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Thursday, September 3, 2009

EDITORIAL 03.09.09

September 03, 2009

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Month September 03, Edition 000288, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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The Government’s publicists are tireless in pointing out how inflation has not only dipped but hit the negative band. This, we are told, is sufficient indication that life could not have been better in these hard times and cause enough to be eternally grateful to the Prime Minister and his fellow ‘economists’ in the current dispensation. Such lofty claims of not only holding the price line but also reversing it are based on a set of wholly misleading statistical details collectively known as the ‘Wholesale Price Index’, or the WPI. The WPI is published every week to flaunt the Government’s awesome success on the price front in the hope that the people will be lulled into believing fiction over fact. While the Prime Minister and his advisers are welcome to believe that all the people can be fooled all the time, the reality is far removed from their perception of it. After more than a year of prices of essential commodities jumping from one peak to another, nobody is anymore impressed by the cockamamie claim that they are actually paying less than before for items of daily consumption. If anything, the Government’s WPI-driven campaign is seen as a cruel joke. For, the truth is reflected in another set of statistics which are understandably not publicised and which together constitute the ‘Consumer Price Index’. The CPI is pegged to goods and services for which we have to pay at current prices and, hence, reflects a whopping inflation in the 12 to 13 per cent band. That, however, is not the entire story. The WPI is calculated on the basis of a basket of products and their wholesale prices — it’s only that most of the products are no longer in use or in demand, having gone out of fashion in the last century. Babus in the Department of Statistics and Programme Implementation are caught in a time warp and couldn’t give a toss about the world having moved along. So they are happy to use 1993-94 as the base year and look at the prices of products that no longer sell or have ceased to exist. It is not surprising that they should come to the profound conclusion that inflation is non-existent and people are needlessly cavilling.

We are now told that the babus are working on a new series of indices and soon we will get to see an all-new WPI. That is hogwash. There is absolutely no reason to persist with a misleading set of statistics which serves no purpose other than pandering to the Government of the day’s proclivity to believe that all is fine in this wondrous land of ours. If persisting with the WPI is ultimately about protecting jobs for those who sustain themselves on tax-payers’ money, there is all the more reason to abandon the exercise and let the babus discover how much it costs to keep their home fire burning. The CPI is the best indicator of the real cost of living and should be further fine-tuned to reflect current realities. The archaic system of multiple price indexing has been abandoned by those countries which once thought it was the right way of calculating inflationary trends and contributed to the assessment of the health of the economy. The purchasing power of consumers and what they actually pay for what they purchase, as well as real — as opposed to imaginary or presumptive — expenditure on goods and services, should form the basis of calculating movements on the price front. For this, the CPI is best suited. Instead of tinkering with the existing system, the Government must scrap it and adopt a more scientific model.







The order issued by the Rajasthan Government’s Administrative Reforms and Co-ordination Department asking bureaucrats to be ‘courteous’ towards MPs or MLAs or face ‘dire consequences’ is something that was going to happen sooner or later. The order comes in the backdrop of a feud between the State’s legislators and the bureaucracy that has seen the former charge the latter with indifference and snobbery. The politicos have also accused the bureaucrats of not getting back to them with appropriate responses to their queries in a timely fashion. So when the bureaucrats reportedly suggested that the legislators not ask them any questions when the State Assembly was not in session, the public representatives were understandably peeved. Thus the order demanding that bureaucrats stand up and see off MPs or MLAs when they come visiting their offices. The order further expects the administrative officers to ensure that in official functions the area MP or MLA is invited and his or her seat reserved along with other dignitaries present. In case of appointments, it will now be the duty of administrative officers to promptly inform the concerned legislator of any change in timings of their meetings. If an MP or an MLA were to drop in unannounced, it will be expected that the officer will give him or her preference over other appointments.

Many have criticised the Rajasthan Government order as intrusive and seeking to make the bureaucrats fall in line. But the reality is that today the bureaucracy in this country is either insolent or willingly submissive to the public representatives. Therefore, on one hand we have the conceited babu who thinks that the office he or she holds is the paragon of righteousness and answerable to none, while, on the other, we have the craven babu who is all too willing to serve his or her political master. It is when you have either or both of the extremes within the bureaucracy that orders like the one that the Rajasthan Government has issued become a natural consequence. It hardly needs to be stressed that the bureaucracy is a very important part of the democratic governing mechanism. The elected legislators decide on policies, while it is the job of the bureaucracy to help implement them. For effective administration both politicians and bureaucrats need to work in tandem and yet be insulated from each other. Neither should legislators be seen riding roughshod over bureaucrats nor should the latter treat public representatives as people who are not worth their time. The bureaucracy has to be professional and perform its duty irrespective of the political party in power. It has every right to forward suggestions to legislators on issues relating to policy and programme. But bureaucrats should not be seen snubbing public representatives or become their doormats.







Addressing a gathering of tens of thousands of zealots at the headquarters of the Jamat-ud-Dawa’h (earlier calling itself the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba) on November 3, 2000, the Amir of the Lashkar, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, thundered, “Jihad is not about Kashmir only. About 15 years ago people might have found it ridiculous if someone had told them about the disintegration of the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Today, I announce the break-up of India, Inshallah! We will not rest till the whole of India is dissolved into Pakistan.” Saeed has been regularly and publicly pronouncing a war that would encompass the whole of India. Till the terrorist outrage of 26/11 no one took him seriously. Shortly after his November 2000 speech Saeed sent his ‘mujahideen’ into the very heart of New Delhi to attack the Red Fort on December 22, 2000. Addressing a gathering of political leaders from Islamic parties shortly thereafter, Saeed proudly proclaimed that he had unfurled the green flag of Islam atop the historic fort.

Saeed was and is no ordinary person. He enjoyed the patronage of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had sent the Governor of Punjab, Mr Shahid Hamid, and his Information Minister, Mr Mushahid Hussein Syed to personally call on and pay their respects to Saeed in 1998. The Wahaabi/Salafi school of Islam propagated by Saeed was patronised by Mr Nawaz Sharif’s father, Mian Mohammed Sharif, through the Tablighi Jamaat. Moreover, at the grassroots level the Lashkar is closely linked to the Pakistani Army and the ISI, which provides weapons, training and logistical support to the extremist group. But is Saeed’s talk of “disintegration” of India merely rhetoric of an isolated individual, or does it reflect a wider strategic vision within Pakistan and particularly its armed forces?

While the ‘idea’ of Pakistan was first enunciated by Chaudhuri Rehmat Ali in 1933 and given shape in the Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League in 1940, the hope in Pakistan, even after it was born, was that India would be a loose confederation, with units like the Nizam’s domain in Hyderabad and even a ‘Dravidistan’ going their own separate ways. Mohammed Ali Jinnah spoke contemptuously of upper caste Hindus, while fostering separatism by highlighting a separate linguistic and ethnic Dravidian identity, as characterising the ethos of people in south India. While Mahatma Gandhi tried to address centuries of exploitation and alienation of Dalits in India, together with leaders like BR Ambedkar, Jinnah endeavoured to foment Dalit alienation. He encouraged elements in princely states like Jodhpur and Travancore-Cochin to declare independence. His aim was to Balkanise India and to ensure domination of the sub-continent by a minority of its population. Jinnah’s approach to the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 was motivated by the belief that after 10 years, a united Punjab and Sindh in the west, together with Bengal and Assam in the east, would break away from a fragile and fragmented India.

Jinnah shared a common interest with the British in having a weak Central Government in India, incapable of firmly holding the country together. His aims regarding India were thus not very different from those of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, though he was a virtually agnostic Ismaili, who according to his biographer Stanley Wolpert, loved Scotch whisky and ham sandwiches! Saeed, however, espouses rabid Wahaabi causes. He makes no secret of his contempt for parliamentary democracy based on the principle of one-man-one-vote. But was Jinnah’s demand for a disproportionate share of parliamentary seats for a minority, on the basis of Muslims having been the ‘rulers’ of India before the British arrived, also not a negation of the concept of one-man-one-vote? Moreover, can religion alone be a viable basis for enduring nationhood?

Jinnah’s successors, from Liaquat Ali Khan to Gen Pervez Musharraf, conducted relations with India in the belief that its unity is fragile. Field Marshal Ayub Khan launched the 1965 conflict believing that Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was a weak leader facing serious separatist problems because of the Punjabi Suba movement in Punjab and anti-Hindi riots combined with the rise of Dravidian parties in the south, apart from continuing insurgencies in the North-East. Gen Zia-ul-Haq set up an elaborate network to encourage separatism within India and laid special emphasis on creating a Hindu-Sikh communal divide in Punjab. This effort, like Jinnah’s to sow mistrust in the mind of Master Tara Singh, failed because Hindus and Sikhs alike saw through Pakistan’s game-plan. The ISI effort to ‘bleed’ India in Jammu & Kashmir is a continuation of the strategy that Pakistan has followed since its birth. It is shocking when Indians who should know better extol Jinnah’s ‘virtues’. His culpability in the communal holocaust he unleashed by his call for ‘Direct Action’ cannot be condoned.

In his book, The Shadow of the Great Game — The Untold Story of Partition, former diplomat Narendra Singh Sarila has revealed that well before the Cabinet Mission arrived in India in May 1946, two successive Viceroys, Lord Linlithgow and Lord Wavell, had decided to partition India by creating a Muslim majority state in its north-west bordering Iran, Afghanistan and Sinkiang in order to protect British interests in the oil rich Persian Gulf. Jinnah was co-opted to further this British objective even in 1939. Jinnah’s efforts to impose Urdu as Pakistan’s sole national language sowed the seeds of Bangladeshi separatism and of Pakistan’s disintegration in 1971. His assumption of office as an unelected executive head of state who presided over the Cabinet, led to his successors arbitrarily dismissing Prime Ministers and to the take-over of Pakistan by a military-dominated feudal elite — a malady the country suffers from even today.

The statesmanlike visit of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore symbolised that India has no intention of reversing the partition of 1947 and that we wish the people of Pakistan well. Challenges that Pakistan’s establishment poses will be overcome when values of secularism, pluralism and inclusive democratic development are established as being more enduring than fantasies of nationhood based exclusively on religion, which Jinnah propounded, or the hate and bigotry of Saeed. Banning books, whose contents many may find objectionable, is not the way deal with such challenges. Jihad







The debate over Mr Jaswant Singh’s controversial book Jinnah — India, Partition, Independence has made none the wiser. Mr Singh seems to have totally ignored the fact that Mohammed Ali Jinnah had two distinct phases of his political life.

The first phase was up to the death of Lokmanya Tilak in 1920, when Jinnah was an important part of the nationalist movement along with Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Anne Besant and others. However, as Mahatma Gandhi slowly became the centre of power Jinnah became an oddity.

In 1920, opposing Gandhi’s Khilafat movement, Jinnah told noted journalist Durga Das, “I will have nothing to do with this pseudo-religious approach to politics. I do not believe in working up mob hysteria. Politics is a gentleman’s game”. Still, he continued in the Congress, later trying his luck in the Muslim League. As the League’s president in 1929, he formulated the famous 14-point Muslim programme, seeking no less than one-third Muslim representation in the central legislature; continuation of separate electorates; reorganisation of provinces in such a manner so as not to adversely affect Muslim majority in Punjab, NWFP and Bengal; separation of Sindh from Bombay province; adequate representation to Muslims in Government jobs; protection of religion, culture and personal law of Muslims; and that one-third of the Ministers at the Centre and the Provinces be Muslims. This is Jinnah’s secular credential.

However, facing serious obstacles, Jinnah left both politics and India, and settled in London as a Barrister at the Privy Council. He participated in the deliberations of the Round Table Conference in London in his individual capacity. In the meantime, the Muslim League proceeded on the lines of carving out an independent Muslim state, but wanted a capable leader to lead them. Thus, persuaded by famous Urdu poet Mohammad Iqbal, Liaquat Ali Khan, some Britishers and others, Jinnah came back in 1934 to lead the Muslim League on the path to India’s partition and creation of Pakistan.

Nirad C Choudhuri had correctly stated that the partition of India took place because of “a combination of three factors — Hindu stupidity in the first instance and Hindu cowardice afterwards; British opportunism and Muslim fanaticism”. (Choudhuri, The Continent of Circe)

The important questions today are: Who is responsible for retaining the people and the factors that caused partition? Who has brought the country again at the brink of multiple partitions? And, how to avert the great catastrophe looming large on India’s horizon?







Abolishing all health sector councils and replacing them by a single national council would perhaps be the best thing, given the nadir to which critical aspects of medical education have sunk. To cleanse the system, Government must act now without any further delay

The Ministry of Health’s Task Force proposes to discard the Medical Council of India and all other health sector councils and replace them with a single National Council for Human Resource in Health. Abolishing the elected bodies that have held sway for decades would perhaps be the best thing that could happen, given the nadir to which critical aspects of medical education have sunk. Unfortunately, the truth is that the running of professional medical and allied colleges is the uppermost Indian business interest, with the exception of cricket.

I had the somewhat dubious experience of dealing with all the councils in the medical sector for over seven years in the Ministry of Health. Those years stand out most in my memory because it was my maiden voyage into the machinations of big Government. It was also the only period when Chief Ministers knew me by name and rang me directly with ‘chhota kam’ .

It was August 1992. Mr Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister. I was the newest Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry and had just been given charge of medical education. On August 27 morning I was sent for by the Health Secretary and told that an ordinance was to be promulgated that evening. I was dispatched to the Ministry of Law where the ordinance was dictated line by line by an Additional Secretary.

I came to know only through him that the ordinance was intended to thwart the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for wantonly granting permission to establish around 20 medical colleges. This act of Mr Janardhan Reddy provoked judicial strictures to the point that the Chief Minister lost his chair. Bringing an ordinance was the brainchild of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, a former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. At 6 pm the legal officer handed over a typewritten draft to me and I rushed back to Nirman Bhavan every inch the cog in the wheel that I was. Late that night the President’s assent to promulgate the ordinance was obtained. I retired to bed much wiser.

Overnight, the Central Government had wrenched all powers from States to give permission to establish new colleges, increase seats or introduce post-graduate courses in medical colleges. It was an extremely well-intentioned move, but unfortunately the next 17 years have not been a happy experience. An unending tussle has gone on between the Ministry and the MCI. Colleges sans teachers or patients have managed to successfully manipulate both admissions and degrees with constant wrangling and countless court cases.

What is at stake for the common man? The conditions imposed by the councils in the name of setting standards are generally elitist and out of tune with India’s growing needs for professional manpower. The MCI makes short shrift of pressing requirements like public health and family health, driving graduates into specialisations which are lucrative but irrelevant, looking at India’s rural as well as a fast growing urban population and the twin challenges of communicable and non-communicable diseases that confront us.

At the root of the problem is the fact that all the councils are elected bodies and candidates spend huge money to get elected. Professionalism is not the primary concern of people who have to get a return on investment. The idea of an overarching council is fundamentally a good idea but it should also not be left to the States to grant approvals based on centrally dictated standards. That will delight them no doubt, but that would be leaving the door open for resurrecting the horror stories of 1992.

It is equally the constitutional duty of the Central Government to see that the standards are not just set but followed. For that an oversight mechanism has to be in place to see what is happening, otherwise we may well have sub-standard medical practitioners let loose on hapless citizens. The fact that medical graduates will need to pass a common centrally organised examination to practice in another State would hardly be a fair way of fulfilling a responsibility envisaged by the Constitution.

In a democracy the answer lies in appointing a nominated body for three years to fulfil the functions of medical and allied councils. But ultimately within that period the complexion of the electoral colleges given in the different Acts should be changed through an omnibus legislation so that each profession can be represented by a cross-section of stakeholders, not just a bunch of cronies. The criteria for individual nominations should also prescribe evidence of professional caliber and experience, not merely belonging to a specified category.

In the formative period an ordinance is the only way that can enable the Government to establish a nominated national council. Within a reasonable period the system for holding elections should be put into place as that obligation cannot be wished away forever. For the time being, however, only an ordinance can ensure safe passage in Parliament within six months. Otherwise the players involved being among the most influential in the country, and the wheels of Government and Parliament being so slow, a business as usual approach will be doomed to dust.








Considerable importance attaches to Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dipu Moni’s visit in the next few days. Bangladesh is India’s only neighbouring country where developments since the beginning of the year, when an Awami League-led Government assumed office, warrant satisfaction. While the Awami League has been traditionally friendly toward this country, the Government it led from 1996 to 2001, which also had Sheikh Hasina as Prime Minister, did not fulfil India’s expectations on several issues — ending the support by Bangladesh’s intelligence agencies, primarily the Directorate-General of Forces Intelligence, to rebel groups of north-eastern India; acting effectively against Pakistan’ Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and terrorist organisations like the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh using Bangladesh’s territory for terrorist strikes against India; granting Indian goods transit facilities from the rest of the country to the north-eastern States through its territory; and the sale of Bangladeshi natural gas to India.

The Awami League, however, had been in the wilderness since Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination in 1975. During this period, the disguised as well as undisguised military dictatorships under Gen Zia-ur Rehman and Gen HM Ershad, as well as the elected Government of Begum Khaleda Zia during her first prime ministerial incarnation (1991-1996), had swamped the bureaucracy, the armed and para-military forces, and the intelligence agencies with pro-Pakistan and anti-India elements, while systematically trying to Islamise Bangladesh. Significantly, Gen Zia-ur Rehman had set up the DGFI, initially called Directorate of Forces Intelligence, in November 1977, shortly after a visit to Dhaka by then ISI chief, Lt Gen Ghulam Jilani Khan. It is a clone of the ISI which has trained many of its officers.

Any Government, committed to secularism and friendly ties with India, would have been hobbled by Bangladesh’s power structure. Overhauling the latter would have required a majority which the Awami League, which won 146 out of 300 seats in the National Parliament in the 1996 election, lacked. Even after the filling of 30 reserved seats for women through election by MPs had given her an absolute majority, the task would have required single-minded determination to cope with stiff opposition from large sections in the Army, the intelligence agencies and the administration, as well as parties like Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, the country’s fountainhead of Islamist terrorism and anti-India activities, and Begum Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which, with 116 seats, constituted a large, effective Opposition.

Sheikh Hasina began well by acting against the training camps for secessionist rebels of north-eastern India run by DGFI and Islamist organisations but faced intense internal pressure, with Begum Khaleda Zia describing the rebels as ‘freedom fighters’ who deserved support. She did not push too hard perhaps because she recognised the odds. Besides, she regarded the Jamaat, with which she had cooperated on occasions, as a political opponent but not a deadly foe. Nor did terrorism pose to her and Bangladesh the kind of threat it did subsequently. The rule of the BNP-Jamaat coalition from 2001 to 2006 changed all that. The reign of terror unleashed by organisations like the HUJIB, Jama’at-ul Muhadeedin Bangladesh and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh which, with the blessings of a section of the Government, targeted NGOs, liberal intellectuals and politicians, and, particularly, the Awami League. She escaped death by a whisker during a grenade attack on an Awami League rally in Dhaka on August 21, 2004, which killed 23 people.

All this bred in her a steely determination to wipe out terrorism. It is on full display with the arrest of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba terrorists and Daud Ibrahim’s men active in Bangladesh. Rebels of north-eastern India are under pressure. The mystery of the massive arms haul in Chittagong on April 2, 2004, is being unravelled. The Jamaat and its leaders face prosecution as war criminals, with the Government responding positively to the widespread demand for the trial of those who committed unspeakable atrocities while collaborating with Pakistanis during the 1971 liberation war. As important, her handling of the mutiny of Bangladesh Rifles personnel in Dhaka in February showed a remarkable blend of courage, political wisdom and leadership. Armed with a massive parliamentary majority, she is now calling the shots. India has everything to gain from further deepening its ties with Bangladesh under her leadership. Hence the importance of Ms Dipu Moni’s visit.







After the great hunger of 1984-85, Ethiopia is heading into another famine. But more than failed rains it is uncontrollable population growth which is haunting the country

A quarter-century after a million Ethiopians died in the great hunger of 1984-85, the country is heading into another famine. The spring rains failed entirely, and the summer rains were three weeks late. But why is famine stalking Ethiopia again?

The Ethiopian Government is authoritarian, but it isn’t incompetent. It gives fertilizer to farmers and teaches best practices. By the late-1990s the country was self-sufficient in food in good years, and the Government had created a strategic food reserve for bad years.

So why are we back here again? Infant deaths are already over two per 10,000 per day in Somali, the worst-hit region of Ethiopia. (Four per day counts as full-scale famine.) Country-wide, 20 per cent of the population already depends on the dwindling flow of foreign food aid, and it will get worse for many months yet. What have the Ethiopians done wrong?

The real answer (which everybody carefully avoids) is that they have had too many babies. Ethiopia’s population at the time of the last famine was 40 million. Twenty-five years later, it is 80 million. You can do everything else right — give your farmers new tools and skills, fight erosion, create food reserves — and if you don’t control the population, you are just spitting into the wind.

It is so obvious that this should be the start of every conversation about the country. Even if the coming famine in Ethiopia kills a million people, the population will keep growing. So the next famine, 10 or 15 years from now, will hit a country of a hundred million people, trying to make a living from farming on land where only 40 million faced starvation in the 1980s. It is going to get much uglier in Ethiopia.

Yet it’s practically taboo to say that. The whole question of population, instead of being central to the debate about development, about food, about climate change, has been put on ice. The reason, I think, is that the rich countries are secretly embarrassed, and the poor countries are deeply resentful.

Suppose that Ethiopia had been the first country to industrialise. Suppose some mechanical genius in Tigray invented the world’s first steam engine in 1710. The first railways were spreading across the country by the 1830s, and at the same time Ethiopian entrepreneurs and imperialists spread all over Africa. By the end of the 19th century, they controlled half of Europe too.

Never mind the improbabilities. The point is that an Ethiopia with such a history would easily be rich enough to support 80 million people now — and if it could not grow enough food for them all, it would just import it. Just like Britain (where the industrial revolution actually started) imports food. Money makes everything easy.

In 1710, when Thomas Newcomen devised the first practical steam engine in Devonshire, the population of Britain was just seven million. It is now 61 million, but they do not live in fear of famine. In fact, they eat very well, even though they currently import over a third of their food. They got in first, so although they never worried in the slightest about population growth, they got away with it.

Ethiopia has more than four times the land surface of Britain. The rain is less reliable, but a rich Ethiopia would have no trouble feeding its people. The problem is that it got the population growth without the wealth. Stopping the population growth now would be very hard, but otherwise famine will be a permanent resident in another 20 years.

The problem is well understood. The population of the rich countries has grown about tenfold since the earliest days of the industrial revolution, but for the first half of that period it grew quite slowly. Many babies died, and there were no cures for most epidemic diseases. Later the death rate dropped, but by then, with people feeling more secure in their lives, the birth rate was dropping too.

Whereas in most of the poor countries the population hardly grew at all until the start of the 20th century. But once the population did start to grow, thanks to basic public health measures that cut the death rate, it grew faster than it ever did in the rich countries.

Unfortunately, economies don’t grow that fast, so these countries never achieved the level of comfort and security where most people will start to reduce their family size spontaneously. At the current rate of growth, Ethiopia’s population will double again, to 160 million people, in just 32 years.

You’re thinking: That will never happen. Famine will become normal in Ethiopia well before that. No combination of wise domestic policies, and no amount of foreign aid, can stop it. And you are right.

What applies to Ethiopia applies to many other African countries, including some that do not currently have famines. Uganda, for example, had five million people at independence in 1960. It now has 32 million, and at the current growth rate it will have 130 million by 2050. Uganda is only the size of Oregon (New Zealand, Ecuador, Romania, Laos).

History is unfair. Conversations between those who got lucky and those left holding the other end of the stick are awkward. But we cannot go on ignoring the elephant in the room. We have to start talking about population again.

The writer is a London-based independent journalist.







US President Barack Obama has given much-needed impetus to the so far utopian concept of ‘Nuclear Weapon-free World’. In Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, he said, “Today the cold war has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not... We must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st Century.”

Mr Obama candidly and rightly said that US being the only user of nuclear weapons in the history of humanity has the greatest responsibility to work for the elimination of these weapons of catastrophe.

Nuclear weapons are the greatest threat to humanity and disarmament has been on the agenda after the World War II. Nuclear technology and weapon systems are becoming more and more advanced with each passing day and the possibility of nuclear weapons falling in the hands of terrorists cannot be ruled out. So, the question of time-bound implementation of nuclear disarmament programme, which may result ultimately into a nuclear weapon-free world, is the need of the hour.

For last four decades, there has been a lot of stress on the Non-Prolifiration Treaty but it has not been very effective. There are 188 countries which are signatories to this treaty; only India, Pakistan and Israel are outside and North Korea has of late opted out of it. Article VI of the treaty makes it obligatory on the part of nuclear weapon states to take measures in good faith for eventual complete disarmament. The main point of discontentment among non-nuclear weapon states is that while they have been fulfilling their commitment not to develop nuclear weapons, nuclear weapon states are not reciprocating by reducing these weapons.

There are over 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world. More than 1,000 of them remain on “hair - trigger alert” ready to be launched at a moment’s notice. The US alone has 7,100 active operational warheads and 3,000 to 5,000 in the current stockpile — and it has not even endorsed ‘No First Use’ doctrine.

Having attained nuclear capability in 1974 India desisted making nuclear weapons for 24 years. Security compulsions forced New Delhi to acquire nuclear weapons in 1998. Despite that, India is committed to non-proliferation and eradication of these weapons.

In 1978 New Delhi proposed an international convention to contain and eliminate the use or threat of use of these weapons. In January 1985 the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi initiated a multilateral dialogue and placed his comprehensive programme to completely eliminate these weapons of mass destruction. Later in June 1988 at a Special Session of United Nations General Assembly on Disarmament he placed his proposal for a phased and time-bound elimination of all nuclear weapons.

But the big powers didn’t act. They had their vested interests. The NPT has been used by the P-5 to protect their right to have nuclear weapons while denying others the right to obtain these weapons. The NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995 and the pledge enunciated in it to work for complete disarmament has been forgotten by the P-5.

In the recent past we have witnessed a major US-led war launched on Iraq in the name of destroying weapons of mass destruction. Weaponisation of outer space by America has added a new dimension to the problem and a new type of arms race is very much on the cards. India has always stood for non-discriminatory and transparent nuclear disarmament.

It is high time that reason should prevail and nuclear disarmament should become one of the most important international agenda. To start with transparency in nuclear weapons programme must be maintained by all countries. Improved verification, monitoring, and alerting technologies should be put in place. India and the US both should work for non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament in the foreseeable future.

The writer is associate member of the Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi.









After decades of missed economic opportunities and litigation logjam, the urban development ministry's initiative to overhaul the property rights system comes as a welcome if belated development. The proposed property title system operating on the basis of a comprehensive triple-register system at the level of the city authorities as well as the resolution of obfuscated records has the potential to do away with much of the legal uncertainty that has plagued urban land markets in India. From a ranking of 36 in the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) in 2008, India has dropped sharply to 46 this year. This negative trend could cripple India's efforts to grow its economy rapidly.

The cornerstone of the IPRI is the correlation between a country's property rights system and its economic prosperity propounded by Hernando de Soto. Empirical evidence has borne it out since. Countries with robust property systems have been seen to have a per capita income up to as much as nine times greater than those without adequate legal protection. In India's case in particular, the relevance goes beyond just economic growth. The nexus of economic deprivation and political disenfranchisement has had dangerous consequences for stability and security. It is no coincidence that the poor yet resource rich eastern states where people have little to no stake in the land and natural resources are the epicentre of Naxalism.

This, however, suggests the initiative's limited scope. Given that it is under the umbrella of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the comparatively easier logistics of implementing it in cities, the decision to start with urban areas is understandable. Economically as well, it makes sense given that these areas are expected to contribute about 65 per cent of the GDP by 2011. However, the other side of the equation that even by 2021, the urban share of the population is expected to be only 40 per cent illustrates why it is not enough. The World Bank has stressed the importance of land access and tenure security in alleviating poverty.

Initiatives modelled on the Bhoomi Keralam project in Kerala might be a good way forward. Computerising land records and utilising aerial photometry and GPS to feed a central database, it has been able to cut down the time taken for resurveys drastically. At the other end of the system, fast-track courts and gram nyayalayas at the panchayat level to deal with property litigation are a must as well. It is time India's legal system underwrote the marketable land rights of an individual that are the basis of economic growth.







There finally seems to be some movement on police reform. The Union home ministry has taken hard decisions that could ensure that the police are shielded from political pressure. The ministry announced on Tuesday that police officials, above the rank of inspector, in Delhi and all other Union Territories will get two-year fixed tenures. The only exception is administrative exigencies, which would have to be recorded in writing. The ministry has also directed setting up of Police Establishment Boards in each UT to decide transfers, postings, promotions and all other service-related matters as well as a Police Complaints Authority to address public complaints. All these measures are a belated response to a Supreme Court directive on police reforms given nearly three years ago.

While it's good that the apex court directives are being implemented in UTs, the worrying thing is that many states are yet to comply with the SC orders. Some states have also drafted laws or passed ordinances to circumvent the implementation of the Supreme Court directions.

But even where the police reforms are being implemented, there is no guarantee that it will ensure that the police do their jobs in a free and fair manner. It has been seen that a minimum tenure for senior police officials often leads to them working in cahoots with local politicians, businessmen and thugs. For this not to happen the two boards that have been set up must take their role of watchdogs very seriously. Otherwise the reforms would end up being meaningless.

Alongside the much-needed reforms, serious thought should be given to recruiting police personnel. According to the latest figures, there are more than 1.3 lakh vacancies in the central and state police. This works out to a mere 143 policemen per lakh of population, which is well below the UN-mandated minimum norm of 222 police personnel for every lakh persons. While the ratio of police to people in India is much less than most developed countries, it does not even compare to developing countries. Mexico, for instance, has 492 policemen per lakh of population. Moreover, some of the states that are worst hit by violence have the most number of police vacancies. For instance, Chhattisgarh one of the states most affected by Naxalite violence has about 7,000 vacancies in its police forces. Another Naxalite-hit state, Jharkhand, has nearly 9,000 vacancies. Unless these vacancies are filled, other reforms might come to nought.







NEW YORK: Moods and fashions in Japan often arrive like tsunamis, typhoons, or landslides. After more than 50 years of almost uninterrupted power, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been buried in a general election. Once before, in 1993, change came when a coalition of opposition parties briefly took power, but the LDP still held on to a majority in the Diet's powerful lower house. This time, even that last bastion has fallen. The centre-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took more than 300 of 480 seats in the lower house. The LDP rules no more.

The world, fixated on China's rise, was slow to pay attention to this seismic shift in the politics of the globe's second largest economy. Japanese politics has a dull image in the world's press. Most editors, when they cover Japan at all, prefer stories about the zaniness of its popular youth culture, or the wilder shores of Japanese sex.

The main reason for this is, of course, that Japanese politics was dull, at least since the mid-1950s, when the LDP consolidated its monopoly on power. Only real aficionados of arcane moves inside the ruling party could be bothered to follow the ups and downs of factional bosses, many of whom were from established political families, and most of whom relied on shady financing. Corruption scandals erupted from time to time, but these, too, were usually part of intra-party manoeuvres.


The system worked in a fashion: LDP faction bosses took turns as prime minister, palms were greased by various business interests, more or less capable bureaucrats decided on domestic economic policies, and the US took care of Japan's security (and much of its foreign policy, too). Some thought this system would last forever.

Indeed, it has often been said, by Japanese as well as foreign commentators, that a de facto one-party state suits the Japanese. Stability, based on soft authoritarianism, is the Asian way, now followed by China. Asians don't like the messy contentiousness of parliamentary democracy. Look what happens when Asians are foolish enough to import such a system, as in South Korea or Taiwan. Instead of civilised debate, they have filibusters and fisticuffs.

But, notwithstanding the occasional bust-ups, Korean and Taiwanese democracies seem remarkably robust. And the argument that Japanese, or other Asians, are culturally averse to political competition is not historically true.

In fact, Japanese history is full of strife and rebellion, and Japan was the first independent Asian country with a multiparty system. Its early post-war democracy was so unruly, with mass demonstrations, militant trade unions, and vigorous left-wing parties, that a deliberate attempt was made to squeeze politics out of the system and impose the boredom of a one-party state.

This happened in the mid-1950s, not for cultural, but for entirely political reasons. Like Italy (perhaps the closest European parallel to Japan), Japan was a front-line state in the Cold War. Domestic conservatives, as well as the US government, worried about the possibility of a left-wing, even communist takeover.

So a large conservative coalition party (much like the Italian Christian Democrats), funded to some degree by the US, was put in place to marginalise all left-wing opposition. This involved some strong-arm tactics, especially against the unions, but it worked mostly because the middle class settled for an informal deal: increased material prosperity in exchange for political acquiescence. The "LDP state" was based on the promise, given by Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato in 1960, that family incomes would soon be doubled.

Increasingly marginalised, the opposition dwindled into an impotent force, mere window-dressing to a one-party state. But one-party rule breeds complacency, corruption and political sclerosis. In the last decade or so, the LDP as well as the once-almighty bureaucracy that ran the system - began to look incompetent.

The victorious DPJ may not immediately set off any political fireworks. Its leader, Yukio Hatoyama, is an uncharismatic scion of yet another established political dynasty. The DPJ's aims are excellent: more authority to elected politicians, less bureaucratic meddling, more independence from the US, better relations with Asian neighbours, more power to voters and less to big business, and so on. Whether Hatoyama and his colleagues have the wherewithal to achieve these aims remains an open question.

But it would be wrong to belittle the importance of what has happened. Even if the DPJ fails to implement most of its reforms in short order, the fact that Japanese voters opted for change will invigorate their country's democracy.

A firm rejection of the one-party state will also reverberate far beyond Japan's borders. It shows clearly that the desire for political choice is not confined to a few fortunate countries, mostly in the western world. This is a vital lesson, especially at a time when China's economic success is convincing too many leaders that citizens, especially but not only in Asia, want to be treated like children.

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







The UK-based Royal Society has called for research into artificial volcano eruptions as a way of combating global warming. The scientific logic behind it is sound enough: the eruptions will spew millions of tons of sulphur-based particles into the atmosphere that will reflect sunlight back into space, bringing down surface temperatures. And that is why the society's call for a global programme of geo-engineering studies must be heeded.

Admittedly, sound logic is not always a guarantee of success or feasibility. But in this instance, the idea is not based only on theoretical constructs but on empirical evidence. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 expelled 20 million tons of sulphur particles into the atmosphere. And in the process, it temporarily cooled the entire planet by about 0.5 degrees Celsius. The scope and consequences of such a global drop in temperature are staggering.

This or other attempts at geo-engineering, which attempt to reflect sunlight back into space as a means of counteracting global warming, can't be ruled out of court as it is difficult to see the current preference for global emission cuts resulting in a positive outcome within an acceptable time frame. The longer the talks drag on, the steeper the targets become. And they are contentious enough, loaded as they are with economic implications and consequences. Developed nations may not make the painful changes needed in their economic and consumption patterns and developing nations are unlikely to accept restraints that could inhibit their growth. Attacking the problem on two fronts wringing such benefits from the climate talks as are possible while supplementing them with geo-engineering efforts is the best approach.

Endeavours such as increasing carbon dioxide absorption by boosting plant and ocean plankton growth, or constructing giant mirrors in space to reflect sunlight may be hit-and-miss. But the one breakthrough that succeeds might be enough to counter decades of ecological depredation. Limited experiments could be conducted initially, then scaled up if they work well. Scientific advancement cannot be rolled back to a point where it will no longer harm the environment. But it might just help redress its own mistakes.






Creating artificial volcanoes is an idea that's as bad as it sounds. Mountains that spew ash and smoke and molten rocks that smite everything that comes their way? Perhaps not the best project for scientists to indulge in. But that's precisely what some distinguished climatologists have suggested as a solution to global warming.

Tinkering around with nature seems to come, well, naturally to the human race. Not content with having almost completely depleted the planet of its ability to support life, we now want to take the easy way out to sort out the mess created over centuries. Technology in the form of the industrial revolution got mankind into this predicament, and now we have deluded ourselves into thinking that it will also save us from extinction. It's a scary thing to contemplate that a good section of the scientific establishment wants to actively tamper with the climate of this planet by doing things like making artificial volcanoes.

Yes, climate change is a serious problem that we, as a species, need to address. Everyday there are new reports and studies confirming that unless humanity makes real and substantial changes in its way of life, the environment will change so drastically that we will be unable to reverse the trend. But geo-engineering, as attractive an option as it may seem, is no solution. No amount of modelling and computer simulation can substitute for the real thing, and unfortunately testing bright ideas like exploding a volcano to release sulphur into the atmosphere can only be done in the real world.

The unintended consequences of such actions have to be borne in mind. What about the detrimental effects that the implementation of proposals such as this could have on people and ecosystems? Before pursuing such foolhardy ideas any further, governments should stop and consider that they might actually make the situation worse. There is simply no means of knowing in what ways mankind will have to pay nature its pound in flesh if we go down this road.







The SMS of the week was: "What is the lesson from the F1 win? India does best when there is an Italian in the driving seat." For over a decade now, Sonia Gandhi has been about as Italian as an Advani is an Armani, but it might be worth making some connections between the imminent Assembly polls and the winner's position which Force India just missed at last Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix. 


Election dates for Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh were announced a  day after Vijay Mallya's F1 team scored a historic second. So what can the candidates revving up their strategy, tactics and nerves for the October race learn from the one just concluded at Spa-Francorchamps? 


Mallya's driver Giancarlo Fisichella had the glory even though Kimi Raikkonen had the victory. The Roman stayed hot on the Finn's tail right through. But, like Andy Roddick at Wimbledon this year, every competitor knows that being No1 is all that matters, not how close a second you came. Fisichella winning pole position in the previous day's race was only marginally less frustrating than losing the election after the poll pundits have handed you a 'landslide victory'. 


Neither the political akhara nor the sports arena thinks that upsets happen only to tummies. Many giants tumbled in the last general elections as stunningly as this F1's champion leader Jenson Button zipped a bit too recklessly, and crashed out in the opening  lap itself. Political ejaculation can be even more premature. It's even more embarrassing even it is post-mature.   


Haryana's Hooda may not start tinkering under the Ferrari hood, or the Shiv Sena  summon the ghost of Ayrton Senna.  But even if party leaders learn nothing from the last Grand Prix, the run- up to October 13 will have a sense of déjà vu for those who wept and cheered on August 30. 


Formula One racing is called "the richest, most intense, most difficult and most political of all races", and only one other spectator sport pips it to the post. Both F1 and elections involve high thrills and vast sums of money. But there are four fundamental differences. 


One, aerodynamics is crucial to an F1 victory. Electodynamics operates on somewhat modified principles. In the former, the car being sucked down on the track by the negative downward force generated by the wind betters the chances of winning. In elections, the party being sucked down by the negative downward force generated by rabid speeches, the sudden impact of exposed scams, or the gravitational counter-pulls  of warring factions increases the chances of  being bumped right off the race,  if not actually ending on the scrapheap of  history. 


As a corollary, while those in the political race usually have chequered careers, they don't have the benefit of a marshal waving a similar patterned flag to warn of a slippery track ahead. Instead, fellow team-members gleefully flap green flags to lead them into treacherous patches.


Two,  Formula One cars have no air bags; in its electoral counterpart, the drivers are the airbags. On impact with a microphone, the hot air automatically inflates. 


Three, race drivers have to flaunt their multiple sponsors on every inch of their clothing; election candidates have to burqa up the sources of their bankrolling.


And finally, while the Congress seems to have deflated the controversy over who is in the driver's seat by the simple expedient of both drivers insisting that it is the other, the BJP underlines an emerging difference. All racing cars have to be souped up, but here the car is in the soup.    



Alec Smart said: "The mother organisation has stepped in to nourish the BJP back to health. Would the Web call this an 'RSS feed'?"







The US Open tennis championship is under way and if Venus Williams wins this tournament she will perhaps celebrate her triumph in the same manner she had wanted to celebrate her hypothetical Wimbledon success not with champagne, but with cranberry sauce. This is a good development, because it brings to centre stage a genre of food we often take for granted sauces. Imagine eating a fancy burger or even a simple omelette without good old tomato sauce. Or think of how insipid a hot samosa would be without spicy mint sauce or tangy date sauce on the side. In choosing cranberry sauce, Williams has made it clear that her preference is American. The first time one was faced with this delightful concoction was at a Thanksgiving dinner at a Mormon home in Berkeley. "No American Thanksgiving is complete without cranberry sauce", my bearded host informed me, "and every year my mom sends me a jar all the way from Salt Lake city."

But of course sauces go well beyond the cranberry. I was once offered fugu fish sauce with a very small bowl of sticky rice at a posh meal on the Ginza in Tokyo. My Japanese hosts insisted that this was an absolute delicacy, though they also mentioned that people occasionally died on eating it. I did not have the stomach for such a kamikaze gamble and though my hosts looked quite insulted, one emerged alive. It does not take fugu sauce to kill you, though; other sauces can do the job in equally interesting ways. Consider the healthy low-calorie dish of grilled fish, which is most often served these days with lemon butter sauce. The sauce is mostly butter and little lemon, so it completely neutralises any goodness that grilling and fish hold. Yet people who eat this dish imagine that they are losing several calories with every spoonful. We wish them well. My favourite is the damaging but irresistible hot chocolate sauce. Hot chocolate fudge has played important and memorable roles in many of our lives. As the sauce drips over the ice cream and washes all over your tongue, you feel that heaven has left St Peter's and descended straight into the pearly gates of your mouth. I can only guess what the men's champion at the US Open is going to celebrate his triumph with, but cranberry sauce seems a strong candidate. After all, what's sauce for the geese is sauce for the gander.









Recent experience shows that States battling the enemy within, especially the scourge of terrorism, draw a fine line between truth and treason. A 20-year jail term for Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam on charges of flouting the country’s stringent anti-terror law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, might be the first time a journalist has been charged under this law. But he is definitely not the first Lankan journalist to have earned the ire of the establishment. Earlier this year, the editor of the well-known Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramasinghe, was gunned down for criticising Colombo for its alleged atrocities against civilians, having eerily predicted his own fate in an editorial before he was murdered. According to Amnesty International, at least 14 Sri Lankan journalists and media workers have been killed since the beginning of 2006. Many more have been forced to flee the country.


Mr Tissainayagam’s trial is being seen as a toxic cocktail of confessions under duress, judicial malpractice and a brutal State crackdown on the media. He had accused the government of using denial of food and other essential items as a tool of war in Tamil-dominated areas. His fate is yet another reminder of the heavy price that military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has extracted in terms of civil liberties and human rights in the beleaguered island nation. After the fall of the LTTE, Colombo has found a new enemy, and journalists have become easy targets in a country still coming to terms with the end of a violent civil war that has not only left ethnic relations in a flux, but also given a free rein to the State in the post-war clean-up.


President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has been dismissive of international indignation and continues to ride roughshod over civil liberties, having denied access to all reporters and international aid agencies during the final military push against the LTTE. It continues to deny all allegations of abuse and misuse of State power, while blatantly stifling dissent with the aid of wartime emergency laws. Colombo’s belligerence does not bode well for the future of freedom in a country that has fought so hard for peace. It serves the government to address the allegations levelled against it and to stop persecuting its detractors. Its credibility as a modern democratic State depends on it.












At an age when most boys get their hands on their first toy pistol, Shiv Prasad Yadav has earned the dubious distinction of being the world’s youngest gangster. Uttar Pradesh’s finest have produced him in court for stealing trucks and selling them and, in one electrifying encounter, firing at cops. Amazing feats for a four-year-old! Think of the truly astounding career in crime that awaits such a prodigy. At eight, Master Yadav should be tipping a can of Sarin into a Stinger missile, at 12 Osama bin Laden would be begging to hire his services.


History, alas, is in the unmaking. The enfant terrible from India’s Wild East, it turns out, has nightmares figuring out his carbon atom from helium. The only link with the underworld the gangster in eighth grade has is during botany practicals. The trip to a Varanasi courthouse every fortnight breaks the monotony of Master Yadav’s days at a Rohtak school. With the wheels of Indian justice turning to the beat of a cosmic clock, Shiv’s opportunity to skip classes could very well extend to his university days.


Now the name Shiv Prasad Yadav, which our lad shares with a man accused of committing the abovementioned misdemeanors, is as common in UP as Chang in China or Ali in Arabia. Had the Jaunpur police bestirred  itself, it could have rounded up a score of Shiv Prasad Yadavs in place of the absconding gent. Summons could have gone out to all. Why should li’l Shiv have all the fun? Which makes chappies like him look to Nandan Nilekani’s grand plan to provide every resident of India his or her unique identification (UID) number. So that young Shiv is not mistaken for the nasty Shiv who, come to think of it, might not think it a bad idea for identities to be mixed up at all.








Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has once again set the cat among the pigeons — this time over his advocacy of a common, uniform science and mathematics curriculum in schools and with doing away with the multiplicity of school boards in the country. Though there have been some initial reactions from the officials attending the meeting in which Sibal proposed this, I think the issue deserves closer scrutiny.


What Sibal is suggesting is that “we... break the walls and prepare our children for the future” and having a uniform curriculum for science and mathematics, along with doing away with a multiplicity of state boards, will presumably achieve this. Is Sibal suggesting that the current system is not preparing our children for the future? Or that a child who has studied from the Maharashtra Board, for example, is not as well prepared for the future as someone who has gone through say, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)? Leaving aside the fact that our founding fathers, in their wisdom, had placed education on the concurrent list, therefore giving the states the autonomy to decide on their education system, there are other substantive issues at stake here.


Of course, one can assert, as the minister has in his speech, that there is no reason for science and mathematics to be different, though subjects related to the environment etc can be different. But proof by assertion is not something which goes down well with scientific temper — we would need hard evidence that the proposed change will lead to a better system before we attempt playing with the lives of millions of secondary school students. Of course the science and mathematics that a senior secondary student should know is pretty much standard and this is determined by the nature of the discipline. Moreover, this is true not just in India but the world over. However, a uniform curriculum is something that presupposes more than this. And the devil is in the details.


There are more than 50,000 higher secondary schools in the country according to the HRD Ministry’s annual report for the year 2007-08. Anyone with a cursory familiarity with the school system will tell you that the variation in terms of quality, infrastructure, human resources etc of these schools is immense. At the level of curriculum, the science and mathematics curriculum across the various boards — and hence schools — is pretty much the same at the higher secondary level; there might be some variation but not something that impacts the overall learning of the subject by the student.


What is more important is the uneven quality of teaching that exists at the level of schools (the boards are irrelevant; as is clear, students from any state board on an average make as good engineers, doctors etc as those from any other board). And this is what the key issue is:  the physics taught to a child in an elite metropolitan school (one of those where they still follow the Indian boards and have not emigrated to school-level boards from overseas) may be the same as that in a government school. However, the exposure in terms of books, the internet, qualified teachers and laboratories and libraries is a world apart. How a common curriculum, or doing away with state boards will bridge this gap is not obvious at all.


What is really required is an attempt to equip all children with the same tools and environment for them to be able to be assimilate the subjects taught. And that, instead of a common curriculum is what will truly prepare a majority of our children for the future as the minister wants. Of course, this argument, like all policy arguments essentially is about the average — the best student from a rural school is presumably quite competent to take on those from elite schools. After all, every year there are students from these schools who clear that touchstone of academic excellence in our country, the IIT-JEE (Indian Institute of Technology-Joint Entrance Examination). But raising the average standard of science and mathematics teaching across schools is what will make the difference.


The argument given by Sibal needs to be actually seen as a part of an over-all consensus that seems to be emerging among the education tsars in our country — the desirability of uniformity and homogeneity in curriculum in the broad sense. Of course, there is nothing wrong with uniformity if it leads to a better outcome for most people. But an imposition of uniformity for its own sake, without properly thinking through the consequences, especially when it comes to education, is dangerous. Hopefully, the constitutional powers given to the states will make them resist this unless and until it is thoroughly debated.


Shobhit Mahajan is Professor of Physics, University of Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.








The dust hasn’t yet settled on the crisis in the BJP, but it finally seems to be limping towards a resolution. The intense faction fighting, however, is an ‘inner-party problem’. As for the public, two things have become abundantly clear. First, not many people will, in the near future, buy the protestations that the BJP is its own master and its bond with the RSS is fraternal, cemented by a shared worldview. It is now beyond doubt that the RSS controls the BJP and that the party is incapable of handling its affairs without its hands being firmly held, especially in unpropitious circumstances.


Second is the matter of ideology. In its currently enfeebled state, it appears that the BJP cannot settle its ideological questions without reference to its ‘mentor’. The curious argument that party spokesmen first offered in justification of the Jaswant Singh-Arun Shourie episode seems to confirm that.


It was said, not entirely without an element of risibility, that Singh was turfed out without even a show of basic courtesies due to a senior leader because he was guilty of an ideological solecism. Shourie, on the other hand, was left alone because his trenchant critique related to matters organisational and made sense. Since then, Shourie has been half-heartedly asked to show cause. If we are to accept the justification offered at face value, we will conclude that after its electoral debacle the BJP is taking the road towards ideological purity — a hard line on Hindutva — especially when we look at the magnitude of Singh’s ideological indiscretion.


All that he suggested in his less than admirably put together tome was that Mohammad Ali Jinnah was not the only one responsible for Partition and that he was inexorably driven towards the two-nation theory by the Congress’s intransigence over committing itself to guarantees for the minority community, among other things.


If the BJP has committed itself to such a hard line on its own — as Shourie put it, it offered the RSS a ‘blood sacrifice’ without having been asked for it — the increased role of the Sangh in settling the party’s affairs must surely signal a further drift to the right. The RSS, unlike the BJP, has made no bones about its diagnosis of the electoral debacle, clearly stating that an insufficient commitment to Hindutva took pride of place among the causes of the defeat.


So, it seems a cinch that there won’t be many takers in the party for the line put forward by Sudheendra Kulkarni, the ideologue who left the party in the wake of the elections. Kulkarni stated that what the BJP needed to do was make itself more inclusive — specifically, he advised the party to drop the ‘H’ from Hindutva and adopt ‘Indutva’ as its guiding philosophy. Kulkarni probably sees, as many other observers of Indian politics do, that the sectarian line has played itself out. It is highly unlikely that even a high-octane, rathyatra-style ‘movement’ will yield the BJP electoral dividends.


The BJP, and even more the RSS, can be forgiven for not seeing things quite that way. Any attempt at radically reconstituting the party along a more centrist line will challenge the foundational tenets of the party’s obscurantist social philosophy and exclusivist political moorings. Just as the RSS cannot in the very nature of things countenance a dilution of the Hindutva ideology, so can’t those who will inherit the leadership with the express blessings of the guardians of the flame.


Modernisers within the party will not have an easy time of it should they decide to show their hand. At least until such time as the need to go hunting alliances surfaces. The question is whether the BJP can achieve the ‘balance’ once again having lost the moderating voice of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and having, in the face of its current bloodletting, surrendered itself more completely to the RSS.


It will be most unfortunate if the BJP, failing to re-position itself in more centrist, inclusive terms, becomes more and more irrelevant in ever-expanding swathes of Indian territory. No one would want the Congress or a Congress-led alliance to gain a monopoly at the Centre by default. And certainly, as things stand today, no party other than the BJP can provide robust opposition on the national stage.


Suhit Sen is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.









Ahead of the festive season, India’s sugar is running out. Truth be told, this isn’t just happening in India; even in calorie-rich America, sugar producers have warned supplies are running dangerously low. The price on New York futures exchanges of white, refined sugar delivered in October has run up to a three-decade high. The government’s own stock of sugar, comfortably high till very recently, is running dangerously low; it is even a conceivable possibility that India will enter the next year with its reserves completely depleted. How did we get here? Who do we hold responsible? And how do we ensure it doesn’t happen again?


At first glance, it appears a combination of uncontrollable factors: the drought; problems with the Brazil crop; a long-term move away from sugarcane to more lucrative alternatives — paddy, oilseeds. But not everything is that simple. Why is paddy more lucrative, after all? Because of state decisions. In Andhra, for example, sugarcane croppers complain that the government-mandated minimum support price for paddy is Rs 980 per quintal. Sugarcane, at Rs 1,070 per quintal, looks comparable — till one realises that paddy has a six-month seed-to-income cycle, but for sugarcane that’s closer to 12 to 15 months. That longer cycle causes growers and government both to overcompensate: a glut in the market 15 months ago can and did cause government decision on MSP that reduces supplies today.


Then there’s the traditional resistance to imports — expressed in arcane regulations over what level of processing is permissible for imported sugar, and whether you have to “compensate” by exporting a comparable weight, regulations frequently designed to benefit politically powerful millers and refiners. And that, in a nutshell, is where the blame lies: politics. For too long sugar has been the most politically connected of crops, and we see the results today. In one of the most-read and finest papers of the past 10 years, four Indian economists showed that structures of sugar processing in India (specifically Maharashtra) — with government-protected local monopolies, and politically-set input prices — cause massive inefficiencies and reduce incentives. But politically, nothing has moved. Today, we face a perfect storm: despite the fact that the agriculture minister knows and cares about the sugar industry, despite the fact that friendly governments are in power, consumers are angry, farmers are angry, millers are angry. The system hasn’t worked. It’s time for a complete change. Sharad Pawar must know: politics has screwed this up, and it’s not helping him politically either. It’s time for the big change: taking politics out of sugar pricing, and putting the market mechanism in.







As the general election results trickled in, they were accompanied by loud stage whispers about winning parties having hacked the vote. Those suspicions grew in volume and pitch as sore losers of every political stripe declared their disbelief in the sound functioning of electronic voting machines. So the Election Commission took the proactive decision to invite all parties to come and demonstrate their allegations, with randomly selected EVMs from various parts of the country, in the presence of technical experts and EVM manufacturers. None of these conscientious objectors showed up then, and the few individuals who did came away with their misgivings cleared.


Since the ’80s, India’s EVMs have been manufactured by the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (Department of Atomic Energy) and Bharat Electronics Limited (Ministry of Defence). In fact, this round of complaints is just an old whine in a new bottle: from V.P. Singh onwards, politicians have alleged that the machines were vulnerable, and subjected them to relentless tests. Finally, their transparency and ease of use won them over. Unlike America’s famously leaky Diebold machines, these are standalone devices, not connected to any network and not open to any inputs. The EVM chip is one-time programmable, burnt-in at the time of manufacture; it cannot be overwritten. The handling procedures are equally rigorous: they are installed and sealed in the presence of candidates, and randomised twice over. The machines are under 24x7 video surveillance, and various party supporters guard the strongroom where they’re stored.


But these cold facts don’t seem to stop disgruntled parties, from the BJP to CPM to PMK to LJP, from claiming tampering — at least this time, when they lost. Raising questions about the integrity of elections is dead serious. It strikes at the very heart of our democratic success. The EC enjoys immense public credibility; take them on, then you better have backup. About time they either offer clinching proof that EVMs have been tampered with, or for ever hold their peace.








The 600-acre IT park at Rajarhat, near Kolkata, is the latest casualty of Bengal’s land acquisition tragedy and the state government’s abdication of responsibility post-Singur, post-electoral rout. The CPM appears to be struck by a paralysis of will that’s putting every developmental project on hold. If the government, led by the party, keeps retiring hurt, paranoid about the next election, the list of the disappointed will not end with a Tata Motors or an Infosys — notwithstanding a reformist chief minister who’s been missing the plot for a while and an intriguing land reforms minister who opposes industrial land acquisition, but gave vested land to a luxury resort, and now, caught up in controversy, wants the IT park scrapped.


Indeed, the IT park is inextricably tied up with the Vedic Village controversy, as the land is contiguous to the resort and was to be acquired by Vedic’s developers for the government. Following violence and allegations of forcible land acquisition, the government has retreated. If Singur was about state acquisition of land, Vedic Village has exploded “direct” acquisition by developers. Evidently, neither Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s nor Mamata Banerjee’s preferred means of acquiring land is working. But the state government should not equate the mechanism of land acquisition with the fact of acquisition. The problem is with the former alone, where compensation packages do matter, while using goons unleashes all the goriness of Bengal’s brand of muscle politics.


If West Bengal’s industrialisation is put on hold, its people will pay a heavy price. But industry will not come without land; thus the state must find a way out of this morass. Bengal’s rural poor need industrial expansion and its small farmers deserve viable land markets. The abandoned and locked plot of land in Singur cannot continue symbolising the state’s reality and prospects.









The Maharashtra assembly election will set both tone and tune of the political orchestra currently being conducted by Dr Manmohan Singh and arranger Sonia Gandhi.


This is not to underrate the importance of the two other elections to be held on October 13, in Arunachal Pradesh and Haryana. But Maharashtra has special significance in the musical mosaic: Mumbai is still the corporate, cosmopolitan and even cultural capital of India. Business and Bollywood, cricket and fashion, Slumdog Millionaires and Shanghai, Marathi manoos and bhaiyyas, media and mafia all coexist in this chaotic metropolis.


Mumbai has 36 assembly constituencies out of a total of 288. But Mumbai influences the voting pattern in adjoining Thane, which is a sort of suburban extension incorporating New Mumbai. Thane has 24 constituencies. Together, they have 60. But the character of these 60 seats is qualitatively and even quantitatively different from the rest of Maharashtra. About two crore people — nearly one-fourth of the state’s population — share the Maximum City. Every single region of the state, every state in the country, each linguistic community, all castes and religions, gender and age group are represented in these 60 constituencies as nowhere else in India. Therefore, not only Maharashtra, but Mumbai and Thane will reflect, without exaggeration, the national sentiment following the Lok Sabha election.


Mumbai gets into the national media only when the Khans (Shah Rukh, Salman or Aamir) storm movie and TV screens or when the Thackeray brothers inflame the city’s streets. Yet, notwithstanding the Thackerays, the city has still retained its DNA of liberal pluralism. This is mainly because of its demographic configuration — but also because of the work-culture that shapes life in Mumbai and Thane.


Not every Marathi-speaking person agrees with the politics and style of Uddhav and Raj, though it is necessary to note that almost all Marathi speakers, irrespective of political hue, share the sentiment they express. The Thackerays have not been able to translate this widespread sentiment into political vision because they are blinded by the crowds and passions they can arouse and therefore cannot visualise a modern Maharashtra. Language and culture can be instruments of broader social consolidation and global vision. And yet, the Thackerays strangely feel compelled to exploit the inbuilt inhibitions and inferiority complex of the Marathi manoos. The violence that they manifest in their language and lumpen mobilisation is a reflection of the frustration born of that complex. They get intoxicated by the huge crowds and their collective rage.


The Congress, on the other hand, is a party which thrives on the divided opposition. Now even the Marathi manoos is divided between Uddhav and Raj. Indeed, without the presence of Raj’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the Congress-NCP alliance could not have won the 25 Lok Sabha seats it won in May. Further adding to the Congress’s advantage, even the so-called Hindu political psyche is disintegrated. Not only on the Jinnah issue, but also because of internal conflict between Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari. The BJP no longer has its self-styled Machiavelli, Pramod Mahajan, to aid it. Though, truly speaking, his skilful skulduggery did not really help the saffron alliance even in 2004. But in BJP-Sena circles there is still a strange nostalgia for him, as if he could have sorted out the conflicts.


In real terms, the Congress and the NCP have many advantages. The UPA has won the Lok Sabha elections, with the Congress itself raking in a stunning 206 seats; the images of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as well as those of Sonia and Rahul, still shine and even inspire faith and confidence; the opposition is in disarray — and yet the ruling alliance is so shaky that it could well fail to get the requisite majority of 145 seats. There is no panic in the Congress like there is in the NCP. But its complacence could prove its undoing. The main reason why the Congress-NCP alliance could even lose is because there is an enormous amount of anti-incumbency sentiment — latent today perhaps, but it could well surface and become a wave as the campaign picks up.


We have seen in the recent past — particularly in the other state assembly elections — that performance pays. It is governance that people seek and not any specific ideology. That is why voters elected the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the Congress in Andhra Pradesh and Delhi.


In Maharashtra, the Congress-NCP alliance has been in power now for the past 10 years. In its first avatar, in 1999, the two parties formed the alliance after fighting the elections separately, and against each other. This was because Sharad Pawar had rebelled against Sonia Gandhi that year, over her “foreign origin”. He had initially thought of splitting the Maharashtra Congress vertically. He failed miserably in that objective, as well as in winning more seats than the Congress led by Mrs Gandhi. So his partymen decided to join the government by forming the alliance with her party. The excuse, obviously, was to keep “communal” forces — the BJP-Sena alliance — away from power. The alliance fought the election together for both the Lok Sabha and the assembly in 2004 and for the Lok Sabha in 2009. But in the general elections four months ago, the NCP’s performance was so pathetic that the Congress was emboldened to demand that it fight the assembly election independently.


That will not happen and the Congress-NCP alliance will survive, primarily because neither is sure what the electoral mood actually is. The Congress’s complacency at the senior leadership level apart, there is a distinct feeling among its rank and file that the government’s total non-performance over the past 10 years is going to explode in their face.


This explosion will occur once the ticket distribution process starts. Most of the ticket-seekers, today’s MLAs, the ministers and their sons, are so completely cut off from their roots that they do not even comprehend the mood in the rural areas, let alone in the cities. But they think that it is their ancestral right to get a ticket. At the same time, there is a huge waiting list of those who worked for the past many years, but were not even given recognition, forget tickets. So there is bound to be widespread rebellion in the ranks. That rebellion will then consolidate the anti-incumbency sentiment.


So if the Congress-NCP alliance fares badly, it will not be because the saffron alliance is more credible, but because the governments led by the Vilasraos, the Shindes and the Chavans have lost their credibility and connection with the people.


The writer is editor of ‘Loksatta’








Saleha enters the room on crutches — two steel poles wrenched from umbrellas — and lowers herself on a rope-strung bed. Greetings are exchanged. Even within these bare cement walls, the heat is searing. Saleha lifts her veil, a blue Afghan-style burqa that the women of this city, Mardan, typically don’t wear.


“What happened?”


“Bullet,” she says. “Fell from the skies.” She bends down to lift her shalwar, but the translator on call — a Pashtun in his mid-20s — waves away her hand.


“Bullet from the sky hit you in the knee?”


She looks at me with tired eyes. “Taliban.”


Saleha’s own home is in Swat where the Pakistan army is concluding its military campaign against the Taliban. A few months ago, fighting between the army and militants erupted in Swat’s Lower Dir and Buner districts, considered to be among the most beautiful parts of Pakistan. Now they are places of haunting contrasts: lush green fields bordering derelict streets, gutted houses under clear blue skies. Swat houses some 600 hotels, all of which look as though they’ve been abandoned for years.


Saleha is among the 2.5 million Pakistanis who were displaced in one of the largest human migrations in recent history. The world’s largest human migration took place in 1947; but the location wasn’t too far away. During Partition it was Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims killing each other, trains of the dead arriving in Lahore and in Amritsar. This time, it was the Pakistan military — soldiers specifically reared on a diet of Islamic nationalism to face off India’s “Hindu” threat — fighting with their own brethren. This, Muslims killing Muslims, has been too painful a fact for many Pakistanis to accept.


In recent months, when Pakistani civilians were killed in American drone attacks aimed at Al Qaeda operatives, the reaction of most in Pakistan was outrage: how dare America violate our sovereignty, how dare they kill our citizens in the crossfire. Behind the scenes, however, a different and predictable politics was afoot: the civilian government and the Pakistan military had full knowledge of the drone attacks, a fact expressed both privately and publicly by American officials. But the government and the Pakistan military had to be seen to protest, as the Americans did their dirty work for them. (As an aside, delicate entreaties flew from the Pak army to the Pentagon: give us some drone technology too. But there was no way America was going to give drone technology to the army that had nurtured the Taliban and still thinks of them as potential “assets” in Afghanistan.)


So public discussion veered off in another direction. A debate raged on Pakistani television, its trajectory akin to the stages of emotion a person undergoes during a bad break-up: denial, anger, acceptance. Denial that the “war on terror”, despite having reached Pakistan’s borders, was not Pakistan’s war but America’s; anger at the West and allies within who were making us fight it; bitter acceptance, finally, that it indeed was our own problem — after it dawned on everyone that the Taliban didn’t accept the constitution, hated the media, thought democracy was a Western concept, thought nothing of flogging women in public and wanted to ravage Pakistan the way they had done Afghanistan.


Ironies in Pakistan never run short. After visiting the refugees I went to Takht-i-Bahi, one of the world’s oldest Buddhist monasteries, located on a hill to Mardan’s north. Although the actual stupas have disappeared over the years — and some taken away for preservation — the slabs of the stupas remain; they are surrounded by ancient meditation cells. The cells are as dark as cupboards, yet strangely, struck through with light. Here was a Buddhist monastery, a dwelling of peace-seekers, in a city that acts as the gateway to the militancy up north. What was all this communication through opposites? I thought of Saleha who any day now would return to Swat on steel crutches. She’ll find her hometown a phantasmagoric garrison city: daily curfew, shuttered shops, military checkpoints, schools and homes converted into fortifications. It will take months for normality to return. But for now, it will be a normality that doesn’t include the Taliban.


The writer is a student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts










The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is once again in the news, for the wrong reasons. Arbitrary changes in the guidelines by the rural development ministry, has turned a requirement into a controversial, self-defeating exercise. Former members of the National Advisory Council like Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze and their colleagues who have been working in a sustained way on NREGA, have opposed the new proposals. They have made a valid criticism on the lack of discussion. Recently, on the birth anniversary of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, it was declared that Lok Sewaks are to be appointed in every village to implement NREGA. Has any state government been consulted on this? And why should proposed panchayat bhavans in villages be mandatorily named after the late prime minister? Don’t villages have heroes who merit recognition? Over-centralisation is one of the problems of an otherwise extremely important piece of social legislation.


However the contention of the critics of the new proposals, that there should be no changes in the Act till it is fully and properly implemented is not in tune with the experience of the last four years of the Act’s implementation, particularly for workers. As far as the government proposals are concerned, they need to be modified and clarified rather than rejected.


From the workers’ point of view, the main issue that requires change is to shift from piece-rated to time-rated work. Harsh conditions of work, the very nature of the work and the high productivity norms make it extremely difficult to earn a minimum wage even after a full day’s work which has been unfairly extended to nine hours. When REGA started the standard norm was to dig at least 100 cubic feet a day and to lift out the mud. Rough calculations put that around 1000 to 1500 kilos of mud a day depending on the type of soil being dug. It is hardly a relief measure to expect a malnourished woman to carry that kind of load to earn a day’s wage. Since the base level is so high even the decreased productivity norms subsequently made by many states hardly helps. It would be fair to adopt a time-rated system.


There are two main areas of contention about the government proposals. The first is the July notification by the rural development ministry which includes, under NREGA, the development of land belonging to small and marginal farmers which was earlier allowed only to those belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes and to beneficiaries of land reform. The opponents of the proposals worry that this will divert focus away from rural labour and will deprioritise their needs. However, since NREGA is a demand based programme there need be no conflict in the allocation of funds. Indeed work on these lands under NREGA will not only benefit a large section of poor farmers, who today are the symbols of agrarian distress particularly in this period of drought, but will also enhance productivity and enable increase in the creation of work days. For example the Kerala government has proposed replanting of coconut trees under NREGA, which will benefit lakhs of poor households including job cardholders who otherwise cannot afford the expense of cutting down old trees and replanting. The guidelines already stipulate that farmers getting these benefits must contribute their own labour as job cardholders and that projects on private land must be done through the panchayats and gram sabhas. They must retain the right to decide on the prioritisation of projects. Work on the land of farmers should exclude recurring expenditure on agricultural/cultivation work and the clause which does contain such an exclusion must be strengthened so that NREGA is not turned into an instrument to provide free labour for well off landowners.


However the definition used in the notification for small and marginal farmers based on that of the central debt waiver relief scheme is problematic as it does not differentiate between irrigated and non-irrigated land. Thus while adivasi farmers in Nasik and Vidarbha holding more than 5 acres of unirrigated land were excluded from the debt relief scheme even though they are in the category of poor peasants, the better off small farmers of Western Maharashtra holding 5 acres of irrigated land were beneficiaries of the debt relief scheme. This injustice should not be imported into NREGA and differentiation for the purpose of inclusion in NREGA must be made between types of landholdings. Looked at from this perspective, the notification, if properly amended, could be seen as a welcome extension of government funds to needy sections of the rural population while enhancing productivity of the land.


The other contentious proposal is for convergence with other developmental works. Although it does make sense to dovetail projects for rural development, the main problem arises because of the 100 days work limitation per family under NREGA. Thus at present one member of a family may be working on a construction site for a particular government department and the other on a NREGA worksite. Under convergence their work days could be pooled and their entitlements reduced. Some departments have even higher productivity norms and thus lower wages. Convergence should be implemented very strictly within NREGA norms. Guidelines must be changed to remove the 100 day limit, to give job cards to individuals not family members and to use convergence to increase the total number of work days available.


The main problem is not lack of convergence but the inflexible and restrictive nature of the works permitted under NREGA. This has resulted in a low national average of only 50 days a year. In the name of producing tangible assets, the main work permitted is earth digging for water tanks, bunds etc. Experience has shown that while this may be beneficial in dry and arid zones like Rajasthan, it is extremely limiting in areas where there is intense use of land for cultivation and where the amount of common land available for such water harvesting projects is limited. After all how many tanks can be built in a village where there is little land to be had? Women in hilly areas like Uttarakhand, spend hours climbing up dangerous rocky hillsides, collecting fodder and carrying the huge bundles back to their village. Projects under NREGA could be worked out to pay women wages for this work which is fulfilling a social responsibility. There are many closed tea gardens in North Bengal. The state government had given a proposal to the Centre to use NREGA to pay workers to pluck the leaves, which would have helped develop workers cooperatives but was irrationally rejected. A task force was set up by the Centre several months ago to consider expansion of the work permissible, but its recommendations if any are yet to be published. Expansion in the work list is an immediate requirement.


The notification was made even while Parliament was on. It would have helped evolve a consensus on the changes required if the minister had consulted Parliament as also the members of the central advisory council for NREGA before making the changes. Executive fiat should not replace informed discussions.


The writer is a CPM MP in the Rajya Sabha.








Watching BCCI officials openly sparring over control of the IPL this week reminded me of the story about the cats, the monkey, and the cake. Remember it? Seeing two cats unable to decide if a cake is divided in equal halves, a monkey offers to arbitrate and gobbles it up himself.


The Indian Cricket Board has always functioned like a private club of 30 individuals, each with voting rights. The members have changed over the years, they’ve fought with each other almost relentlessly for control, but despite the differences, their hallmark has been the ability to stick together — impenetrable in defence and united in attack — when faced with an external adversary.


The latest fight within the BCCI over the premature termination of the IPL contract with the sports management firm IMG, however, seems to have opened a strange new chapter in the Board’s functioning. For the first time, those inside the BCCI are seeking support and forming alliances with people outside, thereby giving the tussle a more public dimension, and highlighting the fragile balance that has been created with the extension of cricket’s largesse to influential stakeholders who can no longer be ignored.


What until three years ago would’ve been an internal battle between IPL commissioner Lalit Modi and Board secretary N. Srinivasan has now transformed into a war or words involving some of India’s leading industrialists, actors and politicians — most of them not members of the BCCI, but all of them seemingly in a position to demand why changes are being made without their approval.


In a letter, for example, Mumbai Indians owner Mukesh Ambani has written: ‘I am personally shocked at the unilateral decision of doing away with the services of IMG... It is also worrying for me that such a significant decision in relation to IPL has been taken without even so much as consulting the franchisees.”


The sentiment is that the new franchisees feel they have the right to demand answers about how cricket in India is being run. And in a Board that has never been faced with such a problem because of its ‘independent’ nature, not everyone is sure how to react in this novel situation.


So while one side is waving letters — from Ambani, Shah Rukh Khan and even former Board chief Sharad Pawar — to oppose the dismissal of IMG, which was praised so lavishly by Modi at the end of the second IPL; the other side’s old-school BCCI survival instincts are considering this a sign that the exclusivity of their private club is in danger of being breached forever.


“Today, they (franchisees) are saying which company should be the IPL’s promoter, tomorrow they will want so-and-so to be the league’s commissioner, and the day after they’ll say we want this man as Board president,” a top BCCI official said on Tuesday, clearly expressing his faction’s biggest fear. “This is not proper.”


A major problem going forward is that the leaders of both groups are somewhat compromised. While Srinivasan himself owns the IPL’s Chennai Super Kings, which is a natural conflict of interest considering all the league’s finances are cleared by him in his capacity as Board secretary, Modi’s drawback is that losing the Rajasthan Cricket Association presidency has left him vote-less, effectively making him an ‘outsider’, in the BCCI’s election politics.



The IMG contract issue is just the trigger that has made this conflict public — the tip of the iceberg that has surfaced after almost a year of internal rumblings and back-biting from members on both sides. What makes this battle so evenly matched is that while the most important question in the BCCI used to be ‘how many associations are with you’, now ‘how many franchisees are with you’ is becoming equally relevant.








The editorial in the latest issue of Organiser titled “Board Exam: A Rational Approach” says: “The UPA-I was notorious for its comatose, narrow-minded approach to education. UPA-II on the reverse has an HRD Minister brimming with new ideas. Most of them are innovative, agreeable and long overdue, but in the federal system difficult to implement. There is consensus only on one aspect, that our education system has become archaic and it needs urgent overhaul. Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has suggested that the 41 school boards of the country adopt ‘a uniform core curriculum’ for mathematics, science and commerce. Reports say that most of the state boards have initially welcomed the suggestion. Perhaps they can include economics, history and other arts subjects also in this pattern. This is not to ignore the fact that history is the most controversial of all subjects when it comes to curriculum review. But for a nation to evolve a nationalist, unitary mind frame it is essential to have a common, correct and captivating idea of its past. A disoriented, doubtful and self-flagellating history can hardly help promote national pride in young minds”.


It concludes: “While on the one hand, a select group of students suffers from over-burdened education, forcing them to take the support of tuitions, the larger student community in the country suffers denial of equal opportunities. The non-uniformity also breeds the class difference between public schools (which in India means private ownership) and government schools. But making a uniform syllabus and standard may not be an easy task because it will require upgrading the skills of the teachers also uniformly. Banning of textbooks by private publishers will add a lot of strength to the core curriculum proposal of the minister. Coaching classes, book publishers and schools are huge business ventures now. It would need immense political will to carry through the idea. It is a wait and watch situation, to see if Sibal can do it”.



In an opinion piece titled “India has a moral stake in Baloch freedom,” K. Vikram Rao says: “The parliamentary debate on Balochistan went astray unfortunately. The members did not do proper homework. The issue here is not the mention of the word Balochistan in the Gilani-Manmohan Singh joint communiqué at Sharm el-Sheikh. In fact the reference to Balochistan, though wrongly worded, will go a long way in helping the Baloch people, old friends of India and fighters for freedom against British imperialism under the Baloch Gandhi, Khan Abdus Samad Khan. Therefore, India has a moral stake in Baloch freedom against Pakistani oppression, for the sake of human rights world over. Pakistani journalists indulge in homilies when they say India and Pakistan should end proxy wars in Baluchistan and Kashmir for the region’s development. They ignore the kernel of the issue and, like their country’s politicians, want to equate the two provinces geopolitically. It is historical fallacy and journalistic prevarication. Let us briefly recall facts from official Pakistani and Indian records about the two states and their accession. Kashmir joined the Indian Union after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah consented and its ruler Maharaja Hari Singh (father of Congress MP Dr. Karan Singh) signed the Instrument of Accession voluntarily with the Nehru government. The Indian Army moved in only to defend Kashmiri Muslim masses from Pakistani army regulars, disguised as tribal liberators”.


He adds: “Now the issue before the human rights activists of India is should they not agitate on world fora the demand of Baloch people for basic rights, suppressed for long by the military and civil governments of Pakistan? The Baloch saga resembles the Irish saga of fight for freedom from British imperialism. Both suffered untold human misery in the long annals of history. A secular India must take up the Baloch cause not as a retort to the fanatic Pakistani campaign for Kashmiri Muslims at every international forum. Indian troops in Kashmir are defenders against Pakistani marauders. But Pakistan Air Force and troops are in Balochistan to enslave the people, who are sturdy freedom-lovers. It is here that Dr. Manmohan Singh should be thanked by every defender of human rights for internationalising the Baloch issue, unwittingly, or in spite of himself”.









Most recent external trade statistics for July show that Indian exports declined by 28.4% in dollar terms and 19% in rupee terms. By simply looking at these numbers alone, one may feel pessimistic about our trade prospects. Exports have now registered a fall for 10 consecutive months in dollar value terms and for 7 consecutive months in rupee value terms. But these official figures hide more than they reveal, as they calculate growth on a year-on-year basis by comparing export values each month with that of the same month in the previous year. But this can be very misleading as comparisons of July 2009 with July 2008 do not tell us how exports have behaved after the global crisis hit trade in the second half of the last fiscal year, for which we need to look at month-on-month growth rates, adjusted for seasonality, as is the practice in most developed countries. Interestingly, an analysis which uses a three-month growth rate of seasonally adjusted exports shows a vastly different picture—it, in fact, shows that exports are growing positively on a month-on-month basis.


The nominal trade figures also strengthen this argument. Statistics provided by the commerce ministry show that monthly exports, which touched a peak level of $16 billion in August 2008, dipped sharply following the global crisis touching a low of $10.7 billion in April 2009. But flows have since improved with the monthly export number bouncing back to $13.6 billion in July 2009. The year-on-year growth figures ignore this pick up in monthly inflows of the magnitude of around $3 billion in the recent months. The other positive trend that will impact the macro economy is the sharp decline in the trade deficit that touched a peak level of $14 billion in August 2008, with merchandise exports’ income barely covering for half the import bill. But the slowdown has pulled down the monthly trade deficit to $5.2 billion in July 2009, allowing merchandise export earnings to pay for around two-thirds of the import bill. But these somewhat positive trends should not draw our attention away from the fact that the overall demand conditions in the economy continue to be weak as indicated by the slow pick-up in non-oil imports. Non-oil imports which decelerated by around $ 7 billion from the peak level of $ 19 billion in August 2008 to a low of $ 11.8 billion in March 2009, have only improved by around $ 2 billion to touch $13.9 billion in July. Much ground, therefore, remains to be covered.






The recovery seen in the automobile industry over the past few months has now gained further momentum with all key companies reporting impressive sales in August. The underlying demand for automobiles across segments—two-wheelers, cars and commercial vehicles—seems to be robust, auguring well for the upcoming festive season. Most notably, while July sales saw growth in certain pockets, August figures show growth across the board. Market leader Maruti Suzuki’s sales in the domestic market grew 29.29% year-on-year and in the two-wheeler segment, market leader Hero Honda’s total sales jumped by 35.88% and crossed the 4-lakh mark for the first time in a single month. A low base from last year may have partially helped boost growth rates but real recovery seems underway with government stimulus and pay commission arrears playing an important role. Now, the festival season starting this month is expected to give another boost—dealers are reportedly increasing their stocks. Buoyed by the positive consumer sentiments, companies are also planning new launches before the festive season. And with the second, and last, part of the pay commission arrears due this month, companies can witness bumper festive season sales this year.


Earlier, auto companies saw their margins increase during the quarter ending June this year because of declining raw material costs, which account for almost 70% of the total cost for auto manufacturers. Margins also improved because companies have been able to reduce high-cost inventory. Interestingly, though the car and two-wheeler segments saw a quick recovery, the commercial vehicle segment is witnessing a more gradual rise. Transporters are still deferring purchases because of low freight rates and as heavy commercial vehicles have higher sensitivity to the economic and industrial slowdown, the segment will take some more time to recover fully. The quick recovery of the car and two-wheeler segments has, however, raised the hopes of foreign companies who are setting up greenfield projects in India. Japanese major Toyota is building its second factory outside Mysore and the first vehicles will roll out this year. Nissan is building its factory in Chennai to commence production from next year. Global automobile manufactures are also keen to develop India as a global manufacturing hub for auto components and are ramping up the value of components they source from India. The component industry in the country is growing at 10% annually and is a major foreign exchange earner for the country. The recovery will definitely help boost the ancillary sector, too.








Just think of a product valued at Rs 50,000 crore that is consumed by individuals who contributearound Rs 20,000-22,000 crore to its consumption. The product has a combined weight of 5.2% in the WPI and accounts for around 6% of private consumption in both direct and indirect terms. Its price is on the verge of doubling by October as output for the ‘product year’ 2008-09 is expected to decline by more than 50%. The product is sugar, and the story is not new.


Sugar cycles in India are well known, and there is a sugar crisis. every 4-5 years. Production falters, and when not supported by imports, results in higher prices, and panic policy responses. We have already seen the government ban futures trading in sugar (the price continues to increase) and introduce strict stock limits to prevent hoarding (but prices still increase). The logical response is to import sugar, which should have been done earlier when the futures prices indicated that there would be problems on the supply front. But, by delaying the decision, the severity of the issue has been exacerbated.


India is one of the largest consumers of sugar, and the USDA estimates that global sugar output is to fall by 17 million tonnes in 2008-09. Sugar production has been affected by various factors including past decisions to divert land to the production of bio fuels which lowered cane production. This has had an impact even on the current production of sugar in major producing countries. India’s entry into the import market, as a very large consumer, automatically pushes up prices.


The problem in India, of course, starts in the sugarcane fields. Price is controlled through the statutory minimum price programme which assures a fixed price to the farmers. However, farmers are not paid on time as the mills can pay them only after they sell processed sugar. But sugar sales are regulated, even in the free market, through a release system where the government announces monthly releases. While the releases system aims to balance the supplies and ensure that it is available throughout the year, it creates problems for the mills in terms of their ability to pay the farmers on time.


The result is that the farmers often move away from sugarcane cultivation. They also prefer to sell to the molasses and gur manufacturers where payment is less of an issue. Therefore, cane production per se has been whimsical. Further, the monsoon playing truant has affected the production of cane, and given that there has not been substantial improvement in productivity, yields remain stagnant. The yield had touched a high of 71 kg/hectare in FY00 and has remained at a lower level since then. The area under cultivation has fluctuated between 37 lakh hectares and 52 lakh hectares, which lends to uncertainty in the output. The fact that cane is a water-intensive crop implies that any shortfall in rainfall in terms of late arrival or progress causes farmers to switch crops, as has happened this year, which finally impacts the production of sugarcane and sugar.


The solution is evidently to improve productivity, and policies on sugar. Enhanced productivity is possible only in the medium run. While sugar is partly decontrolled, it is the only industry which faces regulation at both the raw material and final product ends. In the case of wheat and rice, the MSP helps the farmer and the government through the FCI which is the main buyer, but in case of cane, the price is fixed and the private mills have to pay this price and have no alternative. While the free market price is theoretically free, as mentioned earlier, its distribution is subject to the releases announced by the government thus making it a controlled product. This does not happen for any other product—there is just too much intervention in the production and distribution cycle.


Looking ahead, the government should take a stance on whether sugar is as critical as rice or wheat for food security. While one view is that the market should take care of the dynamics, the other believes that sugar is too critical to be left to the market as it is a mass consumption item. If this is to be the stance then the government should consider the creation of a buffer stock, just as in rice and wheat. More importantly, at a broader ideological level, we do need to seriously look at the extent to which the government should be intervening in price stabilisation of all products that are consumed by people. We began with rice and wheat and now have made sugar and edible oils targets of government price intervention. Should the same stretch to vegetables and milk which are also essentials, and affect the common man? Surely not. That will create more problems than solutions.


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








Yukio Hatoyama, the man who steered the Japanese opposition to a landslide victory this Sunday is nicknamed ‘the alien’. For a country teetering on the precipice between economic recovery and a renewed slump, perhaps a worse one than that of the lost decade created 20 years ago by the bursting of gigantic stock and real estate bubbles, perhaps only an alien can deliver much-needed, much-postponed change. If this rhetoric sounds Obamaesque, rest assured that plenty of commentators have already noted the similarity between Obama and Hatoyama’s campaigns. In both cases, the ride to victory has been on the back of widespread social and economic disaffections. What’s worrying, then, is that Hatoyama’s drive into the future is likely to be just as tough as the US President is finding his to be.


Still, the change Hatoyama has already delivered is big by any standards. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been ruling Japan since 1955 (only taking some months off in 1993), especially amazing given that this was the first independent Asian nation to boast a multi-party system. One PM promised in 1960 that family incomes would soon be doubled. Living up to such promises, the country saw living standards improve in subsequent decades. From the rubble of the WWII, it rose like a phoenix, growing into the world’s second-largest economy. The likes of Sony and Toyota grew globally dominant; Japanese businessmen were snapping up iconic international properties like Hollywood’s Columbia Pictures. The value of real estate in Tokyo was said to eclipse that of the entire US. Once hit by the nineties trough, however, the land of the rising sun had to adjust to some settling down. This it did by the dawn of the new millennium, but growth hobbled behind other countries. Real private consumption only grew by 1.1% a year in the five years up to 2007, which was unhappily at the same level as in the lost decade.


This brings us to the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), formed off a five-party coalition in 1998. As the Great Recession derailed the economy from its recovery track, with Japan suffering the worst QI09 GDP contraction among major industrialised countries, voters finally gave up on stability. For international media, this adds a zing factor long missing in Japanese politics, where developments had hitherto been duller than dull. What was a de facto one-party state has now seen a power shift being heralded as no less than revolutionary.


What are the biggest challenges facing the DPJ and is its arsenal equipped with any magic bullets to tackle these? Off the cuff, Japan offers a laboratory for two big global tests, one demographic and the other concerning export growth models. As the country’s 60th PM, Hatoyama cannot but be concerned that his is the most rapidly ageing country in the world. By 2050, its population will contract about 25%. Nearly half of Japan’s population is expected to be over 60 by 2050. Old must become the new young, say commentators. Healthcare, for example, could grow to create many a Miami. Speaking more broadly, what we have here is a productivity challenge. On the one hand, there are apocryphal tales of efficiency, say Toyota’s just-in-time production that is famously cutthroat and involves delivering parts just before assembly to keep inventories low. On the other hand, Japan’s domestic service sector is overregulated to death, very disturbing given that it makes up 70% of the economy. Nowhere are reforms more desperately needed than in this sector, which is said to be a quagmire of licences and rules. At the same time, Japan’s problems are attributed to how deeply it is export dependent. Domestic demand simply hasn’t grown to expectations.


It’s young people who are wellsprings of domestic demand. Only 30% of 20-somethings have turned out to vote in recent elections as compared to 60% of the overall electorate. But, echoing the Obama phenomenon, the DPJ went out of its way to wow them. It fielded candidates who were far more than youthful and telegenic than the LDP crop, mostly in the late 60s. This had an important impact in a climate where Internet campaigning was banned. The young also make up most of the temporary workforce that accounts for a third of the labour force in Japan. So, on the one hand the workforce is shrinking (not helped by the fact that 70% of women leave their jobs to give birth). On the other hand, short on job security and government benefits, the young are ill able to afford a family, a trend DPJ promises to reverse. With family-friendly policies, a wider social safety net and so on.


Okay, but how is all this going to be financed? Japan’s national debt is spiralling beyond 200% of GDP, something that has cost the country its AAA rating. To return to Obama land, Japan is the second-largest foreign holder of Treasurys. Were it to stop buying US debt and start selling its dollar assets, what would that mean for global currency games? A stable Japan is almost a global necessity but DPJ has its task cut out to deliver it.










Banks seem to have become lukewarm to the financial needs of the small-scale sector of late. Small-scale units are plagued by multiple problems in the current economic slowdown—access to finance, lack of demand, non-availability of raw materials, low capacity, inadequate and high cost infrastructure, obsolete technology, falling markets, and failure to meet global standards.


Statistics show that banks have been lethargic in lending to small units though there has been substantial year-on-year growth in gross bank credit in recent times. But the percentage of bank credit to this crucial sector has gone down from 12.60% in 1996-97 to 6.34% in 2006-07. The credit to micro enterprises having an investment up to Rs 5 lakh in plant and machinery, has declined from 23.3% in 2002 to 17.07% in 2005-06. In comparison with gross bank credit,their advances amounting to Rs 59,279 crore show a fall from 3.7% to 2.4%. Similarly only 0.52% of the 1.14 lakh sick units were chosen by banks for nursing back to life by infusing funds.


What is needed now is a sperate, focused policy that will identify small-sector needs, and suggest action plans for sound operation and speedy recovery from a crisis. As with other vulnerable groups like those in agriculture, there is perhaps a need for concessional credit—say at a rate of 7% like farmers get—to tide over these difficult times. Units particularly vulnerable to changes in global market conditions such as leather, textile, gems & jewellery etc—all of which are badly hit by the collapse of their traditional markets in the developed countries— need special packages tailored to suit such problems.


A new policy should not only focus on revival and rehabilitation but also provide a safe exit route for the unviable and loss-making enterprises. So, for example, units with loans worth less than Rs 25 lakh could perhaps, for reasons of pragmatism, be exempt from the law that allow banks to take possession of collateral security assets, and put them for public auction. That may be simpler than providing concessional credit.








When two adjacent computers began to exchange data on September 2, 1969 in a UCLA lab, no one saw it as a giant step for humankind. The Internet started as a university project and was nurtured by visionary professionals and enthusiastic amateurs as an open access network for exchanging information and knowledge. A tremendous combination of idealism, creativity, and hard work, along with game-changing inventions in computing, has made the Internet what it is today. The abi lity to connect easily and communicate extensively and ‘the rewards of unanticipated opportunities’ are some of the benefits hundreds of millions of people around the world reap from this revolution. According to, a handy data source, the estimated number of Net users worldwide is 1.67 billion or about 25 per cent of the global population; this represents a growth of 360 per cent over 2000. The Future of Internet III, a survey of internet leaders and analysts conducted by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (2008), shows that there is much more technological innovation to come. This will advance the architecture and use of the Internet, with the mobile device becoming the primary device for online access. While there is no reason to doubt the basis of this optimism, the Internet faces several challenges today.


Jonathan Zittrain, an Internet guru, sees the ‘counter-revolutionary’ drive from ‘generativity’ — the greatest gift of the Internet — to a centrally controlled ‘appliancized network’ and ‘tethered’ appliances as the greatest concern. He believes the generative Internet can be preserved for everybody through new technologies and changed behaviour. The lack of ‘net neutrality’ is a barrier to healthy growth. The increasing presence of proprietary networks, the unwillingness of service providers to allow the free flow of ‘various forms of data traffic,’ and stiff pricing tend to discourage both use and innovation. The other side of the coin is that the generative Internet has perpetuated the ‘cult of the amateur,’ which tends to undermine its credibility. The way forward is not to hand over the World Wide Web to `experts’ — but to foster the collaborative nature of the vast creative space. The Internet faces serious security threats with juvenile behaviour, unethical hacking, and spamming far from overcome. Technology can help make the Internet a safer place but it must not become the basis for authoritarian controls. Developing countries, including India, are a long way from empowering their people through the Internet. Improved and accessible bandwidth and cheaper hardware hold the key to bringing the benefits of the Internet to the unconnected millions. The next generation Internet Protocol, which will provide a wider base for creating web addresses and facilitate Internet growth, can make a real difference to this situation — provided bold and progressive policies are pursued.







Among the key proposals of the new Direct Tax Code, now open for public debate, the one to replace the EEE (Exempt-Exempt-Exempt) method of taxing certain long-term savings, especially the employees provident fund (EPF) and the public provident fund (PPF), with the EET (Exempt- Exempt-Tax) method has invited a great deal of comment. The EET differs fundamentally from the EEE in that the proceeds on withdrawal — usually, but not always, at the time of superannuation o f the taxpayer — are taxed. Under the EEE method, the initial investment, the interest earned, and the maturity amount are free from tax liability. Considered in isolation, there is no doubt that many categories of investors, including salaried employees, will be hurt badly in financial terms by the switchover to the EET regime. The EPF and the PPF have been considered better than other forms of long-term savings also because they assure a steady rate of return and are not subject to court attachments. Without the tax exemption on withdrawal, these schemes might lose much of their appeal particularly to the salaried classes,for whom they have practically been the only form of savings.


The case for the EET rests on the guiding principles of the Code which seek to do away with most of the exemptions while substantially lowering the tax rates. The EET regime will provide for uniformity in the tax treatment of various savings instruments.The Code has proposed a substantial increase in tax slabs and a significantly higher Rs.3 lakh deduction for investments. The substantially higher portion of incomes that will be left in the taxpayers’ hands initially, coupled with the higher limit for investments that would remain tax exempt, should, it is hoped, compensate for the outgo on account of tax on savings after maturity. Investors are unlikely to be guided by tax treatment alone; they would be able to appraise the risks and rewards in any savings scheme more objectively. It should be a matter of considerable relief for the existing investors that only contributions to the provident funds and the PPF made on or after the commencement of the Code will be taxed. However, this is an aspect that needs to be debated, and the overall balance of advantage or loss made clear to the taxpayers.









It has been clear for some years now that India is unable to fully comprehend or address the complexities of a changing Pakistan. Not surprisingly, New Delhi’s policies have floundered, if not failed. Strident debates in the Indian media — frightening in their Manichaean simplicity — reflect a lack of appreciation of the intricacies of the Gordian knot of bilateral relations. Unlike much of the establishment, however, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — by pinning Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to a joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh and then by warning the Chief Ministers of Indian states of the dangers of a terrorist attack from Pakistan-based groups — may have addressed part of the core problem: there are multiple Pakistans all of which demand Indian attention. Robust if differentiated, focussed but flexible, multitrack responses must now define India’s policy towards Pakistan’s fragile and fragmented political and social structure.


Not only the deep cleavages within Pakistan’s society but also — surprisingly — the overwhelming popular desire now for better relations with India are revealed in two recent surveys of public opinion in that country, conducted by Gallup Pakistan and by the Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes Project which included 24 countries (including Pakistan) and the Palestinian territories. The findings should also serve as a warning to New Delhi of the dangers of “outsourcing” its Pakistan policy to Washington.


Three findings from both surveys stand out. First, as expected, is the high level of anti-Americanism among the Pakistanis. In the Pew survey, 68 per cent of the respondents have expressed a negative opinion of the U.S. Only 16 per cent have a positive view, and 64 per cent consider the U.S. more an enemy than a friend. American President Barack Obama receives the lowest ratings in Pakistan among all 25 nations surveyed as part of the Pew project. The Gallup Poll too reveals the all pervasive nature of Pakistani sentiment against the U.S. Fifty-nine per cent consider the U.S. the greatest threat to the country. Not surprisingly, American policy in Afghanistan receives very little support.


Secondly, both surveys suggest that there is a strong public desire for better relations with India even among those sections which consider their eastern neighbour a major threat. The Gallup Survey suggests that only 18 per cent consider India the greatest threat, and interestingly the figure is the highest among those likely to vote for either the MQM or the ANP and lowest among Sindhi speakers. Women are more likely to be anti-American than anti-India. According to the Pew survey, 69 per cent of the respondents do consider India a major threat, but two-thirds believe it is important for relations between Islamabad and New Delhi to improve. Over a third of those polled believe that having good relations with India is very important. Apprehensions about India are the highest in Punjab, where 70 per cent cite India as the greatest threat to the country, while a majority in Sindh and the NWFP consider the Taliban a bigger threat.


Finally, it seems that there is a process of deep churning within Pakistan’s multiple “societies,” which seems to translate, at the moment, into almost schizophrenic responses on key issues of identity. This is most clearly reflected in attitudes towards the al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and “severe laws” associated with these groups. For instance, in the Pew survey, there is little support for the Taliban and the al-Qaeda. Fifty-seven per cent consider the Taliban and 41 per cent consider the al-Qaeda a serious threat to the country. Forty one per cent in the Gallup poll support military action against the Taliban. And yet there is also considerable support for the harsh punishments imposed by these extremist groups. Seventy-eight per cent favour death for those who leave Islam; 80 per cent support whipping and cutting hands for theft and robbery; and 83 per cent favour stoning adulterers. And yet, 87 per cent of Pakistanis believe that it is equally important for boys and girls to be educated, in contrast to the Taliban’s thinking. The poll finds that support for suicide bombing remains very low. In terms of credibility of institutions, the army, the media and the judiciary receive high approval while the Inter-Services Intelligence, the police and the national government get much less support.


These findings need to be studied carefully but if they are indeed reflective of real trends, they suggest what has always been intuitively obvious: India’s Pakistan policy has not succeeded because, while remaining a prisoner of past dogmas, it has been unable to respond to the multiple political and social forces in Pakistan that need to be understood and addressed.


The strategic community in India has traditionally been overwhelmingly in support of a policy of aggressively countering Pakistan. These are the Subedars. Only a minority, the Saudagars, has wanted to ignore and benignly neglect Islamabad or integrate it economically. A microscopic few, however, want New Delhi to be proactive in promoting peace, even to the extent of making unilateral concessions. These are the Sufis.


But these strands cannot afford today to remain in opposition to one another. The need of the hour is for the Subedars, the Saudagars and the Sufis to come together and shape a new Pakistan policy. At a time when it has become risky to invoke Mohammad Ali Jinnah, it is still important to recall his original design for the state: Muslim, Moderate and Modern. It is this Pakistan that an Indian strategy must systematically work towards constructing. In the present scenario, Indian policy must have at least the following strands.


First, India needs to build strong defensive and offensive capabilities to deter “asymmetric” attacks by non-state actors which may have the backing of elements of the Pakistani establishment. Nuclear weapons, at the end of the day, will only deter nuclear weapons and, at best, a full-scale conventional war. Doctrines like Cold Start will, however, remain in cold storage until they are able to explicitly demonstrate that diplomatic, political and military benefits outweigh the costs.


Secondly, India must reach out and strengthen all those who have a stake in better India-Pakistan relations and an interest in regional stability through unilateral gestures that do not demand reciprocity. These would include specific initiatives for civil society actors, as well as many others within the business and political community. For instance, New Delhi should consider constructing a preferential trading regime that offers Pakistan’s handicrafts and other local products almost unfettered access to the Indian market. Such a gesture, with some short-term costs, could have far-reaching long-term benefits for India and the region. Similarly, New Delhi could begin by offering a thousand scholarships to young men and women in Pakistan willing to study the humanities or social sciences in India at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.


Thirdly, India must systematically seek to weaken, delegitimise and isolate those who are enemies of a moderate Pakistan and, by implication, of a stable subcontinent. This can be done unilaterally or in conjunction with allies. It is unfortunate that sub-continental Islam, built on an ethos of multiculturalism and tolerance, has not been projected with the robustness needed in these difficult times. This “soft power” of South Asian Sufi Islam remains the best weapon against extremism.


Fourthly, Indian policies must be carefully distanced from the present American role in Pakistan or the larger U.S. Af-Pak policy. In the Pew survey, more Pakistanis expressed a willingness to trust Osama bin Laden rather than Mr. Obama to do the right thing in world affairs. Ultimately, we need to understand that India-Pakistan relationship, over the last 62 years, has been about almost everything that matters: history, memory, prejudice, identity, religion, sovereignty, ideology, insecurity, betrayal and much, much more. Ironically, a troubled Pakistan, confused about its identity and its place in the world, may offer a real chance to move beyond conflict and towards real reconciliation. It is an opportunity to finally cut the Gordian knot; a chance India cannot afford to miss.


(Amitabh Mattoo is Member, National Knowledge Commission to the Prime Minister of India, and Professor of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.)









For a programme that, at its peak, attracted 10 million viewers; spawned a wave of local brands in some 70 countries, including India; and was once hailed as a “revolutionary” experiment in reality television the decline and fall of Big Brother has been as dramatic as was its rise.


When the series was launched 10 years ago few perhaps seriously believed that a show in which nothing really happened with bored participants, high on alcohol and nicotine, moping around and occasionally picking up a fight would be so successful . In the event, it became an “annual summer obsession” for millions of British viewers, as one critic put it, and ushered in a new era of “reality” television.


But, alas, there will be no more BB-blessed summers. Or rather there will be just one more. For, Channel 4 has decided that it has had enough of it and would not be renewing its £180-million contract with BB’s Dutch producers, Endemol, when it expires next year. The announcement about BB’s imminent demise had a ring of a funeral service as Channel 4 top brass lined up to pay tribute to it declaring that it remained the “most influential show of the modern era” and would be remembered for “pioneering new technologies and fundamentally altering how viewers watched television.”


They insisted that the decision to axe it had nothing to do with its falling viewership, which is down to two million, and declining revenues but was part of a “fundamental creative overhaul” of the channel’s programming.


Big Brother is still profitable for Channel 4 despite its reduced popularity and there could have been the option to renew it on more favourable terms. That’s what a purely commercial broadcaster would have done but Channel 4 has public remit to champion new forms of creativity,” Kevin Lygo, Channel 4’s director of television and content said.


While it is true that despite an eight million drop in viewership figures, BB is still watched by more people than many other successful programmes the fact that eight million people have stopped watching it shows how much its popularity has declined. Indeed, Mr. Lygo admitted that it had “reached a natural end point.”


Put simply, the programme has lost its appeal and what once seemed “edgy” now looks terribly passé. After ten years, it has turned into a tacky formula and desperately needs some new tricks to revive it. Besides, the BB brand has acquired a negative image following a series of damaging controversies, especially the Shilpa Shetty-Jade Goody race row. Even at the height of its popularity, BB was (mostly) boring and attempts to sanitise it in the wake of these controversies has made it duller: so much so that it is finding it difficult even to find “interesting” participants while once there used to be a scramble to get on the show because it was seen as the quickest route to stardom.


The story of Cairon Austin-Hill, who took part in a recent episode, is instructive. Asked by a newspaper why he had wanted to be on the show, he said it was “not really my choice” and happened by accident. He had meant to accompany a friend to audition for BB but at the last minute the boy changed his mind.


“And I was dressed already, and up early, so I went to the audition instead. Next thing I knew I was bang on the show. I am a simple kid. I didn’t want fame or nothing. I had nothing to do over the summer and I thought I might as well [go on the show]. I wasn’t going to go back to sleep that morning,” he told The Times.


So, there you are. It has become that easy to get on to what, until a few years ago, was regarded as one of the most sought-after platforms for wannabe celebrities.


Meanwhile, Channel 4’s decision has prompted a rash of obituaries, mostly notable for their slightly awkward tone — mourning the “passing of an era” in British television combined with a barely concealed glee that the “damned thing” is finally over. The tone is consistent with the British middle class viewers’ somewhat ambivalent attitude towards BB: seduced by its voyeuristic contents but embarrassed to confess to watching it.



But for all the media attention (anyone who is anyone in the entertainment business have commented on it) few have actually shed tears over the BB’s fate. Not even its previous contestants. One former woman participant said that although she had fond memories of the show it was time for it to be abandoned.

“People have simply lost interest in it,” she said.


Many are asking whether the “demise” of BB marks the end of “reality” television. The consensus among those who profess to know about such things is: no. A certain kind of reality TV represented by BB may have had its day but, as one commentator pointed out, reality television per se will never die in an age when “an entire generation...will not understand anything unless it is presented as a three-judge talent show!”









How should newspapers refer to a victim of kidnap? Heaven knows in these modern days the question of appropriate nomenclature seems to get more complicated — and my hat is tipped to the female actor v actress debate that so exercised Guardian readers recently — but the aversion some newspapers have towards the term “kidnap victim,” or even just “victim,” when reporting the discovery of Jaycee Lee Dugard last week was n otable. Even more surprising was the term that is apparently more acceptable, more au courant: sex slave.


Last week the London tabloid Daily Mail and, less predictably, the Times used this term in their headlines about the case, while other tabloids, of course, pledged their support to the term, too. London’s Evening Standard slapped it on their familiar billboards all over town, which managed almost to neuter the term through prosaic repetition. But then, “kidnap victim” does lack an illicit erotic kick, don’t you find?


One tabloid made a horror-struck comment about how kidnapper Phillip Garrido (“the new Fritzl/Charles Manson, etc, etc” — U.K. press) “satisfied his sick sexual urges” with Dugard, when, at that moment, it sounded like the only people being satisfied were the tabloids’ readers. There have been unconfirmed tales from a neighbour about the “orgies” Garrido may or may not have held in his backyard involving “eight to 10 men, mostly Mexican.” True? Possibly not: “I just hope that sicko wasn’t pimping out Jaycee or those children. The thought makes me sick,” the neighbour said, but not so sick he couldn’t share his supposition with the slavering press.



The coverage of Dugard reflects the strangely voyeuristic way the British press covers kidnappings of young girls. It would take a highly patriotic American to claim that their country’s media doesn’t succumb to tasteless voyeurism from time to time, but it was striking how, last Friday, when this American story was breaking, it was the headline on all U.K. newspaper websites. Over at the New York Times and Washington Post, however, it got only small paragraph mentions on the front page; instead the unashamedly tabloid (and Murdochian) New York Post gave it what shall now be known as the U.K. treatment.


Now, you could say that this was a sad reflection of America’s outdated obsession with the Kennedy family that an ageing politician’s funeral, which was happening that day, took precedence. But, my God, the U.K. press does love a “house of horror” story hence the detailed photos of Dugard’s prison backyard in several U.K. papers by the weekend. Moreover, the interest in the fate of kidnapped girls has arguably escalated in this country after the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. But one wonders how Kate and Gerry McCann feel when they read all the (hypothetical, unconfirmed) graphic details of what Dugard has been through for the past 18 years.


The coverage of other recent cases involving rediscovered kidnapped girls — Elisabeth Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch — have eased the slimy way for the sweaty-palmed coverage of Dugard. Fritzl and Kampusch were both referred to as “sex slaves” occasionally, but with nowhere near the frequency and abandon as Dugard.




The sexual abuse is an important part of all these cases and, in the case of Dugard, who left her prison with two children she did not have when she went in, an unavoidable part. But describing her as a “sex slave” not only puts the emphasis on her, as opposed to her captor, but suggests the sexual abuse element was the only damaging part, as opposed to the imprisonment, the loss of contact with her family and the possible brain-washing. No doubt the tabloids would claim that Garrido is merely getting the pillorying he deserves. But to use concern for Dugard as an excuse to pull back her bedclothes seems but a whisper away from claiming, as Garrido did, to be the voice of God in order to have control over your captive. It’s hard not to feel that Dugard has just escaped 18 years of sexual abuse, only to walk out into the blinding light of a whole new kind of shame. Her disappearance may have been public knowledge, but now that her fate is known, why doesn’t she get the same protection as other rape victims?


Speaking of Kennedy, now we come to an inevitable tale of our times. 2009 is shaping up nicely to be the Year of the Dead Famous People. Which is great if you’re a celebrity obituarist but a nightmare if you’re a famous person in poor health as your risk of being overshadowed in death is even higher this year. And then your life will have been for naught. Well, if you’re the family of writer Dominick Dunne, who died last week right in the middle of Kennedy coverage, you know what to do.


It’s apt that Dunne, the modern-day Truman Capote (if not in novel-writing) and a man who knew that not all Bold-Faced Names (American slang for celebrities) are created equal, should be the one to confront this problem where Mother Teresa (clashed with Diana) and Farrah Fawcett (like you need to ask) failed. According to the New York Times obituary, “The spokesman had initially declined to confirm the death, saying the family had hoped to wait a day before making an announcement so that Mr. Dunne’s obituary would not be obscured by the coverage of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s death.” Yeah, shove over, Teddy!


But how long should one’s family wait? And what if there was a backlog? Formaldehyded corpses stinking up parlours from Beverly Hills to Manhattan seem to be the inevitable future. Hey, has anyone seen Elizabeth Taylor recently? — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009










The World Trade Organisation’s mini inter-ministerial meeting, which begins in New Delhi on Thursday, will be watched with much trepidation by representatives of both industry and agriculture domestically and across the world because of the unusual and unprecedented step taken by India to take up the leadership of the developing nations for the next round of the Doha talks in Geneva. There is nothing new about India taking a leadership role on the world stage. It had been a leader in the past century in the nonaligned movement, and in the recent Doha Round, then commerce minister Kamal Nath along with Brazil had led the developing world in determinedly safeguarding their agriculture and industrial products markets from being flooded by the goods and services of developed countries. The talks got stuck as the developed world refused to reciprocate by cutting subsidies and reducing non-tariff barriers.


The developed world, now in the throes of a financial crisis, is anxious to get these talks started as they have the most to gain from getting access to the markets of poor and developing countries opened for their agricultural and industrial goods. There is a lurking suspicion that both the United States and the European bloc viewed Mr Kamal Nath as an impediment to their designs; that is why they appeared happy when Mr Nath was moved out of commerce and the soft-spoken Anand Sharma made commerce minister. From day one, Mr Sharma has been saying it is necessary to get the Doha Round restarted, but he did not predicate this on what needed to be done by the developed world. He said he would call a meeting of the poor and developing countries to discuss how the talks could be revived. This upped the ante of both the business and agricultural community, and when protests erupted Mr Sharma gave an assurance that India’s interests would be safeguarded. This has, however, not assuaged the fears of various groups, who suspect that New Delhi has promised Washington it would ensure that these talks do not collapse. The developed world wants a commitment that import duties on agricultural and industrial products like cars, scooters, textiles etc will be reduced. But they have said nothing about reducing their own tariffs and hidden subsidies for their farmers. Agricultural subsidies given by all OECD countries together amount to $1 billion a day, while a developing country like India gives a meagre one dollar a month per farmer in the form of minimum agricultural support. These distort prices and production. It is ironic that while demanding access to India’s markets, the United States is making life difficult for the outsourcing industry, and putting all kinds of non-tariff barriers on Indian BPO and IT companies in order to protect American jobs.


India’s farmers have yet another concern. Their representatives, who have collected in New Delhi to hold protests against the WTO meeting, are apprehensive that this country might surrender the rights and interests of farmers in favour of industry since they feel the government is more concerned about the services sector. The prices of agricultural commodities are up for now internationally, but when they do go down, the farmers say India should have the right of quantitative restrictions and the right to impose import duties to prevent domestic prices from falling below the cost of production. In short, there should be flexibility. As one of the farmers’ leaders put it, the Prime Minister has said finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s recent Budget had bridged the gap between India and Bharat. But now, if the interests of this country’s farmers are surrendered in the Doha Round in exchange for supposed benefits for the services sector, they warn that Bharat could well turn into Ethiopia!








Jaswant Singh is an honourable man. In the wake of his expulsion from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in umpteen media interviews he repeated how his honour was hurt. Now, with the obstinacy of a child he insists that he will not quit as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament because this is between him and the Lok Sabha Speaker. The PAC is a crucial body and its job is to scrutinise the government’s accounts. Courtesy the BJP he got the post, and he wants to hang on- to borrow Rajiv Gandhi’s famous description of power-hungry politicians- like a limpet, at the mercy of Meira Kumar.


I have no problem if Mr Singh continues because the issue is not of great national concern. But he should not try to raise his hypocrisy to the level of an ideology by drawing a parallel with Somnath Chatterjee’s refusal to quit as Speaker when the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) expelled him.


In the first place Mr Singh got the position because he was always considered an integral part of the small coterie in the BJP which, over time, perfected the art of distributing plum posts among themselves and their cronies. That he betrayed them is another matter. He violated the oath of office and secrecy when he blurted out Cabinet secrets and intimate personal conversations to hit back at his former mentors. In fact, Mr Singh always got rewarded and occupied high positions more for his loyalty to certain individuals than for his political clout or contribution to the party. He was not known to agree with any of the basic tenets of the BJP ideology. Since he got the job only as a patronage and a personal favour, a proud egotist Mr Singh should have relinquished it when he ceased to enjoy the confidence of his benefactors.

As per convention, the post of the PAC chairman is the preserve of the main Opposition in the Lok Sabha. The Congress will be only too happy to deprive this recognition to the BJP and have it held by an unattached member. This factor will make the post futile and ineffective. Can Mr Singh deny the fact that he qualified for the post only because he was a member of the main Opposition party in the Lok Sabha and that it was the party that nominated him, although the Speaker is the appointing authority? It does not matter how Mr Singh interprets the situation. He is clinging on to the position because he covets it. No great principle is involved here. By this act he descends to the rows of self-serving power-hungry politicians. Convention, decency, or pride cannot justify the Mr Singh stand.


R. Balashankar is the editor of Organiser, a RSS weekly



Under the Constitution, and also according to the rules of the House, there is nothing written according to which Jaswant Singh should or can be made to step down from the office of the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament — a position to which he was recently appointed by the Speaker — after his expulsion from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There is no such convention either.

The appointment of the PAC chairman is entirely the discretion of the Lok Sabha Speaker. The Speaker is not bound to consult anyone. However, traditionally, the Speaker has held informal consultations with Opposition leaders on the choice of chairman from among those MPs who have been elected to the PAC. There is a reason for this. Until quite recently, no Opposition party qualified to be the principal Opposition party, as none had the needed 10 per cent of the strength of the House. Ergo, there was no designated Leader of the Opposition. In the light of this, the Speaker consulted Opposition leaders generally. Since the PAC is meant to scrutinise the accounts of the government, it would be incongruous for its chairman to be from the ruling party. Hence, the choice of a MP from the Opposition benches. The Speaker tended to rotate the chairmanship among different Opposition parties.


The presiding officer of the Lok Sabha began to consult the principal Opposition party when parties in the Opposition came to have the required strength. In the present case, I have no doubt that the BJP would have been consulted. The party projected Jaswant Singh who was appointed PAC chairman. However, the informal consultation the Speaker undertakes cannot be a continuing process.


Thus, the Speaker cannot be expected to go back to the BJP after that party expelled Mr Singh. That is a development outside the House which does not concern the Speaker.


It may also be noted that as far as the Lok Sabha records are concerned, Mr Singh would continue to be listed as being a BJP MP in the 15th Lok Sabha since he won the election as a candidate of that party. The chairmanship of the PAC would still be with an Opposition MP.


The demand for Mr Singh’s removal from the position of PAC chairman has been in the political realm. From the pragmatic point of view, it may have been best for the BJP to wait for Mr Singh’s one year term to get over. The party may have then hoped that the Speaker would consult the Leader of the Opposition when it was time for a new chairman to be appointed.


Subhash Kashyap, former secretary-general of the Lok Sabha








As you read this, the Union Cabinet will be deliberating on the Delhi high court judgment on gay rights. It is believed that the law ministry and home ministry have decided not to oppose the judgment in the Supreme Court, and have prepared a note requesting the Cabinet’s approval. If the Cabinet assents, it would be another significant step towards making us a more civilised and just society.


In July, following an appeal to stay the high court’s historic verdict decriminalising homosexuality, the Supreme Court had asked the government to take a stand. The Delhi high court verdict was delivered following a spirited but schizophrenic battle by our sarkar, where the law and home ministries fought against amending Section 377, while the health ministry joined forces with NGOs fighting for the amendment. After the high court verdict, law minister M. Veerappa Moily, home minister P. Chidambaram and health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad got together to sort out differences and the Cabinet note reflects their present views.


So far, so good. Hopefully, the government will go along with the spirit of change and not embarrass us like last time. Meanwhile, much has been written about Section 377 and the need to amend it — including in this column — so I won’t go into all that. I would, however, like to point out that amending this law would not just decriminalise homosexuality, it would also stop the violation of human rights of one of the most vulnerable, most shamefully discriminated against community of Indians — the third sex or the hijras.


All our harping on gender equality has skirted the issue of the third sex, the sexual minority with the rawest deal. With very few legal rights, no privileges as a minority and very little financial backing, this community has admirably made a place for itself in the system that shuns it. To avoid social stigma, gays can hide their sexual preference, but the intersexed or transgendered usually cannot and are permanently stigmatised. Cornered, they have turned aggressive in fighting for their rights, and amending Section 377 is one of their old demands. Because this law criminalises hijras as well, and makes them particularly vulnerable to police abuse.


Because of social ostracism, hijras generally have very little education and very few job options. Apparently, the only government job they can get is as loan recovery agents, acting as official hooligans. In effect, instead of offering equal opportunity and combating social bias, the government is actually reinstating our prejudices and perpetuating society’s fear and loathing of hijras. It is not quite clear why the third sex cannot get other jobs, like other citizens. What is clear, however, is that lack of opportunities has forced a majority of hijras (which includes the intersexed, transgendered as well as uncastrated, cross-dressing males) into prostitution, that haven for the uneducated, unskilled jobless who must earn their bread.


This makes them particularly vulnerable to both police extortion and abuse, as well as to disease. Among the MSM (men who have sex with men) community, hijras are the most infected with HIV/AIDS. But marginalised by society and criminalised by Section 377, they can neither protect themselves nor get treatment like other citizens. We have about 30 million of the third sex. It is estimated that unless treated urgently, a quarter of them will die of HIV/AIDS. Even the naturally intersexed (let alone the transgendered, the castrated, transsexuals or transvestites) are a huge population in India. One out of every 2,000 children is of the third sex.

The government’s attempt to give hijras citizen’s rights was evident in 2005, in the creation of the third gender category in forms like the passport form, with three gender options: Male, Female and Eunuch (ie "M", "F" or "E"). But we need more to change social attitudes. Sadly, our media, usually keen to sensationalise, ignoring sensitivities, has not helped.


Remember how in 2007, remarkable athlete Santhi Sounderajan attempted suicide and the media went glint-eyed? It dwelt shamelessly on her intersex identity and speculated that the humiliation must have led to her suicide attempt. Headlined customarily as "tainted athlete" or "sex-test failed athlete" Santhi’s identity of excellence as a sportsperson was wiped out by her identity as a curiosity of unspecified gender.

In 2006, when Santhi’s failed sex test robbed her of her silver medal at the Asian Games, our media had shown no sensitivity, labelling her "abnormal", detailing her physical inadequacies, robbing her of self-respect and dignity. Generally, the media didn’t reach beyond the curiosity factor to look at the rights or problems of the third sex. The closest they came to sympathy was reporting her coach’s curious explanation that because Santhi’s family was so desperately poor, she had not had a proper meal till 2004, which may have caused a sexual imbalance.


Both times, our media harped on sexual features and lost a fantastic opportunity to empower the third sex, by focusing on Santhi’s extraordinary athletic achievements and underlining how our citizens, whatever their gender, can make India proud. And now that Santhi is back in sports as a sought-after coach, with her own training academy in Tamil Nadu and hordes of students, the media has lost all interest in her.


Similarly, the media has focused squarely on the privileged, articulate gay community (which is excellent, since even that is a step forward for our homophobic society) in the debate over Section 377, and all but ignored the third sex. We need to make the third sex visible before we can talk of true gender equality.


Curiously, exactly as the government ponders over Section 377 — the law against bestiality and other unnatural sexual offences — we see today the curious case of a man in Mumbai charged with raping a dog. This is a pathbreaking case of prosecuting bestiality under Section 377 — which will continue to be outlawed even after the amendment. The dog is being tested for semen samples, injury marks in her private parts and other medical evidence so that "she can be given justice". Granted, rape of anybody — human or animal — is a crime and needs to be punished. But given our callousness and brutality towards animals (remember the horrible ways state governments kill dogs?) there must be ways of prosecuting without putting the poor animal through further torture. Especially since the cops may now use charges of bestiality as their personal revenue source.


There is much more to Section 377 than meets the eye.


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










IT is not in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s disposition to talk in hyperboles or with bravado. It is, therefore, a morale-booster for the country when he told the Planning Commission at its first meeting of his second term in office on Tuesday that the country’s economic growth would be back on track by the end of this fiscal and that too much pessimism about the economy was unwarranted. The projected figure of 6.3 per cent growth during 2009-10 may be a wee bit lower than the preceding year but it is very impressive in the face of the global economic meltdown. That it is projected to go up to 9 per cent in 2011-12 sounds rather encouraging. The Prime Minister’s optimism of being able to deal effectively with the drought situation is also a matter of relief. Considering that the country has enough food stocks in godowns to last 13 months, there is a much-needed cushion against the vagaries of weather.


Dr Singh’s stress on reviving investment, especially in infrastructure, and containing fiscal deficit while exercising prudence is the prescription that the government is working on. There is a resources gap which would be sought to be bridged through “bold and clear” disinvestments programmes, as the commission’s deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia has indicated. Tax realisation would have to be enhanced. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that Public-Private Partnership projects need to be speeded up and their scope widened to include projects in the social sectors like health, education and urban development.


There indeed are huge challenges to overcome before the growth is back on the pre-slump trajectory. With all that the government may do, there are some imponderables that could stand in the way. Exports have been on the decline for months. Any turnaround in this area would depend upon a revival of the global economy. If that gets delayed, it would doubtlessly affect India’s exports. All in all, however, the priorities are right and the Doctor’s prescription realistic. All eyes are now on the expected revival of the economy.








THE Centre’s decision to withdraw itself from the role of selecting vice-chancellors for Central Universities and assign this task to a collegium, which is to be created through an Act of Parliament, is timely. The decision announced by Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal at the Central Advisory Board of Education meeting was long overdue because political interference, especially during Mr Arjun Singh’s tenure, has marred the functioning of most Central universities. The malaise is particularly acute in state-run universities. Chief Ministers choose vice-chancellors at their whim as in Punjab, Haryana and other states and there are no criteria and transparency in the selection process. Governors, as chancellors, have failed to protect the autonomy of universities.


Mr Sibal has rightly urged the state governments to either follow the Centre’s collegium model or amend laws to allow the Centre to guarantee fair and independent selection of vice-chancellors. Today, universities have become hotbeds of politics. This has compromised the quality of teachers and education. As the vice-chancellors need to show the requisite leadership and acumen, any reform of the university will have to start from the top, by the selection of the right persons for the job.


Under the proposed mechanism, the collegium, in consultation with experts, will pick a set of nominees for posts of vice-chancellor and members of the proposed National Council for Higher Education and Research and send the list to the HRD Ministry. If the ministry is unhappy, it can return the list to the collegium for reconsideration. Two safeguards being provided in the Act are that the government cannot insist on the collegium to nominate a particular person and that no salaried government official shall be its member. This is important because the state governments are prone to appoint IAS babus as vice-chancellors. The collegium system merits a fair trial to make the vice-chancellors’ selection meaningful and transparent to insulate these posts from political interference.








SHOCKING is too mild a word to describe the hair-raising incident at Sriganganagar, Rajasthan, where four children were given blood at a private nursing home that could be HIV-infected. The fact that the laboratory that supplied blood was unlicensed puts a big question mark on blood safety regulations in the country. During a medical emergency the availability of safe blood can make the most crucial difference between life and death.


However, India’s blood banking system suffers from several lacunae, including blood shortage. According to the 2008 figures, India has nearly 2400 blood banks and most do not maintain buffer stocks. As against the requirement of 9 million units, it was able to collect only 7 million units. The gap between demand and supply leads to malpractices in blood supply. Rajasthan was in the eye of a storm for forcing school students to donate blood. Only recently, a blood racket was unearthed in UP in which culprits were supplying adulterated blood — even mixing animal blood in some cases — and changing blood groups as per the demand. The seized samples sent to the Sanjay Gandhi Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences for testing have been found unfit for humans — the blood could prove to be fatal.


The consequences of infected blood are too serious to be ignored. While the UP Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati, has promised stern action, the Rajasthan government has ordered an inquiry into the Sriganganagar incident. However, mere promises and probes will not do. The merchants of death, whether it is the laboratory owner who has already been arrested or those involved in the blood scam in UP, should not be allowed to go scot-free. While the government must come down heavily on unauthorised blood collection centres, there is a need to ensure that blood banks, especially private laboratories, follow foolproof safety norms. Blood transfusion, meant to save precious lives cannot be allowed to kill patients.









THE present controversy over the yield of Pokhran-2 nuclear tests is not the first such development in this country of argumentative Indians. Pokhran-1 also had its share of controversy on its explosive yield. Since it was not claimed to be a weapon test at that time and there was no talk of nuclear deterrence, that controversy was less fierce than the present one. Then, too, there were people who termed it a dud.


I have heard personally Prime Minister Morarji Desai saying that there was no nuclear test and the scientists set off an explosion of a large quantity of buried conventional explosives. Others contested the claimed yield of 12 kilotons and asserted that it was only 8 kilotons. The result of the Pokhran-1 controversy survives till today and contributes to the present one. Many foreign scientists concede that they arrive at a lower yield of the Pokhran-2 test by extrapolating the lower yield of Pokhran-1 as advanced by some Indian scientists.


Controversies and personality clashes among scientists are not unknown. In the West, one has heard of the Oppenheimer-Teller clash or the one between Oppenheimer and E.O.Lawrence. In India, too, we had Bhabha-Saha clash and the deep divide between Dr Raja Ramanna and H. N. Sethna. When Vikram Sarabhai was the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission the relations between him and the Trombay establishment were quite cold. Scientists by the very nature of their vocation are highly individualistic people and they prefer to be convinced about a fact personally on the basis of evidence.


Nuclear physics is an arcane subject and in that weapon designing is even more esoteric. There are, therefore, limits to transparency on it. Moreover, this is India’s second fission test and first thermonuclear test. With the exception of two — Dr P. K. Iyengar and the late Dr Ramanna — all other weapon designing talent was involved in the Pokhran-2 test. Of the two outside, Dr Iyengar is a sceptic while Dr Ramanna, when he was alive, accepted the claimed yield.


All nuclear scientists are not necessarily familiar with the intricacies of weapon design. There is a popular tendency in the country to accept that all people associated with the Department of Atomic Energy are knowledgeable in the intricacies of nuclear weapons. This is not the case.


It has been widely propagated that many foreign scientists have questioned the yield of Pokhran-2. Usually when seismic stations monitored a nuclear test they used to announce the magnitude of the explosion in terms of ranges of yields as, for instance, a low- yield explosion of 5-15 kilotons or a medium-yield explosion of 15-60 kilotons. Very rarely was a precise yield reported. The ease with which many foreign assessments were made about precise yields made them suspect, especially when they were not familiar with geological structures and soil conditions at the test site.


The very first report from the West termed the test an earthquake. There could also be some resonance between the domestic scepticism and foreign assessments.


Dr Chidambaram, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and head of the weapon designing team in 1998, writing in “Atoms for Peace” (Vol. 2 No. 1, 2008), cites an article in New Scientist (Mackenzie 1998) where it said, “Roger Clark, a seismologist of the Leeds University found that when data from 125 stations — closer to the number required by the treaty (CTBT) monitoring network — are taken into account the estimate is nearer 60(kilotons)”. He also refers to the finding of a world-renowned seismologist, Jack Evernden, being consistent with the official claim.


The issue was examined in a review by then National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra. If the weapon designers had doubts about the yield they could have conducted one more test within the first few days after the May 11 test since one more shaft was available, before any commitment was made on voluntary moratorium.


Apparently, the weapon design team did not have any doubts on the result. But on the very first day the sceptics had doubts. There was a popular view that the thermonuclear test should be of 100 kilotons and above and, therefore, this could not be a thermonuclear explosion. In any case, the shaft could not have withstood any explosion higher than 60 kilotons.


Do we conduct some more tests to satisfy the sceptics? This cannot be publicly debated just as conducting the nuclear tests was not debated. The nuclear tests of 1998 were not to pre-empt any Pakistani move but were a response to the provocative Pakistani Ghauri missile test and also to declare India a nuclear weapon state in the early days of the new BJP-led NDA government before the Americans started applying pressure on India. At that time it was expected that the CTBT would come into force in 1999.


The late P. V. Narasimha Rao had urged Mr Vajpayee to conduct the test early in 1996. It could not be done in the 13 days the BJP was in office and was carried out in May 1998. Pakistan’s tests were in response to the Indian tests and the interaction between Pakistan and the US on the issue is a matter of public record. But Pakistan had its nuclear weapon tested by China at the Lop Nor test site on May 26, 1990, according to the disclosure in the book “The Nuclear Express” by two US scientists, Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman. India lived in a state of unfavourable deterrent asymmetry in the nineties till the Shakti tests were carried out.


As Prime Ministers V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral explained after the tests, the file to test was always on their table. Narasimha Rao came close to conducting the test. But only Vajpayee could do it by taking the world by surprise. During all that time there were no TV debates or newspaper editorials or strategists screaming about India’s vulnerability.


India became a nuclear weapon power and in the next eight years its strategic arsenal has been accepted by the international community. India has also the NSG waiver. All that happened in spite of opposition from sections of our people who preferred a confrontationist strategy with the international community.


The government leadership is satisfied with the state of our deterrent posture and so also the armed forces. In the US and Russia, too, there are people dissatisfied with the readiness of their arsenals and would like to resume testing. But the majority public opinion in those countries is opposed to it. Fission weapons of 60-80 kilotons have been successfully fabricated and standard thermonuclear warheads of today are neither in megatons nor in hundreds of kilotons. Our fission weapon capabilities are not under question. So long as the adversary believes that the nuclear explosions in his cities will cause him unacceptable damage he will be deterred.


Whether it is the CTBT, the FMCT or conducting nuclear tests, it is counter-productive to look at these issues in a narcissistic manner. We should try to exploit the opportunities as they arise. This country is just learning to do it and we have a long way to go. The need of the moment is to avoid chauvinism and steadily improve the capacity of the country to grow and deliver without demagoguery.







AS many NRIs have settled abroad, there is need for composite legislation to deal with their legal problems. Parliament should enact a law for NRIs on family matters.


Till this is done, foreign court rulings in domestic matters will crop up and Indian courts will continue to interpret them in harmony with the Indian laws.


Solutions partly exist in the proper implementation of the existing laws, framing of regulations, the creation of family courts and fast-track courts. The following suggestions are imperative for solving the NRIs’ existing family law problems:


Registration of marriages must be made compulsory to provide proof of marriage and check bigamy. The NRI spouse must inform his registration of marriage to the embassy/High Commission concerned.


Divorce due to an irretrievable breakdown of marriage should be introduced as an additional ground when at least one of the spouses is an NRI. This would require an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Special Marriage Act, 1954.


This would give the NRI spouses a judicial forum in India to seek a remedy on Indian soil rather than depend on alien courts. States must impress upon the Centre the need for this amendment.


The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriage Act, 1954, must provide for maintenance and alimony, child custody and support as also settlement of matrimonial property. This will ensure maintenance of the spouse/children on Indian soil in accordance with the income of the NRI spouse abroad. Family courts should be set up in all states.


In matters of succession, transfer of property, implementation of wills and repatriation of NRI funds, the state governments must simplify and streamline procedures. Ideally, fast-track courts must be set up to deal with property cases.


The Punjab government has made amendments to the East Punjab Rent Restrictions Act and the Punjab Security of Land Tenures Act for the summary trial of disputes regarding agricultural, commercial and residential property. However, no special fast-track courts exist in most states with a high NRI population to settle these matters on priority. A fresh proposal should be mooted to set up such courts soon.


India must become a signatory to the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 1980. Till such a treaty is signed, the states should permit liaison with foreign missions/ embassies in New Delhi through which courts should be assisted to ensure children’s return to the country of their foreign residence if they are removed in violation of foreign court orders. The administrative and police authorities in India should give uniform guidelines to assist such parents in distress.


The inter-country child adoption procedures must be simplified and single uniform legislation introduced for the adoption of Indian children by NRIs. A unified and single agency procedure is the need of the hour. The present system is too complicated and time-consuming.



These changes can be made either by providing new composite legislation for NRIs or through suitable changes in the existing legislation. A core committee of specialists in private international law should be constituted for preparing a comprehensive draft to suggest the changes in legislation.









As promised by the US President Barack Obama during his presidential campaign, American troops have started to pack up and leave Iraq in what has been deemed to be the largest transport of manpower and equipment in modem military history. The deadline set by Obama had been August 31, 2010, but the magnitude of the operation, involving as it does shipping out more than 1.5 million pieces of equipment, from huge tanks and armoured cars to tiny antennas and radios, entails that the process be set in motion a year in advance. At the same time, in an operation likely to cost billions of dollars, tens of thousands of US combat troops will have to be sent back. As revealed by the military, the objective apparently will be to dispatch at least sixty per cent of men and material by the end of March next year, making possible the completion of the operation well ahead of the scheduled deadline. When it is finally over, only a residual force of 50,000 US combatants will remain under a US-Iraqi agreement until the end of 2011 to assist local police and paramilitary forces in maintaining law and order. The withdrawal has been hyped as an assertion of America’s belief that local Iraqi forces are now in a position to manage on their own, though only an US bereft future will show how correct such an assumption has been.

While US troops prepare to bid farewell to Iraq, it would be salutary to reflect on what they have actually achieved. Even die-hard American loyalists have been forced to concede that this had been a war without winners, despite the “Mission Accomplished” banner that ex-President Bush had flaunted before the camera. The verdict of history will surely be that George W. Bush’s war in Iraq had been meaningless and extravagant and is likely to cost the world, particularly the US, even more in the years to come. Saddam has been hanged and Iraq, deprived of its dictatorial regime, been reduced to the shadow of a democracy where fear and violence pervade the air. But Weapons of Mass Destruction, which had been the assumed reason for this adventurism, were never found. Ironically, as later claimed by Saddam, the WMDs had been a chimera conjured up by his department of disinformation to keep the Iranians at bay! George W. Bush has been one of the war’s victims, though only in the metaphorical sense, and so has been the US, its post-Vietnam image as the world’s most powerful and aggressive bully having been recreated, something only Obama’s election has been able to assuage. The biggest loser, naturally, have been the Iraqis. Having been rescued from a brutal dictatorship only to be reduced to a violence fraught democracy, it has been a case of out of the frying pan into the fire for them!








The location of the State on the volatile seismic Zone-V makes it imperative to have an effective disaster management mechanism. In view of the growing risk factor, disaster management has come to be recognised as a crucial area of administration, and the Centre had included Guwahati, the gateway to the North-East, under the Urban Earthquake Vulnerability Reduction Project taken up as part of a disaster management strategy. Man is apparently powerless against violent natural forces such as earthquake, flood and tsunami, and can do little to prevent their occurrence. What, however, can effectively be done is to reduce the impact of a disaster by adopting timely and scientific measures. Regrettably, our past experiences with disasters make it clear that lack of an effective post-disaster management mechanism invariably accounts for much of the casualties and loss of property. Poor post-disaster management and violation of norms and guidelines that go towards minimising the effects of a disaster heighten the risk from a calamity manifold. We have allowed high-rises to mushroom in congested places and over small plots of land in blatant violation of building by-laws. Also highly debatable is whether these high-rises have all the mandatory safety mechanisms against disasters, be it natural or man-made.

The city, in fact, has all the drawbacks that could lead to catastrophic consequences in the event of a disaster. Narrow roads and by-lanes, faulty construction of multi-storey buildings, denuded hills, etc., will not only cause more damage but also stand to impede rescue and relief operations. Notwithstanding the State Government’s oft-repeated commitment to disaster management, the very fact that rules and laws concerning disaster mitigation and environmental protection are being stamped upon with impudence exposes a picture in stark contrast. Landslides are now a recurring tragedy in the city but has anything been done to check the unabated encroachment and destruction of the hills? Any practical step at disaster management must lay emphasis on strict implementation of laws aimed at protecting the environment because a sound environment lowers the scope of many natural disasters. Then, the unplanned expansion of the city must be checked forthwith with a firm hand. Structural and architectural designs of all RCC constructions and their disaster-vulnerability assessment should be accorded top priority, with proper thrust on the adoption of earthquake-resistant technology in construction. The staff manning commercial hubs, hospitals, banks, etc., should be trained in the basics of disaster management. The common man too needs to be made aware of the dos and don’ts in disaster-related emergency situations








The twin evils of construction of a building with forged NOC and without any NOC have made GMC (Guwahati Municipal Corporation) coffer poorer, yet there is a subtle difference between the two. A construction of a building with a forged NOC which could hardly be done without collusion with corrupt GMC officials itself is a severe crime and it needs to be dealt firmly in order to uphold some semblance of civic administration. However, the other category of illegal owners who too do not pay GMC taxes could definitely be detected and brought within the tax dragnet of GMC to the succour of the honest tax payers reeling under excessive taxation. Even if they have done construction without an NOC and do not have any holding number for due tax assessment and payment, they do not form any criminal nexus with the unscrupulous GMC coterie. On the other hand, the building owners with forged NOC used to get a holding number and their properties always remain under assessed.

Time and again GMC raised its property taxes irrationally, the honest citizens suffered on account of such irrational and illegal tax hike. The various citizens’ body including Guwahati Mahanagar Unnayan Samittee were pleading in favour of Unit Area Method of assessment of property taxes which is universally accepted as the most transparent and logical method of tax assessment throughout the world with semblance with the purchasing power of the owner of the property. It was also urged that the tax dragnet needed to be extended to all the property owners of the city in order to lessen the tax burden of the existing assesses. Of late the GMC has accepted the suggestions put forward by the various citizens’ body notwithstanding the fact that GMC’s action is yet to be targeted against the forged NOC coterie. Rather a covert design of the authority to whitewash such misdeeds has been sensed by gauging the public declaration of GMC authority on this matter.

It would be worth mentioning in this context that citizens’ body’s content such as the necessity of tax extension of dragnet to the non tax payers has already been targeted by GMC. At the same time GMC has decided to go for mapping of the city through Geo Satellite survey in order to pin point the property of the city and to find out the assesses and to distinguish between the tax payers and non tax payers. However, as to total success of such a costly and modern process many questions arise in our minds. Firstly, in order to ascertain the height of the building a three dimensional photography would be necessary which itself is very costly. As to the accuracy level of such mapping many disputes may arise in the time to come between any two neighbours on land demarcation. Secondly, even if the mapping of the property is done with some degree of inaccuracy a physical verification of the NOC of the property constructed would be necessary by going through the approved drawings, actual construction done etc. Therefore it is felt that GMC should have thought on’these matters before finalising the contract with the concerned firm, because the expected goal would never be fulfilled. At the same time in the present system of commercialisation of essential civic services, the cost of such Geo Satellite services too will have to be borne by the tax payers ultimately. In the meantime a number of cases of construction of buildings with forged NOC have come to light. Worse of all even holding numbers to such illegal buildings constructed with the help of forged NOC have been allotted by GMC authority which clearly indicates an unholy nexus of tax evaders consisting of unscrupulous citizens, officials and forgerers. In such a reality there is sufficient ground to think that in order to white wash the past misdeeds of GMC in the matter of forged NOC issue, the authority has resorted to the so called Geo Satellite Mapping of the buildings. At times pronouncement of a technical jargon by the authority impresses the citizens to such an extent that even without fathoming the head or tail of the inherent technicalities of such jargon they start believing whatever the authority announces. Therefore, the citizens must take cognizance of what the authority is proposing to do with the help of Geo Satellite Mapping. Incidentally in order to find out the formula for assessment of property tax in conformity with Unit Area Method such satellite mapping is not at all necessary. It could easily be done pragmatically by a group of experts conversant with the cost of land, construction cost and the infrastructure available at various city localities.

Needless to mention that presently GMC has already created three groups of citizens, each paying their property taxes as per different formulae and rates. To cite an instance, the old construction still draw a nominal tax evaluated on the basis of annual rental fetching power of the property at the time of construction. The new construction for which assessment was done after 2000 again draws an enhanced tax as per the controversial formula, an imposition of which on the old holding number holders stirred the hornet’s nest and had to be discontinued due to public protest. Yet any new construction done recently was brought under the ambit of a further enhanced rate. Naturally such injudicious tax imposition in violation with the principle of equity needs to be stopped forthwith.

So far waste disposal and potable water supply of the city, least said is better. A controversial clandestine agreement was made with a self styled Private Company with registered office right in the GMC headquarters to facilitate a smooth spending of fund under JNNURM head. A complicated agreement to facilitate the involvement of numbers of agencies in between was made which eventually vested upon ‘Ramkey’ to carry out the solid waste disposal works of the entire city. The agreement had the objective to save the Deepor Beel which was converted into a dumping ground for the entire waste of the city at the cost of environmental degradation and civic health by GMC in the meantime. But nothing has changed even after handing over the waste disposal responsibility to the private firm. On the other hand the serious health and environmental hazards have been mounting due to dumping of the waste at Deepor Beel and burning the plastic materials rather than recycling it which eventually has been releasing carcinogenic gas to the atmosphere. But the matter does not end there without a covert equation of swindling public fund. The concerned minister of Guwahati Development Authority waived of the monthly payment of Rs. 50 per month by each household to the private operator on account of waste disposal (over and above the scavenging tax, one has to pay as per GMC norms) and decided to pay Rs. 99 lakh to the private operator directly from the GMC coffer. But there was hardly any verification agency to monitor whether the works were really performed by the agency. To cite an instance 80% of the households was supposed to be brought under the waste disposal scheme to be executed by the concerned agency with a fleet of 400 tricycles, 500 bins and 30 trucks round the clock. A fleet of 4 trucks was supposed to be deployed for desilting all the drains of the city periodically. All the roads of the city will be kept clean for which push carts were supposed to be deployed. 200 litter bins in the market areas and the main roads along with engagement of 10 auto vans with 30 men for emergency sanitation system too were supposed to be engaged for the job. The depreciated cost of entire machinery involved itself was a whopping Rs.3 lakh per month and the tools and tackles cost another Rs. 3 lakh per month, monitoring cost Rs. 5 lakh per month, staff welfare cost another Rs. 1.8 lakh per month. Yet little scope has been left for the citizens to verify whether the private operator has really spent the fund or solid waste from households has already been collected by the agency. It has been widely alleged that many heavy machineries bought by GMC with public fund have been delivered to the agency free of cost for the works.

This state of affair of GMC would amply demonstrate that the civic administration of the city has become synonymous with mismanagement and corruption of all sorts. In absence of any public voice against such blatant happenings involving corruption, the government, bureaucrats and a few dishonest citizens take us for a ride.








The emergence of influenza A (H1N1) virus commonly known as swine flu in humans was first detected in late April 2009 and within six weeks the epidemic spread to 74 countries, infecting as many as 30,000 and killing nearly 140 people. In the second week of June 2009, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared swine flu as a pandemic – the first flu pandemic in forty years. Significantly, there is no evidence of any other pandemic being detected so early and watched so closely. After the sobering experience of the bird flu crisis nearly a decade ago and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, virtually all countries have learnt the importance of sharing data with WHO in something like real time.

In India, a fourteen-year-old Pune school girl became the first victim to succumb to the swine flu. India registered altogether five swine flu fatality till August 10, 2009. But this is no cause for panic because the death does not mean the pandemic flu has, in any way, become more deadly. The experience of other countries has been that a small proportion of those infected by the virus develop severe forms of disease and some die as a result. More than 1,100 deaths have been reported to the WHO till July 31, 2009, by countries around the world. But what needs to be borne in mind is that most people who were attacked by the virus get well again without suffering more than the usual flu-like symptoms. In fact, data from the United States of America (USA), Canada, and Chile suggest that only up to 10 per cent of confirmed cases need hospitalisation. A recently published estimate suggests that just 0.06 per cent to 0.0004 per cent of those infected by the swine flu virus die.

It is significant that infectious diseases spread easily in an environment where a large number of young boys and girls come together. Several countries have reported outbreaks of swine flu in schools, with the data indicating that the majority of swine flu cases are occurring in the school-going ages. But, it is adults above the age of 20-25 years who are at higher risk of developing fatal forms of disease. Even among adults, it has been pregnant women and those with underlying conditions such as asthma and other lung disorders, cardio vascular problems, diabetes, suppressed immunity, neurological trouble, and obesity who are most at risk of severe disease.

Meanwhile, doctors in China say they have found a herbal formula for preventing and treating the A(H1N1) influenza which is more cost-effective and better resistant to the virus than the drug Tamiflu. Hospitals in Beijing had in June 2009 begun treating A(H1N1)-infected patients with this herbal formula instead of the WHO-recommended Tamiflu. At Ditan Hospital in Beijing, where most of Beijing’s patients are being treated, doctors had treated 117 out of 297 admitted patients with herbal formula, and 88 out of them had been cured. The others are undergoing treatment. In China, treatment and prevention of infections with herbal medicines as opposed to drugs – is known as traditional Chinese medicine. This practice to common, and the cost-effectiveness of herbal cure has seen a popular resurgence in traditional Chinese medicine in recent years. Traditional Chinese medicine, mainly known overseas for its acupuncture therapies, is regarded as mainstream medicine in China, but not in the West.

The Government of China has now sanctioned hospitals to launch traditional Chinese medicine-based treatment for A (H1N1) infected patients on a large scale. The herbal treatment is a mixture of four locally-used medicinal herbs: Jin yin hua (lonicera japonica), Da qing ye (Isatis indigodica), Bo he (Mentha haplocalyx) and Sheng gan cao (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Doctors in Beijing first began treating patients using the herbal formula with Tamiflu on May 15, 2009. After successful trials, doctors have since June 15 begun prescribing only the herbal treatment. The traditional Chinese medicine costs only between 10 and 13 Yuan (Rs 70 and Rs 91) per day, while Tamiflu costs 56 Yuan (Rs 392). The herbal treatment is now undergoing clinical trials to show concrete evidence that the treatment is scientific. The Government of China has already invested 10 million Yuan (Rs 7 crore) in conducting a comparative study of herbal and Tamiflu treatments. The government has already begun procuring enough herbs to treat more patients as there was a serious possibility of a large-scale outbreak of swine flu in autumn and winter of this year.

Wang Yuguang, head of the Centre of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine at Ditan Hospital, Beijing, said in Beijing recently that the treatment time for the herbal formula was comparable with that of Tamiflu treatment. The big difference, he said, was the cost of the two treatments.








The Rajasthan government’s diktat to all its civil servants to be, well, civil to members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies is a typical example of a right order but wrong target. In normal circumstances, getting up to greet someone when they enter a room, seeing them off personally, returning phone calls and informing them of changes in appointments and schedules should be part of normal procedure. If this has not been part of the norm in government offices — and we all know that it is not — there should be some serious auditing of standard operating procedures there. In the corridors of power, common niceties are usually given the go-by for the average Indian; they become exceptions, handed out as favours to those whom the holder of that government post perceives to be important, either in the political or professional context. Anyone seen to be irrelevant in either sphere is conveniently overlooked. So much so that waiting interminably in government offices, being fobbed off by being told that ‘sahib is in a meeting’ and the darbar atmosphere in the offices of sarkari officials — rows of chairs facing the incumbent’s grander ‘throne’, emblazoned with a towel on the backrest — are familiar to anyone who has had the misfortune of going there.

In this atmosphere of competitive hubris, government officials sometimes overstep the boundaries of their own self-importance and end up making the crucial mistake of being officious, unhelpful or downright rude to MPs and MLAs as well — and hence make themselves the target of strange orders such as the one issued by the Rajasthan government. Had Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot ordered that his officials should extend such common courtesies to all citizens who come to government offices, he would have been hailed as a champion of the aam aadmi his party so prizes, instead of being pilloried for reviving ‘feudal’ practices. There is still time for him to extend the ambit of the order, and earn some plaudits.







The tepid debut of National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) on the stock exchanges is being seen as a big question mark over the primary market revival. Such a view stems from judging primary issues from the narrow perspective of short-term gains made on listing. The NHPC issue was oversold 23 times and, therefore, was expected to list at a good premium to its issue price of Rs 36. It opened at Rs 42 and closed the first day at Rs 36.80, leaving behind many disillusioned investors. Upcoming IPOs could, therefore, see a somewhat muted response, but primary market is not going to collapse for sure. The bulk of the over subscription in the NHPC IPO was in the institutional category, i.e., investors who are not looking at short-term gains. They are unlikely to be perturbed by the listing price. Primary issues allow big investors to bid for and buy a large number of shares, something they cannot do in the secondary market as large purchases would drive up prices. On the other hand, the book-built issues allow the company offering shares to sell large equity at an acceptable price. Under most circumstances, this kind of pricing should leave very little scope for substantial price appreciation on listing. However, our obsession with retail investors has clouded both policy and the way we judge IPOs. Our policy reserves shares for retail investors in IPOs, giving the impression that something scarce is going cheap. No wonder IPOs have wrongly come to be seen as sure way of making quick money whereas the fact is that IPOs are no less risky than secondary market investments.

There is a need to re-position the primary market through investor education and changing the way offers are priced. The price band is decided by interested parties, merchant bankers and the company. The price discovery is, therefore, within a band. What is needed a free bidding process for at least the portion reserved for the institutional investors with 100% margin requirement. This would check excessive bidding, which often lures retail investors. The regulator also needs to revisit the need for reservation for retail investors in primary offerings.







With New Delhi convening an important meeting of trade ministers to ‘re-energise’ the Doha round of negotiations, any charge that India put a spanner in the works last July would now be infructuous. Besides, having recently signed path-breaking trade pacts with South Korea and the Association of South-East Asian Nations, Asean, India can hardly be accused of being protectionist. Further, commerce minister Anand Sharma has been hinting at give-and-take and consensus in his dialogue with counterparts in the major capitals. In any case, at the Delhi conclave the trade ministers would have ample scope to break new ground in all three areas — manufactured products, agriculture and services — given the ‘informal’ nature of the talks. The objective ought to be to narrow the differences and conclude the Doha round in the next 12-15 months by which time the global economic downturn can be expected to ease substantially. Since trade is strongly correlated with economic growth, a new multilateral trading regime that lowers tariff and non-tariff barriers and improves access for developing-country goods and services in the mature markets would mean a win-win situation for all.

Country participants would need to put their cards on the table and specify the areas where progress is possible. Since India is chairing the talks, it is important that our negotiators are seen and perceived to be reasonably flexible. As our average ‘bound’ tariff rates are much higher than the applied rates, there’s scope to trade lower bounded commitments for lower duty barriers for such manufactures as textiles, garments and leather products. India’s sensitivities on agriculture are more than taken care of as no tariff reduction commitments need be given on 9% of all agri-tariff lines. Conversely, both the European Union and US would need to commit clear-cut reductions in trade distorting domestic support for agriculture. In tandem, the special safeguard mechanism for agri-imports would have to be sufficiently flexible for developing economies. A headway must also be made in trade in services, including movement of natural persons. The Delhi talks ought to prepare the foundation for concluding Doha. About time, surely.








The World Trade Organisation’s mini inter-ministerial meeting, which begins in New Delhi on Thursday, will be watched with much trepidation by representatives of both industry and agriculture domestically and across the world because of the unusual and unprecedented step taken by India to take up the leadership of the developing nations for the next round of the Doha talks in Geneva. There is nothing new about India taking a leadership role on the world stage. It had been a leader in the past century in the nonaligned movement, and in the recent Doha Round, then commerce minister Mr Kamal Nath along with Brazil had led the developing world in determinedly safeguarding their agriculture and industrial products markets from being flooded by the goods and services of developed countries. The talks got stuck as the developed world refused to reciprocate by cutting subsidies and reducing non-tariff barriers. The developed world, now in the throes of a financial crisis, is anxious to get these talks started as they have the most to gain from getting access to the markets of poor and developing countries opened for their agricultural and industrial goods. There is a lurking suspicion that both the United States and the European bloc viewed Mr Kamal Nath as an impediment to their designs; that is why they appeared happy when Mr Nath was moved out of commerce and the soft-spoken Mr Anand Sharma made commerce minister. From day one, Mr Sharma has been saying it is necessary to get the Doha Round restarted, but he did not predicate this on what needed to be done by the developed world. He said he would call a meeting of the poor and developing countries to discuss how the talks could be revived. This upped the ante of both the business and agricultural community, and when protests erupted Mr Sharma gave an assurance that India’s interests would be safeguarded. This has, however, not assuaged the fears of various groups, who suspect that New Delhi has promised Washington it would ensure that these talks do not collapse. The developed world wants a commitment that import duties on agricultural and industrial products like cars, scooters, textiles etc will be reduced. But they have said nothing about reducing their own tariffs and hidden subsidies for their farmers. Agricultural subsidies given by all OECD countries together amount to $1 billion a day, while a developing country like India gives a meagre one dollar a month per farmer in the form of minimum agricultural support. These distort prices and production. It is ironic that while demanding access to India’s markets, the United States is making life difficult for the outsourcing industry, and putting all kinds of non-tariff barriers on Indian BPO and IT companies in order to protect American jobs. India’s farmers have yet another concern. Their representatives, who have collected in New Delhi to hold protests against the WTO meeting, are apprehensive that this country might surrender the rights and interests of farmers in favour of industry since they feel the government is more concerned about the services sector. The prices of agricultural commodities are up for now internationally, but when they do go down, the farmers say India should have the right of quantitative restrictions and the right to impose import duties to prevent domestic prices from falling below the cost of production.










After the Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) landslide victory, everyone in the country and much of the world is asking the question, what next? The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has ruled Japan almost uninterrupted for more than half-a-century and the task before the new rulers is nothing short of reinventing Japan.


The LDP has much to be proud of. It gave the country the economic miracle after its defeat in World War II, becoming the second economic power in the world. But its warts began to show in the early 90s when the economic bubble burst. By then the LDP had become a party of hereditary successions in cosy relationships with corporations and a powerful bureaucracy that made policy and feathered its own nest.
Mr Junichiro Koizumi came as a breath of fresh air because he challenged his party’s
cosy arrangements and appealed to the wider electorate. Frustrated, he called a snap election on the issue of privatising the postal service, a traditional milch cow for LDP, to win a landslide in 2005. But he was to leave office two years later and he and his ostensibly rejuvenated party never fulfilled their promise.
Meanwhile, the world economic crisis set off by the US sub-prime regime was hollowing out the LDP, led by a succession of pedigreed politicians beset by scandals, and the DPJ, itself the victim of a mini-scandal, was riding high. Sunday’s result was essentially a vote against the LDP, rather than an enthusiastic endorsement of the DPJ and its policies. It was a vote for change.

The real point is how much change the DPJ can bring about. It has promised to turn the focus away from corporations to the citizen, promising a better social security net, and child allowances to encourage
couples to have babies ina shrinking and aging country. It says it will take control
of policymaking from thehands of bureaucrats. While retaining the important military links with the United States, it wants a “more equal” relationship and promises to review American military bases. It wants a closer relationship with Asian countries. But it has already modified its more radical stances as it moved closer to power.

It is estimated that a quarter of Japan will be 65 years or older in 2015. There is even a Happiness Realisation Party that wants to double the country’s population by 2030. Indeed, the increasingly greying population will have serious consequences for its pension scheme and competitiveness. Japanese have traditionally shunned large-scale immigration because of the homogeneous nature of their country.
What the DPJ is able to achieve remains to be seen, but an entire era in post-war Japan is over. Unlike in the past, inequalities have grown. Globalisation has also ended the treasured lifetime jobs offered by the country’s corporations, with unemployment having reached the highest figure since the war although still modest by world standards. And, most importantly, the young have changed, with the ideal of backbreaking school and university education leading to a blue-collar job in the bureaucracy no longer the attractive model it was.

The era of the LDP’s pork-barrel rural works to support its main base is over but it is not quite clear what will replace it. For one thing, how will the DPJ raise funds for its generous promises to help young families and the common man? It says it will find money by enforcing administrative efficiency and through cost cuts, promises that are easier to make than to fulfil. And how much credibility will the DPJ have in getting rid of the entrenched system of hereditary politicians when its leader, Mr Yukio Hatoyama, is himself the grandson of a Prime Minister?

The DPJ is a rather new party formed in 1998 by defectors from the LDP, socialists and younger conservatives and will need to reconcile its owndifferences. An earlier attempt by the Opposition to run a
government in Japan lasted barely 11 months. The party is in better shape now and the size of the mandate it has received is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Mr Yukio will face a few crucial tests soon. Japan’s relationship with China has always been a major element in its worldview. It has been traditionally troubled by the wartime record and Chinese manipulation of that past for its own political ends. The explosive growth of Sino-Japanese trade and economic relations has

not deterred clouds to form in the relationship, symbolised most often by prime ministerial visits to the Yasukuni shrine containing the remains ofthe war dead, including those of the Japanese condemned by the victors of the war. For the Chinese, such visits, defiantly conducted by Mr Junichiro among others, are signs of militaristic trends.

The DPJ’s approach to China will be softer and friendlier, but that will not preclude tensions and irritations in the future. For one thing, China is set to overtake Japan as the world’s second-largest economy next year. Besides, China’s growing economic and military power has set alarm bells ringing in Tokyo and new efforts are aimed at ensuring Japan’s relevance to Asia and the world. Curiously, Mr Yukio has illustrated his preference for an East Asia grouping by going back to an Austrian nobleman with part-Japanese ancestry.

Mr Yukio has promised to end the Afghanistan refuelling mission of Japanese naval ships in the Indian Ocean. While his predecessors were toying with the idea of amending the American-imposed constitution to have greater freedom in sending troops abroad, the DPJ’s focus will be more on widening the ambit of Japanese influence in Asia. In any event, the party’s control of both Houses will enable it speedily to push through reforms.

For the moment Japan is revelling in the change, celebrating the end of the old era. The average Japanese does not have great expectations of the DPJ, which will serve as a shock absorber for the inevitable disappointments with the new rulers that lie in the future.








There is a joke about Libya which goes something like this: why does Libya have a population of both six million and four million? The answer is that one million are abroad and the other million are in prison.
It’s not a funny joke, but it’s a revealing one. As the country celebrates 40 years of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, and despite various British politicians desperately trying to tell us how much Libya has changed, Libya remains one of the most intolerant, totalitarian and repressive regimes in the world. Libyan citizens regularly “disappear” — arrested by the authorities. Their loved ones are often left in the dark.

Since 2003 Libya has been extolled by Britain as an example of a reformed state. Mr Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, was quick to take the credit, rushing over to Mr Gaddafi and saying, “People should not forget the past, they should move beyond it”.

With that one soundbyte, Libyans inside the country and those who like me were living abroad knew that the political will to push for justice in the many unresolved cases was lost.

Cases such as the murder of my father, Ali Abuzeid, whose body I found in his west London shop on November 26, 1995. He had been stabbed to death. A key member of the leading Libyan Opposition group in the 1980s, my father had put all his efforts into ridding his homeland of its dictator. My childhood years were spent worrying about him every time he travelled.

Back in London, I remember hearing his name mentioned in a speech by Mr Gaddafi, who had called for him and others to be hunted down. At one point there was a bounty of millions on his head.

After years in exile and the deaths of many of his friends inside Libya who had been rounded up and executed, my father decided to retire from Opposition politics. Revolution, he now believed, could only come from within, instead of being led by those in exile.

So when I answered a call early one Sunday morning in November 1995 from one of his staff, who said the door to the shop was open but the lights were off, my heart began to pound with that familiar childhood fear for his safety.

As I went in and switched the lights on I saw, at the back of the shop, the image that I try to wipe out of my memory: my beloved father covered in blood, his chest stabbed with a knife and his face viciously marked after death — a final spiteful act by his killers.

When I thought we were safe, when my father was no longer a threat, they had taken their revenge. The regime has a long memory, and its agents had not “moved on” but had caught up and executed one of the “stray dogs” they had been hunting. We discovered later that he had been receiving threats for months.

I was 23, still young and naive enough to think that the murder of my father, a British citizen, would be properly investigated. However, I soon got a speedy reality check. Police officers told me off the record that they were not being allowed to do their job properly. They repeatedly told me that they knew that his murder had been political but that they were unable to say so publicly. They could not access the Libyans they wanted to question nor say who they believed to be responsible.

But my father’s murder is only one of a long list of crimes that have been committed by the Libyan regime and have gone unpunished and unresolved.

While Libyan officials have this week expressed pride at the fact that Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi’s release has been on the table at every discussion and meeting with UK politicians — why is there not a similar urgency among British officials to push for justice for my father or in the even more clear-cut case of police constable Yvonne Fletcher? She was gunned down outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984 with a machine-gun wielded by a Libyan official inside the embassy. The police have since been to Libya and even think they know who shot her, but they are unable to complete their investigations. I would have hoped that the British government would have pushed for this at the very least, before embracing Libya back into the fold. But Fletcher’s mother Queenie will probably never see the killer brought to justice.

Mr Hisham Matar, the Booker-nominated writer, this week wrote movingly about his father, Jaballa Matar, who was whisked 20 years ago from the streets of Cairo to a Libyan jail. He has not heard news of his father for 14 years, and to this day he and his family do not know if he is alive or dead. “My father is not incarcerated, yet he is not free; he is not dead, yet he is not alive either. My loss is self-renewing, insistent and incomplete”, Matar wrote.

Not one Western country in the rush to welcome Libya back on to the international stage has pushed for an investigation into the countless numbers that have been “disappeared” by the regime.
Human Rights Watch last year said in its report “Libya Rights at Risk” that: “To date, international engagement with the oil-rich country has focused on counter-terrorism and business ties, and inadequately addressed the lack of democratic reform and protection of human rights”.

That is putting it mildly. Things of course have changed. The Libyan government has come to understand the importance of PR and its diplomats have worked hard to convince the West that theirs is a country to be counted on to help in the fight against terror; that they have “moved beyond” the years of blowing up planes, financing armed movements and the murder and assassination of its enemies abroad.
But it’s not as if the new Libya has changed much. It still acts to suppress any public criticism of the regime. Though their list of crimes goes on, they make no apologies for their regime.










As you read this, the Union Cabinet will be deliberating on the Delhi High Court judgment on gay rights. It is believed that the law ministry and home ministry have decided not to oppose the judgment in the Supreme Court, and have prepared a note requesting the Cabinet’s approval. If the Cabinet assents, it would be another significant step towards making us a more civilised and just society.
In July, following an appeal to stay the high court’s historic verdict decriminalising homosexuality, the Supreme Court had asked the government to take a stand. The Delhi High Court verdict was delivered following a spirited but schizophrenic battle by our sarkar, where the law and home ministries fought against amending Section 377, while the health ministry joined forces with NGOs fighting for the amendment. After the high court verdict, law minister M. Veerappa Moily, home minister P. Chidambaram and health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad got together to sort out differences and the Cabinet note reflects their present views.

So far, so good. Hopefully, the government will go along with the spirit of change and not embarrass us like last time. Meanwhile, much has been written about Section 377 and the need to amend it — including in this column — so I won’t go into all that. I would, however, like to point out that amending this law would not just decriminalise homosexuality, it would also stop the violation of human rights of one of the most vulnerable, most shamefully discriminated against community of Indians — the third sex or the hijras.

All our harping on gender equality has skirted the issue of the third sex, the sexual minority with the rawest deal. With very few legal rights, no privileges as a minority and very little financial backing, this community has admirably made a place for itself in the system that shuns it. To avoid social stigma, gays can hide their sexual preference, but the intersexed or transgendered usually cannot and are permanently stigmatised. Cornered, they have turned aggressive in fighting for their rights, and amending Section 377 is one of their old demands. Because this law criminalises hijras as well, and makes them particularly vulnerable to police abuse.

Because of social ostracism, hijras generally have very little education and very few job options. Apparently, the only government job they can get is as loan recovery agents, acting as official hooligans. In effect, instead of offering equal opportunity and combating social bias, the government is actually reinstating our prejudices and perpetuating society’s fear and loathing of hijras. It is not quite clear why the third sex cannot get other jobs, like other citizens. What is clear, however, is that lack of opportunities has forced a majority of hijras (which includes the intersexed, transgendered as well as uncastrated, cross-dressing males) into prostitution, that haven for the uneducated, unskilled jobless who must earn their bread.

This makes them particularly vulnerable to both police extortion and abuse, as well as to disease. Among the MSM (men who have sex with men) community, hijras are the most infected with HIV/AIDS. But marginalised by society and criminalised by Section 377, they can neither protect themselves nor get treatment like other citizens. We have about 30 million of the third sex. It is estimated that unless treated urgently, a quarter of them will die of HIV/AIDS. Even the naturally intersexed (let alone the transgendered, the castrated, transsexuals or transvestites) are a huge population in India. One out of every 2,000 children is of the third sex.

The government’s attempt to give hijras citizen’s rights was evident in 2005, in the creation of the third gender category in forms like the passport form, with three gender options: Male, Female and Eunuch (ie “M”, “F” or “E”). But we need more to change social attitudes. Sadly, our media, usually keen to sensationalise, ignoring sensitivities, has not helped.

Remember how in 2007, remarkable athlete Santhi Sounderajan attempted suicide and the media went glint-eyed? It dwelt shamelessly on her intersex identity and speculated that the humiliation must have led to her suicide attempt. Headlined customarily as “tainted athlete” or “sex-test failed athlete” Santhi’s identity of excellence as a sportsperson was wiped out by her identity as a curiosity of unspecified gender.
In 2006, when Santhi’s failed sex test robbed her of her silver medal at the Asian Games, our media had shown no sensitivity, labelling her “abnormal”, detailing her physical inadequacies, robbing her of self-respect and dignity. Generally, the media didn’t reach beyond the curiosity factor to look at the rights or problems of the third sex. The closest they came to sympathy was reporting her coach’s curious explanation that because Santhi’s family was so desperately poor, she had not had a proper meal till 2004, which may have caused a sexual imbalance.

Both times, our media harped on sexual features and lost a fantastic opportunity to empower the third sex, by focusing on Santhi’s extraordinary athletic achievements and underlining how our citizens, whatever their gender, can make India proud. And now that Santhi is back in sports as a sought-after coach, with her own training academy in Tamil Nadu and hordes of students, the media has lost all interest in her.
Similarly, the media has focused squarely on the privileged, articulate gay community (which is excellent, since even that is a step forward for our homophobic society) in the debate over Section 377, and all but ignored the third sex. We need to make the third sex visible before we can talk of true gender equality.
Curiously, exactly as the government ponders over Section 377 — the law against bestiality and other unnatural sexual offences — we see today the curious case of a man in Mumbai charged with raping a dog. This is a pathbreaking case of prosecuting bestiality under Section 377 — which will continue to be outlawed even after the amendment. The dog is being tested for semen samples, injury marks in her private parts and other medical evidence so that “she can be given justice”. Granted, rape of anybody — human or animal — is a crime and needs to be punished. But given our callousness and brutality towards animals (remember the horrible ways state governments kill dogs?) there must be ways of prosecuting without putting the poor animal through further torture. Especially since the cops may now use charges of bestiality as their personal revenue source.

There is much more to Section 377 than meets the eye.


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








Now that the hype surrounding the 40th anniversary of the moon landings has come and gone, we are faced with the grim reality that if we want to send humans back to the moon the investment is likely to run in excess of $150 billion. The cost to get to Mars could easily be two to four times that, if it is possible at all.

This is the issue being wrestled with by a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) panel that will in the coming weeks present US President Barack Obama with options for the near-term future of human spaceflight. It is quickly becoming clear that going to the moon or Mars in the next decade or two will be impossible without a much bigger budget than has so far been allocated. Is it worth it?
The most challenging impediment to human travel to Mars does not seem to involve the complicated launching, propulsion, guidance or landing technologies but something far more mundane: the radiation emanating from the sun’s cosmic rays. The shielding necessary to ensure the astronauts do not get a lethal dose of solar radiation on a round trip to Mars may very well make the spacecraft so heavy that the amount of fuel needed becomes prohibitive.

There is, however, a way to surmount this problem while reducing the cost and technical requirements, but it demands that we ask this vexing question: Why are we so interested in bringing the Mars astronauts home again?

While the idea of sending astronauts aloft never to return is jarring upon first hearing, the rationale for one-way trips into space has both historical and practical roots. Colonists and pilgrims seldom set off for the New World with the expectation of a return trip, usually because the places they were leaving were pretty intolerable anyway. Give us a century or two and we may turn the whole planet into a place from which many people might be happy to depart.

Moreover, one of the reasons that is sometimes given for sending humans into space is that we need to move beyond earth if we are to improve our species’ chances of survival should something terrible happen back home.

There are more immediate and pragmatic reasons to consider one-way human space exploration missions. First, money. Much of the cost of a voyage to Mars will be spent on coming home again. If the fuel for the return is carried on the ship, this greatly increases the mass of the ship, which in turn requires even more fuel.

The president of the Mars Society, Robert Zubrin, has offered one possible solution: two ships, sent separately. The first would be sent unmanned and, once there, combine onboard hydrogen with carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere to generate the fuel for the return trip; the second would take the astronauts there, and then be left behind. But once arrival is decoupled from return, one should ask whether the return trip is really necessary.

Surely if the point of sending astronauts is to be able to carry out scientific experiments that robots cannot do, then the longer they spend on the planet the more experiments they can do. Moreover, if the radiation problems cannot be adequately resolved then the longevity of astronauts signing up for a Mars round trip would be severely compromised in any case. As cruel as it may sound, the astronauts would probably best use their remaining time living and working on Mars rather than dying at home.

If it sounds unrealistic to suggest that astronauts would be willing to leave home never to return alive, then consider the results of several informal surveys I and several colleagues have conducted recently.


One of my peers in Arizona recently accompanied a group of scientists and engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a geological field trip. During the day, he asked how many would be willing to go on a one-way mission into space. Every member of the group raised his hand. The lure of space travel remains intoxicating for a generation brought up on Star Trek and Star Wars.

We might want to restrict the voyage to older astronauts, whose longevity is limited in any case. Here again, I have found a significant fraction of scientists older than 65 who would be willing to live out their remaining years on the red planet or elsewhere. With older scientists, there would be additional health complications, to be sure, but the necessary medical personnel and equipment would still probably be cheaper than designing a return mission.

Delivering food and supplies to these new pioneers — along with the tools to grow and build whatever they need, for however long they live on the red planet — is likewise more reasonable and may be less expensive than designing a ticket home. Certainly, as in the Zubrin proposal, unmanned spacecraft could provide the crucial supply lines.

The largest stumbling block to a consideration of one-way missions is probably political. Nasa and Congress are unlikely to do something that could be perceived as signing the death warrants of astronauts. Nevertheless, space travel is so expensive and so dangerous that we are going to need novel, even extreme solutions if we want to expand the range of human civilisation beyond our planet. To boldly go where no one has gone before does not require coming home again.


Lawrence M. Krauss is the author of The Physics of ‘Star Trek’ By arrangement with the New York Times








Now that the hype surrounding the 40th anniversary of the moon landings has come and gone, we are faced with the grim reality that if we want to send humans back to the moon the investment is likely to run in excess of $150 billion. The cost to get to Mars could easily be two to four times that, if it is possible at all.

This is the issue being wrestled with by a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) panel that will in the coming weeks present US President Barack Obama with options for the near-term future of human spaceflight. It is quickly becoming clear that going to the moon or Mars in the next decade or two will be impossible without a much bigger budget than has so far been allocated. Is it worth it?
The most challenging impediment to human travel to Mars does not seem to involve the complicated launching, propulsion, guidance or landing technologies but something far more mundane: the radiation emanating from the sun’s cosmic rays. The shielding necessary to ensure the astronauts do not get a lethal dose of solar radiation on a round trip to Mars may very well make the spacecraft so heavy that the amount of fuel needed becomes prohibitive.

There is, however, a way to surmount this problem while reducing the cost and technical requirements, but it demands that we ask this vexing question: Why are we so interested in bringing the Mars astronauts home again?

While the idea of sending astronauts aloft never to return is jarring upon first hearing, the rationale for one-way trips into space has both historical and practical roots. Colonists and pilgrims seldom set off for the New World with the expectation of a return trip, usually because the places they were leaving were pretty intolerable anyway. Give us a century or two and we may turn the whole planet into a place from which many people might be happy to depart.

Moreover, one of the reasons that is sometimes given for sending humans into space is that we need to move beyond earth if we are to improve our species’ chances of survival should something terrible happen back home.

There are more immediate and pragmatic reasons to consider one-way human space exploration missions. First, money. Much of the cost of a voyage to Mars will be spent on coming home again. If the fuel for the return is carried on the ship, this greatly increases the mass of the ship, which in turn requires even more fuel.

The president of the Mars Society, Robert Zubrin, has offered one possible solution: two ships, sent separately. The first would be sent unmanned and, once there, combine onboard hydrogen with carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere to generate the fuel for the return trip; the second would take the astronauts there, and then be left behind. But once arrival is decoupled from return, one should ask whether the return trip is really necessary.

Surely if the point of sending astronauts is to be able to carry out scientific experiments that robots cannot do, then the longer they spend on the planet the more experiments they can do. Moreover, if the radiation problems cannot be adequately resolved then the longevity of astronauts signing up for a Mars round trip would be severely compromised in any case. As cruel as it may sound, the astronauts would probably best use their remaining time living and working on Mars rather than dying at home.

If it sounds unrealistic to suggest that astronauts would be willing to leave home never to return alive, then consider the results of several informal surveys I and several colleagues have conducted recently. One of my peers in Arizona recently accompanied a group of scientists and engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a geological field trip. During the day, he asked how many would be willing to go on a one-way mission into space. Every member of the group raised his hand. The lure of space travel remains intoxicating for a generation brought up on Star Trek and Star Wars.

We might want to restrict the voyage to older astronauts, whose longevity is limited in any case. Here again, I have found a significant fraction of scientists older than 65 who would be willing to live out their remaining years on the red planet or elsewhere. With older scientists, there would be additional health complications, to be sure, but the necessary medical personnel and equipment would still probably be cheaper than designing a return mission.

Delivering food and supplies to these new pioneers — along with the tools to grow and build whatever they need, for however long they live on the red planet — is likewise more reasonable and may be less expensive than designing a ticket home. Certainly, as in the Zubrin proposal, unmanned spacecraft could provide the crucial supply lines.

The largest stumbling block to a consideration of one-way missions is probably political. Nasa and Congress are unlikely to do something that could be perceived as signing the death warrants of astronauts. Nevertheless, space travel is so expensive and so dangerous that we are going to need novel, even extreme solutions if we want to expand the range of human civilisation beyond our planet. To boldly go where no one has gone before does not require coming home again.


Lawrence M. Krauss is the author ofThe Physics of ‘Star Trek’ By arrangement with the New York Times









The call for change may have been Mamata Banerjee’s idea to unseat him, but Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee now has an opportunity to use it to redeem his government’s image. If he is serious about probing the illegal land deals involving the promoters of the Vedic Village, he should begin by removing his land reforms minister, Abdur Rezzak Mollah. For a justification of such an action, the chief minister needs to look no farther than the minister’s own “explanation” of his department’s role in the land deal. What Mr Mollah has said about the deal is clearly an attempt at defending the indefensible. What his department did was legally and morally wrong on several counts. His defence of the out-of-court settlement that he approved for the transfer of the land is simply untenable. It not only shows the minister’s lack of trust in the due process of law, but also raises questions about motives behind the deal. His explanation raises more questions than it answers. One such question is why his department chose to vest the land and then lease it to the promoters of not an industry or a public utility such as a hospital or a power station, but a resort. Much more damning is the fact that the price at which the land was given to the promoters was incredibly lower than the market rate.


What is at stake is much more than Mr Mollah’s personal honesty. Questions can legitimately be raised, though, on why he chose to visit the spa at the resort. Since he knew the murky background of the land transfer more than anyone else, he, of all people, should have been careful to avoid visiting the place. His visits must have given the land deal a stamp of approval and emboldened not just these promoters but also others in the business to flout the law. By removing Mr Mollah from his cabinet, the chief minister can achieve two things. First, he can restore probity in all land transactions. This is important because land is going to be a crucial issue in the transformation of Bengal’s economy. Despite the failure of Singur and its political fall-out, the use of farmland for industrialization is not an issue for partisan politics. Action against Mr Mollah may send out a signal about his intentions. Second, such action can help change the growing impression that Mr Bhattacharjee presides over a non-functioning government. Better governance, and not street politics, is his only hope for a comeback.






An event in April does not, ordinarily, make news in August without reason. Pakistan has perhaps rightly guessed why news of the missile tests it conducted earlier this year should be hitting the headlines now, only a month away from a crucial session of the American Congress. Allegations of Pakistan modifying anti-ship Harpoon missiles — sold to it by the United States of America — to make them capable of land attacks against India could be aimed at undoing its months-long orchestrated effort at pushing the US to release the bounty of $7.5 billion. For one, such modification would establish that Pakistan is still channelling resources to an arms build-up, thereby prioritizing defence over development (for which money is being claimed). The second, and more damaging part, would be the incontrovertible proof that Pakistan is continuing to bite the hand that is feeding it. For this is no longer Pakistan’s surreptitious remodelling of Chinese or Korean missiles that the world, and the US, had learnt to accept. This is cocking a snook at the superpower which had steadfastly supported an ally despite the double standards Pakistan repeatedly displayed in the course of the war on terror. The sentiments this can arouse in the US are being feared. Even if these sentiments do not, ultimately, hold up aid, they could force the Barack Obama administration into committing itself to more stringent control of the money than heretofore. Naturally, Pakistan is trying its best to control the damage. It has already agreed to a supervision of its Harpoon arsenal. In the next few days, this pliancy may translate itself into more attention to the war against the Taliban which it is already now in two minds about fighting.


It should be quite clear to India that it is witnessing a series of manoeuvres in the battle of wills between two allies. As in so many earlier tussles, this too may end in much mutual back-patting between the US and Pakistan. For a war-ready nation like India, which has just indigenously manufactured its own nuclear submarine, a twisted Harpoon should not be too much to worry about. What should be worrying are the skewed rules in the game of accountability that the US and its ally continue to engage India in. Will the subcontinent be freed of terror if the US continues to mollycoddle a belligerent Pakistan and Pakistan continues to show its muscles while talking peace with India?








The nuclear debate in India, after a brief lull, promises to become stormy over the next months. The contest is once again, after over a decade, in essence over the merits and demerits of India signing the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty or CTBT. A former senior official of the Defence Research and Development Organisation has proved to be the catalyst and a whistle-blower. At a closed-door seminar in the capital, where the Chatham House Rules were flouted with impunity, the official declared that the thermonuclear test India conducted in 1988 was a fizzle. A fizzle, in nuclear jargon, is another term for a test that has not delivered, at least not in terms of the expected yield. The implication was clear: India should not consider signing the CTBT because we still need to conduct further tests to ensure the credibility of the country’s nuclear deterrent. While the government has sought to distance itself from the controversy, it is clear that this is an issue that cannot be swept under the carpet. What is needed, therefore, is an independent panel of scientists and analysts who can address the issue of the thermonuclear test and the wider implications for India, its nuclear deterrent, and its engagement with the CTBT. All this needs fleshing out.


The CTBT was adopted by the United Nations general assembly in September, 1996. About 150 States have ratified the CTBT and another 32 States have signed but not yet ratified it. But the treaty cannot come into force unless the 44 States listed in Annex 2 of the treaty have ratified it. Nine of these States have not ratified the treaty, including India, China, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States of America. During the Bush years, the CTBT was not an issue: the Republican administration believed more in direct action than in multilateral arms control, and the treaty was pushed into cold storage. The Obama administration is, however, different.


At Prague in April, Obama committed himself to radical steps on arms control and disarmament; it seems his administration has decided to make the ratification of the CTBT a cornerstone of its foreign policy. In other words, Washington will begin exercising serious pressure on the non-signatories, even as they build a consensus on ratification domestically.


The India story, however, is, as usual, more intriguing. On September 10, 1996, at the UN general assembly, India’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Arundhati Ghose, and a bhadramahila with a greater spine than most Indian diplomats, said: “Mr President, I would like to declare on the floor of this august assembly that India will never sign this unequal treaty, not now, nor later.” The reasons, on the face of it, were simple: India had been included in Annex 2, without its consent, the draft had been negotiated outside the conference on disarmament (where India blocked a consensus) and that the treaty was not explicitly linked to a plan for disarmament which India had demanded. But there was a deeper, less diplomatic, reality. India needed time: to be able to conduct nuclear tests at an opportune time when the international backlash could be contained, so essential to build a credible nuclear posture. This happened less than two years later.


On May 11 and 13, 1988, India conducted five nuclear tests at Pokhran. All the tests were then declared totally successful. Recall the statement issued by the official spokesman on May 11: “The tests conducted today were with a fission device, a low yield device and a thermonuclear device. The measured yields are in line with expected values. Measurements have also confirmed that there was no release of radioactivity into the atmosphere.”

India quickly declared a unilateral moratorium on further testing, and New Delhi’s back channels seriously discussed signing the CTBT (as a way of normalizing relations and getting sanctions, imposed in the wake of the tests, lifted) with their American counterparts, but the Clinton administration was beset with its own problems. Then came the trouble-free Bush years. In March this year, however, the prime minister’s special envoy, Shyam Saran, said at a conference at the Brookings Institution at Washington: “It is also our conviction that if the world really moves categorically towards nuclear disarmament in a credible timeframe, then India-US differences over the CTBT will probably recede into the background.” Why are we then witnessing this hullabaloo? For at least three reasons.


First, many consider thermonuclear or hydrogen weapons essential for building a credible deterrent. While this is debatable in terms of Indian nuclear deterrence strategy, there has always been scepticism about the thermonuclear claim. Days after the test, both the Central Intelligence Agency and the international scientific academic community expressed reservations. The well known nuclear-seismologist, then at the University of Arizona, Terry C. Wallace, openly rubbished India’s claims on the basis of detailed seismic analyses. In India, P.K. Iyengar, a former chief of the department of atomic energy, also doubted the official claim.


In response, the Indian atomic science establishment published its findings. Key figures of the atomic energy establishment, S.K. Sikka, Falguni Roy. and G.J. Nair, argued - in a referred paper — rather naïvely it now seems — that large variations in the seismic magnitude were because of the “cancellation and superimposition of signals from these explosions separated in space by about 1 km”. The DRDO official’s assertion implies that Sikka et al were, at the very least, magnifying their achievements.


But we must not overlook the traditional rivalry between institutions and individuals. All nuclear States have had rivalries within driven by personal idiosyncrasies and institutional loyalties. The famous rivalry between Edward Teller (the father of the hydrogen bomb) and J. Robert Oppenheimer (the leader of the Manhattan Project which produced the first atomic weapons) is legendary and irretrievably divided the two main American nuclear labs: Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. When Oppenheimer opposed the hydrogen bomb, Teller accused him of being a Soviet spy.


In India, the rivalry between the atomic energy establishment and the DRDO is well known. Raja Ramanna openly expressed his uneasiness at the elevation of a well known rocket scientist to a high position. In the Atomic Energy Commission itself, nuclear scientists have looked down upon nuclear engineers — the traditional innovators’ contempt for mechanics. Two chairmen of the AEC, Raja Ramanna, a nuclear scientist, and Homi Sethna, a nuclear engineer, had always had an uneasy relationship.


Finally, of course, there are institutional interests. No organization will seek to undermine its own raison d’être. In the US, when the Clinton administration sought the support of the nuclear laboratories for the CTBT, they had to be almost bribed. As the physicist, Richard Garwin, described it: “What could they get? Sandia got the microelectronics research center, which had minimal relevance to the CTBT. Los Alamos got the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test facility. Livermore got the National Ignition Facility— the white elephant eating us out of house and home.”


The fact is that we need oversight by an independent authority. In the US, there were at least two panels which, in recent years, addressed issues related to the CTBT and inter-institutional rivalry. In 1995, an Energy Advisory Board Task Force on Alternative Futures for the Department of Energy National Laboratories was set up. The panel concluded that while some of the finest scientific research in America was done in the national laboratories, “the current system of governance of these laboratories is broken and should be replaced with a bold alternative”. An earlier committee, which remains a model, is the bipartisan JASON committee, consisting of top research and industrial scientists. One of its most important reports was on safety, reliability, and performance margins of nuclear weapons in the wake of a possible CTBT. We need to recognize that the nuclear question is too important to be left to scientists or the armed forces alone. It concerns us all.


Amitabh Mattoo is professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Rajive Nayan is with the IDSA, New Delhi







It’s a story straight from hell. Fifteen-year-old Deng Senshan was beaten to death in an internet de-addiction centre in Nanning, a provincial capital, within 14 hours of his parents leaving him there. They paid the centre 7,000 yuan (Rs 50,000), and received a signed assurance that while the centre would mete out punishment, it would not harm the child’s health.


This happened early last month. Last week, the editor of the local tabloid that investigated the incident was sacked.


The first internet de-addiction centre opened in Beijing as far back as 2005. Now, internet de-addiction is big business. The Nanning centre has branches across provinces and advertises on TV. Its rates are 7,000 yuan for the first month, and get progressively higher.


With kids at school all day, parents only notice the addiction when grades start falling. To parents obsessed with grades, these centres promise a way out of a hopeless situation; they discipline the child in a way the parents cannot. One centre in Beijing is run by the army; treatment includes exercise, counselling (to parents too) and medication. Electric shocks were banned last month. Psychiatrists warn that unless the loneliness that’s at the root of such addiction is tackled, these centres will do more harm than good.


Parents always have to trick their kids into accompanying them to these centres. Inside, it’s a virtual prison. Under 24-hour supervision, the students aren’t allowed contact with family or friends. When reporters visited another branch of the Nanning centre, the inmates, prevented from talking to them, held up signs saying ‘SOS’ and ‘beating’. From grilled windows, they threw little chits which unfortunately didn’t reach the reporters.



Details of the treatment meted out to young Senshan read like scenes from a medieval orphanage. The irony was that the boy wasn’t much of an addict; he had insisted on being bought a computer, but he only spent weekends on it, his devastated father said later. Although his grades had fallen, he remained a good swimmer; in fact, he was taken out on the pretext of going for a swim. En route to the centre, he even saved a woman from drowning in a river. He was that fit when his parents last saw him. They didn’t even get to say goodbye to him; he was whisked away as soon as they arrived.


When they saw their only child the next day, he was a bloody and bruised corpse. Eye-witnesses said they had heard him groaning soon after he was taken inside. Soon, a student went in with a mop, saying, “his head is bleeding; the blood has to be wiped off the floor”. Senshan came out later, his clothes bloody, but seemed okay and participated in another inmate’s birthday celebration. But at night, he was told to run 100 laps. He couldn’t run more than 30; but every time he stopped, he was beaten, with the leg of a chair, then with the chair itself, till it broke. Finally, students were asked to wash him with cold water. He was by then foaming and delirious, shouting, “The bomb is going to go off,” and “People are being killed.”

The reporter who interviewed these student eye-witnesses found them unusually stiff, sitting at attention all the time. They revealed that newcomers were made to stand without sleep or food for the first few days; they got only water. Beatings were routine; so was hospitalization.


The centre was closed down and 13 persons arrested; but why was the editor sacked? The incident was reported widely; even by the State-run China Daily. It also reported the sacking of the editor — sympathetically. His colleagues told China Daily that local officials felt the coverage of the incident had harmed the province’s image. The centre was run jointly by a government sports department and a public school, with the latter receiving a share of the profits.









Washington, 2 Sept: Google today said it had fixed a problem that caused its email service Gmail to suffer a widespread outage which the Internet giant said affected a “majority” of its users.

Google’s App Status Dashboard, a website which tracks the performance ofits various Web-based services, reported at 0083IST that the problem was “affecting a majority of users.”

“The affected users are unable to access Google Mail,” it said. More than an hour-and-a-half later, at 00267IST, Google said the outage was over.

“The problem with Google Mail should be resolved,” it said. “We apologise for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support.”

Google’s last major technical problem occurred in May, leaving millions of people unable to use popular services such as its main search page, as well as Gmail and Google News. The hour-long outage affected Web surfers not only in the USA but in other countries and numerous other services including Google Reader, Google Maps, Google Analytics and video-sharing site YouTube. PTI








IT is unfortunate to reflect that the English language is the poorer with the entry of a bevy of outlandish expressions in the newest edition of Collins English Dictionary. To be fair, the purity of the language was diluted when the Concise Oxford Dictionary started introducing glib Indian words in the compendium. That purity has now suffered a further erosion with Collins, almost as a matter of editorial policy, having blurred the distinction between the written word and the computer-savvy generation’s manner of expression, that cannot even be equated with colloquialism or slang. Which at once defeats the very purpose of a dictionary ~ to enrich one’s stock of words and vocabulary.

So it is that Collins now bristles with such words ~ if that is the word ~ as “hmm” and “heh”, “meh” (expression of dissatisfaction), “mwah” (noisy kiss) and “hey-ho”.Purists will reject the shortened forms as gobbledygook, as for instance OMG (short for “Oh, My God”) and SOZ (short for “sorry”). Such distortions are comparable to the SMS generation’s use of “u” for “you” and “nite” for “night”. Rightly has the The Times, London, ever so concerned about the purity of the language as she ought to be spoken and written, trashed such expressions, describing them as “grunts” and “sighs” that are so common in computerised networking. The exercise appears to have been designed for the generation of Internet users in chat rooms. Aside from the written word, the style of conversation ~ which has somehow become poorer over time ~ will now be a casualty.

While the Americanised and supposedly convenient spellings are increasingly being accepted at the school level, the lexicon ought ideally to lend no scope for distortions. For at stake is the sanctity of the language as indeed the dictionary. Random post-modern usage can only reinforce the overwhelmingly inadequate grip over the language. To accept it as an offshoot of globalisation is as contrived as it is superficial. The determinant is correctitude, not the electronic mode of convenient communication, still less the spell-check utility on word processing software.









THE demand for Manipur chief minister, Okram Ibobi Singh’s ouster is becoming more strident, what with the 32-party Apunba Lup umbrella organisation now threatening MLAs with social boycott if they do not withdraw their support to his government and find a replacement. People have been told not to attend any function organised by ministers or MLAs. What seems to have made the Lup somewhat impatient is the continued detention under the National Security Act of some of its representatives following the agitation against the 23 July killing of a militant cadre, Chungham Sanjit, by police commandos in “an encounter”. No other incident has so badly tarnished Ibobi’s image. Manipur has been on the boil ever since Tehelka published a series of photographs of the incident to expose the Ibobi government’s double standards. That the chief minister ordered a judicial probe into the incident has given him much-needed respite, especially with the Governor Gurbachan Jagat’s assurance to the Joint Action Committee for prompt justice that would take its own course. No one knows when the judicial inquiry report will be ready and even when its finding is made public it is unlikely to threaten Ibobi’s survival because the Centre is solidly behind him.

Just how Delhi portrays a disturbing lack of concern for ongoing violence in Manipur became obvious last month. Union home secretary GK Pillai was sent to Manipur but during his two-day stay he attended two state-sponsored development seminars (duly supported by the ministry for the Development of North East Region). He laid emphasis on the need for successful implementation of various development projects, as though this would solve the insurgency problem. Much has gone wrong with Ibobi ever since he took over in 2002 for how else, according to Apunba Lup statistics, would he explain the lawlessness that has overrun Manipur with people being killed every day, the creation of 5,000 widows and 10,000 children having just one parent?







ADDING impetus to its post-26/11 campaign for nationwide police reform, the union home ministry has done well to try and put money (even if not “its own”) where its mouth is. In asking the 13th Finance Commission to provide adequate funds to the states for both increases in force levels and upgraded training, North Block has addressed one of the key issues responsible for India being among the world’s most under-policed countries, the outcome of which requires little elucidation. With the finances of most states being severely limited and the several demands on them, policing has never received due priority. Rural policing in particular has suffered: an official estimate has it that if the norm of 22 cops for every 10,000 citizens is to be obtained, another 340,000 policemen would be required for rural duties (8,000 of the 14,000 police stations in the country are categorised as rural). At the salaries recommended by the 6th Pay Commission an additional Rs 19,232 crore would be annually required to foot their wage bill.
There is another dimension to the understaffing ~ such is the pressure on personnel that retraining is possible only once in 20 years, which expert opinion slams as unacceptable. And it goes without much saying that the training facilities in most states are little more than rudimentary, where more advanced systems do exist they can cater to very few policemen/policewomen at a time. No wonder that routine maintenance of law and order and crime control is difficult, so countering terrorism is a tall order.
It does, however, remain a moot point whether budgetary hikes automatically translate into quality upgrades, and should the Finance Commission play ball the home ministry will have to ensure that funds are effectively utilised, and not diverted. What remains a matter of grave concern is that despite the public outrage over inept policing the states do not seem to have got the message, continue to cry poverty and take few initiatives of their own. Thus the reform process remains essentially Centre-driven. That could prove a drawback, and also a sign that North Block lacks the political clout, or persuasive authority, to deliver. Either way, it might be worthwhile setting up a select group of ministers from the states, tasking it with accelerating police upgrades. A greater sense of involvement/responsibility might work wonders.








FAR from achieving self-sufficiency, India’s record in the food sector in recent years has been distressing. There has been a sharp decline in crop productivity. During 2008-09, agricultural growth dropped to a dismal 1.6 per cent. A national food security mission has been launched to raise production in respect of rice by 10 million tonnes, wheat by eight million tonnes and pulses by two million tonnes over the next five years.

One comes across reports of starvation deaths from some part of the country or the other. According to a rehydration project report, around seven million children die of hunger every year. It was earlier reported that 63 per cent of the children go to bed hungry and 47 per cent suffer from chronic malnutrition. In recent years, a large number of people has died of starvation and malnutrition in the poverty-stricken regions of Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. Such tragedies confirm that the procedure that is followed to benefit the BPL families through the Public Distribution System is defective and often misused.

The country’s food stock in July 2009 stood at around 50 million tonnes of rice and wheat, which may suffice for the current year. But during 2009-10, food production is projected to fall by 5.6 per cent on account of the deficit in rainfall.


Poverty and the lack of purchasing power explain why one-third of the country’s population is half-fed. And the number is rising. The FAO had earlier estimated that India has 221 million hungry against China’s 142 million. The benefits of the poverty alleviation schemes have not reached the target group. Indeed, there is no policy to counter chronic hunger and rural poverty.

The world’s population crossed 6.75 billion in January 2009. And to feed a population of 8.9 billion by 2030, the world will require twice the amount of calories consumed today.

The UN agency reported recently that more than one billion are hungry in the poor countries despite a substantial increase in food production in the last two decades. A survey by the US Census Bureau revealed that one in eight Americans live in poverty and some 37 million Americans are below the poverty line. Half a million starvation deaths occurred in North Korea in the recent past. In Indonesia, 450 children die of starvation every day. The FAO has projected that the number of undernourished may decline to 575 million by 2015 and to 400 million by 2040.

It has also been projected that India will be free of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and will become an environmentally safe country by 2030. Presently, 221 million people in the country are undernourished and more than 360 million are below the poverty line. They are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. Also, more than 50 per cent of pregnant women are anaemic, and every third child born registers a low birth weight, with the risk of impaired health and brain development. A World Development Report had cautioned that India would not be able to reduce poverty and improve human development by 2015 without socio-economic reforms geared to improve health, education, water supply, sanitation and the power situation.

The World Food Summit in Rome had pledged to provide food security and the universal right of access to safe and nutritious food. It had called for adequate food security for the eradication of hunger in all countries. It had also resolved to reduce the number of undernourished to half by 2015. However, the FAO report on world agriculture observed that the target to reduce the number of hungry by half by 2015 would not even be met by 2030.

Our agriculture is largely dependent on the monsoon. The Economic Survey has projected the food output in 2008-09 at 230 million tonnes. It was 230.8 million tonnes in 2007-08. The scenario for 2009-10 is far from encouraging not least because of the inadequate monsoon in certain states. Food security for all may remain a distant dream. During 2008-09, our population increased to 115.4 crore from 113.8 crore in 2007-08. Therefore, the current food estimates will not be enough to feed the burgeoning population, if the entire half-fed people are fully fed. The rise in population has eaten away the benefits of higher production, and now poses a serious threat to food security.

Increasing food production will depend largely on a good monsoon in successive years, an expansion in the area under cultivation, a rise in productivity and improved cultivation under rainfed and dryland farming. Two-thirds of the net cropped area is under dryland farming, accounting for 42 per cent of the total food produce. We either wait for the miracle seed from abroad or develop the seed and the package of farming ourselves to meet the needs of the population.

The Green Revolution in wheat and rice has now reached a dead end; it has not made an impact on cultivation in the rainfed area and in respect of coarse grains and pulses. Indeed, it has had an adverse effect on agricultural environment. Both qualitative and quantitative has been the degradation of land, water and bio-resources; waterlogging and excessive salinity have rendered fertile lands uncultivable. Post-harvest losses have been substantial.


THE yields of the newly developed strains of rice and wheat have almost reached a plateau under optimum conditions. Punjab and Haryana have been facing soil health problems in respect of salinity and nutrient imbalance. Both states have exhausted their irrigation potential. Micro-nutrient deficiencies are also a matter of concern. However, there is scope to fully tap the potential of the eastern region stretching from eastern UP to Assam for improving rice productivity. The International Rice Research Institute had cautioned that global warming may be a threat to rice yields.

A second Green Revolution through genetically modified (GM) technology referred to as “gene revolution” is being advocated to improve productivity. But it must be ensured that crop biotechnology products are safe; GM food poses the risk of organ abnormalities. This technology has, however, been accepted by farmers the world over.

It is unfortunate that the right to food has not been accorded the overriding priority as there is hardly any concern over privation and starvation deaths. The working of the PDS needs improvement. The “Antyodaya Anna Yojana” programme has to be expanded to cover rural households and create employment opportunities to enable the poor to buy food.

The task of ensuring food and nutrition to the vast population is challenging, particularly when approximately one-third of our population is under-nourished. It is the responsibility of the state governments to implement poverty-alleviation programmes and prevent starvation and malnutrition deaths, as directed by the Supreme Court. Food procurement needs to be decentralised. This will depend largely on doubling our food production in the next 15 years.

This, in turn, will necessitate an annual growth rate of 4.7 per cent, the present rate being 1.6 per cent. Therefore, massive efforts are needed to increase crop production, improve the rural infrastructure, prevent huge losses and ensure food security for all.











We Americans like our meat. In the course of a year, on average we eat more than 220 pounds of chicken, beef, and pork. But some are starting to pause at the meat counter as they hear about incidents of contamination and compromised food safety, the breeding of drug-resistant super-bugs and the inhumane conditions endured by animals raised in extreme confinement.

The fault, say critics, lies with an industrial farm animal production system that forces farmers to confine their livestock in tight quarters to eke out a profit in a highly competitive marketplace. The conflicting expectations of consumers also drive the priorities of a mass production process that puts cheap meat on our plates at rising costs to human health, animal welfare, and environmental integrity.

In order to place pigs and poultry in such close quarters, farmers have turned to routinely feeding antibiotics to their animals not just to treat infections but to prevent bacterial disease outbreaks and promote weight gain.

Up to 70 per cent of all antibiotics used in the US go to farm animals. But scientific researchers have been warning for decades that the use of antibiotics in meat production other than to stem an actual infection is producing a chain of unintended negative effects. Biologists say it's breeding drug-resistant strains of bacteria that are undermining the effectiveness of the antibiotics we humans vitally depend on to fight our own infections.

Most pork and poultry raised in North America is now housed in indoor, confined animal feedlot operations known as CAFO's. Here, close quarters create an ideal environment for the growth and spread of harmful bacteria. The routine addition of antibiotics to animal feed has enabled highly adaptive bacteria to learn how to fend off most of the medicines used to kill them.

That's an issue not just for the health of pigs and poultry but for people. A landmark 2008 study by the Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Production ( asserts that the overuse of antibiotics is not just a personal hazard but a major public health issue affecting farm workers, nearby communities, aquifers, and even consumers. Citing $5 billion annual health care costs to deal with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the Commission calls for a phase-out and ban on all non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in animal production.

Over the past decade scientists, policymakers and food activists have exerted increasing pressure on the meat production industry to reduce its use of antibiotics for any purpose other than treating actual infections.

Antibiotics were banned for such uses in Denmark in 2000 and in the European Union as a whole in 2006. The European experience, say its advocates, demonstrates that meat animals can be raised in relative confinement without the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics.

The key to not having to use antibiotics, say farmers who have eliminated them from non-therapeutic uses, is raising animals in the way they were before the introduction of CAFO's over the past few decades -- n the open air and the dirt, not in confinement crates or slatted-floor pens suspended over huge "lagoons" of their liquid waste, which themselves pose health hazards.

North Dakota rancher Fred Kirschenmann believes farmers are not primarily to blame for these practices. He says the fault lies with a system driven by the consumer's demand for low prices and the big box retailer's motivation to meet those expectations at the expense of human and animal health that ripples down the food chain to force the farmer to adopt harmful practices to feed an ostensibly more cost-effective production system.

But when all the long-term impacts are factored in, the system may not be as cost-effective as advertised. Dealing with disease outbreaks, decreasing effectiveness of our antibiotics for human use, and the stark inhumanity of living conditions for these animals all exact their own steep costs.

As consumers we've come to expect our meat to be delivered to us in shrink-wrapped packages at bargain prices. But its convenience and affordability have come at a high hidden price in public health, environmental contamination, and animal welfare.

Our individual decisions may seem harmless in themselves, but taken collectively they produce unintended consequences that harm us all. We all want and deserve food that is safe, healthy and affordable. We just need to be sure that in seeking a bargain we don't create new problems for ourselves in the process.

(The author hosts the award-winning, internationally syndicated radio program, A World of Possibilities)









My tryst with understanding the meaning of 'hope' began not so early in life. My first visit to the Rainbow School was on my eighteenth birthday. It was something that had been on my mother's planner for a while. What I had to do was very simple. I had to go there, serve them the food that my mother had prepared and then I was free to go and enjoy the rest of the day the way I wanted. So, like a teenager stepping onto the threshold of adulthood I did just that. Went to Loreto House, took the grub to the roof and served thirty-odd young girls lunch, had a little birthday celebration and went out to savour my moment of being a young adult.

A year later, when I joined Loreto College, I realised that the simple lunch that I served was remembered and the faces that had become a blur to me asked me how I was everyday. A casual "hi" made that much of a difference when I was trying to get my bearing in college. Rainbow School was started as an initiative to educate the street girl child by the Loreto sisters. It was when we did voluntary social service with the 'Each One Teach One' programme, that I opted to teach at Rainbow. Girls from the ages of three to thirteen stayed in the boarding. Talking, playing and my desperate attempts to teach some of them the piano seemed to be the highlights of my days.

Talking to them about their day with conversations steering to their families, to what they wanted to do in the future and their dreams, made it more apparent that they were not very different from mine. Four-and-a-half-year-old Malati Bera wanted to be a singer and dancer. For events she always had a number which she performed. "I want to be like Dona (Ganguly) when I grow up," she said. Through the three years of college I became more familiar with the girls and their routines.

The lines of us and them seem a blur. As the children would practice "Hum Honge Kaamiyab", it is that belief that shone through them -- a belief that they too can reach beyond the stars and that there is a world waiting to appreciate their true colours.









An important new study has cast an appalling light on a place where workplace laws fail to protect workers, where wages and tips are routinely stolen, where having to work sick, injured or off the clock is the price of having a job.


The place is the United States, all across the lower strata of the urban economy.


The most comprehensive investigation of labor-law violations in years, released Wednesday by the Center for Urban Economic Development, the National Employment Law Project and the U.C.L.A. Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, surveyed 4,387 workers in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Its researchers sought out people often missed by standard surveys and found abuses everywhere: in factories, grocery stores, retail shops, construction sites, offices, warehouses and private homes. The word sweatshop clearly is not big enough anymore to capture the extent and severity of the rot in the low-wage workplace.


Workers told of employers who ignored the minimum wage, denied overtime, took illegal deductions to pay for tools or transportation, or forced them to work unpaid before or after their shifts. More than two-thirds of them had endured at least one wage violation in the previous workweek. More than a quarter had been paid less than the minimum wage, often by more than $1 an hour. Violations typically robbed workers of $51 a week, from an average paycheck of $339.


The report paints an acute picture of powerlessness. Of workers who had been seriously injured on the job, only 8 percent had filed for workers’ compensation — a symptom, researchers said, of the power of employer pressure. Although 86 percent of respondents had worked enough consecutive hours to be entitled to time off for meals, more than two-thirds had had their breaks denied, interrupted or shortened. Workers who complained to bosses or government agencies or tried to form unions suffered illegal retaliation: firing, suspension, pay cuts or threats to call immigration authorities.


It is, of course, morally abhorrent that the American economy should be so riddled with exploitation. But it is also powerfully evident that there are practical consequences when the powerless are abused. Low-wage workers spend a high proportion of their income on necessities; when their paychecks are systematically bled by greedy employers, an entire community’s economic vitality is sapped as well.


The answers are basic, though too long ignored. Government needs to send more investigators to back rooms, offices and factory floors, and to enlist labor organizations and immigrant-rights groups as their investigative eyes and ears. Penalties for wage-law violations need toughening. Employees who have historically been denied basic labor rights — domestic workers and home health aides — need to finally be given the protection of wage-and-hour laws. Companies must not be allowed to skirt their legal obligations by outsourcing hiring to subcontractors, letting others break the law for them.


The report has particular significance for immigrant workers, who made up 70 percent of the survey (39 percent of them were undocumented). Workplace abuses are flourishing in the absence of a working immigration system, where illegal immigrants are vital to the economy but helpless to assert their rights.


The report upends the argument that the way to help American workers is to make illegal immigrants ever more frightened and exploitable. Only by protecting all workers will the country begin to rebuild a workplace matching its ideals of decency and fair play.







After the C.I.A. inspector general’s report on prisoner interrogation was released last week, former Vice President Dick Cheney settled into his usual seat on Fox News to express his outrage — not at the illegal and immoral behavior laid out in the report, of course, but at the idea that anyone would object to torturing prisoners. He was especially vexed that the Obama administration was beginning an investigation.


In Mr. Cheney’s view, it is not just those who followed orders and stuck to the interrogation rules set down by President George Bush’s Justice Department who should be sheltered from accountability. He said he also had no problem with those who disobeyed their orders and exceeded the guidelines.


It’s easy to understand Mr. Cheney’s aversion to the investigation that Attorney General Eric Holder ordered last week. On Fox, Mr. Cheney said it was hard to imagine it stopping with the interrogators. He’s right.


The government owes Americans a full investigation into the orders to approve torture, abuse and illegal, secret detention, as well as the twisted legal briefs that justified those policies. Congress and the White House also need to look into illegal wiretapping and the practice of sending prisoners to other countries to be tortured.


Mr. Cheney was at the center of each of these insults to this country’s Constitution, its judicial system and its bedrock democratic values. To defend himself, he offers a twisted version of history:


•He says Mr. Bush’s Justice Department determined that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” ordered by the president were legal under American law and international treaties like the Geneva Conventions.

In reality, those opinions were based on a corrupt and widely discredited legal analysis cooked up after the White House had already decided to use long-banned practices like waterboarding. Mr. Cheney was an architect of the decision to “get tough” with prisoners, as the bureaucrats often say to soften the outrage of this policy.


•He insists the inspector general’s findings were “completely reviewed” by the Justice Department and that any follow-up investigation would be improper and unnecessary.


In reality, Mr. Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, did not appoint an independent investigator after receiving the inspector general’s report, which was completed in 2004. The Justice Department decided there was only one narrow case worth pursuing, involving a civilian contractor — hardly a surprise from a thoroughly politicized department whose top officials set the very rules they were supposed to be judging. Mr. Gonzales’s team did not look into allegations that some interrogators broke those rules. Mr. Cheney may not care about that, but Mr. Holder rightly does.


•Mr. Cheney claims that waterboarding and other practices widely considered to be torture or abuse “were absolutely essential” in stopping another terrorist attack on the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Cheney is right when he says detainees who were subject to torture and abuse gave up valuable information. But the men who did the questioning flatly dispute that it was duress that moved them to do so.


Deuce Martinez, the C.I.A. officer who interrogated Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, engineer of the 9/11 mass murders, said he used traditional interrogation methods, and not the infliction of pain and panic. And, in an article on the Times Op-Ed page, Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who oversaw the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, another high-ranking terrorist, denounced “the false claims” about harsh interrogations. Mr. Soufan said Mr. Zubaydah talked before he was subjected to waterboarding and other abuse. He also said that “using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions.”


Every week, it seems, new disclosures about this sordid history dribble out. This week, Physicians for Human Rights analyzed what the inspector general’s report said about the involvement of C.I.A. physicians and psychiatrists in the abuse of prisoners. It said they not only monitored torture, like waterboarding, but also kept data on the prisoners’ reaction in ways that “may amount to human experimentation.”


Getting at the truth is not going to be easy. The C.I.A. destroyed evidence — videotapes of interrogations — and is now refusing to release its records of the questioning of its prisoners. It also is asking the courts to keep secret the orders Mr. Bush gave authorizing the interrogations, and the original Justice Department memos concluding that they were legal.


Americans need much more than glimpses of the truth. They should not have to decide whether to believe former interrogators, whom they do not know, or Mr. Cheney, who did not hesitate while in office to mislead them when it suited his political aims.







Some good news from Afghanistan is that American commanders have wisely canceled a contract with a public relations firm accused of profiling correspondents with negative-to-positive ratings to help determine whether they may report in the war zone with troops.


The Pentagon denies the profiling was ever used to deny “embed” credentials to reporters. But the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that the profiles were used in barring access to two correspondents who had fallen out of favor and in steering others away from negative reporting.


War propaganda is as old as warfare, and the Washington company involved in the profiling, the Rendon Group, was used by the Bush administration in various communication strategies for the Iraq war.


Rendon and the Pentagon denied accusations that the effort went beyond informational standards to blatantly drum up popular support for the Iraq war. But wary commanders in Afghanistan have moved quickly to cancel the $1.5 million Rendon contract and step back from the propaganda taint of the Bush era.


The last thing the nation needs is officially skewed journalism from Afghanistan, particularly as the war grows, at least judging by polls, increasingly unpopular with the public. Official Pentagon policy is that embedded correspondents must not be hobbled just because their reports might include “embarrassing, negative or derogatory information.”


Still, the Pentagon would be well advised to pay attention to — and adopt as a sound operating principle — advice recently offered by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an essay critical of government information strategies directed at the Muslim world.


“We need,” he said, “to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate.” These are words the Pentagon can hardly ignore.








PRESIDENT OBAMA’S apparent readiness to backtrack on the public insurance option in his health care package is not just a concession to his political opponents — this fixation on securing bipartisan support for health care reform suggests that the Democratic Party has forgotten how to govern and the White House has forgotten how to lead.


This was not true of Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Congresses that enacted the New Deal. With the exception of the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 (which gave the president authority to close the nation’s banks and which passed the House of Representatives unanimously), the principal legislative innovations of the 1930s were enacted over the vigorous opposition of a deeply entrenched minority. Majority rule, as Roosevelt saw it, did not require his opponents’ permission.


When Roosevelt asked Congress to establish the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide cheap electric power for the impoverished South, he did not consult with utility giants like Commonwealth and Southern. When he asked for the creation of a Securities and Exchange Commission to curb the excesses of Wall Street, he did not request the cooperation of those about to be regulated. When Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act divesting investment houses of their commercial banking functions, the Democrats did not need the approval of J. P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs or Lehman Brothers.


Roosevelt took the country off the gold standard and Congress enacted legislation nullifying clauses in private contracts stipulating payment in gold over the heated opposition of many of the nation’s wealthy. The Agricultural Adjustment Act setting production quotas and establishing price supports was adopted over the fierce opposition of the nation’s food processors. Establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps was fought tooth and nail by organized labor because of the corps’ modest wages. Social Security became law over the ideological objections of those who believed that government was best which governed least and that individuals should fend for themselves or rely on charity. And the authority of the government to set maximum hours and minimum wages, as well as the right of labor to bargain collectively, was established despite the vociferous opposition of American business.


Roosevelt relished the opposition of vested interests. He fashioned his governing majority by deliberately attacking those who favored the status quo. His opponents hated him — and he profited from their hatred. “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today,” he told a national radio audience on the eve of the 1936 election. “They are unanimous in their hatred for me — and I welcome their hatred.”


Roosevelt sought consensus among his fellow Democrats, which is why he sometimes kowtowed to the Southern oligarchs who were the chairmen of Congressional committees. But his Republican opponents were relegated to the political equivalent of Siberia. Roosevelt rode up Pennsylvania Avenue with President Herbert Hoover to the inauguration in March 1933, but he never saw or spoke to him again — not even in World War II.


For Roosevelt was a divider, not a uniter, and he unabashedly waged class war. At the Democratic Convention in 1936, again speaking to a national radio audience, Roosevelt lambasted the “economic royalists” who had gained control of the nation’s wealth. To Congress he boasted of having “earned the hatred of entrenched greed.” In another speech he mocked “the gentlemen in well-warmed and well-stocked clubs” who criticized the government’s relief efforts.


Roosevelt hived off the nation’s economic elite to win the support of the rest of the country. The vast majority of voters rallied to the president, but for a small minority he was the Devil incarnate. Few today remember the extent to which Roosevelt divided the nation. The sense of unity wrought by World War II blurred the divisiveness of the 1930s. Also, Roosevelt endeavored to ensure that more than half of the country was always on his side. Finally, and most important perhaps, the measures he championed have stood the test of time. It is difficult for Americans today to comprehend how anyone could have opposed Social Security, rural electrification, the regulation of Wall Street or the federal government’s guarantee of individual bank deposits.


Roosevelt understood that governing involved choice and that choice engendered dissent. He accepted opposition as part of the process. It is time for the Obama administration to step up to the plate and make some hard choices.


Health care reform enacted by a Democratic majority is still meaningful reform. Even if it is passed without Republican support, it would still be the law of the land.


Jean Edward Smith, a professor at Marshall University, is the author of “F.D.R.”








IN this summer of town hall disruptions and birth-certificate controversies, a summer when it seemed as if the Republican Party had been captured by its extremist wing, it is worth recalling a now-obscure letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.


Although Eisenhower is commonly remembered for a farewell address that raised concerns about the “military-industrial complex,” his letter offers an equally important — and relevant — warning: to beware the danger posed by those seeking freedom from the “mental stress and burden” of democracy.


The story began in 1958, when Eisenhower received a letter from Robert Biggs, a terminally ill World War II veteran. Biggs told the president that he “felt from your recent speeches the feeling of hedging and a little uncertainty.” He added, “We wait for someone to speak for us and back him completely if the statement is made in truth.”


Eisenhower could have discarded Biggs’s note or sent a canned response. But he didn’t. He composed a thoughtful reply. After enduring Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who had smeared his old colleague Gen. George C. Marshall as a Communist sympathizer, and having guarded the Republican Party against the newly emergent radical right John Birch Society, which labeled him and much of his cabinet Soviet agents, the president perhaps welcomed the opportunity to expound on his vision of the open society.


“I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed,” Eisenhower wrote on Feb. 10, 1959. “Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life.”


Eisenhower also recommended a short book — “The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer, a self-educated itinerant longshoreman who earned the nickname “the stevedore philosopher.” “Faith in a holy cause,” Hoffer wrote, “is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”


Though Eisenhower was criticized for lacking an intellectual framework or even an interest in ideas, he was drawn to Hoffer’s insights. He explained to Biggs that Hoffer “points out that dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems — freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions.” The authoritarian follower, Eisenhower suggested, desired nothing more than insulation from the pressures of a free society.


Alluding to Senator McCarthy and his allies, Eisenhower pointed out that cold war fears were distorted and exploited for political advantage. “It is difficult indeed to maintain a reasoned and accurately informed understanding of our defense situation on the part of our citizenry when many prominent officials, possessing no standing or expertness as they themselves claim it, attempt to further their own ideas or interests by resorting to statements more distinguished by stridency than by accuracy.”


It is worth noting, of course, that these Cold War exaggerations weren’t just a Republican specialty: John F. Kennedy was making a supposed “missile gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union a key element of his presidential campaign.


In closing his letter, Eisenhower praised Biggs for his “fortitude in pondering these problems despite your deep personal adversity.” Perhaps it was the president’s sense of solidarity with a fellow soldier that prompted him to respond to Biggs with such care; and perhaps it was his experience as supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe that taught him that the rise of extreme movements and authoritarianism could take root anywhere — even in a democracy.


Max Blumenthal is the author of “Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party.”









Levi Johnston — you will remember him from his featured role as the father of Bristol’s baby at the Republican convention — has written an article for the new issue of Vanity Fair. It’s his take on the Palin home life, which Johnston says was “much different from what many people expect of a normal family.”

Given the fact that Johnston is a 19-year-old high school dropout whose mother was arrested last year on six felony drug counts, it is conceivable that he is not the perfect arbiter of normal families. But even if he were an Eagle Scout with a scholarship to Harvard, can you imagine anything worse than discovering your daughter’s teenage ex-boyfriend has been given a national platform to discuss his impressions of her mom’s parenting skills?


It’s hard to totally resist an article that has sentences that start with: “In early August, before I went hunting and Sarah was picked, Bristol and I were at a tattoo parlor in Wasilla. ...” Or information like the fact that baby Tripp’s middle name is Easton in honor of “my favorite hockey-equipment company.”


But somehow I have a feeling that even the most ardent Palin-haters are not going to be able to work up much sympathy for Levi’s complaint that Sarah made him cut off his mullet before his appearance at the Republican convention. Or that when she moved to Juneau after being elected governor, she tried to take Bristol with her in order to break them up.


In fact, trying to separate her daughter from Johnston could be filed away in the rather slim folder titled “Sarah Palin’s Good Ideas.”


Levi’s reports on Palin’s failings as wife and mother sound exactly like what any self-absorbed teenager might say about his girlfriend’s working mom. She doesn’t cook! He and Bristol had to do everything! They had to take care of the kids and go to Taco Bell to get Sarah a Crunchwrap Supreme!


Plus, Sarah fought a lot with Bristol’s dad, Todd, and they certainly didn’t look like a happy couple to Levi. She claimed to be a hockey mom but he didn’t notice her at the rink all that often. (Why do I have the feeling that the amount of time Johnston spent keeping tabs on his teammates’ parents was not extensive?)


It’s too bad Johnston is untrustworthy about every subject not covered by Field & Stream. Otherwise, this article might be fair payback for the Levi-Bristol convention appearance. In an effort to cement her family-values cred, Palin gave every teenage girl in the country a deeply unrealistic and dangerous vision of the wonderful way a boyfriend would transform once he discovered there was a baby on the way. (In the staged world, the handsome, expectant, unmarried couple held hands while the whole auditorium applauded. In the real world, after whacking off Levi’s mullet, Sarah had to veto his plans to go partying and force him to hang around the hotel with her pregnant daughter. “It was boring,” he concluded.)


Besides selling a fantasy about how easily a semi-delinquent, unemployed father-to-be could be turned into Prince Charming, Palin also spent her campaign trying to give the impression that running for vice president and taking care of five children, the youngest a baby with special needs, was as easy as falling off a snowbank. Politicians who don’t want the federal government to address child care issues like to imagine that’s true. It absolves them from dealing with the question of who takes care of the kids when women make up almost half the work force.

So it would be helpful to know if Palin was “always in a bad mood and she was stressed out a lot,” as Johnston claims. But really, we’re going to have to wait for a more reliable witness. Maybe Piper or Willow are preparing their memoirs.


Levi and Bristol split up last spring, a few months after the birth of their baby. (“It was the happiest day of my life, but it was also terrible because my family couldn’t be there,” he writes. “I didn’t think Sarah wanted my mom around all the cameras because she had been arrested for selling prescription medication a week and a half earlier.”) The Palins have accused him of trying to cash in on his relationship to the former vice presidential candidate, and we can add this to a very brief list titled “Sarah’s Accurate Depictions of the World Around Her.”


However, I was fascinated by his claim that she doesn’t know how to shoot a gun. Hunting is one of the very few matters in which Levi Johnston seems like a trustworthy source, and if he says she showed no familiarity with weapons, I want to know more. In fact, I think Palin should never be allowed to bring that moose stuff up again until she appears at a rifle range and gives us a demonstration.









Health care reform may be defeated this year in part because so many Americans believe the government can’t do anything right and fear that a doctor will come to resemble an I.R.S. agent with a scalpel. Yet the part of America’s health care system that consumers like best is the government-run part.


Fifty-six to 60 percent of people in government-run Medicare rate it a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale. In contrast, only 40 percent of those enrolled in private insurance rank their plans that high.


Multiple surveys back that up. For example, 68 percent of those in Medicare feel that their own interests are the priority, compared with only 48 percent of those enrolled in private insurance.


In truth, despite the deeply ingrained American conviction that government is bumbling when it is not evil, government intervention has been a step up in some areas from the private sector.


Until the mid-19th century, firefighting was left mostly to a mishmash of volunteer crews and private fire insurance companies. In New York City, according to accounts in The New York Times in the 1850s and 1860s, firefighting often descended into chaos, with drunkenness and looting.


So almost every country moved to what today’s health insurance lobbyists might label “socialized firefighting.” In effect, we have a single-payer system of public fire departments.


We have the same for policing. If the security guard business were as powerful as the health insurance industry, then it would be denouncing “government takeovers” and “socialized police work.”


Throughout the industrialized world, there are a handful of these areas where governments fill needs better than free markets: fire protection, police work, education, postal service, libraries, health care. The United States goes along with this international trend in every area but one: health care.


The truth is that government, for all its flaws, manages to do some things right, so that today few people doubt the wisdom of public police or firefighters. And the government has a particularly good record in medical care.


Take the hospital system run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the largest integrated health system in the United States. It is fully government run, much more “socialized medicine” than is Canadian health care with its private doctors and hospitals. And the system for veterans is by all accounts one of the best-performing and most cost-effective elements in the American medical establishment.


A study by the Rand Corporation concluded that compared with a national sample, Americans treated in veterans hospitals “received consistently better care across the board, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up.” The difference was particularly large in preventive medicine: veterans were nearly 50 percent more likely to receive recommended care than Americans as a whole.


“If other health care providers followed the V.A.’s lead, it would be a major step toward improving the quality of care across the U.S. health care system,” Rand reported.


As for the other big government-run health care system in the United States, Medicare spends perhaps one-sixth as much on administration as private health insurers, although the comparison is imperfect and controversial.


But the biggest weakness of private industry is not inefficiency but unfairness. The business model of private insurance has become, in part, to collect premiums from healthy people and reject those likely to get sick — or, if they start out healthy and then get sick, to find a way to cancel their coverage.


A reader wrote in this week to tell me about a colleague of hers who had health insurance through her company. The woman received a cancer diagnosis a few weeks ago, and she now faces chemotherapy co-payments that she cannot afford. Worse, because she is now unable to work and has to focus on treatment, she has been shifted to short-term disability for 90 days — and after that, she will lose her employer health insurance.


She can keep her insurance if she makes Cobra payments on her own, but she can’t afford this. In her case, her company will voluntarily help her — but I just don’t understand why we may be about to reject health reform and stick with a dysfunctional system that takes away the health coverage of hard-working Americans when they become too sick with cancer to work.


On my blog, foreigners regularly express bewilderment that America may reject reform and stick with a system that drives families into bankruptcy when they get sick. That’s what they expect from the Central African Republic, not the United States.


Let’s hope we won’t miss this chance. A public role in health care shouldn’t be any scarier or more repugnant than a public fire department.


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The battle to improve the state and status of women in our society will go far into the future. The latest skirmish in the running fight between those who would keep women subjugated and those who seek to loosen the cultural bonds is around the recently passed domestic violence bill. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has expressed 'reservations' about the bill on the grounds that it is likely to push up the divorce rate and that weak and elderly men need protection from the depredations of wily and violent women. Quite rightly, these 'reservations' have been rejected by the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) which points out, again rightly, that a primary cause of divorce is the violence inflicted on women by men. Further, whilst there are occasional cases where it is men who are victims of domestic violence, the overwhelming majority of cases involve men inflicting violence on women, and it is this injustice that the new law seeks to redress. Broadly, civil society organisations have welcomed the bill but, as ever in this land which has no shortage of laws but a chronic unwillingness to abide by any of them, its application and enforcement are fraught with difficulty.

The NCSW has a few reservations of its own about the bill, one of them being the clause which says that if a woman is shown to have lied about an allegation she is liable to six-month imprisonment and/or a Rs50, 000 fine. Perjury is already punishable within the law and the inclusion of the 'lying' clause serves only those who might seek to discredit the evidence of a woman; and it is more likely to deter women from making a complaint than enable them to do so. No society anywhere in the world has managed to eradicate domestic violence, but some have done more than others to combat it and to ensure a level playing field for women who seek the prosecution of violent partners. We are decades behind in terms of both our attitudes to domestic violence – still considered by many to be 'a private matter' and unworthy of attention by the forces of law – and the promulgation of legislation that gives women a platform from which to combat it. A majority of men (but some more so than others) still regard women as items of property which they own. It is this mindset that must be consistently challenged by the legislature and organisations such as the NCSW. Countless thousands of women suffer domestic violence every day and it is endemic to our society. The new bill will not eradicate it, but it is a step towards the still-distant dream of women achieving their rightful place in a land riddled by misogyny.







The centres from which political events in Pakistan are orchestrated seem varied and wide. After a week during which we have had all kinds of establishment antics, we now have the Saudis stepping in. Quite clearly, other than the people, everyone has a role to play in developments in 'democratic' Pakistan. The purpose of the phone calls from Riyadh are said to be to ensure the 'deal' struck at the time of President Musharraf's resignation are honoured. It is obviously no coincidence that the intervention has come as President Musharraf visits the Saudi capital, where he has been extended full protocol. There are a few simple facts that need to be spelled out here. The fact is that President Pervez Musharraf has broken the law of the land. It would be hard to find anyone with legal knowledge who would dispute this fact. Indeed he made a mockery of the Constitution by violating multiple provisions within it. Like any citizen, he should surely be brought to book. There is no logical reason why he should be let off.

The need to hold Musharraf accountable for his deeds is all the more important given that at this moment in history Pakistan needs to break with its troubled past. The military needs to be pushed back from politics. Its role has for too long been a source of repeated upheaval and instability. But this can be successful only if an unequivocal message is delivered and a dictator is made to answer for his actions. If this does not happen the way is paved for others to do exactly the same, knowing they will go unpunished. It is also time for the people to assert themselves. They must ask if we can truly allow a situation where events in our country are dictated by others to continue. It is true the Saudis have in the past been good allies. They have come to Pakistan's aid in times of need more than once. But should we allow anyone to act as our masters? Are we not capable of taking the fortunes of our country into our own hands? Perhaps the time has come to ensure that events that take place within the frontiers of Pakistan are determined by our laws, our wishes and by the ordinary people who live within the country and whose fortunes are tied in to political happenings within it.







The Economic Coordination Council has given the go ahead for the import of sugar. It has also, at a meeting chaired by the finance minister, acknowledged that the government has been unable to supply sugar at the subsidized rate and a serious shortfall persists. The ECC has called for action to be taken against deviant mills. A number who have failed to comply have been identified. We must hope that punitive measures are swift and can have the required deterrent effect. We have seen similar crises involving sugar supply in the past. The failure to take effective action then has led to the present situation. What needs to be done now is to take measures that will save us from encountering the same state of affairs in the future.

It has also become quite clear that people with influence within the government have been involved. It is imperative that they not be protected. A full inquiry is needed. The lobby must be dealt with. It has already caused not only losses to the exchequer but also considerable difficulties to people already hard-hit by the price hike. The standing of the government has been affected. The failure to bring sufficient sugar into the markets has now been conceded. This is a good first step. The next must be to investigate why this happened so there is no repetition in the future.











News of widespread formalin use for keeping fish deceptively fresh is nothing new in Bangladesh. But what is news is that not only have the much-publicised raids by mobile magistrates failed to contain the hazard but have emboldened vendors to a point where they carry it out in broad daylight in places like Kawran Bazaar, the city's key wholesale market for the perishable. And the audacity of the businessmen, who dare to restart the process of formalinisation as soon as the magistrates leave, knows no bound.
Evidently there is no fear of the law. And the penalty imposed is no deterrent for repeating the same offence and so soon. So what is the point of taking the trouble of  conducting a raid when it slips off like water on a duck? At least at some point, it should have some perceptible effect on the erring traders. If this peril that is affecting health and even costing the lives of many citizens, is allowed to proliferate day after day without any hindrance the nation will lose all faith in the capacity of the administration to curb crime.

Formalin in fish is not the only health hazard that the businessmen who trade in perishable goods dish out to us. There are carbide and red oxide with the potential of causing cancer, that are used extensively to ripen fruits. Industrial dyes are used to colour foodstuff. When some of these come to an empty stomach in the holy month of Ramzan, the effect on the consumer is dangerous. Long-term intake of small doses of such harmful agents with foods can prove immensely harmful, even disastrous.  

In most civilised countries food quality is strictly monitored. The United States has its Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is a very powerful agency, the Europeans have their version of it too but we cannot even implement adequately the powers conferred on the visiting magistrates under the Criminal Procedure Code.






At a time when the US economy has started showing signs of recovery following the greatest financial crisis in the open era, Bangladesh like other Least Developed Countries (LDCs) should have reasons to be optimistic about the outcome of the next ministerial summit of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to be held in Geneva from November 30 to December 2. So, Bangladesh needs to get its acts together and do so in coordination with its counterparts in the club. A meeting with Commerce Minister Lt Col (Retd) Faruk Khan in the chair has reviewed the country's preparation for the LDC trade ministers' summit to be held in Tanzania from October 14 to 16 next. The aim is to work towards a common stand on a package of demands even if the requirements of different member countries do not always meet at a point.
Bangladesh has long been demanding that the major exportable commodities from the LDCs have duty-free access to the markets of the developed nations. Sure enough, there are conflicting interests so far as export of a few commodities by LDCs is concerned. If sluggish demand makes way for stronger ones in the US and European countries, there is every chance that the LDCs can have a fair share of their quotas. But then there is a need for further market exploration in the unconventional trade zones like East Europe.
Admittedly, many of the clauses under the WTO deal hardly favour the poor nations' aspiration for benefiting from the WTO arrangement. To achieve at least the more prominent objectives of the millennium development goals (MDGs), as set by the United Nations, the WTO's role is considered crucial. The global economic meltdown should teach the rich nations a vital lesson the hard way that in the globalised village, in isolation even their interests could not be protected much as they tried. So it is in their own interest they extend a helping hand to the poor countries and raise their capacity for production and consumption. The message must be driven home at the summit.  







Have suddenly been noticing a spurt of columns in different tabloids by sexperts counselling husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends on anything from the size of their anatomy to the frequency of the bedroom act or to its absence in their sex starved lives, and next to the semi-nude pictures, these columns seem to have become the most sought after pages, even replacing respected and respectable columnists because they get more eyeballs than those once esteemed writers gets. Today out of sheer curiosity I glanced at the competition and was startled to find a reader asking the sexpert whether the Internet was safe for sex education, and the sexpert replying that it was safer to talk to the family doctor! I don't know how safe it is to talk to the family doctor, but if the family doctor of today is the same of those of yesteryears then he would be the last person I would discuss such personal details. My father and the family doctor were good friends. "Good morning, your son was here yesterday!"

"Oh he came to see you did he, must have been about the pain he gets in his ears every time I speak to him!" Doctor, "No!" My father, "Oh then it must be his tingling toe?" Doctor, "No!" Father asked again, "His hangover headaches?" Doctor, "No!" My father gave up, "Then what did he want to see you about?" Doctor, "Sex!"

"I see, thank you doctor!"

And that evening a stern father waits, "I need to have a word with you, son!"

"I've got a earache!"

"But you never talked to the doctor about it?"


"So what did you talk to the doctor about?"

"It's confidential!"

"I guess you know by now, it isn't?"

"But the sexpert said it was, he told me to talk to the family doctor!"  And so the next issue has a new letter, "Dear Sexpert, I think the Internet is safer, it doesn't have friends, whereas my family doctor told my father everything!" And the reply, "You are lucky, now you don't have to go to the net or the family doctor, ask your father!"

"Dad, may I speak to you?"

"No, I don't want to speak to you till I get over all the silly questions the doctor said you asked him!"


Which brings me to what I wanted to ask at the beginning, why send me to the Internet or doctor or my poor embarrassed father, isn't the sexpert supposed to tell me everything?









AS Paul Keating might have said - this is a beautiful set of numbers in the circumstances. Now all that is needed is to convince the Rudd government that the economy is on the turn and encourage it to start making policy based on the facts, rather than the politics.


Yesterday's national growth figure of 0.6 per cent confirms that for the first six months of 2009, Australia has been on the way back since the panic-inducing events of last year. That June-quarter positive figure follows March-quarter growth of 0.4 per cent. Together they have put paid to the anxieties of last December when the economy went backwards and the nation seemed to be on the edge of an economic and nervous breakdown.


All this, and the federal government's multi-billion-dollar spending spree on schools and other infrastructure has not really begun to kick in. Who knows what the September quarter will bring for an economy that already seems to be rolling along nicely even before allocated money is actually spent.


Despite the good news, the government continues to downplay the recovery, arguing the infrastructure stimulus does not need amendment.


We understand the caution. No government wants to end up with egg on its face by declaring victory. But the real reason looks increasingly political, shoring up an original decision to pour $42 billion into the economy for what Mr Rudd yesterday termed the "nation building for recovery plan".


But the national accounts point to an economy that no longer appears to need much rescuing. The two sets of retail spending packages to households have done the job, combining with exports to China and low interest rates to deliver figures that are the envy of other Western nations.


The story was solid all round for June. Household consumption, buoyed by the retail spending stimulus, contributed 0.5 per cent to growth; private business investment, also helped by government incentives, contributed 0.3 per cent.


The chances remain of a rise in the official interest rate next month, but the good news is that monetary policy is in the sure hands of Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens. The known unknown is the inflationary impact, if any, of the stimulus billions crowding out private investment as the economy strengthens.


Adding to inflationary pressures are the infrastructure bottlenecks that this paper has campaigned on for four years and which are not sufficiently addressed by the stimulus package.


Yesterday's figures reinforce concerns that the government's fiscal intervention, devised in good faith six months ago, could distort the economy in the next few months. The same must be said of the government's bank guarantees of borrowings and deposits. Both were put in place at the height of the panic, both are now increasingly irrelevant given the strength of the banks. It's time for these guarantees to be recalibrated for changed economic conditions.


Yesterday's figures show how decades of reform and sound economic management helped build an economy that could be defended against the worst of the global financial crisis. Now that the recovery is under way, the Rudd government should pursue rigorous policy settings rather than cling to decisions made in bleaker circumstances.








FOR a prime minister who has said he is passionate about education, Kevin Rudd has a funny way of showing it. The Australian's revelation yesterday that 140 of the neediest schools in the nation will not get science labs and language centres out of the $42 billion stimulus package beggars belief.


That money has been deliberately redirected from these disadvantaged secondary campuses to well-heeled primary schools is shameful. That the government does not seem bothered to fix it is foolhardy.


The cause of the shift is clear enough. Too many primary schools put their hands up for halls and libraries and shade cloth, leaving a funding hole in the schools package being managed by the Minister for Education, Julia Gillard. Ergo, redirect money earmarked for the secondary schools. Propping up the primaries has been chosen over delivering overdue buildings to some of our most disadvantaged schools.


It is not surprising that there have been problems in rolling out the schools spending program. No one suggests that it is possible to deliver such big programs quickly without hiccups. Nor does The Australian argue with the government's decision to allocate money for direct payments to households in a bid to stem unemployment and shore up the economy. What we have been clear about for months is that the government must be called to account for where infrastructure money is spent.


In more recent weeks as the economic recovery has become apparent, we have consistently argued that the government must be prepared to reassess the speed and scale of the total package. This is even more the case as it becomes clearer each day just how little of the money has been committed to specific projects. As this paper's economics correspondent, David Uren, reported yesterday, local councils have approved only $1.7bn in new school building projects under the stimulus program.


Thus the question for Ms Gillard, for the Prime Minister and for Wayne Swan is: why not take another look? Instead, the Treasurer seems intent on setting up a straw man and implying that questioning the detail equates to opposing the spending.


We accept that the government cannot and should not suddenly withdraw its spending package, but we are frankly amazed that it feels compelled to stick to Plan A. We don't see why the "shovel-ready" phase of a stimulus package announced in February is still in place six months down the track when circumstances have changed. What's wrong with applying a little more ministerial discretion to the direction of spending? What's wrong with ensuring this once-in-a-generation boost to schools goes to the areas that will lead to real educational improvement?


The truth is that the schools stimulus package was conceived largely as a job-creation scheme, a way to ensure that tradesmen and support service workers were employed at a time when the economy was bottoming. Yet in some regional areas, there are not enough tradesmen. Others are declining these projects because they come with so many regulations they are not worth the trouble. This week, The Australian reported that some companies were seeking overseas workers.


The evidence mounts daily, and points to one conclusion. It's time for the government to concede its stimulus package needs urgent surgery.








THE case against fixed four-year terms was made in Sydney yesterday when the NSW government survived a vote of no confidence in parliament. That the state is still stuck with the Rees government until March 2011 is a denial of democracy's core principle, that governments exist at the pleasure of the people - and there is no doubting the voters want to remove Mr Rees: his ministry is down to a primary vote of 31 per cent in Newspoll.


Supporters of fixed, four-year terms say they give governments time to push unpopular but important policies through and that when matched with citizen-initiated referendums, they ensure responsible and responsive administration. But referendums appeal to single-issue opportunists and fixed terms allow failed governments to extend the agony. Nor are longer terms essential for governments to push through controversial reforms. The Hawke-Keating government floated the dollar and deregulated the economy while facing the voters every three years. John Howard similarly fought and won an election on introducing the GST, and he bedded the tax down before the next poll. In the US, the first two years of a president's term are generally the most productive. And in Britain, five-year terms mean prime ministers can outlast their welcome, as Gordon Brown is doing now.


Democracy is best served when governments submit their performance and policies to the judgment of the people every three years, earlier if circumstances require. It is the single best way of stopping the time-serving the people of NSW are now enduring.








'FELLOW Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of the persistence of Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war.'' Thus, 70 years ago today, the people of this country heard prime minister Robert Menzies announce the beginning of the Second World War.


The phrasing and the tone may seem to evoke an era that has passed irrevocably: modern political leaders do not speak of ''melancholy duties'', however much they may be weighed down by them. But all of Menzies' successors would recognise the sentiment in the words that immediately followed his opening statement: ''No harder task can fall to the lot of a democratic leader than to make such an announcement.'' Nor, despite the fact that the Second World War was hardly the last military conflict in which Australia has been involved, would they be likely to disagree that, more than any other, this war changed utterly the lives of those who were touched by it. Not only does it remain the most lethal conflict in human history - more than 60 million people, most of them civilians, are estimated to have died because of it - but the war's upheavals ushered in the world in which we still live.


The Australia Menzies addressed lay at the world's periphery, strategically as well as geographically. And its initial involvement in the war was a consequence of a constitutional theory now discarded: that if Britain is at war, the monarch's other realms must be at war, too. Indeed, for Australia, perhaps the biggest transformation wrought by the Second World War is that it dispelled the notion of allegiance to imperial Britain. The question of what has replaced it still awaits a definitive answer, for Australians do not yet choose their own head of state. But it would not even have been possible to argue seriously for an Australian republic on September 3, 1939; after February 15, 1942, however, when the British garrison at Singapore surrendered to the Japanese, Australians began the long process of adjusting to the knowledge that the era of European colonial empires was passing.


The war created empires, too, of course. The United States emerged as a superpower because of it, and the former Soviet Union, which contested US global dominance in the Cold War that swiftly followed the defeat of Nazi Germany, exercised suzerainty over the east European states where Hitler had demanded ''living space'' for the German people. Nor have the end of the Cold War, the reunion of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union entirely swept away the war's legacy. Even this week, as the nations of Europe commemorated the outbreak of hostilities, the leaders of Poland and Russia disputed whether the German invasion of Poland was provoked, and the extent to which the Soviet leadership was complicit in it.


The end of the European war, with its revelation of the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazi brutalities in occupied nations, is not something that even national leaders intent on revising the historical record have yet dared to reinterpret. On the contrary, recognition of the incontrovertibly evil character of the Nazi regime, and of the depredations of Japanese militarism in Asia, accelerated the formation of institutions that have become permanent features of the international order. The United Nations, for all its weakness and failures, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the growing body of human-rights law derived from it, exist because of what six years of savagery taught the world about the need to resist the abuse of human rights, and to forswear recourse to war as an instrument of policy.


Yet, as well as that new moral awareness, the war also bequeathed to later generations a weapon of unparalleled destructiveness. So far, nuclear weapons have not been used in any other conflict, and the end of the Cold War removed the threat of general extinction that had hung over humanity for almost five decades. Since then, however, the number of nuclear-armed nations has increased, and the proliferation of terrorism has raised the prospect that such weapons might be obtained by groups that repudiate the values proclaimed by the post-World War II international institutions. If that makes the order based on those institutions seem ever more fragile, it should also heighten awareness of what would be lost if the world did not have them. Perhaps modern politicians do not speak of melancholy because it is now part of the background of life.







TWO silent killers are stalking millions of Australians, so why are governments so slow to act? Year after year, review after review, the evidence for the toll taken by smoking and obesity has mounted. They are factors in all our deadliest diseases, including cardiovascular disease (34 per cent of deaths, 80 per cent of these preventable), cancer (29 per cent), dementia and Alzheimer's, and diabetes. The costs of health care, welfare and lost productivity are huge, too: smoking-related problems cost about $32 billion a year; obesity about $58 billion.


The federal preventive health taskforce's final report says reducing smoking, obesity and alcohol abuse could prevent more than 800,000 premature deaths. With more than one in five adults still smoking, and three out of five now overweight or obese, as well as one in four children, Health Minister Nicola Roxon says: ''We are killing people by not acting.'' Which makes the Government's slow and cautious response and the taskforce's timidity on alcohol and junk-food marketing doubly frustrating.


The taskforce does call for extra taxes on junk food, alcohol and tobacco - although putting too high a price on addictive products could lead to black markets or a switch to illicit drugs. Yet it has gone soft on advertising by supporting a continuation, at least for the next four years, of the self-regulation that has overseen a surge in obesity and alcohol abuse. Advertisers would not spend billions if children weren't persuaded to consume more of their products.


The Australian Communications and Media Authority has proved toothless, so it's up to the Government to swiftly adopt mandatory controls. While the Government is wary of treading on corporate toes, it must not shirk the challenge. Failing to act will blow out the national budget, lead to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths and doom millions to chronic ill health.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




We are manning a series of Potemkin settlements in Afghanistan. The territory that US and British troops are holding shows no signs of being filled by a state which Afghans can trust. The forts that dominate south Helmand are proving to be every bit as hollow – for the purpose of state-building – as the theatrical sets that Field Marshal Grigori Potyomkin had built along the route Catherine the Great took, to persuade her that Crimea was being civilised by Russian rule.


Like the Russian empress, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown could have an inkling that the glowing fires are fake and that there is nothing behind the sandbags and dugouts. They may have already realised that they are only buying time before an exit strategy can be realised, before domestic expectations can be reduced and before a deal is done with the Taliban – whether or not commanders retain links with al-Qaida. But they are not saying it. Take the two essential components of an Afghan state – troops and legitimacy. Mr Brown claimed on a visit to Camp Bastion at the weekend that 50,000 Afghans soldiers could be combat-ready by next year to take the strain off British troops. Those in Downing Street think that Afghan troop numbers can rise to 134,000 by next year, 12 months ahead of schedule, and to 240,000 by 2011. They are dreaming. How can British troops possibly deliver in a year what US troops failed to do in seven, at a cost of billions of dollars?


Or take legitimacy. Without it, no counter-insurgency campaign will work, as David Kilcullen, one of the top advisers to General Stanley McChrystal, who took over command of US and Nato forces in June, told Australia's ABC channel. "If you don't have a legitimate local Afghan government to support, then you don't have a counter-insurgency campaign," Dr Kilcullen said. But the election designed to establish this legitimacy could not be going worse. With more than 60% of the polling stations tallied, the main challenger has accused Hamid Karzai of stealing the vote, amid an avalanche of complaints of ballot box stuffing and electoral-register fraud. In a stormy meeting in Kabul this week Abdullah Abdullah adopted the stance of a leader trying to hold back the masses, and demands for demonstrations which could easily degenerate into ethnic violence. Whether this is for show or for real, it all adds to the pressure on the Electoral Complaints Commission, a body run mainly by foreigners, to cancel the results from polling stations where fraud has been detected. Mr Karzai's uncorrected tally stands at 47.3%, less than three points short of the 50% he needs to avoid a second-round runoff. But that is only according the Independent Election Commission, a body widely thought to be anything but. Both leading candidates claim to have won by a landslide.


There are two schools of thought about a second round. It could be seen as a corrective to the first, or it could merely be a repeat of it, as many of the frauds will still be in place. Either way, the prospects of a power vacuum which will drain elections of their meaning are real. The longer the furore continues, the more illegitimate the eventual victor becomes. In the meantime, the Taliban have everything to gain from fighting. They have victory in their sights, not talks. A suicide bomber killed the Afghan deputy head of intelligence yesterday, the latest in a series of attacks against high-profile targets. What this situation needs is not 14,000 more combat troops, which will suck Mr Obama deeper into a war he did not launch, but a fundamental rethink about how stability can be achieved. This will be messy and involve large and hitherto unacceptable amounts of compromise – tribal peacemaking solutions which weaken the enemy rather than destroy him. It is this prospect that Gordon Brown should address. He should be leading us away from the land of delusion, not further into it.








Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, did not quite make it to the north pole this week on his journey to the Arctic to highlight the effects of climate change, though he came close. These days, expeditions across the great expanse of ice and water have become relatively routine. One hundred years ago this month, however, a battle was under way between two Americans, both claiming credit for getting there first (though the Inuit may have beaten both of them). The injustice is that one, Robert Peary, became famous as a polar hero, though he probably did not make it. The other, Frederick Cook, has all but been forgotten, though his efforts were the greater and his claim convincing. At first, all seemed to go well for Cook. On 2 September 1909 the New York Times gave its first four pages to reports of his success. He said he had reached the pole in April 1908, before being trapped through the winter in a cave on a remote island, emerging to break the news late the following year. But within days of its first story the New York Times splashed with news that Peary had got there first instead. He won the media war ("the story of the century", claimed one breathless journalist) but he never produced convincing proof. Whether Cook was honest is unknown: Peary refused to carry his rival's records home on his ship, and no one has ever found them. For a century, Cook's claim has been dismissed. Now, on the anniversary, it is being re-examined. Perhaps neither made it; but if one did, it was surely Cook.







Gustav, Ivan, Paloma: the Cayman Islands have withstood many a hurricane. Now, however, it faces the perfect storm: Hurricane Lehman. This one has been brewing since September last year, when America's Lehman Brothers went belly-up and brought the global banking crisis to its climax. The Cayman Islands relies for income on financial services and tourism, so it has suffered terribly ever since. And now the country, home to trillions of dollars of assets held by hedge funds and multinational businesses, has run out of cash.


A budget black hole means that civil servants are no longer getting all their pay and the government is considering imposing new taxes on islanders. First, though, it is trying to raise emergency funds from banks. To do so, the British overseas territory needs to gain permission from their ultimate masters at Westminster. And there lies the rub. Writing to the Cayman government's leader last week, Chris Bryant declined the request, and pointed out that the islands' entire business model was bust. That is a sound judgment: the US and other economies remain weak, hedge funds and the rest of the financial services industry are still getting over the worst market crisis in decades, and secretive tax havens such as the Caymans are under pressure from the OECD and the G20 group of rich countries to become more transparent. The same diagnosis surely applies to Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. As Mr Bryant says: "It would be unwise ... to expect that the Cayman Islands' prosperity can presume on an offshore tax haven status."


The palpable relish in that sentence is surely no accident. For those like The Guardian who want a more open and fairer tax system, this is a moment rich with possibilities. Not only is pressure building on the G20 leaders to tackle tax dodgers, but the world's boltholes for the rich are finally learning that tax avoidance does not pay. As more British dependencies have to call on ministers for assistance, Westminster can demand they clean their act up.


Let ministers start with the Caymans. As a condition for acceding to another loan, they can demand that the islands' government institutes automatic exchange of tax information with all countries, rich and poor alike. They can also request that no taxes are introduced that hit the Caymans' poor while letting off the wealthy. The Cayman government should not tax money sent home by relatively hard-up immigrants, for example. Finally, Westminster needs to work with the Caymans on making its economy less reliant on passing cruise ships and fly-by-night financiers. As the UK government also knows, a lopsided economy will always eventually crash.








Nippon Television Network Corp. aired a special program at 12:50 a.m., Aug. 24, to examine a grave error in its Nov. 23, 2008, program of "Shinso Hodo Bankisha." The Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization, a body made up of NHK and private broadcasting companies, had called on NTV to broadcast the special program.


"Bankisha" had aired a statement from a former construction company executive alleging that the Gifu prefectural government maintained a slush fund and that he had sent ¥2 million to a prefectural government worker. But a prefectural government probe did not turn up any irregularities. The former executive then admitted in a program aired March 1, 2009, that he had made a false statement. He was found guilty on July 23 of obstructing the prefectural government's business because of his statement.


In the special program, a director said he had felt uneasy about the reliability of the man's statement. The date of the "Bankisha" broadcast had been set in advance, with only three days available for research and information gathering. The broadcast team had looked for people via the Internet to provide usable information. Although team members knew that the address of the holder of the bank account to which the man said he had sent money was in fact the address of the same man, it did not delve into the suspicions raised. Moreover, NTV had commissioned the production of "Bankisha" to a subcontractor. Most of the staffers who did the research and gathered information were from the subcontractor and their experience was uneven.


The chief producer had not known anything about the man's original statement. Staffers who did the research and gathered information did not attend a two-hour meeting the day before the broadcast to discuss the advisability of airing the program. This shows a lack of communication between those who actually made the program and the team leaders.


This is a structural problem that could exist at any TV network. Broadcast companies should not forget that the government is watching for a chance to interfere in their activities, since they operate with government-issued licenses.







The 21st U.N. Conference on Disarmament Issues was held last week in the Sea of Japan coastal city of Niigata, attended by about 90 people from 21 countries, mainly government officials and researchers who exchanged opinions as individuals. In a positive development, they agreed that the international community should steadily move toward the abolition of nuclear weapons despite many difficulties ahead.


Apparently, U.S. President Barack Obama's speech in April in Prague has breathed new life into global efforts for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The participants agreed that the international community should grasp the opportunity to cooperate for nuclear disarmament. They also agreed on the importance of strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime as a foundation for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Mr. Obama said the global community "must stand together for the right of people everywhere in the world to live free from fear (of nuclear weapons) in the 21st century."


His speech seems to have given impetus to preparations for a series of talks related to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation through next year. A five-year NPT review conference will be held next year — preceded by such events as U.S.-Russia nuclear arms reduction talks, negotiations for a treaty to end fissile materials production and a conference to push to implement the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.


Mr. Obama's special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, Susan Burk, said at the Niigata conference that while the nuclear-weapons states have the responsibility under the NPT to carry out nuclear disarmament, nonnuclear-weapons states also have a responsibility.


The international community should cooperate so that those events will produce successful results. It is especially hoped that the Obama administration will exercise strong leadership. Mr. Obama admitted that a world without nuclear weapons may not be realized while he is alive. As a first-step goal, the nuclear-weapons states should seek to reduce nuclear weapons to "below-overkill" levels.








MOSCOW — Imagine a crank who tries to pass himself off as a 19th-century Russian baron. He grows sideburns, wears a long frock-coat and carries a walking stick. Anyone who runs into such a figure would sneer and mock him. Now, suppose that same crank attempted to treat passersby as if they were his serfs. In that case, he would risk getting a beating, though perhaps a few beggars would indulge his fantasies in the hope of duping him out of his money.


Something of this sort now characterizes relations between Russia and several former Soviet republics, for the foreign-policy doctrine that guides today's Kremlin is a preposterous mix of 19th-century Realpolitik and early 20th-century geopolitics. According to this view, every great power needs obedient satellite countries. Under such an approach, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's expansion is represented as an extension of America's sphere of influence, to the detriment of Russia, of course.


In order to compensate for its growing inferiority complex, Russia has cobbled together the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which, by its title and constitutional principles, is a parody of NATO. For all this, the Kremlin is not in the least embarrassed by the fact that the CSTO is essentially a mechanical connection of bilateral military agreements between Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia.


Nobody knows what vision of collective defense is to be implemented: One needs a fertile imagination to imagine Belarusian paratroopers defending the Tajik border. Moreover, the constitutions of a number of CSTO countries expressly prohibit sending troops outside national territory. But the Kremlin's myopic concentration on military matters and its pointless attempts to play a zero-sum game with the West have turned Russia into an object for manipulation by its junior partners.


The virtuoso of such manipulation is Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus' economy can function only if Russia subsidizes energy prices and allocates nonrepayable credits. Yet, despite all this, Lukashenko manages to avoid implementing economic projects profitable to Russia (i.e., a single currency). Whenever Russia applies pressure, he immediately starts yelling about Moscow's "ingratitude," proclaiming that "ten million Belarusians protect Russia from NATO's tanks."


Worse, whenever Moscow persists in its demands, Lukashenko abrogates agreements without a twinge of conscience. Thus, when Russia banned imports of Belarusian dairy products (in an attempt to punish Lukashenko for accepting a $2 billion credit but not fulfilling his promise to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia), Lukashenko refused to attend a CSTO summit or join its collective agreement for the establishment of an operational response force.


Lukashenko avoids any major integration projects, even those in the military sphere. The most telling example is the creation of a joint air defense system. Both Russia and Belarus have been trying to realize this project for 10 years; countless agreements have been achieved on paper. Yet no concrete action is taken. Lukashenko, simply, does not intend to allow even a small part of his army to become subordinated to Moscow.


While the military threat in the West looks as illusory as it is, in Central Asia that threat is concrete. In the event that the coalition of NATO forces in Afghanistan is defeated, a wave of Islamic extremism will submerge the Central Asian states, inciting local civil wars. For Russia, this could mean (in the best case) tens of thousands of refugees or (in the worst case) the arrival of armed militias on its territory.


As a result, the Kremlin has a vital interested in NATO's success in Afghanistan. Yet, for the last four years, Russia has tried to hinder NATO in every possible way. In 2005, at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Russian President Vladimir Putin pressed for the final declaration to include a demand for withdrawal of American bases from Central Asia. Kremlin strategists explained that they feared the United States would oust Russia from Central Asia. But, now that a Russian-American agreement allows supply flights to Afghanistan to go through Russian airspace, it is clear that Russia sought only to monopolize the military cargo transportation routes in order to gain leverage over the U.S.


In February, the Kremlin gave Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev $500 million for a promise to close America's base in his country. Then the Americans offered Bakiyev $160 million a year, and now there may be no official base, but a "transit center" that serves the same functions. So the Kremlin paid out several hundred million dollars just to replace some signs.


Soon after this, Russian Vice Premier Igor Sechin and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov were sent to Bishkek in an effort to get something for Russia's money. Bakiyev seems to have said: so, you are worried about the American military presence in Central Asia, and you want to confront it. Fine, the Americans can have one base in Kyrgyzstan, and Russia can have two.


The resulting "military asset," however, is strategic gibberish, having been built in Kyrgyzstan's near-lawless Osh region, with its appalling poverty, drug trafficking and ethnic tensions. Seizure of a Russian military base in order to acquire weapons is, indeed, likely to become a vital goal of "extremists." But, in a way, the Russian soldiers there are already hostages — not least to the Kremlin's bankrupt foreign policy.


Alexander Golts is an independent military analyst and deputy editor of Yezhednevny Zhurnal. © 2009 Project Syndicate








PRINCETON, N.J. — The recent release of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, sparked outrage.


Around the same time, the Philadelphia Eagles, an American football team, offered a second chance to former star Michael Vick, who was convicted of running a dog-fighting operation in which unsuccessful fighters were tortured and killed.


And William Calley, who commanded the platoon that massacred hundreds of Vietnamese civilians at the village of My Lai in 1968, has now broken his media silence and apologized for his actions.


When should we forgive or show mercy to wrongdoers? Many societies treat crimes involving cruelty to animals far too lightly, but Vick's penalty — 23 months in prison — was substantial. In addition to imprisonment, he missed two years of his playing career, and millions of dollars in earnings. If Vick were never to play football again, he would suffer punishment well beyond that imposed by the court.


Vick has expressed remorse. Perhaps more importantly, he has turned words into deeds, volunteering at an animal shelter and working with the Humane Society of the United States to oppose dog fighting. It is hard to see what good would come from not allowing him to complete his rehabilitation and return to doing what he does best.


Al-Megrahi was convicted of murdering 270 people and sentenced to life imprisonment. He had served only seven years when Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice minister, released him on compassionate grounds, based on a medical report that al-Megrahi has terminal cancer and only three months to live.


The question of remorse has not arisen, because Megrahi has never admitted guilt, and did not drop an appeal against his conviction until just before his release.


Doubts have been raised about whether Megrahi is really near death. Only the prison doctor, it seems, was prepared to say that he did not have more than three months to live, while four specialists refused to say how long he might have. There has also been speculation that Megrahi's release was related to negotiations over oil contracts between Britain and Libya.


But let us leave such questions aside for the moment. Assuming that al-Megrahi was released because he has only a short time to live, does a prisoner's terminal illness justify compassionate release?


The answer might depend on the nature of the crime, the length of the sentence, and the proportion of it that remains to be served. For a pickpocket who has served half of a two-year sentence, it would be excessively harsh to insist on the sentence being served in full if that meant that he would die in prison, rather than with his family. But to release a man who served only seven years of a life sentence for mass murder is a very different matter. As the victims' relatives point out, in planning his crime, Megrahi showed no compassion. Why, they ask, should we show compassion to him?


MacAskill, in a statement to the Scottish Parliament defending his decision, refrained from quoting from the best-known speech on mercy in the English language — that of Portia in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" — but Portia's words would have fitted the core of his statement. Portia acknowledges that Shylock is under no obligation to show mercy to Antonio, who is in breach of his agreement to him.


"The quality of mercy is not strained" — that is, constrained, or obligatory — she tells Shylock, but rather something that falls freely, like rain. MacAskill acknowledged that al-Megrahi himself showed no compassion, but rightly points out that this alone is not a reason to deny him compassion in his final days. He then appeals to the values of humanity, compassion, and mercy as "the beliefs we seek to live by" and frames his decision as being true to Scottish values.


We can reasonably disagree with MacAskill's decision, but we should acknowledge that — unless there is more going on than appears on the surface — he was motivated by some of the finest values we are capable of exercising. And, if we believe that al-Megrahi was not sufficiently punished for his crime, what are we to make of the treatment of former Lt. William Calley?


In 1971, Calley was convicted of the murder of "no less than 22 Vietnamese civilians of undetermined age and sex." He was also convicted of assault with intent to murder a Vietnamese child. Yet three days after his conviction, President Richard Nixon ordered that he be released from prison and allowed to serve his sentence in a comfortable two-bedroom house. There he lived with a female companion and a staff to assist him. After three years, he was released even from this form of detention.


Calley always claimed that he was following orders. Capt. Ernest Medina, his commanding officer, ordered him to burn the village down and pollute its wells, but there is no clear evidence that the order included killing non-combatants — and of course if such an order were issued, it should not have been obeyed.


After decades of refusing to speak publicly, Calley, who is now 66, recently said that "not a day goes by" when he does not feel remorse "for what happened that day in My Lai." One wonders if the relatives of those murdered at My Lai are more ready to forgive Calley than the relatives of those killed by at Lockerbie are to forgive al-Megrahi.


Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University. © 2009 Project Syndicate










The 100-day regular session of the National Assembly opened Tuesday, but the session got off to a rocky start, with the ruling and opposition parties unable to agree on a schedule.


The scheduling conflict centers on the timing of the annual parliamentary audit of the government. The ruling Grand National Party wants the 20-day audit to begin on Sept. 10 as mandated by law. The main opposition party, Democratic Party, is pressing for the audit to take place in October, right after the Chuseok holidays. This would put the audit closer to the by-elections scheduled for Oct. 28, giving the opposition party an opportunity to question and criticize the government leading up to the by-elections.

While only three or four seats will be contested at the October by-elections, political parties have upped the stakes by viewing them as a sort of vote of confidence on the Lee Myung-bak administration. The GNP, which failed to gain any of the five seats contested in the April by-elections, is determined that such an abject failure must not be repeated.


Another stumbling block against normalization of the National Assembly is the DP insistence on an apology from the National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o over the vote on media-related bills without debate on the floor. In fact, the DP legislators walked out during the parliamentary opening ceremony in protest when Kim stepped up to the podium to address the National Assembly. Kim, in his speech, asked the political parties to draft a bill for a constitutional amendment by the end of the regular parliamentary session. However, the DP has indicated that it will not participate in discussions about a constitutional amendment unless Kim apologizes.


The political parties will be meeting this week to hammer out a schedule but, in the meantime, the National Assembly may be in session in name only until the two sides can come up with a mutually agreeable schedule.


The confirmation hearings on the upcoming Cabinet shuffle are also a distracting factor that could hamper the current session. The Blue House is expected to announce a Cabinet shakeup this week and the confirmation hearings that will follow can be expected to be very partisan, if past confirmation hearings are any indication.


There are numerous bills that need to be considered during the 100-day session, many of them controversial and bound to cause major debates along party lines. A constitutional amendment, a revision of the election system and redrawing of administrative districts, the annual budget review, which includes the budget for the contentious four-river restoration project, and a revision of the tax system are but some of the more contentious issues with which the National Assembly must deal.


One hundred days may not be enough time to adequately deal with these mega issues, which will have a significant impact on everyone. It would be tantamount to a relinquishing of their responsibilities if the lawmakers were to engage in partisan bickering at the expense of getting any meaningful work done.

Voters have elected the lawmakers to represent their interests and to work on their behalf. Legislators must bear in mind whom they are ultimately answerable to. They should not disgust and alienate the public further with a repeat of their performance in past sessions - turning the National Assembly into a literal battlefield for partisan politics.







The police this week arrested a group of Vietnamese nationals on robbery and kidnapping charges in a case that involved a network of mobsters originally from Hanoi, Vietnam.


Five Vietnamese nationals kidnapped a 28-year-old Vietnamese woman in Seoul in June for a $5,000 ransom. They kept her captive for three days and threatened to sell her into prostitution until the woman's family in Vietnam paid the ransom to a gang in Hanoi.


The police say that the five people arrested, a few of whom had entered the country as industrial trainees, are suspected of being part of a larger criminal syndicate based in Hanoi.


As Korea admits more foreign nationals, including migrant workers, there is a greater probability of foreign gangsters entering the country. There have already been several criminal cases involving gang members from abroad that have raised alarm among law enforcement authorities.


Last month, two Vietnamese nationals belonging to a Hanoi-based crime organization were arrested for running an illegal gambling site. The two made 1.2 billion won by taking a 40 percent commission on the bets made.


According to the police, the Hanoi gang had operations in nine cities across Korea, running illegal gambling dens. The gang also engaged in illegal money exchanges and wire transactions with Vietnamese workers staying in the country illegally.


Judging from the Hanoi gang activities in Korea that have been unveiled, foreign gang-related activities may be more widespread than expected. In most cases, the targets of these organized crime groups are illegal aliens who do not report to the police for fear of extradition. However, there has even been a case of kidnapping and assault of rival Vietnamese gang members.


Also of concern is the growth of locally formed organized crime groups involving foreigners. In a police sweep of foreign criminal groups conducted between June 1 and July 20, a total of 108 foreigners were taken into custody. Among them were 26 Vietnamese, 16 Chinese, 11 Filipinos, six Thais and five Pakistanis.


So far, these gangsters' activities have been limited to targeting people from their own countries. However, the police predict that once these groups form ties with Korean organized crime groups - which may only be a matter of time - they may become a greater menace to society.


As the foreign population in Korea grows - there are more than 1.1 million foreigners living in Korea now - the government should bolster protection for these people against crime. To nip the growth of foreign gangs in the bud, the police must elicit the cooperation of foreign communities. Outreach programs aimed at alerting and educating these communities against organized crime may be the first step toward protecting people who are especially vulnerable to organized crime.








BERKELEY - William McChesney Martin, a Democrat, was twice reappointed to the job of chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Paul Volcker, a Democrat, was reappointed once by the Reagan administration (but not twice: there are persistent rumors that Reagan's treasury secretary, James Baker, thought Volcker was too invested in monetary stability and not invested enough in producing strong economies in presidential years to elect Republicans). Alan Greenspan, a Republican, was reappointed twice by Bill Clinton. And now Barack Obama has announced re-nominated Republican appointee Ben Bernanke to the post.


As this history suggests, it is more remarkable for a U.S. president not to reappoint a Fed chairman named by the opposite party than to reappoint one who wishes it. Reagan's failure to reappoint Volcker and Jimmy Carter's failure to reappoint Arthur Burns are the main exceptions. The Fed chairmanship is the only position in the U.S. government for which this is so: it is a mark of its unique status as a non- or not-very-partisan technocratic position of immense power and freedom of action - nearly a fourth branch of government, as David Wessel's recent book "In Fed We Trust" puts it.


The reason, I think, that American presidents are so willing to reappoint Fed chairmen from the opposite party is closely linked to one of the two things that a president seeks: the confidence of financial markets that the Fed will pursue non-inflationary policies. If financial markets lose that confidence - if they conclude that the Fed is too much under the president's thumb to wage the good fight against inflation, or if they conclude that the chairman does not wish to control inflation - then the economic news is almost certain to be bad.


Capital flight, interest-rate spikes, declining private investment, and a collapse in the value of the dollar - all of these are likely should financial markets lose confidence in a Fed chairman. And if they occur, the chances of success for a president seeking re-election - or for a vice president seeking to succeed him - are very low. By reappointing a Fed chair chosen by someone else, a president can appear to guarantee financial markets that the Fed is not too much under his thumb. And that can be a very valuable asset for an incumbent Fed chair.


But U.S. presidents seek more than just a credible commitment to financial markets that the Fed chair will fear and fight inflation. They seek intelligence, honor, and a keen sense of the public interest and the public welfare. Presidents' futures - their ability to win re-election, to accomplish other policy goals, and to leave a respectable legacy - hinge on the economy's strength. It may or may not be true, especially these days, that what is good for General Motors is good for America and vice versa, but certainly what is good economically for America is good politically for the president.


It is here, I think that President Barack Obama has lucked out. Ben Bernanke is, I think, a very good choice for Fed chair because he is so intelligent, honest, pragmatic, and clear-sighted in his vision of the economy. He has already guided the Fed through two very tumultuous years with only one major mistake - the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.


Bernanke's deep knowledge of the Great Depression and of financial crises is exactly what America - and the world - needs in a Fed chair now. And his commitment not to err on the side of underestimating either the difficulty of the situation or the value of keeping employment high would make him, I believe, one of the best possible choices for the position, even if he were not now the incumbent.


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







TAMPA - Patients and politicians increasingly demand a "cure" for cancer. But controlling the disease may prove to be a better strategy than striving to cure it.


A century ago, the German Nobel laureate Paul Ehrlich introduced the concept of "magic bullets" - compounds engineered to target and kill tumor cells or disease-causing organisms without affecting normal cells. The success of antibiotics 50 years later seemed to validate Ehrlich's idea. So influential have medicine's triumphs over bacteria been that the "war on cancer" continues to be driven by the assumption that magic bullets will one day be found for tumor cells if the search is sufficiently clever and diligent.


Yet lessons learned in dealing with exotic species, combined with recent mathematical models of the evolutionary dynamics of tumors, indicate that eradicating most cancers may be impossible. Trying to do so, moreover, could worsen the problem.


In 1854, the year Ehrlich was born, the diamondback moth was first observed in Illinois. Within five decades, the moth had spread throughout North America. It now infests the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia. Attempts to eradicate it using chemicals worked only fleetingly. In the late 1980s, biologists found strains that were resistant to all known insecticides.


So farmers abandoned their efforts to eliminate the moth. Instead, most now apply insecticides only when infestation exceeds some threshold level, with the goal of producing a sustainable and satisfactory crop. Under the banner of "integrated pest management," hundreds of invasive species are now successfully controlled by strategies that restrict the population growth of pests but do not attempt to eradicate them.


The ability of tumor cells to adapt to a wide range of environmental conditions, including toxic chemicals, is similar to the evolutionary capacities demonstrated by crop pests and other invasive species. As in the case of the diamondback moth, successful eradication of disseminated cancer cells is rare. But despite the paucity of success, the typical goal in cancer therapy remains similar to that of antimicrobial treatments - killing as many tumor cells as possible under the assumption that this will, at best, cure the disease and, at worst, keep the patient alive for as long as possible.


Some types of cancer - for example, Hodgkin's lymphoma, testicular cancer, and acute myeloid leukemia - can be consistently cured using aggressive chemotherapy. But these malignant cells seem to be particularly responsive to "treatment." Just as invasive species adapt to pesticides, most cancer cells adapt to therapies. Indeed, the parallels between cancerous cells and invasive species suggest that the principles for successful cancer therapy might be found not in the magic bullets of microbiology but in the evolutionary dynamics of applied ecology.


Recent research suggests that efforts to eliminate cancers may actually hasten the emergence of resistance and tumor recurrence, thus reducing a patient's chances of survival. The reason arises from a component of tumor biology not ordinarily investigated: the cost of resistance to treatment.


Cancer cells pay a price when they evolve resistance to chemotherapy. For example, to cope with toxic drugs, a cancer cell may increase its rate of DNA repair, or actively pump the drug out across the cell membrane. In targeted therapies, in which drugs interfere with the molecular signaling needed for proliferation and survival, a cell might adapt by activating or following alternative pathways. All these strategies use up energy that would otherwise be available for invasion into non-cancerous tissues or proliferation, and so reduce a cell's fitness.


The more complex and costly the mechanisms used, the less fit the resistant population will be. That cancer cells pay a price for resistance is supported by several observations. Cells in laboratory cultures that are resistant to chemotherapies typically lose their resistance when the chemicals are removed. Lung cancer cells that are resistant to the chemotherapy gemcitabine are less proliferative, invasive, and motile than their drug-sensitive counterparts.


Although resistant forms are commonly found in tumors that haven't yet been exposed to treatment, they generally occur in small numbers. This suggests that resistant cells are not so unfit that drug-sensitive cells completely out-competed them, but that they struggle to proliferate when both types are present.


Our models show that in the absence of therapy, cancer cells that haven't evolved resistance will proliferate at the expense of the less-fit resistant cells. When a large number of sensitive cells are killed, say, by aggressive therapies, resistant types can proliferate unconstrained. This means that high doses of chemotherapy might actually increase the likelihood of a tumor becoming unresponsive to further therapy.


So, just as judicious use of pesticides can control invasive species, a therapeutic strategy designed to maintain a stable, tolerable tumor volume could improve a patient's prospects for survival by allowing sensitive cells to suppress the growth of resistant ones.


To test this idea, we treated a human ovarian cancer, grown in mice, with conventional high-dose chemotherapy. The cancer rapidly regressed but then recurred and killed the mice. Yet when we treated the mice with a drug dose continuously adjusted to maintain a stable tumor volume, the animals, though not cured, survived for a prolonged period of time.


Designing therapies to sustain a stable tumor mass rather than eradicate all cancer cells will require a strategy that looks beyond the immediate cytotoxic effects of any one treatment. Researchers will need to establish the mechanisms by which cancer cells achieve resistance and what it costs them. They will need to understand the evolutionary dynamics of resistant populations, and design strategies to suppress or exploit the adapted characteristics.


Of course, cancer researchers should not abandon their search for ever-more-effective cancer therapies, even for cures. But it may be time to temper our quest for magic bullets and recognize the cold reality of Darwin's evolutionary dynamics. Medicine's goal of a glorious victory over cancer may need to yield to our recognizing that an uneasy stalemate may be the best that can be achieved.


Robert A. Gatenby is chairman of Radiology and Integrated Mathematical Oncology at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. - Ed.








The concept that terrorism is more than merely committing acts of violence is interesting and unconventional. It may even be argued that acts of violence are not the tail end of the process. Terrorism (despite the endless arguments about its definition) is about the spreading of fear and the identification of the government's inability to provide its most fundamental guarantees to its citizens.


Such fears are clearly spread by Noordin M. Top, who benefits from the popularity of hard-line preachers on jihad, sponsored and supported by young jihadists who believe the use of violence against the "enemies of Islam", i.e. the US and its allies, is justified.


The devout young followers of these preachers and the young jihadists are distributed in numerous strategic areas of Central Java, including Surakarta, as well as Jakarta and parts of West Java and surrounding areas. They yearn for the enforcement of tauhid (the Oneness of God), but of course, through their direct jihadi methods.


In this context, Noordin is required to expend little effort in planting the seeds of jihad. He needs only to conduct the secondary phase of the selection process, and the indoctrination of his new followers with his brand of jihad takes a relatively short time. The process may also be carried out by the people who make up his inner circle, who include his adjutant.


A diligent researcher of jihadi websites will easily find there is a lot of praise in support of Noordin. There are numerous requests to meet with Noordin in person, offers to protect him and inquiries as to how to join his group - mostly from young people (no statistics are available, this is random but representative data) who make no secret in their messages of their support for Noordin and the al-Qaeda ideology. Some are literally dying to see the presence of the real al-Qaeda here in Indonesia.


Therefore, following the 17 July attack, the hypothesis that Noordin would form an al-Qaeda cell in Indonesia appeared likely. This was based on certain information: Abu Bakar Ba'asyir called the attacks "appropriate", pointing out that everyone killed was an "enemy of Islam" (because in his warped view all non-Muslim foreign nationals harbor negative thoughts about Islam, which places them on the side of the infidel).


But then Ba'asyir said something really important: he said he hoped that whoever carried out the attacks had declared war on the enemy.


The only group that issues fatwa or Islamic edicts to declare war is al-Qaeda. Forming local al-Qaeda branch gifts Noordin the ideologically sound terrorist seal of approval for attacks.


There was a rumor about two meetings held over the past year between an al-Qaeda liaison and Noordin, in which the latter sought funding and technical and material support. Although the concept of the formation of a local al-Qaeda branch was not an explicit part of these meetings, it is a logical outcome and it may have been discussed at some point.


Then, in a greater coincidence (and we should all be very suspicious of coincidences), we get the declaration of responsibility on a website on July 26 - a hallmark of al-Qaeda operations but unheard of in Indonesia. We have to remain skeptical about this declaration - it is too convenient - but some say, despite the spelling errors, inaccuracies and the change in the modus operandi, that the declaration is credible.


The other hint of credibility is that there has been no public or private disclaimer by Noordin, as far as we can tell.


Furthermore, the Indonesian police recently arrested the so-called "prince of jihad", Muhammad Jibril, for his alleged role in raising fresh funds from international sources, possibly even from al-Qaeda, although it is important to note here that Arab or Arabia does not equate to al-Qaeda.


The strategic and tactical implications of the formation of an Indonesian al-Qaeda (if this has indeed occurred) are truly significant in two geopolitical aspects.


Locally, it marks a true separation from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), though the new organization could expect to continue to receive support and succor from the JI rank and file. However, it frees the new grouping from the limitations, constraints and/or direction of JI. It also provides a distinct alternative for that community in Indonesia, as well as a definition of leadership for Noordin, and therefore authority, direction and the formation of disparate cells.


Internationally, it provides access to the al-Qaeda vault, membership list, library and archive, clubhouse and warehouse. It provides the ideologically necessary cover of the "declaration of war" for the conduct of the group's activities. It broadens the conflict, bringing it into the fold of the global jihad and enables al-Qaeda Indonesia to continually use disparate global events to create the impression of a continuous and concerted struggle: the everybody-else-is-doing-something-and-we-have-to-join-in perception.


This last attack was perhaps a requirement, an initiatory rite of passage and membership, to prove to al-Qaeda that terrorism in Indonesia is alive and well, and worthy of investment and support.


The writer is the executive director of the Institute for International Peacebuilding.







It is difficult not to be suspicious of the latest political maneuvers made by the heirs of the late former president Soeharto.


Their intention to run for the top post of the Golkar Party – spearheaded by Soeharto’s eldest daughter, Siti Hardijanti “Tutut” Rukmana, and youngest son, Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra – has added flavor to the leadership race in the country’s one-time largest party.


But do their maneuvers portend anything serious? Will it signal the return of the old guard to the country’s political arena?


Such an anxiety is understandable because there has been an increasing concern over the return of old repressive practices – directly linked in many people’s minds to the guided and heavily controlled governance system of Soeharto’s New Order government.


Perhaps it is too early and speculative to say that the Soeharto clan’s planned return to active politics coincides with a number of measures, initiated by the government, to limit the freedom of expression and the movement of people, following the recent and unresolved bombings of two Jakarta luxury hotels, the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton. But many rights activists have expressed fear that such measures will bring the nation back to the repressive era of the New Order administration.


Apart from those concerns, however, it is indeed the guaranteed right of everyone – man or woman, young or old, rich or poor, noble or ex-convict – to become whatever they aspire to be, including to run for a party’s top leadership. And legally speaking, there should not be any obstacles for anyone, including the children of the country’s ex-dictator, wishing to run for Golkar’s top post, because the existing laws and regulations do not prohibit ones from running into political offices, but those serving their jail terms.


With Tommy eventually tendering his withdrawal Wednesday from the Golkar leadership race, the Soeharto clan now rests on Tutut as its sole representative in the race. There was no official explanation for Tommy’s withdrawal from the race, as it was only mentioned that he considered himself unqualified for the party’s top post.


To many, Tutut has a better rapport and qualifications than Tommy. Not only did she once serve on Golkar’s executive board – one of the prerequisites for one to run for Golkar chairmanship, something that Tommy cannot boast – but she also has a cleaner record than Tommy: Tommy was convicted in July 2002 for ordering the murder of judge Syafiuddin Kartasasmita in July 2001. He was released in October 2006.


The only problem for Tutut is perhaps her chameleon-like character. Even as she eyes Golkar’s top post, she is still currently registered as a member of the Concern for the Nation Functional Party (PKPB), a party established by a group of loyal supporters of Soeharto in 2002. Tutut was once a deputy to the Golkar chairman during her father’s presidency, but jumped ship to the PKPB following Soeharto’s downfall in May 1998 and the subsequent purge of ABRI (Armed Forces) and civil servants from Golkar’s ranks in the same year.


Now that a representative of the New Order era has signaled a return to active politics, it is up to Golkar’s members and supporters to decide who they will vote for as their new leader in the party’s Congress next month. The best advice remains caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.








The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has unveiled a financing scheme to make sure that being young will no longer be a disadvantage. The project is tailored specifically for those 35 or below.


The CAS has an ambitious five-year plan to support or introduce from overseas 600 leading scientists, introduce or cultivate 600 outstanding academics, 600 supporting and management talents, train 6,000 young creative talents, and attract and subsidize 1,500 overseas scholars and scientists. The 35-or-below financing program is part of it.


The emphasis on young scientists is a welcome break from our system's deep-rooted preference for seniors. Seniority is not all that bad when it comes to experience and the consequent accumulation of expertise. It can even be a coveted asset.


Seniority, whether in tenure or ranking, does not necessarily reflect competence. Under our system in particular, mismatch between seniority and competence is too common to raise an eyebrow. But distribution of resources is more often than not carried out on the basis of seniority. Which in a large part illustrates how astronomical sums of State money finally ended up in the wrong places. With precious resources placed in the wrong hands, there is no way for such investments to be cost effective.


So, for its departure from the ubiquitous seniority complex alone, the CAS' youth-friendly new plan deserves applause.


But, is not that 35-or-below rule perplexing? We are against all forms of age-based discrimination. We suppose the CAS has no intention to suffocate anybody's scientific talent on the mere ground of age. Then why the age limit?


If we are talking about the Communist Party of China (CPC) drawing up a scheme for the echelon formation of its future leaders, it is perfectly fine. That is why few have questions about the CPC's age limit to leadership positions in its own governance hierarchy.


But the CAS is in a different business, where we think academic worth should be the sole reason for support from the State coffer. A better option than adopting an age limit, therefore, may be to work out a mechanism that holds academic merit as the ultimate yardstick. A people-specific financing program may serve to correct a historical wrong. But it cannot be a long-term solution.


What is very much needed but absent now is a system that recognizes genuine talent and inspires creativity. The age-specific design, however, is of little help in presenting that. At the very best, it is an overdue compensation for the system's preoccupation with seniority.


But, ultimately, sensible mechanisms rest on an overhaul of the current system. Can we expect that?








It was reported that a study by climate economists at Beijing-based Renmin University of China found that the country may need to spend as much as 7.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.


If true, this jaw-dropping price of fighting climate change should galvanize both China and the international community into immediate action for cutting emissions.


The analysis suggests that the cost of reducing China's total greenhouse gas emissions is likely to reach $438 billion a year within 20 years even if China continues its current measures to improve energy efficiency and to increase the use of renewable fuels.


Given the rapid evolution of environmental technologies and uncertainties about China's growth prospects, it is quite hard to arrive at an accurate estimate of this green bill.


Yet by making a stab at estimating the enormous but not well-perceived cost, we are going to pay for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, these climate economists have helped shed light on a huge challenge that the public and policymakers are yet to face up to.


The message is simple: China must substantially ramp up its spending to curb greenhouse gases in the next 20 years, or face enormous bills for cutting emissions from 2030.


But the solution will be more complex than one can expect.


Domestically, Chinese policymakers should do their most to seek a consensus among consumers, companies and the government about how to split the green bill. If the burden of fighting climate change cannot be fairly shared among all social groups, it looks unlikely that the country can cut greenhouse gas emissions efficiently and sufficiently.


Globally, industrialized nations are obliged to share the cost of cutting emissions in developing countries if this December's climate change summit in Copenhagen is to deliver real and needed progress.


Though decades of rapid development has considerably enhanced China's economic strength to deal with climate issues, a green bill equivalent to about 7.5 percent of the country's GDP speaks volumes about the particular difficulties developing countries have to face in the global fight against climate change.


In view of the greater long-term growth potential of developing economies, each dollar that they spend on cutting emissions actually will represent a greater value than the same amount by industrialized countries.


Hence, the more financial aid rich countries give to developing countries for this purpose, the more cost-efficient will be the global fight against climate change. And, if we are to succeed in addressing climate change, we must do it as efficiently as possible.








In the light of the key areas and issues that deserve pivotal emphasis in China's current economic thrust, I propose the following.


First, concentrate more on changing the growth pattern and lose no time in promoting economic restructuring.


Fueled by the 4-trillion-yuan ($586 billion) stimulus package, a better-than-expected overall performance has taken place in China's economy. The investment-driven force is essential at present, but there will be hidden risks in the medium and long term if no other supporting measures and reform moves are adopted in time. In the coming decades, the key to China's modernization drive would lie in grasping opportunities offered by the new economies in the information age, effectively responding to resource and environment constraints and achieving a transition from an extensive growth mode to an intensive one.


In the face of the positive changes in the national economy, the Chinese government should endeavor to accelerate the transition of the country's growth pattern, structural readjustment and deepen reforms, so as to achieve a better combination of short-term macro-control policies and the medium- and long-term goals.


The second priority is to deepen innovation and supporting reforms in the consumption sphere, and let economic stimulus policies and measures have full play.


In the investment sphere, continue to carry out the 4-trillion-yuan fiscal stimulus package and a number of industrial revitalization programs, highlighting the rational selection of appropriate projects. After conducting careful project selection through feasibility demonstrations, it is of vital importance to stress on project supervision, avoiding quality problems, in order to make the pull effect of fund input and construction projects come into full play.


In the consumption sphere, a series of effective measures and new working mechanisms have been adopted, such as promoting medical reform, implementing free compulsory education, housing projects for low-income urban residents, improving urban subsistence allowance standard and introducing a new type of rural cooperative medical system and rural basic pension plan. All these will definitely reduce people's insecurity and increase their consumption. However, the government should pay more attention to the principle of fairness in reforming the income distribution system and strengthen its function in regulating income redistribution to narrow the widening gap between the rich and the poor.


The third issue is paying close attention to the "capital asset price bubble" problem and the stable and healthy development of the real estate market.


The current overall price level in China indicates there is no obvious inflationary pressure, nor is risk of deflation imminent. Yet, we should give necessary attention to the rapid rise of asset price in the real estate market, as some people have raised questions about the re-emergence of asset bubbles. Recent months have seen a slight growth in China's stock, auto and real estate markets, which was a general reflection of national economic performance. Although China's stock market is yet to be further standardized, we cannot deny its effect as a "barometer".


More efforts should be made in building low-rent housing, which is conducive to solving the urgent problem of accommodating a large number of medium- and low-income urban residents. It is time to develop more inexpensive commercial houses and maintain a fair competition in the real estate market.


The fourth point is to promote taxation reform in accordance with overall needs with an emphasis on the function of taxation regulation.


The good momentum seen in national economic recovery gave us a good opportunity to consider an upward adjustment of resources tax right now. In order to accelerate the growth mode transition, the relative price of resources should be raised, so as to drive the whole society to better treasure energy resources and economize on primary products, and to activate all individuals, enterprises and institutions to develop energy conservation products, equipment and technologies.


Property tax reform should be put on the agenda as soon as possible, as this will be conducive to the functional transition of the local government, implementation of tax-sharing system under provincial level and the healthy development of the real estate market. We cannot expect overnight success in property tax reform but can focus on an operational reform scheme.


The personal income tax "threshold" should be further adjusted by raising the benchmark point of the tax and lowering tax rate on medium- and low-income people in tandem with the national economic growth and residents' increasing income.


Right now, the personal income tax rate in China is divided into nine categories ranging between 5 percent and 45 percent. In order to lower the tax rate for low-income residents, the categories of tax rate could be reduced to five, and the disparity of different tax rates be enlarged. And the lowest tax rate can be cut from 5 percent to 1 percent.


Through such reforms, the government can substantially reduce the tax burden on medium- and low-income groups and increase the levy on high-income groups, thus bringing into full play the regulatory role of income tax.


The author is director of the Institute for Fiscal Science Research under Ministry of Finance.








The new semester beginning this week brings more joy to many migrant workers and their children in Shanghai as local authorities have officially listed their schools as private-run educational institutions.


With this official sanction, government funds will for the first time arrive at these schools to upgrade facilities and subsidize each student enrolled. In the Pudong New Area, an average of 500,000 yuan ($88,230) is earmarked for each school's facelift.


To people like Sun Jianhong, headmaster of Pudong's Tangsi Primary School, the legal protection now for the school is a spiritual support. It means much more than just money, although those poor parents now no longer have to pay 550 yuan for books and tuition each semester.


With no official sanction before, many schools for migrant children were subject to harassment from the authorities. They could be randomly suspended or shut down for reasons ranging from a lack of license through inadequate facilities to unqualified teaching staff. As a result, many migrant children were without a school.


What's happening in the new semester is encouraging. It came years after a State Council circular that ordered local authorities to grant equal education treatment to migrant children and financial support to their schools.


However, this is far from enough. Tens of millions of migrant children across the country still have no access to proper or equal education. Schools for migrant children are often poorly equipped and some are even located in idle factory buildings, warehouses or old apartments. These often crowded places have no playground, sanitation or guarantee of safety. Teachers, many without a license, are underpaid compared to those in public schools.


This means that migrant children and their schools are still being discriminated in our education system. And, these children have a greater chance of being left further behind during school years, compared to children in public schools.


Some cities still cite various excuses, such as a lack of government funds, to keep migrant children out of their public schools, while the money wasted on local official cars and banquets or a single vanity project in their cities far exceeds the amount needed to cover tens of thousands of migrant children.


This is absolutely unacceptable. As an already underprivileged group, migrant children deserve more care from both government and society so that they have a better chance to catch up with urban children. Regardless of being urban, rural or migrant, children are the future of our nation.


Schools for migrant children should also be a temporary phenomenon because its existence symbolizes a kind of discrimination and segregation.


Our government should give more attention and money to the education of migrant children. It could encourage and subsidize job-seeking college graduates to find a teaching career at these schools. This is as worthy as any great cause in reviving the Chinese nation.







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