August 12, 2009
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Month August 12, Edition 000269, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
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1. AMBANI VERSUS AMBANI
2. PUNISH THE CRIMINALS
3. PLURALITY AND IMAGINATION-GAUTAM MUKHERJEE
4. FOOT-IN-MOUTH IS INCURABLE DISEASE-RUDRONEEL GHOSH
5. AN AFGHAN SEA OF POPPIES
6. CAN MURDOCH RESCUE NEWSPAPERS?-GWYNNE DYER
THE TIMES OF INDIA
1. PLAN FOR ALL SEASONS
2. UNDER SIEGE
3. TIED UP IN KNOTS-
4. 'I WROTE MY SCREENPLAY FROM KABULIWALA'S POINT OF VIEW'
5. H1N1? JUST FAKE IT-JUG SURAIYA
6. PANIC DEMIC: FELLED BY THE FLU-
1. DON’T PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON
2. IN AUGUST COMPANY-SAGARIKA GHOSE
3. IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM...-PUSHPA SUNDAR
1. SERIALLY DEFENCELESS
2. DRUG HAZE
3. CJI, PLEASE DECLARE MY ASSETS-J. S. VERMA
4. VIEW FROM THE LEFT-MANOJ C G
5. MARITIME CBMS-C. RAJA MOHAN
THE FINENCIAL EXPRESS
1. WITHER FORECASTING?
2. VERY SHORT, SORT OF DISTURBING
3. SOLUTION THAT WAS MISSED SIX YEARS BACK-SANAT KAUL
4. TIME TO PLAY THE 700 MHZ BAND-ANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA
5. THE TIME TO BUILD A DMO IS RIGHT NOW-AJAY SHAH
1. MEETING A PANDEMIC CHALLENGE
2. TO DIVIDE IS TO MULTIPLY IN NORTHEAST -M. S. PRABHAKARA
3. AN ‘OUTRAGEOUS’ VERDICT -GORDON BROWN
4. JAPAN TRIES TO LOOSEN THE U.S. LEASH -SIMON TISDALL
5. HOLIDAY SNAPS GET AIRBRUSH TREATMENT-HADLEY FREEMAN
THE ASIAN AGE
1. PRICE ISSUE GETS CRITICAL FOR GOVT
2. DIARY OF AN ‘EX-TRAITOR’-JAVED ANAND
1. THE MENACE OF H1N1
2. ZEROING IN ON MUSHARRAF
3. AGENDA FOR REFORM
4. PRICING OF GAS-BY NIRMAL SANDHU
5. TRACTORS CAN GENERATE POWER-BY SARABJIT ARJAN SINGH
6. NEW EL NIÑO THREATENS WORLD WITH WEATHER WOE-BY MICHAEL MCCARTHY
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
1. A REVOLUTIONARY BILL
2. ROAD ACCIDENTS
3. INDO-BANGLA JOINT BORDER MANAGEMENT-SHIBDAS BHATTACHARJEE
4. SR RANGANATHAN: A DR RK BARMAN
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
1. MAKE TAMIFLU WIDELY AVAILABLE
2. AILING TEXTILE SECTOR
3. STATUES SPEAK A LOT!
1. PRICE ISSUE GETS CRITICAL FOR CENTRE
2. INDIA AT 62: WAR ON CORRUPT TOP PRIORITY - BY P.C. ALEXANDER
3. YES TO TWO-STATE SOLUTION MEANS STATUS QUO - BY HUSSEIN AGHA & ROBERT MALLEY
4. CONTROL EMOTION
5. DIARY OF AN ‘EX-TRAITOR’ - BY JAVED ANAND
6. US HEALTHCARE GETS ‘LOUISED’ - BY JUDITH WARNER
7. SPACE TRAVEL: IT’S ALL MUCK AND GOO - BY HUGO RIFKIND
1. DISTANT THUNDER
2. EIGHT MONKEYS
3. NEAR THE TIPPING POINT -ASHOK GANGULY
4. HAPPY DAYS FOR VETERANS -SUMANTA SEN
1. RETURN TO BEING ‘BANANA REPUBLIC’-BY IGNACIO RAMONET
2. A COMMON DISEASE-BY BHARATHI PRABHU
THE NEW YORK TIMES
1. SALMON TEST
2. RUNNING START
3. SKIES OVER THE HUDSON
4. A CHANCE TO RETURN THE FAVOR
1. SETTLING SWAT
2. THE DEBT BURDEN
3. STOPPING SWINE FLU
1. ABANDONED GAS FIELDS IN SINDH
2. DEMAND FOR IN-CAMERA BRIEFING ON BALOCHISTAN
3. SUGAR SCANDAL REFUSES TO DIE DOWN
1. SWINE FLU PANDEMIC
2. TERMINAL CHOICE
3. WOOF! I WANT A MATE...!-ROBERT CLEMENTS
THE KOREA TIMES
1. EXPENSIVE MOBILE RATES
2. RECONCILIATION OF EX-PRESIDENTS
1. CLIMATE NEEDS MORE SOPHISTICATED DEBATE
2. CRUNCH TIME AT SCHOOL
3. ONE TWEET TOO MANY
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
1. NOW FOR TODAY'S LEAGUE SCANDAL …
2. RUMBLES IN THE BURMA JUNGLE
1. NOW FOR TODAY'S LEAGUE SCANDAL …
2. IN PRAISE OF… RHODRI MORGAN
3. BURMA: LAND OF DARKNESS
1. THE CRISIS IN NIGERIA
2. SEVEN GLOBAL LESSONS FROM A TEACHABLE EVENT-BY RAMESH THAKUR
THE KOREA HERALD
1. CHANGE OF TACTICS
2. KSLV AND TAEPODONG
3. ARE SOME WOMEN WORTH MORE? -CHRIS WILLIAMS
4. THE SORROW OF A DIVIDED NATION -KIM SEONG-KON
1. CITY PARTIES NEED MORE JOHN GOMERYS
2. EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER: CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS
1. ALL STAFF AND NO WORK
2. RACE AGAINST INFLATION
3. OPTIMISM ABOUNDS AMID CRISIS
4. THE CRISIS, THE BRIC, THE COMPANIES
AMBANI VERSUS AMBANI
GOVERNMENT MUST STAY OUT OF SPAT
The continuing friction between the inheritors of Dhirubhai Ambani’s business empire and legacy ever since they fell apart five years ago could have been dismissed as unseemly sibling rivalry had it been nothing more than Mr Mukesh Ambani trying to put down his younger brother, Mr Anil Ambani. Business families the world over are known to make a spectacle of their petty squabbles in a manner that is far from edifying. What, however, sets the latest spat between the two Ambani brothers apart from similar bitterly fought ‘corporate battles’ is the role played by the UPA Government, more specifically, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, to not only prop up Mr Mukesh Ambani against Mr Anil Ambani, but also facilitate, what appears to be on the face of it, an unimaginable windfall profit for his RIL. The current dispute is linked to the supply of natural gas, explored and managed by RIL, to clients with whom it has signed delivery contracts at a particular price. Among the clients is Mr Anil Ambani’s RNRL. It would seem that to spite Mr Anil Ambani and make his investments in the energy sector unviable, the price enshrined in contractual agreements has been hiked by twice the amount. The Bombay High Court has ruled in favour of Mr Anil Ambani’s RNRL, but RIL has appealed against that order in the Supreme Court. Strangely, the Government has impleaded itself in the case, exercising its ‘sovereign rights’ over ‘national assets’. Mr Mukesh Ambani and his RIL have pointed out that the increase has been brought about by the Government which has deemed that the contractual price is too low.
This would have been unexceptionable had the money gone into the Government’s coffers; on the contrary, it will go to RIL. So, we have a strange situation where the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is found manipulating the price of gas not to increase Government’s revenue but to push up the profits of a private sector enterprise, namely RIL, whose main beneficiary will be Mr Mukesh Ambani. The story, however, does not end with RNRL being forced to pay more than what it is contractually obliged to pay RIL. There are other consumers of natural gas who, too, are affected by the Ministry’s blatant pro-RIL stand. Among them is the public sector NTPC, one of the Navratnas; if the Ministry has its way, it will pay nearly Rs 20,000 crore more than the contracted price to RIL. Hence, we will be witness to a public sector unit being bled to fatten the profits of a private sector enterprise.
The entire episode raises some discomfiting questions about the Government’s handling of the issue. Should the Government be seen, as it is perceived to be, taking sides in a corporate dispute? What business does Government have in getting involved in a messy business spat and thereby cut a sorry figure? Why did the Government implead itself in the case now pending in the Supreme Court? Should Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora have got involved, as he is now being charged with, in fixing the price of gas to the advantage of any single individual or entity? The answers to these and other questions are obvious and not difficult to seek. There is clearly a conflict of interest and the Prime Minister must step in to prevent a mighty embarrassment to the Government he heads. Mr Deora is a talented politician and no doubt deserves a place in the Cabinet. But it would be best for him — and the Government’s credibility — if his talents were to be used in another Ministry which has nothing to do with the business interests of either Mr Mukesh Ambani or Mr Anil Ambani.
PUNISH THE CRIMINALS
SISTER ABHAYA DESERVES JUSTICE IN DEATH
The Sister Abhaya murder case threw up a surprising revelation on Monday when the CBI told the Kerala High Court that a former Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court and a present Supreme Court judge had viewed and ‘approved’ the tapes of the narco-analysis procedure carried out on the three accused in the case. What is intriguing is that the said judge is supposed to be a devout member of the Knanaya Catholic Church to which the murdered nun and the accused — Father Thomas M Kottoor, Father Jose Puthrukayil and Sister Seffi — belong. Further suspicious is the fact that the judge had examined the tapes at the Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory in Bangalore during a personal visit last year. After viewing the tapes he had commended the laboratory for a job well done. All this was revealed during the CBI’s response to the contempt of court petition filed against the agency by Sister Abhaya’s father for having failed to retrieve the original tapes of the narco tests as previously directed by the High Court. Sister Abhaya’s father has now called for a probe into the judge’s visit to CFSL to rule out the possibility of tampering of the original narco-analysis tapes.
Be that as it may, the accusation that certain people with vested interests are trying to influence the case is something that has been around for quite sometime. The Knanaya Church has consistently accused the Sister Abhaya Action Council — which has been primarily responsible for getting the CBI to investigate the case — of carrying out a campaign of vendetta to malign its image. Similarly, those fighting for justice for Sister Abhaya have been claiming that the Church is using its money power and influence to derail the case. Nonetheless, very few people dispute the fact that Sister Abhaya was murdered. In the interest of justice all efforts should be made to get to the bottom of this heinous crime. And presently, the evidence against the three accused is something that cannot be denied. There is also no denying that guilt is something that has to be established by a court of law. But to say that men in religious robes are incapable of committing sin is no argument. Priests, irrespective of the faith they supposedly uphold, have been guilty of crimes before and it will be naïve to consider them innocent simply because of the religious stature they hold. If anything, the Church itself should come out in support of the investigation into the Sister Abhaya murder case. After all, a member of its fraternity was murdered and justice demands that the murderers be exposed and brought to book.
PLURALITY AND IMAGINATION
Medieval theologian William of Occam is known for challenging the Avignon-based Papacy for its doctrinaire excesses. But he is still revered for his reductionist system of logic, evocatively dubbed ‘Occam’s Razor’. The razor is designed to cut out the obfuscation of “imaginative theorising”, or to keep it simple. But even Occam had to concede that there was indeed a time and place for multiple threading, running in parallel, only stating that plurality should not be posited without necessity.
It was necessity that drove India’s Constituent Assembly to embrace plurality while drafting the Constitution. It had to recognise the diversity of caste, creed, religion, mores, culture and language. And then there was the matter of unifying Princely India with British India, protectorates and special territories included. India had to meld together as a brand new republic, post-imperial, post-feudal, post-a-very-traumatic partition, with the bold gift of universal franchise.
But even then, our founding fathers did point towards one law for all under Article 44. The Article, a directive principle of state policy, refers to the desirability of having a Uniform Civil Code as a consequence of the natural evolution of our polity as a republic where all are equal.
This original intent was modified somewhat by aspects of the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution of 1976, which stipulates that we are also specifically ‘secular’. This insertion has been interpreted to mean that the introduction of a uniform civil code would run contrary to the spirit of secularism. It is also considered mercilessly majoritarian and hence threatening to the Muslim ‘minority’ and its way of life.
But if one wants to look for signs of hope, of Occam’s Razor being applied to the debate over one civil law for all, we could look at yet another insertion made in the 42nd Amendment, namely that we are a ‘socialist’ republic. But socialism is not what it used to be; if not quite given the complete go-by, the ‘socialism’ of the Jawaharlal Nehru and Mrs Indira Gandhi years is certainly much diluted.
The future is headed towards a competitive, integrated and globalised market economy. This is essential if we are to sustain high growth rates and eliminate the very poverty that socialism has never been able to tackle. India has already emerged as the world’s second largest market, and the world is clamouring for greater access to it.
So, despite the gloating of our ‘socialists’, who think the recent troubles of the global economy are emblematic, there is a way out. The capitalist system may not be perfect, but it is still the best system that global economics has evolved. It is also much more resilient in 2009 than it was even 20 years ago. The cycles of recession are getting much shorter due to globalisation, better communications, real-time decision-making, and a much bigger world economy.
Tacitly conceding that socialism’s day is largely done, our Government today is leaning towards a much more wholesome ‘welfarism’. This shows commitment towards reducing the travails of the have-nots without curbing the entrepreneurship of the haves while concerning itself with eventually balancing the fiscal deficit, too.
A similar evolution is expected in the political and theoretical debate on secularism. It is daunting to behold the inflexibility with which the concept is widely viewed in India. It is as if the religion of the majority is the unmentionable elephant in the room. And without specific protections against this threat, the minorities are truly done for. Of course, this notion is aggravated by vote-bank politics that seeks to leverage not only religion, but caste, sub-caste, language, water disputes, even the ‘ownership’ of heroes and saints of the past.
Hence, it would be argued, secularism must be treated both as shield and sword to keep would-be-predators at bay. That this is clearly in conflict with the traditionally tolerant people of this land is continuously ignored.
We are not only unbelieving of our own better nature, but are also influenced by a largely dysfunctional and insecure SAARC muttering about regional hegemony. This is compounded by Pakistani propaganda from without and certain Christian evangelist postures within. The Hindu majority, made out to be a hydra-headed gorgon, is allegedly hard-wired to gobble up everyone else — leaving nary a trace of either minority culture or custom.
This is laughable in a country that has never been expansionist. The only influence that Bharatvarsha of old exerted was cultural, and Indian culture did travel far and wide to places where it endures even to this day.
Hindustan has been ruled for 400 years by Mughals and 200 years after that by an Anglican Britain, with both not above pushing their religions at the people as a matter of course. But this has not happened in a free India and the communal riots we have seen over six decades is minimal compared to the horrors of partition.
It is self-evident that we need a revision of our assumptions. We have successfully instilled non-denominational values in our armed forces with complete freedom of worship. We have done this also in the composition and working of our national and regional cricket teams. We have implemented this in Bollywood. India Inc too is integrated and dynamic. So, why should the polity remain immune?
Secularism is indeed a big idea. It means much more than petty protection of the right to worship and practice one’s religion freely. It is about refusing to let prejudice of all kinds affect governance. This should take in ageism, sexism, exploitation and all other oppressive constructs that live within communities, attempting to erect or retain protective barriers under the cover of pluralism.
But we cannot afford to hang on to these twisted versions of the truth. It is dividing people with illogical notions of what is communal and secular. The time may have come to use Occam’s Razor to cut out the cant and get ourselves a fresh new start.
FOOT-IN-MOUTH IS INCURABLE DISEASE
Navy chief and Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee Admiral Sureesh Mehta’s admission that India neither has the capability nor the intent to match up to China’s military prowess and that the former should ensure that its policies are in consonance with this “reality” can only be described as a huge strategic blunder. The views expressed by Admiral Mehta exemplify everything that is wrong with our handling of foreign policy issues. It clearly represents a fundamental lack of understanding among our politicians, bureaucrats and the defence establishment that when it comes to dealing with other countries we have to treat each bilateral relationship separately, keeping in mind our national interests. Our relationship with Sri Lanka cannot be based on the same parameters as that with China. Similarly, the relationship that we share with Bangladesh encompasses issues that are different from our ties with Nepal.
Not only is each relationship different because of historical reasons, but also because of strategic reasons. It is the latter that we seem to be unable to grasp. Strategy is an inseparable component of international relations. Every foreign policy initiative must be backed by strategy to maximise the national interest. It is when you disregard this that you end up cornering yourself. This is precisely what happened at Sharm el-Sheikh, and again when Admiral Mehta blurted out in his National Maritime Foundation address that India could not match China “force for force”.
India and China share a rocky relationship. We have fought a war, disputes on border issues remain, Beijing’s strategic military ties with Islamabad are well known and China’s opposition to India at various international forums is hardly a secret. Also, China’s growing military clout in the region and the fact that it sees South Asia as within its ‘sphere of influence’ are common knowledge. It is in this background that the strategy component in our bilateral relationship with China becomes extremely important. When we know that China isn’t shy of flexing its muscle, the last thing we need is for our Navy chief to admit that we are not capable of matching it. This is bound to reflect in our diplomatic dealings with Beijing.
Even if we aren’t as militarily strong we should posture otherwise. If India can’t afford a war with China, China too can’t afford a war with India. Meanwhile, Admiral Mehta would do well to read Art of War by Sun Tzu.
AN AFGHAN SEA OF POPPIES
IN DOZENS OF HAMLETS IN A REMOTE CORNER OF AFGHANISTAN, OPIUM ADDICTION HAS BECOME SO ENTRENCHED THAT WHOLEFAMILIES HAVE BECOME ADDICTS. PARENTS SELL THEIR DAUGHTERS, KNOWN AS ‘OPIUM BRIDES’, AND ‘LEASE’ THEIR SONS TO PAYFOR THEIR ADDICTION. SOME SELL THEIR LAND. RUKMINI CALLIMACHI REPORTS FROM SARAB VILLAGE
Open the door to Islam Beg’s house and the thick opium smoke rushes out into the cold mountain air, like steam from a bathhouse. It’s just past 8 am and the family of six — including a one-year-old baby boy — is already curled up at the lip of the opium pipe.
Beg, 65, breathes in and exhales a cloud of smoke. He passes the pipe to his wife. She passes it to their daughter. The daughter blows the opium smoke into the baby’s tiny mouth. The baby’s eyes roll back into his head.
Their faces are gaunt. Their hair is matted. They smell.
In dozens of mountain hamlets in this remote corner of Afghanistan, opium addiction has become so entrenched that whole families — from toddlers to old men — are addicts. The addiction moves from house to house, infecting entire communities cut off from the rest of the world by glacial streams. From just one family years ago, at least half the people of Sarab, population 1,850, are now addicts.
Afghanistan supplies nearly all the world’s opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin, and while most of the deadly crop is exported, enough is left behind to create a vicious cycle of addiction. There are at least 2,00,000 opium and heroin addicts in Afghanistan — 50,000 more than in the much bigger, wealthier US, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services and a 2005 survey by the UN. A new survey is expected to show even higher rates of addiction, a window into the human toll of Afghanistan’s back-to-back wars and desperate poverty.
Unlike in the West, the close-knit nature of communities here makes addiction a family affair. Instead of passing from one rebellious teenager to another, the habit passes from mother to daughter, father to son. It’s turning villages like this one into a landscape of human depredation.
Except for a few soiled mats, Beg’s house is bare. He has pawned all his family’s belongings to pay for drugs.
“I am ashamed of what I have become,” says Beg, an unwashed turban curled on his head. “I’ve lost my self-respect. I’ve lost my values. I take the food from this child to pay for my opium,” he says, pointing to his five-year-old grandson, Mamadin. “He just stays hungry.”
Beg’s forefathers owned much of the land in the village, located beside a gushing stream at the end of a canyon of craggy mountains in Badakshan province, hundreds of miles (kilometres) northeast of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.
He once had 1,200 sheep. He sold them off one by one to pay for drugs.
The land followed. He’s turned his spacious home, once lined with ornamental carpets, into a mud shell. He grows potatoes in rows in the last of his fields and each time he harvests the crop, he has to make a choice — feed his grandchildren, or buy opium. He usually chooses drugs.
Basic necessities like soap long ago fell by the wayside.
“If we have 50 cents, we buy opium and we smoke it. We don’t use the 50 cents to buy soap to clean our clothes,” explains Raihan, Beg’s daughter and the mother of the one-year-old. The toddler wears a filthy shirt and no underwear. “I can be out of food, but not out of opium.”
The country’s few drug treatment centers are in cities far from villages like this one. And even those able to get themselves to the cities are often unable to get help. The drug clinic in Takhar province, the nearest to Sarab, has a waiting list of 2,000 people and only 30 beds.
So the villagers are drowning in opium. They begin taking it when they are sick, relying on its anesthetic properties — opium is also used to make morphine. Sarab, a village located at 8,000 feet (2,438 metres) and snowed in for up to three months a year, is a day’s walk over mountain paths to the nearest hospital. The few shops in town do not even sell aspirin.
“Opium is our doctor,” says Beg. “When your stomach hurts, you take a smoke. Then you take a little more. And a little more. And then, you’re addicted. Once you’re hooked, it’s over. You’re finished.”
When his grandson Shamsuddin, 1, cut his finger in the door jamb, Beg blew opium smoke into the child’s mouth, a common practice in this part of the world which is now resulting in rampant child addiction. He doesn’t want his grandchild to become an addict, but he says he has no choice. “If there is no medicine here, what should we do? The only way to make him feel better is to give him opium.”
From a single smoke, they progress to a three-times-a-day habit that spreads. When Beg began using opium, it wasn’t just his wife and daughter who followed suit. It was his brother. Then his brother’s wife. Like an epidemic, it makes its way across the village.
Health workers say that to treat the addiction, they need to treat the entire community. Last year, the Ministry of Health took 120 addicts from Sarab to a facility in a town one day’s drive away to be treated. Three months later, they found that 115 of the 120 had relapsed.
“First my neighbour started doing opium again,” explains Noor, one of the women treated, whose eyes are dark caves. “Then my cousin. Then my husband. And then after a while, I also started.”
Most of the addicts spend $ 3 to $ 4 a day on opium in a part of the world where people earn on average $ 2. They sell their land and go deeply into debt to maintain their habit.
“I used to be a rich man,” says Dadar, a man who looks to be in his 70s and whose family of seven is addicted. “I had cattle. I had land. And then I started smoking. I sold the cattle. I sold my land. Now I have nothing.”
He wears an old windbreaker encrusted with dirt. His wife pulls back her lips to show a mouth full of diseased teeth. Their grandchildren have knotted hair and ripped clothes stained with muck.
Because they’ve sold their cattle, they no longer eat meat. When they sold the last of their land, they also lost their wheat, potatoes and greens. Their diet now consists of tea and the occasional piece of bread given by a neighbour.
Village chief Sahib Dad says even those who are not addicted are forced to pay a price.
“When a person gets addicted, he has nothing to eat,” says Dad. “That affects his neighbour because the neighbour is forced to give over a part of his food. For this reason, all of us are poorer.”
After selling their land, some families resort to even more desperate measures. They take loans from the shopkeepers who sell them drugs. Then they sell their daughters, known as ‘opium brides,’ to settle the debt. They lease their sons.
“I know he is angry with me. But what can I do? I have nothing left to sell,” says Jan Begum, who has sent her 14-year-old to do construction work for the drug dealers. “I tried to stop, but I can’t. Whenever I do, the pain becomes unbearable.”
The problem is compounded by Afghanistan’s neighbours. Iran immediately to the west has the world’s highest per capita heroin use. The heroin labs there, as well as in Pakistan to the east, use opium imported from Afghanistan. These countries are now exporting heroin addiction back to Afghanistan in the form of returning refugees.
Like opium, heroin in Afghanistan is biting off whole families. Gul Pari, 13, watched her mother get high on heroin when she and her brother were in elementary school. Now she lies in a bed in a drug treatment centre for women in Kabul. Her 15-year-old brother Zaihar is across town in a rehab facility for men.
Their bodies are like brittle sticks. The 13-year-old tries to push herself up on one elbow, but her thin arm cannot hold her up, so she falls back onto the pillow. Her emaciated brother leans against a wall to steady himself.
What will happen when they go home is unknown. They live with their mother — a recovering heroin addict — under a tarp in the yard of an abandoned house.
Mohammad Asef, a health worker at the clinic taking care of Zaihar Pari, says he is worried about the boy’s chances of recovering. “In America people go and get high in the park. In Afghanistan, they do it in the home,” says Asef. “They bring it inside. They burn it on the family stove. Everyone sees. So everyone is affected.”
In Sarab, villagers who are not addicted keep their distance from those who are. They don’t invite them into their homes. They discourage them from coming to village meetings. It’s as if they are trying to quarantine themselves.
Beg says that for him all hope is lost. Even after he is buried, it’ll take 70 years for the opium to ooze out of his bones. His hope, he says, are his grandkids — the only people in the family who are not yet addicts.
As Beg is getting high on a recent morning, the one-year-old crawls over and starts playing with the opium pipe. He picks it up and shakes it, as if it were a rattle. Then, imitating his grandfather, he raises the pipe to his mouth.
CAN MURDOCH RESCUE NEWSPAPERS?
WHEN DAILIES MADE THEIR CONTENT AVAILABLE FREE ON THE INTERNET, LITTLE DID THEY KNOW THAT IT WOULD CUT INTO THEIR PRINT READERSHIP. NOW RUPERT MURDOCH WANTS PEOPLE TO PAY FOR IT. CAN THIS SAVE AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS AT DEATH’S DOOR?
Can Rupert Murdoch save the newspaper industry by making people pay to read the news online? Probably not, though his reputation as a financial wizard (he is many times a billionaire) has bewitched a lot of people into believing that he can. More importantly, does the newspaper industry as a whole need to be saved, or is this largely an American problem?
The ‘Dirty Digger’ declared last week that he would start charging for the online content of all his newspapers, including the New York Post and The Times and The Sun in London, before next June. In the United States, where many if not most big-city dailies are in a financial “death-spiral” (as one editorial page editor put it to me last year, explaining why she was taking the buy-out and retiring early), the whole industry prayed that he was right.
Mr Murdoch’s reputation as a master of the media universe is so high that even his competitors hope that he can make it work. “I believe that if we’re successful, we’ll be followed fast by other (print) media,” he said, and that’s perfectly true. But past experience argues that he won’t be successful: There are too many free alternatives.
When the first newspapers began putting their content on the web 15 years ago, they made it available free in the belief that the online version would supplement rather than replace the highly lucrative print editions, and in the hope that eventually online advertising would provide a healthy new stream of revenue. But the online versions did cut into the print readership, and online advertising rates never rose to match those of the print editions. In the past couple of years, online revenues have ceased to grow entirely.
So when the recession came along, most American newspapers were already in a very vulnerable position, and now many are at death’s door. I’m getting used to lawyers’ letters from US dailies explaining that they are now in “Chapter 11” (bankruptcy protection), and so I can forget about what they owe me for the column as I am not a secured creditor. (However, they can pay me for articles I send in the future — the law is strange that way.)
Now, here’s the odd thing. Large numbers of journalists have also been laid off by their papers in other countries, because advertising revenues and the actual physical size of most papers both shrink in a recession. But this column runs in papers in almost 50 other countries in every continent except Antarctica, and not one of them has declared bankruptcy.
You can’t explain it by saying that internet use has been lower in all of those countries. In fact, the United States has only recently caught up with most other developed countries in the proportion of its population that is online. A likelier explanation for the American disaster is what happened to the US newspaper industry in the 1980s and 1990s.
It was a time of ‘greed is good’ in American capitalism, and newspapers were still profitable in those decades. The old family owners were bought out by chains that sought returns of 10-15 per cent a year, far more than the former owners had ever expected. The new owners’ first priority was to keep the share prices up, so they had to keep the profits high, so they started cutting costs — and the biggest cost in running a newspaper is the journalists.
There are few newspapers in the United States that employ even half as many journalists as they had 15 years ago. Yet news-gathering was and remains a highly labour-intensive business. In effect, the new owners and managers gutted the content in order to maintain their high profit margins. Now most of them are out on golf courses, and the newspapers they ran are on the rocks.
Since many US newspapers are also saddled with huge debts because of those take-over deals, the papers were in no shape to withstand the cash famine of the recession. Nor is it obvious how charging for newspaper content online is going to transform their finances now, even if they don’t simply drive their current viewers away to the many free sites. It’s late in the game, and they just cannot raise enough money through increased Internet revenue to transform their catastrophic balance sheets.
Elsewhere in the developed world, most newspapers will probably start charging for their websites too: Mr Murdoch is right in thinking that the competition will follow his lead. And elsewhere, that will win newspapers some further time to think about how they deal with the new reality, for it is very unlikely that we will be getting our news on paper in 20 or 30 years’ time. But for many American papers, it is too late now.
Where does the news business go from here? Blogs and ‘citizen journalism’ are not the answer: Serious news-gathering costs serious money, and there has to be a business model that supports it. Whoever comes up with the solution will be the new Bill Gates, but we may have to wait a while. As American Internet guru Clay Shirky said recently, the immediate future may consist of “decades of random experimentation, much of which will fail.”
The writer is a London-based journalist.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
PLAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Better late than never, the prime minister last week called for Centre-state cooperation on tackling the deficient monsoon. But why did the authorities wait for the rain gods to smile for so long that the kharif sowing window had to almost close before mitigation strategies were even broached? June's 46 per cent rainfall deficit wasn't made up by July's below-normal showing. Alarms were rung about drought conditions if the trend continued. Yet wait-and-watch seemed the only notable official response. Now that India's weathermen have slashed rainfall estimates and the finance minister warns of a severe dry spell, talk of fast-tracking rabi season preparations won't console affected farmers.
Official statements on 'need-based' action - central assistance to affected states, subsidised diesel to farmers and the like - have so far been marked by ad-hocism. Moreover, the Centre has woken up belatedly to the need to deliver rural job guarantee to shore up rural incomes. Gearing the employment scheme to contingency-related needs shouldn't have been left to the eleventh hour. Again, buffer stocks are healthy but, given the PDS's warts, ensuring waste-free storage and leak-proof distribution is easier said than done. With lower acreage spiking inflationary expectations, already high food prices can soar. While price-fixing and export bans are standard responses, intelligent use of buffer stocks, imports and zero tolerance for black marketers will serve as better price stabilisers.
India must buck up on exploiting healthy monsoons and reading drought signals. Experts recommend region-specific agro-climatic weather codes precisely for such purposes. Years of good rains create a false sense of security despite monsoons showing an inconsistent and a depleting trend over the years. Since India's water demand is estimated to outpace supply by 2020, water management is crucial. Population pressures will mandate ever-larger outputs of water-intensive crops like rice and wheat, causing massive groundwater loss. Water harvesting, storage and recycling must be prioritised starting now, and industries discouraged from extracting groundwater and incentivised to save water and invest in sewage treatment.
The majority of India's population lives off agriculture. Yet the farm sector hasn't seen the reform, investment and technology-driven modernisation it needs to reduce its rain-dependence. State paternalism as manifested in loan waivers or waste-generating power subsidies can't substitute for expanded, modern irrigation of the kind found in China, Israel or Australia, or a decentralised network of warehouses and cold chains. There's need for retail reform, creating access to markets where farmers can sell their produce to the best buyers, domestic or foreign. Finally, even a slowdown-trimmed 7 per cent growth forecast this fiscal may not materialise if farm output takes a major hit. The broader lesson is that agriculture must achieve its true potential if India is to maintain a high growth trajectory.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Manipur is falling apart, and the state government is to blame for it. Since July 23, when two people including a pregnant woman were killed allegedly in police encounters in Imphal, the state capital has been under curfew. That may have helped the government to muffle public anger, but the outrage reflected on the streets is changing political equations in the state.
On Monday, the CPI, a member of the Congress-led Secular Progressive Front (SPF) government, snapped ties with the front and demanded the dismissal of the Ibobi Singh government. CPI's move is unlikely to threaten the government now, but the departure of a party that's been a member of the ruling coalition for seven years is an ominous sign. The SPF government is fast losing credibility and its failure to address the appalling human rights situation in the state is likely to expedite its fall. The government's response to the July 23 killings has been insensitive and grossly inadequate. The killing of 27-year-old Chongkham Sanjit would have been written off as yet another terror-related incident if not for a series of photographs clicked by a local photographer. The photographs indicate that, contrary to the police version, Sanjit, a former militant, was unarmed and did not offer any resistance when he was accosted by a group of Manipur Police Commandos, in a busy street in Imphal. A judicial inquiry is called for and the truth needs to be revealed.
It's nobody's case that terrorism should not be fought but the strategies employed in states like Manipur need a rethink. Counter-insurgency measures facilitated by the controversial Armed Forced Special Powers Act (AFSPA) have not freed the region of terrorism. It has merely militarised the region. The armed forces, and state police outfits like the MPC, have been accused of carrying out extrajudicial murders under the protection of the AFSPA. Irom Sharmila, an iconic peace activist, has been on hunger strike for almost a decade demanding repeal of the AFSPA. Massive protests led to the repeal of the Act in parts of Imphal in 2004.
Manipur's problems need a slew of public initiatives, but the government views it solely through the prism of counterterrorism. A bankrupt political class has thrived in this climate of fear and violence. Political corruption has coexisted with human rights violations and the crimes are blanketed under the garb of national security. National security should not become a cause for national shame.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
TIED UP IN KNOTS
"Islam, which is a pious, progressive and respected religion with a rational outlook cannot be given a narrow concept as has been tried to be done by the alleged violators of law. The progressive outlook and wider approach of Islamic law cannot be permitted to be squeezed and narrowed by unscrupulous litigants." This was the Supreme Court of India, in its Lily Thomas ruling in 2000, reaffirming its five-year-old Sarla Mudgal judgement outlawing bigamy by married non-Muslims under the pretext of conversion to Islam. I see the law so settled by the apex court of India as a great tribute to Islamic law.
The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 enforced monogamy, and deemed that a bigamous marriage would attract anti-bigamy provisions of the Indian Penal Code. Since then married men governed by this Act have often resorted to sham conversion to Islam for the sake of a second bigamous marriage. Two such cases made headlines in recent times. In one of these a married army physician of India serving in Afghanistan temporarily converted to Islam in order to marry an Afghan girl and, a few years later, returned to his family in India leaving her in the lurch.
In the second case a married politician and his lawyer friend, both Hindu, ostensibly embraced Islam to get married and kept on publicly claiming that they had done nothing illegal. As their marriage failed before long, the man returned to his original faith and reunited with his first wife. These, and many other similar cases, make it abundantly clear that the law settled by the Supreme Court is being observed in violation.
The true Islamic law on bigamy is gravely misunderstood, indeed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Both wrongly believe that it gives married men an unfettered right to marry again, which is nothing short of caricaturing a noble legal provision. Unrestricted bigamy was rampant in Arab society, which Islam had tried to contain by allowing it within carefully defined limits and subjecting it to strict discipline. Bigamy was permitted subject to a precondition that the man must be capable of treating his co-wives absolutely equally in every aspect of conjugal rights.
Clearly, throwing out the first wife without divorce and bringing in a new wife in her place was not what the Quran had envisaged. Also, noting that treating co-wives with complete equality would be no easy job, the Holy Book had added an advisory: "Monogamy would keep you away from doing injustice." The Prophet had added to it a deterrent warning: "A bigamist failing to treat his wives equally will be torn apart on the Day of Judgement." This 7th century attempt to gradually eradicate the social vice of unlimited polygamy was admirable.
The Quranic precepts, and the Prophet's warning on bigamy, apply to all Muslims born or converted. But the idea that Islam must welcome to its fold a convert whose conversion is not for the love of Islam but an obvious camouflage to play fraud on the law that otherwise governs him is indeed preposterous.
Whatever one may erroneously presume the Islamic law on the subject to be, the two Supreme Court rulings had laid down a binding law on the issue of bigamy by non-Muslims under the cover of embracing Islam. This law, however, has not percolated down to society and married non-Muslims keep on violating it on a whim. Taking cognisance of this state of affairs, the Law Commission of India thought it fit to recommend to the government that the judicially settled law of 1995-2000 be incorporated into the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and other statutory marriage laws of India.
The 227th report of the commission containing this recommendation did not go beyond this. Conscious of the religious sensitivities of Muslim society in respect of personal law, the commission did not touch upon misuse of the Islamic law on bigamy by born Muslims themselves, which is not unknown. Ignorant of the limited scope of its report, the Law Commission is being uncharitably criticised in Muslim religious circles. Members of these circles naively believe that their personal law, despite being distorted and misused in practice, is outside the powers and functions of all constitutional organs and advisory bodies of the state.
Seeing it as an inseparable part of Islam, they want all such organs and bodies to perpetually keep away from it. They are yet to appreciate the true position of Muslim personal law under the Constitution of India and its real place in the legal and judicial systems of the country. It will be in their own interest to acquaint themselves with the proper legal position in this regard. Till this day all constitutional and statutory bodies in India have spoken of Islamic law with respect and done their best to accommodate the religious sensitivities of the community. Persistently alienating these bodies through irresponsible criticism is an act of short-sightedness.
The writer is member, Law Commission of India.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'I WROTE MY SCREENPLAY FROM KABULIWALA'S POINT OF VIEW'
Ever since he won the 2008 Prix Goncourt, the most sought-after literary prize in France, for his novel Syngue Sabour la pierre de patience (the stone of patience), Atiq Rahimi , the 47-year-old writer and film director, has not had a moment's respite to savour his new celebrity status. Another novel is in the works; another film is on the anvil; another trip to Kabul which he visits often to conduct screenplay writing workshops and to serve as an adviser to a private television channel is round the corner. Rahimi took time off from this hectic pace of activity to converse with Dileep Padgaonkar in a chic cafe on the Boulevard Montparnasse over a glass of a vintage Burgundy:
What is the genesis of this novel, which has turned you overnight into one of the brightest stars in the French cultural firmament?
In 2005, i was invited to a literary festival in Herat. A week before my departure, i learnt that a young poet, Nadia Anjuman, had been beaten to death by her husband. I went to meet her family and later the husband. In a suicide attempt after the murder he had injected petrol in his veins. I found him lying in coma. That is when i told myself: if i were his wife, i would have spat out everything at him, everything that i have kept to myself my anguish, my hopes, my deceptions, my yearning to break loose from the shackles of religion and tradition.
And how do you account for the reference to the 'stone of patience'?
It is taken from a Persian myth. The myth has it that you can pour out your grief to a particular stone which absorbs it. When the grief becomes unbearable even for the stone it splits wide open. In the process you are relieved of your suffering.
One of the strengths of the novel is clearly its sparse style. How did you acquire it?
My favourite authors are Marguerite Duras listen to her dialogue in Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour and Samuel Beckett. Both abhorred adjectives and adverbs. Both placed words where they did not exist before. They made words say what they had not said earlier.
What happened to your project to film Tagore's Kabuliwala?
It had to be given up for a number of reasons that i would rather not discuss. But I'll definitely make that film one day.
I wrote my screenplay from the Kabuliwala's point of view. Why was he so fond of the little girl? Tagore said it was because she reminded him of his own daughter he had left behind in Afghanistan. In my scenario, it is because he has lost his daughter in a bombing raid. And he believes that he will find her again in India the land of reincarnation.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
H1N1? JUST FAKE IT
Should you hit the panic button about swine flu? Possibly (even though sceptics might tell you that statistically speaking your chances of succumbing to the disease are significantly lower than meeting with a fatal accident on urban thoroughfares, such as Delhi's notorious Ma Anandmayee Marg, which in 2008 alone saw 34 road deaths on its 5.6 km stretch).
One of the reasons for the H1N1 alarm might be that after a private clinic in Pune tragically misdiagnosed a 14-year-old patient's infection, resulting in her death, the government has taken over all testing and treatment for suspected swine flu cases.
Despite the lamentable Pune case, this could be a cause for worry. For India's sarkari health care by and large or should that be by and small? is arguably one of the worst in the world. Horror stories abound of infant patients being savaged by rats and other vermin that have free run in most government hospitals. Even showcase institutions, such as the nationally acclaimed AIIMS in New Delhi, have a deplorable reputation for hospital-borne diseases and other health hazards.
Then there is the question of medication. How effective is the medicine, monitored and stocked by government-run establishments, likely to be? The track record of sarkari supervision of the drugs and pharmaceutical industry is far from reassuring. Periodic surveys have discovered that in some urban and semi-urban areas in the country, more than 30 per cent of the drugs randomly subjected to analysis were found to be spurious. When in the normal course of things there is such a high incidence of fake drugs on sale, what is likely to happen at a time of imminent pandemic, when panic demand outstrips chronic short supply, providing the makers of spurious drugs an irresistible money-making opportunity by flooding the grey market? According to official figures, the spurious drug trade which reportedly accounts for some 25 per cent of the Rs 85,000-crore Indian pharma industry is extremely lucrative, yielding profit margins as high as 90 per cent. Returns on fake drugs would, inevitably, spike sharply upwards the moment scare-buying and hoarding begins.
The endemic culture of fakery which the government machinery seems unable or unwilling, or both, to eradicate is not restricted to drugs and pharmaceuticals. Almost everything that we consume in India is adulterated, or in some way tampered with, from milk to diesel, from foodgrains to cooking oil and baby food.
The latest fake product to thumb its nose at an ineffective sarkar is the Indian currency. According to a TOI guesstimate there is some Rs 1,69,000 crore of bogus bank notes circulating in the country. The officially nominated villain of the piece is Pakistan's ISI which industriously prints out counterfeit Indian rupees to jeopardise our economy, funnelling the funny money into India mainly through Nepal. While this charge may be partly true, it shortchanges the role of our indigenous entrepreneurs, who are also busily operating their own do-it-yourself mints.
Is there a silver lining to be found in this dark cloud of all things counterfeit that hangs over India? Perhaps not. But if not a genuine silver lining, possibly there is a lining of bogus silver. And it is this: if all the things that we consume or interact with in our day-to-day lives have an element of fakery, is it not possible that our climate of the counterfeit has produced not an asli but an adulterated, or nakli, H1N1, unlikely to do us much harm? That's our only hope. Bogus as it also undoubtedly is.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
PANIC DEMIC: FELLED BY THE FLU
Two hundred surgical masks have been bought from a single neighbourhood shop within two hours of the disclosure that someone a kilometre away has been rushed to the hospital for suspected swine flu. A girl suffering from normal cough and cold has managed to scare everyone at a party... by sneezing once. As the number of swine flu cases continues to rise in Pune, every fourth person is carrying a baggage of discomfort. 'What if i'm next?' A question mark appears on the face the moment a person wearing a mask - for safety, of course - walks past. At some bus stops, it is not surprising to come across individuals whose faces are concealed behind handkerchiefs. Unusual occurrences evoke bizarre reactions; hence, when a perfectly healthy young lad opts for a mask - on the dad's instructions, may be - two ladies look at him and scamper ahead with their noses covered. Guess someone must have told the ladies that not inhaling polluted air while running away from masked people is the thing to do.
I pick up the receiver when the phone rings to hear the voice of an anxious lady: "Does your newspaper have any knowledge about more swine flu cases? I tell her what i know and hang up. Exceptionally worried about her school-going children, a friend asks if one knows by when swine flu is going to be eradicated from school campuses. I naturally don't have an answer, being a journalist, not a doctor. I am sure that doctors don't either, come to think of it. Not a single coughing sound is being overlooked. 'If you are sniffling, what are you doing in office? Go out, meet your doctor, and let us know all is well through e-mail before we see you again.' Nobody may be saying it. But you can hear it all same. Fear. That thing called fear grips the city. Call it a 'panicdemic' if you will. Living in a city under siege, it is easy to understand why people are so panic-stricken. After all, who wants to invite a disease, land up in a hospital and get quarantined? That seasonal flu is on the rampage is not helping matters. A sad situation, this. We are being reminded of the truth that the expectation of a tragedy is what hurts a lot. The real thing, on the other hand, leads to reconciliation.
DON’T PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON
Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s assurance that we are better placed than developed countries in combating the swine flu pandemic must be cold comfort to panic-stricken citizens. This, after he first said a third of India would be infected following which he claimed there should be no panic. Such histrionics apart, the pertinent question is how his ministry and state health departments are dealing with the flu outbreak. If the Maharashtra example is anything to go by, official response is adding to the fear and confusion. Pune, where four deaths have taken place so far, has shut down schools and colleges for a week. But will this prevent the spread of the virus? It will not.
There is no doubt that a medical crisis is on our hands with the flu outbreak, coming as it does in the monsoon months when communicable diseases are prevalent. If officialdom is over-reacting, then the media too seem to have gone into overdrive and are reporting on the issue as though it were the Black Death itself. Ill-informed interviews and the all-pervasive ‘breaking news’ logo have created a frightening scenario that has obscured the real facts about the virus and how to combat it. While Mr Azad is finalising guidelines — a bit late in the day — on involving the private sector in testing and treatment, could the ministry not have issued a sober awareness campaign telling people that the flu is curable and preventive measures include good sanitation and a vitamin-rich diet? It should also be made transparent that Tamiflu, the preferred drug for treatment today, has its limitations and could have side-effects, especially for children. Singapore has installed heat sensors in airports that automatically detect any rise in body temperature of passengers while here we have a bored official asking passengers whether they have fever. If the answer is no, they are waved through.
The states should be asked to follow the World Health Organisation’s eminently sensible guidelines that do not prescribe shutting down schools or any other establishment but give step-by-step directions on how to prevent the flu and how to treat it. The developed countries which we have allegedly bested, according to Mr Azad, have not shut shop as the pandemic steps up. Delhi, which has the second highest rate of infection after Pune, has for once reacted maturely, asking only schools that felt a threat to shut down. As a result, there has been considerably less hysteria here. We definitely need more testing centres and screening facilities. But it would help if people alarmed by exaggerated media reports did not swamp an inadequate medical system.
IN AUGUST COMPANY
Fifteenth August is approaching. We are getting ready to celebrate that great document that forms the foundation of our modern existence: the Constitution of India. As Independence Day rolls around again, let’s discuss the most fundamental principle of our Constitution, the principle of equality. Do we practise it in our daily lives?
The ludicrous fracas by politicians over the ‘frisking’ of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was an example of how we continue to overthrow the principle of equality. Pray, how is a routine security check a violation of anyone’s self-respect? We live in a democracy yet strangely we continue to regard democratic norms as insulting. Not only do we refuse to stand in queue and patiently wait our turn, but when a wonderfully idealistic citizen and archetypal aam admi like Kalam happily stands in queue and submits to a check by Continental Airlines, we are on our feet screaming about national honour and protocol.
Our netas and top babus all send their children to the US for higher studies. Surely, when taking the SAT and GRE exams, these students submit to American rules. In applying for visas they also submit to US legal requirements. But when Kalam submits to US laws when travelling on an American airline, we are suddenly shaken to our foundations.
The VIP culture of India is truly a slur on our Constitution. The ‘don’t-you-know-who-I-am’ syndrome violates every principle for which our freedom fathers toiled. As the Delhi High Court held in 2008: VIP security is an obnoxious status symbol. When common men are killed on the street, why should the tax payer pay for so much security for politicians? This Independence Day, let’s all take a solemn pledge. We will never again utter the phrase: ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ Instead we will all emulate the dignified Kalam who, quietly and unobtrusively, took his place in a queue.
What’s the other pledge we can take this Independence Day? Let’s bring equality to our cities. New Delhi alone has 5 lakh cycle rickshaws. The total number dependent on hawking, vending and cycle rickshaws in Delhi is 8 million. That’s two- thirds of the city’s population. As another columnist wrote, Delhi is not a city of netas and babus, actually it’s a city of vendors, hawkers and cycle-rickshaws. Yet what kind of cities are we creating for the future?
Our cities are becoming moonscapes of eerily gigantic flyovers and gargantuan roads that are created only for huge cars to scream up and down. We have few pavements, no walk-only plazas, no pedestrian tracks, hardly any socially inclusive zones. Crores have been spent on the Bandra-Worli sea link in Mumbai so that the Lexus and Mercedes can swoosh past. But similar fanfare doesn’t surround the unveiling of new drains, low-cost housing or a pretty park. Here’s another pledge for August 15: let’s create cities where equality is visible, cities that showcase the full variety of our lives from rich to poor. Let’s create cycle tracks for cycles, walking spaces for senior citizens, market corners for vendors, low-cost aesthetic housing for those who can’t afford massive rents. Let the Constitution of India live and breathe in every footpath.
There is yet another pledge we can take this Independence Day. India is in the midst of massive land acquisition for industry and infrastructure and much of land acquisition so far has violated the principle of equality. We have proceeded on the assumption that the private rights of a farmer are null and void compared to the private rights of an industrialist. The new Land Acquisition Amendment Act is a huge improvement on the earlier law and the Infrastructure Development Finance Company report on land rights has suggested even further improvements. Yet so far, the huge amount of land acquired for such projects as the Hyderabad airport has given rise to the feeling that the government is creating a new class of zamindars under the guise of public-private partnerships. Land acquisition for Special Economic Zones (SEZs) has become a land scam. Sadly, even after the amended Land Acquisition Act was sent to a standing committee of the previous Lok Sabha, MPs continued to insist on unbridled State power for the acquisition of land, revealing the sad truth that politicians tend to be on the side of the corporate houses rather than of the farmers.
To understand the principle of equality in land acquisition we must ask ourselves a simple question. How would we like it if the government came to us and said, ‘Right, here’s some money, take it, go live somewhere else, because I’m going to take your house and garden and give it to a business house’? So here’s another pledge for this Independence Day. When we build projects for ‘our’ profit on ‘their’ land, alongside the big project, let’s also erect the metaphorical tricolour that flutters for every destitute woman and smart executive and says: under my shadow, all are equal.
What causes democracies to fail? Pakistan provides an answer. Democracies fail when 200 powerful families manipulate the country for their own ends and communication between classes break down. A gleaming Pajero with beggar children scratching at the black tinted windows is a stark symbol of failing democracy in South Asia. The dreamers of 1947 had no Pajeros. Instead they wrote an idealistic Constitution. Justices S. Murlidhar and A.P. Shah recently delivered a terrific judgement decriminalising Section 377. They didn’t endorse homosexuality, but asserted constitutionality. Similarly, this August 15, let’s pledge to assert constitutionality in our daily lives.
Sagarika Ghose is Senior Editor, CNN-IBN.
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM...
In April, the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development (CISED) announced that it was going to merge itself with another environmental research organisation in Bangalore, the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (Atree) from June.
What made this announcement newsworthy was that while mergers are not new in the business world, mergers between two non-profit organisations (NPOs) are rare in India. So is this something to be welcomed? The answer is yes. Mergers can be a very effective way of dealing with chronic funding problems as well as being a proactive strategy to meet social goals in a better way.
India has around 1.5 million NPOs. But most of them are one-man shows with small budgets that find it difficult to survive after the initial spurt. Even well-established players find it difficult to survive because of the intense competition for funds. The sector is fragmented by geography and types of services offered and many of the existing groups espouse overlapping causes. There is, thus, a high degree of competitive pressure and a tussle for funding, staff and media coverage.
It is mostly financial constraints that have led to NPO mergers even in America. One example is the merger of the 92-year-old Irvington Institute for Immunological Research with the Cancer Research Institute, another fellowship-granting group based in New York. With donations down and overheads too high, the Irvington Institute had been worried for some time about staying afloat. In 2006, after considering several alternatives, it decided to merge with another NPO. After several meetings with potential partners, it decided to merge with the Cancer Research Institute that had better funding. The latter took ownership of Irvington’s assets as well as its liabilities and agreed to continue with the fellowship programme of the Irvington Institute. The CISED merger with Atree is due to similar reasons.
Mergers are also helpful when there is a succession vacuum. Rather than let the organisation go into a tailspin with second-grade leadership, it is sometimes best to look for a merger with a peer organisation that will continue the organisation’s work without facing the problems in managing encountered by the first organisation.
Mergers help in generating new funding as the newly-formed group or the organisation that has absorbed the old organisation is often judged to be more stable and better-managed, and therefore more attractive to funders.
Though many Indian NPOs face difficult situations on both the funding and the human resource front, few take the bold step that CISED did. Many organisations that had once been prominent are today languishing, both because of tired old leadership and a lack of revenue even though they frequently have huge assets in land and buildings. But their trustees and members are unwilling to let go of the control over the assets.
Had the sector been subject to market forces, unviable organisations would have been wiped out or been forced to merge with bigger entities. But NPOs, however ineffective they may be, keep going at very low levels of productivity and efficiency while waiting for the next fix of funds or a more dynamic leadership to take over. There is, thus, no weeding out of inefficient or unproductive organisations to make room for more dynamic ones. This entails a cost to society.
The Indian non-profit law allows for mergers if organisations become unviable or moribund by allowing them to transfer their assets to an organisation of their choice and closest in objectives to them. But few have availed of such an option with many become non-performing liabilities.
Mergers are not a panacea for all difficult situations. If mergers are to become more widely and effectively utilised by NPOs, the strongest, highest-impact organisations must start looking at mergers as a possible way to fulfil their strategies. Small may still be beautiful, but not in all cases. Sometimes it is necessary to think efficient and, therefore, think big.
Pushpa Sundar is an expert on the voluntary sector. The views expressed by the author are personal.
The Shopian investigation into the deaths of two defenceless women as they walked back home from a nearby orchard continues to shock. The bodies of Neelofar and her sister-in-law Asiya were discovered on May 29. Trouble began with the initial cover-up/ incompetence: the refusal to register an FIR, a botched post-mortem report, and forensic results that took for ever to be publicised. The case was made to proceed only on the momentum acquired by protests and public outcry throughout the Kashmir valley. Faced with a bellicose judiciary, a chastened administration brought its own act together. It was announced that rape and murder of the two dead women had been confirmed, officials were suspended and then arrested, and a special investigation team was placed on the job, their every move monitored by the Jammu and Kashmir high court.
If all this meant that the investigations would now be clean, then that meaning has been lost on the investigators. The high court had ordered the SIT to submit forensic results of the vaginal swabs of the two victims, and compare sperm traces on them with the DNA of the four arrested officers. But this is the suspicion that has now come to light: the swabs that the SIT team sent to the CBI’s central forensic laboratory are not of the victims, according to the laboratory. If this finding is proven to be accurate, it means that the SIT team has sent the wrong sample for testing. How big is the cover up? How far is the reach of the wrong-doers? These are serious questions, questions that the latest botch-up has only highlighted. Even if this mix-up is not deliberate, it would still indicate incompetence of the most damaging order. If a court-monitored special team, appointed after the outcry over the initial cover-up, cannot even be trusted to deliver evidence for analysis, then who can?
The Jammu and Kashmir government has now decided to hand over the case to the CBI. India’s premier investigative agency might be above the compulsions of local politics, but as this newspaper has repeatedly pointed out, the CBI’s recent track record does not exactly inspire much confidence. The
CBI must know that this investigation will be conducted under an unwavering public gaze.
The boundaries between activism, commercial interests and high-minded multilateralism have grown increasingly blurry. An example of this complexity is the commerce ministry’s current problem: what to do about the tendency in Europe, noticeable particularly in Amsterdam, to impound shipments of Indian generic drugs? Many interests mingle in this problem, and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma would be well-advised to ensure that India’s final position is capable of taking all of them on.
The situation is this: over the past 16 months, as many as 20 Indian generic drug shipments have been confiscated by EU customs while they were transiting various European countries, particularly the Netherlands and Germany, while going to Africa and Latin America. The shipments have been impounded under the EU’s Regulation 1383/2003 “concerning customs action against goods suspected of infringing certain intellectual property rights”. In short, the EU authorities were informed (usually by a rival drug company) that a container, one not to be opened in Amsterdam, was nevertheless passing through that port from India to, say, Latin America; and that that container contained generic drugs, legal in India and in the destination country, but which local authorities thought might violate the much stricter local patent regime. India correctly sees this as a restriction on trade, one probably violating the EU’s WTO responsibilities.
The commerce ministry must make this case strongly and persuasively. But it should be careful about the methods it employs. For example, it has been remarkably unconstructive hitherto about multilateral methods to control counterfeiting — concerned that they might be misused to buttress the Dutch/ German case for confiscation of non-counterfeit but generic medication. This is silly. It makes enemies of those public health entities, developing-world countries, and transnational NGOs which are its natural allies in the generic-drugs battle. India must be seen to take the lead against counterfeiting — only that can effectively destroy the EU’s attempt to paint generic drugs as counterfeit by definition. (An underhanded tactic pioneered by drug companies and taken up by the EU bureaucracy.) Sharma must look to Health Minister Azad: he has recently introduced tough new legislation taking the penalty for counterfeiting up to possible life imprisonment — as well as hefty fines, payable to those injured by the counterfeiting. India already has a good case against the EU; but to take on that entrenched bureaucracy and its enablers and clients in the pharmaceutical industry, India’s businessmen and negotiators will have to win friends and influence people — and they need to use multilateral systems, not fear them.
CJI, PLEASE DECLARE MY ASSETS
J. S. VERMA
A leader of the Bar, Fali S. Nariman, commenting on the Rajya Sabha’s refusal to grant leave to introduce the Judge’s (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill 2009, recently wrote in these columns: “It was a rebuke also to the judges of the higher judiciary; they were pulled down a peg or two... The prestige of our higher judiciary has been adversely affected.” He has voiced the feelings of many of us — retired and sitting judges of the higher judiciary. My anguish is deeper because my long apprehended fear in this behalf has come true. Our attempt at self-regulation of judicial accountability, a facet of the independence of the judiciary, from within having failed, it is now to be done from outside, and that too at our behest. It has now been said that we judges will declare our assets only if required to do so by a law. I believe most of us prefer voluntary correct behaviour instead of outside imposition. That, in my humble view, is the dignified course for judges of the higher judiciary, which appears to have been the view also of the framers of the Constitution.
It was in this spirit the earlier Chief Justice’s Conferences resolved to evolve a framework for self-regulation of the Supreme Court and high court judges, which culminated in the three resolutions adopted unanimously by the Supreme Court on May 7, 1997 when I was the Chief Justice of India. One of these required compulsory “declaration of assets” by every judge (including the Chief Justice) of the Supreme Court and the high courts. This was the commitment of all 22 judges of the Supreme Court (including me, as the CJI), of whom six later became CJI. The remaining CJIs including the present incumbent were then puisne judges in the high courts bound by those resolutions. Acceptance of these resolutions by every new appointee was ensured during my tenure.
Conscious of the strength only of social sanction instead of legal sanction to make it enforceable in case of need, I wrote to the then prime minister on December 1, 1997 of the need of parliamentary legislation based on the framework provided by the Supreme Court with its unanimous consent. Nothing more was required to be done by the political executive except to endorse the Supreme Court’s suggestion in the form of legislation, which preserved the independence of the judiciary with judicial accountability as a necessary concomitant. I believe the later Chief Justice’s Conference of 1999 endorsed the same, followed by the Bangalore Principles of 2002.
What more consensus or approval of the proposed legislation is needed? If at all, there may be some room for marginal improvement in the content of those resolutions covering the field of judicial accountability in the light of experience gained during the intervening last 12 years. That does not require much imagination, time or effort. I may here mention that even after my retirement I had reminded the prime minister of this urgently felt need in a letter of April 7, 2005, reiterating the material facts.
My dissent with the majority view in the Veeraswami case (1991) was based on the felt need for a legislation to cover the field of judicial accountability at the higher level preserving the independence of the judiciary, because the existing mechanism was found ineffective. The subsequent infructuous removal proceedings in Parliament against V. Ramaswami after the adverse finding of the judge’s committee proved the point. I had concluded my dissent by expressing the apprehension of the danger of erosion in the judiciary’s independence, if the remedy were to be devised from outside. That stage is now reached.
The framers of the Constitution enacted Article 235 to enforce accountability of the subordinate judiciary and vested the “control” over it to the high court to preserve the independence of the judiciary consistent with the directive principle of state policy in Article 51 of separation of the judiciary from the executive. No similar provision was made for the higher judiciary, and the high courts were not made subordinate to the Supreme Court, except in their judicial functions. Obviously, the higher judiciary was expected to self-regulate its behaviour without any outside intervention, except for removal by Parliament for proved misconduct or incapacity after an adverse finding by a committee of judges. I would like to believe that the framers of the Constitution were keen to preserve not only the independence of the judiciary, but also their self-respect by leaving that sphere of discipline to be governed by self-regulation according to the well-established traditions and norms of judicial behaviour.
The enactment of Article 235 is clear evidence of the recognition that judicial accountability is an essential facet of the independence of the judiciary. The only difference can be in the form of the mechanism to enforce accountability at the higher level, ensuring that it is effective and it does not erode the independence or conflict with the directive principle of separation of the judiciary from the executive. Undoubtedly, every holder of a public office in a republican democracy has to be accountable to the political sovereign — the People.
If a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court mandates every candidate at an election to Parliament or legislative assembly to publicly declare his/ her assets and liabilities, there is no reason why the higher judiciary should be exempt from that requirement. This is the demand of transparency for effective accountability of every holder of a public office.
The requirement of transparency automatically invokes the RTI Act. Judicial functions are in the open court and in public view. There is no reason why the administrative acts should not be equally transparent and subject to public scrutiny, as are the similar acts of other organs. In fact, judicial review of the administrative acts of the Chief Justice and of the Court is well established.
Judicial accountability requires transparency. Public knowledge of the antecedents, assets and liabilities of the judge, spouse and dependents is necessary for adjudging the judge’s conduct and suitability for the performance of official duties.
Even though it is more than a decade since I demitted the office of Chief Justice of India, yet I would like to do the next best. I had made a disclosure of my assets soon after I assumed office of CJI in March 1997 and kept it with the Registrar General of the Supreme Court as a part of the official record. Similar declarations were then made by all the Supreme Court judges voluntarily pursuant to the unanimous resolution of May 7, 1997. I invite the Chief Justice of India to make a public disclosure on the Supreme Court’s website of the declaration of my assets which must be with the Registrar General in the official record. I do hope most of the judges in the high courts and the Supreme Court would act likewise and bring quietus to this unsavoury controversy. Judiciary’s real strength lies in public acclaim. I am sure this will raise us a “peg or two” in public estimation.
The writer is a former Chief Justice of India firstname.lastname@example.org
VIEW FROM THE LEFT
AMERICA’S LITTLE HELPER
MANOJ C G
The lead editorial in the latest issue of CPM mouthpiece People’s Democracy claims that the strategic relationship with the US is reducing India into a subordinate ally of US imperialism and it is becoming evident in many spheres. “There are two areas however where such succumbing to US pressures will mean greater disaster for the overwhelming majority of the Indian people who are already groaning under the burdens of the neo-liberal economic policies. These are related to India’s positions and resistance to the demands of the industrialised world in the ongoing Doha negotiations in the WTO and on the issue of combating climate change,” it says.
On WTO talks, it says India has for the first time accepted the time-table drawn up by industrialised nations to conclude the Doha round of negotiations by 2010 while disputes between developed and developing countries over special safeguards mechanism for agriculture and domestic support and export subsidies remain.
“This is a very serious issue as far as we, in India, are concerned. Unless these safeguards are firmly negotiated, we shall be exposing our farmers to ruination in the face of unbridled access given to the developed world to dump their highly subsidised agricultural products.
“Surely, the concerns for farmers’ distress suicides and the granting of loan waivers cannot be accompanied by succumbing to the pressures of the developed world by making our agricultural sector completely defenceless,” it says. On India accepting the target of reducing global temperatures by 2 degree celsius, it says the problem is not in accepting such a target but in the methods being thrust upon the developing world by the advanced countries to achieve this. Pointing out that the imperialist logic of ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ in cutting emissions cannot be accepted, it says India must insist, that the criteria of per capita emissions must be the basis for a solution.
A report from Rajasthan talks about corruption in state-sponsored welfare schemes in the tribal areas and alleges that leaders and workers of both the Congress and the BJP are engaged in an open, mutual competition of minting money. It says the panchayat-related schemes, self-help groups, the tribal rights legislation, the rural employment guarantee scheme, the loan waivers for the peasants, the bank loan schemes for the unemployed are all suffering the same fate. It also talks about the CPM’s plans to launch an agitation to protest ‘government inaction’ to check corruption.
Though a very local issue, the more-than half a page of space given to the report shows the importance the CPM is attaching to issues in Rajasthan where the party hopes that it can expand its base. This, especially, after the party increased its tally from one to three in the last assembly elections.
THE PEOPLE’S WORD
The buzzword in the CPM after the election rout has been that the party should revive its connect with the masses.
Recently in Kolkata to address a rally to mark the centenary of Communist stalwart E.M.S Namboodiripad, he said the CPM would go to the people as in the past, learn from them and battle ahead, defeating all adversities. The party would learn from the people the correct lesson to drive forward in the days to come, he said.
A report in the edition quotes Karat as saying that CPM was currently under assault from the forces of reaction, both indigenous and foreign. In West Bengal, he pointed out that the attack is covert and in the guise of Maoism.
C. RAJA MOHAN
As India and China continued their seemingly endless negotiations on the boundary dispute last week in Delhi, there was another event in faraway Cochin at the southern tip of the subcontinent.
The port call at Cochin this week by the Chinese warship ‘Shenzen’ is not the first interaction between the two navies; nor will it be the last. But the interaction is just not enough. If Beijing and Delhi don’t quickly embark on substantive maritime confidence-building, their future conflict in the Indian and Pacific Oceans is likely to overshadow their territorial tensions in inner Asia.
If their boundary dispute is a political legacy from the twentieth century, China and India are now staring at the prospect of a sustained maritime rivalry in the twenty first century. Beijing and Delhi are now strongly committed to a massive modernisation of their navies. Acquiring ‘blue water’ fleets is now integral to the story of their unfolding rise in the international system.
If the Indian Navy dispatched naval contingents to both the Northern Pacific in the East and the Baltic Sea in the West this summer, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has marked 2009 by mounting sustained operations in the Gulf of Aden. The ‘Shenzen’ is in fact returning home after participating in the Indian Ocean operations.
As both navies acquire the ability to operate at long distances and mount operations far from their home territory, their strategic footprints are bound to overlap and lead to mutual mistrust.
If Delhi and Beijing are wise enough to anticipate the potential maritime conflict coming at them with some force, they would encourage their navies to begin an honest dialogue on their mutual concerns and expand the scope of interaction.
Admiral Sureesh Mehta, the outgoing Chief of Naval Staff and Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee pointed on Monday to the expanding Chinese footprint in the Indian Ocean and challenge of coping with it. Admiral Mehta, however, was right in cautioning against an arms race with China and emphasising a cooperative engagement with Beijing.
By simply comparing the size of the two economies and resources available for defence spending, Adm Mehta was saying that India must play to its strengths rather than trying to match China weapon for weapon.
In the maritime domain, India for example has the advantage of access to open seas in three directions. The Chinese navy in contrast must find ways to overcome the series of island chains that severely constrain its freedom of manoeuvre.
India’s real advantage is its freedom to build partnerships with other major maritime powers in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. But the geopolitical interests of China on the one hand and the US and Japan on the other are unlikely to be harmonised in the near future.
India seems to be waking up slowly to the shifting balance of power in the South Pacific. Despite strong diasporic links and the strategic significance of the islands, it has not been easy to get Delhi to devote attention to the South Pacific.
In the last few years, China has overtaken United States, Japan, and Australia to become the leading benefactor of the South Pacific regimes. With an impressive aid programme, Beijing has emerged as a powerful player in the South Pacific.
Last week, foreign minister S.M. Krishna, who was visiting Australia, had a chance to engage the leaders of the island states. Addressing the Pacific Islands Forum, Krishna claimed that the South Pacific is very much part of India’s extended neighbourhood.
But the assistance that India offers to the South Pacific islands is pitiful compared to the scale and depth of Chinese economic penetration of the region. While Delhi has put a couple of million dollars on the table in the South Pacific, Beijing’s aid to the region is said to be a whopping US$ 206 million in 2008.
To be sure, the massive Chinese aid programme has been driven by the competition with Taiwan for diplomatic recognition from the Pacific Islands. All indications are that Chinese diplomacy in the South Pacific is now being driven by considerations of maritime strategy, naval access and forward presence.
The writer is a professor at the s. rajaratnam school of international studies, nanyang technological university, singapore.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
Much has been said about how severe this year’s rainfall deficiency could be and how it could impact overall agricultural growth, on which depends livelihood of almost 235 million Indian farmers. But not enough has been said about the India Meteorological Department. IMD's latest forecast is that June-September rains this year will be around 87% of the long period average (LPA), a big climbdown from its June forecast of 93% of LPA and almost 10% less than its April forecast of 96% of LPA. The August forecast, which is now the last straw of hope for all, has also been revised downwards to 90% of LPA. This is barely a month after rains were predicted to be around 101% of LPA. In short, as in the drought years of 2002 and 2004, IMD has again completely failed to predict a low rainfall year. Agreed, predicting weather pattern beyond three weeks is difficult, and even the best of methods and systems can deceive you. But it is IMD’s pattern of forecasting behaviour that is suspect.
Since July, IMD has been maintaining that monsoon showers will show signs of improvement though there were no perceptible signs of that on the ground. Now, almost three months into the 2009 monsoon season, it has had to concede that this could be one of the worst years in terms of rainfall in a decade. This is a sharp break from the IMD’s last forecast in which it exuded confidence that though monsoon progress had slowed after an initial burst over Kerala in late May, the deficit would be made up in July and August, the crucial time for kharif crop sowing in most of India. This goof-up and its fallout are there for all to see. Concerned experts have pointed to two main lacunae in the IMD methodology that must be fixed as soon as possible. First, its attachment to long-term forecasts is based on cause-and-effect relationships that do little to reflect Nature’s situation changing over weeks and months. Second, it is high time IMD switched to making broad weather predictions for smaller regions and shorter periods. Had it done so this time around, it wouldn’t have continued to claim that monsoon shortfall was shrinking on the basis of arguable averaging of rainfall across diverse regions. For July, it pronounced that the rain deficit has reduced mostly on the basis of central India receiving 80% excess rain in the week of July 15-22. That the government wilfully turned away from bad news for as long as it could did not help either.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
VERY SHORT, SORT OF DISTURBING
Government bonds with maturity of less than 91 days are unremarkable features in mature markets for public debt. The debt market in the US, where the government is a big debtor, is awash with these ultra short-term bonds. But the key word is mature, which doesn’t apply to the debt market in India. Now that RBI has issued special treasury bills—called Cash Management Bills (CMBs)—with maturities of less than 91 days, and since the government’s debt manager is also the short-term interest rate setter and also the bank regulator, we need to carefully look at the possible consequences of this approach to managing sarkari debt. Note that until last week, about 44% of the government’s huge borrowing target has been met. Debt raising by the government has been heavily front-loaded for the first half of the fiscal year; so this figure is not brilliant. Banks have sackfuls of cash because the credit offtake is low. They also have the stipulation that government papers bought under SLR requirements has to be above 91 days of maturity. So, CMBs offer a good, easy, lazy option for banks. Banks’ preference for short-term securities, including T-bills, has been evident for some time now. Their investment-deposit ratio is 30% on a nominal basis, and close to 90% annually. The spread between one-year paper and ten-year paper has jumped, demonstrating diminishing interest in long-term government securities. So, banks will look at CMBs happily and ask what will be the rate of return. The government offers RBI the repo rate, currently at 4.75%, for its ways and means advances that are used for short-term borrowing. CMBs are an alternative short-term borrowing option. And with heavy use, it will now have an impact on the short end of the yield curve. At this point, the familiar, but ever more important, question about how to spur lending to entrepreneurs comes up. If it looks like the government will have to bear higher costs on its incremental borrowings for the rest of this fiscal, the implications for credit in general should be clear.
On a broader scale, the difference between CMBs circulating in, say, the US and CMBs that will be sold here is that the debt market here is not liquid enough or sophisticated enough. The government debt market in India has seen no innovation because it’s determined by the easy route of placing government securities with captive banks and insurance companies. Outstanding stock of government securities as a percentage of GDP is large and there is no real accountability for the interest cost of the government. Interest cost is the single biggest item of government expenditure. Think this way: the headline inflation rate has fallen by more than 900 basis points from its peak, but borrowing costs have fallen around 100-150 basis points. The people who manage inflation also manage government debt. We need an independent debt management office.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
SOLUTION THAT WAS MISSED SIX YEARS BACK
There have been many articles and suggestions about Air India and what has gone wrong with it. It is true that the present crisis in Air India is the deepest crisis the airline has ever faced. It is also true that Air India and Indian Airlines have never received budgetary support, except for the initial support they received for paid-up capital at their formation about 60 years back. Air India was a highly regarded airline worldwide. The gradual fall of its reputation was based on many factors. It was a culmination of government rules and regulations, government interference in its running, including aircraft purchase, and also its web of union agreements. In 2000, a serious attempt was made to divest government equity to a strategic partner so that the airline could be run as a private airline with minority government holding and private management. The project was gone into with a proper advisor but the sale fell through because of unnecessary hype in the media and Parliament. Plus, the sales’ timing coincided with the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Consequently, the global aviation industry went into a tailspin and there were no buyers at that time.
The government then appointed a committee headed by Naresh Chandra, former cabinet secretary and India’s ambassador to the US, Deepak Parekh, chairman HDFC, and K Roy Paul, former secretary civil aviation, among others, on July 21, 2003 to prepare a road map for the aviation sector. The report of this committee, submitted on September 30, 2003, was accepted by the government. The report did go into the issues of the two public sector airlines. However, it is unfortunate that the government ignored the report’s recommendations in so far as Air India and Indian Airlines are concerned. The report did not suggest merger of the two airlines. It reviewed the norms of foreign equity in the public sector and had stated that, “at present in the domestic transport sector equity participation by foreign individual companies is capped by 40% and foreign airlines are not allowed to hold foreign equities either directly or indirectly”. The report stated that control on foreign participation and ownership in the airline sector has been widely prevalent in airline industry, based on Chicago Convention of 1944 which created a legal system in which citizenship of airlines was a critical component. The report accepts that even mature airline industry countries like the US continue to retain national ownership and control requirements for their airlines (even though they were always in the private sector). It has also suggested that foreign equity investment in India for the airline sector for both domestic and international scheduled air transport services should be liberalised and allowed up to 49% foreign investment but with the approval of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.
On the issue of the two public sector airlines, the committee has recommended that they should be freed from the ‘shackles that are associated with government ownership’ as they have the inherent strength to withstand competition. They had, therefore, suggested that both Air India and Indian Airlines be freed from government ownership and control as this would lead to efficiency gains. The report has further suggested that equity infusion could be obtained either through strategic investment ie., FDI or through foreign institutional investors, but has expressed preference for the FDI route. It has also taken into account issues of national security concerns, given the strategic nature of air services. Citing the example of FDI in telecom in India, it suggested that foreign equity investment norms pertaining to both domestic and international scheduled air transport services should be liberalised and allowed up to 49% FDI.
Coming to privatisation of Indian Airlines and Air India, it suggested that the government should reduce its share to 49% in Indian Airlines and 40% in Air India through sale of equity to a strategic partner at 26% in Indian Airlines, 40% in Air India, with rest to employees and other investors. The methodology recommended was to consider private placement of shares with domestic financial institutions (FIs) and banks. As FIs and banks have access to ample liquidity, the shares on these two airlines could be sold after independent valuation. Selected foreign institutional investors could also be invited to be a part of the consortium. The report has also stated that even if government is a minority shareholder in the above, management control may remain by default with the government. It suggested the way out of this predicament would be to allow the institutional investors freedom to have management teams of their choice.
It is unfortunate that the Naresh Chandra report’s recommendations on the two public sector airlines were ignored. Instead of being privatised, the two airlines were merged unsuccessfully. Hence, the present mess. Strategic divestment still remains an option.
The author is chairman, International Foundation for Aviation & Development (India Chapter) and India’s former representative to ICAO
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
TIME TO PLAY THE 700 MHZ BAND
ANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA
How much spectrum is enough? In telecom, the right answer is always be prepared for more because the next spectrum-eating technology is just round the corner. In the government policy, the answer seems to be: let’s wait to get caught by high demand and then we will think about it. This must change and, therefore, even as the government is getting ready to allocate spectrum for 3G/WiMAX, it should think about demand for more spectrum. Global experience tells us that after 3G spectrum auctions, it is only a matter of time before operators line up for more. And remember, India’s monthly subscriber additions are almost double the total population of Norway.
The biannual World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in its last meeting in Geneva made some interesting suggestions on this front. The WRC meets to review the radio regulations, the international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and geostationary-satellite and non-geostationary-satellite orbits.
In the Geneva meeting held in 2007, the WRC published the harmonisation of spectrum band over the world. More important, it identified that there is as much as 100 MHz of spectrum available in the 2.6 MHz band, which the spectrum management institutions in various countries could use for further allotment in the 3G spectrum space. It also identified the 700 MHz digital dividend band. Telecom engineers claim that this is a highly spectrum efficient band. It allows a much larger coverage per base station than other GSM spectrum bands.
The Indian government should take cues from this and start the process of getting the requisite spectrum vacated and putting it in place for future usage. This is important since two potential problems are sure to arise in the Indian scenario. First, getting the frequency vacated by the current user. Past experience shows that this is by no means an easy task. Second, the auction itself could once again take a long time.
Thinking and acting now will stop a mad scramble later.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
THE TIME TO BUILD A DMO IS RIGHT NOW
When a problem is easy, it is okay to get by with a hastily patched-up solution. But when a problem is really daunting, a top quality solution is called for. India's fiscal problem is really daunting. Hence, a top quality solution is required for government’s problem of investment banking. This requires setting up a new independent Debt Management Office (DMO), which has been termed ‘National Treasury Management Agency’ (NTMA) in the Indian discourse.
First consider a company like Infosys, which has practically no debt. Suppose Infosys sets out to issue Rs 1,000 crore of bonds. This is fairly easy. The CFO of Infosys can speak with a few of his personal friends, and the job will get done easily.
Instead of Infosys, suppose there is a highly indebted company. The market is worried about the soundness of this company. Credit rating agencies are putting out warning sounds. For this company, bond issuance is not easy. If the CFO of the company is relaxed about it, bond issuance could easily become a mess. The interest rates paid could go up dramatically. A highly indebted company cannot get by with a poor investment banking solution. It needs to think hard about how it will get this done. It needs to contract with the best investment banker available. It has to worry about the capabilities and professionalism of the investment banker. It has to worry about any potential conflicts of interest of the investment banker, and choose an agent who has a loyalty to only one task: that of getting the investment banking job done at the lowest possible cost of capital.
This example gives us useful insights when thinking about putting debt management for the government on a sound footing. In the decades leading up to the RBI Act of 1934, when this Act was conceptualised, little was known about economics and finance. The Indian government had little debt. A certain clumsy arrangement was setup, where RBI was the debt manager of the government. Nobody can argue that this was a particularly well thought-out structure, or one that is in line with our present understanding of economics.
In following decades, all good countries have understood that a central bank must not be burdened with the job of investment banking. It is a basic conflict of interest: on one hand, a central bank sets the short-term interest rate; on the other hand, the investment banker tries to sell bonds at low interest rates. All good countries have taken the investment banking function out of the central bank. In the UK—which saddled us with this RBI Act—the investment banking function is placed in a separate Debt Management Office, which works as an agent of their ministry of finance.
RBI annual reports have argued that doing a good job of being a central bank requires shedding the investment banking function. Every RBI governor has complained about how hard it is to do monetary policy while being asked to sell bonds for the government. A series of expert committees have recommended the establishment of the National Treasury Management Agency. These include groups headed by Kelkar, Mistry and Rajan. Draft legislation has been created, by the Jahangir Aziz Working Group.
Anyone who aspires for a strong and capable central bank, one that raises interest rates in good times and cuts them in bad times, knows that such a central bank should not be burdened with extraneous functions. The people who insist on placing multiple conflicting functions at RBI are keen on undermining the power of monetary policy.
In recent weeks, a conservative rearguard action has come back to life, where the argument is made that because there is a large fiscal problem today, the establishment of the NTMA should not be done now. The basic logic of NTMA is conceded, but a delaying tactic is proposed.
This needs to be rejected for two reasons. First, it is precisely when there is a fiscal mess that a professional and focused NTMA adds the most value. WPI inflation has crashed from a period with annualised inflation of 15% to current values of 4%. There has been a 1,100 basis points drop in inflation. This should yield a sharp drop in the cost of financing of the government. MoF should be asking difficult questions of their agent about why the cost of borrowing has not improved significantly.
The second reason lies in the life cycle of UPA-II. If UPA-II builds NTMA today, it will reap the fruits within two years. If an unreconstructed RBI persists, then the benefits to this UPA administration from setting up the NTMA would be reduced. Major economic reform announcementsdo good for the economy by boosting confidence in India’s future, and spurring private corporate investment.
The tangible benefit of a reduced cost of funds would not accrue to the UPA within the 2009-2014 period if the delaying tactics succeed.
The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics
MEETING A PANDEMIC CHALLENGE
It is four months since the gravity of the swine flu outbreak that started in Mexico became evident to the international community. India was not spared from the three flu pandemics of the last century. It ought to have been clear from the start of this one that the country must be prepared to face a new contingency. Yet for all the pandemic preparation that is supposed to have been completed, it is the Union Health Ministry’s lack of planning that has been on displa y in recent days. Even before the first swine death occurred in India recently, a large number of countries across the world were coping with massive outbreaks of pandemic flu. But the central government, which must provide leadership for the nation, appears to have drawn few lessons from the experience of those countries.
It has utterly failed to prepare the public for a rapid spread of the flu virus within the country. In stark contrast, the scientists of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who led efforts to keep the American media and the public informed, have been at pains to emphasise both what was known and unknown about the virus and its behaviour. Thus from the very beginning, when the U.S. had only a handful of confirmed cases, the CDC has been driving home the point that the confirmed cases were only the “tip of the iceberg.” Far more transmission of the virus could actually be occurring among humans that was not being picked up. Thus towards the end of June, when the U.S. had over 27,000 confirmed cases, including 3,000 hospitalisations and more than 130 fatalities, a leading CDC scientist declared that there could have been “at least a million cases” in the country up to that time. Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, on the other hand, insisted that swine flu in the country was under control. He spoke about how the government had managed to “limit the cases of swine flu to a few individuals, considering the size of our population and country.” The result is that as swine flu cases and resultant deaths begin to mount, the government looks ineffective. The public gets the impression that the situation is out of control and starts to panic.
A flu pandemic occurs when a virus arises to which the vast majority of people in the world have no natural immunity. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about two billion people worldwide — about 30 per cent of the global population — could be infected by the time this pandemic ends. But catching the swine flu is very far from being a grave illness, let alone a death sentence. In fact, data gathered by the WHO from various countries suggest that only up to 10 per cent of confirmed cases need to be hospitalised and fatalities occur in less than one per cent of confirmed cases. But such confirmed cases, it bears reiteration, are only the tip of the iceberg. A great many people who become infected could either be asymptomatic or suffer only mild symptoms. A U.S. document on pandemic planning indicates that only half of those who pick up the virus might even seek medical help. A recent WHO briefing note points out that the majority of patients infected with the pandemic virus worldwide continue to experience only mild symptoms and recover fully within a week, even in the absence of any medical treatment.
But the sad fact remains that when so many people catch swine flu, some of them will develop severe disease and die. The vast majority of severe cases have occurred in high-risk groups, such as pregnant women and those with asthma or other lung disorders, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, or neurological disorders. Obesity appears to be another risk factor. But while the media spotlight is on every person who dies of swine flu in the country, the toll taken by seasonal flu, which people encounter year after year with no more than a shrug, gets overlooked. A large part of the problem is, of course, that India lacks a proper surveillance system to track seasonal flu and many other infectious diseases. The U.S., a much wealthier nation with less than a third of India’s population, sees some 36,000 deaths from seasonal flu each year. Published estimates suggest that India accounts for 20 per cent of the 1.9 million children who die annually of acute respiratory infections in developing countries.
Given the number of people who might seek medical help and need hospitalisation as the pandemic takes hold in India, a few designated hospitals will not suffice. Yet, even in its revised guidelines issued after the Pune schoolgirl died on August 3, the Union Health Ministry asked any person with flu-like symptoms to go to a designated government facility to be checked and, if required, to give a sample for testing. The chaos that ensued in cities like Pune was predictable. In order to prevent health care institutions from being swamped, the U.S. CDC recommends that those who get sick with the virus stay home unless they have signs of severe illness or fall in a high-risk group. The WHO too makes a similar suggestion. Better sense seems, however, to have dawned, with the Union Health Ministry now announcing that it would issue guidelines for private hospitals and laboratories that had the necessary facilities to treat and test patients for swine flu. Measures to mobilise the country’s health care infrastructure, in the public as well as private sectors, ought to have been part of the pandemic plan that the central government is supposed to have worked out and put in place. In all this, rural India and the poor must be given special attention. The swine flu could be at its worst when it affects those who are malnourished, many of whom suffer from chronic diseases and often have little access to health care. At a vulnerable juncture when a drought threatens, this pandemic could test the country’s ability to care for its people. We cannot afford to fail.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
TO DIVIDE IS TO MULTIPLY IN NORTHEAST
THE CURIOUS THING ABOUT BANNING REBEL OUTFITS IS THAT THE ACTION HAS FOLLOWED OR HAS BEEN FOLLOWED BY THE EMERGENCE OF CLONES, OFTEN CARRYING THE SAME NAME, STYLING THEMSELVES DISSIDENT OR PRO-TALKS FACTIONS.
M. S. PRABHAKARA
The Centre’s decision to ban the Jewel Gorlosa faction of the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD-J), also known as Black Widow, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, is of a piece with its well-established response to problems whose essence is no great mystery and which neither side or, of late, sides to the dispute want to make an honest attempt to resolve. They are instead keen on making tactical gains.
The DHD-J, banned on July 2, following the arrest of its leader Jewel Gorlosa in Bangalore in June, joins the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which have also been proscribed under the same Act. The ULFA was banned on November 28, 1990 simultaneously with the launching of Operation Bajrang, the first military operation against it. The NDFB was outlawed on December 21, 2000.
The curious thing about banning rebel outfits is that the action has followed or has been followed by the emergence of clones, often carrying the same name, styling themselves dissident or pro-talks factions, or as structures even more genuinely representative than the original, of which they were till recently a part, and more committed to their stated objectives. Further, despite seemingly nuanced differences, as for instance an apparent shift from a commitment to secure ‘sovereignty and independence’ to a demand for greater ‘autonomy,’ the core objectives of these factions, pro- or anti-talks, remain the same. The rhetoric is self-determination; the reality is ethno-nationalism, a deadly cocktail in the context of the territorial and ethnic mix of the region’s land and people.
Both pro- and anti-talks factions continue to be in contact, directly or indirectly, with the government — at the Centre and in the States — they are supposed to be fighting against, suing for peace and seeking talks, on their own terms. What, then, should one make of such bans and the more or less simultaneous phenomenon of both the banned outfit and its ‘pro-talks’ factions apparently suing for peace and talks?
There is hardly an insurgent/terrorist organisation in Assam or the northeast that has not gone through such a process. The standard explanation of the rebel groups is that such splits are encouraged, indeed, engineered, by the “agencies of the Union and State government[s],” the standard code for intelligence agencies of the GOI with a view to weakening their “revolutionary resolve.” There might be some truth in such paranoia. However, such a reading is also a typical instance of scapegoating since it fails to address the weaknesses and contradictions of the ideology and practice of such groups, in particular the attainability of their stated objectives — sovereignty and independence. In reality, such perceived malevolent manoeuvres have not necessarily led to the “weakening” of these outfits.
Thus, Operation Bajrang and Operation Rhino (September 1991), the first two military operations against the ULFA, directly contributed to the phenomenon of the so-called SULFA (Surrendered ULFA), the first instance of a split in the outfit. Though an element of criminally tainted careerism characterised the activities of many SULFA cadres, not all of them abandoned the ‘politics’ that first led them to the organisation whose stated objective has remained the same: restoration (not attainment) of the lost sovereignty and independence of Asom. Since then, there have been other groups that, while still considering themselves organically linked to the ULFA, want to talk to the Centre about their objectives which in essence are no different from the stated objective of the ULFA, also on their own terms.
Similarly, with the ‘removal’ of Ranjan Daimari as NDFB founder-chairman in December last, the residual leadership of the outfit has come to be identified as the “pro-talks faction.” The description is not strictly accurate; nor was the development, like what happened with respect to the ULFA nearly two decades ago, sudden or unexpected. The outfit entered into a ceasefire agreement with the State and Union governments in May 2005. However, the NDFB leader who signed it was Dhiren Boro, who was to replace Daimari as chairman over three years later. Indeed, the decision to replace its founder-chairman was preceded by a decision in the outfit’s general assembly in September 2008 to take part, directly or indirectly, in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls, a decision denounced by the ousted chairman as “capitulation.” “I am still the president of the NDFB to carry out the principles and ideology that are enshrined in the constitution and manifesto of the NDFB.” (The Hindu, December 28, 2008).
The United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDA), a rebel outfit driven by Karbi nationalist aspirations, meaning very broadly greater autonomy for and integration of Karbi people, one of the hill Tribes, living in Karbi Anglong and Karbi inhabited areas outside and contiguous to that district, signed a ceasefire agreement with the Union and State governments in May 2002. As sure as night follows day, an anti-talks faction of the UPDS, styling itself the Karbi Anglong North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), came into being two years later, with the objective of attaining the rights of self-determination to the Karbi people.
The trajectory of the DHD and its clone too has followed similar lines. Its stated objective is the establishment of a ‘Dimaraji’, a political and territorial structure for the Dimasa, another hill tribe. The path chosen, as by similar structures, was armed struggle. However, again following the established pattern, the DHD decided to enter into negotiations with the State and Union governments that led to the emergence of the anti-talks faction led by Jewel Gorlosa, though one version of this trajectory has it that factionalism on the part of Gorlosa led to the DHD suing for talks and peace. Be that as it may, both ‘pro- and anti-talks’ factions have engaged in violence, declared ceasefire ‘voluntarily’, and expressed their desire to hold talks.
None of this has mitigated violence in Assam where these outfits are active. Though, barring the ULFA whose domain is the whole of the State, all outfits have a limited territorial spread defined by the dominant group (Boro, Karbi, Dimasa) identified with them. Thus, every such ethno-nationalistic mobilisation involves an element of territorial assertion, with even the smallest of groups claiming territories inhabited by the other. For instance, the Naga nationalistic assertion, the oldest of such struggles, claims for the putative Nagalim territories that are inhabited or claimed to be inhabited by the Naga people outside the State of Nagaland: in Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. The violence and killings in North Cachar Hills involving the majority Dimasa and the largest minority Zeme Nagas also have this dimension, the inescapable fallout of ethno-nationalistic assertions. For, integral to such assertions is the dehumanisation and demonisation of the other, which alone explains the periodic exercises of “ethnic cleansing,” integral to all such ethno-nationalistic assertions and their rationalisation by the ideologues of ethno-nationalism.
Self-determination, sovereignty and independence, autonomy, territoriality, language and culture: there is no end to the buzzwords that animate such struggles. Some of these, like land and language, are matters of life and death to the people. However, as noted at the beginning, almost every such struggle has led to the emergence of structures that replicate the slogans and tactics, often even the strategic objective of the original. During the years this writer was a working journalist in the region, security officials used to gloat over the splits, seeing in them the beginning of the disintegration of such outfits. Life and experience have taught that the splits, far from weakening, have made the problem more intractable. In the beginning was the Naga National Council. Out of the NNC, and against its dominant politics, emerged the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, later Nagalim. Now there is another NSCN. The story is the same everywhere: to divide is to multiply.
AN ‘OUTRAGEOUS’ VERDICT
THE BRITISH PRIME MINISTER’S APPEAL TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO REACT STRONGLY AGAINST WHAT IS HAPPENING IN BURMA.
The appalling but inevitable outcome of Aung San Suu Kyi’s sham trial is final proof that the military regime in Burma is determined to continue defying the world.
Depressing news that she has been sentenced to up to 1.5 years further house arrest is not only a tragedy for her and her family but also for the Burmese people who suffer daily at the hand of tyranny.
This was the moment for the Generals to embrace the growing clamour for change and choose the path of reform demanded by the region and the global community.
They comprehensively shunned it. The charges were baseless, the verdict outrageous.
So the international community must respond to this latest injustice with a clear message to the junta that its tyrannical actions will no longer be tolerated.
Further sanctions to target directly the regime’s economic interests have been agreed by the EU in response to the verdict and must be implemented as quickly as possible.
And determined action in the U.N. Security Council must follow. Nothing less than a world wide ban on the sale of arms to the regime will do as a first step.
I also believe that we should identify and target those judges complicit in these political show trials, which are an absurd mockery of justice.
The Generals should be in no doubt about the strength of international solidarity with the cause of freedom, democracy and development in Burma.
Political and humanitarian conditions in the country continue to deteriorate.
When over 140,000 were killed and millions made destitute by Cyclone Nargis last year the world’s efforts to help were resisted, a peaceful uprising by monks in 2007 was violently quashed, ethnic minorities are persecuted and under armed attack.
The media is muzzled, freedom of speech and assembly are non-existent and the number of political prisoners — jailed only for their unwavering commitment to peace and national reconciliation — has doubled to more than 2000.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the most high profile of them.
She has long been a symbol of hope and defiance during her 14 years as a prisoner of conscience.
She is a most courageous woman. In those long years of isolation, she has barely seen her two sons yet is resolute in her faith in democracy and the Burmese people.
Her refusal to buckle in the face of tyranny is an inspiration.
The façade of her prosecution is made more monstrous, therefore, because its real objective is to sever her bond with the people for whom she is a beacon of hope and resistance.
Her treatment can only be read as the junta’s reluctance to move towards freedom, democracy and rule of law with Aung San Suu Kyi a central figure in a new Burma.
So unless they immediately free her — and all political prisoners — and start genuine dialogue with opposition and ethnic groups elections next year will have no credibility.
In July, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon demanded such measures on a visit to Rangoon. With this verdict, the Generals have publicly snubbed him.
Now comes our greatest test.
In the face of this arrogance, we cannot stand by and effectively sanction the abhorrent actions of a violent and repressive junta — but show them that the international community is united and coordinated in its response.
We have seen an extraordinary consensus building around the world against the Burmese regime, encompassing the U.N., the EU, ASEAN and more than 45 heads of state.
All of us must continue to push for genuine political reconciliation and change, especially those countries in the region with the greatest influence.
Burma is rich in natural and human resources and sits at the heart of a dynamic continent. Democratic reform would unleash the country’s enormous potential.
And I have always made clear that the U.K. would respond positively to any signs of progress but attitudes must harden in the light of this verdict.
The Generals are condemning the country and its people to ever deeper isolation, poverty, conflict and despair.
Some may question why Burma warrants so much attention. There are other countries where human rights are ignored or people live in poverty.
But the Burmese regime stands virtually alone in the scale of its misrule and the sheer indifference to the daily suffering of its 50 million people.
Once again my thoughts are with Aung San Suu Kyi — the human face of Burma’s tragedy. But words and thoughts are no longer enough.
JAPAN TRIES TO LOOSEN THE U.S. LEASH
TOKYO PREPARES FOR NEW IDEAS — BUT WHAT WILL WASHINGTON THINK?
The expected victory of the opposition Democratic Party in Japan’s August 30 general election is creating a new element of uncertainty in the Asia-Pacific region, already unsettled by North Korea’s war drums and China’s assertiveness. The ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party has held power for 52 of the past 53 years. It is the political linchpin of the U.S.-Japanese alliance. Now, largely due to lamentable domestic policy failures, opinion polls suggest it is all but dead in the water.
The centre-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), ahead by up to 20 points in some surveys, is committed, on paper at least, to a radical reappraisal of Japan’s postwar defence partnership with Washington. Its manifesto pledges to “re-examine the role of the U.S. military in the security of the Asia-Pacific region and the significance of U.S. bases in Japan.” Questions have been raised about the continuing presence of roughly 50,000 American troops on Japanese soil and, more broadly, about Japan’s military support for U.S. operations in Iraq and now in Afghanistan.
At the same time, DPJ leaders are advocating improved ties with former adversaries, notably China and South Korea, strained during the 2001-2006 premiership of Junichiro Koizumi. Party chief Yukio Hatoyama has vowed not to follow Koizumi in paying respects to Japan’s war dead at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, seen in Beijing as a symbol of unrepentant Japanese militarism.
Speaking at a conference in Tokyo on Monday, Katsuya Okada, the DPJ’s second-in-command, said the party wanted an equal relationship with the Obama administration. “There are various issues of concern between Japan and the US. It is necessary ... to work on changing systems based on trust,” he said. Japan lacked independence, he complained. “If Japan just follows what the U.S. says, then I think as a sovereign nation that is very pathetic.”
Okada expressed impatience with the pace of international nuclear disarmament, a sensitive issue in Japan. Although his party welcomed Barack Obama’s call for a nuclear-free world, he suggested Japan should pursue its own disarmament and non-proliferation policies. These and other apparently game-changing DPJ positions have led to talk of a generational shift in Japanese politics, bringing to office leaders who have no personal memories, guilty or otherwise, of the war, and no particular reason to thank the U.S. for the postwar alliance.
For all the chat about mould-breaking, a sharp reality check may await the DPJ. Take the nuclear issue: as Prime Minister Taro Aso noted in Hiroshima last week, Japan continues to benefit from the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” when it comes to threats from North Korea, just as during the cold war. While most Japanese supported the abolition of nuclear weapons, he said, such a development was unlikely in the foreseeable future, whatever the DPJ might do or say.
Despite its talk of Asian outreach, the DPJ has already confirmed it will adhere to Aso’s tough line on North Korea’s nukes and missiles and the long-running issue of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang. It will also continue with a $3.1bn missile defence programme jointly developed with the U.S.
In a similarly realistic vein, the DPJ admitted this week that, growing economic interdependence notwithstanding, China’s rising military spending was a concern. But there was not much it could do. “There is no option for us to be in a military conflict. We should not be in an arms race but rather aiming to reduce arms in the future,” Okada said. Japan is struggling with its worst postwar recession, while China is its top two-way trading partner and its biggest 2008 export market — after the U.S.
The DPJ reacted cautiously last week to a government defence review that recommended easing constitutional constraints to allow Japan’s military to expand co-operation with the U.S. In truth, its circumspection reflects splits within the party about how far to go, if at all, in loosening the U.S leash.
Nor will the U.S. voluntarily relax its close embrace just because some new faces show up at Tokyo head office next month. According to Harvard professor Joseph Nye, Washington attaches high priority to its Japanese alliance. Shared concerns ranging from China to pandemics, terrorism and failed states would bind the U.S. and Japan more closely than ever in the 21st century, he predicted. It’s a lesson other long-time U.S. allies have learned. Whatever DPJ leaders may think, there’s no escaping America when it doesn’t want to be escaped. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
HOLIDAY SNAPS GET AIRBRUSH TREATMENT
The news that the U.K. high street photographic developers, Snappy Snaps, has noted a rise in requests from customers to have their holiday photos airbrushed has been greeted with predictable horror in some sections of the British media as a sign that we’ve gone “image crazy.” Now, let us take this story seriously for a moment instead of dismissing it as just an easy way for the photo chain to generate some publicity. There are far more serious issues her e than “image craziness.” For a start, who are these people who still get their holiday photos developed as opposed to just bunging them on their computer at home and losing them two years later when it crashes?
Secondly, what is the point? Get one photo airbrushed and you have to get them all done, otherwise your friends will wonder why you had freckles in Australia but not in Barcelona. And this leads to the most obvious point: generally, the only people who see your holiday snaps are friends and family who, by and large, know what you look like, not least because you tend to be present when you are forcing them to look at the snaps you have so nerdishly printed out. Even if you’re planning to use the photos to appeal to strangers — on a dating website, say — the truth will eventually be out. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
THE ASIAN AGE
PRICE ISSUE GETS CRITICAL FOR GOVT
If India is the world’s "hunger capital", as a leading environmental activist noted not long ago, and well over 200 million Indians suffer from food insecurity, the ruling party cannot but lose its poise when confronting credible reports about a weak monsoon that will impact food production and prices of essentials. Prices of basic foodstuffs, vegetables and milk have been rising for about a year and the government has not come to grips with the problem although it is headed by an economist of world renown. The UPA government can’t have forgotten that the price of onions became the thin end of the wedge when the NDA was at the helm and lost the election for the Delhi Assembly. With state elections coming up in Maharashtra and Haryana in short order, it is reasonable to believe that the Congress is not a little disconcerted with the price situation. This explains more than anything else the party spokesman saying without demur on Monday that the high prices were a matter of "serious concern", and demanded of its government that some concrete (meaning here and now) as well as long-term measures be taken to address the issue. Interestingly, the party thought it prudent to make its views public even though the Prime Minister had spoken on the subject only days earlier. This suggests that the words of the Prime Minister were not deemed to be sufficiently reassuring. Clearly, when the Congress pitches itself into the election battle, it should have some achievement to show on the price front in spite of the prospect of a dampened kharif harvest.
This is all very well, but what exactly should the government be doing? It is evident that it has not had a clear-cut strategy or approach to the issue of prices of commodities with which the poor and the middle classes are the most concerned. The figures say it all. While the overall inflation in the country was negative since the world recession was felt and has only recently moved to a little above one per cent, the inflation in essential food items has hovered around 11 per cent for some time, and in the retail market vegetables and many other items cost almost double of what they did a year ago. In such situations governments try to discourage hoarding by traders and sometimes even inventory holdings, and try to energise the functioning of the public distribution system. But the Prime Minister in his recent meeting with state chief secretaries emphasised only the enforcement of stockholding limits. Perhaps this is because the public distribution system in the country has been comatose for some time. If this mechanism has been all but run to the ground, there is not much that can be done with the country’s accumulated food stocks to which Dr Manmohan Singh has alluded. Fixing all this by the time of the Maharashtra Assembly election is likely to be a tall order. Sugar imports to bring down domestic prices will be politically sensitive, especially in Maharashtra with its sugar lobby. The import of rice, pulses and oilseeds could add to inflation as world prices tend to shoot up when a big bulk buyer like India gives hints of purchase under domestic compulsions. These are short-term steps. In the long term, India perhaps needs to establish an agency that plays the world markets for agriculture commodities on a routine basis as a regular player.
THE ASIAN AGE
DIARY OF AN ‘EX-TRAITOR’
As I experienced it, my college in Allahabad was among the battle front during the Indo-Pak war, 1965. A few days into that conflict, the subject of discourse in our physics lab one afternoon is not about learning science through experiments but the treachery of Indian Muslims. "Sir", one agitated student tells the teacher as we gather around him for instructions, "Some Muslims in our neighbourhood are trying to help Pakistani pilots. Last night, they kept the lights on despite the black-out siren".
Neither our physics teacher nor any of my classmates challenge or contradict what has just been said. I, the only Muslim present in the lab, am not from the neighbourhood in question. Yet, unable to help the feeling that the finger is indirectly pointed towards me (with Muslims, how can you ever be sure?), I feel stunned, humiliated, speechless. The coward that I am (was then), I do not have it in me to voice the questions that rush through my mind.
Allahabad being so far away from the Indo-Pak border, where is the question of an impending danger of any bomb attack on our city? A precautionary security exercise by the authorities is, of course, understandable. But are Muslims such suicidal morons in addition to being pro-Pakistani traitors, as to light up their homes even for a precautionary security drill? How much advance training does a traitor need to remember to leave the lights on if and when the enemy comes calling? Does anyone care that when India got divided, for both my father and his elder brother there was never any question of turning their backs on Madr-e-Watan (Motherland)? Or that, when asked repeatedly by a Pakistani Army officer soon after the country's Partition to choose, my mamujaan, Syed Mohammed Ibrahim, had an unhesitating one-word answer: Hindustan?
There was more to come the next day. In an obvious goad, two of my classmates walk up to inform me that minutes earlier, the police had arrested two Pakistani spies from the public park across the road from our college. This time I do have something to say. "How do you know they are not Muslims like me being detained on mere suspicion? Did the police decide they were Pakistanis only because they had Muslim names?" I ask. "Oh, so you don't believe our police, do you?" is the angry retort. They stomp away with dagger looks, leaving me seething with impotent rage for the second time in two days. I have to lash out; I have to have my revenge. And I have it even if only in the coward's way. After namaaz that evening I silently pray for Pakistan's victory in the war against India! I am being taunted, suspected of being a traitor to India. Outraged at being put through the patriotism test, I turn a traitor through my private prayer: an Indian Muslim harbouring pro-Pakistan sentiments.
That was 1965. A different time (1971), a different place (IIT, Bombay), same context: another Indo-Pak war. I am in the final year of the B.Tech course. This time, none of my classmates or co-hostelites seems to have any doubt about my allegiance to India. Not for a moment do I feel pressured to prove my patriotic credentials. Glued for days to the transistor with fellow hostelites, most of them non-Muslims, we all jump with collective joy as All India Radio announces the victory of the Indian armed forces and the liberation of Bangladesh. Five years, I discover, can be a long time in the journey of the heart and mind.
As I reflect now on my childhood and teenage years living in a Muslim-predominant village and a Muslim mohalla in Allahabad, until the mid-60s a small section of Indian Muslims did remain ambivalent about Pakistan. The issue, however, was not about religion or ideology but one of bread and butter, future prospects. It was not uncommon then to hear of some Muslim relative, friend or acquaintance migrating to Pakistan which then seemed as easy as moving to Agra or Almora. But the birth of Bangladesh purged even the ambivalent Indian Muslim of the illusion that if things didn't quite work out or turned nasty in India, a safe haven called Pakistan was always an option.
The birth of Bangladesh simultaneously spelt the death of the misconceived two-nation theory. But unfortunately for Indian Muslims the story doesn't end there; more than 60 years later they continue to pay the price. For its own good if for nothing else, no democracy worth the name should subject a section of its citizens to the systemic discrimination, marginalisation, ghettoisation, progressive political disempowerment and alienation that has been the lot of India's Muslims. Neither should it guarantee impunity in advance to the perpetrators of anti-minority carnages. This notwithstanding, in conversation among co-religionists, elderly Indian Muslims sometimes also see themselves as the real orphans, the worst and continuing victims of India's bloody Partition.
"The division of the subcontinent was the biggest blunder in the history of mankind. The Partition not only divided our land, but also divided Muslims into three parts", said the London-based Altaf Hussain, founder-leader, Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), an organisation of Indian Muslim migrants (mohajirs), in an interview to an Indian newspaper in July 2001. He has frequently reiterated the same view and not many Muslims in India would disagree with the sentiment. It is for this very reason that today no one gets as alarmed or is as staunchly opposed to any thought of a Kashmir separated from India than an Indian Muslim.
As for those who believe the words Muslim and Pakistani are synonymous, here's a reality check: Born after Partition, there are tens of millions of young Muslims today who carry no historical burden. Why should they? But please don't taunt him, suspect him, push him to the wall. I remain forever grateful to my Class of 1971 which welcomed me. And my silent prayers now are that we all get it right the first time around.
Javed Anand is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy
THE MENACE OF H1N1
IT CAN BE TACKLED WITH CONCERTED EFFORTS
THE much-feared swine flu has unfortunately begun taking its toll in India also. While 10 persons have succumbed to the H1N1 virus, the infection is spreading in different parts of the country. In response to the rising tally, the Union Health Ministry has given the go-ahead to private laboratories for testing. Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s grim warning that in two years the virus could afflict one-third of India’s population underlines that the pandemic cannot be taken lightly. However, it is equally pertinent to remember that compared even to ordinary flu, the fatality rate of swine flu is far less. Therefore, India must react prudently and not in panic.
Measures like shutting down schools and malls or suspending festivities are drastic steps and need to be resorted to only in extreme local conditions. The infection is curable provided it is detected in time. Now, health experts are advising administering of Tamiflu to high-risk suspected cases even before the tests prove positive, a recourse that needs to be followed with utmost caution since it can lead to adverse side-effects among children. High-risk groups need to be monitored more carefully. A nation-wide awareness drive must be launched to educate the public on the defining symptoms of the flu and the treatment. Simultaneously, it must avoid whipping up mass hysteria that is not the answer to the situation.
Besides, the government will have to be cautious in granting accreditation to private health centres and must ensure that the safety norms imperative for swine flu testing are followed assiduously. Right now, both diagnosis and treatment are significant. Tackling the deadly virus is the collective responsibility of the Centre, states, districts, municipal authorities and even private hospitals, all of which must devise strategies to meet the threat. The public can play a major role in ensuring the containment of the virus. With a vaccine against the virus still months away, India must do all it can to stop H1N1 from turning deadlier.
AT LAST, THE COURTS ARE KEEN TO GET HIM
General Pervez Musharraf could slowly be heading forward to meet his nemesis. The Islamabad District and Sessions Judge’s order for registering an FIR against the General for “illegally” detaining 60 judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts after promulgating the November 3, 2007, emergency is another major step towards bringing the former military dictator to book for trampling on the constitution. Earlier the Pakistan Supreme Court had declared on July 31 that the imposition of the emergency was an unconstitutional step amounting to treason and the General must be tried and punished for it by the National Assembly. But very little has happened in this respect so far. The latest development may lead to greater pressure on the PPP-led government to force General Musharraf to come back to Pakistan from the UK, where he is staying at present, and face the music for the wrongs he committed during his nine-year authoritarian rule.
The Pakistan government appears to be disinclined to speed up the process of General Musharraf’s trial because President Asif Zardari is one of the beneficiaries of the deal the General struck with Benazir Bhutto. The Pakistan Army, too, is believed to be quietly trying to save its former chief. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani contends that the Pakistan National Assembly will have to pass a “unanimous” resolution —which is not easy —to begin General Musharraf’s trial.
This is for the first time that an effort is on for punishing a former Army Chief for usurping power. If he finally gets his just deserts, this may serve as a deterrent for any General in future to emulate his predecessors like General Musharraf, General Ziaul Haq, General Yahiya Khan and General Ayub Khan. But going by the history of Pakistan, there is always the risk of a General in future throwing the constitution and the law overboard.
AGENDA FOR REFORM
LAW COMMISSION FOR SPEEDING UP JUSTICE
THE Law Commission has rightly recommended pressing reforms to streamline the functioning of the judiciary and quicken the pace of justice. In its 230th report, it has revealed that though 50,000 cases are pending in the Supreme Court alone, it works for only 190 days a year. To clear the huge backlog of cases, the commission wants the apex court to reduce vacations, cut down holidays and extend the working hours daily by at least half an hour. It emphasised the need to identify and prioritise the cases for expediting justice. It also stressed the need for the judges to deliver judgements expeditiously. Indeed, in many cases, judges reserve their rulings for years, keeping the litigants on tenterhooks. In most cases, there is no valid reason for them to reserve rulings for long.
As for the judges’ selection and appointment to the Supreme Court and the High Courts, the Law Commission has suggested “an equal role” for both the judiciary and the executive. In tune with its suggestions in the 214th report, it offered two alternatives to the present method. First, it wants the Supreme Court to seek a reconsideration of its rulings of 1982, 1993 and 1998, giving primacy to the judiciary in appointments. And secondly, it wants the Centre to enact a law restoring the Chief Justice of India’s primacy and the executive’s power in making the appointments.
The commission doesn’t want the High Courts’ Chief Justices to be transferred from one High Court to another. If the Chief Justice is from the same High Court, he/she will be in a better position to control the lower judiciary and assess the suitability of persons from the Bench and the Bar for elevation to the High Court, it says. It has opposed the selection of those as judges to the High Courts where their kith and kin are practising. Indeed, this will help enhance the judiciary’s credibility. As the Chief Justices’ conference is due to be held in New Delhi on August 13 and 14, it would be interesting to see what suggestions they would offer to improve the efficiency and overall functioning of the judiciary. The judiciary certainly needs far-reaching reforms. The question is whether it is ready for reforms.
PRICING OF GAS
DEORA’S ROLE HAS BECOME QUESTIONABLE
BY NIRMAL SANDHU
When a dispute is in court, it is best left there for the final outcome. The Amabni brothers' dispute over natural gas pricing is pending in the Supreme Court for a hearing on September 1. Both Anil and Mukesh want the court to settle it.
The Oil Ministry had shown little interest in the four-year-old dispute until the Bombay High Court recently ruled in favour of Anil Ambani's company, Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL), allowing it to buy gas at Rs 109 ($2.34) per million British thermal unit.
The administered or controlled price of gas is Rs 93 per unit. However, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora wants the price of the gas to be Rs 195 ($4.20) per unit. At this price, Mr Deora told Parliament on August 6, the country would save Rs 3, 000 crore on fertilizer subsidy.
What he did not tell Parliament is that if this price was accepted, Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Industries would stand to gain Rs 50,000 crore. And if the price of Rs 109 was accepted, the country would save Rs 5,000 crore. That is why Anil Ambani says the Oil Ministry is favouring Reliance and Mukesh.
It is not a family dispute between two estranged brothers. In October, 2002, Reliance discovered Asia's biggest and one of the largest gas reserves in the world in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin.
Reliance entered into a contract with RNRL and NTPC to supply gas at $2.34 per unit. The brothers split in 2005 and Reliance reneged on the MoU signed over gas pricing.
Anil got charge of RNRL under a deal brokered by their mother, Kokilaben. In November, 2006, RNRL went to court, alleging that Reliance had flouted its contractual obligations.
NTPC, India's largest power utility, is also a party in this case against Reliance. By suggesting a higher gas price of Rs 195, why Mr Deora wants to hurt the government-owned NTPC's interest, he has not cared to explain.
Newspaper reports have alleged that by failing to honour the contract to supply gas at Rs 109 to NTPC, Reliance has caused a loss of Rs 30,000 crore to the government as the delay has led to an increase in the cost of developing the Andhra offshore field.
The Petroleum Ministry's intervention in a corporate dispute is intriguing. It says the government has the right to approve the gas price. Besides, the Union of India is the owner of the gas and any MoU signed between brothers is not binding on the government.
"We have nothing to do with the private dispute of two industries or industrialists. However, we have everything to do with protecting the interests of the government and public interest. This is our constitutional and legal obligation", Mr Murli Deora said in the Lok Sabha on August 3. Where is the constitutional obligation to cause a loss to the public exchequer under this plea?
It is not just an issue between two industrialists or industries. It is an issue of the Oil Minister trying to interfere in a corporate dispute over a contract. This is not the message the Petroleum Minister should be sending out to domestic as well as foreign investors.
Mr Deora has raised the issues of public interest as well as India's sovereign rights over its natural resources (gas). There is no dispute over these. The government had invited private companies to explore and discover oil wealth under a revenue-sharing scheme.
He has misled Parliament by raising irrelevant issues to obfuscate the real design behind his proactive role in what essentially is a battle over the refusal to honour old contractual obligations. Some Leftist MPs even got carried away by his talk of government ownership of natural resources.
If it is the government's gas, would Mr Deora like the government to nationalise the gas reserves discovered by Reliance? He has clearly ruled that out, saying "Old days of nationalisation have gone". Then what for is the extreme argument of sovereign rights?
Reliance has invested Rs 32,000 crore to create this asset. It entered into a contract to supply gas to two firms, RNRL and NTPC, at a commercial price of Rs 109 ($2.34) per unit determined by an international competitive bid.
An empowered group of ministers had earlier approved it. Later, Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries realized that the price it had accepted was too low and the signing of the deal was a bad corporate decision.
Since the friendly relations between the Petroleum Minister and the Reliance Chairman are in public domain, is it proper to keep such a vital portfolio with Mr Murli Deora, who has been openly siding with Reliance, even to the extent of causing a loss to the exchequer?
The time has come for Dr Manmohan Singh to ponder whether at all it is in public interest to let Mr Deora continue to hold such an important portfolio. His role in the Petroleum Ministry has indeed become questionable and embarrassing for the government.
TRACTORS CAN GENERATE POWER
BY SARABJIT ARJAN SINGH
Since Independence, there has been a considerable increase in the per capita consumption of electricity. It rose to 606 KWh in 2004-05 from a low of 15.6 KWh in 1950. However, the per capita availability remains below the national electricity policy objective of 1,000 KWh.
Despite a substantial expansion in the generating and transmission capacities, the supply of electricity remains inadequate and prolonged power cuts are order of the day. The national electricity policy (2005) aims at providing access to electricity to all households in five years and by 2012 have sufficient generating capacity to meet all power demand.
In addition, the grid should be capable of meeting peaking demands and have adequate spinning reserves. Going by the current power situation in Punjab, it does not appear likely.
The Punjab Chief Minister has stated in the Vidhan Sabha that the present requirement was 7,870 MW while the supply was only 6,800 MW. The peak power deficit is likely to go up next year.
The Central Electricity Authority has projected that during 2009-10 Punjab’s estimated peak demand is 9,110 MW while the peak availability is projected at 6,540 mw, which will lead to a peak deficit of 28.3 per cent.
The CM maintained that Punjab made earnest efforts to reduce the deficit by “power banking” agreements, however, some states backed out, resulting in inadequate coverage of the shortfall. If this is the ground reality, can we as consumers ever hope to see better days? Blindly treading the conventional path is unlikely to lead to improved power supply, at least, in the short term. Radical and innovative thinking is the requirement.
The national electricity policy recognises that non-conventional energy sources and captive generation will have to play their part in providing additional capacity. However, the progress in connecting the standby generating plants for augmenting the grid is limited.
Another way to meet the deficit will be to use tractors. Tractors have a built-in power take off (PTO) arrangement for driving farm machinery such as combine harvesters. There is no technical difficulty in rotating an electric generator through the PTO.
Investment in a generator and grid linking arrangement is all that is required for establishing the hook-up point. New generating capacity will come on line almost immediately and the tractor owner’s family will see its income increase.
Punjab has over 4,00,000 tractors for 40 lakh hectares. This number is large for the cultivable area and leads to gross under-utilisation. Agricultural experts have estimated that against the desirable minimum usage of 1,000 hours the actual utilisation in a year is 500 hours.
Any increase in the usage will spread fixed costs over a larger number of hours, reducing the average cost of operation. Electric power generation will be a very effective manner of bringing up usage.
Tractors sizes vary from 26 hp to 60 hp and above. A majority of tractors are in the range of 25 to 40 hp (51.8 per cent) and more than 9 per cent are 50 hp or more. A 35 hp tractor can be the representative tractor for making a back-of-the-envelope estimate of the power generating capacity.
A 35 hp tractor is likely to be capable of providing about 30 hp at the PTO, which translates into any thing between 20 kw and 24 kw of electric power generating capacity. A simple multiplication of the capacity (22kw) with the number of tractors (400,000) leads to a generating potential of 8,800 mw.
This is such a large potential that if all the 4,00,000 tractors were harnessed, Punjab could meet its present requirement of 7,870 mw from tractors alone. This calculation is just for illustrating the potential.
As a thumb rule, about 45 tractors would add one mega watt to the generating capacity. If one per cent of the 4 lakh tractors link up for power generation, the state would have an additional power availability of 88 mw. If this figure increased to 10 per cent, the additional power capacity is 880 mw.
There are no technical difficulties in implementing the suggestion. There are however, organisational and tariff questions that need satisfactory answers. Since tractors have no generators, hook-up points provided with generators and equipment required for feeding power into the grid will be required. These hook-up points will, in addition, need power metering to enable payment to tractor-owners on the spot. A number of conveniently located hook-up centres should be able to attract tractor owners.
The other issue is establishing a tariff that makes it worthwhile for the owners to bring their tractors for connection to the grid. The electricity policy states that under the Electricity Act 2003, captive generators have access to licensees and would get access to consumers who are allowed open access. The policy goes on that grid inter-connections for captive generators will be facilitated as per Section 30 of the Act and proposes that it should be done on priority to enable captive generation to become available as distributed generation along the grid.
It recognises that appropriate commercial arrangements need to be established between licensees and the captive generators for harnessing of spare capacity energy from captive power plants. The appropriate regulatory commission will exercise regulatory oversight on such commercial arrangements between captive generators and licensees and determine tariffs. The reason for bringing out these policy statements is to point out that most issues have been discussed and guidelines are available. All that is necessary is to extend them to tractor generation with suitable modifications.
The remaining issue is the institutional arrangement for providing infrastructure for hook-up and payment to the tractor owner. The electricity and tariff policies envisage licensees for the distribution of power obtained from captive power generators. A licensee arrangement could be a good way to take the concept forward. The licensee should invest in the hook up point while the state could provide the land.
The suggestion has possibilities of vastly improving the power situation in a very short time and at the same time improving the finances of tractor-owners. One could try out the concept in a few locations to understand practical difficulties and then extend it to the entire state. Other states could develop their own models after taking advantage of Punjab’s experience.
The writer is a former member of the Principal Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal.
BY MICHAEL MCCARTHY
A new El Niño has begun. The sporadic Pacific Ocean warming, which can disrupt weather patterns across the world, is intensifying, say meteorologists.
So, over the next few months, there may be increased drought in Africa, India and Australia, heavier rainfall in South America and increased extremes in Britain, of warm and cold. It may make 2010 one of the hottest years on record.
The cyclical phenomenon, which happens every two to seven years, is a major determinant of global weather systems. The 1997-98 El Niño combined with global warming to push 1998 into being the world’s hottest year, and caused major droughts and catastrophic forest fires in South-east Asia which sent a pall of smoke right across the region.
At present, forecasters do not expect this El Niño to equal that of 1998, but it may be the second-strongest, and concerned groups, from international insurance companies to commodity traders, to aid agencies such as Oxfam, have begun to follow its progress anxiously. Its potential for economic and social impact is considerable.
Professor Chris Folland, of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, said: “We are likely to see more global warming than we have seen in the past few years, which have been rather cool. In fact, we are already seeing it.”
El Niño is a periodic warming of the normally cold waters of the eastern tropical Pacific, the ocean region westwards out from South America along the line of the equator.
Since the Pacific is a heat reservoir which drives wind patterns around the world, the change in its temperature alters global weather. An El Niño is defined by ocean surface temperatures rising by more than 0.5C above the average.
This El Niño is well beyond that, says the Climate Prediction Center of the US National Weather Service. “Sea surface temperatures remain +0.5 to +1.5 above average across much of the equatorial Pacific Ocean,” the centre reported last week. “Observations and dynamical model forecasts indicate El Niño conditions will continue to intensify and are expected to last through the northern hemisphere winter of 2009-10.”
The last El Niño was in 2006-07 and, at its peak, sea surface temperatures averaged about 0.9 degrees above normal. But this is a stage which has already been reached by this one.
The last El Niño, comparatively weak though it was, is thought to have been partly responsible for the extraordinarily warm weather in Britain between the summer of 2006 and the spring of 2007: July 2006 was Britain’s hottest month, autumn 2006 (September, October and November) was the warmest autumn, winter 2006-07 (December, January and February) was the second warmest in Britain, and April 2007 was our warmest April.
People have forgotten this because there then began our recent cooler and wetter period, with Britain’s two “washout summers” of 2007 and 2008, and they may, in turn, have been associated with the counter-phenomenon of La Niña, a cooling of the eastern tropical Pacific waters, which followed. The start of the present El Niño was one reason the Met Office predicted a “barbecue summer” for 2009.
By arrangement with The Independent
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
A REVOLUTIONARY BILL
At the very heart of democracy lies the concept of equal opportunity for all to try and attain individual goals and aspire towards a better quality of life. Yet inequality of birth and an individual’s position in the societal hierarchy results in some children having far lesser opportunities at self advancement than the children of greater gods. Thus the goal of every society which professes adherence to democratic ideals must be to create a level playing field for each citizen and empower the socially weak to overcome handicaps of birth and economic status. One of the greatest of handicaps is lack of education. This is what the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, recently passed by the Lok Sabha, is seeking to address. The wonder is that it has taken so long for this revolutionary Bill to be enacted and concrete steps taken towards Gandhiji’s vision of universal elementary education, first enunciated by him in 1937. The delay is even more disconcerting given the fact that in 2002 the NDA government through a constitutional amendment changed right to education from a directive principle to a fundamental right. However, it being a question of late better than never one must laud the current Government at the Centre for ensuring that such a Bill has finally seen the light of day and look forward to its successful implementation.
The objectives of the Bill are high indeed. The cynical observer familiar with the way India works might even deem them Utopian! As per its stipulations, every child of whatever economic standing, aged between 6 and 14, can demand school education in the immediate neighbourhood. It is incumbent upon a designated government officer to ensure that the child is provided elementary education in a government or private school. Various other stipulations such as payment of fees by the government if a child’s parents cannot pay the fees, compulsory reservation of 25 per cent of seats in private schools for economically weaker students etc. complement the basic objective. The Bill also gives added teeth to NGOs and concerned citizens by enabling members of the public to complain of cases of violation of the law to the “neighbourhood” government officer. But the constraints that necessitated the enactment of such a Bill still remain, making actual translation into practice as difficult as it has always been. The fact that education is in the Concurrent List makes the task of implementation somewhat complicated, especially in the matter of cost sharing. Also, the phenomenon of a child being just another breadwinner for the family persists in our society, a constraint extremely difficult to overcome. The relevance of the Bill, and hopefully its success, ultimately lies with the general public. particularly concerned citizens as well as Non Government Organisations working in the field.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
The past few years have witnessed an unprecedented spurt in fatal road accidents in the State, taking well over a thousand lives annually besides incapacitating thousands others. Road mishaps have emerged as the biggest killer, surpassing tolls extracted by insurgency and diseases in the State. As mounting casualties indicate, road accidents now pose a serious law-and-order problem in the sense that precious human lives are being lost in a routine manner. But regrettably, the government authorities continue to be in a state of stupor over such a life and death matter. While mishaps are attributable to a number of factors — ranging from rash and drunken driving to violation and ignorance of road safety norms to poor enforcement of laws it is precisely the absence of intervention from the authorities that has led to the worsening situation. Rash driving, for instance, is related to poor enforcement, as the violators invariably get away for drunken or rash driving. In most countries, such driving invites severe penalties including cancellation of licence. The absence of any deterrent encourages our drivers to repeat violations with impunity. Then, the process of issuing licences is mired in corruption which ensures that unqualified people get to sit behind the wheels. We have departments like Transport, Police and PWD entrusted with the responsibility of looking into the different aspects of road safety but their casual approach is aggravating the situation. It is time the Chief Minister, being in charge of the Home Department, made a personal intervention on the matter, as it involves people’s lives.
Poor road conditions and design, lack of amenities for pedestrians, and low level of road safety awareness are also factors behind the escalating number of killer mishaps. Further contributing to the high death toll is the absence of emergency roadside service. Unless we adopt a multi-pronged strategy, the rising trend of road mishaps is unlikely to abate. Along with effective enforcement, we need to have awareness campaigns that should also involve children. Hard crackdowns on unqualified and negligent drivers apart, issuance of driving licences should be made more stringent. Strict maintenance of all rules that go towards making the roads a safe place must be ensured. There should be roadside checking of vehicles for crossing prescribed speed limits. Another urgent need is to have roadside trauma centres, as many of the fatalities occur due to the absence of timely medical help. All this, however, can materialise only when the Government takes serious note of the deteriorating situation.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
INDO-BANGLA JOINT BORDER MANAGEMENT
The decision to chalk out a joint border management plan at a recent meeting of senior officials of the Border Security Force (BSF) and Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) can be seen as a significant development in India-Bangladesh relations. As per media reports the BSF and the BDR are also likely to start joint patrolling of the vulnerable stretches of the international border between these two countries that will certainly serve India’s interest more than Bangladesh. But this is not a new experiment. Earlier Indian and Bangladeshi frontier guards did it along the border after a brief suspension of the combined vigil following a mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles. In fact, security and border management issues as well as ways to enhance cooperation between the law enforcement agencies have always been prominent issues between India and Bangladesh as five Indian States – Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura share a 4,095 km border with Bangladesh. These include a 2,979 km land border and 1,116 km are river line. So also, issues such as round-the-clock access to two Bangladeshi enclaves on the Indian side, the action taken so far to deport militants and crackdown on rebel training camps are equally important for, India. In fact, India is always concerned regarding the deportation of top leaders of the militant outfits of Northeast that it says operates from Bangladeshi soil. On the other hand, smuggling of goods and cattle that operate at night and flee when challenged by the BSF. There are also human-traffickers and illegal immigrants coming into India. The tension could be felt at the border where BSF and BDR on numerous occasions were engaged in open confrontations, which evidently displays the grimness of the situation.
In fact, the border area between India and Bangladesh is not completely fenced and leaves a fringe area under open territory. Forty-six patches have been identified along the border, which cannot be fenced due to territorial problem. These patches have half fringe of their land along the Indian part while the other half is in Bangladesh. So to avoid problems, decision has been taken to jointly visit these areas and take decisions regarding the type of fence that should be constructed. Therefore, though relations between Bangladesh and India are usually friendly but they have occasional disputes, mainly related to trespassing and smuggling through their 4,000-km border, a relatively porous one that runs through rivers, hills and marshes. Therefore India proposed several times for coordinated patrolling of its border with Bangladesh to curb trespassers who cross over at night, leading to many of them being shot by the Border Security Force (BSF) - the bone of contention at talks between the top brass of the border guards of the two countries. The killing of unarmed civilians, as Bangladesh puts it, has become a sensitive issue between the two neighbours that ultimately create impediments in the over all bi-lateral relations.
But Bangladesh always vehemently denied Indian charges on harbouring either Indian insurgent groups or providing assistance to other extremist forces. They see this an Indian attempt to malign them in the international community and insist that there is no earthly reason for Bangladesh to support terrorism against India. Dhaka has shown the political will to crack down on these groups that operate on its small border with Myanmar. A similar gesture on the Indian border would boost mutual confidence. While joint India-Bangladesh operations are clearly some distance away, there are many other ways of enhancing security cooperation. Though it is true that Bangladesh itself is a victim of terrorism and is trying to counter it on its own, the Bangladeshi government cannot shy away from its responsibility to stop anti-India activities sponsored from its soil. In fact, there is a strong case for India being generous to its smaller neighbors in terms of aid and market access, and for not throwing its weight around. But there is an equally strong case for its not going overboard with concessions without an element of quid pro quo. This is particularly so in cases where its own security is involved.
However, the most serious problem in India-Bangladesh relations is the least susceptible to diplomatic effort, illegal movement of people across the border from Bangladesh to India. The flow of migrants seeking work in India has been specially destabilising in Assam, Tripura and West Bengal. The illegal influx has already changed the demographic structure of Assam and Tripura, which is a matter of serious concern for the indigenous people who are gradually becoming minority in their homelands. To stop this infiltration India proposed fencing of the border but almost all Bangladesh governments that clearly show the insincerity and lack of commitment to solve this problem. In fact, the illegal infiltration is related to other problems like drug trafficking, smuggling and routing of contrabands, trafficking of women and children and so on. All these constitute a security treat to India because, firstly, the infiltration would deepen social unrest and heavy burden on India. Secondly, the weakness of the Bangladesh government in this context may render potentially vulnerable foreign interference that India can never accept and thirdly, Indian insurgents are using the soil of Bangladesh as a guerilla base.
But the victory of the Sheikh Hasina led Awami League in the general election of Bangladesh created a lot of expectations in India. But will Dhaka deliver this time? In fact, the new democratic administration in Dhaka can do a lot in this regard if it remains committed to the cause of peace and stability of the region that is also important for a peaceful and stable Bangladesh. So also, the comprehensive victory that the liberal political forces registered in the election gives the new democratic government an opportunity to keep the radical forces as well as the army and intelligence agency under control. The joint border vigilances should be seen from the perspective of a good beginning. But this should be translated into reality. In fact, Sheikh Hasina made one highly significant statement in her very first post-victory press conference that good relations with neighbours would be a major agenda of her government. That apparently means India in particular. There is reason for optimism for India that she will follow up her words with action as ever since world eyes focused on Pakistan as a terrorism hub, many of the active members have shifted base to Bangladesh and are running their nefarious activities from there.
The initiative of a joint border management by the BSF and the BDR is a welcome step. But the present Bangladeshi regime should not consider it as merely a need of India. In fact, it will be considered from the perspective of mutual interests as Bangladesh learnt a bitter lesson from the BDR mutiny that Pakistani intelligence agency the ISI making an unholy effort to create its base on the Bangladeshi soil. The expectations from the new democratic regime of this country of the sub-continent is high and prominent among it is to save Bangladesh from becoming a puppet dancing on Pakistani string. For that winning the confidence of India is a must for present Bangladesh and Dhaka’s sincerity is the need of the hour to make the joint border management experiment a successful one.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
SR RANGANATHAN: A
DR RK BARMAN
Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan (SRR) born on August 9, 1892 was the pioneer of modern librarianship in India. With a strong background of mathematics he entered the library profession leaving the lucrative post of Lecturer in Mathematics at , in 1923. Of course it was Prof Ronald Ross at whose insistence he entered the profession of librarianship,of course with a lot of hesitation. at the beginning.. Though born on August 9, the has recognised August 12 as the Librarians Day to be celebrated throughout the country. He is rightly called the Father of
But the extensive training he got in UK made him thoroughly changed. With the new ideas in his mind he completed the course of Librarianship at the School of Librarianship in Wales. He also made an extensive tour of different types of libraries in UK and Scotland. There, he got the rare opportunity to exchange the idea with the giants of library of that time such as William C Berwick Sayers, John A Humphry Paulin A Cocharane, Gordon R Williams Kenneth H Roberts etc. Retuning to India he devoted in organising the Madras University Library which was in a very bad shape. Within a few months he changed the existing scenario of the University Library and became very popular among the academic circles.
His method of scientific organisation of university library resources and staff made everybody surprised. He left no stone unturned to apply the professional skills he acquired in UK in making library a place of intellectual hub. Not only the university community, but also the others in the field of education became aware of the brilliance of SRR and began to cooperate with him. He devoted most of his time not only in organising the university library but also gave a serious thought to the development of manpower in the field. Therefore, he started the training course in library science in collaboration with Madras Library Association in 1938 of which he was the president. Realising the importance the course the Madras University authorities decided to take over the course and upgraded it in due course of time.
While working in the Madras University Library he used as a laboratory to make a number of experiments to be applied in the field of library and . Because of his ever inquisitive mind, today we have got a number of concepts which were created by SRR in those initial years. The seminal ideas behind the Five Laws of Library Science have already become popular. Not to speak of Indian library fraternity but also the giants of library science abroad have openly praised his scholarship. Colon classification bears the testimony to the talent and imaginative mind of SRR. Classified Catalogue Code with Chain Indexing is another brilliant concept the Indian Guru devised which could easily attract the attention of world famous library scientists. His Indexing system (Chain Procedure) revolutionised the world of indexing which was successfully adopted by the British National Bibliography Authorities under the patronage of Derek Austin. Librmetrics is another such concept originally devised by SRR as Bibliometrics which is gaining importance even at the age of ICT which was the brain child of SRR.
Now-a-days, one of the important aspects of world business is advertising and salesmanship. In every field we have seen the domain of pushing sale. Be it LIC, bank, motor company, mobile handset, fertilizer there are blood of salesmanship. In other words the marketing concept has surpassed all other factors contolling the dimension of economics. In librarianship too of information service is a buzzword in all LIS schools of the world. Many scholars opine that marketing is coming to LIS because of dearth of library fund. But, this is not the real fact. Besides the fund problem other factors such as under utilisation of was the major ground for thinking of marketing of information through salesmanship and advertising. It was SRR who first initiated salesmanship in the field of library management. In fact he could easily predict the need of library marketing.
Considering the life long contribution of SRR the Government of India conferred Padmashri on him in l957 and National Reseach Professor in Library Science in 1965. The University of Delhi awarded him D Litt, Honoris Causa in 1958. SRR authored about sixty five books on different aspects of librarianship besides innumerable articles in different national and international research journals. SRR left for his heavenly abode on September 27, 1972 in his rented house in Bangalore.
On his 118th birth anniversary let us hope he wilI continue to inspire the present generation of information workers to follow his foot prints and re-dedicate their services to the cause of information seekers and help the society. to progress.
(The writer teaches Library & Information Science in Gauhati University).
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MAKE TAMIFLU WIDELY AVAILABLE
The H1N1 or swine flu virus is now a global pandemic, with WHO estimates putting it at 1.6 lakh cases reported worldwide and over 1,100 fatalities. While in percentage terms the total number of those who have been infected by the H1N1 virus is very low indeed in India — 959 positive cases among the 4,500 people who were tested nationwide— seven deaths in the past fortnight have led to a predicable rise in public concern.
This centres on not only the adequacy of the measures taken by the central government and state administrations to detect and contain the disease, but also the recourse ordinary citizens may take to protect themselves from it. The government may have acted in good faith when it restricted detection centres, isolation wards and distributions of medicines solely to designated government hospitals initially, but the subsequent announcement that the facility may be extended to top private medical centres and laboratories is welcome.
Given the sheer numbers in India, and the need for prompt detection and treatment of the disease, it is better to have as many outlets as possible for testing, diagnoses and distribution of medicines.
Government so far has been absorbing the cost of the tests, estimated at Rs 10,000 each, but if some sections in India can afford what private hospitals might charge for it, there is no reason for the government to insist on subsidising everyone. In this context, allowing the retail sale of medicines for the viral flu through designated, reputed pharmacies across the country would widen the curative net and give Indians at least the psychological boost that help is close at hand.
The dangers of self-diagnosis and hoarding, and the possibility of immunity arising from improper dosage by worried citizens, can be combatted by an effective awareness campaign. Extreme steps like closing schools, colleges and cinema halls may not be necessary if fear and panic are ably quelled by the government assuring citizens through all media channels that medicines are plentiful and available, that testing can be done at places convenient to all sections and that careful hygiene precautions can actually prevent the spread of the virus.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
AILING TEXTILE SECTOR
If it took virtually no time for the majority of India’s textile companies to report dramatic deterioration of their financial health since the global economic crisis broke out, the blame lies mainly with a host of senseless government policies. Clearly, there isn’t any quick-fix solutions to the problems being faced by this labour-intensive industry which exports 55% of its output worth over $40 billion. Last week, the government cleared the backlog of interest-subsidy payments to the industry.
This, at best, would serve as a painkiller rather than the much-needed cure. What’s required is comprehensive policy reform, including removal of labour market rigidities. Most of all, there needs to be a fibre-neutral tax policy. Also, with no further delay, archaic policies like hank yarn obligation that interferes with the spinning units’ freedom to profitably use their production facilities, should be dispensed with.
The current fibre-use pattern in India favours cotton against man-made fibres (MMFs) because the latter used to be taxed at very high rates. Although the tax rates on MMFs saw significant reduction in the last few years, the excise duty was unexpectedly hiked from 4% to 8% in Budget 2009.
The policy of negative discrimination to MMFs is at odds with the global market realities — in the US and EU markets, MMFs account for 60% of the fibre content in textiles. Since the share of MMF-based products in India’s exports is less than 20%, our ability to make full use of the diversity of the world markets is greatly crippled. Below-optimal use of MMFs coupled with the fragmented nature of weaving and processing industries has affected the quality of fabrics produced in India. No wonder India’s large garment exporters mostly import fabrics for export production.
After the abolition of the export quotas it became evident within a few years that the Indian textile exporters had little ability to respond to price dips, even in comparison to Vietnamese and Bangladeshi traders. The industry invested a record Rs 1,60,000 crore in new plant and machinery in the last decade, pinning hopes on opportunities that post-quota export markets would throw up. Only right policies will ensure that these investments don’t go waste.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
STATUES SPEAK A LOT!
It's official. Statue politics is now cast in stone. An accepted, perfectly logical way by which our leaders define their history and being, and how our states deal with each other. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka just seem to have buried the hatchet by unveiling a statue. Given that the two states have often resembled warring kingdoms battling it out over water-sharing issues, things looked like they would worsen.
The Cauvery water dispute inflames passions. While the issue remains unresolved, and ‘activists’ in both states being prone to taking the issue into ugly ethnic, linguistic terrain, acts of statesmanship seemed a distant dream. The battle even extended to erecting statues of each other’s saints and poets. Yet, with the unveiling of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar’s statue in Bangalore, we might yet enter a new era of actually tolerating each other’s presence. And we do this by erecting each other’s statues in our own territory.
There is, some Kannada ‘activists’ say, still an issue over just where their saint-poet Sarvajna’s statue will be unveiled — apparently it’s at a “not-so-prominent place” in Chennai. But a precedent may have been set. Perhaps, India and Pakistan can learn from the two states. Some savvy commentator could well posit the possibilities of statues in conflict resolution.
The critical importance of statues also becomes clear when we think of Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati seems convinced that putting up monuments to BSP political figures — and herself, handbag included — is the path to Dalit progress. There is, of course, an interesting strand in the narrative. Earlier, the BSP would put up statues of a wider section of important ‘lower caste’ figures, indicating the historical lineage the BSP wanted to claim.
Now, it’s more about the BSP-isation of the Dalit movement, with only the party’s figures being thus venerated. It is, surely, equally important what one erects, and not just where it is erected. In India, statues speak a lot.
PRICE ISSUE GETS CRITICAL FOR CENTRE
If India is the world’s “hunger capital”, as a leading environmental activist noted not long ago, and well over 200 million Indians suffer from food insecurity, the ruling party cannot but lose its poise when confronting credible reports about a weak monsoon that will impact food production and prices of essentials. Prices of basic foodstuffs, vegetables and milk have been rising for about a year and the government has not come to grips with the problem although it is headed by an economist of world renown. The UPA government can’t have forgotten that the price of onions became the thin end of the wedge when the NDA was at the helm and lost the election for the Delhi Assembly. With state elections coming up in Maharashtra and Haryana in short order, it is reasonable to believe that the Congress is not a little disconcerted with the price situation. This explains more than anything else the party spokesman saying without demur on Monday that the high prices were a matter of “serious concern”, and demanded of its government that some concrete (meaning here and now) as well as long-term measures be taken to address the issue. Interestingly, the party thought it prudent to make its views public even though the Prime Minister had spoken on the subject only days earlier. This suggests that the words of the Prime Minister were not deemed to be sufficiently reassuring. Clearly, when the Congress pitches itself into the election battle, it should have some achievement to show on the price front in spite of the prospect of a dampened kharif harvest.This is all very well, but what exactly should the government be doing? It is evident that it has not had a clear-cut strategy or approach to the issue of prices of commodities with which the poor and the middle classes are the most concerned. The figures say it all. While the overall inflation in the country was negative since the world recession was felt and has only recently moved to a little above one per cent, the inflation in essential food items has hovered around 11 per cent for some time, and in the retail market vegetables and many other items cost almost double of what they did a year ago. In such situations governments try to discourage hoarding by traders and sometimes even inventory holdings, and try to energise the functioning of the public distribution system. But the Prime Minister in his recent meeting with state chief secretaries emphasised only the enforcement of stockholding limits. Perhaps this is because the public distribution system in the country has been comatose for some time. If this mechanism has been all but run to the ground, there is not much that can be done with the country’s accumulated food stocks to which Dr Manmohan Singh has alluded. Fixing all this by the time of the Maharashtra Assembly election is likely to be a tall order. Sugar imports to bring down domestic prices will be politically sensitive, especially in Maharashtra with its sugar lobby. The import of rice, pulses and oilseeds could add to inflation as world prices tend to shoot up when a big bulk buyer like India gives hints of purchase under domestic compulsions. These are short-term steps. In the long term, India perhaps needs to establish an agency that plays the world markets for agriculture commodities on a routine basis as a regular player.
INDIA AT 62: WAR ON CORRUPT TOP PRIORITY
BY BY P.C. ALEXANDER
Within two days from today, India will be entering the 63rd year of its existence as an independent nation. If one is asked about India’s greatest achievement and greatest failure during the post-Independence period, it will be difficult to single out any one achievement or failure. However, if I am pressed to give an answer to these two questions, I would say that the fact that India has remained a democracy for over six decades is its greatest achievement and that the all-pervasive corruption in our society its greatest failure.
Let me first explain why I give so much importance to the survival of India as a democracy. There have been flaws and imperfections in the practice of democracy in India, but it can claim that it is the only country among the developing countries of Asia and Africa which has remained firm in its commitment towards the concept of democracy throughout its existence as a free nation.
India’s achievement in creating and sustaining the institutions and principles of democracy, such as free and fair elections, independent judiciary, free press and apolitical civil service and military forces selected on competitive merit and promoted to higher ranks based on their performance, place India in a class by itself which no other developing country can claim to have equalled.
Many developing countries in Asia and Africa started as democracies after their independence, but very soon they transformed themselves into undisguised dictatorship. Leaders like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Soekarno in Indonesia and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and several others were in the forefront of the struggle for liberation of their countries from colonial yoke. But soon after coming to power, they proved the wisdom of the statement — “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
India’s leaders firmly believed that for a developing country, democracy was the most suitable system of governance. This is the main reason why they did not take the easy route of “one party democracy”, “President for life” etcetra.
Immediately after India’s Independence, during its formative years, it was indeed India’s good fortune that it had Jawaharlal Nehru as the head of its first government. Nehru was a genuine believer in democracy. Apart from being a person of great integrity whom power could not corrupt, Nehru was trained to be a leader of the common people by Mahatma Gandhi — the greatest democrat the 20th century produced. Mahatma Gandhi, by his precepts and practice, had given a new content to governance, namely maximum good of the poorest section of the population.
Nehru had spent his youth watching with great dismay and concern the onslaught of fascism — one of the most detestable forms of dictatorship in the world. He had seen the rise of fascism in Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Benito Mussolini’s Italy and worst of all, Adolph Hitler’s Germany.
When Nehru got the opportunity to build India’s democracy, brick by brick, he became more vigilant than ever before in ensuring that the foundations of the institutions of democracy had a sound basis.
The country was fortunate that apart from Nehru it had several other enlightened leaders who had imbibed the values and ideology of Mahatma Gandhi on democracy and good governance.
It has become fashionable these days for some critics to find fault with Nehru for certain lapses in dealing with some problems. No one will say that Nehru was “Mr Correct” in everything that he did, but his contribution in laying the foundations of a strong democratic system of administration cannot be questioned even by his sharpest critics.
CORRUPTION IS the single largest factor that has retarded the pace of development in post-Independence India.
Corruption was certainly not a new phenomenon in independent India. It had existed during the 150 years of colonial rule and in the territories under the rule of the princes.
What is new about corruption now is that it has become all-pervasive and crept into almost all spheres of life. During the British rule and early years of Independence, corruption at the top levels of civil service was a rare phenomenon. But now people have become so tolerant of corruption that even when some senior bureaucrats, like secretaries to government and heads of departments, are found guilty of corruption, it does not shock anyone. Corruption has entered into professions that were once considered hallowed — teaching, medicine, even charitable institutions.
Massive evasion of taxes due to the government and fraudulent practices in real estate transactions have become the main source of black money in India and are not frowned upon by the society. On the other hand, a new value system seems to be emerging according to which what matters is not the correctness of the means a person uses to make money, but whether s/he has made money or not.
An indication of this tolerance to corruption was evident in the rather soft reaction of the people to a very disturbing news item about huge sums of slush money deposited in Swiss banks by Indians. In October 2008, most newspapers published the surprising fact that India was on top of the list of depositors in Swiss banks and that if our government sends a request for the list of depositors, Swiss banks will provide the information.
According to estimates, Indians have $1,456 billion in Swiss banks, which is more money than what the rest of the world has put together in these banks.
The total amount lost to the government through corrupt practices in the collection of income tax, customs and excise duties has not been correctly assessed, but it will certainly be more than adequate to lift millions of people below the poverty line to tolerable standards of living.
In India, the poverty line is marked so low that lifting people just above that line is no guarantee for mitigating the rigours of poverty for them. Successive governments in India have accorded low priority to a determined fight against corruption though corruption continues to grow along with the growth rate.
One can only continue to hope that without much delay a leader would emerge in the country who will place the fight against corruption on the top of the agenda and who will have the ability and credibility to organise a nationwide movement against corruption on the lines of the nation’s struggle for freedom.
P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra
YES TO TWO-STATE SOLUTION MEANS STATUS QUO
BY BY HUSSEIN AGHA & ROBERT MALLEY
THE two-state solution has welcomed two converts. In recent weeks, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Mr Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, have indicated they now accept what they had long rejected. This nearly unanimous consensus is the surest sign to date that the two-state solution has become void of meaning. Everyone can say yes because saying yes no longer says much, and saying no has become too costly. Acceptance of the two-state solution signals continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle by other means.
Bowing to American pressure, Mr Netanyahu conceded the principle of a Palestinian state, but then described it in a way that stripped it of meaningful sovereignty. In essence, and with minor modifications, his position recalled that of Israeli leaders who preceded him. A state, he pronounced, would have to be demilitarised, without control over borders or airspace. Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and no Palestinian refugees would be allowed back to Israel. His emphasis was on the caveats rather than the concession. As for Hamas, recognition of the state of Israel has always been and remains taboo. Until recently, the movement had hinted it might acquiesce to Israel’s de facto existence and resign itself to establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. This sentiment has now grown from hint to certitude.
The US President, Mr Barack Obama’s June address in Cairo provoked among Hamas leaders a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. Mr Obama criticised the movement but did not couple his mention of Hamas with the term terrorism. His acknowledgement that the Islamists enjoyed the support of some Palestinians was grudging but charitable by American standards, prompting reflection within the Hamas movement over how to escape international confinement without betraying core beliefs.
The result of this deliberation was Hamas’ message that it would adhere to the internationally accepted wisdom — a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967, the year Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas also coupled its concession with caveats aplenty, demanding full Israeli withdrawal, full Palestinian sovereignty and respect for the refugees’ rights. In this, there was little to distinguish its position from conventional Palestinian attitudes.
Mr Netanyahu underscores that Israel must be recognised as a Jewish state — and recalls that the conflict began before the West Bank or Gaza were occupied. Palestinians reject recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and maintain that if Israel wants real closure, it will need to pay with more than mere statehood.
The exchange, for the first time in a long while, brings the conflict back to its historical roots. The dispute can be settled, both sides concur, only by looking past the occupation to questions born in 1948 — Arab rejection of the newborn Jewish state and the dispossession and dislocation of Palestinian refugees.
Both positions enjoy broad support within their respective communities. Few Israelis quarrel with the insistence that Israel be recognised as a Jewish state. It encapsulates their profound aspiration — an end to Arab questioning of Israel’s legitimacy and the spectre of the Palestinian refugees’ return.
In Palestinians’ eyes, to accept Israel as a Jewish state would legitimise the Zionist enterprise that brought about their tragedy. It would render the Palestinian national struggle at best meaningless, at worst criminal. Their firmness on the principle of their right of return flows from the belief that the 1948 war led to unjust displacement and that, whether or not refugees choose or are allowed to return to their homes, they can never be deprived of that natural right.
It’s easy to wince at these stands. They run against the grain of a peace process whose central premise is that ending the occupation and establishing a viable Palestinian state will bring this matter to a close. But to recall the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian clash is not to invent a new battle line. It is to resurrect an old one that did not disappear simply because powerful parties acted for some time as if it had ceased to exist.
It is hard today to imagine a resolution that does not entail two states. But two states may not be a true resolution if the roots of this clash are ignored. The ultimate territorial outcome almost certainly will be found within the borders of 1967. To be sustainable, it will need to grapple with matters left over since 1948. The first step will be to recognise that in the hearts and minds of Israelis and Palestinians, the fundamental question is not about the details of an apparently practical solution. It is an existential struggle between two worldviews.
By arrangement with the New York Times
This is with reference to the report Navy chief: We can’t match the Chinese, August 11. It is good to admit the truth but it is not advisable to disclose our shortcomings. We have the potential to save our motherland from all dangers. I request the administrators, intellectuals and politicians to control their emotions and be careful in placing the truth in the open. Gone are the days when truth was welcomed and appreciated.
Khaja Anwar Mohiuddin, Hyderabad
The remark of the Navy chief is unfortunate. We may not match China in military prowess, but we are in no way inferior to them. If China boasts of its growth in the IT sector, then we have also done equally good. Instead of talking about military capabilities, we should strive for peace. Good relations between China and India will do a world of good for Asia’s development.
Laxman Khanduri, Hyderabad
This is with reference to the report Citizens exhorted to do more against corruption, August 11. I want to tell the central vigilance commissioner that much cynicism has crept in the their own enforcement agencies than the citizens. The enforcement agencies should be more proactive and tackle corruption on a war-footing instead of depending on citizens. The ACB should be given a free hand and the money seized should be used to recruit more officials instead of just depositing it in government treasury.
This is with reference to the report Aussies attack 2 Indians, August 11. The Australian Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, had promised to the external affairs minister, Mr S.M. Krishna, that all steps will be taken to protect the Indian students. But he did not keep his word. What’s the use of our minister visiting Australia? Bilateral ties between the two nations have taken a beating because of the racial attacks.
V.K. Jagan Mohan, Hyderabad
This is with reference to the report Kasab to observe roza, August 11. The court was very benevolent to allow Kasab with milk, fruits and books. Did Kasab come to India on an expedition and was unnecessarily caught? I don’t understand the purpose of the trial.
Vijay Gadgil, Hyderabad
Everybody knows that Kasab was involved in the Mumbai attacks. There are a lot of eyewitnesses to it. Despite that, the court has been hearing the case for many months now. It is time the court passes a judgment.
Sirish Reddy, Hyderabad
This is with reference to the report Pune shut down, flu toll rises to 7, August 11. The virus is not only claiming lives, but affecting the job market as well. Oversees employers are refusing to come to India to conduct interviews because of the flu fear.
Anand Sudripta Rao, Hyderabad
DIARY OF AN ‘EX-TRAITOR’
BY BY JAVED ANAND
As I experienced it, my college in Allahabad was among the battle front during the Indo-Pak war, 1965. A few days into that conflict, the subject of discourse in our physics lab one afternoon is not about learning science through experiments but the treachery of Indian Muslims. “Sir”, one agitated student tells the teacher as we gather around him for instructions, “Some Muslims in our neighbourhood are trying to help Pakistani pilots. Last night, they kept the lights on despite the black-out siren”.
Neither our physics teacher nor any of my classmates challenge or contradict what has just been said. I, the only Muslim present in the lab, am not from the neighbourhood in question. Yet, unable to help the feeling that the finger is indirectly pointed towards me (with Muslims, how can you ever be sure?), I feel stunned, humiliated, speechless. The coward that I am (was then), I do not have it in me to voice the questions that rush through my mind.
Allahabad being so far away from the Indo-Pak border, where is the question of an impending danger of any bomb attack on our city? A precautionary security exercise by the authorities is, of course, understandable. But are Muslims such suicidal morons in addition to being pro-Pakistani traitors, as to light up their homes even for a precautionary security drill? How much advance training does a traitor need to remember to leave the lights on if and when the enemy comes calling? Does anyone care that when India got divided, for both my father and his elder brother there was never any question of turning their backs on Madr-e-Watan (Motherland)? Or that, when asked repeatedly by a Pakistani Army officer soon after the country’s Partition to choose, my mamujaan, Syed Mohammed Ibrahim, had an unhesitating one-word answer: Hindustan?
There was more to come the next day. In an obvious goad, two of my classmates walk up to inform me that minutes earlier, the police had arrested two Pakistani spies from the public park across the road from our college. This time I do have something to say. “How do you know they are not Muslims like me being detained on mere suspicion? Did the police decide they were Pakistanis only because they had Muslim names?” I ask. “Oh, so you don’t believe our police, do you?” is the angry retort. They stomp away with dagger looks, leaving me seething with impotent rage for the second time in two days. I have to lash out; I have to have my revenge. And I have it even if only in the coward’s way. After namaaz that evening I silently pray for Pakistan’s victory in the war against India! I am being taunted, suspected of being a traitor to India. Outraged at being put through the patriotism test, I turn a traitor through my private prayer: an Indian Muslim harbouring pro-Pakistan sentiments.
That was 1965. A different time (1971), a different place (IIT, Bombay), same context: another Indo-Pak war. I am in the final year of the B.Tech course. This time, none of my classmates or co-hostelites seems to have any doubt about my allegiance to India. Not for a moment do I feel pressured to prove my patriotic credentials. Glued for days to the transistor with fellow hostelites, most of them non-Muslims, we all jump with collective joy as All India Radio announces the victory of the Indian armed forces and the liberation of Bangladesh. Five years, I discover, can be a long time in the journey of the heart and mind.
As I reflect now on my childhood and teenage years living in a Muslim-predominant village and a Muslim mohalla in Allahabad, until the mid-60s a small section of Indian Muslims did remain ambivalent about Pakistan. The issue, however, was not about religion or ideology but one of bread and butter, future prospects. It was not uncommon then to hear of some Muslim relative, friend or acquaintance migrating to Pakistan which then seemed as easy as moving to Agra or Almora. But the birth of Bangladesh purged even the ambivalent Indian Muslim of the illusion that if things didn’t quite work out or turned nasty in India, a safe haven called Pakistan was always an option.
The birth of Bangladesh simultaneously spelt the death of the misconceived two-nation theory. But unfortunately for Indian Muslims the story doesn’t end there; more than 60 years later they continue to pay the price. For its own good if for nothing else, no democracy worth the name should subject a section of its citizens to the systemic discrimination, marginalisation, ghettoisation, progressive political disempowerment and alienation that has been the lot of India’s Muslims. Neither should it guarantee impunity in advance to the perpetrators of anti-minority carnages. This notwithstanding, in conversation among co-religionists, elderly Indian Muslims sometimes also see themselves as the real orphans, the worst and continuing victims of India’s bloody Partition.
“The division of the subcontinent was the biggest blunder in the history of mankind. The Partition not only divided our land, but also divided Muslims into three parts”, said the London-based Altaf Hussain, founder-leader, Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), an organisation of Indian Muslim migrants (mohajirs), in an interview to an Indian newspaper in July 2001. He has frequently reiterated the same view and not many Muslims in India would disagree with the sentiment. It is for this very reason that today no one gets as alarmed or is as staunchly opposed to any thought of a Kashmir separated from India than an Indian Muslim.
As for those who believe the words Muslim and Pakistani are synonymous, here’s a reality check: Born after Partition, there are tens of millions of young Muslims today who carry no historical burden. Why should they? But please don’t taunt him, suspect him, push him to the wall. I remain forever grateful to my Class of 1971 which welcomed me. And my silent prayers now are that we all get it right the first time around.
Javed Anand is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy
US HEALTHCARE GETS ‘LOUISED’
BY BY JUDITH WARNER
Louise Caire Clark is making a karmic comeback.
Fifteen years after she starred in the infamous Harry and Louise ads — the televised spots that are generally credited with having turned the tide of public opinion against Clinton-era health reform — she and Harry are back, angling for a shot at redemption, with a new ad campaign, “Get the Job Done”, in support of the Obama plan.
“I hope I get to be part of helping it happen this time”, she told me in an interview last week.
The Harry and Louise ads not only put the nail in the coffin of healthcare reform in 1994, they also brought an end to Clark’s ability to make a living from television commercials. (“One casting director said: ‘Go home. I’m not having someone who wrecked the Clinton health plan’”, she said. “My face was so well known that I couldn’t go and do commercials selling cars”.)
They also left her with a legacy that, a decade-and-a-half later, still makes her shudder.
“I’m always asked, ‘How does it feel to have killed healthcare?’” Clark said.
She looked down at her hands. “I always wanted reform”, she said. “I felt bad it didn’t happen”.
It is always seductive to think that things happen for a reason. And that big things occur for big reasons, or, at the very least, for reasons that make some kind of sense. It is always shocking when major events — like the death of healthcare reform — happen for small reasons that are, essentially, senseless. Like an actress getting a role. Like an actress falling in love. Like an actress, in her infatuation, finding the inspiration to play a part — to play the public — so well that it alters the course of national policy.
When she was hired for the job of playing Louise, Clark was probably the least likely candidate possible for killing healthcare reform.
She was — and still is — a great fan of socialised medicine. In the 1980s, she had lived in Australia, where she had experienced the perks of national healthcare firsthand. As she puts it: “I’m familiar with what it’s like to take a four-year-old to the emergency room in Sydney late at night on a rainy night and have five doctors standing at the door and not get a bill”.
In 1992, she had campaigned door to door for Bill Clinton. In 1993, as a single mother of two, finishing college while working to support her family, she knew what it was like to fear losing health insurance. She was gung-ho for reform.
Which is why, when she first came on to the set, and read her lines, she almost walked off the job.
“I was in a very bad mood”, she recalled. “I was going to make as much as it would cost to pay a baby sitter for the day. I got a script and said, ‘Whoa, Houston, we have a problem’. I had to stop production to have the director explain to me who was funding it and what they were trying to do”.
The director was the political consultant Ben Goddard. He told Clark that the ads were being paid for by the Health Insurance Association of America. But, he said, the insurance lobby’s goal was merely to “open communications with the White House, to bring everyone in”, she recalls.
“He said, ‘It’s just one ad, and everybody knows there’s going to be health reform’”.
Goddard assured Clark that he, too, was a Democrat. He also invited her out for a cup of coffee. They were married in 1997.
“We had our first date that night”. She smiled at the recollection. For a moment.In 1993 and 1994, she thought healthcare reform was inevitable, Clark said. “When it disappeared without what was supposed to happen happening, I was sad. I was very upset”.
But, she sighed, “I was so in love with Ben, it was hard to say, ‘I shouldn’t have done this’”.
Clintoncare, of course, might well have failed without Harry and Louise. Had Clark walked off the set, another actress — there was talk of a redhead — would have been cast instead.
But another actress might not have had that special something that allowed Clark to connect so perfectly to the American public, that gentleness of voice, that steadiness of gaze, that very real likability. And likability — relatability — we’ve seen time and again, trumps reason, trumps logic, trumps truth in politics.
Just a few months ago, health reform felt inevitable — just like it did in 1993. Now, just like in ’94, that sense of inevitability is fading. Let’s hope that, this time, we don’t get Louised. Let’s not be seduced into letting change slip away.
By arrangement with the New York Times
SPACE TRAVEL: IT’S ALL MUCK AND GOO
BY BY HUGO RIFKIND
Should one wish to become a taikonaut in the Chinese space programme (and one does not, fervently, but one is just saying), here follows a short list of the things that Chinese military doctor Shi Bing Bing will be checking that one absolutely does not have.
Bad breath. Body odour. A family history of serious illness in the past three generations. Scars that “may burst”. An unpleasant disposition. An unenthusiastic wife. Drug allergies. Ringworm. Indeed, probably any sort of worm. Tooth cavities. Athlete’s foot. Haemorrhoids. Excessive snot. Yep, he’s quite the body-fascist, is “Chandler” Bing Bing. (One also has claustrophobia and vertigo. One wouldn’t have a hope.)
Across the East China Sea, meanwhile, a Japanese chap by the name of Koichi Wakata has just returned from the International Space Station. “I haven’t talked about my underwear to crew members”, he shared, upon landing. “I have been wearing it for about a month”. A couple of weeks in, he ate a curry.
Score one, I’d say, to the Japanese. For ever since man first thought of wedging a goldfish bowl over his ears, there have been two competing visions of how life in space ought to be. Some look up, and essentially see a dentist’s surgery. Others see an abattoir. Clean, sterile perfection versus grit, blood and dirt.On the one side, along with the Chinese, we would find a thousand bits of dated sci-fi in which everybody wears tin foil and only the villains have beards. This would include most of Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Doctor Who, Lost in Space, most of Star Trek, and the persistent pop-culture notion that aliens are small antiseptic creatures with fantastic skin (albeit green) and no genitals.
On the other side, we’d have Alien, the good bits of Star Wars (when Vader’s helmet comes off), the good bits of Star Trek (when the slug goes into Mr Zulu’s ear), Barbarella, ET, Sunshine, and the persistent pop-culture notion that even though aliens are small antiseptic creatures with fantastic skin, all they will ever want to do is strap us on to a trolley and beat us to death with a giant metal probe.
Fictionwise, the latter wins every time. This is most starkly seen in the difference between the old Battlestar Galactica (a bit rubbish — the Cylons are shiny robots who go whummm) and the new Battlestar Galactica (utterly fantastic — the Cylons are spongy organic clones grown in vats of slime, who have tired of going whummm and now waft around in skimpy frocks instead). Factwise, too, you need your muck to stay interested.
Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff is a remarkably boring book considering its subject matter (how America got into space), but it comes alive when it gets on to toilet habits.
What was it really like to be an early astronaut? Wolfe tells us about Alan Shepard, the first American in space, who spent four hours strapped upside-down in his ship before what was supposed to be a 15-minute flight, and ended up tripping a fuse on his life-support monitors by doing a wee in his spacesuit.
On the International Space Station three weeks ago the toilet broke down. Koichi Wakata will have been fine, what with his magic pants, but the rest of the 13-strong crew had to queue to use the Russian one.
That’s the stuff. Space travel is not about men being machines. It’s about man and machine clamped together. Consider a squidgy, man-shaped sack of goo, with all the things that need to go into it and the things that need to come out of it. Squeeze it into a tin can and hurl it at the sky. Oomsk and all.Gary McKinnon was looking for aliens. Or so he says. He’s the British hacker wanted by the United States for breaking into computer systems belonging to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and the Pentagon, all because he wanted to find evidence for UFOs (unidentified flying object). Nobody wants him to be extradited, but he probably will be anyway. Mid-hack, he says, he found photos of spaceships, and an Excel list of military personnel entitled “Non-Terrestrial Officers”. No more details, alas. They could be sexy, but they could go whumm. I suppose we’ll never know.
McKinnon’s seems to be the strangest of cases. On one side you have the pro-Gary camp, whose primary tactic seems to be to belittle him at every turn. “Asperger’s Syndrome!” they cry. “Harmless weirdo loner!
Didn’t wash much! Hunting for aliens! In his pants!” On the other, you have evil, glowering prosecutors in America, who aren’t saying much. It’s not even clear if they buy the whole “aliens” thing at all, or if they reckon McKinnon is actually your proper international hacker villain. Like in Mission: Impossible.
Either way, it strikes me that there is only one reason why this has all been allowed to drag on for eight years, and that’s because McKinnon isn’t Muslim. Or Middle Eastern. Or Asian, or North African. Or any sort of non-white, really. Hell, particularly tanned and Spanish would probably do it.
Bluntly, if the guy was in any way dusky of hue, I simply don’t believe that he wouldn’t have been bundled off over there years ago, perhaps with a bag on his head. Aliens? Yeah right, Abdul. Tell it to the waterboard.
Aside from having that slight David Icke/David Bowie thing going on around the eyes, McKinnon looks like somebody’s son or uncle.
Somebody normal who just sat at his desk and got carried away. And because of that, it’s easy to forget that the big argument should have nothing to do with his personal circumstances. McKinnon sat down at a computer, and committed a crime. That crime had ramifications in America, sure, but he can only have committed it here, in the UK, because here is where he was. So, either we allow people to be extradited for crimes committed here, or we don’t. Either we hand ’em over, or we deal with ’em ourselves.
Me, I’d vote for the latter every time. Only it does seem that there is another misguided conspiracy theorist in a similar situation to McKinnon, who also is alleged to have sat down at a computer in north London, to have done things that (if he is found guilty) would have been criminal here, and who America also wants to stand trial over there. That would be old blinky hooky himself, Abu Hamza, known for his preaching against non-Muslims and is an extremist Sunni Muslim currently in prison in the United Kingdom. What happened to the Daily Mail campaign on behalf of him? I must have missed it.
By arrangement with the Spectator
When the prime minister of India takes the unprecedented step of attending a meeting of all the chief secretaries of the various states, there is cause for immediate concern. The concern is justified since the agenda for the meeting was the drought and the rise in food prices. Whatever the official figures for the rate of inflation, anyone paying a visit to the market knows that prices are soaring. Similarly, there is no need to be a meteorologist to gauge that rainfall across the country is not sufficient. Lack of adequate rain will adversely affect crops and therefore food supply. This will further aggravate the rise in prices. The prime minister has assured the nation that there are enough food stocks available, and that there is no danger of widespread hunger. But this assurance of the prime minister, if it is to translate into action, will mean smooth supplies and greater co-operation between the states and the Centre. In India, a country haunted by hunger and undernourishment, whose agriculture is largely dependent on the monsoon, the threat of drought needs to be met with the same level of alertness as that with which the country would meet the possibility of war. The prime minister’s presence at the meeting of the chief secretaries shows that the matter is being taken very seriously at the highest level. Quick and timely action is the best way to avoid panic.
There is a graver issue that also demands the prime minister’s attention. A drought will inevitably mean that people connected with agriculture — especially the poorer sections — will have less money to spend. This, in turn, will entail their inability to buy the foodgrain that the government supplies to the market. The conventional answer to such a predicament is the public distribution system whose track record is pretty pathetic in India. Drought thus leads not only to hunger but also to greater indebtedness and loss of cattle necessary to continue the agrarian cycle. The prime minister, one is certain, will take a more holistic view of the threat of drought rather than looking at it only through the prism of hunger. Shrinkage in rural demand will affect the industrial sector too. This will hinder India’s growth prospects. Issues of enormous import hinge on how the government chooses to tackle the problem of inadequate rainfall. The cliché that the Indian economy is a gamble on the monsoon refuses to go away.
Everything is political — even little monkeys. The idea of a zoo feels distinctly archaic these days, giving off more than a whiff of political incorrectness. So the neglect and mismanagement that have become chronic to the Calcutta zoo often come across as less shocking than they should be, although no less sad and cruel for being so. Yet, the zoo does make news every now and then, and for bizarre reasons — two people mauled by a tiger after trying to put a garland round its neck, chimpanzees breaking out of their cage, a giraffe fatally entangled in overhead wire and now, eight stolen monkeys. Professionals (prison guards or private security-men) sleeping through their watch with unfortunate consequences have also been heard of recently in West Bengal. The monkey-stealing is possibly part of a similar scenario. Two private guards employed by the Alipore zoo have been arrested, and its director suspended; an inquiry is on into the theft, and the alleged mix of laxity and collusion in the guards is yet to be proven. But the episode is as much a reminder of the zoo being part of a thriving illegal trade in animals as of the zoo’s generally miserable state. The sorriness of it all becomes more than a little absurd with two political parties fitting the zoo up with loudspeakers and hoardings in order to protest against the stealing of the marmosets, breaking some rules and traumatizing the animals in the process. But this too is typically Bengal.
If there must be a zoo in Calcutta, then those who run it and the Central Zoo Authority must put their heads together and think through its raison d’être. Otherwise, it would be difficult to rescue the place from being derecognized by the CZA, a fate that could have befallen it more than once. A zoo still has a significant role to play in the conservation of threatened species, and that role, quite apart from the zoo’s touristic and entertainment value, should be taken seriously. Many important cities of the world, including a few Indian ones, have well-maintained zoos that do not exude a tragic air as does the one in Calcutta. Zoos have evolved with the times, and a heartlessly circus-like display of wildlife is no more the purpose of zoos in the modern world. If the Alipore zoo fails to overcome inertia and corruption, then it would be difficult for it to justify its own existence to those who genuinely care for animals.
NEAR THE TIPPING POINT
INDIA MUST CONFRONT THE DANGERS OF BEING HYPER-POPULATED
Ghulam Nabi Azad’s observation on India’s population growth was a warning that was long overdue. Ever since Sanjay Gandhi’s misguided, hugely controversial and unpopular birth-control excesses of 1975-77, birth and population control in our over-populated country became, and has remained, a taboo in the public domain. Population became such a politically sensitive subject that no politician or political party in India was ready to acknowledge that the country was in real danger of moving from being over-populated to becoming hyper- populated, followed by disastrous consequences.
It began to be believed that with economic growth and the rise of the middle classes, the birth rates in India would get gradually moderated, eventually reaching a manageable level of equilibrium. It was hoped that the slowing of population growth would be supported by a rise in female education and literacy, followed by a gradual rise in the age of marriage, together with universal primary education becoming a fundamental right. The rapid growth of India’s population was seen as an asset that would yield India a demographic advantage and hence an enormous economic dividend. The Chinese one-child family was heavily criticized as it was leading to a skewed sex ratio, with males outnumbering females, and to the possibility of a higher proportion of old people in China by the middle of the 21st century, while India would continue to be a country of the young.
While there is an element of truth in these arguments regarding population, India is in a much greater danger of facing adverse consequences from hyper-population, and some of which are upon us already.
The migration of individuals as well as whole families from rural India to its cities, suburbs and towns is now a rapidly increasing phenomenon, leading to unabated over-population in the metros and to the growth of several small and medium-sized cities across India. While the mobility of the rural population has some positive impact in generating employment, rise of entrepreneurship and other economic advantages, the population explosion in major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai is creating unmanageable problems of congestion, leading to the growth of slums, the breakdown of law and order, because of which the cities and their civil societies are experiencing huge strain. Many of the cities that had a population of 5-8 million and were reasonably well-managed until 20 or 30 years ago are struggling to manage populations of 12-15 million (and still rising). Managing a big Indian city is becoming like managing a small nation.
The transition from being reasonably manageable to the present state, where many of the cities can no longer be adequately managed, is a phenomenon that can be best called the “tipping point”. The tipping point is the point at which order gradually gives way to disorder and, eventually, to chaos. Cities like Mumbai, Calcutta, Bangalore and Ahmedabad have reached, or passed, their tipping points. There are certain characteristics which signal the tipping point. For example, the governments in charge of states in which these cities are located gradually get weakened in their ability to govern or administer. The municipal corporations, which are meant to serve a manageable population and built-up area, now find themselves overwhelmed by vast populations and unplanned urban development that proves to be less and less manageable. So, there is a competition between the service-seekers, the citizens, to capture the capacity and resources of the service-givers, which then leads to widespread rent-seeking to a point where rent-seeking has become natural and legitimate in urban transactions. The other visible manifestation is the rise of land sharks and a powerful builders’ lobby. As per-capita land availability diminishes, land and house prices shoot up and the land mafia of builders and brokers acquire huge power and become a source of political funding.
After the tipping point, a number of other consequences also follow. The traditional law-and-order machinery is no longer able to control and cater to the needs of an ever-growing population. The elected leaders suffer from a sense of helplessness and turn to nurture their rural constituencies rather than manage the problems of the urban centres. Public amenities like transport, sanitation, educational institutions and hospitals gradually become dysfunctional, creating a sense of distress and helplessness among those who have to avail themselves of these services. Since normal housing becomes unaffordable for the waves of migrants to the city, huge numbers of illegal slums crop up to provide affordable shelter and a new class of slumlords begin to exercise their power through fear, extortion and coercion, becoming alternate power centres on their way to being tomorrow’s elected political leaders. If this state of affairs continues in the years to come, it would eventually lead to the collapse of civil society in the not-too-distant future.
One of the ways of trying to restore a sense of some order in these chaotic cities is for the political and civic administration to consider demarcating more manageable entities within the mega-cities, made up of populations of, say, 3-5 million. In some respects, this has happened in the spill-over townships extending out of a city like Mumbai, where the distant suburbs like Thane-Belapur and Navi Mumbai have their own civic administrations and, in some cases, guardian ministers who nurture these self-sustaining satellites and ease the load on the main city.
The main city of Mumbai can only become manageable once more if, say, North, Central and South Mumbai had dedicated municipal corporations. The Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission could have, as its central objective, the demarcating of manageable contiguous units in each mega-city for the purposes of governance and providing essential civic services. The challenges of such reordering are not inconsiderable, but doing nothing is even more dangerous. Creating entities that can be better managed can only be interim solutions. India must publicly acknowledge that it faces the dangerous consequences of hyper-population. Besides every Indian citizen, the country’s leadership must see the issue as one of the highest importance, to be dealt with as one of the biggest challenges facing the country.
The Union health minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, would not have raised the subject in the public domain without a political green signal. His message is likely to be received with a great sense of relief, because India’s problem of hyper-population weighs on the back of the mind of every Indian. What steps the citizens take to control the size of their families will be entirely in their own hands, but what the government must do is publicly acknowledge that India faces the dangers of a population explosion, and that something must be done to reverse the trend.
While education becomes more accessible, female literacy will grow, India’s economic growth will be sustained, more people will move into the middle class and inclusive growth would spreads far and wide — all of this would be more effective and visible if we begin to deal with the challenge of population explosion as a matter of national urgency. This is the only way India will be able to pull back from the precipice of the “tipping point”.
HAPPY DAYS FOR VETERANS
The chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, was present at the Patna airport to receive George Fernandes. He escorted his onetime guru to the office of the state Election Commission, where Fernandes filed his nomination for the Rajya Sabha election. Reports in the newspapers spoke of the ailing Fernandes thanking the same man against whom he had railed just the other day for having denied him a ticket for the Lok Sabha from Muzaffarpur. Nevertheless, he had contested as an independent only to suffer an ignominious defeat. Now, it is happy days once more for the veteran socialist.
Nitish Kumar may have had his own reasons for selecting Fernandes. Some say that he did it to keep at bay other Janata Dal (United) leaders whom he did not quite trust. That is a matter of speculation. What is more pertinent is that when he had refused to allow Fernandes contest the Lok Sabha polls, he had cited health reasons. Now Fernandes will be a member of the Upper House. Is it to be believed that in the short intervening period, Fernandes has recovered his health and is fit to attend to parliamentary duties now? While denying the veteran a ticket, Nitish Kumar had suggested that the former could be sent to the Rajya Sabha at a later date. So what it all boils down to is that in the chief minister’s perception, a person may be too ill to be considered for the Lok Sabha, but not so for the Rajya Sabha. Is the Upper House then a dumping ground for the aged and the infirm?
That, most certainly, is not what the Constitution makers had in mind. But in the last sixty odd years, the Rajya Sabha has, to a fair measure, been used by political parties to accommodate people who have to be provided, for one reason or the other, with parliamentary refuge. It is not strange therefore that for most, it has ceased to enjoy the importance it should have had. Even though there have been prime ministers, including the present one, and senior ministers from the Rajya Sabha, they have always itched for a Lok Sabha seat. Indira Gandhi got herself directly elected at the first opportunity, and Pranab Mukherjee, a long time Rajya Sabha member, was obviously pleased when he won the Lok Sabha election in 2004.
The importance of the Rajya Sabha has been undermined by political parties for logistical reasons too. When parties need members in other states to work at the Central office, they try to get them into the Rajya Sabha so that the problem of housing is taken care of. Whether that person will be able to effectively highlight issues concerning the state is seldom, if ever, of any concern.
There are also other ways in which this process of undermining is consciously helped. Take the case of Fernandes, for instance. The people of Muzaffarpur did not want to see him as their representative in Parliament. But now he will be, technically at least, a representative for the whole of Bihar. Certainly not fair, but that is what is happening all over the country. Such re-entries into the Parliament are certainly legal, but are they moral?
But why raise issues of legitimacy or morality in a situation where the political parties went into a tizzy over the rule that a Rajya Sabha member must be a resident of the state which he represents. That rule has now been done away with, and so, anybody can get elected from any state where his or her party has the required strength in the assembly to ensure victory. This also had been the system initially and one of the arguments in its favour is that it does away with compartmentalism, which the amendment was thought to have introduced. One, however, suspects that the old system was brought back not in the interests of integration but under pressure. The cause of self-interest was made to triumph.
RETURN TO BEING ‘BANANA REPUBLIC’
SIXTY PER CENT OF HO-NDURAS’ POPULATION LIVES BELOW POVERTY LINE. ZELAYA HOPED TO TRANSFORM THIS.
BY IGNACIO RAMONET
The world’s conservative groups and their usual propagandists received the news of the June 28 coup in Honduras with immense pleasure. Although they made critical noises about the coup itself, they swallowed and justified the arguments of those who carried it out, repeating that “President Manuel Zelaya had committed numerous violations of the constitution by wanting to hold a referendum to remain in power.”
These statements are patently false. President Zelaya did not violate a single article of the constitution. Nor did he organise a referendum. Nor did he want to extend his term in office, which ends on Jan 27, 2010. His intention was to organise a non-binding ballot initiative (a simple opinion poll) asking citizens: “Do you agree that in the November 2009 general elections a fourth item should be added to the ballot to decide whether or not to hold a national constitutive assembly for the purpose of drafting a new constitution of the republic?”
Moreover, supposing that a majority of Hondurans answered yes to this question, the vote on the fourth issue would only have been held on Nov 29, the day of the presidential election in which, given the terms of the current Honduran constitution, Zelaya would have absolutely no way of presenting himself as a candidate.
So why was the coup carried out? Because Honduras remains the ‘property’ of a handful of 15 leading families that control everything in the country: the executive, legislature, and judiciary, the main economic resources, the Catholic church hierarchy, the media, and the armed forces. The majority of its governments have been so corrupt and so beholden to foreign business that the American humourist O Henry coined the term ‘banana republic’ to describe the country.
In 1929, in an attempt at conveying how easy it was to bribe an Honduran legislator, Samuel Zamurray, alias ‘Banana Sam’, the president of Cuyamel Fruit, a rival of United Fruit, said, “A Honduran deputy costs less than a female mule”. At the end of the 1980s, President Jose Azcona del Hoyo accepted the submission of Honduras to US strategy, confessing, “A country as small as Honduras does not have the luxury of dignity”. And a group of entrepreneurs even proposed that the country convert itself into a Freely Associated State of the US, like Puerto Rico.
Honduras is almost completely dependent economically on its gigantic neighbour to the North. Seventy per cent of its exports (plantains, coffee, and sugar) go to the US, where Honduran emigrants send back about three billion dollars a year to their families at home. In addition, most of the capital of the low-wage factories in the free trade zones is American.
Thirty years ago, after the Sandinista revolution in El Salvador, Washington decided to turn Honduras into a sort of aircraft carrier for its military operations against the guerrilla revolutionaries in Guatemala and El Salvador and in support of the anti-Sandinista Contras’. One of the first steps the US took was to install a ‘controlled democracy’ in Tegucigalpa. In 1980, for the first time there were ‘free elections’; a year later Roberto Suavo Cordova was elected, who ushered in a reign of terror, ‘death squads’, ‘disappearances’ and elimination of Leftist activists. It was in these circumstances that the 1982 constitution in effect today was promulgated.
This constitution was drafted by the country’s primary economic forces, which want to maintain in perpetuity one the most unequal systems of income distribution on the planet. Sixty per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Zelaya hoped to transform this. A member of one of the big landowning families of Honduras and member of the Liberal Party, the president sought to reduce the inequality in his country. He increased the minimum wage by 50 per cent, stopped the privatisation of public companies and came out in favour of greater citizen participation in setting public policy. And this happened before Honduras joined Petrocaribe in 2007 and ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the People of Our America ) in 2008.
Zelaya’s intellectual voyage and ‘conversion’ to a progressive conception of society are exemplary.
It was too much for the ‘owners’ of Honduras to bear. With the support of US hawks John Negroponte and Otto Reich, they plotted the June 28 coup that the armed forces then carried out. Every foreign ministry in the world condemned it — because the age of the coup is over and the age of the people has come.
A COMMON DISEASE
THE GIRLS TRIED TO FOOL THE CONDUCTOR. BUT, THEY COULDN’T GET AWAY.
BY BHARATHI PRABHU
We were on our way back home. The bus was not crowded and I was enjoying the ride.
The conductor had a pleasant temperament. He made small talk with an elderly man, waited patiently for a boy to fish out change and then settled down in his place. I commented to my daughter that nearly everyone on the bus was using a cellphone to either communicate or listen to music. She was doing the latter and didn’t respond!
At the next stop, a waft of perfume assailed us and a pair of chattering girls got in. The girls were nattily dressed and juggled hand bags and cellphones while holding on to the over head supporting rails. The conductor approached them and when one of the girls said ‘pass,’ he said ‘show it please.’
It was the girl’s obvious displeasure at being asked to show the pass that caught my attention. Screwing up her face she made a big show of digging deep into her bag. Out came chocolate bars, lip balm, tissues, wallet and finally the pass which she held close to herself and said ‘here.’ The conductor asked her to hand it over and examining it, pronounced it past its expiry date!
As the girl mumbled something about travelling by another bus without any problem, he asked her friend also to show the pass and the drama repeated itself. It was obvious that the girls were aware that the passes were no longer valid. They were trying to see if they could get away with it. The girls’ excuses didn’t cut any ice with the conductor and they were asked to buy tickets.
I gave the girls dirty looks and told the conductor that it was indeed shameful that well off girls try to cheat like this and got dirtier looks from my teenager. The conductor told me that this was very common. Asked whether they were not getting away with it too easily, by just buying tickets afterwards, he shrugged.
As I saw the girls nonchalantly get off the bus, I wondered how best to teach them a lesson? A fine of hundred or two hundred rupees won’t help. A celebrity in the US was asked to clean toilets as punishment for drunken driving. Perhaps asking these rule breakers to do the same in our bus stands would be punishment enough?
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration must notify a federal court next month whether it will do what is necessary to save endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest. The decision will tell us a lot about how the administration sees its obligations under the Endangered Species Act. The Bush team evaded its responsibilities with amazing acts of legal casuistry.
A dozen salmon species in the Columbia River Basin have been declared endangered or threatened — their spawning grounds destroyed by logging and commercial development, and their route to the sea made more arduous by a gauntlet of hydroelectric dams.
Over the years, the Bonneville Power Administration, which runs the dams, and other agencies have unblocked spawning streams and increased water flows over the dams to help young fish reach the sea. But that has not been enough to restore what scientists regard as sustainable fish runs. And it has not been enough for James Redden, a federal district judge in Oregon who has become the salmon’s most reliable defender.
Since 2003, Judge Redden has rejected two recovery plans devised in the Clinton and Bush administrations. Both promised further habitat restoration and further modifications in dam operations. Neither, in the judge’s view, did enough to ensure the fish’s long-term survival. And while the Endangered Species Act requires that every effort be made to ensure the recovery of a species, the Bush plan promised little more than allowing the fish to go extinct at a slower rate.
Judge Redden was about to toss a second Bush plan earlier this year on some of the same grounds when the Obama administration asked for time to review it. The judge said fine, while warning that he could not accept any revision that adopted the Bush administration’s misinterpretation of the law.
Significantly, he also said that any new plan should leave all recovery options on the table, including the idea of breaching four dams on the lower Snake River. We have long recommended such a course, which many scientists see as the surest means of restoring the fish.
The judge has now given the administration 30 days to get this right. The official who will ultimately make the decision is Gary Locke, the secretary of commerce and former governor of Washington. We would be surprised if he recommended immediate breaching. Ways must be found to replace the power that the dams generate, which amounts to 4 percent of the region’s total. But he has to do better than his predecessors, otherwise Judge Redden could well place the operations of the hyrdroelectric system under court order and devise a plan of his own.
This means that at the very least Mr. Locke must reject the Bush plan, promise to devise a new one in close consultation with regional interests and keep dam removal on the table as very real backup if all else fails.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
There once was a time when school seemed to begin at the same time all across the country. One day it was still summer, and the next day the roads were full of yellow school buses, the hallways clattering with the sound of slamming lockers. But these days it is a staggered start, a serial easing city by city into the school year. The back-to-school season — new planners for everyone! — can feel like a holiday that has lost its coherence.
Instead of the grand, if slightly queasy, back-to-school feeling, there is, for many students, the less grand, if still slightly queasy, didn’t-we-just-leave feeling. They straggle back from camps and summer programs, from jobs and internships, hoping to find a few days of vacation before first period of that first day of school.
And, as their children make guest appearances at home, more than a few parents think back with nostalgia to their own (wasn’t it endless?) childhood summers full of things that certainly never made it onto their curriculum vitae.
For some students — those in Miami-Dade County, for example, where public schools open to students on Aug. 24 — the start of classes is just around the corner. Others — including New York City, where public schools open Sept. 9 — still have the quaint luxury of waiting until after Labor Day, but even that is not far away.
Soon, the bells will ring; the lockers will slam; the halls will empty; the classrooms will fill; and the stress level for kids and parents will rise. But even in the heavy mid-August air, there is an excitement, a crisp tang of newness anticipating a new school year.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SKIES OVER THE HUDSON
The midair collision of a small aircraft and a helicopter over the Hudson River near Midtown Manhattan on Saturday was horrifying. The crash left nine people dead and prompted widespread demands for more order in a heavily trafficked, under-regulated air corridor that one politician called “the Wild West.”
The corridor stretches from the George Washington Bridge to Governors Island, and there are, in fact, some rules. Northbound traffic goes along the New York side, for example, and southbound goes closer to New Jersey. But there is no traffic cop. The main rule is that pilots must “see and avoid” each other, which in this case clearly was not enough.
Some political leaders have demanded that the F.A.A. immediately take more control of the airspace up to 1,100 feet above the river. But buildings can restrict radar, the agency’s normal means of surveillance. And the F.A.A. is short of money and monitors. Others have called for more restrictions, such as assigning “layers” in the airspace — one for small planes, another for helicopters — or requiring pilots to install better technology.
But before any rush to judgment, the National Transportation Safety Board must determine what happened. And a lot of other questions must be answered.
First, how big is the problem? Have there been close calls in these crowded skies, and if so, how frequently? Second, assuming there is a problem, what more can be done about it? Could the F.A.A. play a bigger role?
The F.A.A. contends that the present rules and procedures are enough. Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Monday that after previous incidents, her agency had recommended changes in the Hudson River air traffic patterns that had not been enacted by the F.A.A. She did not elaborate.
And if there are to be new restrictions, how should the burden be distributed among the different users of this airspace? Private plane operators are among the most forceful lobbyists before the F.A.A. Helicopters in New York City account for many millions of dollars in tourist and corporate revenue annually, and have a powerful friend in Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Should either or both be required to trim their operations? These are reasonable questions that need to be answered quickly.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A CHANCE TO RETURN THE FAVOR
The bailout of the American International Group has entered another phase — one that includes even more generous payments for some banks.
The first phase, you will recall, occurred last fall. A.I.G. was on the brink of collapse because it had used complex derivatives to insure mortgage securities that turned out to be toxic — without putting aside reserves in case it had to pay up. Fearing the whole financial system could collapse, the government loaned A.I.G. $85 billion, which it used to pay off more than a dozen big banks that were on the other side of those derivatives trades.
The banks may have needed the money, but they certainly didn’t deserve it. They knew or should have known the risks they were taking when they did business with the highflying A.I.G. But they were paid up anyway because it was believed that widespread failures would be costlier to the economy than the cost of the bailout.
Goldman Sachs got $12.9 billion. Deutsche Bank got $11.8 billion. Bank of America got $5.2 billion, Morgan Stanley $1.2 billion and JPMorgan Chase $400 million, and so on. Since then, the government’s commitment to A.I.G. has swelled to $173 billion.
Now, to try to repay some of the bailout money, A.I.G., which is nearly 80 percent owned by the government, is selling off some units and planning initial public offerings in others. And according to a recent analysis by The Wall Street Journal, several of the banks that were paid off in the first go-round, together with lawyers and accountants, could collect close to $1 billion in advisory and underwriting fees to move those efforts along.
That would represent one of Wall Street’s biggest paydays ever, The Journal noted — four times the fees paid to break up the AT&T Corporation in 1996 and nearly double those paid for Visa USA’s initial public offering in 2008, the largest American I.P.O. in history. Among the biggest winners, Morgan Stanley could collect up to $250 million in fees and Deutsche Bank $44.7 million. Roughly $75 million has already been paid to Goldman, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and other banks, with potentially tens of millions of dollars more to come.
It seems safe to say that a reasonable person would find that galling. When it comes to A.I.G., the big banks have clearly already got theirs. Now they get more? A.I.G. must be restructured for taxpayers to have a shot at recouping some of the bailout billions. And big banks generally excel at the deals that need to be done.
That makes the effort at hand a perfect opportunity for the banks to return the taxpayers’ favor and, in the spirit of pro bono publico, we suggest they offer their services for these deals free of charge.
That goes against their grain, we know. But it’s the least they can do to demonstrate appreciation. It would also be a smart way to manage their brands and reputations, which have been badly battered by the bailouts.
What’s more, the banks can afford to be the generous ones this time around. Some, like Goldman Sachs, have returned to profitability this year and are planning to pay big bonuses. Even at banks that haven’t yet returned to profitability, like Morgan Stanley, large chunks of money are being allocated for compensation. None of that would be happening if taxpayers had not stepped up in myriad ways to save the banks. It’s time for Wall Street to give back.
I. THE NEWS
The prime minister, on his first visit to Swat since displaced persons began to return there, told a gathering of elders that a special package would soon be announced for the area. He also said terrorists had been eliminated and were on the run. The fact that Mr Gilani was able to attend a meeting along with the NWFP governor, the chief ministers of the NWFP and Punjab and other officials indicates there is at least some measure of truth in his words. A few weeks ago, such a trip by top level officials would have been unthinkable. The government and especially the army chief who greeted Mr Gilani in Mingora deserve thanks.
But the task is not yet finished. The fact is that militants remain active in Swat. According to some accounts, clandestine radio stations spring back occasionally to life; militant commanders mete out threats to people through messages and fear still hangs over the mountains. The business begun here needs to be finished off. Only then will people regain confidence and be more able to obey the PM's advice to watch out for 'black sheep'. By laying down plans for a programme to offer vocational training to young people in Swat and announcing new infrastructure projects, the government has shown it is aware of what needs to be done. Prime Minister Gilani indeed also spoke of the potential to develop tourism in Swat. But these promises now need to take the form of deeds. People returning to devastated homes are already growing impatient. Their apprehension that they will be abandoned needs to be put to rest.
Rather than simply announcing plans for them, these people need to be drawn into the decision-making process. They must have some say in deciding what the most urgent needs of the area are and how they can be best met. This should serve too as a means of strengthening the hands of MPAs who defeated pro-Taliban rivals. The ANP must take the lead in this and prove wrong the accusations of those who say civilian governments can achieve nothing and that handing funds coming in for Swat to them will lead only to corruption. A start has been made in Swat. But a great deal remains to be done. Only when this happens can there be certainty that the war we are fighting has been won and the people of conflict-hit areas rescued.
I. THE NEWS
THE DEBT BURDEN
In talks with a Pakistan delegation in Washington, the IMF has approved additional financing for Pakistan which has taken the total loan up to US $11.3 billion. The new pledges are intended to bridge any gap that may arise if funds pledged to Pakistan at a donor's conference in Tokyo in April do not come in on time. The immediate problem has thus been resolved; the longer-term crisis grows. The IMF deal of course means Pakistan's debt burden continues to mount. The same holds true in the case of loans taken from other bodies. The situation is largely unsustainable. A glance at the budgetary pie shows how debt eats away at our resources. We simply cannot afford to dish out an ever-increasing slice to it year after year, decade after decade. The crisis Pakistan faces today is largely rooted in its economy. The socio-economic slide over the past decades has contributed to the immense sense of grievance and acted to fuel the militant fires. The rising rate of crime, the growing sense of insecurity, the flight of capital, for which another Forex firm, Zarco, is now being investigated, and the damaging human brain drain are all tied in to this factor.
To escape the debt trap we need more resources. The issue is how these are to be generated. The fact that agriculture has still to be taxed, that many industrialists still pay only the most nominal taxes while the salaried class bears alone the major burden of tax deductions offers one answer. Our parliamentarians must look beyond their own interests and look at those of their country and its people. In the past, calling upon Pakistanis based abroad to send back remittances has proved the most effective means of raising money. This can be attempted again. The vast Pakistani diaspora has time and again proved it is both extremely patriotic and generous. But it would be unrealistic to call upon it to send money home in a climate of continued political instability. The government must focus on building the confidence needed to bring in investment and halt the continued slide of the rupee against the dollar. Pakistan's potential for exports has not been realized. There should be some assessment too of why we have lost our status as a major ship-breaking centre and why other spheres in which we once competed with the world have slipped. All this must be part of a detailed review of our economy.
I. THE NEWS
STOPPING SWINE FLU
The DG health has confirmed the first case of swine 'flu in the country. The health minister has told the National Assembly the patient has indeed been 'cured' and virtually foolproof measures taken to prevent the virus spreading. The good minister told the house that airports, seaports, border-entry points and, astoundingly, even bus stops were being monitored to prevent the entry of infected persons. While we must commend this vigilance, it is pertinent to ask whether such steps are realistic or indeed if any such screening exists beyond ministerial imagination. Certainly, even at airports, there is no evidence of checks for swine flu. The health officials posted at counters some weeks back have vanished long ago. The notion of scrutiny at bus stops is ludicrous. The minister now says thermal scanning equipment is to be set up at airports to detect swine flu cases.
Any plan to spend big sums of money on this should be challenged. There are many far more urgent priorities in the health sector. It is true Pakistan faces a threat from swine flu. So does every other nation in the world. What we need most of all is to create awareness, and not panic. Swine flu can be a grave illness, but in most cases it is little more than a nuisance and often indistinguishable from ordinary flu. People need to be educated about good hand washing routines and other precautions to prevent the spread of infections. However, there seems to be no sense in creating unnecessary fear or making unrealistic claims. Perhaps someone would do us all a service by informing the minister or this.
ABANDONED GAS FIELDS IN SINDH
AS winter is approaching and there are warnings by some experts and even Federal Ministers that the nation might face load-shedding of the gas as well, President Asif Ali Zardari has desired reactivation of the sixteen abandoned gas fields in Sindh by applying latest technology and equipment. That the President meant business is also reflective by the fact that he has directed Syed Naveed Qamar, who has just assumed the responsibility of the Petroleum Ministry, to submit a report on these depleted fields at the earliest.
There are sketchy reports as to why the OGDC thought it appropriate to abandon these fields on the plea of depleted reserves if technology was available to exploit them. This was necessary when demand for gas was rising rapidly forcing authorities to enter into agreement with Iran for its import at phenomenal cost to meet our growing requirements. The brewing gas crisis should have jolted our planners to prepare viable programmes for exploration work but there is no worthwhile investment in the field and drilling activities, which are shrinking with the passage of time, are not producing the desired results for various reasons. Foreign investors, for understandable security concerns, are not ready to undertake risky ventures in Pakistan while local entrepreneurs too are too shy of making investment due to uncertainty caused by political instability and security environment. That leaves the burden on the state-run OGDC which too is not as vibrant and active as it should have been. Its performance is marred by lack of resources, gross political interference and lack of necessary interest by the successive Governments to improve its efficiency. This state of affairs is criminal and is reflective of the overall plight of the economy-related organizations of the country. One wonders how Pakistan would tackle the future challenges with crumbling institutions and population explosion. It is good of the President that he has sought a report on the depleted gas fields and intends to reactivate them for the sake of the economy. Hopefully, his personal interest would make the difference and not only the abandoned gas fields would be made functional again but drilling activities would also accelerate in the days to come. This is because sustainable economic development is deeply linked with the assured supply of oil and gas at cheaper rates, an objective which can be achieved only by increasing significantly the local production of oil and gas. We would also urge the President to squeeze sometime to address the problems confronting other national institutions.
DEMAND FOR IN-CAMERA BRIEFING ON BALOCHISTAN
LADY MNA of PML (Q) Marvi Memon, who is taking keen interest not only in legislative business but also important national issues, has demanded of the Government to hold an in-camera briefing on separatist movements and foreign interference in Balochistan. She was of the view that inaction and indecision of the Government was mainly to be blamed for political and economic deterioration in the province.
Her demand is in fact manifestation of the principled position of the PML (Q) that has been demanding in-depth briefing on Balochistan and convening of an All Parties Conference (APC) to discuss the issue threadbare. One would not fully agree with the point of view of Marvi Memon that the Balochistan problem was the product of the last one and a half years of neglect by the present Government. It took decades for the present deterioration to emerge and all the successive Governments have to be blamed for the sense of deprivation prevailing there. No doubt, the PML (Q) Government allocated record developmental funds for Balochistan but ignored political aspects as was reflected in non-implementation of the thought-provoking recommendations of Mushahid Hussain Committee. Similarly, constitutional remedies suggested by Wasim Sajjad Committee also did not attract the required attention. It is also true that the incumbent Government is also moving with snail pace to address an issue that deserves priority. Despite passage of one and a half years, the PPP Government has not moved beyond offering apology from people of Balochistan for the wrongdoings of the past. Though the President also claims that talks are underway with all stakeholders of the province both inside and outside the country yet their results are not visible. In the absence of any progress towards this end, we are witnessing a surge in the incidents of violence and harassment and target killing of non-Baloch people. Acts of sabotage and incidents of blowing up of governmental installations are also on the rise and foreign aided elements are now openly challenging the writ of the state. Under these circumstances, we hope that the Government would respond to the genuine concern of Marvi Memon and convene a joint session of Parliament to discuss issues relating to Balochistan.
SUGAR SCANDAL REFUSES TO DIE DOWN
IT is for about three years that the sugar prices are being manipulated cruelly by mafia controlling its business and there are no indications as yet that the authorities concerned or relevant institutions are willing to address the issue, which is assuming menacing proportions. There were expectations that the situation would change with the change of the Government but that didn’t happen because the beneficiaries are powerful people both in the Government and the Opposition.
Sugar prices stood at Rs 20 a kilogram when millers, hoarders and profiteers jacked them to over Rs 40 a kilogram during tenure of the PML(Q) Government. Though the then Government failed to reverse the impact of the exploitative tactics of the millers and businessmen, yet it managed to sell the commodity at Rs 26 a kilo through Utility Stores outlets. However, the prices against escalated by over 110% ever since assumption of office by a regime that claims to be ‘Peoples Government’. The commodity is presently selling at Rs 55 a kilo, a record increase since inception of Pakistan, and prices are poised to go still higher as consumption would increase in the holy month of Ramzan. There are reasons to believe that the Government was in league with the profiteers as it did not allow timely import of sugar when its prices were low in the international market. Again the Government fully protected the interests of millers and mafia by imposing huge import duty on sugar so that the imported sugar is made costlier enough to render it uncompetitive. It is also not willing to take action against hoarders and millers who are minting money but not willing to pay even the agreed price to growers. Previously sugar was abundantly available at USC but now one has to visit over a dozen places to get a glimpse of the commodity. It is time the Government moves against those who are sucking blood of the masses and takes urgent remedial steps to rectify the situation.
SWINE FLU PANDEMIC
Against the backdrop of the declaration of a global swine flu pandemic by the WHO (World Health Organisation) on June 11 last and the confirmation of the first case in Bangladesh almost within a week (on June 19), naturally there were reasons for all kinds of apprehension. Mercifully, the country has been spared any unusual spread or even a single case of fatality so far. Of the 32 reported, 30 patients fully recovered and the rest two are under supervision. What is remarkable is that almost all of the patients got the H1N1 virus during their travel or stay abroad.
And this exactly has heightened the alarm with India, our immediate neighbour, reporting the sixth death and over 600 cases of infection. Thanks to immediate and appreciably effective screening at the airports and other ports, Bangladesh could avoid a large-scale infection but now the compulsion has become even greater to bring land ports under intensive flu vigilance. Happily the authorities have risen up to the occasion to tighten screening at all land ports through which thousands of people pass everyday between the two neighbouring countries.
Sure enough, the best guarantee against the outbreak of any pandemic of diseases like swine flu is the elimination of all causes of infection of healthy persons by the affected ones. A set of rules such as protection against inhaling of contaminated air, avoidance of spitting or nasal discharge anywhere in the open and washing hands can prove very effective against the outbreak of a flu pandemic. Of course, screening and quarantining passengers on arrival at all ports are the key to limiting the infection to those who have acquired the disease beyond our border.
So, the task looks simpler than it appeared when the news of the pandemic was released. We need to be on guard and for that to be most effective, people must be thoroughly informed of the few rules of the thumb. Then the screening at the airports, seaports and land ports has to be equal to the task of singling out anyone carrying the virus.
Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Ban Ki-moon has described the climate change as the single largest challenge facing our generation. He appealed to all nations of the world to reach a consensus on climate change when they meet on the 22nd of next month in New York, ahead of the UN-sponsored meeting on the same issue, later this year, in December at the Danish capital of Copenhagen. At least 100 chiefs of state and government are expected to be at the UN headquarters and they should use this opportunity to build consensus on the climate change, Ban felt.
The Copenhagen summit will try to address the many limitations of the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997 and expiring in 2012. The main issue that will come up for discussion at the December conclave is to develop an effective financing mechanism for adopting green technologies. The US $100 billion Carbon Fund adopted at Kyoto has proved to be too cumbersome and inadequate to address the key issue of financing carbon-free development. Besides, major polluters like the United States, Western Europe and upcoming polluters like China and India have to agree to deep cuts in carbon emission within the next 10 years.
All this comes at a time when the whole world, particularly the leading economies are only recovering from the worst global recession since the Great Depression of the 30s. But as long as the trade-surplus countries like China, Saudi Arabia, India, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea agree to absorb the excess liquidity, there should be no problem finding money to pay for the clean-up costing approximately 30 per cent plus. Surely this is not too much considering the stakes.
Already the United States and China are in dialogue about climate change. It is time India made the dialogue more meaningful by joining it. Vulnerable countries like Bangladesh are unlikely to have anything useful or relevant before December, although they will be the ones who will bear the brunt of any eventual catastrophe.
WOOF! I WANT A MATE...!
"…In a startling diktat that some are calling crazy, the Chandigarh government has ordered dog owners not to let their pet dogs breed..." Times of India, Aug 11th Just as Jonathon Swift in Gulliver's Travels allowed the Houyhnhnms, horse like creatures to rule the earth with humans known as Yahoos working under them, I'm going to, for the next few minutes allow our Dogs to be our masters: "Woof! Woof!" I asked, "Yes master?" My master, "Woof!" I, "You don't want me to get married?" My master, "Woof!" I protested, "But I have to get married master, I need a wife to look after me and my home, and have children! It's something every human wants to do!" My master was adamant, "Woof!" I, "You don't want me to?" Master, "Woof!" I stunned, "So I live single through my life, I don't know what it is to have someone love me, I will never know the joy of having children?" Master nods, "Woof!" I ask, "Why?"
Master answers,"Woof!" I bitterly, "Because you are the boss! And what else dear master dog don't you want me to do?" Master replies, "Woof! Woof! Woof!" I exclaim. "You are going to impose a human tax?" Master nods, "Woof!" I ask, "Why master? Why are you dogs doing this to us? We were given this planet Earth for all of us to live in, for each of us to share!" Master, "Woof! Woof!" I say even more bitterly, "Oh because I don't have a tail, and because I am different from you and walk on two legs? So you dogs have imposed this human tax?" Master, "Woof!" I, "And because I am a dumb animal and don't know how to bark like you great Master Dog! Master if you'll excuse me nature calls, I'll be with you in a minute!" Master, "Woof!" I stunned again, "What?" Master, "Woof!" I, "You don't want me to go to the bathroom? There's a new law against humans going to the bathroom?" Master vigorously, "Woof! Woof!"
I dejectedly, "Oh God, what have we done to deserve this? We humans have been your best friends for centuries, now why are you treating us like this?" Master, "Woof! Woof!"
I exclaim, "What?" Master, "Woof! Woof!" I, "Now you want me to go to the airport with you and check out who's carrying drugs?" Master continues, "Woof! Woof!" I sadly, "And after that see whether a briefcase lying around has a bomb in it?" Master firmly, "Woof!" I fall into utter dejection, "And there are also some terrorists you would like me to flush out! Okay master okay, but I wonder if you don't let me marry, raise children and go to the bathroom, who's going to do all this for you once we are all gone?" Master, "Woof!" I deny vehemently, "No master nooooo, I don't have Human Flu to pass on to you…!"
EXPENSIVE MOBILE RATES
TELECOM FIRMS UNDER PRESSURE TO LOWER CHARGES
More than nine out of 10 South Koreans are using cell phones in this country that boasts of its information and telecommunication prowess. Now, more and more handset users are complaining about mobile phone service charges that show little sign of going down as they have in many other countries. They have good reason to be angry about higher phone bills as South Korea is seen as the most expensive country in terms of mobile charges.
The Korea Consumer Agency (KCA) said in a report in late July that Koreans paid the most among wireless users in 15 countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Singapore, last year. On a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, Koreans spent $0.144 per minute for voice rates, compared with Britons, who came in second at $0.125 per minute. French mobile users paid $0.120 per minute and Austrians $0.118 per minute.
According to the KCA report, SK Telecom, the nation's largest mobile carrier with more than a 50-percent market share, was rated as the third most expensive service provider in the world with its voice charges standing at $0.145. Japan's NTT DoCoMo topped the list, followed by the Netherlands' KPN Mobile. Of course, there arose some problems with simply comparing South Korea's level of phone rates with those of other countries. But local telecom operators need to admit that their charges are relatively higher than those of their counterparts in other nations.
Mobile rates have continued to fall in many countries around the world over the past several years. It is natural for cell phone service providers to lower their charges since they recover their early investment. But only South Korea has recorded an increase in its mobile phone charges despite its firms having much room to cut down the rates. Why has such a thing taken place here?
The answer is simple. Because domestic telecom firms have rushed to spend large sums of their proceeds on the provision of cash rewards or free handsets to new clients who switch from one company to another. That is, SKT and two other providers ― KT and LG Telecom ― have been in a fierce competition to increase their subscribers without making any efforts to slash their charges. The three firms spent a combined total of 2 trillion won in marketing costs in the second quarter of this year. SKT alone spent 948 billion won, one-fourth of its revenue, on providing cash rewards or free phones to new subscribers.
According to the National Statistical Office, each household spent an average 131,500 won on telecommunication charges in 2008, up from 124,700 won in 2003. Telecommunication bills accounted for 5.6 percent of Korean household expenditures, much higher than the 2.45-percent average of the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The local mobile operators claimed that the higher expenditure was due to Koreans' overspending on cell phone use.
It is wrong for the companies to try to justify their higher charges. It is time for them to bring their rates down in a move to ease the financial burden on consumers. Telecom regulators should also be required to make efforts to make the companies provide better services at reasonable prices. And President Lee Myung-bak should try to keep his promise to cut mobile rates by 20 percent.
RECONCILIATION OF EX-PRESIDENTS
IT'S TIME TO OUST BOSSISM, POLITICAL REGIONALISM
In good ways and bad, former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam have substantively shaped Korea's politics as it is today.
The nation's post-war history, summed up by industrialization and democratization in one generation, would have been inconceivable without the two elder statesmen, long been referred to as just ``the two Kims," plus another ex-President ― Park Chung-hee.
On the downside, the two Kims, often called ``DJ" and ``YS" after their respective initials, can hardly be free from responsibility for Korea's notoriously unproductive politics marred by regionalism and factionalism. Worse, the two have been at odds with each other for more than two decades over political hegemony and personal rivalry.
So, it should be seen as another symbolic event in Korea's modern political history that YS visited DJ in hospital Monday and virtually ― albeit one-sidedly ― declared their ``reconciliation." ``We've been cooperators and competitors at the same time, maintaining a love- hatred relationship unparalleled in the world," he said.
It is more than welcome to see the two former democracy fighters make peace with each other even at what could be the final moments for one of them. YS was right when he said, ``Without our live-or-die struggles, Korea today might have been little different from Myanmar." Unfortunately, however, the end of military rule did not automatically bring about democracy in a genuine sense, as shown by the seemingly perennial stalemate at the National Assembly.
And this is why the reconciliation between the two Kims should not end up as just personal accommodation but develop into a more upgraded democracy based on accepting different views and policies more gracefully and institutionally.
In many ways, the political deadlock since the Lee Myung-bak administration took office one-and-a-half-years ago can be seen as a proxy war fought by the political disciples of the two Kims, with YS representing the political right-of-center and DD, left-of-center groups.
Come to think of it, however, the ideological difference between the two Kims, or center-rightists and center-leftists in Korea, could be smaller than that between the U.S. Republicans and Democrats, especially when they take the form of concrete policies.
What voters witness on the political scenes of Korea and America, therefore, lie not so much in the difference of policy or even ideology as in their political environment, which has much to do with how long they have practiced democracy and as a result, how mature their democracies are.
Many of the Barack Obama administration's policies are squarely opposite to those of George W. Bush, but President Obama doesn't call ― at least not openly ― his predecessor's tenure as the ``lost eight years," just quietly rectifying and supplementing it.
We hope the two Kims' reconciliation will serve as an occasion to put an end to region- and individual-based politics that has led to a vicious circle of political vendettas every five years.
CLIMATE NEEDS MORE SOPHISTICATED DEBATE
KERRY O'BRIEN IS A SEASONED INTERVIEWER BUT HE MISSED THE POINT ON MONDAY NIGHT WHEN HE GRILLED MALCOLM TURNBULL.
Instead of discussing the admittedly complex detail of the Opposition Leader's alternative model for combating greenhouse emissions, The 7.30 Report host opted to pursue him on the Godwin Grech affair. It was the wrong call in a week when parliament will debate significant climate change legislation.
O'Brien may well have devoted about half the interview to climate issues but viewers were short-changed by his failure to engage with the detail -- as opposed to the politics -- of Mr Turnbull's model. It's undeniably a technical subject and perhaps the ABC is worried it will lose its audience if it flicks the switch to serious. But tackling the fine print is essential to building real public understanding of the issues, something that O'Brien -- like some other sections of the media -- seems to have missed.
Still, policy debates are not won or lost on The 7.30 Report and Mr Turnbull has other forums in which to present his views about why his model is preferable to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme that will be voted on in the Senate tomorrow. The problem is that he has left his run very late, making it easy for the government to dismiss the Frontier Economics model as unworkable. Perhaps it is, but how useful was Climate Change Minister Penny Wong's statement that the model -- which promises double the emissions reduction for
40 per cent less cost -- is nothing but a "mongrel"? Her riposte reinforced the view that the government is not dinkum about engaging the Australian public in real debate on an issue that Kevin Rudd has suggested is a matter of morality. He too played it for laughs yesterday when he called the Frontier model a "Roald Dahl, Liberal Party magic pudding".
In reality, the Prime Minister and Senator Wong have escaped deep questioning on this legislation. Its complexity has reduced the debate to a battle between climate believers and climate deniers, between goodies and baddies, between Left and Right. It is surely no way to have a debate on arguably the most important policy initiative of the government's first term. Such simplification added to the government's astute wedging of the opposition means there has been little sophisticated discussion on detail.
It's hard on Mr Turnbull to be cast in the role of a climate sceptic, delaying implementation of urgent legislation when he is personally committed to solving the problems, and so well-versed in the issue. It's also worrying that one of the people getting airtime to knock his leader is West Australian Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey, whose contributions so far have been both mischievous and irrelevant. One way and another, Mr Turnbull has handled the past few weeks very poorly, but it's a judgment on the conservatives that someone as marginal as Mr Tuckey is still around to make trouble for the boss.
In contrast, Mr Rudd's politics have been textbook perfect. He ratified the Kyoto Protocol in Bali amid great hoopla, while no one seemed to notice that it was the Howard government that had met the Kyoto targets. Once again, it was a case of maximising the politics. Since then, we have seen little real questioning of the emissions trading scheme as the appropriate framework even though many in Mr Rudd's ranks are known to favour a direct carbon tax rather than the constructed market model of the ETS. The CPRS, as diluted by Mr Rudd, is now close to the Shergold plan prepared for the Howard government. It's a minimalist scheme for a 5 per cent cut in emissions by 2020. Given that the Frontier model suggests a
10 per cent cut for less cost, there would seem to be merit in a closer look.
The problem for Mr Turnbull is that inside his party, inside government and in the wider community, the battle for attention has been lost: there is little pressure from voters to review the CPRS and the government appears set to get away with its cavalier approach to different approaches. This may change if it is forced to deal with the Greens when the legislation (having been voted down by the Coalition tomorrow) comes back to the Senate in November. But with Mr Turnbull and his crew wedged over a double dissolution, the more likely scenario is that the Coalition will sign up in November. And that will mean that once again, Mr Rudd will have escaped serious questioning of his commitment to green issues.
CRUNCH TIME AT SCHOOL
IN ARGUING THAT CHRONICALLY UNDERPERFORMING SCHOOLS SHOULD BE CLOSED AND THEIR PRINCIPALS OR TEACHERS SACKED, EDUCATION POLICY-MAKER KEN BOSTON HAS REMINDED EDUCATION MINISTER JULIA GILLARD THAT DIFFICULT DECISIONS LIE AHEAD IN LIFTING EDUCATION STANDARDS.
Dr Boston, who has taught in Australia and who was director-general of education in NSW and South Australia, is worth a hearing because as the former head of Britain's curriculum authority, he was on hand to see the much-vaunted education revolution promised by Tony Blair before his 1997 election amount to very little.
In urging principals to accept national testing and extra scrutiny through transparent reporting, Dr Boston has offered sound advice. His tough-love agenda stems from his understanding that "every kid has one chance in life and school, and it has to be good. There's no question of fluffing that one."
Ms Gillard has been solid in her determination to lift standards, already doing more in less than two years than the Coalition did in 11 years, despite its sharing the same concerns. With the new national curriculum in English, maths, the sciences and history to be rolled out from 2011, crunch time, when principals and teachers will be held to account for their students' performances, is approaching. While it would not be practical in many parts of rural Australia, for example, to close schools that underperformed consistently, it would be possible to replace staff.
Dr Boston believes parents should receive clear, transparent details about national test results, teachers, students, the aims and values of schools and the curriculum being taught. This newspaper, and commentators such as Kevin Donnelly, have argued the same case for years. Dr Boston is also concerned that British league tables lack depth in ranking schools and provide little contextual information.
While schools' national testing results need not be published in rank order from highest to lowest, they should be publicly available for comparison by stakeholders. On Saturday, The Courier Mail in Brisbane published Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 results for 2008 in reading, writing, spelling, numeracy and grammar and punctuation for all Queensland schools. They were released, by the Bligh government's Queensland Studies Authority, to its credit. The exercise showed many schools excelling and others, in comparable areas, with plenty of room for improvement. While showing average scores rather than percentages of students in performance bands, it was comprehensive, revealing and useful. It needs to be repeated across all states.
ONE TWEET TOO MANY
UNLIKE BRITISH OPPOSITION LEADER DAVID CAMERON, WHO FEARS "TOO MANY TWITS MIGHT MAKE A TWAT", KEVIN RUDD LIKES TO TWEET.
The Prime Minister also blogs, is on Facebook and MySpace and has recorded an online video about his webchat on climate change. Typing at speed on Monday, he was as prone to typos -- fiteen, twety five and morepossible -- as others.
Some in cyberspace appreciate the contact. Mr Rudd's fellow-tweeter, Emily McGoldrick, for example "just found out Kevin Rudd has a facebook, myspace, twitter and youtube" and thinks "we have a pretty 'hip' priminister woot go Ruddy!"
Malcolm Turnbull embraces the same outlets and was quick to post his new emissions trading scheme on YouTube. However popular, Mr Rudd's presence in the "twitterverse" and his appearances on lightweight programs such as Rove Live, alongside flamboyant fashionista Bruno, leave less time for answering difficult questions or being held to account by serious political reporters. At a different level, his lengthy essays also ensure his thousands of words are presented in full, not subject to editing or editorial judgment.
John Howard favoured easy populism in the form of high-rating, generally kind talkback radio hosts such as John Laws, Alan Jones and Neil Mitchell. But such encounters prompted livelier debate than the sub-literate, misspelt musings of most tweets, which, thankfully, are limited to 140 characters. The fact that such a politically astute leader as Mr Rudd engages with such forums is a reflection on Australian political debate.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
NOW FOR TODAY'S LEAGUE SCANDAL …
RUGBY league's horror season limps towards its conclusion, with the other main star of the game's ill-fated season-opening television advertisement, Greg Inglis, now accused of assaulting his girlfriend. That Inglis is of Aboriginal background, and the code has dedicated this round of games to the cause of Aboriginal reconciliation, is just another savage irony in a season in which there have been too many.
A great deal will be said and written about the problems rugby league has dealing with players' unreconstructed attitudes to women; similar debate emerged after Brett Stewart's disastrous blunders at the start of the season and Greg Bird's conviction (under appeal) for attacking his girlfriend with a glass. That is important, but for league the issue is wider: how does it deal with all misbehaviour on the part of its players?
Misbehaviour has to matter. As things stand, will league supporters greatly care whether one player may have fallen short in his private life of the standards the community might expect? Many may not; notoriety from whatever cause can be just another way to raise the game's profile, and for diehard fans the game, not off-field incidents, is what counts. But sponsors care about community standards, as they must and as they should, and sponsors are the source of league's lifeblood: money. The National Rugby League, too, must care about league's image if it is to attract more crowds to the game.
To do it justice, the National Rugby League has been striving to find a way to end these difficulties and deter misbehaviour. If individual clubs have been lax at times in enforcing standards, the NRL at least recognises the problem.
The Sharks' coach, Ricky Stuart, has put his finger on the solution. Stuart, speaking before he knew of the Inglis allegations and referring only to his own club, was correct in his condemnation of senior players whose misbehaviour, and subsequent suspension, had left his side short of match-winning talent and kept it in second-last place on the league ladder. He was railing not at the punishment but at the selfishness of those who forgot their team when they indulged in misbehaviour.
As long as players and fans are made to know, through strict penalties, that violence, drunkenness, drug-taking and other antisocial off-field behaviour will materially affect players' careers, incomes and their clubs' chances of success, then league's somewhat insular set of values may be used to rectify the code's faults. That is why two years' suspension should be mandatory for those who bring the game into disrepute.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
RUMBLES IN THE BURMA JUNGLE
INFORMATION coming out of Burma sometimes resembles the plot of the Graham Greene 1958 novel Our Man in Havana, in which a hard-up vacuum cleaner salesman is recruited by British intelligence and keeps his handlers happy by sending them drawings of mysterious military installations - actually blown-up reproductions of vacuum cleaner parts.
But Greene's tragi-comedy was followed four years later by the Cuban missile crisis, based on very real aerial photographs of Soviet missiles being pointed at America and bringing the world as close to all-out nuclear war as it has ever been. We might keep this in mind before dismissing too readily the puzzling bits of information and imagery emerging from Burma through defectors and from satellite sweeps.
As the Herald reported on August 1, persuasive defector accounts suggest that with North Korean help, Burma's military rulers are trying to build a second and secret nuclear facility in parallel to a small research and medical reactor being acquired openly and under safeguards from Russia, apparently to acquire fissile material for nuclear weapons. A new satellite image of a mysterious facility, shown on the Herald's website, adds to the puzzle.
What is undoubtedly clear is the growing involvement of North Korea in the schemes of the Burmese junta to make itself impregnable to outside intervention while it proceeds ruthlessly with its sham elections next year (with its main democratic danger, Aung San Suu Kyi, now sentenced to more house arrest until the elections are over).
North Korean tunnelling expertise, developed in and around the Korean border zone, helped with underground bunkers in the new inland capital at Naypyidaw, and is now being applied at Naung Laing, it seems. Pyongyang's other main export staples are ballistic missiles and, from the Syrian facility bombed by Israel in 2007, versions of its own small nuclear reactor. North Korea's past sins, like its attempt to blow up the South Korean dictator Chun Doo-hwan in Rangoon, have long been forgotten. Facing ever-tightening sanctions and new international doctrines such as the ''duty to protect'' that might justify outside intervention, Burma's generals will accept whatever help they can buy. Like other rogue regimes, they appear to see a nuclear bomb as the trump card.
Of course there can be a long gap between ambition and achievement, but North Korea has shown what a beleaguered, impoverished nation can do. Burma's neighbours, such as Thailand and India, must sit up, and its trade and financial partners such as Russia, China and Singapore must apply more transparency and scrutiny to avoid assisting another nuclear breakout.
FRIENDS PROVIDENT: WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE…
Ah, British capitalism: as Glenda Slagg might say, doncha just love it? For the past two years, the crisis-hit finance industry has spilled forth endless confessions and vows of reform. There was going to be an end to short-term bubbletastic behaviour, it was pledged over and over; things were going to change. But add some central-bank liquidity and government bailouts and those resolutions proved as firm as a soluble Alka-Seltzer. That, at least, is the lesson from one of the first big takeovers since the banking crisis, agreed yesterday. The purchase of life insurer Friends Provident by an investment vehicle called Resolution is not the sort of deal to grab the front pages or lead the Today programme – but it is a grim parable of how little has changed in the City since the crash.
The first three times Resolution came knocking, the management of Friends refused to come to the door. And no wonder, because these two are from very different corporate gene pools. Friends Provident is the sort of firm that gives finance a good name; set up by Quakers (including Joseph Rowntree) in the early 19th century, it only floated at the start of this decade. It cares about ethical investment; it sells life insurance; it is apparently miles away from the get-rich-quick brigade. And then there is Resolution: a fund registered in the tax haven of Guernsey, whose sole purpose is to buy insurers and give them the kind of going-over that is a hallmark of private-equity houses. Clive Cowdery and his executive team are on the sort of deal beloved of private-equiteers and hedge-funders: some money just for turning up – and 10% of any rise in profits. As investment vehicles go, this one might as well have go-faster stripes.
It obviously suited the board of Friends to claim last month that Resolution's company structure "institutionalises a lack of clarity and accountability to shareholders, customers and regulators", but they were not alone in raising these worries. In the end, however, the money offered was too good for shareholders to refuse. For the past few months, City minister Paul Myners has been talking about the responsibility of institutional shareholders to face up to their responsibilities as owners of companies; the capitulation of Friends shows exactly what the institutions think of that.
Couple this deal with the report in today's paper that the City watchdog has watered down its proposals on bonuses, or with the effort governments and central banks seem to be making to restore things to exactly the way they were before the crash. What we have had is an epoch-making event – without any new epoch to accompany it. Welcome to life in the City in 2009, where the motto seems to be: party like it's 2006.
IN PRAISE OF… RHODRI MORGAN
If the dignity of a government's holiday arrangements is a reliable indication of the manner in which a country is governed then Wales is the place to be. With Gordon Brown supposedly on holiday all month, the jockeying for the August limelight in London has degenerated into predictable farce. First Harriet Harman pretended to be in charge. This week Lord Mandelson has jumped on the merry-go-round. Next week Alistair Darling looms. All this is ridiculously childish. Meanwhile in Wales, serenity reigns and grown-up government is modestly maintained from a caravan near one of the loveliest beaches in Ceredigion. First minister Rhodri Morgan has holidayed man and boy at Mwnt on the west Wales coast for more than 40 years. He calls it a wonderful location and a special place. He says you can swim well off shore without currents taking you where you do not want to go, which sounds like a political metaphor as well as an enticing way of spending one's time. Unlike Mr Brown, Mr Morgan sees no reason to change his holiday habits to suit his spin doctors or to pretend to delegate responsibility while he is away. "I'm available to make any emergency decision as and when required," Mr Morgan announced from Mwnt yesterday, while a spokeswoman confirmed that the Welsh leader had his mobile phone with him in the caravan and could be contacted if needed. Not for the first time, Mr Morgan offers a lesson to his London Labour counterparts on how to do things with common sense and good grace.
BURMA: LAND OF DARKNESS
The door was open to the Burmese military junta. If they had released the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and some of the 2,100 other political prisoners, they could have begun to end the international isolation in which they have plunged the country for the past four decades. But they slammed that door shut yesterday. By making sure that Ms Suu Kyi will spend the next year and a half under house arrest, the generals have ensured that she cannot participate in next year's election. She is already banned from holding high office, under one article in the constitution specifically written for her, which says that no one who has been married to a foreign citizen can be president. And neither can she be elected to parliament, under another article banning past offenders from office. But such is the power of her political genie, and the fear of what would happen if it were let out of the bottle, that the cork is triple-fastened.
General Than Shwe, Burma's ruler, is at least consistent in his repression. If a cyclone which killed more than 140,000 of his people could not deflect him from holding a referendum on a pet project to put a civilian facade on military rule, then the uproar yesterday over Ms Suu Kyi's sentence would be unlikely to deflect him from his purpose. The United Nations, the EU, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, all demanded Ms Suu Kyi's unconditional release, and Gordon Brown's statement showed signs of personal outrage. He said her prosecution was monstrous and that the will of the UN security council had been flouted, and called for an arms embargo.
But little of this matters to Burma's rulers. They care not one jot for their people, to whose poverty and suffering they are impervious. They have mansions, Mercedes, and unlimited supplies of cash from oil, gas and teak timber revenues. They bank much of it in Singapore, if the US treasury department is to be believed, and as long as their borders are secure, and their neighbours in China, India and Thailand remain loyal, they have about 90% of what they need from life. And it was of their neighbours and the Association of South East Asian Nations that Than Shwe was thinking when he reduced the sentence of his most important political prisoner from three years' hard labour to 18 months of house arrest, by saying he was acting out of reverence for her father, a hero of Burma's independence from the British. Than Shwe was not thinking of anyone else. The leitmotif of Barack Obama's presidency – that engagement with the international community could provide an incentive to change – is, sadly, profoundly misplaced in Burma's case. It shows no signs of going down the path Vietnam once trod.
Realising that the options with Burma's brutal leaders are limited does not mean throwing our hands up in despair. The international aid effort in the Irrawaddy delta has worked better than anyone had expected in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, in terms of both access and freedom of movement. Access is maintained at the cost of staying silent over human rights abuses, but it is nonetheless clear that efforts to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of the Burmese people should be stepped up. So, too, should diplomatic pressure from the United Nations be maintained.
General sanctions have failed, but targeted ones against their leaders and their funds abroad could be more effective. Far more could be done to highlight the work done by multinationals in aiding the regime. The oil company Total, along with a subsidiary of Chevron, has been involved in the Yadana gas pipeline in the Andaman Sea, which pumps Burmese gas to Thailand. Its chief executive, Christophe de Margerie, told Newsweek that critics of the company's operations in Burma could "go to hell". If Burma's rulers are immune to pressure, Mr de Margerie has shown that he, for one, is not.
THE JAPAN TIMES
THE CRISIS IN NIGERIA
Little noticed in much of the world, the government of Nigeria is battling insurgents on two fronts. In the south, militants fight extraction of the region's mineral wealth for which they receive little in return; in the north, Islamic radicals are becoming increasingly violent as they try to impose Shariah law. Despite some tactical victories, the Lagos government is losing ground on both fronts. Nigeria's culture of corruption is dragging the country down, impoverishing one of Africa's wealthiest nations and creating a caldron of instability in a critical region of the continent.
Nigeria is a regional powerhouse. It is the most populous country in West Africa, accounting for half the region's population. It is the eight-largest exporter of oil in the world. Yet even though it was the largest crude oil producer in Africa, it is estimated that some 90 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
A geographic and religious fault line divides the 140 million people of Nigeria: Christians dominate the south, Muslims the north. Since civilian governments returned to power in 1999, the country's 12 northern states have adopted Shariah law. While Shariah is consistent with the religious leanings of the population, most observers believe that it is seen more as a curb on corruption than an expression of radical Islam.
One group, Boko Haram, has demanded that the government go still further in the imposition of Islamic law. The group, whose name means "Western education is sin," emerged in 2004 and has been labeled the Nigerian Taliban. Its followers are estimated to be in the thousands. Until last month the group was led by Mohammed Yusuf, a preacher who urged followers to turn their backs on science — "because it spoils the belief in God" — and rid themselves of all material wealth, a state of existence he pointedly declined: He preferred to travel by chauffeur-driven Mercedes.
Last month, Boko Haram launched a series of attacks in four northern states on police stations, churches and government buildings. As militants prepared for a holy war, the military stepped in and the ensuing battles claimed over 700 lives. Yusuf was killed during the fighting. It is not clear if he was taken prisoner and executed or died in a gun battle. Human rights groups are demanding an investigation. In the meantime, the government is trying to mop up remaining members of the group, most of whom have gone into hiding and are thought to be regrouping.
Meanwhile, in the south, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has picked up the pace of its activities. The group emerged at the end of 2005 with a series of attacks on oil facilities and infrastructure in the Niger Delta as well as the kidnapping of oil workers. In fact, a number of militant groups are at work in the area, all demanding that the central government stop stealing their wealth and end the environmental degradation that is destroying the region. MEND is the main militant organization; some even consider it an umbrella group that pays other groups to act on its behalf. It is thought to command some 10,000 soldiers.
MEND has been spectacularly successful. As a result of its efforts, Nigerian oil production has been cut by a third and Angola has surpassed Nigeria as Africa's No. 1 oil producer; the lost revenue is estimated to exceed $20 billion. More than 10,000 people have been killed in sectarian violence since the southern insurgency began.
Earlier this month, Nigeria announced a two-month amnesty for southern insurgents, hoping that it could buy peace for the region. The program offers each soldier $430 a month for retraining if they disarm. Other than that, details are sketchy. It is not clear where the $63 million it will cost will come from — most likely from new oil revenues if the pumps start working again — or what the rebels will do after they have been "retrained." If it is lack of opportunity that creates the militancy, then the failure to tackle the root cause of underdevelopment — corruption — ensures that this program will fail.
Previous amnesties offer little reason for hope. An earlier attempt to buy weapons from militants failed when the insurgents sold a fraction of their arms — usually older weapons — at inflated prices. This time, leaders of groups under MEND have said they are not even prepared to take the government's money.
Ultimately, the only hope for Nigeria is an end to its culture of corruption. A series of leaders — both military and civilian — have robbed the country blind. It was hoped that the end of military rule would end the misrule, but the theft continues, ordinary citizens continue to struggle to survive and the government fails to provide even rudimentary services as it destroys the land they live on. The people of Nigeria demand better — and they are fighting to get it.
THE JAPAN TIMES
SEVEN GLOBAL LESSONS FROM A TEACHABLE EVENT
BY RAMESH THAKUR
WATERLOO, Ontario — Apparently Sgt. James Crowley's arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in Boston on July 17 was "a teachable moment." Here are seven lessons relevant to world affairs.
First, it is possible for intelligent, reasonable, good and honorable people to interpret the same event differently and draw contradictory conclusions.
Second, the reason for this is that we view events through the prism of our respective historical narratives and life experiences. American police officers work in a hostile and life-threatening environment, are correspondingly more heavily armed and operate with a mind set that prioritizes securing compliance from a suspect over other considerations of politeness and nicety.
On the other side, the racially differentiated statistics of those stopped, charged and convicted for all manner of offenses, for example "driving while black," are deeply disturbing with respect to separate and unequal status of whites and others. They can therefore see racial slights even when none may be intended.
Third, it is possible for both sides in a disputed confrontation to be right. Crowley was responding to a concerned citizen calling the police about a suspected break-in. (The woman caller has since received flowers as a thank you gesture from Gates.)
Having established that the person effecting forcible entry was the legal owner and resident, Crowley was preparing to leave. He said nothing racist or offensive to the professor. Instead of being thanked by a grateful resident that the police were on the job and alert to burglary, he was shouted at and unjustly abused.
Gates had just returned home from a long overseas trip to find his front door jammed. Annoyed and irritable, he entered through a backdoor and asked the driver to help him force the front door open. Accosted by a police officer demanding proof of identity, he was entitled to feel aggrieved at having to bow to white authority in his own home.
Fourth, it is possible for both parties to be wrong. Gates was wrong to hurl charges of racial bias without evidence to that effect, seeing racial slights where none existed. It turns out the sergeant teaches courses against racial profiling. Yet Crowley was wrong to arrest Gates. Hurling verbal abuse at a police officer, so long as it does not trip over into action, is constitutionally protected freedom of speech.
Courtesy is a civic virtue, not a legal duty. Disrespecting the police is not "disorderly conduct" and does not warrant being cuffed and arrested. There is no such crime as contempt of cop.
A senior and respected professor at the world's most prestigious university, Gates has clout. Many victims of this particular police excess don't. This is why some are still urging Gates to sue, not as an act of personal greed or vengeance but of civic virtue, to highlight, through a high-profile case that will garner national and worldwide publicity, the daily misuse of police powers against vulnerable individuals.
Fifth, combining the last two, it is possible for any one party to be both right and wrong at the same time. This is why it is often said that the color of truth is gray, not black and white.
Sixth, it is dangerous to ascribe patterns of behavior to groups based on assumptions of monolithic identity. Many whites have been critical of Crowley's behavior and openly acknowledge the reality of racially segregated justice in the U.S. legal system and law enforcement practices. On the other side, several blacks have criticized Gates for over-reacting against an officer doing his duty and faulted President Barack Obama for having rushed into judgment prematurely.
Seventh, despite these individual variations, it is still possible to generalize at the group level. Proportionately, far more blacks and Hispanics than whites will have readily empathized and sympathized with Gates, for they come out of the same historical narrative and collective consciousness.
Similarly, in world politics, at a certain level of analysis, it is possible to argue that in general, developing countries are more suspicious of claims to a right of humanitarian intervention; more interested in justice among rather than within nations; more concerned about the root causes of terrorism like poverty, illiteracy and territorial grievances; more interested in economic development than worried about nuclear proliferation; and more committed to the defense of national sovereignty, over the promotion of human rights, than the industrialized Western countries.
The fact that there are individual differences within developing countries and among Westerners neither negates nor invalidates the generalization. And to the extent that developing country viewpoints rarely get an airing, let alone a respectful hearing, in Western mainstream media, Western publics and governments typically have a seriously distorted understanding of many international issues.
The other lessons are relevant to international politics too, particularly to those from the peace research and conflict resolution community. Between different nationalities in world affairs as between groups within countries, we tend to remember the harm and damage caused to us by the actions of others. If this fits into a pattern of behavior over time, it festers as a group grievance in our collective consciousness.
By contrast, we know the reasons for our own action toward others, which then makes it an understandable action even if it caused harm, which in turn leaves us puzzled as to why the other side holds a grudge instead of understanding why we acted as we did.
Alas, inviting the two sides to share a beer of a lazy afternoon on the lawns of the White House is not a realistic option for resolving international disputes.
Ramesh Thakur is director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs and a distinguished fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario.
THE KOREA HERALD
CHANGE OF TACTICS
Hyundai Group head Hyun Jung-eun's sudden visit to Pyongyang this week raises hope that one of her employees at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, who has been detained by North Koreans for over four months, will be released soon. Pyongyang's "invitation" of Hyun's visit at this time is a strong indication of their readiness to end the controversy which did not serve the interests of either side.
North Korea's official Central News Agency promptly reported the conglomerate chairwoman's arrival in Pyongyang Monday afternoon at the invitation of Chosun Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, the North's official body responsible for inter-Korean businesses. Her trip was made by the ground route across the border via Gaeseong, which the Northern authorities rarely permit.
Since the North Koreans took the Hyundai employee into custody in March on a claim that he did something detrimental to national security, they have neither allowed any Southern officials to meet with him nor provided information on his whereabouts or conditions.
At the same time, the North has pressed the South for a four-fold raise of salaries for the 30,000 North Korean workers in the inter-Korean industrial complex and huge additional rentals for the real estate where over 100 South Korean firms have production facilities.
It was typical of the arbitrary action the North has often shown in the past decade of increased inter-Korean contacts. Seoul has, however, responded with patience and caution despite complaints from civic groups of government inaction for the man's release.
Time must have come for the North Koreans to realize the need for a more practical approach especially after they "pardoned" two U.S. journalists who they had detained for more than 140 days for illegal entry into the Northern territory from China. If Bill Clinton's visit to Pyongyang saved face for Kim Jong-il, Hyun Jung-eun's visit, perhaps with a proposal for certain material benefits, could suffice as an excuse for the North's release of the Hyundai employee, as no official compensation from Seoul was to be expected.
Pyongyang will also be seeking to use the occasion for a breakthrough in inter-Korean tourism, in which Hyun's Hyundai-Asan Co. is the exclusive partner. Since tours to Mount Geumgang were suspended a year ago after North Korean guards shot to death a South Korean woman who inadvertently crossed into an off-limits area in the mountain resort, Hyundai suffered a loss of over 150 billion won ($120 million). North Korea lost a similar amount.
The North Korean military commander responsible for the area is known to have apologized to Hyundai officials for the incident. A stern warning has been given to the North with the year-long suspension of the tour program. If Pyongyang wants a deal upon the release of the Hyundai employee, the Seoul authorities may positively consider reopening the Mount Geumgang tours, a project with profound symbolic significance.
But problems remain. The wayward, unilateral manner of business shown in the North's demand for drastically higher wages and rent as well as in halving the supporting manpower from the South at the Gaeseong complex has sorely disappointed South Korean businesses investing in the joint industrial project. The extended detention of a South Korean employee, instead of a denial of entry, for whatever mistake he made, amounts to hostage taking.
It may be still too early to predict a campaign of smiles replacing a round of confrontational approaches but experience tells us that the best strategy is to set up our own rules and stick to them in tackling the North Koreans' changing tactics.
THE KOREA HERALD
KSLV AND TAEPODONG
While the launching of South Korea's first space rocket is being delayed by days and weeks, North Korea has come up with interesting logic to refute the international community's sanctions against it for its firing of long-range rockets. A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "We will be closely watching whether the participants of the six-party talks will also refer South Korea's launching of a satellite to the U.N. Security Council."
The comment from Pyongyang meant that the UNSC, which had issued a president's statement to condemn the North's launching of what it claimed to be a communications satellite last April, should either do the same for South Korea when it launches a satellite or should admit the inappropriateness of its punitive action on Pyongyang.
The spokesman stressed that the UNSC sanctions against the North "destroyed the principle of respect for independence and equality which was the vital element of the six-party talks." He said Pyongyang would look upon how the other parties of the six-way talks respond to South Korea's satellite launch to determine whether the principle of equality still exists or not.
Some technical problems again forced the delay of the launch of the KSLV-1 at the Naro Space Center from the tentative D-Day of Aug. 11. But even before the firing of the two-stage rocket into the space, we can tell the North Koreans how differently the international community will react - from what they did about the launch of the Taepodong rocket. The UNSC condemned the Taepodong because the world knows it was developed to deliver nuclear weapons to transcontinental targets. The members of the six-party denuclearization talks know that South Korea's KSLV-1 is not a weapon.
Here, the North Koreans should be reminded that the development of rocket technologies in South Korea was triggered late in the 1990s following the launch of Taepodong-1 and the work is being spurred by the firing of Taepodong-2 last April. They should just think of what consequences such competition on the Korean Peninsula would lead to.
THE KOREA HERALD
ARE SOME WOMEN WORTH MORE?
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton put all concerns about North Korea aside to go and rescue two American journalists. Yet the current Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who is on a special visit to Africa, has made no move to help another woman journalist in distress in Sudan. Lubna Ahmed Hussein faces being flogged in public just for wearing trousers.
Should Western women expect special treatment, whatever the circumstances?
Of course it was wonderful to see Laura Ling and Euna Lee reunited with their families. We do not know the full story yet, but it does seem that they strayed into North Korean territory. As their Chinese guides were not detained, perhaps they were set up.
There is nothing strange about a country arresting people for straying across borders. Imagine what would happen if two North Koreans wandered into the United States from Canada, across Lake Superior. Claiming it was a mistake would not bring instant release.
Some people may feel that women with families and young children, who could easily be mistaken for South Korean or American spies, would have been wiser to keep well clear of North Korea. Others would commend them for their bravery. But whatever the perspective, Ling and Lee were taking a risk.
In contrast, Lubna Hussein has simply dressed in the same way as millions of Muslim women in Islamic countries like Iran and Pakistan. Wearing trousers is not against Islamic or Sudanese law. Lubna is not even a Muslim. The Sudanese justice system seems to be acting contrary to its own rules, and to Islamic norms and laws. Yet the United States, and other Islamic countries, all remain silent.
Lubna faces a cruel and degrading punishment that is against international law. She could be taken to a public place, tied to a post, and her clothing pulled down. She would be whipped to the bone, which would leave her scarred for life. Some die of infection after this torture.
Whatever "hard labor" means in North Korea, it is unlikely that Lee and Ling would have faced such treatment. North Korea was unlikely to give Korean-American journalists, who would eventually be released, the chance to see what happens inside a labor camp. And, whatever its failings, the regime is smart enough not to degrade its national integrity through public acts of barbarism.
On the same day as the news about the return of Lee and Ling, a British woman prisoner also returned home from Laos. Samantha Orobator had been arrested for trafficking 68g of heroin through Laos airport last August. The usual sentence is death, but she became pregnant while in prison. Under Laotian law pregnant women cannot be executed.
Views about Orobator are easily clouded by views about the death sentence and pregnancy. But the fact is that she was trafficking a drug that harms and kills people. There are doubtless many Laotians in the same situation who do not escape punishment.
Last May, Hilary Clinton and President Obama successfully argued for the release of the U.S.-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberia, who was arrested because she did not have a proper press card.
But what of the 41 Iranian journalists who have been imprisoned during the recent public protests? The women among them include Henghameh Shahidi, the editor of the "Paineveste" blog, and Somaieh Nosrati, parliamentary editor for the newspapers "Teheran Emoroz" and "Hayat No." There has been no official expression of concern from the West.
American diplomats would quickly point out that there is a distinction between helping U.S. nationals, and interfering in the internal affairs of another country. But although Aun San Suu Kyi is not an American citizen, President Obama stated publicly, "I strongly condemn her house arrest and detention."
It seems unlikely that any American leader will venture to Myanmar to negotiate her release, yet it was a foolhardy American who gave the junta the excuse to imprison her, because he swam uninvited across a river to her house. Would it not be appropriate for a high ranking U.S. leader to go and say sorry, and suggest to the junta that it is not creditable to punish a woman for a crime that a man has committed against her wishes? It was left to U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit Myanmar and negotiate.
In South Korea, Lee Chun-keun, a male journalist employed by the public TV station MBC, was arrested in March, following a complaint from the agriculture ministry. This was a reaction to an investigative program which probably fuelled the beef protests last year. Lee and his colleagues faced up to five years in prison, for "small translation errors." America claims to uphold freedom of speech, yet the U.S. voiced no support for Lee. Does that freedom not apply to views that question American business practice that might have harmed Koreans?
While political leaders are muddled about who deserves help and who does not, civil society organizations are developing more equitable international approaches.
Most famously, "Amnesty International" has fought for the rights of political prisoners such as Aung San Suu Kyi since 1961. But Amnesty does not only support high profile prisoners. For example, it drew attention to another female prisoner in Myanmar, Ma Khin Khin Leh, a school teacher who was arrested with her 3-year-old daughter. She was given a life sentence because her husband helped plan a demonstration in 1999. She was released last February.
"Reporters Sans Frontieres" (RSF) (Journalists without frontiers) tracks what is happening to journalists around the world. So far in 2009, 26 journalists have been killed, 186 are imprisoned, and 83 "cyberdissidents" have been detained. There is no prioritization for action based on nationality, and no distinction between males and females.
Another civil society organization, "Reprieve," addresses the human rights of prisoners, including those on death row in America, and in Guantanamo Bay. It provides legal support to prisoners who cannot pay for a lawyer, and promotes the ethic that even prisoners have equal rights under international law.
The British organization, "Prisoners Abroad," provides advice, information and support to British citizens in prison abroad and their families. It works with overseas justice systems, and often helps to transfer prisoners back to the U.K. There is nothing wrong with this, but what about overseas prisoners who are not British?
In 1910, Winston Churchill argued that "the civilization of a society can be judged by the way it treats its prisoners." In a globalizing, high mobility world, it is time to apply that ethic to the international community.
Could the U.N. build on the work of the civil society organizations, and develop international standards about prisoners' rights, to replace random bilateral negotiations and personal preferences? Might it try to evolve a consensus about how to sanction countries guilty of judicial lawlessness?
The British press reacted to Clinton's intervention with the obvious cartoons. One shows Clinton meeting the North Korean leader, and saying, "I thought Kim was a chick." Another shows him surprising Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei, at the presidential inauguration, saying, "Yo! More despot pariahs! Where's the hostages? Where's the chicks?" Perhaps that is unfair, but I do not hold out much hope of me being rescued by Bill Clinton if I were in a North Korean jail.
This all evokes the British story of St. George and the Dragon. But before any other female Korean journalists think of venturing into North Korea in the belief that Bill Clinton would rescue them, they should note another British cartoon from the era of our "Iron lady" Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The cartoon showed Thatcher tied to a post, with the dragon breathing fire at her. St. George appeared, rode to her side, and rescued the dragon.
THE KOREA HERALD
THE SORROW OF A DIVIDED NATION
Whenever I travel to a foreign country and need to fill out an entry form or customs report, I always hesitate for a moment. I hesitate because I am not quite sure how to fill in the blank for "country." If I were Japanese or French, I could simply write down, "Japan" or "France." As a South Korean, however, things are not so simple. I always hesitate and ponder "Should I write South Korea, the Republic of Korea, or just Korea?" My country's official name is the Republic of Korea.
But foreigners may question whether it stands for North or South Korea. If I simply write "Korea," foreigners may still wonder whether I mean North or South Korea. If I write South Korea, no such confusion will occur, but South Korea is not the official name of my country.
When I flew into New York several weeks ago, I just wrote "Korea" on my I-94 entry card. The Homeland Security officer at the Kennedy Airport did not have any issues with my card. Perhaps he knew that North Koreans are not allowed to travel to the United States. However, things were a bit more complicated at the U.S. Post Office where it is possible to send mail to North Korea. A few days ago, wanting to send some documents to Seoul by priority mail, I handed my envelope to an American clerk at the post office. Seeing the package was bound for Korea, he punched the computer keyboard to look up the postage rate. After staring at the screen for a while he asked, a bit confused, "Is it the Democratic Republic, or just the Republic?" "Just the Republic," I replied promptly, "Without Democratic." "So it's the Republic without People, without Democracy," the clerk said to himself, looking at the computer screen. Then he realized his mistake and hurriedly corrected it. "Oops! I mean, without Democratic." We both chuckled at his inadvertent mistake. Or was it a joke?
Indeed, it is not easy for foreigners to distinguish between South and North Korea's official names. For instance, who would imagine "the Democratic People's Republic of Korea" is actually the notoriously undemocratic country known as North Korea? Judging by its official title, North Korea ironically sounds like a democratic country, "of the people, for the people, by the people," while South Korea does not.
Perhaps that is why the pro-North Korea leftists in South Korea criticize the South Korean government as undemocratic and tyrannical, while strangely keeping silent about the political oppression and three generation-long dictatorship in North Korea. Perhaps that is why they chant for "people's government" and "people's literature," as if South Korea is a country without people and democracy. To their blinded eyes North Korea is a democratic nation where political power is in the hands of the people.
These days few countries employ the prefix "Republic of" in their names. Even the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China are now customarily called China and Taiwan for convenience's sake. Many foreigners suggest that Korea too should consider eliminating confusing prefixes and go by just North and South Korea, like we are called in the international community. Watch CNN or BBC - reporters invariably refer to our country as "South Korea." Similarly, they use the term "North Korea," not the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea." Examine any international map and we will find that we are labeled as South Korea, not the Republic of Korea. Besides, when we go abroad, we introduce ourselves, saying, "I'm from Korea," or "I'm from South Korea," not "I'm from the Republic of Korea."
Our country's name in Korean poses the same problem as well. The official title of our nation is "Daehan Minguk," which means "the Republic of Great Korea." Instead of using the pretentious name, therefore, we customarily refer to South Korea as "Hanguk" and North Korea as "Bukhan." The formalistic, pompous sounding "Daehan Minguk" is used only by patriotic crowds when chanting cheers at the World Cup. As for the formal name of North Korea, "Joseon Minjujui Inmin Gonghwaguk," few South Koreans are familiar with it or use it.
Some people would argue that officially adopting the title "North" and "South" Korea implies that we have given up on unification permanently. However, the rosy dream of unification that the Kim Dae-jung administration falsely inspired for political gain has now turned out to be a debunked fantasy. Therefore, foreigners argue that there is no reason we cannot go by South Korea. Then we will no longer need to hesitate when we write down the name of our country on foreign documents. Better yet, we will be free from the stress of being asked when overseas, "Are you North Korean?" after we said, "I'm from Korea." We know it, and yet we still hesitate to officially call our country "South Korea." Perhaps that is the sorrow of the people from a divided nation.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and director of the Seoul National University Press. - Ed.
CITY PARTIES NEED MORE JOHN GOMERYS
Montrealers can hope that John Gomery's involvement in the municipal political party Projet Montréal presages a new era in the city's political life. Now retired, Gomery is the judge who presided over the federal sponsorship-scandal inquiry, and in the process became a pan-Canadian icon of probity in political financing.
And for months now, Montrealers have been hearing accusations of fraud, kickbacks, and special treatment over water meters, land sales, and even city-hall roof repairs. Although no serious wrongdoing has been proven, no fewer than five investigations have been launched.
While no one has reason to doubt the personal honesty of Mayor Gérald Tremblay, so many bad things appear to have been happening on his watch that Montrealers have been left feeling decidedly queasy. An icon of probity is awfully welcome.
The entry into city politics of one retired judge, in an advisory role, will not transform anything overnight. For that matter we regret that Gomery will not himself seek a seat on city council. However, his appearance on the municipal stage, even just as an adviser to a long-shot party, might well have two effects.
First, it might raise the profile of ethical issues, broadly defined, in this fall's campaign, and so ultimately improve standards. Second, it might prompt other prominent Montrealers to get involved. This is, we'll admit, less likely, because city councillors have so little independence or decision-making power, in this era of party discipline. Getting onto the executive committee opens up new levels of influence, but few city councillors ever get that chance.
The recent unsavoury allegations around city hall mean that now, as Gomery told The Gazette's Henry Aubin, people have become "totally disaffected about having an effective (city) administration and an honest administration." Unless civic-minded people come forward to fight against both corruption and disaffection, this situation can only fester.
The role Gomery has taken on, as finance director of Projet Montréal, seems quixotic. But the judge's action draws attention to the courageous gesture of party leader Richard Bergeron, who has imposed admirable party-financing rules. He will, for example, put an end to anonymous donations over $25.
Setting a good example in such matters might ultimately doom Bergeron to a low-profile campaign; but at least he, and Gomery, have the satisfaction of knowing they're taking the high road, ethically. It's not a claim every party leader can make.
EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER: CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS
Two years ago, Chinese President Hu Jintao greeted more than 7,000 athletes from 150 countries to the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai.
The dictatorial leader of a country with a long, and continuing, history of discrimination against the disabled stood before the world and acknowledged the worth of handicapped athletes. It was a moment - one of the most dramatic among many - that forms part of the legacy of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics for the intellectually handicapped, died Tuesday at age 88. Fifth among the nine Kennedy siblings who made up America's most fabled family, Shriver is survived by Senator Ted Kennedy and former U.S. ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith.
Shriver said it was having been close to her older sister Rosemary, born in 1918 with a mild intellectual handicap, that led her to work on behalf of the disabled.
In an interview with National Public Radio in 2007, Shriver said, "If I never met Rosemary, never knew anything about handicapped children, how would I have ever found out? Because nobody accepted them anyplace. So where would you find out? Unless you had one in your own family."
"In the 1950s, the mentally retarded were among the most scorned, isolated and neglected groups in American society," according to historian Edward Shorter. Even the Kennedy family pretended that Rosemary Kennedy, whose condition had been made worse by a lobotomy, was a nun who chose to remain hidden from public view, until Shriver wrote about her in 1962.
In Shorter's view, NPR reported, the only thing that kept the very capable Shriver from running for political office, like her brothers Jack, Bob, and Ted, was the 1950s' era refusal to accept women in politics.
But if it will never be known what she could have accomplished as an elected official, there can be no underestimating her extraordinary contributions as the champion of those who are disabled or discriminated against.
A passion for justice drove her. Against such passion, the forces of discrimination will inevitably fail, if not today, then tomorrow.
ALL STAFF AND NO WORK
Everybody's business is nobody's business. An overstaffed government department means not only waste of taxpayer's money but also total inefficiency. Worse, some bloated ones turn themselves into profit-making organs to provide payroll for their redundant staff.
The environmental protection bureau in Xupu county in central China's Hunan province is such a government department. Its stipulated staff strength is 20, but it has 117. What is ridiculous is that the redundant ones have each paid a deposit of 10,000 yuan ($1,470) or 20,000 yuan for entering this department, and then they get a salary of 1,000 yuan a month. But not anyone can do that; only those with connections in local government. It is reported that four persons were recruited at the behest of local county leaders.
As there is not enough work for the redundant workers, many of them do not work at all but remain on the payroll. The allocation from local government funds is far from enough to provide for so many people, then the bureau misappropriates the fees enterprises have paid for discharge of pollutants.
The same thing is happening in the city of Pingdingshan, in Central China's Henan province, where more than 600 redundant staff workers in its six county-level environmental protection bureaus are supported by funds taken from the fees paid for the treatment of pollutants.
We have enough reason to doubt whether these environmental watchdogs are able to play their role of supervising local enterprises in observing the rules relating to discharge of pollutants. The logic should be: the more fees local polluting enterprises pay, the more money these bureaus will have to provide for staff workers. So instead of strictly controlling the discharge of pollutants, they will quite likely welcome polluters.
In that case, how can we expect such local environmental watchdogs to work for a better environment?
What is even more shocking is the assertion by the top leader of that environmental protection bureau in Hunan that there is enough reason for the bureau to have so many people.
This leader may have forgotten that the law on civil servants has strict stipulations about the recruitment of government employees. By recruiting employees in such a manner, the bureau has violated the law.
Moreover, our country's Environmental Protection Law stipulates that no individual or unit has the right to intercept and misappropriate fees enterprises have paid for pollutants discharged, and that the money can only be used to treat pollutants and improve the environment. By misappropriating such fees to support redundant staff workers, these bureaus have broken the stipulation.
The taxpayers are paying environmental watchdogs to check polluters and thus make sure that good environment is maintained. If they do otherwise like the bureaus mentioned above, those who are responsible for such serious offenses should be prosecuted and tried.
Such abuse of power, if not checked in time, will undermine the legitimacy of local government departments and their credibility. This is no small matter.
RACE AGAINST INFLATION
Falling prices in July can certainly bring credit to Chinese officials' insistence on a moderately loose monetary policy and proactive fiscal stance. But the latest slump in new loans, a seemingly sign of credit tighting, demands a compelling explanation from policymakers about how firmly they will stick to the moderately loose monetary policy needed to boost economic growth.
Data released by the National Bureau of Statistics yesterday showed that China's consumer price index fell 1.8 percent in July from a year earlier. The fact that the country's consumer inflation has remained negative for six months and just reached the lowest level in almost a decade provides policymakers with the much-needed space to keep a loose monetary condition.
Soaring prices in the property and stock markets have recently aroused public suspicion that the government might have to rein in credit expansion to prevent a rapid return of high inflation. Yet, in view of the still sluggish global growth and lackadaisical private investment at home, Chinese policymakers decided that it is necessary to keep stoking growth with fiscal and monetary support. Meanwhile, they assured the public that they would keep a keen eye on inflationary pressures.
The government's confidence and determination to stay the course is definitely crucial for a solid and sustainable rebound of the national economy. At this critical moment of recovery, there is room for neither complacency nor panic. Hence, when investors get increasingly nervous about potential inflationary pressures resulting from record credit expansion, policymakers need to respond quickly.
The sharper-than-expected decline of new bank lending in July is the latest development that will put to test the central bank's promise of monetary easing. After a jaw-dropping jump of new loans by more than 1.5 trillion yuan ($220 billion) in June, Chinese banks cut their new lending to less than a quarter of that in July.
Maybe this is only a market-based choice by domestic lenders, but the central bank is obliged to assure the public that it does not represent a change in monetary policy dictated by fear of inflationary pressures.
At present, falling consumer prices can still be made a good argument to dispel worries about imminent inflation. But it is widely expected now that the country's consumer inflation may turn positive by the end of the year.
Therefore, to convince the public of their resolve to keep stimulus policies unchanged, Chinese policymakers should come up with new measures to render private investment into a new source of economic growth. Government-led infrastructure projects and massive investment by big State firms have so far played a key role in putting economic growth back on track. But these are not enough for a lasting recovery. If a moderately loose monetary policy is meant to help boost private investment, it is then needed and will not necessarily fuel inflation and asset bubbles.
OPTIMISM ABOUNDS AMID CRISIS
The global economic meltdown has burned many companies worldwide but merely served to fan the flames of economic optimism in China, as local consumers continue their wild shopping sprees, evening dinner parties and overseas tours with wild abandon.
Unlike the vast majority of consumers in most countries, which have tightened their purse-strings and battened down the hatches, the Chinese mainland has been sending powerful shopping delegations to its top trading partners: North America, Europe and China's Taiwan province. It has also inked lucrative oil deals with Russia and Iran to pave the way for greater energy security.
This sense of optimism has been further fueled by news that countries as far apart culturally and economically as Britain and Pakistan want to borrow money from China, which now has an estimated foreign reserve of up to $2 trillion.
Nowadays, when senior US officials meet Chinese leaders, they seem less interested in chiding the country about its human rights issues than pushing the government to snap up more of their treasury bonds.
In contrast to the situation only a few months ago, State-owned and private companies are also showing a keener interest in buying cheap overseas assets, as opposed to merely thanking the European Union and other foreign governments for stemming the tide of possible losses by limiting China's merger and acquisition efforts in previous years.
Meanwhile, those who remember the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis feel lucky that the nation's currency is still not fully convertible, a situation that keeps it blissfully immune to attacks from the volatile world market.
The situation has also been improving in a more tangible way on the home front, with much of the population benefiting from the government's 4-trillion-yuan ($586 billion) stimulus package, which has given birth to more-inclusive social security systems, better infrastructure and more rational industrial structure.
The glowing new outlook of the Chinese people has been widely reflected in worldwide polls. Surveys by Pew Research Center, ACNielsen and Reuters over the last year show the Chinese to be more than satisfied with their country's economic situation. The country's consumer confidence index also stands head and shoulders above that of much of the international community.
Corporate outlooks are similarly upbeat. The Entrepreneur Confidence Index, which measures the attitude of business executives to the economy, rose 9.1 percentage points in the second quarter (Q2) to 110.2, with the manufacturing, construction, transportation, wholesale, real estate, telecommunication, software and catering sectors leading the way.
New data about China's GDP growth has filled investors and the general public with even greater confidence. Q2 growth of 7.9 percent has revised China's GDP growth rate in the first six months to 7.1 percent, making the government's original target of 8 percent for 2009 something of a distinct possibility.
As if this were not enough, China's property and stock markets have both rebounded after a period of stagnation, while property market speculators have raised prices in major cities to new highs.
These trends have compelled many naysayer's and cynics to admit that China may actually be able to carve a new role for itself as that of a savior by helping the world fight its way out of the recession.
Part of this optimism no doubt stems from the 30-year economic miracle that China has enjoyed following more than a century of war and political turmoil.
The successful staging of the Beijing Olympics last year and China's first manned space flight have both buoyed up the country's international credentials and given its people a feeling that, now, anything is possible.
The media may also have to accept some responsibility for this new flood of good feeling as it has tended to place a greater emphasis on positive stories in recent times.
However, things are not quite as rosy as all that. Potential time bombs still tick away under the surface, such as the pressure to create new jobs, narrow the widening income gap, maintain a sustainable level of investment, revive the country's flagging export sector and put the inflation pressure in check. There are also more wide-ranging party poopers like environmental protection and widespread corruption to deal with.
But for the time being at least, most Chinese are happy simply to enjoy the party. They prefer to see the cup as half-full rather than half-empty. This ambivalence is reflected in the Chinese character for the word "crisis", or weili, which literally translates as "danger and opportunity."
At a time when many countries and peoples are preoccupied with the former, the Chinese are banking on the latter.
THE CRISIS, THE BRIC, THE COMPANIES
THE ECONOMIC CRISIS OF 2008/2009, IN A VERY SIMPLISTIC VIEW IS THE CRISIS OF THE 3 C’S.
The first C is of credit. Credit was given to consumers in the last years in a very irresponsible way by financial institutions in several countries, an artificial market was built. It was an era of financial leverage, financial strategy, and financial dominance. Several companies entered on this festival, building up very risky positions, paying salaries and dividends out of reality, and neglecting costs. This festival started eroding. Adjustments were needed.
The second C is the consumption. Consumption was done in an irresponsible way by society, also in several countries. The abundant offer of credit took a large amount of consumers to buy what they cannot afford, with loans for houses, cars, equipments and others. Anyone could see that this consumption would not fit the monthly budget of families. But the festival was there. Now, it is time to reduce leverage, to sell what was bought, with a lot of loss, since prices of assets (houses, cars, and others) went down.
The third C is confidence. The first two C’s made society lose confidence in the system, in companies, and even in Governments. Economic recovery is related to confidence. This will not be easy and will be different from country to country. Due to the crisis, where at the beginning and end couldn’t be seen, several consumers who can consume, lost confidence, and stopped consuming. With lower sales, markets reduce, employment reduces, and this takes to lower consumption, lower sales, unemployment with a negative cycle effect, bringing deeper crisis. The speed of “confidence recovery” is what is going to take economy out of this crisis. Economic situation will get better far before the financial situation, since it is not know yet what is still to come in terms of bad credits.
It is very important to know that the 2009 world crisis cannot be generalized. It had very different regional, country and industry impacts. Some industries, like heavy equipment, are suffered the worst crisis in 20 years. Some areas of countries, some cities, suffered more, and others less. Some countries suffered more (Germany, with a 5 per cent decrease in GDP) and some, less (China, with a 6per cent increase). US will still suffer due to a high leverage of its consumers. Predictions for European recovery are worst than the Americas and Asia.
The emergent economies in some way already changed the world. The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) group is expected by Goldman Sachs to have a higher GDP then the G7 in 2027. Between 2000 and 2005 the BRIC GDP went from US$ 3.6 trillion towards almost $ 5 trillion. Brazil had an average growth from 2000 to 2009 of 3.1 per cent/year, and a accumulated variation of 36.3 percent in the period (2000/2009). China had a incredible number of 9.6 per cent of average and 151 per cent accumulated. India comes with 6.9 per cent of average and 94.6 per cent accumulated and finally, Russia had 5.5 per cent of average growth (2000/2009) and 71.2 per cent accumulated (FMI).
The GDP of emerging nations was 11 per cent of the world in 1991, was 30 per cent in 2008 and expected to be 50 per cent in 20 years. Population in 2050 is expected to be 9 billion people, and only 10 per cent will be at the developed nations. In 2009, there were around 200 million people at emerging nations having an income of $3,000/year, and this will move to 2 billion people in 15-20 years. So there is no discussion that a huge shift happened in the last 10 years. New consumers and new markets diversifying the world. The GDP in large food consumers like China and India continues to grow, contributing to a maintenance and even increase in consumption. Almost 60per cent of the world’s economic growth in the period 1999/2009 was in the developing nations, being 30 per cent at the BRIC. World Bank estimates that in 2009 the world economy will reduce in 2.9 per cent, a growth of 2 per cent in 2010, and 3.2 per cent in 2011. Half of this growth will come from the emerging nations and markets.
To finalize what are the messages for companies? Companies will need to focus more again, to return to their core business, have a very efficient use of capital and resources, and work even more on planning, collective actions and cost structure. Companies will also need to have a very close look to risk monitoring. It is an era of establishing global and more competitive supply chains and an area of strong value proposition for human talents in companies. Finally, it is an era of more conservative leverage and financing, and to take advantage of opportunities of consolidation, acquisition, mergers and other, like several opportunities for cheap asset acquisition in the world. The ones that have capital are faced in 2009 an outstanding window of opportunity.
The author is professor of strategic planning and food chains at the School of Economics and Business, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The article is an excerpt from his speech at the Global Think Tank Summit Beijing 2009.
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