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Thursday, August 6, 2009

EDITORIAL 06.08.09

August 06, 2009

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Month August 09, Edition 000265, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, who holds independent charge of an increasingly important portfolio, has brought with him refreshing change and hope. This is in sharp contrast to the bleak years when those in charge had become facilitators of extortion and deforestation, presiding over the rampant destruction of rapidly dwindling wildlife and their habitat, including reserved forests and parks. In his reply to what was one of the most substantive debates in the Rajya Sabha this session, during which a host of issues linked to the degradation of our environment and the urgent need to prevent further destruction as well as punish the guilty, were raised, Mr Ramesh has solemnly promised to reverse the trend and put in place an accountable and transparent system. Among other things, he has listed the setting up of a National Environment Protection Authority to enforce relevant laws, making it mandatory for industrial units to conduct and file environment audit reports, ensuring speedy disposal of cases by a National Green Tribunal, and focussing on river-cleaning projects as his Ministry’s priorities. He has also let it be known that a comprehensive Bill for the protection of wildlife will be introduced during Parliament’s Winter Session. Given Mr Ramesh’s apparent commitment to fulfilling his ministerial responsibilities and his fetish for transparency — he famously installed a see-through, glass-panelled door in his previous office — there is little or no reason to doubt his sincerity. Unlike his predecessor, and the one before him, he is well-informed about environment-related issues which are in many ways intrinsically linked to climate change concerns. His pro-active involvement in the Ministry’s affairs has begun to have its desired effect: Slumber time is over for babus and their minions, especially in the States.

That said, it would be in order to mention this is not the first time ministerial promises are being made in response to mounting worries. Let us not forget that Rajiv Gandhi had launched the Ganga Action Plan with great fanfare nearly a quarter of a century ago to clean the life-sustaining river. Subsequently, similar projects were launched to save Yamuna and other rivers. Systems were put in place to restrict, if not eliminate, industrial pollution, while several measures were initiated to protect wildlife, including the national animal. And we know that after spending thousands of crores of rupees, the Government has little to show as achievement: Ganga, Yamuna and other major rivers continue to remain polluted; industrial units continue to violate rules and regulations with impunity; forest cover continues to disappear; and, wildlife species continue to dwindle alarmingly — the national animal is now on the verge of extinction as poachers slaughter the regal animal while officials look the other way. Seen against this backdrop, Mr Ramesh faces a tough task, not least because the goals listed by him cannot be achieved unless State Governments show similar determination. A policy of incentives, which he has been promoting, may not necessarily work; in the past, State Governments have taken Central funds and not delivered on their promises. But even if he is able to initiate a process of change and inculcate enthusiasm among stake-holders, it would amount to laudable success. Unless, of course, he allows rhetoric to become a substitute for action on the ground.








In what can be best described as yet another ploy by the Pakistani authorities to ensure that Hafiz Mohammad Saeed — chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa’h, the front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba — remains a free man, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has indefinitely adjourned the hearing of petitions challenging his release by the Lahore High Court in June. The move comes in light of the resignation of the Advocate-General of Punjab Province — one of the two petitioners in the case — who was forced to hand in his papers following the Supreme Court verdict declaring the appointments made by former Pakistan President, Gen Pervez Musharraf, unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void. Gen Musharraf had reduced the minimum age for the appointment of Pakistani judges from 45 to 40 years. Since that now stands overturned, the Punjab Province Advocate-General, who is 42, would not qualify to be a High Court judge, which is a pre-requisite for the post he holds. In view of this, the Punjab Province Government sought time from the Pakistani Supreme Court to appoint a new Advocate-General. It was then that the court adjourned the hearing indefinitely. This is nothing but legal trickery and goes to show how serious Pakistan is about bringing to justice the mastermind behind the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. That Hafiz Saeed doesn’t have to stand trial just because one of the prosecuting advocates appealing against his release had to resign is absolutely ludicrous. Had there been the will, the Advocate-General could have been suitably replaced and the case continued.

This is not the first time that Pakistan has tried to bury Saeed’s case under legal technicalities. In fact, every time that Saeed has been arrested by the Pakistani authorities, he has been subsequently let off due to one legal loophole or another. Case in point, Saeed was last put under house arrest in December last year after the United Nations Security Council proscribed the Jamaat-ud-Dawa’h as a front for the already banned Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. But he was released last June by the Lahore High Court on the specious plea that the UN resolution did not specifically ask for Saeed’s detention. Similarly, the process of appeal against the High Court order has been mired in unnecessary confusion. On July 16, the Pakistani Supreme Court adjourned the case for two weeks following a request by Pakistan’s Federal Government that it needed time to produce fresh evidence against Saeed. Then the Punjab Province Government threatened to withdraw from the case saying that Islamabad wasn’t co-operating with it in the matter. All this is indicative of the Pakistani establishment’s connivance to keep Saeed a free man despite overwhelming evidence against him, including that provided by India.








Hillary Clinton’s first visit to India as Secretary of State was overshadowed by the Sharm el-Sheikh fiasco. The visit was important for her personally and for addressing doubts about the Obama Administration’s policies on India. President Barack Obama’s somewhat insensitive comments about the need for American industry to promote jobs in Buffalo rather than Bangalore suggested support for protectionism. The US-sponsored G-8 resolution banning the export of enrichment and reprocessing material and technology to India was viewed as a return to policies designed to ‘cap’ our nuclear programme. Ms Clinton’s visit also came at a time when voices in Washington were claiming that she was being sidelined by the White House, with one commentator remarking: “It’s time for Barack Obama to let Hillary Clinton take off her burqa!”

Ms Clinton rejected advice to combine her visit to India with a ritual visit to Pakistan, signalling she was not moving to ‘re-hyphenation’. Her sensitivity in visiting and staying at Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai showed continuing solidarity with India in the quest to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice. But, we can no longer paper over differences over high profile initiatives being undertaken by the Obama Administration on climate change and nuclear non-proliferation. Interestingly, the statement that caught the widest international attention during Ms Clinton’s visit was the blunt assertion of Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh: “There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions. And as if this is not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports from countries such as yours.”

Mr Ramesh also made a detailed presentation on actions we are taking to curb carbon emissions, ranging from regeneration of natural forests to increasing use of non-conventional sources of energy and nuclear energy, and improving efficiency of coal-fired reactors. But, there has not been an imaginative initiative to educate world public opinion about measures we have taken on environmental protection and on our approach of demanding equity on issues of carbon emissions. Moreover, there has been an assiduous Western attempt to drive a wedge between developing countries, including the two most populous countries in the world — India and China.

China has, however, undertaken a far more imaginative effort than us to publicise measures it has taken for environmental protection. This needs to be addressed as American and European pressures grow on us to fall in line with their demands with disastrous consequences for our economic growth. We also need to work with China and other developing countries to make it clear that the acceptance in Italy of the desirability of limiting temperature rise due to global warming to two degrees does not indicate acceptance by developing countries of binding targets for reducing emissions.

The American action to persuade the G-8 to target India by agreeing that no enrichment or reprocessing technology or items can be transferred to countries not signatory to the NPT was not unexpected. The chairman of the AEC, Mr Anil Kakodkar, had warned publicly that such moves were afoot. He stressed that these actions would be contrary to the ‘clean waiver’ granted by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, constituting a “breach of trust”, which would be ‘contrary to the spirit which has been spelt out in the Bilateral Agreement with the USA”.

It remains to be seen whether countries like Russia and France, which are major partners in nuclear energy cooperation, go along with this decision, or, like in the case of Russian cooperation for the first two nuclear reactors in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, they abide by the spirit of bilateral agreements for nuclear cooperation signed with us before the G-8 decision. In the meantime, India will have to ensure there are foolproof and irrevocable arrangements in place for guarantees of fuel supplies and reprocessing of spent fuel before any agreements for nuclear energy cooperation are signed with American companies.

There has been unwarranted criticism of the end users agreement for defence supplies signed during Ms Clinton’s visit. We, after all, signed an agreement for such monitoring when the previous Government decided to acquire gun-locating radars from the US when this acquisition was considered imperative after the Kargil conflict. In fact, we have accepted such inspections for over two decades now for dual use technologies in areas ranging from supercomputers to space programme. The Prime Minister has clarified that the timing and location of inspections will be determined by us and that the US would, therefore, have no access to operational deployments.

While Russia, France and Israel have been reliable suppliers of defence equipment and spares, one has to naturally ask whether our confidence in the Americans has reached a stage where we can give the US a major or predominant role in any sector of national defence. Given our recent experiences confidence in the US as a reliable supplier of equipment and spares needs to substantially increase if America is to play a significantly enhanced role in defence supplies. On the other hand, Russia, France and Israel have never let us down, even in moments of crisis. Thus, while in selected areas, where American equipment is cost effective and gives us a clear edge in dealing with threats in our neighbourhood, we should not fight shy of cooperation with the US. It would, however, only be prudent to keep our sources of defence supplies, production and development diversified.

Ms Clinton’s visit has produced agreement that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will pay a state visit to the US later this year. There are vast and uncharted areas of cooperation to be explored in areas ranging from space and high technology cooperation to education, health, energy security and agriculture. But it should be remembered that in areas ranging from nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament to climate change and trade liberalisation, much ground needs to be covered to bridge existing differences.

With the British, who deploy obese soldiers “too fat to fight”, showing signs of wanting to flee from Afghanistan as soon as possible, New Delhi needs to assess whether the US is prepared to stay the course and ensure that a rejuvenated Taliban does not return to power in Kabul. There are, after all, voices even in the Pentagon claiming that it is the Al Qaeda and not the Taliban that threatens American interests.







The State Governments have been claiming to undertake reforms in their jails though it has not been possible for any of them to turn their jails into heaven where the inmates do not feel any dearth of comforts. The efforts and claims are numerous, which are also being disseminated forcefully to give an impression of the welfare aspects of the Governments. The claims are definitely akin to reaching for the moon. But there are people who believe in these tall claims. Despite that, nobody likes to be an inmate in a jail. This may soon change and many people may like to be inside jails, given the comforts that are now being promised to prisoners. Also, there are huge possibilities of wish fulfilment, though by paying a price. It is not a bad bargain to secure a particular comfort in exchange of some money in jail where it becomes impossible to dream freely.

There are certain instances, which have come to our notice. A jail in Haryana has become a dream comfort zone for dreaded gangsters. It is unusual though true. In Bhondsi Jail in Haryana, gangsters have been partying, relishing five-star cuisine, watching pornographic films on DVDs, making hay in credit business, using mobile phones, taking snaps, smoking and drinking alongwith senior police officials. All this is possible and protected provided the right ‘fee’ is paid to jail officials. This is a heaven in fortified jail. This has been revealed through a sting operation conducted by a TV channel. Will the authorities wake up to the reality?

Punjab boasts of jail reforms. The Government is sensitive to the loneliness of inmates serving long sentences. It has, of late, realised that such prisoners generally indulge in notorious activities inside the jail — they become drug addicts and indulge in sodomy. They also become violent because of their forced separation from their loved ones and because of their unfulfiled sexual desires. The State Government has, therefore, decided to solve this problem. The Government has decided to offer them a week’s stay with their families inside the jail premises so that they can spend time with their children and wives. For this purpose, special apartments will be built inside the jails. All this will be available without making any under-the-table payments and it is all going to come free of charge — courtesy the Government.








Last Saturday I returned home impressed. My driving licence had been renewed in 15 minutes flat — capturing my biometric identity, photograph and fingerprint; all generated in less time than one spends on a friendly chitchat.

A closed circuit camera displayed every nook and cranny of the Vasant Vihar transport office including cars lining up on the road outside, people filling different forms and the time taken at each counter. Touts that habitually orbit public dealing offices were invisible, banished by the prospect of being seen on camera.

In no time I was the proud owner of a smartcard displaying my address, phone number and blood group giving me a new sense of belonging in a city that had been my home for a lifetime.

CCTV is by no means a new technology. Nowadays even tiny shops have installed these gadgets to keep an eye on salesmen, waiters, customers and signs of trouble. Temples display ongoing pujas at vantage points for devotees who cannot enter in time. One wonders why this simple technology cannot be used to bring efficiency into so many other areas where a citizen’s time is at stake.

Take the Passport Office. For three years I have watched a snake-like queue outside the Regional Passport Office at Bhikaji Cama Place. Sweating in the sun, inching forward at a snail’s pace, passport-seekers stand glued to each other for fear of losing place in the queue. The oppressive heat and the absence of sun-shelters, and public conveniences make the wait agonising, more so for the elderly and small children. The RPO badly needs to acquire a closed-circuit camera which displays the chain of applicants as they meander on the footpaths behind Hyatt Regency hotel, diesel fumes aggravating the heat and dust. Fixed time appointments and number tokens do not need much imagination and need to be introduced at least now (Outside the gate.)


The lower courts are another place where people congregate in thousands. Although judicial independence is zealously guarded, the entire legal system primarily exists for dispensing justice to the public, a fact that should surmount all other considerations. I was dismayed to see that despite summons having been issued to the Tees Hazari court witnesses to appear at 10 AM many a Presiding Officer was absent even 30 minutes later. Undeniably with very good reasons, but it is exasperating to find the accused, the complainants and witnesses all having to just hang around. Numerous lawyers also waste their time awaiting the judicial officer’s ascension on to the dais, when court work actually commences.

It would be a good idea to install CCTVs to display the progress of cases so that lawyers and their clients can plan their movements and are not required to hurtle from floor to floor or join the melee outside the court rooms in the nick of time. If CCTVs could be programmed to display which case is in progress and the next cases on the list, it would reduce the mental agony of thousands of people.

A computerised display will have another advantage. It would eliminate the archaic and undignified practice of hollering names down the corridor — a practice which has been in vogue for 100 years. Even a rudimentary ticker can perform the job perfectly well and can eliminate the demeaning practice of bellowing names.

Technology can also usher in a new sense of ownership to accept civic challenges. In Vijayawada, the municipal commissioner computerised the arrival, departure and the weight of garbage collected every day, by every truck. Displayed on a website in real time, it resulted in greater public participation in monitoring garbage collection — a good thing for the city and its neighbourhoods. At one point of time the Municipal Corporation of Delhi was very enthusiastic about the idea which now seems to have petered off. It should be revived and citizens should be encouraged to become watchdogs for their colony, just by viewing the website.

Perpetual traffic bottlenecks are another source of public fury. This daily torture is further compounded by a single downpour that automatically shuts off traffic lights and with it all movement on the roads. It generally takes up to 15 minutes for a traffic constable to show up, by which time all hell has let loose. An AVRS system which reports on the functioning of all major traffic lights should be set up. The nearest PCR vans — (whether the khaki-clad inmates belong to the traffic police department or not) — should be able to view the problem areas on a laptop and immediately intervene to better manage the traffic. If homeguard personnel and school children can manage road traffic, there is no reason why the PCR van staff cannot show up in minutes to handle this critical responsibility.

Informative websites, downloadable forms, payment of bills over the internet, token systems in banks and at airports are now commonplace. But really progressive organisations should continually look for more ways to modernise age-old systems

The test of cost-effectiveness should simply be whether the innovation respects people’s time and convenience and stops opportunities for pick-and-choose. ‘Worthwhileness’ should be gauged by new standards, not just money.







The heat and humidity that have made life a torment in most parts of north India, are reminders of what a scarce rainfall can do to people’s lives. Further reminders will come when a poor monsoon-very much on the cards-compounds physical discomfort by soaring prices of food grain, vegetables and a host of other essential items. Unfortunately, besides wailing about their plight, people have done very little about the factors that have hobbled the monsoon.

One of the most important of these is the continuing rape of the Himalaya mountain range, which becomes manifest as one travels even a short distance in the foothills and the middle ranges. For example, going up from Kathgodam to Mukteshwar in Uttarakhand, one sees entire hillsides around Bheemtal, Bhowali, Gagar and Ramgarh denuded of their forest cover, with scores of garish cottages and multi-storeyed apartment buildings ranging over wide areas that were under majestic trees even a decade ago. Similar devastation is being wrought by the hotels and resorts which are mushrooming, cutting deep into hillsides to construct roads and, in one case, even a helipad!

The beneficiaries will be a growing army of tourists. For others, there will be disaster on every count. For those who are building or buying cottages to live or stay for long periods, water supply will be a major problem as demand increases steeply and truncated monsoons severely restrict supply, even if the supply infrastructure expands with more reservoirs and pipeline networks. A preview of the future shape of things has been in evidence this year with the monsoon staying away.

Power cuts, already prolonged in many parts of even a power-surplus State like Uttarakhand will become more frequent as both generating capacity and distribution networks struggle to cope with demand, which will rise steeply, and not only because of proliferating new connections and global warming. The cement, concrete and other material used to construct hives of cottages, multi-storeyed buildings and roads, radiate heat. Many people in the hills are already using fans, and some are talking of air-conditioners!

Tourism will decline as water shortage becomes more acute, power cuts more prolonged and the cost of getting water from tankers and running generators, rises further. Many hotels and resorts will close down, severely affecting the local economy by causing job losses and destroying the entire range of ventures that has grown up to support the tourist industry. The consequences will be two-fold. First, as Eric Hoffer points out in The True Believer, the anger of those rendered unemployed, will make them particularly vulnerable to the appeal of totalitarian mass movements calling for the total destruction of the existing order. They will join the ranks of other who have flocked to such movements resentful of the relative, if not absolute, poverty they have to suffer when the middle and upper classes thrive and the consumer culture makes the possession of branded goods and a lavish lifestyle, the indicators of one’s intrinsic worth.

The result will be political instability and escalating social tension and violence given the growing strength of the Maoists in India and Nepal, and the spread of Islamist fundamentalism in South Asia. Even if India is able to contain these threats-which will be at a steep price-the damage to the environment of the entire Indian subcontinent may well be irreversible. The consequences hardly require any elaboration. Himalaya is the source of the great rivers — Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra — whose valleys have been the cradles of one of the most lustrous ancient civilisations of the world. It is also a major source of rain. Moisture-laden monsoon clouds are attracted by, among other things, its thick forests and, on their way, give life-sustaining rains to almost the whole of the country north of the Vindhyas. Halted by its forbidding heights, they partly dissolve themselves in downpours that sustain the orchards and farms in the hills and further swell the waters of the Himalayan rivers, before turning back to the plains, causing further rainfall.

With the Himalayan ecology devastated, the great plains of northern India will no longer be able to produce the wheat and rice crops that feed the sub-continent. This and the impact of the waning rains on the climate, may well drastically distort the civlisation that sustains our society.








The language used by Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi on July 15 and the political response by Chief Minister Mayawati to Ms Joshi’s intemperate language clearly show that ‘democracy by dialogue and dissent by reasoning’ does not exist in the State. Politics of dialogue based on arguments in Uttar Pradesh is conspicuous by its complete absence from public life.

This is in uttar contrast with the belief that democracy is a system of governance where political participants are always actively engaged in dialogue and discussion on pubic issues and critics and political dissenters are able to freely argue their case with a view to arrive at a consensus on public issues.

Ms Mayawati herself is guilty of using language in public affairs which cannot bring any credit to any leader of a party or a Chief Minister of a State. More often she has targeted Mahatma Gandhi by using language which, to say the least, has been derogatory. Her latest contribution to anti-Gandhian vocabulary is that Gandhi was a ‘natakbaz’ and his concern for Dalits was a ‘sham’ and a ‘drama’.

Incidentally, neither Kanshi Ram nor Ms Mayawati know about many other social reformers who fought against the evil of untouchability in society. It deserves to be clearly stated that it is historically wrong to maintain that only BR Ambedhar had fought for the cause and rights of the untouchables. Ambedkerites like Ms Mayawati need to be reminded of the historical context in which Gandhi fought for the rights of the Harijans (Dalits) when British colonial power was dividing the Indian society on the basis of caste.

British rulers patronised Ambedkar during the Round Table Conferences of the 1930s and Gandhi undertook fast unto death and compelled the rulers to give reservations to the Harijans under the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. This description is necessary to set the record straight because Ms Mayawati has developed a habit of debunking Gandhi by choosing and using language which is not appropriate for any decent public discourse.

The larger analytical question is: Why has the level of public discourse and political culture in Uttar Pradesh sunk so low that dialogue is conducted in an idiom not worthy of the status held by leaders who are using these languages in politics and vitiating the atmosphere of public life?

Public life before and after independence in Uttar Pradesh saw constitutional debates in Legislative Assembly and struggles against colonial rule closer than most.

Men of letters like Munshi Prem Chand and institutions of culture like universities and colleges had contributed immensely to the overall cultural life of the State including politics. If one comes out of the nostalgia of the past, the deterioration has to be explained on the basis of overall political development of the State. An explanation which deserves to be completely rejected is that the present state of lack of political civility in the State can be attributed to the emergence of the politics of ‘sub-altern classes’ which has replaced ‘elite politics’ of the past. This explanation is unsustainable because the whole burden of deterioration in the standards of democratic debate has been shifted to the shoulders of the emerging Dalit and Backward Castes.

The focus is on the public conduct of leaders and not on the masses, and almost every political party and its leaders have contributed to the existing vitiated political culture in Uttar Pradesh. The growing trend of sectarian social divisions has given birth to an atmosphere of ‘hate’ and ‘violence’ against one another in the society. Ms Mayawati’s often-repeated statements like ‘Manuwadis’ and her every attempt to create caste-versus-caste cleavages, an effort fully joined by Samajvadis like Mr Mulayam Singh has completely fragmented society and created a social milieu of one against the other on the basis of an enemy syndrome in society.

The deepening social sectarianisation in Uttar Pradesh has led to the overall backwardness of the State and the prevailing political culture represented by Ms Joshi, Ms Mayawati and others is a mere reflection of this. Not only this, the State has been trapped into a vicious circle of overall socio-economic and socio-cultural downfall which does not surprise one given the deterioration and vulgarisation of political idiom in the State. In these circumstances, even a civilised democratic dialogue cannot be initiated, leave all-round progress.








The face of malnutrition in India could be a child in Madhya Pradesh. Severe Acute Malnutrition or SAM is a condition which in spite of all our good intentions and efforts, we have not been able to counter. In Madhya Pradesh there is virtually an army of 1,30,000 anganwadi workers and Accredited Social Health Workers but millions of young lives still fall through the cracks.

There is a lack of integrated strategic approach for addressing SAM in the State. The present policy is centred on doubling the ration for SAM children. This is a grossly limited way of addressing the problem as it neglects other protection services required to bring the child into the safety net of nutrition.

SAM children with complications need to be provided proper institution-based services while the uncomplicated cases can be treated in the community with support from Integrated Child Development Services.

The entire system for identification begins with what is termed as the Mid Upper Arm Circumference procedure. Once a child is identified as SAM, he/she needs to undergo what is known as the ‘treatment protocol’. The treatment, however, merely addresses the more explicit forms of the problem and completely overlooks the underlying problem of an environment of socio-economic imbalance and of chronic hunger. The SAM child is a product of this environment which if not addressed will pull the child back into the very same conditions even after the treatment. The lack of access to food will persist and the treated child is likely to become malnourished again.

Thus, along with the treatment protocols for SAM children, it is vital that the affected families be given protection through food and employment based schemes. This would actually constitute a social security net and would treat the cause and not merely the symptoms of the condition.

There are other factors related to social and cultural norms which are also neglected. In Madhya Pradesh, the linkages of malnutrition with low breastfeeding practices are visible. Once the cycle of breastfeeding is broken, malnutrition is bound to occur. The treatment protocol for SAM should take this into account and promote breastfeeding up to two years of age.

There are several research studies done by leading institutions on developing nutritional food at community level. The Vellore Institute of Health and Children In Need Initiative, Kolkata, have shown the ways of developing high calorie food at home. The Formula 75 which signifies 75 calorie in 100 gram food mix and Formula 100 also on the same principle are in vogue. This needs to be promoted more aggressively.

The clinical treatment and nutritional care for SAM children cannot be addressed in isolation. Malnutrition is a complex problem and demands solutions which are innovative and easy for local communities to integrate into their daily life. Capacities of the ICDS need to be honed to identify SAM children, ensure timely referral, counsel the families and ensure the rehabilitation of children in the community after the treatment phase.

The strategy for prevention and management of malnutrition must equally address issues like access to quality institutional services. Capacity-building of communities on local food mixes and care of children, regular service support through local services like anganwadis and ANM’s can be the best way out.

This would co-opt rural communities into the process rather than them remaining only recipients of a top-down programme. Any treatment strategy must be sensitive to the socio-economic, cultural milieu that such a programme is implemented into. Even the most ambitious programme cannot cater to 1.2 million SAM children and their parents in institutions. Community based treatment of severe malnutrition is thus the only viable and sustainable strategy to be adopted.








It's a commitment that's taken decades to fulfil. The right to education is finally made a right of Indian children aged between six and 14. This could not have come a moment too soon. India's literacy rate and record are abysmal, with millions denied access to elementary education. We have often argued in these columns that India's growth story could hit a roadblock if a majority of our youth remain out of schools and are not equipped with employable skills. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, could take us far in our quest for a more equitable and progressive society.

The Bill makes it incumbent on the state to provide free elementary schooling to children in their neighbourhoods. It is an ambitious undertaking, roping in private schools as well, which are supposed to reserve 25 per cent of seats at the entry level for students from disadvantaged groups. In return, the government will reimburse the private schools on the basis of what the government spends on students in its own schools. The common refrain about the poor quality of infrastructure and teaching in our schools has also been taken into account. Schools, whether private or government, will have to adhere to some common standards have play fields, drinking water, toilets and a library as well as stick to a 1:40 teacher-student ratio.

The Bill seeks not just to guarantee elementary education but also reform the system, which has been a long time coming. It bans capitation fees, bars the screening and interviews of parents and students before admission, and makes corporal punishment unlawful. These are welcome measures. The Bill is well-intentioned, but the question of just how it will be implemented remains.

Education is a concurrent subject, which means that the Centre and states will have to collaborate. This is a potential minefield, in which we hope the project will not become a casualty. It's time that schools are made more accountable to local civic authorities including parents via the parent-teacher associations than being monitored by an opaque bureaucracy. Crucially, greater budgetary allotments must be earmarked for education, much more than the measly 3 per cent of GDP allocated as of now. This will help sort some of the systemic problems like poor pay for teachers, which in turn feeds absenteeism and indifference on the part of teachers. A country that has great power ambitions must be able to provide basic education and health care to all its citizens.








The Congress's concern about Bundelkhand is understandable. This underdeveloped region spread over 14 districts in UP and Madhya Pradesh is falling apart after successive years of drought and lack of adequate attention from state authorities. While Rahul Gandhi's criticism of the UP and MP governments are valid, his demand for a special Bundelkhand development authority is flawed and must be rejected.

Rahul's proposal has been opposed by both the UP and MP governments. Both states have non-Congress governments, which view the initiative as a political ploy to undermine their credibility. That may well be the case. But politics apart, the move is a violation of the principles of federalism that guide Centre-state relations. The roles of the central and the state governments are defined in the Constitution. Accordingly, an elected state government is responsible for administration in the state, except under extraordinary circumstances like a collapse of law and order. For the Centre to ignore this federal framework and intervene in the affairs of the state government is to provoke a confrontation. In this context, the assurance from the parliamentary affairs minister in Lok Sabha on Tuesday that there is no proposal before the government, which will alter the federal character of the country is timely.

The problems of Bundelkhand, as is with most underdeveloped regions, stem from a lack of governance and the blame squarely rests with the local governments. However, a development authority independent of state governments is unlikely to help. Multiple authorities can only muddle the situation and local governments are unlikely to cooperate with a parallel body hoisted on them without their consent.

A better idea would be to follow up Mayawati's earlier proposal to divide UP into three states, including one comprising the districts in Bundelkhand. With a population of 166 million, UP is far too unwieldy to be governed as a single state. MP is no different. A Bundelkhand state carved out from UP and MP could be the way to address the region's development concerns. Smaller states may not necessarily become showpieces of governance, but the Indian experience shows that they have not lagged behind their mother states in development indices after coming into existence. A second states' reorganisation commission has been talked about for some time. There are popular movements demanding new states in many parts of the country. The time has come to evolve a political consensus and redraw state maps.







New York: In the afternoon of July 16 two men appeared to be breaking into a fine house in an expensive area of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Alerted by a telephone call, a policeman arrived smartly on the scene. He saw one black male standing inside the house and asked him to come out. The man refused. He was then told to identify himself. The man, still refusing to step out, said he was a Harvard professor, showed his ID, and warned the cop not to mess with him. He said something about black men in America being singled out, and asked the cop, who was white, for his name and identification. The cop, joined by several colleagues, arrested the professor for disorderly conduct.

We now know that the professor had broken into his own home, with the help of his chauffeur, because the door was jammed. What was unusual here was not the cop's heavy-handedness. Most people in the US know that if you talk back to the police, they will get nasty very fast. The fact that the man was black might or might not have made the cop go for his handcuffs even sooner than he might normally have done. That, too, would not have been unusual.

What made this case special was that Henry Louis "Skip" Gates is one of the most celebrated professors in the country, famous for his books, his articles, and numerous television appearances. He is a grandee, a mover and shaker in the academic and media world, a friend of President Barack Obama. That is why he warned the cop, Sgt James Crowley, a veteran of the Cambridge police force, not to mess with him.

Class and race overlap in the US. In this instance, it is impossible to pry them apart. Gates, deeply conscious, indeed a specialist of the terrible history of race relations in his country, instinctively assumed that he was a victim of prejudice. From his words it appears that he was equally conscious of not getting the proper respect due to a distinguished Harvard professor and media celebrity.

Alas, Sgt Crowley had never heard of professor Gates. A local man whose brothers all serve in the police force, a sports fan, and an amateur basketball coach, Crowley does not move in the same social circles as Gates. As it happens, the charges were duly dropped, and there the case might have rested if President Obama, tired and frustrated after weeks of fighting for his healthcare bill, had not weighed in on behalf of his "friend" Gates, and called the police "stupid". Both he and Gates then spoke of "learning" from the incident.

One thing to be learned, if we didn't know this already, is how close racial sensitivities are to the surface of US life, despite the election of a black president. The complexities of black anger, white guilt, and of black, and white fear, are so vexed that most Americans prefer not to talk about race at all. The field is too full of mines. One of Obama's great achievements is that he made it into a serious topic through the brilliance and subtlety of his rhetoric.

And there remains plenty to talk about: the grotesquely disproportionate number of black men in US prisons; the lack of educational opportunities in poor, mostly black areas; the appalling healthcare system; and the very real brutality used by police officers against blacks, who don't have the privilege of a Harvard ID. It is probably true that many white policemen, even if they are trained to avoid racial profiling, as Sgt Crowley was, need to be convinced that a black man can be at home in one of the finer houses of Cambridge, or any other American city.

But is the Gates affair the right way to enter into this discussion? One might argue that it was. If not Gates, then who? Precisely because he is a grandee, he is in the position to draw national attention to a serious issue. If the same thing had happened to an unknown man in Harlem, or some other poor, or predominantly black district, no one would ever have heard about it.

There is, however, a danger that it will have an adverse effect on the necessary national discussion about race. By having made such a big issue out of what was in fact a relatively minor event Gates could be accused of trivialising much worse instances of abuse.

Indeed, we don't even know for certain whether this was such an instance. Crowley never mentioned the colour of Gates's skin. There was no question of violence. There were just very raw nerves and hypersensitivity to hints of disrespect, on the part of the professor, and of the cop. Outrage about a professor who is not to be messed with is not the best way to discuss the plight of countless, poor, anonymous people, whom most of us find it too easy to ignore.

The writer is a professor of democracy, human rights and journalism at Bard College. Copyright: Project Syndicate.









Denouncing social networking sites is nothing new for the clergy. The attack by the Catholic church in England is merely the latest iteration; the previous one was in January by the Italian Episcopal Conference. A common strand runs through these periodic diatribes, manifested in allegations of online relations being fake, harming 'real' relationships and even leading to suicides. Perhaps there are a few instances where social networking sites have contributed to the problem. But that does not warrant the illogical arguments broad generalisations of the kind the church is making.

There is lack of empirical evidence to back up the church's claims. But setting that aside, there are other problems with this line of reasoning. If children commit suicide, they probably have serious existing problems. And social networking could actually help them deal with these. Far from isolating people in self-created technological cocoons, it can have exactly the opposite effect. Children or teens, who have difficulties interacting, can work around their problems online to find others with whom they share common ground. This is a potent means for creating new relationships something they might have found impossible otherwise and thereby shoring up self-esteem. Instead of discouraging them from having real-life interaction, friendships created online can give them the confidence necessary to deal with the real world.

Technology has a profound impact on the evolution of societal norms and constructs. But changing modes of interaction do not mean a breakdown of communication, merely a change in its pattern. By claiming that these changing patterns are inherently harmful, all the Catholic church succeeds in doing is portraying itself as reactionary and alienating the younger constituency it needs in order to survive. The church is supposed to be based on universal, lasting principles; its behaviour now reveals a lack of confidence in the ability of these principles to survive social change. It may as well denounce every innovation that has changed human interaction and communication through the years, from the telegraph to the telephone.







The Catholic church is often wrong on many things. But the head of the Catholic Church of England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, certainly has a point when he warned that excessive use of social networking websites, such as Facebook and MySpace, could have an adverse impact on teenagers. His statement came close on the heels of the suicide of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in England after she was taunted about her looks on Bebo, another social networking site.

Such incidents are not restricted to England or countries with high internet penetration. Some of you may remember the tragic case of a Mumbai teenager who was abducted and killed by friends he had made on a social networking site. And there was the recent incident where one young man killed another as both were wooing the same woman, whom none of them had never met, on the internet.

While these might be extreme examples of internet relationships or friendships that went awry, the larger point being made by the church is valid. Too much time spent on social networking sites could have serious psychological effects. Hours spent staring at a computer and being part of a virtual community could easily cut off people from reality and "dehumanise" relationships, as Archbishop Nichols puts it. And it could have dire consequences and even lead to death in some instances.

This is especially true for teenagers who might not have sufficient maturity to sift the real from the virtual. Some of them get sucked into relationships that are bad for them. Others suffer from an acute lack of social skills.

Obviously the outcome of social networking sites is not all bad. Many of us have tracked long-lost friends and acquaintances through such sites. And the online community can come together effectively for worthy causes as we saw recently during the protests in Iran. But too many hours of being plugged into a virtual community, as many teenagers these days are prone to, is not a good thing.








Indian stand up comics are making people sit up. That’s when the audience has stopped falling off the chairs, rolling in the aisle, and generally going into tectonic convulsions measuring 8.5 on the Laughter Scale. In the West,  ISUCs now seem to outnumber Paki taxi-drivers in New York and Gujarati corner shops everywhere.

Chirag Jain scraped his knees along with my sons in Kolkata’s 6, Sunny  Park apartment block. His father ‘was in tea’, his mother sold designer jewelry from home. It was a typical upper middle-class upbringing which should have created a typical boxwallah propping up the Saturday Club bar. Instead, our little Chirag has metamorphosed into Papa CJ, one of the UK’s leading SUCs.


‘But at least he’s not the Gay one’ tut-tut  the Alipore Aunties, referring to Vidur Kapur, star of NBC’s top-rated series, Last Comic Standing. He combines homosexuality with humour, two disgusting traits that no decent Indian was ever supposed to have --AND he throws the Kama Sutra too into his no-gags-barred gig. Surely it’s the end of stereotypes and civilization as the Great and Glum South Asians have known them?

Some six years ago, when the Times of India in Delhi invited Vir Das  to be the evening’s entertainment, most of the guests didn’t even know what a stand-up comic was. But now, like cotton goods during the Raj, they’re returning in droves to the homeland. And the Great Indian Laughter Challenge is the dyed-in-the-wool, died-of-laughter answer. They may not pose serious competition to Swayamvar The Sequel, but the next chartbuster could well be ‘Lakh lakh pardesi…but there ain’t nobody like my desi stand up comic.’

It’s difficult to say whose is the tougher act, the homegrown one or the one for immigrant audiences? Indians don’t have funny bones, and seriously discourage those who entertain such dangerous entities. The  SUC in Indian metros gets the belly laughs not so much for his or her sharp verbal upper-cuts, but because  the audience fancies itself as a cut above  the un-deodorised, un-Westernised rest.


Abroad too, the Indian-origin SUC has to seek out the more sophisticated NRI audience, not just the kind which guffawed to similar Western acts, but, more important, has now acquired the cultural confidence to laugh at jokes about the immigrant conundrum. It’s a huge leap from ghetto insularity to ghetto hilarity. In the UK, the first breach came with the BBC series Goodness Gracious Me, which was as far removed from the Peter Sellers song in The Millionairess as the Black & White Minstrel Show was from the true African-American experience.

The BBC refined it further with The Kumars at 42, but didn’t dare contemplate an American version for years. A Hispanic equivalent, The Ortegas, had crashed two networks, and the LA Times tartly wrote, ‘While you might be able to buy a British phenomenon such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and successfully translate it to American TV right away, The Kumars concept is more like a French cheese not designed to survive the pasteurization process.” Culture is notoriously humour-sensitive. And vice versa too.

But now both content and audience are getting more sophisticated, evolved  from  the  Laurel  & Hardy slapstick of Malayali accents and Santa Singh jokes to the Chaplinesqe subtleties of the cross-cultural  experience.

One of Papa CJ’s opening lines is, ‘Now even your comedy is being outsourced.’ The likes of will tell you that it is also out-saucing the competition on the third essential of success. A stand up act cannot get away by safely lampooning some distant third party. To cut the mustard it has to chutnefy the up close and present audience. Pounded, pelted or pulverised, the latter is loving it.







It looks like pigs are there forever to be proscribed first by religion and now by heresies. But with swine flu being declared a pandemic, the poor creatures are being felled mercilessly without their final moment of eternal salvation, that is, by getting deprived of the chances of being served as delicacies. Flu infects many animals, including waterfowl, pigs and humans alike.


While birds and people rarely catch flu viruses adapted to another host, they can transmit flu to pigs, which also have their own strains. If a pig catches two kinds of flu at once it can act as a mixing vessel, and hybrids can emerge with genes from both viruses. And if you call a pig a dirty animal, please consider that the pig's penchant for excrement is not a defect of its nature but of the husbandry of its human masters. Pigs prefer and thrive best on roots, nuts and grains. They eat excrement only when nothing better presents itself. Nor does wallowing in filth come naturally to them. They wallow to keep themselves cool and they prefer a fresh, clean mudhole to one that has been soiled by urine and faeces.

Of all domestic animals, pigs possess the greatest potential for swiftly and efficiently changing plants into flesh. A piglet can gain a pound for every three to five pounds it eats while a calf needs to eat 10 pounds to gain one. Almost programmed for human consumption, a sow can give birth to more than eight piglets in less than four months after conception, each of which can weigh over 400 pounds in another six months. A cow needs nine months to deliver a calf, and another four months for that calf to weigh 400 pounds.


Small wonder then that Obelix was addicted to wild boar, which was never in short supply and which helped keep him in the pink of health. But swine flu was unheard of in Roman times, and as a renegade Gaul, Obelix was unlikely to abide by an advisory issued by the Romans. In Animal Farm, George Orwell styled a pig named Napoleon, after Josef Stalin. Had Napoleon taken charge of the unhygienic farms of today, he would have assumed the role of an even bigger dictator and used violent force against us to make us confess that they, condemned to generational martyrdom, hate character assassination more than they fear physical death.











In all the panic over the swine flu pandemic that has claimed its first victim in India, two crucial facts have got buried. One, that the flu can be cured by a five-day course of medicine; and, two, that people can now go home after giving blood samples for testing. But as always the latest virus has brought in its wake confusion, anger, fear and helplessness. So far, 574 cases of swine flu have been reported in India. This suggests that prompt action can contain it. The government has already designated 18 laboratories for testing and has decided to lift restrictions on private laboratories as long as they can prove they are bio-safe. All this will allay public fears to an extent. But reactions to the swine flu show that our preparedness to deal with medical crises is almost non-existent. Admittedly, it is not easy to deal with a new virus. But the task would have been easier if we had some systems in place that could have been fine-tuned to meet the new threat.


We saw the same knee-jerk reaction after the avian flu and the Sars epidemic. It is no secret that every year brings a cocktail of debilitating viruses, especially in the monsoon season. Among the unwelcome callers are encephalitis, dengue, cholera and a host of gastro-intestinal ailments. Medical advisories are issued, the health system is told to pull up its socks and the government promises to upgrade response systems. But come the next year and we are back to square one. The child who tragically died of swine flu on Monday was treated at a Pune hospital. The government laboratories equipped for testing not just for swine flu but also other viruses are in urban areas. Vaccines are available, once again, in urban areas and predominantly in private facilities. The majority of Indians in rural areas are left to their own devices. This invariably means using some sort of private facility. Such a situation explains why 40 per cent of those who seek medical help in India are pushed into impoverishment.


It is no one’s contention that we can transform our health system overnight. But surely, basic and cheap procedures like proper hygiene in clinics, stocking essential medication and a rudimentary awareness campaign on common communicable diseases are not out of our ken. Given the economic costs of pandemics like the swine flu in these recessionary times, the healthy response would have been to put preventive measures in place. But so far, the prognosis is not encouraging.







As Hamlet said upon first casting his rheumatic eyes on Ophelia: ‘Legs, legs, legs.’ Civilisationally, much has been made of ladies’ legs. If the hosannas sung by the English trio Right Said Fred in their 1992 hit ‘Deeply Dippy’ — “Deeply dippy about your Spanish eyes/ Sierra smile/ legs that go on for miles and miles” — don’t cut much ice for you, then there’s always the more real estate value given to feminine limbs through the empirical notion of leg insurance. It all started when the studio 20th Century Fox insured the legs of Hollywood 1940s starlet Betty Grable for $ 1 million. As publicity stunts go, it started a legs race (as opposed to an arms race) that led to celebs like Marilyn Monroe, Brooke Shields and Tina Turner getting their arguably most precious assets insured against ‘damage and destruction’.


But what girls can do, boys can do better. So just when we thought that the metrosexual free-kicker David Beckham would be the only one waxing and then insuring his legs —  for £ 70 million — we now have news that Real Madrid has insured its star footballer Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘thigh and calves’ for a truly knobbly £90 million. (Does it include hamstring injuries, we haven’t yet been told.) Ronaldo, getting too much knocked about in too many matches (or at least seeming to get hurt before tumbling and miraculously getting back after a free kick’s awarded against his opponent) seems to have resulted in the striker’s club getting worried.


Being fouled 34 times in three matches may not necessarily mean that Ronaldo’s legs are in terrible danger. But who cares? When was Jennifer Lopez’s derriere, insured for $ 13.5 million a cheek, ever under threat?








The controversy over the India-Pakistan joint statement in Egypt continues to haunt the country and rock Parliament. On Tuesday, the Lok Sabha witnessed a walkout after foreign minister S.M. Krishna said that there could be no talks with Pakistan till it acted against Hafeez Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks. This statement was seen to be contradicting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s earlier intervention on the issue and the joint statement text. This ambivalence, however much the UPA may profess to be the opposition’s creation, stems from the contradictory positions that the PM himself has taken in explaining the joint statement.


The PM’s July 17 statement in Parliament has three contradictory references. At one place he says, “India seeks cooperative relations with Pakistan and engagement is the only way forward...” On this score, there can be no dispute. However, this is preceded by: “...that the starting point of any meaningful dialogue with Pakistan is a fulfilment of their commitment, in the letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India.” So far so good. Inexplicably this is followed by: “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process, and, therefore, cannot await other developments.” Worse is the fact that in his statement to the Lok Sabha on July 29, the PM replaces the “starting point of any meaningful dialogue” with “full normalisation of relations” and continues with the rest of the sentence.


Clearly, full normalisation of relations can only happen through dialogue. Between July 17 and 29, there was a shift in the PM’s position. The only explanation for such contradictory positions is that India is succumbing to US pressures. It is known that the US requires Pakistan in its fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and it is not prepared to brook any diversion of Pakistan’s attention to its eastern border. Hence, the pressure’s on India to delink the dialogue process from the fight against terrorism.


In fact, this comes as a part of a larger package of the new Indo-US strategic relationship that was unfolding with the Indo-US nuclear deal and has now proceeded much further with the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A landmark achievement for the US has been the signing of the agreement on ‘end use monitoring’ of US defence and defence-related equipment. US spokesmen see this as “a tangible accomplishment,” which will “prove a boon to US companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing.” These lucrative defence contracts are accompanied by the US’s expectations that nuclear commerce will result in business up to $10 billion.  


On July 18, on the eve of Clinton’s visit, the New York Times had set out a five-point agenda for the US. First, it said: “It is time for India to take more responsibility internationally. It needs to do more to revive the world trade talks it helped torpedo last year.” In other words, India must allow the Doha round to proceed unhindered by diluting its positions on Non-Agricultural Market Access and Agricultural Safeguards.


Second, “as a major contributor to global warming, India is urged to join the developed countries in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.” Universal targets applicable to both the developing and the developed countries are loaded in favour of the advanced capitalist countries, the major contributors to global warming. India’s per capita emissions are 1/17th of that of the US.


Third, it says, in return for US assurances of putting pressure on Pakistan to take action against terrorism, India “needs to help allay Pakistan’s fears”. This is what explains the contradictions as well as the inexplicable reference to Balochistan in the joint statement.


Fourth, India is being asked “to do a lot more” in preventing “global proliferation”. In other words, we shall be forced to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. All these treaties are discriminatory in favour of the five N-weapon countries and impose unequal obligations on the others. This is the reason India continues to oppose these treaties.


Finally, India is being urged to jettison its independent foreign policy: “drop pretensions to non-alignment” in order to emerge as a “major world power”. It makes the point tellingly by stating:  “During the negotiations on the nuclear deal, the Bush administration managed to persuade New Delhi to grudgingly support United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran’s nuclear programmes.  India now needs to do more.”


The icing on the cake is the following: “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his party have a strong mandate... that means it has no excuses not to do more” (read: the government no longer needs the Left’s support to survive).


The controversies concerning the Indo-Pak joint statement are just part of a larger jigsaw puzzle, which is defining the contours of an India rushing into becoming a subordinate ally of the US. This can only happen at the peril of India forsaking its place of pride in the comity of nations.


Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP








Within six weeks, swine flu has transited from airplanes to schools, with maximum infections in Delhi and Pune, which on Monday recorded the first death. Data shows that the infection is spreading the fastest among people under 17 years, with one in three of India’s 574 confirmed swine flu cases, till Tuesday night, being school students.


Ironically, what makes young and healthy students more susceptible to infection is their vigorous immune response, which starts an antibodies assault on the new virus. As the body fights inflammation in the lungs, the cells in the lung start leaking fluid, leading to lung collapse.


What adds to their vulnerability is that unlike people over 50 years, they have no immunity against H1N1, one of the many weakened forms of the 1918 Spanish flu virus that continued to cause seasonal flu outbreaks till 1957. That year, another pandemic caused by H2N2 resulted in the new virus becoming the dominant influenza strain, pushing the weakened H1N1 out of circulation.


As a result, those born before 1957 have antibodies against H1N1. But those born after remain unexposed

and vulnerable to the virus, putting them at the risk of infection, reports the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This also means that those who have been infected with swine flu now, or will get infected, will have immunity against the specific strain of H1N1.


Despite the current pandemic spreading at the fastest ever pace across the world in human history, the World Health Organisation (WHO) India office maintains that the pandemic level is moderate and young; healthy people are not at any higher risk of death.


Of the 134,503 confirmed cases, there were 816 deaths, which can be simplified to 6 deaths in 1,000 people infected. Compare this, every three out of five people who got Bird Flu (H5N1) died since the outbreak started in 2003. And Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) has killed one in 10 people infected since 2002. Annual influenza — the ubiquitous outbreaks three to four times a year — kills up to 500,000 people annually.


According to the WHO, the swine flu death rate will be even lower if the real numbers — and not just the reported cases — are counted. With countries no longer required to register cases with the WHO, only 134,503 have been reported so far — which, said WHO representative to India, S.J. Habayeb, “is the tip of the iceberg.”


The trouble with flu viruses is that they mutate too quickly for epidemiologists to predict which way the pandemic is headed. There are hundreds of flu viruses circulating at any given time. Within four months, the CDC has antigenically characterised 242 influenza A (H1N1) viruses that are causing the present outbreak.


To date, there has been no re-assortment (a virus may get re-assorted when a person or animal gets simultaneously infected by two flu viruses) of the swine flu virus. But if it does happen, we may just have another deadlier wave of infection against which people will have no immunity. Alternatively, they may get milder with time, though past trends indicate that flu pandemics strike harder in the second wave before weakening as more people develop immunity and break the chain of infection.

What’s known is that it will spread and infect thousands more in coming months. With vaccines ready only by the year-end, there is little we can do except take precautions to protect ourselves and perhaps consider vaccination — such as against pneumonia — for high-risk people with heart disease, chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma, as well as diabetes, obesity, cancer and renal diseases.









It is easy to fall into the trap of either overstating or understating the importance of the freshly-passed Right to Education Act. On one hand, you could argue that it merely legislates an outcome, insufficiently spelling out solutions to the more nitty-gritty problems. On the other hand, the act is the first real attempt in decades to revolutionise India’s entire paradigm for primary education. Both are true; and focussing on either to the exclusion of the other would be a mistake.


This right has had a long gestation period, from debates in the Constituent Assembly to drafts during the NDA regime and UPA-I. So look first at the good news. As HRD Minister Kapil Sibal’s speech in the Lok Sabha made clear, the act is certainly a departure in thinking, and one that should be welcomed. The “de-bureaucratisation of education”, as Sibal put it, is overdue; and so is the “participation of civil society in school management committees”. This newspaper also welcomes the course-correction attempted by the HRD ministry on openness to the differently-abled; the educational infrastructure could not truly claim to be modern or universal without taking into account the special needs of this large subset of India’s children. And the “social requirement” that private schools take in disadvantaged children from their neighbourhood is grounded on good empirical work from elsewhere on the effectiveness of such interventions — and, for fans of school vouchers, it features for the first time government admitting the possibility that education is something that can be publicly funded but privately provided.


That being said, the battle is not over. Several aspects need still to be put into place, and each of them is essential to the act’s effectiveness. The first is clarity on the relative financial burdens on the states and the Centre. The second is that state-level rules and implementation might vary, and the act as passed is very sensitive to those. The third is that, like any “rights-based” policy interventions, the policy’s working will depend not just on government but also on the ability of local parents to get organised and to demand what is now, for the first time, a basic right for their children. And that is something that civil society should now start enabling.









Atrocities against Dalits are not, sadly, a thing of the past. Arson, rape and intimidation continue to terrorise a historically marginalised minority. Of particular worry is Maharashtra, home to India’s second-largest Dalit population. In the past five years, crimes against Dalits in that state doubled. Tackling this trend must be the state government’s priority. Still, there is something disquieting about the state’s decision to impose a collective fine on villages where crimes against Dalits are reported, and to withhold development funds from such villages. There is a phrase for this. That phrase is “collective punishment”, and it flies in the face of the basic norms of a liberal society.


It may be that village-level crimes against Dalits have the implicit approval of large parts of the local community. It may even be that threats of collective punishment act as an effective deterrent. But these very arguments were cited, for example, by Israel when cutting off electricity and food to large parts of the territories it occupies — an action that many, including those in the Indian government, maintain trampled on the tenets of international law. Collective punishment has a dubious history the world over, from Nazi executions of Russian villagers in response to partisan attacks to the demands by the British Raj that residents of Amritsar crawl along a road where an Englishwoman had been brutally attacked. The possible “effectiveness” (itself dubious) of these mass punishments must confront the moral imperative: in a justice system that treats crime as an individual failing, guilt-by-association cannot be grounds for punishing an entire community. In fact, the world over, if there is one legal proscription that is sacrosanct, it is avoiding collective punishment.


The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act permits the imposition of a collective fine — a provision that is of questionable legality, and one that has never been invoked before. The Maharashtra government’s decision is unfortunate: the cure might compound the initial evil. Stricter implementation of the act, punishing officials who don’t do their duty, and greater vigilance are alternatives that operate within the four corners of civilised jurisprudence. It is hoped that the Maharashtra government rethinks its decision.







North Korea is the bad boy of international politics. A belligerent nation, desirous of nuclear stardom, it has found itself isolated both economically and politically. Thus, when former President Clinton, a real rock star in terms of international perception, manages, in 20 hours, to free two American journalists from 12 years of forced labour, thereby giving Pyongyang’s hermit dictator the publicity he craves, optimism and debate are a natural fallout.


Such diplomacy is not uncommon. During the Clinton administration, talks between Washington and Pyongyang had all but halted, with military confrontation in sight, until former President Carter flew in, doing the Jack Bauer act that Bill Clinton pulled off this time. The 1994 Agreed Framework which resulted was the first time Pyongyang signalled a willingness to abandon its nuclear programme in return for economic aid. But getting Bill Clinton to use the capital he built then to serve President Obama’s aims? Bill’s relationship with Barack has been somewhat thorny, after all. Clinton openly criticised Obama’s “fairytale” plans for Iraq, and freely questioned his foreign policy credentials during then-Senator Clinton’s primary campaign. Has Clinton had a change of heart? And did his former vice-president, Al Gore — the captured journalists’ employer — help that along?


And does Kim Jong Il’s pardon signify a desire to head back to the negotiating table? Historically, there has been a temptation to address non-proliferation through bilateral negotiation; but the most effective route has involved major regional players. The six-party talks between China, South Korea, Japan, Russian, the US and North Korea should thus be placed back on track. There is justifiable scepticism on how far they can go in halting Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions — it has walked out, on multiple occasions, and has over the past year resumed nuclear activity. Yet it is only through collective diplomacy that the North Korean threat will be contained. The sight of Kim’s chief nuclear negotiator waiting on the tarmac to personally welcome Bill Clinton might well indicate the international community is moving in the right direction.








It is not the law minister alone who was rebuffed in the Rajya Sabha on August 3, when the House would not grant him leave to introduce the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill 2009. It was a rebuke also to the judges of the higher judiciary; they were pulled down a peg or two for having expressed their readiness to disclose their assets if there was a law to that effect enacted by Parliament, but only if that law ensured the confidentiality of such declaration. Members of Parliament reacted unfavourably — one of the national newspapers, in an editorial, told us why: “the judiciary had ruled some years ago that a person must officially declare his (or her) assets and liabilities before becoming an election candidate, and MPs of all parties, ruling Congress included, were only returning the compliment!”


What is of concern to me is not the exchange of compliments. What is of concern is that the prestige of our higher judiciary has been adversely affected. This has never happened before; whenever in the past the law minister, in consultation with the CJI, introduced measures for increasing salaries, pensions and perquisites for judges of the higher judiciary, the measure was not only permitted to be introduced in one or other House, but it got passed smoothly in both Houses. Then why this snub? Let me explain.


Sometime ago one Subhash Aggarwal sought information (seemingly innocuous) from the office of the Supreme Court as to “whether any judges of the Supreme Court and High Court have been declaring their assets under the code of conduct adopted by the chief justices”. The office of the Supreme Court said that this information did not exist in the Registry, and information was therefore declined. In an appeal filed by Aggarwal before the Chief Information Commission (under the Right to Information Act, 2005) the office of the Supreme Court took the stand that though this information was in the chief justice’s office, that office was not part of the Supreme Court Registry. The CIC rejected this plea and ordered the office of the Supreme Court to get the information (as to whether any judges were disclosing their assets) from the chief justice’s office, and to disclose it.


The Supreme Court (Registry) challenged this order by way of a writ petition in the high court of Delhi, saying that this information could not be given since it was provided by judges to their chief justice in a fiduciary capacity, that this was personal information not having any bearing on public activity or public interest. The writ petition was heard by a single judge of the Delhi high court. A couple of months ago the arguments were concluded and the high court judge has reserved judgment.


Meanwhile, the Union law minister, apparently anxious that something should be done by his ministry about judicial reforms in the first hundred days of office of the UPA government, moved the Rajya Sabha on August 3 for permission to introduce his bill. All sections of the House said, “No, not this bill”, because apart from providing that the declaration of assets would be made privately by the judges only to their respective chief justices, it also went on to provide for a blanket immunity from accountability: Clause 6 of the bill said that the declaration made by a judge to his chief justice shall not be made public or disclosed and “shall not be called for or put into question by any citizen, court or authority, and that no judge would be subject to any inquiry or query in relation to the contents of the declaration by any person”. This non-transparent, impunity provision has had the effect of the higher judiciary losing much credibility, not only with members of Parliament but with large sections of the public as well. The inclusion of this clause has weakened the otherwise high moral authority of judges of our Supreme Court. The higher judiciary exists in our country and flourishes because of the confidence people have in it. If only the judges had relied on the Constitution of India to protect them, as when they decide individual cases, and disgruntled litigants sometimes make allegations against them, they would have had no need for additional protection from government or from Parliament.


If the credibility of the higher judiciary is to be restored, as I believe it must — since without the higher judiciary our Constitution simply cannot work — it is essential that every judge of the Supreme Court set an example and voluntarily make a public disclosure of his (or her) assets on the website of the Supreme Court, law or no law. This would then be dutifully followed by judges of the high courts on the salutary principle stated in the Bhagavad Gita: “Whatsoever great men doeth, that other men also do; the standard they setteth up, by that the people go.”


If there are frivolous pleas by disputed litigants, as the bill had anticipated, they would be only sporadic and occasional, and in any case this is an occupational hazard for all judges who have taken an oath under the Constitution to act fearlessly; fearlessness is an attribute which our judges have invariably and repeatedly exhibited in a host of matters that have come before them. In the United States, which like India has a written Constitution, all justices of the US Supreme Court are required to disclose annually their assets and liabilities under the Ethics in Government Act 1978 passed by the US Congress. The chief justice and other associate justices of the US Supreme Court are named in the enactment, and they disclose their assets and liabilities without protective safeguards, and regardless of disgruntled litigants — who are a-plenty there, as they are here.


I would respectfully beseech the judges of our highest judiciary not to rely on the technicalities of the RTI Act or to depend on the executive to extricate them from their present delicate no-win situation. Public confidence in the administration of justice by the higher judiciary is of paramount concern. The judges must act on their own taking solace in the ringing words of Supreme Court Justice Vivian Bose who wrote in a judgment way back in 1954: “We (the judges) have upon us the whole armour of the Constitution and walk hence forth in its enlightened ways, wearing the breastplate of its protecting provisions and flashing the flaming sword of its inspiration.” More protection is simply superfluous.


The writer is an eminent jurist








Having suffered a major electoral defeat in Bangladesh’s general elections, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islaami appear to be looking for a handle with which to beat the Awami League government. They have found one in the Tipaimukh dam in Manipur on the Barak/ Meghna, which is awaiting financial closure before commencement of construction after long years of gestation. Bangladesh has not to this day been able to use its share of lean-season flows under the 1996 Ganges Treaty for the intended purpose of resuscitating the Gorai and saving Khulna from “desertification”. Meanwhile, agreement on Teesta sharing still awaits Dhaka’s consent. Altogether, this seems to be a sorry case of river blindness affecting millions.


The Barak rises in India’s Northeast and flows into Bangladesh to form the Meghna. The river submerges the Sylhet depression for many months, though this renders it a valuable fishery. When the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission was formed in 1972, Dhaka requested an early solution to the Barak/ Meghna floods. Early on, the JRC jointly surveyed the Barak as a result of which the 162 m high Tipaimukh dam was proposed, with a storage of 10 billion cubic metres (larger than Bhakra) to moderate floods and generate 1500 MW of power. Interest thereafter moved to the Ganges and Teesta. With security problems in India and inter-state differences and internal controversies over submergence and displacement in Manipur, progress was stalled till most problems on the Indian side were recently resolved. However, the idea of a downstream barrage and associated irrigation was abandoned and Tipaimukh emerged as a purely flood moderation-cum-power project.


Critics in Bangladesh have for some years argued that Tipaimukh will be an environmental disaster for that country. Fears include enhanced salinity ingress from the sea, greater erosion, less silt deposition, reduced fish runs, summer flooding through augmented lean season releases, possible danger from any opening of the floodgates in case of heavy rains, and dam safety concerns from high seismicity. There is also concern at the absence of a water sharing agreement. What are the facts?


First, since no water is proposed to be abstracted, no issue of water sharing arises.


The Tipaimukh dam, 210 km from the Bangladesh border, will only regulate half the river’s 25,000 sq km catchment. The lower catchment in India is watered by a number of tributary streams that will remain unregulated and, incidentally, provide ample fish runs. The dam will reduce the June to October flood flows from an average of 2021 cu m per second to 1648 cumecs or by 20 per cent while average summer flows passing through the turbines will almost double from 282 cumecs to 537 cumecs. Thus the dam will moderate floods and aid fisheries, navigation, and salinity control during the lean season. As for summer flooding, the post-dam average lean flow will be less than the maximum low season flow of 852 cumecs, though above the lowest average discharge. As for seismicity, the Tehri dam has withstood shocks of up to 7.5 magnitude on the Richter scale (the Uttarkashi and Chamoli quakes) while Tipaimukh is being designed to withstand earthquakes of up to 8.5 magnitude. Any dam break or massive flood through opening the floodgates would first affect or devastate the 210 km lower catchment in India before anything happens to Bangladesh. So India will perforce be wary of design and operational deficiencies.


India is proceeding on the basis of “equity, fairness and no harm to either party” embodied in the Ganges Treaty and would surely be willing to take on board any genuine concerns of Bangladesh. But where emotion overrides rationality, dialogue becomes difficult and generates a political climate of hostility to which governments and public opinion become prisoner.

The government of India can be faulted for often not informing its neighbours and its own people of given issues well ahead of time so as to pre-empt rumour and uninformed agitation. In this particular case, however, Bangladesh has been informed of what is intended. Earlier, meaningful communication with any precision was not possible as the project parameters had to be settled internally. That done, Bangladesh was informed, though a loud hue and cry had already been raised in that country. The Tipaimukh dam still awaits financial closure, only after which will construction commence. Meanwhile, a Bangladesh (parliamentary) delegation has been invited for discussion and to visit the dam site. Hopefully, this will allay misapprehensions and pave the way for reasoned deliberations on any residual problems.


There is every reason for the two countries to cooperate in developing the potential of their common rivers and in confronting the common challenge of climate change. Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable and has more to lose from non-cooperation and in hardening negative mindsets. The Awami League government sees this and has adopted a positive approach. But, as in India, electoral defeat sometimes spawns spoilers who mistakenly believe that their redemption lies in posturing to defend an imagined national interest that only blocks progress.


The writer is a former editor of ‘The Indian Express’









The editorial in the latest issue of the Organiser, titled “Some explanation for Congress exuberance,” says: “The pyrrhic victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll has turned the Congress Party on its head. There is no other explanation for the party kicking off an unsavoury controversy in Uttar Pradesh and trying to create a law and order problem. Mayawati, the UP Chief Minister, is portrayed both corrupt and controversial. She has failed in redeeming her poll promise of saving the people of the state from criminals. But the UPCC president crossed all limits when she launched a broadside on the BSP leader in the name of protesting crime against women in the state. The Congress instead of publically withdrawing the comment and apologising is trying to take political mileage. The party is in a hurry to create a base for itself in the state taking advantage of the decline of the Samajwadi Party and the BJP there”.


It adds: “The Congress euphoria is such that it is behaving as if it does not need allies anymore. The party is out to humiliate all its erstwhile allies, be it the Left, the Samajwadi Party, the RJD or the LJP. The party leaders are boasting that the DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi was shown his place. It has similarly tamed Farooq Abdullah and Sharad Pawar, who entertained over-arching ambitions. The immediate target is NCP in Maharashtra, SP in Uttar Pradesh, RJD in Bihar and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal”.

It concludes: “The massive mandate that Indira Gandhi got in 1971 became so unpopular by 1975 that she had to impose Emergency to keep herself in chair. Rajiv Gandhi’s 400-plus victory got wasted in just two years. On all such occasions, the vanquished reclaimed lost ground earlier than expected. With just 206 seats in the 543-Member House the Congress is behaving as if it can ride roughshod over every other party. The inexplicable electoral gains have made the party overconfident. It is going about as if the days of one-party rule are back again”.



In an article titled “Indian Railways is in debt in perpetuity”, Arabinda Ghose writes: “An interesting debate between the former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad and the present one Mamata Banerjee has ensued on the quantum of ‘profit’ Indian Railway (IR) has earned during the five years of Lalu’s rule. The latter has challenged the claim by Lalu Prasad, rather his former Officer on Special Duty (OSD) S.M. Kumar who had said that IR had earned a ‘profit’ of Rs 90,000 crore... One feels that this debate is entirely uncalled for because it is not realised by either side that IR never uses the terms ‘profit’ or ‘loss’ in its accounts. The terms used are ‘excess’ or ‘shortfall’.”


He adds: “It has to be realised that the interest, known as the dividend, has to be paid to the ministry of finance and is not a punishment as was made out so far. This is a legitimate due for the Union government. This amount can be deferred by the railway minister as was done in the past years by those preceding Mamata Banerjee but the amount has to be paid. Lalu had cleared all dues till last year and Mamata too has cleared the dividend due this time instead of deferring it as in the past because of the new laws regarding financial transactions”.


He concludes: “The relief provided by the rate of dividend and various other concessions / reliefs / budgetary support provided to the ministry of railways has been a favourable impact on the Railways finances in these years. Their financial position has vastly improved and surpluses have quadrupled from Rs. 1,091 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 4,338 crore in 2005-06, in a short span of three years.”.








The gruesome incident of July 12 instant was shattering. We lost a superintendent of police and 28 others, fighting to their last breath in a Naxalite ambush on a black tar road near Maanpur of Rajnandgaon district (Chhattisgarh) which is supposedly partially affected by overt Maoist activities. A huge blast followed by indiscriminate firing from automatic weapons engulfed innocent lives who not long ago had pledged to save democracy, little knowing that the day of supreme sacrifice was not far ahead. Whether the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) buried beneath a ‘pucca’ road was drilled down to its core only recently or was an old planted ghost (before black tarring of road) remains a mystery to be solved, but how secure the interior roads are can be fairly gauged from this incident. Bastar region, which is nearly one third of the state, and almost equal to Kerala and Haryana in size, is full of such nasty roads. Only a few dare to traverse them. I have witnessed many upheavals during the two years of my stint in Bastar, and I feel compelled to highlight the efforts and creativity of the civil administration of Dantewada district (and now Bijapur) that led to the construction of the reinforced cement concrete (RCC) road from Gangalur to Bijapur.


This 23 km stretch of road, cutting across the dense teak forest, is unique on many counts. It passes through a large swathe of inaccessible ‘liberated area’ of Maoist influence, where it is claimed that the state’s writ does not run. Although paramilitary and state forces are deployed at four locations on this small patch due to its strategic importance, yet not a day passes without the occurrence of Naxal violence. So much so that government officials fall sick in the name of their posting and bus operators withdraw their fleet on pretext of unviable and uneconomical routes. Bidders, despite quoting exorbitant rates for any developmental work retract at the first opportunity to avoid Naxal wrath. The hearts of our doctors, who extend their so-called social service only up to urban limits, do not melt even if a poor tribal dies of cerebral malaria before reaching a nearby government hospital. Indigenous homeopaths and baigas are the only saviours over there. The Maoists’ claim of running a parallel government and rendering relief to a long-neglected class is mere farce. They have reduced these areas to a hapless condition. Gangalur, a village of a few hundred tribals, now sprawls over an area that includes a relief camp since the emergence of Salwa Judum in June 2005. This village now has a RCC road up to Bijapur thanks to K.R. Pisda, a former district collector who came up with the idea of making Gangalur-Bijapur RCC road from non-conventional methods.


Raman Singh, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, laid the foundation stone of this RCC road on April 5, 2007. Funds up to Rs. 10 crore were brought in by the collector from NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation), a mighty enterprise with its headquarters at Bailadilla of Dantewada, under the Peripheral Development Fund Scheme. This made it easy for him to do away with long-drawn bureaucratic procedures. A committee of district officials constituted to carry out this herculean task purchased an automated mixer plant and other equipment. After an extensive hunt, experienced masons were motivated to join the euphoria. A mixer plant was set up in the premises of the CRPF camp at Cherpal, halfway between Bijapur and Gangalur. Everyone involved in construction of the road was given an insurance cover of Rs. 5 lakh. The district superintendent of police, Ratan Lal Dangi, joined hands by providing security on a regular basis.


However, the officials’ commitment to this road construction made the Naxalites furious. Hari Ram, a local guerilla squad (LGS) leader of Gangalur, threatened security forces, special police officers (SPOs) and their cohorts of dire consequences and rhetorically announced, ‘I will commit suicide if I fail to stop construction’. Although, it couldn’t deter the administration from the project, it was not an easy path to tread. Soon Naxalites burnt down a tractor involved in ferrying material. They also partially damaged a freshly laid-up road and set the plant at Cherpal on fire. Seven SPOs and three CRPF jawans lost their lives and many security men were injured. Four Naxalites were also killed. So far, 43 cases of arson, murder, kidnapping, exchange of fire, recovery and explosion of IEDs have been registered. And the road is ultimately in its completion stage.


The people of Gangalur and intervening villages to Bijapur are now a happy lot. Hari Ram, having failed to thwart the project, has shifted to Abhujhmaad. The distance to the district headquarters has shortened. The fear of landmine explosions haunts people less now, as the wire mesh embedded in cement concrete can absorb more shock and stop splinters from taking lives.


The Gangalur-Bijapur road is not a mere mix of cement and sand, but a blow to Maoist ideology, which has been rejected by the people of this region. It stands for the ‘success of innovation over red-tapism’, the victory of public courage and sacrifice over Naxalite cowardice; and is indeed a befitting reply to the cycle of violence.


The writer is a senior IPS officer from Chhattisgarh








In Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix at the Olympic Games, the puny Gaulish warrior won the golden palm by supplying his competitors with druid Getafix’s magic potion, and then having them disqualified for using a performance-enhancing substance. Since the year was 50 B.C., it was perhaps the first instance of a doping offence in world sport.


Little did the ancient Gauls know that drugs in sports would become an international menace in the centuries to follow, reaching a point where it would have to be monitored on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis by the time 2009 A.D. came along.


For followers of cricket news, the past week has thrown up a sudden barrage of new terms — WADA, whereabouts clause, testing slot. And Team India, who have been mulling over these phrases since the New Zealand series in March, have countered them with some preferred keywords of their own — privacy, security, impracticality.


The new stipulation requires Indian cricketers, like most other sportsmen in the world, to tell the World Anti-Doping Agency their schedule and location on an almost real-time basis, and to be available for a random, surprise test for an hour each day, 365 days a year. Should a player be unavailable three times in an 18-month period, he could be considered a dope offender.


The Indian cricketers and board have refused to adhere to the guideline, saying it is an invasion of privacy and a threat to security, sparking a row in which the public opinion against their stand is growing exponentially with each passing day.


Their reluctance is being seen as another instance in which Indian cricket is unnecessarily trying to be difficult. And leading the charge is Sports Minister MS Gill, who asked this week that if Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal can adhere to the stipulations, why can’t our cricketers? Here is where things start to get mildly interesting.


A number of the big names who’re being quoted as having signed the whereabouts clause did not do it without their share of kicking and screaming. “We’re humans, and we do not have to feel like criminals just because we do sport,” Nadal had said about the stipulations earlier this year.


“It’s too much. It’s very invasive,” Serena Williams had added, and world indoor hurdles champion Lolo Jones had suggested: “Maybe in the future they will find a tag they can put on us like dogs have. I’d rather wear a necklace that’s a homing device.” But, with the lack of institutional support - the ATP would’ve banned Nadal had he desisted, for example - these athletes had no choice but to toe the line.


There are, naturally, an equal number of athletes —Roger Foderer and Abhinav Bindra among them — who believe that while these measures are tough, they have to be followed for the sake of a clean sport. But because of no concentrated opposition, no backing by any sports body, these views — for or against - are only personal musings. They’ve had no power to spark a public debate, which would do a world of good not only for sportsmen but also for WADA, which is seen in several circles as “bureaucratic” and “draconian”.


Perhaps the problem can be discussed at length now that the BCCI has, even if unwittingly and for all the wrong reasons, brought the issue to the forefront. Earlier, only football bodies FIFA and UEFA had complained that their athletes were being asked to do something entirely unnecessary just for the sake of a ‘uniform code’.


Their first point that federations controlling team sports make is that their players need to be treated differently from individual sportsmen because they don’t pick their own tournaments, choose their own training venues, book their own hotels or make their own travel arrangements. The Indian team, for example, is together for almost 300 days in a year — either away on tour, engaged in a series at home, playing the IPL, or in a training camp. For those 10 months, their travel, lodging and training is handled by the association. To trace their whereabouts in that period does not require any elaborate system.


Secondly, these bodies argue that since individual sportsmen - swimmers, runners, shooters and boxers, for example — are in competition for only 10-15 days in a year, their training may be needed to be monitored more closely than that of players who are in competition or in a team set-up for the majority of the season.


But these are the finer points of this discussion that need to be addressed later. The first question is basic: While everyone accepts something must be done to control and eradicate doping, is it acceptable for players to be monitored on a daily basis all year round?


Some may think it’s no big deal, but shouldn’t those who’re aggrieved be heard as well? The need of the hour is a global debate — a move to make both sides understand each other’s viewpoint, rather than a diktat that must be followed by all.










RBI governor, Duvvuri Subbarao, has made two interesting speeches in the space of 5 days, which shed significant light on his personal thinking on RBI’s role. One, of course, can’t be sure if the entire bureaucracy of RBI thinks the same way. In a speech on July 31st (parts of which were excerpted in FE Reflect on Wednesday), the governor made clear that he believed RBI had to keep its remit beyond the narrow focus of inflation targeting—price stability had to be combined with output stability and financial stability. This sounds closer to the US style of central banking than the European and UK style of inflation-focused central banking. There seems to be much merit in Subbarao’s thinking on this matter. At our level of development, central banks need to think about growth. In addition, as he pointed out in the same speech, it is far from obvious which measure of inflation RBI should target in any case. Also, inflation in India isn’t always a demand side phenomenon, supply crunch-led food inflation being a case in point. In such circumstances RBI can only play a negligible role in managing some kinds of inflation. On the other hand, RBI can and should do demand management through interest rates—one only wishes that the governor’s thinking translated into concrete action straightaway, through a more accommodative monetary policy. RBI worries about excessive government debt, but unless it loosens interest rates, government expenditure will have to make up for the fall in private expenditure in a downturn—that may have worked out in 2008-09, but it’s not sustainable. Of course, Subbarao correctly pointed out the lethargic monetary policy transmission mechanism in India, which reduces the efficacy of monetary policy.


The answer to that is financial sector reform something one thought was on the backburner what with the financial crisis. But the governor chose to put this back on the agenda in his second speech on Wednesday. Subbarao chose to use the ‘recalibrate’ word to describe the way forward for financial reform, but the fact that he still intends to proceed with reform is a welcome sign. The transmission mechanism needs a well functioning bond market, which should be a top priority for RBI. In addition, currency and derivative markets also need to be developed. It still isn’t clear what exactly RBI intends to do about full capital account convertibility and permitting more derivative instruments, but the hint about recalibration seems to suggest that these will likely happen once we are out of the woods. RBI is, however, unlikely to shed its conservatism about bank regulation in a hurry, but given the freshness of the crisis, it may have more time to think about reform in banking than it has to get monetary policy right.







There can be no greater sign that something is seriously amiss with the judiciary when politicians have to remind judges of basic constitutional principles. Parliament was entirely right in arguing that exempting judges from the norms of transparency they themselves have so forcefully articulated, would do damage to the authority of the judiciary. The judges’ legitimate concerns that information on their assets not be used to harass them could be addressed, without sending a message that the judiciary was a special species, above the law and above public scrutiny. Indeed, the larger issue raised by this episode is precisely this. How long can the judiciary continue to hide behind the cloak of independence to exempt itself from broader accountability? The judiciary has norms for appointment that are the least transparent. Judicial delays are as much a consequence of procedures arbitrarily imposed by the judiciary itself. Corruption in the judiciary has become a major issue. The judiciary has done a creditable job in upholding constitutional values. But often its interpretations have muddied the waters on legislative intent. The judiciary has also taken on several governance functions. And justice remains an unfulfilled expectation of millions of litigants whose cases are still pending. It is therefore a legitimate question to ask: Who will hold the judiciary accountable? This question can be resolved only through a proper dialogue between the executive and the judiciary. The executive must not do anything to compromise judicial independence. But judges, on the other hand, cannot take the position that any public scrutiny or engagement with institutions outside the judiciary always compromises their independence. Indeed, the opposite is true. The judiciary’s authority is diminished if it continues to violate the first principle of jurisprudence, “No one should be a judge in their own cause.”


The moral of the Judges Bill is that the so called dialogue between the judicial and the legislative branches is too one sided in favour of the judiciary. Hence Parliament rejected the compromise brokered between Veerappa Moily and the judiciary. But there is also a larger danger. It has been so difficult to find a principled position on something as simple as judges’ assets. What are the prospects of finding a credible position on issues that are far more complicated, like appointments and judicial procedure? Reforms happen only when there are constituencies within that sector pushing for reform. Unfortunately, the judiciary, for all its high-minded constitutionalism, is not taking the initiative on reform. Instead it is digging defensive trenches around the status quo. The irony is that Moily may find, that on judicial reforms his political colleagues may be a lot easier to convince than judges.









What has happened on Judges (Declaration of Assets & Liabilities) Bill, 2009 is more than the Congress not having numbers in the Rajya Sabha or not necessarily being sure of numbers in the Lok Sabha. Consequently, it isn’t simply a matter of rustling up consensus and then getting the unsullied Bill passed by Parliament. There are problems with the Bill, as it stands.


We have had a Right to Information (RTI) Act since 2005. Despite warts and blemishes in implementation across states, RTI has done a lot of good and has led to greater transparency and accountability on part of the government. Democracy requires access to information. Lest we forget, the Preamble to RTI Act states, “democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed”. Sure, there are exemptions from information dissemination, like stuff that is prejudicial to sovereignty, integrity, security, strategic interests and so on. Or for that matter, information that threatens an individual’s life or physical safety, or hampers investigations, or information that’s purely personal. However, information provided to Parliament and state legislatures cannot be denied to individuals.


Hence, we come to oddity no.1. In September 2006, the Supreme Court asked the CIC (Central Information Commission) to keep judiciary out of RTI’s purview and the CIC refused. Why should judiciary be exempted from declaring assets (and liabilities)? After all, judiciary is publicly funded and in that sense, this is not personal information. Nor is it information inimical to sovereignty, integrity, security and strategic interests.


But there’s oddity no.2 too. Since reforms, we have had greater transparency on part of government. Bills are placed in the public domain for debate and discussion. Not this one. It has never been in public domain, which is the reason there has been no analysis of the Bill by PRS Legislative Research. Other than media reports, the only way one can find out what is in the Bill is by asking MPs. Surely, that violates RTI intention of information provided to Parliament not being denied to individuals.


Was this exclusion from public scrutiny deliberate or inadvertent? Was there a malafide intention or was it pure inefficiency? There is oddity no.3, too. Judiciary seems to have had access to the draft Bill even before Parliament did. To state it mildly, that’s not quite normal. Some people seem more equal than others. Has this happened with any recent Bill?


To get back to the time-line, there was a RTI application in November 2007 and the Supreme Court refused to tell the country whether judges had declared their assets. In January 2009, the CIC ruled judges would have to declare assets and this ruling was challenged in the Delhi High Court. And then the law minister announced in June, there would be a Bill to make asset declaration by judges compulsory—compulsory, but hidden from public scrutiny. Supreme and High Court judges will have to declare assets (and of wives/husbands and children) to an authority designated by the Supreme Court, but this information will be kept confidential and outside RTI.


To repeat, ordinary common citizens have been denied access to the Bill. Hence, one concludes from Parliament debates that Clause 6 of the Bill does precisely this. That’s bad policy and bad law on several counts. First, to paraphrase what former Chief Justice Verma said, you maintain confidentiality only if you have something to hide. Second, it differentiates among India’s citizens (and public servants), be it on grounds of Article 19 or otherwise. Third, it is possible selective disclosure of this “confidential” information may make judiciary more amenable to executive pressure. Fourth, in absence of information on assets, what happens to possible inquiries against judges?


The government response might be there is a separate Judges (Inquiry) Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2006. That Bill has now lapsed, but can be reintroduced. If that’s the argument, surely both Bills have to be considered together and not separately. For instance, Inquiry Bill requires annual disclosure of assets by judges to Chief Justice, but does not address the question of whether that information will be made public. And the afore-mentioned Clause 6 states, “no judge shall be subjected to any inquiry” on the basis of information disclosed about assets/liabilities.


This delinking from two related Bills is oddity no.4 and as a minor point, there is oddity no.5. The mandatory notice period under Rules of Procedure & Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha was waived to place the Bill in Parliament. What was the inordinate rush, is a very valid and interesting question.


Given these reservations, this isn’t a simple issue of referring the Bill to a Standing Committee, generating consensus and bringing it back in Winter Session. Nor is this simply a phenomenon of political classes being upset that, thanks to a Supreme Court judgment in 1993, those standing for public electoral office have to mandatorily and publicly disclose assets.


The author is a noted economist








Due to the downturn in the global auto market, the auto components sector has also had to struggle hard as sales have declined. A majority of small and mid-sized auto part manufacturers and exporters in India were under pressure to stay afloat amidst steep decreases in their business volumes.


However, things have started improving in the recent past as demand in the domestic market has started picking up. In India, we can see some signs of recovery in auto except for the commercial vehicles segment. which has not shown signs of a comeback yet. But two wheelers and passenger cars are showing recovery trends.


Therefore, with early signs of recovery in auto, the auto component sector is believed to be the next sunshine sector. Many global Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s) are coming into the country and with this the auto component sector would experience many more acquisitions, mergers and investments, all avenues of growth.


On the one hand if we look at component manufacturers inside India, they will get new customers to sell their product. Secondly, new OEMs might bring along their own suppliers who would want to explore the Indian market, which means more investment. If this happens, some of the current vendors who are of a smaller size might start expanding to meet the demand of the market. So, there’s definitely a lot of scope for the auto component manufacturers to widen their business.


According to industry analysts, last year, the auto component industry had a growth of 9.6%. This year they are anticipating a growth of 13% to 15% from the sector. Again, in terms of OEM market, around 8% to 9% growth is expected to happen.


However, we have to wait for another six to seven months to proclaim a sustainable recovery. At present, there is a halt in terms of negative growth.


Therefore, in the near future as we see new players coming in, joint ventures, acquisition, expansion of businesses and overall growth of the business is most likely to take place.








After inflation and agflation, the new economic phenomenon is foodflation: prices of food items increasing sharply across major product groups. An interesting aspect of foodflation today is that it is not captured by the conventional WPI, and CPI numbers only touch the periphery of the issue.


Disaggregated WPI data shows that prices of cereals have increased by 10.9%, pulses by 16.9%, vegetables by 26.1% and sugar by 33.4% (as of July 18th). If retail prices at various centres are tracked over the last few months, the jump in prices seem even sharper. What is happening? And what can be done? There are three parts to the answer to the first question.


The first pertains to foodgrains, where production has been higher than last year. However, an inherent upward bias in prices has been provided by the higher MSPs which increased by 30% for paddy and 8% for wheat last year. These two cereals constitute 80% of total cereals production and 70% of total foodgrains. An increase in the MSPs automatically pushes up their market prices.


Also with changes in income mobility there has been a tendency for shifting preference to rice and wheat from coarse cereals, which has pushed up demand for these grains. With progressively higher procurement of rice and wheat by the FCI, there has been a squeeze in the private market, thus bringing about this anomaly of coexistence of rising prices and excess stocks of 50 mn tonnes of wheat and rice.


The second story pertains to pulses, which have witnessed abnormal increases in prices. The basic problem is that July-September is the period when there are no fresh arrivals in the market. The kharif crop of tur, urad and moong arrives from late September onwards and hence, present consumption has to be met from the stocks of last year.


Now, in FY09, there was a fall in production of tur, urad and moong. Unlike rice and wheat where there are buffer stocks which can be used, there is no such option for pulses. One way of augmenting supplies is through imports; but in case of pulses there are limitations in terms of harvest timings in countries like Myanmar and Canada, and supplies will continue to be squeezed until then.


There have been two associated issues here. The first pertains to the impact on rabi crops like chana and masoor, where prices have been volatile, albeit to a lower extent due to substitution in the consumption of pulses. Further, the months of August till November are the festival season in India, when typically demand for food products increase. The second is that inflation expectations have been heightened by the news of the subnormal monsoon this year. Conjectures are that output will be affected across crops, especially rice, tur and urad on account of deficient monsoon, late sowing and probably late harvest. Hence, monsoon-related inflation expectations have added to the price increase that we are witnessing today.


The third part of this story of foodflation is in the area of vegetables and sugar. Vegetables prices have increased due to lower output on account of delayed monsoon and higher transport costs due to the increase in fuel prices announced in June.


It must be pointed out that even as the WPI shows a decrease in fuel prices of around 12% due to the impact of high base year, higher diesel prices have fed into the price of transportation, which is irreversible for some time now. The indirect impact of a fuel price increase is more significant than the direct increase and will impact prices of all food products which are primarily transported by road.


The higher price of sugar witnessed this year has been brought about by low production and a mess-up in policy. Production declined by over 50% in FY09, and indications are that there could be problems this year too given the possible lower production of cane this year. More importantly there are low carry-over stocks which will exert pressure on the prices this year too. In hindsight it may be said that the policy to export surplus sugar of almost 5 mn tonnes in 2007-08 has perhaps led to the problem of high prices today.


Foodflation in India is serious because it affects the real standard of living of all households. So, what can be done? There unfortunately appears to be no immediate solution except imports wherever it is possible. With a slightly longer perspective, we need to revisit our policies to ensure that MSPs, procurement or excess procurement, absence of buffer stocks concept in non-rice and wheat products, export-import of farm products are all looked at as part of a comprehensive policy rather than as adhoc measures, which are the norm.


The author is chief economist of NCDEX Ltd. These are his personal views








Tragically, a 14-year-old Pune schoolgirl has become the first person in India to succumb to the swine-origin H1N1 flu virus that is responsible for the current pandemic. But this is no cause for panic because the death does not mean the pandemic flu has, in any way, become more deadly. The experience of other countries has been that a small proportion of those infected by the virus develop severe forms of disease and some die as a result. More than 1,100 deaths have been reported to the World Health Organisation by countries around the globe. But what needs to be borne in mind is that most people who sicken with the virus get well again without suffering more than the usual flu-like symptoms. Indeed, data from the United States, Canada, and Chile suggest that only up to 10 per cent of confirmed cases need hospitalisation. A recently published estimate suggests that just 0.06 per cent to 0.0004 per cent of those infected by the pandemic virus die. As parents of school-going children know only too well, infectious diseases spread easily in an environment where a large number of young boys and girls come together. Several countries have reported outbreaks of pandemic flu in schools, with the data indicating that the majority of swine flu cases are occurring in the school-going ages. But it is adults above the age of 20 years who are at higher risk of developing fatal forms of disease. Even among adults, it has been pregnant women and those with underlying conditions such as asthma and other lung disorders, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, suppressed immunity, neurological trouble, and obesity who are most at risk of severe disease.


The death of the Pune schoolgirl must, however, be a clarion call to the central government. It has invested far too much effort in airport surveillance, a strategy of doubtful effectiveness in a situation where many countries are reporting flu transmission at the community level. The government has taken solace in the limited number of officially confirmed cases in the country, without recognising that such cases are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. This is a virus that cannot be contained, and more people must be expected to become infected of the disease it causes. In order to forestall the panic that could ensue, the government needs to educate the public about how easily the virus spreads as well as how best people can protect themselves and their families. The central and State governments must also ensure that the health care services provided by the public and private sectors do not become overwhelmed by the demands likely to be placed on them. It is time for the governments to act purposefully.








The acrimonious dispute between the Ambani brothers has turned the spotlight on the deficiencies of governance in the natural gas sector. Petroleum Minister Murli Deora’s assertion in Parliament that the government will endeavour to protect its legal rights to regulate the utilisation of gas and its allocation is welcome. However, past actions of the government reveal an inconsistent and ineffective approach to a sector that is poised to contribute substantially to the country’s energy needs. The government has been addressing the issue of maximising the public interest across the entire value chain of the gas sector only in fits and starts. There have been major lacunae in the way the nearly-decade-old New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP), which governs the upstream oil and gas sector, has been interpreted. Two examples, both relevant to the legal dispute between the Ambani brothers illustrate the gaps. Under the NELP, contractors who won licences for exploration and have signed production-sharing contracts (PSC) with the government have the freedom to market the gas at prices discovered through “arms-length negotiations.” They are also bound to follow the official gas utilisation policy which prioritises consumers. That policy was framed almost seven years after Reliance Industries Ltd. signed the PSC and is at the centre of the government’s stand.


Price fixation and utilisation of gas have been at the core of the controversy. Contractors who find oil or gas under the NELP will have to share their profits with the government, according to their bidding terms. Profits are determined by subtracting the costs of production from the revenues arising from the sale of oil or gas. An independent certification of costs — so that the contractor does not benefit at the expense of the government through inflating costs of exploration, development, and production — is also critically important. The dispute between the Ambani brothers over the supply of gas, into which the public sector NTPC has also been dragged, has its roots in the opaque manner in which the prices have been arrived at. The government could have laid down internationally accepted benchmarks for price determination and utilisation of natural gas. Policy failures on several counts have discouraged investors. Regulation of downstream industries has also been a problem .The government should take note of an oligopolistic structure emerging in both the upstream and downstream segments of the petroleum industry and formulate a utilisation policy that would serve the broad public interest.









A critical agreement finalised during U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India last month was the Indo-U.S. End-Use Monitoring Agreement, or EUMA. It involves U.S. government inspectors continuously monitoring all hi-tech weapons and advanced electronic systems and equipment across a broad front imported by India from the U.S., to ensure that they are used by the Indian defence services and the Department of Atomic Energy and the Department of Space only for the purpose — “end use” — for which they are imported.


External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, in a statement in Parliament on July 21, said that signing such an EUMA was essential under U.S. law for India to undertake such imports. He gave the impression that all that the EUMA does is to bring under one umbrella the case-by-case permissions for such imports India had been seeking and securing from the U.S. government from as far back as the 1990s. Therefore this was largely procedural in nature, he implied.


Simultaneously, the Minister indicated that thanks to two years of intense negotiations, the EUMA was uniquely to New Delhi’s advantage: the periodic inspections in India of all U.S.-origin hi-tech and defence equipment would be undertaken by U.S. inspectors only at places and times “mutually agreed” upon, places and times specified by the Indian government. But that is not what “mutually agreed” means. He emphasised that such a provision did not exist in any of the 82 earlier EUMAs concluded by the U.S. and so this was a great victory for the Indian government. What he did not say was that those 82 countries were those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and U.S. military allies.


Despite the Minister’s statement, followed by the Prime Minister’s defence of the EUMA with the U.S. government there are serious concerns about it among parliamentarians, the media and the military and scientific leaderships on several counts.


First, no other country from which India has imported and is importing hi-tech defence and other equipment — be it France or other West European countries, South Africa, Israel or Russia — has ever asked for an EUMA, even when India imported state-of-the-art weapon systems. Here are some examples:


— The Sukhoi-30 MKI supersonic fighter bomber from Russia especially tailor-made for Indian needs which, apart from carrying a wide range of lethal conventional weapons in a tactical role, can carry nuclear weapons over a 5,000-mile range, that is, to Beijing and Shanghai, (with mid-air refuelling) and is accepted even by the U.S. government as the best such weapon system in the world;


— The 90-mile beyond visual range air-to-air missile, also from Russia, which three former chiefs of air staff have characterised as “the best such missile in the world.” They also acknowledged that it was India’s possession of the missile that “deterred Pakistan from using its air force in the Kargil War.”


— Then there is India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, which would have just been impossible to realise without the Soviet Union’s/Russia’s massive allround consultancy, technology transfer, technical services and training, technical “knowhow” and “show how” design of the submarine as a whole, and above all numerous operational “tips” based on 50 years of experience in designing, building and operating nuclear submarines. Although Soviet and Russian assistance was extended throughout the 25-year designing and building of Arihant, at no time did anyone in the Russian government ever even mention any end-use restriction. And yet, if India were to import some incomparably low-tech electronic warfare equipment from the U.S., the U.S. government will demand the application of the EUMA.


Secondly, it is a matter of concern that under the EUMA India has to turn over to U.S. inspectors not only the hardware and software of all U.S.-origin systems and equipment purchased by India for their scrutiny, but also all data and information logs containing the entire history of the equipment as used by India.


Thirdly, for the computer software (so much of which is used nowadays in hi-tech defence and other equipment) in the U.S.-origin equipment, Indian military and civilian computer scientists have often been able to develop modified software known only to India and so secure. However, when such equipment is tested and analysed using U.S. simulators, the software becomes evident to the U.S. inspectors. This will seriously compromise the security of the equipment and of the overall weapon system of which it is often “the brain.”


Fourthly, and extremely seriously, India is now fully aware that the end-use it is putting the U.S.-origin weapon systems to and all the technical and operational data relating to it, particularly modifications and improvements India has made as collected by U.S. inspectors, are passed on by the U.S. government to Pakistan.


When any “inspection” of a U.S.-origin equipment at any Indian air /sea/army bases — which the EUMA provides for at the discretion of the U.S. — takes place, the inspection team will consist usually of specialised technical and intelligence personnel from the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. National Security Agency and, of course, the weapon-system supplier. Such teams come with sophisticated simulators to test the U.S.-origin weapon systems and equipment under simulated battlefield conditions.


Then, there is a much larger issue. The situation discussed above is with regard to various U.S.-origin equipment incorporated into Indian aircraft, surface ships, submarines, tanks, artillery guns and so on. What will happen when the weapon system as a whole is of U.S. origin? India has already had a taste of that from its experience with the old troop and helicopter-carrying vessel USS Trenton, which was imported and inducted into the Navy as INS Jalashar. The U.S. undertakes surprise inspections of any part of the vessel; studies all ship logs, requires a U.S. Navy officer to be on board when India makes any modifications or improvements or even repairs to keep the old vessel going… And this for a 30-year-old helicopter-and-troop carrier.


Against such a background, what kind of EUMA will the U.S. apply should India decide to purchase one or other of the two U.S.-origin multi-role combat aircraft — the F-16 offered by Lockheed and the F-18 offered by Boeing — against the Rs.42,000-crore global tender floated by the Defence Ministry for 126 such aircraft last year? The conditions will obviously be far more stringent than the inspection methodology and coverage which apply to the EUM for individual weapons such as artillery and radar. What will the government do then?


It is important to also note that all the three defence service chiefs have vehemently and repeatedly, verbally and in writing, individually and collectively conveyed to New Delhi at the highest levels their strong and total opposition to India entering into an EUMA with the U.S. because of its serious national security-compromising character. But the Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by the Prime Minister brushed aside these acute concerns and went ahead and approved the EUMA.

Then there is the issue of the penetration and suborning of India’s armed forces and civil services by U.S. agencies at the operational level. The Indian Express (July 26, 2009) reported how the External Affairs Ministry had expressed concern over a recent senior-level inter-ministerial meeting convened by the Defence Ministry at which some Defence Ministry officials agreed to a purchase contract for U.S.-origin arms in which, at the insistence of the U.S. representatives, the end-use clauses were made extremely intrusive and stringent, and hence more objectionable than those framed under the joint EUMA itself.


The Prime Minister stated in Parliament on July 29 that “there was no provision in the EUMA to allow U.S. inspectors access to Indian military sites and other sensitive installations.” But in the very next sentence he said: “Inspections if necessary (as decided by the U.S. government) would happen at a mutually agreed time and venue after a request. United States government “request” [for inspection] was put forward by the U.S.” — and the Indian government has got to comply.


With these numerous, wide-ranging and highly deleterious implications for India’s national security of the EUMA, it is imperative that the Government of India terminate the EUMA. If the Indian government does not have the will to do so, it should at least announce in Parliament that the purchase of U.S.-origin hi-tech equipment would be “purchases of very last resort.”


(Ashok Parthasarathi was Science Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.)










Sixty four years ago on this fateful day, on August 6, 1945 at 8-15 a.m., Brigadier Paul Tibbetz of the U.S. Air Force flew over in a B-29, named Enola Gay after his mother, and dropped a 16-kiloton uranium fission bomb on an unsuspecting Japanese city of Hiroshima. A parachute opened, a flash of light and blasts followed, and suddenly all hell broke loose. The eyes of young girls watching the parachute melted and their faces became bloated blisters. Ferocious fires raged through the city and temperatures rose to 4000 degrees, melting iron and vaporising human bodies. Skin dangled from the fingernails of extended hands seeking help. Houses were reduced to rubble by the enormous blast and people trapped inside were burned alive. Within seconds, thousands perished. The toll rose to 140,000 within a year. Three days later another bomb, named ‘Fat Man,’ was dropped on Nagasaki, which suffered a similar fate.


Years after the bombing, survivors (called ‘hibakusha’ in Japanese) continue to suffer from radiation poisoning and cancers. Traumatised by the horrific experience and emotionally shattered, they live in constant fear of disease and death. The experience of living makes them envy the dead.


The atomic bombing was touted as an extraordinary technological and military achievement. It was called “a great moment of history.” The officially sanctioned American view was that bombing was a necessary act in a just war, and it saved a million lives. Subsequent historical accounts, however, reveal that the bombing was in fact unnecessary, as the Japanese were willing to surrender much earlier. President Dwight Eisenhower confirmed this in a 1963 interview to Newsweek.


Soon after the bombing, many Americans expressed guilt and revulsion. The Scientific Director of the Manhattan Project, Robert Oppenheimer, said in November 1945 that the bomb was used against “an essentially defeated enemy.” He characterised the bombs as “weapons of aggression, of surprise and of terror,” which could give nations a “sleazy sense of omnipotence.”


The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki do not seem to have taught the world’s political and military elite any lessons. The nuclear age ushered in over four decades of the Cold War and an arms race. At its peak, the nuclear-weapon states had accumulated over 70,000 warheads which possessed the explosive power to destroy a million Hiroshimas, or the earth itself 50 times over.


Despite efforts made to control the numbers of nuclear weapons, prevent their spread, prohibit their use and seek their elimination, little headway has been made to reduce the risk of nuclear annihilation. The number of nuclear weapons today is estimated at 20,000. Of these, some 10,000 remain deployed and many are on hair-trigger alert. Over 90 per cent of these weapons are in the U.S. and Russia.


Humankind has been able to avoid a nuclear catastrophe over the past 64 years, probably as much because of good fortune as any special effort to prevent it. There were more than a few near-misses, however. These include the 1962 Cuban missile crisis; the accidental loading of a simulated attack in the U.S. warning system by a technician at Omaha; a Soviet warning error in 1983 showing the launch of five U.S. missiles against them; and misinterpretation of a rocket launch from Norway by the Russian early warning system in 1995. On August 29-30, 2007, six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles were flown across the U.S. in a U.S. Air Force aircraft by mistake, and for 36 hours no one knew that they were missing.


Apart from the risks of human error there are other real dangers lurking. Terrorists are looking for nuclear materials and technical knowledge; and there can be little doubt that they will use the weapon if they can get one. The arcane theories of nuclear deterrence will not work with them because their ‘rationality’ is different from that of state actors. Growing cyber-terrorism poses risks for states’ nuclear command and control systems, with disastrous consequences.


Nearly 40 countries have nuclear weapons materials and not all of it is secure. With globalisation and the information revolution, the wherewithal to build weapons is relatively easy to access today. The number of nuclear- weapon states may grow in the years to come, as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime is seen to be inequitable, and powerful incentives for weaponisation continue to exist. Even 15 or 20 nuclear-weapon states will make the world a truly dangerous place. States developing nuclear energy will also gain materials and knowledge to produce nuclear weapons, posing a further danger.


The world maintains these dangerous arsenals at a heavy cost. A recent study by Stephen I. Schwartz and Deepti Choubey finds that the U.S. alone spent a minimum of $52.4 billion on nuclear weapons and programmes in 2008. This does not include the cost of air defence, anti-submarine warfare, classified programmes and nuclear weapons-related intelligence programmes. The U.S. spends nearly $29 billion, which exceeds India’s annual defence budget, to upgrade and maintain its nuclear weapons. The development of nuclear arsenals in the world has consumed trillions of dollars so far and nearly $110 million is spent each day on their upkeep and readiness.


If the world goes down this road, eventually nuclear weapons will be used again, by mistake or design. A U.S. bipartisan panel recently warned that the world can expect a nuclear or biological terror attack by 2013, unless urgent preventive measures are taken.


Even the Cold Warriors of yesteryear have recognised the imperative of complete elimination of nuclear weapons. But this goal can be realised only with a strong political will and leadership.


The measures required have been outlined earlier, but they are not being vigorously implemented in a time-bound manner. The first essential steps are an unequivocal commitment by nuclear-weapon states to the goal of complete elimination, and a reduction of the salience of nuclear weapons in the countries’ security doctrines. These should be followed by an agreement among nuclear-weapon states on “no first use” of nuclear weapons and a legally binding agreement on non-use against non-nuclear-weapon states. Other important measures, including for effective verification and enforcement, will be required.


Since Independence, India has consistently pursued the goal of global disarmament based on the principles of universality, non-discrimination and effective compliance. At the special sessions of the United Nations General Assembly on Disarmament, India put forward a number of proposals, the most important of which was the Rajiv Gandhi Plan for the total elimination of weapons of mass destruction. The 2010 Non-Proliferation Review Conference offers yet another opportunity to convert the recent calls for disarmament into a binding action plan.


On this day of Hiroshima’s devastation, humankind needs to heed what an aging hibakusha had to say: “There is only one way to end this threat and that is to abolish these weapons. Either nuclear weapons must be eliminated or human beings face the threat of extinction by weapons of their own creation.”


(N.S. Sisodia is Director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.)









Whether it bursts the pockets of banker, doctor or dentist, people are left wanting to spit at the greed for excessive pay. But John Varley, chief executive of Barclays Bank, reacted in horror to the suggestion of his BBC Radio interviewer that some parameters should be put around the pay and bonuses awarded to bank staff. This, he said — expecting to close the debate — would “interfere with the market”. It was a deeply strange thing to say.


Extraordinary powers of compartmentalisation may be a key skill for any banking CEO. Yet the breathtaking adherence to doctrine in the face of real-world evidence recalls the officers of 1916 who ordered foot soldiers to slow walk against machine guns.


First, had the banking market not been interfered with, in the U.K. and elsewhere, to the tune of hundreds of billions pounds in public largesse, it would not have survived in its current form. Something for which Mr. Varley, if not the rest of us, should be deeply grateful, and for which there must be a quid pro quo. Second, why should the market not be interfered with, when it doesn’t think twice about interfering with everything else?


Six years ago, I proposed a “maximum wage”. It seemed a logical complement to the minimum wage, one of the key achievements of Tony Blair’s first term. The signs of the crash to come, in terms of ludicrous executive pay expectations, were already there. As Richard Wilkinson’s work in The Spirit Level has shown, inequality really is at the root of most social, and by implication, environmental problems. A maximum as well as a minimum wage would tackle income inequality from both ends of the scale.


The defence of high pay is that it is needed to attract and motivate senior executives and give mid-level executives something to aspire to. Yet, as with so many facets of the failed neoliberal economic model, it is a triumph of self-serving assertion over demonstrable reality. The unintended consequences of that argument lie all around us in the landscape of the recession. But, more than that, the existence of an inverse relationship between pay and performance has been demonstrated for FTSE 100 companies. One of the fathers of modern banking, J.P. Morgan, believed that to motivate people you didn’t need a ratio of more than 10 between the highest and lowest paid. This is common knowledge in management school, but seemingly ignored in the workplace.


We know, now, how destructive are the forces seeking profit and pay maximisation for their own sake. Another benefit emerges of capping high pay or setting a maximum ratio between highest and lowest paid. Setting a widely understood cut off point would mean beyond that level an executive’s performance has to be judged against key achievements other than personal accumulation. So, instead of status derived from higher incomes, all the creative energy behind the desire to excel can be directed toward the social contribution and environmental performance of the bank or company involved.


In an efficiently functioning market there should be no exorbitant pay or profits. Competition is supposed to deal with that. There should always be someone or some business prepared to offer the same goods, skills or services for less. The pressure at the top should be down, not up, on salaries.


Mr. Varley, who earned over £1 million in “compensation” as the banking system crashed around him last year, is fond of using the example of footballers’ pay to defend bank bonuses, forgetting bank chiefs are not sacked like football managers. It is time to blow for a foul, and show a maximum wage card to those bringing the economic game into disrepute.


(Andrew Simms is policy director of the London-based new economics foundation)








The Obama administration on Tuesday signalled a nationwide clampdown on people who send text messages while driving, a practice cited as the cause of a recent series of high-profile fatal crashes.


The Transport Secretary, Ray Mr. LaHood, also hinted at action against drivers distracted in other ways, such as using their mobile phones or fiddling with electronic route finders.


Mr. LaHood is organising a summit next month of transport safety specialists, members of Congress, police and others to discuss the problem.


He plans afterwards “to announce a list of concrete steps we will take to make drivers think twice about taking their eyes off the road for any reason.” He added: “This is a huge problem for America.”


Road fatalities in the U.S. have levelled off over the last decade, but academics argue that the increased use of airbags and other safety measures, combined with less tolerance of drink-driving, should have resulted in a significant drop. That failure is explained, they say, by accidents caused in part by the increased number of electronic distractions that have become widespread.


Mr. LaHood, speaking a press conference in Washington, said: “If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting immediately. But unfortunately laws aren’t always enough.


“We’ve learned from past safety awareness campaigns that it takes a co-ordinated strategy combining education and enforcement to get results. The bottom line is, we need to put an end to unsafe cell phone use, typing on BlackBerrys and other activities that require drivers to take their eyes off the road and their focus away from driving,” he said.


Mr. LaHood referred to a 17-year-old schoolgirl who was killed when she drove off the road in Peoria, Illinois, last month while texting, a Florida truck driver who admitted texting moments before a fatal collision, and a train operator who was texting when he was involved in a crash last year that killed 25 people in California.


Mr. LaHood said he was primarily concerned about texting, use of mobiles and adjusting global positioning systems.


Mr. LaHood appeared to accept that GPS systems are acceptable provided they have a lock that prevents drivers adjusting them while a car is in motion.


Individual states have different regulations and Mr. LaHood hinted that he favoured creation of a national standard, as has happened with drink-driving. Asked if there would be federal legislation, he said that would be for the summit to discuss.


The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, in a study released last week, found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk increased 23 times.


Only 14 states have passed measures to ban texting while driving. No state has yet banned talking on mobiles while driving, though five states as well as Washington DC require drivers using mobiles to talk only on hands-free devices.











Organic food is a two-billion pound industry grown fat on the back of celebrity endorsement and a well-heeled middle class seduced by claims that it is good for health. Prince Charles is one of its most enthusiastic and pro-active promoters. Not content with simply consuming it, he has his own lucrative line in overpriced organic products including biscuits which taste more like chalk.


But now questions are being raised about some of the basic assumptions that have contributed to the popularity of organic food and the phenomenal growth of this sector in the past decade. People are asking: is organic food really worth the price which is often three times more than that of normal food?


This follows new research by a group of British scientists who found that organic food offered no extra benefit over the ordinary cheaper foodstuff. In a controversial report, experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine say there is no evidence that organic food is more nutritional or healthier than food produced using fertilizers. For example, the expensive free-range chicken (sold as a “premimum” product) has the same nutritional value as the factory-farmed chicken; and similarly, there is no difference between organic and non-organic vegetables or dairy produce.


The research, based on data published over the past 50 years and said to be the most comprehensive review ever of the relative benefits of organic food, strikes at the very heart of what has been portrayed by campaigners as its USP — that it is healthier than conventional food and therefore worth paying a “bit” extra.


Dr. Alan Dangour, who led the study, was unambiguous in rejecting claims made for organic food.


“Looking at all of the studies published in the last 50 years, we have concluded that there’s no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health based on the nutrient content,” he said.


The report, commissioned by the government’s Food Standards Agency and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that “organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products are broadly comparable in their nutrient content.” A “small number of differences” were noted but these were “unlikely to be of any public health relevance.”


In a pointed reference to the hype over the supposed benefits of organic food, the FSA said the research was aimed at helping people make “informed choices” about what they ate. In other words, it was concerned that the high-profile campaign for organic food, dressed up as an ethical issue, was preventing people from making “informed choices” and they were being sold things on false premises.


“Ensuring people have accurate information is absolutely essential in allowing us all to make informed choices about the food we eat. This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food,” said Gill Fine, FSA’s Director of Consumer Choice and Dietary Health.


In the organic food circles, the report has caused fury with campaigners alleging that it is all part of a “cancerous conspiracy” to defame the organic food movement. Newspapers have been full of angry letters denouncing the report as “selective,” “misleading” and “limited.”


The Soil Association, which campaigns for “planet-friendly organic food and farming,” is furious that the research crucially ignored the presence of higher pesticide residues in conventional food. Some have defended organic food arguing that it is not about health alone but also involves wider environmental and social issues.


However, even those who agree that the report may be “flawed” in some respects believe that it is an important contribution to the debate on organic food.


“Yet the report — for all its alleged flaws — is an important one. For a start, it is certainly not the work of dogmatic and intractably hostile opponents of the cause... In fact, it raises key global issues... After all, if organic food is no more beneficial in terms of nutrition than other, standard foodstuffs, why should we pay excessive price to eat the stuff? Why devote more land to its production,” asked Robin McKie, Science Editor of The Observer.


There is also a view that the fad for organic food is a bit of a class thing — something to do with the idea that if something is expensive it is also good. So, a Marks & Spencer cheese sandwich is supposed to taste better than a similar sandwich at Subway next door; everything at Harrods is out of this world; and similarly you don’t know what you are missing if organic food is not your preferred choice. There is said to be a whiff of snobbery about buying into an expensive life-style choice.


Will science bring them down to earth?










Free and quality education till Class 8 for children between the ages of six to 14 is now a basic right in India, and anyone seeking to come in the way of a child seeking to claim this right will have to pay a fine of Rs 10,000. Primary school enrolment for children up to the age of 10 years has been a rising trend in the country since the 1970s, and yet the enormity of what has transpired will perhaps take some time to sink in. With the Lok Sabha passing the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill earlier this week, India joins the club of developing countries that have made their intention plain to mount a massive assault on illiteracy arising from the condition of poverty. Human resources development minister Kapil Sibal showed modesty when he referred to the attainment as "historic", for the term is used much too lightly nowadays. Indeed, if we are able to translate words into action, we would have crossed a crucial barrier that separates a developed country or society from one still trying to get there. So important is education as a determinant of advancement, indeed of power, that former US President Bill Clinton had once described it as a matter relating to national security. A member of a society without basic reading and writing skills can never hope to achieve full citizenhood in the sense that such a person cannot give full expression to his or her potential and aspirations, both for the individual in question as well as for the community.


The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, of course. While 11th Five-Year Plan’s allocation for health and education is higher than ever before, the government may be required to pump in more resources for primary and elementary education if it is to signal to the authorities at all levels that it is sincere about implementing the recent law that gives teeth to the Constitution Amendment Bill on free and compulsory education passed seven years ago. We have to keep in view the stark fact that India has the largest number of children out of school. Although enrolment numbers are a rising trend (and India is well placed to meet the target of universal primary education set out in the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations), we are well behind another great developing country, China, in this respect. Currently about 21 million children are out of school, or 50 per cent of that category for South Asia as a whole. While the current national primary enrolment percentage stands at a healthy 83 per cent, and the absolute numbers are also higher, it has been noted that the figures for school-going children of the poorest 20 per cent households in the country actually fell in 2006 as compared to six years earlier, from 9.8 million to 9.4 million. If we want reality to be expressed through policy, such data needs to be correlated with data for children in the labour force. Official statistics places this at 13 million, or 17 per cent of the total workforce (for working children who are below 15 years of age). The unofficial figures are much more daunting. On average, three-fourths of primary schoolchildren — and therefore probably also elementary schoolchildren, the subject matter of the bill just passed — are rural, and most of them are girls. Therefore, striking a blow for education must be accorded a higher priority in the villages. This must be reflected through appropriate financial allocations and vetting for quality for teachers and course content. But the day is not far when the demand will be raised to create an environment in which young people with basic literacy/education can be enabled to find work, if the country is to move forward on the growth path.









Till recently, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) was the only Indian brand known worldwide. The IITs achieved such fame because they had large finances (particularly foreign exchange), and their faculty did hard, sincere work. They also enjoyed, until recently, considerable autonomy in financial and academic matters.


Regrettably, the government has taken the view that finance is the basic problem and once that is assured everything else will fall in place. This is simplistic and fails to take into account the need for high-quality faculty.


The Department of Science and Technology funds graduate programmes in engineering with grants that can exceed a crore of rupees, but on one condition — the college should obtain similar grants from industry. Over the past decade, of the several thousand engineering colleges in the country, barely 15 institutions have qualified.


Evidently, in virtually all our colleges, there is no faculty member who has the confidence of industry. In contrast, an IIT typically earns tens of crores of industrial projects every year. That means that the IITs have the kind of faculty that other colleges do not have.


Competent faculty cannot be secured overnight; they have to be nurtured for years. Our politicians have ignored this in starting up new IITs. Already, most IITs suffer from a severe shortage of high quality faculty. Sadly, there is no programme to attract competent youth to become teachers.


Kapil Sibal, the human resources development minister, has talked of attracting talent from abroad at high salaries. However, people forget that most IIT faculty are there not for the money they earn but for the autonomy they enjoy and the living facilities they get. Those amenities are dwindling. Of late, government officials are sitting on IIT boards. This is an unfortunate intrusion. Earlier, a finance official used to visit each IIT once a year, decide the budget, and then leave the institution free to work in any manner it desired.


Also, the IITs no longer have the freedom to recruit the kind of students they want. Nor can they select faculty purely based on merit. Caste-based reservation for student admissions is already a fact. Such reservation has been ordered for faculty selections too.


Competent faculty and the freedom to select the best available is the primary issue. It is a freedom the IITs no longer enjoy. As matters stand, unless the director is extraordinary, the possibility is that the new IITs will at best become National Institutes of Technology of slightly superior quality. That’s no way to build India.


Prof. P.V. Indiresan, retired director, IIT Madras




There are many critics of ideas and initiatives that aim to bring about far-reaching changes in a society. Starting eight new Indian Institutes of Technology in various parts of the country is also one such initiative which aims to provide quality technical education.


We accept that there have been teething troubles at these new institutions. But the step to create new technical institutions was long overdue. In fact we are already running a couple of decades behind schedule.


As part of the process to improve higher education in the country, the government has approved the creation of seven IIMs, 10 National Institutes of Technology, and 15 Central universities, while 374 model colleges will come up, one in each educationally-backward district of the country.


Instead of criticising such initiatives, we need to lend support to them. The government has sanctioned an amount of Rs 2,000 crores under the 11th Five-Year Plan for these institutions. All this is a vital part of building India.


We have also initiated talks with several state governments for allocation of land, while work on the building of a few of these institutes has also started. In a phased manner we hope to shift a majority of these IITs to their own campuses from the next academic year.


The mentoring process, under which students of newly-created IITs are taught at an already existing institute, has also helped the students and institutions as they can gain from the existing IITs.


The human resources development ministry has initiated the process of attracting quality faculty, both from within and outside the country, in an effort to provide teaching staff for these institutes. The recent revision of pay scales of faculty is likely to aid this process as the salary structure of faculty in higher studies now exceeds that of bureaucrats. The premier technical institutes have also been provided ample finances and freedom to work so as to further nurture their growth.


The biggest benefit of expanding IITs and other higher educational institutes will be that we would be able to provide almost every region in the country with a quality institution. This will go a long way in removing regional imbalance in the matter of higher education. The government has decided to locate a majority of these institutes in backward regions of the country.


The IITs have been an inspiration to our younger generation over the decades and will continue to remain that way as the government is committed to provide the best of infrastructure, faculty and resources to all IIT students.


Kapil Sibal, Union minister for human resources development








Have you ever had an identity (ID) card with an error? Your name misspelled, maybe, or an incorrect address, date of birth or father’s name? Have you ever felt an urge to hide information from the police or administration, even if you are blameless? Have you experienced soul-sickening frustration in dealing with government officials even about the most obvious matters? If you answer yes to any of the above — and I suspect you will — then you probably dread the Unique Identification (UID) project.


A high-powered council of ministers (from Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram to Kapil Sibal and Montek Singh Ahluwalia) was set up this week for the UID project headed by Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani. The world’s largest citizen’s database in a democracy, it aims to streamline the delivery of public services by giving every Indian a unique ID number. Complete with biometric identification, this mother of all IDs will expose parts of you that other IDs cannot reach.


Which, in an ideal situation, could be a good thing. But given our talent for goof ups and mind-numbing corruption, the UID may well become the Undoing Indian Democracy project. Here’s why.


First, it would violate our privacy, a fundamental right of free citizens in a democracy. Critical information about you will be offered to precisely those you wish to keep it from — cops and other sarkari pests. Lying to the police is our survival instinct. Bribing them is an acquired trait. "Encounters" and custody killings are rampant. Systemic corruption, political influence and a culture of impunity have largely made our police an enemy of the people, especially of the powerless.


UID information could be abused — to blackmail, to sell or to spy on political opponents. Unethical rulers could use this data to inflict enormous damage. Even the limited demographic information now available had allegedly helped rioters to systematically kill Sikhs during the 1984 Delhi massacre and Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat carnage. Besides, the UID could be used for widespread surveillance, turning our lively democracy into a veiled police state.


Second, the wise say it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. Errors in this "super ID" would be disastrous. And there will be errors. Why, even when we were trying to persuade Pakistan to claim the 26/11 terrorists, we sent them the wrong DNA report for Ajmal Amir Kasab as proof. Never mind, shrugged home minister P. Chidambaram, "it’s a minor clerical error". Data devils rule our lives. We hop between a multiplicity of imperfect IDs and get by. Which would be impossible with a unique but flawed super ID. And anyone who has ever attempted to rectify an incorrect government document knows what a superhuman task that is.


Third, it will be forged. Mr Nilekani himself has admitted that the UID is not fraud-proof, it could check only the fraud arising out of duplication of IDs. The UID would need a huge database of private information that is easily accessible by authorised officials (like corrupt cops and callous clerks), and keeping this identity data secure is practically impossible. Identity theft is a huge problem even in the US, a country paranoid and pernickety about data security. Besides hackers and glint-eyed insiders, data is also threatened by viruses and computer failures. A super ID like this would be invaluable in the hands of identity thieves, and just as we have a roaring racket in fake passports and ration cards, we shall soon see a booming business of fake UIDs.


Then what? A few years ago there was the Mritak Party of India, whose frustrated members, officially declared dead, fought the elections just to prove that they were alive. Ordinary citizens won’t have the time, money, energy or contacts to reclaim their identity from a callous government and powerful mafia. They would just be harassed, abused and punished for crimes committed by others in their name.


So, fourth, the idea that the UID will enhance internal security is rubbish. IDs are routinely faked by terrorists. The 9/11 terrorists had convincing fake IDs. And the more powerful the ID, the greater the incentive to fake it. Which makes the UID the obvious choice for any self-respecting terrorist. And since the UID would possibly depend on other identity documents (like passport, ration card, voter’s ID, BPL card etc), which are routinely faked, it wouldn’t be that difficult to get a fake UID.


Fifth, IDs do not stop terrorism. Knowing someone’s identity does not reveal his intentions. It doesn’t prevent suicide missions either. It can only lead to religious and ethnic profiling of terrorist suspects, which destroys democratic freedoms.


Sixth, UIDs would not stop illegal immigrants. For example, about two crore Bangladeshis already live in India, most of whom have voter’s IDs or ration cards, thanks to votebank politics. They would all be entitled to the UID.


While, seventh, migrant workers, and those without documents proving permanent residence or citizenship (like millions of poverty-stricken Indians), could be denied the UID. And thus be more securely excluded from access to public services and welfare. They will actually be more vulnerable, harassed by cops and local administrative officials precisely because they don’t have this UID.


Eighth, when almost half the country is plagued by extremists and failure of governance, how would residents of disturbed areas get proper UIDs? Will the UIDs in Lalgarh, for example, or troubled parts of Kashmir or the Northeast, be credible? A flawed government machinery, especially at the local level, that arms people with an all-powerful ID creates a greater threat than sneaky insurgents hiding in jungles.


In short, the UID in a callous and corrupt atmosphere is very worrying. Power is misused, and the UID offers great power. To ensure delivery of public services one needs to first clean up the distribution process; bringing in the UID, hoping it will eradicate corruption, is putting the cart before the horse. A flawed system would produce flawed IDs. The thousands of crores this will suck up could perhaps be better applied to targeted development, rather than a humongous blanket ID in a rattletrap, semi-literate, underfed, corrupt system with no accountability.


While the government brays loudly for consensus and public debate on an unethical law like Section 377 that affects a fraction of the population, it curiously hasn’t suggested a debate on privacy, personal liberty, state control and the effects of the UID that will affect every single citizen. Only a real public debate could prevent the UID from becoming the Undoing Indian Democracy project.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at:








I Am not a very strongly religious person. I do not pray everyday. Once in a while I take part in religious ceremonies. My belief is that beyond us there is a supernatural power. An additional force and essence is required to lead a normal life. That is my faith in God.


I feel if you are looking for peace of mind, a strong faith in whatever you do can help you achieve it.


The eternal thing that drives this world is more of a vast space that we cannot even imagine. How does the sun rise everyday? How do the flowers bloom? When I think of all this, it strengthens my faith in God. It is beyond the capabilities of human beings to create even one billionth of what God has created.


But we should enjoy nature in a way that our future generations can also enjoy it. I can give back to God what He has given me if I can cherish, nourish and protect His treasures. To me, that is an ideal way of following my religion, and that is my faith.


(As told to Suchitra Chakravarty Shekary)


Abhijit Saha is a renowned chef and owner of Caperberry restaurant, Bengaluru










At last, the enshrined principle of free education is becoming a reality, with Parliament adopting the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2009. It envisages free and compulsory education in the 6-14 years age group. The need for giving a big boost to children’s education cannot be overstressed in a country where some 30 crore people are illiterate. Many of even those who have been pushed into the list of literates are hardly beyond the level of signing their names. Obviously, the country cannot progress till it addresses this basic shortcoming. It is the moral responsibility of the country that not a single child should be out of school, for whatever reason.


But even after 62 years of Independence we keep them out of the system in millions. Many of the African countries have a better track record than that of India. Vast poverty faced by the parents is the main reason. Now that the government has committed itself to providing free education, the situation may improve. While implementing the law, the authorities have to ensure the quality of education imparted to the students.


To ensure that, the government must increase expenditure on education – particularly elementary education – way beyond what it is setting aside today. That will also ensure that good salaries can be paid to teachers, attracting more qualified persons to the profession. The Bill provides for building neighbourhood schools in three years. That will come about only if states provide whole-hearted support to the Central scheme. This is one enabling move on which the Centre and states should be on the same wave-length instead of quibbling over trifles. Significantly, the Bill aims to do away with capitation fees and screening of children and parents at the admission time.








The Congress idea of creating a Bundelkhand Development Authority (BDA) in the drought-hit backward region, falling in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is being strongly opposed by the BSP and the BJP, ruling in the two states, respectively, purely on political grounds. Their attempts to disrupt the proceedings of the Lok Sabha ended on Tuesday when the Centre assured the House that there was “no proposal before the government which will alter the federal character of the country”. How much the BSP feels threatened by the move for the BDA can be understood from the fact that the Mayawati government on Monday got a resolution passed by the UP Assembly, describing the idea as being aimed at an infringement of the states’ rights.


The worry of those who oppose the drive for the BDA is that the projects to be launched by the agency in Bundelkhand will be controlled by the Centre, which will provide the necessary funds. Thus, the maximum credit for all that will be done to alleviate the suffering of the people can be claimed by the Congress-led UPA government in New Delhi. The BSP cannot swallow this, as the Dalit-dominated seven districts in UP’s Bundelkhand area have been the party’s stronghold. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections the BSP suffered a major jolt in Bundelkhand, but it is doing everything possible to ensure that it does not have a similar experience in the 2012 assembly polls.


It is, however, sad that political parties are the least bothered about the people’s problems when these do not fit in with their own electoral calculations. Under no circumstances should any measure for socio-economic development of the area be opposed. A way can be found to protect the rights of the states, but this should not come in the way of promoting the cause of development in Bundelkhand. Politics should not be brought in where people’s welfare is involved.








For decades, the play Charandas Chor written, directed and produced by the late Habib Tanvir, has been hailed as a landmark in Indian theatre. An adaptation of a local folk tale, exposing double standards and hypocrisy, it has never failed to delight audiences across the nation. The Chattisgarh government’s decision to ban the book and the play Charandas Chor is shocking for theatre aficionados and all those who espouse the cause of creative freedom and expression. The BJP government has acted on a protest lodged by a religious leader of the Satnami community who has taken umbrage at the reference to its Guru Ghasidas who the complainant insists has been put in bad light.


This is not the first time that India’s intolerant and bigoted brigade has bared its fangs. Their myopic view hounded M F Hussain, India’s most celebrated contemporary artist, out of the country. The saffron organisations have a track record of intolerance which can only be criticised. Not too long ago, the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh even decided to drop a chapter on Hussain from an NCERT book. The late Punjabi poet Avtar Pash’s much acclaimed poem Sabse Khatrnaak, too, came under the BJP’s censure when it was included in the NCERT syllabi. In Tanvir’s lifetime, the BJP locked horns with him for his play Ponga Pandit. Its latest move banning his seminal work defies all logic.


It is ironic that the man who put the Chhattisgarhi dialect and its actors on the national stage should find his play “banished” in the state to which he devoted his theatre and his life. Tanvir’s art may have been anti-establishment but was aimed at the betterment of humanity, certainly not targeted against any person or sect. He was always a broadminded visionary.











Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader of Myanmar, went on trial on May 18, 2009, on charges of allowing a foreigner to stay in her house for a night without government permission.


By all accounts, this foreigner, an American, who swam across a lake and entered Suu Kyi’s house, appeared to be a fool and obviously someone who Suu Kyi did not know.


Quite understandably, the trial sparked public outrage both in Myanmar and elsewhere. In India too it aroused some anger and found its way in the print media, not the least because Suu Kyi happens to be an alumna of Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi.


Be that as it may, the protests and the outrage really amounted to tokenism. There is no denying of course that the Myanmar military junta allows neither political dissent nor what it perceives as interference in its internal affairs.


But then, this is not peculiar to the Myanmar regime only, all sovereign nations bristle at what they regard outside meddling in their internal matters. It was hardly surprising then that while Gen. Than Shwe received the UN Secretary General, he rebuffed any attempt of the latter to meet Suu Kyi.


It is unfortunate that Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for the last 19 years and for almost 13 of these years has had little contact with the outside world.


Ever since the National League of Democracy challenged the strangle-hold of the army some 19 years ago, the military has systematically come down upon it with a heavy hand and made it clear in no uncertain terms that it was the armed forces that called the shots.


While we in India have generally had cordial relations with Myanmar, there have been periods when these have been rather strained. When we were fighting insurgency in the North-east and various militant groups of Nagas and Mizos were travelling to south China through north Myanmar (then Burma) for military training and acquiring weapons, the then government had accorded our army the ‘right of hot pursuit’ into its territory to track down Naga and Mizo groups. This was the situation as it prevailed from the early 70s. There was, however, yet another attendant problem.


The writ of the then Myanmarese government did not run over vast tracts of land inhabited by various other ethnic groups. These included the Kachins in areas bordering China, the Karens bordering Thailand and the Shans inhabiting the Golden Triangle area bordering Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.


The ‘right of hot pursuit’, therefore, was not enough to solve our problem. In view of this, it was decided to make an approach to the Kachins and the Kachin Independent Army (KIA), whose help was imperative to prevent the Naga and Mizo insurgents from going to China for military training.


India did achieve limited success in its efforts to prevent the Nagas and Mizos from getting to China, specifically the Paoshan area where the Chinese military used to provide training to them.


It was, however, not very easy to keep the arrangement under wraps as KIA elements used to cross over to the Myanmar army every now and then. In fact, the Myanmar army got wind of the whole thing from some KIA deserters.


When this happened the Indian military attaché was summoned to the military headquarters in Yangon and confronted with the facts available. Naturally, he could not say much and reported the matter to his Ambassador, who conveyed the displeasure of the Myanmar government to the Indian foreign office.


The Ambassador requested for a grant running into some millions of dollars which he suggested could be distributed among various ethnic groups that were making attempts to overthrow the military junta. Mercifully, the Narasimha Rao government shot down the hare-brained idea. Anyone could see that disparate ethnic groups did not have the wherewithal nor the capability to accomplish this task.


It is, however, possible that some of our Indian policy planners might have been encouraged to come up with these notions because of the rather ambivalent policies of the previous VP Singh government, in particular the rather crazy things that George Fernandez used to come up with where the Myanmar government was concerned.


Much to the chagrin of the Myanmar government, some students opposed to the Yangon regime were permanently housed in the official residence of George Fernandez. Some Myanmar opposition groups had also set up a government-in-exile somewhere near the Thailand border.


While they succeeded in getting themselves heard at the UN General Assembly, VP Singh’s government was also willing to be pushed by the Americans and other Western powers to raise the pitch against the government in Yangon.


So much so that it was willing to allow Sein Lwin of the government-in-exile to visit New Delhi along with his other ‘cabinet colleagues’ and organise a high-profile meeting in New Delhi. Mercifully, better sense prevailed and this meeting was called off.


All along, however, in total disregard of realpolitik and our own interests, we went along with the Americans. It is interesting, however, that in spite of the so-called diktat of their government, American companies, particularly in the oil and gas sector, continued to work in Myanmar and reap rich dividends.


We, on the other hand, went out on a limb and condemned the Myanmar government for crushing human rights and the incarceration of Suu Kyi. It took some years to undo the damage done by both the VP Singh and Chandra Shekhar governments.


Looking at it from yet another point of view, would the American troops march into Myanmar to dethrone an ‘evil’ government much as they did to throw out Saddam Hussain? The answer is a clear no. After all, in the American perception, and otherwise as well, there is enough disregard for human rights in Myanmar as there was in Iraq under Saddam Hussain.


This is for the simple reason that China, straddling over to the north of Myanmar, will brook no non-sense from the Americans in a region, which is of strategic importance to it and which it regards as falling within its area of influence.


It also has high stakes in the infrastructure and oil and gas sectors in Myanmar. In the Gulf, however, all neighbouring states of Iraq acquiesced in the American designs and it also had the support of Israel.


In Myanmar, however, given the dynamics of the world economic situation and the military might of China, the US dare not interfere.


India, therefore, needs to understand what realpolitik is all about and take a hard look at where its national interests lie and avoid getting carried away by issues it could ignore.


After all, for all its protestations on human rights, the US has chosen to look the other way where the oppressive Kyrgyz government is concerned because it is wary of jeopardising the status of its air base in Kyrgyzstan from where it augments its operations in Afghanistan. We too need to get real.


The writer has served as a Joint Secretary in RAW








The immediate fallout of the Punjab government’s recent notification on marketing of agricultural produce will be that the arhtiya will deny credit in advance to the farmer. The small farmer, who entirely depends on the arhtiya, will suffer the most.


The notification directs the purchase agencies to make payments direct to the farmer for his produce instead of through t arhtiyas as is the practice at present. Most farmers take money in advance as per their needs from arhtiyas.


It appears the government has not done proper homework before issuing the notification. The previous Congress government had also issued a similar notification but had to retreat when the arhtiyas protested. The government thinks that the direct payment will emancipate the farmer from the arhtiya’s clutches.


In fact, the real advantage to the farmer is the credit available conveniently from the arhtiya. He does not bother whether the arhtiya delays the payment after receiving it from the purchase agency or whether the arhtiya utilizes it somewhere else. Secondly, the arhtiya may fudge figures while settling a farmer’s account. Thirdly, an arhtiya could manipulate the price of a farmer’s produce and its weighment in connivance with the purchase agencies. Arhtiyas are notorious for all such trickeries.


Farmers organisations can form teams of their educated volunteers as vigilance squads to check these wrongs by arhtiysa. The arhtiya charges an exorbitant rate of interest on the advance money. In fact, this is the Achilles’ heel of the farmer, where the arhtiya-money lender squeezes the farmer the most.


But the direct payment is no remedy. It will rather deprive the farmer of a financial source convenient to him. The malady can be checked by a fiat of the government that the arhtiya should charge interest only at the bank rate.


The real problem of the farmer is the absence of a credit agency which can replace the arhtiya. At present Punjab farmers are availing quite a sizeable amount of credit from a slew of institutions functioning in the state’s in rural and semi-urban areas. Agriculture cooperative credit societies cover all the 12,278 villages of the state.


The cooperative system is the most non-cooperative. It is controlled by stiff-necked bureaucrats and is notorious for corruption. The commercial banks have yet to assimilate the rural ethos. None of the staff members of village branches of commercial banks and not even of the cooperative banks stay overnight in the village. How can they know at first-hand farmers’ financial condition, social reputation etc. without mixing with them?


This is where the arhtiya defeats the banks and has hardly any bad debt. A farmer at times needs money for an emergency, say a police case or a sudden illness. Will any bank help him at an odd hour?


In view of the infirmities in the institutional system of finance, the arhtiya as a source of money should not be crippled by making “direct payments”. The present system be continued and in the meantime steps be taken to protect the farmer.


A trial run of the direct payment system be made in one selected district. The farmers be properly informed about the system and arhtiyas’ cooperation ensured.


A team of selected officials from the Agriculture Department, the market committee and banks should educate farmers to eliminate the hassles, if any, in its working. If successful, it can be made applicable to other districts. Secondly, it should be made optional for farmers whether they want direct payments or through arhtiyas.








As always, it is hard to read the mind of North Korea, and never more so than now, after a string of provocative missile tests by the regime and speculation over Kim Jong-il’s health and grip on power. It is widely believed that he is about to transfer power to his youngest son Kim Jong-un.


It would nonetheless have been astonishing had what was clearly a carefully choreographed event not led to freedom for the two journalists. For Mr Clinton to return empty-handed after meetings, not just with the two women but with Mr Kim and some of his senior aides, would have been a humiliation that would have served the interests of neither party. Beyond that however, nothing was certain.


The White House yesterday was sticking to the fiction that the visit was “solely private”, denying reports that Mr Clinton had delivered a message from President Obama during his meeting with the North Korean leader. In fact, this first high-profile use in the Obama era of the former president as a special envoy, surely is anything but a freelance operation.


The opening for it came with a change of language by Mr Clinton’s own wife. The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently began urging an “amnesty” for Euna Lee and Laura Ling, implicitly conceding that the two had broken the laws of North Korea.


Such adjustments do not happen by accident – nor does a full dress meeting with Kim Jong-il within hours of a visiting dignitary’s arrival, welcomed by a high-level party including the North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator.


Given the regard in which the former US president is held in Pyongyang, the visit might do a lot more than secure the release of the two women. It may also pave the way for a breakthrough in the tortuous nuclear dispute between the US and North Korea.


North Korea may have decided that after the recent escalation of tensions with Washington, it is time to cool things down – and that Mr Clinton’s visit, ostensibly a mercy mission, is the ideal vehicle for something much broader and of mutual benefit.


Unfiltered talks with a top American of the stature of the former president satisfy the North’s craving for direct bilateral dealings with the US. For Pyongyang, this is something of a coup, as it represents confirmation of the regime’s legitimacy and importance. Some will say the former president’s visit is a mistake that rewards bad behaviour. But Washington may be prepared to concede this in the hope of making gains on the nuclear issue.


Ironically, the last former US president to go to North Korea was Jimmy Carter in 1994. The then occupant of the White House was Mr Clinton, grappling with an earlier crisis over Pyongyang’s secret nuclear programme in which Washington came close to bombing the North’s key nuclear facility at Yongbyon.


By the end of his presidency, relations improved to the point that Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State at the time, went to North Korea, and only lack of time prevented Mr Clinton doing so himself. His officials counselled against an 11th-hour mission that might have ended in failure. That ambition has now been fulfilled.


By arrangement with The Independent








Buta Singh, who occupied important positions like the Union Home Minister, Governor and now the Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, has faced many ups and downs in his chequered political career. His luck has played foul once again because of the misdeed of his son Sarobjit Singh. Sarobjit has been arrested by the CBI for demanding a bribe of Rs one crore from a contractor to close a case against him pending in the Commission headed by his father. Reacting to the arrest, however, Buta Singh complained that political forces were out to damage him and his family. He also alleged that the CBI was being used against him and his family and he would not resign from his post. The CBI, on the other hand, has maintained that even Sarobjit’s father-in-law may be involved, as calls from his cell phones were traced to hawala dealers in Mumbai and sealed five shops in Mumbai belonging to the hawala dealers. Even Buta Singh might be questioned if need be.

The news that raids were conducted by CBI in newly appointed Assam Governor Syed Sibtey Razi’s close aides houses while he was Governor’s Jharkhand and the allegations of corruption against Razi during the President’s Rule in Jharkhand, made at a press conference by the Jharkhand BJP president, were equally shocking. Politicians occupying such high positions like the Chairperson of a National Commission or a Governor of a State must be above suspicion to enjoy the trust of the people. They cannot discharge their constitutional duties if people lose confidence in them and it would be better for them to resign. Both Buta Singh and Razi faced criticism for their partisan role as Governor of Bihar and Jharkhand respectively not befitting a constitutional head. The CBI, whose image of an impartial, efficient investigating agency received a blot after their miserable performance in investigating and prosecuting the daylight murder of journalist Parag Kumar Das, must rise to the occasion and bring to book all political leaders who amassed huge wealth through corrupt means while in power. They pollute the entire administration and common citizens become the worst sufferers.







Reiterating that the prime objective at the moment is to activate the economy to achieve a reasonable rate of growth that suffers currently the onslaught of global recessionary down turn, the Reserve Bank of India in its quarterly review of annual monetary policy, announced on July 28, 2009, belied the wide-scale expectation that it would pave the way for further reduction of interest rates in home loans and consumer loans by the lending institutions. This is because the Apex Bank (RBI) has left its key short term rates, the repo rate and the reverse repo rates unchanged in order to keep the current interest rate structure of commercial banking system undisturbed at least for the time being. Thus, in its first quarterly review of credit policy, the Reserve Bank of India not only retained the repo and reverse repo rates at 4.75 per cent and 3.25 per cent respectively, but also left unchanged the cash reserve ratio (CRR) at 5 per cent and the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) at the existing 24 per cent. It appears that the RBI’s status quo is chiefly aimed at maintenance of an easy money policy at a time when the economic outlook still remains uncertain and the prime need is to ensure that the bond market of the country absorb a record additional public borrowing of Rs 4.51 trillion in the current year shooting up the fiscal deficit to 6.8 per cent. To most bankers of the country, the RBI’s policy review is more or less on anticipated lines except for increasing growth of money supply by around 20 per cent.

It may be noted here that there are two alternative options before the Government of India to finance such a huge quantum of deficit, viz, public borrowing through issue of government bonds or directly borrowing from the Reserve Bank of India. While in case of the former, the quantum of liquidity available to private sector will be reduced since a chunk of the same will flow down to the government sector, in the case of the latter method of financing, the amount of money supply will rise enormously resulting in a huge inflationary pressure that would depress demand countering thereby the fight against economic slow down. Of the two unfriendly methods in the context of present juncture, however, financing deficit through bond issue is comparatively less harmful and the government has chosen to adopt the same. The government and the Reserve Bank of India are both taking utmost care to see that the bond issue doesnot pressurise the market rate of interest. Given the policy stance, it is very unlikely that there would be a major change in the interest rate structure in near future. In the absence of any RBI signal to banks on interest rates, however, taking resort to a call on deposits or reduction of lending rates would depend on the asset-liability condition of banks in the present situation. At this juncture, what is expected of the Reserve Bank of India is that it would maintain an accommodative monetary policy until the economic slowdown reverses back to definite signals or recovery.








Are we going to witness an era of high credit growth for the banks? The way current talks are floating there are a number of reasons to stake claim to that. Banks are being asked to enhance the credit flows, think seriously on mergers, cut down the level of’ non-performing assets, cut down interest rate, lean heavily towards housing loan, ensure better customer services, go on financing the rural sector, forget not SME and external sector oriented financing, going ahead with government sponsored programmes. There is nothing wrong in these.

But has it been ensured as to whether proper coordination is there between the various development agencies so that overall development ultimately takes place at a greater speed? The answer is obviously a great 'no'. Banks are only one of’ the wheels of development and as such if the other vehicles do not move simultaneously (read infrastructure mainly) little result would go on exhibiting.

It is high time that the banks are reinforced from many angles – facing intense competition, tackling the negative forces, managing the risks, enhancing the skill factor and the like. Even in the recent past banks lent more than their deposits – pushing up the credit- deposit ratio. This ratio was the highest for foreign banks, followed by private sector banks and public sector banks. Banks also honoured the schedules - to keep the portion of their deposits they mobilise as cash-deposit ratio as well as statutory liquidity ratio. Foreign and private banks raised their resources from various sources as well - to balance stretching too much to lend. What is more, efforts are being intensified in the arena of know-your-customer-formalities' implementation and drive against money laundering.

There is no doubt that due to the continuous efforts made over the last couple of years, today better results are coming up. Total business is going up. Decline in net NPA ratio is noticed. Targeting a better level of total business is also there. Agri-lending is going up. Higher target has been set by the banks for 2009-10.

Still the mismatch is noticed between income and savings. The deposit growth is to be stepped up as early as possible. Deposit mobilisation remains as the great banking opportunity with both turban and rural incomes rising. Stepping tip deposit mobilisation in the prospering rural region will contribute in a better manner to positively meet the robust credit growth. Resurgence of the manufacturing sector, especially the core industries as per latest trends, boosting of allied agricultural activities, leaning on the commercial cultivation, etc. have led to rise in per capita income in the rural region too.

Nevertheless, the member of savings bunk accounts fell in rural areas, which, in turn, point out the lack of increase of width and depth in the very financial system. Latest position clearly shows that the retail credit growth is all set to go up, while the deposit growth still throws the challenges! Even banks had been able to meet the credit off take by diluting their government bond holdings. It is crucial that they have to resort to increase deposit growth to respond to the uprising credit demand.

Still, a major challenge before the banking sector is to cover the last mile and reach potential customers in rural areas. Without this link the lenders would be forced to lend money to big business houses in metros, despite lions share located in the non- metros surrounded by semi-urban and rural centres. Developing viable business models for the financially excluded is far more challenging than the arcane treasury products. In this expansive phase of banking, when most of the banks are nursing ambitious plans to become global players, micro-approach may appear a trifle conservative. Still it is the arena where the hidden wealth does exist– the latent talent. Boosting the drive for financial inclusion is to be sincerely considered, taken up in a time-bound-manner.

The financial restructuring process of banks also progressed and is also on in full swing. Some public sector banks wanted to reduce equity capital by two options - conversion of equity capital to preference capital or conversion of a portion into innovative perpetual debt instrument with fixed rate of interest or both. Raising of Tier II capital was also thought of. Realistic restructuring would definitely help to strengthen the balance sheet , help boost the EPS and return oil capital , tapping of capital market (both domestic and international) as well as better leverage funds meant for today’s Basel II regime . SBI, the leader, also sought reasonably the Ministry nod for rights issue -for floating to meet core capital requirements ill the coming years

Though disinvestment is being sincerely attempted by some upcoming players it is clear that the Government bolding would not be allowed to go down below 51 per cent, the other option being floating a rights issue for which the Government has to subscribe to. In such a situation if the Government holding is, say, 59.73 per cent –the rest quantum would come to remain free floating . It is good that public sector banks, in particular, are capable of meeting capital requirement by way of ploughing back profits as well. Additional capital requirements could be met by raising Tier II and foreign currency bonds. What is more, the SBI, the captain, is targeting significant asset growth over the next few years. Regarding implementation of the Basel II lots of works have been on and it is highly appreciated that the RBI is closely monitoring the state and continuance of preparedness of the banks.

It will not be out of place to mention here, side by side, that the rating agencies should come forward for issuer - specific ratings instead of the current practice of issue-specific ratings. Other opinions are also very worth taking on this score. Recently the head of Pakistan’s central bank - Shamshad Akhtar, the first woman to head – while commenting on the appropriate time-frame for implementation of Basel II – a hot topic among central bankers – drew a parallel between roads and barking infrastructure. She opined that while it was possible for one to drive at a speed of 200 kmph on Germany’s autobahns, drivers cannot attempt such feats in either India or Pakistan. Accordingly, given the banking infrastructure, central bankers in economies like India could not implement Basel II at the speed that it will be implemented in the west. Still, mainly due to the positive, bold and tune-tested supervisory role played by the monetary authority– the RBI – the happenings draw good appreciation from many quarters not on the ultimate performance being registered the public sector banks bait the private sector key players like ICICI, Yes Bank, etc. as well. The banking-wizard, RBI Deputy Governor K C Chakraborty, commented: investment in technology – could ultimately turn NPA if the customers’ education aspects are ignored. It is ultimately, the customers for whom everything is meant for as in the words of Peter F Drucker -the purpose of a business is to locate the customer india's banking sector marches ahead – full of still untapped potentialities.

It is that greater competent Institutions [read risk managers] that emerge as the victor; while others struggle to keep the heads over water. Undoubtedly, it is the strategic innovation and not calendar-driven-ritual that could remain the main source of advantage in the days to come. And it is creativity, passion and, of course initiatives that would help keep one stay afloat. It is company’s ability and willingness to happen fundamental changes that help transform day to day functions. Tomorrow is just another day - an unpredictable one - where expectations may or may not exceed results. Facing the reality and risk-conscious approach is the best way to march ahead. An overnight success is a myth than a reality. It is, thus, better to concentrate on the core competency areas where the performance could be better– temporally, functionally, hierarchically and sectorally in the broader sense. Professor C K Prahalad and Gary Hamel rightly opined that in today’s corporate world wining in a business is not about being number one, rather it is about who ‘gets to the future first’.


(The writer is a Faculty, Indian Institute of Bank Management, Guwahati)








The art of publishing books is the result of the union of three great inventions viz –calligraphy, paper and printing machine. And to be precise, in the history of the long march of human development, it has contributed greatly to eradicate illiteracy and thus it has also helped profusely to fight ignorance, superstition etc that retard the progress of human being. There was time when effective communication meant words spreading from one mouth to another. But after these inventions, it becomes much easier, and faster. The printing press was invented in Gutenberg of Germany in 15th century and a few years later Cockstone established the first printing machine with English scripts in England and the English popularised it throughout the British empire. Thus the barrier of time or space in human communication had been removed to a great extent.

After almost hundred years Bastu Mante, a Christian missionary established the first printing press in Goa, India, and the first book published in Indian language was Doctrina Christa in Tamil. However, to be precise the first printing press established in the North Eastern Region was in 1846 at Sivasagar, Assam, that was about three hundred years after the installation of the first press in India. It is needless to state that the press was established by American missionary and it was named Baptist Mission Press and the book first published was Arunodaya an Assamese journal.

Today there is tremendous growth of printing presses in the North East, but with no modernisation or upgradation of the units. Reasons are also obvious. The publishers of the region have to face many challenges. The number of readers in regional languages has dwindled. The urban educated folk go for English books whereas the rural folk find it luxury to buy books. The local publishers cannot publish English books as their market confines to their own State only and further they are not in a position to face the competition of the outside publishers.

As there prevails a small market for vernacular books the publishers cannot afford to publish more copies of the books at a time. Every State of this region. is a multilingual State. In Assam there are more than ten languages. Compared to English, the number of readers of Assamese, Bengali, Boro etc is much less.

It is to be noted that Arunachal and Nagaland have no publishers firm. Arunachal had many clans and every clan has its own dialect. Their link language was Assamese. But now the medium of instruction has been changed from Assamese to Hindi. Arunachal has produced some good authors before changing over the medium from Assamese to Hindi. All the Hindi books are coming from outside. It is a great blow for the development of their local languages and the lingua franka. As a consequence the State has not produced any author till now. This change over of medium stands as a great hurdle in growing publishing business, developing local language and producing authors too.

Nagaland has also many clans. Every clan has its own dialect. Their lingua franka is Nagamese. The language is not yet developed. The educated people used English and they read English books. So they do not want to develop their lingua franke. The medium of instruction of the State is also English. All the books such as text and general books are imported from outside the State. Hence the publishing industry in the State has not come up. In Meghalaya there are a few publishers. They publish mostly Khasi, Jayantia and Garo language books. As their market is within the State so the publishing industry in the State is also not flourishing. Mizoram has a few publishers. The State language is Mizo. But English is popular. Books are all coming from outside the State. So the publishers have to face the same fate as in the neighbouring States. However, Manipur has, quite a few number of publishers. But most of them are text book publishers. They cannot go for general books. They are also facing the same problem of readers. Even a popular book of 1000 copies of a popular author takes 3/5 years of time to sell. However, the newly born Authors Forum has taken keen interest in publishing general books. In Tripura there are two State languages – Bengali and Kakbarak. But Kakbarak is not much developed in comparison to Bengali. Their readers are also countable. On the other hand Bengali language has large number of readers. But their market is occupied by the well known writers and big publishers of West Bengal and Bangladesh. So the fate of the local publishers are the same as the publishers of other NE States.

Though already three hundred years have elapsed since the printing of the first book in Assam, the printing industry has not geared up in comparison to other places.

It may be mentioned here that the designing, printing and post printing technology still remain underdeveloped in this part of the cogntry. The workers are neither skilled nor technically equipped to handle modern machine. So for better production, the publishers have to depend on the printers of ‘Delhi, Kolkata etc. Moreover, modern machinery requires big volume of business. Without voluminous business it cannot be cost effective. But our publishers cannot go for it. To speak candidly publishers of this region are neither professional nor can afford to be professional.

Last but not least the lack of effective communication system causes a great threat to the development of the publishing industry. The railway communication is neither realiable nor dependable. The region is dependent mainly on road services. But the freight of the road service is much higher than the railways. In addition, the road transport system is very often disturbed due to bandh, blocked, agitation, natural calamities like flood etc for which the publishers have to bear extra cost.

For the development of this important sector the government should recognise book publishing business as industry. In that case the government take initiative for the growth and development of the industry by granting all kinds of facilities that are granted to other industries.

(The article is based on a paper presented at a national seminar organised by FIP in collaboration with Writers Forum, Imphal, on May 6, 2009).











Anybody who has cats as pets would know that the term cat's-paw is a particularly apt phrase. Felines have a peculiar talent for getting their own way — and using others to achieve their end.
Humans caught on to that propensity of theirs at some point in our common evolution and thus defined a cat's-paw as a person used by another as a dupe or tool.

Studies have revealed there is more to a cat's paw than just the ability to utilise others to achieve an end: it seems male cats prefer their left paw to do the needful whereas females use their right.

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast put 42 cats (21 of each sex) to the test to see if they prefer one paw or the other.

When it came to chasing a mechanical mouse, the moggies were not too picky, but when confronted with the more rewarding task of extracting a piece of tuna from a jar too narrow for their snouts, they put their best paw forward. All the males used their left paws, revealing themselves to be southpaws, and all but one of the females used their right ones.

Would you be amazed to know that human beings also display the same preference, and that it has been linked to the levels of testosterone in the womb? With humans, there is also a factor of conditioning, which is why older humans have a higher incidence of (often forced) righthandedness than the younger generation.

With prejudices against lefthandedness receding in the 20th century, this gender-biased preference is becoming more evident, it seems. Dog lovers would be constrained to point out that canines also fall into the same category when it comes to paw preferences, but then they are abject creatures, happy to be similar to their human masters in any way.

Cats, however, would aver that humans should feel very honoured indeed to know that they, even in some minor way, are similar to the superior beings that all felines instinctively know they are. Humans have, after all, already conceded as much by decreeing that the phrase 'cat's whiskers' means something that is in every way excellent.







If all goes according to government plans, 2010 may prove to be a watershed year for economic legislation. There will be a new Companies Act, a new Income-Tax Act, and some indirect taxes would be replaced with a comprehensive Goods and Services Tax (GST) at the Centre as well as the states.

The Companies Bill 2009 is already in Parliament, the draft of the new income-tax code will be put in public domain on August 20 and the empowered committee of state finance ministers in consultation with the Centre may publish a white paper on GST implementation in the next few months.

Each of this legislative changes will have a significant bearing on how Corporate India conducts its business and keeps its books. The Companies Bill and the new I-T Act represent a complete overhaul of existing laws, with rewriting and reorganisation of clauses in an easy-to -use format.

Several provisions are being modified, and that would have far reaching consequences. The underlying objective is to create an environment where doing business will be less cumbersome, and to ensure the law is easier to interpret, thereby bringing down compliance costs.

The overhaul of the Companies Act, 1956 and I-T Act, 1961 was long overdue — the large number of amendments over the years and existence of obsolete clauses have made both laws unwieldy. The amendments will hopefully go through Parliament in the course of the year.

But before these pieces of legislation are put to voting, all interested constituencies must analyse each provision and help in removing glitches that might hamper smooth conduct of business. And for once, industry must seriously aid the legislative process so that the amendments do not get stalled for one reason or the other, as experienced in the past.

Also, it is pointless to pick holes after the law has been passed. Likewise, when the white paper on GST is released, the industry must play a proactive role in assessing the proposal for ease of implementation.

They must play the role of a responsible stakeholder in law making. After all, even the best brains that draft a piece of legislation may overlook some issues that a business may face at the implementation stage.







The passage of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill is, indeed, a historic moment and the flagship programme displays the commitment towards transforming the education system.

However, there are a few immediately discernible grey areas on implementation. Funding is a key issue, with the Centre-state arrangement yet to be worked out. There are also valid concerns on quality and whether the Bill could lead to an entrenching of inequitable schooling.

While these critical details will yet need time to be worked out, there is a case that the legislation has missed out on a larger vision of integrated education. Central to this would be a linkage between primary, secondary and higher education.

A small example could be changing the letter-of-law definition of primary education as until class VIII, while a matric certificate remains a requirement for a host of jobs. It is in a broader integrated vision where the question of employability, for instance, can be better addressed.

As can the issue of producing adequately trained teachers who can then in turn contribute more to the education system. Since a significant reason for student absenteeism and dropouts are linked to a lack of foreseeable employment, social needs must be integrated into policy on education. An instance of the latter would be to bring child labour policy within its ambit.

Given the overwhelming dependence, particularly in many towns and rural areas on government schools, the focus has also to be on upgrading the government school system. Reservation in private schools is not quite the solution.

Another major innovation could be to envisage a greater community involvement in the management of local schools, which can address issues like widespread government school teacher truancy. This has worked well in states like Kerala and Nagaland and can be replicated in other parts of the country. The Bill, at long last, is the right step in its broad parameters.

But only an integrated vision encompassing the whole spectrum of issues — from teacher's pay to curriculum to infrastructure — can effectively achieve the objectives of the fundamental right to education.








Free and quality education till Class 8 for children between the ages of six and 14 is now a basic right in India, and anyone seeking to come in the way of a child seeking to claim this right will have to pay a fine of Rs 10,000. Primary school enrolment for children up to the age of 10 years has been a rising trend in the country since the 1970s, and yet the enormity of what has transpired will perhaps take some time to sink in. With the Lok Sabha passing the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill earlier this week, India joins the club of developing countries that have made their intention plain to mount a massive assault on illiteracy arising from the condition of poverty. The human resources development minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, showed modesty when he referred to the attainment as “historic”, for the term is used much too lightly nowadays. Indeed, if we are able to translate words into action, we would have crossed a crucial barrier that separates a developed country or society from one still trying to get there. So important is education as a determinant of advancement, indeed of power, that the former US President, Mr Bill Clinton, had once described it as a matter relating to national security. A member of a society without basic reading and writing skills can never hope to achieve full citizenhood in the sense that such a person cannot give full expression to his or her potential and aspirations, both for the individual in question as well as for the community. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, of course. While 11th Five-Year Plan’s allocation for health and education is higher than ever before, the government may be required to pump in more resources for primary and elementary education if it is to signal to the authorities at all levels that it is sincere about implementing the recent law that gives teeth to the Constitution Amendment Bill on free and compulsory education passed seven years ago. We have to keep in view the stark fact that India has the largest number of children out of school. Although enrollment numbers are a rising trend (and India is well placed to meet the target of universal primary education set out in the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations), we are well behind another great developing country, China, in this respect. Currently about 21 million children are out of school, or 50 per cent of that category for South Asia as a whole. While the current national primary enrollment percentage stands at a healthy 83 per cent, and the absolute numbers are also higher, it has been noted that the figures for school-going children of the poorest 20 per cent households in the country actually fell in 2006 as compared to six years earlier, from 9.8 million to 9.4 million. If we want reality to be expressed through policy, such data needs to be correlated with data for children in the labour force. Official statistics places this at 13 million, or 17 per cent of the total workforce (for working children who are below 15 years of age). The unofficial figures are much more daunting. On average, three-fourths of primary schoolchildren — and therefore probably also elementary schoolchildren, the subject matter of the bill just passed — are rural, and most of them are girls. Therefore, striking a blow for education must be accorded a higher priority in the villages. This must be reflected through appropriate financial allocations and vetting for quality for teachers and course content. But the day is not far when the demand will be raised to create an environment in which young people with basic literacy/education can be enabled to find work, if the country is to move forward on the growth path.








Despite its great successes, the European Union (EU) has always faced the contradictions between those who want a unified organisation speaking with one voice on major issues and others who are zealous of their national identities and sovereignty and guard them. Britain has always belonged to the latter category and came knocking on Europe’s door out of necessity, not choice, experiencing the humiliation of being turned away by General Charles de Gaulle the first time.


Against this backdrop, for Mr Tony Blair, Britain’s former Prime Minister, to coyly throw his hat into the ring for the job of the enhanced presidency of the EU is incredible. Of course, the job does not exist because Ireland has still to ratify the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum in October after having rejected it once. But intense jockeying for the position, expected to enhance the international visibility and clout of the grouping, has begun.


True, the President of France, Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, had once given a nod to Mr Blair, but he has since changed his mind in favour of the former Spanish Prime Minister, Mr Felipe Gonzales. The German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel, herself mentioned as a possible candidate, takes a dim view of the former British Prime Minister.


At present the presidency of the EU rotates every six months among member countries, and the present president, Sweden’s Prime Minister Mr Fredrik Reinfeldt, has bluntly slated that small and medium size countries “are less interested in a strong leader because they see a risk that they will be dominated by big countries”. In practice, the importance of the job and its standing will be determined by the first holder of office. The second new important job that will be available if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force is that of the High Representative, the EU’s voice on foreign policy.


Leaving aside the reservations some member countries have about seeing a high flyer speaking for the whole of the Union, Mr Blair’s apparent interest in the presidency has taken on a life of its own because it has proved highly divisive. How can the leader of a country traditionally sceptical of the European enterprise and securing several opt-out clauses aspire to lead the Union? The United Kingdom’s shadow UK foreign secretary, William Hague, provided one answer.


He said that the new presidency could be “enormously damaging”. “Any holder is likely to try to centralise power for themselves in Brussels and dominate national policies. In the hands of an operator as ambitious as Mr Blair, that is near certainty. He should be let nowhere near the job”.


The Conservatives, it must be remembered, lost their bid to seek a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Britain’s Conservatives have their point of view but the continent’s reaction has often been no less apoplectic. There is even a website devoted to frustrating Mr Blair ( [1]) in contrast to the Italian Prime Minister, Mr Silvio Berlusconi’s description of the British leader as the “ideal personality” for the job. The Left has, of course, never forgiven Mr Blair for his enthusiastic support of President George W. Bush’s Iraq war, which went against the grain of continental heavyweights and the broader public.


Even those in the mainstream Right, at present in the majority, are asking the question of a person representing a country which has failed to join the common European currency, the Euro, and is outside the landmark border free Schengen Agreement seeking an enhanced European presence in the world. In Mr Blair’s case, there is an obvious element of distrust.


Europeans are asking themselves other questions. What is Mr Blair’s record since resigning the office of Prime Minister after holding the job for 10 years? He has secured several lucrative deals in the private sector and has been serving as West Asia envoy of the Quartet (the US, the EU, Russia and the United Nations). In the latter field, he has been a spectacular failure, treating his job as something of a sinecure.


The concept of the Quartet was itself a brilliant American sleight of hand to cover up its pro-Israeli policies. It was used as a rubber stamp to ratify whatever Mr Bush wanted to do to support Israel against the Palestinians. Mr Blair’s job was to lend further cover to Israel’s sustained activities to build a Greater Israel. His famous thesis is that only by undertaking economic development and good governance can Palestinians hope to achieve their state. This flies in the face of hundreds of Israeli check posts for Palestinians, the blockade of the Gaza Strip and the daily encroachment of more Palestinian land.


Although Britain’s government has supported Mr Blair’s bid, should he ultimately choose to test his fortune, the fact that there are some takers for it on the continent speaks volumes for the divisions in the EU. It is a fact of life that any candidate for the job must secure the support of France and Germany. Mr Sarkozy’s initial support for Mr Blair was puzzling, except in terms of his own professed support for the American way of doing things. Perhaps Ms Merkel’s opposition and the mood of the public persuaded the French leader to have second thoughts.


After an era of great optimism for the unique European journey, the minimalists won the day. The success of the pathbreaking economic union and the benefits and prosperity it spread did not yield the promised political rewards. A number of countries wanted to retain their foreign policy options and were beholden to the US. Projects for a common military arm remained largely on paper and even the Lisbon Treaty was a pale version of the original treaty rejected by French and Dutch voters. Mr Blair’s bid for the enhanced presidency, once the Irish say “yes”, is a reminder of how far the EU has travelled since France’s Jacques Chirac and Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder sought to place Europe as a major player in the world.


The Lisbon Treaty is a half-hearted attempt at having a stab at it.









In 2002, the UN Development Programme released its first ever Arab Human Development Report, which bluntly detailed the deficits of freedom, women’s empowerment and knowledge-creation holding back the Arab world. It was buttressed with sobering statistics: Greece alone translated five times more books every year from English to Greek than the entire Arab world translated from English to Arabic; the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Spain was greater than that of all 22 Arab states combined; 65 million Arab adults were illiterate. It was a disturbing picture, bravely produced by Arab academics.


Coming out so soon after 9/11, the report felt like a diagnosis of all the misgovernance bedevilling the Arab world, creating the pools of angry, unemployed youth, who become easy prey for extremists. Well, the good news is that the UN Development Programme and a new group of Arab scholars last week came out with a new Arab Human Development report. The bad news: Things have gotten worse — and many Arab governments don’t want to hear about it.


This new report was triggered by a desire to find out why the obstacles to human development in the Arab world have “proved so stubborn”. What the roughly 100 Arab authors of the 2009 study concluded was that too many Arab citizens today lack “human security — the kind of material and moral foundation that secures lives, livelihoods and an acceptable quality of life for the majority”. A sense of personal security — economic, political and social — “is a prerequisite for human development, and its widespread absence in Arab countries has held back their progress”.


The authors cite a variety of factors undermining human security in the Arab region today — beginning with environmental degradation — the toxic combination of rising desertification, water shortages and population explosion. In 1980, the Arab region had 150 million people. In 2007, it was home to 317 million people, and by 2015 its population is projected to be 395 million. Some 60 per cent of this population is under the age of 25, and they will need 51 million new jobs by 2020.


Another persistent source of Arab human insecurity is high unemployment. “For nearly two and half decades after 1980, the region witnessed hardly any economic growth”, the report found. Despite the presence of oil money (or maybe because of it), there is a distinct lack of investment in scientific research, development, knowledge industries and innovation. Instead, government jobs and contracts dominate. Average unemployment in the Arab region in 2005 was 14.4 per cent, compared with 6.3 per cent for the rest of the world. A lot of this is because of a third source of human insecurity: autocratic and unrepresentative Arab governments, whose weaknesses “often combine to turn the state into a threat to human security, instead of its chief support”.


The whole report would have left me feeling hopeless had I not come to Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government in the West Bank, to find some good cheer. I’m serious.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the wider West Asia what off-Broadway is to Broadway. It is where all good and bad ideas get tested out first. Well, the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mr Salam Fayyad, a former International Monetary Fund (IMF) economist, is testing out the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever. I call it “Fayyadism”.


Fayyadism is based on the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services.

Mr Fayyad, a former finance minister who became the prime minister after Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007, is unlike any Arab leader today. He is an ardent Palestinian nationalist, but his whole strategy is to say: the more we build our state with quality institutions — finance, police, social services — the sooner we will secure our right to independence. I see this as a challenge to “Arafatism,” which focused on Palestinian rights first, state institutions later, if ever, and produced neither.


Things are truly getting better in the West Bank, thanks to a combination of Fayyadism, improved Palestinian security and a lifting of checkpoints by Israel. In all of 2008, about 1,200 new companies registered for licenses here. In the first six months of this year, almost 900 have registered. According to the IMF, the West Bank economy should grow by seven per cent this year.

Mr Fayyad, famous here for his incorruptibility, says his approach is “to tell people who you are, what you are about and what you intend to do and then actually do it”.


At a time when all the big ideologies have failed to deliver for Arabs, Mr Fayyad says he wants a government based on “legitimacy by achievement”. Something quite new is happening here. And given the centrality of the Palestinian cause in Arab eyes, if Fayyadism works, maybe it could start a trend in this part of the world — one that would do the most to improve Arab human security — good, accountable government.











Till recently, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) was the only Indian brand known worldwide. The IITs achieved such fame because they had large finances (particularly foreign exchange), and their faculty did hard, sincere work. They also enjoyed, until recently, considerable autonomy in financial and academic matters.


Regrettably, the government has taken the view that finance is the basic problem and once that is assured everything else will fall in place. This is simplistic and fails to take into account the need for high-quality faculty.

The Department of Science and Technology funds graduate programmes in engineering with grants that can exceed a crore of rupees, but on one condition — the college should obtain similar grants from industry. Over the past decade, of the several thousand engineering colleges in the country, barely 15 institutions have qualified.

Evidently, in virtually all our colleges, there is no faculty member who has the confidence of industry. In contrast, an IIT typically earns tens of crores of industrial projects every year. That means that the IITs have the kind of faculty that other colleges do not have.

Competent faculty cannot be secured overnight; they have to be nurtured for years. Our politicians have ignored this in starting up new IITs. Already, most IITs suffer from a severe shortage of high quality faculty. Sadly, there is no programme to attract competent youth to become teachers.

Kapil Sibal, the human resources development minister, has talked of attracting talent from abroad at high salaries. However, people forget that most IIT faculty are there not for the money they earn but for the autonomy they enjoy and the living facilities they get. Those amenities are dwindling. Of late, government officials are sitting on IIT boards. This is an unfortunate intrusion. Earlier, a finance official used to visit each IIT once a year, decide the budget, and then leave the institution free to work in any manner it desired.

Also, the IITs no longer have the freedom to recruit the kind of students they want. Nor can they select faculty purely based on merit. Caste-based reservation for student admissions is already a fact. Such reservation has been ordered for faculty selections too.

Competent faculty and the freedom to select the best available is the primary issue. It is a freedom the IITs no longer enjoy. As matters stand, unless the director is extraordinary, the possibility is that the new IITs will at best become National Institutes of Technology of slightly superior quality. That’s no way to build India.


Prof. P. V. Indiresan, retired director, IIT Madras







There are many critics of ideas and initiatives that aim to bring about far-reaching changes in a society. Starting eight new Indian Institutes of Technology in various parts of the country is also one such initiative which aims to provide quality technical education.

We accept that there have been teething troubles at these new institutions. But the step to create new technical institutions was long overdue. In fact we are already running a couple of decades behind schedule.

As part of the process to improve higher education in the country, the government has approved the creation of seven IIMs, 10 National Institutes of Technology, and 15 Central universities, while 374 model colleges will come up, one in each educationally-backward district of the country.

Instead of criticising such initiatives, we need to lend support to them. The government has sanctioned an amount of Rs 2,000 crores under the 11th Five-Year Plan for these institutions. All this is a vital part of building India.

We have also initiated talks with several state governments for allocation of land, while work on the building of a few of these institutes has also started. In a phased manner we hope to shift a majority of these IITs to their own campuses from the next academic year.

The mentoring process, under which students of newly-created IITs are taught at an already existing institute, has also helped the students and institutions as they can gain from the existing IITs.
The human resources development ministry has initiated the process of attracting quality faculty, both from within and outside the country, in an effort to provide teaching staff for these institutes. The recent revision of pay scales of faculty is likely to aid this process as the salary structure of faculty in higher studies now exceeds that of bureaucrats. The premier technical institutes have also been provided ample finances and freedom to work so as to further nurture their growth.

The biggest benefit of expanding IITs and other higher educational institutes will be that we would be able to provide almost every region in the country with a quality institution. This will go a long way in removing regional imbalance in the matter of higher education. The government has decided to locate a majority of these institutes in backward regions of the country.

The IITs have been an inspiration to our younger generation over the decades and will continue to remain that way as the government is committed to provide the best of infrastructure, faculty and resources to all IIT students.


Kapil Sibal, Union minister for human resources development








Have you ever had an identity (ID) card with an error? Your name misspelled, maybe, or an incorrect address, date of birth or father’s name? Have you ever felt an urge to hide information from the police or administration, even if you are blameless? Have you experienced soul-sickening frustration in dealing with government officials even about the most obvious matters? If you answer yes to any of the above — and I suspect you will — then you probably dread the Unique Identification (UID) project.
A high-powered council of ministers (from Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram to Kapil Sibal and Montek Singh Ahluwalia) was set up this week for the UID project headed by Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani. The world’s largest citizen’s database in a democracy, it aims to streamline the delivery of public services by giving every Indian a unique ID number. Complete with biometric identification, this mother of all IDs will expose parts of you that other IDs cannot reach.

Which, in an ideal situation, could be a good thing. But given our talent for goof ups and mind-numbing corruption, the UID may well become the Undoing Indian Democracy project. Here’s why.
First, it would violate our privacy, a fundamental right of free citizens in a democracy. Critical information about you will be offered to precisely those you wish to keep it from — cops and other sarkari pests. Lying to the police is our survival instinct. Bribing them is an acquired trait. “Encounters” and custody killings are rampant. Systemic corruption, political influence and a culture of impunity have largely made our police an enemy of the people, especially of the powerless.

UID information could be abused — to blackmail, to sell or to spy on political opponents. Unethical rulers could use this data to inflict enormous damage. Even the limited demographic information now available had allegedly helped rioters to systematically kill Sikhs during the 1984 Delhi massacre and Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat carnage. Besides, the UID could be used for widespread surveillance, turning our lively democracy into a veiled police state.

Second, the wise say it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. Errors in this “super ID” would be disastrous. And there will be errors. Why, even when we were trying to persuade Pakistan to claim the 26/11 terrorists, we sent them the wrong DNA report for Ajmal Amir Kasab as proof. Never mind, shrugged home minister P. Chidambaram, “it’s a minor clerical error”. Data devils rule our lives. We hop between a multiplicity of imperfect IDs and get by. Which would be impossible with a unique but flawed super ID. And anyone who has ever attempted to rectify an incorrect government document knows what a superhuman task that is.

Third, it will be forged. Mr Nilekani himself has admitted that the UID is not fraud-proof, it could check only the fraud arising out of duplication of IDs. The UID would need a huge database of private information that is easily accessible by authorised officials (like corrupt cops and callous clerks), and keeping this identity data secure is practically impossible. Identity theft is a huge problem even in the US, a country paranoid and pernickety about data security. Besides hackers and glint-eyed insiders, data is also threatened by viruses and computer failures. A super ID like this would be invaluable in the hands of identity thieves, and just as we have a roaring racket in fake passports and ration cards, we shall soon see a booming business of fake UIDs.

Then what? A few years ago there was the Mritak Party of India, whose frustrated members, officially declared dead, fought the elections just to prove that they were alive. Ordinary citizens won’t have the time, money, energy or contacts to reclaim their identity from a callous government and powerful mafia. They would just be harassed, abused and punished for crimes committed by others in their name.
So, fourth, the idea that the UID will enhance internal security is rubbish. IDs are routinely faked by terrorists. The 9/11 terrorists had convincing fake IDs. And the more powerful the ID, the greater the incentive to fake it. Which makes the UID the obvious choice for any self-respecting terrorist. And since the UID would possibly depend on other identity documents (like passport, ration card, voter’s ID, BPL card etc), which are routinely faked, it wouldn’t be that difficult to get a fake UID.

Fifth, IDs do not stop terrorism. Knowing someone’s identity does not reveal his intentions. It doesn’t prevent suicide missions either. It can only lead to religious and ethnic profiling of terrorist suspects, which destroys democratic freedoms.

Sixth, UIDs would not stop illegal immigrants. For example, about two crore Bangladeshis already live in India, most of whom have voter’s IDs or ration cards, thanks to votebank politics. They would all be entitled to the UID.

While, seventh, migrant workers, and those without documents proving permanent residence or citizenship (like millions of poverty-stricken Indians), could be denied the UID. And thus be more securely excluded from access to public services and welfare. They will actually be more vulnerable, harassed by cops and local administrative officials precisely because they don’t have this UID.
Eighth, when almost half the country is plagued by extremists and failure of governance, how would residents of disturbed areas get proper UIDs? Will the UIDs in Lalgarh, for example, or troubled parts of Kashmir or the Northeast, be credible? A flawed government machinery, especially at the local level, that arms people with an all-powerful ID creates a greater threat than sneaky insurgents hiding in jungles.
In short, the UID in a callous and corrupt atmosphere is very worrying. Power is misused, and the UID offers great power. To ensure delivery of public services one needs to first clean up the distribution process; bringing in the UID, hoping it will eradicate corruption, is putting the cart before the horse. A flawed system would produce flawed IDs. The thousands of crores this will suck up could perhaps be better applied to targeted development, rather than a humongous blanket ID in a rattletrap, semi-literate, underfed, corrupt system with no accountability.

While the government brays loudly for consensus and public debate on an unethical law like Section 377 that affects a fraction of the population, it curiously hasn’t suggested a debate on privacy, personal liberty, state control and the effects of the UID that will affect every single citizen. Only a real public debate could prevent the UID from becoming the Undoing Indian Democracy project.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: [1]








When I look at the incorrigible Kim Jong-il, an insult hurled by the incomparable Billy Wilder comes to mind.

Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of New Republic, was having dinner with Wilder years ago when the subject of Swifty Lazar, the very famous and very short agent, came up.

Putting down his knife and fork, Wilder announced: “That man should go hang himself from a bonsai tree”.

The diminutive North Korean leader has been known to use lifts in his shoes. This time, he demanded some special stature in the form of a diplomatic cameo by our top diplomat’s husband.

There were no bonsais in view, unfortunately. But the two leaders posed, stiff as tree trunks, in front of a mural of waves.

Kim Jong-il’s bright smiles were not returned by Bill Clinton. It was strange to see the reclusive Kim so eager and the raffish Clinton so disciplined. Yet the grinning North Korean and stony-faced American were no doubt both savouring their moment of mutual relevance.

The price set by Kim for releasing the two captured American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, was a few hours basking in the presence of the ex-President who most wanted to visit North Korea. Bill Clinton was willing to bow but not scrape.

Hillary sparked an international spat when she said that, as a mother, she understood that the North Koreans were simply unpopular and unruly children misbehaving to get attention.
Now, less than two weeks later, those bad-seed children had managed to command the full attention of her husband.

Maybe it was some clever North Korean revenge plot, giving the limelight to Daddy to punish Mommy.


Just as Hillary muscled her way back into the spotlight, moving past her broken elbow and grabbing the focus from her bevy of peacock envoys, she was blown off the radar screen again by an even more powerful envoy: the one she lives with.

It was a moment unique in the annals of diplomacy. Bill was being hailed as a dazzling statesman who might have changed the stormy weather between the US and North Korea, just as Hillary was beginning an 11-day trip to Africa designed to highlight the subjects she most cares about: do-gooder development and women’s issues.

The one in charge of world affairs disappeared from the news all day on Tuesday. The one out of office dominated the news. His plane is rolling down the runway in Pyongyang with the two pardoned women on board? Zowie!

Bill had the additional schadenfreude spritz of knowing that he had usurped three men he’d had fraught relationships with — Bill Richardson, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore (whose media company the women were working for) — by getting the high-profile assignment to rescue the damsels in distress.
Richardson, labelled “Judas” by James Carville after he endorsed Barack Obama in the campaign, was reduced to the supporting role of CNN commentator, giving Bill props on protocol: “The fact that he saw Kim Jong-il is huge. He only sees big shots and heads of state”.

It’s fun to speculate whether Bill and Kim discussed the exchange of insults with Hillary. (North Korea issued a jibe back that Hillary was “a funny lady” and that “sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping”.)

You can picture a charming Bill putting matters in perspective: “Pay no mind to that, Kimmie. She’s an amazin’ woman, but she just goes off sometimes. You should hear what she calls me when she gets riled up. An unruly teenager and then some”.

Conservatives were screeching, naturally, that the Clinton trip would provide propaganda cover to the North Koreans to continue their nuclear shell game.

“Despite decades of bipartisan US rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists for the release of hostages”, John Bolton wrote for the Washington Post’s website, “it seems that the Obama administration not only chose to negotiate, but to send a former President to do so”.

But the former Bush bullies have no credibility on diplomacy. They spent eight years wrecking it, and the score for them on North Korea is 0-6; zero meetings with Kim and enough plutonium for six nuclear bombs.

Bill Clinton will bring back valuable information about Kim’s mental and physical health. If we’d had that sort of information about the snubbed Saddam, we would have known that he was in his own spiral of doom, trying to bluff his neighbours, with no need for our shock and awe.

Hillary and President Obama look bigger when they share the stage with other talented players. And Barack and Bill may have finally started to put South Carolina behind them — without the need for a beer summit photo-op.


By arrangement with the New York Times




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




The alarm bell rings resonantly enough with the death of 14-year-old Rida Shaikh of Swine Flu. So resonantly indeed that it has shaken and stirred the national government to come up with guidelines that ought to have been in place as early as June, indeed immediately after the World Health Organisation declared the affliction as a pandemic. The tragedy deepens with the forthright admission by the union health secretary: “The death was caused by delayed treatment; had she been treated earlier, she might have been saved.” If the diagnosis and cure of as potentially fatal an affliction as Swine Flu can be held up for no stated reason, there is life yet in the debate whether the country’s healthcare mechanism matches its pretensions as a big player in the comity of nations. The tragic irony must be that Rida died in Pune, a city that boasts the National Institute of Virology, the country’s flagship diagnostic centre. It is now established that she hadn’t been abroad, which rules out the possibility of contracting an offshore contagion. It is cause for alarm too that over the past fortnight, as many as 60 children in Pune have been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. What the medical fraternity now describes as the “community spread” in the city suggests that beyond a “spread”, it may be even be fairly well-entrenched. The Centre has decided to “sensitise” doctors and the Maharashtra government has invoked the Epidemic Control Act in Pune and Satara. Did the Central and provincial administrations have to wait for a death to pull up their socks? Such belated expressions of tokenism can only bring cold comfort to the bereaved family that has resolved to move court.


Despite 816 deaths and 130,000 afflictions in 135 countries, Rida’s death exposes two palpable deficiencies in India’s approach. First, only those who come in contact with the infected are treated. Second, the other category that is diagnosed are those with “a history of foreign travel”. This doesn’t work out to a policy. Considering the twin parameters hitherto in force, both appear to have delayed Rida’s diagnostic test, not to mention scientific treatment. The Centre’s knee-jerk reaction on Tuesday and the hope expressed by doctors that the death will give a jolt for corrective action amounts to striving for the elementary after India’s first casualty. Death can’t be a determinant to the medical fraternity’s dedication to the Hippocratic oath.








IN addition to the dictionary’s explanation of dope pertaining to performance-enhancing drugs, the word is also loosely used to describe dim-wits. Looking increasingly “dopish” these days are Indian cricketers and administrators for resisting the effort to rid global sport of the scourge of substance-abuse: which is nothing but cheating. Sure the “whereabouts” clause in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code is irksome, but some inconvenience is inevitable when a menace is being countered ~ can a parallel be drawn with frisking at airports? Despite their over-inflated egos resulting from a frenzied media and fawning public, and their massive bank balances that often result in obscene displays of opulence, Indian cricketers are not an exclusive breed. If sportspersons of every major discipline, football included it has recently been confirmed, can conform to regulations accepted virtually all across the globe, why should the “boys in blue” (who often give their fans the blues) be excepted. Other noted Indian sportstars have clarified that the whereabouts-clause is not that troublesome, but arrogance tends to diminish the functioning of most normal faculties. With its focus on lucre alone the BCCI dare not kill the proverbial golden-egg laying goose, so it backs up the players’ excuse of security and privacy: one official even invoking constitutional provisions, as if only the Indian statute book promises that.

The BCCI has actually chopped the ball on to its own stumps. Had it been on the alert it would have raised objections to the ICC adopting the WADA regimen and brought its not inconsiderable influence to bear at that stage. Did it, like the players, pay scant attention because no scope for financial gain was evident? To now try and get other ICC members to join in the anti-WADA move would be crass brazenness; hopefully all others will stand firm and the message go out strong that big bucks don’t suffice to have rules re-written. Indian cricket has a rather unsavoury reputation, it must not attract a pro-dope smear. Equally dopish has been the sports minister ~ he prefaced his support to WADA by saying it was his personal opinion. Does the government take a different view? Split-personalities are common in the political arena, that’s why it has long been advised to keep politics and politicians out of sport. Advice consistently ignored in India.








THE Democratic Alliance of Nagaland-run government has hit upon a novel idea to reach out to people through road shows. A brainchild of chief minister Neiphiu Rio, the first of these was organised in June at Longleng (the smallest district) inhabited by the Phom tribe and it coincided with the 57th Phom Day celebrations. Official reports say locals were lavish with their hospitality, opening their homes to visitors and feeding them. The real aim is “to create a platform where the government can react with the people at the grassroots level” vis-a-vis its activities and to promote cultural and traditional aspects of local tribes. Rio told the Longleng gathering that the objective was to enhance greater transparency in government policies and programmes and called on the public to “study and select” those schemes that suited them best. Encouraged by the initial success, on 31 July Tuensang district hosted a show simultaneously with its Naknyumlam festival. On 31 July-1 August, it was the turn of the second largest town, Mokokchung, and the Aos celebrated it along with their Tsungremong festival. The townsfolk reportedly undertook “a massive cleanliness drive” and bulldozers were used “round the clock” to clear the route to the celebration site. All the districts will be covered and from next year it will be an annual feature, much like the well-known Hornbill festival in December that draws tourists.

Since new brooms sweep well, it would be premature to comment on whether or not the chief minister will be able to reap dividends from such exhibitions for his regional Nagaland People’s Front. But at least for now, enthusiasts seem to be supportive of the novel concept. Rio faces no threat to his position although there had been reports about simmering anger among his four MLAs ~ who had quit the Congress before the last parliamentary poll, contested by-elections on NPF tickets and won ~ for not being given ministerial berths. Rio is an ambitious man and he now wants his party to foray into Naga-inhabited areas of three adjacent states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur by changing the party’s nomenclature from Nagaland People’s Front to Naga People’s Front ~ a move which is sure to warm the cockles of the NSCN (IM)’s heart.







THE Ministry of External Affairs has come in for criticism in a recently published study by Daniel Markey of the USA. The ministry, and the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) to which it is home, are regarded by Mr. Markey as institutions that retard the emergence of India on the world stage: all else may be ready for India but the diplomatic instrument remains flawed. The result is a series of lost opportunities, so that India remains stalled in a lower relative position internationally than is warranted by its real achievements and capacities.

It is not the official apparatus alone that comes under Mr. Markey’s critical scrutiny: he takes a look at the country’s universities and think-tanks and finds that they, too, fail to measure up, being hamstrung by funding and other problems. Overall, he believes that the country is not well-served, and he identifies several specifics that need to be addressed.

In this study, the IFS, its recruitment procedure, training programme, career development pattern, promotion process, all come in for a hard look, and the picture emerges of a service wrapped up in its own ways, insufficiently responsive to change and mired in outdated methods. Such observations are not to be dismissed out of hand for there are in truth many difficult issues to be tackled as the IFS faces up to its present-day responsibilities.

It begins with the recruitment process itself. Recruitment to the higher government services is done by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), and selected candidates are allotted to one or other of the services, according to eligibility and choice. Training these new recruits is a matter for the different services themselves, and in this the IFS has had quite a few problems. It only came into being with Independence and thus at the start lacked the well-established training procedures of other services. Indeed, in the early days fresh entrants were simply allotted a compulsory language to study and fairly rapidly sent off to a Mission abroad where they were expected to learn their trade. This worked well enough in the familial atmosphere of the time but a more demanding process was instituted before too long with the establishment of the Foreign Service Institute to provide initial as well as mid-term training. Increasingly rigorous instruction and evaluation of the MEA officials at this Institute is one of the keys to keeping the cadre on its toes.


The decreasing attraction of the IFS to fresh recruits, judging from their places on the merit list, has caused some anxiety as it suggests a dilution of quality. This is probably not the case for there is not a great deal to choose between the successful candidates no matter where they rank, coming as they do from a huge pool of aspirants. What should be more of a concern is that quite a few are thrust unwilling into the MEA while their real desire is to join some other establishment.

To remedy this problem it has been suggested that there should be some form of specialized recruitment to the IFS ~ a premium on knowledge of languages or of international relations, for example, so that new aspirants should identify themselves at an early stage and come in with something particular to offer. In other countries, foreign ministries often have a bigger say in recruitment methods and something from their practice may be relevant to us. Yet to accommodate such special requirements within the structure of a nationwide competition for civil service entry would be a considerable challenge and though alternative ideas have been floated, it is difficult to see any radical departure from current practice.
Promotion is another issue where MEA practice is criticized in the study for being insufficiently selective, for virtually everyone goes up the ladder, the criterion being seniority more than performance. This is a problem all right but it is not easy to cure. Nor is it something confined to MEA. A just evaluation of performance has become difficult to manage, in part because of the reluctance of reporting officials to give negative assessments, which invite accusations of bias and bad faith. Thus, on the basis of their reports, few can be overlooked for promotion to higher posts. More often than not, however undesirable it may be, seniority becomes the real test to set them apart one from the other. Problems with selectivity also work against expansion of the service to the size that is clearly needed today.
Compared to other foreign offices, the MEA is very thin on the ground, both in Missions abroad and even more so at headquarters. But if the fresh annual intake is doubled or tripled, as the ministry’s multifarious tasks would justify, there will be an inevitable logjam in a few years and many will have to serve out their days without achieving senior rank. This takes us back to the problem of proper selection on the basis of efficiency and not seniority. Moreover, shrinking career prospects could make the IFS an even less desirable option for candidates coming through the UPSC than it is today.


Yet another issue taken up by Mr. Markey is that of inducting experts to fill the gaps in specialized knowledge that MEA needs from time to time but cannot nurture on its own. For instance, climate change, today’s most compelling international issue, has to be discussed and negotiated in multilateral forums where access to high expertise is indispensable. Other branches of the government and non-governmental establishments may be better able in some respects to provide the needed expertise.
These sources are in fact regularly tapped for this purpose but there is resistance to their being inducted into the IFS itself. This is a problem that has beset the service and virtually all other services from the start, with many aspirants trying to find their way in, for shorter or longer terms of tenure. A properly rationalized method of obtaining the needed expertise without reducing the coherence of the service is yet to be devised. Similarly, there is little effective communication between MEA and the think- tanks and universities engaged in the study of the country’s external relationships. The think- tanks have little real institutionalized access to official information, so that their studies tend to be at a remove from official preoccupations.

Many of the problems in the structure of the IFS identified by Mr. Markey are real and need attention, for the country must have the diplomatic structure it requires at this time of expanding activity. The incoming Foreign Secretary said something to this effect as she assumed charge of her new office the other day. Some of the needed improvements cannot be undertaken without much broader reform within the civil services as a whole: the MEA is not an island to itself. In some areas, however, it can upgrade its performance so that it becomes an ever more effective instrument of the country’s international interests.

The writer is India’s former foreign secretary








The death of a charismatic leader has often acted like a tonic for a political party. But when the same phenomenon occurs after the death of a minor political figure, it is something that demands analysis. Despite all the encomiums that were heaped upon Subhas Chakraborty following his demise, no one will argue that he was a front-ranking leader in his own party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He was an able organizer of rallies and demonstrations that brought Calcutta or even West Bengal to a standstill; he was often controversial. But charisma is not a word that would be associated with him, and he was not even a member of the CPI(M)’s central committee. Thus, the huge turn-out at his funeral cannot be explained by his importance within the party or by charismatic popularity. The disproportionate turnout of mourners has to be explained by other factors. Chakraborty made himself invaluable to his party in West Bengal by his ability to mobilize people whenever the CPI(M) wanted to show its mass following. He brought to meetings busloads of loyal supporters. The party did the same after Chakraborty’s death. It organized his funeral, which turned out to be a show of the CPI(M)’s cadre strength.


The CPI(M) did not put up this display to bestow some kind of posthumous importance on Chakraborty. The death of a comrade provided a pretext to galvanize the dormant party organization. The context of this occurrence is significant. The defeat in the Lok Sabha polls had devastated the CPI(M)’s morale, and had put the party in the doldrums in West Bengal. The organization of the party worked on inertia. It had to be set in motion again so that it can still gear itself to meet the challenge looming in 2011. Tuesday saw what can be called the initial dummy run. The red flags were out; comrades and supporters were in their designated posts and places; leaders gave their red salutes and the International was sung. A drifting and aimless party organization suddenly found its familiar moorings again. A funeral called the comrades and sorrow united the party. Even in his death, Chakraborty was of service to the party. Old comrades, like old soldiers, never die: they fade into the party. Calcutta was made aware that there is life in the old party yet. When the party called, the cadre came — if only to carry the corpse of a comrade.






India’s first victim of swine flu is a school-going child of fourteen. This fact, together with the sequence of events that led to her death, points up the specific challenges of tackling the swine flu pandemic in India. For some reason, which the World Health Organization has not been able to fathom yet, the infection is showing up more among the young. In India, though, the picture is slightly different: schoolchildren upto their early teens seem to be most at risk. This determines both the focus of the preventive action and also the nature of the panic around the flu. Rida Sheikh’s death could have been prevented if the hospital to which she had been admitted and the private laboratory to which her sample had been sent had been more scrupulous and clued in about what to do and not do. Now that the government has changed its strategy for tackling the pandemic, the risk of mismanagement is even greater. With the normal influenza season already begun, it is likely that an unmanageable number of people will be turning up at the authorized hospitals to get themselves checked or tested, and every such institution must have its action plan ready and its medical and paramedical personnel adequately trained. Decisions regarding whom to test and whom to treat at home or in the hospital will have to be taken quickly. The proper distribution of medicines and efficient testing are also important, especially since private hospitals and laboratories cannot be relied upon.


India’s population, its peculiar urban-rural divide, the initial symptoms being indistinguishable from those of the normal flu, all make preventive and therapeutic strategies particularly challenging to implement. Children going to school, their teachers and guardians, are especially to be targeted, but without causing undue panic. The numbers still do not call for extreme alarm. Focusing exclusively on people coming in from abroad is not going to help either. The private medical sector should be brought into the action immediately, but only after it has been brought up to the mark in terms of expertise and scruple. Work on the vaccine is also crucial, and must be expedited. If the flu spreads as rapidly as predicted by the WHO, then there is no time to lose. In Calcutta, the Infectious Diseases Hospital has to become a little less of the hell that it is now for people to report there voluntarily.








The BCCI’s quarrel with the World Anti-Doping Agency sums up the way cricket has been disciplined by time. From timeless matches to the five-day Test, to the one-day International, to the compressed frenzy of the Twenty20 game and now an anti-doping regime that makes cricketers account for their near future by the hour.


The Wada requires athletes and sportsmen to submit a schedule for three months that specifies an hour in the day when they can be randomly tested for drugs. The Indian players have objected, arguing that they play cricket nine months of the year and don’t want their leisure time to be invaded by Wada. The other objection that’s been tabled is that Indian cricketers in general and men like Dhoni and Tendulkar in particular, have security needs that could be infringed by rigid, advertised schedules.


Wada has made it clear that there will be no exceptions made for cricket. Every other cricket team, despite reservations, has signed up for the anti-doping regime, but the BCCI has asked the ICC to reject Wada’s demands and create a drug-testing regime custom-made for cricket. Randhir Singh, secretary-general of the Olympic Council of Asia, has made a statement saying that he thinks the BCCI should fall in line and his reasons are unexceptionable: why should cricketers expect special treatment when hugely paid athletes in most other sports abide by the same rules? Similarly the sports minister, M.S. Gill, has urged the BCCI not to hold out for special treatment.


Gill and Singh and Wada have decent arguments to make and, what’s more, some great names to back them up with. Tiger Woods is possibly the best paid, most famous sportsman in the world and he’s strongly in favour of testing. “I think we should be proactive instead of reactive. I just think we should be ahead of it and keep our sport as pure as can be. This is a great sport, and it’s always been clean.” Woods specifically said that he was happy to be tested anywhere at any time without notice. On the face of it, then, Wada’s regime is a good thing and the BCCI and the Indian players are doing what they do best: being spoilt prima donnas, moaning and asking for special favours.


But it isn’t quite as simple as that. Cricket isn’t the only sport that has resisted Wada’s increasingly stringent testing regimes. In March this year, football’s two most powerful bodies, UEFA and FIFA, rejected Wada’s new code and asked the organization to reconsider its rules given the special nature of team sport. Football’s administrators argued that there was a basic difference between the individual athlete who trained privately, on his own, and footballers who trained collectively six days a week and were easy to locate. Like the BCCI, they asked for an exemption for players for the off-season “in order to respect their private lives”.


And it isn’t only football: the administrators of team sports like basketball, ice hockey and volleyball have all asked for clarifications. It’s also important to understand that the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, isn’t rejecting drug testing per se. Twenty-five thousand tests are carried out in football every year and on an average, roughly ten players have tested positive annually. Blatter is asking for modifications to the new code that came into effect from the beginning of 2009. The problem is that the code was agreed in 2007 at a conference that FIFA attended, which puts FIFA in roughly the same position as the BCCI: they’re trying to renege on a code that they signed up for without reading the fine print.


Cricket does drug testing too. Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, Nandrolone, and were suspended from cricket by the Pakistan Cricket Board. The problem is that the drug testing is done by national boards that are vulnerable to pressure. The treatment of Akhtar and Asif is a case in point: the first tribunal’s suspension was set aside by a second tribunal and the pair got away without serving a suspension. Wada was deeply unhappy and took their objection to the court of arbitration for sport in Switzerland with, interestingly, the blessing of the ICC, which said it wanted cricket cleansed of drug taking, but the action came to nothing because the court declared that it didn’t have jurisdiction over the PCB. But Wada was vindicated by the fact that the PCB’s leniency encouraged Asif to err again: he tested positive in 2008 and is currently serving a year’s ban.


Abhinav Bindra, India’s only Olympic gold medalist, said in an interview this week that Wada’s regime was easy to follow. He had declared himself available at home between seven and eight every morning because he was generally at home during that time and, he added disarmingly, it was the time of day when it was easy to produce a urine sample. When there was a change in his daily schedule, he logged in to the Wada site and entered the details of the change and specified an hour when he’d be available. I’m not sure that Bindra’s testimony will change many minds in the Indian cricket team. This is partly because the rhythms of his stock-still sport have about as much to do with a cricketer’s routine as a tree’s habits have to do with a cheetah’s daily round. Also someone like Sehwag or Ishant Sharma probably thinks of Bindra as a bespectacled nerd who likes fiddling with computers and tinkering with schedules.


It’s wrong to generalize but I think the reason Indian players are holding out when every other cricket-playing country has fallen in line, has nothing to do with being perverse or arrogant. I think they’re genuinely appalled by the thought that they have to schedule their lives three months in advance. Indians don’t do schedules well: they don’t plan their holidays a year in advance, they don’t write their appointments down in a diary, they don’t think it’s wrong to default on a deadline and if the art of the last minute was an Olympic sport you’d only see Indians on the medals podium. Mithali Raj, the Indian batswoman (I’d say ‘batsperson’ if it didn’t suggest an ungendered vampire) had the most succinct take on this Indian view of the world. “During competitions, you are in one place and know your itinerary. When you are at home, you don’t know about the next three hours, forget about three months… We plan things spontaneously, be it a movie or a dinner.”


So while I’m convinced that cricket needs drug-testing (specially in the IPL epoch when the monetary pressure for cricketers to recover from injury is so enormous), it isn’t clear that Wada’s new Big Brother regime is the only way to go. It’s certainly contrary to the Indian instinct to extemporize leisure. Wada was founded in Switzerland: it’s commitment to clockwork schedules seems to follow from the notorious Swiss keenness on order and precision. Federer, unsurprisingly, is a big supporter of Wada’s code. Good for him. But this isn’t how the world works in our latitude; it’s unnatural to expect Messrs Dhoni, Sehwag and Tendulkar to simulate the Swiss. The BCCI should stick to its guns: as foreign transistor radios used to be once, Wada’s drug code needs to be tropicalized.







For six years, Zhang had worked as the personal driver of a foreign executive. Young, smart and friendly, he spoke better English than most Chinese, most of it self-taught. Unlike others in the factory, he wasn’t a migrant. Born in the city, he was a godsend to the foreigner, more so because he was always eager to show the latter around.


Though hesitant to encroach upon Zhang’s spare time, the foreigner found he often had to — when the power or water supply to his house suddenly vanished or when his refrigerator stopped working. Only Zhang could find out from the colony’s security men the reason for the disruption and call the mechanic. Even when the foreigner learnt to speak Chinese, he couldn’t understand what the mechanic said.


The driver was indispensable in other ways too. When the boss had an accident, Zhang not only rushed him to hospital, but, as the former lay at home, immobilized for a fortnight, he also cooked and shopped for him. Wanting to explore nearby cities, the boss asked Zhang for directions. “You won’t be able to find your way around; what will you tell the taxi driver?” replied Zhang, offering to take him there. Many a weekend was spent exploring the region under Zhang’s guidance; he even went on a week-long road trip with the family.



Thus, whether the boss was by himself or with his family, Zhang became an inseparable part of their lives. Unlike many Chinese, he was always game to try new food: so, after a long day’s sightseeing, they never had to hesitate while deciding where to eat. When Chinese food had to be tried out, it was imperative to have him around. In fact, initially, eating out without Zhang was tough, for the boss’s daughter was vegetarian — a rare species in China — for whom special instructions had to be given to the Chinese-speaking restaurant staff. Zhang often took them out for dinner, specially on his boss’s birthday or on Chinese New Year.


Why was Zhang still single, the boss would wonder. The way he talked about his parents and siblings, it was apparent that his was a close-knit family, but they were not dependent on him. Towards the end of the six years, occasionally, a female voice would answer his phone on weekends, and when asked if he was free for dinner, instead of saying, “Ya, no problem”, he would nod and immediately phone someone. At last Zhang’s got a girlfriend, the boss thought.



A few months after the foreigner left the city for another job, he returned with his family on a holiday. Zhang again became a part of their lives. On the eve of their departure, he invited them for dinner at his home. In all these years, Zhang had never called them over, though he’d pointed out his house to them. That evening, as the door was opened by a woman, Zhang introduced her: “My wife. And this,’’ he said, pointing to the little boy hiding behind her, “is my son.’’


Zhang had been married almost as long as they’d known him, they realized with shock. The boss asked him why, guilt-ridden at having kept Zhang apart from his family so often. “Because I want another child,’’ Zhang answered. If he made his intentions public, he’d have to pay a stiff penalty under China’s one-child policy. So, he had waited till his boss left his city, and he left the factory, before letting his secret be known. His wife had gone to her village for the delivery. His son’s birth had been registered there. The second child would be delivered in the city, and that would be the only birth registered there. Zhang, who never swore, smoked or broke a traffic rule, had decided like so many of his compatriots that the single-child rule was the one law he would disobey.










Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse has appointed Major Gen Daya Ratnayake, a seasoned Sri Lanka Army officer as the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. The appointment was made as part of Rajapakse’s 180-day resettlement plan for the 3,00,000 Internally Disturbed Persons (IDPs) from the recently concluded civil war.

A brilliant strategist, General Ratnayake was once the commander of the 223 brigade at Welikanda, Polonnaruwa during the height of the LTTE-Karuna conflict in the districts of Batticaloa and Ampara in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Ratnayake has his work cut out for him. Around 9,750 LTTE cadres, mainly mid-level and softcore, require immediate rehabilitation.

These cadres are walking about freely inside army camps doing odd jobs and running errands and being fed three meals a day in return without any plan for their future. The vast majority of these cadres have received the LTTE's ‘ten-day training.’ More such cadres are being discovered at the rate of around five a day from the IDP camps.


Some of these cadres had taken part in the burial of LTTE arms caches throughout the North. If any of these cadres are reenlisted by what remains of the LTTE after they are resettled, a potentially deadly insurgency could arise.

Sri Lankans living in Colombo some time back would remember the terror unleashed by a handful of underworld gangs armed with a few T-56 assault rifles that came from the war zone. A low-level LTTE insurgency could be 10 times more destructive than that. The buried LTTE arms caches include suicide jackets, plastic explosives, claymore mines, 130mm heavy artillery, 80mm mortar bombs and launchers, rocket propelled grenades and a variety of small arms and ammunition that could potentially sustain an insurgency for decades. Therefore it is imperative that firstly the remaining trained manpower of the LTTE is diverted towards peaceful means of livelihood while, at the same time, hidden caches of weapons are recovered systematically.

It is sad to note that many in the human rights lobby and the international community are keen to see rapid IDP resettlement but have very little to say on these matters.

There are no quick-fixes to the Sri Lankan conflict. This is true even now — after fighting has ceased. Similarly, the three lakh IDPs cannot be subjected to a quick fix resettlement without proper security procedures being followed. After all, it’s been only two and a half months since military operations ended.

The status of the civilians in IDP camps is an unfortunate outcome of a 30-year war. This is not the plight of the Tamil people in general, in Sri Lanka. Any attempts to generalise their plight to the status of millions of Tamils living peacefully in Sinhala areas of Sri Lanka must be discouraged as a covert threat to the country’s fragile peace and co-existence.

The government of Sri Lanka has a heavy load to carry in the coming months to finish what it started three years ago. There is a serious need for rapid infrastructure development in the war-torn areas without which rapid resettlement is next to impossible. Roads and small by roads have been ripped apart by military machines moving up and down them.

Many small towns and villages have been abandoned for almost three years and are now overgrown with vegetation. Wherever the two armies confronted each other or when fighting raged in built-up areas, there were severe damages to civil infrastructure.

There is little or no civil administration in the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu at present either at the village or district-level. These areas are still under tight military control as small Sri Lanka army teams search endlessly for mines, Unexploded Ordnance (UXOs) and caches of LTTE weapons.

Although the situation looks generally bleak from the outside, there are some positive developments made under Rajapakse’s unorthodox leadership. It is encouraging to note that the government’s attention has not been completely diverted by the ongoing elections and that it is taking steps to address what was formerly and, still to a great degree, Sri Lanka’s main issue — the ethnic conflict. It is also encouraging to note Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbours in particular, united in their resolve to help this small nation emerge from the ruin.









Surrounded by the picturesque Malnad forests lay a good stretch of our ancestral paddy fields in Hosahalli near Bhadravati. This was way back in 1950s and as per the practice prevailing then, we had tenanted the land to Lambani farmers who had established their ‘tandya’ (hamlet) there. Come harvest season, I would go there to collect our share and stay in the estate house. I invariably carried my 16 bore double-barrel shotgun as a precaution against wild beasts, aplenty then.

During one such visit, the wife of our Lambani chieftain Rooplya Nayaka delivered a baby boy and it was their custom to celebrate this occasion with a ‘venison feast.’ To my horror, the ‘honour’ of providing them with deer meat was ceremoniously thrust upon me, their landlord!

At that time there was no restriction whatsoever for big and small game hunting. I cursed myself for being there at this juncture and was sickened by the unsavoury task of shooting a deer. Simple and sincere, Lambanis had their own deep-rooted convictions.

Had I chosen to reject the whole thing outright, I would have definitely fallen in their esteem, besides facing their imminent non-cooperation in my work.

Next morning Rooplya himself took me in his bullock cart for the task. As we trundled through the forest, I was desperately working on a way out of this dreadful situation.

Then an idea flashed to me suddenly. As the cart jolted over the rough corrugated track, I deliberately dropped my gun, making it look like an accidental slip. Stopping the cart, Rooplya jumped down and fetched my gun, wiping the dust with his turban.

The search resumed and soon the cart stopped as Rooplya signalled me towards an open green patch, where two lovely stags were leisurely grazing in the warm sunlight.

I poised myself and pretended to aim at the harmless beauties. Seconds ticked on, but the gun didn’t fire! “Shoot, sahib, shoot!” shouted Rooplya impatiently, shattering the serene silence of the jungle. In a flash the stags bounded off and vanished into their safe world. Rooplya stared at me in disbelief, disappointment writ large on his face.

“Both triggers are jammed, must have got damaged when the gun fell,” I lied with a straight face and felt inwardly relieved when he appeared convinced.

Returning to the ‘tandya’ I took care to arrange for sumptuous eats from Bhadravati — laced liberally, of course, with their favourite arrack, and enough to drown their disappointment over the missing venison!








Sending a former president to secure the release of two journalists detained by North Korea was a big step, but Bill Clinton’s trip will have been well worth the effort if it laid the groundwork for truly productive talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs. Now it is up to President Obama to make it clear to Pyongyang that it is no longer good enough to make easily broken promises.


Even before Mr. Clinton’s mission this week to rescue Laura Ling and Euna Lee from a 12-year sentence to North Korea’s gulag, Obama administration officials concluded that Pyongyang was looking for a face-saving way to re-engage with Washington.


North Korea made a colossal mistake by getting off to a bad start with President Obama, who offered the kind of dialogue that President George W. Bush took far too long to embrace. The North Koreans responded by breaking off six-country negotiations, conducting a second nuclear test, and test-firing missiles. They also vowed to make more nuclear weapons and threatened military action against efforts to isolate it, and may have resumed nuclear fuel production. There are growing concerns about Pyongyang’s willingness to sell missiles and other technology to other states.


We do not know the details of Mr. Clinton’s meetings, but we hope they lead to future talks. That poses a challenge for Mr. Obama: while he must pursue this opening, he must not be so desperate for a deal that he lets North Korea set all the terms. He struck the right note when he told MSNBC on Wednesday that Mr. Clinton’s mission had not eased the need for North Korea to alter its behavior if it wants a “path to better relations.”


To start, that means not giving in to Pyongyang’s desire to make the talks a bilateral process with Washington. It is imperative to keep South Korea, Japan, China and Russia — key participants in any effective deal — engaged. Officials from Washington and Pyongyang can still meet separately, as they did under Mr. Bush.


Most important, the United States and its partners need to make clear that the expectations are higher than they were before — that North Korea will not be rewarded again just for recommitting to promises that were broken before and likely will be broken again. Future steps toward disarmament must be irreversible.


Under a 2005 agreement, North Korea shut down its reactor at Yongbyon — the source of plutonium for its nuclear weapons — and promised to dismantle its bomb-making infrastructure. It has since kicked out international inspectors and claims to be rebuilding and resuming its capabilities. One way to make disablement more permanent: pour concrete into the reactor core.


The United States and its partners also have to re-establish their credibility; North Korea never received all the fuel deliveries promised under the 2005 deal. At the same time, however, Washington and its partners must keep enforcing the tougher Security Council sanctions imposed on Pyongyang in June.


It is understandable to doubt that impoverished North Korea will ever abandon its nuclear program — its only form of leverage over the rest of the world. But patient — and firm — engagement backed by sanctions still offers the best path toward a peaceful solution, however tortuous it might be.







Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington and his hard-charging chancellor of schools, Michelle Rhee, face great challenges in their attempt to turn around a school system that has long been known as one of the nation’s worst. The climb will be especially steep with the city’s 15 high schools, 10 of which are undergoing various forms of restructuring because they have failed to meet progress standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.


The mayor and the chancellor are justified in taking radical steps, especially in schools that have failed for decades on end. Among other things, the city should bring in a select few of the nation’s top charter school operators, but only the ones that have demonstrated clear success at the high school level.


Charter groups operate publicly funded schools, but often have great flexibility with curriculum and union contract arrangements. The first step should be to break the larger schools into smaller units and rewrite union contracts to allow for greater flexibility and progress.


Ms. Rhee has already hired two well-regarded outside groups to manage three of the high schools. She has also held preliminary discussions with a nationally known California concern, Green Dot Public Schools, one of the largest and most successful operators in that state.


Green Dot seems a good fit for Washington’s difficult environment. It was pioneering high school charters nearly a decade ago, when many groups still viewed the high school problem as insoluble. In California, the group has opened 18 highs schools, developing a reputation for educating children who have been poorly served in the lower grades and sending a large proportion to college.


Green Dot uses community organizing techniques to increase parental involvement. In general, it seems to screen its prospective teachers extremely well, so that it rarely needs to fire any of them. Its schools are unionized, but the contract differs from the traditional arrangement in several crucial ways. In California, for example, managers can discipline employees for a broad range of offenses, avoiding a costly and time-consuming process loaded in favor of teachers.


A new contract, whether with Green Dot or any other charter management group, could well be a sticking point with Washington’s hidebound teachers’ union. But lawmakers and school leaders need to take bold, even radical steps to remake a high school system that has consistently failed the city’s children.







When last this page quoted Boris Worm, a marine ecologist in Canada, in 2006, he was conjuring a frightening vision of a world without seafood. Overfishing, pollution and other depredations, he said, could obliterate almost all the ocean’s commercial fish species by 2048.


Last week, Dr. Worm, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, wrote in the journal Science that depleted fisheries can be saved if they are wisely managed, and that progress has already been made in five of 10 large fisheries where careful conservation measures are in place.


But what may be most encouraging about the new paper is how it came to be. It is a collaboration between Dr. Worm and a fisheries scientist who had been one of his sharpest critics in 2006 — Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington. Dr. Hilborn had accused Dr. Worm back then of cherry-picking facts and extrapolating wildly to reach baseless conclusions.


It was not a promising way to start a professional dialogue, but rather than hunker down in opposing camps, the two men met on a rich field of data. They agreed on new methods for assessing how many fish of a given species were being taken, compared with the total population. They compiled surveys and databases and other tools that both could agree on.


The authors not only reached agreement on the state of ocean fisheries — despite progress in some places,

they said, about 63 percent of the fish stocks need rebuilding — but also on a course of action.


As a general principle, they said, it makes little sense to fish for the “maximum sustainable yield” — the fixed quantity of a given species that supposedly can be caught without endangering the resource. Year after year, officials have used that standard to set catch limits. The authors declared that setting more conservative targets was the smarter course.


They offered a familiar list of strategies — restricting destructive types of fishing gear, setting quotas for individual fishermen, establishing large “no-take” zones to allow species to breed and multiply. These can be used separately or in combination, they said, but in every case success will ultimately depend on two things: patience, and political will.


“The road to recovery is not always simple and not without short-term costs,” the authors said. But since the alternative is “further depletion and collapse,” it is the only good choice.







President Obama has chosen wisely in picking a respected scientist and safety advocate to head the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. David Michaels, a research professor and occupational health expert at the George Washington University School of Public Health, seems just the right man to steer the agency back toward an emphasis on protecting workers after eight years of lax oversight and favoritism to industry under the Bush administration.


During the Bush years, OSHA killed dozens of existing and proposed regulations and delayed adopting others, preferring instead to rely on voluntary compliance by industry. A more vigorous approach is likely from Dr. Michaels, author of a saber-rattling 2008 book titled “Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.”


Dr. Michaels has conducted numerous studies on the health effects of exposure to toxic chemicals and has focused intently on the use and misuse of science in shaping judicial and regulatory decisions. He served as an assistant secretary of energy for environment, health and safety during the Clinton administration. In that role, he was the chief architect of a program to compensate workers for illnesses sustained in the nuclear weapons complex.


In an article last year, Dr. Michaels gave some hints about his approach to the job of assistant secretary of labor in charge of OSHA. He said the agency “badly needs a change in direction and philosophy” and that the primary goal should not be better enforcement but rather “a bold campaign to change the workplace culture of safety.” He suggested requiring every employer to set up a program to reduce hazards, assigning workers and their unions a clear role in the process, and training the workers for such duties. He also urged a new electronic reporting system to record injuries as they occur, not months later.


The nomination of Dr. Michaels is apt to provoke opposition from some business interests. They should hold their fire. His emphasis on cultural change and involvement of workers in improving safety could help ease the polarization between business and labor. And his emphasis on sound science could give everyone greater confidence that OSHA will make the right decisions.








The dangerous madness driven by hatred that has descended on us has claimed two more lives. According to reports, a factory owner and a labourer were killed at a leather factory on the Muridke-Sheikhupura Road near Lahore after the owner was accused by a factory official of desecrating the Holy Quran. Initial investigations by police indicate the unfortunate man had done nothing more offensive than to replace a calendar, which contained no Islamic verses, with a new one for the month of Ramazan. It is not yet clear if the official who persuaded the Imam at the factory mosque to accuse the owner on this basis of blasphemy over loudspeakers had a personal grudge; whether his incitement of workers was driven by some deeper motive of ill-will; but certainly this is a possibility given what we have seen in the past. This can happen too within any work setting, where disagreements after all are not a rarity but often a part of professional life. Many face a risk of similar brutality then being directed towards them as a result of rivalry or some petty argument.

What is far more alarming is what these incidents say about the environment we have created in our country. It seems that we have been able to whip up so much hatred that the tide has overwhelmed all humanity and all reason. Simply making an accusation of blasphemy is enough to bring violent death. The mob mentality seen at the Muridke factory has been demonstrated too in other places and has taken an equally tragic toll on lives. It is easy to blame all this on extremist groups. After the attack in Gojra, there has been much hurling of charges. These are all valid. There can be no doubt that such groups have played a big role in building blind bigotry. Laws, such as that on blasphemy, have also played a part. But the fact also is that we are all to blame for allowing this to happen to our society. The fact is that even now, after the massacre in Gojra, only a very small number of Muslims stood with protesting Christians. The media played its part with some responsibility – but some sections of the Urdu press made familiar attempts to create new flames and keep passions high. All these factors too have played a part in creating the atmosphere that allows such outrages to take place. And the problem is that until this atmosphere changes there will be more such incidents and more atrocities committed in the name of religion.

We need to change this. But the challenge is a big one. The nature of bigotry is such that it defies appeal to reason or good sense. If a difference is to be made the effort to do so must start at the government level. Laws misused to settle scores must be undone; a message of communal peace must go out from mosques and over the official media. Those responsible for the most recent murder must also be brought to book. Only when this happens can there be any hope of sending out a strong enough message and altering the public mindset on this matter.







The domestic violence bill passed by the National Assembly acknowledges that women often face immense risk within their own homes. A refusal to accept this has been a factor in the reluctance to pass such legislation in the past. The legislators who have campaigned tirelessly for the bill need to be applauded for their tenacity. But there are other challenges ahead. A key factor will be the question of how the law will be implemented. The police will inevitably play an important role. The task of investigating crime and following up complaints is essentially one that falls to them. This too is the area where problems have arisen in the past. Women bringing charges of violence against husbands or other family members have often failed to secure cooperation.

Efforts to sensitize police have proven only partially successful against the weight of social opinion and the biases that exist everywhere. Given this, the bill which now awaits passage by the Senate must be backed by measures to create genuine change and that means moving beyond the cosmetic. To be effective, awareness and public support is also needed. The government and the ministries concerned need to determine how this can be generated. Otherwise there is a risk that despite good intentions little will be achieved in actual terms, and that would be a tragedy.







Over the past few years, more and more international organizations have pulled out of Pakistan due to the security situation. To many it seems almost unbelievable that in the aftermath of the October 2005 earthquake, so many foreign aid workers had been able to move freely through the northern areas. For affected people this was a mercy. Things have, within a few years, changed beyond recognition. Most recently the UN has announced a scaling down of its operations in Balochistan. The organization had been receiving threats suggesting that promises made in the wake of the release of the UNHCR chief, John Solecki, abducted earlier this year and held for two months, had not been kept. A UN spokesperson has said that the pullback will affect projects in agriculture and for the uplift of women.

For the people of many under-developed parts of Pakistan, including Balochistan, this is unfortunate. The country's largest province is also its least privileged. The literacy rate for Balochistan for instance hovers at around 34 per cent, compared to a national average of some 52 per cent. Only around 27 per cent of its women are literate. NGOs have been forced to wrap up work in many parts of the northern areas too to protect themselves and their staff. In some cases such withdrawals have followed attacks. Even giant, government-backed organizations, such as the Rural Support Programmes, have not been spared. In many places people complain that schools and dispensaries have closed down and the exit of health workers or teachers means they receive little help in overcoming the many handicaps they face. This situation is unfortunate; indeed even tragic and is a reminder to the government of how much needs to be done to address the increasingly urgent security needs of the country.









THE implementation of the historic verdict of the Supreme Court in Judges’ confirmation case is underway and in a latest development all judges of the Balochistan High Court including its Chief Justice resigned on Tuesday, and as a consequence the Court is without a judge.

The judgement has been widely appreciated by all segments of the society considering it as a solid move towards consolidation of the democratic process, rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution. The verdict has changed the entire complexion of the judiciary as majority of judges who took oath under the PCO or were appointed in consultation with Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar are no more judges. A number of issues relating to the affected judges have cropped up and according to reports 76 judges who stand removed consequential to the judgement have decided to challenge their dismissal in the apex court. One can differ from their point of view that some PCO judges were still working while non-PCO judges have been removed but the fact remains that many issues would continue to crop up in the days to come. One may say that the attention of the whole nation has shifted to the judiciary and judges’ issue and there was, therefore, a need to wrap it up urgently. There is a also report that the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) would meet soon to decide the reference being moved against judges who took oath under the PCO and it would be in the fitness of things if the Council expedites the process. There is also a very important issue of filling the vacant posts to expedite the disposal of pending cases. It is understood that several lobbies are now active to get their men inducted as judges on different pleas. Though there is a laid down mechanism and one hopes that the Chief Justice of Pakistan and Chief Justices of the High Courts would ensure transparency, yet it is obvious that they would be under tremendous pressure. As independent, neutral and fair judiciary is of critical importance for socio-economic progress of the country, we hope that the worthy Chief Justices would not succumb to any pressure and would get only those appointed who have the integrity and capability to become judges of the superior judiciary.








THE National Assembly on Tuesday adopted an important bill to stem domestic violence against women and children, envisaging quick criminal trials and a chain of protection committees and protection officers. The bill comprehensively defines what constitutes violence and the first breach of protection order will be punishable with imprisonment of up to one year and minimum fine of one lac rupees, which will be paid to the aggrieved person and the punishment would increase in case of violation for second, third or more times.

This is surely a step forward to improve the lot of women and children who are being abused in different manners. The passage of the bill shows that the legislators and the Government are determined to provide relief to the vulnerable families. The fact remains that over the years successive governments have done many things to empower women socially, economically and politically. Women representation in Parliament and Provincial Assemblies as well as Local Bodies institutions has significantly been enhanced giving them an opportunity to become part of policy formulation and decision-making at different tiers. In fact, the Protection Bill’s smooth passage was possible because of effective and vocal presence of women in the National Assembly. Apart from open merit, women also have a special quota in civil services. The present Government too has tried to empower women economically by making cash payment under BISP to only woman family members. However, there are still some areas that need attention like their humiliation, strangulation, acid throwing and forced marriages. While we acknowledge that the Women Protection Bill is a step in the right direction, we differ from the mechanism put in place to monitor the situation and initiate proceedings. One fails to understand on what basis police has been involved in the protection committees in view of its track record of indulgence in corruption, exploitation and extortion. Therefore, we hope that this aspect would be looked into and notables of the area included in these committees.







AFTER the Gojra tragedy, which severely dented Pakistan’s image, another incident in Muridke, reportedly of blasphemy, claimed the lives of three persons. Various TV channels thought it appropriate to blow it out of all proportion giving impression of breakdown of law and order, intolerance and anarchy in the society.

According to reports, the trouble started following an altercation between the owner and a manager of a factory over tearing down of an old Ramazan calendar. The manager subsequently instigated workers and residents of nearby villages who formed a mob and attacked the factory. Another report stated that it was a dispute over payment of wages to workers. The facts would come to fore when investigation is completed but it shows that people are very sensitive when it comes to religion and they are exploited by the vested interests to settle scores. Similar protests were held across the country after the publication of blasphemous cartoons in a Danish newspaper in February 2006. That process of expression of anger and outrage goes on since then. Even if somebody makes a mention of an incident of blasphemous nature, mobs come out on streets and take law into their hands leading to loss of innocent lives like Gojra and Muridke. It has been witnessed that on several occasions, individuals and organisations instigate people in the name of Islam. No one has the right to decide and punish anyone involved in blasphemous act and such cases be thoroughly investigated and taken to the courts to be decided according to the law of the land. At the same time those inciting violence should also be made accountable. Similarly minorities must also respect the law and sentiments of their Muslim countrymen. What is worrisome is that the politico-religious parties try to take advantage of such incidents and fan hatred among the people. We would therefore appeal to the Ulema belonging to all schools of thought to play a proactive role in promoting harmony and in no way individuals or groups be allowed to take law in their hands.









The auspicious night of Shab-e-Barat or Lailatul Barat will be observed tonight. For the devoted Muslims, this night is specially significant because it is on this night of mid-Shaban, Allah Subhanu Taaala (the most glorious, the most high) determines the destiny of all people, including birth and death. The pious Muslims pass the night by offering prayers and reciting from the holy Quran. Teenage believers crowd the mosques, following their elders and guardians.


The believers visit the graveyards offering fateha or prayers  for the departed souls. During the day, special dishes particularly halwa and roti are prepared in the Muslim households and distributed among the neighbours, near and dear ones. But these food items acquire value only when shared with the needy and the poor.

To the devotees Lailatul Barat affords an opportunity to refurbish the true Islamic values and to draw inspiration for becoming strong in faith, seeking Allah's benevolence and mercy in order to better their temporal and spiritual lives. Allah Subhanu Taala is all-powerful, so on this holy night believers with repentance look up to Him for mercy and blessing. In the present-day world, Muslims seem to be in a state of restlessness. As it is interpreted, this is due to their failure to follow the Islamic teachings as preached and practised by Prophet Muhammad (PUBH). Let us therefore pray for peace and prosperity of the Muslim ummah on this occasion, which they can attain through sincere soul-searching and rejuvenation of their faith.







 Three teachers of the University of Dhaka implicated in the August 2007 unrest has finally been found 'not guilty' by the court on Tuesday. This means that the latest ruling by the first metropolitan additional sessions judge has overturned the sentence delivered by the third additional chief metropolitan magistrate on charge of instigating the unrest on Dhaka University (DU) campus and violating the emergency power rules clamped at that time. Although the three DU teachers did not have to suffer the sentence of rigorous imprisonment following presidential clemency granted to them, their conviction and the stigma associated with it stayed until the court on Tuesday cleared them of all charges brought against them.
This is proof enough of the fact that the respected teachers were wrongly implicated. When men like them are undermined, the credibility of those who are at the helm of state affairs suffers. The entire nation feels something somewhere has gone terribly wrong and the teachers are made to pay for someone else's fault. Now that the teachers have been freed from all charges, it will give people a sense of relief and restore their confidence in the institutions. If the teachers had not done anything wrong, someone else did and we need to know who it was. Hopefully the initiative taken by the parliamentary standing committee on education ministry to investigate the campus turmoil will help shed light on this matter.

The teachers are happy because, as they say, 'justice triumphs' ultimately. We too would think so but what is the compensation for the harassment and loss of their image as DU teachers? If those responsible for the ugly incident involving members of the army and students are meted out punishment, it will at least help close the chapter. This is essential for yet another important reason - the reason of putting in place an effective deterrence to such volatile incidents in future. Under democratic dispensation, mob violence at all places, on university campuses and involving outsiders in particular, has to be discouraged once for all.







The old sage sat outside the hospital, "Death!" I said staring fearfully at the old man. "No I'm not death, just an old man, but you seem scared of death?"

"There's Swine Flu around," I said looking into the confines of the hospital.



"It means death is stalking us!"

"Come here," said the old sage as he made place for me on the old walls of the hospital. "You know what death should remind you off?"


"Life!" said the old sage and suddenly in his eyes I saw a twinkle. "This Swine Flu should remind all of us that life will end some day for all of us! So..."

"So what?"

"So it's time to cherish each moment, but look at what is happening around." We looked at cars rushing, at pedestrians running to catch a bus, children crossing the road dangerously as parents screamed. "Do you think any one of them is enjoying life?"

"No!" I whispered. "So," said the sage, "Along comes a reminder!"


"Yes Swine Flu, of course, to tell you and me to stop a while and smell the flowers!"

"Will that help?"

"Help?" asked the old sage. "Help me forget about death? Help me enjoy life?"

"A bit," said the old man suddenly looking at me with interest, "You want more out of life huh?" I nodded. "Then you what you need is to go past enjoying and into the stage of joy! You want joy in your life?"


"It's the simplest formula in the world, you want joy in your life, you bring joy into the life of others, simple, look at that blind man crossing the road..." I rushed and helped him across, "Thank you!" said the blind man as he pressed my hand. I watched the sage smile. "How did you feel?" I smiled at the sage, looked into the hospital and suddenly didn't fear death anymore, I looked at the old man next to me and found him gone: He was nowhere, not down the road, not across, he'd disappeared. The blind man was still negotiating the pavement, I walked to him, "Where are you headed?"

"The Blind Men's hostel," he said, as I held his hand and walked down the road whistling. "You okay?"

asked the blind man. "Absolutely!" I said and thought I heard in the wind the voice of the old sage telling someone above, "Ah there's one more who's not afraid of death anymore…!"



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




After Bill Clinton left Pyongyang with two freed U.S. journalists Wednesday, speculation is rampant on what he gave in return.

Though billed as ``the most influential private citizen in America," the former U.S. president's visit itself couldn't have been all some call ``the most dangerous (North) Korean in the world" wanted in exchange for pardoning the imprisoned reporters.

So it would be natural to presume there was some sort of ``message" from President Barack Obama to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, despite U.S. officials' ``official" denial of it. Its content is anyone's guess for now, but could be known by the two countries' acts as time goes by.

Nothing would be riskier than judging the encounter, between quite likely two of the world's toughest and most experienced strategists and negotiators, by appearances alone. Watching the seeming reversal of usual facial expressions between the two the mostly glum Kim looking cheerful and the normally jovial Clinton appearing stiff one could only guess Washington had to concede a major propaganda cover for Pyongyang in order to ensure the safety of its citizens.

Kim Jong-il may have to thank the two women for offering him dear opportunities to discuss a breakthrough out of the current nuclear and missile stalemate with the U.S., demonstrate he is alive and well to audiences at home and abroad, and tell his people that no smaller a figure than a former U.S. president and the spouse of its secretary of state paid a courtesy call to the communist capital.

The ailing North Korean leader must know, however, that for the temporary, propaganda prop to turn into any lasting, substantive benefit, the reclusive regime will have to be ready to make real changes toward denuclearization. Nothing less will bring about what Kim and his people want and need to get their country out of the looming economic decline and deepening diplomatic isolation.

The first step for Pyongyang is to show its sincerity and credibility, as the U.S. has made it clear it would not reward North Korea if it returns to the dialogue table, nor if the North restarts from the Sept. 19, 2005 agreement, but would recognize Pyongyang's genuineness only when it progresses from where it had stopped. Even if North Korea agrees to resume dialogue, all related parties, including South Korea and China, have a long way to go before attaining a desired outcome, as they will have to undergo the tough, tedious process of resetting both the forms and procedures of the talks.

That said, Washington and its allies ought not to misunderstand or overestimate their counterpart. In other words, they should not ask Pyongyang which way it will go regarding denuclearization. However incredible and unpredictable the isolationist regime might appear, North Korea's actions are also reactions to its adversaries. North Korea may not know where it would or should go, which can be decided by all six countries concerned.

All parties involved can ill-afford to waste this opportunity to turn from confrontation to conversation. The key may not so much lie in Pyongyang as in Washington and Seoul. Particularly, the Lee Myung-bak administration, which has yet to rescue its citizen, detained in the North as long as the Americans, should keep this firmly in mind.








Many Korean adults have childhood memories of frequenting mom and pop stores to buy candies, cookies and toys. But, the younger generation might no longer be able to go to such stores since distribution giants affiliated with family-run conglomerates have begun to open smaller retail outlets in every corner of our neighborhood.

These outlets are called ``super supermarkets,'' or SSM, which are making inroads into the neighborhood supermarket business, threatening the survival of mom and pop stores. Samsung Tesco, Lotte Super, GS Retail, Shinsegae and other mammoth retail arms of the nation's major business groups are now rushing to get into the SSM business as their discount store market has already reached a saturation point.

According to official statistics, there were only 56 SSM across the country in 2000. But the number surged to 325 in 2008. Every time an SSM opens, mom and pop stores in its neighborhood usually suffer an 82-percent plunge in their sales on average. And a large portion of small stores within the 1-kilometer radius of an SSM is driven out of business in less than a year.

Distribution giants' heightened foray is even feared to force small stores to disappear from our neighborhoods more rapidly. Against this backdrop, small storeowners have just begun to fight back, blocking or delaying the opening of new SSM in major cities throughout the nation. Now, they are resorting to petitions for government arbitration against the opening of new super supermarkets.

About 200 small storeowners in Cheongju, South Chungcheong Province, even returned their business registrations to the tax authorities last month in protest against the operation of Samsung Tesco's Homeplus discount hypermarket and express shops. The company has had to postpone the launch of its smaller-sized outlet store in Yeonsu-gu, Incheon, in the face of mounting protests from groceries and other small stores in the region. The move came just before the Small and Medium Business Administration, a government agency, suggested that the firm suspend the opening following a petition filed by a group of small neighborhood stores.

Small storeowners have so far filed a total of 18 petitions against Samsung Tesco, Lotte Supper, GS Retail and other SSM operators. Their move is seen as a struggle for survival. SSMs, which have an average store floor space of 1,000 square meters, sell dairy and meat products, vegetables, fish and daily necessities. Their operations are undoubtedly posing a threat to mom and pop stores and traditional markets.

Furthermore, the dispute is spreading to such areas as bookstores, gas stations, bakeries and flower shops. Kyobo Book Center, the nation's largest bookstore chain, had to delay the opening of its new branch in Yeongdeungpo, Seoul, in late July due to strong opposition from small bookstores.

Small storeowners and merchants have succeeded in suspending the opening of large retailers' outlets. But the success is only temporary because conglomerates will never give up their inroads. Therefore, the authorities should focus on finding ways to allow small neighborhood stores to coexist with super supermarkets. It is also necessary to prevent a small number of big business groups from dominating the market, which would be detrimental to consumer interest.








On returning home from a weeklong sightseeing trip to four Northern European countries this summer, including Denmark, what I felt like doing first, and actually did, was to take my anthology of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales from the bookshelf and reread ``The Little Mermaid," among others.

I had read the tale and some of his others, such as ``The Ugly Duckling" and ``The Little Match-Seller," in Korean translation and as a schoolboy, and I vaguely remembered ``The Little Mermaid" to be a sad story in which a mermaid falls in love with a royal prince
a fabulous and farfetched story, simply a fairy tale.

Now, after reading the tale once again, this time translated in English, very carefully and slowly and after having visited Odense, the very place where Andersen was born, and especially after having seen with my own naked eyes the little bronze statue of the Mermaid at Langelinie Pier in Copenhagen, my perception of the story and its author has undergone a sea change. During the re-reading, my heart broke and I was almost moved to tears. Advanced age seems to make a man more sentimental and easier to break.

The mermaid in Andersen's tale is a wistful, thoughtful and yearning creature who wants to be a human, to be loved by a human and to have an immortal soul after death like humans do. It is this strong and unnatural desire that causes her to abandon the royal palace deep under the sea and her dear family, to sacrifice her bodily form at great pain, and that finally drives her to great sorrow and death.

But, to my great consolation, the Little Mermaid has resurrected herself and enjoys an immortal life, just as she wished. As a slender female figure of bronze, she now stands and gazes at the stately ships sailing the waters of Copenhagen harbor. Young as she is in comparison to the harbor and the city, The Little Mermaid has become a landmark of Copenhagen for millions of visitors every year and a symbol of immortality applying both to art and artist. Truly, art is long and life is short.

As a literary form, the so-called ``fairy tale' is a disadvantageous category compared to poetry, novel or drama. It is a genre usually given to various writings of the less gifted, the not so earnest or the less ambitious that are simply content writing for unsophisticated children only. It is supposed to be mild, light and mostly educational. But the truly great writers or geniuses are those who can make the best use of a given form and transcend it. Hans Christian Andersen wrote his unique stories in the old form in quite a new way. Therein lies his genius.

The genius of Andersen cannot be fully appreciated until one feels and experiences the rich variety of his literary imagination. Among his 159 fairy tales ever in print, ``The Shirt Collar," for example, delights us with its witty playfulness. ``The Story of a Mother" is a moving portrayal of a mother's tragic plight. Each of ``Aunty Toothache," ``Lucky Peer," and ``Anne Lisbeth" has an unforgettable story and character. Whether comedy, tragedy or morality tale, his stories abound with poetry, depth and subtlety, and commend themselves to people of all ages.

Just look! Measured by the number of translations and published editions all over the world, plus the actual dissemination among the populace, Andersen is the author whose works are most widely spread and read. His fairy tales are said to be translated into almost 200 different languages. The works of international literary figures such as Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe might be translated in equally as many languages, but their works are not usually read, as are Andersen's, by the general public, I suppose, nor are they as understood or so beloved.

Today, just as in antiquity and the Middle Ages, the mermaid is known to us as a desirable, favorable and enigmatic creature, not uninterested in man and perhaps not without danger. For this reason, traditions have probably grown up around The Little Mermaid at Langelinie Quay in Copenhagen. Sailors from all over the world visiting the harbor honor her with flowers and kisses, believing and wishing that she will bring them good luck. She is undoubtedly the most photographed "girl" in the world. Countless people from all corners of the world have allowed themselves to be immortalized alongside her, including me.

Unfortunately, however, not everyone seems to love The Little Mermaid. She has been vandalized on several occasions, usually with paint, since her unveiling in 1912. The worst act of vandalism occurred in 1964, when her head was sawed off with a hacksaw and removed. It was generally believed that the motive was hate for the "sensitive" style of the sculpture. The perpetrator was never found. Fortunately, the plaster original was (and is) still kept at a bronze foundry, so an identical stature was re-made without any sign of the disfigurement. However, Copenhagen Harbor was once without its mermaid for a month.

I recall fondly the hustle and bustle of the Langelinie Quay in Copenhagen when I visited the place for the first time in my life. She was sitting on a granite stone in drizzling rain, surrounded by the noisy crowds competing for a better place to take pictures. There she sat, a melancholy dreamer somewhere between our world and her own, gazing far out to sea.

``If she had been thoughtful and silent before, she now became far more so. And when her sisters enquired of her what she had seen on the first day when she visited the upper world, she answered them not. Evening after evening, she visited the shore where she had left the prince," as Andersen wrote in ``The Little Mermaid."








An ugly labor dispute is gripping Ssangyong Motors in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, as unionists are vowing to ``fight to the end'' by shooting nuts and bolts from large slingshots and hurling Molotov cocktails at riot police officers. However, with every nut and bolt shot and with every Molotov cocktail hurled, both the Korean people and the world are losing sympathy for their cause and their refusal to compromise.

Yet, their plight should not be ignored. While I do not agree with their methods, I can understand their feelings of desperation as Korea continues to suffer from the global economic recession.

The Korea Development Institute reported that the number of households living in absolute poverty has hit a record high of 17.6 percent; which means that one in every six Korean families is making well below the minimum cost of living.

Nevertheless, these violent demonstrators are not the only problematic Koreans being witnessed by the foreign community living in Korea and elsewhere. Sadly, we also see it in the stigma that many of these hard-working poor must face because of the mindsets of many people in this country. As one Korean netizen, that goes by the name of ``twoturtles,'' so blithely put it, ``blue collar (jobs) are for losers. Only through unions can these monkeys make decent money."

How could a country be so obsessed with success and the need for education that it forgets that there is also a need for a working class? Why is it that the owners and stockholders of these Korean industries, not just Ssangyong Motors, are so obsessed with their own personal success and wealth that they must be forced to pay the people that help them achieve it a wage that lets them support their families?

Yet for many in this country the Korean dream of a home and financial security is lost as more manufacturing jobs leave for the cheaper foreign labor cost in China, Vietnam and Thailand
often paying these foreign workers a monthly salary of around $300 and in addition not having to worry about environmental and employee safety issues.

Furthermore, as more Korean engineering and technology industries look elsewhere to set up manufacturing divisions and with the steady deterioration of the Korean job market
there is not enough diversity in the South Korean labor industry and regrettably with this fact come the realization that there is no where for those people who are displaced to go.

Companies in this country have no reason to protect Korean workers, since they basically only worry about themselves and about their short term profits. This is actually the problem with the profit maximization model that capitalism promotes
people sacrifice morals for money. The result is that the working class loses all hope.

Therefore, before we make the assumptions that all these unionists are criminals and need to pay heavily for their actions, we must take in account the feeling of hopelessness that they are facing with the loss of their jobs.

Although I believe in the ``rule of law'' and that these demonstrators need to face the consequences of their actions, Korea needs to find a way to protect its workers so that they no longer feel the need to go to such extreme measures to be heard by management and the government.

Korea can no longer afford to look down with contempt upon the working class
the true backbone of this country's economy given the fact that executives and other white collar workers only make up a little over 21 percent of the nation's population.

The writer is a student of Biblical studies. He can be reached at









The art of access seems to have reached new highs -- or lows -- as clients hand over millions of dollars in fees to this burgeoning class. It is an alarming development.


The federal government's own code of conduct says that lobbying is a "legitimate activity and an important part of the democratic process. Lobbyists can help individuals and organisations communicate their views on matters of public interest to the government and ... in doing so, improve outcomes for the individual and the community as a whole".


Is this the same "legitimate activity" that saw former Queensland deputy premier Terry Mackenroth lobbying for a zoning change of land on the Sunshine Coast, a change that Premier Anna Bligh was last week forced to refer to the Crime and Misconduct Commission? Is this the "legitimate activity" that saw the state's disgraced former deputy premier Jim Elder welcomed back into the room as co-owner of the lobbying group Enhance Corporate?


The lobbying code is "intended to promote trust in the integrity of government processes", but recent revelations suggest it is not working. Around the country we see a political culture that entrenches patronage and threatens to place special interests ahead of the national interest. It's an industry peopled by a class of former politicians, advisers, trade union officials and backroom operators who morph into lobbyists and consultants and pull in the dollars.


Organisations and businesses will always push their case with governments and there are plenty of examples from both sides of politics where the relationships have seemed far too cosy. Remember, for example, the political storm over John Howard's approval of an ethanol assistance package that benefited a major donor to the Liberal Party, Dick Honan? But the webs of influence now emerging across the nation suggest that Labor in power is finding it hard to resist this culture of personal enrichment for old mates.


Voters have a right to expect that policy decisions are made by governments after careful vetting of evidence and analysis of the national interest. It's hard to stay hopeful, however, when the connections between serving politicians and lobbyists are so intimate and, at times, so compromised.


Registers of lobbyists are important in increasing the transparency of the system -- and we need one in every state. Public opinion, too, can force governments to implement their own bans on access. But self-regulation is not enough: the growth in the sector suggests that it's time for a tougher line on lobbyists. There must be a limit to their power.


Lobbying is not the only dirty little secret shared by both sides of politics. Even more concerning are the paid lunches and dinners organised by political parties. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with political parties holding fundraisers at which the drawcard is proximity to the Prime Minister or other senior MPs. But such events are opportunistic and cynical and carry the potential for conflicts of interest because lobbying becomes blurred with fundraising. At least with direct lobbying, the intention is clear.


The Rudd government has promised reform of the electoral system but in recent days senior ministers have been lukewarm, for example, on the idea of a ban on paying for access to politicians. And legislation before federal parliament designed to publicly identify donations above $1000 is more likely to dissuade corporate and business donors rather than the trade unions who back Labor. However, it is worth noting that the government has flagged the option of public funding of political parties. As former premier Wayne Goss said in this paper this week: "We must ... remove the ever-increasing pressure on all sides of politics to raise campaign funds".


Lobbying is part of the democratic process, but the problem for our society is the willingness of business to pay big dollars to achieve their ends. Our democracy is in rude health compared with most other nations: but preservation of that democracy requires leaders to be ethical and responsible enough to ensure there are adequate checks and balances.








Almost 70 per cent of her constituents, scattered across an area five times the size of Tasmania, are indigenous, many of them living in some of Australia's poorest communities, including Hermannsburg, Yulara, Kintore, Papunya and Docker River. In 2007, Ms Anderson put their needs ahead of party politics when she stood up to her then-Labor colleagues and backed the Howard government's intervention as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get things right." Pledging to "represent my people regardless of what's fashionable", she acknowledged that they "need the help and want the help". When she resigned from cabinet on Tuesday, citing the Henderson government's "rotten" management of Aboriginal affairs, she again put her people first.


Ms Anderson's move was driven by an understandable repugnance at the waste of millions of dollars earmarked to improve Third World living conditions in such places as Papunya, her home community. Like much of her electorate, it is beset by overcrowded housing and high unemployment. Two weeks ago, she threatened to resign over bureaucratic wastage under the $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program. The Territory government had planned to cream off 15 per cent, or $100m, of the SIHIP package in administration fees. Chief Minister Paul Henderson has since vowed to cut the fees by $23m.


A month ago, The Weekend Australian revealed that not one house had been built after two years of the SIHIP initiative. And Northeast Arnhem Land leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu and former Labor Territory minister Eliot McAdam raised serious complaints about white consultants pocketing hefty fees for fly-in, fly-out visits that have failed to produce homes, while many families endure desperately difficult living conditions. As leading indigenous scholar Marcia Langton has pointed out, the consultants are on the gravy train, saying "we have to consult with the Aborigines", while competent local groups have built houses and shown they are ready to shoulder responsibility for housing projects. Many local people, Professor Langton said, were ready to take on building jobs and contracts after undergoing "more training than a Moscow circus". She suggested that to avoid SIHIP becoming a disaster, "well-run, highly accountable Aboriginal bodies such as local housing associations" needed to be involved.


Like Ms Anderson, Professor Langton recognises that the core problem runs much deeper than the housing crisis to the Territory's long-term mismanagement of federal funding. Time and again, Territory governments have taken commonwealth funding allocations, especially non-tied grants, and used the money for other purposes, not spent it at all or taken a large cut for administration. Commonwealth Grants Commission papers show that of $218m allocated to the Territory for indigenous services in 2006-08, only $110m was spent. In family and child services, just $43m was spent out of $177m.


Ms Anderson was right when she branded the Territory a "failed state". She has demanded a royal commission into the government's spending on indigenous services. But her resignation from cabinet might prove a catalyst for reform. Should she and independent Gerry Wood back an opposition motion of no confidence in Labor when parliament meets next week, they could force a change of government or trigger an early election. The Territory has fixed four-year terms and is due for an election in 2012, but speculation is rife that Territory Administrator Tom Pauling might call an election or appoint Country Liberals leader Terry Mills as chief minister.

Contrary to expectations of an easy win, Labor experienced a 9 per cent swing against it at the election a year ago. But despite it failing indigenous Territorians, who compromise 30 per cent of the population, it clung to power with 12 seats out of 25. Following Ms Anderson's departure, the return to the ALP fold of former deputy chief minister Marion Scrymgour, who moved to the crossbenches in June over the development of "growth towns" as economic hubs, has rebalanced the numbers. But the housing fiasco shows that Mr Henderson has failed to heed the lessons of the election. It's been business as usual, eroding his government's moral authority. As a desert woman, Ms Anderson understands what their inertia has cost her people.


Her resignation was a principled stand in the hope of facilitating real improvement








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.











THE alacrity with which both sides of politics, and the Treasury Department, have sought to destroy the reputation of the Treasury official Godwin Grech is a sign that he has become a convenient scapegoat for more serious structural failures revealed by the Australian National Audit Office. The Treasury Department, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition all have a case to answer. The most disturbing questions arising from this episode concern the conduct of the Treasury Department itself.


A picture has emerged of a politically sensitive bureaucracy that is highly attentive to political needs as a way of maintaining its role at the centre of power in Canberra and its power over the rest of the federal bureaucracy. The arrival of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, with his manic drive to deliver transforming policy across the breadth of federal power, appears to have compromised Treasury.


The National Audit Office’s report is highly critical of the department. It presents evidence of policy being created on the run, resulting in confusion, lax bookkeeping and a systemic failure to seek competitive bids as the department outsourced work and advice, at great cost, to financial companies. ‘‘This approach seriously weakens the Commonwealth’s negotiating position,’’ the report states. Nor does the National Audit Office simply accept Treasury’s attempt to shunt all blame to Grech. Its report found he was clearly overworked and under intense pressure to implement a Rudd Government political initiative quickly.


The submission Grech made to the National Audit Office also highlights the Treasury Department’s political sensitivities. The report gives no reason to believe that Grech, for all his eccentricities, should be dismissed as a pathological liar and fantasist. We believe this observation by Grech is noteworthy: ‘‘About 11.30am on June 19, I received a message to call the Deputy Secretary of Treasury, Jim Murphy, urgently. He said: ‘If you are asked any questions in the Senate this afternoon about John Grant and the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister’s Office, you should simply say that you’ve confused the Grant case with some other case. It is very important that you do not make any trouble.’ ’’


It should not be forgotten that the most dramatic moment in Grech’s testimony before a Senate committee came when a senior Treasury official, sitting next to Grech as he gave answers to the committee, intervened when Grech began to talk about possibly receiving a sensitive email from the Prime Minister’s office. The Treasury official cut him off mid-sentence.







THE rerelease of Wake in Fright is a reminder of just how powerful Australian films can be, and also just how fleeting. Now widely considered one of the best films made in this country, it was a commercial disappointment on its release in 1971 and disappeared afterwards for a very long time. Unfortunately, not a lot has changed. We are still producing good films (even if most are not in the same league as Wake in Fright) and they are still not finding a large audience. Indeed, as the Herald’s Garry Maddox reported yesterday, many do not even achieve a cinema release.


This is not because they are bad; many local films are critically acclaimed. It is because they cannot compete with the marketing tsunami that accompanies the American blockbusters which dominate cinema screens more than ever. This is another manifestation of the ‘‘winner-takes-all’’ phenomenon that affects so many contemporary markets, including those for art and entertainment.


Despite this, people continue to make films in this country – about 24 a year (although this year the figure is higher). This occurs with the assistance of government, ranging from training for those who want to work in the industry to various forms of financial subsidy for individual projects. The time has come to question the point of putting so much effort into production if the resulting films almost never find an audience.


One answer would be to stop government funding of film production. Another, which we prefer, would be to put more effort into ensuring our good films find an audience. Government has a wide range of methods it might apply to this, as is shown by the book and television industries. These also frequently involve government support of various kinds, but that support extends from production to marketing and audience development and even further (for example, the local content laws for commercial television).


In contrast the film industry and the government bodies supporting it seem never to have got the balance right. For too long they have been making films knowing that most of them would never be seen. There is a need to switch more effort and money from production to marketing and related activities. It is not hard to come up with ideas such an approach might consider. For example, ABC TV would do more for Australian culture by showing the best new local films than by its endless reruns of British crime drama.


Fortunately there is a growing awareness of the problem. Screen Australia, the Government’s premier film agency, has strengthened its commitment to helping filmmakers find an audience. But more needs to be done.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




Unlike her boss, Harriet Harman won an open contest in the Labour party. And yet unlike her predecessor as Labour's deputy leader, she has to battle hard to secure her annual few days in the political sun. The stand-in premiership during the summer break is chiefly about presentation – a prime minister can always be contacted on the beach, or, for that matter, at a community project in Kirkcaldy. But this does not stop Mr Brown feeling a need to divvy the job up between several colleagues. No doubt he fears Ms Harman will use the platform to stir up controversy.


In a few short days there have been rows about the role of women in politics, questions about public policy on domestic violence as well as a cabinet tussle over a review of the way rape is prosecuted. While divisive, Ms Harman's gut instincts are mostly progressive. At 6.5%, the rape conviction rate is appallingly low. The gender pay gap, another perennial Harman preoccupation, is not only too big but it is, if anything – according to a significant new report last week – tending to widen. The lesson of history, and one Labour's deputy has learned well, is that such injustices do not get addressed until somebody makes a fuss. After Mr Brown's wearisome waffle about a progressive consensus there is something heartening about Ms Harman's understated admission that her politics "are not always consensual". She is once again being mauled in the rightwing press – and yet this will not cow her, as it would some New Labourites, but will instead only persuade her to redouble her efforts.


From time to time she has won on the substance by picking fights – as when she held out against Peter Mandelson on the detail of the equalities bill. Mostly, however, Ms Harman's interventions are motivated more by a concern to take a stand than by considering what happens next. The demand to widen the review into the rape laws this week is a case in point: a sweeping inquiry would stand no chance at all of producing results this side of an election. Her insistence in March that the outlandish pension of Sir Fred Goodwin, the failed banker, "was not enforceable in the court of public opinion" vented righteous indignation, but was unattached to any prescription for action.


It is revealing that Ms Harman's great victory on policy, on childcare, was not won in Whitehall but during her prolonged spell on the backbenches. She is first and foremost a campaigner, not an administrator, which is why it seems easier to imagine her as a leader of Labour in opposition than as a permanent prime minister. To have her in No 10 for a few days, however, is a refreshing spectacle – because it puts some politics back into the government.







When Russia's self-appointed macho man, Vladimir Putin, staged a photo opportunity this week to show off his bare-chested outdoor prowess, it was inevitable that he would attempt to swim the butterfly stroke. Anything else would have been too easy. Butterfly is the most bewildering of techniques: done properly it is supposed to take less effort than racing crawl, but few non-professionals have mastered it. The stroke depends on a strange overarm leaping, arms out and thumbs down, with most people ending up swimming half vertical, as though trying to climb out of the water. That is a mistake (and one made by Prime Minister Putin, who was also filmed on his holiday riding a horse with the reins too short). Elegant butterfly should pull the swimmer forward in a supple wave, made additionally tricky by a dolphin-like kick. Whether it is worth all the effort is open to question: in 1936 the Amateur Swimming Association even banned its use in competitive swimming, and didn't relent until 1947, not long before butterfly made a formal appearance at the Olympics. Nor is it clear who invented it. "Of great interest to swimmers at the moment is a new stroke, reported to be becoming popular in the United States and picturesquely described as the Butterfly stroke," the Guardian reported in 1935, although some say it was in use by 1911. Whatever the truth, it has become one of those elusive skills that separate top swimmers, and publicity hungry prime ministers, from the rest of us.







British banks come in two distinct flavours, this week has confirmed. There is the high street institution most of us know, which takes our deposits and lends them out to others (or used to, at any rate) – and which is in deep trouble. And there is its evil twin, the investment bank, which has never had it so good.


From Goldman Sachs on Wall Street to Barclays on Canary Wharf, the investment bankers that have survived the crash are now coining it in. Barclays announced on Monday that its investment banking division had doubled its pre-tax profit to just over a billion pounds in the first six months of this year alone – while its retail banking arm suffered a 60% fall in profits. It may be bloody on the high street, but on trading floors conditions could hardly be better. First, Barclays Capital benefits from the government schemes to prop up the banking system. Second, markets from oil to equities have surged over the past few months; and third, there are very few competitors after the great crisis of last autumn. And just as important, those regulatory obstacles that politicians keep talking about putting in financiers' way have yet to be put up. Add those together, and the result is that investment banks – the very institutions that created the dodgy credit derivatives, flogged them to everyone else and so did more than any other party to cause the banking crisis – are the biggest winners of this financial crisis. Bonuses all round, then.


Things are not so rosy for the rest of us, who bailed out the banks and are now battling a recession triggered by their recklessness. Unemployment continues to march towards the 3 million mark, and industry experts forecast that anywhere up to 400,000 households will be struggling to pay their mortgages come this Christmas. The results put out this week by nationalised Northern Rock and semi-state owned Lloyds (which now includes Halifax and Bank of Scotland) confirm this grim picture. Yesterday Lloyds wrote off over £13bn in bad loans, an increase of £10.9bn from a year ago. Bad as that sounds, Lloyds' figures were still not as terrible as investors feared, which is why its shares surged nearly 10% on the day.


The glass-half-full types point out that this crop of results from British banks suggest that the worst is now behind the industry. The UK's biggest bank, Lloyds, assured shareholders that write-offs in the rest of this year will be "significantly lower" than the first half – and its boss indicated that he sees the economy picking up from here on. A statement like that would not have been made lightly, since Eric Daniels could expect a lot of flak from disappointed investors. By this logic, the green shoots are just beginning to peep up. If the Bank of England continues pumping money into the financial system (a decision that may be announced at its rate-setting meeting today), and businesses and households regain some confidence, then the banking crisis of last autumn will recede further into the past. Normal service – or the new normal, as some in the industry term it – will resume.


Another way of looking at this week's bank results would be that they show up precisely the problems with the government bailout. Barclays Capital is an investment bank inside a giant financial institution that enjoys implicit and explicit taxpayer support – in the form of loans, guarantees and all the rest. If ever there was an argument for splitting casino banking away from the essential financial services such as holding deposits, it was presented this week. Yet Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown refuse to contemplate such a policy. Both BarCap and Lloyds enjoy near-monopolies in their respective fields – yet the government has yet to call for megabanks to be broken up, and for greater competition to be encouraged. Stability in the banking system is a miracle, given the tumult of the past few months. But it is nowhere near enough.








As Japan marks the 64th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world sees two forces working in opposite directions when it comes to the issue of nuclear weapons.


On one hand, the opportunity has arisen to strengthen moves toward the global elimination of nuclear weapons. In an April 5 speech in Prague, U.S. President Barack Obama touched on the steps although he hinted at inherent difficulties in taking this direction. On the other hand, the danger from nuclear proliferation is increasing, as exemplified by North Korea, which conducted its second nuclear-weapons test May 25.


In his speech, Mr. Obama made clear the U.S. commitment "to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." He also said that "as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act" toward building a nuclear-free world.

Admitting that the goal will not be achieved quickly, Mr. Obama said "I'm not naive." He then emphasized that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the U.S. will retain an arsenal to deter any adversary and guarantee the defense of its allies. Despite these qualifying conditions, it is significant that the U.S. president has committed his administration to the dream of a world without nuclear weapons.


Mr. Obama said his administration will seek U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and negotiations on a new treaty to end the production of fissile materials used for producing nuclear weapons (the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty). The U.S. will also negotiate with Russia this year on a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.


The U.S. ratification of the CTBT could have a positive effect. In fact, former United Nations chief weapons inspector Mr. Hans Blix recently said: "The reality is that if the U.S. were to ratify (CTBT), then China would. If China did, India would. If India did, Pakistan would. If Pakistan did, then Iran would. It would set in motion a positive domino effect."


As the only nation to have experienced atom bomb attacks and the horrors of nuclear devastation, Japan can provide impetus to the efforts that would eventually lead to creation of a nuclear-free world. It should not miss the chance to work together with the U.S. toward this goal.


On April 27, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone delivered a speech titled "Conditions Toward Zero — 11 Benchmarks for Global Nuclear Disarmament." In the speech, Mr. Nakasone announced a Japanese plan to host an international conference early next year to push global nuclear disarmament. Japan needs to prepare carefully for the conference, and it may need to coordinate the event with Washington as Mr. Obama has already disclosed a plan for the U.S. to host a Global Summit on Nuclear Security within the next year.


Mr. Nakasone also called on the nuclear weapons states to carry out "irreversible nuclear disarmament" — taking steps that include dismantling nuclear warheads, nuclear testing sites and facilities that produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) — the U.S., Russia, Britain, China and France — should remember that the treaty requires them to carry out disarmament. Only when these nations show concrete moves toward this end will they acquire the moral leverage needed to persuade other nations to give up their nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons programs.


In May 2010, there will be a five-year review conference of the NPT to examine the status of nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The last review conference in May 2005 was a failure. The international community should strive to make the coming review conference successful. It also must work to prevent terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear weapons.


North Korea's second nuclear test on May 25, 2009 (its first one was Oct. 9, 2006) has raised tension in Northeast Asia. At this moment, Pyongyang has shown no signs of giving up its nuclear weapons programs. It also has refused to return to the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

This situation appears to have given rise to an opinion within Japan that favors softening Japan's three-point nonnuclear principle of neither "producing" nor "possessing" nuclear weapons and not allowing them to be "brought in." But such an about-face would only give a country like North Korea an excuse to further push its nuclear weapons programs.


Efforts to create a world free of nuclear weapons should not be left only to national governments. The city governments of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and civic organizations can make great contributions. If more and more people worldwide correctly understand the truly catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons, they surely will become a great force in pushing for nuclear disarmament.








CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Next month marks the one year anniversary of the collapse of the venerable American investment bank, Lehman Brothers. The fall of Lehman marked the onset of a global recession and financial crisis the likes of which the world has not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. After one year, trillions of dollars in public money, and much soul-searching in the world's policy community, have we learned the right lessons? I fear not.


The overwhelming consensus in the policy community is that if only the government had bailed out Lehman, the whole thing would have been a hiccup and not a heart attack. Famous investors and leading policymakers alike have opined that in our ultra-interconnected global economy, a big financial institution like Lehman can never be allowed to fail. No matter how badly it mismanages its business — Lehman essentially transformed itself into a real estate holding company totally dependent on a continuing U.S. housing bubble — the creditors of a big financial institution should always get repaid. Otherwise, confidence in the system will be undermined, and chaos will break loose.


Having reached the epiphany that financial restructuring must be avoided at all costs, the governments of the world have in turn cast a huge safety net over banks (and whole countries in Eastern Europe), woven from taxpayer dollars.


Unfortunately, the conventional postmortem on Lehman is wishful thinking. It basically says that no matter how huge the housing bubble, how deep a credit hole the United States (and many other countries) had dug, and how convoluted the global financial system, we could have just grown our way out of trouble. Patch up Lehman, move on, keep drafting off of China's energy, and nothing bad ever need have happened.


The fact is global imbalances in debt and asset prices had been building up to a crescendo for years, and had reached the point where there was no easy way out. The U.S. was showing all the warning signs of a deep financial crisis long in advance of Lehman, as Carmen Reinhart and I document in our forthcoming book "This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly."


Housing prices had doubled in a short period, spurring American consumers to drop any thought of saving money. Policymakers, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, had simply let the 2000s growth party go on for too long. Drunk with profits, the banking and insurance industry had leveraged itself to the sky. Investment banks had transformed their business in ways their managers and boards clearly did not understand.


It was not just Lehman Brothers. The entire financial system was totally unprepared to deal with the inevitable collapse of the housing and credit bubbles. The system had reached a point where it had to be bailed out and restructured. And there is no realistic political or legal scenario where such a bailout could have been executed without some blood on the streets. Hence, the fall of a large bank or investment bank was inevitable as a catalyst to action.


The problem with letting Lehman go under was not the concept but the execution. The government should have moved in aggressively to cushion the workout of Lehman's complex derivative book, even if this meant creative legal interpretations or pushing through new laws governing the financial system. Admittedly, it is hard to do these things overnight, but there was plenty of warning. The six months prior to Lehman saw a slow freezing up of global credit and incipient recessions in the U.S. and Europe. Yet little was done to prepare.


So what is the game plan now? There is talk of regulating the financial sector, but governments are afraid to shake confidence. There is recognition that the housing bubble collapse has to be absorbed, but no stomach for acknowledging the years of slow growth in consumption that this will imply.


There is acknowledgment that the U.S.-China trade relationship needs to be rebalanced, but little imagination on how to proceed. Deep down, our leaders and policymakers have convinced themselves that for all its flaws, the old system was better than anything we are going to think of, and that simply restoring confidence will fix everything, at least for as long as they remain in office.


The right lesson from Lehman should be that the global financial system needs major changes in regulation and governance. The current safety net approach may work in the short term but will ultimately lead to ballooning and unsustainable government debts, particularly in the U.S. and Europe.


Asia may be willing to sponsor the West for now, but not in perpetuity. Eventually Asia will find alternatives in part by deepening its own debt markets. Within a few years, Western governments will have to sharply raise taxes, inflate, partially default or some combination of all three. As painful as it may seem, it would be far better to start bringing fundamentals in line now. Restoring confidence has been helpful and important. But ultimately we need a system of global financial regulation and governance that merits our faith.


Kenneth Rogoff is a professor of economics and public policy at Harvard University, and was formerly chief economist at the IMF. © 2009 Project Syndicate (










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


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


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


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


Many efforts are under way worldwide to achieve this goal. Earlier this year, the 65-member Conference on Disarmament — the forum that produces multilateral disarmament treaties — broke a deadlock and agreed to negotiations on a fissile material treaty. Other issues it will discuss include nuclear disarmament and security assurances for nonnuclear weapon states. In addition, Australia and Japan have launched a major international commission on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.


My own multimedia "WMD — We Must Disarm!" campaign, which will culminate on the International Day of Peace (Sept. 21), will reinforce growing calls for disarmament by former statesmen and grassroots campaigns, such as "Global Zero." These calls will get a further boost in September when civil society groups gather in Mexico City for a U.N.-sponsored conference on disarmament and development.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Ban Ki Moon is U.N. secretary general. © 2009 Project Syndicate (









Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was successful in his short visit to Pyongyang to secure the release of the two U.S. reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were captured by North Koreans on the border with China in March while working on a story on North Korean refugees in China.


While the White House said that this trip was a private one, there is no doubt that the former U.S. president's Pyongyang trip, which included a meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, will have been seen as more than just a private mission, not only by Pyongyang, but the rest of the world. Despite Washington's insistence that the humanitarian issue of the two journalists is not connected to the nuclear one, very few will doubt that Bill Clinton's visit will have an impact on the deadlocked six-nation talks aimed at North Korea's denuclearization.


The Bill Clinton years saw relations between North Korea and the United States improve. The two sides brokered a nuclear agreement in 1994 and high-level officials visited each other's capitals during that time. Bill Clinton came very close to visiting Pyongyang toward the end of his term. However, the deal fell through, and when President George W. Bush assumed office, he put North Korea among the countries that make up an "axis of evil." This remained the tenor of the relations between Washington and Pyongyang for the rest of the Bush administration until, toward the end of his term, Bush reversed the course and sought to engage Pyongyang in negotiations.


If North Korea's Kim had expected Barack Obama to go easier on his regime, he could not have been more wrong. The Obama administration has held steadfast to its position that there should be a "complete and irreversible" denuclearization in North Korea and that the communist state will not be rewarded for bad behavior.


Ever since the North's long-range missile test in April, and a series of short-range missile tests and second nuclear test in May, the United States has been leading the world in enforcing strict sanctions against Pyongyang. Washington has persuaded even North Korea's traditional allies China and Russia to come fully aboard in enforcing the U.N. sanctions. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently remarked, North Korea has virtually no friends left.


The North Korean news agency, KCNA, said Clinton had "candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the DPRK and the United States in a sincere atmosphere and reached a consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them." It also said that Bill Clinton delivered a verbal message from Obama.


The White House denied the existence of any message, but whether or not there was any message from Obama, the fact that Bill Clinton met with the North Korean leader will be played to the hilt by Pyongyang.


Many Korea observers have speculated that Bill Clinton's visit may yield a breakthrough in the deadlocked nuclear disarmament talks - Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter played a similar role in 1994 when he met the then North Korean leader Kim Il-sung when the first nuclear crisis broke out. Whether this is the case this time remains to be seen in the coming days.


In the meanwhile, Pyongyang should not be misled into believing that Bill Clinton's visit signals a turnaround in Washington's North Korea policy. Washington should continue to send a consistent message that international pressure will continue until North Korea gives up its nuclear program.








For the second day yesterday, police commandos attempted to break up a sit-in at the Ssangyong Motor plant in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. Three unionists on the roof of the paint shop occupied by the strikers fell to the ground during the raid, which saw black smoke and flames rising and protestors hurling Molotov cocktails and fighting with metal pipes and projectiles made with nuts and bolts. Police used tear gas and water to disband the strikers. About 4,000 riot police surrounded the plant.


More than 500 strikers have been holed up at the plant's paint shop since May 21 to protest massive layoffs by the automaker, which filed for bankruptcy protection in February.


Court-appointed managers have tried to resuscitate the company through job cuts and cost savings. The plan calls for the loss of 2,646 workers - 36 percent of the total workforce. Some 1,670 workers have taken voluntary retirement.


Police commandos tried to take the plant on Tuesday after the management quit negotiations on Sunday. The management and unionists failed to reach an agreement on how many workers would get their jobs back. In a statement, the management said that the three days of talks failed because of the union's "unacceptable" demands for no layoffs and no lawsuits over the two-month occupation of the factory.


Ssangyong Motors must submit its final turnaround program by Sept. 15 to its creditors and a bankruptcy judge. However, the prolonged strike has damped hopes for the automaker's survival. The sit-in has cost some 316 billion won in lost production, according to the management. A number of its suppliers have closed down or filed for bankruptcy protection. The substantially weakened sales network and the badly damaged company image will also work against a quick rebound.


While some unionists left the sit-in after the talks broke down on Sunday, the remaining strikers warned that they would "fight to the death should police forcefully break up the occupation."


It is unfortunate that the Ssangyong Motor unionists have shown little flexibility in their demands. In continuing their strike for more than 70 days, they have threatened the future of the company as well as the livelihood of the employees at Ssangyong Motor's suppliers and partners. If the court orders liquidation of the company - which is likely if the present situation continues - everyone will come out a loser.










BERKELEY - At this stage in the worldwide fight against depression, it is useful to stop and consider just how conservative the policies implemented by the world's central banks, treasuries, and government budget offices have been. Almost everything that they have done - spending increases, tax cuts, bank recapitalization, purchases of risky assets, open-market operations, and other money-supply expansions - has followed a policy path that is nearly 200 years old, dating back to the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, and thus to the first stirrings of the business cycle.


The place to start is 1825, when panicked investors wanted their money invested in safe cash rather than risky enterprises. Robert Banks Jenkinson, second earl of Liverpool and first lord of the Treasury for King George IV, begged Cornelius Buller, governor of the Bank of England, to act to prevent financial-asset prices from collapsing. "We believe in a market economy," Lord Liverpool's reasoning went, "but not when the prices a market economy produces lead to mass unemployment on the streets of London, Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester."


The Bank of England acted: it intervened in the market and bought bonds for cash, pushing up the prices of financial assets and expanding the money supply. It loaned on little collateral to shaky banks. It announced its intention to stabilize the market - and that bearish speculators should beware.


Ever since, whenever governments largely stepped back and let financial markets work their way out of a panic out by themselves - 1873 and 1929 in the United States come to mind - things turned out badly. But whenever government stepped in or deputized a private investment bank to support the market, things appear to have gone far less badly. For example, the U.S. government essentially authorized J.P. Morgan to act as the country's central bank in the aftermath of the 1893 and 1907 panics, created the Resolution Trust Corporation at the start of the 1990s, and, together with the IMF, intervened to support Mexico in 1995 and the East Asian economies in 1997-98.


At the very least, few modern governments are now willing to let financial market heal themselves. To do so would be a truly radical step indeed.


The Obama administration and other central bankers and fiscal authorities around the globe are thus, in a sense, acting very conservatively, even as they embrace deficit-spending programs, boost the volume of government bonds, guarantee risky private debt, and buy up auto companies.


I understand what they are trying to do, and I am somewhat reluctant to second-guess them. They are all doing their absolute best, and I know that if I were in any of their shoes I would be making bigger mistakes than they are - different mistakes, probably, but bigger ones for sure.


Nevertheless, I do have one big question. The U.S. government especially, but other governments as well, have gotten themselves deeply involved in industrial and financial policy during this crisis. They have done this without constructing technocratic institutions like the 1930s Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the 1990s RTC, which played major roles in allowing earlier episodes of extraordinary government intervention into the industrial and financial guts of the economy to turn out relatively well, without an overwhelming degree of corruption and rent seeking. The discretionary power of executives, in past crises, was curbed by new interventionist institutions constructed on the fly by legislative action.

That is how America's founders, such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, envisioned that things would work. They were suspicious of executive power, and thought that the president should have rather less discretionary power than the various King Georges of the time. Yet, today's crisis has led to the establishment of such financial institutions.


So I wonder: Why didn't the U.S. Congress follow the RFC/RTC model when authorizing George W. Bush's and Barack Obama's industrial and financial policies? Why haven't the technocratic institutions that we do have, like the IMF, been given a broader role in this crisis? And what can we do to rebuild international financial-management institutions on the fly to make them the best possible?


J. Bradford DeLong is a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. - Ed.


(Project Syndicate)








MOSCOW - My great-grandfather, Nikita Khrushchev, has been on my mind recently. I suppose it was the 50th anniversary of the so-called "kitchen debate" which he held with Richard Nixon that first triggered my memories. But the recent funeral in Budapest of General Bela Kiraly, who commanded the Hungarian Revolution's freedom fighters in 1956, and last week's funeral in Warsaw of the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, whose break with Stalinism that year inspired many intellectuals (in Poland and elsewhere) to abandon communism, made me reconsider my grandfather's legacy.


The year 1956 was the best of times and the worst of times for Khrushchev. His "secret speech" that year laid bare the monumentality of Stalin's crimes. Soon, the gulag was virtually emptied; a political thaw began, spurring whispers of freedom that could not be contained. In Poland and Hungary, in particular, an underground tide burst forth demanding change.


Hungary, of course, had its short and glorious revolution. That first war among socialist states shattered the myth of inviolable "fraternal" bonds between the Soviet Union and the captive nations of Eastern Europe. But Khrushchev never envisioned the breakup of the Soviet empire as part of his thaw. So the Red Army invaded Hungary - on a scale larger than the Allies' D-Day invasion of Europe in 1944.


Bela Kiraly, released from a sentence of life in prison (one of the four death sentences he received from the communists having been commuted) was offered the job of commander of the Hungarian National Guard and the defense of Budapest. His task was to knock the rag-tag freedom fighters into an army, but there wasn't time to stop the Soviet advance. So, after a week of heroism he and a few thousand of his men crossed the border into Austria and exile.


Over the years, a mutual friend often tried to introduce me to General Kiraly, but, to my regret, that meeting never happened. Any man who would frame the four death sentences he had received (one signed by Khrushchev, another by Yuri Andropov, the Soviet ambassador in Budapest in 1956) and hang them in his drawing room has the sort of quirky humor I relish.


And from what I know of the man and his history, particularly his work in Hungary after 1989, I can only wish that my great-grandfather could have met him. Certainly, Kiraly would not have hesitated to meet the man who ordered the invasion. After all, when he learned that one of the Russian generals who had led the invasion was still alive in 2006, Kiraly invited him to Budapest to join the 50th anniversary celebrations. When General Yevgeni Malashenko declined in fear that he might be arrested, the 94-year-old Kiraly flew to Moscow, where he spent a long weekend reminiscing and going to a banya for retired Red Army generals.


Kolakowski, on the other hand, was someone I knew. We frequently met at conferences, where it was always a delight to hear him speak Russian - a Russian that had the accent and elegance of Tolstoi and Pushkin, not the degraded Russian bark of Vladimir Putin. Like Kiraly, in 1956, Kolakowski turned against the Communist party he had once joined in the hope, formed in the charnel house that the Nazis had wrought in Poland, that it would build a better world.


Kolakowski, modern Poland's most acclaimed philosopher, quickly learned that mendacity was the true building block of Communism, and he withdrew from it in horror. By 1968, the Polish regime could no longer tolerate his presence. He was expelled from his post at Warsaw University and, when he went to teach abroad, the government forced him into exile by never allowing him to return.


The question for me is how these three men with such different backgrounds and trajectories - Khrushchev, a Russian peasant-turned proletarian who became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party; Kiraly, a Magyar soldier of old world Europe, steeped in aristocratic traditions; and Kolakowski, a gentleman scholar from Warsaw more attuned to Jansenist heresies than the perverse logic of Leninist dialectics - could ultimately contribute to the same goal: the resurrection of liberty in Europe.


Khrushchev did not really know anything other than Communism. He tried to humanize it and undo the cruelty of Stalinist orthodoxy, but never doubted that the Leninist system was the way of the future. Kiraly, who subscribed to the old codes of military honor (he would be named a Righteous Gentile at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, for the hundreds of Jews he saved by keeping them with his army during Word War II), saw that very system as the enemy of his country and its liberty.


But today, Khrushchev is remembered mostly for his contribution to the demise of Stalinism - and, via Mikhail Gorbachev, whose hero he was, ultimately for helping to bring about communism's demise. Kiraly and Kolakowski became voices of moderation and reconciliation in the Hungary and Poland that emerged out of communism's darkness at noon. Kiraly will be remembered not merely as a warrior, but as a humanist, the conciliator who called for no reprisals after 1989, and a liberal model for many Hungarians. Kolakowski, in upholding the sanctity of truth in the empire of the lie, connected the new democratic Poland to the old Poland of intellect and culture.


Kiraly, Kolakowski, and Khrushchev: each in his own way is a symbol of today's new and uniting Europe, a Europe of rapprochement and forgiveness among erstwhile opponents.


Nina Khrushcheva, author of "Imagining Nabokov: Russia Between Art and Politics," teaches international affairs at the New School and is senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York. - Ed.


(Project Syndicate)








Extending pension to rural residents is an important step towards an equal social security system. It is another milestone policy by the central government after the abolition of agricultural tax and launching of the rural medical care cooperative system.


The pension scheme for villagers above 60 will start on a trial basis from October, according to sources with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security on Wednesday.


For farmers, who depend on income from the fields and have no provision for old age, this is undoubtedly good news. On a trial basis, a basic pension account will be established and supported by the central government; the pension would also be supported by local collectives and the rural residents themselves.


The move, if implemented throughout China in a couple of years, will end the history of villagers who have never enjoyed a penny as pension from the State.


To rely on their children in old age has been the only way for villagers until now. Regardless of age, they have to work in the fields as long as they can, unless provided for by their children.


In decades past, particularly before 1980, China's industrial development and urbanization had been at the cost of the interests of the rural population. Eighty-nine percent of State expenditure in social security was enjoyed by urbanites, who made up 30 percent of the population, while villagers got the remaining 11 percent.


With economic growth and consequent rapid increase of State revenue, it is natural that the central government should establish such a pension system. And, it is also the responsibility of the State to let villagers share the fruits of economic reform and growth.


Despite double-digit growth in recent years, the economic imbalance between the rural and urban areas persists. The income gap between the urban and rural residents has further widened, and increasing rural income has been a priority on the central government's agenda.


That explains the abolition of agricultural tax from 2006 and increased State inputs for the new medical care cooperative system for rural residents last year to let them enjoy cheaper medical service.


The pension system, though on a trial basis for now, is a continuation of this policy. The sources did not say how much money an old rural resident will get as pension. But, the portion from the State, along with the corpus accumulated annually from the rural residents and the funds from the collective, would suffice to meet their basic needs.


With one major worry in life - subsistence, including medical services - taken care of, rural residents may be expected to spend more and contribute to the economic recovery. Such State policies in favor of rural residents will not only make distribution of wealth fairer, but also help stimulate the economy.








The tense situation on the Korean Peninsula took a turn for the better with Bill Clinton's unannounced visit to Pyongyang on Tuesday.


The warm exchanges between the former US president and the top leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in a "cordial atmosphere", as well as the release of two American women journalists detained since March, point to not only a breakthrough in bilateral relations, but also a halt to heightened tensions caused by Pyongyang's successive provocative acts ranging from a nuclear test to the firing of a barrage of missiles.


This development should be a welcome sign to nations involved in the Six-Party Talks. The visit, to a large extent, has made any eruption of military conflict as a result of miscalculation unlikely.


Now, world attention would focus on the "positive things that could flow" from the freeing of the two US citizens.


The DPRK may wish to see the Clinton visit leading to direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington for resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis. It has long been the DPRK's strategy to seek, through direct talks, to end Washington's hostility and establish normal diplomatic relations.


But uncertainty remains as to how far this DPRK-US rapport could go and what concrete results it would facilitate.


Washington has insisted that the forum for talks with Pyongyang must be the six-nation platform, initiated by China to find a solution to the Korean nuclear issue. So far there is nothing to indicate that Washington would abandon that platform in favor of two-nation talks.


The Barack Obama administration is likely to face pressure from hardliners in Congress calling for tough measures against the DPRK as a proliferation threat.


China has always tried to facilitate direct DPRK-US talks within the six-nation framework to resolve the nuclear crisis. It has made it clear that any move that contributes to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula would have its support. Hence, Beijing would like to see that the contact between Washington and Pyongyang bears fruit.


The DPRK is among the very few countries on the list of the US' nuclear strike target. Its concern for national survival and security are legitimate and justifiable, and should be addressed properly by the international community.


But Pyongyang should understand that possession of nuclear weapons is against the trend of the time, and such weapons would not make it more secure. Instead, it would drain the country's limited resources and harm the economy. The country would face deeper isolation if it persisted with such acts as nuclear and missile tests.


The US has made it clear on several occasions that it has no intention of invading the DPRK. Though it is still too early to talk about the signing of a peace treaty to replace an armistice treaty with Pyongyang, Washington should show its sincerity in wanting to work towards that direction.









So far most of the focus in the climate discussions has been on big polluting industries. The reason for that is we have approached climate change as a problem. This perspective is leading us toward trade conflicts with entities with unsustainable consumption levels and blaming those with high greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting industries. This could be avoided if we shift to a solution perspective and focus on the opportunities for cities.


Last year was the first time in human history when more than half of the world's population was living in urban, not rural, areas. This trend will continue and in 40 years 70 percent of the world's population will be living in cities. China will lead this development in many ways, with 70 percent of its population living in cities in about 30 years.


Cities are the main destination for investments and centers of innovations. And whether we will destroy or save the planet depends on toward where those investments and innovations are directed: high- or low- carbon development.


To turn cities into solution providers we must move beyond the simplified perspective that have dominated the climate change debate so far, especially in the West. The focus on problems has resulted in a situation where almost all of the work is invested in house-keeping measures to reduce direct GHG emissions in cities. This is not unimportant; it is just one part of a much bigger picture.


A strategy to support low-carbon city development must include at least four factors. We need cities that can do all things well, but right now we also need cities that focus on one of the factors and become world leaders in it.


The most obvious area, and where almost all focus is today, is direct emissions from cities. Cleaning your house is always a good thing. Cities should develop strategies to reduce direct emissions from buildings and transport and all other significant sources. What is important is setting targets and formulating strategies that actually reduce GHG emissions and not just move them to another place.


Ensuring continued focus on energy efficiency and new smart system solutions instead of only looking at decreased use of coal and oil is important. Projects like Shanghai's initiative of building smart buildings is very interesting and would help create a low-carbon 21st century infrastructure based on broadband communications instead of roads and airports.


The second area that must be addressed to ensure that GHG emission problems are not just moved from one place to another is "embedded emissions".


Embedded emissions are those that have been released in order to produce something. If a city is moving a steel plant because it emits huge volumes of carbon but keeps on using as much steel as before then the problem has not been solved; it has only been moved.


Many cities in the rich world that talk about low-carbon development ignore the goods with significant amounts of embedded carbon they import. Research shows emissions a country like Sweden is responsible for would be double if its imports are included. The reason is that Sweden, like other Western countries, exports less-carbon intensive goods than it imports.


The Chinese government has issued regulations to discourage export of energy intensive products and support a low-carbon lifestyle, offering a unique opportunity for its cities to review their imports and exports from a climate perspective.


A very important but still not very well known climate aspect in cities is export of low-carbon solutions. A city is an active part of the global economy, and since there is an urgent need for low-carbon solutions it must support companies that export them.


An export perspective allows cities to focus on companies providing low-carbon solutions and how promoting a low-carbon development can create jobs. Obviously there is a link between direct GHG emissions and the export of low-carbon solutions. If a market is created for new smart solutions in a city, the companies that provide them can first grow in the domestic market and then become important exporters of low-carbon solutions.


If cities become providers of low-carbon solutions they can become "climate positive". Such cities would contribute to more emission reductions from the use of the solutions they export than the GHG they emit. In the future, climate-positive cities could become the most important solution providers on the planet.


Baoding in Hebei province may be well known for its potential to become the world's leading climate-positive city, but it is not the only Chinese city that holds such a promise. Dezhou in Shandong province is one. Products made in these cities are supplied to the domestic as well as the international markets.


Finally, it is important for cities to have a strategy that support multifunctional solutions. While climate change is important, it is not the only challenge we face.


Our efforts to reduce GHG emissions should also help solve other problems.


Solar solutions, for example, can help provide solutions for desalination plants and farming. Some interesting projects are in progress in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, and Suntech is developing integrated solutions that allow desalination and cleaning of water at the same time as providing clean and renewable energy. These solutions would be good not just for the climate, but also increase food production, reduce poverty and help avoid conflicts.


Let's hope Chinese cities become a strong voice for a solution agenda. A lot is already going on in China, but these initiatives still need a stronger international voice.


The author is adviser to various companies, governments and NGOs.










A Thai friend asked me to say something about the possible rise of the yuan as an international reserve currency. The role of Asian currencies as global reserve currency is a subject that I have thought about almost throughout my career. When I was with 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, of the second strongest economy in the world, become a major reserve currency? Why did euro succeed and yen failed? 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. An economist will tell you that money is a means of payment, a standard unit of measurement and a store of value. A priest will tell you that money is the root of all evils.


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, which you can exchange to get other things. Like all tools, whether money is for good or evil depends on how you use it. If you have money, it is an asset for 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 an asset and a liability both. This dual property means money gives power, but it also comes with responsibility. In a country, the central bank is the only legal institution allowed to print money.


But money can be created if the state borrows it or credit is created by a country's commercial banks. If too much money is created in relation to the growth of real goods, you get inflation - too much money to buy too few goods. 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 a central bank. For its liabilities, a central bank has the currency issue and deposits placed by commercial banks or the government. For its assets, a central bank has foreign exchange (liability of foreigners), government bonds (liability of government), central bank loans to banks and the private sector (liability of the private sector).


If we add up the balance sheet of a central bank and the commercial banks, we would realize that the liabilities are basically what we call broad money - the sum of currency notes issued and bank deposits. So money supply increases if a state borrows money or the country gets more foreign exchange or the commercial banks lend more credit to the private sector.


This basic lesson in money supply tells you the more credit there is in a system, the greater the supply of money would be. The greater the credit, the more people or the government would be willing to borrow to spend, which means that there are 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 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 fourth and CDO2 is fifth and so on. By the time you reach a swaption (swap on an option), you do not even know what are the underlying assets you are buying or selling. Derivation is through higher leverage and therefore complex and risky.


We all know that if the underlying assets get into trouble, the associated derivatives must get into trouble, too. So if the real economy is fragile, the financial system must be fragile. But 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. Instead, it can be a curse.


The author is Adjunct Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and University of Malaya.




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