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Saturday, August 8, 2009

EDITORIAL 08.08.09

August 08, 2009

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media watch with peoples input                 an organization for rastriya abhyudaya


Month August 09, Edition 000267, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

Editorial is syndication of all daily-published newspapers editorial at one place.

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  1. “TAKEN OUT”








































There is understandable concern, mounting by the day, over the rapid spread of the swine flu, or H1N1, virus, especially after the needless death of a 14-year-old girl in Pune who would have been alive today had doctors been more alert and better informed about a disease that is fully and easily curable provided it is diagnosed at an early stage. With the deadly, air-borne virus spreading across the world, laying low both young and old, rich and poor, there is no way India could have remained immune to the latest affliction that has virtually arrived out of the blue and, incidentally, has nothing to do with swines. Screening passengers at arrival lounges of international airports can at best have a salutary effect; it cannot act as an impermeable barrier for a virus, at least not in our country where rules are followed more in the breach than in practice and both authority as well as people are given to callous disregard for public health issues. Nothing else explains why State Governments have only now begun waking up to the threat posed by the H1N1 virus although the Union Government has been issuing regular advisories ever since WHO rang the alarm bell and declared swine flu a global epidemic. Blaming individual doctors, hospitals and clinics will neither help fix responsibility nor remedy the situation. What is urgently needed is a mammoth, coordinated effort by the Centre and the States to fight this scourge in a determined manner. Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has done well to try and calm fears by informing Parliament that there are sufficient stocks of Tamiflu, the drug which can cure the disease, and adequate facilities to test the blood samples of those suspected to have picked up the deadly bug. There are, however, certain issues that merit further scrutiny. For instance, should the Government allow the open, above-the-counter sale of Tamiflu? While logic suggests it should, there is an overwhelming possibility of ill-advised patients of common flu popping Tamiflu tablets. This is a reality we cannot deny, just as we must learn to live with the reality of educated individuals down with swine flu running away from isolation wards or simply disappearing after testing positive, thus endangering others.

In the face of the looming health crisis, it would be instructive to remember four things. First, little or no purpose will be served if people panic. There is no need for a blood test unless there are pronounced symptoms. Second, as in the case of seasonal or common flu, standard precautionary measures should be adopted. Third, all educational institutions should be put on high alert. Fourth, self-diagnosis or self-cure should be avoided. On its part, Government must launch a massive campaign to spread awareness about the disease and its cure, and spare no effort to make information accessible to all. Towards this end, the opening of help-lines is a commendable idea, provided there is someone to respond to a caller’s query. Since the Union Government alone cannot tackle the problem, State Governments have to play an equally pro-active role. In the recent past, India was able to beat the SAARS virus and the avian flu virus. There is no reason why we cannot similarly triumph over the swine flu virus. Till now, 711 people have been infected by H1N1, which is not a large number in a country of more than a billion people. However, this does not mean the threat we face should be trivialised — that would be disastrous for the nation.







Science fiction literature and movies are replete with futuristic plots about how ‘Artificial Intelligence’, in the form of advanced computers and humanoid robots, controls our lives. Over the years Hollywood has minted millions by producing movies that have pitted machines against humans. However, if certain top scientists are to be believed, the possibility of our future generations taking orders from cyborgs is not beyond the realm of reality. For, leading researchers in the field of robotics have warned at a recent conference in California that we are creating ultra-smart machines that may eventually outsmart us. So serious is this issue that these scientists are actually contemplating limiting their research so that the thought of a supercomputer making human beings work like slaves remains relegated to fiction. It is the contention of these scientists that development work in the field of AI has been focussing way too much on creating computer-based intelligence that resembles the human mind and too little on human safety. They have also suggested that robots under development must undergo tests similar to ethical or clinical trials for drugs before they are commissioned into service.

Some of us might think that these scientists are unnecessarily hyperventilating, that they have watched too many re-runs of The Terminator or The Matrix. Nonetheless, there are firms — such as one in the US which is creating robot nurses — that are really narrowing the human-AI divide. As fascinating as that might sound, we take it for granted that none of us wants to walk into a hospital for a simple check up and come out with an appendix operation. In that sense it might be prudent to ensure that our robots don’t become too smart or don’t develop ambitions of world domination. A solution could be found by incorporating Isaac Asimov’s ‘Three laws of Robotics’ that prevent robots from either harming or being used to harm humans. It is not unreasonable to assume that the combined mental prowess of robot enthusiasts the world over could come up with the appropriate programming instructions. However, there would still remain the problem of the anomaly; the ghost in the machine that breaks through all programming restrictions and overrides all human input. There is no defeating this phantom, unless — if Hollywood is to be believed — you can jump a five-storeyed building, teleport yourself anywhere across the world and know 10 different forms of martial arts. But given that we still live in a world where we are not walking around in space-suits or driving around in space-cars that float millions of miles over the Earth’s surface, going toe to toe with maniacal robots is probably something we don’t have to worry about any time soon. But in case the thought of calling your computer ‘master’ still haunts you at night, we suggest you go easy on those sci-fi thrillers.








Queen Elizabeth II’s consort, Prince Philip, known for his less than diplomatic wit, on seeing a badly wired electrical fixture at an electronics factory the royals were inaugurating, quipped that “it must have been put in by an Indian”. The remark may be redolent of ethnic stereotyping, but the truth of it cannot be denied.

Indians do have a problem with the ‘last mile syndrome’. Like a nation with attention deficit disorder, we seem to lose interest once the most of something has been done. Consequently, the last five per cent or so, consisting of finishes and attention to detail, indeed the very aspects that would commend us to other people, including the all-important customer or end-user, is usually a sad story of sloppiness, neglect and dangerous, even callous, loose ends.

It is a product of the ‘chalta hai’, ‘unnees-bees’, the ‘thora-bahut’ way of thinking overlaid by the statist Soviet influence during our formative years. It makes us great innovators and make-doers, but also obtuse, in a ‘we are like this only’ manner, with low standards of finish, safety, reliability, and doubtful durability.

This last mile syndrome is hard to get rid of unless there is a seismic shift brought on by rising aspirations, not just from the moaning and griping elite given to drawing room and dinner party activism, but from the ordinary man in the urban street, and the kisan in the village.

Perhaps a modicum of rising aspirations is changing things already, if sales of consumer durables and FMCG company soaps and shampoos in rural India are anything to go by. And the gap may be narrowing further between an impatient, 21st century India Inc and timeless, cow-dung encrusted Bharat. There is better information dissemination via the Internet, satellite TV and telecommunications. The Government, too, is trying hard with the introduction of scientific farming techniques, better education, health and rural infrastructure.

But actually, this messy last mile syndrome is just one of the large problems that dovetail into each other. It is difficult to take ourselves seriously when we have been unable to tackle the monumental overhang of the undone, the huge shortage of electricity and water for example; a curious inability to deal with regular flood and drought in the same places, and grinding poverty for countless millions still.

Then there is also rampant corruption that has us cheating on specifications in Government and private projects alike. Hence, the national capital’s DDA, like other state units with a similar mandate, is notorious for its consistently shoddy workmanship. Even the better established private realtors and builders are content with having their work executed badly by cousins and brothers-in-law, rather than people with the requisite expertise. And this, while they themselves provide PR cover, like the look-outs during a robbery.

If anything has improved in this dismal scenario, it has been due to the introduction of the classic nostrum of competition since 1991. Nobody can really get away with inflicting hugely outdated technology and hopeless standards on a hapless public. The sad thing is when they could, in the bad old Socialist days, they didn’t bat an eyelid.

Yet, despite the situation vastly improving in comparison to what it was during the pre-liberalisation days, some things have not changed. We are still low on integrity quotient and have little or no regard for quality.

As a result, the faster we go to meet a deadline, the more corners we are happy to cut. And the key reason is, in addition to our chronic slap-dash last mile syndrome, our inordinate capacity to sit on approvals, both at the political and bureaucratic levels, till there is very little time left for completing a project.

That is why sections of the Delhi Metro collapse regularly, killing innocent workers and people. Each time this happens, an exercise begins to apportion blame. This is also, generically speaking, why sections of the much-criticised BRT corridors subside; why flyovers fall down, or, owing to design and traffic flow faults, turn into death traps. This is also why the much-publicised sea bridge in Mumbai has traffic jams at its exit and entry points on the mainland.

There is yet another reason: Superannuated and sub-standard rolling stock and equipment. This is endemic to practically all Indian infrastructure, including the railways that carry millions of people and tonnes of goods every day. Delhi’s dented and dirty old buses, unfit for the most mofussil of hinterlands, are being replaced at long last with more contemporary models, hopefully putting an end to the daily killing of at least one or two pedestrians and would-be-passengers.

There are worse things too. Like how Mumbai pretty much drowned a couple of years ago because protective mangrove swamps have been reclaimed and the drainage system has not been improved since the British left our shores. Some changes have been made now, but not a moment too soon.

But side by side with this ineptitude, this ‘third world’ incompetence and lack of pride of workmanship, there have been signal achievements of considerable sophistication, such as in information technology that has not only ours but also the world’s admiration. And we have always been capable of exquisite craftsmanship.

India proceeds paradoxically, lurching, flanking crab-like, attending to its highs and lows with near equal dedication. But for the highs, we rise above our limitations, and for those routine lows, which seem to come naturally.

However, a new current is discernible. It is not so much born out of contrition. It comes instead from a feeling, an instinct, that we need not be second rate anymore. We have demonstrated our ability to be first rate in some sectors. And this has created an appetite for similar standards of achievement elsewhere.

If we are able to keep this up — there is nothing to suggest we cannot — we will perhaps be admired one day for our last mile dedication too. The urge will come from within, as it must. Indians invariably do well abroad where the environment lets them better express themselves. At home, too, things are changing to allow for greater measures of growth without the old ideological taboos.

So, despite the short-term flubbing, there is no need for eventual cynicism. Besides, as author Anais Nin put it, “It is easier to be deceived than to doubt.”




                     EDIT DESK



A missionary school was beleaguered by the serious problem of indiscipline. The matter went to the concerned council. The council decided to replaced the principal. The new principal was quite a unique character. She would hardly ever raise her voice. After observing her for a few days, the school staff concluded that the authorities had committed a big mistake.

In the meantime, the principal carefully scrutinised the problem areas. There were many students who would routinely come late to school and thereby disrupt the morning assembly. To solve this problem, the principal started standing at the entrance gate exactly when the children used to arrive. Slowly, parents, bus drivers, children, all fell in line.

The next problem was that of indiscipline in the classrooms. The principal began to make frequent rounds and would go and quietly sit in the various classes. The children, aware of her presence, were now afraid of making noise in their classrooms and gradually the school became peaceful.

Whenever a complaint came, the principal would find out the background of the child. She would only speak about the positives like, “You come from a good family; your grades are okay,” etc. She would also grant responsibility to such children obliging them to behave properly. If this did not work, she would call the parents of the erring student. Again, she would be positive with them, encouraging them to spend more time with their children. She believed, after all, souls are intrinsically pure and we become good or bad by association only.

Gradually, the staff and children became less inclined to disturb her. The rebellious streak in some children started dissipating.

The essence of this story is that it is negative to look for faults in others. Unfortunately, we are naturally inclined to do this. By doing so we don’t make friends but only enemies. Also, by criticising others for their faults we divert attention from our own shortcomings. No one can reform another unless that person is himself or herself convinced. Fault-finding is a negative exercise unless it is done with oneself. Don’t we consciously or subconsciously know our own faults? But most of the time we just don’t have the necessary determination to rectify them. We should develop a habit of looking within ourselves rather than finding faults in others. This way we will certainly gain in the long run.








In Untouchables (1987), the Kevin Costner character based on the life of Elliot Ness, the US Treasury Department official who went after Al Capone in the heyday of prohibition era gangsterism, discovers half way through the film that his quarry has an Achilles heel. His bookkeeper. The only way to get Capone behind bars is to prove in a court of law that the leader of the Chicago mob was a tax defaulter. After an exciting shootout, the bookkeeper is caught and Capone is put away.

Another Hollywood thriller, albeit played out in undertones, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), has Tim Robbins in the role of a tax lawyer serving three life sentences in a penitentiary where the warden routinely skims off the cream from the prison's earnings from a social project in which the inmates work in public construction projects.

Robbins is engaged to ensure that the moneys are hidden well and deep. So Robbins conjures up characters with social security numbers, driving licenses and yes, bank accounts. Over decades, millions of dollars are stashed away in accounts all over town.

Both movies are set in pre-computerisation America and tell much about the powers that society and government invest in auditors. Such operations may be impossible in today’s paperless world of American finance, but the moot point is that in the world's most powerful democracy, the men and women who are trained to read balance sheets and ensure that the State is not cheated of its rightful share of revenue are bound by a strict code of professional honour. They may owe their earnings to private persons and entities, but their fundamental loyalty is to Uncle Sam. An auditor, or 'chartered accountant' (CA), who places personal enrichment before the national interest, stands to lose his license, apart from facing stiff prison terms.

In India however, recent experience has revealed that the economic reforms process has quite bypassed this crucial area. Our CAs operate much like Al Capone's recorders and since there are hardly any Elliot Nesses around, their machinations get blown only when the Boss makes a mistake. Something like that happened in the case of Satyam Computers. A long story cut short, B Ramalinga Raju, the much feted-by-government and pampered-by-media, promoter-chairman of Satyam Computer Services, confessed early January that he had cooked the books of his companies like there was no tomorrow. As more facts come to light, it becomes clear that Raju and his family have been spiriting cash out of the company since 2001, if not earlier, through an elaborate, well-ramified set of arrangements and manoeuvres, including forgery, inflating expenses, stripping assets, and manipulating income, inventory value and profits.

Some rushed to conclude that the Rs 2,700 crore ($1.5 billion) scam hurts the image of the IT sector, which is the pride of 21st century India. But actually, the people who should have gone underground in shame are our CAs. But nothing happened to them. Reason: clever auditors are indispensable for the high and mighty. For the nth time since the beginning of the neo-liberal reforms process, the country's financial bottomline, and along with it the investments of thousands of people — not to mention jobs — were put to peril by this class of professionals. The Harshad Mehta scam, the MS shoes affair and hundreds of little others, both exposed and otherwise, were all results of a serious flight of ethics from a profession once respected for its old world solidity and conservatism.

This week, Saturday Special revisits the economy via the financial sector. We feature IIT alumnus and Supreme Court lawyer Somnath Bharti (main article) to shear the false rhetoric off the recently introduced Finance Bill, 2009. The gravity of the problems afflicting the country's financial well-being by morally profligate CAs is either not appreciated fully by the media or deliberately concealed. How many billions are evaded in taxes year after year is just the tip of the iceberg. The credibility deficit that has resulted is something far more serious. At this January’s Pravasi Bharatiya Sammelan of economic and political leaders drawn from the Indian diaspora, the Satyam scam was talked about as something worse than a terrorist attack. “Who in his right senses will think of investing in India now?” a visiting desi said. Sam Pitroda, chairman of the Knowledge Commission was reported saying: “The Satyam scam shows some major manipulation of accounts, not just by its chairman but also the management and auditors. I have a question: what were the board members doing?”

According to many people, equal blame was due to the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and the Reserve Bank of India. But what is easily overlooked is that the hand of the unprofessional auditor is omnipresent in whichever institution you go to looking for the culprit. The various committees set up by the government to suggest roadmaps for financial sector reforms harp endlessly on ombudsmanship and independent regulators. After Satyam, where we saw one of the most respected Indian audit firms, Price Waterhouse, compromise its vaunted tradition of maintaining high standards, little is left to the imagination as to the workability of this idea.

It is against this background that the schizophrenic nature of the UPA Government becomes clear. On the one hand it talks about the need for an 'inclusive financial system' (Rajan Committee recommendations), yet, on the other, it winks at the empire of lies that routinely rips off poor and middle class investors. Of course, even the NDA Government had to bow before pressure from India Inc when it tried to give 'whistleblowers' within organisations the legal teeth they crucially lack. But then, the UPA, which introduced the Companies Bill, 2009 this week in the Lok Sabha, killed off any hope of transparent corporate governance. Not only was the JJ Irani Committee's suggestion to have watchdogs given the pass, the government also refused to dovetail this with the outstanding issues of regulation and closures.

This Saturday Special owes its genesis to the hard work put in by a young CA aspirant from Vadodara, Chirag Sawant, who has started asking awkward questions ( The Other Voice) even before making the grade. Thanks to his persistence, we have today a growing movement of young CAs all over India who are keen to see reforms in the profession which could in the long run lead to India cleansing itself of the shame that Satyam, PW Coopers and others have wreaked.








Eight months have passed since the Satyam Computers scandal, but public memory, being notoriously short, has given the benefit of time and space to the real culprits behind the multi-billion dollar loot. The promoter of the fraud company, B Ramalinga Raju, may be in jail, but the country's largest financial crimes operation, the brotherhood of chartered accounts, with Price Water House at the apex, has merrily avoided scrutiny.

This week, the government reintroduced the Companies Bill in the Lok Sabha after a hiatus of 10 months. It is supposed to be based on the recommendations of an expert committee headed by JJ Irani, the former Tata Steel chairman, and seeks to make firms and their promoters responsible for their actions. But this is far from accurate. Irani’s most important proposal, institutionalising the whistleblower in corporate, was given the go-by. Irani had stated on record: “If the CEO and CFO of a firm get together to do a fraud, there is nothing an independent director can do to detect or prevent it, even if they are professors of corporate governance. Companies must install a confidential whistleblower system."

The new Companies Bill, which seeks to replace the 53-year-old Companies Act, hardly scratches at the surface of the deceitful system that has built up over the years and has manifested itself through various inglorious episodes like Harshad Mehta, the MS Shoes scam, the murder of IIT engineer Satyandra Dubey and Satyam. Irani's call for a whistleblower system assumes significance because the UPA

Government has studiedly avoided implementing this long-felt demand of honest corporate houses. Neither the Companies Bill of 2003 nor its present avatar has clauses institutionalising whistleblowers. Of course, it may be argued that even whistleblowers can be reduced to ciphers — Satyam, irony of ironies, had one since 2005. However, that may be countered saying the lack of a firm law giving the whistleblower legal backing was responsible for the duplicity carried out by the Raju empire.

The Satyam scandal has shaken the country's morale and its financial system stands exposed before the whole world. The rotten core of the chartered accountancy profession was laid bare before the public when PW House and Coopers' hand-in-glove role in cooking books over several years became known. The bubble burst only when the fraud became too huge to handle in a market hit by recession. Had the global economy not been hit by the biggest calamity since 1929 in October 2008, chances of the goings-on at Satyam coming out were remote. Clearly, Satyam was the tip of the iceberg.

In my opinion, there is hardly a balance sheet or profit and loss account filed with the Income Tax department which is an honest reflection. Financial discipline, corporate governance and tax reforms are oft-repeated jargons at seminars. But of what use are they if the underlying criminality of the financial sector is not addressed?

Routinely, there are two occasions when the corporate world cooks financial documents. One, when they have to file income tax returns, and second, when they have to put on a show before shareholders and the public that all is hunky dory in their company. It is usually seen that when a sinking or underperforming company is trying to find a buyer, its performance improves dramatically in the books. All sorts of fraudulent mechanisms are adopted to shine the face of the company and all is done by the auditors at the behest of the owners and board members of companies.

In the aftermath of the scam coming to light, we had heard that PW House and Coopers would be banned for the malpractices it adopted in league with Raju. But nothing happened to the high-profile auditors. Earlier this week, Minister of State for Finance SS Palanimanickam declared in a written reply in the Lok Sabha that Satyam's outstandings with the Income Tax department is to the order of Rs 541 crore.

I kept on looking for something substantive in the findings of the investigators into the Satyam scandal, but I learnt nothing that I didn't know. Auditors are hired by the companies to audit their accounts and paid for their services. The job of a chartered accountant is to whet a company's accounts as an independent observer upholding the Laws of the land. But, the whole system has been distorted. Today, the only loyalty shown by the auditor is to his client. Their engagement is completely at the mercy of the companies and, in a competitive environment, they perform all kinds of financial skullduggery to remain in the good books of their clients. That even PW House and Coopers could fall in line was the only education for old cynics like me.

To understand the intensity of the rot afflicting the system, wide reforms are necessary. The process of correction must begin at the stage when the chartered accountant is being groomed for his career. Let’s just know who these auditors are and how they become qualified chartered accountants. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) is entrusted with a larger-than-life responsibility. ICAI has the responsibility of creating professionals who get paid by their hirers-companies to keep their accounts in accordance with the rules and provisions enacted by the government of India. It would be worthwhile to have a look at the kind of training and education these professionals are imparted with by ICAI before we expect morality from them. The CA course involves theoretical self-learning (by rote) and articled training under a qualified chartered accountant. But there is complete disconnect between what they learn in their articled training and what is required to clear the theoretical papers i.e. they draw no help from their articled training to clear their theoretical papers.

Though ICAI charges high fees from students, it provides no class room teaching to equip them with the fine nuances of financial auditing. The only meaningful interaction that a student has on the way to become a CA, is with the senior CA who gives the young rookie a chance to get mandatory articleship.

It is high time the government takes a close look at what these up coming auditors are taught at that early stage. How to make fake balance sheets, fake profit and loss accounts, fake account books, fake vouchers, enter fake entries, and manage fake receipts and what have you. In short, a new generation is equipped with dangerous weapons to sabotage the economy of the country. They are trained to make a Satyam happen every day. How can the graduates of this institute of lies be expected to be loyal to the government of India. Articleship is all about picking up the tricks of a trade that thrives on loopholes.

In short, the ICAI is producing generations of white collar criminals. The country's financial system is hemorrhaging. Our credibility before the international investor community is eroding. Under the circumstances, it is futile to talk of Swiss bank accounts. The need of the hour is bold reforms. But, sadly, the Finance Bill introduced by the UPA Government, is nothing short of ridiculous.

 The writer is a Supreme Court advocate and an alumnus of IIT Delhi. He can be reached at








I am young Chartered Accountancy aspirant. I am 27 now and have been trying to crack the finals for the past ten years. So, the points that I am raising are rooted in personal experience and observation of the general condition of this formerly respected profession.

Today, nobody respects a CA. After the Satyam scandal broke, everybody who reads newspapers knows that the Rs 2,700-crore loot could not have been possible without the active connivance of the country's leading CA firm, Price Waterhouse. Some people are claiming that Satyam was an aberration. Price Waterhouse has even tried to appear as much a 'victim' of B Ramalinga Raju's fraud as any other investor. The truth is that such misdemeanours are routine in the profession. CAs are bright people, they are academically brilliant, but their brains are twisted early in their lives. They are converted into fraudsters and economic criminals at a very stage of their careers, in fact, even before they pass the final examination to become full-fledged CAs.

However, a large number of us are now raising our voices in protest. There are hundreds like me spread all over India waiting for the chance to present our point before the nation with evidence. We will come up with specific cases because in the past our movement suffered because the students did not know how to articulate their demands properly. Even most-qualified CAs don't know how to draft a simple letter to the appropriate authorities. The Institution of Chartered Accounts of India defines the contours of their consciousness from a very tender age, thereby confining their world to a narrow channel.

The education process of the CA wannabe is most grueling and psychologically punishing. They are exploited as free labour by CA firms. There is no classroom instruction. The students are expected to fend for themselves. If they are well-to-do, they take private tuition and purchase the expensive books that are necessary for memorisation before exams.

The aspirant has got to work as an articled clerk in a CA firm during his period of preparing for the ICAI examinations. This is education enough, but of a negative variety. Without any ethical orientation, they are pushed to the grimy work of assisting seniors and partners in the business of constructing fake balance sheets, padding up profits (or losses if it suits a client) and using their skills to siphon off money into private hands. The hiatus between theory and practice puts a tremendous burden on the faculties of the young CA aspirant. Moreover, ICAI has a system of clearing only a few of the thousands who appear in the exams each time.

Now, coming to the Satyam case, a CID inquiry was ordered by the Andhra Pradesh Government. The BJP had demanded a CBI inquiry. But whatever the agency, the probe will not be able to achieve much. For starters how many CID or CBI officers know the A,B,C of finance?

Not that the finance professionals will also make headway. ICAI plunged into its own investigation early enough and presented an interim report after a month of the scam being blown. However, it was kept under wraps. It was also declared that the role of the famous audit firm, Price Waterhouse, was under the scanner and that it would take six months for that report to be out.

However, to thousands of CA students as well as professionals, it is amply clear that this too would turn up an eye-wash, a cover up. The top CAs of India are in a perfect bond and nobody expects the ICAI to do anything more than rap the giant audit firm on the knuckles.

The Satyam scandal had its roots in the flawed education system and we expect Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal to use his reformist wand to transform this highly neglected field of studies. The young CAs are totally drained out during their articleship. By the time the small minority of them passes the final examination, their only concern is to make up for their lost years. Therefore, the CA firms per se do not get the best talent.

Most new entrants join industry houses or well-reputed companies as internal auditors because the pay packets there are at least six times more than those handed out by CA firms. While joining a company, the mandatory three-year articleship period is not even counted as a period of training.

The grueling regime of the CA aspirant makes many people chary of joining the profession. The ICAI has lost many intelligent students with bright potential who opted out of the hard life to study for MBA or take a law degree. Had the ICAI reformed the system, these students would have enriched the society around them. But it seems that the chief concern of ICAI is to make money. The CA examinations are taken twice a year. More than 5 lakh students pay about Rs 2,000 each, thereby handing over ICAI about Rs 100 crore.

A lot of people would say that mine is a case of sour grapes. Had I cleared exams by now, would I be complaining of the deep rot in the CA system? Maybe I would have, because the injustice is too hard to tolerate.









Once upon a time, not so long ago, we tuned in to the telly to forget the mundane reality of everyday life. It was a date with fantasy, when we supped on the shenanigans of assorted saas-bahus, devarjis, bhabhis and other related species of the great Indian traditional family. Ekta Kapoor and her colleagues in the soap factory ruled the small screen so masterfully that soon all we had on general entertainment channels were several copies of the same plot, give or take a few cosmetic changes.

The various K-serials and their country cousins were anything but real. The grander the melodrama, the higher a serial's ratings. After all, who wants to see pale versions of their banal lives replicated in a TV serial? For that, a survey of households around us would suffice. After all, aren't our joys and sorrows, dreams and ambitions, etc kahani ghar ghar ki? But just when we began to get comfortably numb in surreal nonsense came someone's bright idea to put reality on the idiot box.

And so began another chapter in our televisiondom. Not happy with packing off our out-of-work Bollywood stars to reality TV shows in Britain, we wanted our very own reality parade. The brother turned boss and we had a big brouhaha. And then came a bunch of 'real' talent hunts, some of which drove kids to nervous breakdowns. Soon, 'reality' was the flavour of the season. We wanted the 'real' stuff. What better than living out our fantasies vicariously, preying on the lives of others? The smart wannabes saw an opportunity to rise from nothingness to instant fame. And the famous and infamous spotted the chance to extend their shelf life.

The latest buzz is around a show that rewards those who speak the truth. It's the land of the Mahatma, you see. Participants on 'Sach Ka Saamna' would have made the Father of the Nation proud with their unflinching honesty. Meanwhile, Fiza, the on-off wife of Chand Mohammed-turned-Chander Mohan, has escaped from the jungle where she was a contestant and returned to prime-time television. 'Reality' seems to have found a new meaning in our midst.

But the biggest coup of them all has been pulled off by the eminently market-savvy Miss Rakhi Sawant when she decided to host her swayamvar on air. It was a big deal, not just here but in Pakistan as well, where she has a sizeable fan following. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Afghanistan, Indian soaps are a smash hit. It is rumoured that even some Taliban fighters put aside their guns to catch a slice of the drama. Perhaps the best Af-Pak strategy would be to carpet-bomb the area with Indian soft power. The US could divert the aid money it gives Pakistan in order to fund this peace-keeping enterprise.







"The next 10 years would be dedicated as a decade of innovation" were the words used by the president of India to conclude her address to Parliament on June 4. On June 7, US president Barack Obama, in his Cairo address, said: "Education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century." Between June 3 and 5, the first Global Innovation Leaders' Summit (I-20), fashioned on G-20, was held in San Francisco. I was invited to represent India. I-20 accepted Norway's suggestion of introducing a Nobel Prize for innovation. So from Delhi to Cairo to San Francisco, the 'buzz' was around innovation.

This buzz has been around for a while though. For instance, the names of the ministries of science and technology, in Argentina, Australia, Spain, South Africa, Malaysia, UK, etc, have been changed with the word 'innovation' explicitly included. So why is innovation suddenly gaining such currency? Innovation-led growth, innovation-led recovery, innovation-led competitiveness all these are not mere slogans; they are a hard reality.

Innovation is all about converting ideas into new or improved products, processes and services. India's world ranking on innovation is low. According to a survey, among 130 countries, India is ranked only 41 in the innovation index. Even Malaysia (25) and China (37) are ahead of India. Singapore and Korea are in the top 10.

Look beyond statistics now. Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT, Madras, develops the wireless local loop technology. It gets implemented first in Madagascar, Angola and Brazil before it does so in India! The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative gave the challenge and funding for the creation of a low-cost computer to entrepreneur Vinay Deshpande, who created a mobile personal computer. But the first such PC will be produced this year in Malaysia and Brazil and not in India. Due to the limitations in India's patent laws, the phytopharmaceutical breakthrough medicine on psoriasis by an Indian company will be commercialised first in the West, not in India. And one can go on.

Innovation converts knowledge into wealth. We need to recognise that Saraswati and Lakshmi should coexist. George Whitesides from Harvard is the highest cited scientist in the world and the market capitalisation of his research-based companies is over $20 billion! Such academic entrepreneurship is missing in India. Indian genes express themselves in Silicon Valley. But not in Indus Valley. Why?

Why do we fail in completing the journey from an Indian mind to an Indian marketplace? Because India lacks a robust national innovation ecosystem. The essential elements of a powerful ecosystem comprise physical, intellectual and cultural constructs. Beyond mere research labs it includes idea incubators, technology parks, a conducive intellectual property rights regime, enlightened regulatory systems, academics who believe in not just 'publish or perish', but 'patent, publish and prosper', potent inventor-investor engagement, adventure capital and passionate innovation leaders.

The unique genes of almost every Indian for innovation became evident to me while chairing the National Innovation Foundation and other bodies. Even an ordinary Indian in a remote village can innovate this has been demonstrated in rural areas by the pioneering Shodh Yatras of IIM Ahmedabad's Anil Gupta. Research in typically Indian innovation has brought out how some Indians can make the seemingly impossible possible.

'Gandhian engineering' is getting 'more from less for more and more people, and not for the exclusive few'. India uniquely excels in such innovations. Tata's Nano car ($2,000), low-cost, advanced hepatitis-B vaccine (18 cents), cheapest mobile phone call (1 cent), etc, are brilliant examples.

Paradigm shifts are occurring in the Indian innovation landscape. Earlier, Indians created products that were new only to India. Now Tata's Nano is a product that is new to the world! Our pharma industry is now creating new molecules, not just copying them. Reliance grew through scale, scope and cost. Now it has embarked on innovation-led growth.

Such and other recent path-breaking events compel me to make five suggestions to kickstart the 'Indian decade of innovation'. First, change the 'ministry of science & technology' to 'ministry of science & innovation', boldly bringing the innovation agenda upfront. Second, create an ambitious national innovation policy, going way beyond our science and technology policy (2003).

Third, set up a powerful mechanism to implement this policy by creating a National Innovation Council comprising world-class innovation leaders. Make the council autonomous, empowered and accountable. Give it the mandate of putting India among the top 10 innovative nations within this 'decade of innovation'. Fourth, drive inclusive growth by launching an 'Indian Inclusive Innovation Initiative' based on the tenets of Gandhian engineering. Fifth, launch a national innovation movement like our freedom movement, so that innovation becomes every Indian's obsession.

Then the dream of the 21st century being innovative India's century will certainly come true.

The writer is president, Global Research Alliance.








Narendra Modi isn't one to shy away from either the spotlight or controversy. Now he has come up with a proposal that is sure to set tongues wagging. Under the chief minister's instructions, the Gujarat government has made chess compulsory in schools in Ahmedabad district. From next year, chess is likely to be made mandatory for all schoolchildren in Gujarat.

This might be one of the more benign initiatives of the Modi government. But where we disagree is in making chess an excellent pursuit no doubt compulsory. No hobby or game should be forced on anyone. Making a sport or pastime mandatory defeats its very purpose, namely to give enjoyment or pleasure.

The Gujarat government's logic is, of course, very different. Just before becoming CM, Modi visited Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, where he was most impressed by the number of grandmasters, which includes former world champion Garry Kasparov, that the region has produced. Modi was told that this was due to kids learning chess from a very young age. This, according to a state government official, inspired him to introduce chess into the Gujarat school curriculum to improve the brainpower of kids.

There are two problems with this approach. One, the ethics of forcing all schoolkids to play a game. Two, the efficacy of such programmes. Even if we set aside the moral argument, there is really no guarantee that forcing kids to play chess is going to improve their mental skills. Playing good chess no doubt requires a high level of analytical skills, but reluctant schoolkids are never going to be good chess players.

Much better to offer as many games and hobbies as possible to schoolchildren and then allow them to choose. A kid is never going to take to chess, or backgammon for that matter, if all he wants to do is play cricket in his spare time.

There is, however, a small irony in the Gujarat government's initiative. Chess is apparently being taught in the physical education classes. And we always thought that chess was all about mental gymnastics.









Eight years might have passed since the visit to Baku that gave Narendra Modi the idea, but his chess initiative is still a good one. For one, it has a sound basis. Baku has produced eight grandmasters through the years, including one of the game's all-time greats, Garry Kasparov. This has been possible only because the children in the city are introduced to chess at an early age. And more importantly, various studies have shown that chess does indeed have a link to certain aspects of a child's general intelligence level, quantifiable as IQ. The skills required to learn and play the game have a direct link to basic mental abilities; how to make difficult, abstract decisions independently; foster creative thinking; enhance memory, language and mathematical abilities; and develop analytical skills, to name just a few.

The benefits of ensuring that schools introduce their students to chess are thus obvious. The costs involved, on the other hand, are negligible. As far as equipment goes, chess sets are all that are required, which are inexpensive compared to the paraphernalia needed to play any other popular sport such as cricket or hockey. Training teachers is not difficult either with 1,200 already having been trained in Gujarat.

All schools already have physical training classes. Incorporating chess into them will ensure that there is no extra load on the children. Supplementing education and physical sports with an extracurricular activity of this kind will go a long way towards fostering well rounded development. If in the process, the unhealthy dominance of certain sports that cripples the growth of all others can be tempered, that is all to the good.

Baku has been able to produce so many grandmasters because of a similar initiative; there is no reason Gujarat should not be able to do likewise. And it is, in any event, merely a pilot project confined to the Ahmedabad district. The schools involved thus far have had positive results but if there is need to adjust certain aspects of the initiative, there is scope to do so.







WASHINGTON: It's all about reconciliation and making up and moving on. I came back to live in America three weeks ago, after spending four and a half exciting years in India. But it's not the same America. You can almost smell the conciliatory air, wafting from the highest levels to the lives of ordinary folk, despite these troubled economic times. It seems less us versus them, less black and white.

There was, for instance, that round of beers on the White House lawn, which made international news. A US president, his vice-president, a Harvard professor and a policeman sat around a table and sipped beer to get over a misunderstanding between the professor an African-American and the cop, an Irish-American. The media, which had been hysterically covering the dispute, hung around in droves 50 feet away, speculating on everything, from what they were discussing to which kind of beer they were drinking.

They got the beer brands but not much else. The cop said there was "no tension" at the meeting and that "two gentlemen agreed to disagree on a particular issue". No apology had been offered by anyone. Both had decided to put the matter behind them and move on. Was it about race? Had the white cop unfairly arrested the black professor because of his colour? Was it about class? Did the Harvard professor look down on the working class cop and behave rudely? Perhaps we'll never know.

What we do know is that the two decided to move on, encouraged by a president who knows what moving on means. After all, he had made a powerful political rival his secretary of state. And we know that two African-American men, one holding the most powerful position in the world and the other a stellar Ivy League intellectual, sat relaxed in the White House garden sipping beer with two white men. This isn't their grandfathers' America. This is a different country.

It has always been a rapidly evolving society. But the evolution in recent years in its demographic composition, and in its politics and society as a consequence, is not a phenomenon easily grasped by many Americans, particularly those on the far, religious right, living mostly in the South. They see the change as a nettle they wouldn't like to grasp. Their heroes chatter on talk radio about what's wrong with this changing America, they cast doubt on Barack Obama's American origin, they rail against tolerance and speak darkly of how liberals are planning a quasi-communist coup. For them, the problem is indeed the diversity, stupid. For 'real Americans', this must remain God's own white country.

But who is a 'real American' today? Take those two journalists who came home on Wednesday from North Korea where they had been imprisoned. Former president Bill Clinton had arranged the release by going to Pyongyang. Was an apology offered? How was the turnaround by the North Koreans secured? Were they offered a deal on nuclear power? Well, speculation will continue.

What we do know is that millions of tearful American eyes watched the homecoming on TV and the tears were for two American women and their families being reunited after an ordeal. Both women were clearly of East Asian origin, while both husbands looked like, well, 'real Americans', except that those who watched probably just shed tears of joy at seeing two American families getting back together. Because, yes, it is the diversity, stupid, that makes America.

And makes India too. As a sense of admiration creeps over you while you watch the efforts of Americans to get along with one another by accepting diversity, you feel a glow of pride at India's impressive effort since those bloody days of August 1947 to live in unity amidst mind-blowing diversity. True, our efforts break down every now and then and we descend to vengeful ways in fits of madness. But as we master the art of making up and reconciliation, the madness will fade away. We'll move on.












Mankind’s most enduring quests have been for perpetual motion and the philosopher’s stone. Physicists have stopped seeking the first, bowing to a law that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Dismal scientists are a hardier lot, they persevered in their search for something — anything — that has King Midas’ touch, be it stone, acid or algorithm. In flash trading, investment bankers have come up with something pretty close. Here’s how it works. Supercomputers execute thousands of orders every second on the world’s biggest exchanges and harvest micro-profits much before the information they worked upon can be processed by a human brain. How many chess players stand a chance against Deep Blue?


Just to be safe, these number-crunching beasts are housed among the stock exchanges’ server banks so that market data reaches them a fraction of a second before it pops up on Joe Trader’s terminal. For most part man is not in the picture at all, investment banks play the high-velocity game with each other on computers hosted by the brokerages themselves. Half of the trading in the US is conducted as a millisecond’s digital dance, with exchanges and investors looking on. The big bulls are the blokes with astounding computing power and incredibly advanced trading programmes. Goldman Sachs, the high priest of blitz trading, made $100 million from its propriety algorithms in 46 trading sessions, reckons Bloomberg.


Regulation, as is its wont, is playing catch-up with human ingenuity. Stock market watchdogs on both sides of the Atlantic are muttering darkly about “direct edge” and “dark pools”. Both phenomena have existed since stock trading went paperless, it’s just that their current degree is fearsome. Select traders on exchanges have access to more information than the average investor, but most bourses put out a list of their elite membership. Exchanges will be under pressure to disclose whose supercomputers they are hosting if they do not want discriminatory access banned. Brokerages will also face more forceful calls to tell about off-market trades with their clients’ and their own money. After the latest episodic lapse, the world is yet to recover from regulatory failure in the more esoteric branches of finance. These new money-making monster must be tamed. The last man with a golden touch had a sorry tale to tell.








At one level it was just a bunch of guys, sitting around a park bench, knocking back a couple of beers. You know —  just a slice of regular life. But think of the extraordinary effort — actually sheer genius — that it took to orchestrate this moment of simple ordinariness.


President Barack Obama’s ‘beer summit’, as it has come to be known, managed to create real dialogue on the divisive issue of race. It was not just deft, it was honest. And for us in India, with all our polarisations of caste and religion, there are some genuine lessons to be learnt.


For those who missed the story — it all began when a celebrated Harvard Professor, Henry ‘Skip’ Gates, found himself locked out of his own house. The key wouldn’t work quite as smoothly as it should have and so he began wrestling with the doorknob. An alert neighbour mistook it for a break-in and dialled ‘911’. The rest, as they say, was headline news. When James Crowley, a sergeant with the Cambridge Police, arrived at the house to investigate, he wasn’t convinced that the professor was not an impostor. The Harvard identity card that the irate Professor produced did not have a photograph and so technically was not a proof of residence. The professor was getting angrier and angrier. Arguing with a policeman in America, as everyone knows, spells handcuffs. And so, within minutes of an explosive argument, Gates was arrested on charges of “disorderly conduct”.


This could still have been branded an unfortunate misunderstanding, if it weren’t for one crucial fact. Gates was black, Crowley was white. Interestingly, class intersected with race here in an unusual and unpredictable manner. As one of the most celebrated African American academics in the country, Gates was a personal friend of the President’s. Crowley was your regular, working-class guy who could never inhabit the elite, chi-chi world of Harvard dons. At first, the President — who has often underplayed his own racial identity — weighed in on the side of his friend. The police, he said, “had acted stupidly.” But he was forced to revise his position when the police union in Cambridge paraded Latino and black cops who testified in favour of Crowley’s track record as an officer. The controversy erupted into a fierce national debate. Was Gates a victim of racial profiling? Was Crowley just doing his job or were his actions based on stereotypical assumptions about black people? Had Obama been too impetuous and over-simplistic? The President believed he may have spoken out of turn.


Regretting his choice of words, he invited both Gates and Crowley over for a beer. And so, you had two white guys (Joe Biden joined in) and two black guys caught in a perfect image of symmetry. Neither person, we are told, said sorry. But it was a new beginning and a swift recovery for the President whose initial sweeping remarks had blotted his capacity for complexity.


The ability to admit a mistake remains Obama’s most compelling characteristic. It makes him simultaneously admirable and all-too-human. By contrast, here in India, politics functions on the principle of stubborn spin-doctoring or absolute denial. Think about it. Do you remember any instance where through a raging public debate, a politician took us into confidence and thought aloud, along with us? In an age where media-bashing has become a convenient deflection of all uncomfortable questions, most of our netas would rather blame journalists for manufacturing an entire issue. Instead Obama conceded that if there was media “noise”, he had added a few decibels of his own saying that, “to the extent that my choice of words didn’t illuminate but rather contributed to more media, I think that was unfortunate.”


The other extraordinary thing to have emerged from the controversy is the space for the middle ground. Obama’s abiding contribution to the race debate in his country is that being black is no longer perennially defined by the politics of perennial victimhood. Now think about our public debates on caste, class and minority rights. They suffer from either intellectually stagnant political correctness or utterly repulsive prejudice. They keep people locked into stated positions and offer no dynamism of movement towards the middle.


So, if you criticise Mayawati’s statue-building self-obsession, for example, you will be branded a bigot by one lobby and hailed as a hero by another. Rita Bahuguna’s patently sexist remarks about Mayawati and the larger issue of rape were followed by a tepid, grudging apology. But when BSP goons attacked Bahuguna’s house, the champions of Dalit rights weren’t willing to be unequivocally critical either. All too often as ideologies take opposite positions along enemy lines, truth is the first casualty. In many ways, extremity of thinking keeps people ghettoised and divided.


In this particular controversy, Obama had to eventually concede that perhaps neither man was completely wrong or completely right. “My sense is that you have got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them was able to resolve it the way they wanted to resolve it,” he said.


India may owe its minorities and marginalised centuries of overdue fairness and equality. But perhaps, it’s worth pondering the fact that generalisations about prejudice can keep people locked into clichés they may want to shed. And automatic and presumed victimhood is often the biggest disservice you can do to anyone. I’m not saying that black people are not racially profiled in America. Nor am I saying that Dalits and minorities in India do not suffer from entrenched biases. But there comes a time in the life of a country when a different language needs to be crafted to write a new chapter of history. Obama called this controversy a “teachable moment”. We shouldn’t miss the next opportunity to learn from our own “teachable moments”.


Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV








Why was everyone amazed about Emraan Hashmi being denied a home of his choice in Mumbai because of his religion? He’s not the first star victim of unequal opportunity. Illustrious predecessors include Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi. Reigning star Saif Ali Khan prudently sought a Muslim builder. If this is possible in the posh neighbourhoods of our financial capital, everyone ranted, imagine what’s happening in lesser cities and poorer mohallas. What an odd argument.


Now, don’t get me wrong. Of course discrimination is a serious problem, but I don’t believe it can be solved without discriminating thought. For instance, the notion that it is reduced by affluence and education is completely fallacious. Residents of poorer neighbourhoods, who have more urgent things on their mind such as getting ahead in life, are often less discriminatory than their betters. In Delhi, for instance, the best addresses have the worst sex ratios.


Besides, there is something inherently absurd about being exercised over bad things happening to good people, but only when they are prominent citizens. It is common knowledge that Muslims and people from the Northeast can have a hard time finding a home in many Indian cities, not just Mumbai. Shouldn’t we have made it an issue earlier? Last year, the government moved seriously on cross-border terrorism only after the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai was attacked. More lives in India have been destroyed by terrorism than in any other country excepting Iraq, but we needed a Michelin-rated, five-star carnage to goad us into determined action.


Earlier this week, we were indignant to learn that a former national level hockey player in Raipur had been forced into prostitution by government apathy, while we spend crores on just the potted plants for the Commonwealth Games. It did not lead to concern about the larger national tragedy of poverty and sexual exploitation.


We’ve always been like this only. In the early days of the HIV pandemic, we mourned the untimely death of Mumbai lad Freddie Mercury. And of the pioneering designer Rohit Khosla, who was believed to have gone the same way. But ordinary people in high-risk groups, like professional blood donors and truckers, had been dropping like flies at the same time. Their deaths went unreported. If we had appreciated the span and depth of the problem instead of being overwhelmed by star tragedies, we may have acted faster on HIV. How we state a problem determines how we solve it.


We are perpetuating the two-nation theory, on economic as well as religious grounds. This is not merely iniquitous. It affects everyone because we are ignoring serious issues until they affect the rich and famous. That is, until they assume impossible proportions. The general welfare policies initiated by the government, like the right to education and rural employment guarantees, will improve matters by narrowing economic differences. There’s even talk of an equal opportunity commission. If it is created, I hope we have the sense to subsume our various minority rights bodies under it, because equal opportunity is the fundamental guarantor of equality.


But the point is that despite these institutions, it will take ordinary people decades to improve their lot enough to merit the empathetic concern of people like us. And I fear we cannot afford to wait that long.


Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine










Indian scientific establishment’s eye. Two of our intellectual heavyweights, D.D. Kosambi and Homi Bhabha, clashed over whether India should concentrate on solar or nuclear energy. Kosambi’s view that India has a natural advantage in the solar


sector, compared to the enormous costs of nuclear power, was ultimately disregarded. Since then, we have dawdled for years. According to the CAG, our solar energy centre in the renewable energy ministry, which is meant to link government, institutions, industry and consumers, sent back 44-76 per cent of its budget between 2002-7. There was practically no headway in research or tech, or any productive relationships with industry.


But now, India is all set to come up with a global energy breakthrough, with a solar plan that aims to generate 20 GW (that is, 20,000 MW) over the next couple of decades (the largest in the world). This would make us a leader in


renewable energy, and would radically change India’s role in climate change mitigation. Obviously, there is much to be worked through in order to transform solar energy from a small boutique alternative to a steady and substantial part of our energy mix — most importantly in the price differential


between conventional and solar power. India’s solar plan aims for grid parity by 2020. Another significant shift is the focus on solar thermal, along with photo-voltaic (electricity-generating) technology.


All of this sounds thoroughly commendable, but the question is, how will it be executed and who will pick up the tab? While private industry is most competent to take on this task, payback will take a long time, and much of the risk and R&D will have to be publicly footed. The challenge is to structure incentives to spur disruptive innovation, without having to prop it up altogether. Once we have a clear aim, cost estimates, and a set of our own commitments by the time Copenhagen rolls around, India is entitled to ask the world to pitch in, at least in terms of financial support. Either way, India has finally come to a constructive position and crafted a plan commensurate with its capacities, rather than whingeing about the unfairness of having to take action on the world’s behalf.









A piece of legislation as baldly titled as the Rubber (Amendment) Bill 2009 should not have forced an adjournment in Lok Sabha. But when Minister of State in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan sought to introduce it in the House on Thursday, the opposition brought to the notice of the chair the absence of both the Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and his junior, Jyotiraditya Scindia. Details of the pressing engagements that took the ministers overseas were proffered, and whether the opposition should have been more convinced by them and therefore less disruptive is perhaps beside the point. On the penultimate day of Parliament’s monsoon session, it simply summed up these weeks of thin attendance and scant conversation across the aisles.


Two key pieces of legislation brought out these two problems. When the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill was put to vote in Rajya Sabha on July 20, just 54 MPs were present in the House, and the number included the minister who is a Lok Sabha MP. MPs from the ruling UPA were outnumbered by those from the opposition, and had it been a legislation with less political consensus, the government’s initiative could have been defeated. But more crucially, the episode asked tough questions about the seriousness with which MPs take their voting records — especially on a game-changing bill like the right to education. A fortnight later, in Rajya Sabha, the


opposition stalled the introduction of the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill. With some Congress MPs too disagreeing with the contents of the bill, the impression formed was of poor floor management.


Political parties do bear the onus of showing requisite seriousness by getting their MPs to engage meaningfully in Parliament — and Sonia Gandhi did read the riot act to Congress MPs after the right to education vote. But as an institution, Parliament bears the larger responsibility of bringing transparency and accountability in its functioning by finding ways and means of allowing the people to judge individual MPs on a menu of parameters — attendance, participation in debates, questions asked, voting records, etc. Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Vice President Hamid Ansari could lead this conversation.







In 2005, Ahmad Tanveer, a New York cabdriver who had lived in America legally since 1993 died of a heart attack in a New


Jersey detention centre. He had complained of chest pains, but his requests for assistance had gone unheeded by guards. But when friends and family asked for details, the government gave none — not even confirming or denying his existence, let alone his detention, for more than three years. Tanveer, rounded up as an “offender” after 9/11 — while working at a petrol pump, he had displayed the business’s unlicensed gun to stop a robbery — galvanised those horrified by the US’s slapdash and illiberal detention system for non-citizens.


The Obama administration recently announced agreement with the Bush refusal to create any rules for immigration detention centres. It had claimed then that a comprehensive reform would soon make setting out any uniform rules


unnecessary. Details of that reform are now available. It puts the 33,000 detainees that the US holds — disproportionately from South Asia — into a centralised system, with fewer, less-scattered jails. This is a good move, as is the decision


to not send families to detention centres where children were said to be treated inhumanely.


But it is pathetically inadequate. For one, nothing — nothing at all! — is legally enforceable. Indeed, there are absolutely no accountability standards for private subcontractors who will, in effect, have the power of life and death over civilian internees. Access to legal facilities or to medicine has not been streamlined — forget about guaranteed. Few other developed countries still have systems so haphazard. And the very real possibility of vanishing into this lawyer-less black hole, perhaps through a bureaucratic mix-up, will continue to hang over the head of anyone passing through the US on a non-immigrant visa: as a tourist, as a student, visiting relatives. The Obama administration needs to instil more energy and urgency in fixing something so basic to the expectations of visitors to America’s shores.








In a news discussion on Pakistan earlier this week, NDTV’s Prannoy Roy asked me, with a mix of exasperation and longing, if it would be possible some day for India to leave Pakistan behind (aside?) and carry on? The cause for exasperation that particular evening was the Pakistan government’s declaration in their national assembly that they had banned Jamat-ud-Dawa — while the organisation continued with its activities brazenly and its chief had been freed just the other day. Longing, because if only India were to be rid of that deadly distraction that hobbles it at every step, it would be so much better placed to leverage its many newfound strengths.


Now, at a pinch you can even shake away the burdens of history. But geography? Can you ever escape that? Can an entire nation collect green cards or H-1Bs or whatever and migrate some place far, far away? While it is a simple enough truism that you cannot choose your neighbours, our most difficult neighbour is also a product of recent, bitter history. It makes it that much more challenging for an Indian leadership to “leave it behind” or “aside”. Pakistan can be neither our Canada (there is far too much historical baggage), nor Mexico because that kind of disparity is just not there. Yet, somehow India’s leaders must find a way now to peel away. We have invested a whole decade of foreign policy effort to get the Americans to de-hyphenate their India policy. Are we now capable of de-hyphenating our own foreign policy from Pakistan? Can we think creatively enough to even move in that direction? I use the expression “creative thinking” because for so long now our immediate reflexes and even policy responses have come to be governed by the same hostility and insecurity that block any new thinking.


If you look at how similar conflicts have been resolved in the recent past, the most interesting example is the Camp David Accords that ended the conflict between Israel and Egypt. That one agreement ended the possibility of an all-out war for ever in the Middle East, and it came within a decade marked by two all-out wars and several smaller ones. The essential feature of the settlement that resulted in Egypt recognising Israel, which in turn returned the Sinai desert, was that the Americans pretty much back-stopped it entirely, Israel’s security was under-written, and Egypt’s armed forces were promised — and given — all the toys they wanted but on the condition that they were going to be of no nuisance to Israel. Could a customised variant of this ever work in the Subcontinent?


I raised that question in a tiny group that Colin Powell met on one of his visits as secretary of state. Probably sufficient time has passed now to recount parts of that conversation. He was discussing likely ways to a solution and I asked if an Egypt-type approach may work for Pakistan. One of his senior aides piped in to ask how such a thing would ever work when the moment the US even offered Pakistan as little as a replacement for a damaged F-16 undercarriage “you Indians go ballistic”. He also said that even on that visit (in the course of Op Parakram) “the Indians only talk to us about five LeT guys who were caught infiltrating last week” rather than engage on what to do with Pakistan. But Powell was more patient, willing to engage in what he thought was “an interesting yarn”. “I am new to your region,” he said, self-effacingly. “But Musharraf as Sadat... that might be something to think about. But your situation isn’t more complicated than the Middle East in the seventies.”


I said I wasn’t so sure because I did not know enough on the Camp David Accords, but asked, somewhat wickedly, that now that his government had embarked upon some kind of a “Project Musharraf”, did they have a Hosni Mubarak parked in some closet just in case Musharraf disappeared from the scene like Sadat? Powell was still game. “That is a very good line, sir, and I will use it in Washington, DC many times,” he said, and then added after a long, mischievous grin: “And you can be sure that you shall be given no credit for it.”


It is by now evident that Washington’s “Project Musharraf” was indeed a variant of the old Project Sadat. And the graduated movement towards some kind of a permanent solution with India, marked by the Islamabad Declaration with Vajpayee, then Manmohan Singh and back-channel diplomacy led on the Indian side by Satinder Lambah, was linked with this. It also failed so close to the finishing line because fate took Musharraf away from power. Not through an assassin’s bullet, but through his own political stupidity and big-mouth arrogance. And when he went away, particularly the way he went away, swept aside by a democratic upsurge, there wasn’t a Hosni to be ushered out of the closet. It ended in failure, but it was the last, and so far the most creative shot at an agreement that would have enabled us to move on, leaving Pakistan behind, aside. Or, in a more perfect world, even taking it along as a partner, not adversary.


How close that process, sustained through a government change in India, came to a breakthrough is the best reason why original thinking should not be discarded as we move on, and through many setbacks, perfidies and betrayals. We can’t go into a shell every time Hafeez Saeed appears in public even as we press for his prosecution. Saeed and the many Lashkars are not the problem. They are a symptom, or even an instrument. The basic problem is the virus that sits embedded in the mind of the Pakistani military-intelligence- bureaucratic establishment. It has built and nurtured the Lashkars as a strategic asset to keep India off-balance in “peace” time, and to be a force multiplier in war. No matter what their assurances, they will not give up on that asset until they are fully dissuaded, or persuaded, that India is no longer either a military threat or opportunity.


India has to engage with the rest of the world in the search for that new creative solution which may, ultimately, be a variant of the earlier one, except that Pakistan now does not have a Musharraf equivalent. That, in fact, is all the more reason why a new settlement, if it were to be achieved, must be backed by some kind of international or big-power guarantees. It will be tough, but not impossible. No nation of India’s size that wishes to rise to its true potential can do so with almost all its borders unsettled. It is now evident that the Chinese won’t settle with us as long as the Pakistanis don’t, and give them the opportunity to play balance-of-power. Similarly, Pakistan will continue using China to play its own balance-of-power with us. The first step for us to break out of this triangulation is to find peace with Pakistan, and that can only happen with the Americans not merely leaning heavily, but even under-writing some Egypt-like arrangement to change the very nature of Pakistani society and establishment. That is how we can de-hyphenate ourselves from our geography, and even some history.








Food price inflation has been the nightmare of growth economists since David Ricardo. In fact, even Chanakya refers to it in his discussion of the duties of the king.


Rising wage goods prices put pressure on profit shares and investment prospects. In contemporary policy there is also concern, dating especially since the classic paper by Atul Sarma and Radhakrishna (now Statistics Commission Chief) on the redistributive impact of inflation on the poor. These days the problem is complicated by a great and growing capability to obfuscate facts. Major food price trends are explained by policies, but it is easier for modern-day Chanakyas to blame the rain gods, and if that doesn’t work, “speculators” come in handy.


First the facts. As the Economic Survey points out, from March 2008 to March 2009, wholesale prices rose by 8.4 per cent, but food prices by 6.8 per cent. Food articles contributed 13 per cent of the year’s total inflation and manufactured goods four times as much at 50-53 per cent. But we don’t talk of industrial inflation. What are called farm-gate prices for the farmer are closer to wholesale prices; but the consumer may pay more, and in this period, food inflation for the industrial worker as a consumer was 50 per cent higher than in wholesale prices — and that is pretty high. Once upon a time the two series would move together but that doesn’t happen regularly now; statisticians are yet to tell us why. Trends for the last three months are somewhat tentative, since the numbers get revised and there is always seasonality in them. But an increase in food prices is evident and undeniable.


There is food and there is food. Interestingly, the larger increase has been in grains and edible oils — and this will get worse this year. Vegetable and eggs, meat and fish prices rose by half rises in food prices as a whole. But end-July numbers will probably reverse the June scare. The grain price is determined by government policy; young economists and econometricians make a killing by showing time and again that markets don’t work in grain supply fluctuations — but they do in non-grain sectors.


Price rises in edible oil are almost entirely import-determined; more than three-quarters of our edible oil is imported. Thus the supply price from exporters elsewhere in the world determines the price for us; that’s what reliable market reports tell us is happening now, too, though the official numbers are not yet in. In the beginning they subsidise you, but once you are that dependent they know you have no choice. Don’t think of these as competitive markets abroad, either; they are highly interventionist. The Economic Survey explains differences in world and Indian wholesale food prices nicely, but doesn’t tell us the trends in import prices.


Where do we end up? It is certainly not a question of “fixing” the vegetable and oilseed grower. It was not wrong for the government to set a fair minimum price for the grower of grains — although sometimes fairness gets a little stretched by political pressure. It is wrong not to have that incentive in backward regions which are the rice bowls of India, and where the great potential is for supply. This would definitely help supply. But let’s not panic about it; doing it the right way is much more important, especially in a bad rainfall year.


Meanwhile, the regions where the grain price is supported are getting frankly obese — and anyway are not doing their share in terms of supply growth, even if they manage to be very politically articulate. No, what we need is a real price/ interest rate stability macro plan, one with agriculture as a part.

In pulses and oilseeds we do need to tell the farmer that if he produces them at home, we will stand by him. In each legume crop yield can be at least a quarter higher if we replicate conditions from the best-performance areas. But the obstacles to those who try are amazing. A company which had set up producer companies couldn’t get working capital because they are neither farmers nor cooperatives.  


Whatever the overall support to agriculture, it is relative profitability which matters. The Economic Survey repeats what is now generally understood: for agriculture, we need variable tariffs within set boundaries. This has even been said in a government report — for which we, interestingly, got an unexpected rap on the knuckles: the Sarkar went out of its way to say, in an official PIB press release, as recently as in January this year, that the cabinet agrees with the objectives we stated of making Indian farming competitive and efficient, but will absolutely not follow the policies advocated.


The PIB is a great set of people — but they have never been very successful in controlling the spread of ideas.


The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand









The impact of Al-Azhar University on the Egyptian way of life and Islam in general is a role model for most nations which have a sizable Muslim population. Since 971 AD this mosque and madrasa has expanded into a university with over thousands of students and numerous institutes of higher learning including medicine, engineering, IT and Mass media which contribute about 35 per cent of all education in Egypt. This respected seminary of Sunni Islamic thought and learning was started, ironically, under the Shi’a Fatimid dynasty. It follows a robust secular curriculum, and excels in modern sciences; its impact is profound and visible all over Cairo.


Ahmed Qadi, the professor of Urdu language and Abdel Kader Khatib, Dean of Arabic language and culture, and one mufti — all dressed in modern western clothing, like the students at the campus — explained that “the department of education controls the syllabus, includeing Islamic studies.” Foreign languages, including English, are expected too. Qadi went on to explain that unless one mastered the sciences one cannot contribute to the dynamic progress of civilization — and Islam extols the virtue of seeking all forms of knowledge. “We fought against the English language and got left behind, only in 1980s did we start catching up.”


Nasser, in 1961, ordered that Al-Azhar introduce scientific education. “We have over 60 courses besides Islamic studies now,” said the professor of Urdu; going on to say that he wanted to set up outreach centres, including in India.


My next question was about the dress code — beards and external appearance — and I was answered by a puzzled dean of Arabic studies: “most Egyptian Muslims dress modestly in modern western wear, after all. Even in the mosque.” I was baffled. I enquired about the clergy in India, that deride people for what they wear. The Dean pulled no punches. “We believe in inner cleanliness and purity of the mind, maybe in India external appearance and beards are important to your Ulemas; in our mosques and schools what you wear is secondary. Cover your head, as most religions advise, and pray for all humanity.”


Women were everywhere on the campus. I asked the mufti why. “Islam makes no difference based on gender” he said, pointing out that Egypt has recently set aside about 12 per cent reservation for women in parliament. I kept silent when the mufti asked me about reservation for women in ours. In Egypt more women than men are employed in both the public and the private sector — except in defence and oil.


The concern for gender issues extends to other aspects of public policy and personal law. The Qazi who performs marriages works under the law ministry; every marriage has to be publicly announced, and written consent taken. (To marry a second time, a written consent from the first wife is mandatory, the mufti added.) Turns out over five million young people are finding it difficult to get married — because a house and a job is considered essential to get married. Hence the average age of those getting married has inched closer to 30 than 20 in the last decade alone.


How could this succeed? In India we have so many divisions among sects: Barelvis, Deobandis and so on. The Dean answered this firmly: “Better to be one follower in a billion muslims , rather than one in a million of a sect. There is no space for cultism here.”


I walked over to the famous mosque. Unlike in India, the library within the mosque it had students reading different subjects, in a relaxed, easy manner. Girls in long skirts and jeans were praying in the same mosque.


It dawned upon me that in India the simplicity that following Islam should have is fast losing out to intolerance within our community. The clergy must unshackle us from the fetters of outward appearance, beard, and division by sects — and should, like the thought leaders in Egypt, focus only on modern education, to do justice to its followers.


The writer is chairman of the editorial board at the Kanpur-based Urdu newspaper ‘Daily Siyasat Jadid’








The Pakistan People’s Party government finally seems to have resolved to question former military dictator Pervez Musharraf. Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi outlined the action taken in Daily Times on August 2: “The Supreme Court announced a history-making judgement on July 31 which rejected the tradition of providing legal cover to the military’s assumption of power under the Doctrine of Necessity. The 14-member bench declared Pervez Musharraf’s decision to impose emergency and replace the Constitution with the provisional constitutional order (PCO) on November 3, 2007 was illegal and unconstitutional. All actions taken by the Musharraf government during the emergency period have been knocked out. The major effect of this judgement is on the judiciary itself, especially on the judges who took oath under the PCO or were appointed by the then Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, whose appointment under the PCO has been declared null and void.”


The News added on August 4: “Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani declared in the National Assembly that the landmark verdict had shut the doors on dictatorship and blocked the way of any unconstitutional usurpation of the people’s right to governance.” Their editorial stated: “Through this process, perhaps some precedents can be set. This sends out a strong message, especially at a time when debate continues about the role of the president and the powers he still enjoys to dissolve assemblies.” Former PM Nawaz Sharif hailed this move as reported by Dawn on August 5: “Musharraf should be made to pay for violating the Constitution. I am not saying this out of a sense of revenge but it is the nation which had suffered enormously, and the nation which has the right to hold him accountable.”


The Nation, however, questioned the intent of the government in its editorial on August 4: “The pre-condition spelled out by PM Gilani to try Musharraf indicates the government’s unwillingness to take the logical next step required after the Supreme Court verdict... When a law can be passed by a simple majority, and the Constitution amended by a two-third majority, why require a unanimous resolution from Parliament to proceed against a usurper?”



News coming in of the death of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s top honcho Baitullah Mehsud indicates a sense of defeat for the Taliban. Dawn flashed the news on August 7: “Baitullah Mehsud may have been killed in a US missile strike in South Waziristan late on Tuesday, intelligence officials say. Sources say these reports are ‘95 per cent credible and true.’”


Meanwhile, on August 2, the NWFP government booked Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi chief Sufi Mohammad for sedition, rebellion, terrorism, rioting and other offences. The News cast Mohammedas a mix between a traitor and a hero, in its editorial on August 4: “Some ,at least in Swat and elsewhere, saw them as saviours. It is pointless to argue how many fell in this category, or how many became disillusioned by the Taliban after they came to power. The issue of justice raised by Sufi made some impact. Now that he is back behind bars, these matters need to be sensibly considered. If this does not happen, the risk of another uprising will continue to hover. What people yearn for is some mechanism that grants them access to justice. This too is the reason why nostalgia for the reign of the Wali of Swat still exists four decades after the status of the region as a princely state was abolished.”





Dawn reported on August 2: “Seven people were burnt alive and 18 injured in Gojra on Saturday over the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran... More than 50 houses were set on fire and a place of worship belonging to a minority community was damaged by an angry mob.” Daily Times, in an editorial on August 3 issued a caveat: “Incidents of persecution of the Christians have never stopped, but Gojra tells us that holocausts can repeat themselves as civic virtue declines in Pakistan under the influence of extremism.” Gojra is in the district of Toba Tek Singh, made famous by Sadat Hassan Manto’s immortal story of the same name.








On the night of August 7, 2008, Russia’s 58th Army crossed over Georgia’s internationally recognised borders. Thus began what the evidence shows was a long-planned invasion aimed at toppling my government and increasing Moscow’s control over our region. A year later, the results are not what the Kremlin expected.


Tragically, 410 of our citizens, mostly civilians, were killed, and more than 1,700 were injured. Almost 130,000 people were forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, including tens of thousands ethnically cleansed from villages in the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Costs ran into the billions. And in violation of the cease-fire that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed August 12, about 10,000 Russian troops remain in the two Georgian territories.


Russian provocations have not stopped; snipers in Russian-controlled areas have killed 28 Georgian policemen. In recent days, Moscow has engaged in a series of provocative acts and statements, echoing its prelude to last year’s invasion. Even as the world watches, Moscow has vetoed monitoring missions from the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In violation of the cease-fire, Russia also denies European Union monitors access to the occupied territories.


Despite all this, and contrary to some expectations, Georgia has rebounded. Our democratic institutions are growing. Foreign investors are returning. The world should recognise that the kind of behaviour Russia exhibited last August threatens not only Georgia but our entire region.


Since the 2003 Rose Revolution, we have worked hard to replace a deeply corrupt, failing state with a modern, responsible state that is allied with the West; run by European standards; and committed to liberal democracy, free-market principles and peaceful relations with our neighbors. Twenty years after the fall of communism, that goal should be unremarkable. Indeed, Russia should have welcomed a prosperous, stable neighbour. Instead, Moscow feels threatened by our aspirations.


After the war, we faced a choice. Most countries confronting dire threats turn inward. We chose to reinforce our commitment to values we share with the West, such as personal and economic freedom. Such values provide our best protection and inspired our people to rebuild, even as we now sit within the range of Russian artillery.


I committed to even deeper democratic reforms. When domestic political protests emerged in April, my government pursued a policy of openness and restraint. We allowed protesters to illegally block the main avenue in Tbilisi for three months and then invited opposition leaders to begin a dialogue over reforms in our constitution, the handling of elections, the media and the judiciary.


Last month, I committed to specific reforms with firm deadlines, including the direct election of mayors next May; a new electoral code and a consensus chair for our Central Election Commission; less power for the president and more for parliament; stronger sanctions against officials trying to influence judges; and a public television broadcasting board with equal representation of the governing and opposition parties.


Georgia faces a situation that is new and old. Just as a wall used to divide Germans, a barbed-wire border divides us from our two occupied territories. Within those territories, monitors have been expelled, media are muzzled and Georgian citizens are forbidden to return to their homes — while Russia builds military bases.


These developments threaten all free nations that believe international borders must not be changed by force. If we do not stand up to tactics such as cross-border aggression, creating “frozen conflicts” that destabilize sovereign states or attempt to legalise ethnic cleansing, or cutting off energy supplies for political gain, none of us will enjoy lasting stability.


That is why we are responding in ways that mirror the steps that helped peacefully end the Cold War.


We have called for other countries to insist on Georgia’s territorial integrity and not to recognise the occupied territories, and we are grateful that most nations have embraced this approach. We do not seek to retake the territories by force — but we are resolute that we will never forget the rights of the displaced. And in pursuit of a greater good, we continue to build an open democracy and economy.


Twenty years ago, the attraction of a free and prosperous West brought down the Berlin Wall. We believe the example of a free and prosperous Georgia ultimately will restore our sovereignty and reverse the wrongs caused by Russia’s invasion. With the support of our friends — support for which we are deeply grateful — Georgia will continue to rebound and set an example for the region.


(The writer is president of Georgia) The Washington Post








This is very serious. Britain has long been populated by three warlike tribes, the Scots, the English and the Welsh. Much of British history consists of disputes between these tribes, particularly between the Scots and the English. Since the middle of the 18th century, after Bonnie Prince Charlie made a vain attempt to reclaim the kingdom for the Scottish Stuart dynasty, an uneasy peace has prevailed, based, in part, on the understanding that Scottish pride and Scottish feathers will not be unduly ruffled. But then, every so often, somebody threatens this delicate understanding with an outrageous suggestion. This usually happens in August, when newspapers have nothing better to talk about. And it has happened again this August.


The insult to the Scots this year is that haggis, the Scottish national dish, is not really Scottish, but English. Now this may seem a matter of little consequence to Americans, but how would the United States react if apple pie and turkey with cranberry sauce were to be claimed as the products of, say, French cuisine? Or if somebody asserted that baseball was invented by the Romanians (which it was)? These things are a matter of national pride, and people should take great care when talking about them.


The basis of the current claim is that an English cookbook of the early 17th century contains a recipe for haggis. This, we are told, was well before any Scottish recipe book gives similar information. Well, now, this assertion is so patently flimsy that it hardly requires refutation. Of course there was no published Scottish recipe for haggis before then, for the simple reason that it would have been quite unnecessary for Scots to publish a recipe for something that everybody in Scotland knew how to make. Why state the obvious? It’s as simple as that.


But if further proof is required, then it is there in abundance. English cuisine has always been very open to foreign influences, and still is. If one looks at contemporary English cookbook writers, what do they write about? French food, Indian food, Chinese food — anything but English food. And it was ever thus. So it is no surprise that early 17th-century English food writers should have written about exotic Scottish dishes rather than English ones. This is what these people have always done.


The haggis, of course, has played an important role in the Scottish national psyche — not as food, but as an invention. Scots like to console themselves with the knowledge that even if today we are a small nation on the periphery of Europe, an adjunct to a defunct empire, and chronically unsuccessful at something we would love to be successful at (soccer), we nonetheless have a great past as inventors.


Scottish schoolchildren are indoctrinated with the history of Scottish inventions. Television, they are taught, was invented by John Logie Baird, a Scotsman, and not by Philo Taylor Farnsworth, an American. The Irish did not invent whisky, and Irish whiskey is not the real McCoy; McCoy himself, whoever he was, was clearly Scottish and definitely not Irish. And golf was not invented by the Dutch — as misguided Dutchmen have a habit of claiming — it was a product of the Scottish genius for hitting things with sticks and counting the hits.


So the haggis is clearly Scottish, as Robert Burns understood full well when he wrote his famous poem in its praise. If one’s national bard writes a poem to a dish consisting of chopped-up offal cooked in a sheep’s stomach together with oatmeal and spices and secured with a curious pin, then that dish must be authentically national.

Anyway, even if there were doubts about this — which of course no right-thinking person would entertain — why take an iconic dish away from a national cuisine that has so little else of distinction in it? Yes, we have salmon and porridge, and one or two other dishes, but Escoffier would surely have been very unfulfilled had he been born Scottish.


Blithely attributing our haggis to a people who already have lots and lots of dishes — most of them terribly stodgy —in their national cuisine seems, if nothing else, to be gratuitously cruel. It would be like eating a mockingbird, if I may be permitted a literary allusion.


Never heard of haggis? Never tasted it? Try it on your next visit to Scotland, or even England. It is best taken with mashed turnips, which, incidentally, were invented in Scotland, and with a shot of whisky. The whisky is to neutralise the taste of the haggis, and the turnips are there for health reasons. Highly recommended.


McCall Smith is the author of ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’








This week, the ruling coalition appeared all thumbs in Parliament. First, it had to withdraw the Judges Bill from the floor of the Rajya Sabha. Its numbers are weak in this House, but broad support had been expected to bolster them. That calculation was terribly off beam as it turns out, but it didn’t help that coalition members were very thin on the floor. Then, the UPA bungled the Rubber (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha, where it enjoys a comfortable majority. This time around, the culprit was absenteeism of a higher order: the Union commerce minister and his deputy were far away in South Korea and Indonesia. The Opposition rightly argued that meaningful debate needed the minister. Maybe that was the point. Dialogue no longer seems a necessary prelude to legislation. As these pages have pointed out, the Judges Bill has not even been put in the public domain. Maybe passing eight Bills within 17 minutes, a recent precedent, is the supersonic target the UPA is benchmarking.


An oft-quoted number goes that each minute of Parliament costs the taxpayer Rs 26,035. Are the MPs putting in enough minutes to give us our money’s worth? That’s hard to tell. That they have signed in doesn’t guarantee they are at work. Not only is Parliament passing laws with less and less debate, its sessions are also shrinking. Last year saw it meet for just 46 days, the lowest since its dawn in 1952. Perhaps there is some kind of consolation in that such trends are not unique to India. In the UK, too, Parliament is sitting less. But there are also alternative narratives, such as that the Bulgarian Parliament has done away with its customary summer vacation this year. If the question is which model we should emulate, surely no MP or minister could publicly favour the former. Proposed legislation suggests that Parliament should meet for at least 100 days every year. To put this in context, the Lok Sabha last did this 21 years ago and the Rajya Sabha 35 years ago. While we await developments on this legislation, here is this thought: so thick-skinned are our MPs that even Sonia Gandhi has been finding it hard to scare Congress MPs to the House floors. Just last week she ticked them off for absenteeism, apparently requesting that they at least hang around the Central Hall—so they could be hauled in in an emergency. And we know how this week has gone.







By withholding the introduction of the Land Acquisition Amendment & Rehabilitation Bill in Parliament, the UPA government has blinked first in its tussle with Mamata Banerjee on the tricky issue of land acquisition. Unfortunately, this may just set Banejee up as the change blocker in UPA-II. It also leaves the UPA open to pressure by other allies, most prominently the DMK, which has particularly strong views against disinvestment. This may not be the best precedent for a government so fresh into its term in office—this is when political capital to carry out difficult reform is highest. And there is no doubt that land acquisition is a difficult policy terrain. But an emerging economy like India has little option but to convert agricultural land into industrial use if it’s to grow rapidly.


The new Bill that has now been withheld did address the two most contentious aspects of land acquisition. First, it addressed the question of who is to do the acquiring. Instead of the government doing all the acquiring, the new Bill suggested that the private sector directly acquire 70% while the government acquire the remaining 30% land for a particular project. This seems to be a reasonable balance between a remunerative price for farmers—which direct private purchase is more likely to deliver than government acquisition—and proper acquisition of contiguous land for the acquirer—some small landholders may hold out despite a good price in which case the government has to intervene. But Banerjee and her party are adamant about an unreasonable, and almost certainly unimplementable, 100% private acquisition. The second issue is of course rehabilitation. It can be no one’s case that those displaced should be left entirely to their own devices. This Bill would have addressed the rehabilitation aspect, too. But now it’s delayed to another day. The UPA government must, therefore, come clean, and relatively fast, on how exactly it intends to proceed from now on. Is this just a temporary holdback to buy some time to persuade Mamata Banerjee to see reason, or is this the beginning of complete surrender to her demands, at least until the elections in West Bengal in 2011. There is nothing worse than policy uncertainty for investors and at the moment, the whole land acquisition issue is mired in uncertainty. The UPA must weigh in to provide some clarity.









What should the government do? To economists, there is a technical answer: governments should raise money through taxes, and spend it on the provision of ‘public goods’. A public good is ‘non-rival’ (i.e. the use by one person does not preclude the use by another) and ‘non-excludable’ (it is not possible to prevent an additional person from benefiting from the public good).


While there are shades of gray in rivalness and excludability, public goods are the zone where government involvement in the economy is legitimate. Protection from war, for example, is a pure public good. When an army is set up which protects the population, it is non-rival (the safety of one person imposes no cost on another) and non-excludable (it is impossible to prevent a newborn child from benefiting from this safety).


An important pure public good is map data. Maps are rival: when I am looking at a map, you can't simultaneously look at the same map. But map data is a public good. If that data is created once and released in the public domain, then myriad private players can use it to create maps, GPS based navigation systems, etc. The job of the government, then, is to run the Survey of India, which is funded by taxes, which creates high quality maps data, and releases databases on the website for free download.


Unfortunately, in India, we do everything wrong. Survey of India maps are grossly outdated. On the website, they proudly say: "We know every inch of the Nation, because we map every inch of it". However, in good countries, 1:24,000 topo sheets are trustworthy, while Survey of India does not even have good quality 1:250,000 topo sheets. The weakest link about Survey of India is the rules of release. Survey of India is funded by taxpayer money. As a consequence, the information that they create should be freely released back in the public domain for unencumbered use. Instead, Survey of India thinks like a corporation. It has "licencing" restrictions which has effectively made their data unusable.


The most important maps in India today are produced by Google. Google Maps and Google Earth are a remarkable combination of satellite imagery and maps, and they are available for free (!). Google has had to reconstruct maps of India from scratch, thanks to the legal problems (and low quality of work) of Survey of India. It is ironic that even though taxpayers are funding Survey of India, this work is useless for the people of India, who are flocking to Google Maps and Google Earth. Nokia has also created good maps of India, which are usable through some Nokia handsets (only).


The only flaw with Google Maps and Google Earth is that the underlying databases are the private property of Google. What would be most desirable is for maps data to be a public good, which can be used in all manner of ways by all individuals and companies. As an example, handheld GPS devices are now available for $100. If these are loaded with Indian map data, they can be immensely useful tools for navigation, exploration and business efficiency. Google does not give out their map database to the public; so such applications are infeasible.


Until Survey of India gets its act together, the solution lies with a public domain initiative named Openstreetmap. This uses Internet-scale collaboration to build maps. It involves volunteers, armed with handheld GPS devices, who are feeding in maps data into a central database. This database is a true public good. The licencing conditions of Openstreetmap are quite open, though not as open as those used by the US government. Openstreetmap is doing what Survey of India should have done: accumulating high quality maps data and releasing it in the (mostly) public domain.


Thus, three strategies are now in play in India: a high quality solution which is a public goods effort (Openstreetmap), a good solution which is owned by a corporation (Google) and a poor solution which acts like a corporation (Survey of India). The users of maps are flocking to Google, Nokia and Openstreetmap.


From the viewpoint of the government, the first best strategy is to shift Survey of India into the mode of uncompromisingly releasing maps data in the public domain, matching the release strategy of the US government on openness. Through this, the government would continue to engage in taxpayer-funded efforts at creating maps databases, but the full benefits would come back to the people of India. In addition, Survey of India needs to get up to timely 1:24,000 coverage of the full country. If these changes are infeasible, it is better to shut down Survey of India, and transfer its annual budget to Openstreetmap, for the latter is producing public goods while the former is acting like an inefficient corporation.


The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics








Remember the Surf Excel detergent commercial some years ago that spoke of saving water—do bucket paani roz bachana? Well look deeper: the environment is not just a selling proposition for marketers in India today. It’s imperative—to build sales and the business. Recent surveys show Indian consumers are particularly inclined to seek products with sustainable values and to favour companies they consider green. This despite the fact that eco-friendly and energy-efficient products could be anywhere between 5-25% costlier.


One look at the shop shelves will attest to the fact that mass consumer interest is shifting. The likes of Godrej, Whirlpool ,Samsung and LG have made their airconditioner and refrigerator ranges star-rated. Philips hopes in another three-four years, close to 30% of its revenue will come from green products. It is said to have kicked off a pilot project for voluntary collection and recycling in countries like India and Brazil.


Then there is home-grown Godrej that claims that even the foam in its refrigerators can be recycled. And the shop assistant for Godrej product will tell you that for a five-star rated appliance, the saving on power bills through its lifecycle works out to double the price at which the appliance is bought in the first place.


At the other end of the spectrum, there are industries under fire: plastic shopping bags, children’s toys that are supposedly laced with lead paint, and the everyday water bottles made with harmful chemicals. A variety of societal factors are driving consumers to increasingly seek out differentiated products. Clearly, there is an opportunity in waiting. A clever marketer is one who not only convinces the consumer about his commitment to the cause, but also co-opts the consumer in promoting responsible consumption. For green marketing to be effective, marketers need to bring a whole life-cycle approach to it—wherein the production, marketing, consumption and even disposal of products and services happen in a manner that is less harmful to the environment.








The international evidence on successful special economic zones underlines the significance of strategic location, geographical size, functional autonomy, efficient administrative frameworks and leading role played by private developers as the key drivers of success. However, a critical factor in determining the success of private zones is availability of finance for developers. This is probably one of the main reasons behind the presence of large real estate firms in India’s SEZs


The intensity of the debate on pros and cons of land acquisition in India has diverted attention from the financial feasibility of India’s privately developed zones.The fixed costs of SEZs include those for acquisition of land and development of internal infrastructure. Developers with bigger land banks are certainly in more advantageous positions for managing land costs. But even then they have to bear substantive costs of developing zone infrastructure, particularly in the bigger multi-product zones of more than 1,000 hectare. This is where the Indian SEZ policy is different from that in China, where considerable start-up infrastructure was state-developed. This is also where the pitch has become queer for most developers with serious implications for financial stability of zones.


Projecting infrastructure development costs are always difficult in an economy such as India that is prone to cost-push price pressures arising from supply-demand mismatches. Unanticipated cost escalations are major problems in this respect. Such escalations become more difficult to manage at times when revenue flows are moderating due to poor business prospects.


A bigger problem for many SEZs, however, is accessing finance at reasonable costs. India’s SEZs have been unfortunate victims of extreme perceptions between government agencies. While the Ministry of Commerce has pushed their growth aggressively, RBI treated them on par with commercial real estate. As a result, loans for SEZ developers are treated as those with higher risk weights and come with higher price tags. High domestic interest rates have been one of the major reasons behind Indian corporate accessing overseas capital markets. The interest arbitrage opportunity created by large spreads between domestic and overseas lending rates encouraged Indian firms to raise extensive resources from overseas markets. But in this respect as well, SEZ developers have not had things going their way. The SEZ policy discriminates between zone developers and units in SEZs in mobilising resources through external commercial borrowings (ECBs). While SEZ units are allowed to raise ECBs up to $500 million per year without any maturity restrictions, developers cannot do so, since such borrowings have end-use restrictions for commercial real estate development.


Restrictions on accessing finance left several developers with little options other than exploring collaborations with foreign partners. However, the global downturn has created problems in this respect as well. Collaborative ventures can no longer rely on their foreign parents as lenders of last resort. Problems have been further compounded by sub-rule (9) of Rule 11 of SEZ Rules of 2006 that prohibits selling of SEZ land. Many developers are now stuck with land without enough resources for developing facilities.


Certain activities in SEZs, are likely to get infrastructure status. These are primarily of a developmental nature. If developers avail bank loans for building zones and repay the same through revenues generated by use of facilities by internal units, or through its own cash flows, then developing zone will be tantamount to creating infrastructure. However, if the repayments are made on the basis of sale proceeds or rental earnings then the same will be treated as commercial real estate exposure.

It is difficult to understand why developers will be treated unfavourably if they lease out the developed facilities. If creating durable infrastructure assets through private initiative is one of the objectives of the SEZ policy, then why should trading in these assets be viewed adversely? This is counterproductive to the logic of involving private initiative in the SEZ process. Why penalise the developer for earning good returns on a well-developed asset?


Many will argue that matters might still improve partly if some of the activities get infrastructure status while most don’t. Principles of elementary welfare economics will justify situations where welfare of some increase while that of others remains same. The eventual outcome is an improvement in collective welfare.


But will ‘infrastructure’ status really turn things around? It will make bank loans available at 2 % lower rates. But given the sensitiveness of Indian banks to non-performing assets (NPAs), funds are unlikely to flow to SEZs till banks are satisfied about their financial viability. The latter depends on business prospects.


The author is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views








With a $19 billion solar energy plan that sets ambitious targets, India has tried to compensate for its serious, retrogressive lack of initiative in addressing climate change. The goal is to generate 20 gigawatts of power using solar energy by 2020 and ramp it up sharply in the decades to follow. As one of the top five emitters of greenhouse gases, the country needs to work on this plan seriously. The massive push for solar power approved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is impressive, considering that the share of this green source of energy in the country is minuscule now, as low as five megawatts by some estimates. A solar initiative can produce multiple gains. It can power up remote villages while cutting emissions. But attention needs to be devoted to raising the grossly inadequate fabrication base for photovoltaics. Equally important, the implementation of the solar plan hinges on availability of external funding. The plan can lend some credibility to the national position at the forthcoming Copenhagen conference of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. But there is no getting away from the fact that the Manmohan Singh government faces the challenge of convincing the international community that it will reduce its total emissions through a comprehensive approach — promoting greater efficiency and ensuring low carbon intensity in all areas of activity.


The philosophical basis for India’s demand for financial and technological assistance from legacy polluters such as the United States and European countries is sound enough. As the economist Jagdish Bhagwati pointed out in a recent interview to The Hindu, India and China could be expected to accept obligations related to current flow of greenhouse gases — but the staggering problem posed by the existing stock in the atmosphere, built up by the developed countries, requires them to undertake a speedy clean-up. The U.S. has internally been using the ‘superfund’ principle to repair past environmental damage, viewing it both as a tort liability and a moral obligation. It should be persuaded to extend the same logic to its damaging carbon emissions, and liberally assist the emerging economies with advanced technologies and a climate superfund. India, however, cannot ignore the strong view in the developed world that zero liability for current emissions is unacceptable beyond 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires. China recognises the problem and is working to reduce emissions. It is engaging the U.S. in an attempt to enter into a strategic relationship that will help it lower emissions. This is a key pointer for India, as it comes under increasing pressure to agree to a measurable target to cut greenhouse gases.








A key conclusion of a recent review of aid-for-trade is that while trade is essential for economic development, trade policies alone cannot be counted upon to achieve a country’s poverty reduction objectives. The review, jointly done by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), was presented at a conference in Geneva that brought together trade and development professionals. The ongoing economic crisis ha s naturally cast a long shadow on trade related issues. But there is near unanimity that aid for trade is critical at this juncture. The WTO expects global trade to contract by a record 10 per cent this year. Trade liberalisation has definitely spurred economic growth and yielded various other benefits to economies but the evidence linking it to poverty reduction is mixed. In fact, there are enough case studies to establish that while trade liberalisation has helped with poverty reduction, inequality has increased. This is true of not only developing countries but developed ones too. The poorer countries which have no social safety nets and where income inequality is wide are the ones that badly need coordinated global help.


The aid-for-trade programme was launched after the Hong Kong ministerial meet in 1995 to help the developing countries improve their capabilities to compete in the global markets and to adjust themselves to trade reform and economic liberalisation. The WTO-OECD report notes that the donors met their Hong Kong pledges until at least 2007. Aid for trade grew by more than 10 per cent in real terms between 2005 and 2007. Out of the total new commitments of $25.4 billion, Asia received $10.7 billion and Africa $9.5 billion. In low income countries, most of the money is spent on infrastructure, in particular on roads and power. In middle income countries, the focus is on building productive capacities including trade development. Aid-for-trade projects have ranged from the establishment of a shipping line and warehousing facilities in Mauritius to computerisation of the revenue department in Kenya. Several developing countries have successfully incorporated trade policies in their national and regional development strategies. One major challenge is to sustain aid flows during the downturn. There is need for a monitoring framework to assess aid-for-trade policies and programmes. The possible revival of the Doha round of trade talks naturally has a great deal of significance for all trade related issues. As the WTO sees it, a successful culmination of the Doha round will lend considerable weight to aid-for-trade programmes.







K. SRINATH REDDY               


Is our health, over a whole lifespan, primarily determined by our genes or principally conditioned by our living habits and social environment? This debate has gone on for more than a century and has been particularly sharp when the causation of heart diseases, diabetes and cancers is discussed.


About 12 years ago, I was invited to speak at an elite gathering of Indian scientists drawn from diverse disciplines. Asked to profile the growing problem of coronary heart disease (heart attacks) in the Indian population, I described the growing magnitude of the disease as well as the varied levels of associated risk factors in urban and rural populations. I suggested that public health action must focus on the promotion of healthy diets, regular physical activity and avoidance of tobacco while health services must pay attention to early detection and effective treatment of high blood pressure and diabetes to reduce the risk of heart attacks.


In the discussion that followed, leading molecular biologists and biotechnologists faulted me for not identifying genes as a principal contributor to heart attacks, despite very little evidence available at that time to consistently link one or more genes to the risk of heart attacks in Indian or other populations. The disease was considered, at best, a polygenic disorder in which several (as yet unidentified) genes could contribute to susceptibility, which would be expressed only when triggered by environmental factors such as living habits.


In western populations, coronary mortality rates rose steeply and then declined substantially, all in the 20th century. In India, coronary disease rates have risen over the past three decades but still show sharp differences between urban and rural areas. Gene pool changes could not have occurred in these populations, in such a short time, to explain these variations. Further, the risk posed by blood pressure or cholesterol to heart attacks rises incrementally with their levels across a very wide range. The risk is, therefore, spread across the majority of the population and is not confined to a small segment which can be identified by genetic screening.


This explanation did not carry conviction with gene believers, who predominated that gathering. A leading scientist opined that individuals who are genetically predisposed to heart attacks must be identified by genetic screening and only they should be advised a healthy diet. Everyone else should be spared that advice, he said, declaring that personalised health care and prevention based on gene profiling were the future of medicine.


His faith, as of many other scientists, was based on the belief that the Human Genome project would unravel all the genes and enable the linking of different diseases to different genes. Indeed, Francis Collins, who headed the project in the United States at that time, called it “the most important and the most significant project that humankind has ever mounted” and predicted that “it would quickly allow everyone to know the genetic risks for many diseases.”


Where are we now? Reporting on the recent appointment of Dr. Collins as the Director of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., the New York Times wrote: “Although Dr. Collins was widely praised in 2003 when the effort [Human Genome Project] succeeded, the hopes that this discovery would yield an array of promising medical interventions have greatly dimmed, discouraging many” (July 8, 2009).


Indeed, much of the irrational exuberance associated with the expectation of disease associations with the human genome has subsided, while the undoubted value it brings to the study of life and even the potential for creation of life is recognised and respected. It also offers the potential for several gene directed therapies. Herceptin, which modifies the HER2 gene in a subset of breast cancer, is an example. While genes that have gone awry can possibly be fixed through such scientific advances, the facile assumption that all diseases originate in predetermined genetic patterns yielded to the recognition of gene-environmental interactions as pathways of causation, in many of which the acquired living habits may play a dominant role.


It is in this context that the recently opened up field of epigenetics assumes considerable importance. In 1996, David Allis and Stuart Schreiber described two mechanisms by which gene expression could be modified by chemical alterations in the ‘packaging’ of DNA. These ‘epimutations’ resulting in the alteration of chemicals atop the DNA can turn genes on or off inappropriately, with undesirable consequences. The principal chemical pathways of epigenetic modification are the DNA methylation and histone modification through acetylation, methylation or phosphorylation. RNA-mediated gene silencing is a third mechanism.


Such epigenetic switches play a useful role in guiding developmental transitions during pregnancy, early childhood and puberty. Interestingly, epigenetic modifications can also be triggered by environmental factors such as maternal stress, childhood diet, infection and smoking. The epigenetic effects of our living habits, such as diet and smoking, may lead to disease by disrupting orderly gene function and expression. The culprit in such a case is not the gene, which is normal to begin with, but the environmental exposure which alters its nature and function. Genetic screening in childhood will hardly help to prevent such diseases but giving a healthy diet to a child and preventing an adolescent from smoking will greatly help to reduce the risk of disease.


The concept of developmental plasticity has been gaining greater credence in recent years. The ability of body systems to adapt to environmental challenges, in the womb or during childhood, is increasingly acknowledged. Epigenetic modification of gene function may be a major pathway for such plasticity. Though epigenetic influences have been mostly studied in early life, epigenetic lability could extend across life. Studies on genetically identical twins have demonstrated an association between epigenetic differences and diseases manifesting in later life. Epigenetic modifications can also be transmitted across generations, to children and grandchildren. This occurs without a change in the DNA sequence. Whether such ‘epigenetic imprinting’ is carried across several generations, as an ancestral legacy which helps to cope with certain environmental exposures is under investigation.


Epimutations have been implicated in a diverse set of diseases such as cancer, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism and systemic lupus erythematosus. Research by Waterland and Jirtle suggests that nutrition before and after birth can impact adult predisposition to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. As Andrew Feinberg remarked epigenetics is now “at the epicentre of modern medicine.” New cancer therapies are emerging which aim to induce or counter epigenetic changes to control cancer growth.


The field of epigenetics is still very young, but the implications are profound. While the term ‘gene-environmental’ interaction was previously interpreted to mean that persons with differing gene profiles may respond variably to an environmental change, it now also means that an environmental agent (such as diet, smoking or toxic chemicals) may alter gene expression and lead to differences of risk levels in people who have similar gene profiles. An Institute of Medicine Report (U.S. National Academies, 2006) titled “Genes, Behaviour and the Social Environment: Moving Beyond the Nature-Nurture Debate” calls for inter-disciplinary research to explore the interactions among these multiple determinants of health.


Till more knowledge accrues in this field, we have to be guided by the knowledge that diseases such as heart attacks, adult onset of diabetes and several cancers have been consistently associated with non-genetic factors such as food habits and tobacco use. Modifying these exposures has reduced the risk of these diseases in individuals and brought down the rates of disease and death. While new knowledge should be avidly sought to explain the mechanisms of disease causation, wisdom lies in utilising the information we already have on the agents that initiate the process. Now that epigenetics has lit up the path of gene-environmental interactions, I hope this rational position would be acceptable to even the most ardent of gene proponents.


(Professor K. Srinath Reddy is president, Public Health Foundation of India.)










The estimated 370 million indigenous peoples need and deserve more than just symbolic celebrations on August 9, when they commemorate everywhere the International Day devoted to the reaffirmation of the value and resilience of indigenous life and cultures. After centuries of repression, they need comprehensive tools to defend their human rights, their way of life, and their aspirations.


One such tool is the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Among other provisions, the Declaration emphasised human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination for indigenous peoples. It established their right to self-determination and to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully in public life. Crucially, this document underscored indigenous peoples’ right to preserve, or freely dispose of and trade, their traditional lands and resources.


Following negotiations that spanned more than two decades, the Declaration was adopted in September 2007 by the General Assembly with the support of 143 Member States. This support keeps expanding. Significantly, Colombia and Australia — two of the countries that originally did not approve the text — have now endorsed the Declaration. These developments are encouraging, but we must continue to strive for universal acceptance of this crucial document.


Such acceptance is key to counter the daily hardship and discrimination that indigenous peoples endure. It is estimated that at least one in every ten indigenous peoples in the world is facing extreme poverty. These peoples are more likely to receive inadequate health services and poor education — if any at all. Economic development plans often bypass them or do not take into sufficient consideration their particular needs and traditions. Other decision-making processes are often equally contemptuous of, or indifferent to, their contribution and customs. As a result, laws and policies designed by majorities with little regard to indigenous concerns frequently lead to land disputes and conflicts over natural resources that threaten the way of life and the very survival of indigenous peoples.


We must step up our common efforts to make the Declaration something more than a mere pledge of intent. We must translate its letter and spirit into concrete change — change that can be felt in indigenous peoples’ daily lives.


In line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other human rights instruments, States, indigenous peoples, the United Nations system and others concerned must join efforts and reach solutions based on true dialogue, mutual understanding, tolerance and respect for human rights.


I am confident that giving indigenous peoples a true voice and say in decision-making would benefit not only them, but also our whole societies, as we look for answers to address major challenges. Consider, for example, the impact of climate change. Indigenous peoples, such as indigenous reindeer herders in the Arctic or the pastoralist Masai community in East Africa, face the risk of bearing the brunt of climate change. But their cultures, experience and knowledge of the environment can — and ought to — provide solutions to address this and other common global threats. When we defend indigenous peoples’ rights in the face of land grabs and expropriation, we are also likely to protect biodiversity. This is evident in places, such as the Amazon region, where sustainable forestry methods mastered by indigenous peoples can help to address the serious problem of deforestation.


Ways to promote indigenous peoples’ rights in policy development and their participation in public life must be found primarily at the national level. But governments can also benefit from the human rights expertise and advocacy of U.N. human rights mechanisms, as well as contributions from civil society. These partners in indigenous rights can help refine reforms according to international standards and make indigenous peoples’ concerns resonate at the international level. These mechanisms include the Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues, which gathers hundreds of indigenous representatives annually, and the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, who has helped to advance their human rights in a range of country situations. In addition, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is tasked to formulate advice on their entitlement to education, a key theme for indigenous peoples around the world.


There is still a long way to go. No doubt the road ahead will be bumpy. But let us work together to move the principles of the Declaration from paper into practice. We need to act now to ensure that indigenous peoples live in dignity and prosper. They have waited a long time. They expect nothing less.


(Navanethem Pillay is U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.)









Today, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo go into the second day of the 13th round of talks to settle the long-running border dispute between India and China. A little more than a month later, two divisions of around 50,000 Indian troops are, as of now, scheduled to take their place along the disputed border in Arunachal Pradesh.


This, in a sense, captures the strange dichotomy that has come to characterise the complicated relationship between the two countries. At the highest levels, the refrain from the two governments has been harmonious. No longer does the border hold hostage the relationship between the two countries. Economic ties are booming. There is an increasing convergence of interests on the global stage, from climate change to common interests at the Doha talks at the World Trade Organisation. But below the surface, analysts on both sides of the border caution that little progress has been made in overcoming a trust-deficit. A legacy of the 1962 war, it continues to cast a long shadow on other areas of engagement between the two countries.


Stilted debates on both the border dispute and other aspects of strategic engagement continue to dominate national conversations in India and China, and a consequent hardening of public opinion has created an atmosphere that has made meaningful engagement difficult for both governments. In India, a simplistic hostile-expansionist caricature of China continues to dominate portrayals in the media. In China, India is often reductively presented as a jealous, insecure neighbour that resents everything about the country’s rise.


Bridging this perception gap, analysts say, is the biggest challenge the two countries face. It is crucial for meaningful progress to be made not just in settling the border dispute, but in taking bilateral ties to the next level.


The last few months have seen a few signs of new tensions. While India and China have both pledged to maintain peace and tranquillity along the 4,000 km-border, a threat perception on both sides persists. Earlier this year, India announced a number of measures aimed at fortifying its defences, from moving two divisions of troops to plans of setting up air bases along the border. And in April, China declared it would block the Asian Development Bank’s US$ 60 million flood management project in Arunachal Pradesh — a reminder that in foreign policy, despite outward statements to the contrary, issues are never really compartmentalised. China’s claims on the State, and the region of Tawang, have seemingly hardened. There are no signs that the two countries’ far-removed positions on the status of the eastern territories have in any way moved closer after 13 rounds of negotiations.


A turning point in the relationship between the two countries was Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in 1988. It marked the beginning of the current parallel-track strategy of delinking, to some extent, the border dispute from other areas of engagement. Political analysts in China and India agree there has been considerable progress since, especially on the economic front, where trade increased from a paltry few million dollars to $52 billion last year, far exceeding targets. But there are also concerns that if long-standing political disputes are left unresolved, other areas of engagement will soon face barriers.


In China, the rapid growth in bilateral trade, and the fact that China recently became India’s largest trading partner, is viewed favourably. But there is a perception of ’stagnation’ in other areas of engagement. “There is no question there is optimism regarding bilateral relations as a whole in China,” says Zheng Ruixiang, former Chinese ambassador to India. “We welcome the fact that the border issue is no longer an obstacle to relations between the two countries. There are a number of multilateral opportunities now — in BRIC, ties with Russia, the G8+5, on terrorism, climate change, battling the financial crisis and with the International Monetary Fund.”


Nevertheless, there is frustration at the little progress the countries have made on the border talks. Chinese officials often point to the country’s settling of all of its other disputes in the last decade — with Vietnam, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Russia, and possibly Bhutan in the near future. Even with Japan, a country with which China has had a more strained relationship, far more progress has been made in settling a long-running dispute on naval boundaries. The two countries have even begun to jointly develop oil projects in disputed waters.


India is seen as the exception. “We have settled our surrounding issues on the principle of mutual understanding and mutual accommodation,” Mr. Zheng says. “But we have faced difficulties with India.” One common view in China


is that most Indian governments, usually under the pressures of coalition politics, simply do not have the political mandate and will to make the necessary concessions and sell a settlement. “In academic circles, we believe relations have been, at some level, stagnant in the last few years,” says Lan Jianxue of the China Institute of International Studies. “And we expect to see movement for the better. The danger is if we stay at this level, it is clear our relationship with India will fall behind other relationships.”


Zorawar Daulet Singh of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi, says it is “debatable” if this model of engagement has produced “the desired objective.” He adds: “Much is made of the bilateral trade, but such a pattern of trade [driven by Indian exports of low-end raw materials, such as iron ore] is not sustainable. The bilateral relationship will find it difficult to overcome the trust deficit that an unresolved border perpetuates and deepen ties beyond a certain point.”


“The two countries cannot let the status quo linger indefinitely,” adds Brigadier Arun Sahgal of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi, who has had experience in engaging with China on the border issue.


To begin with, he says India needs “a more coherent” China strategy. “We haven’t really thought out a long-term strategy,” he says. “Putting the border issue, the economy, and military engagement into separate compartments does not work beyond a point. We need better calibration at the highest levels for more meaningful engagement.”


A new variable in the equation between the two countries is an increasing convergence of interests at the global level, from climate change to the Doha talks at the WTO. However, it is unlikely that this will lead to a significant softening in positions on issues closer to home. “This dichotomy of discord and collaboration is unlikely to disappear,” Mr. Singh says.


“From an Indian strategic perspective, its core security interests lie in the subcontinent — territorial integrity, economic development, peaceful and a secure periphery — and those can never be sacrificed or mortgaged for greater cooperation with China at the global or institutional level.”


The way forward, analysts on both sides of the border say, is to begin by reducing misperceptions and improving the level of debate in both countries.


Managing public opinion is beginning to be viewed as an increasingly important challenge for both countries, something that is crucial to reducing the trust-deficit and the perception gap.


“It is a big challenge for India and China to better understand mainstream opinions,” Mr. Lan remarks. “Pubic opinion is an important factor, and it constrains negotiations. A more agreeable atmosphere is needed for a decisive breakthrough.” In his understanding, in both India and China, “people read overly nationalistic papers that sensationalise views to sell copies and assume those views to be a national consensus.” Improving cooperation between the two militaries, as well as cooperating more on global issues of common interest, will in the long-run help to reduce perception gaps and “create the right conditions for settling the dispute.”


Mr. Singh agrees: “India’s China discourse has suffered from a troubling pattern that has precluded a sophisticated appraisal of China,” he says. “At one level, we have a romantic view that nurtures a deluded image of China.


To dispel the first illusion we have the mirror image — an inveterate hostility toward China. And the result of this distorted national conversation is a lack of a sensible analysis on China’s intentions and capabilities.”








In the summer of 1959, Edwin Torres landed a $60-a-week job and wound up on the front page of El Diario. He had just been hired as the first Puerto Rican assistant district attorney in New York — and probably, he thinks, the entire United States.


He still recalls the headline: “Exemplary Son of El Barrio Becomes Prosecutor.”


“You would’ve thought I had been named attorney general,” he said. “That’s how big it was.”


Half a century later, the long and sometimes bittersweet history of Puerto Ricans in New York added a celebratory chapter on Thursday as the Senate confirmed Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Her personal journey — from a single-parent home in the South Bronx projects to the Ivy League and an impressive legal career — has provoked a fierce pride in many other Puerto Ricans who glimpse reflections of their own struggles.


“This is about the acceptance that eluded us,” said Torres, 78, who himself earned distinction as a jurist, novelist and raconteur. “It is beyond anybody’s imagination when I started that a Puerto Rican could ascend to that position, to the Supreme Court.”


Arguably the highest rung that any Puerto Rican has yet reached in this country, the nomination of Sotomayor is a watershed event for Puerto Rican New York. It builds on the achievements that others of her generation have made in business, politics, the arts and pop culture. It extends the legacy of an earlier, lesser-known generation who created social service and educational institutions that persist today, helping newcomers from Mexico and the Dominican Republic.


Yet the city has also been a place of heartbreak. Though Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship in 1917 and large numbers of them arrived in New York in the 1950s, poverty and lack of opportunity still pockmark some of their neighbourhoods. A 2004 report by a Hispanic advocacy group showed that compared with other Latino groups nationwide, Puerto Ricans had the highest poverty rate, the lowest average family income and the highest unemployment rate for men.


In politics, the trailblazer Herman Badillo saw his career go from a series of heady firsts in the 1960s to frustration in the 1980s when his dreams of becoming the city’s first Puerto Rican mayor were foiled by Harlem’s political bosses. Just four years ago, Fernando Ferrer was trounced in his bid against Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.


All those setbacks lose their sting, if only for a moment, in the glow of Sotomayor’s achievement, which many of her fellow Puerto Ricans say is as monumental for them as President Barack Obama’s victory was for African-Americans. It has affirmed a sense of Puerto Rican identity at a moment when that distinction is often obscured by catch-all labels like Latino and Hispanic — and even as it is subjected to negative comparisons.


“Many elite Latin Americans have implied that Puerto Ricans blew it, because we had citizenship and did nothing,” said Lillian Jimenez, a documentary filmmaker who co-produced a series of television ads in support of Sotomayor’s nomination. “But we were the biggest Spanish-speaking group in New York for decades, and bore the brunt of discrimination, especially in the 1950s. We struggled for our rights. We have people everywhere doing all kinds of things. But that history has not been known.”










Climate change is melting America’s glaciers at the fastest rate in recorded history, exposing the country to higher risks of drought and rising sea levels, a U.S. government study of glaciers has revealed.


The long-running study of three “benchmark” glaciers in Alaska and Washington state by the US geological survey (USGS) indicated a sharp rise in the melt rate over the last 10 or 15 years.


Scientists see the three — Wolverine and Gulkana in Alaska and South Cascade in Washington — as representative of thousands of other glaciers in North America.


“The observations show that the melt rate has definitely increased over the past 10 or 15 years,” said Ed Josberger, a USGS scientist. “This is a very strong indicator that climate change is occurring and its effects on glaciers are virtually worldwide.”


The survey also found that all three glaciers had begun melting at the same higher rate — although they are in different climate regimes and some 2,400 kms apart. Shrinking glaciers have led to a reduction in spring run-off which is intensifying the effects of drought in California and other states, especially later in the summer when other water sources dry up.









If reasonable doubts were being raised in this country about the recent joint statement with Pakistan signed at Sharm el-Sheikh, that was not the case in Pakistan. In Islamabad, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was being portrayed as having returned "victorious" from the Egyptian sea-side resort, although in the document that has provoked so much comment Pakistan had committed to do everything in its power to deal with terrorism emanating from its soil that targets India. Enough has happened in recent days to suggest that the latter expectation appears to be sagging.


At Islamabad's behest last Thursday Interpol issued a worldwide alert for 13 suspects, some of whom are wanted for the Mumbai attack of last November. It is unclear what Pakistan would do with these terrorism suspects, considering that it has done precious little with top functionaries of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and its humanitarian NGO front, Jamat-ud-Dawa, who had been detained in the wake of the Mumbai strike. The case against Zarar Shah and Lakhvi, two top LeT commanders who shepherded the Mumbai operation, is moving at a stately pace, as is usually the case with terror suspects who have deep-going links with the Pakistan security establishment. A colonel of the Pakistan Army who provided invaluable communications expertise to make the Mumbai outrage possible is thought to be leading a normal life. Hafeez Sayeed, the ideologue who founded JuD and whose links with Osama bin Laden are an established fact, was let off from house arrest by the Lahore high court on June 2 because Pakistan's federal government refused to present the "confidential" information against him that could make charges stick. In the event, the Pakistani request to Interpol can only be seen as a red herring drawn across the trail. The case of the JuD and its chief is indeed curious. Earlier this week Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik told Parliament that the JuD was among the 25 groups that had been banned under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997. If so, putting away Mr Sayeed should be no problem. But Islamabad's case is that India has not provided enough evidence against him. Pakistan's high commissioner in London recently went so far as to describe the JuD chief as a "humanitarian".


Nevertheless, Pakistan has succeeded in persuading the US and its Western allies that it is doing all that is possible to fight the Taliban. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton recently told the media in New Delhi that the recent Swat operations were proof that Pakistan was putting its best foot forward in coping with the terrorist menace. With such a certificate in its pocket, Pakistan can sit tight as far as India goes. The report of the possible killing of the Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in an American drone attack on Friday will count in Western eyes as further evidence of Pakistan's voluntary cooperation in the fight against terrorism. So, what is India to do to make itself heard? The philosophy underlying the joint statement dictates that we applaud Islamabad's efforts while hoping for the best on our plea, and send out our foreign secretary - under the terms of the joint statement - to hand over more papers to her Pakistani counterpart. Congress leader Sonia Gandhi's address to her parliamentary party on July 30 can extricate us from this dilemma. She had said the dialogue process with Pakistan can begin only after it demonstrates its seriousness in dealing with the perpetrators of Mumbai and to prevent the use of its territory for attacks on India. This stipulation has not yet been met. Mrs Gandhi was candid: "These are imperatives for restoring confidence and building an environment conducive to any meaningful dialogue." So, are we to go ahead with the foreign-secretary level talks "as often as necessary", and then talks between the two foreign ministers?








Back in Goa. Perhaps, one’s mind should have been on the rain and the fabulous weather — but with Buta Singh’s Sach Ka Saamna, and the fragile Sweetie Baba’s antics engrossing us, it has been difficult to drown all our sorrows in narial pani. One wonders what it is that poor Buta Singh did that finally made all his misdeeds catch up with him: suddenly we have been inundated with information about the number of shoes he polished in 1984, the various income tax cases against him, etc etc. Was this backlash only because Sweetie Baba allegedly tried to make a quick buck? Or, more importantly, was it because someone somewhere was very displeased with Messrs Buta, Sweetie and, maybe, Lovely. It does not take rocket science to figure out who that all-powerful person could be. Besides, this is not a good time to be seen to be ripping off the poor, the dalits or the dispossessed. Not because most of our dear leaders really care about the poor, the dalits or the dispossessed, but because there are elections round the corner in Maharashtra and other states.


Yet, this selective anger is reserved only for those who are politically expedient. For the others who are much needed by the powers that be, many sins are forgiven. The recent furore in Jammu and Kashmir over the "sex scandal" in which the chief minister was alleged to have been involved, is a case in point. The over-riding issue should have been that the "sex scandal" has never been properly investigated nor have the details been properly revealed to us, the taxpayers, who pay the salaries of all these ministers and chief ministers. The fact that the chief minister’s name was being bandied about in the Assembly as being one of the accused is merely an outcome of the disinformation which routinely surrounds high-profile cases.


Had there been a transparent inquiry and less effort to hush it all up, it would have been impossible for anyone to level a false accusation at the chief minister. Since the various political parties involved are either present or former allies, it is quite apparent that all the major players would have been more keen to bury the "sex scandal" than they would care to admit to us. And, therefore, it is imperative that we learn the details of the case soon, with the CM promising a quick and thorough inquiry, rather than receiving a thumbs up from everyone, including the home minister. We, however, got totally diverted by the theatrical resignation of Omar Abdullah — and forgot the real issues at stake.


Unsurprisingly and shockingly, most of the time was spent in persuading the chief minister, who has been gaffe prone since he took over, to stay on, rather than asking the important question — why the true story behind the "sex scandal" has not been allowed to surface? Should a chief minister, who does not have the power to reveal to us what exactly the "sex scandal" case is all about, remain the chief minister? Do good looks and good breeding, as Mr Abdullah undoubtedly possesses, give immunity from rigorously honest behaviour in this madly-telegenic world?


After all, this is a story which has the potential to still shake up the administration. Kashmir has been, for far too long, ruled from behind an iron curtain — the Parliament furore was an indication that it is time to change to a more transparent system. There are enough hints and "revelations" for us to understand that this story involved the abuse of young girls — and probably would be shocking enough to end the careers of many in power.


The suspicion is that if this "sex scandal" had the whiff of communalism, it would have led to all kinds of human rights activists baying for the blood of the predators. If some third-rate celebrity had been involved, there would have been websites all over piling on censorious comments, as well as candlelight vigils. But because it reeks merely of the sordid exploitation of ordinary women and innocent young girls by other women and men, because it smells of cruelty of a powerful ruling class over the young and the defenceless — who cares? There are no bleeding hearts volunteering to fight for the truth in this story — because this will be a thankless job. It will not get anyone any cushy government sinecures. Sex workers are hardly a traditional votebank. The enemy in this may turn out to be members of the government, and that will be dangerous for us: we would rather support a corrupt but secular government, than any other alternative. Unlike a communal riot, where we can always name and shame the "enemy", this time the foe will be difficult to confront.


Sadly, the men and women running the sex-abuse racket probably destroyed hundreds of young lives. But, according to media reports, while the case is still "under investigation" eight years later, the file which had detailed confessions by some of the alleged sex workers and a man who was involved, has already been lost. Sabina (who has now changed her name to Mehnaz), allegedly the woman at the centre of the scandal, roams free. Yet the records of Sabina’s cellphone had apparently revealed links to politicians, police and security officers. Ironically, the fact that she appeared to enjoy powerful patronage means that she is now immune to punishment. Even the organised alleged horrific rape of a minor, in which high officials in the government were involved, was not enough to move the then coalition government to take action.


The problem it seems was that the fallout could be extreme. Therefore the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had taken over the case, was allegedly ordered to go slow. In our topsy turvy world, unlike the poor defenceless girls whose lives had been destroyed, the lives of the sexual predators themselves had to be protected because they were all far too important.


It is an ironical situation that when the issue was raised in the Jammu and Kashmir Vidhan Sabha, the uproar was over the fact that the CM had been named in the case.


And like all the other suspects, he too was outraged at the attack on his modesty. There was no regret or apology, however, about the unpunished attacks on the young victims of the sex abuse scandal.


Therefore, I assume that we can only hope (as in the case of Buta Singh) that once the favoured partners and members of the present government have fallen foul of each other, we will finally learn the truth of what happened in the sex abuse scandal. Think of the rigmarole even over the Scarlet Keeling case. It will take at least 20 years to unravel… if we are lucky.


The writer can be contacted at











Today as swine flu has claimed over 1,100 lives worldwide and India has reported its first swine flu death in Pune, panic has gripped the nation. With long queues forming outside the testing facility in Pune, the city with maximum number of cases of secondary transmissions, both the staff and the facility have come under tremendous pressure. Although WHO had declared swine flu a pandemic in June, India need not panic. There is an urgent need to educate the public over indiscriminate testing which could harm the interest of those who really need it. While those with flu-like symptoms continuing for more that three days warrant attention, breathlessness, sinus and fingers turning blue could be the warning signals requiring immediate hospitalisation.


Early diagnosis and treatment can play the most crucial role, yet not everyone needs to be tested. The rising number of swine flu cases and the prohibitive cost of testing is likely to strain government resources even though the health ministry has claimed that the existing 18 HINI testing labs in the country are more than sufficient to tackle even the future impact of the virus. The supply of Tamiflu, the medicine found effective against treatment must remain under government control for its easy “across the counter” availability could lead to resistance against the virus. Treatment resistant virus, already detected in some countries, could pose a graver risk.


Indeed, the threat posed by the HIN1 virus likely to afflict two billion people in two years cannot be underplayed. At the same time it must be remembered that the swine flu is far less deadly than bird flu and SARS. The media must play its role of a watchdog, educate and inform the public, without pressing the panic button. Both panic and complacency could cost India dearly. The health ministry must not let its guard down and must follow a multi-pronged approach to contain the spread of the virus, accelerate vaccine development as well as to provide prompt diagnosis and treatment. 








IN a country where judicial delays are so common it does not come as a surprise that it has taken six years even for a special court set up under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) to bring to justice three persons found guilty of as heinous a crime as planting bombs that claimed 52 lives in Mumbai in 2003. Finding the case in the “rarest of rare” category, the POTA court has rightly given the death sentence, which should send a strong message to terrorists. However, procedural or motivated delays defeat the very purpose of the death sentence. The way the trial of Ajmal Kasab, the 26/11 Mumbai attack accused, is proceeding with the media reporting his every tantrum does not inspire hope for early punishment matching the severity of his crime.


Usually women criminals are spared the death penalty. But in this case the woman involved, Fehmida, has been shown no leniency. Her daughter, however, was let off for being a minor at the time of the crime. Fehmida is the second woman to get the death sentence for an act of terrorism in India. Nalini Murugan, a co-conspirator in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, was the first woman to be given the death penalty. Her sentence was later commuted to life.


Opinion may be divided on the efficacy of the death sentence in acting as a deterrent to terrorists or suicide-bombers who are often ideologically or emotionally motivated to even sacrifice their lives for their cause. But if the death sentence has to be awarded, its effect should not be diluted by unnecessary delays. Mohammed Afzal Guru, involved in the attack on Parliament, is still in the death row. There is no alternative to swift, efficient police action and a foolproof prosecution case resulting in early conviction. 








Young lovers wanting to decide for themselves whom to marry have no luck in India, it seems. They can either fall foul of caste panchayats, which can dictate terms to them about whom to exclude, even if the law of the land has no objection. Or they can be bumped off by their family members for bringing “dishonour” to the family. That is the fate that awaited a youth and a teenaged girl of Rohtak district on Wednesday. They were beaten up and strangled to death, allegedly by the girl’s family members. At least this incident came to light. Many others take place in Punjab and Haryana where relatives and even neighbours do all they can to ensure that the police does not get a scent of such murders. The notion of honour is so strong that any trace of independence shown by a man or woman, even if they are of legally permissible age, is considered a sin.


Murder is of course the extreme form. Many other lesser atrocities are also committed on those daring to go against the wishes of their parents. All this continues because some people refuse to acknowledge that there is no honour involved in these criminal acts. By enforcing their writ on their relations, they are perpetrating a criminal act and must pay for it.


What is particularly disgusting is the enforcement of an archaic value system under which a love affair between a boy and girl belonging to the same village itself is considered a sin. It is compounded if they also happen to belong to the same gotra. Trying to socially boycott such couples or trying to get their water supply cut comprise patently illegal activities. Reasonable sections of society must ponder over the menace. The State can only provide police protection. But it is for social organisations to bring about reforms so that customs which are a throwback to a bygone era do not continue to plague 21st century India. 











With less than two weeks to go until national elections, the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, is trying to cut a secret deal with one of his rivals to knock out his leading contender and ensure a decisive victory to avoid the chaos that a tight result might unleash.


Afghanistan’s second democratic polls threaten to split the country along sectarian lines. That would risk undermining US and British-led peace efforts which are already under pressure from a resurgent Taliban.


Mr Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, hail from different ethnic groups and different regions. If neither wins outright in round one on 20 August, officials fear Afghanistan could be engulfed by violence reminiscent of the civil war of the 1990s.


“The whole country is armed. Everybody has weapons. You have to keep everyone happy,” an Afghan analyst said. Mr Abdullah’s campaign staff have threatened to hold demonstrations should Mr Karzai win, insisting that he could only do so fraudulently.


Mr Abdullah’s supporters, who are largely Tajik, have warned of Iranian-style protests, but “with Kalashnikovs”, should the President win a second term. Although Mr Karzai, a Pashtun, is still the favourite, his supporters fear that a third candidate, Ashraf Ghani, could split the Pashtun vote, depriving the President of the 51 per cent share he needs to win, and opening the door to Mr Abdullah.


On Thursday, details emerged of how the President was trying to join forces with Mr Ghani to unite the Pashtun vote and knock Mr Abdullah out of the race. Officials said the President had offered Mr Ghani a job as chief executive – a new post described as similar to prime minister.


“If Ghani agrees to the terms, Karzai will dump his team and move forward, with Karzai as President and Ghani as chief executive,” a campaign official told The Independent last night.


Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador, are understood to have discussed the proposal with Mr Ghani late last month. “It makes sense,” a policy analyst with close links to the US administration said. “Holbrooke likes Ghani, and he has come round to the fact that Karzai will probably win.”


The idea of a chief executive was hatched in Washington as a way of handing the responsibility of running the government to a skilled technocrat. Mr Ghani has an impressive pedigree as a former university professor and finance minister. Two years ago, he was a contender to head the World Bank. What he lacks – and what might make the deal attractive to him – is the grassroots support that Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah enjoy.


Sources close to the President’s inner circle confirmed that they had made an offer to Mr Ghani two weeks ago and the President’s brother, Qayum Karzai, had made the first approach. His argument was that Mr Ghani couldn’t win “and even if he did, he couldn’t hold on to power”.


“For Karzai it’s logical,” said a businessman with friends in the President’s team. “He doesn’t want to divide the Pashtun vote, and if it goes to a second round he’s going to lose.”


US embassy officials have denied any involvement in back-room deals. Foreign diplomats are desperate to avoid being seen to be influencing the election but the international community is equally keen to avoid bloodshed when the results are announced.


On Thursday night, Mr Ghani’s staff said he was campaigning as usual and had no plans to pull out of the race. They said the Mr Karzai’s offer was proof of their own candidate’s strength.


The President, who has been in power since US-led troops overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001, has been criticised for his lack of control outside of the capital, the slow pace of development and endemic government corruption, but many people admire him for weaving friends and enemies together. “He has always played a game with the Northern Alliance, the Hazaras and the warlords,” said the Afghan analyst. “Giving people positions and promises, he was very clever keeping everyone together.”


During this election campaign, Mr Karzai has made deals with tribal leaders and local strongmen, promising them positions and patronage in exchange for the votes they control. International officials believe as many as 20 cabinet positions have already been pledged. It is unclear what would happen to these deals if Mr Ghani came on board. However, some observers believe the deal could signal the emergence of a unity government. “Everyone realises that winner takes all won’t work,” said one.


Violence, already at its worst since the Taliban were ousted after the September 11 attacks, has increased in the run-up to the poll. Yesterday brought news of a bomb attack on a family heading to a wedding in Garmsir, in Helmand province. Five people were reported killed. In a separate attack, in Naad Ali, five policemen died when a bomb exploded near their vehicle.


In western Afghanistan, a roadside bomb killed four US Marines, bringing the death toll of Western troops for the first week of August to at least 15.n


By arrangement with The Independent







THE 2009-10 budget of the Punjab government has tried to present a rosy picture of the state finances, but all is not well and the state is heading towards a financial crunch due to the burgeoning committed expenditure, indiscriminate subsidies and a marginal increase in revenue receipts.


The revenue and fiscal deficit of the state is on the rise and was budgeted at Rs.4,234 crore and Rs.7,660 crore for the current fiscal year, compared to the last fiscal’s Rs 1,000 crore and Rs 4,365 crore.


The revised estimates of both escalated to Rs.3,812 crore and Rs. 6,856 crore with the former increasing 3.8 folds and the latter by 57 per cent due to a decline in the projected revenue receipts, which fell from Rs 24,261crore to Rs. 22,919 crore.


The current year deficit will be mainly due to an upward revision of the pay scales, for which Rs. 3,000 crore has been earmarked, and an increase in interest payments on the mounting debt of the state.


The committed expenditure of the government comprising salaries, pensions and interest payments has increased substantially to Rs. 18,242 crore translating into 81 per cent of the total revenue receipts, whereas last year it was slated to be 69 per cent, but was later on revised upwards to 77 per cent of the receipts on account of a shortfall of revenue receipts.


The falling revenue and increasing expenses coupled with massive subsidies has led to a massive increase in the debt burden of the state. The total outstanding debt, which was Rs. 48,344 crore in 2006-07, will mount to Rs 63,217 crore by the end of the current fiscal, showing an increase of Rs 14,873 crore in just three years at the rate of Rs 4,933 crore a year.


The mounting debt is leading to a higher outgo on account of interest payments, which will be massive Rs 5,349 crore for the current year, being 20 per cent of the revenue receipts and 29 per cent of the committed non-plan expenditure.


If the amount of debt repayment of Rs 6363 crore is also added, the total outgo for debt servicing goes alarmingly to Rs 11,712 crore, being 45 per cent of the total revenue receipts, against the benchmark of 22 per cent, putting the state into a virtual debt trap.


A loan of Rs 11,021 crore will be raised by the state during the year which reveals that the government is borrowing to repay loan and interest on the same. The outstanding debt of Haryana is much lower at Rs. 39,654 crore for the fiscal 2009-10, a little more than half of Punjab’s.


In the wake of the increased expenditure, the performance of the state on the revenue front is also dismal as against the total revenue expenditure of Rs.30,306 crore, its revenue receipts remain at Rs.26,072 crore, falling short by Rs 4,234 crore or 14 per cent of the total revenue expenditure.


The tax and non-tax revenues comprises Rs.14,062 crore and Rs.5,433 crore whereas Rs 4,577 will be by way of the share from central taxes and grants and another Rs 2,000 crore will be arranged from other sources not mentioned in the budget.


The major chunk of tax revenue is contributed by VAT, which accounts for 60 per cent of the total revenue receipts, and the balance 40 per cent by state excise, stamp duty, tax on vehicles and electricity duty.


The state has only five heads for tax revenue, which are too few and it has to rely only on the traditional tax sources. To bridge the widening gap between revenue receipts and expenditure, it needs to widen its tax net and explore new sources of tax.


The poor financials for the last many years have cast a shadow on the growth numbers of the state, with the growth rate remaining low at 5.13 per cent during the 10th Plan as compared to the national average of 7.8 per cent and has been projected at 5.9 per cent for the 11th Plan, whereas the country will grow at 9 per cent.


The state plan is also suffering due to a resource crunch and has been hiked by only 16.4 per cent to Rs 8,625 crore compared to the previous fiscal. A major portion of the plan funds is spent on non-plan items. For example, Rs 2,597 crore or 30 per cent of the total plan size, will be spent on giving subsidy to the PSEB for free power to the farm sector or purchase of power from the market instead of capacity addition or improving the supply network.


If the things are not set in order at the earliest, the state may find it difficult to meet its salary and pension liabilities in the near future. It is time the state government moves to explore new sources of revenue and shun the indiscriminate subsidies to save itself from a financial catastrophe and a debt trap.








The Pakistan Supreme Court judgement declaring the November 2007 emergency unconstitutional has led to a feeling in almost every section of society that the days of military dictators are gone. The verdict has emboldened the democratic forces. There is new enthusiasm among political parties, particularly the rank and file of the PML(N).


 Political commentators have been of the view that if Gen Pervez Musharraf, who imposed the emergency to perpetuate his arbitrary rule, is tried for the offence (high treason) he committed he cannot escape death punishment. But will he really be tried?


 Going by what the newspapers say, it is difficult to believe that the Pakistan National Assembly (parliament), where the General’s trial should take place in accordance with the apex court verdict, will be able to punish him for trampling the 1973 constitution.


Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani wants a “unanimous” resolution to be adopted by parliament to launch the trial which does not seem to be possible under the circumstances. It will be, therefore, interesting to watch the debate that will follow after the PML (N) of Mr Nawaz Sharif comes out with its promised resolution for nailing General Musharraf.


 The Daily Times says, “The November 2007 emergency order of General Musharraf names some people as ‘consultees’, and among them are also the officers in the military high command, including the current Army Chief. The rumour is that the Army has communicated its view about any trial of General Musharraf to the Supreme Court through a leader of the lawyers’ movement.”


 The News expressed the view that the trial must happen “to set a precedent for the future. But priority must also be to move on, and see what we (Pakistan) can do now to recover from the many ills that held us back in the past.”



In a country where women find it difficult to live a life of dignity, the enactment of a law to curb domestic violence has been long overdue. Thus, the Domestic Violence Act, passed by the Pakistan National Assembly, is bound to provide great relief to women. It is to be adopted by the Senate, but that cannot be a problem.


According to The Nation, “One form (of violence against the fair sex), for instance, is that of stove-burning, a crime that involves killing a woman by burning her up and later attributing the death to the stove explosion as if it was some accident. Likewise, women are regularly harassed in cases where division of property is concerned. The conditions in the rural areas owing to lack of education are simply worst….”


 However, law alone is not enough. There is need to change the very mindset of society, which is traditionally biased against women. There is a question mark over the implementation of the law. As The News says, “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 on 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.”



Pakistan, which has been experiencing social tensions for a long time, cannot afford to add to its worries on this front. Hence the move to review the blasphemy law after the killing of seven Christians on Saturday at Gojra in Punjab. This law has been coming in the way of punishing anyone resorting to violence against minorities.


 According to The Daily Times, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday visited Gojra and declared that “A committee ... will discuss the laws detrimental to religious harmony to sort out how they could be improved.” The federal government has announced Rs 100 million as aid for the victims. The same amount of aid will be given by the Punjab government too.


Punjab Governor Salman Taseer sees in the killing of the Christians a design to destabilise the PPP government in Islamabad. Efforts are on to identify the culprits so that they can be brought to book.










Manipur is once again on the boil, with escalating public protests following the killing of a surrendered rebel by police commandos purportedly in an encounter but widely being viewed as a cold-blooded murder in broad daylight. Photographs taken during the incident strongly refute the police version and hence the mounting public ire is understandable. Manipur has virtually turned into a graveyard for human rights, with the common man sandwiched between insurgency on the one hand and ruthless anti-insurgency operations on the other. Extra-judicial killings by security forces in the form of fake encounters and custodial deaths are nothing new in the volatile State. The existence of draconian Acts like the AFSPA has provided the security forces with a licence to indulge in blatant violation of human rights and then go scot-free. This is because the Act apart from conferring on the armed forces sweeping powers including arrest without warrant and shoot-to-kill in the disturbed areas -- also makes it next to impossible to fix accountability even in instances of gross violation of human rights of innocent civilians. A major reason why insurgency continues to thrive in Manipur is the alienation of a major section of the population resulting from excesses committed by security forces. Such a situation is far from being conducive to attaining the long-term goals of any counter-insurgency exercise. Assam, too, has a high incidence of fake encounters and custodial deaths. The BTC area in particular has witnessed several such cases that are being viewed by many quarters as extra-judicial killings. Only last week the Gauhati High Court directed the Centre to pay a compensation of Rs 3.5 lakh each to the families of four youths killed in Army custody in May 2003.

The spurt in extra-judicial killings in insurgency-affected States is a matter of grave concern. This implies gross violation of human rights, and is a blot on governance. With police and security forces indulging in such criminal acts, people’s faith in the law-enforcing agencies is bound to erode. It creates a vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence, perpetuating lawlessness and underdevelopment. Both the Manipur Government and the Centre need to take serious note of the developments and put in place a mechanism to check the cult of extra-judicial killings. It is the absence of an effective deterrent which ensures that the violators of human rights seldom get punished, and the appalling situation continues. Scrapping of the AFSPA is an urgent necessity in Manipur and the Centre would do well to acknowledge this reality.







It comes as no surprise that the oil township of Digboi has found a place in the list of 24 “critically polluted” areas of the country prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board. As stated by the Union Minister of State for Environment and Forest Jairam Ramesh in the Rajya Sabha these 24 critical environment hotspots require special focus as well as intervention using modern clean up technology if their environment is to be protected. Digboi, which has a special place in the history of Indian oil exploration and refining, has been reduced to dire straits as far as its environment is concerned. One recalls that a devastating fire had broken out in its Delayed Coker Unit on the morning of May 15 this year, charring to death two workers and causing extensive damage to the refinery. Worse still, another and potentially more hazardous fire had broken out soon afterwards in a drain running across a segment of the town, engulfing almost a kilometre long stretch of habitation on both of its sides and gutting several houses and business establishments. Apparently, in what must rank as a bizarre but serious managerial lapse, inflammable effluent had been allowed to run down to municipal areas! Thus this oil town does require a modern effluent treatment plant as well as initiation of other environment management measures.

It is time, in fact, that the Environment Ministry took a hard look at the broader deteriorating environment picture in the North East, of which Digboi is but a symptom. Almost all parts of the region currently being exploited for mineral resources have been subjected to environmental degradation, the havoc wrought by open-cast mining of coal being one example. The abnormal growth of population has put huge pressure on available land, particularly in the valleys, leading to large-scale deforestation. This in turn has adversely impacted upon the astonishing bio-diversity of the region, with habitat destruction endangering numerous species both of flora and fauna, and leading to issues such as man-elephant conflict. The clinging to antiquated cultivation techniques such as jhum by some hill tribes has caused widespread depredation to the ecology in the hills, while extensive earth-cutting in places like Guwahati continues to degrade the environment. Mere piecemeal measures or focus on presumed “critically polluted” areas will not, therefore, be able to contain the overall environmental degradation being witnessed in the North-East. As suggested by a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, a holistic approach is needed to tackle the problem. For this a viable strategy, incorporating long term measures towards re-forestation, conservation of land and water resources, protection of flora and fauna, needs to be framed specifically for the North East and sincerely implemented. The Union Minster for Environment should take the lead in this direction.








“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be” – this Browning paean to old age may have been apt for the optimistic Victorian era of England but, alas, no more in either that nation of shop-keepers or contemporary India. On the contrary, it is an elegy rather than eulogy we should be composing, given the abject conditions which so called ‘senior citizens’ have to confront today.

Yet, till just a few decades ago, a nation like India had scored over the developed West in the kind of respect the aged were accorded by society, especially young people. We could boast of the fact that our parents and grandparents were well looked after by an extended family and given love and aid at a period of their lives they needed these most. It was an aspect of the Indian ethos, a duty that was mandatory for sons and daughters towards those who had given them birth and taken care of them at their growing stage.

The concept of ‘old-age homes’ prevalent in the West, to where aged people could be conveniently shifted so as to ‘liberate’ their children from taking day to day care of them, had not taken root in this country. The concept itself had appeared alien and ludicrous, an aspect of the developed societies which had sacrificed postulates of karma at the altar of convenience. Thus, even though India had been impoverished and not attained the material heights reached by Western societies, we could cock a snook at the latter for their cultural and, in extension, spiritual decadence.

Things began to change as India herself moved towards ‘progress’ and development, one of the casualties being the joint family system prevalent in earlier times. That system had the capacity to embrace both young and old and, despite internal contradictions or petty jealousies and quarrels, provide each member with the wherewithal to lead a fulfilling life. Loneliness being one of the most tragic aspects of existence the system, by offering what sometimes may have been considered to be a surfeit of ‘company’, ensured that the aged were not lonely.

In its earlier manifestation the unitary family structure, which replaced the joint family system, had its compensating aspects. Family planning had been unheard of, so even unitary families had quite a few members, with at least one male child living with the parents to take care of them in old age. But as unitary families became smaller, often due to pressure imposed by having to pursue individual careers, old people were left to fend for themselves, with their children occasionally visiting them during vacations.

This dispersal has become even more pronounced in remoter areas such as the North-East which offer lesser economic opportunities, particularly to the aspiring middle class. Thus the phenomenon of children going away to other parts of India in search of employment has become a rule rather than exception, something unitary families living in centralised regions such as the major metros are less plagued by. One only needs to take a survey of unitary middle class families in a city like Guwahati to discover that aged parents living alone constitute an astonishingly high proportion. This also explains the growing preference for apartment buildings over individual houses, the former offering greater security to folks living alone.

But one must not be under the impression that old age loneliness is prevalent only among the urban middle class. Gradual urbanisation as well as rural poverty has also led to a major rural to urban internal migration, with young people decamping for towns and cities in search of employment. Thus unitary rural families are also witnessing fragmentation. Since the infrastructure in areas such as health care is far less developed in rural than in the urban sector, in many ways the condition of the rural aged is even more pathetic than their urban counterparts.

The transformation in the social structure has been accompanied by a change in social perception towards the aged, particularly amongst the new generation. In earlier times old age was synonymous with wisdom, the paucity of sources of knowledge ensuring that experience garnered in life was considered to make a man ‘wise’. Thus society looked up to the aged for guidance, something thankfully yet prevalent in the rural areas.

However, in the urban sector, the new generation has lost its regard for old age. One of the many factors responsible for the shift in perception is the explosion in information technology which has invested it with a false feeling of omniscience! The biggest setback for the aged is their unfamiliarity with the numerous gadgets cluttering up the modem scenario, including the ubiquitous computer and mobile phone. Thus we have grandchildren, very much at home with the internet and other Information Technology modes, smirking at grandma’s inability to operate a cell-phone or expressing astonishment that grandpa was a total computer illiterate and did not have an e-mail id!

Such a perception is reflected in the change of attitude – the deference accorded to older people in the past by those younger to them is no longer present. One just needs to walk on the busy streets of an impersonal city like Guwahati to sense the attitudinal change. For instance, rather than give way to an octogenarian on the congested footpath, the adolescent of today would use his brawn and youth to jostle the other away from the path! Older drivers earn jibes and jeers from brash motor-cyclists for the slowness with which they drive; old people struggle for long to cross a road with no one coming forward to help them.

Unfortunately, such disregard for the aged today has permeated into every facet of society, with the social mechanism itself not geared to meet the special needs of older people. For instance, in a city bus there are reserved seats for women, but none for elderly males. Thus we have the incongruous spectacle of frail old men desperately clinging on to the overhanging strap while chattering schoolgirls are seated comfortably upon seats. We have separate queues for men and women but none for so called ‘senior citizens’. I recall that a nationalised bank had once opened a ‘senior citizen’ counter which lasted for barely a month before greater priorities closed it down!

It is high time indeed that those at the helm of power stop paying mere lip-service to the concept of ‘senior citizen’ and strive to erect the mechanism which will assist old people, no matter from which social strata, to live with dignity. In spheres such as medi-care and transport more substantial concessions need to be offered to the elderly, while special rules have to be applied by banks to protect and enhance savings by the elderly. The State needs to compensate for the gradual indifference being displayed by society towards the aged. Old age may no longer be the ‘best’ of times, yet it need not necessarily be the worst!








“... The problem of malnutrition is a matter of national shame. We have tried to address it by making the mid-day meal universal and massively expanding the anganwadi system. However, success requires sustained effort at the grassroots. Infants need to be breastfed, have access to safe drinking water and healthcare. We need the active involvement of the community and panchayats to see that what we spend reaches our children. I appeal to the nation to resolve and work hard to eradicate malnutrition within five years...” – Thus said Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in his speech on the occasion of Independence Day in 2007. From this we can imagine the importance of breastfeeding. It is known to everyone that with the birth of a baby everyone of the society, particularly the parents and the family members are vested with some responsibilities. They must ensure safe growth of the baby and also that every child/newborn gets proper healthcare. It should be mentioned here that before a baby is born it is well protected within the womb of the mother. During this period i.e. during pregnancy, the foetus is nicely protected in the womb, it gets all the necessary elements like food, oxygen etc. through its mother. But the problem starts as soon as a baby is born. After birth every baby needs more healthcare; particularly, parents should be more careful while feeding their infants. It is worth mentioning that after birth the protection of the newborn depends on how fairly it is allowed to take mother’s breast milk. Actually, after birth the responsibility to take proper care and to protect the baby from any illness goes to breastfeeding. In other words, by breastfeeding the infant, parents can protect their child from any type of health related problem, besides it develops the IQ of the child in future.

Breast milk provides numerous benefits to the newborn. For example, it contains adequate calories and provides the right kind of proteins, lactose, vitamin, iron, minerals, water and enzymes in the amount necessary for the baby. Besides, it contains iron, water soluble vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C and E more than cow’s milk. Another striking point is that breast milk is clean enough and it is free from bacteria; also, it has anti-infective properties. Thus, breast milk protects the baby against several infections including respiratory infection. Moreover, breastfed babies are less prone to fall ill due to diabetes, heart diseases, eczema or other allergic disorders later in life. At the same time breastfeeding also helps the lactating mother. By regular breastfeeding her child, she can get rid of problems like post delivery bleeding. Also, the process has a protective effect against breast and ovarian cancer. As breastfeeding helps the baby to stay healthy and grow properly, the parents or the family need not worry about any health-related problem in the child. From this point of view, breastfeeding is economically helpful as well. It is again worth mentioning that breast feeding, without doubt is the best diet for the infant. Exclusive breast feeding provides all elements needed for making the baby totally immune. Of course, there is immunisation programme for the babies, but its contribution to strengthen the immune system of the baby is less than breastfeeding.

In spite of all these, unfortunately, many people of the society have no clear idea of the benefits of breastfeeding. Even today there are many people who do not care for the proper breastfeeding of their child. Strikingly, while science advocates the benefits of the first milk of the mother (colostrums) or exclusive breastfeeding for six months, still there are some people who feed their newborn with honey or other eatables as per their tradition. As a result of this most of the babies face several health problems in their future life. Even many of them die under the age of six years.

Many think that breastfeeding is only related to the mothers; fathers or the male-folk have nothing to do in this process. But in reality, apart from the mothers, the father and the family members also have responsibility to look after whether the lady is breastfeeding her child properly or not. The father of the baby will have to encourage his wife i.e. the mother to breast feed the baby regularly. Generally a mother faces problem in breastfeeding in two ways – because of health related problem such as due to anaemia the mother is unable to produce enough milk, or she is very weak to feed her child properly. While the mother is facing some health related problem it is the responsibility of her husband or the father of the baby to provide healthcare to his wife and ensure that his wife is getting proper nutrition. In case of social problem for example if the mother is in a place where so many people are there and she has to feed her child, in this condition she may not be able to feed her child. In such cases the husband should make out a proper environment, for example he may ask the other persons to move to some other place for some time or take his wife to such a place where she won’t get disturbance. Socially also everyone of the society must ensure that the mother should get proper environment so that she can breastfeed her child. Another problem arises with the working ladies, because the working ladies can avail leave for only 3 months. After that she has to join in her work. In this condition the husband or the father of the baby should help her in the household work so that while in home she can spend maximum time with the baby. Moreover, she can pump her milk and keep it in a glass or other container before going to her work; so that in her absence the baby can be given the mother’s milk. In this context the interesting story of Manomati can be mentioned. Manomati is a tea garden labourer and she hails from Tengakhat of Dibrugarh District. Mother of two girl child Manomati’s educational qualification is seventh standard. Once she attended a group discussion organised by some volunteer organisation where she heard about benefits of breastfeeding. While she was pregnant for second time Nami didi, a ASHA worker of NRHM came to her and told about ANC, Institutional delivery and also reminded her benefits of breastfeeding. She also advised her not to feed the newborn anything except breast milk. But she faced a bitter experience just after the birth of her second baby. Her mother-in-law wanted to feed some honey to the baby just after birth as it is a tradition. But Manomati strongly protested and with the interference of the doctors and nurses the problem was solved, the mother-in-law agreed not to stick to her contention. She faced another problem for the second time while the child was 3 month old. Being a labourer in the tea garden she had to go for her daily work. But the problem is how she would breast feed her child! The mother-in-law said that in her absence she would give the baby cow milk. But Manomati was not satisfied with this idea. Then she met the ASHA worker again who advised her to pump out her milk and keep it in glass before she goes to her work, so that the baby can get her breast milk in spite of her absence. She decided to follow the advice and did whatever the ASHA worker asked her to do. Sometime the baby needs more milk, then her husband takes the baby to her work place where she breast feed the little one. This story nicely reflects how through proper understanding between the family members proper child care can be provided.

The newborn must be given the first milk of the mother which contains colostrums within half an hour of delivery. Because the colostrums help the baby to be healthy and fit in its later life; moreover the breast milk help the babies to develop their IQ also. The baby should be breast fed exclusively till six months. During this period nothing should be given to the baby, not even water, as breast milk contains all essential diet for the baby. After six months the child should be given supplementary food along with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding should be continued till at least two years of the baby.


(Published on the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week)













It has been a betrayal of the worst kind. In the very year that Scotland is luring its diaspora back to the highlands as part of 'Homecoming 2009' — coinciding with the 250th birth anniversary of its most revered poet Robert Burns — one pillar of its identity is crumbling.

Amid traditional celebrations of Scottishness replete with tartan, bagpipes and peculiar local sports, enlivened by countless drams of whisky, it has been revealed that haggis, that most Scottish of viands, is actually English.

Food historian Catherine Brown, a Scot herself, found references to the offal-based preparation in The English Hus-wife written in 1615, in which it is described as being very popular in England. Brown found the earliest Scottish reference to haggis in 1747 and Burns wrote his famous 'Address to a Haggis' only in 1786.

The furore that it has caused in Scotland is quite inexplicable, as food has traversed continents, so crossing the length of a mere island is hardly inconceivable. Besides, the English seem to be dab hands at claiming culinary legacies.

In 2003, researchers at the British Museum delving into the earliest cookbook written in English, The Forme of Cury compiled in 1390 by the chefs of King Richard II, claimed to have found a recipe for lasagne and tried to snatch its provenance from the Italians.

The English may even have some right to lay claim to what passes for curry in their country given that no self-respecting Indian would want to admit ownership of those concoctions. Little wonder then that Birmingham has been lobbying to be recognised as the home of 'Balti cooking'.

It is particularly fitting that the Scots and the English are now fighting to claim chicken tikka masala as their own, with an MP of Pakistani origin from Glasgow even bringing up the case for EU Protected Designation of Origin certification for the dish for his Scottish city. If that is granted, the Scots may not regret the loss of haggis to the English.

All they would need is a latter day Robert Burns to compose an 'Address to the Chicken Tikka Masala', and the tourists will lap it up with equal alacrity.







Air India's misfortunes are being blamed on the government's generosity in allowing foreign airlines to operate lucrative routes, bilateral agreements negotiated with other countries.

This, it is being argued, has denied traffic to the national carrier and India's other private airlines. Indeed, India's carriers have a very low share of the traffic into and out of India, as low as 10% on the hugely profitable Gulf routes.

But the problem is not in mismanagement of the bilaterals — air service agreement between two countries that regulates the flow traffic between them — but in the way capacity has been managed, particularly in the case of Air India. As pointed out by us repeatedly, it took Air-India over a decade to acquire new aircraft.

At one point the airline was operating with only about 30 airplanes and was in no position to service the bilaterals it was allotted. On the other hand, private airlines had to wait for five years before they could fly intentional destinations.

Lest these constraints reduce connectivity with the outside world, the government then allowed foreign airlines to operate a higher share of the bilaterals than it had negotiated with other countries. The mismanagement, therefore, is not so much about bilaterals as it is about the undermining of Air-India.

The national carrier did not acquire new aircraft for over a decade and this, among other things, impeded the full utilisation of its share of bilaterals. The government owes an explanation to taxpayers, who will have to fund the airline's bailout, as to how Air India came to its present state.

However, the issue of bilaterals needs to be addressed, particularly now that there is surplus capacity with India's airlines. Besides, a number of cities are looking to set up international airports and have direct connectivity with overseas destinations. So, the government needs to have a clear policy on bilaterals, keeping in mind the current capacity and the expansion plans of local carriers.

With India having three full service carriers — Air India, Jet Airways and Kingfisher — local airlines should achieve over a period at least 50% share in the international traffic into and out of India, and the policy on bilaterals must facilitate that.







There's welcome policy focus on solar power both at the Centre and in the states. The National Solar Mission seeks to generate 20,000 MW of solar power by 2020 — almost a fifth of current utility capacity, while states like Gujarat are keen on 'solar parks' to rev up supply.

The stress on solar power makes eminent sense. It would improve power availability, boost R&D in a highly promising sector, and be entirely non-polluting as well. News reports say that the policy aims to lay particular emphasis on solar thermal generation, where the efficiency levels already seem quite cost-effective.

With proactive policy and economies of scale, the costs of power production would no doubt decline further. Indeed, the plan is to reduce the domestic cost of solar power generation to between $0.084 and $0.105 per unit by 2017-20, so as to make solar power price competitive to that using fossil fuels like coal.

In parallel, there's the need to step up power via photovoltaics (PV) or solar panels, where the efficiency levels abroad are fast improving and likely to reach "grid-parity" in the medium term. PVs promise technology implications in other related areas, such as in the design and development of computer memory chips.

The policy impetus for solar power would mean corresponding reductions in the emissions of green-house gases, and strengthen India's position on global warming and climate change. While there's no case for India to sign on to mandatory emission-reduction targets at this stage in our development, we do need to operate at the frontier of 'green' energy technologies to reap sustained economic and commercial gains right across the board.

Concurrently, what's required is forward-looking policy initiative to heighten technology transfers and financial flows given the paradigm shift involved in changing over to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

The solar mission envisages 12,000 MW of power capacity connected to the grid, 3,000 MW of power from grid-connected rooftop solar PV installations with an average individual capacity of 3 kw, and another 5,000 MW of rural installations including PV applications in telecom towers, etc. In solar power, the sky is the limit.








After the high drama that unfolded last weekend, with private airlines threatening to go on strike, it is time the country demanded from the prime minister a long-term strategic vision for Indian aviation.

The sector encompasses not just the passenger airlines but a whole gamut of industries including charter aviation, cargo airlines, cargo express logistics, aircraft manufacturing and ancillary industries — maintenance and repairs, and a host of other related industries.

Airlines are themselves partially responsible for the crisis they are in today, as they have failed to build a sustainable aviation model suitable for the country. Therefore, there is no apparent need for the government to bailout in terms of writing off loans.

At the same time, it is true that none of the government’s stimulus plans has any positive impact on the sector as they neither manufacture nor are beneficiaries of infrastructure development nor have a high service tax.

Therefore, a separate package needs to be given to the aviation sector as given to the rest of the Indian industry.

The airlines have to also tighten their belts, become more innovative and efficient, and simultaneously engage the government for policy initiatives at a much larger level, which addresses all stakeholders of the aviation industry.

A year ago, the airlines on their own fixed the airfares. If it had happened in another country, they would have been punished for cartelisation. But instead of the government taking action, consumers punished the airlines by not flying and the occupancies have since tumbled. The cartelisation takes place in our country because there is no comprehensive long-term civil aviation vision, and the competition commission is yet to function properly.

The reality is that the government is indifferent to the aviation sector, doesn’t consider it as core infrastructure and has chosen to tax it heavily. Then there is the existence of a huge, apathetic bureaucracy, monopolies like the DGCA, discretionary allotments, and corruption in various aspects of business.

On the operating side, congestion at metro airports, high airport charges, woeful warehousing capabilities and lots more bedevil the sector. These problems have existed when the airlines set up their businesses. So, the only thing the businesses can do is to innovate and run the airlines with ruthless efficiency and tight-fisted control over the internal costs.

The other reality is that only 2% of the population in the country is flying. Led by the low-cost revolution, it went up from 0.5% to 2% during the last term of Praful Patel as civil aviation minister. The rest 98% are still travelling by road and rail.

The empty planes obviously indicate that this 98% can’t afford the higher fares or are not willing to spend. Instead of targeting the 98% and stimulating demand in them for air travel, the airlines have initiated measures only to attract a small segment of the population, that is the 2% of the upper middle class, which is already utilising the services. The airlines have to target the rest of the 98% population to grow.

Globally, it is the low-cost airlines that are driving growth in the sector. They are run efficiently and are profitable, be it the Southwest Airline in the US, Goal in Brazil or Easy Jet and Ryan air in Europe. For a country like India, which offers vast potential, there are lessons to be learnt.

As to the role of the government, there has been no integrated approach towards the growth of aviation in India. Through the years, the aviation policies in the country have been drafted with individual sectors or businesses in focus: for the first 50 years, policies for the country were made to suit Air-India and Indian Airlines; more recently it appeared to be biased towards Jet Airways.


Now the new airport operators seem to be in favour. But eventually aviation has lost out and hence the pathetic condition. Praful Patel, one of our most dynamic civil aviation ministers ever, has cried hoarse through his last term, asking for support from the finance ministry, commerce ministry, oil ministry and state governments, none of whom report to him.

Therefore, I believe there is a role for the PM to play, as he can work with the respective ministries and draft a long-term strategic vision for aviation.

The PM needs to ask some fundamental questions such as what kind of aviation does an emerging economy need. What is the role of aviation in increasing the GDP of the country? What cascading effect does growth in aviation have on travel and tourism, employment generation, etc?

What role does aviation infrastructure play in ensuring an inclusive, equitable growth? Can India compete globally when only 2% of Indians can afford air travel? What impact does a vibrant aviation sector, especially cargo and express logistics, which are the life blood of an economy (only seven cargo aircraft in India compared to 100 in China) have on the various businesses — SMEs, large enterprises?

How much FDI can aviation attract? In the case of airports, public sector monopoly has been replaced by the dreaded private sector monopoly. Is this what we want for aviation in India?

It is a matter of shame that we have to send our aircraft to countries like Qatar and Singapore for maintenance where Indian engineers service the aircraft. Aviation companies refuse to set up base here due to high costs, high taxation, the red-tape involved in acquiring airport space, and laborious customs clearances.

So not only are we increasing costs for our domestic airlines who have to send aircraft abroad for servicing, but are also losing out on business opportunities of servicing the domestic aircraft and the other aircraft in the region.

Being an economist and a visionary, the PM with his innate ability to strategise is in the best position to rein in the states where required, and lead the discussions, clearly defining the vision and strategy. Then the task of implementation and delivery lies with the civil aviation minister.

After the deliberations, if the net result is that the focus area for India for the next 10 years is going to be different, then the same has to be spelt out, enabling the aviation sector to take appropriate measures to either defer new ventures, take a call on continuing existing businesses or move on.

(The author is CMD, Deccan Cargo & Express Logistics)








If reasonable doubts were being raised in this country about the recent joint statement with Pakistan signed at Sharm el-Sheikh, that was not the case in Pakistan. In Islamabad, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was being portrayed as having returned “victorious” from the Egyptian sea-side resort, although in the document that has provoked so much comment Pakistan had committed to do everything in its power to deal with terrorism emanating from its soil that targets India. Enough has happened in recent days to suggest that the latter expectation appears to be sagging.

At Islamabad’s behest last Thursday Interpol issued a worldwide alert for 13 suspects, some of whom are wanted for the Mumbai attack of last November. It is unclear what Pakistan would do with these terrorism suspects, considering that it has done precious little with top functionaries of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and its humanitarian NGO front, Jamat-ud-Dawa, who had been detained in the wake of the Mumbai strike. The case against Zarar Shah and Lakhvi, two top LeT commanders who shepherded the Mumbai operation, is moving at a stately pace, as is usually the case with terror suspects who have deep-going links with the Pakistan security establishment. A colonel of the Pakistan Army who provided invaluable communications expertise to make the Mumbai outrage possible is thought to be leading a normal life. Hafeez Sayeed, the ideologue who founded JuD and whose links with Osama bin Laden are an established fact, was let off from house arrest by the Lahore high court on June 2 because Pakistan’s federal government refused to present the “confidential” information against him that could make charges stick. In the event, the Pakistani request to Interpol can only be seen as a red herring drawn across the trail. The case of the JuD and its chief is indeed curious. Earlier this week Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik told Parliament that the JuD was among the 25 groups that had been banned under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997. If so, putting away Mr Sayeed should be no problem. But Islamabad’s case is that India has not provided enough evidence against him. Pakistan’s high commissioner in London recently went so far as to describe the JuD chief as a “humanitarian”.

Nevertheless, Pakistan has succeeded in persuading the US and its Western allies that it is doing all that is possible to fight the Taliban. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton recently told the media in New Delhi that the recent Swat operations were proof that Pakistan was putting its best foot forward in coping with the terrorist menace. With such a certificate in its pocket, Pakistan can sit tight as far as India goes. The report of the possible killing of the Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in an American drone attack on Friday will count in Western eyes as further evidence of Pakistan’s voluntary cooperation in the fight against terrorism. So, what is India to do to make itself heard? The philosophy underlying the joint statement dictates that we applaud Islamabad’s efforts while hoping for the best on our plea, and send out our foreign secretary — under the terms of the joint statement — to hand over more papers to her Pakistani counterpart. Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s address to her parliamentary party on July 30 can extricate us from this dilemma. She had said the dialogue process with Pakistan can begin only after it demonstrates its seriousness in dealing with the perpetrators of Mumbai and to prevent the use of its territory for attacks on India. This stipulation has not yet been met. Mrs Gandhi was candid: “These are imperatives for restoring confidence and building an environment conducive to any meaningful dialogue.” So, are we to go ahead with the foreign-secretary level talks “as often as necessary”, and then talks between the two foreign ministers?









“Opiates are the religion of the masses!”
From Bachchoo’s Das
Sassural (Vol. I)


Tony Blair’s press secretary said “we don’t do God”. He thought it would sound eccentric if Tony began, as American Presidents do, to call on the grace of the Almighty. They praise God and sanction the ammunition.


Indian politicians have to be all things to all religions in a heterogeneous country. Congresswallahs have to celebrate iftaar parties and be seen to be pious without bias.


The Bharatiya Janata Party probably don’t care to be seen celebrating Christmas or sending Id Mubarak greetings to Gujarati Muslims, but they are prone to folding their hands in obeisance to the avatars of Lord Vishnu and, yes, they “do God” in a big way. It is part of the game of democracy in countries such as India and the United States of America.


And so it may have been in Britain before the 19th century brought in a certain amount of tolerance and scepticism. The voters, while guided by God, would and did vote in a converted Jew as their Prime Minister. It wouldn’t matter today if the candidate for the highest office were a Catholic or a Jew, though it may matter if he or she were Muslim.


In the last century, US voters were more than comfortable with the fact that John F. Kennedy (what does the “F” stand for? Not “Farrukh”, surely!) was a Catholic and today it doesn’t seem to matter that Barrack Obama’s middle name is Hussein.


One can’t imagine Iran electing a Hindu or Buddhist President. Its democracy is constitutionally Islamic and by definition limits the religion of the rulers. The “mature” democracies are tending towards “not doing God”.


This is a pragmatic rather than constitutional evolution. In practice, what do these mature democracies expect from those they elect?
The present scandal in Britain, with serialised revelations about the members of Parliament abusing the system of claiming expenses to absurd degrees, has certainly caused the voters to react violently. In the words of David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister-in-waiting, the voters are “pissed off” with politicians.


He used the phrase in a nationally broadcast interview and may just about have done it unwittingly. I doubt it. He followed it soon after in the same interview with the word “twat”, which is slang for female genitalia. He apologised immediately, in the manner of a man who slipped into his private argot in a public speech. Who is he kidding? The mild swearing and the apology from this former PR man were calculated to spotlight him in the colours of the straight-talking bloke, albeit one who knows that ultimately, while representing the nation, one needs to bow or at least nod towards a certain decorum.


The news from Italy, which demonstrates that Senor Berlusconi’s popularity ratings are not suffering from revelations that he phones and entertains prostitutes, may have influenced Cameron’s advisers to let slip these mild macho words. And I believe his little slips into common bar-room parlance will not, despite the sanctimonious comments they have elicited from some parts of the British press, damage his popularity. Quite the opposite. The men will appreciate the “real man” and the women will support plain speaking.

It’s the way “mature” democracy works.


I have in recent weeks read a lot of rot written about democracy and its betrayal, mostly from people who seem to love the sound of their own voices (I can see them reading their mixed metaphors aloud to themselves). There may have been nuggets of wisdom and insight in these ramblings, but like the blind gold-miner, listening to the babble of the highland stream, I missed them.


There is probably a great deal to say about Indian democracy and the system we constitutionally adopted in imitation of the Westminster model and someone should write a serious book. It has, over the years since the Congress Party, inheritor of nationalist sentiment swept the polls, evolved in a direction unique in history. It doesn’t need saying that “democracy,” the system of one individual adult with one equal vote, will sooner or later result in that vote being cast in a way which maximises the material and social advantage of the voter.


This is not absolute and always so. The proletariat may and does vote for parties which openly favour the capitalist but in so doing expresses an endorsement of inequality and embraces the American dream. Free vote.
Indian democracy has evolved in a unique way because regional demands displaced the early fervent nationalism and subsequently even this regional allegiance was supplanted by the rise, the atma-vishwas, of caste groups and variegated interests who voted for those who would putatively represent them. The fact that those seeking office were unabashedly keen on trousering the corrupt benefits of power rather than legislating for the common good was never a factor in this evolution from nationalism to regionalism to caste and religious allegiance.


Neither has this shift in political demographic encouraged the “maturity” of our democracy. Such a “maturity” depends on a vibrant and politically-untied free press, a vast or at least significant educated class which can hold the elected representatives to account at every turn and a virulent rejection of corruption. And this last cannot be a moral duty. It has to be incorporated into the acts
and procedures of accountability.


Indian democracy has evolved none of these, though very many green shoots are evident. At several levels even the judiciary is financially corrupt and subject to political pressure.


The country goes to the polls at regular intervals and that certainly means that India has resisted dictatorial forms of governance, but that’s no indication that our democracy works. It rumbles and rattles along.


In Western democracies, people vote through some algebraic balance between ideological allegiance and the material advantage of their class. The working classes and unemployed of America will vote for a politician who offers a comprehensive free medical service but there will be issues on which the blacks, Hispanic and “red-neck” working classes vote in opposition to each other.


In India the material interests of voters are assumed to follow the contours of religion, caste and sub-caste. In an expanding economy with decreasingly “reserved” employment, the match between material advantage and caste will get blurred.


Then it may be that the country can discard the Joans-of-Arc model of democracy where public spirited individuals elect themselves to speak for those whom they characterise as voiceless.










There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled Freedom of Speech, depicting an idealised American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating FDR’s Four Freedoms, shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbours obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.


That’s a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters — some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting “This is America!” — have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.


Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatisation back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatisation activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of Congressmen shouted down, Congressmen hanged in effigy, Congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.


And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one Congressman has received.
So this is something new and ugly. What’s behind it?


Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, has compared the scenes at healthcare town halls to the “Brooks Brothers riot” in 2000 — the demonstration that disrupted the vote count in Miami and arguably helped send George W. Bush to the White House. Portrayed at the time as local protesters, many of the rioters were actually GOP staffers flown in from Washington.


But Mr Gibbs is probably only half right. Yes, well-heeled interest groups are helping to organise the town hall mobs. Key organisers include two Astroturf (fake grassroots) organisations: FreedomWorks, run by the former House majority leader Dick Armey, and a new organisation called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights.


The latter group, by the way, is run by Rick Scott, the former head of Columbia/HCA, a for-profit hospital chain.


Mr Scott was forced out of that job amid a fraud investigation; the company eventually pleaded guilty to charges of overbilling state and federal health plans, paying $1.7 billion — yes, that’s “billion” — in fines. You can’t make this stuff up.


But while the organisers are as crass as they come, I haven’t seen any evidence that the people disrupting those town halls are Florida-style rent-a-mobs. For the most part, the protesters appear to be genuinely angry. The question is, what are they angry about?

There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex.


An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialised or government-run healthcare”. Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.


Now, people who don’t know that Medicare is a government programme probably aren’t reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of healthcare reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.) But they’re probably reacting less to what Mr Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is.

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the healthcare protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.
And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.


Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realised that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.


Many people hoped that last year’s election would mark the end of the “angry white voter” era in America. Indeed, voters who can be swayed by appeals to cultural and racial fear are a declining share of the electorate.

But right now Mr Obama’s backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn’t living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.


And if Mr Obama can’t recapture some of the passion of 2008, can’t inspire his supporters to stand up and be heard, healthcare reform may well fail.








Back in Goa. Perhaps, one’s mind should have been on the rain and the fabulous weather — but with Buta Singh’s Sach Ka Saamna, and the fragile Sweetie Baba’s antics engrossing us, it has been difficult to drown all our sorrows in narial pani. One wonders what it is that poor Buta Singh did that finally made all his misdeeds catch up with him: suddenly we have been inundated with information about the number of shoes he polished in 1984, the various income tax cases against him, etc etc. Was this backlash only because Sweetie Baba allegedly tried to make a quick buck? Or, more importantly, was it because someone somewhere was very displeased with Messrs Buta, Sweetie and, maybe, Lovely. It does not take rocket science to figure out who that all-powerful person could be. Besides, this is not a good time to be seen to be ripping off the poor, the dalits or the dispossessed. Not because most of our dear leaders really care about the poor, the dalits or the dispossessed, but because there are elections round the corner in Maharashtra and other states.


Yet, this selective anger is reserved only for those who are politically expedient. For the others who are much needed by the powers that be, many sins are forgiven. The recent furore in Jammu and Kashmir over the “sex scandal” in which the Chief Minister was alleged to have been involved, is a case in point. The over-riding issue should have been that the “sex scandal” has never been properly investigated nor have the details been properly revealed to us, the taxpayers, who pay the salaries of all these ministers and chief ministers. The fact that the Chief Minister’s name was being bandied about in the Assembly as being one of the accused is merely an outcome of the disinformation which routinely surrounds high-profile cases.


Had there been a transparent inquiry and less effort to hush it all up, it would have been impossible for anyone to level a false accusation at the chief minister. Since the various political parties involved are either present or former allies, it is quite apparent that all the major players would have been more keen to bury the “sex scandal” than they would care to admit to us. And, therefore, it is imperative that we learn the details of the case soon, with the CM promising a quick and thorough inquiry, rather than receiving a thumbs up from everyone, including the home minister. We, however, got totally diverted by the theatrical resignation of Omar Abdullah — and forgot the real issues at stake.


Unsurprisingly and shockingly, most of the time was spent in persuading the chief minister, who has been gaffe prone since he took over, to stay on, rather than asking the important question — why the true story behind the “sex scandal” has not been allowed to surface? Should a chief minister, who does not have the power to reveal to us what exactly the “sex scandal” case is all about, remain the chief minister? Do good looks and good breeding, as Mr Abdullah undoubtedly possesses, give immunity from rigorously honest behaviour in this madly-telegenic world?

After all, this is a story which has the potential to still shake up the administration. Kashmir has been, for far too long, ruled from behind an iron curtain — the Parliament furore was an indication that it is time to change to a more transparent system. There are enough hints and “revelations” for us to understand that this story involved the abuse of young girls — and probably would be shocking enough to end
the careers of many in power.


The suspicion is that if this “sex scandal” had the whiff of communalism, it would have led to all kinds of human rights activists baying for the blood of the predators. If some third-rate celebrity had been involved, there would have been websites all over piling on censorious comments, as well as candlelight vigils. But because it reeks merely of the sordid exploitation of ordinary women and innocent young girls by other women and men, because it smells of cruelty of a powerful ruling class over the young and the defenceless — who cares? There are no bleeding hearts volunteering to fight for the truth in this story — because this will be a thankless job. It will not get anyone any cushy government sinecures. Sex workers are hardly a traditional votebank. The enemy in this may turn out to be members of the government, and that will be dangerous for us: we would rather support a corrupt but secular government, than any other alternative. Unlike a communal riot, where we can always name and shame the “enemy”, this time the foe will be difficult to confront.


Sadly, the men and women running the sex-abuse racket probably destroyed hundreds of young lives. But, according to media reports, while the case is still “under investigation” eight years later, the file which had detailed confessions by some of the alleged sex workers and a man who was involved, has already been lost. Sabina (who has now changed her name to Mehnaz), allegedly the woman at the centre of the scandal, roams free. Yet the records of Sabina’s cellphone had apparently revealed links to politicians, police and security officers. Ironically, the fact that she appeared to enjoy powerful patronage means that she is now immune to punishment. Even the organised alleged horrific rape of a minor, in which high officials in the government were involved, was not enough to move the then coalition government to take action.


The problem it seems was that the fallout could be extreme. Therefore the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had taken over the case, was allegedly ordered to go slow. In our topsy turvy world, unlike the poor defenceless girls whose lives had been destroyed, the lives of the sexual predators themselves had to be protected because they were all far too important.


It is an ironical situation that when the issue was raised in the Jammu and Kashmir Vidhan Sabha, the uproar was over the fact that the CM had been named in the case.


And like all the other suspects, he too was outraged at the attack on his modesty. There was no regret or apology, however, about the unpunished attacks on the young victims Of the sex abuse scandal.


Therefore, I assume that we can only hope (as in the case of Buta Singh) that once the favoured partners and members of the present government have fallen foul of each other, we will finally learn the truth of what happened in the sex abuse scandal. Think of the rigmarole even over the Scarlet Keeling case. It will take at least 20 years to unravel… if we are lucky.


The writer can be contacted at [1]









This is very serious. Britain, as most readers of the New York Times know, has long been populated by three warlike tribes, the Scots, the English and the Welsh. Much of British history consists of disputes between these tribes, particularly between the Scots and the English.


Since the middle of the 18th century, after Bonnie Prince Charlie made a vain attempt to reclaim the kingdom for the Scottish Stuart dynasty, an uneasy peace has prevailed, based, in part, on the understanding that Scottish pride and Scottish feathers will not be unduly ruffled.


But then, every so often, somebody threatens this delicate understanding with an outrageous suggestion.


This usually happens in August, when newspapers have nothing better to talk about. And it has happened again this August.


The insult to the Scots this year is that haggis, the Scottish national dish, is not really Scottish, but English. Now this may seem a matter of little consequence to Americans, but how would the United States react if apple pie and turkey with cranberry sauce were to be claimed as the products of, say, French cuisine? Or if somebody asserted that baseball was invented by the Romanians (which it was)? These things are a matter of national pride, and people should take great care when talking about them.


The basis of the current claim is that an English cookbook of the early 17th century contains a recipe for haggis. This, we are told, was well before any Scottish recipe book gives similar information. Well, now, this assertion is so patently flimsy that it hardly requires refutation.


Of course there was no published Scottish recipe for haggis before then, for the simple reason that it would have been quite unnecessary for Scots to publish a recipe for something that everybody in Scotland knew how to make. Why state the obvious? It’s as simple as that.


But if further proof is required, then it is there in abundance.


English cuisine has always been very open to foreign influences, and still is. If one looks at contemporary English cookbook writers, what do they write about? French food, Indian food, Chinese food — anything but English food. And it was ever thus. So it is no surprise that early 17th-century English food writers should have written about exotic Scottish dishes rather than English ones. This is what these people have always done.


The haggis, of course, has played an important role in the Scottish national psyche — not as food, but as an invention. Scots like to console themselves with the knowledge that even if today we are a small nation on the periphery of Europe, an adjunct to a defunct empire, and chronically unsuccessful at something we would love to be successful at (soccer), we nonetheless have a great past as inventors.


Scottish schoolchildren are indoctrinated with the history of Scottish inventions.


Television, they are taught, was invented by John Logie Baird, a Scotsman, and not by Philo Taylor Farnsworth, an American. The Irish did not invent whisky, and Irish whiskey is not the real McCoy; McCoy himself, whoever he was, was clearly Scottish and definitely not Irish.
And golf was not invented by the Dutch — as misguided Dutchmen have a habit of claiming — it was a product of the Scottish genius for hitting things with sticks and counting the hits.


So the haggis is clearly Scottish, as Robert Burns understood full well when he wrote his famous poem in its praise. If one’s national bard writes a poem to a dish consisting of chopped-up offal cooked in a sheep’s stomach together with oatmeal and spices and secured with a curious pin, then that dish must be authentically national.


Anyway, even if there were doubts about this — which of course no right-thinking person would entertain — why take an iconic dish away from a national cuisine that has so little else of distinction in it?


Yes, we have salmon and porridge, and one or two other dishes, but Escoffier would surely have been very unfulfilled had he been born Scottish.


Blithely attributing our haggis to a people who already have lots and lots of dishes — most of them terribly stodgy — in their national cuisine seems, if nothing else, to be gratuitously cruel.


It would be like eating a mockingbird, if I may be permitted a literary allusion.


Never heard of haggis? Never tasted it? Try it on your next visit to Scotland, or even England. It is best taken with mashed turnips, which, incidentally, were invented in Scotland, and with a shot of whisky. The whisky is to neutralise the taste of the haggis, and the turnips are there for health reasons. Highly recommended.


Alexander McCall Smith is the author, most recently, of Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.









The criticisms from some of my fellow Republicans of former President Bill Clinton and secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s success in gaining the release of two American journalists from North Korea’s gulag are misplaced. The Clintons’ behaviour demonstrated respect for the expertise of their advisers and restraint from political grandstanding. Any propaganda gain for the North Korean regime will be short-term and limited. It’s even possible that the episode will have a positive effect on our troubled nuclear negotiations.


Ever since the journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were captured on North Korea’s border with China in March, America has had little diplomatic leverage. The Obama administration had two choices: to demand their release in a loud and threatening tone, or to use wits and discipline.


Some commentators are suggesting that the Clintons’ actions showed American weakness by expressing regret to a ruthless dictator. These critics need to ask themselves: How would a more aggressive approach have gained the release of these two women from a sentence of 12 years of hard labour?


Previous episodes of Americans drifting into North Korea — including an American helicopter pilot captured in 1994 who was released after Bill Richardson, then a member of Congress, travelled to Pyongyang — have taught us the pattern. First, North Korea protests the violations of its territory. Then it threatens or sentences the individuals. Finally, talks between North Korean diplomats, private intermediaries and American officials come up with a way for the North to climb down while saving face.


Bolstering the egos of Pyongyang’s leaders is no pleasure. Look at Bill Clinton’s grim expression in photos of him with Kim. But it is a proved... means to a desired end.


The public stance of the Obama administration was dignified and correct throughout. Mrs Clinton rightly acknowledged the prevailing legal system in North Korea in making a public plea for clemency, and Bill Clinton delivered the request in person. The alternative — having administration officials rant about the many perversions of the North’s system — would not have brought the journalists home.


The administration also deserves credit for insisting that these negotiations had nothing to do with efforts to penalise North Korea for its belligerence. It pressed hard for two sets of sanctions at the United Nations Security Council after North Korea’s test firing of a long-range missile in April and nuclear test in May. Will Mr Clinton’s visit be a turning point in relations with North Korea? That is more up to Pyongyang than Washington. Kim Jong-II, who is reported to have had a stroke last year, looks frail but he is not necessarily dying. He seems to have completed his efforts to rally military support for his plan to have his 26-year-old son succeed him. He may be ready now to turn a more cooperative face to the outside world, if only for domestic political reasons.


In any new talks, of course, we can expect Pyongyang to try all sorts of diplomatic reversals to increase its leverage and gain bigger payoffs. Fortunately, the Obama administration has proved itself wary. For example, it has refused the North’s offers to resume bilateral negotiations unless Pyongyang agrees to return to the agreements reached during now-stalled six-party talks.


If tensions begin to cool and North Korea shows itself more open to legitimate talks, then the Clinton diplomacy will have helped to produce unexpected dividends. For the moment, however, it is enough to have two of our citizens back from the gates of Hell with America’s dignity intact.


Douglas H. Paal, the vice-president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, served on the National Security Council staffs of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and was the top American representative to Taiwan under President George W. Bush.




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




THE killing, on 23 July, of 27-year-old Chongkham Sanjit, a former People’s Liberation Army corporal, in what Manipur police commandos described as an encounter, would have passed off as routine (since such killings have occurred time and again over the past two or three years), but for Tehelka’s sequence of photographs ~ later reproduced in an Imphal newspaper ~ which show that it was nothing less than cold-blooded murder. A 23-year-old pregnant woman was also killed in the crossfire; according to the commandos, the bullet fired by Sanjit killed her. The 32-party Apurba Lup umbrella organisation that is spearheading the movement against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act observed a 48-hour bandh in protest, demanded punishment for those responsible and called for chief minister Ibobi Singh’s resignation. He, however, seems to be quite satisfied with the performance of his police force. He told the assembly that when the commandos were frisking people entering Imphal’s hwairamband bazaar, Sanjit tried to escape but he was cornered inside a nearby pharmacy and, when asked to surrender, he fired at his captors and so was shot dead. A pistol and some rounds of ammunition were seized. This is the official version. But Tehelka’s photographs show Sanjit quietly being escorted by a number of commandos and later his body being dragged out. Sanjit was reportedly arrested twice in the past, booked under the National Security Act and of late was trying to earn an honest living.

Manipur has literally become a killing field with reports of daily casualties in encounters, fake or real. Some people have disappeared without a trace after being picked up by the police or security forces. Those involved in the killings of scores of people and journalists have gone scot free. The killer of the sub-divisonal officer in Ukhrul and two of his office staff was recently identified, apprehended and handed over to the CBI by the NSCN(IM), but little is heard of the issue now. One wonders when enough will be considered enough. Ibobi must ensure his commandos become models of efficiency in tackling insurgency, not butchers of innocent citizens for garnering “bravery” awards.







Coming to a close could be the days of the states enjoying a free lunch in terms of easily drawing upon the Central paramilitary forces to meet all non-routine requirements. The message from the home ministry to a chief ministers’ meet later this month ~ a commendable message to be sure ~ is expected to be a switch in the deployment pattern on the “Lalgarh model”: in which New Delhi provided a force level equal to what was committed by the state government. On the face of it the signal is that given the incessant demands the Centre is hard-pressed to stretch its overworked forces, the CRPF in particular, much further. Hence there is no alternative to the states making quantitative and qualitative improvements to their own police/reserves.

 Though such a situation has not developed overnight, and India remains one of the most “under policed” countries in the world (which some experts insist breeds corruption, inefficiency and high-handedness), little remedial action has been taken. Not only have the states failed to effectively utilise the funds the Centre made available for modernisation, their forces have been so politically-misused that even routine duties are poorly performed. With 26/11 compelling the Centre to rework its paramilitary with countering terrorism as the prime objective, regularly sending units to perform the duties of local police is a luxury no longer affordable.

There would be much to read between the lines, it is not just a question of numbers. Apart from diverting funds away from police upgrade/expansion, many state governments have found it politically-convenient to call upon the Centre to tackle anything that resembles an insurgency ~ virtually every underground outfit has its “overground” political face ~ for they lack the political will to mount a challenge. One fall-out being that the cops go slow, lest they invite a subsequent political backlash.
The Centre appears to have enough of being taken for that kind of a ride, and so is withdrawing that cushion it used to provide. Enhancing force levels apart, the states might also come to accept that there are deep roots to what erupt as law-and-order problems. In fact along with police reform/revamp, state governments might find it cost-effective to use “development” as a counter-insurgency weapon.








THE euphoria over the passage of a Bill, whose purpose was first mooted by Mahatma Gandhi in 1937, must be tempered by the reality that there still remain certain red herrings along the trail before the child can benefit from his/her entitlement. There is no denying that the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill is a momentous piece of legislation that has been enacted 60 years after it was incorporated in the Directive Principles of State Policy. It is a commentary on how successive governments have functioned that the Bill still bristles with loose ends despite minister Kapil Sibal’s emotional outpourings of it being “revolutionary” and “landmark”. Small wonder that on the day before the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi had shared her concerns with the minister.
Chief among these is that neither the HRD ministry nor the Finance Commission have been able to reach a consensus on what is decidedly the bedrock of the scheme’s success ~ the nature of funding. The ratio of the share between the Centre and the states remains to be worked out. And in the absence of a budgetary provision, a parliamentary sanction is imperative if the scheme has to take off in the current fiscal. The states ought to have been taken into confidence and the funding procedure formalised when the Bill was in the drafting stage. Even after its passage, funding remains a thorny issue. The legislation has belatedly been choreographed by the Centre; but there is no indication of a majoritarian consensus among the states on funding. The matter lends no scope for ad hocism. Yet to delay it further will only defeat the purpose of the legislation; children’s education has already suffered for far too long owing to adult failures. It may be a “champagne moment”, as an HRD official has remarked, but only for the august envoys to the Lok Sabha. The national and provincial authorities will be on test by the child as much as the parent.

There are two other critical parameters that need to be sorted out before the official notification comes through. With a “conditions apply” approach, the Centre appears to have kept its cards close to its chest. Should a school flout the Act, the aggrieved parents will not be able to prosecute the institution without the sanction of a government-specified officer. There is an element of contrived double-think in the provision that violations in good faith are legal. Aside from a contradiction in terms, this is sheer tosh at the expense of the child in search of learning.








LONDON, 7 AUG: Radio audiences are turning to the soothing properties of classical music as a means of coping with the traumas brought on by the economic downturn, gloomy weather and summer exams, according to official listening statistics released yesterday.

The national commercial station Classic FM and BBC Radio 3 have both apparently benefited from the desire of audiences to find some respite from the pressures associated with the recession.
Classic, which is part of the national Global radio group, increased its listenership by 303,000 over the past three months, according to figures from the industry body Rajar. 

Radio 3, which was recently named Station of the Year at the Sony awards, the radio industry Oscars, increased its reach to more than 2 million, giving the network its biggest audience in two years. During this period, Radio 3 showcased the work of Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn, three of its designated composers of the year.

Classic FM has grown to a weekly reach of 6.14 million, including children. The station is popular with students and schoolchildren at examination time and it saw the number of under-18s tuning in rise to 573,000 per week during the quarter, an increase of 70 per cent. “The exciting increase in the number of children tuning in shows that we’re helping to grow a brand new generation of classical music listeners,” said Mr Darren Henley, the station’s managing director.

Among the most successful of its presenters is Myleene Klass, whose breakfast show audience has increased by 100,000 over the past three months to almost 1 million. ;The Independent







A RECENT survey by 1,274 experts in 12 North and South Asian countries described the Indian bureaucracy as the worst and the least efficient in the continent, indeed behind Vietnam, China and Indonesia. While the findings are not particularly shocking, there is sufficient reason for worry. Development, after all, depends on the strength and efficiency of the bureaucracy.

One major reason for the present sorry state of affairs is said to be the political interference and the increasing tendency to transfer or shunt civil servants to inconvenient or insignificant posts. Transfers are often effected on absurd grounds, even for suspected proximity to the political opposition. It has also been alleged that if a bureaucrat decides to put his/her foot down against illegal orders or just decides to go by the rulebook, he or she often gets the boot. It is against this background that the proposed Central legislation to tackle perceived irregularities is significant.


The Centre is drafting legislation which will not only assure the civil servants of fixed tenures, but is also likely to protect them from mundane political interference. All such appointments, transfers and postings of senior officers are likely to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny to remove the element of discretion in such orders. If the proposed Bill becomes a reality, the IAS and IPS officers will no longer have to put up with irregular transfers and postings.


HOWEVER, there is a rider to the proposed legal protection against irregular transfers and postings. The government is planning to introduce a new Public Service Code which envisages a strict performance evaluation regime for promotions and postings.

These proposals are on the anvil as part of the proposed Civil Services Bill, 2009 to reinvigorate the creaking steel frame so that it can deal effectively with the newer challenges of development and governance. The Bill is expected to be a fine-tuned version of the Public Service Bill, 2007, which could not be introduced during the UPA government's previous innings. The provisions of the Bill are likely to be applicable, first to the IAS and IPS and may subsequently be extended to the other all-India services, including the Indian Forest Service.

The Bill, having incorporated sundry suggestions of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, provides for the setting up of a new Central Public Service Authority (CPSA) at the national level. This Authority will not only supervise the professional management of the premier civil services, but is also expected to be a watchdog to secure the interests of the civil servants and citizens through a system of checks and balances.

If the Civil Service Bill does become an Act, all civil servants will be entitled to a minimum fixed tenure of three years. If transferred prematurely, the officer will have to be suitably compensated for the inconvenience and harassment caused. The top-level appointments, including that of the Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police, are to be made out of a panel of candidates to be screened and drawn up by a state-level committee comprising the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition as well as the state's home minister. As of now, the Chief Minister is the sole authority who takes a decision on such appointments.

Usually, such transfers and postings have been the prerogative of the government in power, with no reference to the Opposition. The proposed Bill fixes this anomaly with due recognition being given to the Leader of the Opposition in the matter of senior appointments in the states and at the Centre, including that of the Cabinet Secretary. Like the state-level postings, the Cabinet Secretary is also likely to be selected from a panel to be drawn by the Central-level Committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Home Minister. If the government decides to deviate from the norms stipulated in the Act, it shall have to inform and explain the reasons to Parliament.



THE performance parameters of the officers will be given due importance before being considered for the top slots. A more scientifically-designed objective system of performance evaluation is proposed in place of the extant practice of Annual Confidential Reports (ACR) which merely take a panoramic view of a civil servant's work through the year. The new Performance Management System shall evaluate the bureaucrats on their job-specific achievements and the number of tasks that they perform as the team leader in a particular department.

The proposed system is likely to be managed by the CPSA which will supposedly be supervised by a chairman of the rank equivalent to that of the Chief Election Commissioner. He will be appointed for five years by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, a Supreme Court judge, the union home minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lower House of Parliament. With the Cabinet Secretary acting as its convener, the CPSA will aid and advise the Centre in all matters concerning the organisation, control, operation, regulation and management of public services and public servants.

The CPSA will also be the custodian of the Public Service Code which will replace the current All India Services Conduct Rules. It will be framed to enable the civil servants discharge their official duties with competence, accountability, care, diligence, honesty, objectivity and in accordance with the law of the land. The CPSA, comprising three to five members, will also have the power to recommend action against the public servants who do not adhere to the Public Service Code and public service values. After the Bill becomes an Act, the CPSA will also compile and submit a report to the Centre detailing the compliance with the various provisions of the new legislation by every ministry/department every year.
One hopes that this Bill will become an Act sooner rather than later. Its implications for Centre-State relations in our federal polity also need to be examined.









Somewhere in the course of European history, post 17th-century, man began to see himself as being distinct and superior to nature. Nature was seen as an object for man to use. This became part of universal wisdom, and the natural world was thus given an inferior status in the order of things. This, as recent theories and discoveries are tending to demonstrate, was to the detriment of man and his process of learning. A recent set of experiments with rooks suggests that these birds know that the level of water in a jar can be raised by dropping stones into the water. Aesop, the writer of fables who lived in Greece between 620 and 560 BC, had noted this in one of his stories, “The Crow and the Pitcher”. In the fable, the crow, unable to reach the water in the pitcher, kept dropping pieces of stone in the water till the water-level rose and the crow could reach it to drink and thus save his own life. The lesson Aesop drew from it was that little by little does the trick or that perseverance leads to success. Scientists, of course, have not gone into the truth or otherwise of Aesop’s conclusions, but they have shown that rooks know how to raise the level of water by dropping weights in it. Something that Aesop probably knew more than 2,000 years ago by observing nature, scientists have just discovered through experiments.


The discovery raises an interesting question that scientists are sure to ponder. Do rooks also know the principle that Archimedes of Syracuse (287-212 BC) discovered, legend has it in his bath, that the amount of water displaced is equal in weight to the solid object immersed in the water? Rooks may have already arrived at this principle through means that are only known to them and to other inhabitants of the natural world. Human beings are slowly beginning to acknowledge that there is much in the natural world that they are still unable to explain. How do migratory birds follow the same route every year to arrive at the same place? How do birds when they fly in formation adjust places when one of them gets tired? How do birds and animals know about the arrival of a storm when human beings have to depend on sophisticated technology like satellite imaging and so on? How is it that the stripes of each and every tiger are unique and identifiable? Observers of the natural world are struggling to explain these phenomena.


It is entirely possible that when man saw himself as an integral part of nature, he knew more of the secrets of the natural world. Maybe this is how Aesop knew what rooks could do to raise the water-level in a vessel. Man’s alienation from nature has stopped his access to these secrets. Modern science is discovering things, some of which were previously known as a body of knowledge that is now lost. Man’s rediscovery of the natural world is also a rediscovery of knowledge.








If the ban on assisted suicide, now being hotly debated in Britain, had ever been enforced, the royal family might have been behind bars. For historians claim they were complicit in the lethal injection of cocaine and morphine that ensured that George V’s late-night death missed the inconsequential evening papers to make headlines in the Times. Today, Lord Dawson, the physician who administered the injection, would probably have had prime time TV in mind.


Setting that aside, the debate raises a vital issue that concerns everyone as age and ailment convey intimations of mortality. It is discussed more fervently in affluent societies because the basics of life are so fully guaranteed that it looks like a diminution of individual authority to leave the exit to painful chance. Voluntary termination is less tranquilly contemplated in countries where the struggle for survival makes life itself, in whatever debased form, a luxury. It is ridiculous even to talk of death with dignity in Calcutta when nothing could be more undignified than the way our squalid crematoriums handle the dead. But the choice between lingering suffering and a quick end raises the same social, ethical and legal questions everywhere. It bristles with the same fears of manipulation by unscrupulous relatives motivated by material reasons that surrounded the Hindu practice of suttee.


Making allowance for these factors, the view is gaining ground in the West that terminally ill patients with no hope of recovery are entitled not only to take the decision to die but also to enlist help to facilitate the passage. That implies unimpaired judgment, an irrevocable decision and proof that the process is entirely voluntary. These are not always easy to determine. Modern medicine prolongs life with the hope of recovery. Elaborate counselling can inspire even desperate folk with the wish to live. That urge can flicker back even in the face of the most adverse circumstances. One of my saddest assignments as a very young reporter in Britain was to cover a coroner’s inquest on an unemployed man with an incurable disease whose wife had left him. The man put his head in the gas oven but it was evident from his posture and the oven switch that he changed his mind at some stage. That stage was too late.


The current British debate is not so much about suicide, which remains a crime, as about helping to commit it. The Suicide Act of 1961 stipulates up to 14 years imprisonment for aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring someone’s suicide, but the authorities have so far turned a blind eye to such complicity. Nevertheless, the few who are determined to take their own life and need a helping hand to do so prefer to avoid exposing their helpers (invariably near and loved ones) to the possible rigours of the law. They, therefore, find their way to the Dignitas assisted-suicide clinic near Zurich in Switzerland. They could also go to Belgium, the Netherlands and three American states including Oregon, whose 1994 Death with Dignity Act sanctions volunteer “hasteners”. But, obviously, these options are not open to many, even in a country whose people are comfortably off.


The implicit means test is one cause of argument. The legal anomaly is another. Why should a person get away with doing something abroad that he or she cannot do at home? Beyond that lies the question of whether helping someone to die is tantamount to murder. Though no one mentions George V’s end, Queen Mary, who kissed her royal spouse on the forehead, curtsied and backed out of the room before Dawson’s fatal injection, could be regarded as an accessory to murder. But overshadowing these peripheral dilemmas is the ultimate question about the right to die. None of these questions are contained by national boundaries. Whether or not they are articulated, the questions themselves are universal.


It has all come to the fore because of a number of highly publicized deaths. One was of a paralysed 23-year-old rugby player, Daniel James, whose family helped him to Dignitas. Another was of Diane Pretty, suffering from motor neuron disease, who died in 2002 while her husband’s possible role was being discussed. Several distinguished scientists and academics have signified they will end their lives when they think it appropriate. Nine Chinese victims of uremia have also petitioned for euthanasia. But it’s Debbie Purdy, a musical journalist confined to a wheelchair by multiple sclerosis, who dragged the debate into the open by asking the House of Lords to rule whether her husband, Omar Puente, a Cuban-born violinist she met in Singapore, would be guilty of a punishable offence by helping her to commit suicide. Instructed by the Lords to clarify the legal position, the government has promised new regulations in September. Meanwhile, the director of public prosecution says the “same broad principles will apply” whether the act is committed at home or abroad.


This could mean that what is legal in Switzerland might become legal in Britain. It could also mean that a Briton cannot do something abroad that he or she is not allowed to do at home. Whatever the outcome, legal sanction will not wish away the moral question. Libertarians argue that suicide is the greatest of human freedoms, and that deciding to die is part of the act of living. Francis Bacon held in the early 17th century that an apothecary’s highest duty was to alleviate pain, even if it meant causing death. But that is not the view of the British Medical Association, which overwhelmingly defeated a resolution seeking to legalize assisted dying. Paradoxically, the BMA was less emphatic about prosecuting the escort who helps someone who commits suicide abroad.


Britain’s religious lobby, clinging to the traditional belief that life and death are not matters of human jurisdiction, helped to thwart a bill in the Lords two years ago on assisted suicide. Lord Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor, wants safeguards incorporated in the suicide law and a Labour member of parliament has promised a new bill before the next general election. The most sensible move so far seems to be a measure introduced by Margo MacDonald, a member of the Scottish parliament, that will entitle a terminally ill patient to sign a suicide declaration while still mentally fit and have it attested “by two registered medical practitioners, independently of each other”. If carried out in good faith, the procedure might save a great deal of anguish provided inexpensive or even free local equivalents of the Dignitas centre are also set up as a complementary measure. There is little point in legalizing voluntary death if the means of carrying it out are not also readily available.


Is any of this applicable to India? All of it, I would say, and yet none of it. Human situations are equally poignant the world over, but not institutional conditions. I would be tempted to support some equivalent of MacDonald’s bill but for the knowledge that signatures are easily obtained here and attestation is often not worth the paper on which it is written. But Indians grow old too, suffer from incurable disease, have no one to care for them, and genuinely long for a quick and painless end. Nor is there any lack of courage and independent will. I used to be taken as a child to a site on the outskirts of our ancestral village and told of the ancestress who committed suttee there. Family lore had it that when the daroga came hot foot to prevent the immolation, she held a finger in the flames for him to judge that it was voluntary.


As for the old, the ailing, the helpless and the hopeless, Incredible India’s state hospitals can be relied on to get rid of them in a cruel modern parody of Malthus’ law.











Indian goons are known to do violence against fellow-Indians, eg: Shiv Sainiks against Tamilians, Biharis and Uttar Pradeshis. Instances of molesting whites, particularly white women, are reported in the media every other day. It is only when government do not take action against these hoodlums or the society tolerates them that a country be censured as racist.

So, though I share the anguish of my countrymen for the killing and stabbing of some Indian students in Melbourne, I refrain from tarnishing all Australians or their government as racist. I was pained to read that a good man like Amitabh Bachchan turned down the conferment of an honourary doctorate from the University of Brisbane. If he had accepted it with grace, it would have had beneficial results.

Thousands of Indians live in Australia and are prospering. Thousands go to Australian universities for higher education. Many marry Australian girls and never come back.

There is a village Noolgoolga near Brisbane, which is largely inhabited by Sikh farmers who make a handsome living growing bananas and avocados. The famous Gurbani singer Dya Singh is among the many Indians who have made Australia their home. They are proud to call themselves as Dinkum ozzies — Good Australians.

I have visited Australia a few times and travelled across the country, stayed in most of its big cities, including Melbourne. Wherever I went, I was warmly received and welcomed in homes of white Australians.

They are touchy about some subjects — any illusion to their ancestors being convicts from England can spark indignation. Even reference to their cockney English makes them see red. They are also fiercely egalitarian and won’t stand any snobbery. When you hire a taxi, be sure to sit in the front seat along the cab driver and not in the rear seat as one who hired him.

We have a lot to learn from Australians and we expect a lot from them including foodgrains, nuclear raw material. Let not a few incidents of ‘goondaism’ sour this relationship.


I have known of professor Badri Raina over the years without ever having met him. As his name indicates, he is a Kashmiri Pandit. He is an MA in English from the JK University and was captain of the J&K Cricket 11, competing for the Ranji Trophy in 1961-62.

He won a Fulbright scholarship to Wisconsin University and got a doctorate in literature for his work on Charles Dickens, which was later published by the university press entitled ‘Dickens & the Dialectic of Growth’. He got offers to teach in American universities but he decided to return home to India.

After 30 years as professor of English literature in Kirori Mal College (Delhi), he retired from teaching three years ago.

Badri Raina is deeply involved with Mirza Ghalib’s poetry: his translation of selections from Ghalib’s ‘Diwan’ were published nine years ago. He has also written and published a lot of poetry in English. I take the liberty of reproducing some version from a longish poem Frozen in Birth:

First we are born to man and wife,

Then they give us our names,

Those names then our prison make

Of inflexible religious frames.

But I that a ‘Hindu’ am

Might well have a ‘Muslim’ been,

Had the sperm and egg that wrought me

Come from an Aslam and Nasreen.

What sense that we should thus invest

Our lifelong loves and hates

To an instant we had no inkling of,

And consign to that our fates.

Must we in loyalty embrace

What darkness made of us?

Or should our selfhood discriminate

A ‘maybe’, a ‘no’, a ‘yes’?


A new supermarket opened in Tampa, Florida. It has an automatic water mister to keep the produce fresh. Just before it goes on, you hear the sound of distant thunder and the smell of fresh rain.

When you ask for milk cases, you hear cows mooing and you experience the scent of fresh mown hay. In the meat department there is the aroma of charcoal grilled steaks with onions. When you approach the egg case, you hear hens cluck and cackle, and the air is filled with the pleasing aroma of morning breakfast cooking. The bread department features the tantalising smell of fresh baked bread and cookies.
.....No one buys toilet paper there anymore.


(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)








We got Coco when she was a cute black fluffy ball of five  weeks. Actually, as Alex my son put it, we did not find her, she found us. Of the eight nervous little pups, she boldly walked up to us and we lost our hearts. We lost her when she was a majestic 10-year old. She died suddenly and unselfishly as she had always lived.

One day she was playfully running around as usual chasing sticks, the very next day she was gone. Cancer of the heart, we were told, but she never showed she was in pain. She never gave us the anguish of making the decision to put her to sleep.

Those who have loved pets and lost them can understand the bereavement and loss of a dear friend, family even. To my husband, she was his best mate, his faithful companion who shared his life day in and day out. To me, she was my third and last child. She herself thought, we are sure, that she was our child, a sibling to my other two children. She grew up playing and sharing her life with them. Although she towered over everyone when she got up on two legs, she was gentle as a baby. She was also gentle with babies. There wasn’t a vicious bone in her body.

Yet, when I think of it, she was more a parent in her later years. She was fiercely protective of the family and would have given her life to save ours. She ‘shepherded’ us when we went on our regular walks in the woods and valleys and never let us out of her sight. She gave the same intense loyalty, love, protection and care I’d got from my mother. And she taught me the same thing that my mother did.

If we could only learn such deep trust, such unwavering love and such fierce loyalty as our four-legged friends are capable of. Coco brightened our lives with her bright, gentle, intelligent eyes, her warm soft fur, her elegant walk. Her loss has left us with a huge gap in our lives. I asked my husband why should we have pets to only go through this agony in the end. The answer is simple: for the sheer joy they give us during their lifetime, and for the lessons of true love and loyalty we can learn from them.

Maybe we should be urging humans to behave more like animals instead.








According to the Labor Department’s latest jobs report, employers eliminated 247,000 jobs last month. And that’s the good news. Job loss in July was at its lowest level since last August, and it would have been much worse if not for recent federal stimulus spending.


Still, the job market is in serious decline. No one knows when it will hit bottom, but when it does the American work force will find itself in a very deep hole.


As of July, the economy was coming up short by 9.1 million jobs, including 6.7 million jobs that have been axed since the recession began 20 months ago, and 2.4 million jobs that were needed to absorb new workers, but were never created.


And that is not the only sign of labor-market weakness. At 9.4 percent, the jobless rate for July was slightly lower than in June. But the decline doesn’t reflect an improving jobs picture. Rather, it is the result of a contraction in the size of the labor pool — 422,000 people dropped out of the work force altogether last month. That is the second biggest surge of dropouts since the start of the recession.


In a strong economy, dropping out may be a lifestyle choice, like deciding to become a stay-at-home parent. In today’s weak economy, it invariably reflects a deep and prolonged lack of job prospects.


Millions of out-of-work Americans need more help.


When Congress returns after Labor Day, its first task must be to extend unemployment compensation for those whose benefits expire in September. Congress should also extend the extra jobless benefits from the stimulus bill, rather than leaving them hostage to a protracted debate over another, broader stimulus package. The extras, which expire at the end of the year, include an additional $25 a week, a tax exemption for jobless benefits and a subsidy for health coverage for the unemployed. As modest as they are, they are needed.


President Obama and his aides must begin to detail their plans to create new jobs. Over the next several years, low-wage occupations will add the most jobs. What will the administration do to improve the wages and working conditions of nurse’s aides, food service workers and other low-wage workers? What is its plan for creating middle-class jobs? Are additional investments in job creation — beyond the stimulus — forthcoming? If not, what will replace the lost jobs of this recession?


The American work force is too big to fail, and should be treated that way.







Albany’s corruption and incompetence have reached epic proportions this year. The only real hope of fixing things is if voters in New York State elect a new, truly reform-minded generation of politicians.


Right now, the rules — on campaign finance, redistricting, even ballot access — overwhelmingly discourage competition. The good news is that New Yorkers are fed up.


If legislators and Gov. David Paterson want to hold on to their seats, they must prove their commitment to reform by making elections truly competitive.


OPEN THE BALLOT TO MORE CANDIDATES The rules for getting on a ballot in New York are absurd. Petitions must be signed in a very short time. A voter can sign only one candidate’s petition. There are too many names required. The state’s Board of Elections, which sets and enforces many of these rules, is filled with party hacks.


Last month, Bill de Blasio, a Brooklyn Democrat trying to run for New York City’s public advocate job, was briefly removed by the city’s Board of Elections from the Sept. 15 ballot for a typo on the cover sheet. City Councilman Alan Gerson, who is running for re-election from Lower Manhattan, has so far lost his place on the ballot because he tried to correct his own address on a cover sheet for his petitions.


Candidates who can demonstrate genuine public support by paying a modest fee or collecting a modest number of signatures should be allowed to compete. Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh has offered a constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to set real qualifications for members of the elections boards. In the meantime, current members can demonstrate their fitness by letting all qualified candidates on to the ballot rather than trying their hardest to keep them off.


REFORM CAMPAIGN FINANCE RULES New York also has one of the most unfair campaign finance systems in the country. Contribution limits barely limit anybody from giving exorbitant amounts to their favorite compliant politician. And there are no limits at all on contributions of so-called housekeeping funds for political parties. Disclosure is poor, and enforcement is lax — all an invitation for Albany politicians to do their worst.


State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., a Queens Democrat who chairs the elections committee, said that he and his committee had been putting together “a pretty good” campaign finance reform until the Senate disintegrated into a monthlong leadership stalemate. Mr. Addabbo and his colleagues in the Assembly need to quickly approve real reforms, including public financing of campaigns.


REDISTRICT HONESTLY Every 10 years, legislators in effect create their own voting districts. So it is no surprise that the maps make it difficult-to-impossible for challengers to dislodge a sitting legislator. The only sure way to fix this problem is by moving now to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission — before the 2010 census and the next round of redistricting. The commission would draw lines based on such factors as population, not party affiliation.


This fundamental reform has little hope unless business and public leaders push hard for it. Tom Golisano, the wealthy meddler and occasional candidate from Buffalo who helped orchestrate the June Senate melee claims that he truly wants reform in Albany. He can prove it by financing a public campaign demanding the creation of an independent redistricting commission.








There’s a reason people have never stopped watching and quoting from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club.” John Hughes, who died on Thursday — far too soon at 59 — was an outstanding director of disaffected-teen movies and kid comedies.


But for me, childhood and teenage disaffection are pretty distant, and I’m rarely in the mood to slip in a DVD and go back there.


There is one movie I want to remember Mr. Hughes by. It’s “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” It came out in 1987. Mr. Hughes wrote, directed and produced it.


As movies go, it’s very basic. Steve Martin is Neal Page, an ad executive trying to get home to his family in Chicago for Thanksgiving. John Candy is Del Griffith, a shower-curtain-ring salesman. Things happen, and they have to travel together. It’s hard. The weather is bad. Del is a moron. Neal can’t shake him. Hah.


It’s not highbrow, but great Candy. There’s Del waving his smelly socks in a crowded plane (“My dogs are barkin’ today!”). He leaves his underwear by the motel sink. He leads a “Flintstones” singalong on a bus. He drives a car. It’s on fire. Hah.


But then comes this: Del is sitting in the burned-out chassis in a motel parking lot, banished there by Neal for the night. As snow collects on his parka, he talks softly to his (dead, though we don’t know it yet) wife.


“Well, Marie, once again, my dear, you are as right as rain. I am without a doubt the biggest pain in the butt that ever came down the pike. I meet someone whose company I really enjoy. ... I smother the poor soul. I cause him more trouble than he has a right to. God, I got a big mouth.”


Where did that scene come from? Why did it work?


Or this:


Neal: You love her, don’t you?


Del: Love is not a big enough word. It’s not a big enough word for how I feel about my wife.


It’s maudlin on the page, but lovely on the screen. By then the two Johns, Candy and Hughes, have managed to turn Del from a big, fat idiot into a big, fat somewhat complicated guy whom the viewer (well, I’ll speak for myself) would be only too willing to give a big hug and invite home for Thanksgiving. A dumb road movie has become a poignant view of the life of the sweetest, loneliest guy in the world.


A musician I admire told me once that the guitar was acoustically primitive, but good for conveying emotion, “assuming the player has emotions they can access.” The Hollywood comedy is a primitive instrument, too. The emotionally wise Mr. Hughes sure knew how to play it. LAWRENCE DOWNES








Good news from the waters of Chesapeake Bay is a rarity, especially when it concerns oysters — the basis of a once-flourishing but now nearly defunct fishery. Over the years, the Chesapeake — a broad, shallow estuary — has become contaminated by agricultural and other polluted runoff from the dozens of rivers and creeks that feed it, wreaking havoc on water quality and aquatic life. This, plus overfishing, has virtually destroyed a species that helped filter and cleanse the bay’s water.


So it comes as a welcome surprise to learn that scientists working near the mouth of Virginia’s Great Wicomico River have established surprisingly healthy beds of native oysters. The experiment, which began in 2004, uses broad, tall beds of oyster shells as artificial reefs for new oyster seedlings. The height of the reefs — a foot or more — raises the new oysters above the sediment, which seems to improve their health. The reefs are big, some as much as 20 acres in size. Scientists believe that this, too, is important to reproduction.


These experimental oyster cities — 185 million oysters on about 80 acres total — are believed to contain the largest re-established population of native oyster species in the world. Scientists think they could be a model for experiments elsewhere.


One big question is whether these reefs help protect oysters from disease. But if they work as well as they seem to, the reefs offer enormous promise. They also present an enormous engineering problem — how to build them over tens of thousands of acres, re-creating a time when the Chesapeake was paved with oysters.








It became official when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi - who was coincidentally addressing a youth parliament forum - said that intelligence reports stated that Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud had been killed in drone attack in Waziristan on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters his exact words were “He has been taken out”, going on to say that the government was seeking ground verification – presumably DNA evidence – to confirm his death 100 per cent. The same drone strike killed one of his wives and up to seven of his bodyguards and close associates. His death is going to shift the balance of power within the Pakistani Taliban movement of which he was a leading figure, and perhaps trigger a leadership contest as bloody as any of the campaigns he waged against the Pakistani state. That he was killed in an American drone strike rather than being turned in for the $5 million reward by a disaffected supporter or by our own forces is also of note. For years it has been said that the Americans were dragging their feet when it came to Baitullah Mehsud, and despite there being more than one occasion when we passed them actionable intelligence as to his location, they failed to strike. It took the US some time to wake up to the existential threat to the state which he presented, but they eventually did and we may reasonably assume that there was a cooperative effort between our forces and the Americans to achieve what looks like a ‘result.’ Both sides are likely to be pleased with themselves and one-another.

What may be the consequences of Mehsud’s death? Firstly the TTP are going to have to elect a new leader and may have done so by the time these words appear in print. There are three or four names in the frame, but there are questions as to whether any of them can provide the unity of command that Mehsud did. His authority extended to at least six groups operating as a loose collectivity, with family and tribal ties also a part of the glue that held them together. With Mehsud gone so may have cohesion, allowing our own forces to exploit the splits and differences between the various groups. What does seem to be clear is that with Mehsud dead the Taliban are much less likely to be able to mount the kind of threat that they presented to the state in 2008 and the early months of 2009. Talibanisation has been dealt a blow but it is not dead, and is going to remain a potent force which needs to be countervailed with consistent governmental and military policies. It is also probable that the operation that killed Mehsud will be seen as a significant CBM – a confidence building measure – between the Pakistan military and the Americans, where a trust deficit has bedevilled the relationship for many years.

Baitullah Mehsud was the most significant leader to emerge from the Pakistani Taliban in recent years. He was rumoured to be close to Al-Qaeda and to Mullah Omar, rumoured to have had a hand in the murder of Benazir Bhutto, rumoured to be behind any number of bomb, gun and suicide attacks that have terrorised the population. His death is a success but does not represent a war won, which is yet far off and perhaps years away. The greatest battle will to be to win back the predominantly youthful hearts and minds that his perverted view of the world and of Islam had turned to dark thoughts and dark ways – win that battle and we will truly have won the war.







The prime minister, during a visit to Gojra, has indicated the government could seek to change the controversial blasphemy law. While he avoided any direct reference to sections 295 A, B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deal with blasphemy, he said ‘discriminatory’ laws would be reviewed. Although a minor amendment in the blasphemy laws, laying down investigation at a higher police level before pressing charges, was brought in under Musharraf, more sweeping amendments were put aside after an outcry by clerics. This time there is a need to act with wisdom and good sense. The attack on the homes of Christians in Gojra has been widely condemned. There seems no reason to believe that saner religious elements at least would protest changes required to prevent such happenings in the future. They need to be brought aboard now, so that the demands by extremist forces can be countered. The Islamic Ideology Council can also play a role. This under-utilized body has made a number of incredibly sensible proposals in past years. It is a failure of governance that has resulted in many of these suggestions remaining relegated to files.

Several recent incidents, and others that have taken place in the past, point to the need for action. The attention paid to the terrible events in Gojra by top leaders who have paid multiple visits to the town are a welcome display of concern. This also proves how in an age when media cameras follow every event, it has become impossible to ignore incidents of this nature. In comparison, a similar attack in 1997 on Christians in the southern Punjab town of Shantinagar, where 300 homes were burnt and churches destroyed, received significantly less attention. But the government must also demonstrate it is willing to move beyond the cosmetic, and beyond the grant of cheques to affected families. All the laws that have relegated minorities, and also women, to citizens less equal than others must be reviewed in light of constitutional provisions that lay down that all have the same rights and privileges. While these laws remain on the books, over half of the country’s people face discrimination.

If we are to knit our nation together as a whole these measures must go. Recommendations that this be done have been tabled by bodies that include the National Commission on the Status of Women. It is time to set up a high-level committee, made up of lawyers and possibly religious scholars, to determine how best this can be achieved, so that laws reflect the aspirations of government and the majority of the country’s people. After all, this is what laws, any laws should really be; a manifestation of the best part of a people’s collective conscience. And in no way they should contain within them elements, weaknesses and tendencies that can be used by the obscurantists to commit crimes against humanity and arouse the savage in many of us.










BALOCHISTAN Minister for Excise and Taxation Sardar Rustam Khan Jamali was murdered in broad daylight in the midst of Karachi on Thursday, sending a shockwave to the people. Jamali was in his car in Gulistan-e-Jauhar area when unidentified gunmen sprayed him with bullets. He was rushed to the hospital in a critical condition but succumbed to the injuries.

There is no clear word as yet about motives of this dastardly act, which took life of a leader who hailed from a respected Baloch family. According to initial reports by police, it looked like an incident of robbery, as the attackers tried to snatch his car and upon resistance killed him. Other reports say it could be because of personal or tribal enmity or yet another incident of gory targeting killings that have become almost a routine in Karachi and, of course, in Balochistan as well. Some sections of the media have also reported that the Minister had gone there in connection with settlement of a plot dispute but things would become clear if and when the inquiry ordered into the tragedy reaches its logical conclusion. But the immediate reaction of the average citizen to the incident was that if a Minister, who is considered to be one of the symbols of the State, was not safe then how can ordinary people expect safe environment for them. In fact, for quite sometime, there have been frequent incidents of lawlessness and criminal activities in different parts of the country and there is nothing like rule of law in the country. As the attention of the Government is focused on terrorism and extremism, other criminals and law breakers feel free to strike anywhere with immunity. This is because seldom in the history of this country investigations into killings, robberies, dacoities and other heinous crimes including high profile assassinations, have resulted in nabbing of the real culprits. And even if the culprits are exposed and arrested in some cases then they escape justice because of loopholes in our judicial system. Protection of life and property of the citizens is the fundamental responsibility of the Government but regrettably there is growing perception that it has miserably failed to deliver effectively on this account. This sends highly demoralizing signals to the people across the country and, therefore, the Federal and the Provincial Governments should take foolproof measures to improve the situation. In the meanwhile, people expect of the authorities concerned to make the probe into Jamali murder meaningful by apprehending the perpetrators of the crime immediately and bringing them to justice.







SOME lawyers thrashed a police officer in Lahore recently and because of the highlighting of the incident by the media those involved in the incident had to pay a price. The manhandling of the SHO was not only condemned by all but the pressure so built forced representative bodies of lawyers to cancel licences of the lawyers who indulged in vandalism.

It is, however, unfortunate that no such step was taken to penalize those who beat journalists the subsequent day in Lahore. The Chief Justice of Lahore High Court deserves credit for taking suo motu notice of the incident but it is understood that would take sometime whereas there was an urgent need to pacify the situation. That the tension is increasing became visible on Thursday when lawyers once again adopted the same course – manhandled newsmen at Lahore High Court premises besides using abusive language and chanting slogans against the Chief Justice. The conduct of some lawyers attending the court proceedings in suo motu case was also highly objectionable as they frequently tried to obstruct the proceedings. As the tension is mounting, leadership of the journalistic community including President of the CPNE Arif Nizami, Editors and other prominent journalists have strongly condemned the incident. There were also country-wide protest demonstrations by journalists. There are reasons to believe that some elements are trying to damage the good reputation that the lawyers community earned by way of their historic contribution to the movement for restoration of deposed judges of the superior courts. The clash between journalists and lawyers was unfortunate as both of them fought hand in hand in the struggle for independence of the judiciary. Besides this, both segments of the society are striving for rule of law, transparency and good governance. Any misunderstanding between the two respected professions would have disastrous consequences and, therefore, we would urge their leadership to come forward and play active role in defusing the situation.







PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani took an appreciable move on Thursday by visiting Gojra to express solidarity with the Christian community that bore the brunt of recent violence. On this occasion, he announced a grant of Rs 100 million for the affected people and assured that both Federal and Provincial Governments would work jointly for their rehabilitation.

Of course, there can be no compensation for loss of life and the mental agony that the affected people had to undergo but the grant would go a long way in mitigating their sufferings. The move also sent right kind of signals to the minorities that the Government was equally concerned over their plight and treats them equal citizens of the country. It is true that some elements took the law into their own hands but the way they were condemned by each and every citizen is indicative of the true feelings of people for their fellow minority citizens. All political parties voiced strong concern over the incident and have expressed their resolve to isolate the extremist elements. Similarly, almost all those who matter in the Federal and Provincial Governments have visited Gojra to pacify members of the Christian community who are rightly lodging protests against the tragedy. The aid announced by the Prime Minister would no doubt help rehabilitate the affected people, some of whom lost their bread earners and others had their belongings burnt during the riots. We hope that the Provincial Government too would activate its machinery to expedite the rehabilitation process. However, it is more important to arrest the culprits and mete them exemplary punishment to avoid recurrence of such incidents in future.








The government has decided to give more power to the deputy commissioners (DCs) for improving the quality of administration at the grass-roots level through better co-ordination among the different agencies there. It is a good move but one only hopes it works. Things have not been particularly smooth and comfortable in this area for quite sometime now. Eversince the late '70s when the government decided to split the services into 29 cadres, they have been at odds. The conflict of authority has been most pronounced between the DCs and the superintendents of police (SPs). This has virtually paralysed the administration at the district level.

The government's intention is laudable but then motivating the other cadres may not be that easy although it is extremely desirable. All stakeholders must understand that some form of co-ordination is required and there has to be some kind of a pecking order, although if all are equally efficient then it could be at a minimum level - a boss-among-equals. But then do we have the culture that goes with such civilised behaviour?

Running of a modern society demands certain values, skills and organisation and hopefully the government, while incorporating the new rules of engagement, is aware of what is desired and what is possible. The current decision to incorporate all past directives into a single manual may or may not be a good one, depending on what it contains. If all past orders are in the same vein then there is no problem but if there are conflicting directives, it could create further reason for confusion. We certainly hope those in charge will crosscheck and if necessary, add new elements to make the operational manual an effective and unequivocal description of the delegation of power and responsibilities at the field level.








Boasting the unenviable record of the largest number and the highest rate of undernourished children in the world, South Asia should naturally feel an urgency to address the problem. So far government initiatives have been too little and too late, so there come forward a huge number of civil-society organisations from six countries of the region to make a difference in the nutritional status of children. Out of 1,000 aspirants, 60 selected organisations finally competed in Dhaka in an event styled 'Family and community approaches to improve infant and young child nutrition' for financial grants from the World Bank, the host, on Wednesday.

Of the 60 participants, 21 received awards to be used for translating their innovative ideas into practice. Although details of the approaches to make a difference in the poor child nutrition - which is worse than that of Sub-Saharan Africa where approximately 28 per cent children are underweight against 45 per cent in south Asia - are yet to be known, the focus directed on under two-year-old children and pregnant women is definitely on target. Countries of the region has otherwise made tremendous progress of late but if the child health is so neglected, it should be considered a disgrace.

So this regional off-track initiative to improve health of pregnant mothers and children is most welcome. Some of the approaches believed to have taken into consideration the special needs of certain localities are sure to have a positive impact on communities as well as the nations of South Asia in general. Sharing experiences and best practices in this regard is the key to addressing the problem on a regional basis. Yet the private initiatives are not going to be enough for the purpose, it is the governments, which will have to replicate the most effective model to bring about a change in the nutritional status of mothers and children.









"…US finds few eager to get a green card…" Times of India, Aug 7th On one of my first visits to the US, many moons ago I decided to take a bus to Buffalo and then go across to the Niagara Falls. "Always carry your passport with you," warned my dad, "they are very strict!" Sure enough at the Greyhound terminus I was accosted by two cops: "Where are you from?" I answered, "India!" Cop, "What are you doing here?"


I replied, "Going back after seeing the Niagara!" Cop again, "Going back where?" I, "New York!"

"Aha! So you are from India and you live in New York? Show us your papers?"


I said, "Sure!" handing over my passport and watching them check my visa. "Okay," they said, as they gave back my passport, "Have a good holiday!" Thing have changed and the country that was made to welcome immigrants and which instead started throwing them out, now finds that not too many people are that keen on taking a Green Card. I tried to imagine what the scene would be if I ventured again to visit the Niagara and met the same cops. "Where are you from?" I replied, "India!" Cop, "Why would you want to come over here? Have you come to bring us aid? There's a recession going on, many of us are on the streets!" I said, "Yes I know!" Cops, "Did you see the Niagara properly?" I nodded, "Yes I did!" Cops, "Did you buy the paper hats that were being sold for tourists?" When I said "No!", they insisted, "Please buy one, take one more, this goes towards helping the people of the USA!"

"Okay I'll take one!" Cops, "And what about a flag to keep on your table in India? It's only a dollar but it would help…" I completed for him, "The American people! But I prefer the Indian flag!" Cops pleading, "Please!"
"Okay I'll take one!" Cops yet again, "Sir!" I ask, "Yes?"

"Why don't you take a Green Card and stay here?"

"What? And starve and beg like you?"



"Is it difficult getting a Green Card for India?"

"Very difficult!" I say proudly, "Very, very difficult, and be careful, you may get caught near the Taj Mahal for walking around without a visa!" Like I said, times have changed from that day many moons ago…!




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




President Lee Myung-bak returned to work from his summer vacation Thursday. Now, the first thing he should do is to change his Cabinet and presidential staff lineup. Therefore, people are paying keen attention to how Lee will conduct a reshuffle aimed at improving his management of state affairs and regaining public confidence in his administration.

Expectations are growing over a reshuffle that may come as early as mid-August. Lee is to present new policy directions on major issues, including strained inter-Korean relations and ways of speeding up economic recovery, in his speech to mark the Aug. 15 National Liberation Day.

The busy political timetable calls for the reshuffle to happen by the end of this month. A plenary session of the National Assembly is to begin early next month. And parliamentary by-elections are scheduled for October. Thus, it is high time for Lee to change the lineup of ministers and aides. It seems that Lee can no longer delay the reshuffle in a bid to tighten his grip on power and better exercise his leadership.

Lee has often turned down demands for a Cabinet reshuffle both from governing and opposition parties, saying that he would not conduct a reshuffle only to turn the tables in a political stalemate. It is true that only replacing some ministers cannot solve all the problems Lee and his administration face. As he noted several times, such a reshuffle can be only seen as a sugarcoated ploy frequently used by autocratic rulers in the 1970s-80s.

It would be better for Lee not to employ such a ploy. Instead, he should conduct a large-scale Cabinet reshuffle to chart a new course of action to better lead the nation. For this, the President is required to pick competent and faithful figures as ministers who are able to work toward social integration and national harmony.

It is urgent for Lee to heal the wounds from political polarization, partisan struggles, ever-intensifying conflicts between conservatives and progressives, a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Lee suffered a political setback from his mishandling of the U.S. beef import issue last summer, which prompted candlelight rallies against the government.

He has also been blamed for his hard-line North Korea policy that led to Pyongyang's suspension of all inter-Korean talks. The North's nuclear test and launch of long-range missiles early this year have aggravated South-North relations. The Lee administration is under criticism for doing little to secure the release of a South Korean worker who was detained by the North Korean authorities at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.

In this situation, a much-sought change of the Cabinet lineup is likely to serve as a turning point for Lee and his administration. But Lee should refrain from selecting his henchmen as ministers. He also needs to be more careful in accepting demands from the governing Grand National Party (GNP) that three or four lawmakers of the party be named ministers. The possible appointment of lawmakers and politicians might deepen a partisan struggle and a factional strife in the party and the administration.

How about forming a coalition Cabinet by appointing opposition figures? It could be one of the ways to end political confrontations with the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) and other splinter parties. We hope President Lee will soon have a new Cabinet, which can better communicate with people, promote social cohesion and national reconciliation, and help the country get out the economic crisis.







Health insurance is adding fuel to people's worries that they will have to shoulder heavier financial burdens due to rising consumer prices amid the ongoing global economic crisis. The National Health Insurance Corp. is seeking to increase insurance premiums by 6.4 percent next year in a bid to meet its growing coverage for medical services and stabilize its financial structure.

The authorities have continued to raise premiums over the past decade, except for this year. That is, the state-run corporation has adopted the easiest way to make up for its deficit by forcing subscribers to shoulder the burden. It said charging higher premiums is inevitable because the insurance scheme is forecast to suffer a deficit of between 1 trillion won and 2 trillion won. It ascribed the projected shortfall to declining revenues amid the economic crisis and expanded coverage for health care services.

But an increasing number of people are complaining about the hike plan, asking: why we should pay more for health insurance when our incomes are falling due to wage cuts and layoffs in the wake of the worldwide crisis? They demand that the government and the insurance system reduce the deficit not by imposing higher premiums, but by cutting costs and pushing restructuring.

Public backlash is also growing as the insurance operator has continued to increase the patients' share of payments for medical treatment in addition to premium hikes. The operator has also kept raising doctor fees, yielding to pressure from medical professionals who are engrossed with pocketing more income at the expense of subscribers.

It is urgent for the authorities to find a fundamental solution to the financial problem of health insurance. First, the insurance corporation should downsize and restructure its bloated organization. Second, it also needs to press ahead with managerial reform to improve its efficiency and cut costs. Third, the government and the corporation must step up their efforts to crack down on hospitals and clinics that manipulate medical documents to illegally get insurance payments.

It is also important to minimize increases in doctor fees and drug prices. In particular, it is imperative that the nation map out health care reform to cope with the growing number of senior citizens, whose soaring insurance coverage for medical services are increasingly aggravating the financial health of the insurance system. Let's find ways to ease subscribers' burdens while providing better health care to the public.







One of the hobbies I share with my older daughter is gardening. Last month during my visit to her home in Washington DC, we spent two delightful days creating a small garden around a tiny fountain in her back yard.

It was a bright, sunny day, so we started out in good spirits. However, it was not an easy task digging out the hard-packed clay to prepare the garden for planting. I would say we spent the better half of two days doing the most back-breaking parts of the task: shoveling, digging, pulling, coaxing and removing the stubborn roots from some overgrown wisteria, and filling bucket after bucket full of soil to dump over the edge of the hill that borders the property. At the end of our planting, we were both drenched in sweat and covered with insect repellent, but were flooded with the huge satisfaction of a job well done. And of course, we enhanced our mother-daughter bond as a bonus.

The toiling led me to think about the pruning required for healthy tree and plant growth. Before embarking on our two-day project, I noticed a wisteria tree trying to take over the top of a garage wall, and so I did some pruning. As I was cutting away the overgrowth, Jeannie was most concerned. As a beginner gardener, she was, naturally, not too sure about pruning.

It somehow seems against nature to cut and destroy growth of any kind. It is hard to believe that we are actually doing good for the trees and plants by pruning them. It may be difficult to accept but the fact is that pruning will bring about bigger, healthier and more vigorous growth.

This same principle of pruning also applies to our lives, from mundane housekeeping to the profundity of our spiritual lives.

I am a packrat. It is hard for me to throw anything away without first thinking that I may need it for something or for someone. Even though I was only three when the Korean War broke out, I must have absorbed the mentality of always being prepared for dire situations of extreme want. As a result, I can never be a ruthless cleaner, and I suffer the consequence of living with crowded closets, bulging shelves, and over-stuffed storage space.

I also have an acute dislike of housework. I consider almost everything pertaining to housework as a waste of time. Organizing closets, drawers, shelves and paperwork do not give me any sense of satisfaction. So I get by with minimum of work around the house. The result is maddening. A ruthless pruning has to happen!

I have a friend who exercises ruthless pruning on the photos she takes. Every year she and her husband enjoy taking pictures of the people and places they visit, but at the end of each year they sit together to select most representative of the year, maybe 20 to 30 pictures, and delete (in the case of digital images) and throw the rest of the pictures away.

Wow, I call that discipline. This same couple also has a gift for avoiding clutter. Their apartment is furnished simply and artistically with no distracting items crowding, so it is peaceful and calming to sit in their living room. It is a great sanctuary from the noise and clutter of the streets one has just left behind. I envy this ability and yet I just don't have what it takes to achieve that kind of simplicity and minimalism. I need a lot of help.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) put it well: ``As the gardener, by severe pruning, forces the sap of the tree into one or two vigorous limbs, so should you stop off your miscellaneous activity and concentrate your force on one of a few points."

I found that kind of concentration in a book I've just finished, ``Halfway to Heaven" by Mark Obmascik. The author describes his quest to climb all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot mountains (the 'fourteeners'). When I closed the book after two days of non-stop reading, I was greatly impressed by the 'singleness of mind' involved in summiting all the peaks. His focus was on the target, the goal, of completing that dream.

There was no room for distraction or frivolous activities that may have sapped the energy and focus from the climbers. Ruthless pruning was involved in packing also. Most careful scrutiny was practiced and only those items absolutely necessary could be packed. One climber was horrified to find a dime in his pocket during his ascent: concerned that it must have been slowing him down, he tossed it away in shock.

While this may make us roll our eyes in disbelief, it provides us a good example of what it means to be ruthless in eliminating from our lives the things that sap our energy, distract us from focusing on our goals, and blind us from seeing the big picture.

What activities are we crowding our lives with? Too much TV? Too much socializing? Too much anger, resentment, complaining and bearing grudges? Too much keeping up with the Joneses? Too much talk with no action?

A government with too many projects without a clear picture of where the nation should be in 5 years, in 10 years and beyond? What does it need to prune? What is hindering its healthy growth? Too much negativism?

A national leader with no clear vision to lead people to where the country needs to be? His mind too overcrowded with trivial issues for him to see the real needs of the nation?

As someone said, ``It is better to be pruned to grow than cut up to burn…A person's character and their garden both reflect the amount of weeding that was done during the growing season."

We'd better get going on with the task of pruning and weeding.

Hyon O'Brien, a former reference librarian in the United States, has returned to Korea after 32 years of living abroad. She can be reached at








The media has its way of reducing very large and very complicated issues down to second-long sound bytes and brief images.

With 80 channels and lightning quick Internet our attention spans are short and fleeting. Meaningful political discussion is more difficult to find these days as it hides in newspaper editorials, academia, and the backrooms of capitals the world over.

The normal challenge for politicians is how do they condense a complicated policy issue into a package suitable for modern media. President Obama has been a master at selling his big ideas in simple ways. One word, ``Hope,'' came to symbolize a whole range of complicated feelings and policy initiatives during the 2008 election campaign. But that sort of thing is expected during a modern campaign. If you can't brand your ideas properly, they won't be successful in today's fast paced environment. But the catch is that after the campaign is over, normally it's a return to business as usual.

But this is not what's happening in South Korea. The election campaign seems to have never ended. Political branding goes on as if election day never occurred. No longer do we have politics and the business of government; now we only have elections and election campaigns. The importance of media has now gone way beyond just defining how politicians are elected. Now it is influencing the very way in which government is run.

From day one the goal of the political parties has been to re-brand each other, particularly the president, the way they see fit. Very few people ever quote anything President Lee Myung-bak wants to do and has done. Rather the president has become a brand. He has his very own acronym, LMB or 2MB. The president is no longer a person, he is a logo. 2MB with a picture of the president is all we know of him now. He has no voice, no policy, and no humanity. When we hear his name we are meant to conjure up a set of ideas and feelings: liar, murderer, dictator, Yongsan, Roh Moo-hyun.

Roh Moo-hyun has also been turned into his own brand. Now that he is dead it has been easier to remove the actual person from the idea of the person. Two years ago Roh was one of the most despised people in South Korea. Now he's almost a God. It's a miracle of marketing, but a simple one. His death invoked sorrow, a natural human emotion, and was then manipulated to re-brand the former president as a victim, a hero, and ultimately, the symbol of the left.

The actual content of laws being passed and the true intentions of politicians doesn't seem to matter. All politics in this country has become a war of brands. In one corner we have the devil, 2MB, and in the other we have Roh Moo-hyun. He may be dead, but since he is no longer a person, but a brand, he cannot die and lives on as the hero. The deception in all of this is that the enemy and the savior are both the creation of the same hand. The left has defined who is the hero and who is the villain.

It is fitting the media ownership law has been one of the most controversial issues. Since the left is fighting a war of brands, control of the media is paramount to their success. They have no policy anymore, nor are they interested in governing. The media war is the only thing they have left that gives them substance. Much like common brands, such as Nike, Gucci, and Coca-Cola, are nothing more than a name, so are the DP now nothing more than a brand. But they are a brand that's winning.

The great tragedy in all of this is that if the DP wins in the next election, then their tactics of endless campaigning and relentless branding will be rewarding and copied in kind. Governing will cease and this country's democracy with it. South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world, a fact it is very proud of. However, if South Korea's addiction to fast media leads to an end of real government, it'll be the country's downfall as well.

The writer has worked in Korea for three years at EWAS Uijeongbu and LCI Kid's Club Gangdong. He is now living in Seoul. He can be reached at









Why did the idea that properly regulated markets were better at allocating resources and generating growth than central planners gain traction, a view that Kevin Rudd somewhat disingenuously refers to as neo-liberalism. Some of the answers can be found in Auditor-General Ian McPhee's report into the OzCar affair.


Governments were correct to implement advice from the International Monetary Fund and central banks to act to blunt the fallout of the global financial crisis, which was caused in part by market failure in the poorly regulated derivatives sector. But it was also a failure of government, particularly in the US where administrations on both sides of the political fence had encouraged home lenders to extend sub-prime mortgages.


As world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, reset the policy compass and return to market forces to drive the recovery, it would be troubling if the Australian government became trapped in an interventionist mindset. The OzCar report shows what can go wrong when public service agencies are encouraged to stray into uncharted territory better left to markets -- even when they fail. The Auditor-General criticised delivery of the $2 billion OzCar scheme, run by none other than Godwin Grech, a public servant with questionable judgment, a political agenda and little expertise. Standard tendering processes were ignored in favour of directly hiring consultants, providing little assurance that taxpayers were receiving value for money.


The lessons must be learned as the government delivers its school building program in which $14.7bn will be given to 9500 schools via multiple layers of federal and state bureaucracies, with an imperative to spend quickly. It doesn't take Nostradamus to predict bureaucratic chaos, which was why The Australian began investigating the scheme and why the Auditor-General's review is timely. The downsides of interventionism are also evident in the $1.3bn green car fund. Its latest largesse saw $42 million handed to Ford for an imported four-cylinder engine for its Falcon and a superseded imported diesel engine for the SUV Territory.


Invariably, when governments hand out money, Adam Smith's invisible hand gives them a cuff across the back of the head. Markets become distorted as governments ease the pain in one area and problems arise in another. Just ask the 250,000 investors who cannot access investments held in mortgage funds because of the perverse effect of the government's bank deposit guarantees.


Even in the most circumspect government, interventionism can invite patronage, which over time erodes the integrity of political systems, encouraging queues of rent-seekers at ministers' doors seeking leases, rezonings, handouts and concessions. Lobbyists step in, promising access for a fee. Or, for a generous donation to party funds, the rent-seekers can buy dinner with a minister. Make no mistake, the corruption and conflicts of interests that have emerged in various states are not the sole preserve of a few bad apples, but the inevitable consequence of a culture of government intervention pursued by both sides of politics.


Paradoxically, in its passionate commitment to emissions trading, the Rudd government has disregarded its apparent qualms about markets. An emissions trading scheme, unlike a carbon tax, is a market-based approach to cutting carbon emissions. It is an acknowledgement of sorts that the invisible hand beats the visible fist.









Devotion is a strong word, and some Australians might baulk at signing up to such an overt embrace of nation. But in a week when an alleged terror plot gripped the country, it is worth reminding ourselves of the importance of shared values and commitment to the national project. The event shows us that terrorism is not a figment of the Right's imagination but a real threat to our security -- here, at home.


Patriotism has taken a knock in recent years as the Left rejected the war on terror and involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as ideological flexing from the Right. In Australia, many on the progressive side of politics conveniently forgot that Labor leaders such as Bob Hawke, and before him Gough Whitlam and John Curtin, articulated a true Australian nationalism. Traditionally, it has been Labor that has believed in economic borders, resisted migration when it has appeared to threaten jobs and, in the dark old days of the White Australia policy, favoured a monocultural approach to life.


For some Australians, the suspicion of nationalism is deeply rooted in post-war rejection of British imperialism and anti-Vietnam War movements. The so-called culture wars of the Howard era sealed the case for this group. Multiculturalism -- a high-minded concept -- has also worked against national cohesion, celebrating differences and at times leading to cultural relativism.


Tim Soutphommasane argued this week in this paper's The Australian Literary Review that it was time for the Left to get back in the game. In his extract from a forthcoming book, Soutphommasane -- a 26-year-old Chinese/Laotian-Australian -- said that otherwise the Left risked being left out of key policy issues. His is an interesting intervention, given a government that appears keen to push talk of national identity off the front page. The Left may argue that the divisive years of the so-called "culture wars" are best left behind us, along with Pauline Hanson and Tampa. But such a head-in-the-sand approach undermines an inclusive patriotism that is essential in a modern democracy. And it is an approach dismissed by Australians of all political colours as they celebrate Anzac Day and Australia Day, wave the flag with alacrity and exhibit an unabashed pride in their country. In doing so, they continue a long tradition of national self-belief, unconcerned by the diffidence of the Left.


Yet in a constantly fragmented world, a nation needs its story to be told and retold: there is no longer an automatic common culture. Australians are proud of their nation but as Monash University academic and author Waleed Aly wrote recently in The Monthly, perhaps we need to take a look at the way Americans manage the show. The Left may sneer, but Aly argues that the US "with an exceptionally clear sense of itself" enables "widespread national loyalty and astonishing diversity to co-exist." In short, we need a buy-in to a common culture from all Australian citizens, a buy-in that supersedes ethnic and language differences and celebrates our core goals and beliefs. As Christopher Pearson argues on these pages today, patriotism also means a willingness to go to war.


Ultimately, the extent to which Australians exhibit devotion to country -- outside of wartime -- is a private matter. No citizen can be forced to observe Anzac Day, for example, but patriotism is non-negotiable, a central responsibility that must not be conflated with racism or jingoism.


It's worth protecting -- and worth debating.








There was no deal about precisely what time The Australian's exclusive coverage of Tuesday's counter-terror raids would appear. Attorney-General Robert McClelland and the Australian Federal Police have acknowledged the paper's goodwill in holding back publication as we honoured our commitment, which was to keep the story out of early editions. It was not in the first three editions.


The Age has been eager to propagate Mr Overland's spurious fixation about whether the papers were available at 1.30am. If they had been, The Age or the ABC would surely have picked up the story and Mr Overland would have contacted The Australian. Victoria Police were well aware of the agreement the AFP struck with The Australian after learning that associate editor Cameron Stewart had the story a week earlier. No concerns were raised. Mr Overland's real gripe, as he let slip, was not that The Australian endangered his officers, but that Stewart had paid too little attention to his force's role and had concentrated on lead investigators, the AFP. It's a pity the Victoria Police's role in an outstanding operation has been clouded by inter-agency rivalry and a baseless complaint against the paper.


The Age and the ABC should be careful about encouraging authorities to further restrict the public's right to know. Their squeals at being scooped contrast with the muted response when Fairfax's Middle East correspondent, Jason Koutsoukis, breached an embargo about Julia Gillard's visit to Iraq and was accused by the government of endangering her life.











FERVID speculation has taken hold that the NSW Labor Party, in another attempt to instil some adrenaline into the State Government's image and performance, is considering plans to parachute the Minister for Health, John Della Bosca, into a safe lower house seat so he can run for the leadership and become premier.


The machinations reportedly being contemplated to enable Della Bosca's transition from upper house to lower house sound surreal. So surreal, in fact, that there may be no seat anywhere in the state safe enough if the party attempts to move him into the Legislative Assembly at a byelection for an electorate with which he has no local connection, and while memories are still fresh of last year's Iguanas Bar and Brasserie debacle.


Labor's most straightforward course would be to keep the present leader and lift the party's performance. Given the calibre of the state parliamentary party, however, lifting performance is easier said than done. It also appears the party was unfair to its current leader, Nathan Rees, who was tipped into the leadership before he was ready, with only limited parliamentary and executive experience. The deficiency has been shown time after time during his premiership. His tendency to make well-intended decisions but on insufficient advice has led him into trouble several times. The CBD metro decision was one. His sweeping reorganisation of the public service was another. Anxious to avoid the reputation of his predecessor, Morris Iemma, for dithering, he has acquired an equally damaging reputation for rashness.

Rees may make an excellent premier one day, but that day is not at hand. The same conclusion appears to have been reached by senior ALP figures as they sift through dire opinion polls and think about the Government's survival.


Hence the present machinations aimed at installing a new leader with time to refurbish the Government well before the state election due in March 2011. If another leadership coup were to happen it would mean three leaders in the four years since the political retirement of the long-serving premier Bob Carr in 2005. Not a good sign.


Looking at the possible replacement premiers within the parliamentary ranks, three people stand out: the seasoned factional leader Della Bosca; the thrusting former minister Frank Sartor; the Deputy Premier, Carmel Tebbutt, who is the more logical choice, and would become the first woman premier of NSW. Apparently she does not want the job and Sartor does not enjoy sufficient support within the factions and head office.


That leaves Della Bosca, who has even slimmed down for the role. The only seamless shuffle would be for him to shift to the seat of Gosford, where he lives. But it is regarded as too marginal and, besides, the local member, Labor's Marie Andrews, is not interested in stepping down.


She is not the only woman blocking his path. The other is his wife, Belinda Neal, the federal member for Robertson on the Central Coast. Ms Neal is so weighed down by political baggage from last year's Iguanas debacle and the fatal phrase ''Don't you know who I am?'' - as well as other anger-management difficulties over the years - that she is regarded as unlikely to retain preselection for the next federal election. This, along with his own role in the Iguanas matter is the electoral baggage that Della Bosca carries on the Central Coast. That Labor powerbrokers want him to take over as premier, but lack faith in his ability to win his local seat, says volumes about the way ALP headquarters thinks about NSW voters.

With Gosford out of contention, machine eyes have towards Bankstown, where the local member and former minister, Tony Stewart, is at war with his own state leader, and Riverstone, where the Labor member, John Aquilina, has said he will not contest the 2011 election. Both are Labor heartland, although it is hard to believe either electorate is so accepting of ALP machinations it would tolerate both a needless byelection and an outsider imposed by Sussex Street. The party has placed its own interests above those of the public for so long that there is no reason for voters, however loyal in the past, to feel much loyalty in future.


Della Bosca may well be his party's best premiership candidate, but he may also be too late: for Labor in 2009 every lower house seat presents a risk.







LET us be clear: the Herald supports teeth. We have no objections, either, to dentistry. However certain dental trends have emerged in public life which we find frankly alarming. Barry Humphries, readers will recall, asked in 2007 whether Australia wanted a prime minister who looks like a dentist. It was an apt question then, and even more so now, when the Prime Minister's true identity is emerging. Consider this: Kevin Rudd may actually be a dentist. Friday's Herald carried alarming pictures from the Pacific Islands Forum. Front and centre was our own Prime Minister, lips drawn back to parade his own faultless dentition. Around him were 14 national leaders dressed at his command in the telltale pale blue shirts of dental nurses. Does the United Nations know about this insidious recolonisation? Denticare, clearly, was only a first step in the Prime Minister's secret dental agenda intended to reduce other nations to vassalage, while he, el dentissimo, lords it over them - and us. Today, mandatory daily flossing; tomorrow, the world.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




There is one area of retail that has resisted recession more buoyantly than the rest. No prizes for guessing which: supermarkets like Sainsbury and Tesco continue to return handsome profits. Partly this reflects sheer fleetness of foot: they discovered thrift almost before the lifestyle industry that had once grown fat – metaphorically speaking – on conspicuous consumption. They have secured customer loyalty by boosting the range of their "own brands", reported on Wednesday to have trebled. Bad news for premium labels and organic foods. More profit for the supermarkets. But on the same day, the Competition Commission announced that it is to ask the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to impose an independent ombudsman as a court of final appeal for aggrieved suppliers, overriding the opposition of the mega-grocers. They insist they are offering their customers sharp deals but the commission is concerned that they do it at the suppliers' expense – by transferring on to them "excessive risks and unexpected costs". Affordable food is good, but the price on the supermarket shelf is only part of the story.


It is in the kitchen that thrift sits most comfortably with recession culture. "Turn a pumpkin into a feast" is up there with "knit your own royal family" for headlines that reflect the zeitgeist. This is the mood behind programmes like Economy Gastronomy that aim to show people how to shop as well as cook and eat economically. But recession culture has no room for suppliers. Out in the muddy world of dairying, the summer has been dominated by the collapse of Dairy Farmers of Great Britain. Founded in 2002, it was a new model farmers' cooperative that was supposed to be the answer to the problem of many small producers selling to only a few big retailers. It raised millions of pounds from its members, and invested heavily in new equipment. In June it went into liquidation, stranding nearly 2,000 farmers, and as many employees, in dairies across the country.


Next week the government publishes its 2030 food strategy paper. It puts imported food at the heart of its food security strategy. UK farmers complain that means importing produce that would not meet British production standards. It also suggests that ministers are ready to go on importing milk products rather than giving dairy farmers the transparent and predictable pricing that would shore up the industry and allow it to invest. Dairying, locked into world prices by the commodification of milk in its powdered form, is a classic example of a market that does not work. At the end of last summer Britain was importing a million litres a day. Nothing has changed, except that dairying is a year nearer collapse.







If you blinked, or if you were doing anything useful, you may have missed yesterday's sudoku second – the fleeting lunchtime moment represented digitally as 12:34:56, 7/8/9. Dedicated facebook groups were set up for this supposedly once-in-a-century phenomenon, although the cyber-celebrating soon grew confused. Some older geeks reminisced about the clock striking the same second a few days' after Saddam had invaded Kuwait, on 7/8/90; youngsters, meanwhile, hoped to be around for a rerun in just under 80 years' time, on 6/7/89. Americans, of course, write the date the wrong way round (think 9/11), so they enjoyed a taste of well-ordered time as recently as 8 July of this year. For European punters particularly fixated on zeros, yesterday's true moment to cherish did not come at lunch but much earlier – at 04:05:06, 07/08/09. The clock can look as if it has learnt to count at different points because the digital carving of time is arbitrary – a switch to the Julian or Chinese calendar, would move the magic moment again. So you might shrug your shoulders and decide not to care, but it is as human to seek out order where there is none as it is to try and make sense of the baffling flight of time's arrow. From the decision to declare Indian independence at midnight to the millennium celebrations, the work of civilisation has always been conducted with half an eye on the clock. So why not enjoy the serendipitous pleasure a digital clock can provide each day at 34 minutes past noon?







President Amin's threat to call on the British to take responsibility for all Asians in Uganda holding British passports was roundly condemned on both sides of the Commons yesterday.


Racialism, they called it, adding various scornful adjectives from "blatant" (Sir David Renton) to "obscene" (Mr Frank Judd).


At the same time, there were ardent Tory cries of "No, No !" when Mr Clinton Davis, the Labour Member for Central Hackney, suggested that we should bring a quicker flow of these Asians to this country by increasing our admission quota.


He warned the Foreign Secretary that if he listened to some of his backbenchers Sir Alec might find himself with the sort of responsibility laggard Western statesmen had before the war, when they failed to save the threatened Jews.


This analogy did not go down at all well with the Conservatives, who were only thinking about the Uganda Asians' best interests, British passports or no British passports, they just wouldn't be happy here if they came in greater numbers.


As Sir David Renton pointed out, most of them have been settled in East Africa for generations, and it would be hard to find homes, jobs, and schooling for them here. And so concerned was Mr Ronald Bell for their well-being that he was against the present intake being increased by a single one.


While accepting our special obligations, Sir Alec was convinced that a quota arrangement was the only humane way of handling the problem, and he thought we had been generous towards these "unfortunate people," as he sensitively called them.


Obviously, he was worried in case panic should make them try and flood here in a sudden tide, before he can start putting on the diplomatic screws.


The British High Commissioner in Uganda is seeing President Amin tomorrow. That Sir Alec is prepared to be tough with the president was pretty evident from an answer he gave Sir Derek Walker-Smith, who suggested that far from "sabotaging the economy of the country," as the president had suggested, these Asians were probably helping it most usefully.


If the president goes ahead with his threat, Sir Alec told Sir Derek, we shall have to "review the whole of our economic arrangements with Uganda."


The Home Office was "still considering" yesterday what to do with the 15 Asians from Kenya and Uganda who are detained at the Risley remand centre near Warrington.








An advisory body on security and defense submitted a report to Prime Minister Taro Aso on Aug. 4, calling for a review of Japan's defense-only posture, the traditional stance on the right to collective self-defense, and the weapons export ban. If proposals in the report are implemented, they would undermine the foundation of Japan's defense policy.


The report's ultimate goal seems to be the removal of constitutional restraints on the Self-Defense Forces' activities. The government plans to incorporate the proposals in the fiscal 2010-2014 National Defense Program Outline. Given the historical and current context surrounding Japan, following the report's proposals would be unwise.


The report says that the 1957 basic national defense policy can no longer serve as a concrete guideline for defense planning. It also says that since the defense-only posture can be interpreted "too widely," its meaning should be redefined.


Given its call for a permanent law for dispatching SDF units on overseas missions, a review of the weapons export ban, a consideration of capabilities needed to strike military bases in enemy territory, and a change in the traditional government stance that Japan, constitutionally, cannot exercise the right to collective self-defense, the report ultimately appears aimed at weakening the principle of the defense-only posture.


It says the government's stance on the right to collective self-defense should be modified so that Japan can intercept missiles heading for the United States and protect U.S. ships watching for missile launches. This is an attempt to undermine the long-standing policy by citing a very unlikely scenario.


The 1957 basic policy calls for gradually improving self-defense capabilities within necessary limits in accordance with Japan's resources and socio-political situation and coping with an invasion on the basis of the Japan-U.S. security treaty.


The 1957 policy is still good. The defense-only posture epitomizes the spirit of the war-renouncing Constitution. It should not be forgotten that a defense policy with strict self-restraint has helped Japan build its present position in the international community.







In preparation for the lay judge system, which recently started, public prosecutors and police began partially videotaping the interrogation of suspects on a trial basis in August 2006 and in September 2008. The videotaped scenes are of investigators reading the record of a suspect's oral statement to the suspect, who then signs it. The videotaping serves as evidence.


But the experience of Mr. Toshikazu Sugaya, who was released in June on the strength of a new DNA test indicating his innocence — after he had served 17 years of a life sentence for the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture — appears to reinforce the case for videotaping all of the interrogation process.


Mr. Sugaya said he got scared during his interrogation after police officers shouted in his face, pulled his hair and kicked him. The interrogation lasted 13 hours. Confronted with the result of an original DNA test in the crime, he confessed to it.


Although they officially apologized to Mr. Sugaya, police and public prosecutors remain reluctant to videotape the whole interrogation process. The reason for this opposition, investigators say, is that they must first build a relationship of trust with a suspect by asking about his family situation and background, and by showing understanding and sympathy toward him or her, before delving into the crime in question.


Investigators say that if a suspect knows that his or her privacy will be made public in court through videotaping, he or she will not open his heart to investigators, thus hampering the investigation. They also worry about acts of revenge being taken against a suspect who is considered a "gangster" once other gangsters learn that the suspect's disclosure of information on accomplices or the ring leader in a crime has been videotaped and fear being implicated themselves.


Obviously, some arrangements may become necessary to protect privacy and prevent acts of retaliation. But Mr. Sugaya's case clearly undermines the reason for opposing complete videotaping. The scope of the discussion on the matter could widen to touch on such issues as the introduction of a plea bargaining and wider use of a sting operation.










Thousands of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom and several other nations are struggling on in Afghanistan, with the Americans and British in particular suffering heavy casualties. But why are they there, and what are they trying to achieve?


Former U.S. President George W. Bush had no doubts on the matter. America (with its allies, or alone if necessary) was going into Afghanistan, he proclaimed, to hunt down Osama bin Laden and destroy al-Qaida.


But that was six years ago; since then the situation has become much more vague and confused — quite aside from the fact that bin Laden has never been found, if indeed he is still alive.


From hunting down terrorists the "mission" seems to have widened into all kinds of blurred objectives. One is to somehow defeat the local extremists, the Taliban, who threaten constantly to overrun large areas of the country and retake the control they once had.


Another is to support the installed government of President Hamid Karzai, despite the fact that this government is far from happy with the presence of foreign troops. A third is to halt the opium trade, despite the fact that the Karzai government is hand in glove with the narcotics barons who control it. So far this has proved a spectacular failure, with poppy growing for opium more widespread than ever.


A fourth objective is to protect human rights from the dismal standards of the Taliban, who treat women like slaves or worse and seem found of executing people with minimal legal niceties. And a fifth is to rebuild the whole state in the democratic mold with decent facilities, education and health provision.


The idea that any or all of these objectives can be attained by battling with the Taliban day after day, and night after night, is proving as elusive today as it did for the British in the 19th century or the Russians in the last. The Afghan people do not want foreign troops on their soil and will never rest or be "defeated" until the foreigners have been ejected, or give up and go away.


It is this hopeless muddle of aims that has led an important committee of the House of Commons at Westminster to deplore the lack of unified vision and strategy and call for a refocusing of priorities.


In fact the committee is saying nothing new because it has been obvious for a long while now to anybody familiar with the situation on the ground that the problems of Afghanistan cannot be solved by military means and that the lives of brave soldiers are being wasted by a policy aimed in completely the wrong direction. Perceptive personnel on the spot have long been saying that the real problem is the Karzai government itself. Little will ever be achieved if the government in Kabul is quietly undermining the efforts of the very forces that are supposed to be there to support it.


Some in the U.K. have argued that British military forces would suffer fewer casualties if they had better equipment, and particularly if they had more helicopters, thus avoiding perilous foot patrols along roads that have been heavily mined. But the real issue goes much deeper.


For one thing, it is doubtful whether many of the al-Qaida operatives are still in Afghanistan to be rooted out. It is more likely that they have long since moved their cells and training camps across the 1,600 km-long border into Pakistan, and into the unending valleys and mountain areas stretching from the Pamirs to Waziristan, which are beyond any central control and have proved the graveyard of countless expeditionary forces down the years.


Other al-Qaida units may well have moved further away to Somalia in the Horn of Africa, where new young terrorists can be trained up and the infiltrated with apparent ease into Western Europe, and especially the U.K., to plan new outrages and killings on the streets.


By that reckoning the U.S. and British forces are fighting the wrong war in the wrong country. But behind that lies an even deeper question. Should Western nations be intervening with military means in order to change governments and impose their values and democratic templates? And if so, how should they do that?


Global policing is obviously necessary to avoid world anarchy and instability. But it is surely high time that policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic, as well in all responsible nations including Japan and the rising Asian powers, conducted a robust re-examination of the doctrines of liberal interventionism and preemptive action that have led the Western powers into such quagmires of difficulty, both in Afghanistan and elsewhere.


It should now be clear that "the West" can no longer act alone, can no longer throw troops and conventional armaments into complex and remote societies and cultures, where the concept of democracy means something quite different, and can no longer impose new government structures against local opposition.


Advanced nations certainly have legitimate aims in wishing to protect themselves against terrorist extremism, destabilizing civil wars, massive humn rights abuse on a genocidal scale and potential nuclear anarchy through proliferation.


These are the four new horsemen of the Apocalypse, the threats to every organized society. The strategic policymakers of the richer countries of the world need to learn to handle them with a good deal more skill and subtlety than they have shown over the past decade if their freedoms are to be preserved, their peoples defended and guarded, and their armies deployed to good effect, with clear aims, rather than being asked to achieve the impossible.


David Howell is a former British Cabinet minister and former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. He is now a member of the House of Lords.








Korea and India signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in Seoul yesterday, heralding greater economic exchanges between the two countries. The free trade agreement is expected to take effect next January after the Korean parliament ratifies the deal in October. In India, the cabinet approved the signing of CEPA last month.


The trade deal, which comes after more than three years of negotiations, commits the two countries to lowering or eliminating import tariffs on a wide range of goods over the next 10 years and expand opportunities for investments and exchanging services. Korea is to phase out or reduce tariffs on 90 percent of Indian goods over the next decade while India will phase out or cut tariffs on 85 percent of Korean goods.


The CEPA is expected to boost bilateral trade by as much as $3.3 billion annually. The two-way trade between Korea and India reached $15.56 billion last year, a 35 percent increase over the previous year, with Korea recording a surplus of $2.39 billion.


Compared to the other free trade agreements Korea has concluded, the rate at which tariff reductions and eliminations are to take place under the CEPA is rather slow. Tariffs on Korean auto parts, the biggest export item to India, are to be reduced to 1 percent over an eight-year period from the current average of 12.5 percent, for example.


However, India is a country with great potential. It has a population of more than 1.15 billion people and its economy is growing at an annual average of about 8 percent. It is also the world's fourth largest market after the United States, China and Japan in terms of GDP purchasing power parity. Given such potential for growth, the benefits of CEPA for Korea should be seen from a long-term perspective.


A notable feature of the Korea-India CEPA is that goods made at the Gaeseong industrial complex, an inter-Korean economic joint venture in North Korea, will be regarded as being made in South Korea. This is South Korea's first bilateral free trade agreement to do so, and sets a precedent for future free trade agreements.


Another first in the Korea-India CEPA is the allowance of temporary migration of professional workers such as computer programmers and engineers. This is the first time that Korea has agreed to such a commitment in a bilateral free trade agreement.


The Korea-India CEPA is Korea's first free trade agreement with a member of the fast-growing "BRICs" nations - Brazil, Russia, India and China. For India, it is the second such agreement following the one signed with Singapore that went to effect in 2005.


With the CEPA, Korea has gained an important advantage over its rivals China and Japan in gaining greater access to India. Korean companies operating in India - Samsung and LG, for example - are seen as success stories due to their localization strategies. With the CEPA paving the way, it is hoped that there will be many more success stories.









GUANTANAMO BAY - Hearings are underway in the United States Senate to assess what to do with the 240 detainees still behind bars at Guantanamo Bay, and what will become of the military tribunals and detention without trial that the Bush administration and a compliant Congress put into place. The U.S. Congress is also debating what will happen to the detention camp itself, which was established in 2002 to house men who were allegedly "the worst of the worst," in a setting deliberately framed by Bush attorneys as "legal outer space."


But are those Senate hearings actually window dressing on a new reality that is just as bad as the old one - and in some ways worse? Military tribunals without due process are up and running again. While President Barack Obama has released a few prisoners, notably the Chinese Uighurs, and sent another for a real trial in New York City, he is now, chillingly, signaling that he is about to begin "preventive detention," which would empower him to hold forever an unspecified number of prisoners without charges or trials.


On a visit to Guantanamo, Department of Defense spokesman Joe DellaVedova told me that a series of panels are reviewing the detainees' files, a process that will take until this year's end. The review will sort the detainees into three categories: those who will be tried in criminal courts in the United States; those who will be released and sent to other countries; and those who "can't be released and can't be tried and so have to be held indefinitely - what is being called 'preventive detention.'"


I was stunned. DellaVedova's comment suggested that the review process was merely political theater. If there is to be a genuine review of the accusations against these detainees, how can it be known in advance that the third category will be required? Indefinite preventive detention is, of course, the foundation of a police state.


Human rights organizations knew that Obama had prepared the way, in public-relations terms, for some criminal trials - talking up the "supermax" security of some U.S. prisons, and noting that other terrorists have successfully been tried by America's justice system. (Other democracies, such as the United Kingdom and Spain, always try terrorism suspects, including alleged al-Qaida members, in ordinary criminal trials).


But, six months after he ordered an end to torture and CIA "black sites," and promised to close Guantanamo within a year, Obama seems to be re-branding Bush's worst excesses. He has brought in planeloads of journalists to Guantanamo Bay to show them a "safe, transparent, and humane" facility that now offers fresh baklava and video viewing from a shackled loveseat. But the roughly 240 detainees remain incarcerated without having been charged with any crime, and will still not get a fair trial, even under Obama's proposed military commissions, After all, the prosecutor, the judge, and the "panel" are all to be U.S. government employees.


Furthermore, Obama's Justice Department has invoked Bush's argument that the State Secrets Act bars evidence about torture from being disclosed, which means that anyone who was tortured can never appear in court. Moreover, Obama has sought to suppress hundreds of photographs depicting sexual assault in U.S.-run prisons, and has done nothing to roll back the Patriot Act.


Why should Obama, a constitutional scholar, be backtracking this way?


First, he does not dare appear to be "soft on terror." Second, perhaps he needs to be able to try the Guantanamo detainees in a rigged setting, or even keep them from trial forever: Lawyers claim that torture, including sexual torture, was so endemic in the CIA and the military that Obama could be holding scores, if not hundreds, of prisoners whose bodies are crime scenes.


According to Wells Dixon, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents some of the detainees, the Obama administration cannot risk calling the torture practices crimes, so it calls them "classified sources and methods" that cannot be revealed in court. "I can't even tell you about the way my clients were tortured or I will be prosecuted," he says. In fact, even the explanation of why this material is classified cannot be reproduced, because it is privileged.


Nor has the access of lawyers to their Guantanamo clients improved under Obama. "We are subject in all detainee cases to a protective order," Dixon says. "Under this order, everything the detainee says is classified," unless the Department of Defense "Privilege Team" decides otherwise.


Dixon then told me a revealing story of one of his clients, Majid Khan, a so-called "high-value detainee" who was held for three years in CIA "black sites." Khan was tortured, Dixon said, though "the government would say that what happened to him is an 'intelligence source or method.'"


Because Dixon has a security clearance, he cannot discuss those classified "sources and methods." On the other hand, Dixon continued, "When the government does something to (Khan) that they say is classified, they have disclosed to him classified information. But since he doesn't have a security clearance, there is nothing that prevents him, unlike me, from saying to the outside world, 'This is what they did to me.' Nothing prevents that - except for the fact that he is physically in custody."'


The "logical conclusion," according to Dixon, is that Khan "must be detained for the rest of his life - regardless of whether he is ever charged with a crime - because if he was ever released, nothing would prevent him from disclosing this information.


Majid Khan - and there are many more like him - is a classic product of the Bush administration's disregard for the fundamental principles of the rule of law. Unfortunately, Obama's administration, for all its lofty rhetoric, appears too willing to perpetuate it.


Naomi Wolf is the author of "Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries." - Ed.


(Project Syndicate)









Hangeul, the Korean writing system, has been enlisted to save an endangered language spoken by a minority tribe in Indonesia.


A year ago, the city of Bau Bau on Buton Island in southeastern Sulawesi chose Hangeul as the official script to transcribe Butonese spoken by the Buton tribe. With a population of 60,000 the tribe is on the verge of losing its language.


Last month, elementary school and high school students in Bau Bau began learning their spoken language through Hangeul. The textbook prepared by the Hunminjeongeum Research Institute, which is leading a project to globalize the Korean writing system, explains the tribe's history, language and culture in the Korean script.


Bau Bau also plans to use Hangeul on the city's signposts as well as set up a Korean center and train Korean language teachers.


Hangeul, created by King Sejong in 1443 and promulgated as the national writing system in 1446, is recognized by linguists around the world for its logical design. Using a combination of 14 consonants and 10 vowels, some 11,000 sounds can be denoted in writing. Such simplicity and flexibility make Hangeul easy to learn. Thanks to the highly efficient writing system, the illiteracy rate in Korea is almost zero.


Today, some 6,000 languages are spoken throughout the world. Of these, 2,500 are endangered. Two-hundred languages have already been completely lost, according to the UNESCO Atlas of World's Languages in Danger.


Without a writing system, a language dies with its last speaker. When a language dies, so does a culture. Hence, having a writing system for endangered languages is a crucial step toward preserving the linguistic and cultural diversity around the world.


Hangeul scholars have been attempting for several years to have the Korean writing system adopted by a number of minority tribes in Asia, and the Bau Bau is the first instance where they have succeeded.


King Sejong's love for his subjects was a driving force behind the invention of Hangeul, or Hunminjeongeum as it was originally called. In fact, the name Hunminjeongeum translated into English roughly means "the right sounds to teach the people."


If the experiment to use Hangeul to transcribe the Butonese language is successful, it will pave the way for adoption by more minority tribes whose languages face extinction. Hangeul may indeed become a tool in preserving cultural diversity as well as dissipating knowledge among people who do not have writing systems. More than 500 years after Hangeul's creation, King Sejong's goal of teaching the "right sounds to the people" may be realized on an international scale.









Canadians have been talking about building high-speed trains at least since Pierre Trudeau was a rookie politician. This week's Canwest News Service series on the idea, reflecting a new flurry of interest across the country, is just the latest installment in a very long conversation.


By one count the last 30 years have seen at least 16 major studies of building such a line between Quebec City and Windsor. The latest, from 1995, is now being reviewed by a federal-provincial working group. Meanwhile, out west, the Alberta government is buying land for new stations for a high-speed link between Calgary and Edmonton, and has commissioned a study to find the best route. It's a dream that just won't die.


And no wonder. Canada has railroads in its DNA, and the notion of sleek modern trains linking our major cities is hard to resist. The Quebec-City-Windsor route also has symbolic value, linking as it would the national capital to Eastern Canada's two major cities and the capitals of its two major provinces. What the CPR did for national unity in 1872, the TGV-Québec-Ontario-HST might do in 2009.


Practical virtues for the traveller aren't hard to find, either. Three hours of dozing (or working) in a comfy seat beats five or six hours driving on the 401 to get to Toronto. And when you figure in the hassle of airport security checks and long taxi rides, the downtown-to-downtown speed certainly becomes competitive with flying.


And trains are the darlings of the green movement - especially trains powered by clean, hydro-generated electricity.


The bump in the tracks, of course, is the cost. It's horrendous. The latest estimates for the Edmonton-Calgary line range up to $40 billion, and that is barely a quarter the length of the Quebec-City Windsor route. The most recent estimate for that link - from 1995, remember - was $18.3 billion. Add in 15 years of inflation and the inevitable cost overruns, and you end up with a number that would make even Sir John A. Macdonald blanche.


But it works in Europe, we're told. Indeed, the French-born train à grande vitesse (TGV) is revolutionizing travel all over the continent. But Europe is more densely populated and more heavily taxed than we are, and Europeans have maintained their conventional rail network far better than we have. Europeans use trains; we're just nostalgic about them.


Even if, perhaps under cover of stimulus, governments drum up the money to start this project, there would also be the issue of operating costs.


But highways cost billions to build, too, and no one expects them to make money,. We spent tax money to build airports, too. If high-speed rail can get people out of the air and off the highways, it might well be worth the extravagant price tag. Still, we'll have to proceed with caution - take the slow road to the fast track, as it were.


Perhaps what's needed are hardheaded romantics: people who can dream and operate a pocket calculator at the same time. Canada found them once before, when it decided, against all odds, to build a railroad across several thousand miles of unsettled, unsurveyed, and virtually unknown territory to create a continent-wide nation. Why can't we do it again?









There are currently 18 members of the U.S. Senate's foreign relations committee. Did you hear how many of them turned up this week at the confirmation hearing for David Jacobson, President Barack Obama's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Canada?


Jacobson and the one senator who bothered to show up, Maryland Democrat Ted Kaufman, had a nice chat about cross-border trade and the like. (The big sign at the Massena border post did not come up.)


Apologists said the low attendance simply meant that senators are happy about relations with Canada, and approve of Jacobson, a Chicago lawyer.


But let's face it, never mind our effort in Afghanistan, the world's biggest trade relationship, or even Michael Ignatieff's years at Harvard: Americans just find us boring.


Old leftists, new name?


The New Democratic Party, that reservoir of 1930s ideas, is talking about re-naming itself by editing out the "new".


They should think about it first. The idea seems fine right now, with Barack Obama's Canadian approval rating in the stratosphere. But what happens when the wheel turns - which it always does, eventually - and U.S. Democrats are in bad odour?


In any case, the New Dems would do better to spend their time on finding policies Canadians can support, of which they are chronically desperately short.


Saturday Shopping!


Hooray for Jean-Claude Gravel and André Hamel, two local auto dealers who have decided - at last - to give the public what it wants: a chance to shop for a car on a Saturday. The two have left the Montreal Automobile Dealers Corp., whose members absurdly refuse to open on Saturdays.


What the association does is legal, but it's a ridiculous anachronism. We hope competitive pressure will break the log-jam and open more dealerships.





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



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