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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

EDITORIAL 18.08.09

 August 18, 2009

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EDITORIAL

Month August 18, Edition 000274, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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THE PIONEER

1.      PM SINGS ANOTHER TUNE

2.      A TRIAL LONG OVERDUE

3.      SPREAD TERROR, GET REWARD!-SANDHYA JAIN

4.      SRK EPISODE EXAGGERATED-SANJOG MAHESHWARI

5.      REFORMING DIRECT TAXES-GAUTAM MUKHERJEE

6.      THE ART OF SPINNING-SHIKHA MUKERJEE

7.      UPA’S DROUGHT OF GOVERNANCE-CP BHAMBHRI

8.      ‘CONGRESS MAJORITARIANISM LEFT NO ROOM FOR JINNAH’

 

THE TIMES OF INDIA

1.      CITIZENS ALL

2.      STOP THE CARNAGE

3.      NUMBERS TELL THE STORY-

4.      SELECTORS SHOULD'VE OPTED FOR YOUTH

5.      A MOVE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION-

6.      THE JOKE'S ON US-

7.      HEROES OF WOODSTOCK-

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

1.      DON’T CHECK US OUT

2.      CASTE IN STONE-PARAMITA GHOSH

3.      DEAD FLOWERS-BHAICHAND PATEL

 

 

INDIAN EXPRESS

1.      PERFECT LOB

2.      IN ATTENDANCE

3.      INSERT TITLE

4.      STEPPING ASIDE-MIHIR S. SHARMA

5.      CLOSE THE DEAL-VINAY SHANKAR

6.      KIRAN BEDI, JUDGE DREAD-SHAILAJA BAJPAI

7.      ARE WE THERE YET?-JOHN KEANE

 

THE FINENCIAL EXPRESS

1.      LET RUPEE FIND ITS LEVEL

2.      INDIAN PUBLIC’S OFFERING

3.      REMEMBER, FISH ROTS FROM THE HEAD-MANISH SABHARWAL

4.      SUBBARAO, HOPE YOU ARE NOT SO REDDY-DHIRAJ NAYYAR

5.      SHAMPOO ECONOMY: RAINS AND RURAL DEMAND-RAJESH SHUKLA

 

THE HINDU

1.      DROUGHT AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

2.      SEEKING A FAIR DEAL FOR MUSLIMS -AMAR SINGH

3.      ‘LET THE MAOISTS SIT IN OPPOSITION’ -SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

THE ASIAN AGE

1.      BJP IN CRISIS: CAN IT REINVENT ITSELF?

2.      MORE JOBS, CHEAPER FOOD WILL STIMULATE ECONOMY-BY JAYATI GHOSH

3.      RULES OF ENGAGEMENT-BY SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

 

THE TRIBUNE

1.      REFORMING JUDICIAL SYSTEM

2.      NEW-FOUND LOVE

3.      KILLING UNBORN DAUGHTERS

4.      HARNESSING GROWING POPULATION-BY SUNITA ROY

5.      WE FACE YEARS OF LOOMING AUSTERITY-BY STEPHEN KING

6.      DELHI DURBAR

 

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

1.      RISING FISCAL DEFICIT

2.      US-IRAN TIES

3.      WOMEN’S MOVEMENT AND EMPOWERMENT-DR ARCHANA SARMA

4.      DEFORESTATION AND ENVIRONMENT-DR ANURADHA SARMAH

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

1.      COPYCAT PARTY

2.      MY NAME IS KHAN

3.      NO COMFORT IN GDP NUMBERS

4.      SIGNS OF IPO MARKET REVIVAL

5.      CLEAN UP THE ENERGY MESS

 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

1.      MORE JOBS, CHEAPER FOOD WILL STIMULATE ECONOMY - BY JAYATI GHOSH

2.      RULES OF ENGAGEMENT - BY SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

3.      PYTHON VS CAT - BY ROD LIDDLE

4.      BJP IN CRISIS: CAN IT REINVENT ITSELF?

5.      OBAMA CAN’T SAVE HEALTHCARE REFORMS - BY GOVIND TALWALKAR

6.      SWISS MENACE MAY BE GOOD FOR AMERICA - BY PAUL KRUGMAN

THE TELEGRAPH

1.      LOTS IN A NAME

2.      SIMPLE AND FAST

3.      ICON AT THE GATES -K.P. NAYAR

4.      THE FOUR MARIES

5.      STEPHEN HUGH-JONES

 

THE STATESMAN

1.      APOTHECARY’S DAY

2.      HIV TO THEIR ‘AID’

3.      OBJECTIVE FULFILLED

4.      WHO’S SPENDING MORE TIME IN THE KITCHEN?-PRESS TRUST OF INDIA

5.      THE WOES OF BUNDELKHAND-BHARAT DOGRA

 

DECCAN HERALD

1.      THROUGH A PATIENT’S EYE-BY CYNTHIA AMRUTHA

2.      INDIA’S OIL SECTOR REFORM A MIRAGE?-BY BHAMY V SHENOY

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

1.      NEW YORK’S SHADOW GOVERNMENT

2.      MORE BUSINESS AS USUAL

3.      THE CLIMATE AND NATIONAL SECURITY

4.      THE BIG FIVE-O -BY LAWRENCE DOWNES

 

I.THE NEWS

1.      HELPING HANDS

2.      PROTECTION, PLEASE

3.      SWAT VIOLENCE

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

1.      US COOPERATION TO OVERCOME ENERGY CRISIS

2.      HEAVY LOSSES BY RAINS AND FLOODS

3.      NOW THEY FIGHT AMONG THEMSELVES

 

THE INDEPENDENT

1.      DISTORTED MARKET

2.      HEADMASTER SHORTAGE

3.      BE STILL AND LISTEN…!-ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

THE AUSTRALIAN

1.      A RADICAL OVERHAUL FOR A FAILED SYSTEM

2.      REWARD PERFORMANCE

3.      A NATURAL FOODBOWL

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

1.      KARZAI WILL HAVE TO DO

2.      TOO MUCH TILTINGAROUND WINDMILLS

 

THE GUARDIAN

1.      TASERS: SHOCKING WEAPONS

2.      IN PRAISE OF… RESTING IN PEACE

3.      BANKERS' PAY: COINING IT IN

 

JAPAN TIMES

1.      ANOTHER AFGHAN MILESTONE

2.      CORPORATE GREED VERSUS AMERICANS' HEALTH-BY CESAR CHELALA

3.      WEIGHING THE NUCLEAR OPTION

 

THE KOREA HERALD

1.      ACCORDS IN PYONGYANG

2.      BACK TO THE ASSEMBLY

3.      YEN FAILS TO BE MAIN RESERVE CURRENCY -ANDREW SHENG

4.      IN SCIENCE VS. FAITH, THE NEED TO HEED CHARLES DARWIN -CHRIS MOONEY AND SHERIL KIRSHENBAUM

 

THE GAZETTE

1.      HIGHER PARKING FINES? YES, BUT ...

2.      BAILOUT WILL DO LITTLE TO IMPROVE PORK INDUSTRY

 

CHINA DAILY

1.      UNSOLVED RIDDLES

2.      WORRISOME HOUSE PRICES

3.      LEARNING TO LOBBY LEGISLATORS

4.      WESTERN MEDIA REPEATS TRAGEDY AS FARCE

 

THE JAKARTA POST

1.      UNDERSTANDING NATIONALISM, AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE? -MERLYNA LIM

2.      REALIGNING TAXING POWER

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

PM SINGS ANOTHER TUNE

PAKISTAN CAN’T BE TRUSTED, AFTER ALL!


Either Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has realised that he committed a blunder at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt or there has been a radical change in Pakistan’s stand on cross-border terrorism in the past one month. Nothing else explains Mr Singh’s comments at Monday’s internal security conference attended by Chief Ministers and organised by the Union Ministry for Home Affairs to discuss threats posed by terrorist and insurgent groups. According to the Prime Minister, Pakistani terrorists are planning fresh attacks in India. To underscore the seriousness of his disclosure, he added that it was based on “credible information”. Mr Singh also expressed concern over the surge in infiltration by hardcore, trained and well-equipped terrorists from across the Line of Control. He went on to add that efforts to “disturb the status quo” had not been given up by malcontents in Pakistan. For good measure, he reiterated that cross-border terrorism continued to remain the “most pervasive” threat to our national security and waxed eloquent on the need to stay “ahead of the curve” to meet the challenge. It could well be said that there is nothing startlingly new in any of these utterances; indeed, the Prime Minister has merely said what is common knowledge. Yet, a month ago Mr Singh endorsed a joint statement after his meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh, virtually giving a clean chit to the country which has caused, and continues to inflict, death and destruction in India by aggressively promoting cross-border terrorism. Not only did Mr Singh agree to delink Islamabad’s refusal to act against terrorism emanating from territory under Pakistan’s control and the composite dialogue process, he also accorded victimhood status on the sponsors of jihad against India and caved in to Mr Gilani’s demand that a mention be made of separatist violence in Balochistan, slyly suggesting that India has been fomenting trouble in that province. Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister found himself in a minority of one after he returned home, with even the Congress refusing to support his shameful capitulation at Sharm el-Sheikh. That did not prevent him from defending his folly, although he tried to give the statement a different interpretation by seeking to reinvent the English language.


What, then, explains the Prime Minister taking a U-turn at Monday’s conference? Do his comments amount to a mea culpa? Or has the Pakistani regime abandoned its resolve to crack down on terrorists and bring those responsible for the 26/11 outrage to justice? Mr Singh owes the nation an explanation, not least because a month ago he had passionately defended the joint statement and insisted that there was sufficient evidence to believe Pakistan had given up on its policy of promoting cross-border terrorism. Is the ‘credible information’ which he is now citing more convincing than the ‘evidence’ presented by Mr Gilani during the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting? Or does the Prime Minister, having miserably failed to convince the people that Sharm el-Sheikh was no error of judgement on his part, now feel compelled to concede that there are genuine concerns about threats posed by Pakistani terrorists? Meanwhile, it is laughable that Pakistan should have sought details about the attacks being planned so that it could cooperate with India in foiling the evil designs of jihadis. This amounts to the devil quoting the scriptures.

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

A TRIAL LONG OVERDUE

MUJIB’S KILLERS MUST BE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE


As Bangladesh observed the 34th death anniversary of the country’s founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, it is only apt that the Government in Dhaka has indicated the resumption of the murder trial of Bangabandhu. It will be recalled that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated on August 15, 1975, along with members of his family, barring two of his daughters — including current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina — who at the time were in Germany. Following the assassination, Bangladesh was thrown into a period of political turmoil. When Gen Ziaur Rahman established his military dictatorship, although it did bring a certain amount of forced political stability, Bangladesh was put on the track to Islamisation, reversing Sheikh Mujibur’s secular legacy. Gen Rahman, once he assumed the post of President, got the infamous Indemnity Act of 1979 ratified in the Bangladeshi Parliament that gave the conspirators involved in Sheikh Mujibur’s assassination immunity from legal prosecution. It was only when the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League came to power in 1996 that the Indemnity Act was repealed, clearing the way for the trial of those responsible for the assassination. In November, 1998, a Dhaka sessions court handed down the trial verdict in the case awarding the death penalty to 15 accused. On appeal, the High Court upheld the death sentence for 12 of the accused. However, the case hit a dead end in 2001 when the Bangladeshi Supreme Court stayed the verdict on appeal and expressed its inability to conduct hearings for the want of senior judges in the Appellate Division of the court. Incidentally, it was around this time that the Begum Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party-Jamaat-e-Islami Government came to power. Under its regime the case went completely cold.


The issue of bringing to justice the murderers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is of considerable significance for Bangladesh. It is symbolic of how Bangladesh would like to present itself to the world. The conspirators of Bangabandhu’s assassination were Islamists who were allergic to Sheikh Mujibur’s vision of a modern, secular state based on Bengali ethos. If Bangladesh wants to live up to that image it must bring to book those who brutally murdered its founding father those 34 years ago. It is not as if the murderers are not known. The technical snag of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court not having senior judges to further the case has now also been resolved. All that remains is for there to be a free and fair hearing of the appeal pending in the Supreme Court and for justice to be done. With the High Court ruling earlier this year dispelling any doubts regarding the role that Sheikh Mujibur played in the liberation of Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi people owe this much to their founding father.


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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

SPREAD TERROR, GET REWARD!

SANDHYA JAIN


The Supreme Court’s startling decision to award a staggering Rs 10 lakh as compensation to the family of underworld character Sohrabuddin Sheikh bodes ill for India’s battle against jihadi terror and its native accomplices. Sohrabuddin and his wife, Kausar Bi, were killed by Gujarat Police in November 2005.


On August 11, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Tarun Chatterjee and Aftab Alam ordered this ex-gratia payment to Sohrabuddin’s mother and three brothers. It deferred the issue of transferring the case for further investigation to a special panel headed by former CBI director RK Raghavan to September 2.


Some immediate questions arise — should compensation be awarded for known criminals when the state has the legitimate right to use force for public good? Should compensation be given before relevant cases are disposed of by the courts? Is the quantum of compensation determined by the ‘earning capacity’ of the criminal, and his family’s addiction to the wages of sin? Have the victims of such criminals received comparable compensation? If victims are invisible to the judiciary, what quality of justice can citizens expect from the honourable courts?


Sohrabuddin hailed from a village near Ujjain and was an ordinary truck driver who shuttled between Indore and Kandla when contacted by underworld gangs from Kutch. He began carrying smuggled goods from Kutch to India’s interiors, and soon rose to taking orders from Dawood Ibrahim for kidnappings, extortions and killings in the Gujarat-Rajasthan border area. His targets were marble mine owners in both States, remote from urban centres and easy targets. He evaded the Rajasthan and Gujarat Governments and spread the tentacles of the Dawood kidnap industry to Andhra Pradesh.


As expected, the Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh police cooperated to trap him. The police in Hyderabad tipped their Gujarat and Rajasthan counterparts that Sohrabuddin and his wife were travelling by a luxury bus to Pune. They were intercepted on the highway and taken to Gujarat for questioning. Both were killed under circumstances being established in court.


When Sohrabuddin’s body reached his home village, it was received by hundreds of followers, several wielding AK-47s, and firing openly. This is the man for whom the apex court has gifted Rs 10 lakhs of public money.


The Supreme Court has created an unwarranted precedent, and one can only shudder at the inevitable repercussions. The family of a criminal with trans-national links to designated enemies of the Indian state — Dawood Ibrahim tops the list of wanted persons India is seeking from Pakistan — is compensated grandiosely; his victims are thus dishonoured by none other than the apex court; the nation’s tax-payers are outraged by this gross misuse of their money; and the police officers who risked their lives to capture the crook and maintain law and order, prevent gun-running and smuggling for the ‘D Company’, are jailed and hounded by the judiciary. There cannot be a graver travesty of justice.


In an era when the Indian nation and society are constantly exposed to terror, it is perverse to argue that diehard terrorists can or must be captured alive, or treated like ordinary criminals, much less as respectable citizens! The Batla House encounter, in which a brave policeman died trying to capture jihadis, shows the extent to which the lives of our policemen are constantly in danger, and how little we are conscious of this truth. There is a limit to how many trained officers we can sacrifice to criminals and the foreign-funded human rights industry. India should take a leaf from the Chinese book and force all NGOs to re-register as companies, open to governmental scrutiny in the matter of funding and mentoring.

As things stand today, a man caught planting bombs and killed while trying to escape can be dubbed the sole breadwinner of his family and compensated to the tune of a million rupees! It is pertinent that the notorious bootlegger and Dawood associate, Abdul Latif, who extorted money from builders even when lodged in Sabarmati Jail, through readily accessible mobile phones, was shot down while trying to escape “after midnight” from a police jeep.


There is, it seems, no other way to eradicate such menaces, and instead of hounding police officers, we must quickly legitimise the ‘licensed to kill’ regime for all those with established underworld, and especially jihadi, connections. Compensation must be given only for wrongful killings — that is, mistaken identity leading to the death of innocents, as in the Connaught Place killing in Delhi some years ago.


Some LeT terrorists of Azamgarh were reportedly hiding at Batla House, and Gujarat intelligence tipped off the Delhi Police. Inspector MC Sharma was shot at point blank range from an AK-47; one criminal escaped in the melee. Many shameless politicians and professional human rights-wallahs called it a ‘fake encounter’. No apology has been forthcoming even after the National Human Rights Commission (an otherwise derelict body that maintained resolute silence in the face of the lawless treatment meted out to Sadhvi Pragya) exonerated the police. Now some Muslims are communalising the issue by demanding a CBI probe. And if that also goes against their desired outcome, they may want a UN mandate over India!

What has the ruling UPA, the NHRC, the Supreme Court and the jholawallah brigade given to the security personnel who died defending Parliament House? Sadly, the judiciary is perceived to have become so aligned as to be almost indistinguishable from the NHRC-jholawallah brigade.


This was glaringly established when the Supreme Court accepted unsigned papers forwarded by the NHRC at the behest of Ms Teesta Setalvad and transferred Gujarat riot cases to Mumbai, where she could personally mentor the witnesses and monitor the cases.


Nor is this the end of judicial absurdity. On August 13, the Gujarat High Court formed a panel to probe the killing of 18-year-old Ishrat Jehan. This 18-year-old Mumbai teenager became involved with terrorists and was killed by Gujarat Police in 2004 while accompanying three male accomplices on a mission to kill Chief Minister Narendra Modi! All were linked to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and were hailed as martyrs on its Website, which established police claims about their identity and associations.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

SRK EPISODE EXAGGERATED

SANJOG MAHESHWARI


The issue of actor Shah Rukh Khan’s detention at the Newark airport in New Jersey for two hours that continues to spark outrage in the country has been blown out of proportion to the hilt. So much so that even Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni suggested tit-for-tat action. It is unfortunate that the incident is not being viewed in a broader perspective. The episode exemplifies the ‘no-nonsense’ work culture in the US. Khan was detained by a US immigration officer because his name came up on a computer alert list. Although some of the other officers present at the airport tried to vouch for Khan, the officer concerned refused to budge. Unfortunately, this culture of dedication to one’s duty is something that we can never imagine in India.


This is not the first incident in the US where an officer in the line of duty has had an ‘encounter’ with an influential person. Sergeant James M Crowley had arrested Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr, a friend of US President Barack Obama, on the charge of disorderly conduct when a neighbour suspected a case of burglary at the former’s residence. Instead of transferring the police officer, as it could have happened had the incident occurred in India, the police unions demanded an apology from the President for saying that “the officer acted stupidly”. The very next day at a Press meet the President not only praised the officer but also invited him to the White House, along with the Professor, for a beer to assuage frayed tempers.


Not so long ago, former US President George W Bush looked the other way while his daughter cooled her heels behind bars on the charge of illegal possession of alcohol. The US is a country where its Presidents, notwithstanding the fact that they hold the most powerful post in the world, cannot wield their authority to bend the law of the land. This is what a true democracy is.


For this to happen in India, we will have to completely delink the executive from the legislature. Under the extant arrangement of things, the former is the handmaid of the latter. The judiciary is also subservient to this unholy combination. The three institutes must work separately, but in tandem, in the best interests of the people as against the entrenched vested interests of a few.


It is our problem that we don’t have a system of democratic governance and work culture that give us the moral authority to return the American compliment.

 

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THE PIONEER

OP-ED

REFORMING DIRECT TAXES

THE PROPOSED NEW TAX CODE IS BEING PROJECTED AS A PANACEA FOR FUTURE TAX ADMINISTRATION. BUT UNLESS SHORN OF ITS RETROGRADE PROVISIONS, IT IS NO MORE THAN YET ANOTHER DEUS EX MACHINA THAT SEEKS TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF REVENUE GENERATION RATHER THAN PRESCRIBING A LASTING CURE TO LOW DIRECT TAX COMPLIANCE

GAUTAM MUKHERJEE


Direct taxes, throughout independent India’s 62-plus years, have generally yielded less than the cost of the administrative apparatus created and sustained to collect them. One of the reasons for this is the ease with which any but the employee classes working in the ‘formal’ sector can underpay or dodge them.


The other reason is the sheer impracticality of assessing liability against perquisites and indirect income. Departmental instructions are drafted as clearly as mud, and made infinitely worse by confused amendments year after year.


The Government has made little headway on expanding the tax-payers’ base. The direct tax payers are, in fact, a miniscule number of a few lakh in a population of over a billion. And corporations would rather plough back would-be profits into expansion than pay taxes.


As things stand, if it weren’t for the multiple layers of indirect taxes, duties and excises on raw materials, intermediate goods/services, as well on finished products/services, it would be difficult to carry on. This massive taxation combined with borrowing from institutional sources, both domestic and international, and massive deficit financing keeps the engines running.


The Government of India would be hard-pressed to support itself, let alone its various development programmes and other obligations, without recourse to its various deus ex machina that keep it trundling forward.

In the context of reform, direct taxes need to be reasonable and comparable with other large economies to encourage compliance, discourage tax exiles and flight of capital. The Government also needs to eschew hidden whammies. Similarly, indirect taxes should not be so onerous so as to cripple competitiveness, particularly in a rapidly globalising India.


Most Finance Ministers, cleaving to discretion being the better part of valour, have given direct tax reform a miss. However, Mr P Chidambaram, our once and many times FM, took the bull by the horns during his last tenure and drafted a code on direct taxes to replace the Income Tax Act of 1961.


Codes are generally associated with big time reform. They have traditionally been major dictates that consolidate, harmonise, unify and systematise clusters of laws, written and unwritten, forging them together with custom, tradition and political vision. The term has been applied throughout history to mark milestones in the evolution of law-making and, more importantly, the very serious business of nation-building.

Thus, we encounter the ancient and famous Codex Hammurabi from 1790 BC. Hammurabi changed the face of criminal law and justice in ancient Babylon with this code which nevertheless was simple enough to come down to us carved onto a single stone.


Napoleon Bonaparte laid down his path-breaking Civil Code in 1804, after the fall of the Bourbons; after the French Revolution and its blast of Liberté, égalité, fraternité. The Code Napoleon was a unification and modernisation of civil law based on older, largely royalist French and Roman, predecessors. It abolished the privileges of birth and laid out property laws, opening the door to modern democracy. The Code was thought to be so good that it remains the basic template for civil law in most of Europe to this day.

The question before us then is what can free India’s first declaration in the form of a code hope to accomplish? And the answer: Unless shorn of its sleight of hand, old wine in new bottles provisions, very little indeed!


It continues, for instance, to exempt 60 per cent or so of the population engaged in agriculture. It is ironic perhaps that all tax revenues of centuries past, in British and Mughal India, was either tribute, indemnity or spoils from vassal/vanquished states; or land revenue extracted from toiling peasants through their overlords.

And even written in clear, succinct and simple language, it nevertheless seeks to conceal more than it reveals. For example, it is true that corporate taxation has been reduced to 25 per cent from 30 per cent, but MAT has been reworked to accrue better returns than it is getting at present to make up the shortfall.

Also, an ostensibly reduced Wealth Tax, dramatically down from one per cent on a low threshold of just Rs 30 lakh to 0.25 per cent per annum is proposed to be made applicable on all Wealth greater than Rs 50 crore. Except that ‘wealth’ will now include shares and other financial instruments and thus tax even promoter shareholdings in companies on a recurring basis year after year! How this retrograde intention is meant to help corporate India grow into sizes that can help it compete on the global stage is beyond comprehension.

The individual tax-payer is pleased at first at the contemplation of tax slabs made much broader. Proposals such as a modest 10 per cent rate of tax for income up to 10 lakh, 20 per cent for up to 25 lakh and 30 per cent for all income beyond this figure are most encouraging.


But, all perquisites of individual tax-payers including medical expenses will be taxed at the applicable slab rates and this includes the perks of Government servants. This will be very hard to calculate equitably. For instance, try to imagine the perquisite value of a Government allotted ‘quarter’ versus a commercially leased flat and you will intuit the new can of worms coming up.


Besides, one of several flies in the ointment is again in the treatment of capital gains which would be taxed at the applicable slab rates and include all financial instruments including equity, fixed deposits and mutual fund earnings.


How is this expected to encourage the equity cult, or indeed saving, one does not know. Traders and active investors responding to a bull market will be taxed on profits at their slab rate, though curiously, passive recipients of dividends will continue to receive them free of taxes.


There will be no distinction between short and long-term capital gains. This also means anybody who sells a property after the code comes into force will probably pay 30 per cent in taxes instead of 20 per cent he used to pay after “indexation”.


The most worrying part is that this back-loaded code is being promoted as a panacea for future tax administration when, unless it is shorn of its retrograde provisions, it is no more than yet another deus ex machina, an expedient bolt from the blue that seeks to solve a problem of revenue generation rather than prescribing a lasting cure to low direct tax compliance.

 

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THE PIONEER

OP-ED

THE ART OF SPINNING

BOTH CPM AND TRINAMOOL TRYING HARD TO WOO VOTERS

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


This being the season of patriotic fervour, media has been busy refreshing memories of the life of the Mahatma as in Gandhi. In Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi, the Mahatma admonishes Margaret Slade telling her to learn to spin khadi cloth. Therefore, the art of spinning is integral to the way in which India’s political class sustains its connection to voters.


The art of spinning is not quite the same as the wizardry of spin doctors, that expert group of people who can transform damage into something less destructive. With in-house expertise available, precedents that create a pattern, West Bengal’s political class is industriously engaged in using the art of spinning to attach support of every hue from every possible group.


The race to attach different segments to the Trinamool Congress as well as reattach threadbare parts to the behemoth Communist Party of India (Marxist) is generating a great deal of energy. The expectation is that the effort put in to produce this energy will translate into victory when the ‘Super Bowl’ happens in 2011.

Therefore, the cadre were called out and pledged their fealty at the mega memorial meeting for late Subhas Chakraborty, a man who became an institution within the CPI(M) in his lifetime but did not encourage a personality cult. Given that Chakraborty was frequently a headache for the party’s leadership because of the questions he posed to the dictated ‘line’ which cost him his seniority, but failed to deflect him from his purpose.


The CPI(M) is straining to return to the basics of regenerating the fraying connection to the masses. The response to Chakraborty’s death by the masses has boosted the morale of the leadership and consequently galvanised them into thinking that a salvage operation launched now may rescue the party from being wiped out in the 2011 State Assembly election.


Based on the hypothesis that the commitment of the cadre to the party can be revived, the CPI(M) has to get down to really rebuilding the connections to the people instead of talking hypothetically about it. By leveraging his immense popularity based on his impressive record of work as Youth Affairs Minister, Transport Minister and briefly Tourism Minister, his passion for sports and the helpline that he established with anyone who had a problem, the party has selected Chakraborty’s ‘men’ to replace him in various jobs. Whether this formula works is uncertain, but the CPI(M) is testing it, as of now.


Capturing the commitment of voters or even sections of opinion is, therefore, much like the art of spinning. On its part, the Trinamool Congress is doing much the same thing, building up a bank of support through distribution of recognition and reward, such as naming metro stations after the superstar of yesteryears, Uttam Kumar, or naming the Eastern Railway Museum after theatre legend Shombhu Mitra, whose daughter, Shaoli Mitra has been a vociferous critic of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. On the face of it, these are small change. But put together they could add up to a stock pile.

In other words, the divides within West Bengal are deepening. Culture, elite and popular, has been divided along political lines. Sports has been similarly divided and will now be formally separated without Chakraborty’s passion holding it all together. The lists of those included and excluded from the two political camps will grow, despite complaints about the politicisation of every sphere of life. The pattern it seems has been set — amra (people like us) and ora (people like them), the warp and the weft that together make up the cloth.

 

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THE PIONEER

OP-ED

UPA’S DROUGHT OF GOVERNANCE

THE CONGRESS-LED GOVERNMENT, WHICH HAS ALREADY FAILED TO MAKE ANY MARK ON ADMINISTRATIVE ISSUES, IS NOW FACED WITH A SHAKY LEADER WHOSE FOREIGN POLICY HAS COME UNDER ATTACK

CP BHAMBHRI


The media, the votaries of policies of economic liberalisation and privatisation of industrial and financial sectors of economy were hopeful that unlike the previous UPA Government, which was hamstrung by the presence of the Left, the Manmohan Singh Government in its second term would push further the policies of economic reform and liberalisation. But they were made to eat humble pie as all their hopes from the Government in power from the end of May to the middle of August have been completely belied.

The lacklustre performance of the Government in the first quarter of its second term is because of its incapability to provide meaningful leadership on national and international issues facing the country. Moreover, this time the Centre cannot blame the Opposition parties for following any obstructive approach.

Although Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in the Lok Sabha that the first Budget session was very constructive because unlike local or parochial issues, members of Parliament had devoted their attention on issues of national and international concern, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee staged a walk-out in protest against Government’s proposed law on Land Acquisition at a formal meeting of the Cabinet.

The walk-out by a Cabinet Minister proves beyond any shadow of doubt that the Congress-led UPA coalition Government at the Centre consists of ‘disparate groups’ which have nothing in common and this coalition does not have any agreed common agenda of governance for the country. It clearly shows that the Government is bound to work on the basis of ‘ad hocism’ in governance.


Besides infighting, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited trouble for his Government at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt when he issued a joint statement with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on July 16 delinking the terror from composite dialogue. It will be wrong to maintain that only the Opposition parties reacted strongly against the statement. A divided Congress Party, and the country’s public opinion also became antagonistic to the stand taken by Mr Singh while dealing with his Pakistani counterpart. A new Government which had already failed to make any mark on public affairs was faced with a shaky leader whose foreign policy came under scrutiny.


It was Mr Singh who suggested that a 100-day agenda of every Minister should be placed before public to convey the message that the new coalition Government means ‘business’ and people should judge it on the basis of its performance. The very intention behind the idea first 100-day agenda was laudable because well begun journey of a Government leaves a very positive impression on the people’s consciousness. But this dream of the Prime Minister has disappeared in the thin air because coalition consists of ‘disparate groups’ without any thing in common among themselves and also because of his own poor start in his first foreign policy intervention with Pakistan.


Prime Minister’s philosophical approach towards continuous and constant ‘engagement’ with Pakistan is laudable because the logic of proximity cannot be wished away. History and geography have a determining role in deciding the level of ‘bilateralism’; however, foreign policy decisions have to be taken keeping the sentiments of people in mind.

The Prime Minister was caught on the wrong foot not on the issue of his approach based on continuous dialogue with Pakistan but on the operationalisation of policy at this moment because Indian public opinion is not favourable towards Pakistan.


The net result of acts of omission and commission of the Prime Minister, who has come to power for the second time, is that the first quarter of his Government has shown a condition of drought in policy making for the whole country.


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THE PIONEER

OP-ED

‘CONGRESS MAJORITARIANISM LEFT NO ROOM FOR JINNAH’

MOHAMMED ALI JINNAH DID NOT HATE HINDUS AND HIS PRINCIPAL DISAGREEMENT WAS WITH THE CONGRESS, SAYS JASWANT SINGH


Senior BJP leader and former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh’s latest book, Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence, was released on Monday. He spoke to Karan Thapar on his Devil’s Advocate show, telecast by CNN-IBN. The following are excerpts from the interview:


Karan Thapar: In your assessment as Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s biographer, for most if not the predominant part of his life, Jinnah was a nationalist...


Jaswant Singh: Oh, yes. He fought the British for an independent India but he also fought resolutely and relentlessly for the interest of the Muslims of India.


KT: Many people believe that Jinnah hated Hindus and that he was a Hindu basher.


JS: Wrong. Totally wrong. That certainly he was not. His principal disagreement was with the Congress. Repeatedly he says and he says this even in his last statements to the Press and to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.

KT: So his problem was with Congress and with some Congress leaders but he had no problem with Hindus?

JS: No he had no problems whatsoever with the Hindus. Because he was not in that sense, until in the later part of his years, he became exactly what he charged Mahatma Gandhi with. He had charged Mahatma Gandhi of being a demagogue.


KT: Let me put it like this. Do you admire Jinnah?


JS: I admire certain aspects of his personality. His determination and the will to rise. He was a self-made man — Mahatma Gandhi was a son of a Dewan.


KT: Nehru was born to great wealth.


JS: All of them were born to wealth and position, Jinnah created for himself a position. He carved out in Bombay a position in that cosmopolitan city being what he was, poor. He was so poor, he had to walk to work. He lived in a hotel called Watsons in Bombay and he told one of the biographers that there’s always room at the top but there is no lift and he never sought a lift.


KT: Jinnah, described as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity in 1916, had transformed 30 years later by 1947 into the ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ of Pakistan. Your book suggests that underlying this was Congress’s repeated inability to accept that Muslims feared domination by Hindus and that they wanted “space” in “a reassuring system”.


JS: Here is the central contest between minorityism and majoritarianism. With the loss of the Mughal empire, the Muslims of India had lost power but majoritarianism didn’t begin to influence them until 1947. Then they saw that unless they had a voice in their own political, economical and social destiny, they would be obliterated. That is the beginning. That is still the purpose.


KT: Was Jinnah’s fear or anxiety about Congress majoritarianism justified or understandable?


JS: Yes. In the 1946 elections, Jinnah’s Muslim League wins all the Muslim seats and yet they do not have sufficient numbers to be in office because the Congress has, even without a single Muslim, enough to form a Government and they are outside of the Government. So it was realised that simply contesting election was not enough.


KT: They needed certain assurances within the system to give them that space?

JS: That’s right. And those assurances amounted to reservation, which I dispute frankly. Reservations went from 25 per cent to 33 per cent. And then from reservation that became parity, of being on equal terms. Parity to partition.


KT: All of this was search for space?


JS: All of this was a search for some kind of autonomy of decision making in their own social and economic destiny.


KT: The conclusion of your book is that if Congress could have accepted a decentralised federal India, then a united India, as you put it, “was clearly ours to attain”. You add that the problem was that this was in “an anathema to Nehru’s centralising approach and policies”. Do you see Nehru at least as responsible for partition as Jinnah?


JS: I think he says it himself. He recognised it and his correspondence, for example with late Nawab Sahab of Bhopal, his official biographer and others. His letters to the late Nawab Sahab of Bhopal are very moving letters.


KT: So it was this majoritarianism of Nehru that actually left no room for Jinnah?


JS: It became a contest between excessive majoritarianism, exaggerated minoritism and giving the referee’s whistle to the British.


KT: Was the exaggerated minoritism a response to the excessive majoritarianism of Congress?

JS: In part. Also in response to the historical circumstances that had come up.


KT: You say of their first meeting in January 1915 that Gandhi’s response to Jinnah’s “warm welcome” was “ungracious”. You say Gandhi would only see Jinnah “in Muslim terms”, and the sort of implication that comes across is Gandhi was less accommodating than Jinnah was.


JS: I have perhaps not used the adjective you have used. Jinnah returned from his education in 1896. Gandhi went to South Africa and was returning finally — in between he had come once — to India it was 1915 already. Jinnah had gone to receive him with Gokhale and he referred fulsomely to Gandhi. Gandhi referred to Jinnah and said that I am very grateful that we have a Muslim leader. That I think was born really of Gandhi’s working in South Africa and not so much the reality of what he felt. The relationship subsequently became competitive...

KT: You say of Gandhi’s leadership that it had “an entirely religious, provincial character”. Of Jinnah’s you say he was “doubtless imbued by a non-sectarian nationalistic zeal.


JS: He was non-sectarian. Gandhi used religion as a personal expression. Jinnah used religion as a tool to create something but that came later.


KT:
Jinnah, at the end of the day, stood for creating a homeland for Indian Muslims. But what he produced was moth-eaten and broke up into two pieces in less than 25 years. Gandhi struggled to keep India united, but ended up with Partition. Would you say at the end of their lives both were failures?

JS: Gandhi was transparently an honest man. He lived his political life openly. Jinnah didn’t even live his political life, leave alone his private life, openly. Gandhi led his private life openly — (in) Noakhali with a pencil stub he wrote movingly, “I don’t want to die a failure but I fear I might.”

KT: And did he in your opinion?


JS: Yes, I am afraid the partition of land, the Hindu-Muslim divide, cannot be really called Gandhiji’s great success. Jinnah, I think, did not achieve what he set out to.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EDITORIAL

CITIZENS ALL

 

The case of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan being detained at a US airport, allegedly because of his surname, is a big-ticket controversy. The hysteria over the perceived humiliation of one of Bollywood's biggest stars is along expected lines. After all, Shah Rukh Khan enjoys iconic status in a country where various heroes be they sportspersons, actors, or politicians are put on a pedestal by the public. However, the reactions we are witnessing are over the top.


This is not about Shah Rukh Khan, or this specific incident, alone. It is only natural for him to feel aggrieved; immigration procedures are not exactly pleasant. But the officials were just doing their job. The US is well within its rights to lay down the law on its soil, which has ensnared celebrity Americans as well: Edward Kennedy and Al Gore. Instead of crying foul, this incident should lead us to examine the inadequacies of our own system on the security front, and our social attitudes. A rule-bound system such as the US's may have its excesses, but one that allows too many exceptions, such as in India, can give rise to greater problems.


The VIP culture in vogue here allows some people to believe they are somehow different from the rest of us. We have argued several times in these columns that this is simply not acceptable in a democratic republic, which is premised on the equality of all individuals. Moreover too many exceptions create an active security threat. If security personnel are afraid to frisk some because they might be influential people, then the country's class system is creating a fault line that terrorists can easily exploit.


Why then must a very large list of politicians and their families, in some cases be exempt from security checks at our airports? Judges and bureaucrats, along with our netas hold up traffic on a daily basis when they go about town, causing much inconvenience to the public. It's well past time that we stripped these modern-day satraps of such privileges. It's also important for us, the public, to moderate our enthusiasms towards glamour and sports personalities. We hoist them on a pedestal in one instant and are quick to banish them from our collective favour in a blink. If we treat our film stars and sportspersons especially cricketers like they were demigods, can you really blame them for expecting preferential treatment? This episode will be worth the splash it has made if we look within and set our own house in order.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EDITORIAL

STOP THE CARNAGE

 

India is in panic because of swine flu, which has been responsible for 26 fatalities so far. Yet we manage to remain oblivious to a far bigger threat, because it doesn't dominate the news headlines. More than 300 Indians die every day in a manner which, just like swine flu, could happen to anyone at any time. According to a report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), more people die on Indian roads than anywhere else in the world.


In 2007, 1.14 lakh people were victims of road accidents in India, a substantial 6.9 per cent higher than in 2006. China, the only other developing country with a size comparable to India's, has actually managed to bring down the number of road fatalities from over a lakh to just under 90,000, despite having more vehicles.

WHO estimates that over 90 per cent of the 1.2 million deaths that occur due to road accidents globally take place in low- to middle-income countries, which have less than half of the world's registered vehicles. This indicates that inadequate traffic infrastructure and poor medical services are together responsible for at least some of the deaths.


India's road infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, there are no regular audits of existing road infrastructure, nor are new projects required to be audited for safety. This means that the needs of vulnerable road users, like pedestrians who comprise a large chunk of road fatalities are often not taken into consideration. The Delhi-Gurgaon expressway is a prime example. It was built without adequate facilities for people to cross the road, resulting in accidents.


Without effective policing, the extraordinarily high number of deaths on Indian roads is going to keep rising. While the Motor Vehicles Act enumerates eminently sensible laws, its implementation is entirely at the discretion of state governments. As a result, certain laws are only enforced in parts of the country. This should change. Laws mandating the use of seatbelts and helmets for car and two-wheeler occupants respectively should apply nationally. Driving licences should be given and renewed only after stringent tests. The World Bank estimates that road accidents cost the country nearly 3 per cent of its GDP, not to mention the human cost. That alone should be reason enough for licensing authorities to clean up their act and for the police to get cracking on traffic violations.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

NUMBERS TELL THE STORY

 

Our national leadership is constantly advocating 'out of the box solutions' to meet a rising tide of national crises. But it has persistently and obdurately ignored the quotidian and necessary tasks of governance and of maintaining minimum strength and standards in the institutions already 'in the box'. In India today, basic capacities for governance, enterprise and social action have been allowed to decline to such an extent that the most rudimentary tasks of nation-building, indeed, even of administrative maintenance, cannot be executed with a modicum of efficiency.


Ironically, this has happened over decades of a public and media discourse about 'bloated government', 'massive police force', 'gigantic expenditure on the bureaucracy', the need to 'downsize government', and other politically correct slogans based on extraordinary ignorance of fact. A look at the most rudimentary statistics may help pull some heads out of the sand.


After numberless terrorist attacks and years of hammering away at every possible forum with the basic data, India's abysmal police-population ratio appears to have found marginal registration in segments of the leadership, at least at the Centre. The ratio, at 125/1,00,000 in end-2007 (it is expected to have risen significantly thereafter, though nowhere approaching what is necessary) stands against western ratios that range between 200 (Australia: 209) and over 500 (Italy: 556). Western police forces, moreover, have tremendous qualitative advantages in manpower, technology, infrastructure, financial resources and conditions of work, and are rarely required to deal with proxy wars and insurgency.


The police are not the only organisation in crisis. Every government institution in the country has been hollowed out by political incompetence and ignorance. A look at the 'bloated bureaucracy' is instructive. The embedded principle in American democracy is that 'the best government is the least government'. Consequently, the state focuses as exclusively as possible on 'core functions' and minimises engagement in welfare and activities that can be taken over by the private sector. The administrative philosophy in India is the exact opposite, with government's fingers planted firmly in every possible pie.


That is why the ratio of government employees to population in the two countries is the more astonishing: the US federal government has a ratio of 889 employees per 1,00,000; India's Union government has just 295. State and local government employees in the US account for another 6,314 per 100,000; in sharp contrast, Uttar Pradesh has 352; Bihar, 472; Orissa, 1,007; Chhattisgarh, 1,067; Maharashtra, 1,223; Punjab, 1,383; Gujarat, 1,694. Worse, in India, the overwhelming proportion of government employees is in the lower cadres, class III and IV, as against the 'thinking' element of the state in higher echelons. Even in the latter category, qualitative profiles, including modern and administrative skills, training and technological competence, are severely limited.


Then, look at the 'second largest army in the world'. At about 1.4 million, the current strength of the armed forces appears large in absolute terms but is utterly inadequate in terms of India's population, territory and strategic projections as an 'emerging global power'. India's ratio of active duty uniformed troops to population works out to about 1:866. China's ratio is 1:591; UK's 1:295; Pakistan's 1:279; the US's 1:187. Again, the Indian armed forces' technological and resource capabilities compare adversely to those of the modernised western powers, and the army is way overstretched in conventional defence and counter-insurgency deployments. It can only be hoped that the navy chief's dark assessment of capacities relative to China will ring a few alarm bells.

Given the magnitude of delays that mar the judicial process, it is not surprising to find this institution is probably the worst off in terms of human assets. India has about 1.2 judges per 1,00,000 population. The Law Commission, in its 120th report, recommended a much-augmented ratio of 5 judges per 1,00,000 - a more than fourfold increase. But even this projected ratio would compare adversely with most countries that could be categorised as reasonably administered. The US has nearly 11 judges per 1,00,000 population; Sweden: 13; China: 17; and, at the top of the scale, Belgium: 23; Germany: 25; and Slovenia: 39!

The obvious 'solution', theoretically, would be to initiate massive recruitment to fill up these deficits. Government revenues have grown tremendously over the past decades, so that seems feasible. But it is here that the system hits a wall. Forget lack of political will, corruption, bureaucratic delays, interminable selection processes or absence of training capacities. India has an abysmal 9 per cent higher education participation rate, lower than the average for Africa at 10 per cent. An overwhelming majority of 'graduates' come out of third-rate institutions and are in fact unemployable, lacking essential language and reasoning skills. For all our boasting about the 'youth bulge', India simply does not have the manpower profile to fuel a modern nation and it will take decades before suitable profiles can be generated to meet the demands of modern governance, commerce and society.


The writer is executive director, Institute for Conflict Management.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

VIEW

SELECTORS SHOULD'VE OPTED FOR YOUTH

 

Two years after Rahul Dravid was dropped from the one-day team to make way for younger players, he is back in the Indian squad for the coming tri-series in Sri Lanka and the Champions Trophy. Talk about poor strategy.


There is no doubt that Dravid is one of the all-time greats of cricket. A glance at his career record will confirm this. Even in one-dayers, which are not considered his strong suit, he has amassed over 10,000 runs in 333 games. But that was in the past. When Dravid was dropped it was for good reasons. In his last ten ODIs for India, he scored a pathetic 80 runs. Besides there have always been doubts about Dravid's ability to score quickly under pressure.


What has changed to warrant Dravid's recall? For one, some of India's young guns, most notably Rohit Sharma, failed in the Twenty20 World Cup. There are others, such as Suresh Raina, who have been inconsistent. Two, Virender Sehwag, a mainstay of Indian batting, hasn't recovered from an injury that he picked up in the last IPL. Three, Indian batsmen have shown a weakness against the short delivery in recent times.


But all these still do not add up to a good reason to pick Dravid. Instead of turning back the clock, the selectors should have used the opportunity to blood a younger player. There are young cricketers such as Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rehane who have made a good case for being included in the Indian ODI squad. And if Indian batsmen have not played the short ball well, that should be ironed out in the nets or at the National Cricket Academy. Finally, Sehwag should be fit in a month or two. With the World Cup coming up in 2011, Indian selectors should have looked to building a winning combination. Instead they have opted for a stopgap solution.


Dravid's call-up has the potential of upsetting India's game plan. Dravid is one of the pillars of India's Test squad. Exposing him to the pressures of one-day cricket might have an adverse impact on his form and India's performance.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

A MOVE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

 

The selectors have done the right thing by recalling Rahul Dravid for ODIs. The move to drop him was a bad decision in the first place. The selectors felt that Dravid at 34 was too old for ODIs and there were young cricketers ready to take his place. Both the premises have proved to be wrong.


Dravid has since reinvented his game to play the Twenty20 format. He was exceptional at the IPL championship in South Africa this year. In contrast, the players who replaced Dravid have failed to establish themselves in the team. They couldn't play decent seam bowling or the short ball. It is only reasonable to expect that their technical shortcomings will be exposed on the bouncy tracks in South Africa, the venue for the Champions Trophy. In contrast, Dravid has a remarkable ODI record on South African pitches. He has scored 850 runs in 27 matches with an average of 44.73. He can adapt his batting according to the conditions and is one of the best finishers in the game.


Team India ought to field its best players. The emphasis must be on performance and not non-cricket categories like youth. The moot point is whether the batsman is scoring runs and is a reasonably good fielder. If he qualifies on both grounds, he has to play. A good team must have a mix of youth and experience. Team India has a youthful feel about it and the only player in the squad who is over 30 is Sachin Tendulkar. Dravid will bring in a measure of experience and can mentor young players in the squad. Few international players have scored over 10,000 runs in ODIs and Tests.


Indian selectors must learn a lesson or two from their Australian counterparts about team selection. Australians play their best players until they slow down. Young players are made to serve their apprenticeship until there is a vacancy in the side. We seem to fast-track young players and their inexperience and immaturity show up when they play international cricket. Blood 16-year-olds if they have the talent of a Tendulkar, otherwise wait for them to grow and allow their game to mature. That way they'll serve the team for long.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

THE JOKE'S ON US

 

Why are we Indians a fun-loving people, as shown by our festivals and a folklore rich with laughter, from the escapades of Bal Krishna to the tales of the Panchatantra officially such a humourless nation? Why, in sarkari eyes, is a smile seen as a symptom of subversion?


As children we are enjoined to 'show respect' to our elders (read figures of authority, such as parents and teachers). As we grow up, these authority figures are replaced by representatives and symbols of the state: political netas, the national flag, patriotism (from the Latin 'pater', for 'father'). We are expected to pay reverential lip service to such icons. Should we fail to do so, we run the risk of being branded bad citizens, at best, or traitors, at worst.


Laughing at the authority of the state is seen as an act of sabotage against the twin societal foundations of family and religious, or ideological, faith. In his novel The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco suggests that Plato who according to Karl Popper was one of the first and most formidable opponents of the open society suppressed Aristotle's treatise on humour lest it incite future generations to undermine the established order of the day.


All political systems are suspicious of humour, the most infectious and readily communicable form of dissent. The more authoritarian and intolerant a system, the more likely is it to see humour as ideational pornography, in need of strict censorship. As with other kinds of contraband, repressed dissent finds its own beyond-the-fringe outlets. In the erstwhile Soviet Union it was in the form of the samizdat and Gulag humour: A man walking down the street shouting 'Stalin is a swine!' was sentenced to 30 years and one day of hard labour one day for disturbing the peace, and 30 years for revealing a state secret.


But how can you trivialise and dumb down serious things by making jokes about them?, accuse critics. Seers, from Rajneesh to Ramakrishna, had a different take on this: That the truly serious is far too serious a business to be left to the merely serious-minded. Rajneesh exhorted disciples to greet death the most 'serious' thing in our mortal ken with a chuckle. Ramakrishna had his parable of the hissing snake. An itinerant sage came to a village whose inhabitants were terrorised by a snake which had bitten several of them. The holy man adjured the serpent not to bite people. Some time later, the sage returned to the village and found the snake badly battered and close to death. ''What happened to you?'' he asked. The snake replied, ''I stopped biting people like you told me to, and the villagers lost fear of me and attacked me.'' The sage shook his head. ''You fool, i told you to stop biting. Did i tell you to stop hissing?''


Humour is the hiss of the pressure valve through which we let off steam and prevent ourselves from exploding. It is a protective device which helps preserve the equilibrium we call democracy. The first human to hurl an epithet instead of a stone at an adversary was the inventor of civilisation, said Freud.


We ought to remember that. Particularly so in today's climate of growing inter-community and inter-caste violence when we need to reinvent ourselves and our definition of civilised society. 'In our diversity is our unity,' said the dull, uninspired and uninspiring official bromide. Perhaps we need to amend that to read 'In our divertissements is our unity.' A good Sardarji or Gujarati, Malayali, Punjabi, Bihari, whatever joke is a better cementing force than a hundred pious homilies on national integration. Perhaps if we learn to laugh more both at and with each other we won't be so much at each other's throats, in Gujarat, or over the Cauvery waters, or elsewhere.

So if you happen to see a snake and a Sindhi, by all means kill the snake. But remember to make a joke about the Sindhi, even as he makes one about you. And that's serious, no kidding.


jug.suraiya@timesgroup.com

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

ACID REFLUX

HEROES OF WOODSTOCK

 

NEW YORK: Tie-dye and peace symbols were everywhere at the Bethel Woods Centre for the Arts, and many of the people wearing them were pointing at a grassy hillside and saying, "When i was here in 1969..." Forty years after the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held on the site of what was Max Yasgur's dairy farm, Bethel Woods was the obvious anniversary stop for the Heroes of Woodstock tour, featuring groups whose members performed at the festival in 1969. Sam Yasgur, Max's son, said from the stage that his father would have been overjoyed that there was still "fun and music" on the land. Things were different, to say the least. There was no gatecrashing, no mud, no shortage of food, no warnings of bad LSD. The sold-out crowd of 15,000 was less than 5 per cent of Woodstock's estimated attendance. There were restrictions: Most of the original festival's natural amphitheatre was off limits. Marijuana fumes were still in the air, but not so thick. The Heroes of Woodstock is a summer package tour headlined by Jefferson Starship, which is led by its only Jefferson Airplane member, Paul Kantner. The line-up also included Country Joe McDonald and two other Woodstock alumni: the Levon Helm Band and Mountain.

Nostalgia reigned, perhaps more in the audience than onstage, where performers didn't say much about the 1969 festival. But the Heroes of Woodstock also ran into reality. Psychedelic-era innovators have turned into their own tribute bands. Inevitably, this was an oldies concert - not the startling experiments of young musicians out to change the world, but a re-creation. "We used to have acid flashbacks," said Peter Albin from Big Brother. "Now we have acid reflux." What the anniversary show remembered from the 1960s was still unresolved: a jumble of protest and hedonism, audacity and reconfigured roots, joys and fears. Performances like Country Joe's Death Sound Blues conjured the apocalyptic anxieties that filled the '60s alongside the hippie bliss. Throughout the eight-hour concert, the music kept touching down in the blues. The Levon Helm Band's closing set included Band songs but much of its set was an American travelogue, dipping into blues, R&B and country. Helm lives and regularly performs in Woodstock, New York, where the festival wasn't held. As with the Band, his own group's songs harked back to well before the 1960s, suggesting that for the land, and for America, 40 years is not so long. NYTNS

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DON’T CHECK US OUT

 

We are a country of free thinkers: we covet our freedom more than anything else. But this ‘freedom’ is not be confused with the one we gained in 1947: this is all about the freedom to break laws and question authority.

 

Show us the rulebook and before you can look up the sections and sub-sections, we’ll think up of at least 20 inventive ways to avoid a challan or open our bags for scrutiny. So it is no surprise that Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan found it quite odd when he was detained for “secondary immigration” at the Liberty International airport in Newark, US.

 

But don’t blame Shah Rukh Khan for making a mountain out of a molehill. He is just a product of our ‘VIP’ culture where the best way to circumvent rules and authority is to say that you are the brother of the cousin of someone powerful in the government. It is pretty routine for most in Delhi to flash their genealogical links with some government official or politician, the moment he gets caught in a legal jam.

 

Or in which country would you get a long list of people who are exempt from standing in a queue to cross a tollgate or airport security checks? Just after his detention, Mr Khan called up his friends in the right places and the media was duly informed to drum up support for him. Was he angry at the behaviour of the US officials? More surprised than angry, we think.

 

The correct reaction to the incident, however, came from someone who does not grace these columns very often: Salman Khan. “What’s the big deal?” he asked, “we all have gone through this”. That’s called checks and balances.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CASTE IN STONE

PARAMITA GHOSH

 

All political parties talk to their constituencies by building a series of connections with the past. This is a seamless process that is continued from the podium, through the distribution of appropriate literature, by erecting ‘national’ symbols, and by an overall arrangement of experience and invention of traditions. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has followed that example by erecting statues of Mayawati, Ambedkar, and the party symbol, the elephant, on prime property in Lucknow and Noida. So, are the statues working? The Dalit view is that Mayawati has got it right. And she has got it wrong.

 

Twenty-five years since the Dalits formed themselves into an electorally effective party, Uttar Pradesh has been the BSP’s primary field of politics. It marked itself as the ‘party’ of B.R. Ambedkar. It gave the Dalits a face, a voice and a forum from which they could build a political vocabulary, largely drawn from a collective memory of age-old social injustice.

 

Before 1990 — when the party won two Vidhan Sabha seats for the first time in UP, and stunned the BJP and the Congress by winning the Rewa Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh — caste was not an issue. Except when October 2, Gandhi’s birthday, came along. Young Dalit intellectuals such as Anup and Laxman Singh say the contradictions of Gandhi diluted the Mahatma’s stand on untouchability. Gandhi supported caste-based occupation because in the eyes of God, even menial jobs, had their place. But what if the Dalit didn’t want those jobs?

 

The Dalit memorials are, in that sense, the BSP’s counter culture to the political symbolism the Congress, the BJP and, in fact, all political parties have always propagated to capture public space. From Ghazipur to Muzaffarnagar, Dalits feel this is history-building and a permanent memorial to a movement — at present stagnant— not a party. It is an attempt by Mayawati, in her own time, to claim the legacy of subaltern leaders from Sant Ravidas to Jyotiba Phule and Ambedkar, in the face of the Congress’s appropriation of them. That is why in each of Mayawati’s return to power, the Ambedkar parks have been her first project, just in case others got the same idea.

 

Why are Mayawati’s memorials a target? That is because her thrust on identity-based empowerment is seen as an initiative at the cost of ‘development’. But do the existing development models in India guarantee social uplift? The success of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has not guaranteed Dalits job cards. They know the road ends where the upper caste villages end. That the handpumps will be built but before the house of the priest. Muzaffarnagar, one of the richest agrarian districts from where Mayawati launched her political career, knows this well.

 

The Dalits of Muzaffarnagar, who constitute 20 per cent of its population, consider the statues an act of defiance in the centre of a north Indian capital. For them, identity and visibility constitute a link with political power that will determine the character of development. But they also want development! The current idea of development is clearly inadequate. The talk in most Chamar homes (the biggest beneficiaries of reservation, and Mayawati’s kinsfolk), is that if Rs 453 crore is the budgetary allocation for setting up statues and parks, programmes like the Balika Ashirvad Yojana should get equal attention.

 

The Yojana, for example, is half-baked and its income limit should be raised. According to it, Rs 25,000 and a cycle will be given to matriculate girls of families that earn Rs 24,000 a year. It is illogical that families, which earn Rs 2,000 a month, will be able to fund their daughters till matriculation. If the BSP brings electricity, builds roads and schools, there will be many more Ambedkars in their homes. And not just on pedestals in parks. The need, as far as Dalits go, is for an alternative model of development in which socio-economic uplift of the community is one with its political empowerment.

 

For them then, the statues are merely a question over which they are rethinking their positions. But unfortunately, the ‘Dalits for Development’ may increasingly be pitched against the ‘Dalits for Visibility’. And that, above all else, will determine the future of the BSP’s politics. Mayawati’s Dalit critics have no quarrel with her statues but the making over of her party and government based on electoral equations in which they feel redundant.

 

The claims of crossing over to the Congress or Ram Vilas Paswan-Udit Raj’s Dalit Morcha may not be empty threats but are certainly after-effects of being taken for  granted. There are signs the BSP cadre from Morna Assembly constituency in Muzaffarnagar, where a bypoll has been announced, will rethink their votes if party candidates do not visit their homes and listen to their problems.

 

If Mayawati does not perform, her statues can also be broken. Perhaps 10 years later. For now, the Dalit would rather tie himself up in knots than give her a rope with which to hang herself.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DEAD FLOWERS

BHAICHAND PATEL

 

Fifty years ago this week, one of the most discussed and admired films of Indian cinema, Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz ke Phool, was released. I saw it at the New Empire in Bombay on the opening weekend. It was the first Indian film shot in cinemascope and it required special wide-screen projection in cinema halls, a rarity in those days.

 

New Empire was one of the few theatres in the country equipped to handle that format. There was also a normal 35mm version of the film meant for the small towns. The theatre was very posh, restricting itself to showing English films. The theatre was Parsi-owned and if you live in Mumbai you will know exactly what that means.

 

Kaagaz ke Phool was the first Hindi film screened in that theatre. They probably fumigated the place after we left.

 

I bought the ticket on the black market. If I had waited a week, it is quite likely that the touts would have sold it to me for less than what they paid for it. Kaagaz ke Phool bombed — it was a box-office disaster, one of the biggest flops of all time, right up there with Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker. The film’s failure unnerved Guru Dutt and he stopped taking directorial credit for the ones he made after that.

 

That is why I sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about. In 2002, Sight and Sound, the venerable magazine of the British Film Institute, ranked it 160th among the best films ever made. Kaagaz ke Phool seems to be everyone’s favourite romantic movie, spoken of in the same breath as Mughal-e-Azam. It turns up on all lists as one of the best Hindi films of all time, among the top ten if not the top five.

 

The film was technically superb; V.K. Murthy’s camerawork was astonishing. Sadly, it was also pretentious, narcissistic and self-pitying. Its worst fault was that it dragged; it was boring. Everyone talks about it, but how many people have actually seen Kaagaz ke Phool? Guru Dutt’s legendary status is partly due to his death at an early age, at 39 — a suicide.

 

By the time he decided to make the film, he had fallen head over heels in love with Waheeda Rehman. She was his protégé. He had discovered her on a visit to Hyderabad. She had acted in two of his earlier films, both very successful, and she was now a major star. She did not reciprocate his feelings towards her. The fact that he was a married man with two children had something to do with it.

 

His wife, Geeta Dutt, was one of the leading playback singers of that time. S.D. Burman’s music composition for Kaagaz ke Phool was surprisingly indifferent, but it had one memorable number sung by her. It is still very popular: ‘Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam.’

 

The story of the film revolves around a famous director, Suresh Sinha (Guru Dutt), whose personal life is a mess. He married above his station and his wife and her family are contemptuous of his profession. He comes across Shanti (Waheeda Rehman) on a rainy night and he chooses her to play the lead in his next film. Shanti becomes a star. They become close and there is gossip. His daughter confronts Shanti and asks her to leave. She is heartbroken but abandons her career. Suresh turns to alcohol, loses everything and, in the end, returns to the empty studio and dies in the director’s chair.

 

The film was autobiographical. The story’s similarity with Guru Dutt’s personal situation was unmistakable. He made the hero the sympathetic character. The wife was the villain in the film, played by Veena, an actor who specialised in negative roles. S.K. Mukherjee, head of Filmalaya Studio, walked out angrily from a private screening when he saw how Geeta Dutt, a fellow Bengali, had been portrayed in the film.

 

To recover his losses, Guru Dutt quickly made another film, Chaudavin ka Chand, a Muslim social, set in Nawabi Lucknow. It was a formula film with great songs and turned out to be his biggest hit.

 

Whenever Guru Dutt devotees meet, the argument is on which is his best film, Kaagaz ke Phool, Pyaasa or Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. My personal favourite is Mr and Mrs 55, a comedy, light as a soufflé. And Madhubala looked gorgeous.

 

Bhaichand Patel was a jury member at the 2003 Venice Film Festival (The views expressed by the author are personal.)

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PERFECT LOB

 

On Sunday, Home Minister P. Chidambaram walked into Hyderabad’s Gachibowli Stadium unannounced. Then, ticket in hand, he found himself a seat in the stands. If he had been looking for nothing more than a good final day’s matches at the Badminton World Championships, he must have gained a riveting measure of the Chinese domination of the game, as he stayed on to present medals to the men’s and women’s singles winners. But Chidambaram was aching to make a point, and by his almost casual attendance he made it well: India is safe for the sport competition it pledges to host. The brusque exit of England’s team last weekend, on the strength of media reports of a high security alert, had raised the issue, and it had to be settled.

 

It is not an issue on which nationalist points need, or should, be scored. In fact, there can be no full guarantees against terrorist incidents anywhere in the world. But in an imperfect world there exists a protocol on engaging meaningfully with host countries for confirming participation. Shortcutting that protocol to iterate suspicions — as the England shuttlers did — can create a sentiment about the security situation that can be deeply damaging. Chidambaram’s presence negated that sentiment. But the Hyderabad episode must be revisited more

 

extensively, especially after Monday’s chief ministers’ conference on internal security nuanced the Centre-state issues in tackling Naxalite violence, terrorism and insurgency. Assertions were made about the need for revamping intelligence gathering for better preparedness. Security agencies and Central/ state governments, however, must also debate the systems by which public awareness is sought to be created about intelligence alerts. An impression has currently gained strength that security agencies randomly let out news of intelligence inputs on the possibility of terrorist plans as some kind of insurance cover. In any case, in today’s understandably edgy environment, fears will inevitably be voiced. In keeping the peace, government has to factor this in while professing preparedness. Preparedness is also about creating public confidence.

 

The home minister did precisely that by dropping in, in as unofficial a manner as possible, for the badminton finals and complimenting the local police. But in a more routine way and at a more grassroots level, it needs to be done by local administrations, by adding informative depth while combating public apprehensions.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IN ATTENDANCE

 

If they were a nation, it would be as populous as Canada. But India’s 31.2 million pending court cases don’t have Canada’s size to spread out in style. For our ill-equipped, creaky, starved-for-space judicial system simply cannot afford this heavy a burden, nor can a society as unequal as ours wait this long for delivery. Which is why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan’s joint acknowledgment of the need to tackle judicial pendencies is timely. Speaking at the recent conference of chief ministers and high court chief justices, the prime minister sounded almost Churchillian when he said that such a high number of delayed cases “cannot... disillusion or dishearten us. It has to spur us to even higher peaks.”

 

One of the biggest causes of delay is the lack of judges to man the courts. Singh has asked high court chief justices to fill up these vacancies. As he noted, there are about 3,000 judicial posts vacant all over India. Vacancies in the subordinate judiciary are a particular problem: almost one fourth of these are empty. The CJI suggests that high court judges also increase their workload from a current 210 workdays a year (that’s 155 days of holiday every year), to 220 — an additional 10 working days per year. In the alternative, high court judges can work an extra half hour per day. Given that our case load is one of the world’s worst, these measures are perhaps too conservative, and the debate, once begun, may beget more aggressive solutions.

 

The CJI added that while court dockets are bursting at the seams, justice is increasingly inaccessible to India’s disempowered millions. It is true, without doubt, that solving delays alone does not make justice more accessible. But it is a good way to begin. Filling up vacancies and modestly denting the many holidays judges enjoy don’t require the courage and heart that the prime minister asks of us. These obvious measures require just a bit of plain sense. With both the prime minister and chief justice of India on the same page, the next step is implementation. It is hoped that these ideas aimed at combating delay are not caught up in, well, delay.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

INSERT TITLE

 

Housing is a verb,” said architect John Turner, meaning that for much of the urban poor, dwelling is not a question of mere shelter, but a complex calculus involving housing cost, tenure security, safety and access to work. Whether they are viewed as gigantic concentrations of poverty or hubs of commerce, the point is not what slums are, but what they lack: regular access to water and electricity, sanitation and legal claims to land. An incremental process that grants residents secure property rights and improves services — that is, taking the slum out of the slum — is a more practical and humane approach, rather than arbitrarily re-housing slum dwellers at the city’s peripheries. If the economy aspect is not factored in (that is, proximity to employment and services), then the human tendency would be for them to drift back to the centre, where their livelihoods are located.

 

The prime minister has announced Rajiv Awas Yojana, a radical plan to grant property rights to the urban poor. Property rights, the claim goes, are the pivot of all entrepreneurial activity. Giving the poor the ability to leverage their property titles as collateral would spark a tidal wave of micro-innovation.

 

That’s a fine thought, but everything lies in the implementation and the details, as and when they are fleshed out. How long will the lease be? Exactly what kind of housing will the poor have title to? It must be remembered that not all of the urban poor lives in slums and not all slum dwellers are strictly poor — there is an important distinction between those who have wrested de facto tenure from years of squatting and the more invisible, powerless renters who are not eligible for resettlement or compensation, in the absence of any records. After all, the lack of current, accurate data is one of the big reasons that the slums discourse has been so blatantly hijacked by ideology.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

STEPPING ASIDE

MIHIR S. SHARMA

 

Nobody likes going through immigration. For one, you’ve already been herded around by your airline. Being given a once-over by immigration officers will not make you feel less cattle-like. Then there are the intrusive questions, or at best the easy all-right-go-in-this-once superiority one otherwise associates with bouncers at the better sort of nightclub. And for privileged Indians, who tend to ready for battle the moment we sight a bit of bureaucracy, the experience is always slightly more confrontational than it need be.

 

But that isn’t enough to explain the massive reaction, especially among Indians living abroad, to Shah Rukh Khan’s 66-minute wait, in a presumably fairly comfortable lounge, at the request of Newark airport’s immigration officers this weekend.

 

Teachable moments are a terrible invention, in which we take fallible individuals, a partially-remembered confrontation, and twist them to represent Issues We Should Really Talk About. There have been a few recently, but this one marries the American-institutional-racism-even-hits-VIPs narrative of the Henry Louis Gates arrest with the secular-Indian-Muslims-aren’t-allowed-to-transcend-religion subtext surrounding the story about Emraan Hashmi and his apartment-hunting troubles. But putting the Newark incident into easy pigeonholes would miss something deeper about what is actually being revealed here, about what the experience at immigration means to most people arriving in the US: a sudden sense of powerlessness, of protections being stripped away.

 

Is that emotional reaction in any way reasonable? After all, the United States, for all the reflexive criticism levelled at its society, prioritises individual rights conceptually — and actually engages in the sometimes-agonising process of making sure those ideals don’t conflict too much with practice. Profiling of the sort that Khan alleges, based on ethnic and religious identity, would violate much that’s foundational about the US. And racial profiling — particularly a well-documented tendency historically to pull over African-American motorists driving cars that look too good for them to drive — is, indeed, considered unconstitutional, and only defended now by the most extreme crypto-racists out there. That needed a long discussion during the ’80s and ’90s, though: the argument that stopping and checking African- and Hispanic-Americans disproportionately often was justified because “they committed a disproportionate amount of crime” needed to be demolished both statistically and on an ideological level. It’s now settled that racial information jcan be used in an investigation or for an arrest — but if you’re looking for a specific offender of the same race. You can’t factor in generalisations about racial or other origins.

 

So was Khan reacting irrationally, then, in a post-flight haze of tiredness and nicotine withdrawal?

 

Perhaps. But we should take his reaction seriously anyway. Because the sad truth is that these wonderful,

liberal principles don’t quite apply to non-US citizens. In fact, we know beyond much doubt that they don’t when it comes to immigration-related questions: thanks to the famously liberal ’70s US Supreme Court, which in a judgment in 1975 that makes truly incredible reading ruled that “Mexican appearance” was a legitimate enough reason to stop a possible non-citizen.

 

The problem with being a free society is that you have to build a wall. And you get underpaid people to guard it — because what do you owe those trying to get in? There are always more of them. Of course, to single out the US might be a bit harsh. The double standards have been around since the birth of public liberty: at least half the free residents of classical-era Athens were “metics”, foreigners who came to the superpower to work, paid taxes and did military service, but were relatively unprotected by the law.

 

(Especially, in an eerie echo of our times, from judicial torture.) “Even the freest of free societies are unfree at the edge,” said Salman Rushdie in 2002. “At the edge, we submit to scrutiny... These people, guarding these lines, must tell us who we are. We must be passive, docile. To be otherwise is to be suspect, and at the frontier to come under suspicion is the worst of all possible crimes.”

 

But when you stand at the base of the US’s wall, looking up at it, the anxiety is somehow unique. Even privileged travellers feel it, a certain inchoate dread as you stand in line to be inspected, to be judged. You know you’ve touched down in a land which, if once you pay the ferryman, is welcoming as few are. But ahead of you is an overworked bureaucrat. He might make an error, so many such do. And that error could turn you back. It could bar you from

 

entering the country again. It couldn’t cause you to vanish. Or could it? If you were detained, who would know? They don’t have to tell anyone, you know. Habeas corpus doesn’t apply to you. Nor does due process, access to a lawyer, all the polite legalisms that mark the frontier between civilisation and barbarism.

 

The reason that so surprisingly many seemed to identify with Shah Rukh Khan this weekend is because, at some subconscious level, they actually identified with Ahmad Tanveer. Tanveer lived legally in America for years; but, one day, he arrived home to discover policemen in his apartment looking for his flatmate, whom he hardly knew. They checked up on his immigration status anyway — and discovered that he was an “offender”, as he had once, while employed by a petrol pump, brandished its unlicensed gun to try and stop an attempted robbery. That was enough: his immigration status was revoked, and he vanished into the black hole of America’s immigration detention centres, where he died. We don’t know if he received medical attention in time. For years, the US

 

denied he — a law-abiding, hard-working man who embodied so many virtues America prizes — even existed. He wasn’t a citizen. The principles didn’t apply.

 

We may not have known his name till recently. We still might not know it. But walking into that immigration hall we know — we understand, bone-deep — he and many like him existed. (We don’t know how many; attempts by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to use the US equivalent of the RTI to get the Department of Homeland Security to divulge numbers have failed.) And we know, standing in that line, clutching our thin armour of paperwork, hoping that the computer won’t spit out a warning sign at the mention of our names, that the very impersonality of American institutions that we otherwise admire means that they don’t have any give: if your name is spit out, it won’t matter to the hard-eyed immigration officer that you’re obviously harmless — or even that you’re one of Newsweek’s 100 most influential people.

 

mihir.sharma@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

CLOSE THE DEAL

VINAY SHANKAR

 

In its first innings, the UPA’s track record of defence procurements was quite dismal. The only positive feature was the defence minister’s spotless image. Banking on his enhanced credibility he can now with confidence take the bold decisions necessary to banish the paralysis that envelops his ministry’s procurement procedures. His announcement recently that the procurement mechanism will be re-examined every year, and completely overhauled this year, is a sign of that.

 

Ever since the Bofors controversy, the belief of successive dispensations that rigid procedural policies will cleanse the system and make it efficient continues to be belied. The label of inefficiency, and the vague suspicion that matters are not entirely above board, remain affixed to our defence ministry unlike any other department of our government; perhaps unfairly so.

 

This impression has real costs. Given the imperatives of national security and the criticality of speedily addressing the infirmities and gaps in our military capability, our procurement approach requires serious and urgent re-examination.

 

Currently, it is procedure- and technicality-driven, a ritual of endless trials and reams of paperwork but no acquisitions. Take the case of the army’s need for self-propelled artillery, first articulated in 1978. The acquisition process started in 1982. No outcome yet. The path traversed for towed guns is almost identical. (The jet trainer story is too well known to require retelling.) Among the many reasons for such delays is our obsessive and overriding preoccupation with sanitising (like the mindless “no agents” obsession) the procurement system. Consequently, it has been rendered devoid of judgment and discretion.

 

Two approaches are generally adopted: the first is to combine the positive features of known contemporary systems, tweaked a bit depending on the personal predilections of officers in the processing chain. The second is vendor-driven, in which the vendor convinces the user that a particular product is unique and would enhance combat capability. But procedures do not permit such procurement; thus we go through the charade of framing the qualitative requirements, obtaining the acceptance of necessity, identifying other vendors, issuance of the Request for Proposal, trial evaluation, etc. After all this, when and whether the procurement actually takes place, is anybody’s guess. The Smerch multi-rocket launcher took 10 years to acquire.

 

In the global arms market, tier-one products, their features and their manufacturers are common knowledge. For example, for multi-role combat aircraft, there are the F-16 and F-18, the Typhoon Euro-fighter, the MiG-35, the Gripen, and the Rafael. Each is of the latest generation; they’re by-and-large comparable. The differences lie in design philosophy: mobility versus protection versus firepower.

 

The point is that any of these could be bought and would generally serve our purpose, as long as temperature- and altitude-related features are factored in.

 

Otherwise the process is actually comparable to buying a car, or any other commercial product from the market. If there was some method to establish as to which car was the best value for money then that car alone would sell. But that doesn’t happen; customer preferences matter. Some want the Skoda, thinking its sturdy; others might like the Corolla’s looks. But for the MoD, exercising such choice leaves it vulnerable to accusations.

 

So why not graduate to a more sophisticated procurement system for major systems? Big-money purchases enable strategic, commercial and technological leverage. Each of these should be part of the decision-making process. High-value procurements merit a more synergised and all-encompassing approach than what is currently being followed.

 

Empowered committees headed by individuals of unassailable credentials and comprising of competent members selected from the relevant fields of specialisation could be tasked to conclude major procurements on behalf of the defence ministry. Such a committee should have representatives from the forces, the defence-scientific establishment, from industry, and specialists in contracts and commerce. (Any final recommendation must have the concerned service chief’s endorsement.)

 

Our declared policy must emphasise that the award of defence contracts would depend on the totality of the deal. What sensitive technologies are being transferred? What will be the buy-back agreements with our industry? What strategic support is being bundled?

 

For how long can we persist with the present tedious, letter-driven and largely unproductive process of procurement? It is time we changed. What is required is smart and sophisticated buying within the framework of our strategic imperatives.

 

The writer was Director-General, Artillery during the Kargil War express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

KIRAN BEDI, JUDGE DREAD

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

Kiran Bedi, in her signature short back and sides, her intelligent spectacles and a finger which wags almost at will when confronted by criminals or errant human beings, has returned to her high perch on the bench of Aap Ki Kachehri (Star Plus). From there she stares down those had the temerity not to sort out their differences, scolds them irrespective of age, gender or background as though they’re snotty little schoolboys caught wiping their noses on the back of their hands. Behave, she thunders. After reducing most to tears or human pulp she then offers a spoonful of sugar to sweeten her diktat. A money guarantee offer: Rs.20,000 more or less, to settle disputes. So when a mother accused her daughter and son-in-law of stealing her savings and wished to prosecute them, Bedi awarded her money with a stern command to think things over. Mother and daughter were eternally grateful to Judge Bedi, even though they have settled nothing between them. Perhaps money does talk after all.

 

The show is another Sach ka Samna (shifted to 11 pm last week, obviously to contain political fury) since that is what the quarrelsome disputants confront as Bedi claws the truth out of them. Their petty little crimes, their meanest thoughts come tumbling out: there’s fraud here, adultery too, parents throwing out children, children abusing parents¿you name it. And just as you watch S ka S for its scandalous admissions of human frailty, so A Ki K is highly watchable for the bare-faced revelations about what men and women really want and the lengths they go to get it.

 

Meera (NDTV Imagine) is quite lovely. She’s already beaming a beatific smile and she’s hardly thigh high. The source of her enchantment is the little ‘doll’ she carries everywhere, her beloved Krishna. As you may have realized, she’s no ordinary girl named Meera. This is Meerabai, the Lord Krishna devotee immortalised in the Meera bhajans. A mere child, she’s displaying a determination beyond her years to be with Krishna, no matter what, in this sumptuously staged historical.

 

Meera is one of the many enchanting girls on television. From Balika Vadhu and Uttaran (Colors) to Aapki Antara (Zee) to all the ‘ladlis’ across entertainment channels, what we have here are potential contestants for the young Miss India contest, if there was one. It is a genuine triumph of good looks. That the girls are accomplished actresses is additional allure. Meera, like Rani of Chittod (Sony) and the upcoming Jhansi ki Rani (Zee) are heroines who defied the conventions of their times, flouted stereotypes and emerged as genuine trail-blazers. They have joined the battle other TV serial protagonists are waging on behalf of women. If after such a frontal assault on inequality, the Women’s Reservations Bill is not passed, if our attitude to women does not improve by even a shade, then we’d be well served by a Kiran Bedi sentence to hard labour.

 

World Badminton Championships: Watching Saina Nahiwal was a patriotic duty (what with Independence Day around the corner) but it was the Chinese players, light and fleet of foot, swooping down for the smash that had us in hoops. Two complaints: DD Sports had miniaturised the score so as to ensure that it is not visible with even a magnifying glass. And the abrupt commercial breaks just as the shuttlecock was tossed up were always at the wrong time. Not that there is a right time for breaks in a game of badminton — we truly feel for the sponsors - but that doesn’t make watching them any better. As for the commentary, Aparna Popat was skillful; her male partner, however, felt his words had to accompany each and every shot as well as the replays; while he displayed admirable dexterity in keeping up with the action, his purple prose was a distraction and completely unnecessary.

 

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

ARE WE THERE YET?

JOHN KEANE

 

Talk of the end of the Great Recession and a return to normality is premature. Surging profits in the City of London and Wall Street should remind us that in matters of political economy, the worst is not over. Mired in spiralling unemployment, state debt and public frustration with parties, politicians and governments, much of the world economy continues to suffer the shock effects of a massive market failure that threatens to knock the life out of democracy itself.

 

Let us remember: the true cause of the deepest economic slump since the Great Depression of the 1930s is that democracy sleepwalked its way into a deep crisis. Democracy failure bred market failure. Unelected regulatory bodies and elected politicians, parties and whole governments let their citizens down. The self-regulation model palpably failed; empowering bodies like Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s and the UK Financial Services Authority to look after the credit and banking systems resembled putting alcoholics in charge of a wine bar full of celebrating bankers. There were few monitory bodies to blow whistles or sound alarm bells. Brave individuals who did so were ignored, silenced or sacked. The consequence: banks, investment firms and hedge fund operators, shrouded in corporate secrecy, were allowed to pursue ‘front running’ and ‘Ponzi schemes’ and other reckless adventures that brought the world’s banking and credit institutions to the edge of a cliff.

 

Bursting bubbles have regularly plagued market economies since the seventeenth century Dutch tulip craze; they are intrinsic to unregulated markets, contagious and destructive of human lives. More will happen — unless new early warning systems are put in place. Monitory democracy is the best check against hubris, and that is why toothier ways are urgently needed for doing things that central banks, bankers, securities regulators and accounting standards boards manifestly failed to do. Gordon Brown may believe in granting more power to the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority (and less to the Bank of England) so that they can work financial miracles. But blind trust in either markets or government regulators is folly. The urgent political priority is to find more open and equitable ways of preventing future breakdowns of credit markets, which are bound to remain the drivers — and potential depressors — of markets in general. The question is not just whether governments are too big or too small or whether they work (the words used by Barack Obama in his inaugural address). The question is also whether governments and market institutions are held publicly accountable for their actions by citizens, and by their various elected and unelected representatives.

 

There is of course a feel-good factor when speaking about greater public accountability of markets. Who (aside from animal-spirited bankers and hedge fund operators) could be against it? The trick is to find robust methods of clamping down on market failure. Platitudes about ‘oversight’ and the need for ‘real reform of our regulatory architecture’ (phrases used in recent months by Henry Paulson, Lord Turner and other failed regulators) are simply not good enough. Tough talk needs to be translated into the construction of new monitory bodies. The recent EU leaders’ decision to establish a Systemic Risk Council, supervisory colleges and a single European rule book applicable to all financial institutions certainly count as examples. Embattled proposals by the US Treasury secretary to regulate hedge funds and traders of credit-default swaps and other exotic financial instruments run in the same direction. So would first-ever global regulatory structures in the fields of banking, insurance and securities — credible forums that would crack down on fraud, discourage excessive risk-taking, foster best practice through open-minded counsel and provide a means by which the millions hurt by this crisis may seek redress.

 

At its London summit, the G20 acknowledged the pressing need for new global regulatory structures. ‘The era of banking secrecy is over’, it declared. It agreed to rename and upgrade an obscure close-knit body of central bankers, finance ministries and regulators known as the Financial Stability Forum, whose replacement, the Financial Stability Board, will include representatives from all G20 countries — so making it the prototype of the world’s first financial monitor. Based in Basel and working alongside the IMF, the FSB will have an elevated mandate to ‘provide early warning of macroeconomic and financial risks and the actions needed to address them’. For the moment, its officials deny they plan to act like guardians of the global credit system. Their diffidence reflects the fact that there is no formal provision for enabling citizens and independent experts to input their views to the FSB, which will operate entirely at the behest of states, some of which (the United States, China, India) are in any case profoundly sceptical about the need for stronger global-level intrusions into markets. The secretariat of the FSB is to remain tiny; it has no formal powers to impose anything on anybody; and, for the time being, it will function as a clearing-house advisory and information-sharing body that hosts meetings and sets up ‘supervisory colleges’ that issue reports on ‘potential risks’, ‘best-practice principles’ and revamped ‘regulatory systems’. How the FSB would act to avert or resolve cross-border disputes triggered by the future insolvency of troubled companies like Citigroup, AIG and the Royal Bank of Scotland is unknown.

 

The new FSB will be better than nothing. The European Systemic Risk Council and the commitment of G20 governments to clean up domestic banking and credit practices are also promising initiatives. But whether potent and durable monitory institutions within financial markets in fact result from these beginnings, or whether these monitors will be built quickly enough, is for the moment quite unclear. Tough and testing is the road ahead. The age of rebalancing public finances through harsh spending cuts and increased taxes that have deeply regressive social effects is coming. Democracy — as the developing crisis in California shows — is stumbling through hard times. Whether such trends will be resisted and reversed now depends heavily on citizens and their representatives. Just one thing is absolutely certain. Given that the root cause of our economic and social crisis is political, the prevention of future crises has to be political, this time by finding the best remedy for democracy failure in the strengthening of democracy itself.

 

The writer is professor of politics at Westminster University. His book, ‘The Life and Death of Democracy’ was published last month

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LET RUPEE FIND ITS LEVEL

 

As this newspaper reported yesterday, a reversal in external sector trends and a surplus on the current account in the fiscal 2009-10 raise the strong possibility of an appreciating rupee. In the second half of this fiscal, therefore, we may see a replay of what happened, although on a milder scale, two years earlier: dollar inflows building up, rupee appreciating and ‘certain sections’ wanting to peg the rupee down in ‘broader interest’. What RBI did last time, when rupee’s appreciation was taking it to sub-40 levels, is buy up dollars and hold down the rupee. The excess liquidity generated as a result of this intervention was one of the unsaid reasons why monetary policy had hardened. What will RBI do this time? Will its thesis change? Will the rupee be allowed to find its own level? Will the government’s inputs on this be different this time? Part of the answer depends on the speed and extent of buildup. Total foreign investments in the first quarter of 2009-10 have gone up to $15.3 billion, against $5.9 billion in the corresponding period of the previous year. The boost has primarily come from foreign equity inflows, now $8.3 billion as against $4.2 billion of outflows in the corresponding period of the previous year. Figures till the second week of August show that the country added $19.3 billion to its reserves in the current fiscal. The same time last year, there was a loss of $9.7 billion. These are year-on-year comparisons, a little misleading considering that the second half of the last year saw shock events. But comparisons over recent months and week confirm the trend of higher inflows.

 

The first line of argument will be that exports will be hit. Here year-on-year figures that continue to show exports doing badly will be used. But if we look at deseasonalised monthly export figures, the picture is much more optimistic. Therefore, the pricey currency-bad exports argument will need to be qualified by looking at properly analysed data. The Chinese argument will also be wheeled in. But a deliberately undervalued yuan’s contribution to Chinese exports is a matter of argument in terms of whether it is a primary export encourager. Plus, that should not be India’s main concern. The main concern should be monetary policy not getting hemmed in by trying to manage the rupee. Letting the rupee find its level will mean RBI retaining the flexibility on maintaining the status quo or a softer interest rate regime. There’s also another interesting piece of data that should provoke policymakers to think. RBI used just $18.7 billion in October and much smaller amounts in the later months during the worst fallout of the financial crisis. Of the total decline in reserves of $63 billion during the crisis, $36 billion is estimated to be on account of selling of dollars and $27 billion on account of capital losses suffered by the reserves. This should question some conventional thinking on the size of foreign exchange reserves that India should ideally hold.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

INDIAN PUBLIC’S OFFERING

 

NHPC’S IPO was a success. Oil India is the next PSU in the IPO queue. A dozen PSUs are getting ready apparently. After five years of ghostly silence on selling PSU shares, all this is welcome. This is also about the only reformist activity from UPA-II. It would have been awfully silly for the government to not have taken advantage of what is widely being considered a good time to hit the primary market. The Adani Power IPO was oversubscribed 20 times. India is currently ranked as the sixth most active market for IPOs, accounting for around 3% of global IPO volume. But, here is a question: where is the retail investor? In the NHPC and Adani Power IPOs, retail investors subscribed 3 and 2.2 times more, respectively. Contrast that with the big boys. Qualified institutional buyers oversubscribed by 29 and 39 times, respectively. When the market has rallied by over 75% since the lows of March, why isn’t the retail investor rushing in? It could be that the small guy is sending a message that needs to be received and understood.

 

Look at current valuations. To talk about a fair range of valuations is always tricky because ‘fair’ is a tricky concept in market pricing. But it is true that valuation of many companies is above the figures for long-term average. Basically, unless earnings growth picks up, current valuations or dearer valuations will look like a bit too much of a good thing for the aam investor. Price-to-earnings multiples of Sensex companies are touching 20—a figure that may understandably cause a frown for the cautious. Many retail investors are using high market valuations as an exit point. Much of the money is finding its way to bank deposits, which is creating a problem for banks. Credit is not priced cheaply enough for all this money to find lenders. As we have argued in these columns before, if there’s a bubble nothing much can or should be done about it. The interesting thing is that the retail investor’s verdict seems to nicely tell the difference between India as an attractive investment destination for fund managers and India’s economic recovery gaining solid footing.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

REMEMBER, FISH ROTS FROM THE HEAD

MANISH SABHARWAL

 

Historian Will Durant once said that the only thing he could say with certainty after a lifetime of studying history was “this too shall pass”. In these days of public sector deification and glorification of state ownership, Air India and BSNL may be Exhibit A of how dogma around state ownership may be misplaced. Any company (private or public) can lose its way but state-owned companies are particularly vulnerable because of multiple objectives (Socrates said a slave who has three masters is free), confused objectives (serve the poor, pay your own bills, don’t spend on customer acquisition, cut capital expenditure), the politicisation of employee relationships (union leaders resist redeployment and outside expertise) and leadership continuity (Air India has had multiple CEOs in the last three years and each has been an alibi for the next one). It’s not a coincidence that both these companies operate in deregulated industries with brutal competition. In fact, most widely cited examples of public sector commercial success operate in areas where customers don’t have free choice and are therefore, in most cases, not volunteers but hostages.

 

The response from the government and trade unions in AI and BSNL has been predictable. An AI union leader sought assurance from the PM that there would be no retrenchment or redeployment for its 31,000 employees. The airline is also being helped in unfair ways that the competition commission must review; a low-cost airline proposal from the Gulf has been put on hold and the government has issued a commercially insane fatwa to all government employees to travel Air India (shameless hostage-taking). BSNL was given an unfair head start in 3G but couldn’t make much of it and is now looking for private or foreign marketing partners.

 

This is not an argument for private ownership; many of us with an overburdened belief in markets now accept the flaws of unsupervised and unregulated markets. But the current rhetoric around state ownership also worries many of us who have seen the ‘big’ state movie before 1991 and know how it ends. I agree the sources of any disease are complex and both these situations demonstrate the typical lack of leadership, strategy and vision that could have driven any private sector company into the ground. Fish rots from the head and the shameless jockeying after elections for ministries that have large public sector units reflects their potential as walking ATM machines to some politicians. So the argument should not be about a big or small state but an ‘effective’ state.

 

I’d like to make the limited argument that state ownership of commercial enterprises in capital intensive and high fixed-cost businesses that suffer business cycles makes them particularly vulnerable to capture by public sector trade unions given the public policy context of their governance structure and political masters. Handling trade unions in public sector units takes on politically complex overtones that lead to inappropriate decisions, for example the current demands for a 17.5% wage hike by employees of government owned banks or the payment of Rs 1,500 crore every year as ‘productivity-linked-incentive’ at AI where performance levels were kept below the average performance levels already achieved or the absence of taking on the employee issue in an overall robust AI revival plan. Government wages already distort the labour market because they are inflation-indexed and the value of below the top line benefits like pensions, housing, etc are almost 65% of total compensation. Expanding state ownership of enterprises only leads to difficult-to-resist demands for parity with civil servants. And every time the government agrees to these demands, it chooses employees over customers.

 

The public sector trade union issue is closely related to the labour law issue because the unions use labour law as a weapon and are one of its biggest beneficiaries. But the unintended consequences of our well meaning but unfair labour laws are demonstrated by our 214 central public sector units (five textile companies made losses of Rs 2,021 crore on revenues of Rs 490 crore and 54 companies have accumulated losses of Rs 96,636 crore). Imagine the upsides of this money going to the National Skill Corporation or the mid-day meal programme in schools or used to implement RFID tracking for government teachers. Despite optics that make labour law reform a policy orphan, there are few reforms more pro-poor than lowering unorganised employment and retarding the march of capital intensity without compromising productivity.

 

Public Sector trade unions act as important mentors for their private cousins and must move away from the demographic insanity of positioning job destruction as a form of job creation. And the government must realise that the politicisation of unions and state ownership of commercial enterprises in competitive markets is a toxic brew that does not serve India’s labour force, its poor or its taxpayers.

 

The author is chairman, Teamlease Services

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SUBBARAO, HOPE YOU ARE NOT SO REDDY

DHIRAJ NAYYAR

 

RBI usually doesn’t put clear communication of its policies and thinking at the top of its priority list. So, it was a very pleasant surprise to read the text of Governor Subbarao’s JRD Tata memorial lecture speech, delivered on July 31. Whether one agrees with the content or not—and there are elements that merit disagreement—one has to admit that it was a superbly crafted speech, which set out the governor’s (and hopefully RBI’s) thinking on the kind of role that RBI must perform as a central bank in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

 

Interestingly, RBI finds itself closer to the mainstream thinking on the role of central banks after the global crisis than it did before. Before the crisis, the mainstream consensus was in favour of independent central banks, which focused solely on targeting inflation using the one tool in their hands—interest rates. It was believed that regulation of banking and financial sectors, and managing the debt of the government were best left to agencies independent of the central bank. This was roughly the model followed in the UK, Europe and some other countries like New Zealand, which is now widely criticised for clearly failing to prevent the huge financial meltdown in the West. RBI, of course, performed and still performs all three functions—monetary policy (without inflation targeting), regulation and debt management.

 

So, when Subbarao says that RBI must not follow a singular goal of price stability—he outright rejected the feasibility of inflation targeting in India in the speech—but should also pursue output stability and financial stability, he is striking a chord with what is now the mainstream thinking on central banking. The only problem is that this model didn’t work in preventing the crisis either. The US Fed has a mandate to balance output and price stability, and always had considerable oversight over the US banking system. Yet, the roots of the crisis lay in the US. The argument for handing bank regulation back to central banks is more basic—only central banks have the money to bail out banks, so they ought to supervise them too.

It’s hard to disagree with Subbarao when he says RBI must have multiple objectives but it’s just that one had hoped that he would also lay out new thinking on how this should be done. To be fair, his speech was about asking the right questions after the financial crisis and he did an admirable job of getting the questions right. Moving forward, we need answers and one did not get the feeling that the Governor was as cogent and convincing about his answers as he was about his questions.

 

To the extent that he did give a specific answer about how he sees central banking at least in emerging economies, it was far from satisfactory. He basically said that RBI (like other emerging economy central banks) will have to do its best to manage the impossible trinity of macroeconomics—free capital flows, stable exchange rates and independent monetary policy—when he can only manage two of those at the same time. The ‘impossible trinity’ is one of those rare laws of economics that actually means exactly what it says. It is also the law that many central banks have unsuccessfully tried to subvert with limited success. Subbarao’s predecessor at RBI tried the same with unfortunate consequences for the economy.

 

Recall Governor Reddy’s actions in the summer of 2008. We had a massive inflow of capital from abroad, which forced an appreciation of the currency. RBI tried to manage the exchange rate (when it should have actually let it appreciate) through intervention, which squeezed liquidity in the domestic economy. The real economy (output stability) is arguably still paying the price for the fall in credit (and the hike in interest rates) that RBI’s intervention caused. But RBI had to abandon an autonomous monetary policy once it decided to keep the exchange rate stable. The only other option would have been to curb inflows but that is not an action we can afford to contemplate—it would send foreign investors out of India for a long while.

 

Now, Governor Subbarao doesn’t face the problem of massive inflows—the financial crisis has stalled that for the time being. So he may feel comfortable about managing the other two bits of the impossible trinity. But when inflows come back, and they already are doing, he will face a situation similar to what his predecessor did.

 

What your correspondent would have liked to hear from Governor Subbarao is as follows: his willingness to give up management of the exchange rate, and the abandonment of managing the impossible trinity. He also should have clearly said that there is no reason for RBI to micro manage the exchange rate, and that if RBI gave this up, it would be able to manage the more important goals of price stability and output stability, with greater competence.

 

dhiraj.nayyar@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SHAMPOO ECONOMY: RAINS AND RURAL DEMAND

RAJESH SHUKLA

 

Drought raises the possibility of rising food prices and a negative impact on rural consumer demand. However, a point needs to be appreciated here. When we talk rural, we are not talking just agriculture. Agriculture-based enterprises employ nearly a fifth of the non-farm rural workforce. Non-farm incomes’ share of the rural economy is expected to reach nearly two-thirds by 2012, which makes the traditional view of rural economy outmoded. Share of industry and services sectors in rural GDP has risen to 58.4% in 2007-08 as against 48.6% in 1999-2000.

 

Rural India accounts for 70% of India’s population, 56% of national income, 64% of total expenditure and one-third of total savings. Rural consumers are expected to maintain a dominant share in the country’s consumer durables market even by the decade end. They accounted for 60% of the total ownership of low-cost items like bicycles, pressure cookers and wristwatches in 1995-96. This share is expected to rise to 75% in 2009-10, by when rural demand is also projected to rise for motorcycles (55%), scooters (40%) and car/jeeps (over 9%). The already high rural share (53%) in the FMCG segment is likely to increase to 60%.

 

Projections apart, a drought can have a major impact on GDP growth and consumer demand. With agriculture constituting nearly 20% of India’s GDP, a five percentage point decline in agricultural production could result in a one percentage point decline in GDP growth, as agriculture and GDP linkages are influenced by both supply and demand changes. The impact would be felt immediately in FMCG product categories like shampoos, but with a time lag in case of consumer durables such as tractors and TVs.

 

As drought pushes down household incomes, consumption is sought to be maintained via savings or increased borrowings. In urban areas, the higher rate of savings and increased availability of credit will help households maintain their consumption levels. But lower income households, in both rural and urban areas, are likely to shift from better quality products to cheaper/lower quality products.

 

The author is senior fellow, NCAER

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

DROUGHT AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

 

The South-West monsoon has proved to be unpredictable, variable, and uncertain this year - with the official announcement that 177 districts suffer from either drought or drought-like conditions indicating the magnitude of the crisis. Little or no rain, late rain, and heavy rain have all been features of monsoon behaviour so far in different parts of India. Officially, the monsoon ends on September 30, 2009 and it is possible that September will witness heavy rain at some places, leading to floods and damage to crops. For agriculture, what matters is not total rainfall but its distribution. In an era of climate change India, which is home to nearly 20 per cent of the world's poor, must start planning for cyclical droughts and floods long before they occur. It is crucial to formulate these plans on the understanding that such crises hit the poor, especially agricultural labourers and land-poor peasants, the socially underprivileged sections, and women the hardest. Women are badly affected because they do not have equal access to non-farm employment opportunities and are forced to take up jobs involving high drudgery but low wages. The first priority for the National Crisis Management Committee chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will be to ensure that the drought relief and rehabilitation programmes are pro-poor, pro-sociallyunderprivileged, and pro-women.

 

There have already been symptoms of extreme distress and despair in the drought-affected areas. Suicides by farmers are increasing, leading to greater hardship to widows and children. The distress sale of cattle has begun in Andhra Pradesh and Vidharbha in Maharashtra. This is unfortunate since livestock and livelihoods are closely inter-related in most parts of the country, especially in arid and semi-arid areas. The burden of usury is one of the worst aspects of the life of a small and marginal farmer. Agriculture is a life-giving profession and it is tragic that those who help to feed the country are pushed into taking their own lives.

 

The Pranab Mukherjee committee will of course be looking at short-term, urgent solutions. Effective price control measures must be thought through and put in place. Access to the public distribution system must be made universal, with an enlarged food security basket being provided under the PDS. There must be largescale provision of employment in the drought-hit areas, with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme expanded to provide 100 days of work at minimum wages to every working member of a rural household (instead of 100 days of work for the household). But what the committee must also do is to convert the present challenge into an opportunity to fast-track institutional and policy changes that will help insulate the country from serious losses of crops and livelihoods under similar conditions in future. Some of the important steps that need to be taken immediately have been indicated in M. S. Swaminathan's articles published in this newspaper. They include the launch of a `Pond in Every Farm' movement with the help of NREGS workers; the organisation of Farm Animal Camps near sources of water; a `Beyond the Drought' programme involving the planting of short-duration crops; and a compensatory production programme in areas with adequate soil moisture. The Crisis Management Committee must also plan for short- and medium-term programmes such as the organisation of a `Weather Information for All' scheme based on village level agromet stations.

 

Hereafter, the mode of tackling drought and flood must be proactive. This calls for the preparation of drought, flood, and good weather codes designed to reduce the adverse impact of unfavourable weather and maximise the benefits of a good monsoon. Such anticipatory measures will include the building of seed stocks for implementing contingency plans, and water and energy security systems. An important factor behind the relative stability of the prices of wheat and rice is the build-up of substantial grain reserves, which now exceed 50 million tonnes. The government has been wise not to export these grains despite pressure from traders. It is unfortunate that four decades after the beginning of the green revolution, the country has failed to develop modern grain storage structures on a large scale. Professor Swaminathan's suggestion that the government set up ultra-modern grain storage facilities at 50 locations in the country, with each storage structure capable of handling one million tonnes of wheat or rice, must be implemented without further delay.

 

In the midst of drought-related crisis management, the challenge of dealing with the impact of climate change on Indian agriculture and rural livelihoods ought not to be ignored. Agreement was reached at the recent G8 Summit held at L'Aquila, Italy that a temperature rise of 20 C over the pre-industrial period cannot be avoided. Even to contain the rise to 20 C, greenhouse gas emissions will have to be reduced by about 40 per cent by 2020. But steps to achieve this goal are nowhere in sight. A 20 C increase in mean temperature will have serious implications for India's food security system, since the yield of crops like wheat and rice will be reduced. Here again proactive measures must be developed by breeding and selecting crops and crop varieties that can withstand higher temperatures. The initiative of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation for building genetic resources for a warming India is timely and important. It is these kinds of short- and long-term changes that the Crisis Management Committee must initiate in the context of extreme destitution in rural India, which has serious social and political implications.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

SEEKING A FAIR DEAL FOR MUSLIMS

SEARCH FOR IDENTITIES AND SOLUTIONS IN THE SACHAR COMMITTEE REPORT.

AMAR SINGH

 

The Rajindar Sachar Committee’s report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India struck a blow to the Congress’ democratic and secularist assertions made over the decades. It lays out the actual conditions the Muslim minority faces and how it lags behind in terms of human development indicators. It reports that only a small percentage of them are in government service and involved in areas of socio-political life. The comm unity has been reduced to a sort of political working capital in the hands of the big political parties. According to the report, Muslims need assistance at all levels. They face deprivation in terms of habitation facilities, access to bank credit and also political decision-making power.

 

Since Independence, India has seen many commissions and committees constituted to resolve the problems of the minorities, especially Muslims. The Ram Sahay Commission on Muslim weavers, the Srikrishna Commission and the Gopal Singh Commission were formed during Congress governments, but their reports are gathering dust. Such moves constitute nothing but political stunts with empty promises for the vulnerable minority. It is obvious that the Sachar Committee report will meet the same fate.

 

But this is the first commission to have studied the roots of the problems the Muslim community is facing and what the government has done for it in the last 50 years. Ghettoisation and insecurity have grown among Muslims after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. As a result, the percentage of Muslim children attending school and university has significantly gone down.

 

The follow-up on the report has taken on political hues, with the Congress using it as a tool to woo the minorities and the BJP raising concerns over the figures mentioned in it. But what has the Congress done for the minorities during all these years? It claims to be a champion of secularism but has used the term only as a euphemism to appease Muslims and secure their votes.

 

The Sachar report should be an eye-opener for big political parties like the Congress and the BJP, which are using the Muslim issue as a device of vote-bank politics.

 

After Independence and during Congress rule, there was talk of a classified circular which directed that no Muslim be appointed to senior-level positions in the defence forces. The Congress had created such a stir for a long period of time so that Muslims would be forced to leave India. Further, an imprudent game was played by the communal forces during Jawaharlal Nehru’s rule with the clandestine support of the administration and the police. This continued for almost 30 years, creating fear and anxiety among the minorities. The communal clashes that took thousands of human lives and destroyed property worth crores of rupees were the consequences of this game. The Congress appointed commission after commission to investigate the communal riots, but none of the big perpetrators has been convicted.

 

Instead of punishing the culprits, the police and the administration invariably prosecuted the innocent Muslim victims. The fear and anxiety this caused, and the cavalier approach of the government, resulted in low levels of progress among Muslims in education and commerce. During a span of 50 years, the entire community has been pushed into a vacuum of illiteracy and unemployment.

 

The fervour of backward class politics of the Congress waned in the wake of the Mandal and Mandir issues. Now it is seeking to widen its base while leading a coalition government. It has moved for other backward classes quota in higher educational institutions and talked of reservation for Muslims.

 

The Congress’ efforts for the progress of the minorities have been proved hollow, particularly in the Hindi heartland. On the contrary, the smaller parties, including the Samajwadi Party, the Telugu Desam Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the Left parties, have brought several benefits to Muslims. The SP has time and again asked for affirmative action on the basis of the Sachar Committee report. They should be encouraged to participate in the process of economic growth. The report is a revolutionary step to uplift the minorities in India, and if the Government of India implements its recommendations, that will boost India’s secular democracy.

 

It is to be seen how sincerely and resolutely the United Progressive Alliance government will pursue the agenda it has laid out. Should the findings be put in deep freeze, leaving the secular and vibrant democratic future of India in a disastrous state? According to the Director of the Centre for Policy Research, Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the report not only reflects the poor human index of Indian Muslims but indicates the vacuum of Indian governance. It points to the poor development of infrastructure facilities such as electricity and telecommunications services in areas of Muslim habitation. Muslims are not represented enough in the civil services, in banks, in other public sector undertakings, in the judiciary and in the agencies involved with national security tasks. The Central government needs to coordinate with State governments to pool resources and formulate such policies as would help translate their developmental regression into progress.

 

The Sachar Committee has suggested that a commission examine the livelihood problems faced by Muslims. But apart from instituting a committee of experts, the Congress has made no substantive effort in this direction. Proper representation of the minorities, especially Muslims, in the police and defence forces will prove to be a morale-booster for them in terms of their safety and security issues, but this has not been looked into. As per the committee’s recommendation, the Congress government has promised to open schools, training institutes and banks, provide free education up to the age of 14 and create infrastructure in areas populated by Muslims. But that promise now lies in cyberspace.

 

The report mentions that representation for the Muslim community to the same order as the percentage of Muslims in the population of the country is found only in one place: in jails. The fact that this is true can be seen now in Congress-ruled States such as Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Many innocent Muslim youth of Mumbai and Hyderabad are in jail only on the basis of suspicion. There is hardly any effort being made by the respective governments to provide them legal aid.

 

In the context of the report, the Congress is trying to play the role of a messiah for Muslims. These represent nothing but tokenism. The Action Taken Report on the Sachar Committee report is but a post-dated cheque. As ever, the Congress wants to use Muslims as a vote bank. It is not really bothered of their rights or their welfare.

 

There are many areas where work needs to be done for the growth and development of the Muslim community, such as the provision of basic infrastructure facilities in education, health, road and drinking water, employment generation, safety, promotion of the Urdu language, modernisation of madrassa education and the separation of politics from community development.

 

In the present situation, the SP strives to continue the efforts it has undertaken to work for the minorities and the downtrodden. The party stands for the empowerment of the poor, the minorities, and the marginalised sections that were the worst victims of exploitation due to the lopsided policies pursued by successive governments at the Centre. Muslims want to live a respectable life without any political prejudice. They know how to carry themselves in the present conditions and how to uplift themselves and grow. The government has to support them in different spheres of activity.

 

The SP wants the implementation of the Sachar Committee report in toto. A high-power expert committee representing all political parties should be constituted to look into the implementation of the recommendations.

 

(Amar Singh is general secretary of the Samajwadi Party. He wrote this article from a hospital in Singapore while undergoing treatment.)

 

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THE HINDU

INTERVIEWS

‘LET THE MAOISTS SIT IN OPPOSITION’

“INTEGRATION OF COMBATANTS WILL BE BASED ON LETTER AND SPIRIT OF PAST AGREEMENTS.”

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu on the eve of his first official visit to India as Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, Madhav Kumar Nepal spoke at length about the problems the peace process is facing. The interview took place at his official residence in Kathmandu on August 16. Excerpts:

 

You are coming to India at a time when there is great uncertainty surrounding both the fate of the peace process in Nepal and the task of writing a new constitution. Yet you have been saying you want to discuss major new projects like Pancheshwor with New Delhi. What exactly is on the agenda?

 

The visit is basically a goodwill one… There is a new government in India after the elections and there is a new government here in Nepal too. So we have to discuss issues of mutual interest. Basically the task is to build up relations to a new height.

 

So you are not looking for progress on any one issue? You agree that talking about big projects seems unrealistic.

 

Yes, the current stage is not so conducive because there are lot of problems inside the country. The Maoists, now they are out of government, are creating many hurdles here. But we are hopeful things will come to a proper position. In the meantime, we have to do something that will be beneficial for Nepal. That’s why we have a plan to develop our hydropower potential to the maximum extent and for that we need foreign investment, cooperation with India on these matters. The same is true about tourism. India with a huge population, Hindu population, has a religious touristic destination in Nepal. Apart from that, there is a huge trade deficit between Nepal and India. We have to find ways to reduce that deficit. So there are many issues that need to be pushed ahead properly.

 

It is the view of many that the peace process cannot proceed unless serious efforts are made to bring the Maoists back in, to form a national government. Your party leader, Jhalanath Khanal has been saying this. But others in the UML and Nepali Congress speak differently. Do you feel it is important to reach out to the Maoists and find a way of bringing them in?

 

We need to address the serious concerns and sensitivities of the Maoists but we cannot fulfil all their demands and aspirations. They still have an insurgent mindset, extreme left ideological remnants in their minds. Until and unless they get rid of all these ideological dogmas and all kinds of nondemocratic and undemocratic thinking, it will be very difficult to address their concerns.

 

But what they are asking for is only a debate in the Constituent Assembly. What is undemocratic about that?

 

They are demanding that the President’s step [rejecting the dismissal of former army chief Rookmangad Katawal] should be discussed in parliament. We have a provision in our constitution that there cannot be any debate on the president’s decisions. We have to abide by that. If they believe the president acted against the constitution, there is a provision to move an impeachment motion in parliament. That is the proper way. But they don’t dare to do that. Rather they want to discuss some other resolutions there, hoping this will divide the house and they will benefit, or embarrass the president and will put moral pressure on him. As Prime Minister, how can I allow others to embarrass the president there? He cannot go there to defend himself. So how can it be allowed?

 

But even in an impeachment motion, he cannot go there and defend himself. It seems as if you are raising a procedural objection when your objection is more political. The Maoists essentially want a discussion on civilian supremacy. This can easily be separated from Katawal and the President’s decision and an agreement reached on the core principle. If there is a will to solve this and bring the Maoists back in, surely it is not difficult to come up with a compromise solution in terms of procedure.

 

This is linked to the intention of the Maoists. We don’t see any good intention of the Maoists on this. We have been insisting that whatever has happened has already been passed, so let’s look for future. We can have a discussion among political parties and a task force can be created to look at what is the system in other countries, how relations between the president and prime minister are and how civilian supremacy is legally and constitutionally managed, and then come out with some recommendations.

 

Also, whatever is needed to assure the Maoists can be done. They were asking to see General Katawal retire smoothly. That was done. There were these rumours about him extending his term, keeping him as adviser to president, etc. But he is not there any more. So we have taken positively their concerns and addressed them.

 

The danger is the longer the stalemate persists, the harder it will be for the CA to finish writing the constitution.

 

Yes, I do feel that. But once the door is opened, the Maoists may have another demand raised! So we are not fully convinced that they have only one demand before us. We had an agreement that they would cooperate in the budget session but they have gone back on it. This shows the extremist line is dominating in the Maoist party. And we should not just bow down before that extreme left opinion.

 

Recently NC leader Girija Prasad Koirala said the Maoists could meet the same fate as the LTTE. Some people here are talking about a ‘Sri Lanka type solution’ of all-out war. Don’t you think such comments further vitiate the atmosphere and should be avoided?

 

I don’t have any comment on this. Whether he has and why he has mentioned this, [Mr. Koirala] may have his own opinion I can’t defend, nor contradict it.

 

Where do you stand on the issue of integration? Do you support the integration of a portion of combatants of the Maoist Peoples Liberation Army in the Nepal Army as was agreed? And by when must this be done?

 

First, we must resolve the peace process and among all the remaining issues, the situation of combatants in the cantonments needs to be completed, resolved. The cantonments must be closed before we finalise the constitution. That is very clear. Without resolving completely the issue of combatants in the cantonments, we cannot decide finally the constitution. Second, how to resolve the issue of combatants? This must be done as per the agreement and understanding among the parties. Whatever agreement is there between Maoists and government, and the other political parties, that must be respected by all. So the government will respect the letter and spirit of whatever is written there. If there is clear mentioning of integration in the army, then that must be done. If it is written combatants should be integrated in the security forces, then this requires more elaboration and clarification.

What do you think the agreements say?

 

I have not gone deeply into it.

 

But you helped draft those agreements. You know what is written!

 

When the issue will come up… but I have made it clear, whatever is written, we will implement.

 

The problem is there are so many interpretations and this is fueling mistrust. The Indian ambassador [Rakesh Sood] has given his own interpretation that there should only be “integration into society”, not army. Mr. Koirala and K.P. Oli say no integration. So will your line prevail or that of Mr. Koirala and Mr. Sood and Mr. Oli?

 

All these discussions should take place in the special committee. That is the proper place. But the Maoists are creating hurdles there.

 

But you are insisting on being the chair.

 

Because I am the PM. Also, remember, they are the party whose combatants need to be properly managed. It doesn’t seem proper if they should take the chair of the committee. It will smooth the way to do all things properly if I am there, if a third person takes charge of running the committee. This will help the Maoists.

 

I come back to the issue of trust deficit. Recently, you said 5000 PLA soldiers could be integrated in the Army. Then you backtracked. People say this was after some generals came to see you.

 

No army generals up to now came to me and asked anything. In those comments, I had just mentioned what [Maoist leader] Prachanda had told to me about how many PLA combatants should be integrated in the Army.

 

How worried are you about the law and order situation in the Tarai? There are said to be more than 100 armed groups operating.

 

I am worried. Our government has made a plan to deal with it properly. We have to distinguish between criminal groups and those that have political ideology behind them. The latter need to be brought in ambit of peace process. As for those groups which are criminal, they must be dealt with sternly. Abductions, killings, extortion, don tendencies should not be tolerated. And we need the cooperation of India.

 

One of the complaints Indian officials had about Prachanda when he was prime minister was that they felt he was trying to play the ‘China card’. What is your assessment of his foreign policy?

 

I think we should not play any cards against others.

 

Is that what you think Prachanda was doing?

 

I can’t say about him, it is not good that I should just raise any charges against him. But our policy should be transparent and clear. We don’t like to see any activities inside Nepal against our neighbours. And we don’t have to play against each other. We have to take our neighbours into confidence. We are real and genuine friends of India and Nepal cannot have a peaceful environment until it takes the confidence of all neighbours. So we don’t have to play Chinese card against India and Indian cards against China. Why do that? This would be a very sectarian and short-term strategy. It is not good.

 

So equidistance would also be your approach?

 

I don’t think mentioning the word equidistance will be good. We have to take maximum advantage of our geographic location. Nepal borders India from three sides. What we can achieve from India cannot be achieved to that extent from China. But we have to keep in mind Nepal is an independent, sovereign country. The sentiment and patriotism of the Nepali people should be taken into account. Otherwise there are people who can create controversies and rumours against friendly countries.

 

Does India take Nepal for granted? Your visit will be the umpteenth by a Nepali prime minister to Delhi. But the last time an Indian Prime Minister paid an official bilateral visit to Kathmandu was I.K. Gujral in 1997.

 

The political instability here may be one of the reasons. And we may not have tried hard enough to invite friendly country prime ministers to come. So we have to think about that. We have to see the visits should be reciprocal.

 

If there is a possibility of forming a national government to complete the peace process with Maoist participation or even leadership, would you be prepared to give up power?

 

This government is supported by 22 parties and they are part of the government. If it is possible, the Maoists should enter into this alliance or join the government. But Maoists are reluctant. They are willing to be in opposition. That is ok, if they have that sort of desire, they can sit in opposition. It need not be a worry that they are not in the government. My government has the support of a comfortable majority and we should not worry. 22 parties have agreed on a common minimum programme. So why all this talk about a national government? We have to accept the rules of the game. That if you have the majority, you form the government. And we have the majority. Earlier, they were in the government because they had a majority. So my government is a national government. It is not an anti-national government or semi-national government. It is a full-fledged national government. The Maoists should accept it. They should not have this pain in their heart that they are outside of government. This is of their own doing. This opposition phobia should not be there.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

BJP IN CRISIS: CAN IT REINVENT ITSELF?

 

The BJP’s current woes are constraining it from playing the role of a capable Opposition party. If the saffron formation cannot restore domestic order with despatch, it may be irresponsibly tempted in the coming period to waste Parliament’s time on dramatic or sub-optimal issues rather than picking up matters of national import on which to seek to embarrass the government in the best traditions of parliamentary democracy. It could also hit the streets on trivial issues. The level of debate in our Parliament is below par and matters can only get worse if the principal Opposition does not live up to its billing. The BJP is already known to have a liking for the surreal, as we saw on the eve of the no-confidence vote last year when its members broke the rules and brought in mountains of cash inside the Lok Sabha chamber in a vain attempt to make a point about sleaze. More recently, L.K. Advani has sought to make an issue of the absence of a reference in the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech to the controversial recent joint statement with Pakistan, a subject which had been discussed threadbare in both Houses of Parliament. Regrettably, the country’s main Opposition party is giving the impression of latching on to anything at all in an effort to make itself heard and to deflect attention from some of the existential problems it faces.

 

For the first time in its history, the BJP suffers from an evaporation of internal authority. It began with a senior leader, Mr Arun Jaitley, placing himself in open defiance of the party’s president, Mr Rajnath Singh, in the course of the campaign for the Lok Sabha election. After the crushing defeat, the process has snowballed. Anyone seeking to give instruction is a defeated entity, a point raised by Vasundhara Raje Scindia — again in defiance of the top brass — when asked to put in her papers as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly. Ironically, with the command structure in disarray, the BJP is seeking to imitate the "high command" and "core group" culture of its main rival, the Congress. If ever there was a real BJP high command, it was the RSS, but of late the authority of this fountainhead of the Sangh Parivar has also eroded. Many of the minders the RSS routinely attaches to the BJP for ideological and organisational work at all levels have earned the ire of party members of late for trying to become candidates in elections. Other than these issues relating to party functioning, the BJP for some time has been faced with the dilemma of remaining in its Hindutva ideological cocoon or seeking to become a genuine party of the Right in India. It is not clear if that discussion will make it to the proposed "Chintan Baithak" — or forum for discourse — in Shimla later this week, but even very real post-defeat organisational issues run the risk of being glossed over. Those asking questions are not being taken to Shimla. The coming days are certain to test the BJP. With a clutch of state elections round the corner, the party must seek to appear to be serious and stable.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

MORE JOBS, CHEAPER FOOD WILL STIMULATE ECONOMY

BY JAYATI GHOSH

 

Developing Asia was until recently considered to be relatively immune from the global crisis for several reasons: the significant role of China as a regional economic leader and potential growth pole; the cushion provided by the very large external reserves that had been built up over the past six years by Asian central banks; the fact that most Asian governments had been following prudent if not downright conservative fiscal strategies that have focused on restricting government expenditure rather than raising taxes and consequently have generated very low fiscal deficits or fiscal surpluses.

 

Despite all this, the crisis has nonetheless operated directly to worsen fiscal balances in most Asian countries. Declining exports and the associated downturn (or deceleration) in economic activity have reduced tax revenues. And the need to bailout companies in distress, or provide tax and other incentives has meant that government expenditure has risen even in the absence of increases in direct public expenditure. The rising and then volatile prices of food and fuel have caused public subsidies to rise in countries in which these prices are even partly controlled.

 

All this has implied worsening fiscal balances even before any attempt could be made to increase government spending as part of a fiscal stimulus package to counter the crisis. Yet the ability of governments in the region to finance such increasing deficits is, unfortunately, constrained, despite their recent fiscal discipline.

 

Borrowing from private international sources has been negatively affected by the reversal of international capital flow. Sudden and occasionally unexpected balance of payment deficits have emerged because of the decline or slowdown in current inflows (goods and services exports as well as remittances). Fiscal expansion based on deficit financing has been constrained by the fear of inflation (even in economies where this fear is not warranted because of the existence of substantial unutilised capacity and lack of immediate supply bottlenecks).

 

It is worth noting at this point that the concept of fiscal space, which is increasingly used as a guide to future fiscal stance, should not be seen as determined by the existing levels of fiscal deficits or public debt. This is because fiscal deficits will be inflationary only if l they involve an aggregate excess of expenditure over income, which in turn implies that the initial spending will not generate at least equivalent output through a multiplier process; andl the economy cannot afford to import to make up any supply shortfalls that could hinder the multiplier process, which in turn implies that the country cannot access foreign exchange either through capital inflows or drawing down of reserves.

 

Only in situations in which both of these conditions are met can it be argued that the government does not have the fiscal space to provide a countercyclical stimulus. It is obvious that the existing level of fiscal deficit tells us very little about either of these conditions, except insofar as large deficits suggest that the limits to non-inflationary spending may be closer.

 

The evidence is clear that the crisis has involved growing fiscal deficits, or a change from deficit to surplus, in most Asian countries. The exceptions (such as Pakistan) are countries that have been forced to seek International Monetary Fund assistance and consequently have faced policy conditionalities that include reduction of fiscal deficits through stringent budget cuts even in the face of crisis. However, the change in fiscal stance, in terms of a marked increase in deficit to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio or a shift from surplus to deficit, has been evident only in relatively few countries, such as South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

 

In other countries of the region, the fiscal response thus far has been relatively muted, suggesting either that government feel or are constrained in particular ways or that the need for countercyclical macroeconomic measures is less keenly felt in these countries. Even in China, the country that has the biggest fiscal stimulus in terms of absolute value, the change has only been from a fiscal deficit of 0.4 per cent of GDP in 2008 to a projected deficit of 4.1 per cent of GDP in the current year.

 

A large part of that consists of actual spending by the government, rather than tax concessions, bailouts and other sops to the private sector. The infrastructure spending, which is part of the fiscal stimulus in China, is directed more towards the central and western regions, which were hitherto relatively deprived, and this is likely to rectify the regional imbalances that grew during the recent boom.

 

The other spending, especially on health and related areas, will not only improve conditions of life but also lead directly to more employment.

 

In India, of course, the fiscal deficit is already rather high relative to other countries in the region, with a projected deficit of around six per cent of GDP in the current fiscal year. But this does not mark an increase from the previous year, and a large part of it is because of tax and other concessions given to corporates. This is much less likely, than direct public spending, to have a positive impact on economic activity and employment or on general conditions of life of the people. There is a case for significantly increased public spending in the areas that matter: the employment guarantee, provision of affordable food for all, and education. It would be a great tragedy if the countercyclical measures that are still imperative for India are not designed to do this.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OP-ED

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

BY SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

 

Even while the Philippines is coming to terms with the death of the legendary Cory Aquino (former President of the Philippines) who became the epitome of democratic change and moral courage, the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, on August 12, 2009, launched one of the most decisive operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in southern Philippines. During the Arroyo government’s tenure, from 2001 to 2009, ASG has been responsible for at least a dozen kidnappings, beheadings and extortion in the southern islands.

 

The Philippine’s southern province of Mindanao has been festering with discontent for nearly four decades. Since early 1970s, the region of Mindanao has been challenged by separatist groups that have clamoured for greater autonomy from a centralised state and recognition of their demands. What began as a movement under the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has today splintered into three distinct groups, each with their own modus operandi and linkages to other groups within the region.

 

In the initial stages of the conflict in southern Philippines, the MNLF headed the movement for separatism from the state, with demands for autonomy and also with the hope of establishing an independent Islamic state in the region.

 

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is a faction of the original MNLF which split as early as 1977 and has been fighting the same agenda of the MNLF but with greater resort to methods of violence. An earlier agreement to ensure an autonomy package for the region in 1996 was not successfully implemented. This led to fresh outbreak of violence which intensified from 2005 to 2007.

 

Negotiations with the MILF have stalled on the issue of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which was to clearly demarcate the boundaries of a Muslim homeland. This was to ensure that the Islamic region of the south would be safeguarded as an "Islamic homeland" and was in a sense a kind of "sons of the soil" or bhumiputera concept for the Islamic south that would ensure land rights to the Islamic community.

 

However, the Supreme Court had ruled this as an unconstitutional arrangement and had rejected this in its judgment in August 2008. This led to the revocation of the MOA-AD and peace talks between the MILF and the Arroyo government collapsed.

 

The third group, ASG, remains one of the most militant groups in the region which has also been clamouring for an independent Islamic state. It was founded in 1991 by Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who had fought in Afghanistan alongside Osama bin Laden and has been linked to the Al Qaeda. It has operated more as a criminal group which has been involved in kidnappings, extortion and bombing in the Philippines.

 

In fact, since 2002 the ASG has also been extending its network to groups like the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is the southeast Asian arm of the Al Qaeda. The JI has been identified as the group with critical links in the recent Jakarta bombings and has a significant presence in the southern Philippines where the network between the JI and ASG are crucial for the region to address.

On August 12, 2009, over 400 troops launched a coordinated attack on the ASG camps in a bid to capture two rebel leaders, Khair Mundus and Furuji Indama. In the operation, 54 people were killed —31 government soldiers and 23 ASG terrorists.

 

One of the significant aspects of this attack is that it also targeted 10 rebels from the MILF. The military stated that the MILF was helping the ASG, by collecting weapons of fallen soldiers. This has been denied by MILF leader Eid Kabalu, who stated that the military troops had first started an attack against the MILF. While the MILF leadership stated that the rebels were caught in a crossfire, the military command of the current operation denies this. The military clearly states that it had indicated its presence to the MILF and the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities, which oversees military operations in MILF-dominated regions of the south. In fact, given that there was an effort to inform the MILF of the operation, the suspected MILF rebels caught in the attack have been seen as part-time members of both the MILF and the ASG.

 

While the groups have technically operated in different regions and it remains incumbent upon the military to inform the Coordinating Committee about any operations within the region, this incident will mar the ongoing attempts to renegotiate with the MILF.

 

Over the years it has been difficult to disassociate the two groups clearly and often there have been incidents where the groups have been involved together, especially with part-time activists moving between groups. While the MILF has been keeping its demands for an Islamic state in the south as the primary goal of its movement, it has shown willingness to come to the negotiation table. On the other hand, the ASG has been more intransigent with kidnappings, extortion and banditry as its methods. Ransom has been one of the main methods through which the group has sustained its funding.

 

For the Arroyo government, in its final year at the presidential office, a significant outcome of the problem in southern Philippines will be critical. During her first state visit to the United States in July 2009, Ms Gloria Arroyo’s willingness to relook at the negotiations between the Philippines government and the MILF was welcomed by the United States.

 

The current steps taken by the Philippines government in tackling ASG are likely to ensure that the process to retain the upper-hand in the south stays on track. While the US will continue to support counter-insurgency operations in the southern Philippines, there is a growing impetus on the part of the Obama administration to try and distance itself from the earlier commitments of the Bush administration and redefine its relations with southeast Asia on a broader platform that is not driven by terrorism alone.

 

In this effort the US has identified the Philippines as the coordinating country for its engagement with southeast Asia. For the region there has always been a critical need to re-engage the US. While the Philippines is keen to increase its military cooperation with the US, there has also been some indication that the US may look at the option of having a military presence in the country. While this will be a clear indication of re-engagement, it will alter the regional dynamics more sharply.

 

Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

REFORMING JUDICIAL SYSTEM

NEED TO CLEAR THE BACKLOG ON WAR-FOOTING

 

PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh has rightly called for a “war” against the pending court cases. Addressing a conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts on Sunday, he said that a “holistic and multi-pronged approach” was needed in this war because there was no space for “piecemeal, patchy or sectoral responses”. Indeed, with over 52,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court, more than 40 lakh in the high courts and a whopping 2.71 crore in trial courts, the issue needs to be addressed on a war-footing. Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan has also voiced similar concern and emphasised urgent remedial measures to help the litigants. Unfortunately, though arrears have been increasing in the courts, the government and the judiciary have in the past not adequately responded to well-meaning recommendations by the Law Commission and other bodies. Justice Balakrishnan, in his address, has referred to “structural obstacles” which discouraged talented law graduates from joining judicial services. He, however, does not identify what these obstacles are and the measures required to address the problem.

The conference did help in grasping the nettle over the burning issue of releasing 1.7 lakh-odd undertrials languishing in jails for petty offences. The Chief Judicial Magistrates have been directed to pursue this proposal to its logical conclusion. Clearly, their release brooks no delay because in many cases the period of detention has overshot the sentence that would have been awarded to them in case of conviction. The CJI has said that those who have served more than half the sentence likely to be awarded for their crimes could be “immediately released on personal bond.” This is a welcome statement of relief for these hapless people.

 

As there are over 3,000 vacancies of judges, there is need to streamline the long process of recruitment through better coordination between the executive and the judiciary. Cutting down holidays, longer working hours, better infrastructure, recruiting retired judges and setting up additional courts will all help. The Centre should also implement progressive legislation such as the 2005 Plea Bargaining Act and the 2009 Gram Nyayalaya Act. What is their purpose if they are not implemented? Fast track courts and consumer courts should work faster than normal courts. It is to be hoped that the new resolve to tackle these issues would lead to more concrete results than in the past.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

NEW-FOUND LOVE

JASWANT EMULATES ADVANI ON JINNAH

 

IF only what Jaswant Singh has said about the sorry state of Muslims in India — “We treat them like aliens” — had constituted an authentic U-turn in the official policy of the party to which he belongs, it would have been heartening news. But since it only comes out as his personal view, it is a case of the kettle calling the pot black and may just cause additional turbulence in the BJP. Some may see in it a prelude to parting company with the BJP. Others may interpret it as the fulminations of a gentleman who is in wrong company. Either way, it is unlikely to appease either the Hindutva zealots or the Muslims.

 

The former Foreign and Finance Minister has not confined himself to expressing his new-found love for Muslims alone. He has also discovered many merits in Mohammad Ali Jinnah who, he would have us believe, was “demonised by India”. He has thus emulated Mr L K Advani. The only difference is that while Mr Advani had showered praises on Jinnah while on a visit to Pakistan, Mr Jaswant Singh has done so in India. Not only that, he has also hidden behind Gandhi to praise the founder of Pakistan, saying that Gandhi had himself called Jinnah a great Indian.

 

Now that there are two of them, Mr Advani and Mr Jaswant Singh should strive to guide the BJP into shedding its aggressive Hindutva plank and follow a more inclusive policy under which neither Muslims nor Christians are demonised. As a first step, they should tender an unqualified apology for what happened in Gujarat and Orissa — as also in Ayodhya. That will not only increase their own stature, but also revive the party which has seen its size and influence shrink. It may just be a coincidence that its “chintan baithak” is only a day away. If some genuine introspection is done, they can avoid a “chinta baithak” in the future.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

KILLING UNBORN DAUGHTERS

MUCH MORE THAN BAN ON PORTALS IS NEEDED

 

IN son-crazy India, the tribe of those doing way with unborn daughters seems to be in no mood to change its mindset that favours sons over daughters. Besides, those who stand to gain from this immoral and illegal act will continue to find ways to beat the law. The PNDT law that prevents the use of pre-conception diagnostic techniques also bans advertisements of sex determination. Yet the advertisements continue to do the rounds on the Internet. Now the Union government wants the websites offering gender-testing kits to be blocked. Earlier, the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), Punjab, got a ban imposed on the websites offering at home sex-determination facility. However, barring sex determination kits on websites is only one part of the solution. The practice is too widespread and requires a multi-pronged approach.

 

It is not as if the governments are not aware of the miserable sex ratio, particularly in Punjab and Haryana. Campaigns and positive incentive schemes are very much in place. Individual efforts, NGOs and initiatives like Nanhi Chaon have been trying to save unborn daughters. Heart-warming examples like that of Delhi, which has emerged as the second state after Kerala with a pro-female secondary sex ratio, proves that government schemes such as Ladli and NGOs can play a positive role in denting gender prejudices. The Punjab government has claimed an improvement in the sex ratio in the age group of 0-6 years, but the PNDT law continues to be violated by unscrupulous practitioners who are going unpunished.

 

While keeping a check on registered clinics, the law-enforcing machinery has to extend its arm over unregistered abortionists who provide a killing field to unwanted daughters.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

            OP-ED

HARNESSING GROWING POPULATION

NEED FOR NUANCED APPROACH TO REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

BY SUNITA ROY

 

MAYA DEVI of Supaul district Bihar was the sole women who raised the demand for safe delivery system for young pregnant mothers in the Kosi region affected by floods year after year. Living their lives next to the river makes these communities highly vulnerable to not only the immediate flood fury but to a host of fundamental development issues.

 

It became clear that the complete lack of healthcare or non-availability of local transport was not confined to one or two villages but endemic in the entire Kosi region. Functioning of most PHC’s in rural areas is dismal and there is a high maternal mortality rate, morbidity fuelled by lack of care during pregnancy, delivery, and safe abortion in rural areas.

 

The Kosi scenario is reflective of the larger national picture on maternal health. Every year in our country, 77,000 maternal deaths occur which can be prevented to a large extent by providing timely access to quality maternity care. The problem is one which developing countries across the world struggle with. Reproductive health problems are the leading cause of death in women belonging to developing countries. As many as 6,00,000 women die every year due to pregnancy-related causes.

 

Is the picture concerned only with the lives of the1 .2 million people living on the Kosi banks for whom access to basic healthcare is a far cry? Or does it speak of flawed governmental priorities to the critical issue of Family Planning program. At one time a flagship program of the Central Government, the Family Planning program suffered from excesses and high-handedness of implementation authorities during the Emergency period which made the communities first resent, then defy and ultimately reject the Family Planning program. This only leads to the understanding that if welfare programs cater less to the needs of the communities on the ground and more to achieving demographic targets, they usually collapse.

 

In subsequent years, possibly realising this flaw, there was a move to redefine and broaden the scope of the Family Planning program. There was now in place a more holistic program termed as “Mother and Child and Reproductive Health programme”. Health Centres across the country introduced services for safe motherhood, counselling and treatment for infertility and awareness programs covering important aspects of nutrition and sanitation. Under this Family Welfare umbrella STD, HIV/ AIDS were addressed. A variety of contraceptive products were made available in the PHC and market to choose from as per their own need and life style.

 

This holistic approach gradually took root. On 12 April 2005, Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) was launched in all states and UT’s with special focus on low performing states to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality. ASHA, a program which trained local community based workers became acted as an effective link between the government and the poor pregnant women.

 

The process has been not without hiccups, the challenge to deal with each individual, each user of services with sensitivity and understanding rather than foist on them an already pre-conceived option for family planning.

 

Many a times on the field, the social worker needs to use discretion and subtlety to side-step what could be an uncomfortable situation. One such instance the field staff were finding hard to discuss the spacing methods to newly weds, keen in adopting a temporary FP methods. They were hesitant and overshadowed by their mother-in laws. Rather than push the questions further, an imaginative field worker asked the newly-wed to merely point out the service she required in a chart which has all the various FP options available. As the young woman silently and shyly pointed out the service, it was obvious that the health worker had got her answer and the visit was successful!

 

Seeing women suffering with IUD a safe, easy-to-use, effective, long-term method of contraception insertion, complaining of bleeding, pain. During such an exercise, women raised the question “What is important, the number of IUD acceptors or satisfied users?” The truth of course is the latter and this is what our programmess need to make as their cornerstone.

 

Seen from this perspective, the component of ‘home visits’ would be measured not by not the duration or the number of visits, rather by what information is given and how it is given. Focus on these can make the home visit strategy effective. It is important for instance, to meet with individual families at a time suitable to them rather than have a blanket time schedule. The practice of flexi hours would be an effective way of planning this. Ongoing Training and orientation programs to provide latest information about the FW programs as well as brushing up on counselling skills is a must for all field staff.

 

There are other social dynamics which the field worker has to negotiate her way through. There is intense pressure on the young woman to bear a male child. If women do not conceive, there is that constant fear of rejection, of abandonment. It is an onerous task to speak of male infertility in such an entrenched mind-set and then give information of the various treatments available.

 

As the world observed World Population Day last month to draw attention to population related issues and its impact on development. The theme of this year is “Young and their Reproductive Health”. Nearly half of the world’s population is below the age of 25 years, of which nearly three billion will soon be of the reproductive age. Leaders at the World Summit last year, acknowledged the critical role of reproductive health in development.

 

Although population growth has eased world wide, 90 per cent of the current growth is largely confined to developing countries which has failed to address the huge unmet requirements for family planning services For India with its burgeoning population, it is important to recognise the gigantic potential of such a human resource as it takes its place amongst the comity of nations. The somewhat graphic and perhaps narrow term of “Sex Education” can be expanded to a more expansive “Family Life Education” encompassing all that is required young people to take control over their lives and become responsible citizens.

 

Charkha Features

 

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THE TRIBUNE

            OP-ED

WE FACE YEARS OF LOOMING AUSTERITY

BY STEPHEN KING

 

AS economies begin to expand again, policymakers are doubtless expressing a collective sigh of relief. They can now go off to the beach, with bucket, spade, sun tan lotion and dodgy economic model in hand, happy in the knowledge that their worst fears – a return to a 1930s-style Depression – have proved unfounded. When they return to their post-holiday desks and computer screens, they will perhaps find themselves having to deal with an unexpected threat. Inflation will be on the rise. Until now, inflation has been quiescent, helped by a decline in global commodity prices, particularly for oil. Yet, over the past months, oil prices have been heading up.

 

As the credit crunch took hold, oil prices collapsed. It seems a long time ago but, in the middle of 2008, oil prices had threatened to top $150 per barrel. They then dropped, three times bouncing below $40 per barrel. Now, they are $70 per barrel. Is this a sign that the global economy is returning to renewed health and vigour as earlier worries over depression and deflation begin to fade? Or are these renewed oil price rises a threat to lasting economic prosperity?

 

The answer depends mostly on where you live. In the US, Europe and the UK, signs of economic stabilisation are encouraging but, at present, the level of demand in these economies remains depressed.

China has given a shot in the arm to global economic activity via the stimulus package pushed through over the past few months. Its renewed strength has been a key reason behind the return to much higher oil prices.

 

Other Asian economies are also beginning to contribute. Indeed, Asia may be retuning to the buoyant economic conditions last seen in the early parts of this decade. To understand why, it’s worth thinking about how policymakers in these countries tend to conduct monetary policy. As with many other emerging nations, countries in Asia tend to link their currencies, formally or otherwise, to the dollar. So when the Federal Reserve decides on interest rates suitable for the US economy, it is also, inadvertently, setting interest rates for many other countries.

 

If you’re an American Congressman, this reluctance stems from the blind pursuit of mercantilist trade policies by the Chinese and others. If you’re Chinese, the tie to the dollar creates a useful external anchor for monetary policy given the lack of a properly developed domestic financial system. In these circumstances, a currency target is often preferred to a domestic inflation target.

 

The US sets interest rates for a big chunk of the world economy. If the US has a nasty credit crunch, but other countries do not, those other countries are likely to end up with interest rates which are too low. As a result, their economies expand, their credit systems go into overdrive and their financial markets boom.

Rising oil and other raw materials prices are not good news for commodity-importing nations. So-called “headline” inflation – which includes the volatile bits and pieces such as food and energy – is likely to be moving up again later in the year, seemingly putting paid to earlier worries about deflation. Stronger Asian demand will boost US and European exports to that part of the world but, despite Asia’s immense regional power, its economies have yet to replicate successfully the US consumer’s role on the world stage: Asian countries are full of savers, not borrowers. My guess is that the impact of higher commodity prices will swamp the effect of stronger Asian demand for developed-world exports, creating a new set of questions about economic recovery in the developed world.

The picture I’ve painted is one in which the developed world will increasingly have to make room for the strength of demand from Asia and other parts of the emerging world. Rising oil prices are part do not threaten 1970s-style inflation, where prices and wages went up in leaps and bounds. Instead, they make people in the developed world worse off.

 

Janet Henry’s conclusions make for uncomfortable reading. In the UK, for example, inflation will be back above 2 per cent in months. Yet, the chances are that wage growth will be, at best, desultory. Real spending power will be under tremendous downward pressure.

 

In the good old days, we’d have borrowed our way out of these difficulties. If incomes were being squeezed, we could have relied upon credit markets to allow consumption and investment to continue rising. But the credit crunch has put paid to this. The only borrower left is the government, and few governments will be either willing or able to keep borrowing at the pace seen over the past year.

 

The credit crunch has created a pivot in the world economy. The debt-driven attempts at continued expansion in the developed world have unravelled uncomfortably quickly. Lower interest rates will provide part of the solution, but they are working more to stimulate demand in Asia than in the developed world. Asia is a lot bigger economically than it used to be, at a resource-dependent stage of its development and is helping driving energy prices back up again. Those increases, in turn, threaten to constrain the pace of economic recovery in the west by eating away at our real disposable incomes.

 

This is why a debate over fiscal consolidation is ultimately so important. Keynes wasn’t wrong. The fiscal pump-priming we’ve seen over the past 12 months prevented a far worse economic meltdown. But, by increasing government debts, we have increased the tax burden on future generations. That’s fine if we can look forward to strong and sustained growth. But, as the global economy pivots, that becomes less likely for the developed world. At some point, we will have to accept a string of years in which the key word will be “austerity”.

 

By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

            OP-ED

DELHI DURBAR

IS BJP LEADERSHIP OBSESSED WITH PAKISTAN?

 

FOR all its loud claims of patriotism and commitment to Mother India, BJP and its leaders appear obsessed with Pakistan and its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah. And all the admonitions and rebukes of the parent RSS seem to make no difference to the Pakistan and Jinnah admiring top leaders of the party.

First it was former Prime Minister Atal Bihari who put his seal of approval on the raison d etre of Pakistan during his Lahore bus journey.

 

Then it was L.K. Advani’s turn to go to Karachi and issue a certificate of secularism to Jinnah. Now we have Jaswant Singh writing in his latest book how it was not so much Jinnah as Jawahar Lal Nehru responsible for India’s partition.

 

But then this argument is so similar to the one extended in the official Pakistani line justifying the creation of Pakistan on identical lines blaming a ‘Hindu’ Nehru for dividing India.

 

Be that as it may BJP leaders’ obsession with Pakistan is to be seen to be believed. The other day Advani actually said while launching the Urdu version of his autobiography that he got it translated to Urdu to reach across to the people in Pakistan. Why? Where is the need?

 

One wonders whether these leaders realise that they are now in the era of third post-Partition generation where that past only draws a blank and vacuous nothingness, except a mild curiosity to know what the people across the border are like. Perhaps the BJP needs an immediate generational change.

 

SC EXERCISES CAUTION

Extreme caution has guided the apex court in recent cases pertaining to fields involving a great deal of expertise. While Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan was quick to stay the Bombay High Court order on Maharashtra government’s response to last year’s terror attack, another Bench made it clear that medical professionals could be prosecuted for negligence under criminal law only under exceptional circumstances.

 

“How can courts guide the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) for dealing with the menace,” wondered the CJI while staying the HC order asking the ATS chief to be present in court personally.

 

A Bench headed by Justice SB Sinha, who retired recently, explained that doctors could be prosecuted only in cases where they did something or failed to something which no medical professional in his ordinary senses and prudence would have done or failed to do.

 

At the same time, the court was quick in passing orders in matters of public importance that required only common sense. The court ruled that unaided private schools had no right to raise tuition fees arbitrarily.

Diplomatic shake-up

 

Amid a massive shake-up going on in the External Affairs Ministry ever since Nirupama Rao became the Foreign Secretary, there was speculation over who will occupy the post of Joint Secretary, PAI, (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran), now that incumbent T C A Raghavan has been named the next High Commissioner to Singapore.

The buzz is that Y K Sinha, who is returning to the headquarters at the end of his term as Ambassador to Venezuela, is being asked to look after the all important division.

 

(Contributed by Faraz Ahmad, R Sedhuraman, Ashok Tuteja)

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

RISING FISCAL DEFICIT

 

The cost of treating the ailment of year-long economic slowdown has indeed been too heavy. Right from beginning of the onslaught of global financial crisis since September, 2008, the Government of India has been pumping into the economy more and more doses of purchasing power in many forms like repeated packages of fiscal stimulus, increasing monetary steps including Reserve Bank of India’s key rate cuts, accelerated public spending in national rural employment programme, Bharat Nirman Project and its flagship schemes, Rs 71,000 crore of farmers laon waiver, job-creating infrastructure programmes, large subsidies and salary hikes, etc even before the full fledged Union Budget with its unprecedented order of spending Rs 10,20,838 crore was announced in July, 2009. To counter the recessionary trend of demand deficiency, the Budget provided for numerous public expenditure programmes like infrastructure allocation of Rs 100,000 crore, up-scaling of farm credit target from the already worked out quantum of Rs 287,000 crore to Rs 325,000 crore, higher allocation to improved farm technology to achieve a 4 per cent agricultural growth per year with an additional expenditure of Rs 1000 crore on accelerated irrigation schemes, etc. The increased quantum of liquidity also made its inroad into the economy through other means like enhanced food procurement prices, increased expenditure programmes for creation of employment opportunity and national loan waiver, rural development, education, health services and many other programmes.


To finance such a huge scale of spendings, enough resources are not available from the budgetary sources. The central tax resources will estimatedly remain below 4.75 lakh crore and, together with non-tax revenue, the total anticipated collection in the current fiscal would come to around Rs 6.14 lakh crore, leaving thereby a resource gap of Rs 4.14 lakh crore. It means that the fiscal deficit which was 2.7 per cent of GDP in 2008-09 would shoot up to 6.8 per cent in the fiscal 2009-10, as projected in the Union Budget. This is highly perturbing. If we take into account the resource gap of both the Centre and the States, the quantum of fiscal deficit would come to around Rs 550,000 crore or 11 per cent of GDP. To meet the gap, the Centre has decided to sell Rs 2.4 trillion worth of bonds in the first half of current fiscal, the total for the year being Rs 3.6 trillion or Rs 360,000 crore. This will be added to the existing liability since the government ruled out direct bond buying by Reserve Bank of India, which would be an inflationary device. The impressive gain in fiscal management in the recent past due to FRBM Act of 2003 had to be sacrificed to meet the borrowing need until economy revives. Since fiscal deficit of such a high magnitude could bring down India’s international image relating to her credit rating, the sooner the government returns to the bindings of Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, the better it would be. For this, however, the load of public debt needs to be reduced through raising of resources from disinvestment as far as possible.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

US-IRAN TIES

 

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is once again in the saddle of power with blessings from Iran’s supreme spiritual leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. This time, however, the road is unlikely to be as smooth as it had been during the previous four-year term, because the President has not only to deal with a restive Opposition but also his own hardline camp which questions his loyalty to the spiritual leader. The Opposition leaders, especially the reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi whom Ahmadinejad had defeated in the controversial election, have already rejected the presidency. The Opposition has accused the authorities of bias and branded the new regime as “illegitimate” though this amounted to a defiance of Khamenei that is rare in this Islamic nation. Ahmadnejad’s election has created some unprecedented complications too, notably a rift among the clergy, several of whom have rallied behind the Opposition and condemned the regime’s handling of the post-poll violence. The new President may also have to grapple with a possible spill over of this turbulance, which was the worst since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Then there is the moot problem that puts the nation at loggerheads with the West – the nuclear programme– which the US and its allies think is aimed at bomb-making. Mousavi was the only hope for the West, as it expected that his victory would brighten the chances of a new beginning. But with Ahmadinijad back in power, they now have to deal with the difficult President once again, and there will neither be any change in this scene, nor any possibility of a rethink on the hardline policies pursued by him.


Ahmadinejad’s victory does not seem to reflect the Iranian people’s faith in his policies, but what has worked in his favour is Khamenei’s deep hatred for the US and his total support for the nuclear programme. Khamenei has already rejected President Barack Obama’s call to put the past behind and effect a change in the acrimonious US-Iran ties. Obama had suggested making a new beginning if Iran “unclenches its fist”. The Bush Administration’s approach towards Iran had been outright negative, with the former President’s pro-Israel policies greatly increasing Tehran’s feeling of insecurity. The Bush presidency was marked by a volatile environment, with his repeated calls to halt the uranium enrichment on one hand, and Iran’s immediate rejection on the other. In between, Iran had conducted missile tests too, inviting global condemnations; but the nuclear programme carried on, thanks to Ahmadinejad’s contention that it is meant for generating electricity. With the row now poised to continue, it is unlikely the US will dilute its demand to halt the programme. Although there is presently no aggressive posture on either side, any side making the first questionable move is bound to receive a stinging backlash. The US will have to redraw its strategies if it wishes to discourage the Ahmadinejad regime from the nuclear pursuit immediately, while Iran has to do much more to convince the world that the nuclear programme is indeed meant for peaceful purposes.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

WOMEN’S MOVEMENT AND EMPOWERMENT

DR ARCHANA SARMA

 

It is difficult to ascertain a particular year or day as the date of beginning of women’s movement. Women’s movement sprung up from their discontent for being subordinate and discriminated by the society. Such feelings had always been there in the hearts of women in any society, which they ventilated in different ways like emotional expressions, anger, weeping etc. Sometimes they also protested and tried at individual level to resist injustice. But in most cases such kind of protest went unheeded by the society. But expansion of education and change of social attitudes and values brought women out of the four walls of the house to mobilise and organise themselves. They started to focus their grievances and injustices meted out to them The means of protest has also changed from private and silent act of individual women to organised and collective moves by and for women.


The movement for women’s emancipation and the feminist struggle which emerged in Asia and Africa must be considered as the background of the struggle that developed in many countries against imperialism and various forms of foreign domination on the one hand, and movements of opposition to feudal monarchies, exploitative local rulers and traditional patriarchal and religious structure on the other hand. Feminism is thus an essential part of both democratic and revolutionary struggles- Earlier feminism was for the democratic rights of women such as the right to education and employment, the right to own property; the right to vote; the right to enter Parliament. Present day feminism is a struggle for achievement of women’s equality, dignity and freedom of choice to control their lives and bodies within and outside home. Feminists are those who recognise the exploitation of women and its relationship to other forms of oppression and ,who work actively to change it. Today feminists are attempting to find a common ground to work on specific issues and the overall goal of women's empowerment as a part of a global women’s movement.


'Empowerment' involves the sense of gaining control, of participating, of decision-making. Empowerment of women connotes an active. multi dimensional process, which enables women to realise their full identity and powers in all spheres of life. Empowerment cannot be imposed on others. It can be both at individual and collective level. People become empowered while working in a group collectively they develop a sense of awareness and are able to bring about a change.


Empowerment is a process of awareness and capacity building leading to greater participation, to greater decision-making power and control and to transformative action.


The word ‘movement’ has been defined in Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary as “a series of acts and events planned towards a definite end by a body of people.” Neera Desai observed 'women’s movement’ as the “ organised effort to achieve a common goal of equality and liberation of women and it presupposes sensitiveness to crucial issue affecting the life of women For a concerted action to move towards the objectives. There has to be same unifying ideological thread for various units.”


All through the history, Indian women have campaigned enthusiastically for women’s equality. Before anti-colonialist movements, women fought patriarchal religious practice. Pre-colonial activism was paying attention mainly on labour issues. Women got opportunities to be the champion for workers rights and to raised voice for time off and child labour in 1951 The Indian factory Act of 1891, drafted laws regarding women’s, working hours and dictated compulsory breaks between shifts. The All India Coordination Committee of working women was formed as a branch of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. The committee deals with issues of maternity benefits, equal remuneration and daycare facilities. They also encouraged women to take part in the decision making of the unions.


In colonised India women largely from the middle class joined social reform movements during 19th century. Women’s movement had emerged as a part of social reform movement in the 19th century. Initially women’s movement had worked for the removal of evil practices from the society against women Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj opened Mahila Mandals (women club) for socializing and educating women. By 1930, due to mass participation of women in the nationalist movement on Gandhiji’s appeal, the India’s Women’s Movement (IWM) moved into a different way, away from its social work toward political orientation Mahatma Gandhi was the first mass-mobiliser as he could see the potential of women for an organised movement. He said, "I am firmly of opinion that India’s salvation depends on the sacrifice and enlightenment of her women.” However a distinction between the women of 'women’s movement’ and the nationalist movement’ arise out of one point IWM demanded female enfranchisement particularly for rural women and also demanded reservation of seats, but women associated with the nationalist movement wanted adult franchise and gender equality as a constitutional right However in spite of these differences in view, both the women group worked together for the greater interest of women of India.


The Women's Movement in India opened the doors for women to raise their voice of protest against injustice- to demand equality with men in economic, social and political fields In 1917 a delegation comprising 18 Indian and 4 European women under the leadership of Sarojini Naidu appeared before the Montague Commission to demand women suffrage in India. Sarojini Naidu motivated the women who made and bought salt to protest salt tax. The political awakening of the freedom movement provided the renaissance of the Indian womanhood.


Women's movement in India has acquired status and stability due to the untiring effort of pioneers like Durgabai Deshmukh, Ammu Swaminathan. Renuka Ray, Begum Aizaz Rasul, and Laxmi Menon etc. In 1927 the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) was established to represent the views of women belonging to different sections. It becomes the central platform of women’s socio-political activities- for the whole country. Woman like Dr. Muthulaxmi Reddy provide incentive to education of girls. Through All India Women Conference, she started shelter homes like ‘Avvai Homes’ for deserted girls and women and thousands were rehabilitated there. Another woman Dr Rajkumari Amrit Kaur joined Gandhiji and insisted on generating professional skills among women. Aruna Asaf Ali, Dr Vijayalaxmi Pandit, Dr Pupul Jayakar and others also propagated many ideas that helped to change the lives of millions of women in the later period


The first generation of English educated empowered women lead the way of the women’s movement in the pre-independence period. Most of them engaged themselves in building of pioneer women organisations like All India Women’s Conference, Young Women Christian Association and Anjuman-e- Islam. The political agenda of AIWC was to fight against child marriage, mobilize public opinion in favour of voting rights of women, and impart basic skills to women. YWCA was in all respect a multi religious organization arranged vocational training courses for women. Anjuman Trust was committed to the cause of women’s education and skill formation of women belongs to Muslim community. Establishment of AIWC was followed by the establishment of some other women organisations like- National Council of Women in India, National Federation of Indian Women, Bharatiya Gramin Mahila Sangha and so on.


Women organisations like Women’s India Association All India Women. Conference and National Council of Women in India in the pre-independence period raised their voice to assert women’s rights and to arouse consciousness among women. WIA protested against the congress leadership in 1930, when women were initially excluded from the march to ‘Dandi’, they said, “ this division of sexes in a non violent campaign seems to us unnatural and against all awakened consciousness of modern women”.


After independence the Constitution of India declared equality of both the sexes. Indian women in a large size walked into the political arena, and with this involvement more laws began to address women’s concerns. For instance the Factories Act of 1948, prohibited women from working with certain injurious machinery when in motion; it demanded suitable sanitation facilities, compulsory on- premise day care centre ‘for children below six years and to provide maternity leave. The Labour Act in 1951, required employers to provide educational facilities, the Mines Act in 1952 required separate toilets for men and women, The Hindu Marriage Act in 1955 has introduced radical and progressive changes which go a long way in rendering gender Justice, it also provide certain special rights to the Hindu woman apart from conferring equal rights with that of Hindu men. The Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, which made the provision that every woman is entitled to the payment of maternity benefit at the rate of the average wage for the period of her actual absence. Moreover the Act is applicable to every establishment being a factory, mine or plantation or any other establishment.


Presently activities of women organisations in India expanded and diversified into different areas. Between 1977 and 1979 new women’s groups emerged in different parts of the country. They organised protest actions against dowry killings, beauty contest, sexual portrayal of women in media, pornographic films and pitiable condition of women in prison. One of the first issues to receive countrywide attention from women’s groups was violence against women especially in the form of rape and the killings of young married women for dowry or money/ goods they brought with them at marriage. This was the beginning of the process of learning for women. From their struggle against women atrocities, they learnt that struggle against State is not enough but the sufferer also needed support. So they started awareness gennerating campaigns to prevent violence against women.


(The writer teaches Political Science in Handique Girls' College)

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

DEFORESTATION AND ENVIRONMENT

DR ANURADHA SARMAH

 

One of the prominent green issues concerning the state of global environment in recent years is the indiscriminate felling of trees or deforestation affecting the normal atmospheric function and the quality of life. On account of the growing awareness of the environmental crisis that is happening, this issue is assigned top priority in national and international agendas. Most of the issues of these days such as global warming, acid rain, climate change, shortage of food etc are related to deforestation.


Life of man and progress of civilisation have been profoundly influenced by the relative abundance or scarcity of forests. Forests are renewable resources and they play a vital role in protecting our environment by influencing the life support system. Forest refers to vast tracts of land covered with trees and other plant forms. Forest by maintaining the ecological balance protects our environment from degradation. It keeps the atmosphere environmentally sound and healthy. The influence of forest on environment may be localised or far-reaching. The pattern of climate, rainfall, wind, soil, food etc all are influenced by forests.


The present degradation of our environment is due to the gradual loss of forest or cutting of forest by the people for their own interest ignoring the adverse impact of loss of forest. The decline of forest vegetation is known as deforestation. Both human and natural factors are responsible for deforestation. Reasons for deforestation are many such as growing food needs of ever increasing population, clearing forest area for human settlement, increasing demand for timber and fuel wood for domestic and industrial use, expansion of agricultural land, overgrazing, shifting cultivation, construction of infrastructure, green house related pollution etc. Today, vast stretches of forests are lost as a price for development. In the third world countries, the root cause of deforestation is said to be their under development. Ideally 33 per cent of a country must be covered by forest. India is losing about 1.5 million hectares of forest cover each year. According to the environmental group, “Green Peace”, 14.2 million hectares of the world’s forest land disappear every year which amounts to 18 per cent of total forest coverage. Latin America suffers the world’s highest rate of deforestation.


It degenerates our environment in different ways by enriching carbon-die-oxide gas (CO2) and destroying oxygen (O2) in the air which is essential for all living creatures. It poses a great threat to the functioning of our eco-system and in the maintenance of biological diversity which maintains the natural balance of our earth. Present change in climate has been attributed to deforestation. Cutting of forest indirectly increases the global surface temperature (global warming) by emitting huge amount of carbon-die-oxide gas (CO2) in the atmosphere and thereby effecting the climate and rainfall patterns. At present deforestation is believed to add between 1000 million and 2600 million tones of carbon to the atmosphere annually. As a result of which earth’s average temperature rises by about 5ºF. Moreover, the present drought situation (less rainfall) in Assam is directly attributed to deforestation. But if forest coverage is thick and wide, then as natural filters absorb the heat and prevent the rise in temperature. Further, damages caused by deforestation are categorised as – soil erosion , landslides in the hilly areas, accentuated floods and drought, extinction of precious wild life species, shortage of food, loss of biodiversity, ecological imbalance and so on.


Thus, the world is facing severe environmental crisis arising from deforestation. This problem should be tackled on a war footing with a view to save the earth from extinction. Afforestation projects should be given priority by spreading the slogan “Think Green & Act Green”.

Mass awareness campaign and counselling services should be conducted amongst the ,asses by the local NGOs all over the world for protecting our valuable forests. All these necessitate global cooperation and collective action to prevent the degradation of our environment from deforestation. “Man and Nature need each other and by hurting one we wound the other”.

 

(The writer teaches Economics in Dhubri Girls’ College).

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

COPYCAT PARTY

 

The BJP may have positioned itself as the premier ‘anti-Congress’ party, but it just can’t seem to stop aping the grand old party. No, we are not talking about how no in-house effort was spared to fashion A B Vajpayee as a saffron Nehru and L K Advani as Sardar Patel-II. Rather, the BJP now seems to have a fixation for the political phraseology and working style that the Congress has made famous or infamous. Witness “the BJP high-command”, after “getting” Khanduri “removed” as Uttarakhand CM, hoping Vasundhara Raje will also follow the “core committee” “directive” to step down. We also saw how the BJP “core-committee” had not only “unanimously elected” Advani as its parliamentary party leader (which was then communicated to party MPs) but even “authorised” him to “name” his deputy in the Lok Sabha and Opposition leader in Rajya Sabha. This, even as the BJP remains fully committed to ridiculing the Congress for its “high-command culture” and “durbari working style”. The BJP is now trying hard to learn another long-standing Congress hobby — factional squabbles.


COMIC RELIEF

Two developments in the BJP have provided comic relief to partymen caught in the heat of the raging succession war on the eve of the Shimla conclave. First, the irresistible Jaswant Singh has ensured that the saffron tradition of posthumously honouring Mohammad Ali Jinnah is kept alive and kicking. If Jaswant fails to achieve with a full-fledged book what Advani managed for himself with just a couple of sentences in the visitors’ note-book at the Jinnah mausoleum, then both Singh’s writing skills and the parivar’s literary appreciation ability will come under public scrutiny. The second episode that’s amused the BJP camp is the song and dance about the RSS chief denying he ever asked Advani to quit. After all, Mohan Bhagawat is only the head of a strictly “cultural organisation!”


TAXING PC

Nobody in North Block was surprised when FM Pranab Mukherjee made it a point to have home minister P Chidambaram by his side to jointly release the new direct taxes code. In fact, the code was one project that PC followed with great determination and passion when he was heading the finance ministry. So when the PM told him to take over the reigns of the home ministry after the Mumbai terror strike, the one request PC made to his boss was to allow him to complete his work on the new legislation. So, even as recently as March, when he was keeping vigil on the national security front, PC was also working overtime, along with Pranab Mukherjee, to give final touches to the new direct taxes code. Some finance ministry officials say their former boss might have put in as many as 250 hours on the drafting of the taxes code. No wonder, both Dr Singh and Pranab made it a point that Chidambaram was at the press conference.

Neta(Ala)giri
His clout and “winning formula” (read money for votes) in Madurai are well known. CM Karunanidhi’s son Alagiri’s face used to adorn Tasmac (liquor) shops across the temple town a la Mahatma Gandhi’s picture on courtroom walls. But, soon after taking charge as the Union chemical and fertilisers minister, his directive to party workers was to tone down their overt adulation. While DMK cadre may perceive this a mahaan act, critics allege it is an act committed under the “influence” of his cabinet rank. Netagiri at its best, maybe.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MY NAME IS KHAN

 

Sometimes, Indian politicians react more strongly than celebrity actors do to uncouth American behaviour directed at Bollywood icons.


After being detained for questioning for two hours at Newark Airport in New Jersey by an over-zealous immigration official who swung into action when the surname Khan flashed on his computer screen, Shahrukh quipped in his inimitable style, “If they want, I can frisk Angelina Jolie when she is here.” The Bollywood superstar appeared to shrug off the incident when he stated that he had experienced similar treatment before.


Speaking to journalists in Delhi on the morning of Independence Day, India’s I&B minister Ambika Soni said, “I don’t think that this manner of detention (in the name of religion) is justified. But, in the US, several examples have surfaced where frisking takes place more than required.” The minister should have just stopped there. But she went on to add, “I am of the opinion that the way we are frisked, I too was frisked, we should do the same to them.”


Imitation, as the saying goes, is the best form of flattery. However, in this instance, imitation could be the worst kind of folly! There is a difference between a cultured civilisation rooted in the concept of Atthithi devo bhava and ugly Americans of the kind Shahrukh encountered at the immigration counter at Newark Airport.

Frisking Americans coming to India — including the official who detained the Bollywood icon for two hours despite being told by other immigration officials that Shahrukh Khan was a reputed actor shooting a movie in the US and that there was nothing suspicious about him or his acting — amount to a knee-jerk response.

Soni and the embassy officials who interceded for Shahrukh should instead present the immigration official with a copy of The Ugly American, the 1958 bestselling novel by William Burdick and Eugene Lederer, narrating instances of rude behaviour that alienated Asians!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO COMFORT IN GDP NUMBERS

 

The low and declining share of agriculture in the economy means the drought in nearly a third of the country would not have a significant impact on GDP growth. That does not mean that human suffering is going to be any less. Agriculture and allied activities have a 17% share in GDP.


A big reversal in agriculture this year would, therefore, only knock off about half a percentage point from the GDP growth. With the global economy looking up, we could hope to make up that loss of output elsewhere — through a pick up in exports, for one. That, however, does not mean we close our eyes to the plight of over 50% of population, still dependent on agriculture — most of them marginal farmers or agricultural labourers. The higher prices of farm produce will partly make up for the lower production for the surplus producing farmers.


But the marginal farmer may not have enough to feed himself and could end up buying costly grain from the market to meet his basic necessities. Agricultural labourers will be hit equally hard as farm employment will be severely affected because of the drought. Sure, services contribute to an increasingly larger share of the rural GDP — share of agriculture in rural incomes is down to about 40% now — but a large percentage of non-farm income has its source in the farm sector.


Even the Economic Survey 2008-09 sees the rural economy as a ‘continuum of interrelated economic activities’. So, while the economy has diversified to an extent where it can afford to shrug off perhaps the worst monsoon in two decades, a vast section of the population is still going to feel the pain.


The government would do well to take measures to lessen the impact of the drought. It must protect real incomes in the affected region through the employment guarantee scheme, and also make food items available through adequately stocked public distribution system using the 50 million tonnes in foodgrain available with the state agencies.


From a longer-term perspective, we need to appreciate the acute water crisis the country is heading into. Water must command its economic price to discourage misuse, and conservation of both groundwater and annual precipitation must receive utmost policy attention.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SIGNS OF IPO MARKET REVIVAL

 

The strong response to the Rs 6,048-crore public offering of NHPC — subscribed 23 times over — indicates that the primary market is becoming more robust. Public issues of Adani Power (Rs 3,000 crore) and Mahindra Holidays and Resort (Rs 275 crore) also drew similar response earlier.


This contrasts with the situation a little over a year ago, when companies that had lined up public issues had to withdraw their offerings from the primary market. The Reliance Power IPO was the last public offering to scrape through before the financial crisis led to a panic in markets.


Clearly, risk aversion has come down significantly, particularly after markets recovered, post elections, from its March 2009 lows. Investors are now willing to move out of cash and various low-risk low-return instruments to place their bets on good quality reasonably-priced paper from both public and private sector companies.


That should augur well for the government’s disinvestment plans and encourage the Centre to bring well-run PSUs to the market for new listing as well as to improve liquidity of stocks already trading on the bourses. In doing so, the government must ensure it does not crowd out fund-raising by the private sector entities. That is perceived to be a real threat.


Yet, going forward, the government would do well to widen the stock market with good PSU paper at a time when excess liquidity from the developed economies chase more emerging market scrips. There is far too much liquidity sloshing around the globe, thanks largely to the stimulus packages put in place by governments and central banks to revive sagging economic growth.


Much of that money has found its way into equity and commodity markets, including those in India. For instance, FIIs net invested more than $7 billion in the current calendar year in Indian equities, after withdrawing about $12 billion in 2008. With India set to grow faster than most other economies, despite the looming drought, more money would flow into the country.


The government must seize this opportunity to tap the markets for resources for itself as well as the capex plans of the PSUs. And, it can take comfort that appetite for PSU shares would be strong if the offering is reasonably priced.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CLEAN UP THE ENERGY MESS

 

In two weeks’ time, the Supreme Court will start hearing one of India’s landmark cases: the lawsuit between two of India’s richest men, Mukesh and Anil Ambani, on whether natural gas, a fuel produced by the former should be sold to the latter and on what terms.


Why should a lawsuit between two wealthy and estranged brothers over a deal that they signed four years ago, make news? The lawsuits between Mukesh-controlled Reliance, Anil-run RNRL and state-owned power company NTPC, are about how natural gas should be priced in India and how it should be used. Very soon, relatively clean natural gas will become a major fuel for India, so it’s important to settle these things now.


The world over, two industries, power and fertiliser, use up four-fifths of all gas production: it’s likely to be the same here. So, India’s growth will depend on what we pay for fuel and power.


Yet over the last three years, as the Ambani-NTPC gas lawsuits have wound their way through courts, it’s become clear that the ministry of oil and gas, which is supposed to implement policies for a transparent and efficient market for fuel, has done the opposite. Its reforms remain half-baked, its regulation is opaque and furtive. So India’s energy sector that has so much promise remains an investors’ nightmare.


In 2004, NTPC floated a global tender to buy 12 million cubic metres of gas to run some power plants. RIL won the bid, for a price of $2.34 per unit. Within RIL, it was also decided that a subsidiary called RNRL would get to buy more than double the amount of gas contracted by NTPC, at the same price. The Ambani brothers split a year later, RNRL went to Anil and both these agreements ran into trouble. The oil ministry stepped into the breach and got into the act of ‘fixing’ gas prices, which were earlier supposed to be determined through bids.


The gas-price drama started four years ago and apart from the oil ministry, eventually sucked in a committee of secretaries, the prime minister’s economic advisory council and finally a group of ministers. The outcome: a price of $4.2 per unit, but only for gas from RIL’s D6 basin in the Bay of Bengal.


But how will gas produced elsewhere in other exploration blocks be priced? Nobody, least of all the oil ministry, is interested. That’s odd, considering that over the last 10 years the oil ministry has auctioned off about 55% of India’s basins, in seven rounds of exploration bids. Over 100 discoveries have been made. Two players have emerged dominant, with nearly 80% of the auctioned plots: RIL with 33 fields and state-owned ONGC with 59.


India’s gas pricing rules are a mess. Small amounts of gas discovered by state-owned companies more than 10 years ago are sold for around $2 or less to fertiliser companies. The NTPC-RIL-RNRL contract price is $2.34; the government mandated price for the same stuff is $4.2. If you want to import gas that comes as liquids in tankers, you pay a floating rate that can go as high as $8 per unit. And we’re now waiting to see how all the other, non-D6 gas that’ll bubble up from newly-minted blocks will be priced.


Exactly how much oil and gas has been discovered in all those blocks? At what rate are they expected to flow? For how long? And how much of the claimed discoveries have been verified by the oil ministry? Nobody outside the ministry really knows. The Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH), the ministry’s watchdog for exploration, provides no detailed numbers.


The DGH is also supposed to make sure that developers don’t inflate their investment claims in their blocks, something that’ll eat into taxpayers’ share of fuel profits and affect the price of gas. Again the DGH comes up in poor light: there’s little or no public data about investments made in most blocks and how they were approved. And naturally, there’s a dispute over how the DGH allowed RIL to nearly quadruple its investments while the volume of gas to be produced doubled.


The DGH claims that its investment approval has been vetted by the government’s auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). But the CAG says it hasn’t been able to complete its audit for two years. Sure, it asked RIL for some data sometime ago, but RIL is a private company. Why should it hand over any data to the CAG, which is supposed to audit only government companies?


The state of India’s energy regulation — and the mess it’s landed the sector in — has got policymakers worried. Last month the Planning Commission, headed by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, warned that government-administered fuel prices have driven potential investors, and competition, out of the fuel retail business.


It worried about the mess in gas pricing, but came up with a solution: till the end of 2009, while gas supplies remained below demand, regulate prices. Thereafter, as supplies increase over the next two years or so, “pricing of gas ... including from new discoveries, should be left to competitive markets.”


Yet, while the Commission spoke of regulation, it fretted about the existing state of the energy watchdog: “It is essential for the DGH to be strengthened and made independent of the ministry. There is an urgent need to have an independent regulator for both upstream and downstream sectors to ensure that markets function in a competitive manner.”


Having said that, the Commission added: “This recommendation has not been implemented by the ministry. The DGH, the upstream regulator, is not completely independent of the ministry, which is exercising a strong control over it.”


India needs competition and investments in its fuel economy. But to get there, it needs clean and transparent rules to play by, rules that are perceived to be fair by everyone. Otherwise, no serious overseas investor will bet big on exploring here. After 10 years of trying to drum up interest in new oil and gas ventures, not a single large overseas oil player operates a big exploration project in India: no ExxonMobil, no Shell, no BP, Total or ENI.


Controversy and lawsuits will continue to haunt the sector. Today RIL, RNRL and NTPC are at each others’ throats. Tomorrow it’ll be someone else. The oil and gas ministry claims that energy is a national asset. It is. And that’s why taxpayers deserve a better deal than what they’ve got so far.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

USING BILATERAL ECONOMIC PACTS TO OUR ADVANTAGE

KG NARENDRANATH

 

India most definitely won’t be a net gainer from the Agreement on Trade in Goods (ATG) that it signed with the 10-member Asean bloc in Bangkok last week. The country can now hope that when this agreement becomes a CECA (comprehensive economic cooperation agreement) as was envisaged in the hastily-concluded 2003 framework agreement, the situation would change. The two sides have set an early deadline (December 2009) to conclude talks on the CECA, yet it is unreasonable to expect that Asean would indulge India as much as is needed to restore balance. India should have insisted, right at the beginning of the talks, that all elements of the CECA, including investment, trade in services etc. that are now left to be negotiated, are discussed together.


Under the ATG, New Delhi will eliminate the tariffs on 4,185 items (80% of the total tariff lines) in four-to-seven years, from Jan 1, 2010. Most of these items currently attract the peak customs duty of 10%. India maintains a simple average tariff of 15% on goods while the same is about 5% for most Asean countries. So, it is easier for Asean to comply than India.


Of course, with income levels rising and the investment rate being high, India is becoming an import-intensive economy and this would be so for the next few years at least. Almost all major Asian countries, including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand export more value to India than they import. Rising consumption is making tariff walls redundant and there is increasingly clear evidence against the policy of keeping ‘bound tariffs’ at very high rates. Even as we take a tough stand at the WTO, the tariffs on most goods are, in any case, being cut progressively to cater to the rising needs of the industry and consuming public. Therefore, there is hardly a case for scare-mongering if the tariffs are cut a little faster and steeper for some 10 countries that together account for 10% of India’s global trade.


The question is whether the government could address the concerns of certain constituencies that would face a real problem if imports tariffs go down. Kerala farmers, for instance. Under the ATG, India would have a negative list of 489 items on which there won’t be any commitments whatsoever and the list includes a large number of raw farm goods like coconut, rubber, cashew, vanilla, beetle nut, nutmeg, cardamom, fish, shrimp, crab etc. Quite a lot of ‘important’ industrial items — textiles, chemicals, auto components etc.— is also in the negative list. Then there is a ‘sensitive list’ of 585 items which include processed farm goods and industrial products on which the tariffs would be reduced to 5% by 2016.


In the case of another five “highly sensitive” items namely coffee, tea, pepper, crude/refined palm oil, India will have no obligation under the agreement to bring down tariffs below certain specified ``comfort levels.” So, the tariffs on coffee/tea would be reduced from 100% at present to 45% and, on pepper from 70% to 50% in ten years. Such a gradual reduction, with the residual tariffs being pegged at reasonably high levels, should not really be a problem for the domestic plantation sector. Similarly, the customs duties on crude and refined palm oil are 0% and 7.5% at present (thanks to autonomous rate cuts), but the country will be under no obligation to bring down the tariff vis-à-vis Asean countries below 37.5% (crude) and 45% (refined) in the next ten years. Further, any abnormal import surge can be tackled through safeguard duties in the first four years of the agreement.


So, if the policymakers here committed a faux pas, it is in their failure in persuading Asean to discuss all CECA components concurrently. Whatever concessions that have been given to Asean in the area of trade in goods would not put the Indian stakeholders in a precarious position, but India could have made these a hard bargain and extracted concessions from the Asean bloc in areas like trade in services and investment, which are where we would indeed have to gain a lot.


This is also the strategy that should be followed when it comes to the other bilateral economic agreements being planned, especially the ones with the European Union and Japan. It will help address the structural weakness of bilateral trade liberalisation as opposed to the multilateral process.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MORE JOBS, CHEAPER FOOD WILL STIMULATE ECONOMY

BY BY JAYATI GHOSH

 

Developing Asia was until recently considered to be relatively immune from the global crisis for several reasons: the significant role of China as a regional economic leader and potential growth pole; the cushion provided by the very large external reserves that had been built up over the past six years by Asian central banks; the fact that most Asian governments had been following prudent if not downright conservative fiscal strategies that have focused on restricting government expenditure rather than raising taxes and consequently have generated very low fiscal deficits or fiscal surpluses.


Despite all this, the crisis has nonetheless operated directly to worsen fiscal balances in most Asian countries. Declining exports and the associated downturn (or deceleration) in economic activity have reduced tax revenues. And the need to bailout companies in distress, or provide tax and other incentives has meant that government expenditure has risen even in the absence of increases in direct public expenditure. The rising and then volatile prices of food and fuel have caused public subsidies to rise in countries in which these prices are even partly controlled.


All this has implied worsening fiscal balances even before any attempt could be made to increase government spending as part of a fiscal stimulus package to counter the crisis. Yet the ability of governments in the region to finance such increasing deficits is, unfortunately, constrained, despite their recent fiscal discipline.


Borrowing from private international sources has been negatively affected by the reversal of international capital flow. Sudden and occasionally unexpected balance of payment deficits have emerged because of the decline or slowdown in current inflows (goods and services exports as well as remittances). Fiscal expansion based on deficit financing has been constrained by the fear of inflation (even in economies where this fear is not warranted because of the existence of substantial unutilised capacity and lack of immediate supply bottlenecks).


It is worth noting at this point that the concept of fiscal space, which is increasingly used as a guide to future fiscal stance, should not be seen as determined by the existing levels of fiscal deficits or public debt. This is because fiscal deficits will be inflationary only if I they involve an aggregate excess of expenditure over income, which in turn implies that the initial spending will not generate at least equivalent output through a multiplier process; andl the economy cannot afford to import to make up any supply shortfalls that could hinder the multiplier process, which in turn implies that the country cannot access foreign exchange either through capital inflows or drawing down of reserves.

 

Only in situations in which both of these conditions are met can it be argued that the government does not have the fiscal space to provide a countercyclical stimulus. It is obvious that the existing level of fiscal deficit tells us very little about either of these conditions, except insofar as large deficits suggest that the limits to non-inflationary spending may be closer.


The evidence is clear that the crisis has involved growing fiscal deficits, or a change from deficit to surplus, in most Asian countries. The exceptions (such as Pakistan) are countries that have been forced to seek International Monetary Fund assistance and consequently have faced policy conditionalities that include reduction of fiscal deficits through stringent budget cuts even in the face of crisis. However, the change in fiscal stance, in terms of a marked increase in deficit to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio or a shift from surplus to deficit, has been evident only in relatively few countries, such as South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.


In other countries of the region, the fiscal response thus far has been relatively muted, suggesting either that government feel or are constrained in particular ways or that the need for countercyclical macroeconomic measures is less keenly felt in these countries. Even in China, the country that has the biggest fiscal stimulus in terms of absolute value, the change has only been from a fiscal deficit of 0.4 per cent of GDP in 2008 to a projected deficit of 4.1 per cent of GDP in the current year.
A large part of that consists of actual spending by the government, rather than tax concessions, bailouts and other sops to the private sector. The infrastructure spending, which is part of the fiscal stimulus in China, is directed more towards the central and western regions, which were hitherto relatively deprived, and this is likely to rectify the regional imbalances that grew during the recent boom.
The other spending, especially on health and related areas, will not only improve conditions of life but also lead directly to more employment.


In India, of course, the fiscal deficit is already rather high relative to other countries in the region, with a projected deficit of around six per cent of GDP in the current fiscal year. But this does not mark an increase from the previous year, and a large part of it is because of tax and other concessions given to corporates. This is much less likely, than direct public spending, to have a positive impact on economic activity and employment or on general conditions of life of the people. There is a case for significantly increased public spending in the areas that matter: the employment guarantee, provision of affordable food for all, and education. It would be a great tragedy if the countercyclical measures that are still imperative for India are not designed to do this.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

BY BY SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

 

Even while the Philippines is coming to terms with the death of the legendary Cory Aquino (former President of the Philippines) who became the epitome of democratic change and moral courage, the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, on August 12, 2009, launched one of the most decisive operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in southern Philippines. During the Arroyo government’s tenure, from 2001 to 2009, ASG has been responsible for at least a dozen kidnappings, beheadings and extortion in the southern islands.


The Philippine’s southern province of Mindanao has been festering with discontent for nearly four decades. Since early 1970s, the region of Mindanao has been challenged by separatist groups that have clamoured for greater autonomy from a centralised state and recognition of their demands.
What began as a movement under the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has today splintered into three distinct groups, each with their own modus operandi and linkages to other groups within the region.
In the initial stages of the conflict in southern Philippines, the MNLF headed the movement for separatism from the state, with demands for autonomy and also with the hope of establishing an independent Islamic state in the region.


The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is a faction of the original MNLF which split as early as 1977 and has been fighting the same agenda of the MNLF but with greater resort to methods of violence.
An earlier agreement to ensure an autonomy package for the region in 1996 was not successfully implemented. This led to fresh outbreak of violence which intensified from 2005 to 2007.
Negotiations with the MILF have stalled on the issue of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which was to clearly demarcate the boundaries of a Muslim homeland. This was to ensure that the Islamic region of the south would be safeguarded as an “Islamic homeland” and was in a sense a kind of “sons of the soil” or bhumiputera concept for the Islamic south that would ensure land rights to the Islamic community.


However, the Supreme Court had ruled this as an unconstitutional arrangement and had rejected this in its judgment in August 2008. This led to the revocation of the MOA-AD and peace talks between the MILF and the Arroyo government collapsed.


The third group, ASG, remains one of the most militant groups in the region which has also been clamouring for an independent Islamic state. It was founded in 1991 by Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who had fought in Afghanistan alongside Osama bin Laden and has been linked to the Al Qaeda. It has operated more as a criminal group which has been involved in kidnappings, extortion and bombing in the Philippines.


In fact, since 2002 the ASG has also been extending its network to groups like the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is the southeast Asian arm of the Al Qaeda.


The JI has been identified as the group with critical links in the recent Jakarta bombings and has a significant presence in the southern Philippines where the network between the JI and ASG are crucial for the region to address.


On August 12, 2009, over 400 troops launched a coordinated attack on the ASG camps in a bid to capture two rebel leaders, Khair Mundus and Furuji Indama. In the operation, 54 people were killed —31 government soldiers and 23 ASG terrorists.


One of the significant aspects of this attack is that it also targeted 10 rebels from the MILF. The military stated that the MILF was helping the ASG, by collecting weapons of fallen soldiers. This has been denied by MILF leader Eid Kabalu, who stated that the military troops had first started an attack against the MILF. While the MILF leadership stated that the rebels were caught in a crossfire, the military command of the current operation denies this.


The military clearly states that it had indicated its presence to the MILF and the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities, which oversees military operations in MILF-dominated regions of the south.


In fact, given that there was an effort to inform the MILF of the operation, the suspected MILF rebels caught in the attack have been seen as part-time members of both the MILF and the ASG.
While the groups have technically operated in different regions and it remains incumbent upon the military to inform the Coordinating Committee about any operations within the region, this incident will mar the ongoing attempts to renegotiate with the MILF.


Over the years it has been difficult to disassociate the two groups clearly and often there have been incidents where the groups have been involved together, especially with part-time activists moving between groups.


While the MILF has been keeping its demands for an Islamic state in the south as the primary goal of its movement, it has shown willingness to come to the negotiation table. On the other hand, the ASG has been more intransigent with kidnappings, extortion and banditry as its methods. Ransom has been one of the main methods through which the group has sustained its funding.


For the Arroyo government, in its final year at the presidential office, a significant outcome of the problem in southern Philippines will be critical. During her first state visit to the United States in July 2009, Ms Gloria Arroyo’s willingness to relook at the negotiations between the Philippines government and the MILF was welcomed by the United States.


The current steps taken by the Philippines government in tackling ASG are likely to ensure that the process to retain the upper-hand in the south stays on track. While the US will continue to support counter-insurgency operations in the southern Philippines, there is a growing impetus on the part of the Obama administration to try and distance itself from the earlier commitments of the Bush administration and redefine its relations with southeast Asia on a broader platform that is not driven by terrorism alone.
In this effort the US has identified the Philippines as the coordinating country for its engagement with southeast Asia. For the region there has always been a critical need to re-engage the US. While the Philippines is keen to increase its military cooperation with the US, there has also been some indication that the US may look at the option of having a military presence in the country.
While this will be a clear indication of re-engagement, it will alter the regional dynamics more sharply.

 

Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

PYTHON VS CAT

BY BY ROD LIDDLE

 

It’s been a grim summer for news, what with Afghanistan and flying pig flu and the rain and now Harriet Harman squatting over us. So I thought I’d share with you a story which cheered me up enormously. It is the story of a little ginger and white pussycat called Wilbur, who lived in Bristol with his owners, Martin and Helen Wadey. Martin and Helen loved Wilbur a lot. He was the family pet and suitably adored.
Anyway, one day Wilbur set off in pursuit of that familiar and engaging leisure option for our millions of domesticated cats — killing wildlife in a neighbour’s garden and then taking a massive dump in the middle of the lawn. Off he went on his pitter-patter little paws, over the fence, across the flower bed to check out what creatures he might harry to death — a vole scampering with fright beneath the hedge! Or that fledgling mistle thrush obliviously looking for its mum. Wilbur devised a plan of action: start with the thrushling, then have a dump just by the patio and finish up spending a bit of time tracking down the vole — worth the effort because they’re endangered, apparently. But then Wilbur caught a first whiff of something quite unexpected; a rich, exotic, luxuriant smell he did not recognise — beguiling and yet somehow carrying a sleek, sinuous, harbinger of danger. What the hell is that, Wilbur wondered to himself, in those last few seconds before he was eaten by the python. Wildlife 1, Pussycat 0.
Not just eaten, mind, but — according to the press reports — “crushed, asphyxiated and consumed whole”. I don’t know what the Daily Telegraph would have preferred the python to do — maybe stun Wilbur humanely with some sort of electrical device before flambéing his liver for a light supper, accompanied by a glass of Chablis. Whatever, Martin and Helen heard “blood-chilling cries” emanating from their neighbour’s garden and immediately suspected that it was Wilbur. They were right! The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) turned up and with some piece of hi-tech equipment detected the cat’s ID chip inside the python’s bulging stomach and the faintest, defeated, plaintive miaow. At this point of the story I was paralytic with mirth and jubilation — but then I read on and a familiar irritation began to settle on my shoulders.


First, the Wadeys’ bizarre and unjust reaction in complaining about such an outcome. Like all cat owners they seem utterly without any notion of responsibility, either to their neighbours or indeed to the wildlife which surrounds them. Some 80 million wild birds and animals are killed by domesticated cats each year and this may well account at least partly for the rapid decline of some of our garden songbirds. But cat owners could not give a monkey’s — that’s nature, they argue, that’s what cats do, they decimate wildlife.
Well, sure — and that’s what pythons do, they eat cats, given half a chance, so stop whining. Cat owners also do not care that their creatures wander over all the gardens of their neighbourhood, leaving behind their toxic ribbons of noisome defecation and the bodies of dead birds and mammals on the back steps of their neighbours houses. Wilbur was doing precisely this when he was eaten by the neighbour’s civic-minded Burmese python; if the foul creature had stayed in its own backyard, it would be alive right now. The snake was minding its own business in its own terrain and had not expected to be disturbed by an agreeable late afternoon snack blundering through the undergrowth, believing itself — mistakenly, as it turned out — to be top of the local food chain. Tough, puddytat. And yet when the RSPCA was called, the focus of anger was directed at the owner of the python, who was issued with a written warning about keeping his snake indoors, safely locked away. Why? Why wasn’t the same warning issued to Mr and Mrs Wadey, to the effect that they should not be allowed another cat unless they could guarantee that it would not invade their neighbour’s gardens? And didn’t the RSPCA have a device to see what was lurking in Wilbur’s stomach?


Listen — things get worse. The bloody Wadeys are now petitioning 10 Downing Street for a change in the law. They want to introduce an amendment to the Dangerous and Wild Animals Act which would ensure that heavy restrictions are placed upon the people who wish to own such creatures as snakes. They have called this proposed adjustment to the law “Wilbur’s Amendment”. This little nugget of information may make you feel slightly nauseous, but, despite that, I suggest that we keep the title — “Wilbur’s Amendment” — but change the legislation so that cats are classed as dangerous and wild animals and that ordinary members of the public, when faced with a cat prowling in their back garden, may take arms against them so as to protect both their property and the lives of asylum-seeking wild animals which may have taken refuge there.


Certainly, shooting cats would be a lot less time-consuming and probably more effective than some of the measures I have adopted over the years. The answer, I suppose, is to buy a python and underfeed it, so that it is perpetually on the look-out. I think I will call it Wilbur, or maybe Wadey, out of respect.

By arrangement with the Spectator

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OP-ED

BJP IN CRISIS: CAN IT REINVENT ITSELF?

 

The BJP’s current woes are constraining it from playing the role of a capable Opposition party. If the saffron formation cannot restore domestic order with despatch, it may be irresponsibly tempted in the coming period to waste Parliament’s time on dramatic or sub-optimal issues rather than picking up matters of national import on which to seek to embarrass the government in the best traditions of parliamentary democracy. It could also hit the streets on trivial issues. The level of debate in our Parliament is below par and matters can only get worse if the principal Opposition does not live up to its billing. The BJP is already known to have a liking for the surreal, as we saw on the eve of the no-confidence vote last year when its members broke the rules and brought in mountains of cash inside the Lok Sabha chamber in a vain attempt to make a point about sleaze. More recently, Mr L.K. Advani has sought to make an issue of the absence of a reference in the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech to the controversial recent joint statement with Pakistan, a subject which had been discussed threadbare in both Houses of Parliament. Regrettably, the country’s main Opposition party is giving the impression of latching on to anything at all in an effort to make itself heard and to deflect attention from some of the existential problems it faces. For the first time in its history, the BJP suffers from an evaporation of internal authority. It began with a senior leader, Mr Arun Jaitley, placing himself in open defiance of the party’s president, Mr Rajnath Singh, in the course of the campaign for the Lok Sabha election. After the crushing defeat, the process has snowballed. Anyone seeking to give instruction is a defeated entity, a point raised by Ms Vasundhara Raje Scindia — again in defiance of the top brass — when asked to put in her papers as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly. Ironically, with the command structure in disarray, the BJP is seeking to imitate the “high command” and “core group” culture of its main rival, the Congress. If ever there was a real BJP high command, it was the RSS, but of late the authority of this fountainhead of the Sangh Parivar has also eroded. Many of the minders the RSS routinely attaches to the BJP for ideological and organisational work at all levels have earned the ire of party members of late for trying to become candidates in elections. Other than these issues relating to party functioning, the BJP for some time has been faced with the dilemma of remaining in its Hindutva ideological cocoon or seeking to become a genuine party of the Right in India. It is not clear if that discussion will make it to the proposed “Chintan Baithak” — or forum for discourse — in Shimla later this week, but even very real post-defeat organisational issues run the risk of being glossed over. Those asking questions are not being taken to Shimla. The coming days are certain to test the BJP. With a clutch of state elections round the corner, the party must seek to appear to be serious and stable.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OP-ED

OBAMA CAN’T SAVE HEALTHCARE REFORMS

BY BY GOVIND TALWALKAR

 

When the US President, Mr Barack Obama, completed his first 100 days in office, there was a great deal of media frenzy. But as his second 100 days come to an end this week, the tone of the media coverage is rather subdued, except the heat generated over Mr Obama’s signature programme — healthcare reforms.
In his campaign, Mr Obama denounced Washington’s partisan politics and promised to change its tone. He said that he would strive hard to bring political parties together. But instead of becoming a “uniter”, he has divided his own Democratic Party and united the Opposition, the Republicans.


It is not that Mr Obama did not spare himself. He has been busy giving speeches, interviews and addressing press conferences. In fact, he has been too much in the public eye. His first prime-time press conference was hailed by everyone, but when he repeated the same stuff three times, media executives started grumbling as they lost about millions in advertisement revenues, which is already shrinking.
Mr Obama, of course, has achieved some noteworthy success. He saw to it that American troops leave the battle zone in Iraq and that their move towards home is planned. He expanded health insurance for children which the former US President, Mr George W. Bush, had refused to do. He succeeded in getting the $787 billion stimulus bill passed by the Congress. Also Ms Sonia Sotomayor has been appointed as the first Hispanic woman judge of the Supreme Court. Most importantly, Mr Obama’s measures helped to stabilise the banking sector.


About one-third of the stimulus amount has been disbursed and is showing some results. The unemployment rate dropped in July, which has raised hopes that the economy is on the cusp of recovery. The loss of manufacturing jobs is smaller and the hourly earning has increased slightly. Reduction of inventory has made way for more orders. Manufacturing jobs too are expected to rise in the coming months and consumer confidence is slowly gaining. There is, therefore, cautious optimism not only in the administration but in business circles as well, and all this is reflected in the market.


The bailout of General Motors and Chrysler saved those companies, but nobody is sure whether these companies, even with their reduced burden, would be competitive and capture their previous position. But the major worry for people and the administration is the high unemployment. July figures might have been less than those of June and appreciably less than January, but it is still high.


Moreover, the period of unemployment is about six months and under employment is not computed. In all, 1,400 million people are still out of a job, housing market has not recovered and people in general are apprehensive about retaining their houses.


Mr Obama has changed the direction of the foreign policy somewhat. With China he has improved relations, but not so with Russia. The Chinese are expected to invest more in US bonds. It was ironical to see the Chinese telling the Americans to manage their economy and the Budget deficits. China and India have a stake in US recovery as it will boost exports. Unlike Mr Bush, Mr Obama does not look down on Europe, though the basic differences remain.


Militancy in Afghanistan is not restrained and the daily toll is creating unease in Washington and London. Now the point of discussion is how long people of both the countries will support their administration and not register their protest against the Afghanistan war.

It was expected that Mr Obama would be able to rein in the spending which, under Mr Bush, was let loose. But Mr Obama has belied expectations and has proved to be a big spender. Neither the Congress under the Democratic Party nor the White House seem serious about scaling down expenditure — Congress has bloated the Budget, lawmakers have increased the spending on foreign travel, and Mr Obama has appointed many tsars to oversee several departments, over and above their respective secretaries.


But Mr Obama’s most controversial measure is on healthcare. It is true that healthcare in the US is in a bad shape and that the insurance companies are rapacious. In his campaign, Mr Obama promised to set this right. But instead of spelling out details, he indulges in rhetoric. He was not specific while directing the Congress to bring forth a bill and left it to the Congress to draft the bill. As the Democratic Party is composed of diverse or opposing elements, it has prepared five different bills. They run into more than thousand pages which have not been read either by its supporters or critics. The bill would create 45 new agencies, thus adding to the confusion.


The Republicans are completely opposed to creating a public authority as a parallel to the insurance companies. Their contention is that such a state organisation would be another monopoly and would fail just like two state-sponsored companies did. They say that Mr Obama’s plan would ration healthcare and that senior citizens would be denied any help.


Though some of the objections of the Republicans have to be addressed, opponents forget that at present Medicare is government managed. Under this scheme, some deductions are made from the salaries of individual who are employed and in return they receive medical care after retirement from the fund thus accumulated. Of course, this fund is now depleted and might exhaust in the course of a decade. But it is as if that the government is out of the healthcare business.


Leaving aside these partisan opponents, ordinary people are apprehensive as the promised reduction of the mounting cost of healthcare is not at all provided for in the proposed bill. The US’ healthcare bill, in 10 years, would be more than $1 trillion. There is also fear that Budget deficit is bound to rise, and would leave no option but to increase taxes. The Obama administration relies on tax increase on the wealthy but the amount which would accrue would not be sufficient to pay for the increased cost.


That is why healthcare bill supporters often meet angry crowds. Democrats accuse Republicans and insurance companies of instigating these demonstrations. They might not be absolved of this charge but at the same time the Obama administration does not take the genuine fear of the people into consideration. Mr Obama might be in a hurry but he has already spoilt his opportunity to bring some real change in the healthcare system.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OP-ED

SWISS MENACE MAY BE GOOD FOR AMERICA

BY BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

It was the blooper heard round the world. In an editorial denouncing Democratic health reform plans, Investor’s Business Daily tried to frighten its readers by declaring that in Britain, where the government runs healthcare, the handicapped physicist Stephen Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance”, because the National Health Service (NHS) would consider his life “essentially worthless”. Professor Hawking, who was born in Britain, has lived there all his life, and has been well cared for by the NHS, was not amused.
Besides being vile and stupid, however, the editorial was beside the point. Investor’s Business Daily would like you to believe that Obamacare would turn America into Britain — or, rather, a dystopian fantasy version of Britain. The screamers on talk radio and Fox News would have you believe that the plan is to turn America into the Soviet Union. But the truth is that the plans on the table would, roughly speaking, turn America into Switzerland — which may be occupied by lederhosen-wearing holey-cheese eaters, but wasn’t a socialist hellhole the last time I looked.


Let’s talk about healthcare around the advanced world.


Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.
In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the NHS has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 per cent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.


The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of healthcare in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That’s how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It’s also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are.


Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French healthcare is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their US counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the programme.


Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.


In this country, the Massachusetts health reform more or less follows the Swiss model; costs are running higher than expected, but the reform has greatly reduced the number of uninsured. And the most common form of health insurance in America, employment-based coverage, actually has some “Swiss” aspects: to avoid making benefits taxable, employers have to follow rules that effectively rule out discrimination based on medical history and subsidise care for lower-wage workers.


So where does Obamacare fit into all this? Basically, it’s a plan to Swissify America, using regulation and subsidies to ensure universal coverage. If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialised medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.
But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work. So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal healthcare in America is the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the Right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

LOTS IN A NAME

 

Many critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party argue that it suffers from an identity crisis. It cannot decide whether it is a Hindu party or an Indian party. This issue will continue to be debated. What, however, is undeniable is that the BJP is afflicted by a problem relating to its very name. What does the J in the BJP stand for. The BJP may like to claim that it stands for janata, the people, but this does not stand the test of scrutiny. The issue that in recent memory caused turmoil within the BJP, threatening, in fact, to split it has nothing to do with the people. It has to do with Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the J in the party’s name stands for Jinnah. This may not be as facetious as it sounds like if one considers the evidence. In the summer of 2005, L.K. Advani, on a visit to Pakistan, made so bold as to suggest that Jinnah was possibly a secular man and hailed Jinnah’s opening speech to the Pakistan constituent assembly. Within the BJP, there was an enormous furore over it. There was the cry that Mr Advani had betrayed the cause and a clamour that disciplinary action should be taken against him. Mr Advani hung on and recovered ground. A similar situation has cropped up again, this time to haunt Jaswant Singh who has authored a book on Jinnah. The entire top brass of the BJP stayed away from the release function of the book. It will not be an error to guess that this boycott was rooted in the disapproval of Mr Singh’s choice of subject.

 

It will remain a mystery why the name of Jinnah creates rifts within the BJP. If the BJP is committed to looking ahead, then Jinnah should be irrelevant to its politics and even to its ideology. Perhaps the BJP sees in Jinnah its mirror image. Jinnah believed that Hindus and Muslims could not co-exist in India, as does the BJP. Thus the party’s problem with its own name may not be unconnected with its identity crisis. The BJP sees itself still as a Hindu party and hence its loathing of Jinnah. It cringes from its own mirror image. This, in a way, is as it should be, since a name is an integral part of an identity, and both identity and a name are linked to parentage. The BJP is a direct descendant of the Hindu Mahasabha, and that gene rebels every time a BJP leader invokes the name of Jinnah. What ensues from that genetic disorder is risible and revealing of the immaturity of the BJP and its loyalists.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

SIMPLE AND FAST

 

The prime minister is quite right in being appalled at the number of pending cases in the Indian courts. At around 30 million, the count is the highest in the world, and nothing could be more grimly ironic than this for the world’s largest democracy. Every bit of the cliché about justice delayed is brutally true, and the war footing on which the clearing of this pile-up has been urged by Manmohan Singh can only work if the problem is tackled at both the procedural and what Mr Singh calls the “holistic” levels. It is impossible to reduce the problem to merely hurrying things up. The entire notion of, and attitude to, justice and its delivery will have to change fundamentally after some hard thinking. It is true that recruiting more judges when there are about 3,000 vacancies in the country looks like the most immediate solution, together with the setting up of more fast-track courts, particularly in the rural areas. But if the new recruits and their new workplaces continue functioning with the old mindset, then it will be difficult to make much of a difference. An ancient and deeply entrenched love of red tape that mires the judicial system in a needless and wholly dispensable labyrinth of procedure is the primary cause of this phenomenal pile-up of cases. This is partly because such delay is in the interest of a great many people all along the line, and partly because judicial reformism never really goes to the heart of the matter when tackling the problem. There is immense scope for the streamlining of legal process. To take one example, think of how much easier and more accessible things will become for the ordinary “consumer of justice” (and for its dispensers) if legal language were made simpler and closer to normal language without taking away its precision.

 

Finally, a huge number of pending cases have to do with land and property disputes. These cases do not usually involve complicated applications of the law and could be disposed of fairly quickly if the judicial process is minimalized systematically. Clear thinking and the cutting out of procedural junk would make the handling of these cases more efficient — and therefore less harrowing for everybody concerned. It is best not to regard such moves with a sort of conservative suspicion. Law must overcome its antipathy towards, perhaps even fear of, simplification before it can become truly and promptly just.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

ICON AT THE GATES

INDIA ACCEPTS UNEQUAL TREATMENT IN EVERY INTERACTION WITH THE US

DIPLOMACY - K.P. NAYAR

 

The high-decibel debate in India over the treatment of Shah Rukh Khan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the hands of American agencies betrays an almost childlike misconception among sections of domestic opinion that rules are enforced — and enforced uniformly — in the United States of America. They are not.

 

A former judge of the Supreme Court of India wrote authoritatively in a contemporary of this newspaper — following protests in Parliament, last month, over Kalam’s pre-boarding frisking by Continental Airlines — that not even the US president is exempt from such security checks. He informed his readers that frisking of the American president is done by a special team of airport officials and not the ones who frisk regular passengers for reasons of security.

 

The learned former justice is way off the mark. His mistake would not have mattered if it did not reinforce the notion among ivory-tower votaries of intellectual egalitarianism in India that the rule of law is perfect in the US and that developing countries like India should learn from the way the West does these things. For the record, the US president does not travel by commercial aircraft: he has his special VVIP plane, known as Air Force One. When he leaves Washington, he takes a chopper direct from the grounds of the White House to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where the chopper lands near Air Force One. The president simply hops on to his jet without any security check, contrary to what the former Supreme Court judge would have us believe.

 

Elsewhere, Air Force One arrives in designated areas on airport tarmacs and the president does not use boarding gates or departure areas the way ordinary passengers do. Such procedures also apply in varying degrees to the US vice-president, the secretaries of state or defence and other cabinet members. The security procedures that are in place for VIP travel in the US are pretty much the same as in India. The only difference is that the US list of those exempted from security clearance is smaller and much more rational. And in the US, no individual by name is exempt the way Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, is not required to go through normal airport checks.

 

Of all the reactions in India to the “secondary inspection” of Shah Rukh Khan at Newark’s Liberty International Airport last weekend, the most outrageous statement came from the civil aviation minister, Praful Patel. “We will take (up) the issue with the US government strongly… We will not accept it,” Patel has been widely reported in the US media as having told reporters in Bikaner.

 

If a minister in a Western country had made such a bone-headed statement, he would either be held to account or he would pay the price for having said such a thing. But it is not clear what exactly our civil aviation minister intends to do. It is inconceivable that he would want the Indian ambassador, Meera Shankar, or the deputy chief of India’s mission, Arun Singh, to go to the US secretary for homeland security and demand that in future, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan or any other celebrity Khan from Bollywood should be admitted to the US without any questions being asked at the immigration counter. It is equally inconceivable that Patel would want the Indian consul general in New York, Prabhu Dayal, to go to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — which manages Newark’s Liberty Airport — and tell Transportation Security Administration officials there that when the Khans of Bollywood depart from Newark, they should be waved off without any inspection. Shah Rukh Khan may be a celebrity in India, but he is still an ordinary citizen. And for an immigration agent at Liberty Airport, who probably lives in Hoboken or some such small town somewhere between Newark and New York City, the name of any Indian Bollywood celebrity means nothing.

 

So what is it that Patel intends to take up with the Americans? “We will not accept it,” he thundered. If the Americans tell him to lump the weekend’s incident, what is he going to do? The “we will not accept it” threat was so reminiscent of George W. Bush, who repeatedly threatened North Korea during his eight-year presidency that Washington will not tolerate Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, until the North Koreans tested their nuclear weapon and Bush could do nothing about it. It was assumed that the era of state impotence personified by such leaders as Bush had ended with the descent of the previous US president into oblivion, but Patel’s latest statement is a reminder that it is not the case — at least, in India.

 

Shah Rukh Khan, it turns out, is smarter than Patel. Khan has already made a big thing of not wanting an apology from the US. That is a smart move because no one, at least as of now, is offering him any. The US view is that in Khan’s case, they were simply following their textbook on admitting aliens into their country. The Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, hit the nail on the head when he told reporters on the sidelines of a national security meeting on Monday that “we send our joint secretaries (and) officers (of such rank) to the tarmac to receive” visiting Americans. What Chidambaram did not spell out was that the Indian psyche expects similar treatment in return and that never happens, certainly not in Washington or New York, not even in London, Paris or Frankfurt.

 

Chidambaram’s lament was genuine because he recently bore the slight of being searched in Washington, notwithstanding US protocol exempting him from an intrusive security procedure during his departure from an American airport. It turned out later that the incident occurred because protocol papers exempting Chidambaram were sent to the wrong airport, not to the one from which he was departing from the US capital.

 

The question, really, is why does New Delhi bend over backwards to please the Americans, when they themselves do not expect such favoured treatment in India? On a visit to New Delhi in June, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs, William Burns, was given a rare meeting with the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Burns is way down in protocol to have met the external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, let alone the prime minister. And yet, South Block readily gave in to a routine request from the US state department for access to the head of government.

 

In this columnist’s view, the meeting between Burns and the prime minister was a bigger insult to India’s pride and honour — in diplomatic terms — than the secondary examination of Shah Rukh Khan in Newark. By that one act of giving prime ministerial access to a mere under-secretary in the US government, India reduced itself to the level of Pakistan, where even an assistant secretary of state can walk into the president’s or the prime minister’s office in Islamabad. But it is not only in face-to-face government-level interaction with the US that India displays a craven attitude that only begets treatment that falls far short of even traces of a special bilateral relationship. An Indian applying for a visa at the US embassy in New Delhi pays a fee in Indian rupees equivalent to $131 plus a small service charge. But an American applying for a visa at the Indian embassy in Washington pays only $60 plus a small service fee.

 

Visa fees are supposed to be fixed on the basis of reciprocity. But repeated reminders from Indian consular officials in the US to the ministry of external affairs about US citizens paying only half of what Indians have to shell out have been studiously ignored by South Block for several years. If New Delhi is willing to accept such unequal treatment in every interaction with the US, is it any wonder that Indian ministers are ill-treated at US airports and India’s icons are treated as if they are worth nothing?

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

THE FOUR MARIES

STEPHEN HUGH-JONES

 

After all, the plural of spy is spies, of army armies, of casualty casualties. Likewise, reply becomes replies. However it is stressed and however pronounced, the English plural of -y is surely -ies.Or is it? In this case, one can see an argument for Julys. In Britain, Julie, pronounced and stressed like duly, is a common girl’s name. My paper’s weather-whizz wouldn’t like to look as if he were discussing two young women fresh from the swimming pool.

 

But the issue goes wider. Let’s take to drink. The plurals of whisky or brandy are no problem: they both become -ies. But suppose you taste three wines from the French region of Burgundy. Were they three burgundies or three burgundys?

 

Since in this usage the name is given no capital letter, the answer is burgundies, just as for sherry, named after the Spanish town of Jerez. Likewise, a football match between Manchester United and Manchester City is a local derby — from the Derby horserace — and with a second such match you have a pair of local derbies.

 

But suppose there is a capital letter, and the word is strictly a name. In the days of the Soviet empire, were there two Germanys or two Germanies? Most of the press wrote Germanys. Wrongly, in my view, since there was a solid 19th-century precedent to the contrary: the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (the second one, bizarrely, being a slice of southern Italy), which was always so spelt.

 

On that long-established analogy, Germanies was correct. But what about personal names such as Sally or Sandy? Or Mary?

 

There are four Maries, or Marys, in one old Scottish ballad (with a wonderful tune: in the days when Indian schoolchildren had British history rammed down their throats, I hope, at least for some, that song formed a part of it). One verse runs:

 

Yestreen the Queen had four Maries,/ The night [ie, this night] she’ll hae but three./ There was Marie Seaton and Mary Beaton/ And Marie Carmichael and me (“me” being Marie Hamilton, doomed to execution, at the queen’s insistence, because the king fancied her).

 

That Maries in the first line looks natural enough: the stress is clearly on the second syllable, as in the French name, Marie; and a French name may have been familiar at the court of Scotland, often allied with France against us English.

 

But four of them? I don’t believe it. And in the second couplet, the stress is plainly on the first syllable, as in the English Mary. These days, I’d write Mary for each of them and Marys for the lot.

 

One idiomatic British usage gives you the choice: the Hooray Henrys, a derisive term for loud and yobbish scions of the English nobocracy, can be spelt that way or Henries, as you prefer. But with surnames there is no choice: the Dimbleby brothers, Britain’s best-known television commentators, are the two Dimblebys, period.

 

Happily, that doesn’t prevent another idiomatic usage. The talented, self-conscious, not to add self-obsessed ‘Bloomsbury Group’, who lived in that district of London in the early 20th century — people like Virginia Woolf, with J.M. Keynes on the fringes — are unkindly known today as the Bloomsberries.

 

THEWORDCAGE@YAHOO.CO.UK

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

APOTHECARY’S DAY

THE DAWAI STILL HAS ITS EFFICACY

 

THE CPI-M hardliner, Abdur Rezaak Mollah, has extended the critique beyond Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s presentation at the recent West Bengal state committee meeting. It appears that the Dum Dum dawai of the late Fifties still has the remarkable potency of retaining its efficacy. Two years ago, it was prescribed by Brinda Karat, the supposedly articulate face of the Politburo, against the Bengal opposition. And now, the land and land reforms minister has cautioned the government of similar action if it fails to hold the price line. It really has. In a way, Mr Mollah has echoed the sentiment of the Prime Minister without putting too fine a point on it. If the country has adequate food stocks, in the PM’s reckoning, the ballooning price in the context of West Bengal can only be attributed to hoarding and speculative activity. Yet the periodic bluster of sections of the establishment makes no difference. That said, one must give it to Mr Mollah that alone in the government, he has proved himself to be effective within weeks of taking over as the head of the land use board. The contours of the new policy, as announced last week, are rational enough. Food security is the primary underpinning as multi-crop, irrigated land will no longer be offered for industries and townships. And should such land be required for such public utilities as railways and roads, an equal tract of single-crop land will have be converted to multi-crop plots elsewhere. Mr Mollah has exposed vital home-truths that the administration hasn’t had the nerve to face up to. Notably that over the past two decades there has been a decline in the cultivable area as also the production of food crops.


More effectively than the Chief Minister, Mr Mollah has established the disconnect between claims and reality. Mr Bhattacharjee has blamed party functionaries on the field and, surprisingly enough, his hand-picked bureaucracy as well. Mr Mollah has substantiated the new land policy on the basis of empirical evidence and not on conveniently subjective reflection, in the manner of the Chief Minister’s coterie. Without further ado, the revised land policy can be the first major step towards a course correction.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

HIV TO THEIR ‘AID’

OUR FORCES MERIT MORE


HAVING tested HIV-positive the prospects of a satisfying life must be rapidly darkening for 299 members of the Border Security Force. Yet thousands of their comrades-in-arms might detect a benign trace in that debilitating virus: it has “influenced” a significant policy-change. Personnel of the paramilitary units deployed along the national frontier will soon be permitted to bring their wives to live in the village or town nearest their work-spot. While practical and financial difficulties would severely limit the number of wives who could join their husbands (and the BSF must redouble its obviously unsuccessful efforts to spread the “safe sex” message through the rank and file) the situation under focus points to a larger issue ~ the traditionally scant attention paid to the creature-comforts of the paramilitary. Over the years the army, which lays much stress on the welfare of the troops, has partially addressed some problems but the CRPF, BSF, ITBP, CISF etc have ever been deemed children of a lesser god. Their living conditions are primitive ~ even the “camp” within the Parliament House complex is a subhuman disgrace, though the folk there tell you it is luxurious compared with what they endure elsewhere ~ and the men (and increasingly women too) have to make do without electricity, running water, toilet and bathing facilities. Yet they are expected to be fully alert, committed to protecting the national borders, immune to temptations on offer from smugglers, drug runners and what have you. It is expecting much too much. To make bad things worse, there is an obscene disparity between the “goodies” made available to officers, and the jawans. And if conditions in the central police organisations are appalling, words would not suffice to portray what obtains in most state police forces. Must such shamefulness persist?
It took the outrage in Mumbai on 26/11 to expose, and continue to expose, the prolonged neglect of the police ~ the Bombay Police once enjoyed a wholesome reputation ~ and now there are plans for expansion, upgrades in terms of equipment and training. But unless living conditions, all aspects of them but housing in particular, are simultaneously improved the quality of policing will remain below par. From North Block must the signal go out that the cop merits more than what he presently gets. And the top brass must not await an outbreak of AIDS to appreciate basic requirements like a family life.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

OBJECTIVE FULFILLED

A VINDICATION OF VINDICTIVENESS

 

THE farcical and vindictive trial of Aung San Suu Kyi has ended. The latest charge was as flimsy as it was contrived merely to turn the screw further before next year’s election in Myanmar. To that extent, last week’s verdict fulfills the junta’s objective. The democratically elected leader of the National League for Democracy, who has either been imprisoned or under detention at home since the early Nineties, has been found guilty of violating the conditions of her house arrest. Why? Because an intruder swam to her home three months ago! Faced with the prospect of an international outcry, the repressive junta has been spuriously merciful ~ first by reducing the three-year sentence pronounced by the Yangon court by half and then diluting the punishment of hard labour to an extended house arrest. Further, the fact that journalists were allowed into the courtroom suggests that the military wants to avoid more odium than absolutely necessary... however limited the scope of the gesture. There is no mistaking that the severity of the original sentence was unwarranted; even the modification by the military establishment has been out of proportion to the offence, if at all.


The conduct of a case that the rest of the world deems nonsensical, confirms that Myanmar’s judiciary is paid to play the junta’s tune. Unlike in Pakistan, the other volatile case study of the sub-continent, where the judiciary can yet assert its independence. The isolation of the junta has ironically reinforced its repressive strategies ahead of the elections. It has modified the Constitution to its lights, and Myanmar is reportedly collaborating with North Korea to build its nuclear arsenal. Prompt and decisive has been the response of the Western world to the verdict. France has pitched for renewed European Union sanctions; Britain has appealed for a UN arms embargo. At another remove, the diplomatic silence of democratic India and communist China ~ major world players both ~ is deafening. While Beijing is in many ways Myanmar’s benefactor and seeks access to its natural resources, Delhi quite clearly doesn’t know what it wants. It engages with the junta because it doesn’t want to push it further into China’s lap; yet logic dictates it ought to court pro-democracy forces. Such underpinnings are of lesser moment than the international community’s duty to come to the aid of Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy in the wider context. It is time India got off the fence; its position looks increasingly ridiculous.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WHO’S SPENDING MORE TIME IN THE KITCHEN?

PRESS TRUST OF INDIA


LONDON, 17 AUG: Kitchen seems to be no longer a female’s territory, for a new research has revealed that men are spending more and more time in preparing meals ~ thanks to celebrity chefs who have given cookery a macho image.

 

Researchers at Oxford University have carried out the study and found that men in Britain now spend more than half- an-hour a day cooking, up from just 12 minutes a day in 1961.


“The man in the kitchen is part of a much wider social trend. There has been 40 years of gender equality, but there’s another 40 years probably to come,” lead researcher Prof Jonatahn Gershuny was quoted by The Daily Telegraph as saying.


On the other hand, the study found that women, who a generation ago spent a fraction under two hours a day cooking, now spend just one hour and seven minutes ~ a dramatic fall, but they still spend far more time at the hob than men.


The research, commissioned by frozen food company Birds Eye, also makes clear that the family meal is limping on in far better health than some have suggested, thanks in part to a resurgence in cooking from scratch by some consumers.


In the research, two-thirds of adults have claimed they come together to share at least three times a week, even if it is not necessarily around a kitchen or diningroom table.


Ms Anne Murphy, general manager at Birds Eye, said: “The evening meal is still clearly central to family life and with some saying family time is on the increase and the appearance of a more frugal consumer, we think the return to traditionalism will continue as a trend.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

THE WOES OF BUNDELKHAND

BHARAT DOGRA

 

THE centre and the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, on the one hand, and the Congress and the BSP on the other hand have been squabbling over Bundelkhand. This region has suffered for long; what it deserves is not petty politics but relief from the government. For this, a proper understanding of the real problem of this region is imperative.


Several districts of the Bundelkhand region have been included in the list of the country’s poorest districts. Hundreds of poverty-related deaths, including suicides, have been reported in recent years. The distress has been aggravated by abnormal weather conditions and drought.


Bundelkhand has been suffering extreme levels of poverty in parallel with environmental degradation. Natural resources, which can provide sustainable livelihoods, are being plundered and ravaged to yield huge profits to a few. At another remove, people are being forced to migrate for several months every year to faraway areas in search of uncertain sustenance. This is particularly glaringly in the case of minor minerals which this region has in abundance and which can play a major role in providing livelihood to people in some parts of this sub-region.


INADEQUATE RAINFALL

FORESTS have been depleted in many areas. One hears stories of reckless plunder for the enrichment of a coterie of powerful persons, including dacoits. Elsewhere in the name of conservation, forests are being fenced off from people who have traditionally depended on them as a means of livelihood.
The region is dotted with rivers. Rainfall is adequate. Yet it has to contend with frequent water scarcity. Equally frequent floods complete the paradox.


Bundelkhand is spread over about 69,000 sq. km. of land in seven districts of Uttar Pradesh (Chitrakut, Banda, Jhansi, Jalaun, Hamirpur, Mahoba and Lalitpur) and six districts of Madhya Pradesh (Chhatarpur, Tikamgarh, Damoh, Sagar, Datia and Panna). Out of the total population of about 14.5 million, about 7.8 million live in the roughly 29,000 sq. km. area of Uttar Pradesh, while about 6.7 million people live in the roughly 40,000 sq. km. area of Madhya Pradesh. Clearly the UP side is more densely populated. Leaving aside Jhansi, 70 per cent of the people in the other districts live in rural areas.
A significant area of Bundelkhand is covered by hills and plateaus. Rainwater causes severe soil erosion as it moves rapidly towards the numerous rivers and streams (such as Ken, Betwa, Tons, Dhasan and Paisyuni) which merge ultimately into the Yamuna river. As long as the hills had an extensive forest cover, the erosion could be checked. The people devised ingenious ways of collecting water as it emerged from the hills in carefully constructed tanks.


In the colonial era, the commercial plunder of forests led to their rapid destruction and consequent soil erosion. This trend continued after independence as locals realised that forest plunder was the easiest way to get rich quick. In the event, the traditional methods of water conservation were neglected.
As hill forests disappeared, the scope of conserving rain water below the ground level declined. The tanks were neglected. The possibility of surface conservation became more and more uncertain. In the net, water scarcity became more and more acute despite the increased spending on water schemes. With the deforestation of the hills, the region became warmer and warmer. At the same time, as much of the rainwater found its way towards rivers, carrying with it the soil of deforested slopes, the place became vulnerable to floods. Extensive soil erosion led to the formation of ravines, threatening the very existence of many villages.

 

Mining contractors contributed their bit to this destruction by indiscriminate blasting. This destroyed both the ground water and the surface water. A vast swathe of Bundelkhand was exposed to dust related diseases.


Workers engaged in the mining sites or in the forests were paid less than the stipulated minimum wage despite the fact that they were exposed to various diseases and injuries. After the Forest Corporation was created, the tribals had expected that the oppression by contractors would end. However, the corporation functioned on commercial lines. In places like Chitrakut, the Forest Corporation even deprived workers of their dues merely to placate the area’s dacoit gang.


In the case of agricultural land some of the richest families, including feudal landlords, have been regularly grabbing the land of the poor. Initially, they would allow the new allottees adequate time to clear the rocks on the land; they would then grab the tract when it was ready for cultivation.
There is a crying need for redistribution of the land and restructuring the forest and mining projects so that those who toil on the land are able to earn a satisfactory and stable livelihood. Such a redistribution effort will strengthen the most deprived sections - tribal communities such as Kols and Sahariyas as well as other sections of the Dalits.  This can also help the process of environmental regeneration.
Organic farming


THE traditional seeds and crops need to be protected. This can promote organic farming, based on local resources and skills. Increasing the green cover, along with water and moisture conservation, can also help develop animal husbandry with special emphasis on cows and bullocks to increase milk production as well as draught power.


A key to the development of this region is to protect the forests and expand the green cover.

 

Bundelkhand is known for its water tanks that were constructed with considerable expertise, as in Mahoba and Charkhari. Unfortunately, many of these have been depleted or damaged due to encroachment and lack of maintenance. The region needs a people’s movement to maintain and repair the tanks. Additional sites should be identified for the construction of new tanks. The government has allotted funds for the controversial Ken-Betwa river link scheme, but several invaluable tanks remain neglected.
At a ‘Water Parliament’ of the Bundelkhand region, several speakers expressed concern over the fact that the KB project could worsen the water scarcity in some areas. It could even lead to floods. A resolution passed at the end of this meeting, held at Orchha in the district of Tikamgarh stated that lakhs of people in both the Ken and Betwa river areas would be exposed to calamity as a result of this project. It called upon the Government of India to abandon this project.


Bundelkhand is passing through a critical phase when large-scale ecological ruin and exploitative relationships pose a serious threat to the livelihood of the common man. It calls for policies on the protection of the livelihood of weaker sections as well as environment.


The writer, a social activist, is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Science

 

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DECCON HERALD

EDITORIAL

THROUGH A PATIENT’S EYE

BUSY WORK SCHEDULE IS SLOWLY TAKING A TOLL ON ONE’S MENTAL HEALTH.

BY CYNTHIA AMRUTHA


Amidst the swirling looms of my hazy memory, I struggle to hold on to those evasive threads of consciousness. As I painstakingly open my weighed down eyelids, I peer into the antiseptic stillness of my surroundings. Where was I? Why couldn’t I move? I tried to sit up, but my body didn’t respond. Confused, I collapsed back into the contorted dimensions of my exhaustion.


Entangled in my questions, I was lost in the maze of paranoia. The distant mechanical beep in harmony with the timed ‘whoosh’ of air seemed reassuring for awhile.


A jab on my arm brought me back to my bleary environment. When I tried to nudge the pain away, a soft moan escaped my lips. The nagging pain continued. I turned to see a large syringe slowly filling up with blood... my blood. All that blood…! Didn’t I need it more than that glass container did? A strong hand pinned my arm down, resisting my feeble efforts to pull away from that ‘blood-sucking contraption’.


My entire body throbbed as though I had been run over by a truck. The skin on my chest burned each time I breathed. I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t control the rhythmic rise and fall off my chest with every ‘whoosh’. The dark tentacles of pain clouded my vision as I sank back into the shadows of my murky consciousness.

I was trapped. Imprisoned in my own body... with someone else in control. I didn’t like that. I was used to being in control, taking charge of my life. Now, I was bound by the shackles of my own body. What kind of a twisted trick was fate playing on me? I felt so helpless! My anguished moans drowning my despair.


“Should I call this a mid-day nap, doctor?”, a loud, clear baritone voice jolted me back into reality. Stunned, I looked around. The smirking faces of students, nurses,
post-graduates, consultants and my fellow interns crammed my view. Each one trying to stifle a smile as the towering persona of my HoD dominated the scene.


I had fallen asleep and flown away on the wings of a dream, right there at the counter in the ward! The previous night’s duty at the ICU must have taken a toll on my fatigued brain and given an impetus to my wild imagination.


The mystical realms of the human mind, was this a reflection of my inner being or my desperate attempt to break free. I’ll never know. But with more and more busy night shifts and long duty hours, there’s definitely more to come!

 

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DECCON HERALD

EDITORIAL

INDIA’S OIL SECTOR REFORM A MIRAGE?

THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD STOP PLAYING TO THE GALLERY AND ALLOW OIL COMPANIES TO FIX THE PRICE.

BY BHAMY V SHENOY

 

According to 2009 Economic Survey, the under recoveries in oil sector was a staggering Rs 1,03,000 crore for the year 2008-09. This is 85 per cent of the total income tax collected in that period. If to these under recoveries is added the cost of tax losses by diverting PDS kerosene to blend with higher valued products, diversion of domestic LPG to commercial and automotive sectors, impact on governance by black money generated in oil sector, the oil sector subsidies are indeed the source of the mother of all corruption.

Soon after the swearing in of the new UPA government, Petroleum Minister Deora announced that he would like to give freedom to oil companies to fix prices. As a result, Essar, which had closed its petrol stations decided to open them. But Reliance waited for the government to actually put into practice its avowed policy.


When the crude oil price started their climb from 2003, the government took over the responsibility of fixing oil prices from the state-owned oil marketing companies. It was only in April 2002, with great fanfare the Administrative Pricing Mechanism (APM) first established in 1976, had been dismantled.

OUT OF BUSINESS

It is because of the deliberate policy of Indian government not to pass on the costs of increased crude oil prices, oil marketing companies had huge under-recoveries. The delinking of downstream product prices from crude oil prices led to the closure of oil pump stations of Reliance, Shell and Essar in recent years curtailing any competition to public sector oil companies.


Planning Commission’s Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) published in 2006 has been critical of the lack of competition in the oil sector and government’s interference in the price administration post APM. The government ignored IEP’s recommendation.


Often quoted Rangarajan Committee report, published in 2006, also strongly recommended the government “to keep at arms length the price fixing in oil sector and allow flexibility to oil companies to move with the international oil market.” The report also recommended that the entire cost of oil sector subsidy be met from the budget rather than the current ad hoc and non transparent system of sharing it through oil bonds and transfer of funds from upstream companies.


As oil prices were sky rocketing in 2008, another high powered committee under the chairmanship of B K Chaturvedi was formed to look at the deteriorating financial positions of oil companies. Like other previous high powered committees this committee too recommended disengaging from the process of fixing prices of petroleum products.

 

When it made its recommendations, crude oil prices were at their highest level. However, now with lower crude oil prices, this is the most opportune time for the government to get out of the complex task of fixing prices without causing any social and political unrest. Unfortunately, the government does not seem to be in any mood to do so.

 

 

POLITICAL PROTEST

Every time the government increases petroleum product prices, opposition parties protest. Most of the politicians may be honestly believing that higher product prices will harm the common man through increased inflation. The government has a responsibility to educate the political class, and civil society how the poor are hurt the most by not allowing the cost pass through.


Since India imports more than 73 per cent of its oil requirement, higher oil price is a ‘petro tax’ imposed on Indian economy by oil exporting countries. By forcing oil marketing companies to reduce profits or even lose money, the government is helping the rich and middle class who are the consumers of petrol, LPG, and diesel in the short term. Those below the poverty line are not affected directly by petro price increases. Even a little increase in inflation caused by total cost pass through will have minimal impact on the poor.

 

However, the poor are affected the most when the government has to absorb the cost of higher oil prices when they keep product prices low. With lower revenues the government will not be able to spend the needed funds for welfare projects on health, education, employment generation, etc which will help the poor.

If the government does not bring about the much needed reform suggested by all the high powered committees, there will come a time when our well managed ‘Navaratna’ companies will become like state electricity boards and India’s well constructed infrastructure to supply petro products will collapse.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

NEW YORK’S SHADOW GOVERNMENT

 

The New York State Legislature, which usually resists reform, has crafted and approved a bill that would at last require transparency and accountability from the 800 or so quasi-private authorities that run everything from housing projects to the New York City subways.

 

These entities, which hold billions in public debt, have turned into a massive shadow government, and are greatly in need of the oversight the bill would provide.

 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now seeking to block this effort because he fears it will hobble his plans for development around the city. And Gov. David Paterson, who once supported reform of the authorities, appears to be losing his enthusiasm. He is threatening to veto the bill unless legislators make adjustments, mainly to address Mr. Bloomberg’s complaints.

 

The bill could benefit from a few changes, but the crux of it should remain intact: requiring the state comptroller to review large contracts; establishing an independent budget office to oversee these secretive entities; giving each authority independent directors charged with protecting its mission and bottom line.

Mr. Bloomberg’s main complaint is that the bill requires directors to pledge to do their “fiduciary duty” by protecting the authority’s finances. He seems to think the directors should listen more to politicians — like himself — who appoint them.

 

The mayor’s most valid criticism is that the legislation would make it harder to create affordable housing or small-business projects. It would bar authorities from selling land below market value, and many such projects are financially out of reach if the property goes for its full market price. The bill could also be improved if it would keep the State Senate out of the loop when it comes to approving executives at these authorities.

 

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who is in charge of the bill, should not send it to the governor until the Legislature can make these few small improvements. But the new mandate for directors as well as other reforms must be left intact.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

MORE BUSINESS AS USUAL

 

As Wall Street returns to profitability, it is eagerly returning to business as usual. Most notably it is preparing to pay enormous bonuses, like those that encouraged the sort of risk taking that set off the financial crisis.

 

That point was underscored in an article in The Times on Sunday by Gretchen Morgenson, which described a new study by James F. Reda & Associates, an independent compensation consultant in New York.

 

The study used proxy filings to analyze the pay plans at 191 of the nation’s largest companies in the first half of 2009. Instead of seeing a greater reliance on long-term incentive programs, the report found that most companies have actually made short-term incentive pay a bigger part of the compensation package.

 

The report covered 21 financial firms. Three, including Goldman Sachs, had reported no changes to their pay policies. JPMorgan Chase, in contrast, had put more conditions on pay, generally allowing the bank to attach more performance benchmarks and to impose a longer wait before pay is awarded.

 

Ideally, banks would be free to compensate employees as they saw fit. But that must be accompanied by reforms that ensure that banks can no longer profit from primarily speculative activities or other excessively risky transactions — including regulating the opaque derivatives markets and imposing limits on the use of borrowed money to increase profits.

 

The Obama administration unveiled a broad reform plan in June. But Congress has yet to tackle the most far-reaching issues. Meanwhile, despite the recent evidence to the contrary, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told The Wall Street Journal last week that he did not think the financial system was reverting to past practice, adding, “and we won’t let that happen.”

 

In the absence of comprehensive reform, however, rules are urgently needed to ensure that pay, at least, does not invite outsized risk taking. A recent House bill largely punted on the issue. The Senate has yet to act.

 

Mr. Geithner seems to think that Americans begrudge Wall Street its profits out of ignorance of the importance of healthy banks. That misses the mark.

 

They begrudge profits that come at the expense of others, like taxpayers, who do not share in them but are on the hook for the losses. Until the financial system is reformed — to ensure that the old mistakes are not repeated — they have every reason to be angry.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE CLIMATE AND NATIONAL SECURITY

 

One would think that by now most people would have figured out that climate change represents a grave threat to the planet. One would also have expected from Congress a plausible strategy for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that lie at the root of the problem.

 

That has not happened. The House has passed a climate bill that is not as strong as needed, but is a start. There are doubts about whether the Senate will pass any bill, given the reflexive opposition of most Republicans and unfounded fears among many Democrats that rising energy costs will cripple local industries.

 

The problem, when it comes to motivating politicians, is that the dangers from global warming — drought, famine, rising seas — appear to be decades off. But the only way to prevent them is with sacrifices in the here and now: with smaller cars, bigger investments in new energy sources, higher electricity bills that will inevitably result once we put a price on carbon.

 

Mainstream scientists warn that the longer the world waits, the sooner it will reach a tipping point beyond which even draconian measures may not be enough. Under one scenario, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, now about 380 parts per million, should not be allowed to exceed 450 parts per million. But keeping emissions below that threshold will require stabilizing them by 2015 or 2020, and actually reducing them by at least 60 percent by 2050.

 

That is why Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — no alarmist — has warned that “what we do in the next two or three years will determine our future.” And he said that two years ago.

 

Advocates of early action have talked about green jobs, about keeping America competitive in the quest for new technologies, and about one generation’s moral obligation to the next. Those are all sound arguments. They have not been enough to fully engage the public, or overcome the lobbying efforts of the fossil fuel industry.

 

Proponents of climate change legislation have now settled on a new strategy: warning that global warming poses a serious threat to national security. Climate- induced crises like drought, starvation, disease and mass migration, they argue, could unleash regional conflicts and draw in America’s armed forces, either to help keep the peace or to defend allies or supply routes.

 

This is increasingly the accepted wisdom among the national security establishment. A 2007 report published by the CNA Corporation, a Pentagon-funded think tank, spoke ominously of climate change as a “threat multiplier” that could lead to wide conflict over resources.

 

This line of argument could also be pretty good politics — especially on Capitol Hill, where many politicians will do anything for the Pentagon. Both Senator John Kerry, an advocate of strong climate change legislation, and former Senator John Warner, a former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, say they have begun to stress the national security argument to senators who are still undecided about how they will vote on climate change legislation.

 

One can only hope that these arguments turn the tide in the Senate. Mr. Kerry, Mr. Warner and like- minded military leaders must keep pressing their case, with help from the Pentagon and the White House. National security is hardly the only reason to address global warming, but at this point anything that advances the cause is welcome.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE BIG FIVE-O

BY LAWRENCE DOWNES

 

The 50th state turns 50 on Friday, and the strange thing is how wildly and jubilantly the islands aren’t celebrating. There are no official parades. No King Kamehameha on a flowery float, surrounded by his court. No bonfires. No blowout concerts with fireworks, aerial acrobats and hula troupes.

 

It’s not that the anniversary is being totally ignored. There’s a statehood commission. There are events. On Maui this month you could have enjoyed 50-cent hot dogs and “bouncy castles” for the kids. On the actual anniversary, there’s a conference at the convention center in Honolulu where panelists will discuss state history, the economy and the environment, then party into the night with the Platters, the Drifters and the Coasters.

 

Wait. The land of hula, ukulele and steel guitar, of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Don Ho and Aunty Genoa Keawe, is marking its birthday with doo-wop? Hawaii can be a low-key place, but this is extreme.

 

The reasons are sad but obvious. The state is preoccupied by economic worries. Tourism is in the tank. The governor and state unions are battling over layoffs and pay cuts. Unemployment has been rising; sea levels are probably next. Underneath is the unresolved pain of Native Hawaiians, unhappy over long unsettled land claims and economic disadvantage.

 

A Honolulu newspaper columnist, David Shapiro, lamented all the ambivalence, comparing the lackluster commemoration unfavorably to the galas in Alaska, the 49th state. The commission chairman objected, saying a big party would be a waste of money. Maybe he’s right. But it’s too bad the state couldn’t have found a better way to give the anniversary its due, given how hard the islands struggled for equality, and how joyously the victory was celebrated 50 years ago.

 

It was a long fight. It took The New York Times a while to get it right. This page opposed the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893, but for decades after, the idea of adding Hawaiians and “Asiatics” to the union gave the editors jitters. We came around only after World War II — when the islands bled at Pearl Harbor, rebuilt the fleet to win the Pacific war, and sent thousands of sons overseas, including the Japanese-American volunteers of the 100th Battalion, one of the most decorated units in Army history. It took Congress another decade.

 

Hawaii has given a lot to the Union. It got its own native-son president in January. Only 21 states are in that club. The guy who really invented baseball is buried in Honolulu. And if you could go to any of the 50 states right now, which would it be? The state has a lot to celebrate, if it really wanted to.

 

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I. THE NEWS

 EDITORIAL

HELPING HANDS

 

The energy crisis and the state of Pakistan's struggling economy topped the agenda as the US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan met the foreign minister on his latest trip to Islamabad. This represents a distinct change in focus, with Washington showing a willingness to help Pakistan tackle its most pressing concerns. This offer, with Richard Holbrooke and other US officials, continuing the theme in their meeting with the finance minister, gave appears to be a kind of reward for the recent successes against militancy. The generous praise from Holbrooke for the operation in Swat underscored this fact. The US promise of help is good news. The time seems to have come to reap the benefits that stem from the operation against the militants. The US has set up a taskforce on Pakistan's energy crisis and new projects in this sector could be announced when the special representative visits Karachi in a few days time. Such assistance is what Pakistan most needs to help it scramble back onto its feet and press ahead towards progress. The power crisis has shattered lives and contributed to the growing public disillusionment with the government. Resolving it is a key priority which tops the national agenda. There is little doubt that Pakistan needs help desperately. While doubts continue over whether the current power crisis is real or artificial, there can be no two views about the fact that a solution needs to be found before more jobs are lost and more misery inflicted on helpless people. The same holds true for the economy, another area in which Pakistan requires assistance. The emphasis of our own economic managers must however be on ensuring this comes not as aid or as loans, but as measures that can help boost investment in Pakistan and provide the economy with a stronger platform.


While Holbrooke's words and a softened approach towards pulling Pakistan out of the ditch into which it has stumbled have put smiles on many faces, Washington will naturally put its own interests first. Any evidence of a militant resurgence could bring the stick out once more. Islamabad must then focus on using the cushion the US offer may give to work towards greater ability to meet its own needs. There can after all be no excuse for the present mess. We must also keep in view that while Holbrooke seems to be offering a prize for warding off the Taliban, in the longer run this is something we must be committed to because it is necessary for our own survival.

 

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I. THE NEWS

 EDITORIAL

PROTECTION, PLEASE

 

The Christian community is to hold its largest annual gathering at Chak No 3 RB, Maryamabad, from the 4th to the 6th of September. The village has been a place of pilgrimage for over fifty years and attracts 30-40,000 people annually. Pilgrims come from all over the country and thousands of men, young and old, bicycle to the event with some riding hundreds of kilometres. It has always been peaceful; there have never been any security issues surrounding it but this year, things have changed. The community of Maryamabad has been receiving threats by telephone that the congregation would be attacked with the intention of "reducing it to a pile of ashes in a manner similar to the Gojra attacks". Given what we now know of the Gojra incident and the part that extremist groups played in both fomenting and subsequently perpetrating it, these are threats that must be taken seriously. The organizers of the event say that they have informed the local police but they have replied saying that they are unable to supply security for such a large gathering because of 'limited resources'. Following this the organizers have appealed to the prime minister, the Punjab chief minister and the Punjab IG of police to get them to take notice of what is happening.

Very soon after the Gojra slayings, the prime minister and the chief minister of Punjab were quickly at the scene, in a move that has been widely welcomed in the Christian community. There was prompt distribution of compensatory cheques to the affected families. Money will not wash away the tears but it will at least help with the rebuilding. Timely may have been the response from on high, but the Gojra incident was as much a product of negligence by the police as it was of the actions of the extremists. There was foreknowledge; no lack of information that an attack was planned. Yet there was no move to stop it and no effort to protect those being attacked once it was underway. The agencies of law and order and the highest office-holders now have foreknowledge of credible threats. There is sufficient time to mobilize the resources to provide appropriate protection as we are some seven weeks from the event. Failure to do so can only send one message – the state is unwilling to protect its minorities, and shame on it if it does not.

 

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I. THE NEWS

 EDITORIAL

SWAT VIOLENCE

 

The Taliban have not given up their efforts to terrorize Swat. They remain capable too of staging suicide attacks, though, mercifully, for several weeks now we have not seen death inflicted on the scale that had so tragically become almost the norm. The suicide attack on a security check post on the outskirts of Mingora a day after Independence Day claimed four lives. The toll could have been higher had the bomber succeeded in his aim of entering the city. Authorities say the Taliban had been attempting to target Mingora as revenge, or punishment, for the celebrations there on August 14. During the events held to mark the day, music played out over loudspeakers and local singers sang at the various functions staged in the city. The return of joy and of colour – in both literal and metaphoric terms --to life in Swat marked another stride towards normalcy. Observers note too that already, women and girls in the area have begun to cast aside the blue 'burqas' imposed by the Taliban and some men have shaved off beards. Freedom has to some extent at least flowed back.


But the threat to even such mundane liberties remains in place. There is a need then to press on with the drive against the militants who remain based in some areas of Swat and in neighbouring districts. They must not be allowed to reorganize. But the final success can be claimed only when houses wrecked by conflict are rebuilt and people assisted in the task of resuming lives. This will mark the final defeat of the Taliban and prevent bombers striking targets in missions that offer a terrible reminder of the horrors of the past.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

US COOPERATION TO OVERCOME ENERGY CRISIS

 

RICHARD Holbrooke, Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan has said that US would cooperate with Pakistan to help it overcome the energy crisis. Addressing a press conference at the Foreign Office after talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the Special Envoy said though they remained concerned about the problem of terrorism in Afghanistan and FATA but the focus of their parleys this time was on Pakistan’s energy and economic crises.


For the last two years Pakistan has been facing acute shortage of electricity leading to closure of industries and immense sufferings for the common man in extreme temperature. To some extent the energy crisis is of our own making as the concerned authorities failed to anticipate the increasing demand on the one hand while on the other hand the IPPs did not cooperate to run their plants at full capacity because of non payment of their dues. Anyhow the US willingness to support Islamabad to overcome the energy shortages is though late yet a welcome development. It is of utmost importance that the Ministry of Water and Power move on the offer and explore all the options on a fast track basis as power generation plants take two to three years to complete. Thermal plants would generate expensive electricity because of rising oil prices making it unaffordable for industry and the common man. Also it would lead to import of more oil, which the country in the given circumstances can ill afford. It should be our effort to acquire such plants that produce cheaper energy and one possible option could be to acquire coal based plants because the US has advanced technology that would take care of environmental pollution. The second option would be to press for nuclear power plants but in view of US reservations, it would be a hard nut to crack. However if proper safeguards are assured under the IAEA and even inspection by the US experts is allowed, perhaps the policy makers and the Congress in Washington might agree. Yet another alternative, though at the moment at the experimental stage is solar energy because the Clinton Foundation is planning to set-up a Mega solar power project in the Indian State of Gujerat, which would be generating between 3000MW to 5000MW. We would strongly recommend that Pakistan should also seek transfer of technology for power generation plants from the United States, China and France, as that would help our major Industrial units of the like of HMC to run at full capacity and reduce our dependence on imported plants.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

HEAVY LOSSES BY RAINS AND FLOODS

 

ALMOST every year the country suffers a lot in terms of human lives, infrastructure and crops due to heavy rains and the resultant floods during monsoon. Heavy rain late Saturday night led to the loss of over 15 lives, hundreds of houses collapsed while bridges and roads were swept away by the gushing flood water in Mardan and Swabi in the NWFP and Bagh in Azad Kashmir.


Monsoon rains this year were late and their intensity was low yet people on the embankment of rivers, nullahs and low lying areas have become victim due to apathy on the part of the local administration in the respective districts as it failed to warn and evacuate them ahead of floods. Unchecked mushroom growth of Katchi abadis along the embankment of floodwater courses have narrowed the space for natural flow of water and as a result when the water level goes up, it washes away everything that comes in its way. Low lying areas in Rawalpindi suffered as well because sewerage water gushed into homes destroying most of people’s belongings while the vehicular traffic on main roads and their arteries remained choked due to pools of water. None else but the civic authorities are to be blamed for their negligence as they did not care to clean up the sewerage system and the Leh Nullah which passes through Rawalpindi city. Every year before monsoon, it had been the practice to clear the Leh Nullah from garbage thrown by the citizens and even by the workers of the Municipal Administration but this year no attention was paid to it. One bridge each in Mardan and Bagh were also washed away by heavy floodwaters and several roads were damaged because of faulty and poor quality construction. Residents in Balakot in the NWFP, which received the heaviest rain on Saturday night, have complained that their houses were damaged as no passage for water was provided when roads there were constructed after the earthquake. Due to low intensity rains this year these losses have occurred in pockets and not on a large scale. Had there been heavy rains and rivers flooded, they would have caused huge losses in the plains of Punjab and Sindh to the crops and the population centres. It is, therefore of paramount importance that the concerned agencies must be made answerable for the losses and necessary precautions adopted to avoid any future losses.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

NOW THEY FIGHT AMONG THEMSELVES

 

INFIGHTING has erupted among militant groups for the control of areas and leadership after the killing of Baitullah Mahsud in South Waziristan agency. According to reports 18 Taliban militants affiliated with Mullah Nazir were killed in mysterious circumstances by unknown people on the Wana-Ladha road while top aides of Baitullah Mahsud group were also pitted against each other for the leadership to take hold of his vast assets of arms and finances.


It is natural that when a top leader goes, those in the second tier leadership try to take hold with the backing of their supporters while opponents of the group who had suffered earlier take advantage of the enemy’s weaknesses. Exactly that is happening in South Waziristan Agency now and it will take some time before things become clear. However there should be no complacency that the situation would take a positive turn. Whoever emerges as militants leader could even be worse than Baitullah as he could launch more attacks on security forces and civilian targets to prove his worth among the comrades. There is also a possibility that intra groups fighting could escalate. In the given situation it is advisable that the political administration should seek support of the influential tribal leaders who could motivate the youths of their clans to give up arms and join the mainstream. At the same time the option of clean up operation be kept in place so as to crush the internally weakened militants and restore the writ of the State.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

DISTORTED MARKET

 

The government has finally acknowledged the issue of extortion having an impact on the price structure. Two ministers, Dr Abdur Razzak, in-charge of the food ministry and Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, in charge of the ministry of finance, spoke in the same vein at two different functions in the city on Sunday, saying that criminilisation of the market system is largely to blame for the high price of essentials. "It deprives farmers of a good price and exacts a high price from consumers"', the food minister observed. Mr Muhith, however, felt that if we could get rid of the twin curse of "extortion and corruption" we could build a prosperous country in ten years' time.


This is for the first time that government ministers are publicly affirming the significant role of extortion and corruption in distorting the market. A few days earlier another minister had mentioned the role of jhut (waste) businessmen for much of the violence in the garments' industry. All this is significant as they have correctly identified the problem. But the more challenging task lies ahead: what does the administration do about this problem, which is hydra-headed? It is not an easy task to take on the extortionists and the corrupt, as their nexus is very powerful. But then it is a problem that one can hardly ignore. It is also difficult for the government not to challenge the unwritten writ of this huge racket that virtually runs a parallel economy. If the government is serious about taking on the ubiquitous underworld, it should not be impossible. The current government which has a huge mandate and a commitment to price stabilisation has no choice but to tackle the issue head-on.


Other issues like direct purchase from farmers by department chains and preferential treatment for refrigerated vans and goods-laden vehicle also came up for discussion. All these are very important issues in their own right and have a significant role in improving agricultural productivity, price and consumer accessibility but the issue of extortion and corruption is writ so large that other issues recede into the background. For instance, Dr Razzak cited a truck driver as saying that he had to pay three-and-a-half times more to extortionists, which obviously had its impact on the price line. 

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

HEADMASTER SHORTAGE

 

Due to absence of headmasters, the country's education at high school level is seriously being hampered. The problem has surfaced even in the government schools, where the state directly handles the administrative and academic affairs. A report published in this newspaper last Sunday mentioned that 64 high schools in Jhenaidah district alone are bereft of their head teachers.


In these schools, the senior teachers or assistant headmasters are performing the duty of the headmaster. One can hardly expect smooth functioning of the administrative and academic functions of the schools by these acting heads, whose authority is often flouted by their subordinates. According to the Independent report, the school authorities could not promote these acting headmasters because they do not fulfil the criteria of the ministry of education. On inquiry, the Jhenidah District Education Officer said that most private schools in the area do not even have management committees!


This shortage of headmasters is not a problem unique to Jhenidah and the instance typifies a much more general malaise that prevails throughout the country. Besides absence of headmasters and management committees, schools are also facing an acute crisis of qualified teachers, particularly in English. Certainly, these are among the reasons for which schools are failing to impart quality education to students. In order to improve the country's quality of education, the government should immediately address these issues. Education is a vital sector and the nation can ill afford to neglect it. 

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

BOB’S BANTER

BE STILL AND LISTEN…!

ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

" I love to think of Nature as an unlimited broadcasting system through which God speaks to us every hour if we only tune in."  … George Washington CarverAh the monsoons! If only we would stop awhile and look at Nature at its splendid best, we would realise that God speaks through the budding flower, the lashing rain, the waterfall! There is a lovely story by Nil Guilemette, entitled - The Shy Lover: Eighteen year old Amanda, unusually simple hearted and deeply religious decided to write a letter to God. Taking her best stationary, she wrote, "I love you" and addressed her letter to Mr God, Paradise. She did not put a return address in case the letter was returned and people would think her crazy, but she waited for an answer nevertheless.


Days, weeks, a whole month passed, but no letter came. She consulted an old priest who was amused at her novel way of approaching God and told her, "Don't worry Mandy, God's answer will come in due time. But you'll have to be patient and still, and then he'll answer. Amanda waited and decided she would continue doing so even if it took years. But despite her resolution she often felt hurt by God's silence, till one day sitting near a brook, she thought she heard a voice nearby. Looking around she saw nobody. She bent over the brook and listened deeply, and she heard the water saying very distinctly, "I love you too!"

 

God was indeed answering her letter. After this incident Amanda trained her senses to listen to Nature, and heard the words, "I love you too," in the sigh of the breeze, the whisper of the trees, the rustle of the dry leaves, the twittering of the birds. She even found the sky proclaiming the message in its blueness or in the clouds which formed the letters: I love you too." In grateful thankfulness she murmured, "God! All I had to do was to still myself and listen!" Ah the monsoons! If only we would be still and listen to the sound of the rain. If we would stand and watch the rainbow strutting across the sky in its full glory, vividly arranging its colours in perfect symmetry. What better time to still ourselves and listen quietly to a voice saying, "I love you too my son, I love you too my daughter!"


Another small thought would end this piece: One moonlit night a mother was strolling along a meadow, her little son by her side. His curious eyes took in everything in sight - flowers, trees, houses, birds, and he offered a comment on each one of them. They rested on the grass, with the little fellow stretched out, his head on his mother's lap. The lad gazed skyward in wonder and awe. After a while his mother broke the silence:  "What's on your mind son?" she asked. He fumbled for words, then finally said, "If the underside of heaven is so beautiful, how wonderful must the real side be…!"

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

A RADICAL OVERHAUL FOR A FAILED SYSTEM

THE DEVASTATION OF BLACK SATURDAY FORCES REAL CHANGE

 

WITH precision, and in clear, unemotional language, the royal commission into the Victorian bushfires has confirmed what has been an open secret -- the protocols and systems in place on Black Saturday failed Victorians and must be overturned.


There are no sweeping phrases or colourful language in the 360-page report. Rather, this is a document that is damning in its forensic detail. Make no mistake, though: the commission has rewritten the rules around managing bushfires, overturning the approach that has been in place since the Ash Wednesday fires 26 years ago.

It will be cold comfort to the families who lost loved ones in the February 7 fires that killed 173 people, but the commission has put the saving of lives -- rather than property -- at the centre of its recommendations. Gone is the notion that a house can be an adequate shelter from any bushfire, so long as it is adequately prepared. Gone is the notion of householders, in effect, operating as unofficial firefighters, staying behind to protect their homes and communities.

 

The "stay or go" policy remains in name, but it has been overhauled to make it clear that leaving your home in the face of the fire is by far the safest option. The report goes further, arguing that irrespective of how much preparation a householder might make, some properties are impossible to defend.

 

This clarity is welcome, especially because so many of the people living on our urban fringes have little or no awareness of fire risk.

 

A generation lulled into a false sense of security by the urbanisation of the bush needs a protocol for dealing with the dangers.

 

The recommendations, most of which have already been accepted by the government ahead of the bushfire season, now only weeks away, also clarify the responsibilities of the fire and emergency services. The damning picture that emerged at the hearings -- and which writer Robert Manne described in the July issue of The Monthly as a "cumbersome bureaucratic structure and a peculiar ideological mindset (which) worked in combination to prevent the fire and emergency chiefs ... from issuing warnings to citizens" -- has led to the commission recommending that Country Fire Authority staff be empowered to advise people to leave their homes. It also spells out the responsibility of the CFA chief officer to issue warnings and criticises the lack of attention that chief officer Russell Rees paid to issuing timely warnings on February 7. The commission makes no recommendations about Mr Rees, who has just been reappointed for another two years. But its comments ("Mr Rees did not appear to become actively involved in operational issues, even when the disastrous consequences of the fires began to emerge") are deeply unflattering.

 

The report demolishes the more reassuring story told about the fires: that everyone did their best; that this was a tragedy that could not be prevented. Instead, it suggests that poor communication and inadequate warnings contributed to the loss of life. The vacuum of information due to apparently confused responsibilities must be addressed.

The new approach involves some legal risks. What happens, for example, if a firefighter declines to make a call about whether someone should leave, and that person is subsequently killed? But it is not good enough to suggest that the alternative to firefighters offering advice based on their expertise and experience is to leave people floundering as the flames advance.

 

Equally significant is the concept of "relocation". The commission decided against mandatory evacuation but its recommendation that refuges, such as ovals, should be identified for relocating people reinforces the fact that "stay or go" is too simplistic to cover the complexities of real-time crises. Things can go wrong even for the best-prepared householders, and relocation is an important third option.

 

The commission's job is not finished, with a final report due by July 31 next year. That report will tackle some fundamental questions about the organisation and structure of the CFA as well as backburning and land management. Yesterday's interim report suggests the commission will not shy away from the tough decisions needed if householders are to regain their confidence in the fire authorities.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

REWARD PERFORMANCE

JULIA GILLARD HAS SHOWN DECISIVENESS IN EDUCATION POLICY

 

MERIT pay for teachers was an article of faith that successive education ministers were unable to put into place for almost 12 years of the Howard government. It is a measure of Julia Gillard's ability to cut through obstacles that, less than two years in the job, she has won agreement in principle from the states to start paying teachers their worth. The Deputy Prime Minister recognises nothing is more important to students' learning than the quality of their teachers.


Ms Gillard's plan will be informed by a report commissioned by the Howard government from Perth-based international services group Gerard Daniels. It calls for "differential remuneration for teachers who are assessed as high performers". Details are yet to be decided, but the system will be more comprehensive and sophisticated than one based only on student results. After years of strident opposition, even teachers unions are on side, recognising the need for better, more lucrative career paths. The wages gap between first-year and experienced teachers in Australia is among the lowest in the OECD.

 

Ms Gillard has shown pragmatism and determination in facing the challenges in Australian education. This is ironic, given her membership of the ALP's Victorian Left and the fact that many of the problems in her portfolio stem from decades of soft-left domination of teachers' unions and university education faculties. Ms Gillard's factional colleague, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, who has also approached her portfolios with the right intentions, needs to be equally muscular in dealing with bureaucrats and vested interests as she undertakes the mammoth task of improving the administration of indigenous affairs. Ms Gillard seemed to accept early on that driving reforms would court unpopularity. Canberra-based public education advocates, Save Our Schools, for instance, sneered at the Rudd government earlier this year for doing what "David Kemp could only aspire to".

 

Kevin Rudd, in contrast, has been unwilling to risk a slice of his popularity by making tough decisions in the national interest. Even Ross Gittins, economics editor of the Prime Minister's newspaper of choice, The Sydney Morning Herald, "can't wait to see the day" when Mr Rudd makes "a decision that really annoys the electorate and sends his popularity crashing" to the levels his predecessors weathered at times. If Mr Rudd is to emulate the Hawke-Keating governments, which achieved banking deregulation, tariff cuts, social security reform and began freeing up workplaces, he needs to get moving and win bigger battles than taxing alcopops.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

A NATURAL FOODBOWL

IT MAKES SENSE TO GROW CROPS IN OUR MOST FERTILE REGIONS

 

TASMANIAN Premier David Bartlett is on to something with his plan to transform his lush, island state into the nation's foodbowl. It makes sense. Records show Tasmania is Australia's wettest state by a country rainstorm, with annual rainfall well over twice the national average. Its falls are matched only by those in parts of far north Queensland.


Given our experience of protracted droughts in other parts of the nation, and the over-allocation of water from the Murray-Darling Basin, federal and state authorities need to take a fresh look at where and how we farm. Modern farming, refrigeration and improved transport make it feasible to concentrate crop production for domestic consumption and export in the nation's most fertile regions. North Queensland, for instance, has the capacity to extend its production of mass crops beyond sugar, topical fruits and tobacco.

 

No amount of drought relief can change the nation's weather patterns or make fruit and vegetable growing areas that are not viable pay their way. With great respect to the spirit and determination of our pioneering forefathers, the lands they settled were not always ripe for prosperity. With the benefit of today's climatic knowledge, they might have chosen differently. Long term, agricultural and forestry policies and resource allocation must encourage farming in fertile areas, and in many, the potential has barely been tapped. Mr Bartlett is taking a lead. His plan to capture and store winter rains that fall in the wrong season could give the island state a reputation for growing more than just apples.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

KARZAI WILL HAVE TO DO

 

HAMID KARZAI is the frontrunner in Thursday's presidential election in Afghanistan, but he is hardly running on his record -- more in the hope that Afghans will see him as the best of many dubious alternatives and as a presentable figure to represent them to the outside world.

 

That lacklustre victory would make a fairly sound judgment on his performance since the last election in October 2004. The past five years have seen meagre progress in reviving the national economy, aside from a flourishing opium sector, or extending basic services to the population, while the Taliban have bounced back to contest control of the southern, Pashtun-populated provinces.

 

In Karzai's defence, however, it must be said that he was never prepared or supported for the task of rebuilding a cohesive Afghan state. Such a thing was last seen in the early 1970s, before successive coups, counter-coups, rebellions and outside interventions tore it apart, ground up most of its institutions, and dispersed its trained personnel.

 

Karzai came to prominence as a contact between Afghan's more traditionalist warlords and foreign powers like the US and India worried by the country's drift into the hands of Islamist fanatics. A Pashtun himself, versed in the languages of Afghanistan and its neighbours, he was a good figurehead to broaden the mostly non-Pashtun coalition that replaced the Taliban in 2001. But for a critical lapse between 2002 and 2006, when Washington turned to its Iraq folly, his backers then diverted the security and development aid that might have deepened the state's role in the nation.

 

Now there's a security surge by America and its allies, and a belated crackdown by Pakistan on the Taliban havens in its territory. American objectives have turned from clocking up the Taliban body count to trying to make the population feel secure. For the Western intervention to succeed in stabilising Afghanistan, though, this must continue well into the future and be matched by an equal focus on building up the civil administration.

 

If the election does result in Karzai retaining power, he must be encouraged to cover his own weak areas by inducting Afghans of proven expertise into his government, such as the former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who is also one of the 36 presidential candidates.

 

That a high percentage of Afghans seem ready to participate in the voting shows, meanwhile, that they still place trust and hope in popular consultation. That the Taliban are going all out to disrupt it suggests they are worried by the legitimacy a second election with a reasonably high turnout will confer on the new state.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

TOO MUCH TILTINGAROUND WINDMILLS

 

THE State Government's decision to slash application fees for wind power developments is the right move made for the wrong reasons. And it is not as good a decision as the Premier, Nathan Rees, would like voters to imagine it is.

 

The move may have been under consideration for some weeks, but in announcing the cut, the Premier was rushing to counter a statement from the Greens which pointed to the anomalous treatment of applications for wind power projects compared with projects for gas-fired power generation. In both cases, a would-be developer must accompany an application with a substantial fee calculated on the cost of the project. But because of the different cost structure of renewable energy sources compared with hydrocarbon-based power, the fees fall on wind power projects more heavily than on gas - $2176 per mega- watt of wind power, only $457 for gas. Part of the reason is that fees are levied on the value of the initial development - and wind turbines are relatively expensive things to set up. In operation, though, they are cheap, because wind costs nothing and is clean, while gas costs money to extract and produces greenhouse gases. The Government has quite rightly sought to even out this cost.

 

It has done so, though, not as part of a general policy to rebalance government charges on power generation, but in response to a potentially embarrassing revelation about one particular type of renewable power. The decision looks very much like spin from a Government which is alarmed at the way its support in previously safe inner-city seats is sliding towards the environmentalist party. Like many an announcement from the Rees Government, it was made in haste, and it shows.

 

The Premier made no mention of other renewable energy sources - in particular solar thermal, but other potential sources as well, such as tidal power, all of which will have a similar cost structure. Why not? And if fees are charged, they should be fair, and all developments should pay them. Instead, wind power developments will get a fee holiday until the middle of 2011, when the fee will presumably be reimposed. The problem will not have gone away by then: unless they are redesigned, as they should be, the fees will still weigh heavier on alternative power.

 

With the coming emissions trading scheme, and the mandatory renewable energy targets, Australian economy's shift to renewable sources of energy will have to speed up. Industry is already adapting, as the applications for wind power developments show. The State Government must adapt, too.

 

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                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

TASERS: SHOCKING WEAPONS

HOME OFFICE FIGURES SHOW FORCE USED STUN GUNS 704 TIMES IN FIVE YEARS, COMPARED WITH 700 BY THE METROPOLITAN POLICE

Electric Rifle – and there is something disturbingly Boy's Own in the way Tasers get discussed. On the website of the American firm that makes these stun guns, you can watch executives in fancy dress skip around as if playing Laser Quest, as they show off the new Taser X3, which can apply tens of thousands of volts to three separate people without any need to reload. Yesterday, the Home Office seemed to been infected with the excitement, cheerily releasing new figures recording increasing use of Tasers by British police.

 

The weapons work by shooting two tiny electrodes into a suspect, through which 50,000-volts are briefly applied, triggering uncontrollable muscle spasm and causing them to fall to the floor. There are times when lives depend on stopping dangerous criminals in their tracks, and Tasers achieve this without – in most circumstances – anyone dying. However sinister the marketing, then, it has to make sense to give them to firearms officers, for whom they can sometimes provide a licence not to kill. They have had them since 2004, but what the Home Office was stressing yesterday was increasing deployment by non-firearms officers, for whom shocks are not an alternative to shots.

 

The official guidelines for dispatching a Taser are very different than for unleashing a firearm – the risks of a situation must simply be sufficient for the officer to judge they would have to use some form of force. With the Home Office cheerleading their use, there is an obvious danger of Tasers being reached for too casually, as has already happened in some American cities. In Houston, for instance, it has been reported that they have been dispatched in hundreds of cases where no crime has been committed. This matters, first, because there is some small risk of death, even if there is dispute about how significant this is: Amnesty International recorded more than 150 deaths among people who had been Tasered. It matters too because being shocked is excruciatingly painful, as Manchester's late police chief, Michael Todd, was forced to concede after demonstrating the device on himself. The UN committee against torture has registered concerns, and protestation from the manufacturers that the UN are "out of touch" hardly reassures.

 

The Home Office says Tasers are only used to prevent "violent crime", although it does not collect statistics on the exact circumstances in which they are used. That has to change. As more police are to be handed this vicious if "less-lethal" weapon, it will be more important than ever to hold them to account.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF… RESTING IN PEACE

 

One frequently hears of people turning in their graves, less often of their being turned out of them. Yet that is the fate which awaits Richard Poncher, whose supposedly final resting place in Los Angeles is being auctioned by his widow, the selling point being that the new occupant will be just above that of Marilyn Monroe, in the same crypt. Even Hubert Eaton, the Californian sales agent who turned the marketing of "before need" grave plots into the flourishing industry that Evelyn Waugh satirised in The Loved One, could not have imagined that the values of this world could be so profitably projected so far into the next. Mr Poncher has been dead for 23 years, while Marilyn has been gone for nearly half a century, yet propinquity to the beautiful actress is still worth, if the reports of the bidding are to be trusted, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hugh Hefner bought the crypt beside Monroe in 1992. The stunning bad taste of all concerned, beginning with Mr Poncher, who apparently specified that he be buried face down, hardly needs remarking on. It is true that fascination with dead celebrities is nothing new. The business of Dearly Departed Tours, which takes fans around Los Angeles to the graves of stars, is said to be booming, and Paris, London and other cities have their staider equivalents. Musing at the graveside is one thing. Buying your way into a proximity in death which you could never have enjoyed in life is another. Rest in peace should surely mean what it says.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

BANKERS' PAY: COINING IT IN

 

What took them so long? Two years since the credit crunch began and nearly a year on from the collapse of Lehman Brothers – and only now are politicians talking in earnest about how they might clamp down on bankers' bonuses. In their weeks as acting prime minister, both Peter Mandelson and Alistair Darling have been telling reporters that they want to take action on the financiers who are getting back to business as usual. Mr Darling suggested this weekend that he would bring in a new law to curb City bonuses, not just in semi-nationalised banks such as RBS and Lloyds but across the entire industry. For once, he outflanked his shadow George Osborne who told this newspaper: "It is totally unacceptable for bank bonuses to be paid on the back of taxpayer guarantees. It must stop."

 

Fine words, but why were they so long in coming? The French and Germans have had financial regulation in their sights for years. Economists and Treasury select committee reports have alighted on reforming financiers' pay as a must. And in his best Victorian-headmaster act, Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, warned about runaway City pay encouraging feckless behaviour in the spring of 2008 – well before the banking crisis reached its climax. Yet leaf through the banking white paper produced by the Treasury earlier this summer, and its counter document from the Conservatives, and the issue of pay shines out as someone else's problem. In the government's book, that entity is the Financial Services Authority; in the Tories' script the role is played by a fully armed Bank of England. And in neither policy document, both just a few weeks old, is there anything like the tough rhetoric heard over the last few days.

Maybe the political class is only now recovering its bearings after the expenses scandal, and has finally been spurred into action by reading about the £30m pay package reportedly being offered to traders by Barclays. Perhaps there is just a smidgen of political calculation, too, with party conferences and a general election both looming. Some members of the Conservative shadow cabinet admit to being as surprised as anyone else at reading what is effectively an incomes policy being announced by their finance guy in the pages of a daily newspaper. But there is a bigger problem here, a contradiction that binds both Labour and Tory parties: they can see the political advantage in talking about pay – but they have surrendered the power to do anything about it.

 

Comrade Mandelson, remember, once professed himself intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich, and indeed has just holidayed at Nathan Rothschild's villa. The New Labour covenant was make peace with the markets, and spend the dividends they produce on schools, hospitals and other, less glorious, ends. One result of that ideology, however, is that issues such as financier pay are passed on to regulators – who do not always produce the answers that politicians want. The FSA deserves criticism for watering down its policies on City pay over just a few months; but its boss, Hector Sants, is right when he says that it is not his job to set pay and conditions for banks; that is the job of politicians. The FSA's task is to safeguard the stability of its supervised institutions – the kind of risks and rewards taken on by bankers feed into its considerations, but they are just one of a range of factors for any financial regulator. Even so, Mr Darling could have made the weather by limiting the £9.6m pay package for the new boss of RBS: he failed to do so.

 

The question of bankers' pay is a thorny one: clamp down on bonuses and basic salaries will rise; tax salaries and financiers will pay themselves in capital. Raise taxes and the City will start buying tickets for Frankfurt. These problems can be tackled with a bit of political will and some deft policy footwork. But the last few years have not seen much of either.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER AFGHAN MILESTONE

 

On Thursday, Afghanistan will hold the second presidential election in the country's history. While every election in Afghanistan is a reason to celebrate, the mood surrounding this vote will not match that of the country's first ballot, held five years ago.

 

That's because there is a fear that the country is losing its way, that the Taliban are resurgent and that the government in Kabul is unable to stop them. Another successful vote in Afghanistan will be an important step forward in the country's development, but it is only a part of a much larger process — the creation of a safe and stable society, a competent government and a growing economy. All are in short supply.

 

It has been a rough five years for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Against high odds, he emerged as the country's leader after the United States drove the Taliban from power in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. While Mr. Karzai's ascendance was primarily a result of his being a Pashtun, a member of the country's largest ethnic group, he also proved to be a consummate deal maker, and was able to win support from the warlords and tribal leaders who exercise real power in Afghanistan.

 

His ability to strike deals won him political backing, but it undermined the central government. The autonomy those leaders demanded in return for their support deprived Kabul of badly needed revenues and contributed to an image of a weak and corrupt president whose real domain was restricted to the capital. At the same time, the U.S.' focus on Iraq, and relative neglect of its initial war front, allowed the Taliban to regroup and resume fighting. The result has been a growing insurgency in the south and east. The top U.S. general in Afghanistan recently said the Taliban had gained the upper hand in the country, having expanded beyond their traditional strongholds, and were now threatening previously stable parts of the country.

 

For some, that picture is too bleak. The Taliban may be coming back and Afghanistan has a long way to go, but attention should be paid to the gains that have been made. Most of the country enjoys peace, the economy is growing, development is under way — albeit more slowly than anyone would like — and the U.S. has shifted its focus away from Iraq to give Afghanistan the attention it has deserved.

 

While there are frustrations with Mr. Karzai, he remains popular. A recent opinion poll showed two-thirds of Afghans have a favorable opinion of their president; only 16 percent had an unfavorable view. Mr. Karzai is currently expected to win the tally Thursday, although he may not get the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. There are more than 40 candidates in the upcoming ballot, but the president's main challenger is Mr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former eye doctor who fought the Soviet invaders and the Taliban, and served for five years as Mr. Karzai's foreign minister. He enjoys support from the largest opposition group, the National Front, a northern group. Success in the election depends on whether he can extend his base. That's possible only if he unites the opposition in a runoff.

 

At present, polls show Mr. Abdullah taking 20 to 25 percent of the vote. The same polls show Mr. Karzai falling short of the 50 percent threshold. The outcome may rest in large part on how successful the Taliban are in disrupting the vote. Afghans ignored similar threats in 2004, and pictures of voters raising stained thumbs after voting was an inspiration for millions of people around the world.

A more formidable Taliban presence might make those threats more credible. The insurgents have already begun to pick up the pace of attacks. It is estimated that violence could prevent 10 percent of the polling stations from opening. Equally troubling, it could promote fraud if the prospect of attacks deters observers from monitoring the balloting.

 

Elections are always going to be difficult in a country where only about a third of the population are literate. Moreover, a lack of infrastructure means that ballot boxes have to be delivered by donkeys. Religious rules allow men to vote for their wives. And unlike in the 2004 election, security will be provided by Afghan security forces, rather than the international coalition. We hope they can provide safety as well as scrupulous respect for the democratic process.

 

To their credit, the vast majority of the Afghan people do not seem intimidated. About 75 percent say they will vote in the election, and nearly 80 percent believe the vote will be secure.

 

Their courage and resilience demand more from their leaders. The winner of this election must rally the entire country to his side, to break the grip of the warlords and build the strength of the central government. That will help provide a bulwark against the Taliban and marshal resources that the country desperately needs to move forward. Building a safe and secure Afghanistan will be a long and painful process, but it is possible — if the country's leaders put the national interests ahead of their own.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CORPORATE GREED VERSUS AMERICANS' HEALTH

BY CESAR CHELALA

 

NEW YORK — The health care discussion in the United States increasingly has revealed evidence of how corporations and politicians hinder the provision of adequate health care to the majority of Americans. The result is that the U.S. has one of the worst health care systems among industrialized nations.

 

Studies carried out by the World Health Organization and the Commonwealth Fund in New York show that overall performance of the U.S. health care system ranked 37th among the countries included in their analysis.

 

The Commonwealth Fund study, released in 2007, titled "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: An International Update on the Comparative Performance of American Health Care," found that the U.S. health care system was not only the most expensive in the world, but it also came in last in most measures of performance.

 

The Commonwealth study compared the health system in the U.S. with that of Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The most obvious point on which the U.S. differs from the other countries is the absence of universal coverage. The U.S. is also last in terms of access, patient safety, efficiency and equity.

 

Compared with the other countries studied, the U.S. lags in the adoption of information technology and other national policies that promote quality improvement. In New Zealand, Germany and the U.K., up-to-date information systems enhance physicians' ability to monitor chronic conditions and medication use. Yet, the U.S. pays a higher percentage of health dollars for administration than any other nation.

 

Almost 47 million Americans lack health insurance coverage, more people than the entire population of Canada. As pointed out by Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive, if this number were to include all those that are underinsured, it would represent more people than the population of the U.K.

 

According to the Children's Health Fund, 9 million children are uninsured in the U.S., while another 23.7 million — nearly 30 percent of the nation's children — lack regular access to health care.

 

How do corporations pressure politicians not to support health care plans that benefit the majority of the population?

 

"By running ads, commercials in your home district when you are running for re-election, not contributing to your campaigns again, or contributing to your competitor," Potter said during an interview with Bill Moyers.

 

In addition, Potter described how a Republican strategist suggested the use of catchphrases such as "government takeover," "delayed care is denied care," "consequences of rationing," "bureaucrats, not doctors, prescribing medicine," which have been faithfully parroted by politicians opposed to health care for all.

 

Through several mechanisms, insurance companies deny coverage to people to increase profits. As Potter explained in testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last June, among those mechanisms are "rescission" and "dumping."

 

If a sick policyholder omits a minor illness or a pre-existing condition when applying for coverage, the insurance company uses this as justification to rescind the policy. In addition, insurance companies may dump businesses whose employees' medical claims exceed what insurance underwriters have estimated. And once a business has been dumped by an insurer, it may have no other viable options because of widespread consolidation in the industry.

 

Lack of coverage seriously affects the health of the uninsured because they receive less preventive care, are diagnosed with a disease at a later stage, tend to receive less quality care, and have higher mortality rates than those who are insured.

 

Separately, an article just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that 62.1 percent of all bankruptcies filed in the U.S. in 2007 could be attributed to medical reasons. Most of those who had accrued massive medical bills contributing to bankruptcy were well-educated, owned homes and had good jobs. Three-quarters of them had health insurance.

 

This is a crucial moment for resolving one of the most savage inequities conspiring against people's health and well-being in the U.S. Both individuals and businesses, particularly small businesses, are at the mercy of powerful corporation interests. Unless those interests are curbed, people's health will continue to be a victim of corporate predation.

 

Cesar Chelala, M.D., Ph.D., is a public health consultant for several international agencies.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WEIGHING THE NUCLEAR OPTION

 

In his 2008 New Year's speech, Japanese political doyen and former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone warned that without a clear-cut national vision and objective, Japan might tread a path toward ruin like the ancient city-state of Carthage, which was defeated and destroyed by Rome in 146 B.C.

 

Referring to the confusion in the country over how to address the question of national security, especially the alliance between Japan and the United States, Nakasone made these points:

 

• Since North Korea and China now possess nuclear weapons, the question is how Japan should expect to defend itself in an emergency. The U.S. is supposed to defend Japan with nuclear weapons. As long as Japan firmly sticks to its three-point nonnuclear principle of not possessing, not making and not letting in nuclear weapons, the Japan-U.S. security treaty remains indispensable.

 

• Should the U.S. refuse to give Japan nuclear protection, it would become necessary for this country to review the nonnuclear principle. Primarily, Japan should have the freedom to choose whether to remain nonnuclear.

 

• It is thought that the U.S. will maintain the security treaty for the time being. But the setup appears to have grown "fatigued" over the years. As a result, the cohesion of recent Japanese Cabinets has waned.

 

• On the U.S. side, too, the resolve to honor the obligations under the bilateral pact appear to be declining. So, Japanese governments need to make efforts to refasten the security ties.

 

Nakasone was the first prominent Japanese politician to openly urge a review of the three-point nonnuclear principle. But neither Yasuo Fukuda, who was prime minister at that time, nor Fukuda's successor, Taro Aso, has paid any attention to Nakasone's remarks.

 

Japan's three-point nonnuclear principle was adopted as national policy by Diet resolution in 1971 — toward the end of Eisaku Sato's administration. Despite strong objections from members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who feared that the policy might tie the country's hands, the Sato administration proposed it to obtain opposition-party support for Diet approval of the agreement returning Okinawa from U.S. to Japanese rule.

 

Ever since the end of World War II, Japan has relied on the U.S. "nuclear umbrella" to meet its national security requirements even as nuclear weapons have proliferated worldwide.

 

In the event of an imminent nuclear threat to this country, would the Americans really come to our rescue? And would Japan's national security arrangements be sufficient?

 

Despite these apprehensions, the Japanese people have long avoided comprehensive discussions on the question of national security due to their peace-addicted frame of mind. Now, Japan finds itself surrounded by nuclear-armed China, Russia and North Korea.

 

Three years ago, when North Korea carried out its first nuclear test, the U.S. and China naturally watched for any signs of domestic support for Japan arming itself with nuclear weapons. Some Japanese politicians at the time, including Shoichi Nakagawa (chairman of the LDP policy board and then Foreign Minister Aso), suggested it might be worthwhile to launch discussions on the nuclear armament issue. But the ruling and opposition parties as well as the media objected.

 

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) went as far as to demand the resignation of the foreign minister for making controversial remarks. Thus, calls for a nuclear security debate were quickly dispelled.

 

It is quite natural for Japan, as the world's only country to be attacked with atomic bombs, to stand at the forefront of the international movement for abolishing nuclear weapons. But this issue should be handled separately from the question of whether to have a comprehensive debate on how to react to a modern-day nuclear threat. Unless we're determined to defend ourselves from another nuclear calamity, the Japanese could end up like Carthage, as Nakasone warned.

 

Amid North Korea's repeated missile launches and China's increasingly conspicuous miliary buildup, various developments have led to subtle changes in Japan recently. In one, former Vice Foreign Minister Ryohei Murata and some other former ranking officials in the Foreign Ministry affirmed the existence of a secret deal in which Japan was obliged to allow U.S. warships carrying nuclear weapons to call at Japanese ports. The secret agreement was clinched during the 1960 negotiations between Japan and the U.S. on revising the bilateral security treaty, then reconfirmed in 1963.

 

Does Japan not contradict itself if it refuses to allow the U.S. to carry nuclear weapons into Japanese territory while it continues to depend on the U.S. nuclear umbrella? Even before the secret deal was exposed, many Japanese people had suspected that a secret pact of this nature had existed subject to tacit approval.

 

The Japanese government still denies the existence of the deal, but recent moves by former ranking government officials to release revealing statements might be a sign of their intent to cope with the changing nuclear environment in Northeast Asia.

 

Another noteworthy development related to this issue is that DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama, who is likely to become Japan's next prime minister, has hinted at the possibility of reviewing the three-point nonnuclear principle. He adds that he would like to disclose the secret deal and that matters related to the nonnuclear principle should be dealt with realistically.

 

The Japanese and U.S. governments held high-level working talks on security treaty problems last month and reached agreement to launch regular consultations concerning problems with the nuclear umbrella. What's important is that Japan determine a direction for national security policy instead of merely maneuvering out of consideration for the U.S.

 

This is an abridged translation of an article from the August issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japan's political, social and economic scenes.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

EDITORIAL

ACCORDS IN PYONGYANG

 

Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun returned to Seoul yesterday after meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Sunday. She waited for five days in Pyongyang while Kim was touring in the North's east coast city of Hamheung and its vicinity. The outcome was quite substantial - Kim "accepted all requests of Chairwoman Hyun" as the North's official Central News Agency described it.

 

The first item in the five-point agreement between the Hyundai Group and the Choson Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, which controls the North's businesses with the South, mentioned an early reopening of the Mount Geumgang tours. The tours to the scenic mountains were suspended by the Seoul authorities in July 2008 after North Korean guards shot and killed a South Korean woman who strayed into an off-limits area. Reopening the tours should be a South Korean government decision, not the North's or Hyundai's.

 

But with the North's new offer of opening a route to the highest Biro-bong Peak and Kim Jong-il's "special arrangements to guarantee full conveniences and safety of tourism," there is strong possibility that Seoul will now allow resumption of the tours which began in 1998. At the same time, North Korea will lift restrictions on South Koreans' entry into and stay in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex north of the border, without any condition but "under the spirit of the Oct. 4, 2007 South-North Joint Declaration." Tours to the city of Gaeseong will also be reopened.

 

The accords included further expanding the Gaeseong industrial projects in accordance with the normalization of ground traffic across the border. North Korea announced the restrictions on the Gaeseong complex late last year. It demanded a sharp increase in the wages for the North Korean workers and rent for South Korean firms in April this year. The Kim-Hyun agreement could either mean Pyongyang's stronger pressure for increased payments or more flexibility in negotiations.

 

Officials in Seoul do not openly admit it, but there is a possibility that Hyun might have carried a message from South Korean authorities on her visit to Pyongyang at the invitation of Kim Yang-gon, the top official in charge of South Korean affairs as chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee and head of the ruling Workers Party's United Front Department. North Koreans released Hyun's employee at the Gaeseong complex who had been detained for slandering the North's system, but Hyun was forced to delay her departure from Pyongyang day after day as Kim Jong-il did not return to the capital from his provincial tour.

 

Kim may have delayed seeing Hyun until after President Lee made his Aug. 15 Liberation Day address. President Lee expressed a strong wish to improve ties with the North through bilateral talks but reconfirmed his policy of linking the North's denuclearization with economic aid and stopped short of making any direct mention of the Mount Geumgang and Gaeseong projects, or rice and fertilizer shipments to the North. The agreement with Hyun was the North's first reaction to the presidential national day address and a positive one at that.

 

The developments in August augur well for overall inter-Korean relations, although Seoul should always be prepared for surprise shifts of policy and attitude in the North. Admirable is the patience of Hyun, who took the helm of the Hyundai Group, the sole South Korean firm engaged in inter-Korean projects, following the suicide of her husband six years ago. Kim must be deeply impressed by the perseverance of the South Korean businesswoman, from whom he must also have seen the power of the free capitalist economy.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

                                           EDITORIAL

BACK TO THE ASSEMBLY

 

Members of the National Assembly Judiciary Committee from the main opposition Democratic Party took part in the confirmation hearing for Prosecutor-General nominee Kim Joon-gyu yesterday, although they had tendered their resignation from the legislature to protest the ruling Grand National Party's unilateral passage of media bills last month. If their sitting in the committee chamber and asking scathing questions about the nominee's personal finance and policy plans meant that they were returning to their job - ending their weeks of outdoor rallies - it is a welcome change.

 

In the first place, the mass resignation move was an impulsive one which in no way served the interests of the party or the general public. Of the 84 DP Assemblymen, some 75 signed their letters of resignation and handed them to party chair Rep. Chung Sye-kyun on July 24 immediately after the GNP rammed three media-related bills and the financial business bill through the plenary session in a chaotic scene. Rep. Chung and two other DP lawmakers sent their resignation letters to Speaker Kim Hyong-o, who has not yet acted on them.

 

The DP filed a suit with the Constitutional Court to contest the validity of the media bills, citing extreme disorder in the electronic voting. Some Assemblymen pushed buttons at the seats of other members. As the top court will make a legal judgment, the opposition members should have withdrawn their letters of resignation, or the party chair should have returned them promptly.

 

The DP's new chief policymaker Rep. Park Jie-won strongly hinted that his party would have to return to the legislature for the regular fall session beginning in September. If the party concurs, the party chairman could just scrap the letters of resignation from 75 colleagues. Whether Speaker Kim would do the same for DP leader Chung and Reps. Chun Jung-bae and Choi Moon-soon is a more serious question, but their Assembly membership would ultimately depend on the firmness of their own resolves to sacrifice themselves for the republic's political and democratic development.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

                                           EDITORIAL

YEN FAILS TO BE MAIN RESERVE CURRENCY

ANDREW SHENG

 

Japan was the second largest economy in the world ($4.8 trillion in GDP), after the United States ($14.3 trillion) at the end of 2008. Because it has continuously run current account surpluses, it also has the largest net foreign exchange position, namely more foreign exchange assets than liabilities, with $5 trillion in gross foreign exchange assets and net $3.1 trillion in net foreign exchange assets at the end of September 2008. By contrast, China has $4.4 trillion in GDP, gross foreign exchange assets of $2.3 trillion and net foreign exchange assets of $1 trillion at the end of 2007. In other words, Japan's net foreign exchange assets are still three times larger than China's, even though China has more foreign exchange reserves.

 

In the 1960s, when the yen was still fixed at 360 to the dollar, the Japanese economy grew at an average of 10 percent per annum. In the 1970s, when the yen began to appreciate and there was an oil shock, the growth slowed to an average of 5 percent. However, there was a massive stock market and real estate bubble after the Plaza Accord of 1985, when the yen appreciated sharply from 239 yen to 128 yen in 1992. It continued to appreciate until April 1995, when the yen hit 80 and then went into reversal until it depreciated to 147 in June 1998, stopped only by joint intervention by the Bank of Japan and the U.S. Treasury.

 

According to economic textbooks, a country with a continuous surplus should have an appreciating currency. It is interesting to note that Japan had a continuous current account surplus despite the volatile yen. Indeed, Japan had to export capital in large amounts in order to keep the yen at a competitive level. In the 1980s, Japan began to internationalize the yen in an effort to make it a reserve currency and Tokyo an international financial center. However, after nearly 17 years of dismal economic growth, when growth was at best between 1-2 percent, the role of the yen had declined, while the number for foreign companies listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange had also declined.

 

Why did the yen not succeed as an international reserve currency? After all, Japan had actively promoted the yen by granting a considerable amount of cheap official aid in yen loans. Japan's banks branched overseas in the 1980s and granted substantial yen loans abroad. Because yen interest rates were low, initially many countries borrowed in yen, but very soon discovered that the high volatility in the dollar-yen rate made the yen quite costly to hedge and to borrow.

 

The reason why the yen was pushed as an international reserve currency and Tokyo as an international financial center was strategic. Given an aging population, Japan wanted to diversify from a manufacturing exporter to a surplus country with long-term income from its savings. If the yen was an international reserve currency, the Bank of Japan could earn seigniorage, namely an interest free loan from foreigners using the yen as reserve currency. Furthermore, Tokyo could earn services income as an international financial center dealing with yen securities, currency trading and commercial services.

 

So the failure to achieve major reserve currency status despite the wealth and industrial power of Japan was strange. There are three conditions for becoming an international reserve currency - the value of the currency should be stable, transaction costs should be low and transparency should be high. Unfortunately, the Japanese yen has been very volatile and transaction costs in dealing in yen was also not cheap.

The volatility in the yen was due to several reasons, mostly from wrong policies. Firstly, Japan's position as a major exporter of yen meant that there was a yen "overhang." A Japanese investor in U.S. treasuries earning a spread of say 4 percent between U.S. treasury rate and Japanese deposit rate would find that his income would be wiped out if the yen appreciated more than 4 percent a year, which happened quite often.

 

The Thai borrower in yen, however, would find that an appreciation in yen would also wipe out whatever lower borrowing cost in yen than borrowing in Thai baht or U.S. dollars. The borrower, however, would be naturally hedged if he earns an income in yen. However, because of the long-term tendency of the yen to appreciate, Japanese exporters preferred to export in yen and import in dollars, thus protecting their income in yen terms and saving on import costs if the yen appreciates.

 

This practice of passing the foreign exchange costs to the borrowers made the yen more volatile, because when the yen begins to appreciate, both the borrower and the investor sell dollars to buy yen to protect themselves from the appreciation, causing the yen to go through large swings.

 

You can only be a reserve currency if you have a wide variety of financial and real assets to purchase at attractive yields with liquid markets. Because of the massive asset bubble in Japan in 1989, the basic trend of financial assets and real estate has been downward and yields on Japanese bonds, stocks and bank deposits are low under the near zero interest rate policy. Hence, dollar/yen turnover has steadily declined to 13 percent of the global foreign currency turnover in 2007 compared with 20 percent in 1998. The position of yen as the reserve currency was further pushed aside with the rise of the euro in 1999.

Next, we shall look at the reserve currency status of the euro.

 

Andrew Sheng is an adjunct professor at University of Malaya and Tsinghua University. - Ed.

(Asia News Network)

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

                                           EDITORIAL

 

IN SCIENCE VS. FAITH, THE NEED TO HEED CHARLES DARWIN

CHRIS MOONEY AND SHERIL KIRSHENBAUM

 

This fall, evolutionary biologist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins - most recently famous for his public exhortation to atheism, "The God Delusion" - returns to writing about science. Dawkins' new book, "The Greatest Show on Earth," will inform and regale us with the stunning "evidence for evolution," as the subtitle says. It surely will be an impressive display, as Dawkins excels at making the case for evolution. But it's also fair to ask: Who in the United States will read Dawkins' new book (or ones like it) and have any sort of epiphany, or change his or her mind?

 

Surely not those who need it most: America's anti-evolutionists. These religious adherents often view science itself as an assault on their faith and doggedly refuse to accept evolution because they fear it so denies God that it will lead them, and their children, straight into a world of moral depravity and meaninglessness. An in-your-face atheist touting evolution, like Dawkins, is probably the last messenger they'll heed.

 

Dawkins will, however, be championed by many scientists, especially the most secular - those who were galvanized by "The God Delusion" and inspired by it to take a newly confrontational approach toward America's religious majority. They will help ensure Dawkins another literary success. It's certainly valuable to have the case for evolution articulated prominently and often, but what this unending polarization around evolution and religion does for the standing of science in the United States is a different matter entirely.

 

It often appears as though Dawkins and his followers - often dubbed the New Atheists, although some object to the term - want to change the country's science community in a lasting way. They would have scientists and defenders of reason be far more confrontational and blunt: No more coddling the faithful, no tolerating nonscientific beliefs. Scientific institutions, in their view, ought to stop putting out politic PR about science and religion being compatible.

 

The New Atheists win the battle easily on the Internet. Their most prominent blogger, the University of Minnesota biologist P.Z. Myers, runs what is probably the Web's most popular science blog, Pharyngula, where he and his readers attack and belittle religious believers, sometimes using highly abrasive language. More moderate scientists, however - let us call them the accommodationists - still dominate the hallowed institutions of American science. Personally, these scientists may be atheists, agnostics or believers; whatever their views on the relationship between science and religion, politically, spiritually and practically they see no need to fight over it.

 

Thus the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences take the stance that science and religion can be perfectly compatible - and are regularly blasted for it by the New Atheists. Or as the National Academy of Sciences put it in a recent volume on evolution and creationism: "Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth's history. ... Religious denominations that do not accept the occurrence of evolution tend to be those that believe in strictly literal interpretations of religious texts."

A smaller but highly regarded nonprofit organization called the National Center for Science Education has drawn at least as much of the New Atheists' ire, however. Based in Oakland, Calif., the center is the leading organization that promotes and defends the teaching of evolution in schools.

 

In this endeavor, it has, of necessity, made frequent alliances with religious believers who also support the teaching of evolution, seeking to forge a coalition capable of beating back the advances of fundamentalists who want to weaken textbooks or science standards. In the famous 2005 Dover, Pennsylvania evolution trial, for instance, the NCSE contributed scientific advice to a legal team that put a theologian and a Catholic biologist on the stand.

 

Long under fire from the religious right, the NCSE now must protect its other flank from the New Atheist wing of science. The atheist biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, for instance, has drawn much attention by assaulting the center's Faith Project, which seeks to spread awareness that between creationism on the one hand and the new atheism on the other lie many more moderate positions.

 

In this, Coyne is once again following the lead of Dawkins, who in "The God Delusion" denounces the NCSE as part of the "Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists," those equivocators who defend the science but refuse to engage with what the New Atheists perceive as the real root of the problem - namely, religious belief.

 

It all might sound like a petty internecine squabble, but the stakes are high. The statistics on public scientific illiteracy in the United States are notorious - and they're at their worst on contentious, politicized issues such as climate change and the teaching of evolution. About 46 percent of Americans in polls agree with this stunning statement: "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."

 

In this context, the New Atheists have chosen their course: confrontation. And groups like the NCSE have chosen the opposite route: Work with all who support the teaching of evolution regardless of their beliefs and attempt to sway those who are uncertain but perhaps convincible.

 

Despite the resultant bitterness, however, there is at least one figure both sides respect - the man who started it all: Charles Darwin. What would he have done in this situation?

 

It turns out that late in life, when an atheist author asked permission to dedicate a book to Darwin, the great scientist wrote back his apologies and declined. For as Darwin put it, "Though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follows from the advance of science." Darwin and Dawkins differ by much more than a few letters, then - something the New Atheists ought to deeply consider.

 

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum are co-authors of the new book, "Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future." - Ed.

 

(Los Angeles Times Service)

 

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THE GAZETTE

EDITORIAL

HIGHER PARKING FINES? YES, BUT ...

 

The city's plan for a sharp increase in parking-ticket fines makes sense - up to a point. But city hall needs to bear in mind that steadily tightening private-car access to downtown has some risks, along with the benefit of putting more money in the city's coffers.

 

Logically, there is every reason for parking tickets to cost scofflaws more - which Montreal has promised will happen in October, when it imposes parking tickets as high as $100 plus administrative fees. The higher the fine, the less likely people will be to flout the law.

 

It's wrong for drivers to leave their vehicles parked illegally. Able-bodied drivers who park in handicapped spots are a particularly galling breed who should be reminded quite forcefully that these places are set aside for people who need them.

 

Likewise those who choose to park in a bus lane. The city is rightly trying to encourage fast, efficient public transit as an alternative to having its arteries clogged up day and night with ever-more cars. A dedicated bus lane is an important part of that effort. The $100 to $200 fines the city has proposed should drive that lesson home.

 

But any municipality like Montreal, which has successfully maintained its dynamic city centre so far, has a careful balancing act to do. We need a downtown that is reasonably accessible to car-owners, along with public-transit users, cyclists and pedestrians.

 

Montrealers have the legitimate expectation of being able to drive downtown, find a parking space, go about their business, and leave again without having to pay a small fortune in parking costs.

 

This doesn't absolve them of the duty of parking legally and abiding by the rules and regulations the city has set out. But this new policy, considered alongside higher meter rates and the push to close some parking lots, makes us begin to fear idealism run rampant.

 

If the city pushes too hard against private cars, there is a risk that people will just head out to a suburban mall instead.

 

That would be a terrible thing for Montreal. We have one of the liveliest downtowns on the continent. Our outdoor cafés are full, our street fairs well attended, our cycling paths in full use day and night.

 

It is the mix of transportation that has fed Montreal's success. Private cars, public transit, bicycles, and foot traffic all have their place. Success lies in having the right balance.

 

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THE GAZETTE

EDITORIAL

BAILOUT WILL DO LITTLE TO IMPROVE PORK INDUSTRY

 

It is about time for some rationalization of the Canadian pork industry. The challenge is to transform hog production into an efficient, profitable, and less-polluting industry delivering better pork, all without driving consumer prices sharply higher. Unfortunately, the $92 million over three years the federal government has just committed to the industry does not seem likely to move us much closer to that goal.

The industry, which wanted $800 million from Ottawa, is unhappy with what it got. But $92 million is more than many industries have had from government in this recession.

 

We know that agriculture is one of the sacred pigs, so to speak, of Canadian politics, along with the auto industry and aerospace. And it's especially important in Quebec, which produced 37 per cent of hogs slaughtered in Canada last year. But agriculture is cyclical. The industry's own export-development agency, Canada Pork International, acknowledges a four-year North American price cycle. And recent headlines about the start of a strong economic rebound in Asia seem to promise revived export markets. Why, then, launch a three-year buyout program?

 

In fairness, we note that it has been a tough few years for hog farmers. High feed prices, an intermittently strong Canadian dollar, and the swine-flu scare have driven up costs, reduced exports, and weakened demand. U.S. "country-of-origin labeling" imposed another restraint on exports.

 

Before those setbacks, however, the industry had expanded rapidly in Canada, led by exports, which have doubled in the last decade. Some of the new producers were bad neighbours, huge farms whose manure runoff damaged waterways and fouled the air.

 

Ottawa announced $75 million to buy out farmers, plus $17 million for market research abroad and consumer advertising at home. Most of the $75 million, we suspect, will go to small producers, with high unit costs, who will be most likely to leave the industry.

 

We regret that nothing in the announcement reveals any new effort to help producers develop domestic or foreign markets for organic, pasture-raised, eco-friendly, or unusual-breed pork, currently all rarities. Pork is often cheap in supermarkets, but we suspect many Canadians would pay more for better flavour from better-raised animals. At least it would be nice to have that option.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

UNSOLVED RIDDLES

 

Perhaps these are nothing to be surprised at. We know some others take them for granted. But, we just cannot. To us, they are way too weird to be credible.

 

People say nothing comes out of nothing. These days that time-honored common sense turns shaky in the face of what we have witnessed.

 

First we heard about bribes without takers - American companies pleaded guilty of offering bribes to Chinese partners, while the Chinese flatly denied receiving any. We cannot but suspect there is an American plot to denigrate our national industries. Though we have trouble understanding why those American firms risk their own reputation and subject themselves to heavy fines doing that.

 

Now we are faced with something equally perplexing.

 

Days back, 615 out of 731 children who had undergone medical screening in a lead poisoning scandal in Fengxiang, Shaanxi province were found to have "excessive amounts of blood lead." Local authorities identified lead release from the nearby smelter as the "main cause," though "other causes" were not excluded. An apology was offered, and promises made to help relocate villagers and fund medical treatment.

 

At that very same press conference, however, the local environmental watchdog announced something quite the opposite. The environment monitoring station report said the lead content in the water (ground and surface) and soil is up to State standards; so is it in the waste-water, waste gas and other discharges. Of course, there are exceptions, it said. It quoted the firm's own account as saying there were only three occasions when the release of pollutants exceeded official limits. But, only three times.

 

This is indeed confusing to us. State standards are supposed to guarantee safety levels of industrial discharges released into the environment. If those standards can be trusted, the smelter should be innocent. How come it was designated the "main cause"?

 

Sources with the smelter are now shifting the blame to "other factors." Which they said may include lead in foods, toys, paints, automobile emissions, and so on. But, we have seen no evidence that the more than 600 children are particularly exposed to those factors.

 

Since the local environmental authorities have come up with solid evidence exonerating the "main cause," we are, like in the commercial bribes scandal, again all at sea.

 

Yet as believers of common sense and causality, we grudge resorting to the supernatural. Nor do we think it is fair to blame extraterrestrial beings for accepting bribes from American firms, or poisoning the children in Fengxiang.We are only curious, and believe that such riddles should not remain unsolved.

Will anybody bother to give convincing answers?

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

WORRISOME HOUSE PRICES

 

A strong rebound of the property market should have been much anticipated as part of China's efforts to boost investment growth to fight the global recession.

 

However, since housing prices in major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are rapidly approaching record levels, the recovery of the property market appears to have happened worryingly fast.

Worse, some people even predict that the average price of new houses in Shanghai could jump by another 20 percent this month to record a new high.

 

The inflow of international hot money, or speculative capital, is surely to blame for part of the recent surge in housing prices, which has fuelled widespread concern over a "bubble" in the sector. Given the better-than-expected performance of the Chinese economy in leading the way out of recession, it is not surprising that some international capital may have found its way into China's stock market or real estate sector.

 

Yet to prevent a new housing bubble, Chinese policymakers should not confine their focus on solely checking inflow of so-called hot money. The more important task is to increase substantially the supply of affordable houses while reining in domestic liquidity growth.

 

Latest statistics show that housing prices in China's 70 major cities grew 1 percent in July from a year earlier - the biggest increase in nine months. And, China's property sales surged 60 percent by value in the first seven months.

 

Overall, such a picture of the national property market does not look too troubling in itself. After all, a benign, and genuine, real estate boom would make the property sector a powerful growth engine to boost the national economy.

 

But when housing prices go through the roof in some major cities on the back of unprecedented credit expansion, policymakers must be extremely alert to the increasing risk of housing bubbles.

 

At this critical moment, when the economy is bouncing back from the slowest growth in a decade in the first quarter, China definitely cannot afford to put the brake on real estate investment. Such investment accounts for more than one-fifth of total fixed-asset investment.

 

Even if the country can cement its economic recovery in the coming months, the burst of a housing bubble would be too high a cost to bear.

 

Since the Chinese government has already made clear its determination to maintain a proactive fiscal policy and moderately loose monetary stance, the only way to tame the rising house prices is to increase the supply of affordable housing by a huge margin.

 

Massive construction of government-subsidized houses effectively kept real estate investment humming before the market bottomed out early this year. This is no time to go slow on such construction, especially as the market becomes brisk. More affordable housing projects are crucial to the healthy development of the property sector.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

LEARNING TO LOBBY LEGISLATORS

 

The rise in traffic accidents throughout China caused by drunk drinking over recent months has provoked great indignation among the public over this irresponsible behavior.

 

The public and media's active participation in heated discussions about what penalties should be imposed for drunk driving fully demonstrates the important role the problem's resolution would play in improving people's livelihood and promoting the country's legal development.

 

Public opinion is unanimous that the country should make great effort to improve its law enforcement, judicial procedure and legislation in this respect.

 

Quite a few local governments have emphasized or reaffirmed their resolve to extend stricter punishment to violators after some grave cases of drunk driving invited extreme reactions from the public. In Zhejiang province, for instance, the local authorities have announced a variety of strict measures against serious traffic violations including that all drunk drivers would be put to a 15-day detention. According to Wang Huizhong, chief of the provincial department of public security, all these ruthless punitive measures demonstrate the government's zero-tolerance toward serious traffic violations.

 

Recently, the traffic management department under the Ministry of Public Security said a special campaign aimed at inflicting a severe blow against drunk drinking would be launched nationwide. It also said it would work together with relevant government agencies to include a city's traffic violations into the country's standards as an important index to assess and single out a city's urban civilization. Besides, it would coordinate with China Insurance Regulatory Commission, China Banking Regulatory Commission and other relevant departments to link a person's drunk driving to his or her bank credit records. And, any drivers' vehicle premium ratio would be raised the next year if they are involved into drunk driving or a major traffic accident caused by drunk driving and they would be put into bad individual bank records.

 

Undoubtedly, all these measures will produce positive effects in helping curb drinking and drunk driving. However, mainstream opinion on the Internet still casts doubt over these iron-handed measures, with some netizens saying that they are worried as these measures only serve as certain departments' transient show of resolve. Some netizens have even predicted that the so-called special campaign will not last long.

Despite having encountered heavy public suspicion, these measures, however, still indicate that relevant government departments have begun to take some concrete steps in the law enforcement and judicial fields toward curbing dangerous driving and drunk driving. For the country's traffic and road laws and regulations to be strictly enforced, efforts of the judicial organs and law enforcement department alone are not enough. Sustained monitoring by the media and the public is also desperately needed.

 

Public opinion has been a strong force pushing the authorities to take a substantive step toward drunk driving legislation. For example, the proposals submitted by some lawyers to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature, on the enactment of the legal clause on dangerous driving or drunk driving crimes, have won strong support from the public. However, no legislative organs at any level have so far come up with formal responses to such proposals, and no NPC deputies have said they would submit such opinions to the country's legislative body. Representing the people to participate in the annual NPC session, every deputy should have the obligation of collecting public opinion and presenting them to the top legislature.

Considering that there has been strong public opinion to include drunk driving among criminal offences, legislation in this regard appears inevitable. The next problem is that we should technically study, discuss and decide on what kind of a crime drunk driving should be classified as and what forms or procedures adopted to deal with it as a crime. More important, those who have long been intent on serving public welfare should learn and master some concrete tactics on how to lobby NPC deputies. On the one hand, NPC deputies should take the initiative in collecting public opinions and then express them in the top legislative body. On the other hand, the public should also exert pressure on NPC deputies and urge them to directly face their opinion and transmit them to the legislative body.

 

The role of these deputies representing the people to exercise their rights can be fully played if more and more people become less dissatisfied with their performance.

 

Let's learn how to lobby the legislative body. This is an important step towards public opinion influencing legislations. It would also be a peaceful and rational path for the public to participate in State affairs.

The author is an associate professor with Hainan University.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

WESTERN MEDIA REPEATS TRAGEDY AS FARCE

 

A lengthy article by Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian, on Thursday instructing notorious Uygur separatist Rebiya Kadeer how to counter the Chinese government is a naked violation of journalistic ethics.

 

During Kadeer's visit to Australia, Sheridan wrote another article in Australia's largest circulated newspaper, "praising" her "courage" to confront the Chinese government.

 

In Thursday's article, titled "Uygurs must fight for rights within China", Sheridan said Kadeer should leave aside her campaign for a separate state for a while as the appeal for "Xinjiang's independence" would not find a foothold in the international community and was likely to be snubbed by the West.

Kadeer should "concentrate instead on human rights, cultural autonomy and democracy", to win the support of and aid from Western nations, Sheridan wrote.

 

He lauded the weeklong visit of the self-appointed leader of the separatist World Uygur Congress to Australia, saying it would "change the course of Chinese politics".

 

It is difficult to understand why Sheridan dropped professional ethics of objectivity and fairness and openly played the role of an "adviser" to a foreign separatist.

 

What Sheridan has done is not a stray case. For some time now, a number of Western "journalists" have been involved in activities that not only violate professional ethics, but also disregard basic moral norms.

A section of the Western media has given a silent burial to unbiased and balanced reporting, and resorted to spreading lies. After the March 14, 2008, riot in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet autonomous region, some Western media spared no efforts in spreading lies.

 

Following the July 5 riots in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, some Western media outlets returned to their old habit and began carrying one-sided reports, such as interviews with Kadeer, to spread the lies propagated by separatists. They used words such as "reportedly" and "allegedly" to report on the riots, without bothering to verify the facts. Some even distorted the truth and used fabricated evidence to support their cooked-up stories.

 

After the Lhasa riot, a well-known broadcaster posted a report, titled "Tibetans describe continuing unrest", on its website with a photograph showing policemen and paramilitary personnel helping medical workers rescue the injured. The caption for the photograph ignored "Emergency Treatment", written in bold letters on the ambulances beside the security personnel, and unashamedly declared: "There is a heavy military presence in Lhasa".

 

While covering the July 5 riots in Urumqi, some Western journalists played the role of "news directors" and "actors", inducing people to shout slogans, and train their cameras on them "in line with their requirements".

 

Some foreign media labeled unfounded accusations against the authorities. French daily Le Monde called China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region "East Turkistan", which never existed, and accused China of "colonizing" the region.

A year after the Lhasa riot, a section of the Western media and unethical journalists have rushed back to create a similar farce. The only explanation for their action is they are hellbent on spreading lies and hatred by ignoring the truth and burying their professional ethics to become tools, knowingly or unknowingly, in the hands of forces out to demonize China.

 

The distorted reports once again shatter the self-styled "just and objective" image of some Western media outlets. Many readers have protested against Sheridan's article, loaded as it is with paranoia and ill intentions. And the online version of his anti-China rant has come under fire from netizens around the world.

 

Journalistic ethics says it's the readers and viewers who have the right to judge news, just like a Chinese proverb says: "The people's eyes are bright and discerning."

 

In the era of globalization, an increasing number of Westerners are learning more about the real China amid expanding exchanges in various sectors. They know what the real story is, and justifiably do not accord any importance to the now customary anti-China ranting.

 

The Western media and journalists should learn a lesson from Sheridan's case or they, too, will become a laughing stock around the world.

 

Xinhua

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

UNDERSTANDING NATIONALISM, AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE?

MERLYNA LIM

 

George Orwell, a British essayist famous for his book 1984, once wrote that nationalism is parallel with schizophrenia.

 

However, Orwell makes sure not to confuse nationalism with patriotism. While both terms are often used vaguely, he insists that one must draw a distinction between the two.

 

Patriotism, in Orwell’s words, is “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life… but has
no wish to force that on other people… [Patritotism] is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.”

 

Nationalism, on the other hand, is “inseparable from the desire for power… The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige — not for himself, but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

 

Is Orwell right to accuse nationalists of being insensible?

 

To be very pragmatic, nationalism is based on two inane concepts: geographical or land ownership, and citizenry. For most of us, nationality is given not chosen.

 

Of course, if you could change your nationality many may attempt to do so, but it is not as easy as pointing your index finger. For some, it’s almost impossible. For others, changing nationality could be almost as hard as finding a needle in a haystack.

 

I am Indonesian because I was born in Indonesia to Indonesian parents. If I were born somewhere else back then, or born to non-Indonesian parents, I might have turned out to be a different story.

 

Just because the earth is divided via capricious delimitation, with assigned boundaries, aside from those occurring naturally, then a person who is born into such a geographic territory becomes a citizen of that territory, by deduction alone.

 

Interestingly, one will inevitably gradually become subordinate to their associated country, despite the fact that there’s no valid geopolitical basis for such affinity. Nationality is a happenstance, and yet some people are willing to die in the name of it.

 

However, nationalism is more than just a schizophrenic syndrome. It is about the relationship of someone to their country, shaped through the dynamic and mutual interactions between the two, underpinning social, cultural and political experiences.

 

While unjustifiable, just to illustrate, it’s helpful to parallel this relationship with one in an arranged marriage. Two persons who are strangers to one another can eventually live together forever. Some find ways to fall in love; some just keep trying hard to get along until eventually they develop deep caring feelings for each other. Some may end up divorced.

 

The point is as one citizen realizes they belong to a certain country, they develop feelings, sentiment and concern for that country. This is unavoidable, since most cannot help but continuously be in constant interaction with their country’s systems.

 

Being born as an Indonesian, speaking Indonesian, eating Indonesian food, interacting with Indonesians, having many Indonesian friends, going to school with other Indonesians, learning about Indonesian history — these experiences of mine are common among most Indonesians. Me and my Indonesian fellows share tons of things in life, and these things aren’t nothing. They are something and they have meaning.

 

The collective journey through space and time as a member of one nation is a basis for something that’s more than just schizophrenia. This sense of togetherness belongs to the entire community, and is more than just imagined.

 

It’s actually real: community is more than enough to grow strong bonds and feelings in forms of patriotism or nationalism.

 

I, and other Indonesians I know, love our country without force. We are patriotic and we express emotion and love for our country, Indonesia.

 

And yet some of us go beyond this by favoring or striving for unity, independence, interests of an

Indonesian nation — such people have become nationalists.

 

Is there anything wrong with being a nationalist? It depends. There’s a strong tendency to suggest there is. Being a moderate nationalist doesn’t mean you are schizophrenic, but certainly you must fear being one if your nationalism falls into an exaltation of feeling to the detriment of reason, or if you nurture a belief that your nation is superior to others: That’s when you’re trapped in romantic nationalism — a fundamentalist nationalism that sometimes could be delusional.

 

With my love for my country, one could stamp me as patriotic. Nationalist? I wouldn’t claim to be. I tell everybody loud and clear that I am Indonesian, but I am being very rational in qualifying my country.

 

I praise and criticize it, when necessary, and while I live far away from the archipelago, I devote my energy and my work to that country, or at least try to.

 

You can wear batik all day. You can attend flag ceremony and sing “Indonesia Raya”. And you can say Merdeka! on the Indonesian Independence Day. That’s fine. You can buy made-in-Indonesia stuff.

 

You can work for Indonesian companies, or even the Indonesian government. That’s okay too.

 

But stay real. Blind nationalism doesn’t do anyone any good. Just like schizophrenia, it does more harm. And one thing to remember; those rituals and rhetoric stay unreal until you transform them into real efforts to participate in the making of a nation-state, and create more opportunities for your own fellows to be engaged in it.


The author is Indonesian professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, USA. She is a Dayeuh Kolot native and a globetrotter who holds an Indonesian passport and enjoys getting into trouble at various immigration desks around the world.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

REALIGNING TAXING POWER

 

The new law on regional taxes and user fees approved by the parliament Tuesday is much better than its predecessor (Law No. 34/2000) because it stipulates more clear-cut provisions on what types of taxes and  user fees regional governments are authorized to impose and on the distribution of tax and fee receipts among provincial, regency and city administrations.

 

Unlike the old law, which is vulnerable to misinterpretation, the new legislation is more clearly defined with regard to the division of taxing power between the provincial, regency and municipal governments. Over the past seven years, the central government had amended or annulled 1,065 regional bylaws and most of them were related to regional taxes and levies. The bylaws had been revised or canceled outright because they contradicted higher laws or were inimical to investment.

 

The new law stipulates 16 types of taxes and user fees regional administrations are authorized to impose but many of them are not completely new. Eleven of them are authorized for regency and city governments where local autonomy is anchored, with the other five mandated for provincial administrations.

 

The legislation does not fix a single rate for many regional taxes, but instead provides a range of rates, on a progressive basis, regional administrations can choose to suit local economic conditions.

 

The provincial administration of Jakarta, for example, is authorized to set the tax on each additional private motor vehicle for a single owner at a maximum rate of 10 percent to stem the car population growth in order to reduce traffic jams. But other provincial administrations can set the motor vehicle tax at a maximum rate of 2 percent, irrespective of the number of vehicles owned by a single individual or institution/organization. Based on the same thought process, parking fees for motor vehicles are set at a maximum 30 percent.

 

The enforcement of the new law will most likely be smoother because of the ample time given to regional administrations to prepare bylaws and institutional capacity to administer the taxes and to make adjustments for the impact of the local taxes.

 

The stipulation on regional tax on cigarettes, set at 10 percent of the central government-mandated excise tax, will be enforced only in 2014 to give adequate time for cigarette factories and tobacco farmers to make adjustments to cope with the expected fall in cigarette sales.

 

Likewise, the provision on property tax in urban and rural areas will be enforced only in 2014 to allow regional administrations to prepare their institutional capacity to administer this tax which is now managed by the central government. Yet the biggest benefit of the new law on regional taxes and user fees is not primarily the amount of revenues that can be collected, but the incentives provided to regional administrations to develop local economies.

 

This is because the amount of revenue that can be collected from the regional taxes is directly related to the development of the local economy. For example, receipts from regional taxes on hotels, restaurants, parking, advertisements, motor vehicles, fuel, entertainment and properties (land and buildings) are all positively correlated with the stage of the development of the local economy.

 

The strong and clear taxing power invested by the new law in provincial, regency and city administrations is really a great incentive for them to develop their local economies.

 

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

 

 

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