had fled from Pakistan saying his family and house were abroad since the very first day. He also expressed his keen desire to visit the country and serve the nation.

It is good of Mr. Shaukat Aziz that he clarified his position though there was no need for him to respond to such baseless allegations that are routinely levelled by some elements against the former rulers. It is abhorring that some quarters have gone to the extent of saying that Mr. Aziz has fled from Pakistan to never return. Shaukat Aziz did not make any casual or secret entry into Pakistani politics as he played a long innings first as Finance Minister and then as Prime Minister. During this period, he presided over the historic economic reforms resulting in all round development in different spheres of life. One can have political differences with the former Prime Minister but the fact remains that his economic policies brought about a visible impact on the lives of the people. All economic indicators were positive and this was widely acknowledged by international financial institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Financial standing of the country was comfortable and it was considered amongst the fastest growing economies of Asia. These policies contributed a lot towards political stability and that is why he had the honour of completing the full constitutional tenure of his PML Government. It was a landmark day in the political history of the country when Shaukat Aziz hosted a farewell dinner where he proudly declared that his was the first Government to have completed its term. It was a fascinating moment and we wish that the incumbent and for that matter future Governments too should complete their mandated terms. Mr. Shaukat Aziz is gifted with the qualities of head and heart and his policies and personal rapport attracted a large number of investors to Pakistan. He also eloquently presented Pakistan’s case with world leaders and at important regional and international forums. We, therefore, believe that those indulging in character assassination of leaders like Aziz are doing no service to Pakistan. We should have the courage to acknowledge good work done by any one in any field and that is how countries achieve their place in the comity of nations.







THOUGH there is no solid ground to compare Pakistan with Somalia and Nigeria or for that matter with any other country in the world when it comes to strength of the country and its people to absorb serious shocks. It is an atomic and missile power, has a strong agriculture and industrial base and above all 170 million patriotic and hard working people who have the potential to excel if provided with opportunities and capable of overcoming crisis after crisis.

However, we are sorry to say that in the case of law and order the situation is fast deteriorating. A report in this newspaper the other day stated that a radical Islamic sect in Northern Nigeria has killed more than 700 people in five days of uprising while in Somalia the situation is even worse. In Pakistan too we are witnessing a similar pattern nowadays and incidents of killings are being witnessed in areas, which hitherto remained peaceful. Nobody imagined that a small city like Gojra could be targeted by banned militant organisations by inciting people’s sentiments under the pretext of unsubstantiated report of desecration of Holy Quran. It was shameful that eight people including women and children were burnt alive while those responsible to protect the lives and properties of the citizens were either helpless or unwilling to take measures to prevent the tragedy. A similar incident had happened earlier in Kasur where houses belonging to a minority community were set on fire. Incidents of targeted killings are a matter of routine in Karachi, whereas situation in FATA and Balochistan is far from satisfactory. The reasons for the current turbulence are weaponsiation of the society and underground activities of the banned militant organisations. These organisations are under pressure due to crackdown in Punjab and the NWFP on extremists and to divert the attention of the law enforcement agencies they are now targeting the soft targets by creating issues that hurt the religious sentiments of the masses. We would therefore stress upon the elements of power in the national matrix, political leadership and activists of the society to have a fuller realisation of this down slide and take remedial measures otherwise, God forbid, the country would plunge into chaos like Somalia and Nigeria.








A report by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons has pointed out that the international military mission in Afghanistan has delivered much less than it promised due to the lack of a unified vision and strategy. It also referred to the faulty approach of the occupation forces in Afghanistan and wanted fairer burden sharing by all the allies.

The report has come out with some of the realistic findings like the one that considerable cultural insensitivity of some coalition troops had caused serious damage to Afghans’ perceptions that will be difficult to undo. The international forces went to Afghanistan to liberate the country from, what was labelled as, autocratic rule of Taliban but with the passage of time they have expanded their activities. They have also trampled centuries old Afghan traditions besides bombing and killing of innocent. In fact, it is US and UK troops that are in the forefront of all such efforts and have, therefore, become symbol of hatred. Other coalition partners have a symbolic presence and many of them have since left the coalition in the face of growing opposition by their public opinion. Even public opinion in Britain is not convinced of the moral or legal justification of sending troops to Afghanistan for a questionable cause but instead of reading writings on the wall Mr. Gordon Brown is trying to please his American masters by proposing to send more troops to help US strengthen its occupation of Afghanistan. We, therefore, believe that the Committee should have recommended to the Government to immediately halt its operations in Afghanistan and withdraw troops engaged in genocide of Afghan people.









In a dramatic turnaround the government reinstated two district judges who were sacked unlawfully and unceremoniously only two days ago. The Law Minster, Barrister Shafique Ahmed, tried to save face by blaming "procedural errors" for the backtracking. Although it is true that the change of mind was definitely the "lesser evil" considering the circumstances, the fact remains that the administration would have been better off if it had not taken the hasty decision to sack the two senior judges in the first place.  
The government can factor in the best of legal, administrative and political expertise before making a decision. And, if it is to avoid such costly mistakes in future, it needs to review its decision making process.

The challenge of a government that got 60 per cent of the popular vote is to keep its extra-large support base intact. This is not an easy task: balancing so many, often conflicting interests but then that is where political wisdom comes in. It is true that all people cannot be satisfied all the time but one surely can satisfy a majority of them. The challenge of administration is to weigh the losses and gains. The flexibility that the government has shown is unprecedented for a political government in this country but then it would have been even better if it was displayed before the damage was done.

After the separation of judiciary, services of the judges had come under the purview of the Supreme Court. Under this situation how come the Law Ministry took such an illegal action bypassing the Supreme Court is beyond our comprehension. And then how come none pointed this out when the file on forced retirement of the judges went through the Prime Minister's office and then finally got the assent of the President. The Law Ministry must explain how it happened. The Minister's explanation that it was a "procedural error" is not enough considering the credibility loss and embarrassment it caused to the government. Hopefully, at the national level this will be the last such action done in haste.







This newspaper last Sunday carried a report that in Dhaka University the trend of committing suicides has increased recently. The statistics presented at a seminar entitled "Suicide can never be the answer to any question" on the university campus mentioned that during the last five years, a total of 11 university students took their own valuable lives. Incidentally, nine of them were women. And four of the suicides occurred in Rokeya Hall over the last year-and a- half. While reasons for many of these suicides are still unknown, break-up of love relationship and failure to achieve expected results in examinations are assumed to be the main factors.

Experts at the seminar organised by the university's psychology department have suggested a number of steps to stop this alarming trend of suicides. They have urged the students to engage themselves more in extracurricular activities like debates, indoor games, outdoor sports and cultural activities. A more proactive role by the university authorities and teachers can also help to engage the students in extracurricular activities.

On the other hand, it is the fellow students who, because of their intimate association, know first what goes wrong with a particular student. Therefore they can effectively counsel him or her when found in a depressive state of mind with symptoms of suicide like sense of failure or broken hopes. The despairing young ones should be reminded that failure can be converted into pillar of success. True, life is pervaded with sorrows, but it also offers sufficient moments of joy and happiness. When hard times strike, one can overcome that stage through strength of character, courage and perseverance. Moments of despair will surely be followed by brighter days.








Every once in a while we see someone with a far of look in their eyes, jaw locked with resolve and face steely with determination. The world laughs as they try to sell some far flung, huge, unimaginable idea. And then when we have all but forgotten them they appear again, millionaires or billionaires who have succeeded because they thought big. When Henry Ford decided to produce his famous V-8 engine, he chose to build it with the entire eight cylinders cast in one block, and instructed his engineers to produce a design for it. The plan was made on paper, but the engineers agreed to a man that it was impossible to cast an eight-cylinder engine block in one piece. "Produce it anyway," said Ford. "Impossible!" they all cried. "Just go ahead and do it," ordered Ford. The engineers went ahead. At the end of a year Ford checked with the engineers and again was told they had found no way to carry out his orders. "Go right ahead," said Ford, "I want it and I'll have it. They went ahead and then as if by a stroke of magic the secret was discovered.

Ford thought big and won, what about you? Are you setting your sights too low? Once a woman sunbathing in her boat saw that the man in the next boat was reeling in a fish every time she glanced over. But he kept the small ones and threw the large ones back into the water! She called over to him, "How come you're throwing the big ones back?" He answered by holding up a little frying pan.
"I only got a small pan," he cried out, "So only de small fish fit in!" Aren't many of us holding up small frying pans? Every time we throw away a big idea, a magnificent dream or an exciting possibility, are we measuring it against a tiny pan? When our minds are small, when our imagination cannot see success, then we start throwing away opportunities. Change the size of your frying pan, think big and see the difference. Henry Ford had a big frying pan; a huge gigantic one that brushed passed objections of qualified engineers. Author Brian Tracy reminds us that "You are not what you think you are, but what you think, you are. Noticed the difference? Go over that sentence again. "Think big. Dream big. Pray big... and look for big results. It all begins with changing the size of your thinking. Can you imagine the immense possibilities, once you throw away your old frying pan you've been using all this while and replace it with a larger one? Like Henry Ford, your success will be huge and big and you'll start throwing the little fish back because there's room for only big ones...!





*************************************************************************************KOREA TIMES




A decade ago, Korea became the object of envy by overcoming the Asian financial crisis more rapidly than anyone else. Later, the nation suffered from the ``credit card fiasco,'' an after effect of a hasty, artificial recovery.

The lessons of the 1990s which reaffirmed there can be few short cuts to curing long, chronic economic ailments should remain effective today when media reports, both at home and abroad, are marveling at this country's ability to rebound from what looked like an abysmal situation only a year ago.

Watching a seemingly endless list of hopeful indicators reeled off by various agencies industrial output, capacity utilization ratio, machinery order receipts as well as corporate and consumer sentiments it seems rather hard not to be optimistic. Many analysts are taking a ``V-shaped'' recovery as granted, backed up further by dizzying ascent of the stock market.

However, at least two questions must be asked at this point: whether the recovery is real or illusionary; and if is real, whether it is fleeting or lasting. Everybody knows the ongoing revival is thanks mainly to the government's stimulus of fiscal spending and tax cuts. But the bulk of taxpayer money has been allocated to massive public works, the economic effects of which, including job creation, are doubtful at best. The tax breaks for motorists who replace their old vehicles with new ones the Korean version of ``cash for clunkers'' program minus the fuel-efficiency factor is what economists call a ``recovery borrowed from the future,'' as the step does not induce, but advances auto purchases.

This, when combined with another tax cut for property buyers, would end up only seriously aggravating the government's fiscal health, as the International Monetary Fund recently pointed out by including Korea among one of the seven countries with the biggest deficit concerns. What's more serious and dangerous is that policymakers could lose the timing to put the Genie of property speculation back into the bottle unless they remain extremely attentive.

Most of all, the domestic recovery can't last long without a major rebound in global and domestic demand. As the recovery of major economies takes some time, at stake is how to revive the domestic demand. But the prospects are quite dismal as shown by exacerbating employment figures, which currently is the only gloomy factor but one that can mar the rosy picture in all other sectors.

Capital spending by businesses, one of the two pillars to boost the domestic demand along with private consumption, is hard to expect, given the sentiments of major conglomerates, which increasingly cite the political and labor circles as the reasons for their reluctance to invest. All of which leaves consumption as the only hope for a sustainable recovery, which, in turn, is not possible without providing more jobs.

The good news in this regard is the government seems to know the present situation, including the danger of a fragile recovery and hasty optimism. The bad news is it still is seeking a remedy in the wrong places, as shown by its adherence to tax cuts for wealthy businesses and individuals and massive civil engineering projects, under the pretext of ``policy consistency.'' No, this is a case of ``better late than never'' in making a turnaround. Otherwise, what awaits the nation will be a ``W-shaped'' economic cycle called the double dip.







The clock is quickly ticking away for Ssangyong Motor as if it were ready to toll the death knell for the troubled carmaker. For now, it seems that the company stands little chance of survival because its management and trade union have not made any compromises on the large-scale layoffs under its restructuring package. On Sunday, the firm declared the failure of last-minute negotiations with the striking unionists, who have occupied a factory building for more than 70 days in protest against the layoff plan.

It is really regrettable that the two sides missed virtually their last chance at a breakthrough during the four-day-long talks last week. The management has made it clear that there will be no more talks unless the unionists change their hard-line position. In addition, the company plans to soon present a self-rescue program to a local court, which may reportedly lead to the automaker's eventual liquidation. The loss-making company is now under court receivership for bankruptcy protection.

Against this backdrop, market watchers and industry sources caution that the automaker has no other choice but to face liquidation. The company said it has suffered about 300 billion won in damages arising from the strike that has halted the operation of all assembly lines since May 22. The alleged loss is now erasing the firm's value, estimated at 389 billion won. This means that if the company cannot immediately resume normal operations, the loss will soon eclipse its value. In other words, the nation's smallest carmaker has no more reason to exist.

Some critics are skeptical that Ssangyong can get back on its feet even if management and labor reach an agreement on the layoff scheme and restart auto production. Many of the firm's parts suppliers have already gone bankrupt or are on the verge of collapse due to the total production stoppage at the beleaguered carmaker. The more serious problem is the irrevocable damage done to consumer and investor confidence. What will happen if no one is ready to buy Ssangyong cars and no one is willing to invest in the tarnished company?

It might be better to let the moribund automaker go belly up, if one only takes into account the economic terms. Ssangyong's market share in South Korea is estimated at 2 to 3 percent. Its possible collapse is not likely to have a ripple effect on the economy. However, as many as 20,000 workers could lose their jobs if the company goes bankrupt. The regional economy in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, where Ssangyong is located, will no doubt be hit hard by the looming catastrophic end of the automaker.

In this regard, it is necessary to avoid the liquidation of the company. The management and the union are urged to return to negotiations and narrow their differences in a desperate bid to avoid these undesirable consequences and save the struggling carmaker.







It was a triumph of democracy. On July 25, in a free election, Iraq's Kurds finally elected a real opposition party to their regional parliament.

According to preliminary results, the Change Party won 25 of the 111 seats in the parliament, breaking the monopoly of the autocratic traditional parties. But this democratic shift also suggests that Iraq's Kurds are going to lose again.

Lose, that is, in terms of their maximum objectives as defined by their leaders over the past 20 years. Those goals included an independent Kurdish state in what is now northern Iraq, or at least a region so autonomous and self-sufficient that it was independent for all practical purposes.

For the government of that country or autonomous region to be self-sufficient economically, it had to control the oil-producing area around the city of Kirkuk.

Achieving such ambitious goals required unshakeable unity, for the Kurds are only 6 million of Iraq's 30 million people, and neither the Arabs of Iraq nor their other neighbors, the Turks and the Iranians, like the idea of a Kurdish state.

The outcome of last month's election shows that the reflexive unity among the Kurds is now fading fast.


It is fading partly because younger Kurds are fed up with the corrupt and oppressive rule of their traditional leaders, who have dominated Kurdish affairs for more than a generation.

The Barzani family reigns in the west of Kurdistan (Massoud Barzani succeeded his father as the general-secretary of the Kurdish Democratic Party 30 years ago).

The Talabani family rules the east (Jalal Talabani created the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan 34 years ago and has led it ever since). And both families have become very, very rich.

The families earned their roles by leading the fight for Kurdistan's independence or autonomy over decades of struggle against Baghdad governments of every hue.

The rival parties they created, the KDP and the PUK, plunged the Kurds into a nasty civil war in the mid-1990s, but since then they have cooperated in keeping the Kurdish region separate from the violence and chaos down south.

So long as independence or something very like it was the long-term goal, the traditional leaders could demand and get the obedience of most Kurds: unity came before everything else.

But now that a measure of stability is returning to Arab Iraq, the prospect of Kurdish independence is dwindling
and there is even a dawning suspicion that the KDP/PUK alliance has left it too late to take control of Kirkuk. In that case, what's the point of leaving them in charge of everything?

The Change Party came out of a split in the PUK, and it won almost half the votes in Jalal Talabani's home province of Sulaymaniya. Dissatisfaction with the current system is just as great in the rest of Kurdistan, and the KDP/PUK alliance could have lost the whole election if there had been a similar revolt within the KDP.

In due course, there probably will be, because Kurdistan is going to spend the next generation as part of Iraq.

One sign of the changing balance of power is the fact that the election on 25 July was not accompanied, as planned, by a referendum on the draft Kurdish constitution, an explosive document that declares oil-rich Kirkuk and other disputed areas to be ``historically'' and ``geographically'' part of the Kurdish homeland.

Since those areas are currently under Arab rule, entrenching this claim in the Kurdish constitution would lead to confrontations between Kurds and Arabs.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki both leaned on the Independent High Electoral Commission, which obediently said that ``for technical reasons'' it could not hold a referendum in Kurdistan on the same day as the election.

This was patently untrue, and the Kurds had to decide whether or not to defy Baghdad.

In effect, the central government just said ``no'' to the draft Kurdish constitution, or at least ``not now''
and the outgoing Kurdish parliament meekly accepted the decision. It voted to postpone the referendum indefinitely. That is the new reality in Iraq.

In retrospect, it's clear that the only time when the Kurds might have achieved their maximum ambitions was right after the U.S. invasion of 2003. To do so, however, they would have had to defy their only ally, the United States, and neither Barzani nor Talabani was willing to take the risk.

Fearing a clash with the Americans, they did not seize Kirkuk and ensure an overwhelming Kurdish majority there when they had the military power to do so. Fearing a Turkish invasion, they did not dare to declare independence.

Now they can't do either, for Iraq has a functioning army again and Kurdistan's whole budget depends on oil revenues sent north by the government in Baghdad.

This is not necessarily a tragedy. A prosperous, democratic, secular Kurdistan, using its own language and running its own institutions, within a rather less democratic and more theocratic Arab-majority Iraq that hands over a fair share of oil revenues and leaves the Kurdish minority alone, would be an outcome beyond the wildest dreams of previous generations of Kurds.

It is still within reach, if the bitter question of Kirkuk can be finessed. And it doesn't need the Talabanis and Barzanis at all.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.








The recent news that two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese and the number continues to grow brings to mind a question that has bothered me since the 1970s: Why aren't we all starving?

It was not that long ago that experts were predicting that our skyrocketing human population would outstrip its food supply, leading directly to mass famine. By now millions were supposed to be perishing from hunger every year.

It was the old doom-and-gloom mathematics of Thomas Malthus at work: population shoots up geometrically while food production lags behind. It makes eminent sense. I grew up with Malthus's ideas brought up-to-date in apocalyptic books like ``The Population Bomb."

But someone appears to have defused the bomb. Instead of mass starvation, we seem to be awash in food. And it's not just the U.S. Obesity is on the increase in Mexico. Fat-related diabetes is becoming epidemic in India.

One in four people in China is overweight, more than 60 million are obese, and the rate of overweight children has increased almost 30-fold since 1985. Everywhere you look, from Buffalo to Beijing, you can see ballooning bellies.

Instead of going hungry, humans around the world on a per capita basis are eating more calories than ever before.

If you're looking for reasons behind today's obesity epidemic, don't stop with the usual suspects, all of which are being trotted out by the press: fast food, trans fat, high sugar, low exercise, computer games, strange bacteria in your gut, weird molecules in your blood.

I personally blame some hardwired human instinct for sitting around eating salty, greasy, sugary snacks in preference to hard physical labor. All of these factors are certainly related to the ``insidious, creeping pandemic of obesity … now engulfing the entire world," as one gung-ho expert recently put it. But they are only bits of the puzzle.

The underlying answer is this: There's a lot of cheap food around. Yes, walk into your local mega-grocery-emporium or just about any food-selling area anywhere in the world and stare the problem in the face. There's inexpensive, high-calorie food piled all over the place.

Somehow we outsmarted Malthus. Food production has not only kept up with population growth but has managed somehow to outstrip it.

There are ups and downs from year to year because of the weather, and there are pockets of starvation around the world (due not to a global lack of food, but to a lack of ways to transport it where it's needed). In general, silos are bursting.

Tons of food gets plowed under the ground because there's so much of it farmers can't get the prices they want. Tons of cheap food (corn, for instance) is used to create more expensive food (like steak). Lots of food means lots of grease, and meat, and sugar, and calories. Lots of food means lots of overweight people.

If you like the idea of avoiding mass starvation
and I certainly do you owe thanks to two groups of scientists: one that gave us the Green Revolution back around the 1980s via strains of hardy, high-yielding grains, and another that figured out how to make bread out of air.

You heard me right. If you're looking for someone to blame for today's era of plenty, look to a couple of German scientists who lived a century ago. They understood that the problem was not a lack of food per se, but a lack of fertilizer
then they figured out how to make endless amounts of fertilizer.

The number-one component of any fertilizer is nitrogen, and the first of the two German researchers, Fritz Haber, discovered how to work the dangerous, complex chemistry needed to pull nitrogen out of the atmosphere where it is abundant but useless for fertilizer and turn it into a substance that can grow plants.

A first demonstration was made 100 years ago. Carl Bosch, a young genius working for a chemical company, quickly ramped up Haber's process to industrial levels. They both won Nobel Prizes.

It ranks among the great ironies of history that these two brilliant men, credited with saving millions from starvation, are also infamous for other work done later: Haber, a German Jew, was a central force in developing poison gas in World War I (and also performed research that led to the Zyklon B poison gas later used in concentration camps); Bosch, an ardent anti-Nazi, founded the giant chemical company I.G. Farben, which Hitler took over and used to make supplies for World War II.

Today, jaw-droppingly huge Haber-Bosch plants, much refined and improved, are humming around the world, pumping out the hundreds of thousands of tons of fertilizers that enrich the fields that grow the crops that become the sugars and oils and cattle that are cooked into the noodles and chips, pizza, burritos, and snack cakes that make us fat.

If you don't think this work important, consider that half the nitrogen in your body is synthetic, a product of a Haber-Bosch factory. Or that without the added food made possible by their discovery, the earth could only support about 4 billion people
at least 2 billion less than today.

And yes, before you e-mail me, I understand the concomitant problems: stress on ecosystems, pollution (including nitrogen pollution), etc. etc. But I am an optimist, so instead of moaning I will leave you with some more good news.

Even with a world population that continues to add tens of millions of new mouths every year, given continuing growth in Haber-Bosch fertilizer and a surprising trend toward a worldwide decline in birthrates (if you live about 50 years longer, according to the best estimates, you'll see humanity reach zero population growth), it might be within humanity's grasp to avoid mass starvation forever.

Thomas Hager is author of ``The Alchemy of Air," a history of the Haber-Bosch discovery. For more stories, visit Project Syndicate (









Unfortunately for his party, and probably for the country, however, the former treasurer lacked the fight within himself to take it on. In The Weekend Australian, Mr Costello argued what this newspaper has pointed out numerous times: the next election will be fought on economic grounds. And the coalition, with a strong record, should be in a good position. Pointing out the folly of buying votes with borrowed money, Mr Costello set out the ground on which the Rudd government would be vulnerable if its opponents developed a coherent narrative. But for all his valuable insights, Mr Costello has dealt himself out of the game, leaving his party to face the popularity of Kevin Rudd with Malcolm Turnbull, a talented but badly damaged leader.


John Howard's put-down of former Labor leader Kim Beazley for lacking "ticker" was devastating, but Mr Beazley had one quality Mr Costello seems to lack -- loyalty to his party. Mr Costello will protest otherwise, citing his restraint in not challenging Mr Howard as putting the party ahead of his own ambitions. In reality, he lacked the numbers and preferred being treasurer, at which he excelled, to moving to the back bench and rallying support for a challenge.


Few modern Australian prime ministers have led their parties without being prepared to fight for the privilege. Before his 1996 electoral triumph, Mr Howard overcame several major setbacks. He wrested the leadership from Andrew Peacock in 1985, lost the 1987 election and lost the leadership back to Mr Peacock in 1989, before replacing the hapless Alexander Downer as opposition leader in 1995. In 2006, Kevin Rudd, a rank outsider in everyone's mind but his own, cleverly hammered together an anti-Beazley alliance, with the support of Julia Gillard and left-wing powerbroker Kim Carr, to propel himself into the Labor leadership against a tired, decade-old government.


When Mr Costello announced his retirement from politics in June, The Australian paid tribute to him as "the reforming prime minister we never had". His impressive record as treasurer suggests he could have been a good prime minister. But his failure to compete for the leadership in office, and even more so, his shying away after Brendan Nelson failed as opposition leader, suggested he lacked the steel to fight for the right to lead the nation. However experienced or talented, the cut and thrust of modern politics does not reward a player who floats above the fray like an oracle, waiting to be handed the leadership by the party or country, like a bouquet.


What coalition MPs can draw from Mr Costello are sound lessons in how to position themselves against the government. He is right to urge them to make capital from Labor's spending sprees being financed on borrowed money, leaving a heavy debt burden for this and future generations. And he is right about the need for structural changes that would bear fruit in the recovery. The Liberal Party should also heed his advice about developing a narrative about where it wants to take the country, and the need to address its organisational weaknesses. With his former staffer Kelly O'Dwyer set to win nomination in Higgins, Mr Costello might already be feeling the pangs of relevance deprivation. He can only blame himself that he is watching from the sidelines, in despair, and pondering what might have been, as his colleagues fumble and fail to apply pressure to the government.








As universities warn of lost income due to the global financial crisis, the possible drop in international students and the 18-month wait for $5.7 billion in extra federal funding, the question is just how close they are to the edge. The answer would appear to be "very".


The Rudd government acknowledged that the Howard years left institutions chasing their tails thanks to the gap between costs and funding. It has restored funding indexation which had been abolished by the Keating government. But the big money has been backloaded to flow only in 2012. There's logic here. Canberra wants changes -- a "revolution", no less -- including increased participation and will use the time lag to negotiate specific targets.


But the government must be careful not to place untenable strain on a sector crucial to the knowledge economy. The time has long gone when universities could be accused of carrying too much fat or taking public dollars for granted. Even their dependence on overseas students is due to their having to find new revenue streams. On average, these students provide 20 per cent of revenue -- although some campuses have clearly overcooked the cake with more than half their money now coming from this source. Even without a drop in enrolments from India the institutions must adjust quickly to the reality that the overseas student program cannot continue to grow at the rate of recent years. Adding to the problem is the ideologically driven decision by the government to ban full fees for local students: there has been compensation but it has fallen short.


In part, these warnings are the usual argy-bargy over pay claims as academics warn that quality is threatened because of underpaid, overworked and increasingly casualised staff. Work has certainly intensified and it may be time for the government to look at deferring its plan to expand from 32per cent to 40 per cent the proportion of 25- to 34-year-old Australians with a degree. Producing more graduates in a poorly funded system will be of little value to the nation.


But longer term, the answer to funding woes must be a business model with realistic private contributions -- either through reinstating full fees, increasing HECS, or a comprehensive look at true fee deregulation.









Given Mrs Aquino's inspirational role in harnessing millions of Filipinos in protests against corrupt dictator Ferdinand Marcos 23 years ago, the outpouring of grief and love at her death at the age of 76 from colon cancer is no surprise.


While far from being a "simple housewife" as she described herself, Mrs Aquino had never aspired to leadership. But she stepped up to the challenge after the 1983 assassination of her husband, Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, when he returned to The Philippines from exile in the US. Drafted to run against Marcos in the 1986 presidential elections, Mrs Aquino was later installed as president after Marcos, who had awarded himself a fraudulent victory, fled to Hawaii.


Post Marcos, she succeeded in stabilising The Philippines and restoring the nation's democratic institutions. She rewrote the country's constitution, freed political dissidents jailed by Marcos, and initiated peace talks with insurgent groups.


Steadying the nation through such measures was vital for keeping communist stirrings at bay. In other ways, however, confronted by almost insurmountable obstacles, she was an ineffective president. Never accepted by the nation's oligarchy or its restive military, Mrs Aquino made little headway reforming a poverty-stricken, agrarian-based economy.


From 1986 to 1989, her administration was impeded by a series of attempted military coups. She resisted, but the unrest destabilised The Philippines and discouraged much-needed foreign investment. Opting to retire in 1992 after her first six-year term, Mrs Aquino prudently swung her support behind defence secretary Fidel Ramos, who succeeded her as a stronger, reforming president.


As dignitaries and ordinary citizens lined up in monsoon rains at the weekend, their warm tributes to the gently spoken but determined Mrs Aquino were no surprise. Several years before the popular uprisings that toppled communist dictatorships in eastern Europe, she gave new meaning to the term "people power".


As Asia's first female president -- it had already had female prime ministers -- she was a trailblazer in a society that was heavily male-dominated. Her most important legacy to her people, however, was the most important political gift of all -- democracy.











WITH last night’s broadcast of Australian Story’s documentary on ABC television, shot inside Malcolm Turnbull’s office as the disaster of the so-called ‘‘‘utegate’’ story unfolded, and the release, expected today, of the Auditor-General’s report into the affair, voters can expect another detailed rerun of this political firestorm.


The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, might be expected to be a little nervous as the minister with most questions to answer and most to lose, but he is likely to avoid any political damage because the combination of the two releases will place most attention on Turnbull. The cost of the Opposition Leader’s mismanagement has been high: he turned a victory into defeat and, if recent polls are a guide, comprehensively lost the voting public in doing so.


If nothing else positive comes out of it, the episode offers Turnbull the chance to break away from past patterns of behaviour. Having made his reputation as an aggressive lawyer and businessman, he has found that the instincts which have served him well in court and the boardroom tend to lead him astray in politics. It is a lesson he finds hard to act upon.


On Saturday the Herald published his riposte to the 6000-word essay on Australia and the world financial crisis by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. It was imbued with the same instinctive aggression, while giving little hint of an alternative vision. Voters gained little guide either to Turnbull’s plans, or to his likely character as prime minister.


Of course, part of the job of an opposition leader is to point out the shortcomings of government policy, but Turnbull appears to be letting his instincts, which tend anyway towards the negative, combine uncontrolled with the negativity inherent in the role of opposition. The result – carping and destructive – is simply not what people are looking for as the world grapples with major economic and environmental challenges. If the ute disaster spurs him to temper his aggression and show a more considered and positive side to his personality, the episode will have had a positive effect for the Coalition after all.


The affair has not delayed the Coalition’s progress alone. The OzCar scheme still awaits the go-ahead. Intended to help support car sales and dealerships by guaranteeing finance after US finance companies left the Australian market, it needs the Auditor-General’s verdict before the Government will proceed. Although at first sight the ute affair may suggest otherwise, sometimes politics and the real world do intersect – often, as here, to the latter’s detriment.







THERE has been a flurry of argument in recent days over Malcolm Turnbull’s use of the term Orwellian to describe the spin-doctoring of the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. The debate is no more than rhetoric, but for the people of Iran, the spirit of George Orwell’s novel about totalitarian manipulation, 1984, is all too real.


While Australians take for granted our robust, transparent and long-lived democracy, Iran’s 70 million people are living under a brutal and incompetent dictatorship which seeks to justify its oppression under a threadbare veil of democracy.


It is the Iranian Government, not dissidents and opposition leaders, which is making a mockery of its claims that Iran is a real democracy. It is the Iranian Government, not its critics, which has just begun a large-scale show trial, rounding up more than 100 opponents, people ranging from leading opposition figures, to critics, to mere demonstrators who were picked up by the goon squads of the Revolutionary Guard.


Some of the accused have been brought into court in shackles, a high price for dissent. Many do not know what charges have been laid against them. Most have not been able to consult a lawyer. Some have made so-called confessions after being brutalised in custody.


It is the Iranian Government which sent thousands of bullies, operating in neo-fascist street squads, to intimidate, beat and arrest thousands of demonstrators after the national elections in June. It was this same government which has murdered thousands of opponents since it took power in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.


Even as it was winning that election, one compromised by irregularities and government-led violence, the

regime snatched symbolic defeat from victory by yet another murder when one of its agents shot and killed 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan during a demonstration in Tehran in June. Her face, and her death, was the image flashed around the world. She became the symbol of what Iran has become.


Orwell showed in 1984 how paranoia and hypocrisy are the forces which drive and define totalitarian regimes. They fear that if they relax the grip on the instruments of intimidation, they will also lose their grip on power.


Paranoia is a sign of weakness, not strength, a sign of rigidity and morbidity. Repression is always presented as stability and national strength. This is life under an Orwellian regime. This is how low the great Persian civilisation has been reduced by the actions of a paranoid theocracy.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




This newspaper's reviewer was not overwhelmed when Billy Liar was published, 50 years ago next month. Keith Waterhouse's second novel scored a single paragraph which ended: "There are some good satirical scenes." Not untrue and not unkind – but hardly as warmblooded as Ken Tynan's pledge that he could not love someone who did not want to see Look Back in Anger. Yet as a documentary on Radio 4 to be broadcast this Thursday suggests, Waterhouse's book was a classic to rank alongside Osborne's play.


Set in small-town Yorkshire after the second world war, Billy Liar described a young fantasist with a job at an undertaker's and a bedroom at his parents' – and longing for escape to the Good Life in London. Similar themes were picked up by other novelists, such as John Braine and Kingsley Amis, but Waterhouse was not an Angry Young Man – his protagonist was too dreamy. Like them, however, he was an affectionate recorder of regional speech (one character bemoans the waste of some cooked eggs as "goodness down the drain"). After all this time it is hard to prise the book apart from its film adaptation (with its extraordinary scene in which Tom Courtenay goes from pretend resignation speech in a funeral parlour to imitation of Winston Churchill), but together they sealed Waterhouse's reputation and made his fortune. The council-house boy upgraded to a home in Kensington and a daily bottle of champagne. "Most of it came courtesy of Billy Liar," he said.







The supreme leader's endorsement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his second term as president yesterday was a diffident affair. The ceremony was not broadcast live on state television, and Iran's Arabic channel showed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holding out an arm to keep the man he was endorsing at a distance. Instead of being allowed to kiss the hand of the man he had recently likened to his father, Mr Ahmadinejad had to be content with the supreme leader's shoulder.


The no-shows were more significant. This was the first time the ceremony was boycotted by previous presidents, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. The opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karoubi and Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, also stayed away. Iran's state-run Press TV said that the leader of the three branches of government – the chiefs of parliament, the judiciary and the guardian council – all attended the ceremony, but the tree itself showed signs of wilting. Within hours there were fresh demonstrations at the two squares of Vali-e-Asr and Vanak in Tehran.


This was not the most confident display of power by the regime. Only the day before it had launched a mass trial of more than 100 government opponents with the televised confessions of a former vice president and a former deputy interior minister. The show trial nature of the proceedings was too much even for some hardline supporters of the supreme leader. This is the problem with having to up the dose of repression just to get through each week: it has less and less effect and the opposition continues to muster impressive displays of dissent.


In his alleged confession, the former vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi said opposition leaders had conspired in advance to misrepresent the vote. A parliamentary deputy loyal to Mr Khamenei and a cleric said that Mr Abtahi's confession paved the way for dealing with the leaders of the unrest who were not yet on trial. This was a crude way of warning Mr Mousavi that he could be next. But it is not as simple as that. Mr Khamenei has to weigh each step he takes knowing he has already lost the loyalty of half of the country. Mr Mousavi's past links to the Islamic Republic's founding father, Ayatollah Khomeini, has until now made him untouchable. And he represents a growing dilemma for a supreme leader who has unexpectedly lost his magic aura. Do nothing, and the crisis continues. Throw Mousavi in jail and Iran could become ungovernable.


Many members of parliament may vote against his choice of cabinet members tomorrow, but the power struggle does more than hamper Mr Ahmadinejad's ability to form a new government. It also raises a challenge for Barack Obama. As the price for taking a strong line over settlements, Mr Obama has been placatory with Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, about the need to face up to Iran. Mr Netanyahu has made no secret of his desire to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. One way and another, Mr Obama has been bounced into setting an early September deadline for Iran to reply to the US offer of talks. If Iran misses it, congressmen are preparing fresh legislation to cut off the country's imports of petrol and other refined oil products.


A premature conflict with the US over sanctions could prove the salvation of a beleaguered supreme leader and his tarnished president.The only way they can explain this level of domestic unrest to their nation is to blame it on the interference of foreign powers, Britain and the US – the old enemy behaving to stereotype. What chance then for Iran's opposition? Mr Obama does not need to follow this timetable, which is dictated more by Israel than it is by a considered US assessment of Iran's uranium enrichment capacity. Mr Obama should not hand Ayatollah Khamenei victory on a plate.







"Once you've got a British passport you can demonstrate as much as you like. Until then, don't." If ever a caricature of a policy sounded designed to provoke a slap-down, then you might have thought this was it. But when a BBC interviewer yesterday described plans to overhaul the citizenship rules with these words, the immigration minister Phil Woolas signalled she had put it in a nutshell. The topsy-turvy idea of immigrants being made to respect supposedly British values, such as free speech, while being excluded from these themselves did not seem to faze Mr Woolas at all.


The smallprint of the consultation document that the minister unveiled later in the day contained other weird suggestions. For instance, canvassing for a political party was put forward as one of the things that community-minded immigrants might like to do in order to earn their passport two years early. Never mind the great British tradition of keeping partisan politics out of public administration – if this logic were developed, fast-track citizenship forms would soon be getting dished out along with party membership cards. Of course that won't happen, but nor in all likelihood will a great deal of what was being talked up yesterday.


With a passport application being processed every two minutes, and with public money fast running out, the authorities do not have the resources to start monitoring the community activism of every would-be citizen, or to start fighting test cases over the definition of what counts as voluntary work. Energetic advance briefing ensured Sunday's red tops pronounced that citizenship would soon be refused to migrants who protested against British troops. Even if that were legal, which must be doubtful, it would be unworkable, which is perhaps why the Home Office does not seem to have bothered thinking it through. It was yesterday unable to give a clear sense of what might constitute the sort of "active disregard for UK values" that it was vaguely suggested might be grounds for refusing a passport.


This last proposal is not only half-baked, it is also irrelevant to the politically charged issues it purports to address. The question of which immigrants get passports has almost no bearing on the total number of them in the country, nor on the angry flashes of hostility against British troops, as these often come from people born on these shores. Mr Woolas, however, has mixed all this up in a damaging way. There is a potentially serious debate about English-language teaching and citizenship classes, on which the government has some interesting thoughts. But by blowing the dog whistle, Mr Woolas has surrendered the passport entitling him to a hearing in that debate.








In its manifesto for the Aug. 30 Lower House election, the Liberal Democratic Party has obviously tried to distinguish itself from the Democratic Party of Japan in some areas. But the party's priorities remain vague.


Unlike the DPJ, which clearly states what matters it will focus on in the coming four years if it takes power, the LDP is placing emphasis on longer term goals. For example, the party says it will make the nation's per capita income the highest level in the world in 10 years' time by raising each household's disposable annual income by ¥1 million, but it fails to concretely state how it will achieve this lofty goal.

Apparently trying to strike a contrast with the DPJ, whose manifesto fails to mention the possibility of raising the consumption tax to pay for growing social welfare costs, the LDP hints that it will increase the tax "without delay" once economic conditions improve. But it neither cites a specific time-table for doing nor specifies how high it will raise the tax.


Unlike the DPJ, whose foreign policy is vague and whose manifesto does not even mention Japan's fueling mission in the Indian Ocean, the LDP calls for the mission's continuation and the enactment of a permanent law for dispatching Self-Defense Forces on overseas missions. It also calls for conditionally exercising the right to collective defense, like defending U.S. ships enaged in joint operations with Japan for Japan's defense.


The LDP's manifesto mentions the creation of a society in which people feel secure about their lives and cites various measures to achieve this goal, including free education for preschool children and support for the unemployed. But the LDP has listed these measures without closely examining the retrenchment policy that has been implemented since the Koizumi administration, which has led to disruption of social welfare programs such as medical services and support for the socially weak. The LDP manifesto calls for a revision of the Constitution but fails to specify the revision content and seeks a 30 percent or greater reduction in Diet seats in 10 years but doesn't explain the purpose of such a move.


It is unfortunate that the LDP's manifesto appears to be based on platitudes rather than detailed discussions. Rather than merely cite ambitious goals, the LDP needs to tell voters what measures it will take to achieve its aims.








The Tokyo High Court on July 28 overturned a September 2007 Tokyo District Court ruling that said three newspapers libeled a doctor at Tokyo Women's Medical College Hospital in a news report, and acquitted the news agency that originated the report. The high court ruling correctly understands the role of a news agency and the relationship between it and its client newspapers. The doctor appealed the ruling. It is hoped that the Supreme Court will uphold the latest ruling.


Akita Sakigake Shimpo, Jomo Shimbun (Maebashi) and Shizuoka Shimbun published a July 2002 Kyodo News article on the death of a 12-year-old girl following a heart operation in 2001 at the hospital. The article hinted that the doctor who performed the operation mishandled a heart-lung machine. The doctor was arrested and charged with professional negligence resulting in death, but was later acquitted.

Although both the district court and the high court decided that the main part of the Kyodo News article was untrue, they acquitted the news agency on the grounds that there was sufficient reason for it to believe during the news gathering process that a study by the medical college's fact-finding committee and a police announcement were true.


The district court had ruled that the three newspapers should be criticized for wrongly believing that the article was accurate even though it was dispatched by a reputable news agency like Kyodo. It also said that since the three papers did not carry the Kyodo credit line for the article, it appeared as if they had written the article.


Without touching on the question about the credit line, the high court ruled that the relationship between Kyodo and its client newspapers is based on the assumption that Kyodo fulfills the duties required during news gathering and reporting. It ruled that any liabilities for accuracy lie with Kyodo, but rightly added that a news agency's services provide the foundation for local newspaper operations and help spread a variety of news, thus ensuring, alongside major newspapers, news media diversity and contributing to people's right to know.








Conflicts of interest dividing Moscow and Washington have overshadowed a more positive development — real progress in nuclear arms cuts between the two powers that together hold 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons.


Since '87, the United States and former Soviet countries, chiefly Russia, have signed a series of disarmament treaties, reducing nuclear arsenals by about 80 percent. The Russian and U.S. presidents recently agreed to reduce them further, by around a third. The new bilateral pact would replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires Dec. 5. As a result, the current ceiling on warheads would be lowered from 2,200 each to between 1,500 and 1,675, and the number of long-range missiles from 1,600 each to between 500 and 1,100.


The explosive power of these arsenals is still enough to destroy civilized life many times over. The cuts are intended to stabilize strategic offensive forces at progressively lower levels, dissuade other countries with nuclear weapons from expanding their warhead stocks and delivery systems, and discourage the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the nine nations known to have them today.


Perhaps as important as the arms cuts are steps to get rid of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. This is a little known story of considerable success.


On July 20, USEC Inc., a privatized U.S. government agency known formerly as the U.S. Enrichment Corp., announced new pricing arrangements for low-enriched uranium (LEU) it has been buying from Russia. USEC is a leading supplier of LEU for nuclear power plants that generate some 15 percent of the world's electricity. It supplies more than half the U.S. market and over a quarter of the global market. A lot of its LEU has been coming from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads.


Under a 1993 agreement signed by the Russian and U.S. governments, known as the Megatons to Megawatts program, Russia has been converting 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from its warheads and military stockpiles. By the end of June, the Russian government agency, Technabexport (Tenex), had recycled 367 tons of this weapons-grade HEU by blending it down into about 10,620 tons of LEU for USEC. It has been paid over $5 billion for this work.


The recycling of HEU into civilian nuclear reactor fuel, mainly for generating electricity, is the equivalent of eliminating nearly 14,690 nuclear warheads. By the time the 20-year contract ends in 2013, around 20,000 bombs-worth of HEU will have been scrapped.


In addition, a group of Western nuclear energy companies, headed by Cameco of Canada, is buying 3,175 tons of LEU annually from Tenex that comes from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons. The uranium in this 14-year contract to 2013 is sold for use as fuel in nuclear power plants.


Surplus military plutonium, the other main ingredient for nuclear weapons, is also being turned into civilian nuclear reactor fuel by Russia and the U.S. However, there is more weapons-grade uranium in military stockpiles, around 2,000 tons, than weapons-grade plutonium, estimated at some 260 tons.


Stockpiles of weapons-grade fissile material need to be further reduced, and controls tightened, to prevent the spread of technology for uranium enrichment and plutonium production. Moves to limit nuclear bomb-making could be capped by a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. A verifiable international agreement to end production of HEU and plutonium for weapons would a centerpiece for deeper and wider reductions in nuclear arms.


Meanwhile, securing all kinds of nuclear material and knowhow has become a top U.S. priority. Nuclear material refers to actual weapons, HEU or plutonium, related items and expertise from an increasingly wide range of countries that could be of interest to states or terrorists with nuclear ambitions.


In the five years to 2007, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, identified more than 1,300 cases of unauthorized use or possession, loss or theft of nuclear materials. Eighteen of those incidents involved HEU or plutonium.


U.S. President Barack Obama recently announced that he would invite leaders from up to 30 countries to a summit in March to intensify cooperation in guarding against nuclear terrorism, and in tracking and securing materials that could be used for nuclear weapons, crude nuclear explosive devices, or "dirty" bombs that use conventional explosives to scatter deadly radioactive substances.


High on the summit agenda will be moves to hasten conversion of all nuclear research reactors to operate on LEU fuel instead of highly enriched material that could be used for bombs. Unlike power reactors that generate electricity, research reactors are smaller. They produce nuclear material distributed worldwide for use in medical treatment, food irradiation and civilian industry. Many research reactors were designed to run on highly enriched uranium.


HEU means a concentration of at least 20 percent of the fissile isotope uranium-235. If enriched to around 90 percent, it could be used in a nuclear bomb. LEU reactor fuel for power generation is only 5 percent U-235, and some types of reactors can operate at natural enrichment levels of about 0.7 percent.


The U.S. has recalled 225 kg of HEU from 17 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and South America, including Australia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand. Russia has taken back approximately 862 kg of Russian-origin HEU from 11 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe that operate research reactors, including Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.


Since the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration launched its Global Threat Reduction Initiative nine years ago, 18 research reactors in different parts of the world have been converted to use LEU fuel instead of HEU. As a result of this activity, the world is a somewhat safer place.


Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.








Cell phone users in Korea pay the highest rates among nations with comparable levels of mobile communications. The reason for the steady rise in phone charges here in recent years - in contrast to a general fall in other countries - is that the three mobile carriers in Korea spend a large portion of their proceeds on marketing, neglecting efforts to lower charges.


On the streets of Seoul and all major cities, one cannot walk a hundred meters without meeting a salesperson for one of the three companies - SKT, KT and LGT. These hordes of sidewalk warriors solicit passers-by to change their carriers, offering them "free" or almost free handsets as bait.


SK Telecom reported revenues of 3,679 billion won between April and June, a 5 percent gain from the same period of 2008, and LG Telecom had a record high turnover of 900.2 billion won in the second quarter. Meanwhile, SKT used up 1,279 billion won and LGT spent 322 billion won on marketing during the second quarter. KT's second quarter figures are not available yet, but business analysts estimate the three companies' combined marketing expenses at over 2 trillion won over the three-month period.


Advertisements for new handset models and new services dominate cinema and TV screens and internet pages, but they take up a rather small portion of marketing costs. The bulk of the three companies' marketing expenditure goes to the numerous agents as commission for snatching clients from competitors and as subsidies for handset sales. When a user shifts to one of the variety of service systems, the agent who recruited him is paid part of the subscription charges.


As a result, Koreans at present pay 14.43 cents per minute for voice communication over mobile phone. The amount is significantly higher than charges paid by wireless users of richer countries, such as the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Australia, Canada, Denmark and Singapore, according to the Korea Consumer Agency. The OECD reported last year that Koreans were spending more of their household income on telecommunications services than the people in any other member state.


The three-way competition spurs the development of telecom services and the continuing marketing war has contributed to expanding job opportunities to a certain extent. But the mutually damaging practice of luring away each other's customers with the liberal offer of free handsets does not create a healthy business environment. Some crooked customers take advantage of the market practices by taking those free phones and selling them to used handset dealers.


Belatedly, the three companies accepted a guideline from the Korea Communications Commission not to allow changing mobile phone numbers within three months of receiving one. The rule went into effect yesterday. This measure is expected to discourage the street battles of mobile carriers a little, but problems remain.


For years, while the government overlooked it in the name of developing the industry through competition, disorderly marketing resulted in a huge waste of resources, including abandoned handsets, and confusion among users from frequently changing numbers. More than anything, the rise of wireless charges is causing a significant burden on household economies - 4.81 percent of all expenses compared to below 3 percent on average among OECD members. Time has come for telecommunications companies to seek ways to put the market back into order and lower charges as soon as possible.








When the National Assembly Judiciary Committee holds a confirmation hearing on Kim Joon-gyu, designated by President Lee as the next supreme prosecutor general, his change of address years ago in Seoul - which was just on paper - is certain to be a hurdle, and may cost him the appointment.


Kim admitted that he had changed his family's residence registration to Banpo-dong from Sadang-dong to have his daughter enter a certain middle school in the district, without actually moving to the address. It was not an attempt to purchase a property or seek any financial gains but for an educational motivation, he stressed, asking for public tolerance on his "mistake."


Having witnessed the disastrous withdrawal of an earlier nominee for the position, Chun Sung-kwan, over financial improprieties and indiscreet association with a businessman friend, public judgment may not be too harsh with the new candidate Kim. Some may be worried about the serious consequences of a headless prosecution. Still, much will depend on how opposition members exploit the admitted wrongdoing and whether they produce any new embarrassing facts about the new nominee.


Whatever the offensive strategy of the opposition, it should be pointed out that Prosecutor Kim Joon-gyu has lied to the nation by falsely registering his residence. Maybe half of Korea's households could have committed the same statutory crime with impunity, but a public prosecutor should be the last person to do that as the protector of law and order.


The National Assembly's confirmation hearings, since their inception in 2003, has spilt the blood of a number of nominees for high government posts. Each time a nominee is withdrawn with the exposure of mistakes, however, the moral standards of Korean officialdom has been elevated as much.


Defending Kim Joon-gyu, a ruling party spokesman advised oppositionists against a "picky politics of trying to burn the whole forest in objection to a single tree." Yet, it is hoped the grilling of the nominee for the highest law enforcement job will help further purify our bureaucracy. Kim owes a genuine apology to the nation for the mistake he made 17 years ago.










NEW YORK - The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 marked an end and a beginning. The close of the Second World War ushered in a Cold War, with a precarious peace based on the threat of mutually assured destruction.


Today the world is at another turning point. The assumption that nuclear weapons are indispensable to keeping the peace is crumbling. Disarmament is back on the global agenda - and not a moment too soon. A groundswell of new international initiatives will soon emerge to move this agenda forward.


The Cold War's end, 20 years ago this autumn, was supposed to provide a peace dividend. Instead, we find ourselves still facing serious nuclear threats. Some stem from the persistence of more than 20,000 nuclear weapons and the contagious doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Others relate to nuclear tests - more than a dozen in the post-Cold War era, aggravated by the constant testing of long-range missiles. Still others arise from concerns that more countries or even terrorists might be seeking the bomb.


For decades, we believed that the terrible effects of nuclear weapons would be sufficient to prevent their use. The superpowers were likened to a pair of scorpions in a bottle, each knowing a first strike would be suicidal. Today's expanding nest of scorpions, however, means that no one is safe. The presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States - holders of the largest nuclear arsenals - recognize this. They have endorsed the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, most recently at their Moscow summit, and are seeking new reductions.


Many efforts are underway worldwide to achieve this goal. Earlier this year, the 65-member Conference on Disarmament - the forum that produces multilateral disarmament treaties - broke a deadlock and agreed to negotiations on a fissile material treaty. Other issues it will discuss include nuclear disarmament and security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon states.


In addition, Australia and Japan have launched a major international commission on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. My own multimedia "WMD - WeMustDisarm!" campaign, which will culminate on the International Day of Peace (Sept. 21), will reinforce growing calls for disarmament by former statesmen and grassroots campaigns, such as "Global Zero." These calls will get a further boost in September when civil society groups gather in Mexico City for a U.N.-sponsored conference on disarmament and development.


Though the United Nations has been working on disarmament since 1946, two treaties negotiated under U.N. auspices are now commanding the world's attention. Also in September, countries that have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) will meet at the United Nations to consider ways to promote its early entry into force. North Korea's nuclear tests, its missile launches and its threats of further provocation lend new urgency to this cause.


Next May, the United Nations will also host a major five-year review conference involving the parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which will examine the state of the treaty's "grand bargain" of disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. If the CTBT can enter into force, and if the NPT review conference makes progress, the world would be off to a good start on its journey to a world free of nuclear weapons.


My own five-point plan to achieve this goal begins with a call for the NPT parties to pursue negotiations in good faith - as required by the treaty - on nuclear disarmament, either through a new convention or through a series of mutually reinforcing instruments backed by a credible system of verification. Disarmament must be reliably verified.


Second, I urged the Security Council to consider other ways to strengthen security in the disarmament process, and to assure non-nuclear-weapon states against nuclear weapons threats. I proposed to the Security Council that it convene a summit on nuclear disarmament, and I urged non-NPT states to freeze their own weapon capabilities and make their own disarmament commitments. Disarmament must enhance security .


My third proposal relates to the rule of law. Universal membership in multilateral treaties is key, as are regional nuclear-weapon-free zones and a new treaty on fissile materials. President Barack Obama's support for U.S. ratification of the CTBT is welcome - the treaty only needs a few more ratifications to enter into force. Disarmament must be rooted in legal obligations.


My fourth point addresses accountability and transparency. Countries with nuclear weapons should publish more information about what they are doing to fulfill their disarmament commitments. While most of these countries have revealed some details about their weapons programs, we still do not know how many nuclear weapons exist worldwide. The U.N. Secretariat could serve as a repository for such data. Disarmament must be visible to the public.


Finally, I am urging progress in eliminating other weapons of mass destruction and limiting missiles, space weapons and conventional arms - all of which are needed for a nuclear-weapon-free world. Disarmament must anticipate emerging dangers from other weapons.


This, then, is my plan to drop the bomb. Global security challenges are serious enough without the risks from nuclear weapons or their acquisition by additional states or non-state actors. Of course, strategic stability, trust among nations, and the settlement of regional conflicts would all help to advance the process of disarmament. Yet disarmament has its own contributions to make in serving these goals and should not be postponed.


It will restore hope for a more peaceful, secure and prosperous future. It deserves everybody's support.

Ban Ki-moon is secretary-general of the United Nations. - Ed.








Words are a lawyer's weapons. And as a lawyer, Barack Obama's use of words has helped him immensely. This included academic training on how to use legal diction at Harvard Law School, two best-selling books, and a series of campaign and presidential speeches that have captivated audiences worldwide. In fact, it was with one word, "change," which allowed candidate Obama to become President Obama.


But one's greatest strengths can also be one's greatest weakness. While being in the U.S. in the past few weeks, I witnessed in real time just how the president's own words, which once propelled him into the public sphere are now being used against him.


The tipping point occurred in the past few days when Obama proclaimed in a news conference that a Cambridge police officer "acted stupidly" relating to the arrest of Harvard professor, Louis Gates, Jr.


Such choice of words by probably one of the more articulate public speakers in recent history surprised many for several reasons. First, at the time of the statement, the issue was part of an ongoing investigation by the Cambridge Police Department that did not reach full conclusion. Second, despite the non-final nature of the issue, the president's statement led many to perceive him as "jumping the gun" by making a conclusory statement about a non-conclusory issue. In other words, final words were uttered about a non-final matter. Third, President Obama did not immediately disclose the fact that he was a personal friend with the African-American Harvard professor - the same university that Obama attended as a law student. Fourth, the issue, which had racial implications because it involved a white police officer arresting a black citizen, could have been avoided by Obama when asked by reporters about it simply by stating the usual political line: that the issue is still under investigation and that he will reserve judgment until a final assessment has been made. Fifth, by making such sharp remarks relating to such a sensitive issue, the president brought upon himself even distractions that could potentially imperil one of his landmark campaign promises - universal healthcare reform.


His choice of words met intense scrutiny from the media and beyond. One legislator is even calling for a formal Congressional resolution to compel President Obama to formally apologize for his statement.


Obama could have tried to quell this issue by either retracting his statement or by stating in a follow-up press conference that he regretted such use of words. Instead, he used more complex word usage, such as stating that he could have "calibrated" his words better and that it may have created an inaccurate impression of his position on the matter. This type of wording is fine for position papers and academic circles, but not so much for the voting public who elected Obama to the presidency. While maybe in Korea, such words can be used to convey intelligence, in places like the United States, which has a tradition of speaking in plain English, this type of response could have been construed as potentially evasive.


Words also even complicated one of the most historic events in U.S. presidential history - the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president - when the presidential oath was stated incorrectly, which led to the retaking of the oath in less public circumstances shortly afterwards.


The "acted stupidly" word usage also served as the "tipping point," or put another way, a line in the sand, that was drawn by the Republican Party. From a big picture perspective, the president's agenda during his first few months in power included such sweeping legislation as a trillion-dollar economic stimulus package, which was supported by few Republicans.


Also near the trillion dollar figure is the president's ongoing universal healthcare initiative, which has led to continuous debates against it by several prominent media sources in the United States. Some have called such "universal" healthcare as in the same spirit as "socialism," which was countered by the Democratic leadership as an initiative that would try to be "deficit neutral."


This is also coupled with the introduction of the first female Hispanic nominee by President Obama for the U.S. Supreme Court, which also brought about sharp words due to her references of being a "wise Latina." This was met with scrutiny from several conservative members of the House Judiciary Committee.


The totality of all such events was construed by the minority, yet vocal, Republican Party, as a series of spending initiatives that were seen by conservatives as either not necessary or overly wasteful.


Just as an attempt to bring universal healthcare by another well-spoken lawyer super couple of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the early 1990s (in addition to other "liberal" early presidential initiatives, such as gays in the military) represented a "tipping point" by the Republican Party to unite against a common cause, the second recent attempt at universal healthcare by President Obama could also represent the tipping point by a unified playing field of conservatives of Republicans against a perceived liberal agenda - from the media, think tanks, blogs, political advisors as well as politicians.


It was once said that relating to political candidates, "Democrats like to fall in love, while Republicans like to fall in line." This meant that Democratic voters tended to look for a captivating oratory, as seen in speeches and words used by John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and most recently Barack Obama. On the other hand, Republicans tend to function more like a military unit to support their leader general, as seen with the Congressional Republicans with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.


Although things are still early in the Obama presidency, it is notable how just a few words can potentially and dramatically shift the political dynamic from left to right. The question now is whether this has now already occurred or not within the early days the Obama administration.


Jasper Kim is designated department chair at Graduate School of International Studies, Ewha Womans University. - Ed.




Editorial from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman’s, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The New York Times, Dawn China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian and more only on EDITORIAL.



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