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Thursday, August 6, 2009

EDITORIAL 05.08.09

August 05, 2009

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Month August 09, Edition 000264, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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Earlier this week the Home Secretary chaired a meeting of senior Reserve Bank of India and security agency officials to discuss the proliferation of fake currency — predominantly Rs 500 and Rs 100 notes — in the country. As per the National Crime Record Bureau, there were some 3,500 cases of fake currency seizures reported across India in 2007 and 2008. Bogus notes valued at Rs 36.3 million were taken into custody. Much of the bogus Indian currency is printed in installations in Pakistan. Government and security presses in Quetta and Karachi have been identified as prime culprits, indicating a degree of official complicity. India and Pakistan buy note printing ink and technology from common suppliers, specifically a company in Switzerland. The meeting in Delhi this week voiced apprehensions that some of the stock supplied to the Pakistani Government was being diverted for printing counterfeit Indian notes. Reports suggest the Indian authorities want to ask the Swiss company to take remedial measures. This is a forlorn task. Globally, the currency printing business is limited to a handful of players. For 50 years, free India printed its rupees on machines bought from De La Rue Giori, run by a Swiss family and till the 1980s said to control 90 per cent of the world’s banknote printing business. In the early-1990s, India diversified and bought machines from Japan’s Komori for the RBI’s new presses. In 2001, M Roberto Giori — chairman of the Swiss company — sold his stake to a German rival, Koenig & Bauer. Mr Giori had had a breakdown following the hijack of IC-814 to Kandahar. He was an economy class passenger on the ill-fated Kathmandu-Delhi flight. While the Gioris are no more in business, their former company and its new owners and old rivals constitute the bulk of the world’s currency note manufacturers. It is always going to be likely that India and Pakistan will buy from the same source.

What then is the answer? Border patrolling can work but only up to a point. Pakistani-minted counterfeit notes enter India from Nepal, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the Sindh-Rajasthan frontier and as cargo coming back with working class couriers from West Asia. It is impossible to firewall every route. Perhaps prevention is better than treatment. India needs use a different technology altogether to produce its currency notes, one that would make it difficult and expensive for counterfeit syndicates to stay afloat. The prospect of polymer notes may need to be revisited. India seriously considered the polymer option as early as 1999, when the NDA was in power, and began initial negotiations with a Melbourne-based company that is the world leader in plastic money, if the term is used literally! Prototype Rs 10 and Rs 100 polymer notes were produced. When the UPA Government came to office in 2004, a Government discussion paper was drafted but soon disappeared into a bureaucratic black hole. Each polymer note costs twice as much to make as a paper note. However, these are more durable and difficult to fake. Against a counterfeit rate of 70 per million for notes in Europe and 100 per million in the United States, Australia, which is the pioneer in using polymer notes, has about 10 counterfeit notes per million. There are lessons here for India, a country where 40 billion notes are in circulation at any given time, the world’s largest such volume.






In a welcome development, authorities in Bangladesh have arrested six members of the terrorist organisation Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami as part of Sheikh Hasina’s drive against Islamist militancy in that country. Concurrently, a local Bangladeshi court on Monday ordered the reinvestigation of a terrorist attack on Sheikh Hasina in 2004. The gruesome attack, which she had miraculously survived and in which 24 people, including senior Awami League leaders, had been killed and some 400 injured, was carried out by HuJI militants. But what is of interest is that in spite a chargesheet having already been filed in the case — implicating 21 terrorists and a former Bangladesh Nationalist Party Minister all of whom face trial — the court, acting on the basis of a petition, saw fit to further investigate the incident in light of the revelation that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and its affiliate organisations had a hand in the grenade attack. This clearly shows a fundamental willingness on the part of the present Awami League Government in Dhaka to root out Islamist militancy from its soil and not just undertake cosmetic measures to that end. Ever since it came to power in a landslide electoral victory last December, the Awami League Government has been determinedly rounding up terrorists and cleansing its state institutions of extremist sympathisers who had flourished under the previous BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami regime.

The benefits to India from Bangladesh’s tough stance on extremism are obvious. Separatists and jihadi outfits alike have used the porous India-Bangladesh border to successfully evade the law and carry out their nefarious activities. That we now have a regime in Dhaka that believes that the two nations are fighting a common enemy is a source of great relief for New Delhi. In line with this thinking, it is positive that both countries have decided to take significant steps to enhance bilateral ties and implement joint security measures such as co-ordinated patrolling of the border. There is no denying that India and Bangladesh share a common cultural synergy, nurturing which will only be mutually beneficial. This brings us to the UPA Government’s seemingly one-point foreign policy centred on Pakistan and pegged to American concerns. India would do well to nurture bilateral ties and promote common interests with other neighbouring countries. Political developments in Nepal have a significant bearing on our country, so does the rehabilitation of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Similarly, it would be prudent on the part of New Delhi to re-energise its relations with Thimphu. It is nobody’s case that we should ignore Pakistan. But obsessive focus on Pakistan is bound to tell on our relations with other countries in the neighbourhood. It is time the UPA Government sheds its myopic view.








Rudyard Kipling immortalised the killing fields of Afghanistan in verse as the British Indian Army received its baptism by fire with full battle honours. Described as a graveyard of empires, no foreign power ever emerged victorious: Not the British, nor the Soviets and it is unlikely that the combined might of the Americans and the British (and their Western allies) will overpower the Taliban.

Their mounting casualties and charges of mission-creep compound the prospects of the largest offensive in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. Begun last month, Operation Khanjar (US) and Operation Panchai Palang (UK) are part of the much-awaited surge in Helmand bordering Balochistan which produces 50 per cent of the world’s opium and is the stronghold of the Taliban.

What the British could not do in three years — to clear the Taliban from Helmand — the Americans are trying to do now. A force comprising 4,000 US Marines, 650 Afghan Army men and 2,500 British soldiers is being resisted by 4,000 to 5,000 Taliban in Operation Fauladi Jaal which promises to teach the Marines a lesson. They are fighting back with small scale attacks, improvised explosive devices/road bombs, suicide bombers and ambushes. Until 2004, there was no IED in Afghanistan and the suicide bomber arrived in 2005, both imported from Iraq.

Indisputably, the IED is becoming more sophisticated and is the number one killer with 465 attacks in May this year. Two of every three deaths last month were due to roadside bombs/IEDs. The Americans are using dogs, robots and drones to detect and dispose IEDs and attacking bomb-making networks while designing newer and lighter ‘Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles’.

The Indian Army’s soldiers are pioneers in combating IEDs, learning in Sri Lanka that the best antidote was to footslog, avoiding roads and tracks. The Americans have found a more sophisticated version of the Jaipur Foot.

US President Barack Obama’s preference for Afghanistan as the war of choice over Iraq was never in doubt. The AfPak strategy, which has become PakAf, entailed a troop surge like the one in Iraq in 2007, a review of security strategy and appointment of a new military commander, Gen Stanley McChrystal.

Gen McChrystal has made sweeping changes in strategy, switching from “killing Taliban to protecting and winning over the people — relationship building — and avoiding civilian casualties from errant air strikes”. These have reduced from 35 to 17 per cent in June. In 2007, an average of 22 tonnes of ordnance was dropped on Helmand every month.

The allied offensive, the biggest since Fallujah in Iraq in 2004, seeks to secure Helmand, isolate the Taliban, interdict the flow of their re-supply from Pakistan, and create space for Afghans to vote in the presidential election on August 20.

The going has been very rough for British troops who aim to link Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah, with Gereshak on the Ring Road. The advance has been painstakingly slow — two km in two months with one Rifle Company attacked 15 times in a day.

When 15 soldiers were killed in 11 days, eight on a single day last month, alarm bells began ringing in Britain. These were the heaviest casualties for a single month, crossing the Iraq death toll of 176 and renewing the debate in Britain over the futility of the war in Afghanistan.

Fifty-nine per cent Britons now want troops withdrawn from Afghanistan. Military commanders and Opposition politicians have been complaining that the war effort is under-resourced: Shortages in troops, MRAPVs and helicopters. To prove the point, the outgoing Chief of General Staff, Gen Richard Dannatt, visited British troops flying in an American Black Hawk helicopter.

Britain has only 30 helicopters for its 9,100-strong force and the Government is accused of cutting 2.3 billion pounds from a helicopter programme five years ago. Rebutting charges of under-spending, the Government said it had spent 10 billion pounds on new equipment in the last three years, providing 1,200 new vehicles in the last two years.

On July 10, when a single company suffered five killed and the death toll rose to eight in 24 hours, a young soldier cried out: “We don’t care about the future of Afghanistan; we don’t care about democracy, clean water, schools for girls. All we care for is each other and making sure our mates get out alive.” Human losses cannot be taken by Western democracies.

There is no similar sensitivity to casualties in India where our troops take several times greater hits: 30 killed in a day by Maoists in Chhattisgarh is Page 7 news. And as for equipment, infantry modernisation is a joke.

The Americans are more stoic than other countries in taking casualties. In July they suffered 35 dead, the highest in a single month since 2001, crossing 730 for the war, compared to 4,345 casualties in Iraq. Gen McChrystal believes that the use of IEDs will eventually boomerang as 80 per cent of the bombings have harmed Afghans — already this year, 1,000 have been killed.

The difficulties of coordinating the war efforts of 42 countries in five regional theatres is no small challenge, given each country’s sensitivities to casualties and domestic public outrage. Gen McChrystal’s dilemma is securing Pakistan’s cooperation during the surge by acting against the Afghan Taliban and Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shoora. Under intense pressure from the US, Pakistan is promising to act against all Taliban.

But there is always a gap between what Pakistan says and does. Pakistan is complaining that the offensive has pushed the Taliban into Pakistan. It denies the presence of Mullah Omar and will not abandon the good Taliban who are enlisted as ISI’s strategic assets. It says it has no more troops to block the Balochistan border to prevent the Taliban slipping out. Lifting troops from the eastern border is heresy so long as India is the major threat.

In the nine-year-long war in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union, the most powerful military power at the time, lost more than 12,000 soldiers. The commanders had asked for more troops and helicopters. Neither more troops nor additional helicopters will keep the Taliban out of Helmand for good. Sir Olaf Caroe, Governor of NWFP, had famously observed in the last century that “unlike other wars, Afghan wars become serious only when they are over”.

The counter-insurgency in Afghanistan cannot be effectively fought and won from the air and armoured vehicles. You need boots on the ground and the stamina to take casualties. Two kilometres in two months is not bad going. But things could have been a darned sight better if Pakistan was not a strategic ally of the Taliban.







Everyone knows that the exposure of a woman’s face is permitted according to clerics of all four schools of Islam. But one Hanbali cleric has issued a contrary ruling that exposing a woman’s face is forbidden — which has sparked a religious argument.

Several Muslims who see an advantage worthy of reward by Allah in religious extremism and excess, have abandoned the majority view — that such exposure is permitted — and adhere to the minority view — that it is forbidden. Some who hold the view that it is forbidden see it as an opportunity to keep the burqa or the niqab as a chauvinistic tribal Bedouin custom, which has become a legitimate social custom... on the pretext that it is a part of the Islamic concept of hijab.

“I wonder: If the custom of wearing the burqa and the niqab is a commandment in the name of religion, and part of the Islamic concept of hijab — as those of this viewpoint claim — then why is a woman banned from wearing the niqab and gloves while performing the Haj?

Some Muslim women in Europe wear the hijab against their will, due to the piety of their families who identify with or belong to one of the Islamic political movements. Others wear it out of religious conviction or out of political conviction, aimed at making the burqa or niqab into a political symbol, not a religious symbol. By so doing, these women’s families confront European racism and strengthen their affiliation with Islam, or identify with the Islamic movements. Everyone knows that women are the trump card of these movements, which exploit the women’s emotions and their weaknesses, while using the democracy and freedoms in the Western countries to attain their political goals.

Therefore, the European countries have begun to fear the burqa as a political symbol, not as a religious symbol. They are not willing to lose centuries of political struggle in which they have shed their blood for equality and stability among the diverse elements of their societies. They did not gain this equality and stability to lose it for the sake of political movements that have exploited Islam and have spread their dictatorial agendas in its name in order to establish a party in Parliament or to build what the Islamic Revolution built in Iran or what the Taliban built in Afghanistan. None of these movements represents the liberality of shari’ah.

The writer is a well-known Arab poetess and liberal columnist.








Subhas Chakraborty was a committed, but critical, Marxist, a dedicated member of the CPI(M) who risked the usual benefits that ought to have flowed from his popularity and capacity to lead to speak his mind. In other words, he had a confidence and a courage that was a part of his convictions. He was a doer and a fighter, an organiser and a leader. He had a style of his own and he had a following.

He was, therefore, controversial, but his loyalty to the party and the man who became his mentor Jyoti Basu was beyond question. If Mr Basu had not stepped in would Chakraborty have quit the CPI(M) in 2001? Could the new party, Party of Democratic Socialism, headed by former CPI (M) leader Saifuddin Chowdhury with the addition of the formidably well-connected Chakraborty, have posed a serious challenge to the CPI(M)? In that case, would the course of politics in West Bengal have been altered?

As a leader with enormous mass appeal, it is nevertheless difficult to slot him as a regular ‘charismatic’ mobiliser. He did not seek to foster a cult, because he derived his politics from Marxism though he had his own ideas about how it ought to be conducted in West Bengal at specific times. He knew his theory and he applied it to shape his version of the ideology that served him well. He had his opinions, but never considered himself above the CPI(M).

Inducted into the party in 1958, Chakraborty first step up the CPI (M)’s was in 1971, when he was made a member of the State committee. This should have ensured his promotion all the way up to the central committee if not the Polit Bureau of the party. The promotions never came, except for the consolation prize of member of the State party secretariat in 2008.

As the senior most among the five handpicked by the shrewd and tough West Bengal State party secretary Pramod Dasgupta, Chakraborty was destined to go places. He did; but in his own way. Whereas Mr Biman Bose, Mr Shyamal Chakravarty, Mr Anil Biswas, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee learnt to work within the rules of the CPI(M), manoeuvring through the stresses and strains of living within an enclosed, monitored and disciplined system, Chakraborty made his own rules and accepted the losses that breaches of discipline imposed.

He became an institution within the CPI(M). Chakraborty had boundless energy, formidable organising skills, was unafraid to take risks, set goals, steer his own course. He could mobilise support, stirring people to action. But he set himself limits, happy to be “Subhas Da” to men, women and children, happy to be described as the Pied Piper of Hamelin, happy to organise football matches and cultural events, happy to organise marathon rallies, basically happy to serve in a junior, but stellar role.

He was mad about sports, particularly football. He promoted the game as Minister in 1982, distributing footballs to small clubs, building stadia in the districts and towns of West Bengal as well as building the sprawling Salt Lake Stadium, officially known as Yuva Bharati Krirangan. Even that produced a controversy. Chakraborty was accused of building a personal cult via the clubs. In fact, he helped a hopeless generation of young people in West Bengal acquire some focus in life, for in the 1980s the State’s future in terms of employment and opportunities for micro and small businesses were bleak.
In other ways too, Chakraborty kept his focus on youth, not only because he was the Minister in-charge of the department, but because he seemed to empathise with their problems. His solutions aimed at finding things that unemployed, educated youth could do to give them some self-respect. He constructed youth hostels; the enormous Youth Centre at Sealdah in Kolkata, cultural events that reflected their preferences and that also landed him in a controversy. When Chakraborty declared that he would organise a song and dance show — Hope’86 — he was dragged into a fight over what constituted vulgar culture. He had clearly upset the cultural czars of the CPI(M), of the other Left parties and the supercilious high culture vultures. On his side was Mr Jyoti Basu. At the centre of the controversy was the “type” of culture produced by Usha Uthup. Chakraborty felt she was the present and the future; others felt she was a blot on Bengaliana. Time has proved Chakraborty smarter than his opponents.

Kolkata’s toxic fume spewing private buses and auto-rickshaws succeeded in avoiding converting to green fuel and efficient machines only because Chakraborty indulged them. As Transport Minister, Chakraborty found that the existing bus services in the city and in the districts were inadequate. The State Government did not have the money or the managerial skills to expand its fleet and services. Chakraborty opened the inner city and district transport services up to private investors. His caveat was that small investors should run the businesses. His objective — young people who had no hope of getting jobs could earn a livelihood and keep their self-respect intact. This same argument was used by him to unroll the autos. If today they are a menace and a spectre that haunted him, he was willing to deal with it.

When Mr Basu and the city’s police could not clear the streets of hawkers, Chakraborty did. When the police could not remove the body of a putrefying godman because his followers believed he would come back to life Chakraborty not only removed the body but also had it cremated. When the CPI(M) pulled out of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, Chakraborty was scathing in his open criticism of the decision. When Mr Somnath Chatterjee was expelled for remaining as Speaker despite the party’s whip, he trashed the decision.

Challenges, controversies, conflicts did not bother Chakraborty. Because he was a free spirit, he posed a problem and a threat to the CPI(M) that is nothing if not bureaucratic. It was not that Chakraborty was right in the things he did or the things he said. He was just himself — a leader.








US legislation to cap-and-trade greenhouse gas emissions will do little to reduce emissions but will do plenty to reduce economic activity and to increase protectionism, hitting us all and most of all the poorest.

President Barack Obama pushed the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act as “a vote of historic proportions... that will open the door to a clean energy economy.” But after it scraped through the US House of Representatives by three votes last month, he worried about its “border tax adjustments”, to be enforced from 2020: “At a time when the economy worldwide is still deep in recession, and we’ve seen a significant drop in global trade, I think we have to be very careful about sending any protectionist signals out there.”

He is right. “According to legal opinion, the import tariff is likely to violate some key World Trade Organisation provisions,” Mr Arvind Panagariya, Professor of Economics at Columbia University and retired Chief Economist at the Asian Development Bank, wrote in India’s Economic Times last week.

ACES creates an emissions trading system that sets a maximum amount of greenhouse-gas emissions per industry (the caps) and allocates emission permits to companies, which they can trade: Companies that emit above their allowance will have to purchase credits from companies that emit below. This is supposed to create incentives for techniques and inventions to improve fuel efficiency and CO2 reduction. Here is where the rosy picture ends and a number of side-effects come up.

US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai a couple of weeks ago: “It’s our own consumption activity that’s causing the emission of greenhouse gases, then quite frankly Americans need to pay for that.” Translation: Carbon taxes on US imports from countries that do not meet its requirements for reducing emissions, mainly China and India.

Indeed, “we are concerned that green is becoming a new label for protection,” the Indian Prime Minister’s special envoy on climate change, Mr Shyam Saran, said in May.

Trade war is just one of cap-and-trade’s heavy direct costs, pushing up the price of energy for everyone and squeezing a number of heavy industries out of business.

First, because of the damage to the economy, not all countries will follow this system. Poor countries greatly need a high rate of development to combat malnutrition, child mortality, disease, drought and so on. So any reduction in emissions in the USA will be insignificant compared with increases elsewhere: In 2007 China overtook the USA in carbon dioxide emissions, while its energy consumption, mainly from coal, is projected to double by 2020, whatever energy efficiency is introduced.

Second, those countries which do adopt this system will want to compensate for the added costs, hence the “border tax adjustments”. The European Commission is considering a similar “equalisation levy.” Both mean Green protectionism.

Third, to compensate for the suicidal carbon taxes on production, companies and workers will want the suicidal drugs of protectionism and subsidy. President Obama’s stimulus package includes Buy American protectionism and subsidies for US companies, which have already caused US workers to be laid off because their firms use imported components: “I’ve got 600 United Steel Workers out there who are going to lose their jobs because of this. And you tell me this is good for America?” Bob Miller of Pennsylvania steel-maker Duferco Farrell told the Washington Post in May.

Fourth, to avoid the extra costs, companies may leave countries with cap-and-trade and other energy taxes. Those that remain will complain of unfair competition and seek subsidies for themselves and tariffs on imports - both of which are extra taxes on consumers.

The cap-and-traders say the punitive tax will create incentives for inventing and adopting ways of cutting emissions. But innovation has always arisen from thriving and free economies, not ones in a harsh recession that will be deepened and perpetuated by carbon taxes.

Cap-and-trade creates tariffs, subsidies, energy taxes, trade constriction and job losses in the country that introduces it and among its trading partners, with huge trickle-down costs to all consumers and workers, hitting the poorest hardest.

Growth is the only way to save the poor and to invent and promote energy-saving technology. Stimulating trade is the best way to promote growth and recover from the recession.

Aris Trantides is a researcher at International Policy Network and the Freedom To Trade coalition of 73 think-tanks around the world.








A recent article that has created ripples, “The seven countries that are pissed at Obama”, lists countries, aside from Israel, where it argues relations with the US have declined since Mr Barack Obama took office, responding to a Washington Post editorial lavishing praise on the Obama Administration and saying relations are better with every country in the world except Israel.

Shockingly, the Washington Post’s main ‘proof’ is public opinion polls saying Mr Obama is more popular than Mr George W Bush. Before January 20 would any serious policy analyst or journalist have argued that this is the main element in relations between two countries? Haven’t these people ever heard the expression, “Nice guys finish last”?

The list offered by the article includes: Canada (trade disputes), China (worries over the US economy), Colombia (trade), Honduras (coup), Panama, South Korea (both trade), and the United Kingdom (snubs and calling into question the special relationship).

But I think it leaves out a lot of others:

Russia: The Government there has contempt for Mr Obama. He isn’t so popular among the public either. US-Russia relations stable under previous Administration though hardly warm are deteriorating.
Central Europe: Former top leaders of the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and the Slovak Republic expressed worry about the Obama Administration’s lack of support for them and fear it would cave into Russian demands.

Georgia and Azerbaijan could probably be added to that list. Possibly Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrghziistan, and Turkmenistan could be included.

Gulf Arabs: Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar, worried about Mr Obama’s engagement policy with Iran.

Lebanon: Worried about Mr Obama’s engagement policy with Syria.

Egypt: Worried about Mr Obama’s possible engagement policy with Islamists.

And the same is probably true for Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Aside from Jordan, I don’t think there’s any Arab country that seems ecstatic that Mr Obama is President.

Asia: South Korea is worried that Mr Obama won’t defend it from North Korea; Japan about management of the economy. This might also apply to other Asian states, like Thailand, who’s well-being depends to a large extent on trade with the United States.

Iran: Has Mr Obama really improved relations? The Iranian regime mistrusts him. Even if you argue that they fear engagement, well ok that means they are made more nervous by Mr Obama’s policy.

Even in cases where Governments ‘like’ Mr Obama — notably Europe and especially France — don’t they do so precisely because they think they can walk all over him?

That same criterion could also be applied to radical and anti-American regimes: North Korea, Cuba, Bolivia, and Venezuela.

And is Latin America in general really on better terms with the United States than a year ago?

As for sub-Saharan Africa, Mr Obama’s popularity no doubt benefits from the fact that he is an actual direct African-American. No doubt, it hopes for dramatically increased help and attention from America.

Other enthusiasts might be Turkey (whose current Government, however, is no warm friend of the United States), Australia (because it has a Labour Government), aforementioned European states, and a few others.

Readers of The Pioneer will have to tell me about India. I guess the Obama Administration is lavishing enough money on Pakistan to make it popular there. Afghanistan? I guess the same point applies.

But that overall picture is still hardly one of tremendous improvement, certainly not a springtime for American diplomacy.

What is equally disturbing is the willingness of large sectors of the policy elite to throw away their independent and critical judgement when it comes to this Administration. Either they are lying because they support the Government, intimidated, or hypnotised.

The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.








Phenomenally rising prices and a disconnect between the wholesale price index and the consumer price index are impacting the country’s economy and development. The Reserve Bank of India has rejected the Government’s claims of “definite and robust signs of recovery”.

The RBI is neither satisfied with the Government’s explanation on the price situation nor does it share the euphoria on negative inflation. It is more concerned about the food price inflation as various CPI (retail price indicators) are ruling at elevated levels.

In its latest review of the economic situation, it has dispelled the myth that WPI is in the negative. In its analysis, it has pointed out that WPI on essential commodities has increased by 10.25 per cent, food articles by 8.25 per cent and primary articles by 4.96 per cent though the overall projections on WPI based on all commodities show a negative rise of below one per cent. The convolution has been attributed to low weightage given to food items in WPI. The WPI on manufactured food items too have remained at a high of 9.8 per cent.

The central bank has also busted the myth that rural inflation is less than the urban. The CPI for rural labourers has spurted by 11.26 per cent and agricultural labourers by 11.52 per cent. The CPI for industrial (urban) workers hovers over 8.26 per cent.

The analysis reveals that there is more propaganda on the WPI. “The CPI inflation tracks the essential commodities component of WPI quite closely”, the bank states.

The rising food prices have severely affected the manufacturing sector. Owing to low surpluses with the people, the demand for manufactured items has gone down. It is reflected by negative 0.05 per cent and is impacting the industry.

The Central bank is flummoxed at the trend. It makes a candid admission, “The divergence in various price indices evidently increases the complexity of inflation assessment”, it says.

The prices also reflect to another grim scenario. The borrowings of the Government are breaking limits. The net Central Government borrowing till September would be Rs 2,65,911 crore — higher by Rs 58,000 crore from the Interim Budget. The Government till end July has already taken borrowings of Rs 1,67,911 crore or 63 per cent of the first half projections.

The RBI also provided foreign exchange liquidity to the Government. It has caused concern for the RBI as its own foreign exchange assets have declined. Net foreign exchange reserves itself have declined by $ 20.1 billion and as the rupee value has plummeted the actual valuation loss is estimated at $ 58 billion.

Credit expansion has also been hit particularly by private banks. Foreign banks have stopped extending loans. This is a pointer to the loss of faith in India’s growth projection.

The credit flow is coming only from public sector banks. It remains over 20 per cent, more than estimated. But non-food credit, meaning largely industrial credit, has come down to 0.4 per cent against a rise of 1.6 per cent last year in April-June period. The credit for the commercial sector remains subdued.

The six per cent growth projected by the RBI also looks unreal and it admits so as there is “absence of any firm signs of global recovery”. It has noted the continuous downward revision in global growth projections by the IMF in July. It is telling severely on India’s external trade and negative balance of payment — higher imports and lower exports.

Price stability has been stated as the key to any future growth. Food prices have to stabilise for a positive growth.

The writer is a senior economic affairs journalist.








Swine flu claimed its first victim in India, when a 14-year-old girl succumbed to the disease in Pune on Monday night. While there is no cause for panic worldwide, less than 1 per cent of those infected with the H1N1 virus have died this tragic case has made apparent some lacunae in the way the government has managed the disease so far. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that as many as two billion people could be infected with the virus in two years, and doctors' warning that the virus could spread faster post-monsoon, it is important that the ministry of health be ready to respond to the crisis.

As it stands, the country's treatment protocol is lacking. The girl in Pune was initially misdiagnosed by private practitioners, which resulted in what proved to be a fatal delay in her getting proper treatment. By the time her samples were sent by the private hospital where she was being treated to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) for testing, it was too late. According to current treatment procedure, private laboratories can test for H1N1 infection, but if the test is positive, further treatment is available only at mandated government hospitals. This should change. Private hospitals and clinics should receive training to deal with suspected cases of H1N1 and if the cases are confirmed, they should be in a position to offer treatment.

The rate at which the infection is spreading makes screening at airports irrelevant. Screening is done on the basis of forms that rely on people to disclose the status of their health honestly. With the threat of a seven-day quarantine in a government hospital looming, many people might lie, thus making it useless to screen people on disembarkation. At this point, it is only burdening the system with unnecessary paperwork. Now that the virus has infected the local population, other measures have to be adopted to countermand its spread. For now, until a vaccine is available, the best safeguard is prevention by maintaining personal hygiene.

The ministry of health should concentrate its energies on ensuring that a vaccine is produced as soon as possible. The WHO has supplied seed strains of the virus to two Indian companies to manufacture the vaccine, while a third is waiting for its samples. It is unlikely that the vaccine will be available before the end of the year, by which time the pandemic could have significantly worsened. Australia has already started clinical trials and the US is soon to follow suit. India needs to ramp up production of the vaccine so it can immunise large chunks of the population. If more drug companies need to be licensed to manufacture the vaccine, the drug controller should do it.








The opposition has done the right thing by forcing the government to defer the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill. The Bill, which seeks to extend the principle of accountability and transparency to the higher judiciary, falls short of its intent in the present form.

The Bill makes it mandatory for judges to disclose their assets before a designated authority, but doesn't allow the disclosure to be made public. A contentious clause in the Bill prevents any citizen, court or authority from questioning the disclosures. It says "no judge shall be subjected to any inquiry or query in relation to the contents of the declaration by any person". The opposition has objected to this provision and termed it a violation of the Constitution. The objection is valid. What the clause does is to treat the judiciary as a privileged class with special rights that no other group of citizens enjoys. No other category of public servants enjoys such immunity from public scrutiny. It has been pointed out, and rightly so, that the clause violates the republican principle that all citizens are equal before the law.

The judiciary's demand for exemption stems from the fear that disgruntled parties could misuse the disclosure and embarrass judges if it is available in the public domain. Such fears may be valid but not reasonable enough to justify the judges' claim for exemption from public scrutiny. Laws that cover other categories of people in public life, like elected representatives, don't make any exemption for similar fears and mandates that they disclose their assets before the public. Penalties and harsher strictures could be thought of to prevent spurious litigation and other forms of harassment.

There has been a concerted effort in recent times to enforce the highest norms of accountability and transparency in public life. Laws like the Right to Information Act and Representation of the People Act have helped a great deal to address corruption in public life and improve governance.


The judiciary has been supportive of these initiatives. It has, in many cases, intervened to make sure that laws intended to do so are foolproof. It must adhere to the highest norms of probity it has set for other public institutions and not become an exception to the trend. The government must incorporate the suggestions of the opposition, address the fears of the judiciary and reintroduce a foolproof Bill in Parliament as early as possible.







US engagement in South Asia since 9/11 is often understood through US security interests: defeating al-Qaeda, eliminating support for Islamic militancy in Pakistan and securing Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. But 9/11 was in 2001, almost eight years ago, and US security interests have changed drastically. The Iraq war cost the US upwards of $3 trillion in blood and treasure and enhanced Washington's perceived adversary Iran as the regional power. The financial crisis crippled the 'Washington consensus' endorsement for democracy and free markets while sending the US into a recession and assaulting the dollar's status as the global reserve currency.

The victor of US strategic failures is China, the 1.3 billion-strong nation with a near 40 per cent savings rate, $2 trillion in currency reserves, an unimpeded model of government-led development and a history of visible non-intervention in the internal affairs of nations that is welcomed by repressive, resource-rich regimes in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Central Asia and elsewhere.

At the dawn of the 'Asian century', the surge in US military activity in Afghanistan and the forthcoming $15 billion aid package to Pakistan may be an attempt to checkmate China as much as an effort to meet post-9/11 security objectives. By attaining military superiority in Central, South and East Asia, and ostensibly buying out Islamabad, the US would control China's most critical regional ally and energy-resource transport lanes and could potentially open China up to a bolstered secessionist movement in its Islamic and massive Xinjiang province.

With little in common culturally, Pakistan and China share an inimical view of India, Islamabad's eternal obsession and sole threat to Beijing's influence in South Asia. This is at the heart of their alliance. Pakistan's proximity to the Strait of Hormuz in Iran, through which 20 per cent of the world's oil passes, and ability to control radical Islamism make an alliance for China ideal as it seeks to secure energy resources and silence the Islamic Uighur outcry for secession in Xinjiang. To Pakistan, China means access to perhaps the world's foremost economic power with growing diplomatic strength in the UN Security Council and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Nuclear deals, joint military exercises and a free trade agreement signed in 2006 support the valued relationship.

Yet, with 98,000 troops split between South Korea and Afghanistan and joint US-India-Japanese naval operations being taken up, US military influence in China's immediate territory may offset China's aggressive military posturing along Arunachal Pradesh and decrease the value of Beijing's security blanket to Islamabad. Also, with Pakistani army activity, President Asif Ali Zardari's views and poll data on civilian opinion coinciding with US national security objectives, the US's $15 billion aid package to Pakistan may signal a rapprochement between Islamabad and Washington. As Beijing's influence on Islamabad dissipates, so may the ISI's watchful eye on Pakistani-based factions of China's Uighur secessionist movement, which is increasing in international profile with the violent Chinese crackdown on peaceful protests and each innocent Uighur released publicly from Guantanamo Bay.

US emphasis on the growth of Pakistan's civilian institutions threatens to wrestle away the military's control of relations with India, creating potential for healthier economic and political relations between the two countries and freeing up India's attention and resources to balance against Chinese regional influence. In the very long term, a prosperous Pakistan would reaffirm the Washington consensus that democracy and free markets are the way of the wealthy world, even in Islamic countries, placing pressure on the Chinese Communist Party to democratise.

In full congruence with the Af-Pak strategy, Barack Obama is attempting strategic rapprochement with Iran, the consequence of which would leave three of the most important energy powers (Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq) mostly within the US's purview and secure the US's closest allies in Asia (India and Japan) unfettered access to energy resources. The thawing of the Washington-Moscow relationship through a tentative agreement to reduce the size of nuclear arsenals and the actual consideration that Russia might join NATO only add to China's concerns about the threat of American-led encirclement.

Of course, the above may fail to actualise. US operations in Afghanistan could fail as have all previous efforts to control the Afghan people. Pakistan may continue a policy of selective counter-insurgency, leaving some groups affiliated to al-Qaeda and Kashmiri militancy untouched while focusing on those threatening the army's control of Pakistan, the result of which would be a net zero gain in positive Pakistani-Indian relations or US security. Given China's unique support for the Ayatollah's regime in Iran during the recent elections, Obama's hope for a special relationship with Iran may have already eluded him. The Russia 'reset' may be implausible as US missile defence policy in Poland remains a thorn in US-Russia relations. Nonetheless, these potential tactical failures do not deny an incredibly important strategic advance: through Af-Pak, the first checkmate of the Asian dragon has been attempted by the US.


The writer is with the Centre for International Relations, Observer Research Foundation.








Has India diluted its position on climate change?

I don't think so. Our position is very clear. We will not take on legally binding emissions reductions targets. We won't get into it because our per capita emissions are low. We have eight points that are non-negotiable as far as India is concerned. Take per capita emissions, for instance. It's not an Indian invention; it is an accepted equity principle based on common but differentiated responsibility within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

There is a policy formulation to see that the overall temperature rise is less than two degrees Celsius. The fact is that China, Brazil and South Africa were ready to go along with this formulation but there is no quantitative figure on how to achieve this. The Major Economies Forum (MEF) declaration does not specify any quantitative figure for global emissions reductions. India safeguards its basic critical position.

The way we see the declaration, the entire declaration is subject to the overall, overarching principle of common but differentiated responsibility; that's the scaffolding - it is receptive to capabilities as well as consistent with the principle of equity. Hence, India continues to lay emphasis on per capita emissions. I think too much is being made of the MEF declaration. The two-degree goal is new but no quantitative figures have been given. Anyhow, the negotiations will take place within the UNFCCC and we are not re-negotiating what the UNFCCC had agreed to in principle. We are only talking about the future road map once the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end.

What is happening with the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC)?

The ministry of environment and forests coordinates its implementation with all central and state ministries. For India, adaptation measures are more fundamental than mitigation, though we are looking at both. For all this, technology is going to be critical.

We're organizing a Climate Change and Technology Conference in the capital during October 22-23 with 190 countries participating. This will be one of our contributions to Copenhagen. In critical areas we need to get more funding and we would like Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects to continue as we have benefited greatly from them.

GDP does not mean gross domestic product; it means green domestic product. Unless we start to think of green economic growth, our growth will not be sustainable. We are working with BRIC countries. Thirty-seven developing countries including India and Pakistan made a common proposal at Bonn. We asked developed countries to reduce their emissions by 40 per cent of 1990 levels by the year 2020.

Would India agree to have its climate change projects monitored?

That's totally unacceptable. Where we are getting international finance and technology, we can certainly consider a role for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV). That's reasonable. But MRV is certainly not OK for our National Action Plan.

How are you fast-tracking environmental clearances?


There are two things. Cabinet approval is awaited for a national green tribunal with regional benches to deal with environment and forest, and water related civil issues. This is one of the Law Commission's recommendations. Secondly, a blueprint is ready for setting up US-type National Environmental Protection Authority with state level bodies as well, and these will evolve out of the current national and state pollution control boards, eventually replacing them. We're trying to get the first one done in this session (of Parliament) itself, before August 7.

After Copenhagen, what?

We're setting up a Global Advisory Network Group on Environmental Science (GANGES), to set up an IPCC-style body in India. It will have Indian scientists living in US, Canada and other countries putting their heads together to research climate change related issues and their relevance to India. We won't have to wait for an expert abroad to inform us that Himalayan glaciers are melting. We'll get the best brains for research and capacity building. The group will have nothing to do with negotiations but will provide technical and knowledge support.

How would you ensure that the Forest Rights Act and the Forest Conservation Act don't end up as a `people versus environment' issue?

The Forest Rights Act is a reality; Parliament has passed it. Various state governments are giving out pattas. The rights-to-the-forest controversy is over. My task now is to see how best, in an ecologically sustainable manner, the provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006 are reflected in the clearances given. In the case of bauxite mining in Nyamgiri, Orissa, for example, had we followed the process as laid down by the Forest Rights Act 2006, maybe clearances would not have been given. Pure conservationists fear that the Forest Rights Act and the Forest Conservation Act are incompatible.

On July 24 we're holding consultations with the "tigerwallahs" and the "tribalwallahs". We have to bring harmony between them in an ecologically sustainable manner. I hope that in the next few weeks we work out something tangible. We must reflect consultative processes in the local communities and implement the Rights Act and Conservation Act in a complementary way. When we give clearances under the Forest Conservation Act we don't consult local communities (the provision is contained in the Forest Rights Act). There are areas where the FRA can help actually in ecology preservation. It's a big challenge.

How important is tiger conservation?

The tiger is only a symbol of the ecosystem. We might have some 1300 tigers left but do you know that of the total forest area we have, eight to nine per cent is tiger habitat, including core and buffer areas? If the tiger goes, these go, too. As for forest dwellers, upwards of 200 million people depend on the forest for their livelihoods. That's why there may be conflict situations. The biggest problem is that of mindsets - of both conservationists and rights activists. The key word here ought to be: harmony. We need to see the big picture. It is not just tiger, tiger, burning bright. It's ecosystem, ecosytem, burning bright!

I went to the Corbett area recently and was shocked to learn that there had been a proposal to locate the capital of Uttarakhand here! The tiger represents the forest area; the snow leopard represents the mountain area, and the cheetah represents the grasslands area.

Shouldn't we save the tiger first before reviving cheetahs?

It's an idea, not something that's going to be implemented right away! The cheetah is the only mammal to go extinct in the last 1000 years! As I said, these animals are symbols; they are representatives of the ecosystem. In September, at Gajner, Bikaner, we've called for consultations with international experts including Indian experts like M K Ranjit Singh and Divya Bhanu Singh Chawla. It will be a technical workshop with cheetah experts. They will look into questions like whether it is better to bring in Asiatic or African cheetah to be bred here in captivity. The question however remains: Where to release them? We're just trying to bring in experts and look at the question dispassionately. After all, the cheetah was indigenous to India. The name is from the Sanskrit, meaning `spots'. It has to be a step-by-step, measured process.

What about unglamorous but equally important species like frogs?

Pranab Mukherjee has allotted 15 crore (in this budget) each to the Botanical Survey of India (est. 1866) and the Zoological Survey of India (est. 1916), for modernization and renewal. A high level committee is being set up to help revive these two organizations that research various environmental constituents including frogs and insects.

Is India planning something special to mark Darwin's bicentenary and the 150th year of the publication of the Origin of the Species?

On November 15 and 16 we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Silent Valley, something that is probably more relevant here than Darwin's anniversary. A commemorative postage stamp will be released. SV will be declared a national park. We have two symbols - Project Tiger and Silent Valley, both initiated by Indira Gandhi, a great conservationist. We need to recapture the momentum created by both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. The entire institutional framework to facilitate environmental management was set up by Indira Gandhi.

Are you gong to incentivise preservation of existing forests?

Brazil has been leading the discussions on how to give incentives to reduce deforestation, that is, to prevent existing forests from being cut down. India has been leading the discussions on giving incentives to accelerate afforestation and reforestation. In fact we have submitted a project proposal to the UNFCCC on sustainable forest management.

On July 10, the Supreme Court broke a seven-year deadlock by bringing in the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA). For seven years, some Rs 11,000 crore was lying unutilized. It was penalty money collected by governments for any project that diverted forest areas for non-forest purposes. Now it will be used for protection and regeneration of forest areas.

Between 1950 and 1980, before the Forest Conservation Act, India was losing 140,000 hectares to non-forest use. After the Act, between 1980 and 2008, the loss has been 25,000 hectares. The rate of deforestation has come down. India has a forest cover of 21 per cent. Of this, 13 per cent is of good or medium quality. Eight per cent are degraded land and CAMPA will be used to upgrade them. So we have a huge potential for carbon capture. And we're trying to regenerate deforested areas to return what was lost, and not filling them up with cheap substitutes.






The babblocracy the collective name for the policy formulators and so-called opinion-makers in government and media have put Manmohan Singh in the doghouse. In a joint statement he made in Egypt together with his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani, the PM deviated from the official 'line' on Pakistan.


He did not recite the ritualistic mantra that there can be no talks with Islamabad unless Pakistan renounces its covert support of cross-border terrorism. Secondly, he allowed inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement. Islamabad has accused New Delhi of fomenting insurrection in Balochistan, in much the same way as India charges Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in this country.


The PM's detractors claim that by permitting use of the B-word, he implicitly admitted to India's clandestine involvement in that troubled province, thus legitimising Pakistan's role in Kashmir.

Such non-reasoning is both specious and paranoid, and it totally misrepresents Manmohan Singh's intentions and objectives. What were these? To try and break the stalemate that has deadlocked Indo-Pak relations for over 60 years to the economic, political and social detriment of both countries by creating a broader, mutually acceptable space for negotiation. In short, Manmohan tried foolhardily, as it turned out to try and find a viable and lasting solution to the Indo-Pak enmity which has bedevilled the subcontinent for over six decades.

Sinking into the quicksand of its internal conflicts and contradictions army rule versus democracy, Taliban versus civil society, regionalism versus central authority Pakistan needs all the help it can get to save itself. And Manmohan thought wrongly, as has been made clear to him that India, in its own best interests, might be able to go not an extra mile, but perhaps an extra inch, in trying to reduce tension between the two countries.

Manmohan's conciliatory move triggered a virulent backlash in India, with critics making it only too clear that New Delhi should not concede even half an inch to Islamabad, particularly not when the wounds of 26/11 are still bleeding in public memory. The Indian PM's initiative may have been mistimed. But the reaction that it has provoked has brought one aspect of Indo-Pak relations to light: namely, that it is not just Islamabad, but New Delhi as well which has a vested interest in maintaining what might be called the static quo between the two countries.

The general perception in India has been that Islamic, feudal Pakistan has always needed a perpetually adversarial India in order to exist. India, on the contrary, with its pluralist democracy and rapidly expanding and increasingly inclusivist economy, has never required the bogey of Pakistan the better to cohere together. The fallout of Manmohan Singh's statement, however, suggests that democratic, secular, economically buoyant India needs a demonised Pakistan as much as a feudalistic, fundamentalist and bankrupt Pakistan needs a hated and feared India.

Both countries need a whipping boy in each other to keep their respective constituencies in a state of diversionary fear. The ruling establishments in both countries in Pakistan, the army and the feudal political class; in India, our netas, babus and mediacrats find it not just convenient but necessary to keep alive the image of an ill-intentioned neighbour who can be used to whip up nationalist emotion, often at the expense of rationalist thought. Unrest in Balochistan? Blame it on India. Militancy in Kashmir? Blame it on Pakistan.

If there had been no Indo-Pak problem, both countries would have had to invent one. Fortunately, there is an Indo-Pak problem. And Manmohan Singh has rightly been rapped across the knuckles for being so irresponsible as trying to disinvent it. What was he thinking of?






Sports combine both the meeting ground and the dividing line between my wife and me. While we both watch them, we find ourselves supporting opposing sides almost instinctively. In every contest, she roots for the stronger contender positive attitude, she calls it while i can't help backing the underdog. Little wonder, therefore, that she follows the proceedings with the cool assurance of a bookie who has fixed the match now watching, now dozing and now switching the TV channel. I, on the other hand, remain as edgy as a cat on hot bricks.


''You could spare the sport your silly pseudo-socialism," she has told me a number of times. But the hopeless romantic in me courts the inevitable misery with almost masochistic zeal. I backed Andy Roddick with all my weight at this year's men's Wimbledon final, while she cheered for Roger Federer. I had thought she'd be anxious when Roddick was leading by one set to love and had four set points in the tie-breaker to seal the second. But she wasn't bothered. She soaked in Federer's winning smile at the podium and hit the pillow without a care for Roddick's fallen face or my quiet anguish over the irony of a player walking away with the match with just one service break.

In British Open Golf, her position could be described by the immortal line, 'Tiger, tiger burning bright'. And who could be better for me to root for than Tom Watson? Agreed that golf is an age-friendly sport. Yet, at 59, Tom was almost two generations behind his youngest rival, and therefore, a clear choice as an underdog. Her 'Tiger Woods or nobody' attitude ensured that she had a sound sleep. For, no sooner than Tiger missed the cut that she lost interest in the contest.


And me? I was glad she wasn't awake that Sunday night when my favourite missed his tryst with sporting history by the breadth of a putter-head. The Ashes series does not interest us this time around because for both of us it is difficult to choose between the teams. But our rivalry was kept alive by a unique sporting contest of sorts - Rakhi Sawant's swayamvar. Now that her candidate has won again, one wonders if David can ever really triumph over Goliath.










Is it pure coincidence that a day after one RSS (Rakhi Sawant’s Swayamvar) made national news, the other RSS (the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) let the nation know what’s going through its collective mind? We, observers of all pop cultural organisations, couldn’t help but applaud RSS president Mohan Bhagwat sharing two important issues that are being discussed in that sangh. First, the sartorial issue. According to Bhagwat, a large section of RSS workers want to wear trousers, rather than the oversized khaki shorts that the founder of the Boy Scouts Movement Robert Baden-Powell pioneered.


The shorts-lovers insist that it’s easier to move about — not to mention jump about during their routine morning callisthenics. Lycra or modern shorts haven’t been discussed as an option.


And if you’re debating the good old trousers vs shorts debate, you’re bound to get your knickers in a twist about the difficult question of marriage. Matrimony for RSS pracharaks remain a no-no, although a growing number of non-pracharak RSS workers are now suggesting a yes-yes. Unlike that other culture club, the Catholic Church, the debate is not so much about sex, but about marrying and running a family (no, not connected to each other at all). All current pracharaks are not keen to settle down, although their logic is that a family will only distract them from their task at hand: no, not wearing khaki shorts and playing ‘36 Chambers of Shaolin’ with those sturdy sticks, but nation-building.


Fair enough. After all, the likes of Ratan Tata and Narendra Modi, do tend to agree by example. The old rule of pracharaks — that is, propagators, but clearly not of the species — stepping down from their post if they wish to marry is the favoured position. Which brings us back to the other RSS: Can khaki shorts be the new tight choli?








Ever wondered about those photgraphs of farmers in newspapers every summer that show them looking up at the sky? Considering that in my experience as an amateur farmer-watcher — in two states of the Indo-Gangetic plains — I have never come across a farmer staring at the sky, at times with one hand poised above his brows in a half salute to the Great Agriculturist in the Sky. I am pretty sure that he is posing courtesy the dramatic demands of the ‘show me something!’ photo-journalist.


But then, I might be wrong. There are always aberrations — the Sardarji intellectual, the Bengali entrepreneur, the poetic plumber, the effete butcher, the artistic accountant... They all exist and so, I guess, must the farmer-who-looks-up-at-the-sky-every-summer. To however have all the farmers on display in newspapers in variations of this pose is, you must admit, exceedingly odd and, who knows, exceedingly unlikely.


So what does happen at the moment of the photograph being taken? Initially, both the farmer and the photographer stand on the farmer’s plot looking at each other. The farmer, who thinks that the story that the picture will accompany, will be about him — if not exclusively, then at least with him as one of the main characters. That, alas, is not the case. The story is about the delayed monsoon, an impending drought — and our pleasant peasant will become, unknowingly perhaps, a representative of all Indian farmers waiting for the rains to come.


The look of desperation on the faces of individual farmers vary from person to person. So the solution is the stock gesture of — you guessed it! — looking up at the sky. No farmer really looks up like that. He may scan the sky, even squint his eyes. But the full-tilt upwards, with an almost audible ‘Allah megh dey paani dey...’ sung by S.D. Burman playing as the soundtrack, turns the scene into a tableau from a ‘jai kisan’ movie. And the story of the tough little Indian farmer, tied to his waist to the spluttering monsoon continues.


Thankfully, the eyes-skyward farmer is not alone in the scriptful eyes of the media. There’s the skull-cap-wearing Indian Muslim praying at the local Jama Masjid. But that’s another story for the doughty Indian media cameraman.


Mondy Thapar is a Delhi-based writer








The shortfall in the monsoon has created anxiety among farmers across the country with several leaders having expressed their concern. In the name of caring for the affected rural poor, cheap rice is being provided in many places. But before I get into that, I want to share a little story.


The other day when I went to the airport, I was told that the flight was delayed. I felt disappointed but had no choice. As compensation, the airline gave me one sandwich. After three hours, they told me the flight was cancelled. However, this time they gave me two sandwiches. I argued about my missed flight. How would I reach my destination? They said they were a caring airline and so they could give me three sandwiches. The flight never took off.


What would you want to do with such an airline? Will you call it a caring people’s carrier? No, I am not talking about any particular airline or ranting about my mishap at the airport. It’s merely an analogy pointing to the attitude of the government towards the farmers of India. On the face of it, there are subsidies, loan waivers and cheap rice. However, none of these creates real progress or changes the face of agriculture in India.


Before we start blaming the rain gods yet again, I want to know why are we so dependent on rain-fed agriculture in 2009? If India is an agricultural country, shouldn’t we have done some massive infrastructure projects across the country? Over two-thirds of our agricultural land is dependent on rains. China has only one-third of its land unirrigated. Developed countries depend very little on rain. This dependence creates high fluctuations in the output year after year. Apart from the volatility, we are not efficient either. China can produce twice the amount of rice for every acre of land as us. Australia can produce five times the rice per acre than India.


Who are we fooling? The Indian farmer is not cared for. He is on drip-feed in a hospital being kept alive for votes. The cheap rice one-upmanship seems great in the short-term, but will it help close the massive efficiency gap or the rain dependence? And if this gap is not closed, can India ever really progress?


There are other negatives created by such subsidies. The government has to borrow, which, in turn, leads to higher capital costs for power and transportation infrastructure projects. It also leads to inflation. Yes, we can continue to live like this: constantly rising prices, the rare infrastructure project that is too little, too late, and poverty with attendant problems like poor healthcare and low literacy.


Yet, this can change. Many South East Asian countries were in a similar situation 20 years ago. However, these countries have implemented sound economic policies, focused on massive, long-term developmental projects (rather than cheap vote-bank politics) and changed the face of their countryside.


It is easy to blame politicians. However, we elect them. And the fact is that subsidies do result in votes. The intoxication of cheap rice is heady. It makes the voter believe the government is doing something. A lot of people may even think, ‘Grab whatever you can. The government won’t do anything else anyway.’ But can we sustain this? Is this good for the country in the long-term? Do you want to give your children the same India that you inherited? Or want to leave them a better place?


Famished, destitute people must be fed. (By the way, why don’t we give them cooked rice in specified centres to avoid misuse and re-trading?) However, a leader’s job is to build for the future. I’d like the local panchayats to accept the rice, but demand more from the leaders.


Talking about development in agriculture, it is not only about irrigation projects and enhancing crop yields. There are many other areas of improvement. In Hong Kong and Singapore, milk and butter come all the way from Australia. If an Indian software company can provide service abroad, there is no reason why an Indian farmer should be denied such a lucrative market.


We can say we need to keep the milk for our own country. There are two holes in that argument. One, if a farmer makes money, he will invest in more cattle or efficiency improvements and production levels will rise to meet demand in India as well as abroad. Two, we (rightly) don’t force our corporate sector companies to sell their products exclusively in India. Then how can we force the farmer? To cut off a source of income and then offer cheap rice — is that caring for our rural citizens?


The government and quasi-government entities keep a tight control on dairy and farm produce for food security reasons. However, the fear is over-blown and government involvement has prevented world- class output. Food that wasn’t grown due to poor efficiency is food destroyed. The government is not saving food; it is destroying it. There are global companies who operate across the world. While they are private enterprises, they have benefited millions around the world.


Let’s demand the same world-class treatment from our leaders.


Agriculture can be India’s competitive strength in the world, if we become serious about it. The Indian farmer feeds us. We must nourish the nourisher to ensure he will still be around for us and the generations to come.


Chetan Bhagat’s latest book is The Three Mistakes of My Life








It’s strange that in a country where we constantly talk of the demographic dividend and the ‘power of youth’, we can’t agree on the age one needs to cross to assume responsibilities for one’s own life and actions. Most of us wait for the magic number 18 to join the ranks of adulthood in India, but it isn’t that simple.


At 18 you’re eligible to vote, to drive a car, to buy cigarettes, to log into adult chatrooms and marry (if you’re a girl).


At 19 you can sign up to defend the nation. But even though you may nurse a child once you cross 18, you’ve got to wait another seven years to nurse your first ‘official’ alcoholic beverage in most states, including Delhi, or visit a nightclub.


And although the State puts you behind the wheel of a car — not to mention in the driving seat during elections — only after you’re 18, you’re free to have sex once you turn 16, the official age of consent in India.


But this past week, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court ruled that a girl on the wrong side of 18 is not mentally/physically fit to have consensual sex, maintaining that any such consent can’t be seen as an indication of her free will. The court has asked the state governments and the Centre to give their views on whether they intend to raise the age of consent from 16 to 18, to bring it in line with other statutes. This, while dismissing an appeal by a man charged of raping a 17-year-old girl, whom he claimed to have had consensual intercourse with.


The Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines rape under Section 375 as “sexual intercourse with a woman” against her will and consent. And since the age of consent under Indian law is 16, sex with a girl who is under 16 is considered statutory rape, whether with or without her consent.


Unless, of course, you’re married or in Manipur. Because while Section 375 states that sex between a man and his wife, the wife being over 15, is not rape, in Manipur the legal age of consent is 14.


To complicate matters further, for boys who are not yet 16, any sexual intercourse with or without their consent is frowned upon under the infamous Section 377, which, until recently, criminalised even consensual same-sex relationships.


Interestingly, the Delhi High Court, while decriminalising homosexuality, fixed the age of consent at 18, pending further legislation. And since the judgement referred to “penile non-vaginal sex” — something not confined to same-sex intercourse — there are now, effectively, two legal age limits to cross if one is to legally have sex with a woman: one at 16 (going by Section 375) and another at 18 (going by Section 377)!


So, even though a recently revised law sets the minimum age for marriage as 18 for girls and 21 for boys, there are enough legal anomalies that allow one man the licence to rape his 15-year-old wife, while another can be prosecuted for consensual oral sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend. 


Which begs the question: why must we keep juggling all these numbers? Forget adulthood. Take the definition of a ‘child’, for example. While the laws against child labour define a child as someone who is not yet 14, the Juvenile Justice Act sets 18 as the upper limit.


Must we, then, be forced to check birth certificates for age and sex against a list of laws to assess the nature and magnitude of crimes against children, since each comes with its own customised age and gender specifications? Must we stick with a century-and-a-half-old penal code, the liberal interpretations of which are dependant solely on a few imaginative judges?


All in all, there’s an urgent need to amend certain laws to prevent those who journey between the ages of 12 and 18 from falling through the legal cracks. We’ll never mature as a society till we can agree on what is the appropriate age at which we really grow up.









Eighteen years after it was first installed, it looks like Bangalore might finally get to glimpse Tamil poet-saint Thiruvalluvar’s graven image. So much Tamil pride is bound up with the sainted Thiruvalluvar; and much Kannada pride hinges on countering Tamil grandiosity. Naturally, the statue has been shrouded in controversy. But given that corporation polls are right round the corner, and many wards are heavily populated with Tamil speakers, this move makes electoral sense for the Yeduriyappa government. Bangalore was not prepared to unveil the statue without “reciprocation” — a statue of the Kannada poet Sarvajna in Chennai. And so the statue sat there for years, heavily guarded and wrapped in gunny sacks, on a plinth in the middle of a traffic circle. Now that political consensus has been hammered out, the Valluvar statue is set to be unveiled on August 9 and the Sarvajna statue goes up on August 13. Except, it’s not that easy. Kannada Chaluvali Vatal Paksha and other regionalist cultural and political organisations have announced that they will not let the statue go up without raising hell, and have called for a city-wide bandh on that day. The state government will want to ensure that Karnataka’s newfound association with vigilantism isn’t extended then.


Troubles between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu run deeper than Cauvery waters. Their long-simmering linguistic rivalry recently manifested itself in a war for classical status (Team Kannada is aggrieved at Team Tamil’s claim of greater antiquity, claiming that the richness of Kannada literary achievements merits that it be declared classical. In fact, both derive from a proto-Dravidian language.) Resource disputes like Hogenakkal only sharpen the competition. After the Rajkumar kidnapping, Veerappan’s ransom demands included three major things: that Cauvery water be immediately released to Tamil Nadu and Tamils affected by the 1991 water riots be compensated, and that the Thiruvalluvar statue finally be uncovered.


Statues make powerful statements about their time and context. They can be abiding symbols of civic pride or relics of a long-ago past .The toppling of statues is the Kodak moment for historical change. The Karnataka-Tamil Nadu statue saga though is something else altogether. It is a monument to intransigent identity politics, the squabbles that can erupt out of apparent nothings and feed into a vast and pointless animus.









It takes some doing for the CPM’s Brinda Karat, the ruling Congress’s Jayanthi Natarajan, and the BJP’s Arun Jaitley, not to mention maverick-in-chief Ram Jethmalani, to agree on anything. This is the doing of the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill, denounced by its variegated critics as placing the judiciary above the rule of law. The bill has a tortuous history. In 1997, the Supreme Court passed a unanimous resolution that judges would declare their assets to their chief justice. But more than a decade later, when faced with an inquiry under the Right to Information Act, the judiciary refused to answer, holding the 1997 resolution to be non-binding. In the furore that followed, Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan stated that he had no objection to judges declaring their assets, as long as a statute mandated this, and as long as judges were not belittled with unproven smears. Prompt came the government reply: the bill mandates that judges declare their assets to the chief justice and to the government, but — and this is the crucial caveat — not to the general public. This exemption has enraged MPs, whose raucous protests led the law minister to defer introducing the bill in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.


It is understandable that incensed MPs — who have to make public their own assets — accuse the judiciary of wanting to be above the law. Their argument is that keeping judicial assets from public gaze is not only against the right to information implicit in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, but it also violates the right to equality (why should judges be treated differently?). But even those devoted to transparency must concede one point: judges have a peculiar disadvantage. When allegations are made against MPs, they can call press conferences, even sue the smearer. But by virtue of their position, judges simply cannot do that; they will find it difficult to reply to accusations as would most other citizens.


The government’s attempt to balance these competing concerns has provoked wrath across party lines. As the bill is re-examined in committee, there are other balancing acts worth looking at — special legislation, exclusive of contempt laws, dealing with attempts to smear judges, for example. The concerns of MPs and judges need not be a zero-sum game. A consensus is still within reach.








A Right to Information petition in Madhya Pradesh has revealed there were 600 police transfers in 2008 on instructions of politicians. Each year, Rs 600 crore is spent on 45,000 policemen to guard 13,000 VIPs. Twenty-five per cent of Delhi’s police force is on VIP duty. Meanwhile, the home minister admits 160 districts are prone to Naxalite violence. These geographically contiguous districts are characterised by complete collapse of governance, meaning not only absence of public delivery of physical and social infrastructure, but also law and order.


The current ruckus, following Tuesday’s report from Human Rights Watch on India’s “abusive and failing” police system, is a regular feature of our national conversation. In December 2008, after Mumbai, a group of eminent citizens wrote a letter. Why can’t all political parties agree that police reform and independent policing should be issues beyond political capital? Why, once elected, can’t they agree to introduce police reforms in the first 100 days? These were rhetorical questions asked in the letter. And the letter distilled out present problems into three elements — undue and illegitimate political interference, neglect by governments of constabulary (corrupt recruitment, inadequate training, bad management, insufficient pay, inadequate equipment and infrastructure) and lack of accountability (this spills over into corruption). In every perception-based survey on corruption (not just Transparency International), police figure at the top and Bollywood only mirrors that reality.


Implementing police reform is more important than privatisation (or disinvestment) of PSUs. It is more important than right to education or right to food. It is more important than Balochistan. If the aam aadmi is asked which organ of government hurts the most, the answer will invariably be the police; both in the negative sense of not doing what it is supposed to do — ensure the rule of law — and in the positive sense of doing what it should not do — harassment, rent-seeking. Is police reform on the UPA-II agenda? Arguing it is a state subject will not wash; there are several ways of incentivising states.


We have known what needs to be done for almost 30 years. Eight reports from the National Police Commission, including a Model Police Act, began to flow in 1979. No one bothered; that is, no one in government. Confronted with legislative and executive inaction, what does one do? Perhaps resort to courts and PILs. So we had the Prakash Singh and N.K. Singh PIL in the Supreme Court in 1996; the Ribeiro Committee in 1998-99, the Padmanabhaiah Committee in 2000; and the Police Act Drafting Committee in 2005. Finally, we got a Model Police Bill in 2006. State governments would implement it. Then the home minister promised a new act (to replace legislation from 1861) would be passed by Parliament and implemented in Union Territories in 2007.


Manna didn’t descend from heaven. Nothing happened in Delhi, and close-to-nothing happened in the states. The 2006 Supreme Court judgment in response to the 1996 PIL had seven simple directives: (1) constitute security commissions to evolve broad policy in states, evaluate state police and insulate state police from government influence; (2) appoint a DGP through transparent process, with minimum tenure of two years; (3) ensure operational police officers have a minimum tenure of 2 years; (4) separate investigation and law & order functions; (5) establish boards to decide transfers, postings, promotions and service matters; (6) an independent complaints authority; and (7) a National Security Commission.


The key is insulating police administration and de-linking law enforcement from executive control. Political supervision shouldn’t be synonymous with control. New Zealand made this distinction rather well. For instance: “The Commissioner is responsible to the Minister for... the carrying out of the functions, duties, and powers of the police; and... giving effect to any directions of the Minister on matters of Government policy.” However, “The Commissioner is not responsible to the Minister, but must act independently, in... enforcement of the criminal law in particular cases and classes of cases, matters that relate to an individual or group of individuals [or] decisions on individual members of the police.” And that’s the real reason why recommendations of commissions result in acts of omission by the Centre and by state governments. Regardless of what citizens want, no political party wishes to relinquish control. Bollywood’s depiction of the P-C-P (politician-criminal-police) partnership is based on reality. This may be more pronounced in India’s badlands, but exists everywhere.


It isn’t quite the case that no state has introduced reforms. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative tracks compliance with the seven Supreme Court directives. Remarkably, the states most compliant are in the Northeast: Arunachal, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur. Barring MP, none of the larger large states is compliant with any of the directives.


Sure, twelve states have enacted new legislation. Four have completed drafting and tabled bills and nine are currently drafting. But the key isn’t motions of going through with a new piece of legislation, but its content. To be fair, there are also instances of police reform in some states — Meghalaya, Arunachal, Himachal, Tripura, Karnataka, Kerala, MP, Rajasthan. The Rajasthan experiment is the most broad-based and successful, covering 150 police stations in 11 districts; it has been externally vetted by MIT’s Poverty Action Lab. It shouldn’t be surprising that more than one police station in Rajasthan has been voted among the best police stations in the world. If this seems difficult to swallow given our perceptions of the Indian police, I recommend a visit to any one of these 150 police stations. (Even virtual visits are possible, though one shouldn’t use the NIC route.) What led to reforms here? What were the preconditions for success and guarantees of failure? How does one replicate them elsewhere? How were communities persuaded to get involved and invest their time and resources?


If UPA-II is serious about the “aam aadmi”, how about placing police reform at the core of its agenda? How about pending legislation in UTs? How about making police modernisation grants to states contingent on police reforms? How about introducing reforms in Congress-ruled states? (Police


reform has been on the back burner in Rajasthan after the ruling party changed.) The unfortunate trade-off: VIPs don’t need police reforms, citizens do. The elite know how to circumvent and work the system. The poor don’t.


The writer is a Delhi-based economist








As awareness of India’s heritage becomes increasingly fashionable, community responses and engagement with heritage lend themselves to interesting analyses — perspectives that say something about the society India is becoming, as well as helping us understand the public life of monuments.


Frequently, for example, the community engages itself with a heritage site to enhance some aspect of a particular cultural identity — laying “claim”, in other words, to an otherwise secular protected heritage site. This needn’t be from a cultural group — it could be from an individual. (And you can advertise that claim by conspicuously writing your names and emotions on the body of monuments.)


Consider one such site in New Delhi, the tomb-mosque complex of Jamali Kamali in Mehrauli Archaeological Park, near the Qutab complex. In recent years it has been claimed by different groups in some compelling ways. Jamali, whose real name was Faizlullah, was a poet and Sufi saint, well known from his Masnavi, who lived through the fall of the Lodis and the reigns of Babar and Humayun, dying in 1536, 10 years into Mughal rule. Notably, he was probably the first poet from Delhi to append Dehlavi to his name — though eventually, he came to be known as both “Jalal Shah” or the fiery saint, or as “Jamali” from Jamal, or glory. During the reign of Humayun, a mosque was built under his guidance; and, when he died, he was buried nearby. The walls of his mausoleum are decorated with coloured tiles and inscribed with his verse. The grave next to his is remembered as that of Kamali; like the Hare-Bhare shrine near the Jama Masjid, the names Jamali and Kamali also go together — but who the latter was is still a riddle. According to Dr Naseem Akhtar, the curator in charge of the Islamic Art section at the National


Museum, the identity of the person buried there is still unknown.


That didn’t stop photographer Sunil Gupta from claiming, in his memoirs a few years ago, that Kamali had been Jamali’s partner, and that Jamali Kamali was the only “gay monument” in India. This invented history for the monument occupied an important symbolic place in the deeply personal account of Gupta’s coming out.


The more recent claim on the mosque in the Jamali Kamali complex is more confounding. Over the past few months, out of the blue, plastic prayer mats have turned up, as have clocks that show namaz timings, evidence of the desecration of the central niche or mihrab with oil fumes, and many ugly-looking plastic pitchers lying around. The monument has been claimed, through the straightforward mechanism of conducting rituals there. The Jamali Kamali is not alone: several other protected monuments have been encroached upon deliberately, following an initiative from the Delhi Waqf Board — that claims that even if a monument is ancient and protected but is or was a mosque, then the community must have the freedom to claim it ritualistically.


As a national, protected monument the mosque and tomb have a secular identity. The Archaeological Survey of India is supposed to make sure that such illegitimate, controversial takeovers are prevented. The ASI’s rules say that if rituals were carried out by a group before the monument was declared protected, then they can continue — otherwise no activity can happen, no claim can be made. The gate and the chowkidar have been ineffective in this case.


Something must be done before the problem becomes much more complex. After all, if one claim is accepted, what stops other competing ones from being put forward? Suppose the representatives of non-Muslim communities claim that, since the area was not occupied by Muslim rulers before the 13th century, the sacred spaces are theirs?


The fact that the Jamali Kamali complex is in what is called the Archeological Park is ironical. The park was a successful collaboration for conserving heritage between Delhi Tourism, Delhi state department of archaeology, the Delhi Development Authority, and


INTACH. The area is peppered with several fragments of built heritage in an area that has the distinction of over one thousand years of continuous occupation. One of the important objectives of the collaboration was the sense of promoting collective participation for conservation of heritage. That, today, seems to be wavering.


Communities should indeed play an active role — but not by claiming sites such as Jamali Kamali for their own. They should instead actively participate in the maintenance of the park as a whole. Not everything can be the government’s responsibility. The civic community, too, has a role to play in restoring our pride in our national heritage.


The writer is a Kathak dancer and creator of heritage walks








Michael Dwork, 31, is Jewish, born and raised in New York and graduated from Columbia Business School. Hard to imagine what he could be doing in the middle of nowhere in rural Karnataka.


Dwork is the founder of VerTerra whose hip, eco-friendly serveware is devised from fallen palm fronds and bulk-produced in a factory that is a seven hour drive from Bangalore.


The disposable bowls, plates and trays which retain the natural color and patina of the palm fronds are the epitome of green chic. They are efficiently bio-degradable.


They have been used in the NBA All-Stars game, the NFL Superbowl VIP party, VHI concerts and events for Starbucks, Google and Pixar. They retail at 300 upscale stores such as Whole Foods for $3.99 to $6.49 for a pack of eight.


VerTerra, which means True to the Earth, is capturing the imagination of a growing number of Americans who are increasingly embracing a green lifestyle. But its origins are completely humble and totally Indian.


Dwork first came upon the idea of setting up VerTerra (two companies by the same name one registered in India and the other incorporated in the United States) when he was driving through a village outside of Bangalore. Dwork saw two poor women on the roadside press the areca palm spathes pre-dunked in a barrel of water to fashion them into plates and bowls. “I thought it was totally cool,” says the chatty Dwork, who was then a summer intern at Infosys Technologies.


When he later revealed his plans to set up a company to produce and market the products in the United States, his Indian friends laughed. “What?! Those beggar’s plates? Seriously, nobody will use them in America,” they told him.


Many Indian stores have long been stocking the traditional version of these ingenious eco-friendly plates and bowls. The VerTerra twist, however, is in the design, the quality controls and hygiene checks that these products are put through in order to pass the stringent import regulatory standards of USDA (Department of Agriculture).


For the sake of logistics, the factory is situated in interior Karnataka in what is the centre of the largest concentration of palm trees in the world, says Dwork. The fallen palm fronds are collected from the neighboring farms and supplied to VerTerra’s godowns.


For Dwork, there have been unique challenges, setting up in rural India. For one, he says the progress of big Indian cities has not percolated at all. Setting up the production facility, while commuting from New York and living in rural Karnataka for days on end, has been a test.


The training of factory staff, now numbering nearly 200, was another story. “Imagine trying to describe any color to a blind person,” he said of trying to teach village folk hygiene consciousness and quality control.


He hastened to add that he was making no value judgment but it took time and patience to change the local standards. To get around some of the challenges, VerTerra has very method and process-driven checks.


The results have been dramatic: a few million pieces are produced and shipped each month. There have been no complaints from users for several months now.


What makes the serve ware trendily green is the fact that the palm spathes are cleaned using high pressure water jets and shaped by steam presses. In other words, they are 100 percent natural and devoid of chemical bleaches, polish and glues.


The men and women who work in Dwork’s factory are paid $40 a month during the first two months and anything between $40 and $140 after that. That might not earn VerTerra’s plates a Fair Trade label.


The Fair Trade social movement advocates paying a higher price to producers and workers in order to help them move towards economic stability. Over half the product price is shared between retailers and wholesalers, justifies Dwork.


Still, wealthy consumers in the West are going into a green frenzy over the products made by employing rural folk, he describes. To them, the fashionable appeal of the bowls and plates fashioned out of naturally-shed palm fronds is undeniable.









Nepal has perhaps survived speculation that it may collapse anytime now. The fear, however, has not died yet. Many countries that are crucial to Nepal’s development continue to categorise it as a ‘ fragile state’. In private conversations, Western diplomats say candidly that Nepalis have failed to manage the country effectively. And Nepalis administrators have begun expressing their discomfort over the brazen interference of foreigners, including the UN missions, in their internal affairs. Interestingly, Mahindra Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, had advised Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal during their meetings on the sidelines of the NAM) summit, that he must not succumb to ‘dictate and pressure’ of outside forces and that he must ‘chart out your own path in consensus with your parties at home’.


Rajapaksa may not have been the sole influence on Nepal’s prime minister, but he has begun telling some outsiders to stick to the code of conduct prescribed for diplomats. But internal players are not all that cooperative either. The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), which came to the democratic process renouncing a decade-long armed movement three years ago has again announced that it would confront pro-democracy forces head-on. To begin with, it will boycott and obstruct the president and PM’s movements in the next couple of days.


The Maoists and pro-democracy parties had agreed to work on a consensual basis — a fact that international donors, UN and neighbours incuding India (recognised stakeholders in the peace process) — keep reminding them of. But the latest Maoist declaration makes it clear that they have chosen confrontation over conciliation.


This has also come as a shock to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who recently told the special office of the Human Rights Commission (OHCHR) here that it would not get extension beyond June 8 as ‘we have enough capability and machinery to deal with the human rights situation’, after the Commission appealed against the promotion of a particular Nepal army officer with a poor human rights record.


The government and some political parties have also started criticising the United Nations Mission to Nepal (UNMIN). In some quarter, it is asserted that Nepalis should take the lead role in deciding the country’s future course together. This appears like a review of the past three years, when outsiders have been seen as allies of pro-democracy forces.


But the post-monarchy phase has seen Maoists ruthlessly hijacking the political agenda. They have said they will not accept a parliamentary model, and now assert that they will only support ‘people’s democracy’ — a system in which they decide which parties would be allowed to be part of political pluralism — clearly going against the understanding made in the 12-point agreement. They have also been able to successfully block the resumption of arms supply to the Nepal army for which India is now ready.


What could be a better occasion for the Maoists to start a movement — violent or non-violent — when the state is so weak, and its army almost defenceless after a continuing embargo from India, US and European countries?


Interestingly, they have not yet surrendered their arms. They have only deposited part of their weapons with the UNMIN. A call from Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who has recently taken over as the supreme commander of the People’s Liberation Army after a break of 13 months, will be enough for their combatants (19,000 as certified by UNMIN) to come out of the 28 UN-supervised camps and strike, even symbolically, to achieve their oft-repeated objective, the capture of state power.


The possible collapse of the state is still a debatable matter. But the peace process is bound to collapse, sooner rather than later, if the Maoists do what they have promised and launch a decisive mass movement.







The latest issue of CPM mouthpiece People’s Democracy carries an article by general secretary Prakash Karat on the growing India-US ties. He says that in the first two months of the second edition of the UPA government, there are clear signs that the strategic alliance with the US will be widened and deepened.


He states the CPM’s opposition to the End Use Monitoring Agreement India signed with the US and argues that the agreement will enable Washington to conduct intrusive inspections to monitor not only the equipment it supplies but also collect data on related Indian equipment and its technological capabilities. Contesting External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna’s statement that India had signed such agreements with other countries, Karat argues that “Russia and earlier the Soviet Union, which has been the biggest supplier of weaponry to India has not ever asked for any end use agreement. Neither have the French, or other countries.”


Karat also comments on the India-Pakistan joint statement, noting that “the issue is not the need for dialogue with Pakistan, but the suspicion that the UPA government takes positions which are a result of “advice” from Washington. What is required is an independent approach both to Pakistan and Afghanistan.” “The subordinate relationship to the United States which has been established by the Congress-led government has wide repercussions...The Indo-US strategic alliance is influencing not only our foreign policy but all other spheres in our domestic policy making. The joint statement of the Hillary Clinton visit promises more such interventions in the economic and political spheres,” he concludes.



An article by CITU leader Dipankar Mukherjee contests the central government’s claim that it got to know about the memorandum of understanding entered into between the Ambani brothers on sale of KG basin gas only when the relevant portion of the MoU was placed before the Mumbai High Court last year.


Dubbing the Petroleum Ministry’s claim as ‘absolutely untrue’, he says RIL had approached the ministry seeking approval of sale of gas to RNRL at 2.34 dollar/mmbtu in 2006 itself. RNRL had also sent a letter on the same subject to the government in May 2006.


In between, on May 04, 2006 the then CPM MP, late Chittabrata Majumdar had also sought the intervention of the minister of petroleum and natural gas in the matter, he says.


“The government was therefore never in dark when the KG basin gas became all of a sudden a family affair. In fact, the government has both overtly and covertly encouraged a settlement between the squabbling siblings at the cost of surrendering its ownership right on the natural gas.”


“Otherwise, it would have intervened on behalf of NTPC, the government-owned power generation company whose 2700 MW gas based thermal projects (Kawas and Gandhar) are kept on hold because of RIL’s refusal to supply them the required gas. That is another part of the hide and seek game being indulged by the UPA government,” he says.


“The government of India so far has been more concerned about the pricing of gas than about asserting its ownership rights on the same. Why? Because, gas pricing of 2.32 dollar/mmbtu in the June 2005 MoU, signed between the two siblings, was based on the gas price offered by RIL and accepted by NTPC in June 2004,” he claims.


The lead editorial deals with price rise, saying the UPA-2 has not taken any decisive action. It slams the government for abolishing the commodities transaction tax while claiming that the unprecedented price rise is primarily due to the fact that large-scale encouragement is being provided to speculative trading in the commodity exchanges through future trading in essential commodities.


“If the trend of relentless price rise in essential commodities is to be contained and the livelihood of the aam aadmi protected, then the UPA government must ban all futures and speculative trading in essential commodities,” it says.


Besides, it says, the immediate requirement was universalisation of the public distribution system and distribution of all essential commodities through this network. “The current thinking of the government, as reflected in the budget, however appears to be to the contrary. In the name of ‘targeting’, the definition of the BPL is being so manipulated that crores of people will be left out from receiving foodgrains and other essential commodities.”


Compiled by Manoj C.G











The United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), an umbrella body comprising 9 unions of public sector bank employees, has threatened a nationwide strike on August 6 and August 7 if the government and senior bank managements do not respond to their demands, mainly better pay. Public sector bank strikes are not what they used to be—private banks have made the difference. But sarkari banks are still in an overwhelming majority in the sector and such strike threats therefore matter. The issue is not about better pay—we have always argued the public sector should get paid better. The issue is the structure in which bank pay is determined. The structure allows the kind of blatant blackmail that bank union leaders periodically engage in. The most fundamental problem is that all public sector banks, irrespective of size and profitability, function with uniform, government mandated pay scale for their employees. This allows the dangerous, uneconomic and antediluvian practice of industry-wise collective bargaining. It gives something like UFBU enormous power. Equally important, such pay settlement ends up penalising employees of bigger and better performing public sector banks. If every public sector bank could set its own pay in line with its revenues and profits, the issues of union blackmail and better incentives will be addressed simultaneously.


Note, here, that some public sector banks have built a case for greater autonomy in pay fixing through their much improved performance in recent times. In fact, on the key indicator of business (revenue) per employee, according to the FE Best Banks Survey, State Bank of India, Indian Bank, Punjab & Sind Bank, Central Bank of India and United Bank of India all outperform leading private sector banks like ICICI, HDFC and Axis. Interestingly, major nationalised banks have also been reducing their employee strength over time—SBI, Canara Bank and Punjab National Bank, for example, all reduced their employee strength between 2007 and 2008, SBI leading the way with 5,000 fewer employees. On another key indicator—operating expenses/total asset ratio, leading public sector banks, according to the FE Best Banks Survey, often outperform and rarely trail, the leading private sector banks. Therefore, if good sarkari banks can fix their own pay, they can compete with private sector banks much better. True, this will create a pay differential among sarkari banks. But that’s very good. Talent will be better rewarded and underperforming banks will stand out more. PSUs have different pay grades. Why can’t banks? The argument on retaining status quo comes from the ‘everyone is equal’ notion that’s the bane of government employment. If the government insists on operating in commercial areas like banking it should give its organisations basic commercial freedoms.







The WHO has said that swine flu’s propagation rate is without precedent, with the new H1N1 virus having spread more in less than six weeks than influenza viruses did in more than six months in past pandemics. As of July 22, 1,34,503 cases had been confirmed globally, with a doubling of the death toll in July. India recorded its first H1N1 case only in May, but the virus has since spread to almost 22 cities and towns, and more than 500 people. Now, it’s taken a life. It’s time for stocktaking of surveillance mechanisms, laboratory and quarantine systems, outlays for treatment and even basic public education. Unfortunately, the case of the 14-year-old who died on Monday shows up lacunae at all these levels. She lived with H1N1 infection symptoms for days without either being isolated—even attending school—or treated with Tamiflu. Neither the school nor the state health department were notified immediately after the National Institute of Virology confirmed a positive sample. These are unforgivable slip-ups given that the current pandemic has shown strong signs of sustained community transmission, plus the WHO advised special alertness to spikes in rates of absenteeism from schools or workplaces.


The H1N1 virus is a vicious mix of avian, swine and human influenza viruses, which can not only hop from person to person but also threatens to mutate and become more virulent. Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu can reduce the symptoms and duration of illness, and thankfully India is stocked up on these (although over-the-counter usage needs to be strictly discouraged). The trick is to prevent clusters of infection from forming, which requires timely laboratory intervention. India reportedly has only 18 laboratories that can conduct the relevant tests. Obviously we need meticulous coordination between all private and public hospitals, not to mention schools, workplaces and similar public institutions, to make sure these facilities are used to maximum effect. There is ,of course, work on the vaccine front too, including at three of India’s top biotech firms. There is talk that the first vaccine batches may become available around October, but widespread availability is likely to take longer. Meanwhile, with temperatures shifting into lower gear, the virus is predicted to start multiplying faster. India has had luck on its side so far and there is still no call to go into a panic mode. Certainly we must avoid the kind of overreaction that China has been guilty of, locking up thousands of international visitors in quarantine. But the WHO reckons that a staggering 30% of the world’s population may get affected in the next two years, and we must prepare accordingly.









As part of its restructuring of Air India, the Government of India intends to convert it into a low cost airline. While this proposal has merits, Air India needs to utilise the benefits that come from its large size to succeed as a low-cost carrier. Size offers an important advantage in the Airline business because efficient airlines typically operate a “negative working capital business.”


An example of the importance of working capital management was the mid-2000 decline of’s stock price. In June 2000, several analysts issued a stern warning about’s “poor working capital management and the resulting negative cash flows.” Within days, the company’s stock, which had reached a 52-week high prior to the warning, plummeted more than two-thirds. Post mortems attributed this to poor working capital management practices.


A firm’s working capital, that is, the capital it needs to continue its business smoothly, is comprised mainly of three components: (i) accounts receivables; (ii) inventory; and (iii) accounts payables. When a firm sells to its customer on credit, it accumulates account receivables. In other words, accounts receivables denote the cash yet to be paid by a customer for a sale that has already occurred. Similarly, when the company purchases from its suppliers on credit, it accumulates accounts payables. A company’s working capital requirements increase with increases in accounts receivables but decrease with increases in accounts payables.


Now consider an airline company. When you purchase an airline ticket on the internet, you pay cash in advance before traveling. Therefore, the airline receives cash first and then provides the service, which makes its accounts receivable negative in this instance. However, airlines can avail the benefit of accumulating accounts payable by receiving credit from their suppliers. Since their accounts receivables are negative and their accounts payables are positive, efficient airline companies have negative working capital requirements. If managed capably, working capital feeds an airline’s business rather than the other way around. Therefore, if exploited resourcefully, size matters in the airline business—greater the actual number of customers served in a period, greater the cash accrual, which feeds back into the business. Given Air India’s size, well-organised working capital management practices can generate significant cash and feed its business.


Research on airline companies highlights that competent working capital management is a critical success factor for airlines. Good working capital management not only drives balance sheet strength—an essential element in determining an airline’s credit position—but also revenue, expenditure, cash flow and most importantly, customer service. In 2004, when it was bailed out by the Italian government, net working capital in Alitalia locked up financial resources equivalent to an astonishing 8.1% of sales. In contrast, Ryanair, a successful, low-cost European carrier, ran a very tight ship with negative working capital of minus 2.8 % of sales.


What are the constraints to proficient working capital management and what are the areas that provide Air India opportunities for improvement? A key challenge is that the timing of cash-flows is determined by standard industry clearing house practices. For example, as per International Air Transportation Association (IATA) standards, inter-airline settlement of passenger sales (that accrue as part of airlines’ alliance agreements) is processed on a monthly basis with a 19-day settlement period. Similarly, inter-airlines cargo business is settled on a monthly basis with a 31-day settlement period. Sales done through travel agencies are typically settled within a fortnight.


Given these delays in revenue generated through alliances, Air India should formulate a strategy to generate a significant proportion of its revenues outside of these clearing systems. A user-friendly and effective internet-based ticketing system offers the potential to generate direct sales, which will not be subject to these delays in cash realisation. While Alitalia had a Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) of 52 days, Southwest Airlines, a successful low-cost airline, uses internet-based booking to achieve a DSO of minus six days. In other words, subsequent to flying a customer, Alitalia would get cash almost two months later. With effective internet based sales, in contrast, Southwest would receive cash six days before its customer flies.


Apart from relying more on web-based sales, delays stemming from the settlement systems can be reduced too. If transactions are not readied in time prior to the monthly settlement slots, claims submission would be delayed for up to a month. As a result, accounts receivables and thereby working capital levels would spiral. Therefore, streamlining internal receivables management procedures can lead to substantial savings.


Air India can realise huge savings from efficient working capital management. The receivable balance of a large airline typically exceeds $1.5 billion. Thus, a 20% reduction in these receivable balances can generate additional cash of $300 million.


The author is an assistant professor of finance at Emory University, Atlanta, and a visiting scholar at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad








Can public private partnerships solve India’s huge infrastructure deficit? Don’t expect miracles. Consider the experience of Latin America, which has faced comparable problems. At the beginning of the 1990s, all countries suffered big infrastructure deficits, dismal service standards, tight fiscal constraints and deep problems with the traditional mode of public delivery. There were weak incentives for efficiency and infrastructure delivery was often embedded within patronage-driven political systems. While many governments had a reasonable capacity to get things done, there was excessive influence from private interest groups and extensive corruption, not unlike in India.


The idea of private involvement in infrastructure as the solution to both the financing and efficiency problems swept through the region, affecting almost all countries, whatever their ideological leanings. It seemed a pragmatic solution. In sectors with natural monopolies, such as ports, roads and water and sanitation, the favoured contractual form was not full privatisation but a concession: such as build operate transfer. Regulation is built into the concession, sometimes backed by independent regulators.


So did it work? Results were mixed. Infrastructure got built, in electric power, roads, ports, water and sanitation. Levels of service often improved dramatically, if from awful levels. Prices were typically raised, if from highly subsidised rates for the few with access.


Increasing access actually often helped lower income and poor groups. A careful study of municipal water privatisation in Argentina found big gains in child mortality of the poor, relative to municipalities that had not privatised. But hopes that the infrastructure deficit would be tackled were dashed. Infrastructure bottlenecks remained a problem, and the infrastructure gap relative to East Asia rose. (And China overtook Mexico in exports to the United States, in part due to lower transport costs.) Moreover, by the early 2000s, privatisation had become highly unpopular, according to opinion surveys, as populations became discontented with the combination of higher prices, access issues, and tales of fat profits of private companies.


A big part of the issue lies in the contracting nexus. There were some cases of spectacular corruption and private enrichment (including a Nicaraguan president). But the more general phenomenon was of widespread renegotiation of concession contracts. According to a World Bank data base some 74% of water and sanitation and 55% of roads contracts were renegotiated by the early 2000s. Over 60% of renegotiations were initiated by the operator, and a majority were resolved in favour of the private company. So what was going on? Initial bids may have been low in the expectation of holding up the government later, with bribes or other means. Even in the absence of corruption, operators and Ministries of Public Works have a common interest in getting the works done. Ministries of Finance have more of an interest in high operator profits (and so tax revenues) than in protecting the interests of all consumers. There is an exception, which is Chile. Chile also faced problems of renegotiation, and concerns over the MPW favouring concessionaires. But private involvement effectively eliminated Chile’s infrastructure deficit over 15 years, and roads, ports, airports have underpinned a highly competitive economy. Chile also innovated in the design of explicit subsidies to ensure access to poorer groups. Where did success come from? I think there is a mixture of two things: first, Chile has a markedly stronger tradition of rule of law and respect for property rights than most of the rest of the region; and second, there were specific issues of design, around a well-crafted 1991 concession law and, more recently, effective independent regulation. So what does this imply? The broad Latin American experience illustrates the problems of PPPs. Chile may illustrate the possibility. The parallels in India’s institutional conditions unfortunately look stronger with the rest of the Latin America than with Chile.


Does this mean PPPs are a bad idea for India? No. In fact, in most countries, PPPs, for all their problems, performed significantly better than public sector delivery. But it does imply that the institutional challenge cannot be underestimated. Moreover, there are not design tricks, such as “have an independent regulator”. The issue is understanding just how difficult regulation is, that regulatory capture or incoherence is the norm if there is not already a strong established tradition. And this has to be backed by effective courts, transparency, independent technical analysis. Last , it is crucial to build into the process public incentives for provisioning for equity, for both substantive and political reasons. Regulating this often fails, if the operator lacks incentives. Otherwise there will be a justified backlash. India’s infrastructure sector needs private involvement, but it is important to start with recognition of the depth of the institutional challenge.


The author is at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Institute of Social and Economic Research, and the Centre for Policy Research








From this Monday, Sebi’s new rule scrapping the 2.5% entry load for mutual fund distributors came into effect. Will this push up retail participation in mutual funds, as is the intent behind this smart move? It will depend on the sellers. And the education of the buyers.


Sebi data shows only 4% investments in mutual funds are through the direct route and the rest still rely on distributors. The onus is therefore on mutual fund companies to educate investors on the various schemes and build a direct sales force which would distribute their products. Retail investors are supposed to negotiate the commission to be paid to agents.The apprehension is that retail investor will not be able to bargain with the agents and will end up being guided in a fashion that serves the middleman’s interests more.


In the case of mutual funds, the agent gets multiple opportunities to sell more than one product to the same investor. There is very limited scope for agents to mis-sell mutual fund products except false promises on returns that the fund would deliver.


Since the new regulation will help in building long-term asset creation, it would be prudent for fund houses to disseminate appropriate financial information to retail investors and give proper incentives to agents so that they are motivated to sell these products. It is in the interest of fund houses to attract retail investors for long-term funds instead of just focusing on companies and high net individuals where the fund flow is for short term.


Plus, with fixed entry load gone, the incentive is there to make mutual funds more popular and available across the country. Networks of banks and post offices should be used to distribute these products.








Indian cricket has never had any kind of drug problem. But a bunch of hugely spoilt cricketers and a high and mighty Board of Control for Cricket in India have come together, in an ill-informed and irrational way, to challenge a crucial provision in the World Anti-Doping Code. In the process, they have sent out a misleading message to the international sports community. At the centre of the controversy is a clause in the 2009 International Cricket Council anti-doping code that demands select players to submit their ‘whereabouts’ to the ICC three months in advance. The ‘whereabouts’ rules, on the lines of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s revised Code, also require players to keep a 60-minute slot every day through the year at a chosen venue for out-of-competition testing, an important chore in the anti-doping domain. Failure can lead to suspension. Although doping may involve only a minuscule percentage of cricketers, recent cases have revealed that the international game is not wholly ‘clean.’ Given the fact that the International Olympic Committee adopts a zero-tolerance policy towards doping in sports and the ICC has serious ambitions of pursuing the case of cricket as an Olympic sport, it was a logical step for cricket’s apex body to accede to the Code in 2006.


It is true that there have been protests from several sports personalities, including Rafael Nadal, who think the new ‘whereabouts’ rules are too invasive. But a large majority, led by Roger Federer, have come out in support, with the all-time tennis great famously remarking: “You’re not going to catch them by ringing up and saying, ‘Look, I’d like to test you maybe in two days.’ The guy is cheating and they are smart, right?” Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill, keen to put India in the forefront of the anti-doping campaign, must be strongly supported in his principled stand that the cricketers cannot be exceptions. The BCCI, on the other hand, has exposed itself to ridicule by conceding that it did not have a clue about the ‘whereabouts’ rules until recently. Privacy and security are the main planks on which the players and the BCCI have based their arguments for defying the ICC. But then what about the hundreds of top sport stars who have signed up despite such concerns? WADA, established in 1999 at the initiative of the IOC as a Swiss private law foundation, is (as its profile at makes clear) “composed and funded equally by the sports movement and governments of the promote, coordinate and monitor the fight against doping in sport in all its forms.” The additional teeth the agency and its Code have gained following the adoption of 2005 UNESCO Convention against Doping in Sport by more than 115 countries, including India, should help it redouble its efforts. The Indian cricket establishment would be stupid not to fall in line.








There is justifiable pride in the Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s statement that the nationalisation of scheduled commercial banks (SCBs), done in 1969, has helped the country mitigate the ill-effects of the global financial crisis. This, however, could at best be an unintended outcome as nationalisation was primarily aimed at reconfiguring the financial sector to meet an industrialising India’s plan requirements, and to correct creeping inequities in credit distribution. The early trend — apparent in the 1950s and the 1960s — of agriculture, small industries, and small traders getting short shrift from the banking sector was a key driver of this major politico-economic decision. Forty years later, India continues to grapple with its unrealised goal of inclusive economic growth. More recently, there has been another major macroeconomic shift: the post-1990s economic reforms. A proper appreciation of the effects of nationalisation on financial inclusion requires a look at the performance of the banks in relation to different sectors before and after 1991.


There are important signs that the post-1991 milieu for social banking is changing. Between 1969 and 1991, the number of rural bank offices rose from 1,833 to 35,206. By March 2009, this had dipped to 31,489. The share of priority sector advances in the total credit of the SCBs, a mere 14.0 per cent in 1969, was 37.7 per cent in 1991. Provisional figures for March 2007 show a slide to 36.5 per cent. A similar pattern is also evident in the share of priority sector advances in total non-food credit of the SCBs, and in overall bank coverage. The profit-centric public sector banking system, in place since the 1990s, should not be allowed to fritter away the significant, albeit insufficient gains made in social banking between 1969 and 1991. Seen against the measure of financial inclusion, the results of 1969 seem to be mixed. For 60 per cent of the population does not have access to formal banking services and only 5.2 per cent of villages have bank branches. Reducing the numbers facing economic exclusion is critical for inclusive growth. Expeditious action on the suggestions by expert groups such as the Rangarajan committee on financial inclusion and the Raghuram Rajan committee on financial sector reforms, somewhat eclipsed by the facile perception that the 1969 move has softened the blow of the financial crisis, can be an effective starting point.









Since March 7, 2007, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, especially Chief Justice Ifthikar Chaudhary, has been the nation’s main agenda-setter. It is now accepted that the downfall of the former President, Pervez Musharraf, began that fateful day more than two years ago when he summoned Mr. Chaudhary and asked him to quit, and to his shock, met with refusal.


The “black coats” agitation triggered by this incident forced a rethink in the Bush administration on its support to the military ruler, gave Benazir Bhutto an upper hand in her negotiations for a “deal” with General (retd.) Musharraf for what was called a “transition to democracy,” and enabled the return of Nawaz Sharif. The Supreme Court unnerved Gen. Musharraf enough for him to declare an emergency to protect his 2007 election as President. He jailed Mr. Chaudhary and 60 other judges, but both he and the Pakistan People’s Party-led government that came to power in February 2008 reckoned without their staying power.


After Mr. Chaudhary’s triumphant restoration as Chief Justice on March 16 this year, the expectations from him have been sky-high. In a country where governance is abysmally poor, people are increasingly turning to the Supreme Court for redress of all kinds of grievances. Mr. Chaudhary, for his part, made it clear from day one of his comeback that he is a man on a mission.


Any given day, Court Room 1 is packed with a range of petitioners. From eunuchs wanting recognition as the third sex to widows fighting off land sharks, the extremely poor with hardly a shirt on their backs, orphans, children in jail — they are all landing up at his door. What the government cannot do for them, they firmly believe the “CJ” will. Very often, he goes at least some distance in meeting their expectations.


His emphasis is on immediate redress to the petitioner: he consoles the crying widow and threatens to send the land grabbers to jail, promises the eunuchs his consideration, makes it plain to the lawyer of a property developer accused of defrauding a bank that he is on a slippery ground.


Money owed? Shake out pockets, make the man promise to pay up a certain amount by a certain date. Accused jumped the country? Cancel his passport, alert Interpol, extradite him. The government tried to slip in a levy on petrol under a high-sounding environmental name? Cancel it; does not matter if it has been passed by Parliament in the budget, and the President is forced to reintroduce the tax under a more honest name, through an ordinance. Swaggering cops are reduced to bumbling caricatures, self-assured lawyers who think they can wing it through a hearing are asked to go back and do their homework.


Mr. Chaudhary works later than other judges do in order to plough through the backlog of cases. Sitting through a working day in his courtroom is enough to make lawyers and government officials wilt but it can be akin to watching an extended Bollywood flick where the hero is determined to change the world in 24 hours, right down to Mr. Chaudhary’s utterances: “Do you know where you are standing? This is the Supreme Court. We can cancel your bail in one second, send you back to jail. So don’t play any games here.” At the very least, the Chief Justice is determined to change the way Pakistanis have perceived their higher judiciary.


As many Pakistanis see it, an important element of that task was accomplished on July 31 when a 14-judge Bench struck down as illegal and unconstitutional the November 3, 2007 emergency imposed by Gen. Musharraf. The judgment has led to the sacking of all judges who validated the emergency, plus all the judges appointed by the Chief Justice who took over after Gen. Musharraf sacked and arrested Mr. Chaudhary.


The 23-paragraph short order Mr. Chaudhary read out in court has been hailed as unparalleled in the history of Pakistan for the overhaul of the judiciary that it has set in motion. In its humiliation of Gen. Musharraf, even without passing any order against him, the verdict is seen as a strong warning to ambitious generals that the Supreme Court cannot be taken for granted again. But in its humiliation of the de facto Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, who ran the Supreme Court from November 3, 2007 to March 22, 2009, it is a stronger warning to judges of the fate they could meet with if they end up validating coups.


The verdict steered clear of any confrontation with the present political dispensation possibly for fear of destabilising the system. For instance, it left untouched President Asif Ali Zardari, whose oath of office was administered by Mr. Dogar. It left it to the government to decide what to do with the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a legacy of the November 2007 emergency, by which Mr. Zardari was able to get acquittals in a host of corruption cases against him.


But does the verdict ensure that there will be no more coups, and no more judges to legitimise coups? Certainly, the mood created by this judgment and by the lawyers’ agitation in general should force a future coup-maker to think twice before launching into Musharraf-like adventurism, and a future judge to think many times before rolling over for a dictator.


But Pakistanis who have lived through more military coups than they care to remember recall that a similar mood prevailed in 1972 after the ruling in the historic Asma Jilani vs. Government of Punjab case. The petitioner (later Asma Jehangir, the eminent human rights lawyer) challenged General Yahya Khan’s 1969 martial law. The main question before the Supreme Court was to decide on the validity of a detention — her father’s — made under the martial law, and to pronounce on the legality of a 1958 doctrine (to legitimise Gen. Ayub Khan’s takeover) that a coup successfully carried out became its own justification.


Chief Justice Hamood-ur-Rehman ruled that Yahya Khan was an “usurper” and that his martial law was illegal. The verdict came when Yahya Khan was no more in power. In 1973, the recently partitioned Pakistan adopted a new Constitution. The framers put in Article 6, which makes subversion of the Constitution a treasonable offence punishable with death. Yet barely five years later, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was in jail, and his army chief, General Zia-ul-Haq, declared martial law and took over the running of the country.


When Begum Nusrat Bhutto challenged the martial law on the basis of the verdict in the Asma Jilani case, the Supreme Court told her this was different as General Zia had only suspended the Constitution — not abrogated it — with the intention of restoring it as soon as possible. The court went on to validate the martial law by invoking the infamous “doctrine of necessity.”


Gen. Musharraf also won legal validation for his 1999 coup against the Nawaz Sharif government, once again on the basis of the doctrine of necessity in the 2002 Zafar Ali Shah case.


Against this background, it is difficult to say the Supreme Court has now once and for all closed its doors to dictators. One view is that the Bench could have strengthened its judgment with three crucial elements. It could have struck down the doctrine of necessity to ensure that no judge ever invokes it again; it could have also ruled that the Supreme Court does not have the powers to delegate, as it did to Gen. Musharraf, authority to anyone to change the Constitution; and three, it could have stated clearly that the Chief of Army Staff cannot take any extra-constitutional step.


Another question has been raised about the Supreme Court verdict. While the 14-judge Bench castigated Mr. Dogar, the Chief Justice appointed by Gen. Musharraf, for “judging his own cause” — his validation of the emergency also legitimised the appointments of the judges, including his own as Chief Justice, under the PCO — the same can be said of this Bench. And of course, there is the question whether the court should not have gone all the way back and punished judges who validated Gen. Musharraf’s 1999 takeover.


Shujat Hussain, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), who is known for a pithy turn of phrase, was among the first to cut down any idealistic notion about the verdict with the words that “no one has ever been able to block the path of two trucks and a jeep” rolling out of Rawalpindi whenever they choose to do so. Perhaps the best that can be said for now is that the judgment has closed a particularly bad chapter in Pakistan’s history.










It is an Act that drives wildlife conservationists to tears and land rights activists to despair. In Maharashtra, of the 2.66 lakh claims submitted under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act, only 1,512 have received final approval. Cases challenging the Act passed in 2006 are pending in the Supreme Court and Adivasis are still on the road, demanding that the Act be implemented.


Villagers of Pathali in the Adivasi-dominated Nandurbar district of Maharashtra had to come all the way to Mumbai to demand a village-level committee as a first step to decide the issue of forest rights. Pathali has been in the centre of a storm with villagers of neighbouring Goramba attacking them repeatedly, resulting in the death of a woman. There are about 350 families in Pathali. People like Madya Vadvi have lived by cultivating the nearby forestland since 1971-72. The fight between the two villages is not new, though it has intensified after the Act was passed. The rivals are staking claim to their land, Vadvi points out.


These are some of the sticky issues that have come to the fore after the passage of the Act. Maharashtra has 13,822 village level committees. Compared to other States, the implementation on the Act is slow.


According to data on the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry’s website, till June 30, 2009 Andhra Pradesh had distributed 67,855 title deeds, Chhattisgarh 1,02,800; Gujarat 1,997; Madhya Pradesh 24,571; Orissa 30,794; Rajasthan 1,778; Tripura 66,573; and West Bengal 5,249. Maharashtra lagged behind with 15 title deeds distributed and 1,384 ready for distribution.


The Centre is according priority to it. In her joint address to Parliament in June, President Pratibha Patil indicated that the new government would monitor the implementation of the Act and ensure that all title deeds were distributed by the end of 2009.


According to official figures, of the 2,66,441 claims in Maharashtra, 34, 924 have reached the sub-divisional level, which is the second stage, and 3,348 are at the final District Collector-level committee stage. A.K. Jha, Commissioner, Tribal Research and Training Institute (TRTI), which is the nodal agency for the implementation of the Act, defends the work done in the State. “We are providing the link between the people in the villages and the government with inputs that ensure smooth and accurate processing of cases. We are giving the funding, training and a robust system of implementing the Act and support for capacity-building and creating awareness,” says Mr. Jha, who is an Indian Forest Service officer.


The high number of claim applications shows that people are aware of the Act, he says. Although it was passed in 2006, it was implemented from December 31, 2007 and the rules were framed in 2008. He says it takes time to mobilise people in more than 13,000 villages spread across the State’s forest areas. Over 50 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had been associated with the process. According to him, the village-level committee is independent.


“The land will remain as forest land and its status is not going to change to revenue land just because forest rights are recognised. The mandate of the Act is to recognise forest rights, and after it is done the entry in the record of rights is going to be the mandate of the Collector and the Revenue Department as per the provisions of the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code,” he clarifies.


According to Mr. Jha, the Act goes beyond recognising individual forest rights to forest land. It also intends to empower the community and grants the right to protect forests, wildlife and biodiversity. “That I feel is the real purpose and ultimate mandate of the Act.”


However, there are complaints of growing interference by the Forest Department. Pradip Prabhu of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity says the law clearly talks about ownership and it is not a usufruct right (which is the right to enjoy the use and advantages of another’s property short of destruction or wastage of its substance). There are efforts to resist the grant of actual rights under the Act. Activists feel that Maharashtra could well have the worst record of implementing the Act. Since 2002, forest-dwellers have not been evicted in any part of the country except here, Mr. Prabhu says.


Apart from conservation groups, retired forest officials have opposed the Act in some States. Conservationists like Kishore Rithe are dismayed that such an Act should have been enacted in the first place. Mr. Rithe, who is based in Amravati and has worked extensively in the forests of Melghat, has been observing the gradual destruction of the area. After the passage of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the diversion of forest land for non-forest use had become difficult. However, the new Act reverses that. “Encroachments have increased tremendously after 2005 and people are just grabbing land,” he said. “Initially, in January 2009, there were only 10,000 claims in Maharashtra and 357 had gone up to the district-level committees. This number has shot up now, and this is because people have made false claims,” he points out.


“The country has lost its best forests in central India because of this Act, and once people clear forest land and start cultivating, we can’t bring those forests back. As a conservationist, I feel this country should admit that by introducing this law we have made a mistake. Forests need to be protected — that’s the basic issue,” he explains.


However, leaders of mass movements in Nandurbar, like Kishore Dhamale of the Satyashodhak Communist Party, are firm that the first right should go to the people who have cultivated the land for years.


“Instead of giving the Adivasis their rights, the government has given forest land to private companies to build wind farms,” he says. He is sceptical about claims that title deeds have been handed over to people in the State. He said in this feudal structure, people were not interested in Adivasis getting land rights since that would mean empowering a major chunk of the labour force.


The government too admits that in villages where there are both Adivasis and non-Adivasis, local leaders are not too keen to hold meetings or set up committees. According to P.S. Meena, Secretary, Maharashtra government, tribal development, the main bottleneck was that gram sabha sessions were not being held on time. The department, therefore, had given specific directions for special meetings. There was a three-tier process to complete the allocation of rights, and about 300 Global Positioning System (GPS) sets had been provided to map the land. He dismisses the complaints against the Forest Department and says the NGOs should act as facilitators and not oppose every step.


Mr. Meena estimates that about 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh hectares would be distributed eventually. He has on the anvil an Integrated Forest Development Project for landless Adivasis, with Rs. 20 crore allotted for it. The idea is to come up with proposals involving 1,000 ha or more of forest land which need to be regenerated, and dovetail programmes under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme with forest development activity.


While the TRTI and the government are trying to aid conservation measures through the Act, the primary issue is one of rights. The antagonism between conservationists and those getting land rights has to be addressed, too, and the misconception that this is a free-for-all land distribution programme must be cleared. It is nobody’s argument that forests must be destroyed. It is incumbent on the government to protect them — while ensuring that the people get their rightful entitlements.









Russia permitting transport of NATO and U.S. military cargoes via its air space has been only the beginning of the Kremlin’s new policy in Afghanistan.


This has been followed by the summit of the Dushanbe Four — the Presidents of Russia, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Its importance should by no means be reduced to its official objective — to discuss supply of electricity from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.


First and foremost, the summit demonstrates that on resolving the Afghan issue, Moscow has abandoned its previous position of “let’s wait and see how you do without us.” This is a good decision since it makes more sense to join the others and make money in the process.


Furthermore, Moscow has supported Dushanbe’s position on a new format for discussing the Afghan issue. It has done this appropriately — without disputing the authorship of the initiative or trying to become a co-author. President Dmitry Medvedev has come to appreciate the merits of the Dushanbe Four. The proposed format allows all of its participants to partake of the enormous cash flow earmarked by the wealthy among the international community — G8, G20 and so on — for resolving the region’s economic and social problems.


Projects carried out jointly by Russia and Tajikistan, such as the $680-million Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000), are good examples of cross-border projects. This project will make it possible to transfer surplus electricity to Kabul and the north-western regions of Pakistan in summer.


But this is not the main point. Principally, the format of the Dushanbe Four allows them to discuss all major regional problems — from developing economic cooperation to countering drug trafficking and terrorism, which are a headache for both Russia and Tajikistan. Afghanistan could benefit from contact and cooperation with its eastern neighbour, Pakistan. Kabul has been raising the problem of the open border, which allows the Taliban to find refuge on the Pakistani side. This problem can be resolved in the format of the Four.


It goes without saying that Tajikistan is interested in creating the Dushanbe Four format, all the more so since Tehran, Dushanbe’s traditional rival in Afghanistan, has already held two trilateral summits — Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan and Iran-Afghanistan-Tajikistan. Tehran intends to become the regional leader in resolving the Afghan issue, and the Dushanbe Four helps Tajikistan keep its role alive.As for Pakistan, Islamabad has long expressed its readiness for closer cooperation with Moscow on resolving regional issues, particularly Afghanistan. The only sensitive question that may come up is Islamabad’s request to Moscow to supply the Pakistani army with helicopters, aircraft, and other hardware. Finally, at a forum of the Afghan diaspora, Afghan MPs, politicians and experts made a big step towards closer ties with Russia. They stopped attributing the social crisis in Afghanistan to foreign factors, which traditionally included the Soviet involvement. It was noted at the forum that the war in Afghanistan made regional cooperation a top priority, and that it was time Russia played a befitting role in this respect.


Moscow has made an adequate response by supporting Dushanbe’s initiative.


 RIA Novosti








Barclays and HSBC made a passionate defence of London’s bonus culture on Monday amid a growing public backlash about the return to a big pay bonanza barely a year after the government bailed out the financial system.


As criticism of bonuses crossed the traditional political divide, the banks compared their high-flyers to footballers and Hollywood stars to try to explain the need for the hundreds of thousands of pounds individuals are expected to receive this year. Neither bank gave figures about potential bonuses for investment banking staff, but a jump in profits in both operations led to speculation that huge pay deals will be awarded.


Profits at Barclays Capital, the investment banking arm of the high street bank, doubled to £1 billion while at HSBC’s investment bank the profits rose 125 per cent to $6.3 billion. Each bank reported overall profits of nearly £3 billion despite a combined £13 billion of bad debts caused by rising unemployment, making it more difficult for households and companies to pay back loans. Bank shares jumped sharply, pushing the FTSE 100 to its highest this year.


John Varley, chief executive of Barclays, turned to footballers to explain bankers’ pay while Stuart Gulliver, who runs the investment bank at HSBC, used Hollywood stars. Mr. Varley said: “The football analogy certainly goes some way I think [to explain bonuses] ... There is simply no higher priority that to ensure we field the very best people. That in a sense is exactly the same as a football manager if they are going to win. Our obligation is to ensure we pay appropriately.”


Mr. Gulliver likened the situation to a Hollywood studio that not only paid stars for pulling in profits, but also many of the extras. “If a foreign exchange trader makes a deal then they know two days later how much they made. If it’s a £5 million profit, that is something we can count, we can see it, its real. And they are part of a successful team,” he said.


But criticism of the banks came from across the political spectrum. George Osborne, the Tory shadow chancellor [Finance Minister], said: “Banks should watch out that they do not misuse taxpayer support — it’s designed to facilitate lending, not mega pay deals. Without taxpayer support, the whole system faced failure.”


While neither HSBC nor Barclays have taken funds directly from the taxpayer, both are benefiting from the estimated £1.2 trillion of taxpayer funds helping to prop up the sector, through a number of government schemes. Since the October bailout, the government has demanded that the FSA tackle pay in the city to prevent traders being encouraged to embark on risky strategies in the hope of receiving big bonuses. However, the City regulator is not planning to set caps on pay.









The Obama administration is looking at transferring inmates at Guantanamo to a combined jail and courtroom facility at an existing prison on the U.S. mainland, officials confirmed on Monday.


A taskforce set up by President Barack Obama to consider options for closing Guantanamo by January 22 is expected to publish its findings over the summer.


Options being looked at include converting a civilian prison in Michigan, which has already been dubbed Gitmo North in anticipation, or a military prison in Kansas, Fort Leavenworth.


The Associated Press was the first to disclose that the Obama administration is considering a combined courtroom-prison complex, saying it was regarded as the “best among a series of bad options”.


Officials at the White House and justice department confirmed on Monday the taskforce had held such discussions but no recommendations had yet gone forward. A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said: “No decisions have been made.”


Mr. Obama made closure of Guantanamo a centrepiece of his election campaign, arguing that the U.S. would be best served by adhering to the rule of law and respect for traditional constitutional rights.


But he is finding it harder than initially expected and has met resistance from members of Congress opposed to having inmates transferred to their states, citing fears that it would make them magnets for a terrorist attack.


Congress is withholding the millions the President needs for the transfer until he comes up with a more detailed plan for how it will work, expected by next month.


Opposition is weaker in Michigan than elsewhere, partly because the Standish maximum-security prison, which can hold 600, is due to close this autumn as part of the State’s cost-cutting. The arrival of the Guantanamo inmates could inject an estimated $1 billion a year into the State and help save 300 jobs at the prison.


Carl Levin, the Democratic Senator from Michigan, has expressed support for the transfer. Tara Andringa, a spokesman for Mr. Levin, said: “If State and local officials are supportive, the Senator believes the idea should be considered.”


But some Republicans are opposed. Congressman Mike Rogers told the Detroit News: “Bringing terrorists into the State totally disregards the safety and security of Michigan families.”


There are 229 prisoners still at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, down from about 800 at its height after the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. placed prisoners picked up in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in Guantanamo. Of the 229, 60 have been cleared for release but the U.S. has been struggling to find countries prepared to take them. Most of the remainder are also expected to be cleared for release or be tried by civilian or military commissions.


In a move that has brought protests from rights groups, the administration has signalled that some prisoners seen as too dangerous to release could be held indefinitely. They cannot be tried, through lack of evidence or because evidence has been tainted by the use of torture.


The proposed hybrid prison would be run jointly by the departments of Justice, Defence and Homeland Security and would hold both civilian and military trials.


Human rights groups have long campaigned for the inmates to be transferred to the mainland in the hope they would then come under U.S. law.


Jameel Jaffer, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “Closing Guantanamo will be an empty gesture if we just reopen it onshore under a different name ... any arrangement that allows indefinite detention without charge or trial will leave in place the problems that led President Obama to order the prison closed.”










Unemployed graduates around the world will be keeping a keen eye on a lawsuit in New York, as a former student tries to win back her tuition fees.


Trina Thompson (27) has sued the college that granted her a diploma this spring, claiming its career counsellors have not worked hard enough to find her a job.


Ms Thompson says Monroe College in the Bronx should refund her $70,000 in tuition for a bachelor’s degree because she has been unable to find gainful employment since she graduated in April. She said the college promised job leads but has not followed through.


“They have not tried hard enough to help me,” Ms Thompson, who received a degree in information technology, wrote in her lawsuit.


Monroe College, founded in 1933, offers career-oriented learning in business, health care, criminal justice and information technology, and an arts programme. According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, just 20 per cent of U.S. college students from 2009 who applied for a job had one when they graduated.










The government found itself unable to introduce a bill in the Rajya Sabha earlier this week whose purport was to make it mandatory for judges to declare their assets, and yet insulate them from public scrutiny. The issue is complex. It involves the question of equality before the law of all classes and categories of citizens (and therefore of public officials), and also of safeguarding the independence of the judiciary, without which democracy — no matter how defined — will be rendered meaningless. The points raised in the Upper House by members cutting across party lines give the impression that legislators appear to have developed a kind of systemic antipathy against the judiciary. Because the judiciary ruled some years ago that a person must officially declare his assets and liabilities before becoming an election candidate, the MPs of all parties, the ruling Congress included, are returning the compliment. Their antagonism against Section 6(1) of the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill was voiced in strident terms. The section stipulates that the declaration made by a judge before a competent authority shall not be made public or disclosed, or be put into question by any citizen, court or authority, and that no judge shall be subjected to any inquiry or query in relation to the contents of the declaration made.


Broadly, the section conforms to the ideas being expressed in the public domain for some time by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan. The CJI has been pleading that while the judiciary is not adverse to disclosing its assets, the information available should not be misused by anyone to engage in vexatious litigation against a judge. This is a concern which deserves appropriate consideration. International discussion on the issue — in the light of circumstances obtaining in different contexts — is alive to this aspect. Surprisingly, our Rajya Sabha MPs gave no awareness of this concern, although they did raise some valid points. Essentially they seemed to say that there should be no distinction as between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary when it came to standards of probity among public officials. In a country in which the extent of corruption in the lower judiciary has drawn sighs of distress from the CJI, this view can hardly be brushed aside. The disclosure of assets and incomes of public officers has emerged as a global anti-corruption issue, although in some of this discussion judges have not been seen as public officials. Indeed, only a few countries have specific legislation for judges. The legal question whether judges are public officials remains unclear to experts. How much personal information — such as concerning assets and incomes — should be made publicly available and in what form is also not clear. The US Judicial Code of Conduct of 1995 stipulates that a judge should regularly file reports of compensation received for law-related and extra-judicial activities under a scheme of broad disclosure. But there appears no one model indicating the range of assets judges should disclose. In some countries, a judge is not obliged to disclose certain categories of assets.


However, the discussion in India should proceed in the light of our own experience. The first concern should be to maintain the independence of the judiciary. The fact that the judiciary is not against asset disclosure must be welcomed and seen as a positive sign. With what institution or authority should that information be filed is a question that needs thought out carefully. Should it necessarily be the executive? If a move is allowed against a judge based on that information, it has to be within tough safeguards that may even appear discouraging.








On July 18, the day Nelson Mandela turned 91, I was down at the waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa’s most beautiful city. People were singing, dancing and celebrating their national treasure — the man they call "Madiba". In the "townships" in the outskirts of the city, foreign tourists took in the festive tin shacks where poor blacks lived — telltale signs of an ethos still struggling to come to terms with the effects of decades of apartheid. "Township tourism", as they call it, brings cash to the poor who are smart enough to tap the commercial possibilities of curious, wealthy travellers searching for something beyond the beautiful beaches or Cape Town’s famed Table Mountain.


This was South Africa in a nutshell — inspiring, moving and paradoxical — much like India. Bollywood stars, the icing on the IPL cake, had got South Africans excited. From barbers at the railway station to the township potter who sold me a handmade sushi plate in a flea market, they all had questions about the stars of Mumbai.


Today, the two countries are connected not only by history, cricket and Bollywood, but also by strategy and business. For years, low-cost Indian generic drugs have helped save lives across Africa. The global economic slowdown has thrown up new opportunities to strengthen this partnership, not only with South Africa but also the rest of the African continent.


Recent conversations in Cape Town offered some interesting insights on how this may happen. Talking to journalist colleagues from Africa at a training programme sponsored by America’s National Press Foundation, and later with scientists, activists and health administrators gathered at the recently-concluded 5th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2009) in Cape Town, three things became clear.


One, the recession is forcing most African countries to cut their budgets, including expenditure on critical programmes on HIV/AIDS at a time when there is a need to scale up treatment. The funds crunch comes in the wake of weakening donor support. The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which contributes more than $3.7 billion to HIV prevention and care globally, has not increased its budget this year. Another key global donor, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), is facing a budget shortfall between three and four billion dollars. Funding cuts from major international donors have already hit home in many countries in Africa — Tanzania has had to reduce its HIV budget by a quarter, while Swaziland has lowered its 2011 treatment coverage target from 60 per cent to 50 per cent, which will affect about 40,000 HIV-positive people.


This became a hot topic at IAS 2009. Interruption of antiretrovirals (ARVs) is not only potentially life-threatening for those now on treatment, it also poses a serious public health risk of development of drug resistance. If patients default from their treatment regimen due to drug shortages, they may become immune to some of the first-line drugs and have to rely on a second-line treatment, made up of different drugs, which are less effective, have more side effects and are lot more expensive than first-line ARVs. Africa, the region most affected by the virus, would be hit the hardest as the bulk of its AIDS budget comes from external sources.


Two, the cash crunch is fuelling the demand for low-cost ARVs and more cost-effective and efficient ways of delivering healthcare to the sick.

Three, while the first two factors look to be export boosters for India’s generic drug manufacturers, the road ahead is not smooth. Obstacles abound alongside opportunities. Some context: India’s pharmaceutical products exports registered over 30 per cent growth from April 2008 to January 2009, despite slowing growth in leading pharma markets worldwide and fluctuating currencies. India’s drug exports to South Africa grew by 57.27 per cent during this period. Corresponding figures for Kenya and Nigera are 63.51 per cent and 38.79 per cent respectively, according to Pharmexcil (Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council). The funds crunch has raised the profile of generic drugs.


At one of the sessions at IAS 2009, Vuyiseka Dubula, a South African treatment activist, pointed out that in southern Africa alone, more than 60 per cent of drugs that are used are generics. They mostly come from India. Treatment activists like Dubula stress the need for South-South collaboration specifically to develop second-line ARVs.


This is not only activist talk. Health administrators like Dr Nicholas Muraguri , head of Kenya’s National AIDS and STI control programme, also spoke of the need for a deeper engagement between African governments and generic drug manufacturers. Kenya, like many other AIDS-afflicted African countries, relies heavily on donors to implement its HIV and AIDS programmes, he pointed out. Weakening donor support means that if Kenya wants to scale up its ARV rollout, it has to get new donors. That is easier said than done. One key strategy could be "pool procurement", which would enable African countries to band together to get a better deal from a generics manufacturer like Cipla, the Indian drug major. This can happen, he pointed out, through WHO leadership or through the African economic groups. Discussions on this have already started.


While attempts by African countries to stretch the AIDS dollar spell opportunities for India at one level, new hurdles have also cropped up. Dr P.V. Appaji, executive director of Hyderabad-based Pharmexcil, says in the harsher business climate, a turf war is breaking out among generic drug manufacturers. Indian generic drug companies are pitted against generic drug makers from other countries. Another key concern for India: across the world, access to low-cost generics is under threat from counterfeits. Sustained advocacy is required to dispel the image that generic drugs are substandard or fake, Dr Appaji felt.

All this means that while there may be a pot of gold at the end of the road, getting it might prove to be a bumpy journey.


Patralekha Chatterjee writes on contemporary development issues, and can be contacted at








Though I am a Christian by birth, but after coming to India, I discovered the beauty of Hinduism. I feel connected with everything in India including the religion. Hinduism has been inspiring me from the day I heard various mythological stories. I find each aspect of it fascinating. I am particularly impressed by virtues like tolerance and love for each other.


Back home in Germany, I used to visit the church every Sunday with my family. But after I got busy with my work I was unable to visit the church regularly.


My father is a staunch Christian, hence I cannot talk about my interest in Hinduism with him.


When I visited south India my astrologer gave me a small statue of Lord Ganesha. He told me to keep the idol with me always. I believe that it is bringing me prosperity and good luck.


I have not heard of any other religion in the world with thousands of Gods and Goddesses. There is a God for every occasion and almost everything. Isn’t it interesting?


(As told to Fozia Yasin)


Claudia Ciesla is a well-known model and actress










Till now, India has been taking comfort in the fact that while swine flu was spreading, the patients were responding well to the treatment and there were no fatalities whatsoever. However, with the nation reporting its first swine flu death on Monday, there is cause for worry, particularly because this is an indigenous case. Several others have contracted the disease due to “indigenous transmission with no history of travel”. The death of a 14-year-old teenager in Pune has also disproved that the H1N1 virus in India was a mild strain.


The teenager’s death has stirred the Union Health Ministry into action. It has issued new guidelines on treating cases of swine flu across the country, particularly providing that such cases must be reported to government hospitals for treatment.


The nation had woken up to the deadly H1N1 virus threat, right from the time the WHO issued a global alert in April. The travel advisory and the screening of passengers from abroad have been found effective in containing the pandemic. It is reassuring to know from the official statement that there are enough stocks of Tamiflu with the government. The public needs to be educated further on the urgency of early detection as well as quarantine measures. Both play a crucial role in the treatment and containment of the virus. While the WHO has been repeatedly warning that the second wave could be more serious, treatment-resistant virus has been detected in the United States, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong and Japan. The worst is clearly not over and the threat is for real and serious. The medical authorities, right from the district to the Central level, need to be extra-vigilant.







Unmindful of the nationwide condemnation and concern, caste panchayats of Haryana have not seen reason and are up to their usual mischief. They have refused to let a couple which married within the gotra to live in peace in Jhajjar district and even refused to take back their fatwa against the family members of the “erring couple”. Leaders of other khap panchayats tried to broker a compromise by letting the ire of the panchayat fall only on the couple surviving under heavy security but the self-styled keepers of gotra morality are hell bent on haunting the entire family. Obviously, they are trying to run a parallel judicial system, challenging the authority of the state.


Such caste panchayats are having an inflated impression about their own role only because some politicians kowtow to them. The belief is that they can manipulate a significant number of votes. That is why they have been given such a long rope that they force husband and wife to live like brother and sister and have even killed those who dared to defy their diktat. The controversy has brought such a bad name to Haryana that the Chief Minister has no choice except to pick up courage and cut the illegal entities to size. He must ensure that the authority of law prevails in his state and not that of the khaps.


Whatever their personal opinion about the varna system, the khaps cannot force it on unwilling members of the community, that too in defiance of the law of the land. Coercing anybody to leave his or her home is a criminal act and needs to be punished as such. Not to do so will amount to dereliction of duty.








Ordinary jail inmates may complain of lack of amenities, bad food or poor hygiene, but for moneyed and VIP prisoners a jail is no less than a rest and recreation centre. In a report to the Punjab and Haryana High Court the Bathinda SSP has confirmed what is widely known. It is common knowledge that mobile phones, drugs and liquor are freely available to prisoners in Punjab jails for a consideration. In Bathinda jail up to 150 under-trials had cell phones and drugs were available at a hefty price, says the SSP’s report. Some criminals enjoyed B-class facilities, which had been withdrawn on paper.


Making a mockery of the regulatory mechanism, jail inmates elsewhere in Punjab too can bribe their way to get an easy access to whatever they need. Searches in the crowded jail in Jalandhar yielded five consignments of drugs and some mobile phones in March this year. Earlier, this 19th century jail had seen inmates rioting for better amenities.


A major reason for the shady goings-on in jails is rampant corruption among jail officials and guards. Nothing can happen in a jail without their connivance. Why it has been so difficult for the higher authorities to check corruption among officials or stop inmates from buying VIP treatment is not clear. Courts have frequently intervened to stop malpractices, but with limited success. As far back as 2005 the Supreme Court had asked the mobile phone companies to instal jammers in all jails across the country, but nothing has happened, at least in this part of the country. In Punjab cash crunch is one excuse dished out for every act of non-governance. How far the fresh efforts of the high court to clean up the jails will succeed remains to be seen.












The worst fears of some of us have now been confirmed. Pakistani society, politicians and media have always been talking about the involvement of Indian intelligence agency RAW in fomenting trouble inside Pakistan. First it was in Sindh, particularly Karachi. Now people say there is no doubt about the Indian involvement in Balochistan and some say that RAW is also supporting Baitullah Mehsud in the NWFP.


Questions are being raised on the unusually high number of consulate offices opened by India in Afghanistan. The involvement of the CIA and Mossa is also not ruled out.


There is speculation that Baitullah Mehsud could not have survived for so long since the US drone attacks began if it was not for the support of one or more of foreign intelligence agencies and/or military help.


Asif Ali Zardari has now openly admitted that the Taliban are the creation of Pakistan. The terror that Pakistan exported has now come back to it. Earlier, it was limited to the NWFP and was not seen as a major problem. But now that it has the potential of taking over Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore, even the military and intelligence have been forced, partly because of the US pressure, but primarily due to the threat it poses to them, reluctantly but decisively to come around to confront them. When Zardari makes a bold statement, he obviously has the approval of the military and intelligence.


The terrorist groups in the Af-Pak region — be it al-Qaeda, Taliban or Lashkar-e-Toiba — were propped up by the US and Pakistani governments. They received arms and ammunition, money and training from military professionals.


The association of terrorist groups with the Pakistani government during the military regime was so close that some former military officials are part of terrorist set-ups and terrorists have infiltrated the Pakistani establishment.


One reason why the governments, whether Punjab or Federal, in Pakistan is reluctant to take action against Hafiz Saeed, the LeT founder, is that he can become a cause of much embarrassment for the establishment there if he decides to open his mouth.


But the question is after the present Pakistani establishment has made up its mind to confront the terrorist groups and the US has relentlessly pursued the terrorists, even going to the extent of launching attacks inside the sovereign territory of Pakistan, how are the terrorists holding fort?


One would assume that the lot which was trained to fight the Russians would be old enough to be combatants now. So, even if there is supply of money from Saudi Arabia or somewhere or plenty of drug trafficking money is available, and there are youth from central Asia, southern Punjab (Pakistani) and from all around the world ready to be trained as jehadis, who is providing them training in the use of modern methods of warfare?


Is the CIA playing a double game? Peace in the area would make the justification of the US military presence in the region untenable. And it is no secret that the US wants to be involved not only in the Af-Pak region but also in Kashmir.

We’re not talking about George Bush. We’re talking about Barack Obama. Even before Obama’s victory results became public, he had announced his intention of appointing a Kashmir aide. Why on earth is an uninitiated US President interested more in Kashmir than his own country?


But what is disturbing for most educated, self-righteous middle class Indians, who have always seen India as a peaceful country and Pakistan as source of all trouble, is the revelation that India could have a role in instigating violence inside Pakistan.


The joint bilateral statement issued from Sharm el-Sheikh has a reference to Pakistan having information on threats to Balochistan. Pakistan sees it as a diplomatic victory.


The response in India is that of shock, especially from the hawks. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has displayed rare courage and insight in saying that he is willing to discuss any issue with Pakistan. He has also encouraged Pakistan to take action against the perpetrators of the November 26, 2008, incident in Mumbai without linking it to the resumption of composite dialogue.


As a leader of the senior (in terms of experience with democracy) and bigger nation, only he could have been expected to be magnanimous. And he has lived up to his role. He has breached the parochial approach which constrains progress on India-Pakistan official relations.


Manmohan Singh has merely acknowledged something which is common knowledge in Pakistan. But Pakistan will have to provide concrete proof of RAW’s involvement in Balochistan or elsewhere in Pakistan just like India has done in the case of the Mumbai incident. But this is only a trivial matter. It is an open secret that the ISI and RAW have been working at cross purposes.


What Manmohan Singh has achieved as a statesman is that he has set out to define a new paradigm in which India-Pakistan relations will be discussed. For the first time in the history of the two nations, he has laid the grounds for India and Pakistan to work together to solve the common problems, including that of terrorism.


The US has already given an indication of this by asking India to provide help to Pakistan. And why not? If India can develop close ties with Afghanistan and provide financial help to it and Pakistan can derive help from the US, India and Pakistan, if they can shed their historical baggage, can cooperate as friendly neighbours.


Pakistan, where receiving US aid is a government policy now, can enjoy a more democratic relationship with India. Can we conceive of RAW and the ISI working together, like both of them have a working relationship with the CIA, to root out terrorism from the region?


Pakistan, being the smaller and more insecure of the two nations, would warm up to India only if it feels comfortable. The long adversarial relationship between the two has dried up all the trust. Manmohan Singh has certainly made Yousuf Raza Gilani and Pakistan feel that they can do business with India.n The writer, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, has just returned from a week-long trip to Pakistan.








The world is heading for a catastrophic energy crunch that could cripple a global economic recovery because most of the major oil fields in the world have passed their peak production, a leading energy economist has warned.


Higher oil prices brought on by a rapid increase in demand and a stagnation, or even decline, in supply could blow any recovery off course, said Dr Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the respected International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, which is charged with the task of assessing future energy supplies by OECD countries.


In an interview with The Independent, Dr Birol said that the public and many governments appeared to be oblivious to the fact that the oil on which modern civilisation depends is running out far faster than previously predicted and that global production is likely to peak in about 10 years – at least a decade earlier than most governments had estimated.


But the first detailed assessment of more than 800 oil fields in the world, covering three quarters of global reserves, has found that most of the biggest fields have already peaked and that the rate of decline in oil production is now running at nearly twice the pace as calculated just two years ago.


On top of this, there is a problem of chronic under-investment by oil-producing countries, a feature that is set to result in an “oil crunch” within the next five years which will jeopardise any hope of a recovery from the present global economic recession, he said.


In a stark warning to Britain and the other Western powers, Dr Birol said that the market power of the very few oil-producing countries that hold substantial reserves of oil – mostly in the Middle East – would increase rapidly as the oil crisis begins to grip after 2010.


“One day we will run out of oil, it is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us, and we have to prepare ourselves for that day,” Dr Birol said. “The earlier we start, the better, because all of our economic and social system is based on oil, so to change from that will take a lot of time and a lot of money and we should take this issue very seriously,” he said.


“The market power of the very few oil-producing countries, mainly in the Middle East, will increase very quickly. They already have about 40 per cent share of the oil market and this will increase much more strongly in the future,” he said.


There is now a real risk of a crunch in the oil supply after next year when demand picks up because not enough is being done to build up new supplies of oil to compensate for the rapid decline in existing fields.


The IEA estimates that the decline in oil production in existing fields is now running at 6.7 per cent a year compared to the 3.7 per cent decline it had estimated in 2007, which it now acknowledges to be wrong.


“If we see a tightness of the markets, people in the street will see it in terms of higher prices, much higher than we see now. It will have an impact on the economy, definitely, especially if we see this tightness in the markets in the next few years,” Dr Birol said.


“It will be especially important because the global economy will still be very fragile, very vulnerable. Many people think there will be a recovery in a few years’ time but it will be a slow recovery and a fragile recovery and we will have the risk that the recovery will be strangled with higher oil prices,” he told The Independent.


In its first-ever assessment of the world’s major oil fields, the IEA concluded that the global energy system was at a crossroads and that consumption of oil was “patently unsustainable”, with expected demand far outstripping supply.


Oil production has already peaked in non-Opec countries and the era of cheap oil has come to an end, it warned.


In most fields, oil production has now peaked, which means that other sources of supply have to be found to meet existing demand.


Even if demand remained steady, the world would have to find the equivalent of four Saudi Arabias to maintain production, and six Saudi Arabias if it is to keep up with the expected increase in demand between now and 2030, Dr Birol said.


“It’s a big challenge in terms of the geology, in terms of the investment and in terms of the geopolitics. So this is a big risk and it’s mainly because of the rates of the declining oil fields,” he said.


“Many governments now are more and more aware that at least the day of cheap and easy oil is over... [however] I’m not very optimistic about governments being aware of the difficulties we may face in the oil supply,” he said.


Environmentalists fear that as supplies of conventional oil run out, governments will be forced to exploit even dirtier alternatives, such as the massive reserves of tar sands in Alberta, Canada, which would be immensely damaging to the environment because of the amount of energy needed to recover a barrel of tar-sand oil compared to the energy needed to collect the same amount of crude oil.


“Just because oil is running out faster than we have collectively assumed, does not mean the pressure is off on climate change,” said Jeremy Leggett, a former oil-industry consultant and now a green entrepreneur with Solar Century.


“Shell and others want to turn to tar, and extract oil from coal. But these are very carbon-intensive processes, and will deepen the climate problem,” Dr Leggett said.


“What we need to do is accelerate the mobilisation of renewables, energy efficiency and alternative transport. We have to do this for global warming reasons anyway, but the imminent energy crisis redoubles the imperative,” he said.


By arrangement with The Independent







Internet search operations are dominated by Google, so much so that Googling is now a verb and a synonym for searching for information on the Internet, much as Dalda is for hydrogenated vegetable fat.

Search is one of the most frequent online activities of most Internet users and in this Google dominated the field soon after it was originally developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1997. Within a year, by the end of 1998, Google had an index of about 60 million pages, and it was widely held that it gave better search results than those of competitors like Hotbot or At that time, portal sites, including Yahoo!,, Lycos and were seen to be “the future of the Web,” but they were all to fall behind, often because they became bloated.


Yahoo! became a distant number two and Microsoft’s search engine, through its various avatars and brands, was a tiny blip. The two also-rans have been exploring various options, including an outright purchase of Yahoo! by Microsoft, but now they have signed a deal through which all the search enquiries to Yahoo! will be served by the new and improved Microsoft search engine Bing. Together they hope to mount a challenge, and get a share of the advertisement pie that is now practically monopolised by Google.


Rightly so, many would suggest. The numbers are revealing, and they show that Google is at the top by a huge margin that varies from country to country. It percentage share is 90 in the UK, 92 in India and 67 globally.


In the all-important US market, which yields the top advertising dollars, Google rules—77.54 per cent share in July, according to analysis conducted by web analytics firm Stat Counter. The analysis, published on August 3, showed an increase in Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, in July to 9.41 per cent from 8.23 per cent in June. Microsoft and Yahoo! combined took 20.36 per cent of the market, up slightly from 19.27 per cent in June. Bing is moving up, but Yahoo!+Bing is hardy taking the cyber world by a storm.

Bing is a fine product; it has many ease-of-use features and a touch of elegance which is truly alluring. I have been using it religiously every day since it was unveiled, but often find myself going to Google after a while—the search results there have more depth and give me what I want sooner rather than later. This is hardly surprisingly, because Google has a tremendous advantage in the number of web pages it has indexed. According to one study, roughly speaking, that the number of pages indexed by Google doubles every 16 months or so, although the growth seems to be sometimes sudden. Last year, it crossed one trillion (10,00,00,00,00,000) unique websites on the web. No one else comes even remotely close.

The Yahoo! Bing combination has already made a difference in presenting a viable competition to the monolith. The new features on Bing show that much thought has gone into the user interface and in presenting information in the right context. Here it scores over Google and that’s the reason it is making an impact.


When we search a cyber world of over a trillion websites, we have no use for how many results are available, or how many pages have been indexed. Technical superiority becomes humbug if the user is not presented with the answers relevant to his or her query. Google has handled the burgeoning of information on the cyber world very well, how it will adapt to the challenges thrown its way will well decide whether it retains its monopoly over cyber consumers. We are still searching for answers on that one.







Protests against mega dams in Arunachal Pradesh continue to mount, with several student bodies of both Assam and Arunachal as well as environmental groups resorting to stirs against the Centre’s decision to implement over a hundred big hydro-electricity projects, mostly on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra. The Centre is apparently in a hurry to push through the projects despite the shoddy nature of the environment impact assessment (EIA) reports, and despite the fact that expert committees have been formed to study further the possible downstream adverse impacts like floods. Damages likely to be caused to the Himalayan ecology including forests and wildlife that form part of a global biodiversity hotspot are another grave concern. Then, the seismic vulnerability of the region puts yet another serious question mark over the viability of such a huge number of projects. The perils stemming from mega dams cannot simply be brushed aside as unfounded, and pending in-depth assessment from expert committees, the process of clearance should be held in abeyance. The scientific community, in fact, has called for a rethinking on the Centre’s hydro-power policy for the North-East, as it largely undermines the environmental and social concerns as well as downstream impacts. While power may be an urgent need for development, the colossal social and environmental costs of these mega dams could effectively negate all the benefits.

With Assam’s flood situation worsening in recent years, developments taking place on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra are likely to have a bearing on the nature of floods in the coming days. Even the Assam Government has admitted that several of the worst spates of flood in the recent past had a lot to do with release of excess water from dams. If the State Government is under a constitutional obligation to protect the lives and property of the people, it should take up the matter of mega dams with the Centre, Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan. China too is reportedly planning large-scale interventions on the Brahmaputra which can have catastrophic consequences on Assam. Recently, a delegation of Bangladesh visited the Tipaimukh dam site in Manipur to examine the possibilities of any negative impact on their country. It is not understood what prevents the Government of India from exhibiting similar concerns over dams in Bhutan and China. Flood is regarded as Assam’s biggest concern inflicting damage worth thousands of crores of rupees every year. It would be in our collective interest to prevent anything that can worsen it further.







Rossum’s Universal Robots have become universal indeed, inexorably intruding into every field of human activity, from home and school to the work-place and even the battlefield. It is apt that Capek coined the term from the Czech word robota, meaning forced labour, for robots are nothing but machines capable of automatically and repeatedly performing a series of actions for a duration which might have driven a human being doing the same task insane. Thus they fit nicely into the paradigm that science is devoted to make the life of human beings easier. We have mechanised ‘creatures’ at home designed to render household chores lighter; in nations like Japan we not only have ‘intelligent’ washing machines and vacuum cleaners, we also have toilets that sing! Robots have replaced workmen in factories, undertaking hazardous or monotonous jobs; drone fighter-planes scour desert terrain looking for the enemy while their pilots remain in safety thousands of miles away from the actual battle arena. In laboratories and research stations robots carry out delicate tasks, displaying a programmed finesse and consistency human beings are incapable of. With improvement and greater sophistication certain robots have actually taken on human characteristics, thereby firing artistic imaginations into conjuring up cinematic extravaganzas such as The Terminator series, wherein the line dividing artificial and real intelligence becomes all too thin.

Little wonder the rapid development of robotic technology has got a section of the scientific community worried. Not that we have reached the stage dreamt up by Sci-fi writers where rogue killer robots rise in revolt and make slaves of mankind. Yet scientists are already warning that ultra-smart machines, which might in the future outsmart human beings and perhaps even endanger them, are being created. They are particularly worried at the way artificially intelligent products performing human-like functions are intruding into the lives of ordinary people. As an example they point to the US firm led research to create robotic nurses which will interact with patients to simulate empathy. The potential for psychological damage to patients, according to them, due to dependency on these ‘nursebots’, is immense. These Cassandras had recently presented their findings at the International Joint Conference for Artificial Intelligence, held in California. The Conference highlighted the reality that scientists are devoting far excess time for creating artificial intelligence and too little on robot safety. It also called for introduction of tests for new robots, similar to ethical and clinical trials of new drugs, before they can be introduced. Unfortunately, the scientific trend in general has forever been to ignore moral or ethical posers in the name of utilitarian exigencies. This being a mechanistic age, smart machines have become inextricable aspects of the broader scenario, and it is doubtful whether their creators too would allow issues of ethics to come in their way.








The process of development along with expanding globalisation and liberalisation process has increased the number of consumer related issues. The ultimate user of a product or service is known as a consumer. A person who buys products is also known as a consumer. Consumer refers to individuals or households that use goods and services generated within the economy. Consumerism is likely to dominate the Indian market for a long time to come due to the economic reforms ushered in and several agreements signed under the WTO.

With the process of globalisation and liberalisation, personal relations between the buyer and the seller no more exist now. This also ushers in a transition from a predominantly “sellers market” to a “buyers market”. The producers/sellers are becoming stronger, organised and profit oriented, whereas the buyers are still weak and unorganised. In the age of revolutionised information technology and with the emergence of e-commerce related innovations the consumers are further deprived to a great extent due to increasing use of deceptive methods and promotional tactics of selling products and/or excessive hype of products and services. As a result the buyer is being misled, duped and deceived day in and day out. Over-dependence on the market and the inherent profit motive in mass production and sales has given manufacturers and dealers a good reason to exploit the consumers.

Rural India with its traditional perceptions has grown up over the years, not only in terms of income but also in terms of thinking. The purchasing power in rural India is on steady rise and it has resulted in the growth of the rural markets. The market has been growing at 3 to 4 per cent per annum adding more than one million consumers every year. The rural consumers in India are generally ignorant and they are unorganised. They are exploited by the manufacturers, traders and service providers in different ways. The rural consumers are not only scattered but also diverse and heterogeneous. As a result of globalisation and liberalisation the rural market in India is the largest potential market in the world. The manufacturers and the traders take advantage of the condition of the rural consumers. It has been observed that the condition of the rural consumers is deplorable because they are largely exploited in the rural markets on account of lack of competition among the sellers. The rural consumers face various problems like adulteration, short weighing and measuring, lack of safety and quality control in appliances and equipments, unfair warranties and guarantees, imitation, sales gimmicks and unreasonable pricing.

Thus both rural and urban consumers are exploited mainly due to limited information, limited competition, low literacy and limited supply. Exploitation for consumers may come in the form of under weight, under measurement, defective home appliances and medicines beyond expiry date, price charged above the retail price, duplicate articles, selling fake items in the name of the original, adulteration and impurity done to get higher profits, absence of inbuilt safeguards in appliances, hoarding and black marketing, false, incomplete, misleading information on quality, durability, and safety, requirement of constant and regular services for high cost items like car, rough behavior, undue conditions and harassment in getting LPG connection or a telephone connection etc.

As codified under the Indian laws, consumers are empowered by six rights and several duties. Six rights reserved for consumers are-Right to safety (to protect against hazardous goods), Right to be informed (about price, quality and purity), Right to coose (access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices), Right to be heard (consumers interest and welfare must be taken care of), Right to seek redressal (protection against unfair trade practices and settling genuine grievances) and Right to connsumer education (knowledge about goods, services and issues related to consumers). Consumers must know how to exercise their rights properly. It is implemented for the protection of consumer so that the consumer is not exploited by the sellers of the products. Again important duties for the consumers are to get a bill for every important purchase and also the warranty/guaranty card; check the MRP, trademark, name and address of the manufacturer, expiry date and net content or Agmark on the goods; form consumer awareness groups; and make a complaint on genuine grievances.

In India, as a part of consumer protection measure the Consumer Protection Act was introduced in 1986. It provides consumer disputes redressal settlement mechanism at the State and national level. With the help of this law grievances can be solved in a speedy, simple and inexpensive manner. A three tier system of consumer courts at the national, State and district levels were set up. For complaints that involve payment of compensation up to Rs 20 lakh, the consumer can approach the District Consumer Court. For complaints above Rs. 20 lakh but less than 1 crore, consumer can approach State Consumer Commission. Again, for complaints above I crore, the aggrieved consumer may approach the National Commission for redressal of grievances. In order to substantiate complaint under any of the commissions consumer should attach cash memo/receipt, warranty card duly signed and stamped by the vendor/company, catalogue/brochure of the concerned product/service, insurance policy (if applicable), job card (if applicable) and invoice with the simple application form. A lawyer is not required for that complaint.

Standardization of product is introduced to assure the quality of products. The ISI stamp on goods is placed by the Bureau of Indian standards. This caters to industrial and consumer goods. These goods can be trusted to confirm specific standards. Agmark is meant for agricultural products. At the international level the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) located in Geneva sets common standards. The FAO and WHO provide food standards. Thus, large number of consumer protection measures are available at the national or international level.

Consumer protection has earned an important place in the political, economic and social agendas of many nations. In India, the government has taken many steps including legislative, to protect consumers. However, this is largely unknown to many citizens irrespective of whether they are educated or uneducated. Consumer rights are now an integral part of our life. Consumer education is an important part of consumer protection process and is a basic consumer right that must be introduced at the school level. The most important step in consumer education is awareness of consumer rights. However, consumer education is incomplete without the responsibilities and duties of consumers, and this influences individual behaviour to a great extent. With the increasing changes in economic conditions, children are becoming consumers at an early age. Children must learn to obtain information about goods and services, understand the psychology of selling and advertising, learn to shop wisely and distinguish between wants and needs. They must also understand the alternatives of conserving and saving rather than buying and consuming.

Advertisements are no doubt an important source of information as they help to inform consumers about the availability of different products before making their choice. A majority of the advertisements are aimed at young children today, especially those covering food products, beverages and cosmetics (especially toothpaste/fairness creams). Unfortunately, many advertisements make false promises and give incomplete descriptions of products. The media, schools and parents along with consumer groups need to help children for the development of ability to understand and the purpose of advertising. An integrated approach is needed to empower the consumers, specially the rural and young consumers. Schools must incorporate consumer education into school curricula as it is important to impart practical skills and critical ability needed to cope with social and economic changes.








Raksha Bandhan is the festival of pure relationship. It is celebrated during the bright fortnight in the Hindu month of Shravan. There is an ancient lore attached to this festival. Bhavishya Purana refers to a battle between the deities and demons. Indra (the king of the deities) was feeling depressed. Indra’s wife Sachi then took a thread, charged it with sacred verses for protection and tied it on Indra’s hand. Through the strength of this thread Indra conquered his enemies. Since then, it is said, this festival has been celebrated.

Through the passage of time this festival underwent modifications. It has become a sacred festival for sisters and brothers. Priests also tie the sacred thread on the wrists of their patrons. During the middle ages, if a woman tied a Rakhi on the hand of any man, it became imperative for him, as his religious duty of the highest order, to protect that woman. In one famous instance, the queen of Mewar, Maharani Karmavati was under threat from the Muslim governor, Bahadur Shah, who had laid siege to her kingdom. She sent a rakhi to the Mughal emperor Humayun. The emperor, who normally would not have helped a Rajput ruler, decided to help her. Humayun reached Mewar and chased away Bahadur Shah and his men.

Also, among the Rajputs, when the soldiers prepared to go to the battlefield, their womenfolk tied a thread around their wrist after applying a dash of vermilion powder on their forehead. The ladies believed that this would protect their men and bring them victory.

There were instances during India’s freedom struggle when freedom fighters wore the rakhi around their wrists with pride. Rabindranath Tagore introduced the practice of tying rakhi in Shantiniketan to reestablish the bond of love between all sects and religions. On Raksha bandhan, those of the Brahmin caste change the holy thread that they wear and offer libations of water to the ancient sages.

But while all these rituals and traditions are attached to this festival, its real significance has been forgotten over time. It is commonly believed that a sister ties the sacred thread round the brother’s wrist so as to bind him into an obligation to protect her in times of need. But going a little deeper, we realise this cannot be the object of this ceremony. If a sister ties the rakhi to get physical protection from the brother then the fact of a fully grown-up sister tying the rakhi round the wrist of an infant brother is meaningless.

Therefore, true protection lies in protecting first the self from vices such as lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego. Human souls have lost their swarajya – sovereignity over the self; the vices have intruded the kingdom of the soul and stolen away our wealth of peace, love, joy, truth and power. We have become slaves to these vices – obeying every negative wish, bowing to every vicious dictate and demand made by our mind under their influence.

Raksha Bandhan is also known as punya – pradayak parva, or merit giving festival or vishtodak parva, or vice-eliminating festival. These names point to the viceless and pure love that exists between a brother and a sister. The application of the tilak is a reminder from the sister to the brother to be soul-conscious. Then again, mauli (the red and saffron-coloured thread) that is usually tied round the brother’s wrist is meant to serve as a constant reminder of the bond of purity. In India, the mauli has traditionally been used for making a pledge of purity or sacred vow. Purity is founded on soul-conscious attitude and vision towards all. It is our boody-conscious vision that leads us to lust and impurity. Hence Raksha Bandhan commemorates the pure bond between brother and sister and this bond is not confined merely to this; it inspires us to adopt a pure brotherly vision for each other, realising the truth that all human souls are children of one God Father, hence we are all spiritual brothers. This bandhan is a sweet bondage that helps us to regain our lost swarajya and experience constant peace, joy and power. Hence the festival of Raksha Bandhan conveys the message of protecting the humansoul from the devilish vices and receiving divine blessings. A fraternal attitude of purity is the foundation of peace and happiness which is expressed as good wishes and pure feelings. At this age of the fading sanctity of human relationships, let us take this opportunity of Raksha Bandhan to remind ourselves of the eternal truth of soul’s brotherhood. Let us use a thread of divine love to soften the quality of our thoughts and thus ensure that we hold the purest and the most beneficial feelings for all.


(The writer teaches Philosophy in B Borooah College).











The daily crossword puzzle in this newspaper is not merely an old habit that dies hard — it could be the one thing that stands between you and a habit of the old: the onset of senile dementia.

According to a recent study published in the US journal Neurology, researchers in a medical college have found that solving crossword puzzles every day, playing cards and board games, or even just talking in groups, playing music or reading and writing could delay memory decline in old age.


These activities apparently help build 'cognitive reserves' — a sort of cumulative fixed deposit of additional standby memory that minds can dip into when age drains normal memory accounts — and thus fend off forgetfulness.

Five years of documenting 488 people between the ages of 75 and 85 who did not have dementia at the start of the period (but 101 developed it during the study), showed that those who participated more in six specific activities stayed more mentally agile.

They discovered that as memory loss accelerated, the addition of an activity actually delayed the decline, though it remains to be seen if doing crosswords and the like can actually prevent dementia and conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

This assumes a new significance as the developed world greys inevitably and healthcare costs spiral: Alzheimer's is the third-largest killer in the US after heart disease and cancer and adds up to $100 billion a year in medical bills.

The notion that agile brains are Alzheimers' enemy is an old contention. Over a decade ago, for instance, a pioneering study carried out by the University of Kentucky on a group of 100 nuns showed that the complexity of their writings in their younger years had a correlation to how they fared mentally in their old age.

Since then a slew of brain-training books, special computer games and even websites have all promised more perky brains. But crosswords are clearly the easiest and cheapest way to keep dementia at bay — the price of a daily newspaper!







Tension between the executive, legislature and the judiciary is part of a vibrant democracy. As long as this tension is constructive and leads to better outcomes it is good for all concerned, as it ensures a proper balance of power between the three arms of a democracy.

It is in this context that the spirited opposition in the Rajya Sabha to the government's bid to introduce the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill must be welcomed. The Bill in its present form makes it mandatory for high court and Supreme Court judges to disclose their assets to the President every year.

High court judges would disclose their assets to their respective chief justices, while the apex court judges would give details of their assets to the Chief Justice of India (CJI), who would forward it to the President along with the details of his own assets.

However, the disclosures would be confidential; information given would be out of the purview of the Right to Information Act and judges insulated from any questioning by the public. In effect, judges would be put on a different footing from, say, politicians, who are obliged (in terms of a Supreme Court judgement) to declare their assets at the time of contesting elections.

Ironically it is the same court that now seems to be fighting shy of applying the same logic to members of the higher judiciary. No wonder the BJP and the Left attacked the Bill as virtually proposing two laws, one for those contesting polls and another for judges who also hold public office.

The CJI’s plea that judges need a special dispensation to ensure they are not subjected to embarrassment by disgruntled elements is hard to accept. There is no reason why judges, or anyone for that matter, should be embarrassed about declaring their assets if acquired legally.

Those who hold public office are not only expected to have a higher degree of probity but must also be prepared to have a higher level of public scrutiny into their affairs. It is unfortunate that the judiciary that has all along done us proud and is the ultimate guardian of our Constitution — of which the right to equality is a fundamental tenet — should try to push for a different set of rules for itself that would negate it.






The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) is a novel way of looking at accounting. Be it the preparation of accounts or the way they are presented, IFRS challenges the status quo without providing definite answers.

Be it valuation of assets or liabilities or even revenue recognition, there is enough room for professional judgement within the broader arena of rules governing them. IFRS questions valuation of fixed assets on historical cost basis, questions application of uniform rates of depreciation on all components of a fixed asset as also the amortisation of intangible assets such as goodwill or patents.

One of the governing principles of the existing accounting practices was that of objectivity under which actual costs are reported, thereby leaving no scope for judgement. But accountants all along knew that objectivity was being achieved at the cost of relevancy. By not showing the current market values of assets, the investor was not being given relevant information for crucial decisions of investing or raising money from domestic or international markets.

Instead of focusing on popular measures of earnings such as earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) or earnings before depreciation, interest and taxes, IFRS focuses on Income before Extraordinary Items and Income after Extraordinary Items.

Further, by making off-balance sheet transactions as part of accounts, it brings a whole new meaning to the reported numbers. It defines control of entities not through percentage of holdings but by the decision-making power inherent in the parent company.

Earlier, consolidated accounts of many multinational companies did not include accounts of special entities because shareholding was less than 51% although management control was absolute. IFRS wants to plug these loopholes and usher in much more transparency in reported figures.

IFRS, by forcing a change of thinking, has become the new management mantra. Management defines success as being non-conformist and that is what IFRS focuses on. IFRS is also clear that there are multiple ways of challenging the status quo.

Thus, countries have adapted to IFRS in different ways often embedding local cultures and that is why there are no standard rules; only broad principles which define the outer boundary of accounting. Countries have adapted to IFRS in different ways, often embedding local cultures and that is why there are no standard rules; only broad principles which define the outer boundary of accounting. IFRS is truly a tornado that is still gaining strength.

After shaking the accounting world, it is causing a major shake-up in the way organisations are managed. Employees are affected directly by IFRS as often their compensation is based on reported earnings which itself has undergone a big change, what with reporting increases or decreases in asset values in the profit & loss account and changed rules of depreciation and amortisation.

Top management has, thus, to work out new targets of earnings depending on the direction of impact caused by the new accounting principles. Earnings will no more be a steady figure that can be easily targeted depending as it is not just on sales and expenses but also changes in asset values and the ability to measure those correctly.

Besides the need for sharpening crucial forecasting skills to set appropriate targets, motivation models for employees have to be re-worked especially for years in which declines in asset values are anticipated. Budgets can no more be made by simply adding 10-15% to the previous budgeted figures.

Each item will require concerted attention and a much better understanding of specific product/service and general market conditions. Is India ready for all this? From the current flurry of activities of organising workshops and special training programmes by both government and non-government entities, it seems that only the first level of preparation is being undertaken.

To be adequately prepared for IFRS, senior management has to also shape up by analysing which management models and strategies will work best for their organisations facing a huge level of turbulence.

An entire roadmap to IFRS adoption within the next twelve months is essential for all organisations in India as the changeover to the new system of accounting has to take place in 2011. The governmental system of grants, subsidies and even anti-dumping is set for a big change dependent as these items are on the way costs and revenues are measured.

(Satinder Bhatia, Professor, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade)








The government found itself unable to introduce a bill in the Rajya Sabha earlier this week whose purport was to make it mandatory for judges to declare their assets, and yet insulate them from public scrutiny. The issue is complex. It involves the question of equality before the law of all classes and categories of citizens (and therefore of public officials), and also of safeguarding the independence of the judiciary, without which democracy — no matter how defined — will be rendered meaningless. The points raised in the Upper House by members cutting across party lines give the impression that legislators appear to have developed a kind of systemic antipathy against the judiciary. Because the judiciary ruled some years ago that a person must officially declare his assets and liabilities before becoming an election candidate, the MPs of all parties, the ruling Congress included, are returning the compliment. Their antagonism against Section 6(1) of the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill was voiced in strident terms. The section stipulates that the declaration made by a judge before a competent authority shall not be made public or disclosed, or be put into question by any citizen, court or authority, and that no judge shall be subjected to any inquiry or query in relation to the contents of the declaration made. Broadly, the section conforms to the ideas being expressed in the public domain for some time by the Chief Justice of India, Mr K.G. Balakrishnan. The CJI has been pleading that while the judiciary is not adverse to disclosing its assets, the information available should not be misused by anyone to engage in vexatious litigation against a judge. This is a concern which deserves appropriate consideration. International discussion on the issue — in the light of circumstances obtaining in different contexts — is alive to this aspect. Surprisingly, our Rajya Sabha MPs gave no awareness of this concern, although they did raise some valid points. Essentially they seemed to say that there should be no distinction as between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary when it came to standards of probity among public officials. In a country in which the extent of corruption in the lower judiciary has drawn sighs of distress from the CJI, this view can hardly be brushed aside. The disclosure of assets and incomes of public officers has emerged as a global anti-corruption issue, although in some of this discussion judges have not been seen as public officials. Indeed, only a few countries have specific legislation for judges. The legal question whether judges are public officials remains unclear to experts. How much personal information — such as concerning assets and incomes — should be made publicly available and in what form is also not clear. The US Judicial Code of Conduct of 1995 stipulates that a judge should regularly file reports of compensation received for law-related and extra-judicial activities under a scheme of broad disclosure. But there appears no one model indicating the range of assets judges should disclose. In some countries, a judge is not obliged to disclose certain categories of assets. However, the discussion in India should proceed in the light of our own experience. The first concern should be to maintain the independence of the judiciary. The fact that the judiciary is not against asset disclosure must be welcomed and seen as a positive sign. With what institution or authority should that information be filed is a question that needs thought out carefully. Should it necessarily be the executive? If a move is allowed against a judge based on that information, it has to be within tough safeguards that may even appear discouraging.








For a little over half its existence — 32 years out of 62 — military dictators have ruled Pakistan. There have been four of them and despite all the differences in their personalities, outlook and style, they all have had one thing in common: Each came to power amidst tremendous acclaim for overthrowing an incompetent and corrupt civilian government and each one went, involuntarily, in utter disgrace.


Nothing could have underscored this more vividly than the present plight of General Pervez Musharraf (Retd) who, according to most observers, had got away rather lightly. The Pakistan Supreme Court’s judgment declaring illegal his proclamation of Emergency and dismissal of 61 judges in 2007 has opened the floodgates of speculation that he is now liable to “trial for treason.” This indeed is the position under the 1973 Pakistani Constitution. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had insisted on this provision though it did not save him from the gallows.


By a delicious quirk of irony, the 14-man bench of the apex court that gave the verdict against Mr Musharraf was headed by Mr Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, whose dismissal (even before the other 60 were shown the door) had triggered the mass upsurge that led to the former dictator’s downfall. Even so, it is most unlikely that he would be brought to trial. In the first place, the apex court itself has ruled that it is for Parliament to decide whether the former President should be tried and punished or not. The civilian government, headed by the President, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, is in no position to offer any provocation to the all-powerful Army that, in behind-the-scene consultations, has made it clear that it would not want its former chief to be “humiliated”. Mr Nawaz Sharif, whom the former Army Chief first overthrew, then sentenced to death, and later still exiled to Saudi Arabia for 10 years, is not likely to be amused, but there is little he can do.


Secondly, Mr Musharraf is living in London in a comfortable flat he has bought and would not take the risk of returning to Pakistan. After all, when summoned by the Supreme Court he had not come. No wonder responsible London newspapers have reported that he might seek asylum in Britain. At present, he is on a “luxury cruise” and the joke doing the rounds is that this cruise could last very long.


While the Musharraf drama plays itself out, a look back on the fate of the military rulers preceding him would be instructive. The first of them, Ayub Khan, who allowed his sycophants to persuade him to promote himself to the rank of Field Marshal, was immeasurably popular at the time he took over in October 1958. The bunch of bickering, quarrelling and greedy politicians had made such a mess that he was seen as a redeemer. But this situation lasted only for a few years. Disillusionment with him began when his son and family members development the gift of the grab, and the Army became arrogant, corrupt and authoritarian. What did Ayub in was the 1965 war with India. Pushed into it by Bhutto and the latter’s hardline associates, Ayub opted for a ceasefire and the Tashkent truce against Bhutto’s advice. His most-favoured minister thus became his nemesis. Bhutto was to join and lead the virulent anti-Ayub agitation in West Pakistan at a time when in what was still East Pakistan, Sheikh Mujib’s autonomy movement was at its peak.


Driven to the wall, in February 1969, Ayub violated his own Constitution requiring that in the event of wanting to leave he must hand over power to the Speaker of the National Assembly who would be duty-bound to hold fresh elections within 90 days. Instead, Ayub transferred power to easy-going, hard-drinking General Yahya Khan, Ayub’s handpicked commander-in-chief of the Army. Yahya lost no time in declaring martial law. He tried to crush the autonomy movement in the eastern wing so ruthlessly and recklessly that historians now say that Yahya, not Sheikh Mujib, was the “father of Bangladesh”.


Ninety-three thousand Pakistani troops surrendered in Dhaka on December 16, 1971. Four days later, Yahya’s peers in the three armed forces threw him out humiliatingly after forcing him to hand over power to Zulfiqar Bhutto who had won a majority of the western wing’s seats in the National Assembly in the December 1970 election. In this poll Mujib had an overall majority as he had captured almost all the seats in East Pakistan. Neither Yahya nor Bhutto was prepared to accept this verdict.

From 1972 onwards, thinking Pakistanis were confident that after the loss of half of Pakistan’s territory in the 1971 war, the discredited Army was in no position to stage another coup. Evidently, they had counted without the imperious “Zulfi” Bhutto. Despite his exceptional ability, in sheer cruelty, depravity and even bestiality, he left the military despots flat on the doormat. To cap it all, he needlessly rigged the election of March 1977. The dam of pent-up public anger burst and enabled the Army Chief, General Zia-ul-Haq — a Uriah Heep-like figure whom Bhutto had promoted over six generals senior to him — to stage a bloodless coup.


Zia, interestingly, has been the longest lasting military dictator of Pakistan. After a travesty of a trial, he hanged Bhutto but embraced his clandestine quest for nuclear capability. For this reason he was treated as an international pariah. But luck was on his side. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made him almost overnight America’s most important ally in the Islamic jihad against the Russians. As leader of the “frontline state”, he extracted from the US the promise that it would ask no questions about Pakistan’s form of government and nuclear programme.


He also embarked upon Islamisation of both Pakistani society and the Pakistani Army. This caused problems both at home and abroad. In any case, in the eyes of the Pakistani people his shelf life had come to an end. But he was still in saddle. And then on August 17, 1988 he — together with several generals and the US ambassador to Pakistan — perished in a plane crash. His son, Ejaz-ul Haq believes till today that his father was killed by the Americans with the help of some Shia officers of the Pakistan Air Force.









The Defence minister, Mr A.K. Antony, in a written answer in the Rajya Sabha earlier this week, noted that a Group of Ministers had as far back as February 2001 recommended the creation of the institution of Chief of Defence Staff. In March 2006, the government had initiated a process of consultation with political parties; but till now only six parties have responded. The others have been sent yet another reminder... At present, the Chiefs of Staff Committee is the main coordinating body between the three services, under which the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff functions as a nodal body.


One of the greatest ironies of Independent India is the large number of “ifs” related to its security in the past 62 years. If we had made offensive use of the Navy and Air Force and taken level-headed decisions on Jammu and Kashmir during and after the first 1947-48 Indo-Pakistan war, if we had used the Air Force against the Chinese in 1962, if we had included the Navy in operational planning and implementation in 1965, if we had been more assertive and combined the use of our invaluable assets with more effective and synergised politico-bureaucratic-military planning and political will, our history and geography might have been very different.


Except for the 1971 war, when the Army, Navy and Air Force were used with telling effect, in every other external conflict the old Indian political line of “not losing an inch of ground” could never be ensured because it was always negated by the paranoia of “not wanting to escalate the level of conflict”. So, not only did Pakistan manage to hang on to over a third of Jammu and Kashmir, it also made a slice of it available to China, which had already taken large chunks of Indian territory which it “historically” perceives as its own, and then used this “slice” to greatly enhance its strategic operational reach.


Key documents such as the Henderson-Brooks report, information about the death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent in 1966, parts of the Kargil Committee report and other matters vital to national security remain closely guarded secrets, more to conceal the government’s mistakes or wrong decisions, despite the Right to Information Act and indeed the time limit for their classification being long past. This makes difficult any introspection or course correction, which is a must for national security.


Why do we need a Chief of Defence Staff? The very real threat of a recurrence of 26/11 and Pakistan’s utter intransigence makes the integration of the defence ministry with the service headquarters, and their close coordination with the intelligence agencies for the speedy sharing of real-time intelligence an immediate necessity. Countries like the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China already have a CDS or a similar institution in place. Given the threats India faces, proved time and again by conflicts on our borders and attacks all over the country by Pakistani jihadi groups, not to mention China’s “string of pearls” encirclement as well as its snowballing nuclear and strategic assets, it is high time India’s political leadership asserts itself and takes some bold decisions to ensure the nation’s long-term survival.


In an interview to this newspaper, Lt. Gen. Niranjan Singh Malik had lamented: “With changing dimensions of warfare, we need to devise new ways and means to be one step ahead of the enemy. But first we must recognise the enemy and his modus operandi, whether Chinese or Pakistani. It is no good making diplomatic overtures and resting on assurances on paper that are not worth the paper they are written on. How many times has Pakistan made promises and never kept them? How have the Chinese been treating us, and claiming Arunachal Pradesh and now again Sikkim? Their intentions are clear; only, we refuse to acknowledge the hard facts. How long shall we keep living in a fool’s paradise?”


For decades the Army’s top brass and analysts have been recommending the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff. The Kargil Committee, headed by Mr K. Subrahmanyam, former director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, reiterated this following the 1999 war, and it was accepted by the GoM and the then NDA government. Nobody has reversed the decision, but it appears to have been put on “permanent hold” by the defence ministry’s bureaucrats, who fear a CDS would become all-powerful and make the defence secretary redundant.


Lt. Gen. Harwant Singh, a former Army deputy chief of staff, feels a “pathological dislike” of the Indian military by the leaders of the immediate post-Independence period led to a “downgrading” of the armed forces; and that this “bias” was exploited by the civilian bureaucracy, which fuelled fears in the political class of a “possible military takeover... as had happened in some neighbouring countries.”


Another Army deputy chief, Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar, says the main stumbling block to the creation of a CDS remains the IAS, which he describes as the “one service which is dispensable.” Says Gen. Nambiar: “While the armed forces, foreign service and many others are absolutely necessary for nation-building, this (IAS) is one without which the country would certainly not come to a standstill.” And the Vice-Admiral, Mr A.K. Singh, former Coast Guard D-G, points out that even if the CDS is implemented, it will be only after the defence secretary is elevated to Cabinet Secretary rank so that he can lord it over the CDS, who will then become his principal military adviser.










On July 18, the day Nelson Mandela turned 91, I was down at the waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa’s most beautiful city. People were singing, dancing and celebrating their national treasure — the man they call “Madiba”. In the “townships” in the outskirts of the city, foreign tourists took in the festive tin shacks where poor blacks lived — telltale signs of an ethos still struggling to come to terms with the effects of decades of apartheid. “Township tourism”, as they call it, brings cash to the poor who are smart enough to tap the commercial possibilities of curious, wealthy travellers searching for something beyond the beautiful beaches or Cape Town’s famed Table Mountain.


This was South Africa in a nutshell — inspiring, moving and paradoxical — much like India. Bollywood stars, the icing on the IPL cake, had got South Africans excited. From barbers at the railway station to the township potter who sold me a handmade sushi plate in a flea market, they all had questions about the stars of Mumbai.


Today, the two countries are connected not only by history, cricket and Bollywood, but also by strategy and business. For years, low-cost Indian generic drugs have helped save lives across Africa. The global economic slowdown has thrown up new opportunities to strengthen this partnership, not only with South Africa but also the rest of the African continent.

Recent conversations in Cape Town offered some interesting insights on how this may happen. Talking to journalist colleagues from Africa at a training programme sponsored by America’s National Press Foundation, and later with scientists, activists and health administrators gathered at the recently-concluded 5th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2009) in Cape Town, three things became clear.

One, the recession is forcing most African countries to cut their budgets, including expenditure on critical programmes on HIV/AIDS at a time when there is a need to scale up treatment. The funds crunch comes in the wake of weakening donor support. The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which contributes more than $3.7 billion to HIV prevention and care globally, has not increased its budget this year. Another key global donor, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), is facing a budget shortfall between three and four billion dollars. Funding cuts from major international donors have already hit home in many countries in Africa — Tanzania has had to reduce its HIV budget by a quarter, while Swaziland has lowered its 2011 treatment coverage target from 60 per cent to 50 per cent, which will affect about 40,000 HIV-positive people.


This became a hot topic at IAS 2009. Interruption of antiretrovirals (ARVs) is not only potentially life-threatening for those now on treatment, it also poses a serious public health risk of development of drug resistance. If patients default from their treatment regimen due to drug shortages, they may become immune to some of the first-line drugs and have to rely on a second-line treatment, made up of different drugs, which are less effective, have more side effects and are lot more expensive than first-line ARVs. Africa, the region most affected by the virus, would be hit the hardest as the bulk of its AIDS budget comes from external sources.

Two, the cash crunch is fuelling the demand for low-cost ARVs and more cost-effective and efficient ways of delivering healthcare to the sick.

Three, while the first two factors look to be export boosters for India’s generic drug manufacturers, the road ahead is not smooth. Obstacles abound alongside opportunities. Some context: India’s pharmaceutical products exports registered over 30 per cent growth from April 2008 to January 2009, despite slowing growth in leading pharma markets worldwide and fluctuating currencies. India’s drug exports to South Africa grew by 57.27 per cent during this period. Corresponding figures for Kenya and Nigera are 63.51 per cent and 38.79 per cent respectively, according to Pharmexcil (Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council). The funds crunch has raised the profile of generic drugs.
At one of the sessions at IAS 2009, Vuyiseka Dubula, a South African treatment activist, pointed out that in southern Africa alone, more than 60 per cent of drugs that are used are generics. They mostly come from India. Treatment activists like Dubula stress the need for South-South collaboration specifically to develop second-line ARVs.


This is not only activist talk. Health administrators like Dr Nicholas Muraguri , head of Kenya’s National AIDS and STI control programme, also spoke of the need for a deeper engagement between African governments and generic drug manufacturers. Kenya, like many other AIDS-afflicted African countries, relies heavily on donors to implement its HIV and AIDS programmes, he pointed out. Weakening donor support means that if Kenya wants to scale up its ARV rollout, it has to get new donors. That is easier said than done. One key strategy could be “pool procurement”, which would enable African countries to band together to get a better deal from a generics manufacturer like Cipla, the Indian drug major. This can happen, he pointed out, through WHO leadership or through the African economic groups. Discussions on this have already started.

While attempts by African countries to stretch the AIDS dollar spell opportunities for India at one level, new hurdles have also cropped up. Dr P.V. Appaji, executive director of Hyderabad-based Pharmexcil, says in the harsher business climate, a turf war is breaking out among generic drug manufacturers. Indian generic drug companies are pitted against generic drug makers from other countries. Another key concern for India: across the world, access to low-cost generics is under threat from counterfeits. Sustained advocacy is required to dispel the image that generic drugs are substandard or fake, Dr Appaji felt.


All this means that while there may be a pot of gold at the end of the road, getting it might prove to be a bumpy journey.


Patralekha Chatterjee writes on contemporary development issues, and can be contacted at








So there I am, in a stranger’s kitchen on a summer Saturday night, knee-deep in freshly-cooked basmati rice, chutneys and pickles a go-go. And I’m ladling spoonfuls of smoked aubergine and pea curry on to the 24th of 25 expectant plates, wondering furiously if:

1) There will be enough to go round.


2) Each portion is roughly equal lest there be a disagreement.

3) The damned curry is still warm enough to taste palatable.


I am a maelstrom of madness, an apoplexy of activity. And I must confess I’m not altogether sure why I

have brought this upon myself. I break off from the self-indulgence and recount the plates for the umpteenth time. Then before you know it, the food is a blur as anonymous arms grab and ghost the food to hungry and patient diners in the room next door.

Welcome to London’s newest and most sought-after “underground kitchen”. In a ground-floor flat in the depths of northwest London a woman who (for legal reasons) can only be known as Ms Marmite Lover has been transforming her terraced lounge and kitchen into a Saturday night restaurant for the last six months. Twenty-five strangers, utilising an enigmatic website and latterly Twitter, the social networking site, search out that evening’s themed menu and pay a modest sum for a three-course meal. Ms Marmite, a self-confessed food lover, devotes the latter half of her week to devising the menu and preparing the food. And while she may have weeks of experience at this sort of cooking, dining and entertaining, for me it’s a big task.


There are few things I enjoy more than gathering a host of friends around my dinner table. Perhaps my desire to entertain with food is greater than the sum of the parts of my own heritage: the Glaswegians are well known for their hospitality, and the Punjabis throw the best parties in town. Generally speaking, those who break bread and drink wine with me are known folk, new friends or old, but all people I have a connection with. Occasionally a friend will bring a friend, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Like many folk, I don’t feel very comfortable having my life invaded by those unfamiliar to me. So the notion of opening my kitchen and my life to two dozen strangers has never really crossed my vodka-addled mind, less so the idea that I would offer them a three-course meal.


But that is exactly what has started happening across the country in the last few months. Underground kitchens have sprung up, to be sought out by novelty-seeking gastronomes. Last year, as part of a food festival in the northeast of England, an organised underground restaurant experience was launched, allowing people to try an ethnically diverse range of meals. That, however, was an organised event. What Ms Marmite Lover does is pure guerrilla dining. And it is this guerrilla component that requires her to be given a shawl of anonymity. There are no health and safety checks on her kitchen. Legally, she isn’t allowed to sell or serve alcohol to paying guests. And if her upstairs neighbours got wind of her operation, then they could tip off the planning department, who might, as only the officiously pompous planning department folk can, pay her an unsympathetic visit and ban her from running her ad-hoc eatery.


Based on a Central American idea, people entertain paying members of the public in their front-rooms and dining-rooms. Paladares or restaurantes de puertas cerradas (“restaurants of closed doors”) have been commonplace in countries like Cuba for years. And while the rationale for these has been economic, a way for the Paladares owners to supplement their income, in Britain the venture seems to be born out of a love of food, cooking and new experiences. Ms Marmite Lover barely scrapes a profit together on her weekly escapade into underground cooking.


Ms Marmite Lover pioneered the current incarnation and it seems to be taking London and the country by storm. She garners a deep sense of satisfaction from the process. And the diners, to a woman and a man, seem happy and content. A starter of Indian-style scrambled eggs with deliciously fresh asparagus goes down a storm. The main course is my aforementioned smoked aubergine and pea curry. The whole aubergines are charred and burned atop the Aga (a wholly impractical oven for anything more than a Sunday roast). The burned skin imparts a smoky flavour to the flesh, which is then scooped away and combined with a panoply of Indian spices, onions, chillies and tomatoes. A couple of packs of Waitrose’s finest frozen petit pois add a sweetness to the earthy richness of the aubergine. The entire dish is then emboldened with industrial amounts of butter.


Ms Marmite Lover has hand-crafted Indian ice-cream, kulfi, which I have to confess is as good as any my aunts would have made.

The lounge-cum-dining-room is abuzz with happy eaters and the kitchen is a slump of shattered chefs. We have just about pulled the evening off. There were a couple of genuinely hairy moments when I thought the whole thing would fall apart. I hadn’t made enough masala for the aubergines and had to fry a whole new batch. The neighbour entrusted with the safekeeping of the starter had the gall to pop out for half an hour. And the kulfi seemed more than a little unwilling to slip out of the moulds and into bowls. According to Ms M, this seat-of-your-pants-type nonsense is a regular weekly occurrence. She is so full of adrenaline and relief that I guess she won’t sleep for hours. I, however, am broken by my travails and escape back to the welcoming embrace of east London, a large vodka and my bed. I suspect my kitchen will very much remain overground, though I think I ought to invite Ms M round for a wee bite to eat.


Hardeep Singh Kohli is a contributing editor of the Spectator


By arrangement with the Spectator








Last August the president of Harvard University, Drew Gilpin Faust, set up a committee to respond to the concerns of black faculty members and students who were uneasy, and in some cases upset, about the treatment of blacks by the campus police.


The arrest last month of professor Henry Louis Gates Jr did not occur in a vacuum. While his encounter was not with the Harvard University police department (he was arrested by a member of the Cambridge force), it was the latest in a series of troubling incidents that have left law-abiding members of the Harvard community feeling as though they were unfairly targeted and humiliated because of their race.

The incident that ultimately led Faust to establish the committee concerned a black high school student who was working in a youth employment programme at Harvard. The Harvard police, responding to a phone call, spotted the youngster attempting to remove a lock from a bicycle. He tried to explain that the bike was his and that his key had broken off in the lock.


One of the officers reportedly pulled a gun and pointed it at the teenager. The frightened youngster said he did not have any photo identification, but he showed the officers his library card. Traumatised, he started to cry at one point. When the boy’s story was eventually confirmed, he was allowed to leave with his bike.


In 2004, the campus police stopped S. Allen Counter, a distinguished professor of neuroscience at the Harvard Medical School as he was strolling across Harvard Yard. Counter, who is black and had been at Harvard for 30 years when the incident occurred, was viewed by the police as a robbery suspect. They asked him if he belonged at Harvard.


He did not have his identification with him. In a particularly humiliating ritual, the officers went to University Hall and asked two students to confirm that the professor had an office there. They did.


As these types of incidents accumulate, resentments build. Black students that I’ve spoken with at Harvard over the past week have not complained about overt racism or widespread police misconduct. Rather, they have expressed their sense of unease over encounters that others might dismiss as aberrations or think of as trivial but that collectively make the students feel as if they are being treated differently — unfairly — at their own school, and they don’t like it.

Nworah Ayogu, a senior who is studying neurobiology, told me about a well-known incident that occurred in 2007 when a number of black students were playing games like dodge ball and capture-the-flag on the Quad as part of an annual field-day-type celebration. White students called the Harvard police to investigate.


The police showed up on motorcycles and asked the black students for identification, even though the students were wearing all kinds of Harvard regalia — caps, crimson T-shirts with “Harvard” emblazoned in white, and so forth. Ayogu said the cops actually seemed to be embarrassed by the situation and were not confrontational.

“The whole thing made us feel like we didn’t belong”, he said. “What was most offensive was that our own classmates called the police on us”.

Harvard has made an aggressive effort to deal with these situations and create what the school describes as a more welcoming atmosphere for everyone. But it should be easy to understand that one distasteful encounter after another — not just at Harvard or in Cambridge, but nearly everywhere in this country — cannot help but lead to the expectation among blacks that cops will target people and treat them badly solely because of their race.


Too often that expectation is realised, sometimes tragically. Think Amadou Diallo, who died in a hail of police bullets (fired for no earthly reason) outside of his home in the Bronx. No one is immune. Colin Powell told Larry King that he had been profiled many times. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke last week about how humiliated he felt as a college student when a cop made him stop his car and open the trunk so it could be searched for weapons.


No one is too young. I travelled to Avon Park, Florida, a couple of years ago to write about the arrest of a black six-year-old named Desre’e Watson. She threw a tantrum in her kindergarten class. The police were called, and the terrified child was arrested, handcuffed (the handcuffs were too large to fit her wrists, so she was cuffed on her upper arms) and driven off to headquarters.


When I asked the police chief about the incident, he said: “Do you think this is the first six-year-old we’ve arrested?”

Young, old, innocent as the day is long — it doesn’t matter. Your skin colour can leave you perpetually vulnerable to a sudden and devastating criminal injustice.


By arrangement with the New York Times




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




If it is to be concluded, and no other conclusion can fairly be drawn, that the purpose of clipping the wings of three West Bengal ministers was to punish inefficiency, Sunday’s exercise would seem incomplete from at least two angles. The first concerns the action that has been taken, while the second concerns action that has not been taken. Let’s examine both. If the Panchayat and Health minister was considered inefficient, it is unreasonable to expect that he will become efficient if one part of the charge is taken away, as has been done. Mr Suryakanta Mishra has now been left in charge of Health, a department that has seen some of the government’s most visible failures, and there is little to suggest he knows what he needs to do to set things right. Similarly, the former Power and Labour minister cannot possibly be expected to perform dramatically better now that his charge is confined to one department. The problems in the four departments are deep-rooted and deserve more than tinkering; indeed the ruling Front might have done better if it had admitted to the reasons for its poor performance and announced policy ~ rather than personality ~ changes.

An unfortunate impression will be created as a consequence of Sunday’s exercise that those who have been spared do not deserve to be deemed inefficient. It would be unseemly now to comment on the performance of the transport department. But there are other ministers whose performance has failed to inspire. For all the talk of industrialization, the Industries minister must be deemed a failure, if only because few industries have actually commenced operations under his charge, and actual investment has plummeted. The Finance Minister oversees a near bankrupt government. And what of the Chief Minister, or if the top job is kept beyond scrutiny, the Home (Police) Minister? From having been a relatively peaceful state ~ if we accept a generally soporific place afflicted by strikes as such ~ West Bengal has become increasingly violent, essentially as a consequence of flawed government policy.


Singur, Nandigram and now Lalgarh have seen violent agitations; post-poll violence has been widespread, and the ability of the police to enforce its writ has been under serious challenge. The man in charge has, for the most part, been unaware of the scope of the problem and quite clueless about what needs to be done. If Sunday’s exercise was meant to send out a message, it has failed. For it has only reinforced the suspicion that the Left Front has few choices open to it, save cosmetic ones.







UNDERSTANDABLE was the point Omar Abdullah sought to make by insisting on being cleared of a charge of personal immorality, but he must do a great deal more to drive home his advantage. Only displaying an ability to convert the goodwill he enjoys into the capacity to provide the requisite quality of governance will disarm his political opponents. While the less-than-responsible Mehbooba Mufti is unlikely to abandon her policy of fishing in Jammu and Kashmir’s several troubled waters, the BJP can well be expected to exploit the regional/religious divide. As of now the Congress is lying low, perhaps under the high command’s influence, but its activists in the state do have legitimate political ambitions so playing second fiddle to the National Conference cannot be permanently written into the score.
The chief minister will have to manage the situation with some dexterity, for he also has the All Party Hurriyat Conference with which to contend. And of course an insurgency fuelled from across the border that also feeds on internal grievances. It is, admittedly, an awesome task given the notoriously corrupt and contaminated administrative machinery that has a vested interest in keeping the state simmering ~ the bureaucrat-contactor-militant nexus being just one manifestation of that. During the recent crisis Omar’s advocates, his father leading the pack, highlighted the relationship and support he received from the Central government, contending that few of his predecessors were so well placed to “deliver”. True, but the overt backing of New Delhi can also prove counter-productive in a Kashmir context ~ azadi/autonomy aspirations cannot be wished away. The Centre will have to be as careful as Omar to prevent any impression of waltzing together: he will have to be seen, locally at least, to be battling to safeguard and capitalise upon all that flows from J&K’s unique Constitutional status. The man’s track record as chief minister is brief, it suggests that good intentions have not always been backed up by adequate governance. Some now also suspect an inability to resist the inevitable pressures of a high-profile appointment. It is to be hoped that during his brief self-imposed suspension, Omar not only matured somewhat but also gave thought to acquiring some political/administrative acumen ~ including a capacity to play the tricky (dirty?) game called “statecraft”.








IN TIMES as difficult as the Left now faces in West Bengal, Subhas Chakraborty was perhaps the Front’s only leader with a mass following. Using the resources of the department he headed, he was capable of getting a few hundred thousand people to fetch up at the Brigade Parade ground for the Front’s and his party’s rallies. While it was difficult to accept his methods, or indeed his prescriptions for the transport sector, it was equally difficult not to feel affection ~ sometimes grudging ~ for a man who was never scared of speaking his mind. That perhaps explained his popularity. And yet it must reflect on the utter political bankruptcy of the CPI-M that it found itself forced to make a ghoulish spectacle of his mortal remains, taken in procession to nine or ten places around the city and suburbs for a “last viewing”. Not to put too fine a point on it, Gandhi’s body wasn’t so paraded, nor indeed was Mother Teresa’s. Clearly, the objective wasn’t to allow supporters a chance to pay homage; loyal and steadfast as they are, they would, we are sure, have made the trip to Alimuddin Street or Writers’ Buildings, or indeed the Salt Lake stadium, and might, if asked, even have preferred an orderly viewing at a single venue. Instead, in the manner of a political whistle-stop tour, the CPI-M decided on a macabre show of strength, one that reflects not so much on the popularity of the leader as on the need of the party to cloyingly milk his death to the greatest possible extent.

It is incredible that political parties in West Bengal ~ and the CPI-M is not alone in this misguided belief ~ imagine that popularity is measured in terms of the disruption that they can cause. A rally is successful if it paralyses traffic and a politician is popular if he or she can force a stoppage of work. Now, with the utterly needless chaos generated by the public viewings orchestrated by a desperate party, this morbid ethic is being transported beyond life. God ~ or Marx ~ forbid this becomes a trend, for West Bengal already has enough excuses not to work.







THE Rehabilitation and Resettlement policy 2007 lays down the basic principle of “three minima” for the acquisition of land. These are: (i) minimise the displacement of people due to the acquisition for projects; (ii) minimise the total area of land to be acquired for the project; and (iii) minimise the acquisition of agricultural land for non-agricultural use in the project (page 34, para 1.4). Unfortunately the Bill does not make these principles mandatory. It only refers to the discretion of the scrutiny committee to select a site with minimum displacement and minimum acquisition of land. Knowing how the bureaucracy functions, they might consider some dummy sites and zero in on the site preferred by the requiring body. A statutory provision would have been helpful here.

The Bill introduced a new section “1A”. It states: “The provisions of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2009 shall apply in respect of acquisition of land by the appropriate government under this (LA) Act.” Thus there has been a thoughtful attempt to synchronise the implementation of both the amended LA Act and the new R&R Act 2009. So far so good!


BUT two separate Acts would in all probability necessitate two separate implementation authorities. That might not be the compulsion for implementing both the laws simultaneously or in pari passu. Since the need for resettlement and rehabilitation arises out of compulsory displacement through the LA Act, it would have been better if the basic features of the R&R Bill could be incorporated in the LA Act. This would make the acquiring authority responsible and accountable for proper resettlement and rehabilitation of the people affected by the projects.

There should be one basic Act incorporating the LA and R&R policy. To reduce the volume of the text, most of the procedural issues could be featured in the rules framed under this Act.
The most glaring deficiency of the LA amendment Bill is the absence of any “exit policy”. It is common sense that if an authority under certain circumstances can compulsorily acquire land, then under some other circumstances it should have the power to de-acquire the land and return the tract to the original owners or their rightful legatee. Section 21 of the General Clauses Act, 1897 states: “Power to issue to include power to add, to amend, vary or rescind notification, orders, rules or by-laws.” Based on this principle the amending Bill should provide for de-acquisition of land and restoration of the same to the original owners or their rightful legatees. I shall cite three well known cases in West Bengal.
An area of approximately 997 acres of multicrop land was acquired in Singur for setting up a small car factory by Tata Motors. It was taken possession of in December 2006. On 3 October 2008, Tata Motors abandoned the project and decided to shift the factory to Gujarat. What happens to the 997 acres of acquired land when about 30 per cent of the original landowners refused to accept compensation money? The law is silent. The unrest persists.

In the early fifties, Hindustan Motors was given 750 acres for setting up an automobile factory. In the last 50 years the company could use only 300 acres. An area of 450 acres of valuable prime land remained unutilised for over half a century. Why should not that unutilised land be “de-acquired” and handed back to the owners? The law has no answer.

In 1944-45, during the Governorship of RG Casey, several square miles of land were acquired in the Kalyani-Haringhata area of Nadia district for setting up the Greater Calcutta Milk Supply project. The Haringhata dairy farm was set on a small portion of this vast area. Even after 60 years, several square kilometres of land remain unutilised. Neither the government nor the law has an answer.
Complicated situation

NOTHING could be done because the original LA Act did not have an “exit policy”. The Supreme Court judgment in the Bhaskaran Pillai case made the situation even more complicated. The sum and substance of the judgment is that land once acquired for a public purpose has to be used for the same purpose. In case a part of the land is unutilised, it has to be used for some other public purpose. Or else, the land should be put up for auction and the net sales proceeds used for some public purpose. But the land cannot be returned to the original owners.

To get over this problem, the Tamil Nadu government moved a local (state specific) amendment to the LA Act under which the state can return the excess, unutilised land to the original owners.
Provisions will have to be made in the amending LA Bill for the restoration of the acquired land to original owners if the requiring body abandons the project or fails to utilise land within a specified period or when the scope of the project requires less land or for any other eventuality. Without these provisions, land acquisition will continue to be a contentious issue.

There are various other aspects, such as compensation, that need a relook. In the amending Bill, the basic feature of compensation remains unaltered. Loss of livelihood has to be recognised as an issue for compensation. Likewise there are various other loose ends which have to be attended to. If the nation could wait till 2009 from 1894, it could afford another couple of years to make the amending Bill properly respond to the changed situation since 1894 and to become people friendly.

Looking back, it appears that the much abused LA Act of 1894 had a more humane face than the proposed amendment. The amending Bill has, unfortunately, exposed the unlovely face of the corporatised Indian state.








A defence of the indefensible is bound to lead to embarrassment. The Union law minister, Veerappa Moily, and the government discovered this in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. Mr Moily, on behalf of the government, was presenting to the Upper House the judges (declaration of assets and liabilities) bill when he received a barrage of opposition and criticism from members belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and even the Congress. The strength of the Opposition and the lack of favourable numbers in the government forced the law minister to withdraw the proposed bill. It is not difficult to understand why this bill was at the receiving end of so much hostility cutting across political barriers. Critics of the bill pointed out that Clause VI of the proposed bill provides “protection to judges” when they declare their assets. The clause says very clearly that other laws notwithstanding, no declaration made by a member of the judiciary shall be made public or disclosed or questioned by any citizen or court authority. In practical terms, this puts members of the judiciary outside the purview of the Right to Information Act and, therefore, of any kind of public transparency.


There are two kinds of contradictions implicated in this bill. One is that while all other holders of public office are subject to the RTI Act, judges are not. As Arun Jaitley, a BJP member of the Rajya Sabha, pointed out, there cannot be two standards — one for, say, those contesting elections and aspiring for public office, and another for those serving in the judiciary. The other is even more fundamental. Why, in a democracy, should any holder of public office — and thus being paid for by the taxpayers’ money — be above the RTI Act and public scrutiny? The idea of transparency is crucial for the healthy functioning of a democratic system. The very idea that some men are more equal than others and are therefore above the law is abhorrent to the notion of democracy. Members of the judiciary have been given the profound responsibility of ensuring that the laws of the land are maintained and not transgressed. This should guarantee that judges should not be above the law, any law. This simple, almost self-evident, truth escaped Mr Moily and the authors of the bill. It was an embarrassment richly deserved, but easily avoided.






Of all the instances of the trial of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief, Hafiz Saeed, making news, the present one is the least controversial. It is a purely technical reason that has stalled the trial this time. The Punjab advocate-general, Raza Farooq, who was to argue the government’s case against the release of the JuD chief, had to step down because the Pakistan supreme court struck down the provisional constitutional order of 2007 under which he had been appointed. The trial is expected to resume as and when Mr Farooq’s replacement is found. India’s hackles have been raised not because of this unavoidable interlude, but because of the Pakistan government’s contradictory stand on Mr Saeed’s culpability. The Pakistan government obviously thinks nothing of persisting with its case against the release of a terror suspect while maintaining that there is no case against him. Days before the current adjournment, Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, observed that there is no evidence against the JuD leader. Yet, on the eve of the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, the Punjab government had sought to withdraw its appeal in the supreme court against Mr Saeed’s release on the grounds that the federal government had not shared “secret evidence” against the JuD chief with it. This flies in the face of Mr Malik’s claims. Pakistan has ignored the evidence provided by India against Mr Saeed, and the fifth dossier from India, which followed Mr Malik’s statements, is unlikely to bring on a change of mind.


The Pakistan government is certainly dragging its feet on the trial of the Mumbai terror suspects, particularly that of Mr Saeed’s. It may have its own reasons for doing so. The instability in Punjab, where Mr Saeed has grass roots support, may also prevent it from taking any drastic steps against a popular figure like him. But Pakistan’s refusal to dig into the roots of terror will negate all the advantages it has been congratulating itself on gaining at Sharm el-Sheikh. Yes, India has walked halfway to the table, but to keep India there, Pakistan will have to be more sincere. India’s “trust” in its neighbour, as the Indian prime minister pointed out, depends on its verification of Pakistan’s commitment to prevent its own territory from being used in attacks against India. The terror factor may have been delinked from the dialogue, but it has not disappeared into thin air.








What does it say about managing India’s relations with the United States of America when the petroleum minister, Murli Deora, brags on the day the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, arrives in New Delhi that the country will not succumb to any pressure from Washington on seeing through the India-Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project? If any other cabinet minister had said this, the boast would have been credible. But Deora?


When Deora was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2002, Capitol Hill witnessed the unusual spectacle of Congressmen falling over each other on the floor of the House of Representatives to congratulate, on the record, his election from Maharashtra. No other Indian politician has ever been similarly hailed on the floor of the US Congress. During the Bush administration, when the United Progressive Alliance government anchored its vision of India-US relations on downgrading other multilateral relationships, India was the only country that chose not to send its head of government for the summit meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. At that time, Deora was hand-picked by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to represent him at the SCO. It is an open secret in Washington that Singh’s choice of Deora was more of a message to the Bush administration than to the SCO summit, where the petroleum minister was headed.


In the pre-Hugo-Chavez-Evo-Morales era in Latin America, it was to reliable supporters of the Deora kind that the US historically turned to when Washington wanted to change governments in banana republics and was looking for leaders to head States refashioned in the flavour of the White House.


On occasion, to be fair, the Manmohan Singh government, for its part, has used Deora to its advantage. When the nuclear deal was going through a rough patch on Capitol Hill, with its US opponents determined to pass what were then known as ‘killer amendments’ to its enabling legislation, it was after the petroleum minister’s visit to Washington and his powwows at the Hay Adams Hotel near the White House that several senators and members of the House of Representatives fell in line and supported India.


It is also a matter of record that the ministry of petroleum and natural gas was the only Union ministry that mounted a sensible public campaign to sell the deal to doubters and opponents among the Indian public. The copy of the advertisements that Deora ordered to be run in dailies across the country made out a logical and convincing case for going ahead with the nuclear deal in the interest of energy security. But why create discord over the controversial India-Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline at the precise moment when Clinton was arriving in New Delhi on what was essentially a goodwill visit? Especially when everyone knows that pipeline will remain a pipe dream long after Deora, now 72, has probably left the government and even public life.


Like the broadside against the US by the environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, on the same day, like the late president K.R. Narayanan’s ill-timed words against the US in the Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet speech to honour then president Bill Clinton in 2000, Deora’s conduct was symptomatic of a lack of maturity and self-confidence that dogs India’s political leaders in their dealings with the world’s only remaining superpower.


If the Clinton trip had been differently handled on Raisina Hill, the seat of authority in New Delhi, it would have equalled, or even surpassed, the atmospherics during the visits of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. That would have set the tone for what the prime minister wants to achieve in Washington in November in the next stage of India-US relations. Instead, what has been created in Washington are lingering controversies, some bad blood and a partial return to the mistrust and suspicions, especially at the bureaucratic level, of the kind that dogged Indo-US relations throughout the Cold War era.


Symptomatic of this undercurrent was a shocking statement in an interview last week by India’s best friend in the Senate, John Cornyn — who is none other than a founder and Republican co-chair of the Senate India Caucus — that the US is “not just fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are fighting — we have graver threats and great threats than… from a rising India, with increased exercise of their military power”. Cornyn quickly apologized and corrected himself, but that cannot wish away the feelings that prompted even a friendly senator to tell what was really at the back of his mind about India.


The new ambassador, Meera Shankar, has now been left to deal with the fallout of a visit that could have been handled better. Shankar made an impressive beginning last week when she mobilized a quarter of the entire Senate for an event on Capitol Hill that coincided with the reorganization of the Senate India Caucus in the new US Congress.


Like Senator Cornyn, in an unguarded moment, Hillary Clinton expressed her innermost thoughts when she met Ramilaben Rohit, the president of the Self Employed Women’s Association, in Mumbai. Ramilaben was recently elected to lead the association by its 1.1 million members. “You are lucky to have been elected president. I didn’t have the same luck,” Clinton told Ramilaben, whom she addressed as ‘Madam President’. And she meant it. Clinton had once imagined that she would repeat her 1995 visit to India as first lady, this time returning as US president. But fate willed otherwise, and she was recalling her life’s unrealized ambition when she envied the Gujarati woman’s success in their brief conversation.


The Indian government failed to understand what Ramilaben, a farm-worker from Anand, Shantaben Parmar, a vegetable vendor from Ahmedabad, Fulkuvabra Jadeja, an embroidery worker from Kutch, and other SEWA members did. These women called her “Hillaryben” and taught her to wear a traditional Indian dupatta. The US secretary of state was much more comfortable with the women of SEWA, the students she interacted with and the corporate leaders in Mumbai who fawned on her than with the politicians she later met in New Delhi.


There were plenty of opportunities in New Delhi for the government to have dealt with her visit differently. There were three women in South Block, for instance, each of whom played an important part during Clinton’s stay in the capital. Clinton was received in New Delhi on arrival by two women, Gayatri Kumar, South Block’s point person for the US, and Meera Shankar, the ambassador in Washington. Nirupama Rao had not yet taken charge as foreign secretary, but she was designated as officer on special duty so that she could be part of the official delegation talking to Clinton and her team.


India’s government does not know how to use its assets. Much could have been made of this all-women team on the Indian side in spinning to the US media about the gender-glass ceiling being broken during the Clinton visit. That was the kind of projection the secretary of state was looking for back in the US. That would have taken India much further in bargaining with the US than the lecture by India’s environment minister and the posturing by the country’s petroleum minister.


One person who made the most of the opportunities offered by Clinton’s visit was the low-profile, soft-spoken defence minister, A.K. Antony. He managed to solve a problem that has been a thorn on his side from the day he took charge of the defence ministry: the issue of end-use verification of military purchases from the US. He also laid the groundwork for private-sector defence production in India with US collaboration by timing a series of revelations in Parliament, on the day Clinton arrived in New Delhi, about the pathetic state of the country’s indigenous defence production. In the end, Clinton may look back and thank Antony for what he quietly did for the next big phase of the India-US engagement in the coming years.







You needn’t be a retired professor to talk nonsense, but I guess it helps. Witness this recent pronouncement from an emeritus professor of phonetics, no less: “Esperanto,” he said — an artificial language dreamed up some 125 years ago by an idealist born in then Russian-dominated Poland — “is a good idea waiting for its moment. The current hegemony of English cannot last, and the moment will come when the world sees the need for Esperanto.”


Well indeed. He may be right about English, though there’s no sign of that yet. But he’s quite certainly on Cloud Nine when it comes to Esperanto. Not that he’s alone up there. Amid a quite persuasive, if exaggerated, forecast of China’s coming rise to economic dominance, an enthusiast recently averred that Mandarin “will become a lingua franca just like English is now.”


I don’t doubt that both these gentlemen are better informed than I am, and at least one knows more about language. Yet I don’t doubt, I don’t even begin to doubt, that their predictions are rubbish. What both have forgotten is human nature.


English has become a world language essentially because two dominant economic powers — first Britain, then the United States of America — happened to use it. Why not Mandarin? Because economic influence wasn’t the only reason for the spread of English. Ours is a crazy language, full of irregularities and absurd spellings. But with hardly any oddities of gender or case endings, it is also fairly easy to learn and speak, even if you speak it badly. And it lacks two disadvantages that have kept Mandarin, for all the millennia of culture behind it, almost unspoken and unread outside China.


Spoken English demands no tonal inflections, as Mandarin does — and as most languages don’t. And we write it in a very simple alphabet of letters, not a vast collection of ideograms, as the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans use — and nobody else does. Merely learning these ideograms takes countless hours, and, for most people, the extraordinary absorptive capacity of youth. Few adults could do it, fewer still would choose to, if there is an alternative — as there is.


If the Chinese wish to romanize their method of writing, fine. That can be done, and for some purposes is. But do you see a nation as ancient as China, and as sure of its own cultural superiority, cutting itself off from its past? And, even romanized, Mandarin still has to be pronounced using methods unknown to most of the globe.


So why not Esperanto? It has no irregularities of spelling or grammar. It is written in the Roman alphabet. And its vocabulary is easy, at least for Europeans, though much less so for others: to learn, for instance, is lerni, and Esperanto itself means hopeful. In sum, it has the disadvantages neither of English nor of Mandarin. It just has one of its own: no region, town or even village speaks it. And few but the most eccentric humans will spend their time acquiring a language that enables them to communicate with, for all practical purposes, nobody.


It might be thoroughly desirable for the whole world to decree that its children should learn Esperanto as their second language. But that is no likelier than a sudden worldwide outbreak of non-violence and brotherly love.


The world, for many decades ahead, is stuck with English. I take no national pride in that, pace the Telegraph reader who recently reproved me for “gloating” over the rise of my native tongue. Today’s hegemony of English is simply a fact of life, just as it’s a fact that official New Delhi was devised by an architect called Lutyens, not by those who built the Taj Mahal, much as that reader — or indeed, I myself — might wish otherwise. A pity, maybe, but a fact.











A few months were enough for Obama to peacefully revolutionise the United States and the world. He radically changed the policies of Washington, domestic and international, with visible consequences at the global level despite a financial and economic crisis that, notwithstanding certain signs of improvement, is still far from turning around.

The American president has had to contend with many the antibodies generated by ominous past US involvement in the region that people are beginning to forget but that is still relevant to numerous interests damaged by those who put profits above people and human dignity.

And so we come to the crisis that struck Honduras on June 28, which represents a test as much for Obama as for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, despite the fact that both leaders condemned, albeit for different reasons, the coup that ousted the country’s legitimate president Manuel Zelaya.


It is the first time in the 200-year history of US-Central and South American relations that a US president has unequivocally condemned the military overthrow of a democratic government. Normally Washington backed such coups, when it didn’t in fact support or even play a part in them, as occurred with General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, to mention one of dozens of cases.

Obama has announced, and is putting into practice, a policy towards Latin America that is diametrically opposite that of his predecessors, as seen in his opening towards Cuba and the overtures to Chavez, who has reacted with an alternation of elegy and diatribe.

It is obvious that the chess game of Latin America is extremely complicated. On the one hand there are deep contradictions that must be overcome among the various countries, which in turn have, and will not forget, substantial claims against their giant neighbour to the North. Notwithstanding their differences, all countries of the region are now democratic and thus the military overthrow of a democratic government is absolutely unacceptable.

Oscar Arias, the current president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was selected to mediate the conflict and is an excellent choice for this delicate task. He has followed the situation of Central America and the rest of the region for decades, is well-acquainted with American politicians past and present, and is personally and politically held in high esteem.

In a recent interview with Spain’s ‘El Pais’, Arias stated that in addition to “being in contact with many presidents of Latin America, with Washington, and the King of Spain,” he has had conversations with President Zelaya and the de facto president installed by the coup, Roberto Micheletti. He also stated that “any agreement would have to reinstate Zelaya as president”.




But this outcome will not come about by trying to force his return to Honduras without a previous agreement, which Zelaya tried to do on July 25. On the contrary, such an approach would only make a military conflict more likely, which would be disastrous for everyone.

It is true that more than a month has passed and Zelaya’s impatience is understandable, as is his desire to avoid a consolidation of power by the de facto government.

Arias argues that “everything depends on the US and Europe”. But not only them: the world has returned to multilateralism and there are other forces that count, like Brazil, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and others.

In this context, it is auspicious that the armed forces of Honduras have shown their support for a negotiated solution to the crisis mediated by Oscar Arias.

Meanwhile international pressure and dwindling supplies are beginning to make conditions in Honduras extremely difficult.

One factor seems decisive: Obama cannot go back on the commitment he made immediately after the coup. If he did — and I don’t think he would — he would lose an invaluable source of political capital: the credibility he enjoys in Latin America.

(The writer is ex-president and ex-prime minister of Portugal)








It was years ago, I was flying from Pune to Calcutta (now Kolkata). It was a stormy weather and the flight encountered turbulence after turbulence. It came as no surprise when the pilot announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to report that we can’t land in Calcutta due to heavy rain. Therefore, we hope to land in Varanasi and resume our flight tomorrow morning.”

This was greeted, predictably, by the passengers with a loud, “Oh, no! My god!” Some of them cried in desperation but  couldn’t do much about it.

It was utter chaos and confusion as we landed at the small airport at Varanasi. Due to the sudden diversion, the inadequate infrastructure was exposed. “Please wait for your turn. We have only one bus at present but hope to get more in another hour. Please have patience,” announced the harassed station manager.

He should have known better — whether it is air passengers or rail passengers, the instinct of self before others would dominate. As a result, everyone tried to rush in and occupy the seats in the bus. This created more confusion and the bus driver was a silent spectator to the mad rush to get in.

As we were getting nowhere, one of my co-passengers and I decided to step in and bring some order. “Please wait in a line so that the bus can depart soon. Everyone will be taken to the city, don’t worry,” we pleaded with the crowd. Surprisingly, there was a positive response. They saw that both of us had gone back and stood last in the queue.

Thus, our honourable intention was accepted. It was smooth boarding from then.

The same mob mentality, however, returned when we reached the hotel reception counter. Everyone wanted to be the first to check in and grab the best rooms. My co-passenger, Raman with whom I had struck acquaintance, merely smiled. We shook our heads in disbelief. “What’s wrong with these people? They are behaving as if they are the chosen few and want to grab the best every time!”

We stood at a distance watching with interest the haggling and the way some of them behaved throwing their weight around at the harassed counter clerks. It was late in the night as Raman and I checked into the same room, as the passengers were to share rooms. I was glad I had the good company of someone who shared some of my values.








Of the many examples of the Bush administration’s abusive and incompetent detainee policies, one of the most baffling is the case of Mohammed Jawad. Mr. Jawad, an Afghan, was no older than 17 and likely even younger when he was captured in 2002 and thrown into indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.


Seven years, one suicide attempt and untold hours of physical and mental torture later, he remains there, a wrecked young man held on an allegation that he hurled a grenade at two American servicemen and their interpreter — without any credible evidence that he actually did or that he is a grave threat to American security.


In a belated victory for justice, a federal judge recognized that tragic fact last week and ordered the government to release Mr. Jawad.


Judge Ellen Huvelle of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia was rightly offended by the government’s repeated attempts to delay the proceeding and the flimsiness of its case. Her ruling, granting Mr. Jawad’s petition for habeas corpus, seeks to end a legal and human travesty perpetrated by the Bush team but, sadly, still being furthered under President Obama.


Last year, the prosecutor assigned to try this case before a Guantánamo military commission resigned, saying he could not ethically proceed and had come to doubt Mr. Jawad’s guilt. A military judge later refused to admit the confessions that Mr. Jawad’s Afghan captors had tortured out of him, eviscerating the government’s case.


To its credit, the Obama Justice Department has conceded defeat in the habeas proceeding and will not pursue an appeal of Judge Huvelle’s decision. But lawyers from the new administration had no business opposing Mr. Jawad’s habeas petition in the first place. It should not have taken months and a formal motion to suppress the so-called evidence derived from torture to recognize that his military detention is illegitimate.


Judge Huvelle’s order gives the government until Aug. 22 to release Mr. Jawad so that he can be repatriated to Afghanistan, which has requested his immediate return. It remains to be seen whether that will happen. It is troubling that Attorney General Eric Holder is exploring the possibility of trying to effectively negate the judge’s order by filing criminal charges based on mysterious witness statements that the Justice Department claims were “not previously available.”


Mr. Holder should heed Judge Huvelle’s stern warning that bringing criminal charges now would raise serious issues, including the violation of Mr. Jawad’s right to a speedy trial, his mental competency and his status as a juvenile subjected to torture. Even if the government succeeded in securing a conviction — highly unlikely — the sentence would almost certainly be limited to the seven hellish years Mr. Jawad has already served.


There is a broader concern, too. Mr. Obama has assigned Mr. Holder the critical task of reviewing the files of Guantánamo detainees to distinguish those having only weak evidence against them from truly dangerous prisoners. We hope the handling of the Jawad case is not representative of how that review is going.







The Pew Research Center has just published an interesting survey on naps and napping. It found that 34 percent of American adults had taken a nap in the past 24 hours. Men nap more than women, blacks more than whites and Hispanics, the unhappy more than the happy.


But we can’t help seeing a flaw in this survey, and we suspect, therefore, that it wasn’t written by a napper. For instance, instead of asking, “Have you napped in the past 24 hours?” Why not ask, “Do you nap often or regularly?” The Pew survey also examines the reasons Americans have trouble sleeping, as if trouble sleeping was the major precondition for a midday snooze. Regular nappers know that a good night’s sleep never precludes a good afternoon nap.


Something about the shape of this survey suggests — ever so slightly — that napping is aberrant behavior, a personal rebellion against workplace wakefulness. But how would the number of adult American nappers change if American businesses encouraged napping? If businesses knew, as all good nappers know, that a short nap is the best way to recharge yourself during the day?


We suspect the numbers would rise dramatically, proving that there is no hard and fast distinction between nappers and non-nappers, only a difference in opportunity. After all, napping is an entirely normal part of normal human sleep patterns. And studies have shown that short naps enhance alertness and productivity.


So why is it easier to find a coffee machine in the office than a spot for a doze? Perhaps the simplest answer is that sleep is so relentlessly personal. We are never more who we really are than when sound asleep, and being who we really are is something we’re supposed to do on our personal time.


But let’s try to think of it this way. Plenty of us bring work home. Why not bring a little sleep to the office? It worked in kindergarten. It would work even better now.







Nearly 600,000 Americans with AIDS have died since the beginning of the epidemic. Nearly a third of those cases can be traced to intravenous drug users who became infected with the virus that causes AIDS by sharing contaminated needles and who sometimes infect wives, lovers and unborn children. Many of the dead would never have been infected if Congress had allowed federal financing for programs that have been shown the world over to slow the spread of disease, without increasing drug use, by making clean needles available to addicts.


A state-financed version of the program has saved thousand of lives in New York City, which cut infection rates among addicts by about 80 percent over several years by giving them clean needles and by working hard to get them into drug treatment programs. But by banning the use of federal dollars for these programs in 1988, in the very teeth of the epidemic, federal lawmakers discarded a powerful weapon in the fight against a deadly disease.


State and federal public health officials, who have long supported the programs, were hoping that the ban would be lifted this year. But a rider attached to two House appropriations bills would actually continue the ban — in a tawdry, passive-aggressive way — by barring federally financed programs from operating within 1,000 feet of colleges, universities, parks, video arcades, day-care centers, high schools, public swimming pools and other institutions.


This seems reasonable — until you consider that such a restriction would make it virtually impossible to have federally financed programs anywhere in densely packed urban communities, which is where the need for AIDS intervention is especially pressing and institutions like schools and playgrounds are numerous. In other words, this would wipe out the program.


Worse still, a rider on the city budget for the District of Columbia, which is closely controlled by Congress, would place the same limitations on the use of even locally raised tax dollars. This would be an outrage in any case. But it is especially troubling because Washington is an AIDS hotspot, where impoverished communities have long been ravaged by the disease.


Needle-exchange programs would help these neighborhoods in many ways. First, they would provide safe, central locations where addicts could dispose of dirty syringes through the medical waste system instead of leaving them on the very streets and playgrounds that lawmakers claim to want to protect. Second, the programs often serve as a bridge to drug treatment for addicts who have had difficultly finding help for themselves.


The riders, which have passed the House in two appropriations bills, are a clear threat to public health. They deserve to be stripped out in conference.







Voting rights advocates have had little success challenging felon disenfranchisement laws in court. Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, became the latest federal court to uphold a ban on voting by convicted felons. Despite these setbacks, the cause is important. Voting rights advocates should keep fighting in the courts, state legislatures and Congress.


In 2000, Massachusetts changed its laws to prohibit felons in prison from voting. Until then, it was one of only three states that let felons vote from behind bars. Even with the change, Massachusetts remains one of just 13 jurisdictions that disenfranchise felons while they are incarcerated but not after they are freed.


A group of prisoners sued, arguing that their disenfranchisement violated the Voting Rights Act. The felons whose right to vote was taken away in Massachusetts are disproportionately black and Hispanic, the prisoners said, partly because of a bias in the justice system.


The appeals court, voting 2 to 1, threw out the suit at an early stage. When it passed the Voting Rights Act, the majority said, Congress did not intend to prohibit states from disenfranchising incarcerated felons.


In dissent, Judge Juan Torruella argued that the ban violated the Voting Rights Act’s plain language, which refers to adding voting qualifications in a manner that results in the denial of the right to vote on account of race. He would have allowed the case to proceed further so the plaintiffs could try to prove their claim.


Judge Torruella was right. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, reached a similar conclusion in another case, ruling that the plaintiffs should be able to try to prove their case. In a New York suit, Judge Sonia Sotomayor — in a dissent that has gotten considerable attention — also argued that the Voting Rights Act applies to felon disenfranchisement laws.


Letting the case go forward would not have meant the prisoners would have won. But it would have recognized that the law could violate the Voting Rights Act, depending on the facts that emerged about it in court.


The United States aspires to be a nation in which the government rules by the consent of the governed people. Prisoners do not cease to be people.


Felon disenfranchisement is also bad prison policy. In recent years, the prison system has all but given up on trying to rehabilitate prisoners. Allowing felons to vote is good preparation for making them free, law-abiding citizens.








An ambassadorial meeting of the Friends of Pakistan has been briefed by President Zardari of the plan for reconstruction in Malakand. The need for such work is intense given that according to the people who have returned to Mingora and other towns across Swat, the infrastructure has been completely shattered. Destroyed road networks have handicapped transport, prevented children from reaching schools which re-opened this week after three months and hindered all forms of movement. Homes, schools, hospitals and other buildings are also shattered. The loss of business as a result of the destruction of shops has left many without a livelihood.

The plan for rehabilitation put before the ambassadors is aimed to prepare for a ministerial meeting of the body intended to assist a democratic Pakistan which meets in Istanbul at the end of the month. The presentation made by Pakistan at the meeting will be significant. What its representatives need to convey to the world is that the task of re-building in Malakand goes well beyond simply fulfilling the needs of people. It is also a question of determining the future of militancy in the region – and with this, very possibly, the future of Pakistan itself. The militant threat it has faced in recent years has endangered the entire country. We now stand at a point where it has become essential to vanquish the militants if we are to ourselves survive and move on.

This reality must be brought home to the world. The re-construction of Swat must aim also at addressing the many grievances of people who live there. A majority of them believe they have been given too little by the state; that it has done nothing to solve their problems or ease the misery their face on many fronts. These factors have played a key part in the rise of the Taliban. The same indeed holds true for other regions of the country. It is quite possible that militancy could flare up somewhere else. While focusing attention on Swat and other conflict-hit area, we need also to move back and take a wider-angle view of the country as a whole and what its people most need. The world at present sees Pakistan as a state which presents to it a huge terrorist threat. The time has come to persuade it that it must play a part in altering this.







Even a year and a half after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, we are no closer to discovering who carried out the killing. A UN Commission which commenced work on July 1, and is expected to submit a report within six months, is expected to interview former President General Pervez Musharraf, probably in London. It has already spoken to other key figures in the country, including Asif Ali Zardari and interior minister Rehman Malik. A UN technical team has also been collecting forensic evidence. The question that arises though is whether all this will lead anywhere at all. Little has indeed been heard of the internal investigation since the murder. Indeed we do not know if one is on at all. This in itself is extraordinary given that her own party is in power and her widower holds the post of president. In such circumstances it is hard to predict what, if anything, the UN probe will come up with. The body is not known for speed or even for efficiency. There is no way of knowing what it will eventually come up with or indeed if it is heading in any definite direction at all. The danger is that the murder will forever remain a mystery. We must hope and pray the case is finally unravelled. Only this will put an end to the many rumours and the conjecture that still surround it.






In a move clearly calculated to bring a little mirth and jollity into the lives of all of us the Federal Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has announced that there is to be a ban on the use of air-conditioners in all departments of the Ministry of Water and power. Adopting a resolute stance and staring grimly into the eyes of disbelieving reporters at a press conference last Sunday he said that 'stern action will be taken against all officials violating the order.' The various departments of the Ministry of Water and Power are not allowed to use their air-conditioners between 8 a.m. and 3p.m., effective immediately. Anyone found violating the new orders will be completely ignored, face no disciplinary action whatsoever and urged to turn their air-conditioners down to the coolest setting. Anyone found complying with the new order will be assumed to be clinically insane and instantly dismissed sans pension rights.

In a further shock development on Monday there was an important joint meeting of the Water and Power Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the cabinet committee for energy crises. All previous meetings were nowhere near as important as this very important meeting at which it has been announced that important decisions are to be made regarding power generation. All previous decisions in this matter are rendered unimportant by these overwhelmingly important decisions and should be completely disregarded and treated as if they had never been made in the first place especially if they were wrong. More shocks were announced as the minister said that over the last three months, 22,500 cases of electricity theft had been registered and a departmental inquiry had been initiated against 87 WAPDA employees for their alleged involvement in electricity theft. They have been very naughty boys and will have to stand in the corner for a minimum of ten minutes, pending appeal. Minister Ashraf looked very stern when he said that henceforward any officials found to be involved in the pilferage of electricity will be dealt with sternly and according to the law – if, that is, there is a judge to try the case and a lawyer can be found for the defendant who will not immediately whack him round the head with a rolled-up copy of the 1973 Constitution. We await further announcements with considerable interest.









PAKISTANI missionary schools closed down on Monday for three days to mourn the deaths of seven Christians in clashes in Gojra.Christians also staged demonstrations in different parts of the country to demand punishment of those involved in the gory incident.

Christians are not alone in their protest, as all those who matter in national affairs have condemned the unfortunate incident in the strongest possible terms and steps are underway to identify the culprits and bring them to justice. President Asif Ali Zardari was the first one to have taken notice of the situation while Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani spoke to the Punjab Chief Minister on the subject. Mian Shahbaz Sharif and his Government too are instrumental in defusing the situation and a judicial commission has been set up to inquire into the Gojra riots. Hopefully, the Commission would complete its investigations at the earliest paving the way for initiation of criminal proceedings against those who took the law into their own hands. The National Assembly too debated the incident on Monday and adopted two strongly worded resolutions condemning the killing of Christians, reiterating resolve of the State to ensure protection of the minorities as being equal citizens of the country and demanding of the Federal and Punjab Governments to bring perpetrators of the crime to justice. Leaders of all political parties too have taken exception to the incident while religious scholars who gathered in Lahore under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister declared that what happened in Gojra was in no way sanctioned by Islam. All this shows that people of Pakistan are concerned over the criminal tendency of violence against minorities whose protection is responsibility of the State. This is shameful for the country of Quaid, who assured minorities of equal rights and violation of the Constitutional provisions that guarantees their rights as well. In this backdrop, the Christians are justified in their protests and we would urge Muslims as well to come forward and express fullest possible solidarity with the aggrieved community. Muslims too should take out processions to condemns the incident and send a strong signal to a handful of troublemakers that there was no place for them in the civilized society.







THE move of the Government to wind up the Local Government system in its present form and appoint administrators to run Local Bodies institutions continues to be resented by incumbent Nazmeen and councillors. A Local Government convention held at the cool and scenic surroundings of Abbottabad on Monday demanded of the authorities to announce dates for elections and go for referendum to enlist views of the masses.

The convention was attended and addressed by members of the National Assembly and Senators belonging to PML (Q), which is being seen as main beneficiary of the prevailing system. It is because of this that many believe the initiative by the Government is politically motivated and is aimed at depriving PML (Q) of its power base, as majority of Nazmeen belong to it and have considerable influence in their areas. It is also seen as an attempt by the PPP and PML (N) to grab the opportunity of dominating this grass-roots system. The demand of the affected people for holding of referendum on the issue shows that according to their estimation people of Pakistan are in favour of the prevailing system. We would urge the Government to give a second thought to its earlier decision and allow the existing system to continue with improvements, if necessary. This is because the Local Government system has contributed a lot in empowering the masses and resolving their problems. Demolition of any institution or system is not difficult but it takes years and decades to evolve and strengthen them. Everyone knows that institutions could not get roots in the country because of frequent experiments by successive Governments as every one of them tried to discontinue a programme, plan or policy launched or institution set up by predecessors. It is time we behave in a mature manner and consider things purely on the criterion of merit







POOR regulatory mechanisms, looped policies and corrupt practices on the part of Government officials have given rise to the culture of preparation of fake documents of all sorts. These fake documents including identity cards, passports, driving and weapon licences are obtained and used by criminal elements yet regrettably the agencies tasked to keep a close watch on such illegal practices are either incapable or in collusion with those indulging in unlawful acts.

While common citizens are concerned at weaponisation of the society, a startling disclosure was made in a report in this newspaper the other day that 50,000 fake and non-listed prohibited bore arms licences have been sold to arms mafia by corrupt officials of the Ministry of Interior. What a shame that officials of a Ministry which is responsible to maintain law and order and close to the Prime Minister House are part of the scandal of such a high magnitude. It is because of lack of proper supervision and accountability that the officials were lured by the weapons mafia and got away with the licences, which have no record. After the big scandal came to his knowledge the Prime Minister rightly imposed a ban for the issuance of licences on the recommendation of the National Assembly Standing Committee. However despite recommendation of a thorough inquiry by the Committee into the affair, efforts were made to hush up the matter. What is more surprising is that the FIA, a part and parcel of the Interior Ministry and responsible to keep an eye on shabby and illegal deals in Government Departments could not smell the rot. Also arms mafia is doing a roaring business by smuggling deadly weapons from neighbouring countries without any check and sell them across the country to groups involved in acts of terrorism. The events in Gojra where people were seen firing with deadly weapons without any fear, targeted killings and kidnappings by armed persons speak volumes of the spread of illegal weapons and it is only due to massive corruption and inefficiency in departments concerned. We would therefore urge the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister to order an inquiry into the scam to be conducted by persons of integrity to expose the culprits and award exemplary punishment to them, not just their removal from service but also confiscation of their property so that a loud message goes to everyone that corrupts would face similar fate.









An amendment to the Representation of People Order (RPO), seeking six months' time extension for political parties to submit their amended constitutions for registration with the Election Commission (EC) has happily been approved by the cabinet. This certainly has helped avert a political crisis of critical nature. Now that the time limit for submission of a party constitution after its endorsement at a duly held national party council has been extended by another six months, we will be hoping that the political parties yet to comply with this legal prerequisite complete the process within the extended time. Since Parliament is not in session, an ordinance on the amendment will do till it is given a legal sanction in next session of Parliament.

In this context, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who played a proactive role in approving the EC proposal for time extension has rightly urged the EC to make a list of a) those political parties which have already submitted their amended constitutions; b) the parties which have applied for time extension and c) the parties which neither submitted constitutions nor applied for time extension. She has also pointed out the need for incorporation of a clause in the RPO, detailing the course of action in case one or more political parties fail to submit their amended constitutions within the extended time.

Considering the political turmoil during the caretaker government, an extension of the deadline by six months for completion of this mandatory legal process is quite reasonable but then there should be no such concession in future. This creates complications for the institutions involved as well as undermines the country's legal provisions. This has been done once and it should not be repeated in this regard or in matters where the process is stalled at the cost of the nation's sufferings. The ruling party in particular has proved its readiness to accommodate the Opposition's point and now the latter must complement the political gesture.







Amidst reports of tender snatching and forcible bidding from across the country, the chief of the chancery, Abul Maal Abdul Muhit, told pressmen that the country would have on-line bidding system within the next couple of months. The move, it is expected, will increase participation and transparency of the tendering process. An efficient bidding process is a sine qua non in any country aspiring to develop, economists believe.

The finance minister also explained that his government is pledge-bound to take the 306 steps that the Awami League had spelled out in its election manifesto to digitalise the country, one by one. But then there was also a word of caution from him as he warned that it would be unrealistic to expect that the whole country will be digitalised in the next six months and that it will take some more time for the entire nation to get the full benefits of digitalisation.

The UNDP deputy director who had talks with the finance minister on the issue told journalists at the venue that education and land registration would be the priority areas for the digitalisation programme in the country. This prioritisation is of great importance as development experts believe that without an educated work force no society can operate in the modern world or make the necessary adaptations for change, while poor maintenance of land records leads to suboptimal utilisation of fixed assets.
It seems that the digitalisation programme in the country is well on track but the only missing element is the detailed roadmap of the 306 steps. Once that is available the nation will have a sense of direction and people will know what to expect and when.








Sunday was Friendship Day; I'd forgotten till greeted by a barrage of text messages from well meaning friends expressing themselves in eloquent words, some quite poetic and touching. It was towards evening that Shree called me, we chatted as we've doing for the past thirty years after finishing college together and then I told him, "It's Friendship Day!"

"Bob do we need a day for friendship?" he asked and I smiled. No we didn't. Friends didn't need a particular year marked day to express their caring for each other; every day is Friendship Day. Recently I got a call from a friendly sounding person who told me he would like to take me out for dinner. I was quite pleased and readily agreed though I did wonder why I had suddenly become special enough to be invited for a meal. "Bob I'd like to make your life easier!"

"You leaving me your money?" I joked as we ate. "I wouldn't mind, but why don't you invest some of your money in my new company?" I looked at my plate unhappily and lost my appetite; I suddenly knew the reason for the dinner. And I see a lot of this in today's materialistic world. It's no more about making a friend it's about making a contact.

"The world has changed," said an acquaintance of mine, "It's all about, you scratch my back I scratch yours! It's called networking!" That is when I hear my friend Ramesh, his baritone voice in my sitting room as we sat one evening with another friend Avinash, "Isn't friendship," asked Ramesh, "Calling Bob in the middle of the night asking whether I can borrow his car?" We nodded. "No," said Ramesh, "Friendship is when I call Bob and ask for his car, and Bob says that he can't give it to me right now!"

"How can you call that friendship?" we both asked puzzled. "Aha!" said Ramesh, "Because if you really know your friend, you'll realise that he has a very valid reason for not giving his car to you at that moment and you'll understand that and not get annoyed!"

How many of us have friendships that go to that level? I'll end with a little incident: Jack's close friend had a stroke, he needed help to get around and slowly stopped remembering recent events. One day his wife Ginny suggested that they take him out for dinner. "What's the use," said Jack, "He won't remember a thing afterwards!"

"While we are with him, " said his wife, "He will know we love him!" How true! Friendship has no motive beyond the moment, and those moments are when one cherishes and enjoys a God given gift called 'Friendship'

It's not just one day of friendship, it's a lifetime of joy…!





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




Bill Clinton is visiting Pyongyang
nine years later than originally planned, and as a former, not incumbent, U.S. president.

Reports say Washington is strictly limiting the purpose of the ex-leader's visit to negotiating the release of two American television journalists, who were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering the North Korean territory five months ago, stressing the visit is a personal one unaccompanied by any administration officials of importance.

If so, it would disappoint not a few people wishing to see peace and reconciliation firmly take root on the Korean Peninsula. Presuming that the U.S. administration's comment is to prevent premature expectations from rising too high, and considering actual bargaining might have been all but finished between the diplomats of the two countries in New York, all eyes will be on whether Clinton will meet with Kim Jong-il and what the two newsmakers will talk about.

To sum up, what matters is whether Clinton can replicate what another ex-U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, did 15 years ago, by turning decades of confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang into rapprochement as well as putting the peace process back on track between the two Koreas.

Both Clinton's political caliber and his policy at the White House are reasons for positive expectations, provided the incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama has given his predecessor free rein for such bargaining, and more importantly, the North Korean leader is ready to give what Obama wants
the so-called CVID, or complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. The ailing Kim should recall that the abolition of nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula was a dying injunction of his father.

In short, the U.S.-North Korean relationship can take up where Bill Clinton left off by regarding the George W. Bush administration's tenure as ``lost eight years" as far as bilateral ties are concerned, if only they decide to do so and are ready to make mutual concessions. And who could better play the role of messenger for this job than Clinton, who had to stop short of attaining the diplomatic feat due in large part to opposition from his Republican successor?

Experience shows there can be no other choice but dialogue in solving the North Korean nuclear issue. Some may point out Pyongyang never abandoned its nuclear weapons programs even while the talks were going on, but the Stalinist country thinks it is Washington and its allies that failed to fully implement the agreement. We think a real peace-building process should not give room even for such excuses, and hope the former U.S. leader's visit will serve as an occasion to start from the ground up on upgraded negotiations.

It is also time for the Lee Myung-bak administration to start real dialogue, discarding petty one-upmanship. President Lee will need to present his ``grand bargaining'' as soon as possible, say, in his scheduled address to celebrate the Aug. 15 Liberation Day. Extending an olive branch is not a sign of weakness but reflects confidence based on a longer, broader vision.

In international politics, nuclear arms are not necessarily ideological weapons but political tools that can be reduced or even abolished. If Clinton can teach Kim this lesson, few will mind the nine-year delay.








Optimism is growing over an economic recovery on the back of improving indicators. The nation's gross domestic product (GDP) increased 2.3 percent in the second quarter of the year from a quarter earlier. Industrial production has been on the rise in the first six months of this year. Consumption has also begun to rebound.

But, all economic players
government, businesses and consumers need to refrain from painting too rosy a picture about the economic prospects. It would be better to harbor guarded optimism because the signs of growth recovery are the direct reflection of a sumptuous fiscal stimulus and monetary easing. In short, the upbeat economic data have stemmed from the temporary effect of the expansionary policy. It is doubtful that the trend will take hold and lead to a full-scale recovery.

That's why economic policymakers have more often than not cautioned that overconfidence is very dangerous. Of course, such caution should not be used to preclude an ``exit strategy'' of reversing the fiscal and monetary expansion that could bring about inflation and a property bubble. There still exist downside risks
a possible recurrence of a credit crunch and financial instability as well as lingering worries about a double dip.

It is worth noting a report released by the Bank of Korea (BOK) Tuesday that local companies have cut their capital spending sharply. The central bank said capital expenditure plunged 20 percent to 37.7 trillion won ($31 billion) in the first six months of the year from 47.2 trillion won a year before. This is the steepest fall since 1998 when the nation suffered a 44.9-percent tumble in capital spending. The sum of the capital expenditure was reduced to the level of 2000 that was estimated at 37.3 trillion won.

It goes without saying that domestic firms have refrained from making new investments in plants, facility upgrades and maintenance amid the unprecedented global economic crisis. Many companies affiliated with major conglomerates have been keeping huge sums of cash in their coffers or bank accounts, withholding capital spending. It is not easy to blame those cash-ridden businesses for their lackluster investments because they have to better cope with persisting economic uncertainties following the worldwide crisis.

However, the problem is that the nation cannot boost its growth potential without increasing capital expenditure. Even if the economy gears up for a robust recovery, the country might find it difficult to maintain its growth momentum because it usually takes companies more time to actively expand their investment in facilities and equipment to keep up with the economic rebound.

Therefore, it is urgent to put an end to the vicious cycle of shrinking investments, job cuts, dwindling consumption and an economic slump. Policymakers and businesspeople are required to study how to create a virtuous cycle by promoting investments and fueling domestic demand. The nation's potential growth rate is predicted to drop below the 3-percent mark next year from 4.5 to 5 percent recorded between 2000 and 2007. It is hard to expect a bright economic future without propping up growth potential.







Last month, after the arrest of Australian citizen Stern Hu, Rio Tinto's top negotiator in Shanghai, and three other Rio staff, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman defended the action by saying that there was ``solid evidence that proves Hu has collected and stolen state secrets," while at the same time asserting that China is ``a country under the rule of law."

The spokesman evidently had no compunction pronouncing Hu guilty even before the holding of a trial and yet declared with his next breath that the country was one where rule of law holds sway.

What China has today is not rule of law but rather rule by law, with the government applying the law selectively as an instrument against its critics while not needing to behave lawfully itself.

That is probably why the Chinese government has viewed with hostility the handful of rights lawyers in the country who dare to take on politically sensitive cases and try to ensure that the government itself is subject to the law. In a true sense, these are people who actually uphold the rule of law.

For their efforts to ensure rule of law prevails, they have been threatened, kidnapped, beaten up, imprisoned and disbarred.

Last year, after the government cracked down on demonstrators in Tibet, lawyers who offered legal aid to defendants were reprimanded and threatened. And after the tainted milk scandal erupted, lawyers were warned not to represent parents of children sickened by the presence of melamine in baby formula.

Law firms employing human rights advocates are pressured to fail the lawyers in their annual assessments. If a law firm does not succumb to pressure, then the firm itself is in danger of being shut down.

Each year, all lawyers have to pass a review before their licenses are renewed by municipal judicial authorities. The government can hold this procedural requirement over the heads of lawyers and use it to disbar lawyers whose actions are not to its liking.

This is what happened last year to Teng Biao, formerly a leading human rights lawyer. He was kidnapped, questioned and threatened by the police for two days. Because he refused to mend his ways, his license to practice law was revoked.

This year, the licenses of more than a dozen advocates known for taking sensitive cases were revoked in the biggest crackdown on activist lawyers ever. This is a huge blow to the rights movement, considering that only a few dozen of the 140,000 lawyers in the country dare to take on sensitive political cases.

The latest blow came only a few days ago, when a leading human rights lawyer, Xu Zhiyong, was detained by the police in a dawn raid, less than two weeks after a legal center that he helped found, the Open Constitution Initiative, or Gongmeng, was shut down.

Just how the rights lawyers have been able to work was explained in an article written by Teng Biao in The Washington Post on July 27. China's government, he wrote, needs ``for reasons of prestige at home and abroad to pretend that it strictly observes the law." While officials ``still violate the law, especially in political cases," they always ``have to pretend that what they do is 'according to law,' because their legitimacy depends on it."

This ``divergence between practice and pretense," he explained, is what gives space to rights lawyers. ``When we insist on the rule of law and are public about it, we can at least embarrass government officials for their illegal actions and hypocrisy, and embarrassment sometimes stays their hands."

Clearly, the government is tired of being publicly embarrassed. It is cracking down hard on the lawyers, trying to leave no room for them in which to operate.

But this is a shortsighted approach. The Chinese government should realize that these rights lawyers are a tremendous asset. These are talented, idealistic people who are not trying to enrich themselves but are dedicating their lives to help China and its people.

The Chinese government should welcome public monitoring of its actions. If China were to actually abide by the rule of law, then there should be no fear of activist lawyers who right injustices and give hope to the hopeless.

If China is a country of laws, then the law should be able to solve people's problems. If the legal system is manipulated by the government so that people with grievances have no avenue of redress, that is a prescription for trouble. What China needs is genuine rule of law.








Last Saturday night, I had the interesting experience of seeing director-writer Yun Je-gyun's ``Haeundae" in the exact place where his smash hit should be seen: in downtown Busan. In a theater packed with Korean teenagers and undergraduates eager to see the surf go way up at their local beachfront property, I must have been the only person over the age of 30 in the entire house.

Haeundae is a Korean foray into the popular genre that Hollywood has always dominated
the apocalyptic disaster movie. Heretofore, only major American studios possessed the requisite special effects magic and multimillion dollar budgets to conjure big screen earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and asteroids plunging to earth. In the digital age, however, any geek who can download animation software and an AVID editing system can aspire to become a 21st century Cecil B. DeMille.

Yun certainly delivers the goods. Indeed, the film overflows, as it were, with a swirl of different motion picture styles
slapstick comedy, overwrought melodrama, and eye-popping spectacle. To an American sensibility, the sudden lurch from genre to genre makes for an uneven, off-kilter narrative. No matter how absurd the disaster premise (i.e., rejuvenated dinosaurs, killer cyborgs, extraterrestrial hunters), the inculcation of tension and terror requires a sustained mood and a modicum of realism. Three Stooges-style yuks and lethal visitations don't mix well.

The plot is the usual stew of disastrous cliches: the prophetic scientist whose warnings of impending doom go unheeded by his idiot superiors; the callous capitalist whose interest in profit blinds him to the danger on the horizon; and the obligatory inclusion of cute kids in jeopardy. Mostly, the shenanigans and schmaltz mark the time until the wrath of Mother Nature is unleashed on the luckless Busanites, whereupon the action finally kicks in to high gear. An observant student of Alfred Hitchcock's ``The Birds" (1963) and Stephen Spielberg's ``Jaws" (1975), director Yun positively wallows in the orchestration of tidal destruction. He also knows how to spring a jolting cinematic bushwhack.

While waiting for the waves to come crashing in, two cross-cultural currents caught my eye. One of the main characters is a raving, obnoxious, and violent drunk, a lout who slurs, stumbles, and brawls in front of his small son, who is often shown crying pathetically. The inebriated antics are played for belly laughs and were received as such by the Korean audience.

The upbeat portrait of acute alcoholism may or may not be related to the ubiquitous ``product placement" that wallpapers the film. C1 Soju, a provincial brand name, is everywhere. Its logo appears on aprons, advertisements, and on bottle upon bottle of the stuff, with the label prominently positioned on screen. Whatever the company paid for the feature-length plug, it got its money's worth. In "Haeundae," no one drinks Jinro.

On the other hand, Haeundae rejects the smug anti-Americanism characteristic present in so much of Korea's cinema, especially the science fiction genre. In Bong Joon-ho's ``The Host" (2006), for example, the Korean-eating creature incubating in the Han River is the responsibility of a mad U.S. army scientist who dumps toxic waste in the Seoul water system. By contrast, a prologue in Haeundae features the U.S. Coast Guard heroically rescuing a crew of Korean fisherman threatened by the tsunami of 2005, a selfless creed echoed by the Korean Coast Guard at the close of the film.

However, it is as a cultural bellwether that Haeundae is most intriguing. In the American tradition, Hollywood disaster scenarios whether invasions from outer space, which served as thinly veiled projections for Soviet attacks in the 1950s, or the eco-catastrophes and plagues that descended in the 1990s express the fears and anxieties of the moment. From this vantage, it is not too much of a stretch to read Haeundae as a projection of South Koreans' own fears of destruction not from the sea to the east, but from the madman in the north.

Produced during a period of heightened tension on the peninsula over nukes and missiles, and coming to market when the visibly deteriorating dictator seems unlikely to outlive the summer blockbuster season, Haeundae unfolds as a coded expression of the darkest premonitions south of the 38th parallel. Unlike most disaster movies, which are set in an indeterminate future, Haeundae is firmly set in Korea's here and now, the summer 2009. Moreover, the beach party in Busan is the perfect site for a metaphorical meltdown. Once a fisherman's wharf, a place to scarf eels and sip mokkolli, Haeundae has been transformed into the South Korean Riviera, a jam-packed pleasure zone where Koreans soak up the sun and enjoy the fruits of their labors among high raise luxury apartments and nightclub hotspots. La dolce vita, Korea style.

Yet, suddenly, in the blink of an eye, a tsunami wipes out the peace, prosperity, and cushy life style. Abetted by state of the art computer imagery, wave upon wave of devastation reduces the skyscrapers, bridges, and fun-plexes to rubble as girls in bikinis and guys in business suits are drowned, squashed, and electrocuted. Busan's proud emblem, the Gwangan Grand Bridge, is lanced by a huge cargo ship loaded with goods for export, the symbol of the Korean economic miracle. Containers from the ship come crashing down, squashing motorists and pedestrians, before the inevitable fireball blows the ship and bridge to smithereens. I don't think I am giving anything away by revealing that the noblest and most sympathetic characters die tragically. After all, this is a Korean, not a Hollywood, disaster film.

The crowd in Busan lapped it up. Fortunately, it's only a movie

The writer is a professor of American Studies at Brandeis University and an adjunct professor at the International Summer Campus at Korea University. He can be reached at










A decade ago, the notion of fanatical Islamists storming an Australian Army base to kill as many Diggers as possible with automatic weapons would have seemed preposterous. The fact that the alleged would-be mass murderers, Australian nationals of Somali and Lebanese background, were reportedly willing to commit suicide in the process highlights their demented extremism. The anarchy that has destroyed Somalia is a world away, but that, apparently, has not deterred depraved suicide raiders transferring their desire for jihad to Australia. We congratulate the 150 officers, intelligence agents and officials for their joint operation. The intelligence-gathering, vigilance and counter-terrorism expertise of Operation Neath matched any in the world.


In breaking news of the alleged plot, The Australian's associate editor Cameron Stewart revealed that a single phone call put investigators on the right track. For several years, security agencies had suspected illegal links between small pockets of Australia's Somali community and al-Shabaab, a terrorist group aligned to al-Qa'ida in their homeland. That call, from an Australian-Lebanese man to a Somalian, allegedly confirmed the suspicion and showed the importance of painstaking surveillance.


With an attack on Sydney's Holsworthy Barracks being actively discussed, authorities raided up to 19 Melbourne homes before dawn yesterday. Four men in their 20s were arrested. Later, Melbourne Magistrates Court heard that police had gathered voluminous amounts of telephone intercepts, including text messages, planning the alleged attack on the base. "To become self-proclaimed martyrs?" magistrate Peter Reardon asked. "Yes," the prosecutor replied.


Or in other words, to stage a cowardly attack on Australian soldiers at home, not in a theatre of war, supposedly as attrition for our international engagements. The alleged plot reinforces the importance of the war in Afghanistan, a haven for terrorists.


Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland acted responsibly yesterday in pointing out that the broader Islamic community should not be seen as terrorists. The majority of Muslims do not support terrorism and have integrated successfully into Australian life where they are valuable members of the community. If anything, such people have an even stronger interest than other Australians in seeing terror stamped out.


Yesterday's events were a sobering reminder of the need for continued viligance and the maintenance of strong anti-terror laws. Those who campaign for such laws to be repealed should consider the horror of the alleged plot, which makes nonsense of claims that such laws impact unfairly on "minority groups", or should not be invoked until terrorist acts are unleashed.


That said, the botched Mohamed Haneef investigation, exposed by The Australian, showed the importance of due process and transparency and the need to maintain public confidence in the anti-terror laws. As always, the rule of law must apply, and be seen to apply, to those involved in Operation Neath. At this stage, the courage and effectiveness of the AFP, Victoria Police and ASIO in preventing an atrocity suggests the laws are being used properly, and that Australia's security is in competent hands.








Malcolm Turnbull stands convicted of stuffing up the OzCar affair and handing the Rudd government a gift. But amid the huffing and puffing yesterday over the Auditor-General's report into the debacle, it's fair to ask what else the Opposition Leader has actually done wrong. The forensic, 119-page report finds plenty to fault in the administration of the OzCar facility at the centre of the issue, but correctly leaves judgment of Mr Turnbull to his colleagues -- and, as important, the public.


We have no interest in attacking a man who is suffering depression as well as other illness, but it's clear that Godwin Grech was at best deluded and at worst machiavellian when he faked that crucial email and flashed it around at a meeting with Mr Turnbull. His has been one of the more extraordinary self-combustions of recent times -- a dreadful end to the career of a dedicated, if obsessive, bureaucrat entrusted with the task of implementing an important policy. That Mr Grech leaked information, albeit concocted information, is not, however, Mr Turnbull's fault. Rather, as the Opposition Leader -- and indeed the Auditor-General -- might put it: Treasury, you have a problem.


This is not to make light of the anger felt by Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan: they had every right to be miffed by false accusations that they had tried to get special treatment for car dealer John Grant under the OzCar scheme. The reckless exercise of power in the attack on the Prime Minister's integrity did nothing to improve the democratic process. And voters are understandably unforgiving -- a fact that Mr Turnbull discovered when his popularity slumped after the affair. Mr Rudd is entirely justified in taking the high moral ground and of making a meal of Mr Turnbull's obvious political mistakes.


But here's the reality check. First, Mr Rudd (despite his wounded suggestion on Rove Live in June that mud sticks) has not been damaged by this affair -- and he has the polls to show it. As well, the Prime Minister has form when it comes to playing hardball in the parliament.


Second, while Mr Turnbull showed poor judgment, both sides of politics have long adopted similarly robust approaches to exploiting these kinds of leaks.


Third, Mr Turnbull, having been convinced of the veracity of Mr Grech's information, and having opted to go in hard against the Prime Minister, has already paid the price in the loss of support in his own ranks and in the electorate. The Auditor-General's report, while an important part of the process, is irrelevant to Mr Turnbull's future: his stakeholders have already factored in the fallout from the affair. Even so, the spotlight is back on his decisions: the Opposition Leader is a resilient character, but he will have his work cut out to overcome the negatives of this affair.


Beyond that, the affair reminds us of the importance of transparency in the implementation of government policies. That need is particularly acute at a time when details are emerging around the nation of the work of influential lobbyists and cosy cash-for-contact political arrangements.


But in the end, the message from this affair is that Mr Turnbull has paid a high price for being -- in his own words -- misled by a Treasury official with his own agenda.








But if the gaming of the system is increasing, then the AFL must take some of the blame. The problem lies not with highly competitive clubs under pressure to win premierships, but with a system that penalises success and rewards failure.


The rationale for the draft, in which teams that do badly move to the top of the queue when it comes to selecting players, is fair enough. The construction of a national competition covering states such as NSW and Queensland that historically had little involvement with the code meant that some form of "planned economy" was needed. Both the Sydney Swans and the Brisbane Lions have been beneficiaries of the draft and their success has been vital in entrenching AFL in those cities. The system also makes sure talent is distributed across the nation, and ensures that rich clubs do not dominate the competition. But it can take a club years to move from the middle of the pack to the (more useful) bottom of the ladder. Hence the temptation to speed things up by choosing sub-optimum teams or taking the collective foot off the pedal.


There's appeal in an open market, but no one wants a return to the days when a handful of cashed-up Victorian clubs ruled. What's needed is a review of a system that risks distorting the sport, and an approach that prevents gaming. In football, as in the broader economy, it's important to beware the unintended consequences of policy.











WHAT does Somalia have in common with Australia? Until recently, almost nothing. The two nations, if Somalia can still be called a nation, had basically zero historical, economic and cultural links until the Department of Immigration began accepting some Somali refugees to Australia. Now we are told by the Federal Police there is a direct link between the violent mayhem in Somalia and an alleged plot to attack and kill soldiers at the Holsworthy army base in Sydney.


Police are holding four Australian-born Muslim men who have been arrested for allegedly conspiring to commit a terrorist attack in Australia as part of the wider cause of global jihad. The Holsworthy base was allegedly targeted in symbolic retribution for the deployment of Australian troops to theatres of war in two Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan.


The NSW Police Commissioner said the police acted after they perceived an attack was ‘‘likely imminent’’. The arrests, coming so soon after two fatal terrorist bombings in Jakarta that targeted Australian civilians, are a wake-up call. Security at Holsworthy is casual, so the base is a soft target even though it is a military installation. While the American-led rhetoric of the war on terrorism has mercifully been put to rest, there is no rest in the desire by some to commit murder, justified as holy war, on behalf of Islam.


That threat is as real as it ever was. It takes the actions of only a rabid few to wreak terror on civilian populations.


The desire to wage jihad has become a global fashion among a minority of alienated younger men, and some women, living on the fringes of society. Like everything else in a globalised world, this desire to seek power through the intoxication of violence is mutating into new and borderless forms, helped along by the ease of communications. In this latest incident the initial indication is that there was a desire among those arrested to show solidarity with the jihadists in Somalia who are trying to take control of the failed state and turn it into a caliphate. It seems bizarre that Australian-born Muslims would want to attach themselves to obscure and distant medievalism.


Even if these arrests do not survive the scrutiny of the legal process, they are a reminder that our security services have a constant and difficult task of sifting through the mountain of daily communication and identifying danger. Yesterday was a reminder of what they are doing and why.







ANNA BLIGH, Malcolm Turnbull, Barry O’Farrell and Morris Iemma make a strange assortment of allies, but for the moment they are all, to varying degrees, on the right side in the debate over the funding of political parties. The Queensland Premier has been fending off criticism from the former corruption investigator Tony Fitzgerald, and has told her ministers not to attend fund-raising events at which business leaders pay thousands of dollars for the chance to rub shoulders with them. She has also promised to outlaw success fees for lobbyists whose clients win Queensland Government contracts.


Fitzgerald’s criticism, in a speech at the State Library of Queensland on July 29, stung Bligh for her quiescence over potential corruption, although his main target was her predecessor, Peter Beattie, who, Fitzgerald said, had dismantled or marginalised anti-corruption processes in an effort to win over former Coalition supporters. Fitzgerald’s broader point was that politicians who countenance potentially corrupt behaviour to achieve a short-term advantage create long-term problems for the community. Because the problems under the former premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen had been removed did not mean they could not return, he said. He confined his remarks to Queensland, but their application is universal.


Like Bligh, the former NSW premier Iemma knows the dangers of a lack of transparency over political donations. Iemma’s enlightenment came after the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into Wollongong City Council.


Turnbull and O’Farrell, meanwhile, are taking the moral high ground on this issue, which is easier in opposition but no less creditable for that. Turnbull’s support for funding reform we have mentioned before. His plan to ban donations from organisations, businesses and unions, and put a cap on those from individuals, is a good one. He has not yet, unfortunately, convinced his party of its virtues. O’Farrell has chimed in with a promise to match, if elected, Bligh’s ban on success fees. Good.


Political funding badly needs reform, and to be effective, as all agree, there will have to be a bipartisan national approach. The four represent a start towards that bipartisanship. For their part, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the Premier, Nathan Rees, have contributed little except objections to this promising movement. Rees thinks banning success fees is too hard; Rudd points sniffily to Turnbull’s refusal to back Labor’s disclosure-rule changes now before the Senate.


Both should think again. It is time they joined the movement and made substantial reform happen.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




"Secondhand books are wild books, homeless books," said Virginia Woolf. "They have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack." Which makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in scientific accuracy; anyone who has ever tried to read a heavily used paperback, the spine broken in several places and its leaves falling gently on the floor would happily forgo some of that one-careless-owner charm. Yet secondhand bookshops certainly have an attractiveness that many retailers of the new cannot beat. How sad it is, therefore, to read this week that independent secondhand booksellers claim they are being forced out of business by Oxfam. Both retailers of used books, their common enemy lies elsewhere. On the one hand, there are those homogenised chains, with their 3-for-2 offers and assemblies of the usual subjects. On the other, there are those small businesses, each different, for better or worse. Again, it is easy to be overly-romantic: former secondhand bookseller George Orwell set part of a novel in a shop that smelled of "dust and decayed paper" with "quarto volumes of extinct encyclopaedias slumbered on their sides in piles like the tiered coffins in common graves". But the best have stock that is old – an out-of-print Penguin on Imagist poets, or a Fontana reader bringing news (at least it would have been in 1981) from the sociological front – and temptingly affordable. They contain treasure, however dusty.







There was a time when all the world firsts in rail took place in the UK – the first modern locomotive, the first intercity line and the first train-travelling monarch. That time, however, was the second quarter of the 19th century, and for very many years now Britain's railways have, as it were, been stuck on the slow train. No principally domestic mainline has been built in over a century, and the spread of high-speed services – from Japan in the 1960s through France in the 80s to Spain in the 90s – has all but failed to reach these shores. The transport secretary, Andrew Adonis, today tells the Guardian of his lofty ambitions for bridging the rail gap.


It is telling that Britain's one new line, and its sole high-speed service, connects St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel. That project invited cross-channel comparisons, and the shaming contrast with the French convinced Whitehall that muddling through over creaking old tracks was no longer a viable option. At all other times the government, and perhaps the public, have grown used to thinking of high-speed rail in the same way as figurative art or winning Wimbledon – a wonderful thing that the British are not cut out for. That makes Lord Adonis's talk of replacing all domestic flights – and some European ones – with high-speed rail an apparently bold break with the past.


The past lack of ambition reflected many things – the quarter-century of falling public capital investment that followed the 1976 IMF cuts; a botched privatisation and the 2000 Hatfield crash, both of which led to problems that drained money and energy when the public expenditure taps were switched back on; above all, a crippling sense of self-doubt about the British ability to pull off a grand projet. The completion of the Channel Tunnel link – which was built on time and on budget – make this the time to exorcise the demons of doubt.


Spain had no high-speed rail at all as recently as 1992, but now has some 2,000km, and is set to build far more. The conventional assumption has been that rail will decline. This reflected the post-war reality of a growing proportion of journeys being made by road and by air. But it obscured the potential for rail in the deeper connection between the slow rising tide of prosperity and the total volume of travel. People have grown richer over the decades by travelling further to seek out opportunities, and in addition they have also spent a portion of the resulting extra affluence on going further for leisure. Thus, despite all the setbacks, total rail traffic is up by a third since privatisation. Meanwhile Eurostar – and other high-speed lines on the continent – have now more than proved that they can compete with aviation. The lesson is plain: build it – and they will come.


Climate change reinforces the argument, as the carbon emissions from a train journey are only a fraction of those from boarding a plane or driving. Another consideration is re-energising the regions. That task that has attracted more failed policies than just about any other, but a high-speed link between – say – Manchester and Leeds would be almost bound to help integrate business in these two cities. It is not just a question of speed, but also of reliability and, equally importantly, capacity: business travellers will be much more inclined to take the train if they are certain they can get a seat.


First the Liberal Democrats and later the Conservatives committed themselves to a rail renaissance before Lord Adonis finally nailed Labour's colours to the mast, and he is taking shrewd account of this. He has tasked engineers with drafting a ready-to-go manual for building the line Britain needs, hoping to win all-party agreement on a definitive blueprint ahead of the election. The government urgently needs to give some thought to the country it is likely to be leaving behind in less than a year's time. High-speed rail has been a slow train coming for Britain. If Lord Adonis can now give it momentum, it could be a proud part of the legacy.







It is ironic that Bill Clinton should be the envoy chosen to seek the release of two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea. At one point in his presidency, he had seriously considered bombing North Korea's nuclear reactor, until another former president Jimmy Carter flew into Pyongyang and produced the face-saver – an agreement to freeze nuclear development and allow inspectors back in.


At the time, administration officials called Mr Carter's private visit unhelpful and accused him of undermining their position. Although Barack Obama hardly had time to put his feet under table before North Korea test-fired a long-range rocket and conducted a second nuclear test in the latest sudden plunge of this rollercoaster ride, history is repeating itself.


Then, as now, the White House was at pains to stress the private nature of the former president's visit. Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, denied that Mr Clinton was carrying a message from Mr Obama for the ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, although South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that he had. But whether it is private or not, it is clear that this visit is not just about the release of two San Francisco-based journalists who walked across a shallow river dividing China and North Korea while researching a story about trafficking women. Contrition has been expressed at the highest levels for their actions. The administration has stopped pressing for their humanitarian release and called instead for an amnesty, a word that implies recognition that North Korean law was broken. Their release should be relatively straightforward to negotiate.


Of greater significance is the opportunity afforded by these talks to break the diplomatic logjam. If North Korea uses Mr Clinton's visit to stop snarling and start talking, Mr Obama should be prepared to react in kind, releasing the noose of sanctions in return for a resumption of denuclearisation. The US should learn from the mistakes of the past, when it asked for too much too quickly, such as intrusive verification. The exchange of concession for reward should be more carefully planned and sequenced. The nuclear card is the only one North Korea has, and with enough fissile material for a number of bombs, the country should be expected to play a long game.


The US, China and other members of the six-party talks should be prepared to play an equally long game, in the knowledge that negotiation, however frustrating, is better than its alternative. Above all, Mr Obama should be wary of drawing too many parallels between North Korea and Iran. They have different motives for pursuing the same end.








She was an unlikely revolutionary. A member not of one but two of the Philippines' most powerful families, Mrs. Corazon Aquino nonetheless led the popular revolt against President Ferdinand Marcos, sweeping him from office and setting an example for "people power" movements around the world ever since. Her quiet dignity and iron will provided a much needed center for a country whose politics was often in turmoil. Passing away last weekend at the age of 76 from cancer, she will be much missed.


It was a personal tragedy of the most horrific kind that propelled Mrs. Aquino into politics. Her husband was Benigno Aquino Jr., the head of the opposition movement in the Philippines who had been forced into exile in May 1980, eight years after Marcos had declared martial law to avoid the term limits imposed by the Philippine Constitution. Aquino, along with thousands of other opponents of the regime, had been incarcerated — ostensibly for links to communist rebels. Yielding to U.S. pressure, Marcos allowed Aquino to go into exile for heart surgery; he and his family remained in the U.S. for three years.


On Aug. 21, 1983, Aquino returned home to organize the opposition. While being escorted off the plane, he was shot and killed. The Manila government blamed a communist rebel, but a subsequent investigation indicated that the soldier who had led him off the plane likely murdered him on the tarmac.


Mrs. Aquino returned to the Philippines three days later and began to rally public opposition to the Marcos regime. As crowds numbered in the millions, Marcos called a snap election to confirm his mandate. He won, defeating Mrs. Aquino, but all credible observers alleged massive fraud. Two weeks after the election and as the dispute raged, a group of military officers mutinied against Marcos; they were protected by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who answered the Roman Catholic Church's call to jam the streets and prevent a counteroffensive by the government. Mrs. Aquino joined the soldiers, announcing that "For the first time in the history of the world, a civilian population has been called to defend the military." That declaration won the officers' loyalty.


The U.S., a longtime ally of Marcos, increased pressure on the president to step down. He relented, and Mrs. Aquino was sworn in as president on Feb. 25, 1986, the same day that Marcos left. Thus began a tumultuous six-year rule that many consider most notable for what did not occur. Her land reform program fell well short of expectations, failing to end the domination of the country's economy by the landed elite — that should not have been a surprise given her membership in that group. Her initial attempts to reach out to the communist insurgents were undermined by resistance from the military. Hopes for reconciliation with the rebels faded with her ambitions. That insurgency continues to this day.


But equally notable were the coups that did not succeed. Seven attempts were launched during her six years in office. She fended them all off. That success was a testimony to the inner strength of a woman, with no political training or experience, who nonetheless managed to oversee the adoption of a new constitution that was approved by 80 percent of the popular vote. She restored a freely elected Parliament and an independent judiciary — impressive accomplishments for someone who just two years earlier had said "I don't know anything about the presidency" before deciding to challenge Marcos in the 1986 ballot.

The success of Mrs. Aquino's "people power" revolt has inspired nonviolent protests worldwide, including those that ended communist rule in the former Soviet satellites and the "color revolutions" that have erupted ever since around the globe.


Ironically, that is a mixed legacy in the Philippines itself. It has encouraged the public — and those who would manipulate them — to take to the streets whenever they are frustrated with or aggrieved by their political system. Philippine democracy may be flawed — no system is perfect — but the readiness to embrace extra-parliamentary action only compounds those defects; it does not remedy them. It undermines the democratic process and lowers the threshold of acceptable behavior.


Despite acknowledging that problem, after leaving office Mrs. Aquino did not hesitate to join protests that threatened to undermine Philippine democracy. She helped lead the protests that deposed President Joseph Estrada in 2001 and supported efforts to force his successor, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to leave office. But last year, she apologized to Mr. Estrada for bringing down his government.


That contradiction captures the heart of Mrs. Aquino's legacy. Thrust into a situation for which she had never prepared, she nevertheless galvanized public sentiment and bent larger forces to her will. Genuine democracy depends on more than individual leaders, however. Ultimately, it is a system whose survival depends on the subordination of personalities to process, no matter how flawed. The Philippines still struggle to find the appropriate balance between the two, Mrs. Aquino's unforgettable efforts notwithstanding.









The government has decided to deliver 3.5 billion won ($2.87 million) to 10 NGOs engaged in humanitarian aid projects for North Korea. Announcing the release of the money from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund on Monday, the Unification Ministry indicated that further aid funds could be provided following the "initial outlay" which is mainly to support underprivileged children and sick people in the North.


The decision meant that Seoul was resuming humanitarian assistance to North Korea, which had been suspended in April in reaction to Pyongyang's launch of a long-range missile earlier in the month and its second nuclear test on May 25. A senior Unification Ministry official revealed that the government may in the future support the construction of hospitals and agricultural improvements, depending on how inter-Korean relations change in the days ahead.


It is commendable that government authorities did not dwell too long on the shock from the North's missile and nuclear tests and turned their eyes again on the suffering people in North Korea. Considering Pyongyang's propaganda campaigns with derogatory and hostile language against the South in recent months, Seoul's magnanimity is particularly noteworthy. Yet, it will for some time withhold permission for Southerners to travel to the North or the shipment of aid materials, despite many NGOs' requests for an early lifting of the restrictions.


The months-old suspension of humanitarian aid from the South is apparently having significant consequences on the impoverished society in the North. Pyongyang is making some unusual efforts to change its people's attitudes toward the South. One example was the official Chosun Central TV's "South Korea in Crisis" program shown late in July.


It was a meticulous collection of footage from South Korean KBS, MBC, SBS and YTN broadcasts, which portrayed the miserable lives of poor people in the South. Unemployed youths, evictees from redevelopment zones, aged people without support, the homeless, credit defaulters and other sorts of people from the "vulnerable class" were shown with subtitles explaining that "an absolute majority of people in the South are leading extremely miserable lives."


Perhaps the Central TV program was Kim Jong-il's answer to the North Koreans' growing curiosity about the absence of aid from the South these days. As the Northern authorities detected yearning among their people for aid from the South, they were compelled to circulate the message that "South Korea is not as affluent and comfortable as you might imagine."


This little propaganda ploy could backfire - the supposedly destitute people in South Korean cities still look fairly well fed and are talking to their network interviewers quite freely. One middle-aged woman appearing in a state-run KBS-TV report is heard rattling off complaints about the state and declaring that she wanted to leave this country. The program quite inadvertently showcased the democracy and freedom of the South.


Humanitarian aid is the only channel of reality between the North and the South. It is also our minimum effort to preserve national identity and the expression of earnest wishes for reunification. Last year, the Lee Myung-bak government released more than 10 billion won to 37 NGOs for 40 humanitarian aid projects even though the administration stuck to the principle of no aid to the North without progress in the six-party denuclearization talks. It is urged that Seoul maintain at least the same level of humanitarian aid this year so that the two parts of Korea can retain that caliber of peaceful connection despite political fluctuations.








No sooner had President Lee expressed his vision to have high school graduates enter universities solely through interviews with admissions officers than the "hagwon" operators in Seoul posted billboards and posters to announce their readiness to train students for the upcoming entrance system.


When a major study aid firm and a cable TV station held an "orientation session" about screening by admissions officers, inviting officials from private universities in Seoul, thousands of students and parents packed the huge COEX Hall. War has started on a new front in Korea's education market.


We don't have to criticize the president for having so casually bared his thoughts, out of a simple wish to free students and parents from the yoke of costly private, out-of-school tuition. Whatever revolutionary system change is conceived by the authorities today, the education business comes up with fancy schemes tomorrow to provide ways to help students get over the new hurdles to university entry.


A standard price of 1.5 million won has been set for a month of intensive "consulting" to prepare a student for interviews with admission officers. If the state-run scholastic aptitude test is not abolished even after the introduction of the admissions officer system, anxious parents will be pushed to make additional expenditures to prepare their children for the triple lines of selection methods - high school records, SATs and now interview with admissions officers.


The problem is that high school teachers are not confident that their present education provision is good enough to have their students pass through the admissions officer system. Reports had it that "experts" were approaching high school principals with offers of special training for teachers on how to cope with the new university admission system, demanding high fees, of course.


A new policy creates new attempts to beat it and there seems to be no ultimate solution until the time when everyone gives up the effort to enter a "better" university. That is always the way in our society, so the newly-appointed admissions officers at universities will just have to elude the chase of education businesses by setting the principle that the least prepared applicants are the best prepared.










A Thai friend asked me to say something about the possible rise of China's renminbi as an international reserve currency. The role of Asian currencies as global reserve currency is a problem that I have thought about almost throughout my career. When I was in the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, I thought a lot about whether the Hong Kong dollar could become an international reserve currency. Then I asked myself, why didn't the yen, issued by the second-strongest economy in the world, become a major reserve currency? Why did the euro succeed and the yen fail? So, this is a long story and not easily told in a short column. So, I will tell the story in several parts.


First we have to go to basics. We have to understand what money is and why it is so important. The economist will tell you that money is a means of payment, a standard unit of measurement and a store of value. The priest will tell you that money is the root of all evil. Everyone knows that money represents power, but money can also be a liability. You do not know the value of money until you try to borrow some, and then you realize who your friends are.


Actually, money is a derivative of the real economy - it is only the representation of real goods and services that you can buy with money. It is essentially a tool with which you can exchange for other things. Like all tools, whether it is for good or evil depends on how you use it. If you have money, this is an asset to you, but it is also the liability of someone else. For example, the currency note you have in your wallet is the liability of the central bank.


Hence, money is both an asset and a liability. This dual property means that money offers power, but also responsibility. Within a nation, the central bank is the only legal institution allowed to print money. But money can be created if the state borrows money or credit is created by the commercial banks. If there is too much money created relative to the growth of real goods, you get inflation - too much money chasing too few goods. This is why history has taught nations that the supply of money must be controlled. That is the function of the central bank.


Almost no one looks at the balance sheet of the central bank. On the liability side, the central bank has the currency issue and also deposits placed by commercial banks or the government. On the asset side, the central bank has foreign exchange (liability of foreigners), government bonds (liability of the government), central bank loans to banks and the private sector (liability of the private sector).


If we add up the balance sheet of the central bank and the commercial banks, you would realize that the liability side is basically what we call broad money - the sum of currency notes issued and bank deposits. So money supply is increased if the state borrows money, the country gets more foreign exchange (net liability of foreigners) or the commercial banks lend more credit to the private sector.


This basic lesson in money supply tells you that the more credit there is in the system, the greater the money supply. The greater the credit, the more people or the government is willing to borrow to spend, which means that there is more jobs and more income. But we can spend too much, which is why credit must be controlled.


Once we understand that money is a derivative of the real economy, we appreciate why derivatives can be dangerous. The reason is that the first derivative is tied to an underlying real asset, such as currency being backed by gold. But we can create a derivative on a derivative, which is a simple loan. A loan is a second-order derivative of the net assets of the borrower. An asset-backed security is a third order derivative and a CDO (collateralized debt obligation) is a fourth and CDO2 is a fifth and so on. By the time you reached a swaption (a swap on an option), you do not even know what underlying asset that you are buying or selling. Derivation is through higher leverage and therefore complex and risky.


We all know that if the underlying asset gets into trouble, the associated derivatives must get into trouble. So if the real economy is fragile, the financial system must be fragile. However, because each level of derivative is in essence a higher level of credit (someone must trust someone else to create that credit), the collapse of credit can also damage the real sector. This is the case of the tail wagging the dog.


Why is this insight about money as a derivative important? A currency is only as strong as the real economy issuing the currency. Issuing money creates power over resources. A reserve currency can only function if foreigners widely accept the use of your currency. But if your economy is weak or fragile, being a reserve currency is not a blessing; it can be a curse.


I shall explain this in the next article.


Andrew Sheng is an adjunct professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing and University of Malaya. He was former chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission. - Ed.


(Asia News Network)








What is going on in Korea often puzzles not only foreigners but also some native sons like me, for it frequently defies logical explanations. Recently, an American journalist, who is about to return to the United States after spending some time in Korea, sent me some perceptive queries. He wrote: "Before I leave, there are some questions that have always nagged at my conscious about Korea, its culture and people." I understand what he is getting at. The problem is that I am just as perplexed as him and thus won't be able to provide him with convincing answers. But I shall try nonetheless.


His first question was quite penetrating: "The sunbae/hubae system, its benefits and disadvantages; does it, in the end, limit opportunity or expand it? Does it lead to closed-circuit, impenetrable networks?"


It cuts both edges. When extended to the patron/protege mentality of Korean society, which emphasizes the importance of brotherly love between seniors and juniors, the sunbae/hubae psychology could be beneficial to everyone. However, when confined to one's alma mater, the sunbae/hubae system surely creates "closed-circuit, impenetrable networks," because in this system birds of a feather flock together. If you have a different feather, you are likely doomed to be a social pariah and encounter tremendous disadvantages that block your career paths as invisible barriers and closed doors.


The second question was even more insightful: "Why are Koreans so nationalistic? Is there more to it than the influence of invasions and the sandwiching between China and Japan? What's the motivation for your average person who has little political or intellectual interest? What makes that person join beef protests or pay rapt attention to an international baseball game, especially when the person normally can't be bothered to watch the Samsung Lions or LG Twins?"


It is said that nationalism runs in the blood of the Korean people, primarily because Korea has been frequently invaded due to its fateful geographical location sandwiched between China and Japan. Living on a peninsula with hopelessly incompetent politicians, Koreans have instinctively chosen to be nationalistic in order to survive. Political turmoil such as the Japanese occupation and the division of the country, too, may have contributed to the overflowing nationalism in Korea. But there is more to it. Incendiary demagogues and sly politicians have always agitated people against foreign countries such as the United States or Japan for political gain. Naive and gullible, Koreans are easily inflamed by any nationalist propaganda and instantly turn into ardent patriots, whether they be laymen or intellectuals.


The third question was: "Has Korea really been invaded 3,000 times, as a public school vice principal once told me?" This is vastly exaggerated and highly unlikely. Historians agree that there is no way for us to know the exact number of foreign invasions. Take the sporadic Mongolian invasions for eight years during the Goryeo Dynasty as examples. Should they be counted as one invasion or say, 50 invasions? It is pretty much impossible to tell.


The fourth query was embarrassingly to the point: "Why do people get so bent out of shape about, say, the FTA, but hardly bat an eye when it comes to Hyundai or Samsung creating slush funds?" Many Koreans are suspicious about any type of treaty with foreign countries, including the free trade agreements, worrying that it might be a conspiracy to manipulate their nation. These ungrounded suspicions against foreign countries may have stemmed from the haunting memories of their colonial experience. But, then again, there are ultra-nationalists and leftists who instigate naive people to be hostile to foreign cultures and foreign peoples, invariably condemning them as imperialistic. As for internal corruption, Koreans tend to be excessively generous. So it is not so much a matter of fair or unfair business as it is a matter of "us" or "them," once again resonating nationalism.


The last question was encouraging: "Plenty has been said about Korea picking up American ways and practices. What can Americans learn from Korea? What things could we do better if only we opened our eyes to what's going on here?" Among others, the long-lasting bond between parents and children comes to mind. Unlike their Korean counterparts, American parents are likely to be left alone and lonely starting in their 40s, as their children leave the nest as soon as they graduate from high school. Children from broken homes are also much fewer in Korea than in the States.


Understanding cultural differences is not an easy thing to do, and yet it is imperative to try to correctly perceive other cultures. We should make every effort to learn about other cultures, traditions and people with enthusiasm to begin a truly reciprocal relationship.


Besides, Koreans enjoy watching or playing games in groups. Unlike the Japanese who invented Nintendo and Playstation 3, which only involves one or two players, Koreans like to play or have activities in large groups. The huge crowd gathered for U.S. beef protests or candlelight demonstrations is a good example.


Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and director of the Seoul National University Press. - Ed.








According to the Chinese media, children and relatives of the alleged mastermind of the Urumqi riot wrote two letters: One to her, appealing that she wash her hands off activities which harm her motherland and ruin peace in her hometown; the other to the victims' families, expressing apology.


The two handwritten letters, dated and signed, were shown on TV, and their contents were published in the print media and posted on the Internet, too.


But our Western colleagues are unconvinced. Quoting denials by overseas Uygur separatists, they doubt the authenticity of the letters. They suspect that the letters, if not forged, must have been written under pressure.


Government officials in Xinjiang, on the other hand, call the "forgery" theory "very ridiculous".


Admitting that the letters took them by surprise, the officials disclosed that they had received several letters from those people condemning her involvement in separatist activities and association with the July 5 rioting. They would not have made them public until their authenticity was verified.


One side must be untrue given such conflicting accounts. But that will not be difficult to find out;


after all, everybody involved in the matter knows what the truth is. However, it is not difficult for skeptics to produce evidence in support of their allegations.


In the absence of such evidence, we find it implausible that the Chinese government would bother to squeeze such letters from the family members of someone they so dislike.


For one thing, what meaningful message can a couple of letters like these convey? That you are betrayed even by your own family? That you have caused trouble for your kids? So what? We have not seen the Chinese government do that before. And believe that no authority will stray so far from the path of reason because it will totally destroy the government's credibility.


According to one of the letter writers, one goal of the letter to victims' families was to tell the public that they are not involved in the incident, which appears to be a logical response in the current circumstances. Given the prevailing anger targeted at anyone who is, or was, one of their family, distancing themselves from a hated plot is perfectly sensible and understandable.


That is clearly the spirit behind the letters: To distance the family members from guilt or taint by association.


The letter writers, as innocent citizens, deserve a peaceful life free of prejudice and misunderstanding. All that said, we cannot imagine the Chinese government would risk its credibility to forge two letters like these.







Stabilized urban registered unemployment is as better than expected as the strong rebound of the national economy. But slack business for small- and medium-sized enterprises, China's major source of job growth, indicates that the unemployment pressure is still quite heavy.


According to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the country's urban registered unemployment rate remains unchanged at the end of the second quarter after rising to 4.3 percent in the first quarter from 4.2 percent at the end of last year.


A more encouraging message is that as much as 95 percent of the 70 million migrant workers, who returned to their homes in the countryside before the Spring Festival, have headed back to cities for jobs. And, the remaining five percent have either found work in the their hometowns or started their own businesses there.


These headline figures altogether depict a much brighter employment outlook than the country saw just a couple of months ago.


When the nation was shocked to find that about 18 million migrant workers returned home jobless before the Spring Festival, Chinese policymakers raised unemployment forecast to reflect the severe effects that the global downturn will exert on the job market.


China's urban unemployment rate rose to 4.2 percent at the end of 2008, up 0.2 percentage point year-on-year. The country aimed to keep its registered jobless rate below 4.6 percent and provide 9 million new urban jobs this year.


However, thanks to a massive stimulus package and unprecedented fiscal and monetary support, the Chinese economy has bounced back more rapidly than most people expected in the first half of the year, giving a much-needed cushion to the battered labor market.


Now, with the country being put back on course to achieve its goal of 8 percent growth this year, it is natural to expect that more jobs will be created as a result of faster economic expansion.


But policymakers should not take it for granted that high-speed growth will guarantee adequate job creation.


The fact that electricity consumption by small- and medium-sized enterprises plunged by 48.9 percent year-on-year in the first six months shows that these job creators are yet to recover. Though these labor-intensive enterprises may not have cut jobs during the crisis, less electricity consumption means less production and thus massive underemployment. So, even when these enterprises regain the growth momentum, they are unlikely to create many more jobs.


To absorb about 10 million new migrant workers, who enter the workforce every year, as well as millions of college graduates, policymakers need to tilt the stimulus package further in favor of employment growth.








The successful holding of the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics was a landmark in the three decades of reform and opening up and a great experience for the Chinese people on their road to building a relatively better-off society. It will serve as a starting point for Beijing to strive to become an international metropolis.


The Olympics has indeed left Beijing with a rich material and spiritual legacy. The most visible of the material legacy are the spectacular sports venues, but perhaps equally, if not more, important are the sports-related industries and talents. The Games have also left us with "five spirits": patriotism, professionalism, devotion, innovation and teamwork, as well as the spirit of sport and volunteer work.


The Olympics has played a positive role in establishing a democratic, open, civilized and prosperous image of China. It has also displayed to the world China's 5,000-year-old splendid culture and helped strengthen its soft power.


Beijing has benefited greatly from the Games, which has helped improve its infrastructure and urban eco-system, and upgrade its expertise in modern management. This lasting legacy will continue to play an important role in propelling the city's sustainable development.


At the industrial level, the Olympics has promoted the development of cultural and sport industries. It has injected new vitality into industries such as entertainment, sport and sport facilities, TV broadcasting, fine arts, tourism and leisure, and urban landscape.


Many professionals, who helped organize the Games, are now armed with invaluable experiences and working in different fields. They are familiar with international practices, well versed in foreign languages and experienced in organizing big sport events.


The millions of volunteers, who have made huge contributions to the Olympics and Paralymics with their devotion, commitment and hard work, and charmed the world with their smiles, are helping bring change in every part of the country with their volunteering spirit.


The "Olympic city" brand has left Beijing with precious resources. The Olympics is the world's largest, most complex and the highest level of sports event, and its influence is worldwide. Only 22 cities in 18 countries can claim to have this brand.


Since the value and influence of the brand improved tremendously after the 1984 Los Angles Games, Beijing is now part of an exclusive club of seven cities that have played host to the Olympics in the past two and half decades.


Thanks to Beijing in no small measure, the Olympic legacy has become more important. Starting from the Beijing Games, the International Olympic Committee requires the host city to write an assessment report of the overall impact of the Olympics on the environment, economy, society and culture three years after the Games. Beijing obviously is under international observation, making it all the important for it leave a lasting stamp on the spirit of the Olympic legacy as far as sustainable development is concerned.


The international media's eyes are trained on the Games venues in Beijing and other Chinese cities, which co-hosted the Olympics, to see how they would be used after the sports gala.


Some Olympic cities staged very successful Olympics, but their image suffered after the Games because they failed to use the sport venues effectively. Therefore, proper use of the venues and the Olympic spirit has a great impact on the image of the host city and the country. Olympic cities such as Los Angles, Barcelona and Atlanta established special departments to carry forward the Olympic legacy. This reminds us of the long-term significance of developing the legacy.


The Beijing municipal government has summarized the experiences in organizing the Games in a timely manner and promoted innovation in governance and management. The temporary measures on transport, the environment, food safety and hygiene, and volunteering during the Games have been transformed into normal mechanisms to help scientific development.


Beijing has made some initial achievements in the proper use of sport venues to meet people's needs. The huge complex of which the Bird's Nest, Water Cube and the Olympic Green has become a new popular tourist spot. The number of visitors these venues drew exceeded even that to the Palace Museum for some time after the Games. And the Water Cube has been playing host to aquatic performances and shows for many months now.


But we need policy support, too, to use of the sport facilities in the best way possible so that more people can use them. The Olympic Green has to be managed well so that people can enjoy the fruits of the Olympics and feel inspired by the Olympic culture and by sport.


A green Olympics was one of the three concepts of the Beijing Games. Effective measures were taken to ensure good air quality in the city during the Games. It is commendable that the municipal government has adopted a long-term goal to build a "Green Beijing".


Many measures that had been taken during the Games are being and will be followed. These include green traffic, technology, farming and industries. By the end of June, the number of days with air quality above level 2 was 146, 23 more than the same period last year and the best since 2000.


The industrial structure has improved, too, after the Games, with the third industries up 74.6 percent of the first half of this year. Beijing is one of the top cities in the country in terms of energy conservation and emission reduction. The Olympics, though grand, was a one-off sports gala for Beijing, but its scientific concept will have a lasting impact on its sustainable development.


The successful Games has greatly ignited people's enthusiasm in sports. The Games helped increase the number of sport facilities and the people who exercise regularly, with the sports industries seeing a rapid growth.


Our national sports strategy should now aim at ensuring that people are physically fit, have better health and enjoy a healthier life. We must ensure that sport plays an important role in pushing the all-round development of the people, and their economic and social progress.


A balanced development of competitive and mass sports is important, too. We should include more people in the national fitness program and provide them with more and better sport services.


The international media continues to focus on the post-Games use of the sport venues, urban transportation, the environment, tourism, cultural and the sport industry as well as the normalization of temporary measures in conformity with international practices during the Olympics.


The world was impressed with the enthusiasm and efficiency of hundreds of millions of Chinese people during the Games. The consolidation of the Olympic legacy depends on people's participation, too. Taking pride in holding the Games, the Chinese people have imbibed the "Olympic spirit", which should be treasured and properly directed to contribute to the cause of building a more open, civilized and prosperous China.


The author is Executive Vice-President of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.










The upward trend of Chinese-Australian relationship based on economic interdependence will carry on despite recent events. Upgrading the long-established bilateral friendship requires both sides to resolve disputes reasonably and display mutual understanding in economic and political spheres, especially when fundamental interests of each side are concerned.


Chinese-Australian interests converge on economic and trade relations. Industrial development makes China dependent on long-term steady and cheap supply of resources, which could be channeled via overseas acquisition and negotiations.


The road to acquisition has never been smooth largely because of non-economic suspicions of the countries involved, including Australia. This is typified by the debt-ridden Rio Tinto Group's sinking of its bid to raise cash from Aluminum Corporation of China, or Chinalco, in spring.


The path of negotiations has been marked by constant frustrations of the Chinese attempts year after year. The failure in the iron ore negotiation was particularly disturbing because the fact that China (as the largest importer of iron ore) should have a say in pricing was ignored. The current global recession puts the Chinese industry at a disadvantage. This prompted an industry-wide overhaul with thorough investigation, which naturally led to the discovery of Stern Hu's case and was followed by arrests of senior executives of Chinese companies.


The Chinese side seems to have intentionally kept the case to the individual level, for the sake of Australian feelings. The unexpectedly strong and politicized reaction from the Australian side drives itself into the potential marshland of interfering with Chinese judicial sovereignty.


The clanger at the Melbourne International Film Festival pointed to the Chinese belief in national unity as the ultimate interest. The festival organizers had struck the most sensitive nerves of the Chinese by screening the controversial documentary on Rebiya Kadeer, whose organization is behind the Urumqi riot of July 5 which left nearly 200 dead.


While the Han and the Uygur Chinese in Xinjiang mourned their dead, the Australian side insisted on showing a brazen ode to the head of a group that organized the riot and other terrorist attacks to split China and even welcoming her into town. How could the Chinese not be offended? It is most reasonable for Chinese film directors to withdraw from the festival and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to raise the issue.


If the Australian focus on Chinalco in February was downplayed in China and the spying by Rio Tinto Shanghai representative Stern Hu treated as an individual case, Australia's over-use of Rebiya Kadeer to say something else apparently lifted the disputes to the diplomatic field. Such escalation echoed the unfriendly noises of anti-China forces inside Australia.


In fact, it should not have been hard for the Australian public to see why the usually modest Chinese would respond strongly by July, because both events are in fact challenging China's primary interests, where the Chinese have no room to negotiate.


However, the unpleasant events could not obscure the fact that China and Australia need one another on the basis of complementary economies. The rapid development of Chinese manufacturing industries is a gold mine for Australia while the rich resources of the latter offer a stable source for China's economic growth. Even the opposition, which has attacked the administration of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, had to admit the importance of China to the Australian economy. Such economic interdependence is a sound basis for bilateral relations over the years.


In the international arena, China and Australia are counting on each other. The Rudd administration is moving ahead successfully with its diplomatic strategy of "integrating into Asia". Chinese support is often necessary if Australia wants to play its role as a creative mid-weight power. The Chinese, in the hope that Australia becomes a Western country that understands China, has been working to build an exemplary bilateral relationship. All the factors determine that the upward trend of Chinese-Australian relations established over a long time will not be derailed easily.


Since he took office in 2007, Kevin Rudd has gained credit for his Chinese knowledge, but such an achievement is an easy target for the opposition. It is understandable that his administration has to please voters in the pursuit for another term. But healthy bilateral relations cannot be mature and lasting unless they grow on mutual respect and interest. Such a relationship demands a cool and cautious approach towards disputes, and appropriate and timely guidance for the public. It is always advisable to "think again before acting" when hitting the baseline of the other party.


The biggest task for the Rudd administration so far could be to balance the overall situation both at home and abroad.


The author is with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.




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