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Monday, August 10, 2009

EDITORIAL 10.08.09

August 08, 2009

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Month August 10, Edition 000268, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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1.      WHAT BAN ON JUD?




















1.      CLEAN UP ACT























































1.      BUGGING


















































If the Pakistani Foreign Minister is correct in announcing Baitullah Mehsud’s death, it indicates a significant setback to the Pakistani Taliban. Mehsud was the most wanted man in Pakistan, a home-grown Osama bin Laden. He was the commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the consortium of Pakistan-based Taliban groups comprising mainly local Pashtuns and Punjabis. He was the inspiration for the Taliban incursions into not just Waziristan but also the Swat Valley in the North-West Frontier Province. It is significant that Mehsud’s international notoriety was fairly recent. He shot to infamy in December 2007, when his agents were supposed to have murdered Benazir Bhutto, in the midst of her election campaign. As was fairly obvious, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was facilitated by sections of the Pakistani Army and elements in the intelligence-security apparatus. At least in December 2007, Mehsud was a tactical asset of these hardline sections of the Pakistani establishment. In less than two years, he is dead and his departure is being celebrated by the same Pakistani establishment as a definitive advance in the war against terrorism. How does one square this circle? In the period since Benazir Bhutto’s death, the Tehreek-e-Taliban and its allied militia have indicated an expansion in their military ambitions. These are no more limited to Kabul and the re-conquest of Afghanistan but extend to a capture of the Pakistani state and suzerainty over the Punjabi heartland. That aspiration may or may not be realistic, but it has shaken the Americans and sections of the Islamabad-Rawalpindi elite out of their comfort zones. On their part, Mehsud’s former benefactors in the Army may still have no serious differences with the strategic goals of the Pakistani Taliban, whether domestically or across the Durand Line. However, in the past few months he has become politically inconvenient. In helping the Americans get rid of him — Pakistani intelligence no doubt contributed to revealing Mehsud’s location before the fatal drone attack — they will be able to establish their credentials with the Pentagon, and argue that the war against the Islamists is actually being won.

There are two things to note here. First, over the past eight years, since 9/11, Islamabad has kept lowering benchmarks. The Pakistanis have not compromised Osama bin Laden — though several Pakistani leaders have insisted on several occasions that he is dead — or even arrested Mullah Omar, who lives in Quetta with his close lieutenants. They have, however, delivered various small fry, at different times described as the “Al Qaeda number three” or the “most dangerous man in Pakistan”. Mehsud is the latest and admittedly most high-profile of such individuals. His removal is a relief but it does not end the insurgency, or the danger to the civilised world that his co-jihadis pose. The limitless recruitment that socio-religious conditions in the NWFP and rural Punjab allow will ensure no depletion in the ranks. The help from sections of the Pakistani military — ‘rogue’ elements, who were till the other day ‘mainstream’ — will continue. Sources of jihad funding — largely Islamic charities, as even Mr Richard Holbrooke has admitted, and not the opium trade in Afghanistan as Pakistani leaders have often pretended — will remain unhindered. In such circumstances, the next Mehsud cannot be far away. This is not to minimise the achievement of his extermination, but only to place the war in Pakistan in a sobering context.






With the convening of the 13th round of the India-China border talks, it is welcome that this bilateral engagement has evolved to a format where boundary issues are viewed as part of a larger gamut of mutual concerns and not a zero-sum game. As part of the two-day talks, India’s representative MK Narayanan and China’s envoy Dai Bingguo discussed several bilateral and regional issues that included the global economic meltdown, climate change and trade co-operation. Given the way the meeting was structured, the talks also created the perfect setting to dial down irritants that have come to highlight relations between New Delhi and Beijing. For, this round of border talks came in the backdrop of increasing Chinese diplomatic assertiveness, besides aggressive Chinese military posturing in the border areas, in recent months. Also, the attempt by Beijing a few months ago to block a $ 2.9 billion loan from the Asian Development bank to India on the grounds that a part of the money would have been used to finance development projects in Arunachal Pradesh — a region on which China has been laying territorial claims — had further soured relations between the two countries. When the ADB finally approved the loan, Beijing was not in the least pleased. Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh is claimed by China to be the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama and, therefore, historically linked to Tibet with which it wants to unite the region. However, most Tibetans themselves have rejected this proposition. This and other diplomatic stand-offs, including China’s efforts to undermine India’s interests at various international fora, have ruffled feathers in both countries.

There is no denying that bilateral relations between India and China have never been perfect. There are several contentious issues that remain to be addressed. The border dispute between the two countries is something that needs to be dealt with patiently. Muscle-flexing on the part of China will achieve nothing. Arunachal Pradesh is and will remain a part of India. However, it is positive that despite all these differences the two countries are prepared to explore issues where there is common ground. This in no way means a diversion of focus or diplomatic energy from the tough issues. It is simply a recognition of the fact that India-China relations encompass a wide range of issues that are equally important and move on parallel tracks. It is highly unlikely that a consensus on a final settlement of the border issue will be reached in the near future. Nonetheless, being the two largest developing economies in the region, it is positive that both India and China view themselves as having some common goals and are prepared to acknowledge this.








Food adulteration, which is the act of intentionally debasing the quality of food offered for sale either by the admixture or substitution of inferior substances or by the removal of some valuable ingredient, is something that has been rampant in our country. This is so despite the existence of stringent laws against the malpractice.

The problem of food adulteration has been prevalent since ancient times. The Code of Hammurabi from ancient Babylonia regulated the practices of drinking houses, and called for the death penalty for those found guilty of watering down their beer.

In 15th century Germany any merchant caught selling adulterated saffron in Bavaria was burnt alive.

In 1456 at Nuremberg, two men guilty of adulterating wine were buried alive. Literature from the 16th century mentions brick dust in ginger, unhealthy adulterants in pepper, dishonest weights and counts, artificial colouring, and storage of dried spices in damp cellars to increase weight.

The Food Adulteration Act, 1954, in our country is enforceable by the States. Normally, it is the various health departments that are charged with its implementation. In spite of this, there is hardly a food category, whether it is milk or dairy products, flour or spices, which is safe from adulteration.

The root of the problem lies in the inordinate delays in the disposal of adulteration cases. In a case of adulteration in Ludhiana, it took six years for the accused to be convicted under the Food Adulteration Act. What makes it worse is that he can still appeal the verdict right up to the Supreme Court.

In October 2008, police in Ghaziabad seized 2,500 kg of adulterated khoya — a milk product used in making sweets — from a tractor-trolley. It was transporting the adulterated product from Muradnagar in Uttar Pradesh to Delhi. A week earlier 50 tonnes of adulterated khoya was seized by the police in the same area.

In Ahmedabad in April last year, a child died and 10 others were diagnosed with serious ailments after consuming a particular brand of cold drink. The only action taken was the sealing of the factory producing the drink and sending a sample to a laboratory for analysis.

In June 2009, police in Agra raided a spurious ghee manufacturing unit. They found ghee being manufactured from animal fat. But nobody was caught. The police claim that this was because information about the raid must have leaked out.

In July, 2009, police in Haryana seized around 1,400 kg of different adulterated milk products like cheese, ghee and cream. The foodstuff was adulterated with chemicals. A variety of chemicals such as whitener, caustic soda, hydrogen peroxide were also scooped up in the raid.

Residues of extremely harmful pesticides have also been found in a popular cola drink as well as in popular brands of bottled water sold in Delhi and Mumbai. These reports were based on an independent study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment, an NGO.

Five traders in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, were booked under the National Security Act for adulteration of ghee in August 2009. It is probably the first such use of the stringent legislation in the State. The ghee adulteration racket is a thriving business, estimated to gross more than Rs 100 crore in Gwalior and its surrounding areas.

Counterfeiting is another allied problem that affects all sorts of food products and medicines in the country. Apart from harming the reputation and the sale value of the legitimate brands, fake products often pose serious health risks to the consumers. The result is that instances of food poisoning are on the rise across the country. The state exchequer also suffers huge losses due to these counterfeiters.

The State Governments and other agencies only wake up to the problem when fatalities are reported. The implementation of food adulteration laws is sporadic at best. If it were done on a regular basis and honestly, many deaths that have taken place due to consumption of adulterated foodstuff or spurious medicines could have been avoided. Though the Supreme Court has banned road-side eateries where most of the time the food is adulterated, the law is brazenly flouted in many places. Even in Delhi people are not aware of the apex court ruling.

I have been told by many people that health officials only conduct inspections at hotels and shops when their owners refuse to pay the monthly bribe. At no other time is accountability fixed or action taken.

Whether it is serving sub-standard food to patients in a hospital or adulterated food in restaurants and other eateries, the possibility of food poisoning is always looming large. Even the rice supplied through the Public Distribution System has often been found to be adulterated. Collecting food samples and sending them for testing after people have died of poisoning is like locking the stables after the horses have fled. Apart from the punishment that those responsible for adulterating food are given by law, it will be ideal to make them also pay for the hospital expenses of the victims in such cases. Health officials who fail to discharge their duties properly could also be forced to do this.

The implementation of the Food Adulteration Act needs to be done honestly and with a missionary zeal if we are to curb this menace. Mere intentions are not enough. They have to be followed up with concrete action.




                     EDIT DESK



Since World War II and the beginning of the emigration of thousands of Muslim Arabs from North Africa, the French Government has failed to take meaningful steps or to draw up a conscious plan for integrating the Muslim minority into French society.

But we must also acknowledge that the Muslim Arabs brought with them to France their own fears and emotional complexes, which dictated their patterns of behaviour and their despicable treatment of women — to which Islam has no connection at all. Of their own free will, the Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian Muslims imprisoned themselves in neighbourhoods that became filthy slums, where a visitor felt as if he had been immediately transported away from Paris — the most beautiful city in the world — to one of the poverty-stricken cities of the Arab countries — cities rife with tin-shack neighbourhoods that export terrorists to the world.

Since the 1990s, the niqab has been infiltrating the Arab countries, because of the jihadis and the takfiris who use religion to torment us. From there the custom of wearing the niqab moved also to the Muslims in Europe, and the sight of these ‘walking sacks’ in the streets and on public transportation began to arouse apprehension and strange feelings.

To this fashion was added also women’s refusal to shake hands with men, and vice-versa. This behaviour is not accepted in our Arab and Islamic society, but nevertheless some Western Governments have been forced to accept it for fear of extortion by Muslim extremists and hypocrites.

But the West, with all its customs, traditions, and respect for women, is not obliged to accept those who wear the niqab. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is absolutely right to refuse to accept the niqab... It is better for those ghosts that hide inside those sacks out of obedience to the precepts of Islam and rejection of the infidel Western culture to go back to their native lands and live their lives in accordance with the instructions of their father or husband — who defend girls’ and women’s honour, even at the cost of killing them.

Mr Sarkozy was right when he said that the niqab is not welcome on French soil, because it is not a religious symbol but a symbol of subjugation. I add my voice to his, and I agree with him. The niqab is indeed not welcome in France, just as it is not welcome in any country that respects women.

(The write is a columnist with the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram.)







The co-ordinated hunt for Baitullah Mehsud, the amir of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, undertaken by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and the US scored a major success early on the morning of August 5, 2009, when an unmanned US aircraft (drone), acting on intelligence furnished by a source of the Pakistani intelligence from South Waziristan fired two missiles on the house of the father of the second wife of Baitullah, Malik Ikramuddin, in the Zangarha area, 15 km to the north-east of Ladha in South Waziristan. Eight persons were killed. Seven of them have been identified by local sources as the second wife of Baitullah and six of his bodyguards. The identity of the eighth person has not yet been established, but it is widely believed that the eighth person killed was Baitullah whose body was blown to pieces by a missile.

The confirmation of his death, if true, will ultimately come from the TTP after it has chosen his successor. The TTP, in keeping with its tradition, will not deny his death, if true.

Even before this remarkable human intelligence-driven operation, there were indicators that the TTP was facing difficulty in maintaining its high level of activity. One could see a decline in its spectacular and successful strikes not only in the non-tribal but also in the tribal areas. The drone strikes — 28 of them already so far this year as against 34 last year — have made it increasingly difficult for the senior leaders of the TTP to move around and guide their men. The increased number of such strikes invariably targeted correctly the hideouts of the TTP, though till August 5 they did not succeed in killing any senior leader of importance.

The accurate strikes coming one after the other on the hideouts of the TTP — even if they did not kill any important leader — created suspicions among the leaders that their organisation had been penetrated by either the US or the Pakistani intelligence and they started having fears of a mole in their midst. This created a certain demoralisation. Their new focus was more on identifying the mole and saving themselves than on launching new operations.

The death of Baitullah is unlikely to lead to a disintegration of the activities of the TTP, but it could change the focus of its attacks. None of those tipped to be in the race to succeed him — Hakimullah Mehsud, Maulana Azmatullah and Wali-ur-Rehman — nurses such a strong antipathy to the Pakistani Army, its Inter-Services Intelligence and its commando force called the Special Services Group for their raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July 2007 as Baitullah did. One may see a decline in the suicide attacks on the Army, the ISI and the SSG, but the TTP will continue to attack logistic supplies to the Nato forces in Afghanistan and help the Afghan Taliban in other ways.

Before the attack of August 5, there was speculation that the Pakistani Army was in touch with Baitullah’s father-in-law in order to explore the possibility of another ceasefire. It is not clear whether the father-in-law’s reported contacts with the Army had played a role in facilitating the attack.

Hitting the target with US technology, Pakistani help According to well-informed Pakistani police sources, the US and Pakistani armed forces, intelligence agencies and special forces had launched a co-ordinated hunt for Baitullah Mehsud, the amir of the TTP, in South Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas. It was a coordinated and not a joint operation. In a coordinated operation the two collaborators operate independently of each other and not jointly together under a common command and control, but keep each other informed in advance of their operational plans to avoid attacking each other by mistake instead of their common target.

The operations undertaken by the Pakistani Army in the Swat Valley of the Malakand Division in the North-West Frontier Province since April had started coming in for some criticism because while the Pakistani Army had claimed to have killed over 1,500 foot soldiers of the Pakistani Taliban, hardly any important leader was killed or captured. To avoid such criticism, the focus of the operations in South Waziristan was on killing Baitullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain Mehsud, one of his lieutenants, who reportedly trains suicide terrorists, and not on re-establishing immediate territorial control over the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan.

The calculation is that if they are eliminated, the TTP could disintegrate.

Now the emphasis would be more on the use of air power than ground forces. While Pakistan would prefer using F-16 aircraft and helicopter gunships, the US would continue to use its unmanned drones. This also takes into account the difficulties that Pakistan might face in diverting adequate forces to South Waziristan till the operations in the Swat Valley are over.

The internally displaced persons from the Swat Valley, who are presently living in camps in the NWFP, are anxious to go back to their villages in Swat. Making arrangements for their return and for maintaining control over the re-captured areas of the Swat would keep a large number of Pakistani troops tied up in the Swat Valley. Thus, the ability of the Pakistani Army to deploy adequate troops for any ground operations in South Waziristan would be limited.

A well-planned, intelligence-driven and smartly-executed double strike by US Drones in South Waziristan on June 23, 2009, had targeted Baitullah and Hussain, but it failed to achieve its objective for want of luck despite the operations being executed with precision. The double attack was carried out at a village called Lattaka in the Shabikhel area of South Waziristan, where one of the buildings periodically used by Baitullah is reported to be located.

The writer is director of the Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai.








People are beginning to see the Obama Adminis- tration’s strategy, at least in its initial phase, as a ‘bridge too far’ approach. That expression came after the heroic Allied operation at Arnheim in World War II, when what seemed a clever idea — to capture a key bridge far ahead of the existing Allied lines — turned into a military disaster.

For example, take Mr Barack Obama’s Cairo speech. He didn’t just try to build good relations with Muslims but to whitewash the history and practices of all Islamic peoples completely. Or he doesn’t just try to engage Iran but to do so by removing all criticisms of the regime and most of his potential leverage over it. (Yes, I know that movement toward increased sanctions is happening but, to use another expression, too little, too late.)

This reflection is generated by a major speech by Mr John O Brennan, Mr Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser. He declares the “war on terrorism” is over and redefines it as a war on Al Qaeda and its partners.

Much argumentation is adduced to justify this alteration and some of it is certainly persuasive. But there are two extraordinarily important points that go unnecessarily too far and may be extremely damaging in the future.

The first is that the United States is not at war with ‘terrorism’ in general but only those terrorists who directly attack the US. But what about terrorists who attack allies? While most obviously this refers to Israel — does the US not view Hamas and Hizbullah as its adversaries any more? — there are many other examples.

Fortunately, one might be able to define terrorists in Indonesia, the Philippines, Morocco, Algeria, perhaps Somalia, and Afghanistan as linked to Al Qaeda but what, for example, about those attacking India, Thailand, the UK, Russia, Colombia, China, or Lebanon (those shadowy Syrian-directed groups)?

In other words, this could be defined as a counterterrorist isolationist policy which sends the message: Know, thou terrorist, that you can attack anyone but the US and we will not view you as full enemies.

So, American allies, if your people are blown up at a movie theatre or gunned down at a school or if someone blows up an airliner full of passengers, you better hope that you can link the group responsible to Al Qaeda or forget about getting strong US support.

Second, and really shocking, is that the US Government has validated the concept of jihad.

Here are Mr Brennan’s words:


“Nor does President Obama see this challenge as a fight against jihadis. Describing terrorists in this way — using a legitimate term, ‘jihad,’ meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal — risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the US is somehow at war with Islam itself. And this is why President Obama has confronted this perception directly and forcefully in his speeches to Muslim audiences, declaring that America is not and never will be at war with Islam.”

The US Government has now officially defined jihad as purifying and for a moral goal. In Washington this seems brilliant — we will deny the terrorists the ability to use Islamic symbols and show they are not really properly Muslims but renegades!

Yeah, that will show them, no doubt. But, you see, there’s one problem. Hundreds of millions of Muslims are not concerned with how the US Government defines their religion. The definition of jihad in practice has been — depending on your viewpoint — either altered or applied much more vigorously during the last few decades.

In fact, this is precisely the definition used by Al Qaeda in attacking the World Trade Center. The US, it argues, attacks Muslims both directly and indirectly, by supporting Governments like those of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, for example. Holy struggle? Check! To obey god and smite the devil’s allies. Moral goal? Check, the defence of Islam and Muslims against ruthless aggression.

What will Muslims make of this policy? Some, those who are least politically active, will like it. Others, the most extreme, will view it as a lying trick and ignore it. And still others, supporters of revolutionary Islamism but more ‘moderate’ will consider it as a signal of support for their cause.

Almost every influential, publicly active Islamic cleric defines murdering Israelis as appropriate jihad. A very large number, probably a majority define killing Americans in Afghanistan or Iraq as proper jihad. The issue here is also not killing civilians but killing ‘innocent’ civilians, and that definition can be rather problematic.

Does a group of amateurs with the most limited concept of Islamic theology and law — and whose advisors are often not much better — really need to decide that jihad is legitimate and always good? Do we now have official US Government approval for the wars of Islam in the seventh century as good and proper?

What next, a definition of the Crusade in Christianity as a purifying struggle for a moral goal? After all, they sought to free the Holy Land from the infidels, right? All those massacres were regrettable byproducts but justified at the time, just as the definition of jihad justifies such things today.

The writer is director of the GLORIA center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Truth About Syria.








The invasion on July 24 by Muslims of several protected monuments like Jamali Kamali is an example of how weak-kneed our Governments are. As reported in The Pioneer on July 25, ASI Delhi circle chief KK Mohammad was largely helpless in the absence of full police cooperation. This absence can be attributed to double standards caused by the Government tendency to appease what it calls ‘minorities’.

It seems working of the Archaeological Survey of India is also affected by these double standards. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958, which superseded the 1904 law, has weakened the ASI. Nevertheless, even this weak dispensation enjoins the ASI to ‘maintain’ all protected monuments and the word specifically includes ‘restoring’ of such monuments as per clause 2 of the Act.

Restore means bringing back to the previous situation or reinstate to a former condition or position. Why has Adhai Din Ka Jhopra at Ajmer not been restored by the ASI? This edifice is so-called because a temple complex was converted to a mosque in a matter of 60 hours or two-and-a-half days. After killing Prithviraj Chauhan at the second battle of Tarain, Muhammad Ghauri was passing by the temples when he ordered Qutbuddin Aibak to have them converted to a masjid where he would pray on his return journey.

Alexander Cunningham, the founder director of the ASI, in his official ASI report of 1864-65, has described in detail this discovery of his near Ajmer Sharief. BR Bhandari has also written on the structure which is recorded in the Rajasthan District Gazetteer, Ajmer, 1966. On my visit, I found that it still represents temples with beautifully carved ceilings and pillars. The only thing ‘masjid’ about the edifice is the presence of a mehrab to help face Mecca and a mimbar for the imam to stand on.

There are many such crimes of omission by the ASI. A glaring example is that of what is called the Adina masjid at Pandua, which stands on National Highway 34, about 18 km north of Malda in West Bengal. As one enters the compound, he/she is struck by a dancing Ganesh with his consort carved on the southern wall of the edifice. Additionally, more inside than outside, there is plenty of temple sculpture as well as Ganesh images. It was a Shiv mandir converted between 1366 and 1374 AD by Sultan Sikandar Shah.

Vijay Mandir at Vidisha, not far from Bhopal and once Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s constituency, popularly called Bijamandal was desecrated four times — successively by Sultan Iltutmish in 1234, Alauddin Khilji in 1293, Bahadur Shah of Gujarat between 1526 and 1537 and finally Aurangzeb. One night in 1991, the rain was so heavy that the wall concealing the frontage of the edifice was washed away. Out came any number of Hindu idols, some as tall as eight feet. The ASI had no choice but to excavate; fortunately the district collector offered protection to the archaeological operation. Then Mr Arjun Singh became the HRD Minister later that year and had the collector and the ASI officer transferred out of Vidisha.

Now come to a crime of commission by the ASI at Siddhpur in north Gujarat where Rudramahalaya complex of 11 temples is situated. The mashals on the roof of the tallest temple could be seen 112 km away in Ahmedabad. But they hurt the pride of the 15th century Sultan Ahmed Shah so much that he had the temple destroyed. The complex was converted into a Jami masjid. On the plea of local Muslims, the ASI in 1979 cleared the surroundings to cultivate a garden. In the process, several carvings including a Nandi bull were discovered.

How the National Minorities Commission then influenced the Governments at New Delhi and Gandhinagar to bury back the discoveries is described over 38 pages of the NMC 1983 annual report!

In the light of these highlights, the Wakf Board has no business to support the intruders into the protected monuments. Wakf lands and properties are confiscations from Hindu owners by medieval invaders and are therefore ill gotten. In his Outlines of Muhammadan Law by former Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, Asaf AA Fyzee has called the institution of wakf a handicap to the natural growth of a healthy national economy. The word ‘wakf’ means ‘dead hand’. Wakfs were abolished in a number of countries including Egypt and Turkey and their properties nationalised.

Prof Fyzee regretted that the judgement of the Privy Council in the Abul Fata’s case, 1894, was not followed through in India by an abolition of all wakf-e-aulad. They pretended to be for the benefit of the poor but were actually almost entirely for the families of the settlers. Their lordships felt that the poor beneficiaries were brought in to give a colour of piety merely to legalise the aggrandisement of a family. The judgement described the settlement as “a perpetuity of the worst and the most pernicious kind”.







The controversy over the reality game show Sacch Ka Saamna has again revived the debate about the regulation of content on television with Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni having said last week that it was clear that a regulatory body was the only way to curb vulgarity and obscenity in the electronic media. Though the Minister has not spelt out the details of this body, she has said that it should be independent and credible with some teeth.

The danger with setting up such a body is that programmes which may not be ‘obscene’ in nature may be taken off the air. For instance, Sacch Ka Saamna is a fairly innocuous programme which has, however, aroused the ire of some people because the contestants are made to divulge their personal details. To describe such a programme as vulgar or obscene may be stretching the truth.

It is, however, true that some programmes on air are offensive as they either promote violence or set wrong examples for children. One such programme is Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao, a reality show where participants are forced to handle live and dangerous animals like snakes and reptiles in an outdoor camp in Malaysia. In their quest for television rating points, some of the show-makers put participants in humiliating and embarrassing situations that are sometimes even painful.

The makers of reality television shows have been seeking more and more ways to shock their audience. The result is low-brow entertainment that seeks to provide cheap thrills while participant in the show suffers. There are many who believe that reality television with its outrageous behaviour and dangerous stunts has a deleterious effect on society. There is a line that divides what is acceptable television viewing from that which is not and this must not be easily crossed.

Clearly, there is a need for balancing the quest for improved television rating points with the social obligations of television programming as reality shows do have an impact on their viewers. Earlier this year in February Jade Goody of Big Brother fame, who had cervical cancer, had announced that she might allow cameramen to film her death that could be broadcast live. Better sense prevailed and her death, which could have traumatic effect on viewers, especially children, was not broadcast live.

A broadcast content authority for television channels has been under contemplation by the Government for quite some time. In 2004 then Information and Broadcasting Minister S Jaipal Reddy had said that the Government was mulling of setting up a Broadcasting Regulatory Authority to enforce guidelines and regulations on television and radio contents. There are concerns, some of them legitimate, that such regulatory authority will affect the freedom of the media and the public’s right to be informed.

Already self-regulation guidelines of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting are in place that prohibit airing of content that glorifies violence or terror, endangers human lives or creates panic. However, news channels have expressed a preference for self-regulation, and they, along with other broadcasters, came up with an alternate draft in February this year.

The Government should ensure that the constitutional guarantees regarding the freedom of the Press are not infringed upon with by the setting up of a content regulatory body.








The past few days have been a watershed in the fight for Pakistan, and by extension, Afghanistan. The death of Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud Pakistani officials have still not found physical evidence but it is almost certain a US unmanned drone strike did indeed kill him has presented Islamabad with its best chance since the beginning of the offensive to crack the fortress that is South Waziristan. Since his meteoric rise to power in 2005, Mehsud had been one of the most dangerous pieces on the board in the Af-Pak region. Among other things, he has been responsible for the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, the Lahore police academy attack and, some say, Benazir Bhutto's assassination. The ramifications of his death are therefore commensurate with the threat he posed.

For one, it will relieve some of the pressure that has been building up on Washington vis-a-vis its Af-Pak strategy. Apart from the propaganda value of eliminating a high-profile target, there are concrete strategic benefits as well. The area controlled by Mehsud may not have been contiguous with the Afghanistan border but it provided a buffer zone between Pakistani forces and the Afghan Taliban. If the military is now able to capitalise on his death to make inroads in the region, the pressure on Mullah Omar's forces will be far greater.

The Pakistani Taliban shura is now in the process of meeting to choose Mehsud's successor. The good news is none of the three possible choices wields anywhere near the level of influence Mehsud did. He was unique in being able to unite all the feuding tribes and factions and field up to 20,000 men by some estimates. The schisms and infighting that are now likely form ideal circumstances for Islamabad to push forward. Continuing coordination with the US for all the official denials, there is little doubt that Pakistani officials have been feeding US forces information regarding targets could splinter Pakistan's Taliban further.

There is a lesson to be learnt here as well. Not long ago, Mehsud was touted by the Pakistani military as one of the 'good' Taliban. It was a tragically false assumption. Other groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) have enjoyed similar patronage in the past. However, Islamabad may slowly be waking up to the threat the LeT and the JeM pose, if Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik's statement that they have aided the Taliban and al-Qaeda in destabilising the country is anything to go by. There must be action to back up this assertion if these already dangerous groups are not to threaten the very fabric of Pakistan as the Tehreek-e-Taliban has done.







Imagine a future where a military computer system has turned rogue and unleashed its awesome capacities against the human race. This isn't meant to be a summary of the Terminator or Matrix films but a description of events several scientists fear may occur in our future. Robots are being used with increasing regularity in the military, and with advancements in artificial intelligence, technologists predict that the day is not far when computer intelligence will outstrip human capabilities.

At present, military robots need inputs from humans to carry out their tasks. For instance, humans remotely control the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) deployed by the US military to carry out stealth attacks on suspected terrorist hideouts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But though it may seem like a long haul from UAVs to gun-toting, sentient terminators, we should remember that unmanned systems have developed rapidly in a very short period. US forces went into Iraq with only a handful of drones in the air. But by the end of 2008, there were over 5,000 UAVs in the American inventory. There has already been an instance of a semi-intelligent military weapon malfunctioning. A semi-autonomous robotic cannon deployed by the South African army killed nine friendly soldiers and wounded 14 others in 2007.

It will be difficult to convince military establishments worldwide to stop research on military robots. Armies are keen to pursue alternatives to manpower in combat for reasons of efficiency. Governments like the idea too, as it would reduce the political cost of going to war. Fewer body bags returning from a conflict zone would make war a far easier option to sell to the public. But that carries its own danger: with the risk of collateral damage reduced, would governments then turn to war as an option more often than they do now? Secondly, what happens when terrorists intent on mass mayhem acquire the same fearsome technologies?

At a conference organised by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence recently, attendees agreed there was a need for computer scientists to respond to notions of intelligent machines and artificial intelligence systems run amok. It is clear that there is a need to consider the consequences of a 21st century battlefield in which more combatants are robots than humans. Art imitates life, but if we are to keep life from imitating apocalyptic science fiction movies, retaining human control of our weapons systems is essential.






In little more than three months, the world must seal an effective climate change agreement in Denmark, at Copenhagen. Such an agreement must be the turning point in the fight to prevent dangerous climate change. It also represents a unique opportunity for developing nations to shift from unsustainable paths of development towards a cleaner, greener future that preserves their hard-won gains in reducing poverty. Yet a misapprehension has arisen over what rich industrialised countries are asking developing countries to do.

Judging by recent media reporting, one cannot escape the impression that developing countries are being assailed with demands to accept legally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments, or emission 'caps'. The fact is that not a single industrialised country is asking major developing countries to accept binding mid-term emission reduction targets. The international community, in drawing up the broad parameters for a climate change deal two years ago, acknowledged that industrialised countries must accept binding emission reduction targets. But developing countries are asked only to limit growth of their emissions in line with sustainable development needs, and only if supported through finance and technology from developed countries.

Nations agreed to this because the science on which they founded their judgement makes it clear that, even with binding cuts by industrialised countries in line with historical responsibilities, the world could not avoid dangerous climate change if developing nations' emissions continue along a business-as-usual path.

Indian officials have said that India is not prepared to take on caps that would impair efforts to eradicate poverty by providing affordable energy. They are right to say so. It would be wrong for the industrialised world to oblige India to reduce its emissions, when it already has one of the lowest levels of emissions on a per capita basis. But the question is whether India and other developing countries can afford not to fully exploit the possibilities offered by international cooperation on climate change.

Without an ever-increasing source of reliable, affordable energy, the developing world will be unable to sustain the high economic growth it needs to ensure a sustainable, long-term shift out of poverty for the majority of its people. Without a global shift to a clean, green economy, it will be forced into increasing competition with rich countries for energy resources, which only get scarcer and more expensive. India imports approximately 70 per cent of its oil, a figure expected to rise to up to 95 per cent in 2030, unless there is a change in the patterns of access to energy. Even in the worst recession for generations, oil prices are stubbornly high, an indication of what they will be when real recovery occurs.

While India has significant reserves of coal, power utilities will need to import almost 30 million tonnes this year, and the next, to meet domestic demand. While continued use of fossil fuels will remain for some time an important part of the developing world's energy use, clean production of those fuels and rapid development of renewable sources are the only practical, long-term response.

The economic argument to shift to clean energy is compelling. According to UN data, the global market for environmental products and services is projected to double from $1.4 trillion to $2.7 trillion by 2020, creating millions of new green jobs globally. India can be a major player in this boom, as it has been in the broader global economy in the last decade, or it can decide to play only a minor role. For example, the Woods Hole Research Centre in Massachusetts, US, estimates that 9,00,000 jobs could be generated in India by 2025 in the area of biogas alone. Many more jobs could be created in other clean technology areas like solar energy. One estimate is that 1,00,000 jobs could spring up in India in the solar photovoltaic sector by 2020, with scope to push that figure much higher. The global potential for jobs in that industry is in the order of 10 million.

Many developing countries, including India, have plans in place to limit emissions, because their governments see the dangers of not acting, and the benefits in energy, job security and growth potential. Many have also said they will do more, if finance and technology support starts to flow from the industrialised world. The rich countries must this year put a significant sum of money on the table to allow developing countries to do more. There must be a commitment that much larger amounts of money from public and private sectors would follow in the coming years, deployed in line with the priorities developing countries set for themselves.

At the same time, major developing countries could spell out what these priorities are, so they can make a decisive shift towards a more stable, secure energy future. Mahatma Gandhi's words can serve as a beacon: "You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing, there will be no result."

The writer is executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.








How do you view the existing state policies towards Himalayan rivers?

They treat rivers as commercial commodities. Development to this consumerist world means converting nature into cash. Dams are obstructing river flows. Rivers survive only if they flow freely. The natural free-flowing water in a river is living water. Reservoirs turn it into dead water.


Scientific evidence exists to show that water quality deteriorates when a river is dammed and free flow of water is disrupted. Today, the very existence of several rivers is under threat. I have seen the water in the Ganga reduced by half in my lifetime! Traditional Indian society, however, has a different approach towards rivers. River is treated as mother. A river is not just a stream of flowing water; it has close linkages with culture and civilisation. The threat to our rivers is actually part of a larger crisis of culture.

In this era of water crisis, it is important to develop a harmonious approach towards nature. A free-flowing Himalayan river like Ganga, brings along nutrient-rich soil down to the Indo-Gangetic plains, contributing to land-formation and fertility of land. This will cease to happen as dams like in Tehri and others will trap this rich soil. The fields in the plains will be deprived of this rich soil. Farmers will be forced to use chemical fertilisers in excess, which will make agriculture economically unviable and environmentally unsustainable.

What are the changes needed in our approach towards rivers?

First and foremost, the many-sided value of natural river flows must be appreciated. From villagers living on riverbanks to pilgrims, people benefit in so many ways from a river. Riverbank communities should be closely consulted and given a role in the protection of rivers.


Secondly, it should be kept in mind that a river does not belong only to human beings but also to aquatic life and other life forms. Their needs should also be taken care of. It is important that government policies should not cause displacement or disruption of riverbank communities. Micro-hydel projects, which do not disrupt river flow, are welcome. These can be used to lift water to upper slopes to help afforestation there.

What is your message for Himalayan states about protecting tree cover in the region?

If we want to save India from the water crisis, we have to cover the Himalayas with trees. This should become a people's movement. Care must be taken to plant mixed species, particularly trees with broad leaves (and not commercial plantations like pines). The roots of trees with broad leaves spread far and wide conserve water and enrich the soil. Trees providing nuts, edible oilseeds, flowering trees for honey, seasonal fruits, fibre, medicines, fuel, timber for local use and green leaf manure should cover the entire Himalayas.






I recently returned from a week-long Zen meditation retreat on the Puget Sound. I am a Zen Buddhist priest, so a meditation retreat isn't exotic to me. But this one was particularly delightful. Sixty-five of us in silence together for a week, as great blue herons winged slowly overhead, swallows darted low to the ground before us as we walked quietly on the open grassy space between the meditation hall and the dining room.


It was peaceful, it was quiet, it was beautiful, and nice to be away from all telephones and computers, all tasks and ordinary demands, all talking, all purposeful activity. The retreat participants are busy people like everyone else, and they appreciated the silence, the natural surroundings, and the chance to do nothing but experience their lives in the simplest possible way.

As most people know, a Zen meditation retreat is not a vacation. Despite the silence and the beauty, despite the respite from the busyness, the experience can be gruelling. The meditation practice is intense and relentless. And some people find it hard not to talk at all for a week. So, what's in it for them?

If you live long enough you will discover the great secret we all hate to admit: life is inherently tough. Difficult things happen. You lose your job or your money or your spouse. You get old, you get sick, you die You slog through your days beleaguered and reactive even when there are no noticeable disasters a normal day has its many large and small annoyances, and the world, if you care to notice, and it is difficult not to, is burning.

Life is a challenge and in the welter of it all it is easy to forget who you are. Decades go by. Finally something happens. Or maybe nothing does. But one day you notice that you are suddenly lost, miles away from home, with no sense of direction. And you don't know what to do.

The people at the retreat were not in crisis at least no more than anyone else. They are people who have made the practice of Zen meditation a regular part of their daily routine, and come here not to forget about their troubles and pressures, but for the opposite reason: to meet them head on, to digest and clarify them. Why would they want to do this? Because it turns out that facing pain not denial, not running in the opposite direction is a practical necessity.

This week i talked about time, using as my text the 13th century Zen Master Dogen's famous essay, The Time Being, a treatise on the religious dimension of time. Dogen's view is uncannily close to the philosopher Heidegger's: being is always and only being in time; time is nothing other than being. This turns out to be less a philosophical than an experiential fact: to really live is to accept that you live "for the time being", and to fully enter that moment of time. Living is that, not building up an identity or a set of accomplishments or relationships, though of course we do that too. But primarily, fundamentally, to live is to embrace each moment as if it were the first, last, and all moments of time. I find it impressive how thoroughly normal it is to be so tentative about the time of our lives, or so asleep within it, that we miss it entirely.

We want enjoyment, we want to avoid pain and discomfort. But it is impossible that things will always work out, impossible to avoid pain and discomfort. So to be happy, with a happiness that doesn't blow away with every wind, we need to be able to make use of what happens to us all of it whether we find ourselves at the top of a mountain or at the bottom of the sea. NYTNS







Santo Domingo Savio and Comuna 13 are to Medellin what Dharavi is to Mumbai. These sprawling slums in Colombia's second largest city were once the hotbeds of crime.


Today, they surprise a visitor with their eye-catching assemblage of schools, libraries, community and day-care centres, a science centre, an auditorium, an art gallery and cable cars built right up to the shantytowns to connect them with the rest of the city.


This change owes itself to the city's former mayor Sergio Fajardo, who often remarked, "Our most beautiful buildings must be in our poorest areas." He therefore chose to improve the most desperate slums of his city, not by supplanting them with new buildings, but by erecting cultural infrastructure right in their midst.


Dharavi, its 520-acre sprawl accommodating between 6 and 10 lakh people, may not have the scale to emulate its Colombian counterparts. Yet, the ambitious Rs 15,000-crore project to redevelop Asia's largest slum, seeking to relegate the slum-dwellers to a third of their current space and selling around two-thirds of it for commercial development, must make us ask: Should redevelopment be about dismantling the present in order to regiment the future? Is it fair to assume that the present is always woefully wrong and must be dispensed with to make way for the future?

Urban redevelopment of our times is largely a result of our insistence to look at failures instead of warnings and obsess over deficiencies instead of potential. This makes it difficult to see anything between the two extremes of absolute status quo and total rebuilding.


This is not to suggest overlooking issues of social inequity or squalor. However, in negotiating the ropewalk between planning ideals and commercial gains, it may make sense to spare a thought for today's needs as well. For, public consent and participation is most likely a product of the immediate present.


Which is why Dharavi begs some answers: Is tearing down the present the sure-fire panacea for the future ills of urban density and deprivation? Can the physical form of the city be more important than the time-nurtured ease and efficiency with which people live in it? If cities are indeed the reflections of those who live in them, how well do urban makeovers metamorphose the inhabitants? As Medellin suggests, one way to address the darker facets of a city could well be to embrace them as they are and give them a chance.










The unconfirmed death of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in an attack by a US drone aircraft brings both Pakistan and the US off the ropes and back into the game. For the Taliban, Mehsud’s alleged death could not have come at a worse time. It was his towering presence that held together the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a loose and fragile confederation of leaders, not all whom were happy with his leadership. His death will bring into the open old rivalries and animosities. This new development could also change the complexion of the Afghanistan elections slated for August 20.


In the post-Mehsud phase, the fractious Taliban will take some time to re-group. This means that one major irritant for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is seeking re-election, has been neutralised for the moment. Forces in the Pakistani establishment that had propped up Mehsud will be too busy trying to ensure a smooth succession to be able to do damage to Karzai. The test for Karzai now lies in managing this crucial time to his advantage and stitching together a viable coalition, albeit of disparate forces. Even those sympathetic to Mehsud within Pakistan will be constrained to remain mute given his suspected involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.


India has wisely kept out of this which explains why no one has been able to point fingers at New Delhi. But, it would be premature to write the Taliban off. The Mullah Omar brand to which Mehsud owed loyalty is till strong and the organisation has demonstrated surprising resilience in the past. It could well try and launch a spectacular strike to show that it is still in the game. Mehsud’s killing gives both Pakistan and the US a psychological advantage and is likely to result in greater cooperation and intelligence-sharing between the two. Though drone attacks had been criticised for the number of civilian casualties, the latest success will see an increase in them. But both Pakistan and the US must resist from triumphalism and try and follow up this development with some engagement with the populace, many of whom do not want to prolong these hostilities. If the Pakistan government can use this opportunity to retake areas of Swat Valley captured by the Taliban and keep up the pressure on the militants, the war against terrorism could just be winnable. But it all depends on how effectively Washington, Islamabad and, to a lesser extent, Kabul are able to seize this moment and build on it.







This could well be the height of interference. A trade union in Britain has come up with the idea of banning high-heeled shoes from the workplace because they are sexy and a safety hazard. Now many women tottering around on impossible stilettos may not toe the line. And then the boot would be on the other foot. No one wants to be down at heel these days. Not even that high priestess of feminism Camille Paglia who felt that a few inches below empowered women and put them on a more equal footing with men.


Should unions not be more concerned about how high salaries should go than how towering women employees may seem in their Christian Louboutins? If some heel of an employer is forcing women to staggering into work on Jimmy Choos of impossible proportions, well then the victims can chose to make short work of them. But, let’s face it. Generations of women who have grown up to images of Marilyn Monroe and her ilk are not averse to being sexy. If they want to wiggle around on these fundamentally unstable structures, then why not? This, as old Paglia said, is about empowerment.


The message is — give us this day our Manolo Blahniks, never mind all the rest of the perks and privileges. But if unions must poke their noses into matters of length, then why not focus on men’s ties. Should ties be long enough to slosh into your soup or should they be short enough to be at chin-level? Should men wear formal long sleeves or leave enough elbow-room to do an honest day’s work? Anyway, be sure, now that women have got a foot in through the door in the workplace, it will not be a shoo-in to get them to conform to some ghastly union-dictated regulation when it comes to matters of the sole.








‘They just said my daughter has tonsillitis, but they are not giving it in writing. If she doesn’t have swine flu, why are they not giving in writing!”


The mother from Pune was upset, aggressive and close to tears.


I do not doubt her anguish.


Here are some big-picture statistics though:


More people died on Mumbai’s commuter rail lines than have died from swine flu across the world since the pandemic began five months ago (between 12 and 14 people are crushed on rail tracks or fall off Mumbai’s local trains every day).


Your plain, old flu kills up to 5 lakh people every year across the world. The swine-flu global toll since May 17 is 1,155, killing seven of every 1,000 people infected.


For now, the chances of anyone dying from swine flu — H1N1 to use its official name — in India are, as of Sunday, two in Pune, one in Mumbai and one in Ahmedabad.


If you are that anguished mother, this is a chance too many.


Aside from revealing the sanctity we afford to the phrase “in writing” — a term I heard over and over during the televised swine-flu hysterics last week — the latest affliction to reach India’s shores also reveals how easily we are willing to become mobs led by half-baked, sensation-seeking reportage shorn of perspective.


Restraint, of course, is not a word that was ever a part of our national vocabulary.


There was a reason Nobel laureate Amartya Sen collectively called his essays on history, art and culture The Argumentative Indian. He noted that anger, rage and resentment fuelled post-independence street uprisings.


Tabloid television — which now often includes our mainline channels as well — with its hectoring approach to the day’s news, only accentuates this proclivity to public rage. We all want answers when things go wrong, but there’s a big difference between finding an answer and finding a scapegoat.


With the swine flu, there are no clear answers.


That makes it more difficult for us, the media of the new I-want-answers India.


When you’re living through a pandemic, it’s hard to spread the blame. Let’s focus on damage control, providing perspective and keeping people calm.


That begins at home. Do remember that swine flu resembles the ordinary flu, and it’s not a great idea to rush to a hospital immediately, as thousands are in Pune, Mumbai and Delhi after 14-year-old Rida Sheikh became the first Indian casualty last week.


It’s not easy to stay calm, but it is very important. Swine flu appears to spread easily, so rushing to a hospital where the virus is known to be lurking is not a good idea. As I write this, the only two victims in serious condition are a doctor and chemist from Pune.


Epic outbreaks of disease have always been a part of human societies for millennia, and our increasingly crowded country and planet are only making them worse.


Flu — influenza — has always been a part of civilisation. Some of its avatars have been so horrific as to make swine flu seem like, well, the common cold.


Most notorious is the Spanish influenza, a pandemic that between 1918 and 1919 killed 50 million people, according to the US’ Centre for Disease Control, one of the world’s important disease-fighting institutions. Many more may have died; it’s just that many who died were never diagnosed.


Epidemiologists estimate that at its peak, Spanish influenza infected a third of the world’s population. This was a time before transcontinental flights and the global village.


As I pointed out, the ordinary flu is, thus far, deadlier than swine flu, but that could change. The Spanish influenza spent a calm summer, behaving much like the swine flu has in India.


Then, as the winter of 1918 approached, it turned deadly.


Here is the big reason for disquiet: all cases of what is called influenza A are descendants of the 1918 virus (that excludes humans infected by the bird flu, which is another strain). Its offspring infect both pigs and humans today.


Swine flu, then, is a close cousin of the Spanish pandemic. There is no foretelling where, how and when it may strike, and what turn it might take.


In 1976, a soldier at a US army base suddenly died — a day after feeling tired and weak — and five more were hospitalised. It emerged the virus responsible was swine flu, a strain of the 1918 Spanish version. Health officials panicked and at least a quarter of the US population was vaccinated, as 500 more died of an affliction related to an immune reaction to the vaccine.


There is no vaccine for the present swine flu outbreak. Viruses are tricky creatures, shuffling genetic codes faster than science can crack them. India is just starting work on a swine flu vaccine, but don’t hold your breath. In the US, home to some of the world’s most advanced disease tracking, there isn’t even a surveillance system for viruses circulating in pigs, from where the present virus jumped to humans.


Did this virus come from a 1999 outbreak of flu in American pigs? It’s very similar. But it’s also similar to a strain found in European swine. Did it maybe hop aboard migratory birds and make a trans-Atlantic journey to Mexico? Did it, then, combine with the American strain and piggyback, so to say, on Mexican farm workers to the US? Did it then spread and infect a 23-year-old who travelled from New York to Hyderabad on May 13, becoming the first recorded Indian case? Could all this be irrelevant if the virus dies out?


The questions will keep growing. We must ensure that our fears do not.









The just-concluded Parliament session has shown that the UPA is still struggling to stay on top of things while the BJP, the principal Opposition party, lacks the determination and commitment to play its role effectively.


Nearly two-and-half months have passed since the new government came to power. However, despite the Congress getting 206 seats in the general elections, the government does not appear to be in command or cohesive as it looked in its first few months in power in 2004.


There could be many reasons for this perception. First, the joint statement signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Pakistan has failed to find endorsement within the Congress even though the party tried to erase this impression by backing his statement in Parliament, which did not have any mention of Balochistan. In what looked like a cover-up, the party stated that there could be no dialogue with Pakistan till terrorist strikes against India stopped completely.


Attempts were also made to indicate that there was no disagreement within the government on the subject but many top leaders, including some ministers, took a contrary view in private conversations. In simple language, the party line is not the same as the government line and many ministers in the government also do not agree with the Indo-Pakistan joint statement in Sharm el-Sheikh. But the party is also not keen that this one disagreement should precipitate a crisis and allow the differences to come out in the open.


Party managers are keen that the issue should get a quiet burial so that the government can move on from there. The official line is that the Congress president and UPA chairperson is fully behind the PM and the two continued to enjoy a cordial relationship based on mutual trust.


However, this one instance has also perhaps created an impression, rightly or wrongly that a power struggle may have started within the Congress. While the positions of the PM, Mrs Gandhi and her son Rahul remain unaffected, there is an attempt by some senior leaders to position themselves for any unexpected eventuality.


In the process, the government has not been able to adequately assert itself. Though the Parliament session went off smoothly, the dominance of the government on each and every issue was not enough at times. Even the performance or lack of it of some ministers showed as neither over-enthusiasm nor lack of experience on the national political stage seemed to help matters.


But there are lessons the government and the party must learn from the first session itself. If some ministers have been found to be performing below par or not up to expectations, it is the right time to take corrective steps. Maintaining a status quo is not going to help matters as people have given a larger mandate to the Congress and want decisions and results. Lingering over matters is not going to help.


Similarly, the long-awaited party reshuffle must take place without delay. It is the right time to bring in people who have a comfortable working relationship with Rahul Gandhi who is seen by the average Congress worker as the future leader. Those who are entrusted with party positions must have the required compatibility and must conform to the principle of one-man one-post, as was the norm during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as PM and party president. Elections to Maharashtra, Haryana, Arunachal and Jharkhand are due and the Congress cannot afford to be casual in its approach.


This is also a good time since the BJP is in disarray and some important changes are expected at the top level in the saffron brigade as well. The government must not shy away from making important appointments. Both the party and government have to send out the right signals that things are totally under control and that they will provide good governance for the next five years. Between us.









North India enjoyed a sequence of good monsoons. That period has now, almost certainly, come to an end. The news about the monsoon’s effect on agricultural production this year is almost uniformly bad. So much so that the government has heard advice that the current kharif season should be written off as a loss — other than places where the standing crop can still be saved — and efforts should focus on the later, rabi, harvest. Some believe that there might be about a week left to sow; but, even if that is true, the forecasts for drought-hit areas don’t seem to indicate that this will help. The most recent meteorological survey report, that rainfall in north-west India was short till July 6 by as much as 44 per cent, should serve to convey something of the scope of the problem.


The distress felt by producers is very real. India might have enough reserves in foodgrain, thanks to the two bumper harvests of the past couple of years, to try and minimise the dent in supply; but that will do very little for those in the pockets of misery where the harvest will have to be written off. There, obviously, the government will have to step in, in the short term; but, equally, the long-term responsibility that government has to them should not be forgotten any further. And central to that responsibility is keeping the agricultural irrigation network expanding and raising its effectiveness.


Too little has been done in these years of good monsoons. Perhaps the plentiful rain served to distract decision-makers from the truth that irrigation exists not only for good times, but also — perhaps especially — for bad. Irrigation networks that kept things going, especially in the north-west, in the years of good rain, have been showed up as wanting in this difficult year. And the reason that we have been condemned to this slowdown in the development of irrigation-related physical capital is twofold: the sloth of those supposed to commission and oversee the network’s development, and the pernicious hold and reach of half-thought out and unexamined ideas that claim to be environmentalist. The visceral realisation that India is not beyond the distress that drought can cause should burn away sloth. And as for continuing to give credence to negativity about development the moment that it is expressed in environmental terms, that clearly must end. The risks of an approach that does so have become painfully obvious. The government must, as it calibrates its short-term drought relief, remember that long-term drought prevention should be put back on the agenda.









No doubt about it, judges are fashioned for a nobler cause. Our higher judiciary self-selects new recruits, contempt laws ensure that even truth is not a defence, and impeaching a senior judge is so tortuous, that in Independent India, not one has been sacked. Often termed the world’s most powerful, our high courts and Supreme Court have earned their independence — they command respect like few other institutions. But this freedom demands a stricter standard.


Which is why the trend of judges being appointed to the same high courts where their kin are practicing, is so disquieting. Of course, no lawyer is allowed to argue directly before his relative. But as long as they share the same court, in India’s “you scratch my back” legal fraternity, as in any other sphere of public life, suspicions of favours being dispensed will never really go away. Besides, given the stringent norms that our judiciary imposes on itself, this trend, what the Law Commission of India, in its latest report, calls the “uncle-judge” system, is an issue that must be addressed. The Law Commission’s solution is that judges never be appointed to the court where they previously practiced as successful lawyers. This, they argue, will minimise the chance of kin arguing and holding in the same court.


It is nobody’s argument that judges who have relatives in the same court are automatically tainted. Indeed, it is often just a product of circumstance. Judges would naturally want to work in the same city they practiced in, and in a country where family is as much an occupational unit as a social one, it is only fair that some of the judge’s relatives will want to earn a living in the same high court. But as the Law Commission points out, Class II government officers and above are rarely posted to their home district. Why should high court judges be any different? Besides, there is a deeper principle. The perks that our higher judiciary enjoy are predicated on their being above suspicion. Not being posted to your home turf is small price to pay. It is hoped that the Law Commission’s recommendations are taken up for serious and actionable debate.







The movie My Name is Khan, starring the sparkly eyed superstar of Indian cinema, Shah Rukh Khan, has been bought by Hollywood’s Fox studio, ushering yet another merger between the East and West, and more greatly, serving to increase awareness. The character suffers from Asperger syndrome, an illness which in communities is often shunned. Yet, one of its outcomes is to produce people of exceptional intellect.


The power of cinema has never been doubted. It transports you to a world which traditionally depicts fairytale concepts, a chance to escape the humdrum realities of life. However, increasingly Indian cinema has undergone a sort of revolution, both in concept and content. Major stars have started to put their names on alternative movies which target real-life issues, increasing awareness, initiating a cultural re-analysis of illness and the challenges included with acceptance.


Rani Mukherjee’s role as a blind student in Black, and Aamir Khan in Taare Zameen Par have won critical acclaim and ushered in a change in perception. Autism spectrum disorders, specifically Asperger syndrome, was defined in the 70s as an illness affecting children, but research indicated that its presence lingers on into adulthood. Though initial interest was limited to academia, attention slowly filtered through, along with indications that physicists and mathematicians such as Paul Dirac, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton had some form on mild autism. Thus the question: why is this illness often dismissed as spurts of sudden madness? The simple fact is that those who suffer skills are often at odds with norms, and their mind wanders. It is through these wanderings that we have made leaps in knowledge and it is assuring that Bollywood has acknowledged the need to set facts straight.








A recent amendment to the NREGA includes working on small and marginal farms as permitted activities under the scheme. But there also remains a lot to be done in the sphere of providing public goods in Indian villages. The most important public good that needs urgent attention is rural sanitation. This should be on the top of the priority list of the NREGA. Not only will this fill part of the gap in the rural health policy, the NREGA is better suited for this work than the myriad Central government schemes that have tried to address this issue.


India accounts for about 25 per cent of the world’s child deaths. Among the most important causes in India is diarrhoea. In 2006, 33 per cent of Indian children under the age of 5 received treatment for diarrhoea. The disease needs to be addressed by improvements in sanitation. UNICEF says that easy measures like sanitation can prevent 90 per cent of diarrhoea deaths. However, India’s rural sanitation programme has not been successful. In 2006, only 18 per cent of the country’s rural population had access to sanitation.


One of the main reasons for the failure of rural sanitation schemes has been an attempt to implement schemes designed at the Centre or in state capitals which do not take account local conditions. The one-size-fits-all approach, such as, when subsidies are given for construction of facilities by BPL families, has not resulted in increased usage or improvements in outcomes measured by health status. For example, there are instances of centralised schemes which privileged the importance of sanitation and built septic tanks and latrines, but these were never utilised, as the community was not involved in the decision-making process.


The lack of awareness about hygiene and sanitation is pervasive. The task involves not merely construction of facilities as a mechanical task to get a subsidy from the government, but of education and awareness. This can, to some extent, come through involvement in decision-making.


The power of the NREGA is that the projects taken up are conceptualised at the local level. In this regard, the NREGA has an advantage over Central or state government sponsored schemes, which cannot create public assets suited to the needs of each village. Although some of these top-down schemes are well meant, they still do not have the potential for taking account of local conditions and needs. Effectively, the NREGA provides untied money to the block or village as long as the money is spent on labour intensive work.


While it has been seen that in developed countries one of the most important contributions by the government to improvement in public health status has been through interventions that lead to better sanitation, cleaner drinking water and reduction of rats and mosquitoes, in India, health policy has focussed on medical services. Any discussion of a health budget for rural areas allocates funds for tangible assets such as new clinics and wards, as well as towards subsidies on medication and treatment. The number of doctors or nurses, the number of hospital beds and primary health centres have been the focus of health policy and health reports. The policy has not been about doing what it takes to improve the health status of the population. Instead of preventing diseases from spreading, the government takes credit for providing medical care once a child has fallen ill.


The first step in meaningful public intervention for improving rural health is not just to provide subsidised treatment and medicine, but to also prevent the occurrence of such diseases by focusing on preventive measures. Simply by ensuring clean drinking water and proper segregation of waste, we can prevent many episodes of diarrhoea. Similarly, malaria can be averted through good drainage systems. The focus of public policy needs to be clean drinking water, well-functioning drainage and sewerage, systematic garbage disposal and elimination of pests.


Under the NREGA, several measures can be implemented to improve sanitation — cleaning of community ponds to prevent stagnation, as well as drainage of unused tanks, building cement-lined gutters on the sides of roads to channel water and preventing waste from collecting, and building culverts for streams which otherwise spill on to roads. These are public goods. They are a classic case of market failure where no individual will provide them at her own expense. They impact the health of the whole community, and only the state can sponsor them in an effective, consistent manner. By using the NREGA, which mandates local decision-making, we can ensure community participation and efficient allocation of resources.


Other health measures under the NREGA can also include the creation of assets which are private goods having externalities, for example covered pit latrines and ditches for irrigation. These may belong to a particular household or family, but their construction and use improves the health of the whole village. Along with such creation of assets, maintenance work such as proper garbage collection and disposal, which prevents pests and thus the outbreak of epidemics, should be included. All the above works fit the mandate of the NREGA, which emphasises work that does not require any special skills, and on creating public works proposed by the local government. The only thing that needs to change is the focus of the government towards public goods, both in the case of using NREGA funds and in health policy.


In summary, a focus on rural sanitation under the NREGA has the potential of solving one of rural India’s most important problems. It allows expenditure for creating cleaner villages taking into account the needs of the community and the environment. It has a greater chance of success than sanitation schemes that have failed in their mission. Along with a change in focus in the NREGA, the government should put in place awareness campaigns that support this focus. This will help make up for the biggest gap in its health policy which has failed to provide effective intervention in this field.








Despite Ahmadinejad’s formal swearing-in as president of Iran, street demonstrations against his presidency continue. After nearly two months of post-election turmoil, dozens have been killed and hundreds jailed.


Last week’s “trials” of more than a hundred reformists were a reminder of the Moscow show trials of 1936-38 where the Old Bolsheviks, like Zinoviev and Bukharin — major figures in the October Revolution — were accused of counter-revolutionary activity, sabotage, murder, and collaboration with

fascism. As in the Moscow trials, which coincided with the final climax of Stalin’s Great Purges, the Tehran trials are a public symbol of a coup against some of the architects of the revolution, accused now of promoting a “velvet revolution” in Iran. For Stalin, the Moscow trials were a means of shifting the blame for the unpopularity of his regime on to scapegoats who might otherwise have supplanted him. By accusing his opponents of espionage, terror and causing all the ills of the Soviet regime, Stalin made the lie big enough to stick. Here, the “confessions” from those on trial are designed to support the allegations by senior government officials that Iran’s post-election protests were supported by foreign powers and aimed at overthrowing the government — and to shut down disputes over the election’s legitimacy.


The confessions, almost certainly produced under harsh interrogation, beatings, sleep deprivation, and threats of torture, are also meant to frighten Iranian reformers and civil society activists — including top-ranking political figures such as opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and the two former presidents, Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. Among those accused and forced to “confess” are Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist, and Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar, charged with orchestrating the post-election protests. Tajbakhsh, who was arrested and released in 2007 on charges of seeking to foment a velvet revolution, alleged that “the main instigators of the riots” were “the government, semi-government, and intelligence services of the United States”. As for Bahari, he testified that for him “the first step was to propagate the thought of questioning religious authority and maintain that the Islamic Republic of Iran has no popular support.”


The Obama administration has continued to voice sympathy for Iran’s opposition, while asking the Iranian government to respond to an invitation for unconditional talks with the West on its nuclear weapons programme. As for Canada, the recent speech by Prime Minister Harper makes clear its government’s critical position, one shared by most of the EU countries — which refused to send Ahmadinejad congratulatory letters. Europe, however, has decided not to enter into a political row with Tehran, fearing that it may diminish the hope of a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dispute.


It goes without saying that the US and Europe are working on setting up a new round of talks with Iran. Obama has previously promised no additional sanctions on Iran if it freezes nuclear development work. However, by cutting off Iran’s import of gasoline and other oil products, the Obama administration could make matters even worse and dialogue with Iran more difficult. On the one hand, the Iranian government has shrugged off US threats of gas embargoes, asserting that domestic demands would be met from alternative routes — meaning Russia and China, who have refused hard-hitting trade embargoes on Tehran. On the other hand, tough sanctions would have a terrible impact on Iranian civil society. The more such sanctions are imposed, the greater the anti-Western dynamic in Iranian politics, aiding Ahmadinejad’s repressive measures.

Until this moment, the aim of the regime’s violent response to the non-violent protests by Iran’s citizens has been to prevent the movement’s expansion and the escalation of political demands. In this unbalanced confrontation, the question is: how long can the movement remain non-violent? Ahmadinejad has interpreted the peacefulness of the civic movement as a weakness, and as an invitation to use violence on the streets and in courtrooms. And the West’s strategies, which assume that the regime can concede points on the nuclear question while continuing to violate human rights is once again a reminder of the Moscow trials — which seemed to both convince the West that Stalin was firmly in control, and reinforced its fears about the Revolution spreading to the rest of the world.


In short, there is another path for sustaining the Iranian struggle for justice and freedom in the coming months and years, which is unlikely to command the interests of the West, more focused on the Iranian nuclear issue than anything else. A path which is no top priority to any so-called lobby in Washington, but nevertheless a less costly, less dangerous, and more righteous one, one that protects against violation of rights, and aids those whose rights are violated in Iran.


The writer is a Toronto-based Iranian scholar









Shekhar Gupta: On this very, very windy monsoon morning at Bombay’s proud new sea link, my guest is Ashok Chavan, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.


Ashok Chavan: Hi, Shekhar. Nice to see you.


Shekhar Gupta: Very nice to see you, and if I may say so, the youngest Chief Minister in the Congress right now.


Ashok Chavan: Well, I don’t know how young I am but I am young at heart.


Shekhar Gupta: It is a good feeling to stand here.


Ashok Chavan: Yeah, you see this is a wonderful sea link. It is a marvel. We have reduced the commuting time by almost half an hour. I think after the Gateway of India, this is one of the landmarks of Mumbai now.


Shekhar Gupta: But it took too long coming up?


Ashok Chavan: I know there have been problems but ultimately it has happened.


Shekhar Gupta: You have been in public life for a long time. Your father was one of our prominent political leaders, former home minister of India Yashwantrao Chavan. How do you analyse these delays? Something that should take three years takes nine years in India.


Ashok Chavan: You see, procedural issues are there. Then of course, we have the local people who have some problems — the people staying in the vicinity, the coolies and the fishermen. There was some problem which had to be sorted out. We had to change the alignment of the bridge. Such issues came up which actually delayed the project for some time but nevertheless, I think it has worked out to be fine now.


Shekhar Gupta: You know, this is what I call the babuji dheere chalna syndrome: everything happens too slowly in India.


Ashok Chavan: If you go to China, it is a different process. The government functions in a different way. I don’t know whether democracy exists in that place but they get things done because one fine morning somebody comes and tells you that in one month you vacate the premises and you will get the compensation. Here, there is a democratic process which has to be followed.


Shekhar Gupta: But must democracy be an enemy of efficiency?


Ashok Chavan: Sometimes there are genuine problems too. I think when we take care of the people’s problems, ultimately what we are doing is to see that Mumbai gets the best and the people of Mumbai also do not suffer because of this.


Shekhar Gupta: But have enough lessons been learnt and has enough groundwork been done so that further extensions will not be similarly delayed?


Ashok Chavan: From whatever lessons have been learnt from this sea link, I think a lot of things could improve and time could be reduced during the further extensions from Worli to Haji Ali to Nariman Point and the other way to Versova.


Shekhar Gupta: So when are you going to hand out the contracts for the other links?


Ashok Chavan: I think the further contract from Worli to Haji Ali will be finalised in the next 10 days. I had gone to meet the Congress president when she was in Mumbai. She said let’s expedite the process. We will see that this process is completed within the next 15 days and the work is completed in about two-and-a-half to three years’ time.


Shekhar Gupta: How does one get from Haji Ali to Nariman Point?


Ashok Chavan: As you know, the Assembly elections are round the corner, so I don’t think this process can be initiated or finalised during these two months because there is going to be a model code of conduct. This could be taken up after the elections. But I believe in simultaneous beginning of both the sea links so that we reach Nariman Point at the same time that we reach Versova.


Shekhar Gupta: If you come to power, are you promising that both will be contracted out?


Ashok Chavan: We will come to power, that’s for sure. I am hopeful because we have done excellent work. I thank the people of India and Maharashtra who have made the Congress come back into the Lok Sabha. The people’s mandate has been for development.


Shekhar Gupta: If you are sure of coming back to power, are you also sure of being able to give out those two contracts soon?


Ashok Chavan: I think we should be able to do that.


Shekhar Gupta: To Versova as well as to Nariman Point.


Ashok Chavan: The process has been started. The department is working on the engineering and other issues. I think by December, we should be able to do that.


Shekhar Gupta: Because, you know whenever you drive through this sort of bottleneck...


Ashok Chavan: You see Shekhar, these are private-public partnerships. This is a toll-based sort of work, so it depends on the response. You are observing that investments have also slowed down because of the global recession. But I am hopeful that this can be done.


Shekhar Gupta: But those are picking up now, the money is available. But have the basic issues — like environmental ones — the basic doubts — that should Bombay invest in infrastructure — been addressed now?


Ashok Chavan: See, we want to make Mumbai a global city. Life in Mumbai should be as good as it is globally. The basic idea is to have Mumbai as the financial centre.


Shekhar Gupta: But do you also have to deal with special interest groups? For example, you talk to any taxi driver in Bombay as you drive past better roads, and traffic comes to a standstill, kya problem hai? Woh bolte hain Lata (Mangeshkar) didi flyover bantay nahin dekhna chahti.


Ashok Chavan: I said there are issues. But let’s talk about larger interests... Let’s talk about the city. There are individuals who will feel life slightly difficult here because the (Peddar Road) flyover is coming up.


Shekhar Gupta: Have you reasoned with her because nobody wants to offend Lata Mangeshkar in Bombay?


Ashok Chavan: No, as I think today about the larger interests, I think Lataji also has been thinking on these lines, and let’s hope things will settle.


Shekhar Gupta: Have you had any communication with her?


Ashok Chavan: No, I have not talked to her... I don’t think that should be a problem.


Shekhar Gupta: But do you see that link as a combination of a flyover and an underground tunnel?


Ashok Chavan: Yes, near Priyadarshini Park and Napean Sea Road, instead of taking a long turn and going right round the Governor’s house and the hill, there could be a tunnel from Priyadarshini Park to the other side that is the Babulnath temple. Ultimately, we could go to Nariman Point.


Shekhar Gupta: You have been Chief Minister for a very short while. What have your biggest surprises been?


Ashok Chavan: You see this responsibility came to me suddenly. I never expected that such a thing would happen as Lok Sabha elections were round the corner. But the party had to think on a lot of issues, including the 26/11 scenario, that is why they have given me this responsibility. More responsibility in lesser time is like a 20-20 match, you score more in less period of time. This is what is a challenge for me... I am always confident of my capabilities... I had the experience of being in public life for the last 20 years. Ultimately the party sees the capability of a person whenever these decisions are taken, and I think my party leaders were right in taking me.


Shekhar Gupta: So when you first took over the job, did you find it more difficult or easier than you had imagined?


Ashok Chavan: No, frankly speaking, the job is not difficult. The question is time span, less time to achieve a lot of results... I took over in the month of December and now it is July-end. Four months have gone practically to the code of conduct, two months to Lok Sabha elections and two months to Assembly polls. But in whatever short time is available we have been able to take major decisions.


Shekhar Gupta: So what has been the biggest challenge? Was it law and order? Your police were in a mess.


Ashok Chavan: Yes, my immediate concern was 26/11. There was a loss of confidence and people felt that Maharashtra’s administration or police administration requires an overhaul, and they are not safe. So it was to restore the confidence of people. A lot of reshuffling had to take place, inquiries had to be conducted, the police had to be strengthened.


Shekhar Gupta: How much of a mess did you find in the police?


Ashok Chavan: No, I don’t think there is a mess. This is a proxy war with Pakistan. The confession made by the terrorist who was caught spells out how Pakistani nationals are involved in the entire conspiracy. The type of weapons they used, the type of planning they did — all these issues made it a war-like situation. The police have normally been used to handling law and order situations — thefts, robberies, murders.


Shekhar Gupta: Maharashtra Police has been divided too. There are many internal problems.


Ashok Chavan: I think we don’t have any personal likes and dislikes about who comes and goes in the police department. I think everything should be done on merit... There have been some issues and we are trying to set these right. I think all our steps taken recently in this direction will help settle the issues.


Shekhar Gupta: So what else are you doing to modernise the police now because Bombay will be in the crosshairs of terrorists now?


Ashok Chavan: The NSG has already formed a regional hub. Our intelligence academy is being inaugurated by the Union Home Minister. The state’s intelligence officers will be training them, recruitment for the intelligence officers has been done. Regular procedures have been set aside and instead of going to MPSC, we have selected them directly.


Shekhar Gupta: So you are fast forwarding it?


Ashok Chavan: Yeah, orders have been placed with various foreign agencies for purchase of weapons. A number of things have been done. The State Security Council has been formed. A CISF sort of organisation in the state is under consideration — the State Industrial Security Force.


Shekhar Gupta: Now, the bigger problem in Bombay is that when a crisis comes we use unconventional methods, like encounter policemen in the past, and when the crisis goes then the system turns on them. Is it time to review some of that since you are now settling for a long war against terror?


Ashok Chavan: Shekhar, there are no tailor-made solutions for every issue. It depends on the individual who is handling such cases. I think it should be done very judiciously. There should be no witch-hunt.


Shekhar Gupta: Are you willing to review some of the cases? Because this kind of a widespread purge of the encounter cops... (Vijay) Salaskar was also an encounter cop.


Ashok Chavan: If we don’t give freedom to our policemen to catch hold of the terrorists or the underworld people, if we don’t support them properly, how do we expect things to improve? So, I think giving them freedom to operate is very important but at the same time the people who are handling such issues should be very careful to see that it is done very judiciously.


Shekhar Gupta: Coming back to politics, you said you were sure of your victory — sure of winning in partnership with the NCP or on your own.


Ashok Chavan: See, the political situation in every district varies. At some places where we have strength, we are probably keeping out our partners, but in some districts, there are some problems. So we may require some help from our partners. The NCP is also strong in some districts and weak in others.


Shekhar Gupta: But you will be more inclined to keep the partnership?


Ashok Chavan: I will leave it to the party leaders to decide.


Shekhar Gupta: Your predecessor, Mr Deshmukh, has said that he would rather go it alone.


Ashok Chavan: I would be very happy if he could do it alone. Because there are always limitations of working in a coalition government. I am heading a coalition government, so I know the limitations.


Shekhar Gupta: But Mr Pawar has been a rather honourable ally?


Ashok Chavan: You see, every leader tries to strengthen his party. I would like to strengthen my party in Maharashtra. The same applies to NCP guys. I would like to see that I am able to protect my party’s interest, my workers at the district level get an opportunity. So, it has to be worked out properly.


Shekhar Gupta: If your party decides to go it alone, following the UPA pattern, will you be heartbroken?


Ashok Chavan: Ultimately whatever my party leadership decides, I will go by that.


Shekhar Gupta: What is the state of your Opposition? Is that a source of joy for you?


Ashok Chavan: I don’t see any strong Opposition. Elections have to be fought like a war, it is a tough process. I think we should be able to put forth our achievements in Maharashtra. I don’t see much in the Opposition, be it the Shiv Sena or the BJP.


Shekhar Gupta: You are a rare politician who is praising his predecessors.


Ashok Chavan: Why shouldn’t I? My predecessors are not my Opposition... When my father took over as chief minister, somebody was displaced. When he resigned, somebody else took over. So I have seen this process very closely. I am very clear in my mind that nobody is going to stay forever.


Shekhar Gupta: The other half of the government was the NCP. For example, your former home minister who lost his job after the attacks. All this while he had been clearing out dance bars in Bombay and doing other peripheral things.


Ashok Chavan: I won’t like to comment on what he had been doing. But priorities are definitely different. I do agree that there are lots of issues. Dance bars are a social problem and it has to be handled in its own way. The immediate priority is to protect Mumbai and Maharashtra, and see that our police force is strengthened.



Shekhar Gupta: Sharad Pawar also said that there can be other priorities. But there was a feeling that the whole Maharashtra government got distracted, not just with dance bars but in many areas and forgot the job of governance.


Ashok Chavan: Well, you see issues come up time and again. You have to review the situation and see what is the need of the hour. I feel today’s need of the hour is to see that terrorism, intelligence gathering take priority so that people feel safe.


Shekhar Gupta: See, now you are just over 50, which is very young by Indian political standards. Where do you see yourself in the party? Do you see yourself as a member of Rahul’s new young group, what is sometimes called the youth brigade or do you see yourself as a senior, having been in public life for over 20 years or do you see yourself in the middle?


Ashok Chavan: Well, I remember the days when I was really young, 26. Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister with a full majority in Parliament and he picked me to contest the Lok Sabha election in 1986. I look up to him as my idol. Rahulji has been giving me a lot of support and wants a young team to take over. I don’t call myself either too young or too old, I would say I am in between the two. But I think I have risen to the expectations of my young leader. Rahulji is looked upon as a dynamic leader of the Congress.


Shekhar Gupta: But do you feel at ease in the group or do you see yourself on the periphery?


Ashok Chavan: No, I am at ease. I don’t feel any problem. The thinking has to be clear, the ideas have to be clear and I think we get along very well.


Shekhar Gupta: The problem with the Congress in Maharashtra is that it has so many tall leaders but only 18 per cent of the vote.


Ashok Chavan: Ultimately, you have to revitalise the organisation. There are issues in the organisation, every district has to be strengthened. A number of issues are there which are to be tackled.


Shekhar Gupta: But your high command understands that?


Ashok Chavan: Yes, the party is constantly monitoring the performance in every district and we think we are geared up for the elections. Generally, the mood is upbeat. The Lok Sabha results have given a tremendous boost to the general confidence of the party.


Shekhar Gupta: Yet only 18 per cent vote for the Congress.


Ashok Chavan: Facts are facts and I don’t deny that. But I think we will perform much better than what we did in the Lok Sabha elections.


Shekhar Gupta: See, we have all read the confessions that Kasab has made. I know that you don’t want to say what the court should do, but what do you make of these confessions?


Ashok Chavan: I don’t know in what background these confessions have been made. Is there a ploy or something, or what exactly are the intentions? It is yet to be examined. Though the court procedure has not yet been completed, the mood of the public is that these terrorists should be hanged because so many lives have been lost, innocent people have been killed, police officers have lost their lives. There is a lot of anger. These people should be given the strongest possible punishment.


Shekhar Gupta: So if there is a death sentence in this case, are you saying that there will not be the kind of delays which have been seen in Afzal Guru’s case?


Ashok Chavan: I won’t compare Afzal’s case with this one. A legal process is followed at the highest level, but generally people expect quick justice.


Shekhar Gupta: But you will expedite clearances?


Ashok Chavan: From our side there is no problem. I think within the shortest possible time the chargesheet in this case has been filed in the courts. I commend the work done by the police department, the judiciary, our legal people involved in bringing this matter before the court. I think they have done a very good job.


Shekhar Gupta: And you will make sure that the government doesn’t delay anything once the verdict is out?


Ashok Chavan: There is no reason why we should delay.


Shekhar Gupta: As you go for the election, all the best to you and, as they say, may the best team win. And if you win then I hope we will do our next walk on maybe the next leg of the sea link and hopefully right at Nariman Point. All the best to you.


Ashok Chavan: Thank you, Shekhar.


Transcript prepared by Mehraj D Lone.









Company results for the quarter ending June shows net sales across sectors have declined further, a repetition of the trends that have been evident over the past three quarters. Even business confidence surveys carried out by various agencies show that despite some green shoots of recovery in certain sectors, companies are still not enthused enough to go ahead with capital expenditure plans. Though the liquidity condition in both domestic and international markets has improved, companies are mainly borrowing to meet their operating expenses and to de-leverage their books and are not looking at any new capital expenditure plans for the next one year. In fact, a Crisil survey of 500 companies shows that their planned capex will decline by 25% in the next three years. Barring sectors like power, telecom and gas distribution, capex plans will look weak in most major industries of the country. In recent months, many companies have announced a reduction in capex spends. Top utility vehicles and tractor maker Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd has reduced its spends in creating capacity in local factories while JSW Steel Ltd has decided to cut spending on overseas operations. During the last four years of economic boom, corporate capital expenditure has grown over 30% on a compounded annual basis. In fact, our investment-to-GDP ratio during the last four years shot up from 25% to about 39%, which is close to the investment level in China and South Korea. As we have argued in these columns, private capital investment is critical for growth; so these trends are critical. The laggard demand is evident from the RBI data that shows credit growth, which drives sales of goods and services in the country, has slowed to 16.6% year-on-year.


The corporate debt market, which is an important route to raise long-term capital needs for companies in developed countries, is still underdeveloped in India. And with banks still risk-averse on corporate lending, many companies are looking at the international market to borrow. But the spread is still not profitable for them to borrow for their long-term needs. Since, capex plans take at least 18 to 24 months to produce results, companies look for cheaper source of funds. Bulk of the funding for new capex by firms will have to be sourced from the banking channel unlike in the past when it was driven by strong growth in demand along with easy availability of funds from many sources, including external commercial borrowings, foreign currency convertible bonds and a booming primary equity market. Though the equity market looks positive after the Adani Power IPO was subscribed over 21 times, it is too early to announce a revival of the primary market. Until then, banks will have to play an important role in corporate lending at favourable rates.







After lying low for almost a year, global commodities prices may be on their way up—a recent report by Goldman Sachs argues that commodity prices could see a spike similar to the one in 2008. The main culprit this time around, like last time, will be crude oil, which is tipped to cross the $100 per barrel mark. However, a lot will depend on the next Opec meeting slated for early September, where exporting nations will take a call on whether to further cut output to bring down inventories or to maintain the supplies at the current level. There is unlikely to be a rapid global economic recovery any time soon. If one goes by the common consensus on crude oil output, a status quo is the most likely scenario, but then, last minute surprises cannot be ruled out because some Opec nations are still not comfortable with the current oil price of around $70 per barrel. Market watchers, though, are of the opinion that irrespective of the Opec meeting, crude oil prices will swell by the end of 2009 as the broader global economy takes hold. In other commodities, copper—the benchmark for most base metals, surged to a 10-month high earlier this week, before retarding slightly. Prices of other base metals—like nickel, zinc, lead and tin—are also at the 2009 highs, largely on the hope of an economic recovery by the year-end. In a research note, Bank of America Merrill Lynch raised its 2009 and 2010 price forecast for aluminum, copper, nickel and zinc on the back of the impending economic recovery. In short, most base metals and crude oil could see another round of spike by end of this year.


So, what happens to agriculture commodities? Market players expect a strong rise, with palm oil leading the pack, largely because of low rains in the main growing regions. Deutsche Bank AG predicts palm oil to average 2,300 ringgit ($657) a metric tonne this year, 10% more than its previous forecast because of concerns that the developing El Nino weather phenomenon could curb output in Malaysia and Indonesia, which account for around 90% of the world production. Palm oil has already risen 37% this year after a drought in Argentina destroyed huge quantities of soybean crop, boosting demand for rival palm oil. The dry weather in Asia might also impact production of grains and soyabean in China, sugar in India, coconut in the Philippines, coffee in Indonesia and Vietnam, rice in Thailand and its neighbours, Deutsche Bank added. Sugar prices rose to a 28-year high in New York on Thursday over concerns that low monsoon could crimp output in India, the world’s second-largest grower. Difficult times ahead for central banks which have an eye on inflation and limping growth.









I’m not sure who it is I’m misquoting but it’s often said “India can handle famines but not malnutrition”, that is, we respond well to crises but not to the day-to-day to problems that continually plague us. The current crisis is the death of one fourteen year old girl from swine flu in Pune. For this we see great mobilisation of public resources and individual precautions in many parts of the country. Whether this degree of concern is warranted or not is beyond my expertise to judge.


I suspect it is not but I certainly wouldn’t want to stand in the way of standard procedures on the part of health ministries for fear of blame if it turned into a full-blown epidemic. But I sure wish that a small fraction of this concern were given to the grinding, day-to-day problems of the health of many Indians, particularly our poorest and most vulnerable.


Compared to about 600 confirmed cases and one death of a (mysterious?) new disease over several months we have tens of thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths every day from diarrhoea and other routine, unglamorous health problems. These diseases are not mysterious at all; they are not news-worthy in the least and are eminently preventable by public and individual action. Why do we not see panic such as that in Naidu hospital in Pune over these problems?


It is a well known result in the study of attitudes toward risk that people wildly overestimate the probability of very rare events. Clearly one out of a billion is pretty rare in comparison to the daily tragedies of deaths that we seem to accept as a part of life. In our reaction to risk we seem to be responding true to form.


We know about and are kept informed hourly about the new problems, we find out about and, briefly, worry about the usual ones with a lag of years. Public reaction may be explicable psychologically and may also explain the politics behind hasty reactions that determine health ‘policy’ but is not a good guide to the economics of health policy. Forget economics: this sort of reaction is not a good guide for any common sense approach to the problem.


In the US there were numerous cases of schools being closed, businesses shut and other aspects of daily life disrupted. These all carry costs to people in the value of the activities. If they didn’t, why do we make children go to school in the first place? Should we bear this cost?


That’s a hard decision. What I worry about is that specialised technocrats see their own issues as of crucial importance and tend to downplay the consequences in other realms of life. To balance this tendency we have politicians or officials that take a broader view of peoples’ many needs. Of course, in cases when the politician makes a mistake and the technocrat was right, we blame the politician. When the politician is right and there was no real threat, no one notices since the consequence was a normal day. Normal days without disruption are good things but are not newsworthy.


Of the measures to avoid the spread of swine flu infection, some were in response to health authority warnings, some were initiated by the public as, say, parents in the case of schools. Some lessons can be gleaned from both the tendency to overestimate rare and new events for both government and for behaviour of the public. The latter, perhaps, with a few words of advice from health authorities.

First, panic is part of the problem, not a helpful, energising conviction to solve it. Again, in the US, visits to emergency rooms in New York City from mid-May to mid-June increased by a factor of ten for flu-like symptoms relative to the year before, from about 4,300 in 2008 to 45,000 to 2009. This resulted in 40-50 people being hospitalised per day, most without swine flu. In fact, throughout flu season, less than 50 died from swine flu compared to over 1,000 from all other, standard, flu strains. This represents an enormous burden on resources that could better be used elsewhere. New York may well be able to absorb these patients and their attendant expenditures. Pune, and India as a whole cannot with its dozens of other problems that have urgent claims on the same money and personnel. Credible announcements from government could well save resources for higher priority needs and, ultimately, save lives. Unfortunately those lives are anonymous and the names of the those victims are not printed in the newspapers.


Second, surveillance of disease is, indeed, a high priority for public money. Who else has the incentive to collect information that has no particular commercial value? There are two types of surveillance activities. The first, applicable to swine flu, is to search out a particular problem and trace its origin. The ‘target’ is uniform, usually concentrated in urban areas (or among people in contact with those who travel abroad) and can trigger a rapid response from health officials. For this, there are international standards for procedures that could be valuable to India for the sake of its people, and at least defend the ‘Brand India’ name in international opinion.


For the sake of the vast majority of the Indian public, though, surveillance is even more critical but takes a very different form. Instead of waiting for people to come to facilities, it is important for outreach on a regular basis to find out what the health status and needs of the people are in normal circumstances. This would be a much more reliable guide to good public policy, saving large numbers of lives on a continuous basis.


“What gets measured, gets done” is a standard quip from the management gurus. In the case of health surveillance, this is clearly the case. It is a shame that this message does not inform standard policy discussions in health and must wait for emergencies, possibly minor emergencies, to grab the measurement, the spotlight and the policy response from much bigger and deadlier problems.


The author is Charles and Marie Robertson visiting professor of economic development, Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs, Princeton University








Sub-prime lending is a concept that began in the US in the mid- 1990s, as a means of profitably extending credit to financially disadvantaged households. Outstanding sub-prime loans soared from $33 billion in 1993 to over $1.3 trillion in December 2007. While the number of sub-prime loans soared, the total securities backed by sub-prime assets constituted only 3% of the net assets of the US financial system. In fact, many of the “toxic financial assets” that resulted in huge write-downs by major banks had no sub-prime origins. Securitisation of assets with sub-prime linkages were only a small part of a global financial system.


How then did the escalation in sub-prime mortgage defaults in early 2007 lead to a deep global synchronised economic downturn? Arvind Krishnamurthy of the Kellogg School of Management tries to better understand this “financial amplification mechanism” in a recent NBER working paper “Amplification Mechanisms in Liquidity Crises”. He presents and models two main transmission mechanisms for this amplification. The first is the link between investment decisions and the balance sheet of the investor. Since most financial investors are intermediaries that source funding from households and firms, a negative shock to financial markets results in a withdrawal of this funding, and weakens the balance sheet of the financial institution. This weakening in the balance sheet position causes the institution to re-assess its investment strategy, often also causing it to move from a less to more liquid portfolio. This realignment of investment strategy feeds into asset prices, which then feeds back into the original financial shock.


The second mechanism for amplification of one financial shock into the wider economy is through uncertainty. When sub-prime mortgages began to default, investors realised that their lack of information regarding the reach of these products was very high. Given the existence of many other types of structured financial products (both derived from mortgages and independent of them), a small shock to the sub-prime sector itself led to a huge shock in uncertainty. Investors responded to this uncertainty by ‘disengaging’ themselves from anything to do with structured products—this involved hedging against them, which led to a huge surge in counter-party risk premia. He distinguishes between a surge in actual risk versus a surge in uncertainty—a classic distinction patented by economist Frank Knight in the early 20th century. The second amplification mechanism is largely a result of investor uncertainty, which then snowballs into increased risk.


Is there a role for government in dulling either or both of these amplification mechanisms? Krishnamurthy argues that there is, and also makes a distinction between the role of ex-ante and ex-post policy intervention in the case of a negative financial shock such as the sub-prime crisis. Among the ex-post options are price guarantees—if the central bank or government puts a floor to asset prices, this could break the spiral of transmission of the first channel, discount window lending or equity injection—by lowering the price of credit, the central bank can effectively halt the first transmission mechanism from beginning to spread. Ex-ante policy is more conventional and focuses on regulating leverage ratios and issuing minimum equity capital requirements. However, Krishnamurthy also recognises that retrospective policy solutions are easy to come by, and many policy corrections that emerge from his model carry with them the risk of regulating out ‘good’ as well as ‘bad’ innovations. This is a central dilemma that faces financial policymakers today, especially in emerging market debates .


The author lives and works in Singapore








In a recent incident, PayPal—the online payment system—suffered a global outage that lasted for about an hour. This caused a loss of about $7.2 million in commerce, besides time and energy wastage. In India too, the e-commerce industry has to gear up itself for the slowdown in the number of transactions, which owes its origin in the recent RBI notification which mandates that every usage of credit cards online has to go through an extra layer of security. Credit card users will now have to register with the issuing bank for an additional PIN. Though the move aims at reducing the level of online fraud, it would severely impact the volume of online transactions.


In the present e-commerce environment, banks are merely payment enablers and the fraud risk is borne entirely by the merchant site and neither by the banks nor by the card companies. Also, banks/card companies, who were consulted while preparing the guidelines, haven’t even initiated their bit of job in educating the customers about the change. Hopefully, with a steep fall in credit card transactions online, banks will soon start informing their customers.


E-commerce in India is still in nascent stage, but even the most-pessimistic projections indicate a boom. Online fraud in India is just 0.16% of the e-commerce industry and India doesn’t even feature in the top 10 countries, which account for 95% of online fraud reported worldwide. As per the Internet Crime Complaint Center, US and UK are the largest online fraud perpetrating countries. International cards—the largest perpetrators of fraud, will not be governed by this directive, and thus we can expect little respite from online card fraud even with the directive. The days when retailers had websites acting as mere shop windows for their goods and services are clearly over and the ability to reach customers via the internet has grown. However, there are certain challenges such as standardising policies across states and introducing a dispute redressal mechanism that remain to be tackled before e-commerce becomes an asset for the common man.








A written reply by Pakistan’s Interior Minister to a parliamentary question to the effect that the Jamat-ud-Dawa is among the 25 proscribed organisations has not cleared the fog of ambiguity surrounding the legal status of the group. Everyone knows that JuD, which wears the garb of a social welfare and charity organisation, is a front of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Following the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, for which the LeT is blamed, the United Nations Security Co uncil listed the JuD under Resolution 1267. This and a raft of related resolutions lay down sanctions against entities linked to the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda. Governments are required to implement these sanctions against listed entities under their own laws, and where these laws are inadequate, change them in compliance with the sanctions regime. Following the JuD’s designation by the Security Council, Pakistan sealed some of the group’s offices in the Punjab and the North West Frontier Province. It is also said to have frozen bank accounts of the group. A few leaders, including founder Hafiz Saeed, who is also the co-founder of the LeT, were placed under house arrest but they have all been released now. Resolution 1267 does not specifically demand that a designated group should be proscribed. Under the Pakistan Anti-Terrorist Act, a formally proscribed group must be listed in what is called the First Schedule. From Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s reply in the National Assembly, it is not clear that the JuD is included in this list. There was no notification from the Ministry of Interior proscribing the group and placing it in the schedule.


In fact, had the JuD been formally proscribed, the government could have successfully argued its case for Mr. Saeed’s detention. It could have even arrested him under the Anti-Terrorist Act. As it is, the Maintenance of Public Order law, under which Mr. Saeed was placed under house arrest, provides for the preventive detention of an office-bearer of a group declared unlawful. At no point in the arguments before the Lahore High Court, which eventually freed Mr. Saeed, did government lawyers describe the JuD as a proscribed group. Nor have they taken this line in the two petitions challenging his release in the Supreme Court. Islamabad must realise there is nothing to be gained anymore from being less than transparent on the JuD or on any other group that has India in its cross-hairs. The India-Pakistan agreement at Sharm-al-Shaikh is bold in its vision for peace in South Asia, and the two sides must be commended for it. But this vision cannot be achieved as long as Pakistan remains a prisoner of the self-serving fiction that projects Hafiz Saeed as an altruist and his group as some kind of Islamist Brothers of Charity.








Despite the well laid down contours of fiscal federalism in India, the space available to the States has been shrinking in recent times. The growing centralisation of financial powers might well be an unintended consequence of the changing dynamics in public finance. For instance, a major reform of the indirect taxes, through the value added tax (VAT), required a careful reworking of the Centre-State financial relations including the question of compensating the States for possible revenue loss. Adjustments of an even greater magnitude would obviously be required if the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is introduced, as announced in the budget, on April 1, 2010. The switchover to the GST is a bold move to increase the share of the States’ tax revenue by bringing into their net the fast growing services segment. However, a great deal of preparatory work needs to be carried out, and this includes amending the Constitution, before the change could take effect. For the States, consumption taxes are the major sources of revenue. The fact that they will be subsumed under the new tax demands that the rate structure of the dual GST should be worked out in a way that the States do not lose in the long run. On no account should the existing vertical fiscal imbalances be accentuated further.


Another significant development impinging on the fiscal autonomy of the States relates to the changing composition and nature of central government expenditure. In recent years, the Union budgets have tended to step up outlays on centrally sponsored social sector schemes. For instance, this year’s budget has considerably enhanced outlays on schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the National Rural Health Mission. They are set to get Rs.40,791 crore more than the Rs.54,476 crore budgeted for in 20008-09. Since in some cases the States will have to make matching grants, their funds are tied to the central schemes. More invidiously, the pattern of central expenditure goes against the grain of decentralisation and federalism. In a recession year, tax revenues of both the Centre and the States are expected drop sharply. The States will therefore have to reckon with a shortfall in revenue arising out of lower central tax devolution as well as a fall in their own revenues. In the circumstances, the recent enhancement of the borrowing limits of the State governments to four per cent of GDP might not be sufficient to finance the additional expenditures they may have to bear.









“Generalship unparalleled in the history of warfare,” 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Kishan Pal said of his contribution as a commander of India’s forces during the Kargil war.


As India observes the tenth anniversary of that, we have been reminded of the need for nations to remember the valour of soldiers. But nations must also learn from the mistakes of those who sent soldiers to their death — or will be fated to repeat them.


Early in May 1999, three officers were having lunch in Kargil when news of Pakistan’s offensive in the Yaldor sector arrived. None was surprised at the news: each had warned their superiors of India’s vulnerabilities in Kargil, only to find themselves overruled.


Kargil-based 121 Brigade Commander Surinder Singh, his subordinate Colonel Pushpinder Oberoi, and 70 Brigade Commander Devinder Singh have not been featured in any of the many television commemorations of the war — but in their unheard testimonies lies the story of staggering command failures that went unpunished.


On August 25, 1998, Major R.K. Dwivedi, the Brigade-Major of the Kargil-based 121 Brigade, sent out a letter marked 124/GSD/VIS. To this letter were attached the contents of Brigadier commander Surinder Singh’s scheduled briefing of Army chief General V.P. Malik on the situation in Kargil.


In terse military shorthand, the briefing paper warned of a “push [by] militants across the L[ine] (of) C[ontrol]. Pakistan, it said, could “engage NH [National Highway] IA with AD [Air Defence] w[ea]p[o]ns”, “t[ar]g[e]t selected f[or]w[ar]d posts,” and “hit Kargil and outlying vill[age]s”.


Paragraph 8, marked “Enhanced Threat Perception,” recorded the intelligence foundations of these fears. The document recorded the arrival of fresh Pakistan troops at forward positions around Olthingthang. Fresh heavy and medium guns had been inducted into the sector, paragraph 6 (b) noted. Later, in paragraph 15, the document pointed out that “infilt[ration] routes [were] available through Mashkoh Valley, from Doda side to Panikhar, Yaldor and through nalas [streams]”. Forty-five Pakistani irregulars, paragraph 20 noted, had already moved across the LoC.


Brigadier Surinder Singh’s apprehensions were anchored in a growing mass of intelligence on Pakistan’s offensive intent.


Intelligence Bureau Director Shyamal Datta had, on June 2, 1998, issued a personally-signed alert on the training of large numbers of Pakistani irregulars. Based on intelligence provided by the Intelligence Bureau’s Leh station, Mr. Datta’s note recorded increased military activity along the LoC, notably near posts code-named Chor, Hadi, Saddle, Reshma, Masjid, Dhalan and Langar — the very posts which served as base camps for Pakistani forces during the Kargil war.


Later, Intelligence Bureau informants reported the deployment of M-11 missiles on the Deosai Plains and the laying of fresh minefields. The RAW, for its part, said new Pakistani troops — the 164 Mortar Regiment, the 8 Northern Light Infantry and the 69 Baloch Regiment — had been pumped into the area. In effect, a full brigade had moved in, a posture indicating offensive intent.


Military Intelligence spies made similar determinations. In June 1998, the Kargil Brigade Intelligence Team reported that supplies of ammunition were being dumped, and that terrorists had been seen in Skardu, Warcha and Marol, awaiting infiltration through the Kargil sector.

On August 30, 1998, Major KBS Khurana of the 1/S23 Intelligence and Field Security Unit at Kargil sent out a hand-written note, marked 1/10/6, referring to disturbing information provided by a source code-named 3820SC. “It has been revealed,” Major Khurana wrote, “that 500 Afghan militants have been brought to Gurikot, NJ 7959, to be further inducted into India in the near future”.


Early in January 1999, Colonel Oberoi called the attention of 3 Infantry Division Commander Major-General VS Budhwar to significant weaknesses in India’s forward defences, on the basis of an exercise code-named “Jaanch.” In his January 30, 1999 letter, Colonel Oberoi stated enemy action could render “some posts untenable.” It proceeded to call for forces being permanently stationed on Point 5165-metres, Pariyon ka Talab and Point 4660-metres — now famous as Tiger Hill.


Less than a month later, on February 9, 1999, troops of the 5 Para Regiment spotted movement on the top of Point 5770, a strategic height in the southern Siachen area. Again, on March 4, between eight and ten Pakistan soldiers were seen removing snow from a concrete bunker to west of the summit of Point 5770. That evening, shots were exchanged in the area — the first fire-contact of the Kargil war. The officer who reported the Pakistani intrusion, Major Manish Bhatnagar, was removed from the area, and the loss of the peak hushed up.


Finally, in April, 1999, local commanders conducted an exercise to test the impact of a Pakistani attack — ironically enough, just as the intruders were entrenching themselves in the Kargil heights.


Major General Mohinder Puri, commander of the 8 Division which would soon lead the battle in Dras, played the role Pakistan’s Army chief, while 70 Brigade’s Devinder Singh acted as the General-Officer Commanding of Pakistan’s 10 Corps area. Towards the fag end of the exercise, the group gamed a brigade-strength assault on the stretch between Zoji La and Kargil. Pakistan could, the exercise demonstrated, occupy large stretches. Lieutenant-General Pal and Northern Army Commander Hari Mohan Khanna dismissed the idea.


Like Lieutenant-General Pal, Major-General Budhwar was dismissive of his subordinates’ concerns. Early in 1999, the 9 Mahar Regiment was moved from its counter-infiltration positions along the Yaldor Langpa, and stationed near Leh. The 26 Maratha Light Infantry, charged with protecting the Mashkoh-Dras stretch, was also pulled back.


Brigadier Surinder Singh protested. In an August 12, 1998 letter, marked 101/GS (Ops)/ANE/R, he warned of the paucity of troops. “While the combating of an insurgency is an important role for the B[riga]de,” Brigadier Singh noted, “we must not loose sight of our primary role, that of ensuring the sanctity of the LoC and integrity of own territory. All the forces which can be spared for the anti-infilt[ration] role from integral t[roo]ps are already deployed.”


Despite losing approximately a quarter of its troops, to commitments elsewhere, the 121 Brigade did what it could — a fact subsequently suppressed by the official Kargil Review Committee.


Troops were withdrawn from the Mashkoh area for just 80 days in the winter of 1999, down from 177 days in 1997 and 116 days in 1998. Yaldor was left undefended for 64 days from February to April, where troops had been withdrawn for 120 days in 1997 and 119 days in 1998. Kaksar, another key area, was undefended for just 38 days, where it was left open for over 200 days in previous years. In Dras and Yaldor, Colonel Oberoi ordered troops to prepare fresh bunkers, preparing for what most local commanders believed was an inevitable onslaught.


General Budhwar and his subordinates seemed to inhabit different worlds. His pet project was building a zoo for Leh city. In June 1998, General Budhwar’s office demanded of field commanders “that various types of wild animals/birds are procured and despatched to zoo at Leh at your earliest.” “No representation,” the Colonel concluded sternly, “will be entertained.”


Even after fighting broke out, top commanders refused to engage with reality. At a meeting of the Unified Headquarters in Srinagar on May 24, 1999, Lieutenant-General Pal insisted that there “were no concentration of troops on the Pakistani side and no battle indicators of war or even limited skirmishes.” Paragraph 4(v) of the minutes of the meeting records his claim that the “situation was local and would be defeated locally:” an appalling miscalculation.


During the war, repeated efforts were made to hush up failures. Major Bhatnagar, fresh from Siachen, was ordered to push his battle-fatigued and frost-bitten troops up Point 5203-metres in Batalik. He asked for time to prepare his unit — only to find himself court-martialled. Major Ajit Singh, ordered to make a near-suicidal attempt to retake Point 5353 in Dras after the formal end of hostilities, was also court-martialled. He was sacrificed to protect higher commanders from responsibility for their failure to recapture the key position. Major Singh won his legal battle and retired with honour — but even today, the peak remains under Pakistan’s occupation.


Colonel Oberoi was cashiered for his failure to defend against the intrusions — intrusions he had warned of, but was not given resources to act against. Brigadier Surinder Singh, too, was sacked. Brigadier Devinder Singh, lauded in India’s official history of the Kargil war — he “himself operated ahead to keep abreast of the developments during each battle and to inspire his battalions to give of their best” — was passed over for promotion. Many of the officers have moved the courts for justice, but given the slow pace of the Indian judicial system, it will likely be years before their pleas are ruled on.


“The truth about what went wrong, where and why should not embarrass anyone,” the former Union Defence Minister George Fernandes said on August 14, 2002, “and it is a must so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”


Perhaps the time has come for the man who now occupies his office to order that the whole truth be told.










The ongoing attacks by American drones are unpopular in Pakistan, but a large number of Pakistanis are happy over the news that the chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in one such attack on August 5 in South Waziristan. He was the most wanted and most ruthless man in Pakistan, responsible for dozens of suicide attacks.


The Pakistan government has not confirmed it. The news first came through U.S. media sources on August 7. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi confirmed it, quoting intelligence sources. But Interior Minister Rehman Malik was guarded. For a senator from South Waziristan told him Baitullah was not dead. Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud also claimed that Baitullah was alive.


But many Pakistanis think that if Baitullah is indeed dead, it is a gift from a U.S. drone days before Pakistan’s 62nd Independence Day. But they also raise some questions.


The Pakistani security establishment claimed last year that Baitullah was working for the Americans and the Indians, and that was why the drones never targeted him. This conspiracy theory stemmed from the rising number of suicide attacks against the Pakistani security forces. Inter Services Intelligence requested the Central Intelligence Agency repeatedly in 2007 to target Baitullah, but the CIA did not help. The CIA thought the ISI was not helping it hunt down militant leaders such as Maulvi Nazir, Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Sirajuddin Haqqani who were attacking U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Pakistan government made peace agreements with these militants who were fighting in Afghanistan, while Baitullah was fighting against the Pakistani security forces themselves. The situation started changing after Pervez Musharraf was removed from the command of the Army.


Coordinated efforts to defeat the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda started a few months ago. The U.S. announced $5 million and Pakistan announced Rs. 50 million for Baitullah’s head.


A few weeks ago, a rebel militant from South Waziristan, Qari Zainuddin Mehsud, claimed in interviews to Pakistani media that Baitullah was working for America and India. This claim by the militant backed by the security establishment created much misunderstanding. Within days, Baitullah killed Qari Zainuddin, and gave out a message that he can target his enemies anytime, anywhere.


A few weeks after Qari Zainuddin’s death, Pakistani intelligence sources now claim Baitullah’s death. The question is: will the government pay the CIA Rs.50 million for eliminating the wanted man? Or, was Baitullah killed by a U.S. drone accidentally? U.S. drones cannot target anyone on Pakistani territory until someone from Pakistan shares intelligence with the CIA. Will the President and the Prime Minister say “Thank You America?” Or, will they condemn the drone attack inside Pakistan?


It is now proved that despite the trust deficit that existed in the past, currently U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agencies are working closely. The Pakistani security forces encircled Baitullah from three sides in South Waziristan and someone provided the CIA information on his movements: that was how the head of the Pakistani Taliban was targeted by the drone.


U.S. drones have been attacking targets in Pakistan with the tacit cooperation of some Pakistanis even as Islamabad condemned the attacks. Pakistan needs a transparent and bold policy to fight terrorism. If it is coordinating U.S. drone attacks on its own soil, the government cannot condemn drone attacks. It is only creating misunderstanding. The ordinary Pakistani cannot be fooled.


It is the Pakistani government that is losing credibility. A government without credibility cannot defeat terrorism. If Baitullah is really dead and Islamabad is happy, then the U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan territory will be legitimised and it will not be in a position to condemn the attacks in the future. Maybe that is why Mr. Malik told this writer that “even if Baitullah Mehsud is killed, I condemn U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan.”


Pakistan must learn lessons from its mistakes. It must admit that Baitullah was actually created by the country’s own establishment. It used Brigadier Qayyum Sher in January 2005 to win Baitullah’s support against Abdullah Mehsud. Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain approved the first peace agreement with Baitullah in February 2005 and the Pakistan Army agreed to withdraw its troops from areas under his control. After the withdrawal of the Army from those areas, Baitullah broke the peace agreement in July 2005. He kidnapped 243 Pakistani soldiers from his area in August 2007 and General Musharraf was forced to release the soldiers again through another secret deal with Baitullah on November 4, 2007. The Pakistani establishment again struck a deal with him in January 2008, but it was broken within a few weeks.


All these deals were secret. Pakistan does not need secret deals with militants anymore. If the country needs peace deals, then the deals should be first discussed in Parliament.


And the most important lesson is this: Pakistan should not form any private militias against other private militias to fight on its own soil. Article 256 of the Constitution of Pakistan says: “No private organisation capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed, and any such organisation shall be illegal.” Unfortunately, Pakistan is again forming private militias in Swat, Buner and Dir. These militias may produce more Baitullah Mehsuds.


This writer believes that Pakistan must not celebrate the reported death of Baitullah Mehsud. His network is still intact. If he is dead, then his network will organise brutal attacks on Pakistani cities soon. His physical elimination is no victory. The real victory will involve establishing the writ of the Pakistani state in the whole of South Waziristan.


Nobody is sure if Baitullah is dead or alive. For this writer, he is still alive. He can be considered to be dead when the national flag of Pakistan is hoisted on the buildings of all the schools in South Waziristan and students celebrate August 14 without any fear.


(Hamid Mir is the executive editor of Geo TV based in Islamabad. He is at









It’s been 17 years since Bill and Hillary Clinton offered themselves up to American voters as a two-for-one package deal, and began adjusting notions of the role of the personal and the political in public life.


But in all those years — his scandals, her pillorying by the right, his jet-setting for the Clinton Global Initiative, her slog through smalltown America as a presidential candidate — it’s hard to think of a week when the partnershi p worked as expertly as it did in the rescue of two journalists from North Korea.


Here was Hillary Clinton, embarking on a seven-country tour of Africa as Secretary of State, while her husband, the former President, successfully carried off an ultra-sensitive mission to one of the world’s most recalcitrant regimes.


It’s an even more impressive piece of choreography given the other outsize political figures — each with their own personal histories with the Clintons — involved in this week’s homecoming of the journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling.


There was Barack Obama, of course, who had brawled with both Clintons during the Democratic primaries. Obama also had to weigh Clinton’s history of difficulties in sticking to a script, knowing that a stray remark or mis-step from the former President could expose him to attack from the right, which is opposed to dealings with North Korea.


Then there was Al Gore, the journalists’ employer as head of Current TV, who had to bury his resentments that Bill Clinton’s affairs in the White House may have cost him the presidency.


For many, the seemingly flawless execution of the plan to free the two journalists, who had been sentenced to 12 years’ hard labour for briefly straying into North Korean territory, demolished the notion that, in choosing his former rival as secretary of state, Obama was getting not so much a twofer as trouble.


In the conventional wisdom of six months ago, the former President would not be able to resist meddling at the State Department or the White House, and his network of contacts at the Clinton Global Initiative could potentially embarrass Obama. “This is a very effective rejoinder to any one who had still had questions about the wisdom and absolute authority of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State,” said Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to Clinton during her run for the White House. Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation agreed: “The Obama people always saw Bill as more of a threat than Hillary,” he said. “But now if I were Obama I’d say: great let’s use Bill for other things.”


Not everyone was convinced. In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd saw the episode as one more instance of Bill Clinton hogging the spotlight, shoving aside Obama and his own wife, who had only recently returned to travel after breaking her elbow in June. “Just as Hillary muscled her way back into the spotlight, moving past her broken elbow and grabbing the focus from her bevy of peacock envoys, she was blown off the radar screen again by an even more powerful envoy: the one she lives with,” Dowd wrote.


But she conceded that Bill Clinton turned in a fine performance. The man accused of damaging his wife’s run for the White House by going off-message or indulging in angry rants against Obama and the media, in public at least kept his personal views in check.


He posed stony-faced for the photographs with Kim Jong-il, and after landing at Burbank airport, slipped away gracefully, leaving the spotlight to the two journalists.


Rather than exploiting Clinton’s influence as many had feared, his wealthy friends even picked up the tab for the trip, with property mogul Steve Bing lending his plane and paying for the fuel. Clinton even did one better than Jimmy Carter, widely seen to have overstepped his brief when he was deployed as special envoy to North Korea in 1994.


The spotless behaviour carried on through the week. Back in New York on Thursday, the former President issued only the briefest of statements about his trip. He then announced a deal with two pharmaceutical giants to bring down the costs of antiretroviral drugs, just in time for his wife’s scheduled visit to an Aids project in South Africa later on Friday.


It’s too early to say whether Clinton’s three-hour session with Kim Jong-il will reopen negotiations to get North Korea to scrap its nuclear programme. The White House maintains that Clinton was carrying no message from Obama and that no negotiations took place.


However, foreign policy experts are sceptical that the former President confined himself to talking about the two journalists. “The notion that they could spend three hours and not talk about the nuclear missile stuff — gosh, that’s not believable. Of course they talked about the nuclear stuff. The north has been looking for an opening to go back to bilateral talks,” said Leon Sigal, a North Korea scholar at the Social Science Research Council.


Clinton is due to debrief the National Security Council and Obama on his trip.


That on its own extends his role in the Obama administration from one-time trouble shooter to an important source of first-hand information on the state of mind of one of the world’s least understood leaders. It also serves as a reminder that Hillary Clinton, as a former first lady, has more than the usual clout of a Secretary of State.


“It would be wrong to conclude from this that Bill Clinton is going to have an ongoing role in political diplomacy for this administration,” said David Rothkopf, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “But sending Bill Clinton to North Korea has the effect of reminding everybody that this is somebody with extraordinary status and this is a woman with a role in the world that goes beyond that typically associated with secretary of state. While we are not going to find Bill Clinton front and centre of this administration going forward it does reinforce his wife’s role.”


The week’s events also confounded those who had been suggesting that Hillary Clinton had been shunted aside at the State Department — shut out of Obama’s inner circle because of lingering animosities and a new management structure that involved hiving off hotspots such as the Middle East and Afghanistan to special envoys who report to the president as well as the secretary of state.


The speculation about Hillary Clinton’s isolation heightened in June after she slipped and broke her elbow, and was forced to cancel public appearances.


Some foreign policy scholars viewed it as natural that Obama would take the lead in foreign policy. But Tina Brown, in the Daily Beast, fretted that Clinton’s lack of visibility — and installing various envoys — would rob her of real power. “It’s time for Barack Obama to let Hillary Clinton take off her burka,” she wrote.


Behind the scenes, Clinton was busy building relationships at the State Department and the White House. Unlike Condoleezza Rice, she ventured regularly out of her seventh-floor offices to meet desk officers. She has regular access to the White House, and has had weekly one-on-one meetings with Obama — though there are still reports of leftover animosities between their personal staffs. She also began to put out her own foreign policy message, often playing the bad cop to Obama’s more conciliatory statements. She waded into a spat with North Korea, saying its leadership was behaving like “small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention.”


North Korea issued a statement saying: “Sometimes she looks like a primary school girl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”


However, Clinton apparently set aside those exchanges to authorise her husband’s mission. This week’s triumph could now give her a chance to put her own stamp on foreign policy.


“The one part of being secretary of state that we have not seen yet is whether Hillary Clinton can be a strategist. Is she able to do the three layer triple chess board moves that are the hallmark of a great secretary of state or is she just a tool of Obama, and he is ultimately the strategist?” said Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009









In the U.S. there have been a number of cases this year where trials and verdicts have been jeopardised because a juror Twittered during the trial — a quick search on Twitter for “jury service” will show you just how many people are willing to share. One tweeted, hopefully in jest: “Is it innocent until proven guilty, or guilty until proven innocent?”


Informing followers that you are on jury duty may not, in itself, cause injustice. But discussing the trial may. In Arkansas a construction company is filing for a mistrial based on a juror’s tweets, which, it says, show he was biased against it and playing to his “audience” when he and fellow jurors awarded a $12.6m verdict against the company in March. A juror’s postings to Twitter and Facebook have prompted similar calls concerning the trial of ex-Pennsylvania state senator Vincent Fumo, charged with $3.5m fraud.


But if jurors’ tweets are causing a problem in the U.S., what’s happening in the U.K.? The answer is: we don’t know. And we cannot even ask. It would be contempt of court to ask a juror if tweeting to their followers in the jury room had influenced their deliberations.


Guidance issued to U.K. jurors says they will be allowed to bring mobiles and laptops with them, but “probably” will not be allowed to have them in court or the retiring room. This has not stopped U.K. jurors in the past from downloading material to inform their deliberations in a sexual offence trial. On one occasion, a juror was dismissed from a sexual assault and abduction trial at Burnley crown court in northern England after posting details of the case on Facebook and asking for her friends’ opinions on it.


There is no reason to be complacent about the potential Twitter has to cause miscarriages of justice — enlightening though information gleaned from it may be, it could also be grossly prejudicial. Perhaps it is time for research into jury decisions and the effect that today’s multiplicity of media may be having on them. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009


(Note: David Banks is co-author of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists and a lecturer in media law at Sunderland.)









Responding to this column, a reader, Satyadev Chilakamarry, writes: “I feel you are sounding more like a columnist than a voice of the readers … My understanding is, this [the readers’ editor’s] role calls for fearless representation of readers and readers alone.” This takes us to the question of how best the “readers” can be represented. The form of representation evolves over a period and it is an ongoing process.


One of the key objectives of the appointment of the Readers’ Editor, according to the Terms of Reference, is “to strengthen bonds between the newspaper and its millions of print platform and online readers.” This does not mean that the newspaper and its readers as a collective are two hostile entities that warrant any “fearless” representation of the readers by the Readers’ Editor, as implied by Satyadev Chilakamarry.


When we say “readers”, we do not mean it as a monolith in the sense of being “a large, impersonal political, corporate, or social structure regarded as indivisible and slow to change” (Oxford Dictionary of English). The socio-economic profile of newspaper readers in general has changed over the decades, particularly after Independence. Thanks to the spread of education as also the introduction of the reservation system, the number of people getting the benefit of English education has been increasing. This led to a spurt in the readership of newspapers in general and the English dailies also benefited by it. The increase in the number of educated women also helped the English newspapers enlarge their circulation base. Although there has been a corresponding increase in the number of readers sharing their views with newspapers and criticising them, the participation of educated women and the newly-educated among the underprivileged has, understandably, been relatively poor or slow in coming. They may not have the time for it or they may not have the inclination to put it in writing. This does not mean they do not have anything to say.


A unique feature of The Hindu is that its readership includes 80-year-olds and their grandchildren or great grandchildren living under one roof. They have all grown with it but belong to four different generations with distinctly different approaches to life. That they are not averse to changing themselves to suit the needs of the time is seen in their varied life styles. If grandpa calls the Readers’ Editor’s office to give vent to his intolerance of “the falling standards of our paper,” the grandson e-mails his resentment over the non-publication of a picture of his favourite cricketer along with the report of the game. However, neither of them would even think of an alternative paper, probably because they know that their newspaper would respect their sentiments and correct its course. In between, there are middle-aged parents who strongly feel that their newspaper can help their children in choosing their courses of study at higher levels. The educated unemployed also turn to the newspapers for help in getting jobs. The Hindu has played a significant role in this respect in the recent past, writes R.M. Kumar of Chennai.


Kumar says that the Monday supplement, Education Plus, which HinduThe launched about seven years ago, was “a wonderful source of information, with its well-researched articles on different career options available to students.” He says it used to carry articles (for instance, by career counsellor J.P. Gandhi) that gave a lot of information on the different courses available to students. Commending this kind of value-addition that The Hindu has been doing from time to time, Kumar wants such services and articles to be revived in the supplement so that “parents like me can take informed decisions.” This suggestion is certainly worth considering.


Allen Eric, “a reader — and an avid fan — of The Hindu since 1996 as a class 10 student at Coimbatore, “says: “The Hindu is also my favourite media brand — given that its core proposition has been unwavering despite the series of evolutions. The re-design, introduction of colour and the new supplements have also added the possibly missing attributes of youth and vibrance to The Hindu — and helped keep up with the times.” He has also sent in a detailed note on the newspaper’s latest edition from Kolkata. He regrets: “The Hindu [of Kolkata] was certainly not as vibrant and youthful as it is today in the South: not a very exciting start for new, young readers.”


Vaibhav (23), a student who calls himself “a regular and loyal reader” of this newspaper, says he respects this paper for its “coverage and inclusive and unbiased journalism.” He says many of his letters have been published. He adds that although some of his letters have not been carried in the newspaper, he is determined to keep writing.


A reader from Coimbatore, J. Dasgupta, has suggested that data be systematically collected on the social composition of The Hindu’s readership over a period of time. Such a data bank, he says, will help the newspaper when it launches new editions. He has also renewed his suggestion that the “Letters [to the Editor]” column that now appears on the editorial page be entrusted with the Readers’ Editor.


Here is a sensible question from a reader, Mubarak Salahydeen of Chennai, regarding the usage of the word “fatwa’ in a story titled “Couple fear for life after panchayat fatwa” (July 28, 2009) and the reporter’s explanation in the “Corrections and Clarifications” column (August 5, 2009). If the word “fatwa” was used to mean “diktat,” which means “an order or decree imposed by someone in power without popular consent,” why should journalists use the word “fatwa”, which means “a ruling on a point of Islamic law by a recognised authority” and has a religious connotation?









To describe the current situation on the agricultural front as "grave" or "serious" would be an understatement. What’s worse is that, as is usually the case in this country, it is the rural poor who are the worst sufferers in any drought. The government cannot ignore its responsibility to mitigate the condition of the worst afflicted by the speedy provision of emergency food and water supplies. There is a flicker of hope that the rains will come in good measure soon after August 15, now less than a week away; but if that does not happen the situation could turn cataclysmic in certain areas. If agricultural operations come to a standstill, then where will farmers and labourers get the money to buy food which the government says is there in plenty in the FCI’s godowns? Even today, with the government saying it has adequate stocks of 253 lakh tonnes of wheat and 323 lakh tonnes of rice, the ration shops in Mumbai, for instance, are not giving wheat, rice and sugar to ration card holders. They are being forced to buy these items in the open market. In states like Maharashtra, some parts of Andhra Pradesh and northern Karnataka, jowar is a staple food for many people, but the government has done nothing to stock it. There has been no agricultural breakthrough in pulses and oilseeds as in the case of rice and wheat, even though pulses are the only source of protein for crores of vegetarians across the country. India is one of the largest consumers of edible oils, and yet we depend on imports for three-fourths of our requirements. When the world markets come to know that India is going to import grain, the international prices shoot up, adding to domestic inflation. The government is also forced to subsidise these imports for the poor.


The sheer neglect of research and development in pulses and oilseeds reflects poorly on the government, and only shows how our administration is so totally ignorant about the needs of agriculture. Much was expected of Sharad Pawar, who understands the needs of farmers and could have revolutionised the pulses and oilseeds sector. It is still not too late for him and the government to remedy this, and bring about a new green revolution in pulses and oilseeds in the way Indira Gandhi had done with rice and wheat many decades ago. Without this, there will be no real food security for much of the people of India.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken the initiative by calling state chief secretaries to discuss, among other things, planning for the rabi season. Gram and masoor can be increased and work on this should start immediately. There have to be some special programmes and minimum support prices should be announced early to encourage farmers to take up production of rabi crops on a war footing. The government’s agricultural policy needs a thorough change. The Prime Minister and the agriculture minister would do well to reduce their dependence on bureaucrats and bring in some real experts to plan what steps to take in the next 12 months if the poor are to get food at reasonable prices. From the farmers’ standpoint, government policies today are totally lopsided: if the crops are abundant, prices go down and farmers suffer as they can’t even recover their cost of production. There needs to be a way to protect them and motivate them in the same way that the government does for industry.








Television reality shows arrived and have now become as native as the McDonald’s burger. Localised, they have created three niches. One is the trial of strength, a brutalised boyscout episode that combines sexuality and the Lord of the Flies to create tests of strength. To the Darwanian episodes, one can add a swayamvar, a prolonged search for an appropriate husband for Rakhi Sawant who plays a demure harridan, whose savvy trade union instincts should make her the target of corporate recruiters. But the most controversially popular of these is Sach ka Saamna. In this, the former compere of Quiz Time, Siddharth Basu, has produced a stronger brew as he moves from information to what he calls "truth".


The rules of the game are deceptively simple. Every candidate is strapped to a lie detector and asked embarrassing questions. Husbands are asked before their wives if they ever visited prostitutes. The questions increase in intensity in Dante’s "circle of sin" and so do the incentives. You auction truth as fact as you proceed to the next question. Ironically, it is one of the few times one is paid to tell the truth in public. With mock seriousness, the producer even claimed that the motto of the show is "Satyamev Jayate". The appropriation captures the right spirit of the event.


Sach Ka Saamna earned some of the highest TRP ratings, making a T-20 match with Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh seem prosaic. But it is the drama of reactions that produced the greater play. In all this it was irrelevant that lie detectors are not seen in a forensic sense as identifying truth. The battle is more sociological.


Members of Parliament, ignoring the political scandals on TV, treated the show itself as a scandal. Many acted as if the epidemic of truth telling might reach Parliament itself. The comic prospect remained distant as Parliament went into attack. What was deemed threatening by the new agony aunts of the state was not truth itself but the particular kind of truth. The episodes asked questions about family and marriage and by imputing illicit sex, sullied the public face of these institutions. For India, nothing is as sacred as the family. Between family and the National Flag, we virtually exhaust the source of the sacred. Hypocrisy and belief concentrate themselves around these objects.


A sense of the hysteria generated was evoked by conservative leader B.P. Singhal who claimed that he could not watch such shows with his family. Mr Singhal demanded an immediate ban on the show. When asked about parental guidance or self censorship, he got apoplectic, virtually implying that innocence, like chastity or security, demanded harsh measures. The plea found support even from filmmakers like Shyam Benegal who argued that the show had little to add in an aesthetic sense.


The issue was not really about banning. Comparing the show to Khajuraho was a form of illiteracy. It is not the sociology of censorship that is interesting, it is the construction of truth that offers more fruitful possibilities.


It raises a fascinating list of questions. How is a fact different from information? Are facts, data and information equivalent to the truth? Are honesty and transparency the same? Is a confession, a statement of the truth? Does truth telling TV-style demand the spectacle as a certificate of truth?


On an ethical note, does not auctioning privacy make it true? How do confessions rank as a form of truth telling in our culture? The responses to the show became a problem in the sociology of knowledge.

Visualise an alternative set of circumstances. Imagine there is a politician on the show. Would a confession that he took a bribe create a sensation? Sting operators might feel unemployed, but beyond politicians and media, the decibel level would be low.


Take a second case. Imagine if you were to ask a bureaucrat whether he ever cheated in an exam. People would be intrigued, gossip a while, recollect similar events and move on. Imagine then if we ask a doctor if he made any mistake during an operation that he was silent about. One can feel concern but not yet a scandal. As we conduct this thought experiment we realise two things. Some kinds of truths seem more equal than others. Truths about politics or professionalism are not as threatening as truth about sexuality and marriage. It is the latter that carries the double halos of sacredness and hypocrisy. Secondly, it is clear that the scandal is not about individual truths and embarrassments. It is our sense of collective truth about certain institutions that creates the scandal. Thirdly, the scandal is not about truth telling, which is an honest open act, or about confession, which has its own rituals of forgiveness and atonement. It is about exposure.


To expose one’s inner self, especially if it is a bourgeois, almost seems pornographic. Privacy allows for the lie, for hypocrisy, for silence. It allows for the truth of mistakes letting the self struggle and live with them. Most biographies are a serial of errors and mistakes. Privacy allows for them, especially the truths and lies of marriage and sexuality.


The objection for many was that what one faced was not truth but pornography of the false confessional. It was truth about former lies that appeared as a result of market incentives. The show decanonised the ordinary respectability of the father, or the housewife. What it threatened was the respectability of institutions with a crudity of interrogation that left a bad taste. Such a scandal needed a scapegoat and one found one in the producers of the show.


In fact even their responses on TV revealed interesting validations of what constitutes the truth. To the producers a thing seems true if the market validates it. A thing is true if it is popular. Popularity and market are two forms of truth validation. Thirdly, good intentions make something true. If your heart rings true, then your project is allegedly true.


The fourth tactic is trial by fire. They challenge the critics to join the programme, claiming they are not courageous enough. Most refuse and those that do, appear to possess the mantle of truth. So the controversy goes on increasing the TRP ratings, creating that fusion of market and scandal which is such a potent source of media attention.


In that sense, a mediocre show like Sach Ka Saamna is important not for the scandals, the little lies in little lives that it exposes but as a fable of what truth is. What it reveals is that truth rather than being objective is actually elusive.


We substitute surrogate words like fact, knowledge, information, honesty, confession, transparency as a secondary thesaurus for a word which needs deeper understanding if it has to be lived out. Voyeurism is no substitute for the authenticity of that search.

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist











THE deficient monsoon has led to a “tough situation” throughout the country with 141 districts finding themselves in the grip of a severe drought. The gravity of the crisis made Prime Minister Manmohan Singh break the protocol and address the meeting of Chief Secretaries called by the Cabinet Secretary on Saturday to tell the states to get ready with contingency plans to ensure adequate availability of foodgrains and other essential items. Underlining the grim reality, Dr Manmohan Singh warned, “In no case should we allow the citizens to go hungry. This calamity must be avoided at all costs”. The entire government machinery of the Centre and the states has to start working in top gear to keep a close watch on the food front.


As kharif sowing has suffered badly and there is the fear of a sharp decline in the yield of paddy and other crops, the prices of essential food items, already skyrocketing for some time, may shoot up further, making the situation worse. In such circumstances, there is a tendency to resort to hoarding by traders as well as consumers. This must be prevented by sending across the message that the nation is fully prepared to effectively meet the challenge posed by the monsoon failure. There is enough stock of foodgrains, but this will be helpful only if the state governments are ready to take strong action against hoarders and black-marketeers. There should be no hesitation in further strengthening the buffer stock with large-scale imports. This will help in handling the psychology of scarcity and preventing panic.


The country has a strong public distribution system (PDS), which can help considerably provided its loopholes are plugged. The PDS can serve as a dependable safety net, particularly for the poor. Some imaginative steps will have to be taken immediately to ensure that the prices of basic food items like sugar, pulses, edible oils and vegetables begin to come down. There is an urgent need for a coordinated approach involving the Centre and the states to lessen the gravity of the situation.








LAL Krishna Advani is known to rely on faith when it comes to his own beliefs and leadership. But when it comes to the question of accountability for leading his party to defeat, he would rather blame the EVMs. Self-doubt is not one of his attributes. Otherwise, he would not have ridden the rath that ultimately led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He still does not know where he went wrong. Now that he has more time on hand, he wants to demolish the reputation of EVMs, which did not bring him to power at the Centre. He would not thank the EVMs that voted him for the Lok Sabha from Gandhinagar.


Advani’s misgivings over the EVMs are shared by other political leaders, who are in the opposition, whatever its complexion. Sukhbir Badal, for example, questioned the credibility of the EVMs barely 48 hours before these machines made him win by an overwhelming margin of 80,000 votes in Jalalabad. With his victory, the EVMs have also won, but Sukhbir Badal would not admit it now. Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, J. Jayalalithaa and Chandrababu Naidu—they all think they are always right, but it is the machines that failed them in the elections. And now even Sitaram Yechuri of the CPM finds himself on Advani’s side in the men-vs-machine debate. The losers’ club has no ideological boundaries, afterall.


All these gentlemen and the lady from Poes Garden find the ballot paper more trustworthy. It may be that the losers will pass a resolution asking the Election Commission to come out with a gadget that gives Advani and other members of the club an assured victory. Now when the EC has openly demonstrated the functioning of the EVMs to prove the sceptives wrong, Messrs Advani & Co wouldn’t know who to blame for their electoral debacle. May be, they will now say it is the people who are at fault.







THE cause of fighting terrorism has got a boost with the death of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone attack last Wednesday in South Waziristan. Baitullah’s disappearance from the scene may lead to the Taliban in Pakistan getting split into various factions as was the situation before December 2007 when he emerged as the top leader of the infamous terrorist movement. He had brought the numerous Taliban factions together under his command with the use of force and treachery. Now it will be easier for the Pakistan Army to eliminate the Pakistani leg of the Taliban if it is determined to do so.


The Taliban in Pakistan grew into a major terrorist movement mainly because of the unimaginative policies of Islamabad. Every time the Pakistan government entered into a deal with those controlling the extremist network, Islamabad provided the Taliban an opportunity to become stronger and more broadbased. The Taliban has mainly fed itself on anti-Americanism, but Gen Pervez Musharraf’s mishandling of the Lal Masjid crisis helped it under the leadership of young Baitullah of the Mehsud tribe to emerge as a more serious threat to peace and stability in Pakistan and the rest of South Asia.


Now that Baituallah is killed, it is time for Pakistan to ensure that all the other terrorist chieftains and their networks, too, are wiped out. Concentrating on the Taliban alone is not enough to win the war against terrorism. The crimes of Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin and Jamaat-ud-Dawa founder Hafiz Saeed are no less than Baitullah. At a time when the public in Pakistan has little sympathy for those indulging in terrorism in the name of jihad, the terrorist outfits must be destroyed in a manner so that they are never able to re-emerge. This is as much in the interest of peace and progress in Pakistan as of the entire region.












ADMIRAL Sergei Gorshkov became chief of the erstwhile Soviet Navy at the age of 45; he then remained in that chair for nearly 18 years. During his period in this high office, that Navy grew into a powerful sea-going force and it was during his tenure that the Soviets, until then derisively opposed to aircraft carriers considering them vulnerable to shore-based air and missile attacks, did a turnround and began to build these ships.


One of them, commissioned after his death, was to bear his name. This is the story of the Russian aircraft carrier, Gorshkov, currently in the news because it is being acquired by India.


In his recent report the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has made scathing remarks about its cost and condition.


The vessel, sold free but contracted at a cost of Rs 974 crore for its refit and modernisation (it had been lying unused for several years after the collapse of the Soviet economy), has suffered time and cost overruns, both due to underestimation of work and modifications needed by the Indian side.


The revised demand for $2.9 billion may finally be settled for around $2 billion but the CAG finds this a gross overspend for a platform which, in his view, would last only 20 years when a new one could be built at the same cost to last 40 years. In short, the country has been taken for a ride is the conclusion.


All those who have served in the Navy in earlier years know that no one has been more supportive of the growth of the Indian Navy as a premier maritime force in this part of the world than Admiral Gorshkov.


The Indians never asked for missile boats but were persuaded by him to buy them in 1968 with results that were seen worldwide in the spectacular attacks on Karachi in December 1971.


Later, in 1975, he pressed his own bureaucracy to clear the sale of the larger and more potent missile corvettes of the Vijaydurg class and the versatile missile destroyers of the Rajput class which made the Indian Navy comparable with any other naval force, leave aside that of the USA.


In 1988, a nuclear submarine was leased to us for three years, an act unimaginable from any of the other countries which operated such craft. The interface set in place by him has, happily, continued resulting in design collaboration for the Delhi class destroyers built in India and the sale of Tabar class frigates, all of technology relevant to modern warfare at sea.


The latest manifestation of this close relationship has seen the launch of our indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant in Visakhapatnam. This is the background in which we need to look at the acquisition of Gorshkov.


Let us look at the comments in perspective, first exploitability. In 1987, we acquired a much older aircraft carrier, HMS Hermes, from the British and renamed it INS Viraat. It has already been in service for 22 years and will last another 7 or 8 years, a life span of 30 years.


The first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, also purchased second hand in 1961, saw service until 1997, a good 36 years.


So this rather pessimistic assessment of a two decade life span for Gorshkov, much newer than the other two, by the CAG is clearly unjustified. There is no reason why this ship should not be operational for at least 30 years, possibly more.


Aircraft carriers are versatile hulls; in both the US and UK navies, which have great experience of operating such platforms, these vessels have routinely served for five decades. So the life time of Gorshkov is not an issue.


Then, there is the question of cost of repairs, which is said to have escalated to $ 2 billion. When the contract was concluded, repair work was just an estimate. It is only when the plates are ripped open and assemblies and sub-assemblies dismantled that a more accurate assessment of work can be made.


The state of cables, a very important constituent of equipment functionality, is not known until the innards

are revealed. Then, there is the question of additional work required by the buyer to install new equipment and facilities.


In the case of Gorshkov, a huge ski jump of 400 tonnes of steel, 200 feet long and stretched 120 feet across the deck is being constructed for launch of aircraft.


In all such repairs carried out in Indian dockyards, work of much less scope and in smaller ships has taken far longer than earlier estimated but because the expenses are part of the dockyards' operating budget, no precise estimate of such refit costs has ever been made.


Accurate cost accounting would reveal they have been much higher than originally thought. So, we have to look at the increased refit costs now being projected with a little more pragmatism.


Finally, the contention that this ship is going to cost as much as a new one is not founded on facts. The indigenous aircraft carrier now being built at Kochi was ordered in 1997 but will not be launched until 2011 at the earliest. It will be at least 2016 before it enters operational service. Its cost, on delivery, will be nearly double that being paid for the Russian ship.


When the Navy Chief said recently that for $ 2 billion he would sign a cheque for the Gorshkov any day, he was not being flippant but clear sighted. The Indian Navy is not in the business of buying or negotiating for junk; its professional competence deserves greater credit than has been given. It is true that the delivery of the ship has been delayed a few years till 2012 due to extra work and price finalisation but this is not unusual in such complex projects.


Aircraft carriers are no ordinary warships, nor are they available off the shelf from wherever one chooses. They represent strategic sea power and provide to India a capability that no other regional nation has. We should not treat them as ordinary ammunition or ordnance.


Further, such acquisitions are to be seen in a larger context of inter-nation relationship and not as 'one off' purchases. There is a cost to everything, on either side, and there are benefits, quantifiable and non-quantifiable.


It is important to place such major weapon platform acquisitions in a larger politico-military context and not just as simple procurement issues. The proposed acquisition of 126 multi-role fighter aircraft falls in the same category. These purchases must have a political dimension and to treat them for mere financial audit is simplistic.


The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command







ON June 15, five of my relatives — the oldest 65, the youngest 22 — spent four hours traveling across Tehran's sprawling metropolis to reach a demonstration against the country's election result. They first crammed into a creaky car, rode partway in a dilapidated bus and walked the final three miles. They strode quietly north along with an estimated 2 million others, hopeful that their show of peaceful force would convince the government to annul the election.


The next day, authorities began viciously attacking demonstrators, dispatching plainclothes henchmen to shoot randomly at civilians. Dissent, Iranians learned, could cost them their lives.


Immediately after the election, such protests evoked the grand marches of the 1979 Islamic revolution. But the scale of the dissent soon diminished. Clearly, the state's vicious tactics were partly to blame, but Iranians were not simply terrorized into staying at home. Rather, there was no leader inspiring them to take to the streets — and risk their lives. The friends and relatives I've spoken to remain outraged over the fraudulent election. But they also remain perplexed by the opposition leaders.


No one had an answer to this central question: For whom, exactly, would ordinary Iranians be willing to put themselves in danger? What sort of leadership is required to make violence worth it?


In the weeks after the initial protests, restless Tehranis recognized that they were outmaneuvered on the streets and sought to redirect their anger through civil disobedience. Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claimed to be the election's rightful winner, emerged as an accidental opposition leader. Nearly everyone I knew in Iran voted; they believed that Mousavi stood every chance to win, and had seen how Ahmadinejad's tenure gutted quality of life for Iranians, young and old, poor and middle class alike.


But Mousavi did not win. And although many people I spoke with admired his defiance in the election's immediate aftermath, some faulted him as the government crackdown intensified, with militiamen chasing people into their homes and ordinary citizens being detained.


Mousavi's admirers admire his refusal to back down as the hard-line leadership closed ranks against him. "He's done nothing to cool my regard," a cousin told me. "He has stuck to his word throughout and very courageously declared that he's not willing to give up the fight."


But they are also wary of his strategy. He was challenging the Islamic system within its very confines. For all his talk about how the people's will must be respected, Mousavi offered no formula for how this might be achieved. His ambiguous vision made some Iranians reluctant to stay in the fray.


"I was ready to protest peacefully for Iran improving a little bit," said one relative who attended only the first large protest. "But for the sake of Mousavi or Ahmadinejad? To me it's not worth it."


Iranians' ambivalence about Mousavi's leadership is reflected on their Facebook pages. Personal sites that bore the green logo "What Happened to My Vote?" began to change tone in early July. Many posted a picture of Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister and national hero who was ousted in a CIA-backed coup in 1953. Underneath, his famous statement of anxiety about Islamist politics is quoted in bold: "I hope that Shiite leaders don't have any serious intention of entering the political arena. If this were to happen, Iran will be at the brink of catastrophe."


Mossadegh, a secular nationalist, was fiercely protective of Iran's sovereignty. Invoking him as a symbol of the leader Iranians aspire to have reminds me of the 1997-2005 era of the reformist President Mohammad Khatami. I lived in Iran during a long stretch of that time and find the wistful references to Mossadegh eerily familiar. He reappears cyclically, at moments when Iranians despair of their leaders and of any chance to shed the Islamic theocracy that many consider corrupt and unaccountable.


But there is no real leadership; the intellectuals and former officials who form the opposition's brain trust languish in Evin prison. So many Iranians have stepped in, planning labor and transportation strikes and the flooding of the streets of Tehran with green paint. The more ambitious plans have yet to materialize, but smaller efforts are attracting support.


The latest scheme involves stamping paper currency with images of Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman who was shot and killed during the protests, in hopes that eventually Iranians will be reminded, while buying a watermelon or cigarettes, of the state's free-falling legitimacy. A friend who has attended many of the protests said that people are mobilizing around these nascent plans, but that the kind of leadership that will channel their outrage into a long-term, coherent movement has yet to emerge.


The unwavering anger, however, is nudging Mousavi and his allies forward.


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post






YOU don't need to look abroad for celebrities with perfect bodies. So what if Nicolas Sarkozy jogged to hospital and we wondered why Indian celebrities are not in equally good shape, there may be inspiration lurking around the corner.


For businessman Robert Vadra, husband of Priyanka Gandh, works out religiously at a gym. He has bared his six-pack abs for a men's health magazine.


He has reduced his waist from 36 inches to 29 inches in two years. For him fitness is a priority and he devotes time to it everyday. Vadra went from 84 kg to 66 kg, but then he felt that was a bit too lean for him. So he regained weight and is now 69 kg.


The Gandhis too are absolutely fit and active. From Sonia Gandhi to Rahul and Priyanka, all look lean, strong and in good health.


Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley goes for a walk in Lodhi Garden. Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the BJP is a regular at the new gym in Parliament. Most of the young MPs like Sachin Pilot, Navin Jindal and Deepinder Hooda are also fitness freaks, careful about their diet, which invariably is low-fat and protein-rich. Hema Malini is particular about her diet and dance, while Sandeep Dikshit runs 6-7 km everyday.



Rahul Gandhi, the Congress general secretary, travelled to Leh last weekend along with a friend. They landed at Bhuntar on Saturday. To feel the real adventure on the scenic Manali-Leh route, Rahul drove in a Toyota Qualis taxi instead of the BMWs parked there.


This trip was kept a top secret and a private affair. Only two or three government officials were informed about the visit. Even the Congressmen had no information. To evade the media glare, the duo left for Kulu quietly. Rahul was not carrying a mobile phone and was staying in regular guest houses, eating the common man's food.


The Gandhi scion and his friend had butter toast and omelette for breakfast in Kulu. Lunch was at Koksar and they had kadi chawal and daal at a roadside dhaba. When the news of his visit spread, locals rushed to catch a glimpse of him. The villagers and the dhaba workers happily clicked Rahul's pictures as he cheerfully posed for them.


Rahul's next stop was Tanbi filling station. The entourage then proceeded to Jipsa, which is 10,890 feet above the sea level. They checked in Padma Guest House.


Here, too, Rahul was requested for a photo-op with locals and the hotel staff and he smiled for them. The next day they left for Leh. For the 12-hour journey to Leh, they packed pasta, chilli chicken, tandoori chicken, rice and chapattis.


Rahul, according to sources also concealed his identity in Jipsa and met locals as a common man. Among other things, he discussed the Rohtang tunnel project with them. The 9-km tunnel, once completed, will serve as a round-the-year link between Lahaul and Spiti and the rest of the country during winters when the region becomes inaccessible.


Rahul reached Leh in the evening and checked in The Grand Dragon Ladakh Hotel. He visited some Buddhist monasteries there. Preferring a small bedroom to a suite, he made it clear he had to pay for everything. He said “as an M.P it is illegal for me to accept anything for free". So they gave him a 10 percent discount.



Superstitions and politicians have always been together. In a state as tricky as J&K, omens are taken seriously. This time it's the new assembly complex that's spooking people. On the first day of the session in 2008, it led to the resignation of Ghulam Nabi Azad.


A year later, the second day of the session saw the Omar Abdullah resignation drama. Omar's well-wishers have roped in a holy man to recite holy verses to deter the evil spirits. The prayers were held on a closed day with only the inner circle of the party present.










All over the developing world urban administrators are caught in a Catch-22 situation with regards to old vehicles which are an integral part of their public transport systems. Their abrupt removal leaves a hiatus not easily filled, resulting in harassment to commuters and potential of public disturbances. On the other hand, their emission levels being high, they contribute the most towards urban pollution and the health hazards brought about. Thus urban administrative bodies usually prefer to turn a blind eye to the problem of air pollution and allow old vehicles to ply on. In Kolkata, for instance, it required the Judiciary to grab the bull by the horn and announce a ban on commercial vehicles which are more than 15 years old. A conservative estimate states that the Calcutta High Court ban will remove 2,557 buses, 510 minibuses, 6,355 taxis, 75,000 goods carriers and 70,000 auto-rickshaws from the roads of the metro. Given such huge figures, the impact of the ban on the public transport system can well be imagined. Yet there is no alternative, for Kolkata’s legendary air pollution threatens to become even more ominous unless rigorous ‘measures are taken to counter it. One recalls that it had been the Judiciary too which had initiated the drive to clean up Delhi’s air by forcing the conversion to CNG as fuel. The positive results are there for all to see.

Unfortunately, there is no uniform policy at the national level applicable to all metros of significant size in the country. Therefore other metros which require similar steps to tone down emission levels and clean up their atmosphere need not automatically follow Kolkata’s example. One bizarre offshoot of such a situation is that owners in Kolkata might try to dispose off their banned vehicles in other urban areas where there are no restrictions, defeating the very purpose! Moreover, a rapidly burgeoning metro like Guwahati is in dire need of stringent measures to tackle the increasing atmospheric pollution. While dust does contribute in no small measure in polluting Guwahati’s air, the greater culprit is exhaust-emission from vehicles, particularly diesel-fuelled modes of public transport. It is common knowledge that the number of vehicles plying upon the roads of Guwahati are increasing by leaps and bounds every year. Apart from causing traffic snarls, this increase indicates that atmospheric pollution will grow worse with every passing year, unless measures towards rectification are urgently taken. In the case of Kolkata, it had been activism on the part of environmentalists which had led the Judiciary to issue the ban and the administration to implement it. Since the Guwahati urban administration appears to be either ignorant of or indifferent towards the problem of air pollution, it requires green activism to create the public opinion that might prod the former into initiating a clean up act.







The Indian cricketers’ apprehensions over signing the whereabouts clause of the anti-doping code has created a complicated situation and it would be interesting to see how a workable solution to the impasse would finally be hammered out in near future. The players have refused to fill the form because it means that they will be required to furnish details of their whereabouts three months prior to an out-of-competition drug test. They feel this would not only be an invasion of their privacy, but may also pose a grave security threat to them as they have already received terror threats. Not all Indian players, however, will have to sign the agreement but only MS Dhoni, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Gambhir, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Irfan and Munaf Patel, apart from two players from the women’s team. The players believe that the details of their whereabouts may somehow be leaked and this would in turn help terror groups to execute their plans to perfection. The players also have the Constitutional safeguard in this regard: the statute gives every individual a guarantee that his/her privacy would never be intruded into. These are the reasons why the players have also received the backing from the Board, which is otherwise treading cautiously not to let the deadlock degenerate into another showdown with the game’s governing body.

The main aspect that confronts the BCCI as well as the cricketers is that apart from India, almost all the cricket-playing nations have agreed to sign the agreement despite their reservations against the clause. What gives the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) a further boost to their defence is the fact that as many as 571 sporting bodies worldwide have adopted the code, which has also been approved by 191 countries and the UNESCO. Sportspersons from in and out of the cricketing arena have also tried to assuage the fears of cricketers stating that the clause is not as intrusive as it appears to be. Sooner or later, it appears that Indian players will have to sign the clause either in its present form or its amended version because India cannot shy away from a drug-free world, as it would lead to its isolation and a possible ban. With so much tainting of the sporting arena taking place due to use of performance-boosters, a tough drug-testing regime is of paramount importance and cricket cannot remain out of its reach. At the same time, WADA should also scrutinise the exceptional problems faced by cricketers, who play for nine months a year unlike other sportspersons, and explore ways to effect an amendment that would not only be in line with the principal objective, but also be balanced and acceptable.








The effects of the liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation resulting in the emergence of the technological culture have evolved some new challenges for higher educational institutions. The colleges of Assam are also not immune from it. Therefore, the colleges are naturally to enter into the challenge zone to meet those for their own safety on one hand and for keeping themselves intact in the race of the socio-economic and humanistic movements in the country in particular and the world in general.

With the dawn of independence, education was expected to be the tool to lift our masses from the misery of poverty and ignorance. In fact, Pandit Jawaharlala Nehru while delivering a speech at the special convocation of the Allahabad University or, December 13, 1947 said: “A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for progress, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards even higher objectives.”

If education is to do for the development of the human being in intellectual and skilled Areas for total development of personality through curricular and co-curricular programmes; if education is expected to prepare the world of work and the world of leisure; if it is to foster spirit of free and scientific enquiry as well as promote independent critical thinking; if it is to be expected as a service to society anticipating its needs and assist in the fulfilment of social and economic objectives, then the higher education institutions including the colleges must have a vision and a mission which would be fulfilled by a scientific and dynamic practice of internal quality assurance.

The term ‘quality in education’ raises some partiment questions: what is quality and how it can be assured, managed and maintained. The Oxford American Dictionary defines quality as “a degree or level of excellence”. The official definition of quality by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) and the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC) is the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy given needs. In the context of education, quality can be defined in terms of satisfaction level of stakeholders viz students, parents, government and the society at large by developing appropriate knowledge and skills. Competent, honest and dedicated teachers, need based curriculum, adequate infrastructure and ideal student-teacher ratio are some of the parameters of quality education. But only these parameters are not sufficient for quality education. If, in simple terms quality conveys the meaning – doing the right thing every time having zero defects, then quality in education is surely based on some other parameters. These are: ability to perform the promised service (imparting knowledge) dependently and accurately, willingness to help students and provide prompt guidance, physical facilities, laboratory equipment and their use, knowledge and courtesy of faculty and their ability to convey trust and confidence and caring, individualised attention to students.

If these are the parameters and meanings of quality, then a scientific and dynamic practice of internal quality assurance becomes an unavoidable issue in each and every higher educational institution.

It is to be noted that the concept of quality has been drawn from industry’s perspective. The independent characters of industry and education in past years have gone away and in recent years both have moved towards each other, borrowing ideas and practices. Thus in industry the values of hierarchy, power and control have been replaced by the values of autonomy, cooperation and sharing responsibilities–values generally associated with the world of academia. On the other hand, educational institutions are adopting corporate patterns of organisation including strategic planning, practices of responsibility and accountability.

Looking at those characters, patterns and objectives of industry and other enterprise, every educational institution including the colleges should have an efficient internal quality assurance (IQA) system or mechanism. Quality is primarily the responsibility of the respective institution. It is the institution (specially its staff and students) that is responsible for providing and assuring quality. There is no single method or model or system that is applicable to all institutions. Keeping in mind a clear meaning and policy for IQA and clear procedures for it, each institution will have to build its own system.

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), which is an apex body for quality assurance in institutions of higher learning in India has given guidelines to all the accredited institutions to establish an ‘internal quality assurance cell (IQAC) to ensure qualitative growth of the institutions. IQAC of a college should address itself to seven criteria that have been identified by NAAC. These are; curricular aspects teaching, learning and evaluation, research, consultancy and extension, infrastructure and learning resources, student support and progression, organisation and management and healthy practices.

The criteria are designed to touch every nook and cranny of the institution where there is a passion for quality. Quality assurance is neither a utopian idea nor an expensive task, rather comes as a by-product of on-going efforts to define the objectives of the institution and to have a work plan to achieve the objectives. It comes out of a critical study of strengths and weaknesses of the institution. The tasks before IQAC are: setting a documentation process; awareness creation and generation of confidence; evolving formats for information and data and drafting of quality status report Though the task appears to be tough initially, in subsequent years, it becomes confined to only updating the data and information and redefining the strategies for better results.

NAAC’s initiative for quality assurance and enhancement through IQAC had profound effect on the institutional perception of quality. The past decades have witnessed Colleges and Universities adopting innovative methodologies for assuring quality higher education. Thereby IQA mechanism has become an integral part of education system. But it is unfortunate to see that a considerable number of well accredited colleges in Assam have almost escaped from the noble work. But between the two Minimum Institutional Requirement for re-accreditation of the institutions set by NAAC, one is a functional IQAC in the institution. Here it is to be informed that till June 30, 2007, out of 235 accredited institutions in the north-eastern region, 167 institutions have established IQAC.

The colleges of Assam should be aware of the fact that to get a place in the global market of higher education, they should be an integral part of the quality initiatives. The involvement in the quality assurance and enhancement movement will be a romantic experience for them who have passion for quality education in their colleges. Initially they would face certain problems like lack of quality innovations, lack of awareness and the consequent resistance of staff to any change in the system, lack oil, availability of knowledge resources in the institution, lack of proper training, resistance due to involvement of time and monetary factors: To overcome the problems it is necessary to understand clearly what IQA is and why IQAC in higher educational institutions is needed,

(The writer is Head of Philosophy, Bajali College, Pathsala)








Every year Assam receives floods of varied magnitude and duration. The endowment is the ample water resource in the region. In such a geo-morphologically alive and hydrologically rich State, how best the resource is managed and utilised for the betterment of the common people, is the key concern for the development of the State. When the issue is raised, the areas influenced by the floods get priority. This necessitates treatment and culture of floodplains.

The floodplains in Assam today are mostly characterised by annual recurring floods and susceptibility of land surfaces. The areas are inundated during the months June to August but all resulting from extreme precipitation even though of different weather patterns. A realistic impression of flooding behaviour is the number of days the water level is above danger level rather than the number of flood events. However, the positive inference is that not all flooding is a problem; the normal flood is beneficial as it makes the geo-base of the soil strong, boost up surface and ground water stock and deposits fertile silt on the lands allowing more productive agriculture. Less frequent and rare extreme floods are the problem. Moreover, the dam-break flood, which is considered artificial in nature and frequent in Assam. is more dangerous.

The floodplains of Assam benefit and suffer from the dominant Brahmaputra river, classified as one of the mightiest and complex rivers in the world. Though in terms of basin size, it ranks 22nd, it is fourth in terms of average annual discharge, placing it amongst the highest in the world in terms of discharge per unit area. In terms of sediment load, it ranks second. Among all major rivers, the lower Brahmaputra flows through some of the densest populated but also poorest regions of the world developing on its fertile flood plains. The indigenous knowledge in coping with floods allows the floodplain dwellers to survive and prosper albeit marginally and increase in number. Therefore, the increasing population density has inevitably led to intensiv land-use. About 340 persons live on one square kilometre of land in the State in 2001, against 102 in 1951 and 42 in 1901. In some districts, the population reaches or even surpasses 600 persons per square kilometre. On the otherhand, the density of flood-affected people has increased from 100 to 500 per square kilometre of flooded land between 1953 and 2006. The average size of the land-holdings has reduced from 1.36 hectares in 1976-77 to 1.17 hectares today. 62 per cent land holdings in Assam are now marginal, i.e., less than 1 hectare and 21 per cent small, i.e., between 1 and 2 hectares land. As a consequence the agricultural production on the available land does not guarantee sufficient produce any more, and people become more vulnerable to disaster.

It was the first attempt in 1980 for a systematic description of the river Brahmaputra, however, with the limited data and concentration mainly on flood water levels. At that time the morphological analysis for understanding the river and its tributaries was not performed. Even today, the study and investigation on the river system have been limited to local and sub-basin influence only. While flood water levels are better understood, neither long-term low-water level developments, sediment processes, nor overall morphology have been studied comprehensively, mostly due to lack of historic data over longer time span. Therefore the future efforts are required for a detail analysis of floodplain processes in relation with river behaviour based on modern Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approaches.

It will be good to follow the programmes and techniques of floodplain management of some other nearby countries like China, Viet Nam etc. The problems and orientation of floodplains such as the Yangtze river basin in China, the Mekong basin in Chu Long Delta of Viet Nam and the Brahmaputra basin of Assam have a common socio-economic preamble, viz, population and land pressure to use flood-prone land. But the floodplains are better protected and managed by a sound physical framework of IWRM in China and Viet Nam. Embankment safety is a fundamental issue in those countries. The river embankments in the Yangtze river and those in the Mekong river are vital to their economy; they protect vast commercia1, industrial, agricultural and domestic developments across the floodplains. Considering the importance of the floodplains, the countries put ample emphasis on protection measures and development strategies of the areas. But some countries like Cambodia, Laos, like the State of Assam, have weak technical base for embankment construction, maintenance and floodplain management. There is always risk and hazard to floodplains.

The floodplains are influenced by three types of floods such as main stem flood, tributary flood and local flood. The main stem flood generates by rainfall outside Assam over Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, that can cause the Brahmaputra to spill over its banks. The tributary flood is caused by heavy rainfall in sub-basins draining to the Brahmaputra. It causes flooding to both tributary floodplains and floodplains of the major river. The local flooding is caused by rainfall over protected areas inside embankments and is manifested in the filling up of local depressions which generally affect the floodplains at low pace. How these floods affect the floodplains will enhance the grading of the floodplains. The zones will, however, defer in its characterisation depending on the variability in magnitude and duration of the flood happenings and the susceptibility and vulnerability of the land surfaces. The zoning will measure people’s benefits and sufferings. How the areas are protected by embankments and riverbank protection measures will be additive in the delineation of the floodplains. In water deficient season, how these areas behave and are treated, upto what extent the floodplains can thrive under abnormal situation of weather events, will be some entities in the zoning process of the floodplains.

There is still no appropriate plan for development and management of the floodplains in the State. Whatsoever has been done, it is somewhat hurriedly implemented protection measures on the rivers. More precisely, only the establishment of some embankments on the river banks has been taken up as the floodplain management programme in Assam for years. It is, therefore, of utmost necessity and a priority task now to identify and zone the floodplains of the State so that future planning and action such as, treatment and practices therein can be undertaken for an effective development and management of the floodplains.













Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was justified in charging UPA ally, Trinamool Congress (TC), with political grandstanding as the latter needlessly went to the media seeking more safeguards in the amendment to the Land Acquisition Act that the government had sought to introduce in Parliament last week. In competitive politics, leaders often speak to each other through the media. However, on this occasion, the Congress leaders had conceded that further amendments could be effected once the Bill was introduced and referred to a Standing Committee of Parliament.

TC should have accepted this reasonable offer. But it chose to create some political drama by insisting the Bill should not be introduced at all before certain amendments were made. The Bill had gone through a lot of discussion in UPA’s previous tenure and was introduced in the last Lok Sabha. The Bill has to be reintroduced in the current Lok Sabha as it could not be passed in the previous one. The resettlement and rehabilitation legislation is also being introduced simultaneously with the land acquisition Bill.

The TC wants major amendments in the land acquisition Bill. It wants a fresh provision enabling the land owners to have a legal right to buy back their land if the proposed industry does not take off within a stipulated period of time. It says there should be no government involvement in land acquisition. The current Bill allows the government to acquire up to 30% of the land to enable contiguity.

Mamata Banerjee also wants no industry to be allowed in fertile agriculture land. If all these amendments are taken together, no acquisition will be possible. It would be impossible to acquire land with no government involvement at all. The bulk of the land acquisition can be through direct negotiation with the farmers. But some government role will be necessary to deal with contiguity issues. Also, a proposed industry may get delayed for reasons beyond the promoter’s control.

In that event, is it practical to legally mandate return of the land to the farmers? At the political level, these amendments will now be discussed with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. We need a humane land acquisition Act which does not throw the baby out with the bath water.







There is much to commend in the reported move of the Centre to remove “ambiguity” in future production sharing contracts (PSC) for hydrocarbons. In the fledgling market for natural gas we do need transparency and up-to-date norms for pricing and supply. However, it makes no sense for the government to micro-manage and mandate a panoply of controls.

There is certainly a case for the Centre to approve fair price discovery in gas, and prioritise its sectoral usage given the large demand-supply gap. The idea, of course, is to see to it that gas prices do reflect scarcity value and are indeed market-determined. The fact is, allocation of resources for gas has been sub-optimal for years. It’s the main reason why gas — the greenest fossil fuel — has a lowly share in our energy-mix.

Yet the idea the Centre should play a role in fixing the price, imposing extensive curbs and routinely deciding who gets to buy how much gas is retrograde. It would amount to atavism and regression to the licence-permit raj with its gross distortions, that are known to thoroughly stultify economic activity.

The latest bidding rounds for awarding PSC have prospectively made the rules more transparent, such as clear-cut ‘weightages’ for different criteria to decide on bids. So what’s required is a proactive policy to have a more vibrant market for gas. The idea should be to move towards an institutionalised system which enables the market price discovery after inviting a large number of bids from users based on a transparent and uniform criteria.

Since gas markets are fragmented globally it is all the more important to develop a robust price discovery mechanism domestically. The Centre ought to decide on broad sectoral allocations for the gas available — fertiliser, power, industry, etc.,— and stop well short of licensing gas supply and attendant linkages. The plan for a single price for commercial sales has merit.

But the policy needs to factor in logistical difficulties in supply, and take into account myriad demand requirements too. In parallel, active trading in gas is needed for better price discovery. Sound market design also requires transparency in production and delivery costs of gas.







The raging conflict in Pakistan does, if one tries hard, seem to have some curious aspects. Take the confusion that often surrounds the announced death of a warlord or the other. More than once someone the authorities have declared to be dead has resurfaced most calmly. It does rather seem like despite all that hi-tech gadgetry employed by the US to “assist” Pakistan, they can’t quite always figure out just who they fired that missile at. Or, perhaps, one is being uncharitable.

Given the terrain, suited for guerrilla warfare and with all the bearded, turbaned chaps looking virtually like carbon copies of each other, technology could find itself rather ineffective. Then, there’s the confusing process of how the authorities claim to be finally sure about a death. The reported death of Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud is a case in point.

Remember, of course, that news of his death had come out about a year ago as well. Only, he proceeded to remind everyone via suicide bombers and the like that he was very much alive. This time, first it was reported his father-in-law’s house was attacked, killing one of his wives and an unidentified man. People refrained from commenting on how a wife, in that part of the world, could be with an ‘unidentified’ man.

The chaps over there are rather peculiarly touchy on such issues. Then came “80% confirmed” assurances of Mehsud’s death. With the authorities saying they would be verifying it on the ground. Perhaps what they were actually waiting for is for the Taliban to themselves make an announcement, since Islamabad doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what’s going on.

It is also a peculiar case of a country actually waging war on another nation's territory without officially doing so. The Americans aren't supposed to be flying those drones into Pakistan as the latter says it doesn't like that. It seems a peculiar 'secret pact': we'll complain but keep firing those missiles. As long as the bad guys get taken out, what's a little confusion?







Call rates were steady, as cash in the banking system was ample though volumes were hit by the 2-day strike by state-owned bank employees. Rates had little negative pressure, sticking to the 3.10-3.20% range. Banks mostly borrowed for their Monday needs on account of the strike amid the regular demand in the beginning of the reporting cycle, but ample cash conditions prevented rates from rising sharply.

Call rates could remain in the current range in the coming week, given the slack credit growth and RBI assurances of maintaining ample cash conditions. However, the market has started questioning the medium term liquidity status though the influence of that will not be visible on call rates just yet.


Government bonds yields fell sharply after the RBI rejected all bids at the Rs 120-billion bond auction on Friday. The 10-year benchmark bond yield dropped in knee-jerk reaction to 6.97% after the announcement, having touched a high of 7.17% earlier. The development was a new twist to the ongoing miserable state of the market. Earlier, government bond prices receded regularly, as the appetite for bonds waned.

The shorter end of the yield curve also started to edge up, indicating that the pressure from the fiscal deficit was beginning to catch up with the nearer tenors too. Volatility is expected in the coming days, as a correction following the late knee-jerk action of the market last week. The auction of the coming week and statements from policy makers for leads would be watched. Movement in global yields and the local monsoon completes the uncertain picture for the market.


Corporate bond yields broadly tracked the government bond market which in turn wilted under pressure of heavy debt supplies. The ‘AAA’ benchmark 5-year corporate bond yield ended at 8.20% while spread eased lightly to 123 bps. RBI’s bond buyback offered little support even as it bought back bonds at higher than expected prices as corporate traders were reluctant to take fresh positions ahead of the auctions.

Meanwhile, the FM tried to assuage concerns, reiterating that the government and RBI would balance a heavy borrowing plan and ensure adequate funds for the private sector, in such a manner that private sector would not be elbowed out from the market, but the market looked for further cues. The rates were moving in the direction of the treasury bill yields. Weakness will continue though volumes could remain low and the weakness may not be visible in the quoted yields.

The rupee ended the week at 47.85/$, barely changed from the previous weeks close of 47.96/$. The currency gained to a high of 47.43/$ on the back the momentum built last week and a weaker dollar continued to provide support. Event risks in the global markets like Bank of England and ECB monetary policy meetings impacted sentiment while cautiousness crept ahead of US jobs data. Locally, traders cited the dollar bids from importers to have guided premia higher though some receiving interest from exporters contained further advances. Six-month premium ended higher at 2.61% from the previous weeks close at 2.54%.

Global risk perception remains the key for volatile markets. FII flows would be watched, especially in relation to the PSU NHPC stake sale that opened last week. From the technical and psychological perspective, the 48/$ level would be important for the rupee.

Verity Analytics (former Research arm of Credence Analytics)







MUMBAI: As many as eight firms among the country’s top 10 companies lost Rs 35,020.8 crore from their market capitalisation in the past week, while Reliance Industries (RIL) and NMDC saw their valuations rising significantly.

The country’s most valued firm, RIL, and state-owned NMDC added Rs 6,106.61 crore and Rs 7,314.87 crore, respectively, to their valuations during the week ended August 7. RIL’s market cap rose to Rs 3,14,129 crore at the end of the week.

Among losers, Bharti Airtel suffered the most with its market cap falling by Rs 10,157 crore to Rs 1,45,723 crore during the week. Shares of the company plunged 6.51% last week and closed at Rs 383.80 on the BSE on Friday. State-owned firms ONGC and NTPC lost Rs 5,657.31 crore and Rs 2,762.23 crore, respectively, in their market cap last week. The total market valuation of ONGC stood at Rs 2,43,414 crore, while that of NTPC was Rs 1,75,010 crore on Friday last week.

NMDC jumped to fourth last week from the sixth slot in the previous week after adding Rs 7,315 crore to its market cap, taking its market valuation to Rs 1,49,707 crore. Trading firm MMTC slipped to the sixth slot last week from its earlier fourth position after losing Rs 4,679 crore from its market valuation. Its market cap was Rs 1,44,197 crore on Friday last week.

It bellwether Infosys lost Rs 1,261 crore from its market cap at Rs 1,17,013 crore last week. The valuation of country’s largest lender, SBI, dipped by Rs 4,581 crore to Rs 1,10,587 crore during the week. Power equipment maker BHEL lost Rs 2,372 crore in its valuation, while market cap of TCS declined by Rs 3,552 crore last week.

Besides the top-10 firms, two private sector lenders ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank together lost Rs 6,830 crore from their market valuations. At the end of the week, the total market cap of ICICI bank stood at Rs 82,170 crore and HDFC Bank at Rs 59,418 crore.

In the club of top-10 firms, RIL is followed by ONGC (Rs 2,43,414 crore), NTPC (Rs 1,75,010 crore), NMDC (Rs 1,49,707 crore), Bharti Airtel (Rs 1,45,723 crore), MMTC (Rs 1,44,197 crore), Infosys (Rs 1,17,013 crore), SBI (Rs 1,10,587 crore), BHEL (Rs 1,06,696 crore), and TCS (Rs 99,475 crore) in that order.




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MUMBAI: Key equity benchmarks will continue to consolidate this week, as investors cash out from expensive stocks and turn their attention to ‘value’ buys that promise good upsides from current levels. The Sensex and the Nifty shed 3% week-on-week due to heavy losses in the past two trading sessions of the week. Market watchers say further downside could be cushioned by positive developments in world markets. However, concerns over weak monsoon and higher valuations could limit the upsides.

“The Nifty is facing a lot of resistance with around 4,700 points, and that (resistance) will continue for some time,” said Jaypee Capital senior V-P Saurav Arora. “Downsides look limited, unless things go drastically wrong globally. But the market is unlikely to cross its recent highs anytime soon,” he added.

On Friday, data announced by the US Labor Department showed a drop in unemployment rate for the first time in more than a year, stoking hopes that the economy is on the recovery path. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed over 1% higher on Friday, and so did the key European market.

“Valuations are still rich, but liquidity is in our favour,” said Satish Ramanathan, Sundaram BNP Paribas Asset Management head-equities. “While there are signs that the US may be coming out of the recession, a slowdown in China’s economy and (back home) weak monsoon are reasons to worry,” said Mr Ramathan, adding he would be cautious about buying shares at current levels. “India may still outperform other markets despite rich valuations, because of strong liquidity and signs of the economy picking up.”

Brokers expect the action to shift to some of the liquid names among mid-caps, which look cheaper compared with frontline shares, most of which have run up swiftly in the past couple of months. “Given our view that growth is likely to turn up in the coming months, it is quite likely that broad market earnings growth will accelerate faster than large caps, as we saw in the previous cycle. We are already seeing signs of this in the latest earnings season,” said a note by brokerage house Morgan Stanley to clients.

“Revenue growth seems to have bottomed out, the strength of the recovery could bear upside depending on execution of policy reforms. Even after adjusting for lower material costs, the gains on the operating side have surprised on the upside, as evidenced by the latest earnings reports,” the note added.







Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was justified in charging UPA ally, Trinamool Congress (TC), with political grandstanding as the latter needlessly went to the media seeking more safeguards in the amendment to the Land Acquisition Act that the government had sought to introduce in Parliament last week. In competitive politics, leaders often speak to each other through the media. However, on this occasion, the Congress leaders had conceded that further amendments could be effected once the Bill was introduced and referred to a Standing Committee of Parliament.

TC should have accepted this reasonable offer. But it chose to create some political drama by insisting the Bill should not be introduced at all before certain amendments were made. The Bill had gone through a lot of discussion in UPA’s previous tenure and was introduced in the last Lok Sabha. The Bill has to be reintroduced in the current Lok Sabha as it could not be passed in the previous one. The resettlement and rehabilitation legislation is also being introduced simultaneously with the land acquisition Bill.

The TC wants major amendments in the land acquisition Bill. It wants a fresh provision enabling the land owners to have a legal right to buy back their land if the proposed industry does not take off within a stipulated period of time. It says there should be no government involvement in land acquisition. The current Bill allows the government to acquire up to 30% of the land to enable contiguity.

Mamata Banerjee also wants no industry to be allowed in fertile agriculture land. If all these amendments are taken together, no acquisition will be possible. It would be impossible to acquire land with no government involvement at all. The bulk of the land acquisition can be through direct negotiation with the farmers. But some government role will be necessary to deal with contiguity issues. Also, a proposed industry may get delayed for reasons beyond the promoter’s control.

In that event, is it practical to legally mandate return of the land to the farmers? At the political level, these amendments will now be discussed with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. We need a humane land acquisition Act which does not throw the baby out with the bath wate.









To describe the current situation on the agricultural front as “grave” or “serious” would be an understatement. What’s worse is that, as is usually the case in this country, it is the rural poor who are the worst sufferers in any drought. The government cannot ignore its responsibility to mitigate the condition of the worst afflicted by the speedy provision of emergency food and water supplies. There is a flicker of hope that the rains will come in good measure soon after August 15, now less than a week away; but if that does not happen the situation could turn cataclysmic in certain areas. If agricultural operations come to a standstill, then where will farmers and labourers get the money to buy food which the government says is there in plenty in the FCI’s godowns? Even today, with the government saying it has adequate stocks of 253 lakh tonnes of wheat and 323 lakh tonnes of rice, the ration shops in Mumbai, for instance, are not giving wheat, rice and sugar to ration card holders. They are being forced to buy these items in the open market. In states like Maharashtra, some parts of Andhra Pradesh and northern Karnataka, jowar is a staple food for many people, but the government has done nothing to stock it. There has been no agricultural breakthrough in pulses and oilseeds as in the case of rice and wheat, even though pulses are the only source of protein for crores of vegetarians across the country. India is one of the largest consumers of edible oils, and yet we depend on imports for three-fourths of our requirements. When the world markets come to know that India is going to import grain, the international prices shoot up, adding to domestic inflation. The government is also forced to subsidise these imports for the poor. The sheer neglect of research and development in pulses and oilseeds reflects poorly on the government, and only shows how our administration is so totally ignorant about the needs of agriculture. Much was expected of Mr Sharad Pawar, who understands the needs of farmers and could have revolutionised the pulses and oilseeds sector. It is still not too late for him and the government to remedy this, and bring about a new green revolution in pulses and oilseeds in the way Indira Gandhi had done with rice and wheat many decades ago. Without this, there will be no real food security for much of the people of India. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has taken the initiative by calling state chief secretaries to discuss, among other things, planning for the rabi season. Gram and masoor can be increased and work on this should start immediately. There have to be some special programmes and minimum support prices should be announced early to encourage farmers to take up production of rabi crops on a war footing. The government’s agricultural policy needs a thorough change. The Prime Minister and the agriculture minister would do well to reduce their dependence on bureaucrats and bring in some real experts to plan what steps to take in the next 12 months if the poor are to get food at reasonable prices. From the farmers’ standpoint, government policies today are totally lopsided: if the crops are abundant, prices go down and farmers suffer as they can’t even recover their cost of production. There needs to be a way to protect them and motivate them in the same way that the government does for industry.









parliament for the umpteenth time has discussed the price issue in the recent period. The problem is serious. In spite of a low inflation rate in terms of the wholesale price index, the prices of essential commodities kept rising, with some of them like dal and sugar reaching very high levels. No government can afford to ignore this situation. It is time we thought of some long-term mechanism to deal with the problem.

In spite of high gross domestic product growth, production of most of the essential commodities has not increased much, and with any stability. Even the lands devoted to the production of some goods are highly substitutable for others. Substantial increase in the production of sugarcane or oil seeds or even pulses would divert land from the production of cereals and vice versa. The shortage situation thus remains in one or another sector.

Recently two commodities, pulses and sugarcane, have shown severe shortage of supply. The production of pulses in India has remained stagnant, with much more lucrative alternative use of land. This is accompanied by a noticeable shortfall in the world production. Sugarcane production fell drastically as land was diverted following shortfall in sugarcane price in recent years. It will be a couple of years before this land use again changes. There are similar problems with vegetable oils which will probably be compounded with the bad monsoon affecting the production of rice.

Undoubtedly there will be some hoarding when there is a rising inflationary expectations, and the government must move against big hoarders if they can be identified. But in a large country like ours, hoarders are spread out. Chasing after them too much may disrupt the whole production process especially when holding of inventories for production and trading purposes cannot always be differentiated from hoarding. The task is made difficult when big traders, instead of holding the stock themselves, hoard them with the producers or at different consuming centres.

There was a time when nationalisation of wholesale trade was considered actively by the government, but was given up by the sheer enormity of the problems. Recently the government tried to ban futures trading in several commodities with very little impact on actual prices. Last year the finance minister introduced a commodity exchange tax, but had to give it up this year for its lack of effect. While we should continue to have the operation of enforcement mechanism in conditions of extreme shortage, and may possibly reintroduce the commodity exchange tax, we must look for more enduring alternatives.

One possible alternative would be for the government to play the market game itself through a large public sector corporation as a counter-force to the wholesale traders. The government could create a Commodities Trading Corporation (CTC) with a large working capital and complete access to imports, and the freedom to buy and sell commodities in the domestic market. It should function as a professional trading organisation, making money out of buying and selling, playing against the other traders, as a proper price leader in an oligopolistic market. It should be able to enter into long-term contracts with producers and suppliers, not only within the country but also abroad, sometimes giving them credit and other support to ensure the fulfilment of the contracts. Given the large foreign exchange reserves the country has, this corporation may be allowed to use foreign exchange to import on the spot and in the futures market, with long-term contracts with suppliers functioning as buffer stocks, rolling over the purchases made over a period. This is a practice followed by many big traders in the world market and our CTC could play that game very effectively.

The point is that we must effectively use our import capacity supported by our large foreign exchange reserves. All these essential commodities are tradable products and their domestic supplies can always be supplemented by imports from abroad. If the prices of these imports are too high, they may have to be subsidised. The government has to decide how much of this subsidy is justified. But there cannot be a situation where the supply of these products becomes completely inelastic, especially when foreign exchange availability is not a problem.

Creating a CTC is only giving a standing mechanism of market intervention by the public sector playing the market game and consolidating many ad hoc decisions that the government has taken. In fact, the government has recently allowed all the public sector corporations to enter into such trade with full access to foreign exchange, and also with assurance of subsidies if their sales prices fall short of their purchase price. Imports of these commodities have increased but not as much as they would if planned earlier. However, most importantly, these agencies are not specialised in such trading, and have very little knowledge of the market, which has to be carefully cultivated. The suggestion of creating a CTC would take us out of ad hocism and establish a standing specialised agency engaged in market operations entirely on market principles.

Such a venture would need substantial working capital and would probably need some assurances that if it supplies its products at less than purchase price for maintaining price stability, it would be compensated with appropriate subsidies. Otherwise, the CTC will meet its own requirements from its market operations.

When the government wants to help a particular section of the population, like the BPL or Antyodaya families, an organisation such as the CTC can supply essential items through a well functioning public distribution system (PDS). Plugging the loopholes of public distribution is therefore an imperative. The proposed CTC can then effectively operate the system. PDS alone can hardly address the problem unless it is backed up by stability of supplies.


Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi










Ever since the collapse of the Oslo peace accords in 2000, and the horror-show violence that followed, there has been only one thing to say about the West Bank: Nothing ever changes here, except for the worst. That is just not the case anymore — much to my surprise.


For Palestinians, long trapped between burgeoning Israeli settlements and an Israeli occupation Army, subject to lawlessness in their own cities and the fecklessness of their own political leadership, life has clearly started to improve a bit, thanks to a new virtuous cycle: improved Palestinian policing that has led to more Palestinian investment and trade that has led to the Israeli Army dismantling more checkpoints in the West Bank that has led to more Palestinian travel and commerce.

Because the West Bank today is largely hidden from Israelis by a wall, Israelis are just starting to learn from their own press what is going on there. On July 31, many Israelis were no doubt surprised to read this quote in the Maariv daily from Mr Omar Hashim, deputy chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Nablus, the commercial centre of the West Bank: “Traders here are satisfied”, said Mr Hashim. “Their sales are rising. They feel that life is returning to normal. There is a strong sense of optimism”.

Make no mistake: Palestinians still want the Israeli occupation to end, and their own state to emerge, tomorrow. That is not going to happen. But for the first time since Oslo, there is an economic-security dynamic emerging on the ground in the West Bank that has the potential — the potential — to give the post-Yasir Arafat Palestinians another chance to build the sort of self-governing authority, Army and economy that are prerequisites for securing their own independent state. A Palestinian peace partner for Israel may be taking shape again.

The key to this rebirth was the recruitment, training and deployment of four battalions of new Palestinian National Security Forces (NSF) — a move spearheaded by the President, Mr Mahmoud Abbas, and the Prime Minister, Mr Salam Fayyad, of the Palestinian Authority. Trained in Jordan in a programme paid for by the US, three of these battalions have fanned out since May 2008 and brought order to the major Palestinian towns: Nablus, Jericho, Hebron, Ramallah, Jenin and Bethlehem.

These NSF troops, who replaced either Israeli soldiers or Palestinian gangs, have been warmly received by the locals. Recently, NSF forces wiped out a Hamas cell in Qalqilya, and took losses themselves. The death of the Hamas fighters drew nary a peep, but a memorial service for the NSF soldiers killed drew thousands of people. For the first time, I’ve heard top Israeli military officers say these new Palestinian troops are professional and for real.

The Israeli Army’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, has backed that up by taking down roughly two-thirds of the 41 manned checkpoints Israel set up around the West Bank, many since 2000, to stifle Palestinian suicide bombers.


Those checkpoints — where Palestinians often had to wait for two hours to just pass from one city to the next and often could not drive their own cars through but had to go from cab to cab — choked Palestinian commerce. Israel is also again letting Israeli Arabs drive their own cars into the West Bank on Saturdays to shop.

“You can feel the movement”, said Mr Olfat Hammad, the associate director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, who lives in Nablus and works in Ramallah. “It is not a burden anymore to move around to Ramallah for business meetings and social meetings”. Nablus recently opened its first multiplex, Cinema City, as well as a multistory furniture mart designed to cater to Israelis. Ramallah’s real estate prices have skyrocketed.

“I have had a 70 per cent increase in sales”, Maariv quoted a Nablus shoe store owner as saying. “People are coming from the villages nearby, and from other cities in the West Bank and from Israel”.

But men and women do not live by shoe sales alone. The only way the Palestinian leadership running this show can maintain its legitimacy is if it is eventually given political authority, not just policing powers, over the West Bank — or at least a map that indicates they are on a pathway there.

“Our people need to see we are governing ourselves and are not simply subcontractors for Israeli security”, the Prime Minister, Mr Fayyad, told me. Mr Khalil Shikaki, a leading Palestinian pollster, added that Abbas and Fayyad want “to be seen as building a Palestinian state — not security without a state”. That is why “there has to be political progress alongside the security progress. Without it, it hurts them very much”.

America must nurture this virtuous cycle: more money to train credible Palestinian troops, more encouragement for Israel’s risk-taking in eliminating checkpoints, more Palestinian economic growth and quicker negotiations on the contours of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. Hamas and Gaza can join later. Don’t wait for them. If we build it, they will come.








Television reality shows arrived and have now become as native as the McDonald’s burger. Localised, they have created three niches. One is the trial of strength, a brutalised boyscout episode that combines sexuality and the Lord of the Flies to create tests of strength. To the Darwanian episodes, one can add a swayamvar, a prolonged search for an appropriate husband for Rakhi Sawant who plays a demure harridan, whose savvy trade union instincts should make her the target of corporate recruiters. But the most controversially popular of these is Sach ka Saamna. In this, the former compere of Quiz Time, Siddharth Basu, has produced a stronger brew as he moves from information to what he calls “truth”.
The rules of the game are deceptively simple. Every candidate is strapped to a lie detector and asked embarrassing questions. Husbands are asked before their wives if they ever visited prostitutes. The questions increase in intensity in Dante’s “circle of sin” and so do the incentives. You auction truth as fact as you proceed to the next question. Ironically, it is one of the few times one is paid to tell the truth in public. With mock seriousness, the producer even claimed that the motto of the show is “Satyamev Jayate”. The appropriation captures the right spirit of the event.

Sach Ka Saamna earned some of the highest TRP ratings, making a T-20 match with Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh seem prosaic. But it is the drama of reactions that produced the greater play. In all this it was irrelevant that lie detectors are not seen in a forensic sense as identifying truth. The battle is more sociological.

Members of Parliament, ignoring the political scandals on TV, treated the show itself as a scandal. Many acted as if the epidemic of truth telling might reach Parliament itself. The comic prospect remained distant as Parliament went into attack. What was deemed threatening by the new agony aunts of the state was not truth itself but the particular kind of truth. The episodes asked questions about family and marriage and by imputing illicit sex, sullied the public face of these institutions. For India, nothing is as sacred as the family. Between family and the National Flag, we virtually exhaust the source of the sacred. Hypocrisy and belief concentrate themselves around these objects.

A sense of the hysteria generated was evoked by conservative leader B.P. Singhal who claimed that he could not watch such shows with his family. Mr Singhal demanded an immediate ban on the show. When asked about parental guidance or self censorship, he got apoplectic, virtually implying that innocence, like chastity or security, demanded harsh measures. The plea found support even from filmmakers like Shyam Benegal who argued that the show had little to add in an aesthetic sense.

The issue was not really about banning. Comparing the show to Khajuraho was a form of illiteracy. It is not the sociology of censorship that is interesting, it is the construction of truth that offers more fruitful possibilities.

It raises a fascinating list of questions. How is a fact different from information? Are facts, data and information equivalent to the truth? Are honesty and transparency the same? Is a confession, a statement of the truth? Does truth telling TV-style demand the spectacle as a certificate of truth?
On an ethical note, does not auctioning privacy make it true? How do confessions rank as a form of truth telling in our culture? The responses to the show became a problem in the sociology of knowledge.
Visualise an alternative set of circumstances. Imagine there is a politician on the show. Would a confession that he took a bribe create a sensation? Sting operators might feel unemployed, but beyond politicians and media, the decibel level would be low.

Take a second case. Imagine if you were to ask a bureaucrat whether he ever cheated in an exam. People would be intrigued, gossip a while, recollect similar events and move on. Imagine then if we ask a doctor if he made any mistake during an operation that he was silent about. One can feel concern but not yet a scandal. As we conduct this thought experiment we realise two things. Some kinds of truths seem more equal than others. Truths about politics or professionalism are not as threatening as truth about sexuality and marriage. It is the latter that carries the double halos of sacredness and hypocrisy. Secondly, it is clear that the scandal is not about individual truths and embarrassments. It is our sense of collective truth about certain institutions that creates the scandal. Thirdly, the scandal is not about truth telling, which is an honest open act, or about confession, which has its own rituals of forgiveness and atonement. It is about exposure.

To expose one’s inner self, especially if it is a bourgeois, almost seems pornographic. Privacy allows for the lie, for hypocrisy, for silence. It allows for the truth of mistakes letting the self struggle and live with them. Most biographies are a serial of errors and mistakes. Privacy allows for them, especially the truths and lies of marriage and sexuality.

The objection for many was that what one faced was not truth but pornography of the false confessional. It was truth about former lies that appeared as a result of market incentives. The show decanonised the ordinary respectability of the father, or the housewife. What it threatened was the respectability of institutions with a crudity of interrogation that left a bad taste. Such a scandal needed a scapegoat and one found one in the producers of the show.

In fact even their responses on TV revealed interesting validations of what constitutes the truth. To the producers a thing seems true if the market validates it. A thing is true if it is popular. Popularity and market are two forms of truth validation. Thirdly, good intentions make something true. If your heart rings true, then your project is allegedly true.

The fourth tactic is trial by fire. They challenge the critics to join the programme, claiming they are not courageous enough. Most refuse and those that do, appear to possess the mantle of truth. So the controversy goes on increasing the TRP ratings, creating that fusion of market and scandal which is such a potent source of media attention.

In that sense, a mediocre show like Sach Ka Saamna is important not for the scandals, the little lies in little lives that it exposes but as a fable of what truth is. What it reveals is that truth rather than being objective is actually elusive.

We substitute surrogate words like fact, knowledge, information, honesty, confession, transparency as a secondary thesaurus for a word which needs deeper understanding if it has to be lived out. Voyeurism is no substitute for the authenticity of that search.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








During the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, I used to wake up in the middle of the night, trying to separate truth from lies. The same thing happened during the imbroglio between Sgt. James Crowley and Henry Louis Gates Jr. In the days before the beer summit — (“Beer makes me bloat”, Gates told me) — I woke up in the middle of the night, puzzling over how the policeman and the professor could have such irreconcilable

The Cambridge officer wrote in his report that Gates had yelled at him, “Ya, I’ll speak with your mama outside”. The Harvard professor denied it. Crowley seems like a good guy, not the type to falsify a police report. And Gates, a man well-satisfied with the salons of Harvard, PBS and Martha’s Vineyard, does not seem like the type to resort to trash-talking from the ’hood.

So how to reconcile it? At 4 am, it suddenly hit me. Gates had just gotten back from researching Yo-Yo Ma’s genealogy in China. Maybe he had said something like, “I was outside the country exploring Yo-Yo

Ma’s roots”, or even “Yo-Yo Ma’s mama’s roots”, and the policeman misheard him.
Later that morning, I ran it past Gates.

“That’s funny”, he replied. “But no, no. I didn’t mention China to Sgt. Crowley. However, Yo-Yo Ma is a friend, and we do call him ‘Yo Mama’ around Cambridge”.

We never do get to the bottom of some stories.

Of course, more often, it works the other way around. We drive the people we write about crazy. I was reminded of this reading the new chronicle of the vertiginous 2008 campaign written by the Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson. Once more, we are mesmerised, even horrified, as Bill Clinton does his dinner-theatre version of King Lear, howling at the South Carolina sky as he realises he no longer has enough juice with African-American voters to derail Barack Obama and make his wife President.
Bill could not bear to see the press transfer the crown to Obama as the best politician of our age. He thought he’d retain the title at least for his lifetime.

It drove him temporarily mad. It was Bill who changed the strategy for the primary in South Carolina, where the Clintons had originally planned to campaign minimally and lose, but not so badly that it would scuttle Hillary’s campaign.

“Bill Clinton decided, by God, we were going to do better with African-Americans”, a senior Clinton adviser told the authors. Ego can be dangerous. Bill “believed that Obama had gotten a free ride from the media, and he wanted to force a conversation about that”, Balz and Johnson wrote in their book, The Battle for America 2008. They added, “His once certain political touch and instincts eluded him”.
It’s also interesting to read the chapter on “Palinmania” and remember how serene Sarah Palin was before she became unhinged by fame and her fixation with her reviews, especially from conspiratorial and gossipy bloggers. The same McCain advisers who later turned against Palin were impressed with her at first, when she earned adjectives like unruffled, self-confident, tough-minded and self-assured.
From Bill Ayers to Reverend Wright, “Sarahcuda” was ready to bite, telling rallies, “The heels are on, the gloves are off”. But by the end, after Tina Fey, Katie Couric and the shopping spree, Palin had lost confidence. She became erratic. “During a campaign trip in October to New Hampshire, she balked at sharing the stage with former Congressman Jeb Bradley because they differed on abortion and drilling in the Arctic wilderness”, the authors wrote. “That same day, she was reluctant to join Bradley and Senator John Sununu for conversation aboard her campaign bus and had to be coaxed out of the back of the bus to talk to them, according to a McCain adviser”.

Palin is still obsessed with the blogosphere, which recently lit up with a rumour started by a fellow mavericky Alaskan, who also no longer has his job — that she and Todd were Splitsville. She sarcastically told Mike Allen of Politico that she loved finding out “what’s goin’ on in my life from the news”. She deserted her post as governor to write her book about the “pioneering spirit”, as she told Allen. The contradiction seems lost on her.

And, as Talking Points Memo reported on Friday, she put up a demented, fact-free Facebook rant trashing the President’s healthcare plan: “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society’ whether they are worthy of healthcare. Such a system is downright evil”.

Do we sometimes drive ’em downright crazy? You betcha!


By arrangement with the New York Times





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




THE LAND muddle will almost certainly persist for some time yet and not merely in Marxist Bengal. The compulsions of coalition politics have officially been touted as the reason why the two crucial Bills on land acquisition and resettlement were shelved by the national government on the day before they were scheduled to be introduced in the Rajya Sabha. It is at best an explanation to wriggle out of an intricate situation. The deferment, prima facie owing to Mamata Banerjee's opposition to the acquisition formula, should occasion a rethink of its provisions. It must above all prompt the UPA government to address the shortcomings, notably the pronounced tilt in the Acquisition Bill in favour of the corporate sector, the lack of protection from fly-by-night operators, the short shrift to the tribals and the indecision over whether land not utilised should be returned to the original owners. The Bill will have to balance the acquisition by the investor (read corporate sector) and the state's duty to protect the landholder.
The issue is as sensitive as it is complex, and doesn't appear to have been sufficiently though through by the government in its anxiety to introduce the Bill in the Rajya Sabha after the previous UPA dispensation ran out of time. The matter doesn't rest entirely on the ratio of the investor/state involvement. It is above all an issue that concerns corporate responsibility and the state's duty towards its citizens. The delay should afford the Centre the opportunity to work out a socially palatable formula by giving the Acquisition Bill a fairly wide canvas, incorporating the interests of the tribals and their land and the other contentious issue, post-Singur ~ a consensus on whether the land that is acquired but not utilised for industry should be returned to the original owners.

The other Bill on Resettlement and Rehabilitation needs to be spelt out more explicitly than it has been thus far. Mamata Banerjee may initially have accepted the Cabinet consensus on both Bills; but her reservations, if an afterthought, are reasonably grounded. The two pieces of legislation, of terribly crucial import, ought not to be a half-baked effort at socio-economic engineering.







Los Angeles, 9 Aug: A nearly four-month-long exhibition scheduled to begin here from October will showcase the legacy of India's divine heroes and heroines in contemporary South Asian culture through the comic book genre.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art will present Heroes and Villains: The Battle for Good in India's Comics, comprising 53 paintings, works on paper, and vintage comic books, on view from 17 October through 7 February, 2010.

Indian comic book superheroes and their arch enemies are visualised from ancient archetypes that have long been depicted in traditional painting and sculpture, and are deeply ingrained in India's historical imagination. Curated by Julie Romain and Tushara Bindu Gude, the exhibition mines the history of the comic book in India from the 1960s through the present.

It explores the evolution of early Indian comics, which were modelled on American superhero comics, through the Amar Chitra Katha, a popular series based on traditional Indian epic literature and religious texts recounting the heroic deeds of Indian gods and goddesses.

“This is the first exhibition of Indian comics on view at a major museum. Here at LACMA we have the unique opportunity to consider this contemporary art form in relation to our extensive historical collection of South and Southeast Asian art,” said Romain.

To illustrate the continuity of the heroic narrative tradition in Indian art, a selection from LACMA's historical collection of Indian paintings will also be displayed.

These include folios from Mughal illustrated manuscripts, paintings and drawings from the north Indian princely states, and story-telling paintings from central India.








FOR as generously pampered a sector as banking, the nationwide strike over two days, to buttress the demand for still higher salaries and pension, was economically disruptive enough. Yet it remains a commentary on the attitude to work that alone in India, West Bengal has incurred the dubious distinction of non-functioning Automated Teller Machines. The facts of the ATM dislocation confirm that it was almost entirely choreographed by the Citu, the trade union front of the ruling party that has become increasingly desperate to make its presence felt... whether in a funeral procession or a bank strike. Arguably, it would have been a managerial lapse if the ATMs had run out of currency. Far from it, and they didn't anywhere else in the country. But in a state traditionally concerned about union rights rather than responsibilities, Citu ensured that the ATM shutters in West Bengal were down as well. In so doing, it hasn't quite raised the pitch for its demands; the umbrella organisation of Left unions has only alienated itself from the people. Particularly inconvenienced were the kin of the sick and the dying. The contrived insensitivity towards emergencies has only served to damage the Citu's credibility and of the party in the larger perspective. The offence has been almost as serious as Congress footsoldiers holding up ambulances during the recent bandh. 

Yet the withers of the netas will remain unwrung. Breathtaking in its vacuity has been the reaction of Mr Kali Ghosh, Citu's state secretary: "It is not only the relatives of patients who withdraw money; there are also those who take out cash to buy liquor." To assess the nature of the requirement doesn't come within the remit of a trade union. The statement is as inane as it could get. If, as he claimed, Citu had been able to ensure that 90 per cent of the ATMs were non-functional, it is a thoroughly spurious strength that the organisation is now trying to flaunt. It is time the bluff was called and not least by bank employees across the country. A final thought. The services sector is one where India enjoys a decisive edge over its largest Asian rival; it is time employees of this sector realised just how high the stakes are when disruptions are engineered in the manner that they were.








OVER-AMBITIOUS was the stick used to beat the indigenous defence research and development effort when the Tejas LCA and MBT Arjun failed to come good on schedule. Though also delayed, the recent undocking of the domestic nuclear-propelled submarine (admittedly constructed with Russian assistance) has countered some of that criticism and given the self-reliance advocates a good case to argue. Hence there is every reason to take due note and follow up the point made by the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission that India was now capable of producing a nuclear-propelled aircraft-carrier. It was essentially a technical point that Mr Anil Kakodar was making, confirming the capacity to produce a reactor small enough to be a fitted on a sea-going platform (surface or submerged) yet rugged enough to take all that is thrown up by a “choppy” marine environment. Still, with an indigenous carrier-building programme already in hand the potential for a “marriage” raises exciting prospects. Sure there would be a host of immediate impediments ~ international pressures, constraint of funds, denial of certain technologies, lack of shipyard space among them ~ but not to think big, in the dimensions the AEC chief has outlined, would be myopic. It is not as though work on a nuclear-propelled carrier (which does not necessarily embark nuclear weaponry) should begin “tomorrow”, just that the men at the drawing-boards might start sketching some design-concepts, in their minds at least.

Like a nuclear-propelled submarine, a similarly powered carrier is a strategic asset, the dream of any navy with blue-water ambitions. Its endurance and range make it capable of operating aircraft far, far from home and when power projection is the name of the game it knows few conventional peers. A N-sub keeps the adversary guessing, a N-carrier shows the flag in his face. Alas, even before dreams of that nature take shape questions must arise about India’s acquisition of long-range weaponry: submarines, ballistic missiles, strike-aircraft and so on. The armed forces can well absorb the technology and capability to employ them effectively but is there a national policy to bring those assets to bear? The question is valid in the context of the folded-hands response to the attack on Parliament House, 26/11…







TWO BILLS, one geared to reform the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 and the other a fresh piece of legislation to ensure resettlement and rehabilitation, have been shelved. The Lok Sabha’s Rural Development Standing Committee had prepared a report on the Bills, recommending the discontinuance of the government’s role in land acquisition.

Does this mean that the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill and the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill 2007, both of which were drafted by the ministry of rural development, gave sufficient importance to the role of government in the acquisition of land for private companies and corporations? The draft Bills, which are available on the Lok Sabha website, tell a different story. Both ignored and bypassed the 73rd Amendment Act of the Constitution which empowered the panchayats to function as institutions of self-government. Also ignored was the basic means of livelihood of the rural poor - the common property resources.

THE Lok Sabha by adopting the 73rd Amendment Act in 1992 inserted Part IX in the Constitution which contains Articles 243 to 243-0. These Articles empower the state legislatures to confer on the panchayats such authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government. These are empowered by the Constitution with the responsibility of preparing plans for economic development and social justice and in regard to matters listed in the 11th Schedule (inserted by the 73rd Amendment). The list contains 29 items, such as land improvement, minor irrigation, animal husbandry, fisheries, education, women and child development, social forestry, etc. It follows that acquisition of land for industries or for that matter any development work within the jurisdiction of a panchayat should first be cleared by the respective panchayats. 

In this context, we need to examine the expression “local authority” in Section 3(aa) of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 as modified up to 1 September 1985. Section 3(aa) reads: “Local authority includes a town planning authority set up under any law for the time being in force”. This definition, which does not refer to panchayats, is still valid today in the Land Acquisition Act.
In the Bill that was scheduled to have been introduced in the Rajya Sabha last week, the expression “appropriate Government” under Section 3(ee) of the Principal Land Acquisition Act has been slightly modified to read as: “The expression ‘appropriate Government’ means, (i) in relation to acquisition of land for the purposes of the Union, the Central Government, (ii) in any infrastructure project in more than one state, the Central Government; and (iii) in relation to acquisition of land for any other purpose, the state government”. Curiously, the new Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 like the earlier one which is still in force, does not have any place for the gram sansad, gram panchayat, gram sabha or any other elected body in the rural and urban areas under the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution. In order to place the new Bill in line with the 73rd amendment of the Constitution the expression ‘appropriate Government’ should also include the words “in relation to the acquisition of land for industries and any other development work, the elected gram sansad, gram panchayat and gram sabha or any other elected body in rural and urban areas under the 73th and 73th Amendments of the Indian Constitution”.

The major deficiency of the colonial Land Acquisition Act is the complete absence of any provision for the payment of compensation for the loss of common property resources (CPR) by the acquisition of land. Both the colonial and post-colonial versions of the land acquisition law only recognised individual property rights over land and accordingly made provisions for the payment of compensation to individual titleholders whose record of right (ROR) over a particular plot of land is formalised by the land records department of the state government.


THE ground reality is of common property resources, notably community pastures, forests, wasteland, common dumping and threshing grounds, village ponds, rivers as well as their banks and newly emerged lands. Research conducted by NS Jodha, an economist attached with the World Bank, showed that in the dry regions of India 84 to 100 per cent of the rural poor depended on CPR for fuel, fodder and food. This is still an important source of employment and income, particularly during the lean seasons. Every plot of agricultural land becomes CPR in the post-harvest season. The poor villagers also collect a variety of fish and edible snails from the same agricultural field even when there is standing crop and water. When government acquires such valuable agricultural land, no compensation is paid to the CPR users. Only the landowner is paid compensation based on the market price of the land calculated as an average of the land sale prices over the last three years to the date of notification for the acquisition.

The framers of the new Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 have totally ignored, like their colonial masters, the existence of common property resources, let alone payment of any collective compensation to the poor CPR users. All this is generally overlooked by the market oriented economists.

The silence of the CPI and the CPI-M and their academic think-tanks on the violation of the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution as well as the non-recognition of the CPR resources in the new land acquisition amendment bill only reveals the intellectual bankruptcy of the Marxists. Suffice it to say, that one should not expect any substantial input in the Lok Sabha on these core issues from Miss Mamata Banerjee and the MPs of the Trinamul Congress who are in favour of 100 per cent land takeover for industries and development projects through a “willing-buyer-willing-seller” principle.









Statistics can play strange tricks. In the United States of America, 247,000 workers were thrown out of their jobs in July. But the unemployment rate fell from 9.5 to 9.4 per cent. The inference would be that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had lost its marbles, or at least its arithmetics. But that would be a hasty conclusion. For the department says that the civilian labour force shrank by 422,000. They did not leave the country or the world, for the number of adults who were not in the labour force — who ostensibly were not seeking work — went up by 637,000. So unemployment crept down because some half a million people stopped looking for work. Thus if enough people get tired of looking for work, unemployment may vanish. The US may see more such drops in unemployment in the coming months.


Even employment news is not entirely dark. It actually went up in three sectors. Education and health services employed another 17,000, leisure and hospitality another 9,000, and government another 7,000. But these figures were dwarfed by the 270,000 jobs lost elsewhere. The labour force figures tell a different story from those of hours worked, which were only 0.1 per cent less than in 2002; the average hours worked per week actually ticked up from 33 to 33.1. Total work done has hardly declined; those in jobs are working harder, and those out of jobs are finding it harder to get work. Overtime normally costs more than the cost of a new worker; but it avoids all the bother of taking on a new worker, going through the paperwork, training him and so on.


But such is human nature that commentators have begun to read these figures in a sunny mode. For five quarters running, payroll employment had declined by increasing numbers. In the last quarter, it declined, but by less than in the previous quarter. Similarly, gross domestic product had declined by increasing rates in the previous three quarters; it declined by much less in the last quarter. That can be read as a slowdown in the rate at which the economy is slowing down. That is the interpretation Christina Romer, chairperson of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, chose in her speech on August 6. She was an influential advocate of the stimulus package of $787 billion that Congress was persuaded to adopt; the unemployment figures are proof to her that it has worked — that the stimulus has been proved to be a well tested antibiotic, and not some newfangled gene therapy. If she is wrong, she is in good company, for she cited 20 countries that had used stimulus packages, varying between 0.1 per cent of GDP in Italy and 3.7 per cent in Korea. India’s was a measly 0.6 per cent. That will show the finance minister how parsimonious he has been — and how much more reckless he can be.






The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh seems to be suffering from the unkindness of strangers. While the world and his wife are ready to vilify Ms Mayavati for self-aggrandizement, no one bothers to accept the benefits she is doling out, at great cost, to the poor. One thousand flats for workers, to be given free of cost, built within a year of her announcement of one lakh free housing for the poor, are going a-begging for occupants. The flats are in Noida and Greater Noida, and the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority, which is meant to submit a completion report to the state government by August 15, has not received a single application for the flats in spite of extending the last date for applications twice. Ms Mayavati’s efficiency lies in apportioning accountability. In this case, district magistrates responsible for receiving applications and allotting the flats will be accountable if the flats go empty.


But they may be too frightened to be truthful. Ms Mayavati’s plan suffers from a common flaw of many noble governmental plans: an alienation from the really needy. The flats have been built in an area where construction workers are nomadic; they make their living by moving from site to site. Every group of workers has its special conditions and needs — there is no point in deciding on an overall solution to a problem not understood and not researched. Obviously, in this case, providing houses will not address the fundamental issue of the target group’s necessary rootlessness. Besides, to apply for any benefit from the government, people need cards — BPL cards, ration cards and so on. A large section of the poor do not have these. It is useless to offer them houses, or cheap railway tickets, or cheap rice, unless the more basic issues have been addressed first. What is needed is proper study and a nuanced understanding of the many different conditions under which different segments of the unorganized population conduct their lives in different regions. Till politicians have time for that, very little will change.








In Successful Negotiation (1994), I had discussed the use of power and perceptions of power in negotiations. The weaker party, by its confident behaviour, skilled arguments, and underhand methods, successfully influences the stronger party into thinking that the weaker one is more powerful than is the case. The India-Pakistan negotiations over past decades show how successful Pakistan has been while India has been unable to use its stronger economy, powerful military, democracy and good world-image to get its views across.


The Kashmir dispute, since 1946, has seen Pakistan lose three wars with India and a good part of its territory to Bangladesh, use military supported incursions into India by terrorists, become a surrogate for China against India, and use well-crafted propaganda to give India a bad name. This is despite an economy that has depended on American financial aid for decades, a feudal society, increasing Islamic fundamentalism, high illiteracy and a military-dominated society.


Pakistan is imbued with a core sense of victimhood, measured through the prism of India. It has developed the fine art of heightening perceptions of its power beyond reality and excellent negotiation and communication skills in diplomacy and at the international political level.


India, after its economic growth since 1991, has less of a Pakistan-phobia. Though it does not need to be so, India is submissive to the American government’s pressures. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the post-9/11 hostility to the Taliban, the United States of America has been considerate towards Pakistan’s concerns about India, primarily about Kashmir. Indian governments are naïve in policy-making, lack holistic thinking and are poor in coordinated implementation. There is incredulity in India that Indian intelligence agencies can mount covert operations in Pakistan as they are accused of doing in Baluchistan. We have a self-righteousness, an inability to agree on national policy and a singular faith in words without looking for underlying falsehoods.


In 1947, after a victory in war, India went to the United Nations and accepted a damaging resolution for a plebiscite, giving Pakistan a handle against it for the next 60 years. Since then, after each successful war with Pakistan, we have repeatedly been ‘gentlemen’ and not demanded a final settlement.


The Tashkent talks between Lal Bahadur Shastri and Ayub Khan, after Pakistan lost to India in the battlefield, might not have resulted in lasting peace. Under Indira Gandhi, India defeated Pakistan, captured over 100,000 Pakistani solders and enabled the creation of Bangladesh. She trusted Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s word during the peace negotiations in Simla, agreed to release captive Pakistani soldiers, apparently on Bhutto’s word that he would prepare Pakistani public opinion for a final settlement on Kashmir. Possibly, the line of control would formally be the international border. He boasted to his ministers in Pakistan that he had put one over Mrs Gandhi. He immediately initiated the development of a nuclear bomb by any means. Chinese help, theft and bribery by A.Q. Khan ensured that Pakistan had the bomb in a few years. Instead of an all-out war with India, Pakistan would aim to destabilize India by bleeding its economy, using “non-state actors” under the Inter-Services Intelligence to foment insurgency in Kashmir, support other insurgencies within India and destabilize the rupee by flooding India with counterfeit notes.


In 1961, when China was weak and grateful to India for recognizing Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, India was unwilling to recognize that the British-drawn border with China (and disputed by China) was faulty. China crushed an unprepared India in a humiliating defeat in the 1962 war. India had believed that Hindi-Chini were bhai bhai. For China, the border is still unsettled and now claims the whole of Arunachal. India has, over the years, mishandled its Kashmir policy by rigging the state elections in the 1980s to get a supportive government, pouring money but not ensuring its honest use so that it had little effect on people’s lives, and using force instead of political and economic reforms. Where there was little support for domestic militancy, our policies created a strong base of support for imported militants.


Atal Bihari Vajpayee invited Pervez Musharraf to Agra after India threw the Pakistan army out of Kargil. After consistently denying Pakistan’s role in Kargil, Musharraf used Agra to score publicity points. He now claims Kargil as a Pakistan victory that made India come for talks with Pakistan. In negotiations, Pakistan has always used words as weapons, not as expressions of commitment.


Vajpayee persisted with peace overtures, despite the Pakistan attack on India’s Parliament. Pakistan responded with continuing infiltrating terrorists into India, trained and financed by the Pakistan army. India had no persistent and coordinated publicity and diplomatic drive, no coordinated overt and covert acts to finesse Pakistan. At different times, India’s knee-jerk actions like army mobilization, stopping PIA flights over India, breaking off talks and resuming them even when Pakistan did not desist were initiated.

A victim appeals to bystanders for sympathy and support. He quietly retaliates by actions that he can deny taking. He will commit to anything if cornered, but will, at the same time, be planning on how to score over his opponent. He will try to transform his position of weakness into one of strength as Bhutto did by going after a nuclear bomb for Pakistan at any cost. Subsequent Pakistan administrations have continued by using their intelligence agency to direct ‘militants’ to create mayhem in India. In such situations, the stronger party must have plans and actions to counter his ‘weak’ opponent. India has failed woefully in doing so. Ronald Reagan’s plan to destroy the Soviet Union illustrates the response of a strong party to a weaker, but nuclear-armed, country. Reagan initiated a competitive arms race, while arming the Taliban to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Ultimately, this sapped the financial strength of the Soviets and led to their collapse.


With the US, India must have a clear laxmanrekha of national interest. India must discount the US’s professed admiration for India as the world’s largest democracy. The Obama administration, like others before, is comfortable with authoritarian states, and needs Pakistan to fight the Taliban. India must always be suspicious of American words and look more at understanding core American interests. This requires that we do not become dependent on the US for sensitive supplies like nuclear plants and defence equipment. We must not become more subject to American control than we are by blandishments like a possible Security Council seat. India should rather buy sensitive technology and equipment from purely profit-seeking states like France, Israel or Spain that will sell anything for a price. Safeguarding national interest and our freedom of action are more important than fripperies like this or being regarded as having transformed its relationship with the US.


India needs to be more belligerent with Pakistan and not worry about the reaction of G-8 countries. We must constantly publicize the human rights violations by Pakistan in Baluchistan, the North-West Frontier Province and Sind. We must support the rebels there with money, equipment and training. We must deal directly with the Pakistan army and the ISI. We must stop the smuggling of essentials and luxuries to Pakistan. We must use every forum to attack Pakistan’s interests. Our focus in relation to Pakistan must be the closure of terrorist camps meant for infiltrating into India. Words from Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton must not force us into mere dialogue with Pakistan with no action against terrorists. We must neutralize Chinese support to Pakistan by trade, investment and a border settlement with China, even sacrificing territory over which we have doubtful claims. We must build economic strength and treat Pakistan as only one among countries for policy and actions.


The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research








It is generally agreed that North Korea and Burma have the two most oppressive regimes in Asia. They rule over two of the poorest countries in the continent, and that is no coincidence. But there is one marked difference between them. No foreign leaders pay court to the Burmese generals in their weirdly grandiose new capital of Naypyidaw, whereas even Bill Clinton, the world’s most recognizable celebrity statesman, makes the pilgrimage to Pyongyang.


Clinton was there to secure the release of two American journalists who were seized on the Chinese-North Korean border four months ago, probably with the explicit purpose of taking American hostages and forcing a high-level US visit to the North Korean capital. That’s why it was private citizen Bill, rather than his wife, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who made the visit to Kim Jong-il: the United States of America paid the devil his due, but deniably.


The big difference is this: the Burmese regime is seen by most foreign governments as ugly but harmless, whereas the North Korean regime is seen as ugly and extremely dangerous. The most dangerous thing about North Korea is its nuclear weapons; so if the Burmese generals also want to have emissaries from the great powers genuflecting at their doorstep, they need some nuclear weapons too.


The notion of a nuclear-armed Burma is faintly ridiculous, because the country has no foreign enemies that it needs to deter, let alone attack. But respect matters too, especially to regimes which feel their legitimacy is always under question. Articles published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Bangkok Post by Desmond Ball of the Australian National University and by Thailand-based Irish journalist, Phil Thornton, suggest that the Burmese regime has sought North Korean help to build its own nuclear weapons. It wants the North Koreans to create a plutonium reprocessing plant in the caves near Naung Laing in northern Burma, not far from the site of a civilian nuclear reactor that is being built with Russian help.



The usually reliable website, Dictator Watch, has been publishing warnings about the Burmese nuclear weapons project for several years now. Most of the information comes from defectors, including a former army officer who was sent to Moscow for two years’ training in nuclear engineering.


Why would North Korea be doing it? Because it is being paid in yellowcake (partially refined uranium), which Burma processes at the Thabeik Kyin plant. The fact that North Korea is a reckless nuclear weapons proliferator makes it more dangerous, and being dangerous is what forces people like Bill and Hillary Clinton to talk to it. All assuming that North Korea really is helping Burma to develop nuclear weapons, of course.


Ball and Thornton suggest that Burma could be processing 8 kg of plutonium-239 a year by 2014, after which it could produce one atomic bomb per year. Well, yes, but we all know that apparently competent intelligence agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency and Mossad have been predicting that Iran will have nuclear weapons within five years practically every year since the early 1990s. They were wrong about Iran every year, and Iran is a much more serious country, in scientific, technological and industrial terms than Burma.


But suppose it’s true. Why would Burma be doing it? Not to nuke Thailand or Malaysia or Bangladesh, surely, for it has no quarrel with its neighbours. But one can imagine that Than Shwe and his colleagues would feel more secure if the US and other great powers, instead of condemning and boycotting the Burmese dictatorship, were begging it to be responsible and give up its nuclear weapons.That’s why North Korea developed nuclear arms too.











Japan goes to the polls on Aug 30. Prime Minister Taro Aso who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the LDP-New Komeito coalition announced snap polls after a resounding defeat in Tokyo’s metropolitan assembly elections in early July. In this election, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) trounced the LDP with 54 seats to 38, thus precipitating the snap polls.

Ever since the popular prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi left the political scene of Japan in 2006, Japan has seen three prime ministers — Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda and Taro Aso — none of whom could match Koizumi in style, maturity and astuteness to run the country. Since then the fortunes of the LDP have seen a downslide and it is most likely to face defeat in the August election.

The Japanese people are getting disenchanted with LDP’s style of governing the country and looking for a change. Even if Aso has called for the snap polls to thwart his opponents, the DPJ will deny the LDP a free ride this time.


In the last 53 years, the LDP has ruled Japan continuously, except for a brief period of 11 months in 1993. All this seems poised to change. Owing to ill health and the recent fund-raising scandal in which his political secretary was involved, the DPJ supremo Ichiro Ozawa has paved way for young Yukio Hatoyama. While the LDP suffers from a serious image problem, DPJ’s Hatoyama boasts of a PhD from Stanford University and his relative youthfulness may attract the Japanese voters.

LDP is in disarray as some party members have openly voiced their displeasure with Aso. Voters seem to be preferring young leaders as was demonstrated in the recent election to the mayor position in the ancient Japanese capital of Nara, in which DPJ-backed 33-year-old Gen Nakagawa was chosen.

While Hatoyama may be preparing to be Japan’s prime minister in seven weeks’ time, LDP runs the risk of breaking apart if it finds itself in the unusual position of losing power. A poll conducted last fortnight for the widely-read Asahi Shimbun showed that 37 per cent of those surveyed said they would vote for the opposition DPJ in national elections, compared to 22 per cent for the LDP.

A poll by another newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, found Aso’s approval rating had fallen to 20 per cent. The three prime ministers who succeeded Koizumi only deepened the country’s political paralysis and could not arrest economic decline.

In fact, the denouement of the LDP has been such that the question of holding general elections loomed in the horizon ever since Aso assumed office last September. But he wanted to wait to give the economic stimulus measures time to take effect, and possibly revive his party’s flagging popularity. That does not clearly seem to be the case.




What are likely to be the key issues that the parties are going to place before the electorate? The focus is almost exclusively on the economy. Japan has been in an intractable economic slump for nearly two decades, following the bursting of its ‘economic miracle’ bubble in the late 1980s. Japan is faced with a crisis of identity as a result of four factors. First, economic malaise has yielded slow to no growth, persistent deflation, and the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the developed world.

Second, China has grown in stature and influence so much that it threatens to eclipse Japan’s position as the world’s second largest economy. Third, demographic changes in Japan are putting enormous strain on the government’s social security sector. Fourth, Japan faces critical dilemma in defining its status among other emerging economies.

Aso has passed three stimulus packages, the latest totalling approximately $150 billion, or three per cent of the GDP, to pull the country out of recession. The people have not warmed up to this agenda, however. The DPJ offers an alternative stimulus package worth four per cent of GDP, centering on payments to households in an attempt to increase consumption. Both face huge challenges in explaining how they would raise money for their policy prescriptions.

On the foreign policy front, the DPJ wants to have a re-look at Japan’s security alliance with the US. The DPJ has already an overwhelming majority in the Upper House having won the July 2007 elections. If the DJP manages to assume power in the Lower House, Japan is poised for major policy changes, both in domestic and foreign policy fronts.

(The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)









No, no I am not writing about the Deputy Superintendent of Police. Such a person cannot be referred to as ‘dear’ can he?  I am writing about someone who works for us in our homes. Domestic Service Provider. I got the idea of referring such a person by the term DSP from the language of the internet — internet service provider.

People who are matter of fact refer to the person working in their home as servant or domestic servant. But those who have a soft corner for such persons do try to call them by some kind of euphemism and say, maid, or housemaid, helper, housekeeper, domestic help and so on. Please don’t ask, “What is in a name”, quoting Shakespeare. There is a great deal in a name. In our offices we no longer call peons as peons. We use the term sub-staff (short form for subordinate staff). Some refer to them as attenders or messengers. In hospitals ward boys are called Group D staff. Even clerks are no longer called clerks. They are referred to as assistants or staff members.

Over the past few years there has been a sea change in the management of people in organisations. What was known as personnel management is now called Human Resources Management. The most important difference is that HRM looks at people not as mere machines for doing the work but as human beings having their own desires, hopes and aspirations. It believes in the mutual development of employees and the organisation. The question is, when will we apply this thinking to our own homes and treat our DSPs as human beings having their own aspirations?

When we go to a picnic we do take the DSP. But does she (Mostly DSPs are female.) enjoy? She has to take care of the baby. We do take the DSP to a friend’s house for some function or the other. But when we enjoy, she has to wash vessels inside.

It is understood that in cities like Mumbai domestic help have formed themselves into unions and are demanding equal rights. The employer families are feeling the heat a little bit now.

Let me close with a question. Let us say a guest comes home for the first time. Your good looking DSP opens the door. The guest asks, ‘Is this your daughter?’ What will you say?








Gov. David Paterson finally stepped forward last week with what appears to be a plausible compromise for ending the building stalemate at ground zero. He combined this with a long overdue warning to the developer, Larry Silverstein, to get on board.


Mr. Silverstein and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, have been at odds about how much money the Port Authority should provide Mr. Silverstein to build three of the five towers. The governor now proposes to pay for one tower with public money but wants Mr. Silverstein to invest his own money or find private financing to build the other two.


As public policy, this makes good sense. Mr. Paterson and the authority should not go deeper into the real estate business. The authority is responsible for train stations, airports, bridges, tunnels and port maintenance. If the private markets are not ready to lend Mr. Silverstein enough money to finance two huge office towers, then why should it be a wise investment for the public’s money?


Mr. Paterson also warned Mr. Silverstein last week that if negotiations did not proceed more quickly, he would ask the Port Authority to move on its own to finish the victims’ memorial, the transit hub and other public portions of the site. Ground zero might have been rebuilt today if former Gov. George Pataki had issued a similar warning eight years ago.


Mr. Silverstein has called for yet another round of arbitration. He has a point when he says that the Port Authority’s own delays have trapped him in an economic downturn that has made it hard for him to find either financing or tenants. But he has also been getting penalty fees for these delays from the authority, and, in any case, all this complaining is not getting anyone anywhere.


Mr. Silverstein should see the governor’s offer for what it is: a good deal that provides public financing for one tower and preserves Mr. Silverstein’s development rights for the others, which can be built later when the market is more encouraging.


Mr. Silverstein has plenty of political support. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver are both backing him in this fight. But neither Mr. Paterson, the authority nor the arbitration board should be muscled into spending the public’s money unwisely.







In March, the Obama administration began an antiforeclosure effort that offers lenders up to $75 billion in incentives to modify troubled mortgages. If that sounds like a lot of money, it is. But so far, it has not been enough to persuade the mortgage industry to do what is needed to help Americans stay in their homes and keep the economy from falling into deeper trouble.


The first report on the program, released last week by the Treasury Department, shows that as of the end of July, 235,247 mortgages had been modified on a trial basis. That is not even 9 percent of the 2.7 million troubled loans currently deemed eligible. (During the trials, borrowers are granted reduced monthly payments. After they pay on time for three consecutive months, the lowered payment will be fixed for at least five years.)


The report also shows that 117,295 trial-plan offers were pending at the end of July, but it is unclear how many of those will ultimately result in reworked loans.


Why aren’t the banks snapping up the incentives?


Some may prefer foreclosure because it allows them to delay reporting a loss. A delay is especially valuable for banks with other loans that are going bad, say, on commercial real estate. Modifications also require much more time and effort than processing foreclosures. For some mortgage firms that collect payments and handle defaults, the incentives may be outweighed by the fees they collect on delinquencies and foreclosure sales.


For all that, the administration still maintains that the incentives will overcome the industry’s manifest reluctance. It also seems to believe that by exposing lenders’ slow progress, it can shame them into doing better. As far as we can tell, the industry knows no shame.


Administration officials say that they now expect 500,000 modifications by November. That would be a boost, but likely too little given the size of the problem and the vulnerability of the economy.


According to Moody’s, it would take at least one million successful modifications over the next six to 12 months to avoid the worst effects of mass foreclosures, including severe damage to families and communities and — as foreclosures drive prices down — a continuing loss of home equity nationwide.


Unfortunately, there is also no telling at this point how many of the loans that are modified under the Obama plan will stay current, and how many will redefault. What is known is that with unemployment rising, even lowered monthly payments may prove too onerous.


With home prices falling, a better way to avoid redefault would be to forgive principal. In apparent deference to banks that do not want the losses associated with principal reductions, Obama officials have not pressed lenders to adopt that approach.


There is a real danger now that lenders, pushed by the administration, may ramp up the number of loan modifications, but that those may be especially prone to redefault. And there is a danger that the administration will squander valuable time pursuing a solution that proves inadequate, allowing the foreclosure crisis to persist. To guard against those dangers, the administration must provide copious data on the performance of modified loans over time. And it should reveal the assumptions it is using to project the program’s goals.


If the Obama plan does not produce enough successful modifications, Congress must give homeowners an alternative route to relief. The best way to do that is by changing the law to allow bankruptcy judges to modify bad mortgages. The prospect of having to live by a judge’s ruling would be the biggest incentive of all for lenders to modify bad loans, and it would not cost the taxpayers anything.








Every two years, like clockwork, Congress seems to pass an energy bill, each one marginally better than the one before. What this country does not need in 2009 is another energy bill, even a better one. What it needs is a climate bill, one committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in a way that engages the whole economy and forces major technological change.


Without such a bill, America will lose the race against time on climate, lose the race for markets for new and cleaner energy systems, and forfeit any claim to world leadership in advance of the next round of global climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December.


The bill approved by the House last month is a start. It calls for greater efficiency and alternative energy sources. But at its heart is a provision that would cut greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by midcentury. It would do so by imposing a steadily declining ceiling on emissions — raising the cost of dirtier fuels while steering investments to cleaner ones.


Yet there are small but disturbing signs that what this country might have to settle for is another energy bill. The atmosphere in the Senate is just short of mutinous. The mandatory cap on emissions has virtually no Republican support. There is talk of a turf war between two key Democrats, Barbara Boxer and Max Baucus, whose committees share jurisdiction over the bill. On Thursday, 10 Democrats from states that produce coal or depend on energy-intensive industries said they could not support any bill that did not protect American industries from exports from countries that did not impose similar restraints on emissions.


The White House seems oddly disengaged. It has been a while since President Obama has issued a full-throated plea for a climate bill, and when his aides talk about the issue, they talk about things that are easy to sell — “energy security” and “green jobs” — rather than pushing for tough measures needed to cap emissions.


They must start doing so, if not tomorrow, the moment the Senate returns after Labor Day. The planet cannot wait much longer for serious action. The last few months have brought a mountain of new data, including an M.I.T. study suggesting that the planet could be warming much faster than previously thought. The only possible response is a strong, demanding climate bill.








I wish my memory worked differently. I’d like to be able to conjure up an accurate image of my consciousness from, say, 25 years ago. You know what 25 years means: No cellphones, no e-mail, no Internet, no social networking (except with an actual drink in hand), and only the most primitive of personal computers. What I want to answer is a single question: Was I as addicted to the future then as I seem to be now?


I ask this because I really enjoy a new update to my operating system, like the one I downloaded from Apple earlier this week. I find it surprisingly pleasing when one of my iPhone apps requests an update too. Every day I await, with anticipation, a long list of e-mail messages that could arrive at any second, and there are several people I’m really eager to get a text from. Those, too, could come at any time. Soon — even now — I could find my feed-list in Google Reader delightfully stuffed with newness. I am not a Twitterer. But I know the dismay the Twitter world must have felt during its service disruption last week.

When I think back 25 years, there just wasn’t that much to be waiting for. The phone might ring — and if you left home, you had to leave without it. The mail would come, and so might UPS or Federal Express. Someone might stop by on the spur of the moment. A fax perhaps? And that was about it.


I’ve always looked forward to the mail coming. I don’t know why. And now I live in a world where the mail comes constantly, ceaselessly, a world where I find myself dismayed by the slowdown in blog feeds over the weekend. I consider myself a moderate user of personal electronics. I almost never wear earbuds. And yet this constant foretaste of the future, this hunger for the next electronic blip, feels to me like a full-blown addiction.


Which is why I’d like a clearer picture of my old self. Was I a little more serene 25 years ago? Was there a little more silence inside my head? A little less expectation? Or was I leaning headlong into the future even then?







Much has been made of the (yet to be definitively confirmed) death of Baitullah Mehsud and the likely effect it is going to have on everything from the price of eggs to geopolitics in the next fifty years. A more thoughtful look at the effect of his death tells us that it may not be as seismic an event as it is portrayed. Afghanistan is often mentioned in the same sentence as his name, with the assumption that the two were inextricably linked. Not so. Mehsud was a home-boy and rarely sent his fighters across the border, preferring to attack Pakistan rather than get embroiled in the wider Afghan context. He may have sympathised with and provided broad support to his comrades over the border but he had ‘other priorities’. For the same reason his death will have a negligible effect on the upcoming Afghan elections, although the likelihood that he was killed by the CIA may spur his fighters to avenge his death by disrupting what they see as ‘Amrikan meddling’ in Afghanistan.

Baitullah Mehsud was never a significant part of the Afghan equation, but his death will have undoubted consequences perhaps most particularly on the relationship between the Pakistan military and the Americans. Washington may now use his death to pressure Pakistan to ‘do more’ – which is going to challenge those in the military establishment whose ambivalent relationship with the Taliban tends to define them as future, if not current, assets. America – unlike the UK which is committing to a very long-term stay in Afghanistan – may be gone from there sooner rather than later; which could bring into play Taliban assets which have been on-ice as part of the strength in depth scenario. Also, Mehsud’s death will almost certainly bring an end to the long-planned but never executed operation in the Waziristans. This was a fight that the army would rather it did not have, if only because there was unlikely to be a clear-cut win and they would be facing an enemy entrenched over years and resourced to the eyeballs. Now, they can wait and watch as the serious internal schisms within the disparate groups that make up the Taliban translate into internecine conflict, obviating the need to conduct a full-scale operation. Assuming that Mehsud was killed by a drone it bolsters the American case for more of the same; and there has been a deafening silence from the ranks of those usually quick to condemn every infringement of our sovereignty. Mehsud’s (presumed) death is significant but not definitive in terms of the wider conflict; a conflict which will probably outlive any number of ‘leaders’.







It has been less than two years since lawyers and journalists stood together in Lahore and other places to protest measures taken under the illegal emergency. That alliance has fallen apart. In the second such incident within the space of months, lawyers, this time at the Lahore High Court beat up journalists covering the case. The case, being heard by a bench which included the LHC chief justice, pertained to an earlier incident in which an ASI and some reporters were beaten up by lawyers in Lahore. The court had taken suo motu notice of these happenings. The rift between the members of the two professions is unfortunate. It seems apparent that lawyers, who have chosen to behave like thugs, are chiefly responsible. Despite the raising of highly objectionable slogans by lawyers during the court hearing – essentially charging journalists with placing planted stories in newspapers in exchange for petty bribes – the media people present at the LHC did not react. The goonish behaviour of at least some elements within the legal community has been an issue for some time and was raised too when former federal minister Sher Afghan Niazi was set upon and beaten in Lahore in April 2008.

But behind all this, other allegations too float. There are charges of agencies infiltrating bodies of lawyers. The latest suggestions are that the same agencies are trying to create a split within the legal community by using the media against it. The purpose may be to ward off pressure building up for the trial of former president Pervez Musharraf. Such conspiracy theories are of course not unusual in the Pakistan context. But, as highly educated professionals, both lawyers – and also media professionals – need to demonstrate greater majority. Senior lawyers must act to prevent those in black coats from acting like hooligans. The fact that office-bearers of the LHCBA were evidently involved in the violence is especially saddening. The TV images of what happened at the LHC act only to disgrace the profession and all it stands for. The divide between the media and the lawyers that has now set in only weakens civil society and strengthens the hands of those working against it.







‘Lashkars’ made up of local people in the Kabal area of the Swat Valley have reportedly killed around seven militants. Kabal had remained in the hands of the Taliban even after the liberation of Mingora and other places. Their continued presence there had meant that the fear of a possible Taliban comeback lurked in many minds. People, with the support of the military, have evidently decided to take matters into their own hands and to try and make their lives a little safer. The emergence of the militia goes also to prove that many ordinary people hold no sympathy with the militants. This has been true not only in Swat but also other tribal areas where ‘lashkars’ were formed. The government policy in this respect was well-conceived, even though the implementation in some cases left much to be desired. The suicide attacks on the lashkars also acted as a source of discouragement. The timing of ‘lashkar’ activity in Swat is good. Hopefully, the fierce military operation has weakened the Taliban. Local action could further erode their strength. But at the same time there is a need for caution.

Key Taliban figures, including Maulana Fazlullah, remain unaccounted for. Recent militant incursions into Shangla and other districts of NWFP indicate they retain their capacity to carry out plans. This is disturbing. Many of Swat’s wealthier and more influential residents have chosen not to return to it. This means that the ordinary people left to survive on their own will have even less capacity to ward off a militant threat. This is a possibility that needs to be guarded against. The ‘lashkars’ need to be built into a civilian defence force able to keep watch over the valley and keep it safe.









WHILE the country is in the midst of a grave energy crisis and industry and the common man are badly affected, some sane voices who hold the country dear to their heart have been contributing their resources, energies to help the Government get out of this mess. At the same time suggestions being given by investors for generation of cheap energy from indigenous resources deserve serious consideration on priority basis rather than moving on single-track i.e. thermal option.

A top industrial and financial entrepreneur Mian Muhammad Mansha while addressing a meeting of industrialists of Korangi, Karachi Association has urged the Government to come up with coal based energy policy. Pakistan has proven coal reserves in abundance and one strongly supports the views of the business tycoon that all the future power projects should be coal powered. Surely Mian Muhammad Mansha would have mooted this idea after a great deal of consultations with experts as a person of his stature in the industrial and financial sectors cannot propose projects, which are not viable. His two projects in the power sector are expected to be completed before December, 2009 generating about 450 MW of electricity, which would be of great relief for the power starved economy. While the foreign investors are shy of coming to Pakistan because of the prevalent law and order situation, there are many patriotic people who hold the interest of the country above every thing, willing to invest in different areas including energy sector. Pakistan’s Thar Desert contains the largest coal reserves discovered to date, covering an area of 10,000 square kilometers. The Thar Coal Field, when developed, will yield over 200 billion ton of coal to produce electricity, enough to make Pakistan self-sufficient in electrical power. Regrettably since the discovery of Thar coal in 1991, very little development work has been initiated to benefit from it. We would strongly urge the Government to announce the coal based energy policy and open the Thar coal reserves to private sector for power generation without any further delay to reduce country’s dependence on thermal resources. Local entrepreneurs having good reputation and who can arrange international funding should be encouraged to set up coal fired power projects within a given time frame to over come the energy shortage. At the same time we would also propose that national and international investors be invited to replicate the project of Clinton idea plans of Clinton Foundation which it is firming up to set up world’s largest solar park in our bordering areas in the Indian State of Gujarat to generate between 3,000 to 5,000 MW of solar power.







PRIME Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani while addressing Christians in Gojra on Thursday stated to review laws that may be sharpening tension among Pakistan’s religious communities. A committee will review the laws detrimental to religious harmony to sort out how they could be improved.

Though the Prime Minister did not specify which laws would be taken up by the committee but the announcement suggests the government may seek to change Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which carry death penalty for those indulging in sacrilegious acts. Under the blasphemy law only Government can take action which was enforced in the good judgement of the then government to ensure religious harmony. However it has been exploited by certain people who take the law in their own hands and indulge in acts of violence as witnessed in Gojra and Sheikhupura. We may caution the Government that if repealed it will create another controversy in the country. It will be strongly opposed by the religious circles and there will be uproar and agitation. Under the law any person who damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or an extract therefrom or uses any derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) directly or indirectly shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall be liable to fine. However according to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a comparative study has found that 99 percent of blasphemy cases were based on false allegations due to personal feuds, trumped and false charges. We are of the firm belief that the country need harmony among people of all faiths and they must show respect to each others religious sentiments. For that the Committee must have representation from scholars of all religions so that the blasphemy laws have the backing from across the board. At the same time there is dire need to strengthen the law enforcement agencies and those indulging in violence on the basis of wrong information about sacrilegious acts should be taken to task









Although it has been there for quite sometime, the bugging system apparently is going to improve further. This time not only to track criminals but also others, like militants and politicians. Evidently, the police have reasons to spread their net. There have been just too many cases where such a nexus was evident to justify the new enterprise.


When it was first introduced, during the reign of the last caretaker government, bugging was immediately dubbed an infringement on "individual rights". But the clamour soon died down and over the years it has proved to be an important tool in tracking criminals. For the first time in the history of this country, criminals, although not all but many, have been nabbed by police within hours of the crime. In a country where criminals get off the hook on bail or remain untracked for decades this was like magic. No wonder, the police thought that it was a bright idea to refine.

Then how far can we go in fighting crime without breaking the law? Surely, we cannot aspire or afford to be a police state of sorts. In the United States where a similar system was introduced after 9/11, the courts have ruled that tapping is legal after a warrant has been obtained. But then, is it practicable to adopt the same, here? After all, most fugitives, here, are on bail! That speaks eloquently of the efficacy of our criminal judicial system.

Yet allowing policemen to have unrestrained power would be unrealistic and dangerous. Some kind of checks will have to be in place. The state has to ensure that law enforcers are not lawbreakers, either personally or institutionally. This has happened too many times in the past and it cannot be allowed to happen again. The path to hell, sages say, is paved with pious wishes.

 There has to be a watchdog body to ensure its fair use but hopefully, not at the cost of efficacy. For too long the trade-off between the two has been an expensive one, it is high time we learnt the balancing act. 








The national monitoring committee for printing and distribution of free textbooks has definitely taken its task very seriously. Or else, it could not issue a warning this early to quarters mischievously planning to sabotage the government's best intention of making distribution of free textbooks a success. Some among the printing houses have been involved in gross malpractice in their trade year after year in defiance of threats of punitive action. Last year's was particularly repugnant because not only did some of the printing houses clandestinely sell their quota of subsidised papers allocated for printing books in black market but also deliberately delayed the printing process so that the crisis compelled students and their guardians to purchase books at prices higher than the fixed.

The committee will get the majority of the people behind them for the alacrity it has shown in its attempt at ensuring no foul play with the timely distribution of textbooks for the academic year of 2010. Thanks are also due to the education minister for saddling the national committee comprising a number of highly respected educationists with the responsibility of keeping an eye on the progress of printing books long before the next academic year begins in January. It is good to know that some of the people involved with printing, binding and storing books are under intelligence surveillance.

True, printing and distribution of 2.10 crore copies of books among the country's students from class-I to class-X are a daunting task by any standard. But there is no excuse for delaying or otherwise disrupting the process deliberately to make out-of-the-way gains by any quarter. If the books are printed well in advance, the channels of distribution can be effectively put to use for distribution. So the order of the task has to be maintained in the interest of reaching the books to the students at the start of classes in January next year. 










"Hello! Hello!" came the voice on my phone I as picked up the receiver. "Yes?" I said. "Hello! You are from the media?" I said, "Yes! And you?" Voice on phone, "I am from the government. Please assure the people there is nothing to worry about, the government has done everything possible to stop the Swine Flu epidemic!" I said, "That's a relief! What have you done?"

"We have issued a circular to all religious places, churches, temples and mosques to keep their premises open for prayer day and night!" I said, "The government is really working," Said the voice over the phone, "Oh yes we are. We have also given special instructions to all morgues and mortuaries in the state to get spruced up, and have sanctioned a good amount for this purpose!" I asked, "Why ever would you do that?" Voice reassuringly, "We don't want you to feel depressed when you visit them, so best quality paints have been used and…" I said quickly, "Thank you!" Government spokesman, "Oh don't thank me.


It was a joint decision with even the opposition parties joining in. We have also brought in other measures for the public during this period." I asked, "What are they?" Voice, "We have opened government get well and sympathy card shops!" I responded, "How thoughtful!" Voice, "At subsidised rates!" I asked, "What else?" Voice proudly, "Ambulances and hearses have been given tariff cards like taxi and auto rickshaws!"

"Amazing!" Voice happily, "That was the Chief Minister's idea!" I wanted to know, "Did he have any other ideas?" Voice, "Yes! He has told me to assure the people that no terrorist will dare come into the city now!" I thoughtfully, "He has increased the security?" Voice, "No they are afraid to contract the flu! You will fear no attack, so we have taken the security away with us!"

"Where?" I asked, "Who are all the policemen and officers with?" Voice,


"With the government!" I asked,  "And the government?"

"All gone back to our villages and towns and districts, and will return when this epidemic is over in the city!"

"Where are you speaking from?"

"From my village! We will be running the state from here! Brilliant how we have fought the epidemic isn't it? Goodbye...!"




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




Bill Clinton's successful mission to take two U.S. journalists back home last week naturally placed Seoul officials under additional pressure.

President Lee Myung-bak, who went on a vacation while Clinton was visiting Pyongyang, said ``the government is doing all it can'' for the release of the detainees. Cheong Wa Dae officials, who had been bent on downplaying the former U.S. president's visit as a private mission, also said, ``(Much like a swan,) you may only see peace on the surface, but ceaseless movements of its webbed feet are being made below the water.''

A South Korean who was also in Pyongyang while Clinton was there, however, quoted North Korean officials as saying, ``There must be some `below-the-surface' contacts between the two Koreas like those between America and North Korea to solve the detainee problem''
a comment which raises questions about whether and what efforts are being made by the Lee administration.

Fortunately, there have been signs the communist country is softening its stance toward its capitalist rival in recent days. From reported moves to resume family reunions in autumn, to a North Korean official's meeting with Hyundai Asan chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun, they are all actions that would hardly be possible without Kim Jong-il's nod of approval. The problem is that most
if not all of these inter-Korean thaws come under the initiatives of the North while the South just waits for Pyongyang to change its mind.

Take none of these to mean the Stalinist regime can be justified in any way, with its prolonged detention of a Hyundai worker without specifying his crime, let alone not allowing him to meet with company officials or have a phone conversation with his family members. Most regrettable of all, this outrageous infringement on the basic rights of a Korean, from the country the North always emphasizes as ``the same nation,'' comes in stark contrast with its ``relatively more humane'' treatment of the two Americans.

Even if this ``reverse discrimination'' reflects the gap in diplomatic values between Washington and Seoul as Pyongyang sees it, then the reclusive regime should at least refrain from repeating its hypocritical rhetoric of putting the Korean nation ahead of all else.

Apart from the North's wayward behavior, painfully missing in the Lee administration's diplomacy is the flexibility of separating pragmatism from principles, or humanitarian from nuclear issues, as was the case in the U.S.-North Korean relationship. By dispatching a former president, the U.S. administration has gained precious, accurate information about the situation and intentions of its adversary, as well as ensuring the safety of its citizens. Washington still separates the release of the reporters from its denuclearizing demands, but will be able to make a more correct policy based on Clinton's ``mission report.''

Nothing contrasts more with the Lee administration's rigid, inflexible North Korea policy over the past one-and-a-half years, paraded under the pretext of ``principle'' and ``policy consistency.'' President Lee's diplomatic team, however, should heed observers' criticism questioning whether the administration has any policy true to its name as far as North Korea is concerned, besides the option to freeze all relationships with Pyongyang until it abandons its nuclear programs.

President Lee and his aides ought to recognize North Korea as it is
a normal U.N. member state instead of only as an ideological adversary that may collapse at anytime. The latest thaw in the U.S.-North Korean relationship came when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed signs of recognizing the North's sovereignty.

President Lee should recognize agreements at the inter-Korean summits and resume humanitarian projects separately from nuclear issues. His Liberation Day speech on Aug. 15 will be a good place to start.







The number of foreign residents topped 1.1 million in May, meaning one in every 50 people living here are foreigners. Korea can hardly be called a multicultural country yet, but it may only be a matter of time before it becomes one, given the ongoing pace of increase in foreigners, whose number has doubled in just three years.

Given this country's rock-bottom birthrate and rapidly aging society, the existence of foreign residents
referring to those with foreign nationality who have lived in Korea for 90 days or more, legally or illegally, as well as people who have acquired Korean nationality and their children have long become a must for filling the manpower vacuum. Finding brides in Southeast and Central Asian countries has also become far too commonplace for rural bachelors.


As seen by the two biggest reasons for foreigners' inflow, however, their social status and the Korean people's perception of them are not that high, leading to serious discrimination. Most of the guest workers are engaged in the 3-D jobs, while immigrant wives often make news with the abuses they suffer here by Korean husbands.

So the latest appointment of a German-Korean to head the Korea Tourism Organization should be seen as a rare exception, which is also why he should successfully pass the government's ``experiment" in personnel management.

Considering this is a country that should open itself to both foreign manpower and products for further growth, the biggest stumbling block is the sense of discrimination being deeply seated
almost subconsciously within Korean minds. True, those of mixed blood have not exactly been examples of racial excellence, but nowhere is the almost blind adherence to pure blood stronger than in Korea. So much so that the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had to express concerns that the Korean emphasis on racial homogeneity could ``hurt understanding, tolerance and friendship of other races and peoples living in the same territory.''

It is welcome in this regard that some local governments, including the Seoul Metropolitan Government, is providing training for the brides and grooms of interracial marriages as well as subsidies of 1 million won. Still it should be only a small first step toward becoming a country of immigrants, including Australia, which provides not just translation services for foreign residents but also operates TV and radio stations for foreigners. Some cities in Japan, which aims to fill 10 percent of its population with foreigners in 50 years, are publishing bulletins for foreigners of various origins.

Equally heartening in this regard is that some lawmakers are pushing for the legislation of a ``Basic Multicultural Act," based on a white paper on foreign residents' problems, grievances and petitions. Before that, the wishes of most Koreans with good sense would be to no longer hear new stories about foreign wives or other women reduced to objects of human trafficking as well as beatings and other inhumane treatment of guest workers here.







After former president Bill Clinton's dramatic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
resulted in the freeing of the two American journalists who have now joined their families back in the United States attention has been drawn to what may flow from that first high-level contact between Washington and Pyongyang since the start of the Obama administration.

The White House and the State Department emphatically portrayed Mr. Clinton's trip as ``a humanitarian mission" that had no direct bearing on the administration's policy on North Korea. Nevertheless, many watchers do not readily accept that explanation. Without the release of the two American journalists, it would have been impossible to consider revising the administration's pressure policy.

Although not much is yet known, more will be unfolded or leaked on the actual exchanges between Kim and Bill Clinton. Their meeting may eventually have a far-reaching impact on the future of U.S.-North Korea relations from the perspective of what has long been known correctly or incorrectly. The White House national security advisor, General Jim Jones, who had asked if Clinton would go to the North, said on the record that he hoped Clinton's trip would ``ultimately lead to progress … to some good things."

Change may come more readily from the North than from the United States as a result of Clinton's symbolic visit, which Kim could use internally as a justification to re-engage the United States. Chairman Kim demonstrated that he has recovered his health and has no trouble staying in control, putting an end to speculation of an imminent collapse due to his terminal illness and from succession trouble. But his decision will also depend on his reading of the U.S. response to his release of the two Americans and to his consistent interest in improved relations with the United States, a major point he must have reaffirmed to Clinton this time.

I have often argued that we don't know very much about what is going on in North Korea and we should learn more about the North through interactive engagement. Absent reliable clandestine sources, we can analyze open source reports to gain some understanding of the state of affairs in the North, their intentions and plans on the short-term and long-term basis. But as seeing is believing, exchange in engagement is the best source of information. What Clinton and his party saw of and in Kim and what they heard from him should be the most valuable gain for U.S. policy makers.

The presence of Kim Gey-gwan, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, on the scene of Clinton's arrival was insinuated as a link between Clinton's humanitarian mission and the nuclear issue. But, more meaningfully, his presence disproved the widely circulated rumor in Washington that he had been dismissed or sent to a labor camp because of his mishandling of the nuclear negotiations. He also attended the dinner reception for Clinton hosted by the National Defense Commission.

In the winter of 2000 and the spring of 2001, first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission Jo Myong-rok had not been seen for months after he visited Washington and served as the counterpart host for Secretary of State Albright's visit to Pyongyang in October 2000. The press speculated that his absence from public appearances signaled that he had been dismissed from the job. Again, the grounds for the speculation were his alleged failure in the handling of U.S.-North Korea relations.

Soon afterwards, Vice Marshal Jo started appearing again. What happened was that he had been treated for his kidney problems at a hospital in China under a special arrangement made by Kim Jong-il. I knew Jo had a kidney problem and I had heard him say how caring his leader was about his health. The North Korean system relies on trust and loyalty between the leader and his subordinates.

North Korea's top man in charge of inter-Korean relations Kim Yang-gun, who has normally little to do with U.S. affairs, also attended Kim Jong-il's meeting with Clinton. His attendance seemed to have been carefully choreographed to send a signal that the North Korean leader was conscious of the U.S. relations with the South and Seoul's sensitivity to the meeting. Kang Suk-ju, first vice foreign minister who had passed up the opportunity to take the position of foreign minister last year, of course attended the meeting as the chief foreign policy adviser to Chairman Kim.

North Korea's news media all reported that the Clinton-Kim Jong-il meeting had included ``candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issue … and reached a consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them." The reports also said Clinton ``reflected views on ways of improving the relations," conveying ``a verbal message" form President Obama.

The White House and Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, adamantly denied the North Korean reports, stating that there was ``no message from President Obama," and that the Clinton visit had no connection with the nuclear issue. President Obama reiterated on MSNBC that improved relations would involve the North Koreans ``no longer developing nuclear weapons, not engaging in provocative behavior." There is no change in the U.S. policy. Washington will continue to implement U.N. sanctions in an effort to curb North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile activities.

In his first public comment after his return from Pyongyang, Bill Clinton confirmed the purpose of his trip as a humanitarian mission. But he carefully added: ``I wanted our two countries to have the ability to decide where to go from here. But anything I say beyond that could inadvertently affect the decisions and moves either here or in North Korea and I have no business doing that. I am not a policymaker any more." Clinton will stay out of the North Korean business: there is one president at a time.

The administration's controlled management of the aftermath of Clinton's trip could be understood in the context of the international denuclearization effort involving South Korea, Japan, China and Russia, who all want the revival of the six-party talks.

However, it would probably require some new forms of dialogue to induce the North to denuclearize. The six-party talks are dead as far as the North Koreans are concerned. But they are ready for talks, bilateral or multilateral, which may eventually lead to the reinstatement of the Sept. 19, 2005, joint statement of the six-party talks.

In any case, it is high time that both Washington and Pyongyang took a fresh look at where they are and to get out of the box in search for a bold pragmatic path toward a win-win resolution of the half-century-old U.S.-North Korea hostile relationship. North Korea can survive without nuclear weapons and the United States can undertake negotiations before the North gives up its nuclear programs. The Clinton trip offers both sides a fresh opportunity to make the first positive move.

What's your take?

Tong Kim is a research professor with the Ilmin Institute of International Relations at Korea University and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He can be reached at







Some of my recent columns have explored the challenges facing Korean society and those who live in it. But today, I'd like to reflect on the overarching beauty of this country.

The narrative trajectory of Korea has been one of great struggle and sacrifice to one of burgeoning success and promise. Just 20 years ago, Korea lacked many highways, had a poor infrastructure, and the median salary was far below $20,000.

Brutal, quasi-dictatorial presidents presided over the nation, poverty stifled growth, the standard of living was woefully low, and democracy, most sadly, was a dull and dimming dream.

Reach farther back, and one witnesses the cruelty and malice of nation after nation seeking to supplant Korean sovereignty altogether, from the Mongolians, to the Chinese, and most recently, the Japanese.

And yet, they resisted.


Even now, as the Korean War is fadingly remembered. Some call it ``The Forgotten War,'' which is tragic, since so many nations, not least of which, my native country, the United States, spilled much blood and treasure in defending Korea. The Republic faces an implacable enemy in the form of their shadow sibling, North Korea, which seeks to unify the peninsula under the fascist boot of Kim Jong-il and his progeny.

Few nations know of being conquered, occupied, or attacked time and again and can speak of it. Most countries that learn of imperialism learn of it too late; their names and languages are lost to us forever. Mostly, the vanquished are relegated to the cold silence of eternity, forgotten from all human memory.

But not this nation. No, somehow, through intelligence, ingenuity, will, tenacity, and luck, a free and democratic Korea stands for the world to see:

I appreciate the intelligence in the Korean written language, beautiful in its elegant science and symmetry, commissioned by the inimitable King Sejong.

I admire their ingenuity in creating Turtle Ships envisioned and implemented by the brave Admiral Yi Sun-sin.

We can see their will in the celebration of their struggle against imperialist Japan, Samiljeol (March 1, 1919: Independence Movement Day).

I respect their tenacity in raging against injustice and tyranny in their pursuit of democracy, as memorialized in the bloody Gwangju Massacre (of the Gwangju Democratization Movement, May 18, 1980).

Korea's sexy cell phones, addictive pop music (much of which is African-American-inspired, but I digress), accessible and affordable health care system, immaculate public transportation network, low crime, and increasingly ecologically sound industrialization, are all more remarkable when contrasted with Korea's historical backdrop and the pace by which all of this progress occurred.

I'm sensitive to spicy food, which is sad because I like Thai cuisine. The smell of kimchi is not my favorite. And I don't particularly like the shiny business suits and sparkly ties some Koreans are wearing these days. But before foreigners, myself included, moan and gripe all day about Korea in one form or another: take stock of where you are and how awesome, frankly, the survival-turned thriving story of Korea truly is.

Korea is beautiful. Recognize.

The writer holds a master's degree in English literature and literary theory and is currently an English professor at Shingu University. He has written novels and poetry, and can be reached at









DIFFERENT name, same struggle. US President Barack Obama's desperate desire to distinguish his administration from that of his unpopular predecessor means US officials no longer talk of the war on terror. But the reality of the struggle against Islamist aggression remains the same. So does the rhetoric.


While the US is withdrawing from Iraq, where it appears the terrorists are defeated, the President is pumping up the American presence in al-Qa'ida's Afghanistan fiefdom. Last month, Mr Obama denounced as terrorists al- Qa'ida's allies, who are attempting to recreate an African Afghanistan in the failed state of Somalia. And last week his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, denounced the al-Shabaab Islamist militia there, pointing to allegations that Somalis in Australia were planning terror attacks, as evidence of the way Somalia is becoming a base for international terrorism. "Al-Shabaab and its allies lack regard for human rights, for women's rights, for education, and healthcare and the progress of the Somali people," she added.


After a meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, with the President of Somalia, Sharif Sheik Ahmed, Mrs Clinton argued that Somalia would be a threat to the whole world if the terrorists succeeded in toppling Sharif's government - regarded by Washington as the best hope of stabilising the devastated nation.


In using language that could have come from George W. Bush, the Secretary of State is spot-on. While al-Shabaab denies any contact with the Melbourne men arrested for alleged involvement in a plot to attack Holsworthy army base, police allege one of the suspects had contact with the terrorists on a visit to Somalia. Osama bin Laden first saw Somalia's potential in the early 1990s and it is becoming a new focus for soldiers of fortune from around the globe who gather there in the cause of terror.


On the basis of everything we have learned about Islamist terror since al-Qa'ida's first major attack against western targets, in Nairobi in 1998, this gathering of the mad, bad and very dangerous to know is a threat to people all over the world. And, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the concentration of terrorists is particularly appalling for the people of Somalia, caught between zealots and the warlords who have struggled over the soiled spoils of a ruined country for a generation.


The challenge for Africa, the United Nations, and all enemies of anarchy and theocratic thugs is to save them from rule by bandit chiefs on the one hand and to stop al-Qa'ida turning Somalia into a safe haven in its war against the world on the other. But at the moment it is a challenge the world is failing to meet.


Somalia has been a failed state for 20 years. Imposing order was beyond UN forces in the early 1990s, as fictionalised in Ridley Scott's film, Black Hawk Down. And now half- hearted attempts by troops from Uganda and Burindi operating under the aegis of the African Union, are failing to impose order. Unless the Africans increase their commitment it seems unlikely anything will improve. Given its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the memory of 1993 when US troops failed to defeat Somali warlords, Washington shows no sign of intervening: the only additional assistance it is promising in the fight against the terrorists is doubling the supply of arms and ammunition - to 80 tonnes.

In the absence of a real commitment, Mrs Clinton is doing the next-best thing to help Somalia - telling the truth. Like President Bush she is naming the terrorists there for who they are; irrational reactionaries intent on killing people who do not share their beliefs and imposing their version of rule according to the Koran on everybody they can. Her statements made at the start of an 11-day, seven-nation visit to Africa, have focused attention on the fragility of the region and its vulnerability to the radicalised Islamist militia. This potential for Somalia to be the "new Afghanistan" as a centre for recruitment and training of terrorists must be canvassed and understood by leaders around the world.


When Mr Bush spoke out on these issues he was denounced across the world for being insensitive to the beliefs of the dispossessed. Perhaps Mrs Clinton will get a better hearing - but her message is the same.








LABELS help and harm but recent reports suggest we are getting the balance wrong. Research reveals schools appear to be inflating the numbers of children with psychological and emotional disorders in an effort to secure funds to help them with troubled students who need support and discipline rather than a medical diagnosis.


The proportion of children with conditions such as oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorders has risen dramatically in the past decade - from 2.7 per cent to 6.7 per cent. Many of these kids are the ones we used to call scatterbrained or delinquent or prone to temper tantrums. They are the kids who used to be dealt with by teachers in normal classrooms, as part of a regular discipline regime. As Linda Graham, the Macquarie University researcher who blew the whistle on this medicalisation of behaviour, says, we now appear to be "diagnosing the mainstream" as disordered.


The fault does not lie solely with schools. As the Australian Primary Principals Association implies in Justine Ferrari's report today, the present funding model is at the core of the problem. Schools can get extra money for disabled children but there is less support for those who are simply difficult, aggressive or anti-social. It is a system that invites over-diagnosis and ambiguous definitions of disability as desperate teachers try to fit kids into narrow categories for assistance. Parents are also frustrated by inconsistent levels of funding: Canberra provides extra money for disabled children in private schools, while the states fund them in public schools. The Howard government reviewed funding, looking among other things at a voucher system, but the report has languished with the change of government and has not been officially released.


The over-diagnosis is not due to schools alone. In a society in which many parents look to schools to do the hard work of instilling values and standards in their kids, they are often keen to find a medical diagnosis of bad behaviour. If you can't fix it, name it.


In the past 15 years or so there has been criticism of the medical profession's diagnosis of psychological and emotional problems in children. Claims of over-diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are well known and researchers suggest labels such as Asperger's syndrome can often be used as a handy excuse for bad behaviour. .


Not every diagnosis is exaggerated. Many children have had their lives turned around by accurate identification of dyslexia, for example, in a happier contrast to earlier generations when sufferers were crudely labelled slow or dumb. In this area, naming the problem has been useful. But labelling a child who lacks social skills as suffering "oppositional defiant disorder" so they can qualify for funds, risks stigmatising them as failures with obvious long-term effects. And stretching funds across students with behavioural problems can also mean less money to help students with profound physical needs.


It is crucial that people suffering severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or depression are diagnosed. But the cultural fashion for labelling other behaviours - such as excessive shopping - as a syndrome is laughable. And dangerous. A society that indulges in this sort of exercise risks losing sight of its truly disabled citizens.


Funding for this group is becoming a lightning-rod issue because of the extent to which their care has become a private, rather than a public, responsibility in the past 20 years or so. The closure of institutions for the disabled pushed care back to families, many of whom battle financially, physically and emotionally to manage children with extreme problems. As carers - and children - age, the problem becomes acute. Carers are pushing for a national disability insurance scheme, designed to provide better support.


It is an idea worth pursuing: the figures for disabled care are alarming. There are more than 700,000 Australians under the age of 65 who are officially classified as having severe or profound disabilities, yet only 33,000, or about 5 per cent, receive some form of government-funded accommodation support.


There is no argument with the need for early intervention to secure the mental health of children. Improved medical knowledge means that many more will be accurately diagnosed and treated than 20 years ago.


But funding models that distort the true picture of our children's mental health without focusing on the need to tackle more general behavioural problems in our schools must be addressed.











THIS week will see the resumption of Parliament in Canberra and in particular the resumption of debate in the Senate on the Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme. On present indications, after a long series of speeches the scheme will be voted down. For several reasons, that is greatly regrettable.


Industry needs certainty about the future investment climate: there are already suggestions that power utilities, particularly Victoria's brown coal-powered generators, have reacted to the uncertainty by delaying necessary, but costly, upgrades. That will affect future power supplies across the national grid. Similar hesitation can be expected elsewhere.


Australia also should have a climate change response in place, if not in operation, before the UN conference on climate change begins this December which will negotiate a successor agreement to the Kyoto protocol. It is no argument for inaction to say Australia's aggregate contribution to global warming is small when Australians per head are the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. To have standing at such a conference - to get Australia's voice heard where real change is likely to happen - Australia's negotiators ought to be able to demonstrate that this country is prepared to change its ways. It has a legacy of inaction, and a consequent reputation for selfishness, to overcome from the Howard government's reluctance to admit climate change was a problem. That legacy is clearly still active in parts of the Coalition, which has yet to agree on whether climate change is happening, and whether it is the result of human agency.


Without a Senate majority, however, it is unlikely that Australia's climate change response will be known.

The Government's difficulty with this issue, apart from an unsympathetic Senate, is that the public, while concerned about the environment and anxious to do something (whatever that might be) to fix it, can lose focus and interest when it comes to the detail of how to tackle the problem. Arguments about the relative merits of a cap-and-trade scheme, such as the Rudd and Obama governments propose, or a simple tax on carbon emissions, as the Coalition sometimes wants, become abstruse and technical. The longer and more intense the debate, the greater the confusion, and the greater the public's sense of helplessness before this vast and fiendishly complex problem.


Right now, the public is prepared to act, knowing that action is likely to require sacrifice in various forms. The great reservoir of public goodwill must not be squandered by our politicians seeking short-term advantage from frustrating necessary progress.







ON THE first stop of her seven-nation Africa visit, Hillary Clinton made a point of linking the continent's most dysfunctional country with the charging of five young men in Melbourne last week over an alleged terrorist plot. "In Australia, we have been reminded that there are those who would use Somalia as a training ground for attacks around the world," she said. She was referring to al-Shabab, a militant Islamic insurgency group that now controls much of southern Somalia and Mogadishu, the capital.


Making her longest overseas trip since she became US Secretary of State, Clinton was doing more than signalling the Obama Administration's wish to revive relations with Africa. She seemed to be warning that America might intervene if Africa became a new flashpoint for global terrorism. She spoke from Nairobi, capital of the neighbouring Kenya, because the chaos in Somalia itself made it too dangerous to visit. By her side was Sharif Ahmed, Somalia's newish President, whose barely functioning government the jihadists are trying to topple.


Yet the outside world is at least partly responsible for Somalia becoming "the world's least governed state", as it has been described. After protracted clashes between rival clans and warlords, stability came briefly in 2006 when the Islamic Courts Union, run by moderate Islamists, took control. Ethiopia, backed by the Bush administration, invaded late that year and ousted them. Since then al-Shabab, the armed wing of the Courts Union, has ramped up its assaults with suicide bombings and assassinations.


Australian police say at least one of those arrested here trained with al-Shabab. That group, in turn, denies links with the Melbourne group's alleged plot to attack the Holsworthy army base. Somalia's jihadists have been attracting a growing number of fighters from distant countries. Australia's Somalian-born community (part of the worldwide diaspora of about 1million people who have fled the country) is younger, poorer and less educated than Australians as a whole. At 30.8 per cent, unemployment among the Somali community is six times the national average.


To conclude that such a disaffected community is a fertile breeding ground for young men, lured first by money and then a prospect of martyrdom for a global jihad, would be premature at least. By now, Australia has learnt that a rush to judgment on some cases allegedly linked to terrorism can dissolve. Equally, Hillary Clinton's warning that America would be threatened if Somalia became a haven for al-Shabab, al-Qaeda and "other terrorist actions", must be measured against earlier bids to impose solutions on Somalia that have led to the present sorry mess.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




Peter Mandelson is a unique figure in British politics. It is not only his extraordinary capacity to return from apparent political bankruptcy to the very top of a party in parts of which he is still cordially loathed. His admirers across the political spectrum say that his is probably the most subtle and creative political brain of his generation. But for a significant section in the party, he is the man who accommodated Thatcherism; who lives his own mantra of being "intensely relaxed" about the very rich with whom he holidays (again, this summer); and who is intimately associated with a pro-business agenda.


In his 25 years as a major player, Lord Mandelson's critics would claim, he has never displayed a sense of a cause beyond the Labour brand – and himself. By reinventing the brand, and divorcing it from its cause, he has changed the shape of contemporary politics. It is now a politics that is overtly about power rather than people: a politics that is arguably more like 18th-century factionalism than the ideological politics of the 20th century. It is a technocratic politics. In our interview today, there is a telling moment where he contemptuously ignores a fellow passenger against whose telephone manners he has, with barely a lifted eyebrow, united most of the carriage. A human response, perhaps – but hardly humane.


Turning the Labour party round from its impassioned but suicidal "purification" debates of the late 1970s – rescuing it from what he understood to be historic decline – required a repositioning that was not going to be volunteered by some existing Labour activists. Along with Neil Kinnock, Mandelson was the key player in the long campaign to make Labour palatable to the post-Thatcher middle classes. It is possible – with Mandelson, it sometimes seems anything is possible – that we are now about to meet a man of ideology. There have been recent nods to tunes from the old Labour hymnal in his attack on universities' admissions policies and his talk of industrial activism. Admirers would say that this is the real Mandelson. His talent is an ability to understand complex, long-term problems (Northern Ireland and British industry, as well as Labour's decline) and to put together alliances that – inch by inch, clause by sub-clause – allow him to reach his desired destination. The interesting question is quite where he thinks he is going himself.

His emergence at the side of a beleaguered prime minister has given him unprecedented power. To his detractors, this is a new move to keep the party in the business of government, regardless of cost. To his admirers, it is proof that, beyond everything, he is a party man.







It is as inevitable as the changing of the seasons, or rain in midsummer. However perfect a book may be, a producer will find a way of "improving" it for the screen. This time it is the turn of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which a British director called Nick Willing is adapting for television. He bragged last week that his version will be "racier", "tougher" and – you guessed it – "sexier". "We drew on the surreal aspects of that world," he said. "And wove a very powerful love story throughout." Mr Willing might as well have boasted of drawing a handlebar moustache on the Mona Lisa, or of his special trick ending for the New Testament, for this masterpiece about a girl who disappears down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world needs no embellishment. It has been loved by audiences ever since Lewis Carroll told the story to three girls in a boat on the Thames. As for its on-screen potential, few books are as visual or as vivid – one reason why it has been adapted so many times (another film version, directed by Tim Burton, is to be released next spring). By the second paragraph of the first chapter a White Rabbit has popped up, just one of a cast of characters that includes a Mad Hatter, a Mock Turtle and a Dodo. Yet however odd (or curious) the plot becomes, most of the characters treat it as perfectly normal. As the Cheshire Cat observes: "We're all mad here." Then there is the apoplectic Queen of Hearts, who greets all that displeases her with one famous refrain: "Off with their heads!" Mr Willing, take note.







Put out the bunting. Don those party hats. The festivities that were so unreasonably interrupted two years ago are back on.


Or so the optimists would have you believe. On 9 August 2007 a French bank admitted that three of its investment funds were in trouble – and the credit crunch began. Just two years later, however, and an event billed to be as serious as the Great Depression and as grim as a particularly heavy episode of EastEnders is supposedly receding into the distance. City types talk about green shoots. Equity markets are on a tear, with the FTSE index of 100 leading shares closing in on levels not seen since the government bailed out the banks last autumn. Meanwhile, David Cameron talks about making big cuts in public spending – and soon. Normal service seems to have resumed.


If only economic crises were such short and simple affairs. After all the rate cuts and bonanza budgets of the past year, it would be a surprise if there were not an economic bounce. Despite last month's horrendous GDP figures, by autumn the UK economy may very well be growing again. But whether the bounce will be particularly large or long-lived is doubtful. Whatever the Westminster chatter, serious economists are talking about the lessons of 1937, when American central bankers assumed the Depression was drawing to a close and pushed up interest rates. The US economy promptly suffered a huge relapse and nearly one in five workers landed up on the dole. Central bankers are unlikely to make the same mistake this time. Now the real risk is with government spending. If the Conservatives win the next election they look set to go on an immediate austerity footing, with emergency budget sessions, the announcement of deep cuts in spending on public services, and most likely the raising of taxes on consumption too. VAT at 20%? Do not bet against it. The more thoughtful senior Tories privately acknowledge that it would not be economically wise to tighten fiscal policy immediately after a severe recession; but, they say, governments can only push through such painful policies in the first couple of years after an election victory. Which means that 2010-12 are likely to hurt – a lot.


While government debt will need to be cut over the next few years, the nature of this economic crisis would make it dangerous to adopt a scorched-earth policy so soon. A growing band of economists are calling this a balance-sheet recession – which bears as much likeness to a normal downturn as the Spanish flu resembles a bout of the sniffles. Your common or garden recession comes when spendthrift businesses and households bid prices up too high, and the central bank has to hike rates; as inflation eases, central bankers cut rates and the party begins again. This time widespread inflation was not a problem. Instead, households and businesses (especially banks) borrowed too much, bought too many assets (property or toxic derivatives), then saw the asset bubble burst. Even if they want to carry on as before they can't – because their balance sheets are in tatters. This is what did for Japan in the early 90s – and it describes the crises in the UK and the US right now.


What is the big difference? First, it takes a lot longer to recover from a balance-sheet recessions; John Greenwood at fund-management firm Invesco points out that Sweden took seven years to recover from its bout in the early 90s. Even after the recession is technically over, several years of very low growth lie ahead – which is why talk of green shoots is so inappropriate. Second, rate cuts and the other normal tools are far less effective – because households and companies are too focused on reducing their debts to get back to business as usual. Public spending is the only thing that fills the gap – which is why Alistair Darling has been right to spend more in the midst of a recession. But for any chancellor to cut back at the first sight of a small economic bounce would be very stupid.








Cases of remittance fraud known as "furikome sagi" (send me money!) scams are still rampant. Swindlers posing as relatives or as officials of government agencies approach people by telephone or the Internet and dupe them into sending them money. The police, banks and other organizations must enhance their cooperation in eradicating this nasty crime.


The National Police Agency's 2009 white book mentions furikome sagi and other frauds. Money-transfer scams reached a peak in 2004 with about 25,700 cases; the money swindled totaled about ¥28.4 billion. The number of cases gradually then declined while the swindled amounts leveled off at around ¥25 billion. But in 2008, police learned of some 20,500 cases with swindled amounts reaching about ¥27.6 billion.


The crime's rampancy is attributable to the fact that swindlers have improved their methods. In the past, many swindlers posed as sons or grandsons of their targets and made their pitch by phone, saying something like: "I've caused a traffic accident. Please transmit money to my bank account so that I can settle the matter." After this method became widely known, swindlers began telling their targets that they needed settlement money because of accusations that they were train gropers or that they had embezzled funds at work.


Swindlers also have divided roles among themselves. Some approach targets while others specialize in retrieving money from bank accounts. Still others prepare bank accounts or acquire mobile phones under fictitious names.


There are signs that cooperation among the police, banks and other entities has started to work. Police arrested 699 people in 4,400 cases of remittance scams in 2008, up from 454 arrests in 3,079 cases in 2007. The rate for clearing such cases went up from 17.2 percent in 2007 to 21.5 percent in 2008.


In the January-June period of 2009, the amount of money swindled decreased by 69.8 percent from a year before to about ¥5 billion. This still means ¥10 billion a year. There can be no relaxing of our guard against this crime.







A Cabinet Office panel on the promotion of devolution is pushing discussions that will lead to the preparation of a third set of recommendations for the prime minister. This set was originally supposed to be submitted in May, but its submission was postponed to September because of strong opinion within the seven-member panel that the recommendation should go to a new administration formed after the Aug. 30 Lower House election.


The main subject of the panel's discussions is how to strengthen the financial basis of local governments. The goal is to enable local governments to enjoy financial autonomy so that they can provide services needed by local residents and carry out other administrative duties without relying on money from the central government.


Local governments do more work than the central government. Yet, the latter gets 60 percent of the tax revenue against 40 percent for local governments. Subsidies from the central government and grants-in-aid from tax money make up for the local government fund shortages, but the subsidy system deprives local governments of the freedom to carry out their functions because of the strict conditions that the central government imposes on the use of the subsidies. This meddling also leads to waste of money.

The devolution panel is inclined to propose that tax revenues be divided 50-50 between the central and local governments. The panel should stick with this approach.


As part of a drastic reform of the tax system — which entails raising the consumption tax rate — the panel has considered increasing local government's share of the revenue from this tax from the current 25 percent to 50 percent.


Each political party, in its election campaign platform, has so far refrained from making clear when it would raise the consumption tax. Raising funds for local governments has become difficult. The panel should at least propose increases in local governments' share of consumption tax revenue. It also should make efforts to find other ways to secure enough funds for them.










On July 16 the State Statistics Bureau of China announced that GDP for the April-June quarter grew 7.9 percent in real terms from a year before, surpassing the 6.1 percent rate of the January-March quarter. After the Lehman Brothers shock last September, China's annual economic growth rate — which until the first half of 2008 had been more than 10 percent — slowed with the decline of exports bound for Europe.


Yet, China's economy has already shown signs of a strong recovery, thanks largely to the stimulus package of public spending measures worth about 4 trillion yuan (¥55 trillion).


The Chinese government is now promoting the construction of a harmonious society with regard to five sectors: (1) coastal and inland areas, (2) cities and rural villages, (3) industry and agriculture, (4) nature and human beings, and (5) China and the world, especially Asia. The first three involve the "elimination of economic gaps."


The large-scale public works program that the Chinese government hammered out last November was under way after the turn of the year. Railway, expressway and airport construction projects began one after another in inland areas. Naturally, demand for steel, cement and other industrial materials soared, leading to a sharp rise in capital spending by private enterprises. Thus the notion of stimulating domestic demand, Keynes' style, has worked well.


The Chinese government has also worked out stimulus measures for consumers. As interest rates were lowered, a subsidy system to provide discounts of more than 10 percent for purchases of household electrical appliances was introduced in rural areas. A sharp rise in sales of refrigerators, washing machines and television sets resulted.


Meanwhile, car sales in the first half of this year totaled 6.09 million units, a 17.7 percent rise over the previous year, outpacing U.S. sales to become No. 1 in the world. This was partly due to the cut in the vehicle sales tax for cars with an engine displacement of 1,500 cc or less.


Although the downtrend in exports continues at a level about 20 percent below that of last year, China has acted swiftly to shift its export-dependent economy toward one focused on domestic demand.


The international financial crisis, which started with American subprime loans, is blamed generally for the global recession, but probably the principal culprit is the global-scale Keynesian problem of production capacity for industrial goods exceeding effective demand.


Such a situation emerged at the time of the East Asian monetary crisis in 1997. China's devaluation of the yuan in 1995 had spurred Chinese exports, while damping export growth in Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea. Hedge funds that had detected signs of poor business performance in Thailand sold Thai stock shares, corporate bonds and government bonds, changing them into dollars, and then fled the market. Thailand's central bank devalued the Thai baht in an attempt to halt the decline of its foreign exchange reserves. But short-term capital flights continued, forcing the country to resort to emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund.


In other words, in the latter half of the 1990s, the Keynesian syndrome in which global industrial production capacity surpassed effective demand because of industrial progress in East Asia and Central and South America had already surfaced. Keynes urged using fiscal and monetary policy to stimulate effective demand at the national level. This time there are indications that the domestic demand-spurring measures taken by China, which represents about 20 percent of world population, may become the primary vehicle driving recovery from the global recession.


But there are limits to fiscal stimulus action and there are fears that drastically eased credit may trigger a sharp uptick in the money supply and that surplus funds may flow into the stock and real estate markets, forming another bubble economy. If that's the case, we cannot rely on China alone. And it is necessary to make efforts to develop an international financial mechanism aimed at spurring potential domestic demand in developing and newly emerging countries. That means reform of the current international financial system.


In the years to come, as production gains in developing and newly emerging countries accelerate, the world-scale Keynesian problem is likely to become increasingly serious. It was said until recently that "Keynes is dead," but to overcome the global recession, the world's advanced countries launched stimulus measures. The effects are not apparent yet. One reason is the extent to which durable consumer goods have diffused through the economy. In advanced countries, automobiles, for example, are near the saturation point.


So, the question is, what will be the next generation of products to spur personal consumer spending? Perhaps they will be ecologically friendly items such as solar power generation, fixed-type fuel cells, electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid cars and LED lighting. At present, the diffusion rate of these products among households remains less than 1 percent. As their diffusion rate approaches 10 and then 20 percent, the economy will grow.


If the feed-in tariff system is introduced for renewable energies — under which electric power from these energy sources are bought at fixed prices — the installation of so-called smart grids or networks for power transmission and distribution will be proposed as large-scale public works projects. They will be controlled by information technology to stabilize frequency and voltage.


Energy-saving efforts involving houses and buildings are expected to create jobs. On this score, U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to raise the national ratio of renewable energy to total energy supply as the main prop in his climate-change and economic-recovery package wins plaudits.


Takamitsu Sawa is a professor of Ritsumeikan University's Graduate School of Policy Science and an appointed professor at Kyoto University's Institute of Economic Research.








The Korean government took its first step in preparing to cut greenhouse gas emissions under a new international convention when it unveiled three separate emission limits as potential options last week. By doing so, the government set the stage for public debate on the permissible levels of carbon energy consumption in the future.


The baseline used for the emission limits is the path of "business as usual," shortened to BAU. This scenario assumes that there will be no major changes in attitude and priority regarding the consumption of carbon energy in the future and that, as such, greenhouse gas emissions will increase at a projected rate as each year goes by.


The government presented 21 percent, 27 percent and 30 percent reductions from 2020 BAU emissions as potential options. The cuts may look enormous, as claimed by the chairman of the Presidential Commission on Green Growth.


"Our scenario meets the EU recommendations that developing countries cut (greenhouse gas) emissions 15 percent to 30 percent on the BAU basis. Ours is epochal," he said. His remarks may be technically correct, but they are in fact misleading. There is nothing epochal about the scenario.


Such confusion results from the different economic statuses Korea assumed in the 1990s for the sake of convenience. It wanted to show off its economic prowess when it joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based fraternity of well-to-do nations, in 1996. But it wanted to avoid the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when it insisted on being a developing country before the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was adopted in 1997.


It was hailed as a diplomatic coup when negotiators succeeded in freeing Korea from the obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. But it has proven to be more of a curse in disguise than a diplomatic achievement, given that the nation's greenhouse gas emissions have doubled in the past 15 years. No wonder Korea now ranks 17th in per capita greenhouse gas emissions among the 30 OECD members.


The cuts the Korean government presented under the BAU formula last week - 21 percent, 27 percent and 30 percent reductions from the 2020 emissions - amount to an 8 percent increase, a freeze and a 4 percent cut from the 2005 base year. These BAU reductions are paltry when compared with the EU demands that industrialized nations cut 25 percent to 40 percent from the 1990 base year by the end of 2020.


Environmental groups are accusing the government of taking nothing but cosmetic measures. One of them says the government is attempting to shun the responsibility it shares with other developed countries when it presents a scenario for BAU emission limits as a developing country.


On the other hand, opinion is divided among different industries. Companies belonging to high-emission industries, such as cement producers, advise caution while others acknowledge they cannot survive if they resist the call for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.


Taking all these differences into account, the government will have to build a consensus, ahead of the U.N. conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December, on the extent to which it will have to limit greenhouse gas emissions under a post-Kyoto regime. But it will make a fool of itself among participants in the U.N. conference if it proposes to increase emissions, instead of decreasing them, from the 2005 base year. Undoubtedly, it will be the same with the proposed freeze.


An actual cut in greenhouse gas emissions appears to be the only viable option. But the target must be neither so large as to strangle business nor too small to encourage a transition to energy-efficient production modes. A balance should be found somewhere in between.








Constituency work is one of the most important jobs a lawmaker is required to do during a parliamentary recess. Connecting directly with voters on key political issues is crucial to reelection.


When the National Assembly is not in session, lawmakers go to electoral districts to listen to voters' concerns. They also report what they did the previous parliamentary session and what is being planned. That is how to become endearing to the electorate before the next election.


But what lawmakers affiliated with the opposition Democratic Party are doing during the run-up to the regular parliamentary session is more of an old-fashioned political struggle than constituency work.


Shortly after the Democratic Party failed to block the passage of media-related revision bills last month, its leader and some other party members tendered their letters of resignation as lawmakers. Then the party took the political issue concerning the media bills to the streets for what it hoped would be mass protest rallies.


The tactic worked very well when almost all other channels of communication with the electorate were closed to opposition lawmakers during the days of military-backed dictatorships. But it no longer does because opposition lawmakers can freely express their views, not only in the chamber, but in public debates and interviews with news media.


The voter response to outdoor rallies is lukewarm at best, as witnessed by the Democratic Party. They draw disappointingly small numbers of people, unlike in the 1970s and 1980s when hundreds of thousands often gathered in a fight for democracy.


What the opposition lawmakers need to do is abandon outdoor rallies and revert to constituency work. Their party will do well to focus on how to fight the ruling party in the chamber when the regular session opens next month.



Having just watched former U.S. President Bill Clinton get two journalists out of North Korea after months in detention, President Lee here must feel somewhat envious of such cooperation between retired and incumbent leaders. It is unfortunate that Lee's immediate predecessor comitted suicide, and another former president two terms ahead of him is fighting for his life in hospital.


Doctors at Severance Hospital reported that former President Kim Dae-jung is in a stable condition after he passed a critical moment Sunday night. The 83-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner was admitted to the hospital on July 13 for pneumonia and has been under intensive care with his blood pressure and other vital signs showing wild fluctuations.


Reflecting the turbulent political history of the Republic of Korea, the title of "former president" incurs mixed sensation. Syngman Rhee who could have been put on the pedestal of a founding father died in exile after his dictatorial rule ended in a student-led revolution. Park Chung-hee was assassinated and his two successors were convicted of treason and corruption. Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo have yet to make full forfeiture of their illicit money. The latter, gravely ill, is mired in a financial dispute with his brother.

Kim Young-sam stays relatively healthy, although his time at the top ended unhappily. Regrettably, he has not reconciled with Kim Dae-jung, his collaborator/rival in the long, hard struggle for democracy. "YS" sent an orchid to "DJ" wishing his recuperation and people hope that it is a genuine sign of friendship between the two men.


Presidents in Korea enjoy immense powers even under the democratic constitution of 1987, and the system has proved dangerous to the personal peace of whoever occupied the Blue House. President Lee fulfilled his campaign promise by donating all his assets except for his house. He must be wishing to create a new image of a president who after retirement can still be relied upon for a national task. But he should know that the remaining three and a half years is plenty of time for a stain to develop on the character of a president.










MOSCOW - This November will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the end of confrontation in Europe may be proving only temporary. One year after last summer's war in Georgia, old divisions seem to be re-emerging in a different form. Although the Cold War in Europe was declared over, the truth is, it never really finished.


When the Soviet Union withdrew from Central and Eastern Europe, we Russians believed that NATO would not be extended to the countries and territories from which we had withdrawn. Our hope was for unification with Europe, a "common European home," and the creation of a Europe "united and free." Our hopes were not starry-eyed self-deception. After all, the leaders of the United States and Germany had promised Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand eastward.


At first, after they had vanquished communism, Russians regarded themselves as victors. But, after a few euphoric years, the West began acting more and more like the Cold War's winners. Once the potential "military threat" posed by the Soviet Union had vanished into thin air, successive waves of NATO enlargement served neither a military nor an ideological purpose.


The West's logic for enlargement was geopolitical: to bring the former Soviet republics and socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe into the Western sphere of political and economic influence. At first, NATO's new members were declared to have met both democratic and military criteria. Later, these criteria were abandoned when NATO began to invite even the most backward and corrupt states to join.


NATO, moreover, not only enlarged its membership, but also transformed itself from an anti-Communist defensive alliance into an offensive grouping (with operations in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan). NATO's expansion towards Russia's own borders, and the membership of countries whose elites have historical complexes in regard to Russia, increased anti-Russian sentiment inside the alliance. For all its efforts to improve its image, many Russians now view NATO as a much more hostile organization than they did in the 1990s, or even before then.


Moreover, NATO enlargement has meant that Europe itself has still not emerged from the Cold War. No peace treaty ended the Cold War, so it remains unfinished. Even though the ideological and military confrontation of those times is far behind us, it is being replaced with a new stand-off - between Russia, on one hand, and the United States and some of the "New Europeans" on the other.


My hope is that, when historians look back at Georgia's attack on South Ossetia of last summer, the Ossetians, Russians, and Georgians killed in that war will be seen as having not died in vain. Russian troops crushed Georgia's army on the ground, but they also delivered a strong blow against the logic of further NATO expansion, which, if not stopped, would have inevitably incited a major war in the heart of Europe.


For the time being, the situation remains open. The United States failed to unleash some new form of Cold War after the South Ossetian episode, not least because of the global financial and economic crisis.


It is my hope that the global economic crisis and Barack Obama's presidency will put the farcical idea of a new Cold War into proper perspective. Greater Europe, in which I include not only Russia, but also the United States, needs a new peace treaty, or rather system of accords, that draw a line under Europe's horrible 20th century and thus prevent a historical relapse.


What is needed is a new pan-European treaty on collective security, signed either by individual countries or by NATO and the EU, as well as by Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Countries not included in any of the current security systems would be able to join in the treaty and receive multilateral guarantees. NATO enlargement would de facto be frozen.


With the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in mind, we must seek to prevent the further fragmentation of states, and also their forcible reunification. Kosovo, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia must be the last of the states that break away through force. The "Pandora's box" of self-determination must be closed.


Once the legacy of confrontation inherited from the 20th century has been overcome, perhaps deep cuts in the Russia and U.S. nuclear arsenals may become possible, together with coordination of military-strategic policies. In this scenario, Russian-U.S. cooperation in crisis situations like Afghanistan, or in countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, would become much more profound.


In Europe proper, a union between Russia and the EU should be founded, based on a common economic space, a common energy space - with cross-ownership of companies that produce, transport, and distribute energy - and a common human space that would be visa-free and include coordinated Russian and EU international policies.


Emphasis should also be placed on establishing a new system for governing the global economy and finance, whose creation will be even more difficult if the confrontations of the Cold War are not resolved.


Europe, Russia, and the United States must finish the "unfinished war." Then, perhaps in 2019, the year that will mark the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles, we may finally bid farewell to the 20th century.


Sergei Karaganov is chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs of the State University-Higher School of Economics. - Ed.








NEW DELHI - As China and India gain economic heft, they are drawing ever more international attention at the time of an ongoing global shift of power to Asia. Their underlying strategic dissonance and rivalry, however, usually attracts less notice.


As its power grows, China seems determined to choke off Asian competitors, a tendency reflected in its

hardening stance toward India. This includes aggressive patrolling of the disputed Himalayan frontier by the People's Liberation Army, many violations of the line of control separating the two giants, new assertiveness concerning India's northeastern Arunachal Pradesh state - which China claims as its own - and vituperative attacks on India in the state-controlled Chinese media.


The issues that divide India and China, however, extend beyond territorial disputes. Water is becoming a key security issue in Sino-Indian relations and a potential source of enduring discord.


China and India already are water-stressed economies. The spread of irrigated farming and water-intensive industries, together with the demands of a rising middle class, have led to a severe struggle for more water. Indeed, both countries have entered an era of perennial water scarcity, which before long is likely to equal, in terms of per capita availability, the water shortages found in the Middle East.


Rapid economic growth could slow in the face of acute scarcity if demand for water continues to grow at its current frantic pace, turning China and India - both food-exporting countries - into major importers, a development that would accentuate the global food crisis.


Even though India has more arable land than China -160.5 million hectares compared to 137.1 million hectares - Tibet is the source of most major Indian rivers. The Tibetan plateau's vast glaciers, huge underground springs and high altitude make Tibet the world's largest freshwater repository after the polar icecaps. All of Asia's major rivers, except the Ganges, originate in the Tibetan plateau. Even the Ganges' two main tributaries flow in from Tibet.


But China is now pursuing major inter-basin and inter-river water transfer projects on the Tibetan plateau, which threatens to diminish international-river flows into India and other co-riparian states. Before such hydro-engineering projects sow the seeds of water conflict, China ought to build institutionalized, cooperative river-basin arrangements with downstream states.


Upstream dams, barrages, canals, and irrigation systems can help fashion water into a political weapon that can be wielded overtly in a war, or subtly in peacetime to signal dissatisfaction with a co-riparian state. Even denial of hydrological data in a critically important season can amount to the use of water as a political tool. Flash floods in recent years in two Indian frontier - Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh - served as an ugly reminder of China's lack of information-sharing on its upstream projects. Such leverage could in turn prompt a downstream state to build up its military capacity to help counterbalance this disadvantage.


In fact, China has been damming most international rivers flowing out of Tibet, whose fragile ecosystem is already threatened by global warming. The only rivers on which no hydro-engineering works have been undertaken so far are the Indus, whose basin falls mostly in India and Pakistan, and the Salween, which flows into Burma and Thailand. Local authorities in Yunnan province, however, are considering damming the Salween in the quake-prone upstream region.


India's government has been pressing China for transparency, greater hydrological data-sharing, and a commitment not to redirect the natural flow of any river or diminish cross-border water flows. But even a joint expert-level mechanism - set up in 2007 merely for "interaction and cooperation" on hydrological data - has proven of little value.


The most dangerous idea China is contemplating is the northward rerouting of the Brahmaputra river, known as Yarlung Tsangpo to Tibetans, but which China has renamed Yaluzangbu. It is the world's highest river, and also one of the fastest-flowing. Diversion of the Brahmaputra's water to the parched Yellow river is an idea that China does not discuss in public, because the project implies environmental devastation of India's northeastern plains and eastern Bangladesh, and would thus be akin to a declaration of water war on India and Bangladesh.


Nevertheless, an officially blessed book published in 2005, "Tibet's Waters Will Save China," openly championed the northward rerouting of the Brahmaputra. Moreover, the Chinese desire to divert the Brahmaputra by employing "peaceful nuclear explosions" to build an underground tunnel through the Himalayas found expression in the international negotiations in Geneva in the mid-1990s on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). China sought unsuccessfully to exempt PNEs from the CTBT, a pact still not in force.


The issue now is not whether China will reroute the Brahmaputra, but when. Once authorities complete their feasibility studies and the diversion scheme begins, the project will be presented as a fait accompli . China already has identified the bend where the Brahmaputra forms the world's longest and deepest canyon - just before entering India - as the diversion point.


China's ambitions to channel Tibetan waters northward have been whetted by two factors: the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, which, despite the project's glaring environmental pitfalls, China trumpets as the greatest engineering feat since the construction of the Great Wall; and the power of President Hu Jintao, whose background fuses two key elements - water and Tibet. Hu, a hydrologist by training, owes his swift rise in the Communist Party hierarchy to the brutal martial-law crackdown he carried out in Tibet in 1989.


China's hydro-engineering projects and plans are a reminder that Tibet is at the heart of the India-China divide. Tibet ceased to be a political buffer when China annexed it nearly six decades ago. But Tibet can still become a political bridge between China and India. For that to happen, water has to become a source of cooperation, not conflict.


Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. - Ed.








The plague of "Buy American" requirements in city, state, and federal purchasing in the U.S. is spreading. Canada's premiers, meeting this week in Regina, deplored this trend but for the most part artfully ignored the fact that they and their predecessors are partly to blame.


Kneejerk, beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism is never far beneath the surface of the U.S. Congress, and the flood of so-called stimulus spending in response to the recession has triggered a major outbreak. But when some senators made sure that U.S. stimulus legislation nodded respectfully to America's obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement, many in Canada relaxed.


Bad move. Back when NAFTA was signed, Canada's own small-time protectionists, the premiers, made sure that provincial and municipal purchasing was generally exempt: They could continue, in other words, to "Buy Saskatchewan" or whatever. What they wanted was the freedom to exclude competition from other provinces, never mind other countries. But their loophole exempted U.S. cities and states, too, and now these governments are the ones spending the stimulus billions.


Will the premiers give Canada's trade minister Stockwell Day authorization to negotiate sharp curbs on such protectionism in both countries? In Regina the premiers seemed to have had more bold words than bold actions.


This issue will surely come up at the current "three amigos" meeting, in Mexico, of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President Barack Obama, and President Felipe Calderon. The time is ripe for striking down these damaging measures because it is increasingly clear that arbitrary limits on purchasing are a monkey wrench in the closely-calibrated continental economy we share. Raw materials and parts can cross the border several times before final sale, so just calculating national content can be a nightmare. General Electric reportedly makes certain water filters in Canada for the whole Canada-U.S. market; this has stalled some U.S. stimulus water-infrastructure projects.


And yet Buy American provisions are seeping into other U.S. legislation, Canadian Business magazine notes, laws covering not just stimulus spending but long-term programs.


All this might have been headed off if premiers had had more of a sense of common Canadian purpose. That's spilt milk now, but at least the crisis brings hope of reversing, at least partly, this pettiness. British Columbia's Gordon Campbell, who has already lowered many commercial barriers between B.C. and Alberta, bluntly told the premiers, meeting in Regina, that they need to do better:


"We still have work to do in Canada ... we have to open up our procurement strategies," he said. "As we do that, we will speak with a much stronger voice than saying to the Americans, 'you do this, and we will get to it later.' We need to get to it now."

Exactly right, Premier.








A 7-year-old driving the family car, with the family aboard, has no real idea how close to tragedy he is. A teenager exhilarated by standing or sitting on the outside of a moving vehicle should have a better sense of danger, but teenagers are widely known to consider themselves immortal.


News items this week reminded us, however, that junior drivers and "car-surfers" are two phenomena that demonstrate clearly that common sense is not common enough. Since both practices require adult or at least quasi-adult facilitators, there's clearly a need for some public education here.


In Drummondville, police confirmed that Gabrielle Dionne, 17, died after a fall from the trunk or roof of a moving vehicle late last month. And a video that "went viral" on YouTube, made on Quebec's North Shore two years ago, showed a little boy named Samuel gripping the steering wheel of the family Honda van, driving at 40 km/hr. while his father cheered him on. His mother, in the back seat with the other kids, warned, more amused than alarmed, of the roadside ditches.


Neither incident, unfortunately, can be said to be a rarity. The North Shore video (gone from YouTube but to be found at is one of several hundred "child driving" videos you can find online. We're guessing that the ones that end in bad accidents, or even fender-benders, don't get posted. As for car-surfing, the Drummondville victim was at least the second in Quebec this summer, after a man died in a Dollard-des-Ormeaux case (in which both driver and victim were in their 30s).


Some claim that both these practices are being encouraged by the ease with which such exploits can now be "put up" online. That little trend, if it exists, may soon quench itself as police crack down, as they are expected to do.


They should. Licenced drivers are supposed to understand basic concepts of safety. Parents, though unlicenced, are supposed to know how dangerous a car can be for children.


There's no real solution, unfortunately, to the aspects of human nature that permit damfool stunts like these. "Against stupidity," the German poet Friedrich Schiller said, "the gods themselves contend in vain."


Still, some things can be done. Police should throw the book at anyone who facilitates such dangerous practices - parents, drivers in car-surfing stunts, anyone else who makes such dangerous practices possible. Meanwhile, it's time for a vigorous public-education campaign to make it clear to everyone, but especially teens, that when you fall from a moving car you don't bounce up unhurt like an icon in a video game. In fact, you may not get up again at all.


We all have a responsibility to discourage bone-headed risky behaviour when we see it, too. If you recognized a family you know in a video like Samuel's, would you have the courage to challenge your friends' high-spirited foolishness and warn against it? Will teens who know about friends' car-surfing plans have the courage to stop them, even by calling the police? That's a lot to ask, but being a "squealer" is better than being a pallbearer.








The scandal exposed about Shanghai's driving schools provides a clue to the alarming number of traffic accidents on our streets. About 47.2 percent of 1,199 people polled admitted to bribing their driving instructors.


The survey of those who graduated over the last nine years, conducted by the Shanghai Oriental Morning Post, shows that the average bribe paid by each student was 502 yuan. The expenses ranged from paying for lunch or dinner to cigarette cartons and cash gifts to instructors. Many of the students said that they greased the instructors' palms to get more practice time and pass the final test.


The so-called hidden rules exist in most of the more than 100 driving schools across Shanghai, contrary to their explicit rules, which ban instructors from accepting any kind of gifts from students.


By receiving various benefits from students, the instructors have compromised the rules and ethics, and helped licence many unqualified drivers. That may very well explain why new drivers are involved in a large number of road accidents in Shanghai and other cities. That may also explain why reckless driving is so rampant. The driving instructors have turned out to be bad role models. They have moulded many students not into responsible drivers but killers on our road.


Latest figures show that in the first half of this year 29,866 people lost their lives and another 128,336 were injured in 107,193 traffic accidents across the country. Last year, 73,484 people died under the wheel and 304,919 were wounded in a total of 265,204 traffic accidents.


Although the numbers are dramatically down from the previous year, they are still alarmingly high compared to countries such as the US, which have far more cars.


The scandal in Shanghai calls for an immediate probe and revamping of the driving school and test system. In the last few days, 10 driving schools in Shanghai have announced measures to check unscrupulous conduct. While this may be welcome, this alone is not enough to rid our driving schools and test system of the deep-rooted corruption. Cities like Shanghai need to set up a strict supervision system to keep driving schools clean. Driver's license test should be so designed as to leave no rent-seeking opportunities for officials and instructors.


This is a matter of great importance and urgency, for Shanghai and other cities, too. If our driving schools and driving instructors and officials are compromised, it means that there will be more killers on our roads and more lives will be lost due to the failure of the driving school and test system.


With more private cars hitting the road and more people getting a driver's license, we cannot afford to wait even for a day more to put an end to this rot.








First and foremost, let us be thankful. At the very least, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) convened a special briefing to explain itself. That the NBS bothered to respond to people's suspicions is in itself commendable. In a sense, this is no less important than the accuracy of their figures.


At the briefing last Thursday, NBS chief Ma Jiantang promised the bureau would patiently listen to people's questions, and provide answers. That is the only sensible way to improve credibility of the statistics authority.


Some local officials' tendency to manipulate statistical data has resulted in a degree of popular disbelief in government figures. Still, we are convinced that part of the average citizen's doubt about authenticity of official statistics has to do with the technical complexity of the work. To which the country's chief statistician has found a wonderful solution.


Yet the public's disbelief in the personal income growth figures for the first half of the year was not a result of misunderstanding, or ignorance.


In the NBS report, per capita disposable income for urban households in the first six months rose by 9.8 percent, and average wage of "employees of urban institutions" 12.9 per cent year-on-year. Even the cash income of rural residents grew 8.1 percent. Which were far from what people have felt.


NBS specialists analyzed the technical factors that more or less distorted our perception of actual growth in incomes. But this is not about national or regional pictures, about which individual citizens have little personal experience. Everybody knows whether or not he or she was paid more, and, how much.


It turns out to be more a problem of statistical sampling than of misperception. The NBS has resorted to an obsolete sample to portray the national picture of individual incomes. There is no way it can reflect what the man on the street feels. And, the picture it presents cannot be complete.


The term "employees of urban institutions", for instance, does not cover workers in the private sector, the self-employed, and those in part-time or provisional jobs. These people constitute a large and increasing portion of the urban working population. Around 300 million people are now employed in urban areas. But only 130 million of them are covered by government statistics.


The NBS report proved unconvincing because it stuck to a sample that longer reflects the reality of the country's job market. No picture of the national job market is meaningful or complete without taking the robust private employers into account.


NBS sources disclosed that they are already working on including the private sector in official statistics.


We hope this will be done soon and that the impact on the accuracy and credibility of government statistics will be visible sooner rather than later.








In an economically interdependent world, protectionism may not serve a country's own interests. Instead, it may backfire on that nation, particularly during a global financial crisis.


The recent China-US tire trade dispute could become such an example.


The case obviously reflects tints of protectionism, as the US International Trade Commission proposed punitive duties on Chinese tires after the US Steelworkers Union, which represents workers at major domestic tire manufacturers, filed a petition complaining of job losses due to imports from China.


The commission has recommended a 55 percent tariff on Chinese tires that would be reduced to 45 percent in the second year and 35 percent in the third before being removed.


The protectionist proposal seems not to serve US economic interests and will also punish consumers, the job market, and the auto industry, distributors and experts said during a hearing on Friday conducted by the US Trade Representative's office.


"There are no allegations of unfair trade practices, nor are there allegations that anyone has violated US trade law," Vic DeIorio, executive vice president of GITI Tire, a Singapore-based company that is the largest tire manufacturer in China, said in a statement.


Thomas Prusa, an economics professor at Rutgers University, testified during the hearing that the domestic job market would be negatively affected if a high tariff was imposed on Chinese tires.


Prusa said that for every job saved or created at an American tire factory, a dozen to 25 jobs could be lost in the distribution sector due to the elimination of the import business and a decline in sales and tire installation jobs.


The professor estimated that Americans would have to pay an extra 600 million to 700 million US dollars each year for more expensive US-made tires.


Charles Uthus, vice president of the Automotive Trade Policy Council, said US automakers "will have no choice but to absorb the additional cost if higher duties are imposed."


Prusa believed that the commission's proposal narrowly focused on job losses in the US tire industry but lacked consideration of an overall impact on the US economy.


In fact, Chinese and US products are complementary in the American tire market.


Jim Mayfield, president of Del-Nat Tire Corp., testified that for the past 15 years, major US producers have focused on higher-profit and better-performing tires instead of the lower-end market that Chinese products target.


"They tell me 'we got out of that business and we are not going back,'" Mayfield said.


A USTR policy recommendation concerning the case will be submitted to the White House for a final decision.


It was expected that the US government would listen to the Chinese and US manufacturers, and consumers and issue a ruling that would cater to the interests of both countries for a win-win result.


At a time the world economy is seeing positive signs in some areas but still faces lingering uncertainties, protectionism is widely viewed as the biggest hurdle to recovery.


Analysts have noted that at this critical moment for world economic recovery, the US will send the wrong signal if it comes up with a protectionist ruling on the tire trade case.










Tensions have been mounting between Russia and Georgia with the approach of the first anniversary of the outbreak of last year's military conflict.


A five-day war broke out between Russian and Georgian troops in the Georgian region of South Ossetia on Aug 7 last year. Russia achieved an overwhelming victory, as indicated by the de facto separation of pro-Moscow South Ossetia and Abakhazia from Georgia's rule, and the inclusion of the two regions in Russia's sphere of influence. Russia's victory was also symbolized by the fact that its war against a smaller neighbor did not provoke dramatic reactions from the international community, such as punitive measures, and that the public extended great support to the Russian government.


However, the military triumph has not brought Moscow's political intentions to complete fruition. For example, Russia failed to prompt more countries to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abakhazia. Also, its plan to include the two Georgian regions into the Russia-Belarus Union has so far failed to come true. Anyway, Moscow has taken a strategic initiative in the pivotal Caucasian chessboard against the pro-West Georgian regime.


Given the disparity in their strength, Georgia is not in a position to confront a far more muscular Russia. But, that did not change Georgia's consistently tough posture in its rivalry with Russia. The substantive supports the United States, the European Union (EU) and the NATO have extended to the Caucasian nation have made the Russia-Georgia conflict bear the typical character of the bigger Russia-US confrontation.


In a sense, Russia's confrontation with Georgia is an indication of the extended Russia-US confrontation in the Caucasian region. This was fully reflected in Washington's one-sided support to the Georgian government in the latter's conflict with Moscow. Moscow did not budge an inch and counterattacked in the direct face of Western accusations. Also, it almost completely applies the Kosovo model to the South Ossetia issue, thus putting Western countries in a passive position.


As a result, the US and the European countries are not likely to recognize South Ossetia and Abakhazia's independence. They will possibly see it as a top priority to further check the strategic offensives launched by Russia across the Caucasian region. Against this backdrop, the US and the NATO have held successive military exercises with Georgia, aimed at displaying to Moscow the determination to safeguard their small ally's security. In a tit-to-tat move, Russia has also organized similar military drills on the border of Georgia.


Display of military power and exchange of military threats between Russia and the West have plunged the Caucasian region into a state of war. Latest developments indicate that the Russia-Georgia confrontation will not ease in the short term.


Russia has been looking forward to a change of government in Georgia. It will not ease tensions with the neighbor if Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili remains in office. A change in the strength equations of Georgian political factions is the biggest factor that can lead to a new leader. In fact, Georgia is now in an unstable condition, given that the Saakashvili administration has been under severe challenge from his political opponents. Whether the pro-West Georgian president can hold the reins will determine the Caucasian trend.


It remains Russia's long-term strategic goal to gain recognition for the independence of South Ossetia and Abakhazia. It is expected that Moscow will not rush to absorb the two Georgian regions into its own territory, given that the time now is not ripe. The political elite in Moscow believes that South Ossetia and Abakhazia will help Russia control the Caucasian region.


President Saakashvili can be expected to do his utmost to retrieve the two lost regions. To this end, he will more actively seek support from the US, the EU and NATO. Due to the Western position and their own interests, the US and other Western countries are likely to take measures to come to Georgia's aid and check the offensive by Russia. As the situation stands now, the tension and the conflicts between Russia and Georgia, and between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abakhazia appear certain to continue. Russia's conflict with the US and the West on this issue is also expected to persist.


The geopolitical situation in the Caucasian region suggests that the US and NATO elements will inevitably play their part in the asymmetrical Russia-Georgia political games. Russia cannot tolerate the existence of a pro-West country alongside its border, while the US aspiration is to develop Georgia as an outpost to contain the expansion of Moscow's influence.


The author is deputy director of the Center of China's Borderland History and Geography Research under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.




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