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Thursday, September 17, 2009

EDITORIAL 17.09.09

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

Editorial

month september 17,  edition 000300, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

1.      ANOTHER REBUFF TO LEFT

2.      STEALING AMERICAN AID

3.      RHETORIC IS BEST AVOIDED-G PARTHASARATHY

4.      LET WASHINGTON RETHINK POLICY-MC JOSHI

5.      EROSION OF A TRADITION-SHAILAJA CHANDRA

6.      SLAUGHTER IN CHINA-HIRANMAY KARLEKAR

7.      THE DARK SIDE OF THE KASHMIR VALLEY-TANVEEN KAWOOSA

8.      ISLAMABAD’S GREED AS OFFICIAL POLICY-B RAMAN

 

TIMES OF INDIA

1.      TURNING ROUND NOW

2.      WE CAN WORK IT OUT

A STRANGE MEETING-

4.      GOOD CANDIDATE FOR GI STATUS

A LADDU IS A LADDU IS A LADDU-

6.      IT'S THE AUSTERITY, STUPID! -BACHI KARKARIA

LIGHTS OUT-

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

1.      IT’S A PHONEY SITUATION

2.      TO BATHE OR NOT TO..

3.      PROMISED LAND-SAMRAT

4.      THE BUCK STOPS HERE?-RAJESH MAHAPATRA

 

INDIAN EXPRESS

1.      PRICE, RUPEE, RATES

2.      THICK RED LINES

3.      SURVEYORS OF INDIA

4.      PEOPLE UNLIKE US-SEEMA CHISHTI

5.      JINNAH’S DOUBLE WHAMMY-TAHIR MAHMOOD

6.      TURNING A DEAF EAR-ARUN SHOURIE

7.      THIS HAND OF GOD HOLDS A RACQUET-KUNAL PRADHAN

8.      VIEW FROM THE RIGHT-SUMAN K JHA

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

1.      TWO COUNTRIES, ONE COMPANY

2.      IS A SUPER REGULATOR A SUPER IDEA?-KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN

3.      SAVED BY CHANCE, NOT DESIGN-MADAN SABNAVIS

4.      THIS MOTHER IS THE BEST-GEETA NAIR

 

THE HINDU

1.      A WAKE UP CALL

2.      JAPAN’S IMPRESSIVE NEW TEAM

3.      MEDDLING WITH PUBLIC SECTOR BANKS-C. RAMMANOHAR REDDY

4.      POKHRAN-II THERMONUCLEAR TEST, A FAILURE -K. SANTHANAM AND ASHOK PARTHASARATHI

5.      CHINA’S ‘IRON MAN’ AN UNDYING LEGEND

6.      IS MOTHERHOOD A BOON FOR THE BODY? -CLARE MURPHY

7.      AFRICA COMES TO TERMS WITH GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS-LEAH MCMILLAN AND HANY BESADA

8.      U.S. POWER WANING: REPORT -RICHARD NORTON-TAYLOR

 

THE ASIAN AGE

1.      IS CASTE CENSUS A GOOD IDEA NOW?

2.      GREAT INDIAN ‘NOC’ TRICK

3.      COSMETIC AUSTERITY-ANTARA DEV SEN

4.      MADE-IN-TAIWAN GAMES PLEASE CHINA-S. NIHAL SINGH

 

THE TRIBUNE

1.      THREATS TO SECURITY

2.      MELBOURNE’S SHAME

3.      WHY THE DEBT RELIEF ?

4.      WHY BORDER INTRUSIONS?-BY G. PARTHASARATHY

5.      A FRONTIER JEEVES-BY RAJ CHATTERJEE

6.      GROWTH WITH EQUITY-BY CHANDRA MOHAN

7.      TRACKING WATER CONSUMPTION-BY KARI LYDERSEN

8.      DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH-BY VICKY HALLETT

 

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

1.      GREEN REVOLUTIONARY

2.      FAMILY PLANNING

3.      TALKING SENSE AT LAST-PATRICIA MUKHIM

4.      REGIONAL TRADE AND ROLE OF CHITTAGONG PORT-DWAIPAYAN

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

1.      DON'T COMPLICATE THE DEAL

2.      TACKLING LEFT EXTREMISM

3.      FASHION WEAK: LESS SHOWS, MORE SUBSTANCE

4.      THE GDP FETISHISM

5.      MINDFUL EATING HELPS BODY AND MIND-MARGUERITE THEOPHIL

6.      BEWARE OF BANK CONSOLIDATION-T T RAM MOHAN

 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

1.      IS CASTE CENSUS A GOOD IDEA NOW?

2.      MADE-IN-TAIWAN GAMES PLEASE CHINA -BY BY S. NIHAL SINGH

3.      A SUNNY DAY PROMISES MORE THAN JUST A TAN -BY BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

4.      GREAT INDIAN ‘NOC’ TRICK -BY PRAKASH SINGH

5.      COSMETIC AUSTERITY -BY BY ANTARA DEV SEN

6.      RAPPING JOE’S KNUCKLES -BY BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

THE STATESMAN

1.      SOTHEBY’S TO SELL LOST INHERITANCE OF THE ROMANOVS

2.      CAMPUS CHAOS

3.      NORTHERN COMFORT

4.      ‘DR’ CHIDAMBARAM

5.      THE BLUE PLANET~I

6.      SAUMITRA MOHAN

 

THE TELEGRAPH

1.      WILL TO CHANGE

2.      SHOE BITE

3.      THE GIFT OF DARKNESS -AVEEK SEN

4.      OLD ORDER RETURNS -NEHA SAHAY

5.      FORWARD AT BREAKNECK SPEED

6.      PRISONER OF THE PAST

 

DECCAN HERALD

1.      A BITTER WAR BY DRUG INDUSTRY-IGNACIO RAMONET

2.      ADVENTURES OF CYCLING-SUDHA MADHAVAN

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

1.      GOLDENROD TIME -BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG

2.      POLITICS AND THE STATE POLICE

3.      VISAS AND SPEECH

4.      FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

5.      SOMEDAY, A BILL WILL PASS -BY GAIL COLLINS

6.      HEALTH REFORM’S MISSING INGREDIENT -BY RON WYDEN

7.      JUSTICE IN GAZA -BY RICHARD GOLDSTONE

 

I.THE NEWS

1.      BEYOND BELIEF

2.      MISUNDEREPORTED

3.      LOANS FOR THE POOR

4.      ASSESSING WALKABILITY IN KARACHI-ARIF PERVAIZ

5.      ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SOLDIER-IKRAM SEHGAL

6.      DESTABILISING DEMOCRACY-NASIM ZEHRA

7.      BITTER PILLS AND SWEETENERS-SYED ANWAR MAHMOOD

8.      THE BUSINESS OF LAND-KAMILA HYAT

9.      BALOCHISTAN CRISIS-SALIM SAIFULLAH KHAN

 

PAKISTAN OBSEVER

1.      POSITIVE STEP FOR POVERTY ALLEVIATION

2.      CH NISAR RAISES POLITICAL TEMPERATURE

3.      EMPOWERMENT OF GILGIT-BALTISTAN

4.      BUBBLING CAULDRON OF BALOCHISTAN-ASIF HAROON RAJA

5.      INDIA’S DUBIOUS ROLE IN MUMBAI PROBE-WAQAR AHMED

6.      LEADERSHIP BETTER MEND WAYS-DR HUMA MIR

7.      PAKISTAN A PEACEFUL COUNTRY -DR HUSSAIN THABAL

8.      A LIE CALLED SICK LEAVE..!-ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

THE INDEPENDENT

1.      COURSE OF TRIAL

2.      MANPOWER EXPORT

3.      YES, BOSS…!

 

THE AUSTRALIAN

1.      STRIKING A BALANCE ON WORKPLACE LAWS

2.      THE REAL REVOLUTION

3.      AND ANOTHER THING ...

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

1.      SPLIT TELSTRA FOR A FAIRER MARKET

2.      ROT GOES BEYOND BRIMBANK

3.      TIMED CALL FOR TELSTRA

4.      PUNISHMENT WITHOUT END

 

THE GURDIAN

1.      OIL WASTE SCANDAL: THE POLLUTER MUST PAY

2.      ISRAEL AND THE ARABS: DANGEROUS REAL ESTATE

3.      IN PRAISE OF… HAZEL BLEARS

 

THE JAPAN TIMES

1.      NEW GOVERNMENT OUT OF THE BLOCKS

2.      WITH CHEN BEHIND BARS, TAIWAN SET TO HEAL-BY SIN-MING SHAW

3.      FOREIGN POLICY AND THE DEMOCRATIC PARADOX-BY DOMINIQUE MOISI

 

THE JAKARTA POST

1.      SETTING UP NEW GROWTH CENTERS

 

THE KOREA HERALD

2.      RELIABLE OPPOSITION

3.      STRENGTHENING WON

4.      ASEAN TAKES A NEW APPROACH ON MYANMAR ISSUE -SIMON TAY

 

CHINA DAILY

1.      CONSUMER POWER

2.      PUBLIC APOLOGY

3.      LITTLE OPTIMISM OVER DOHA ROUND TALKS

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

ANOTHER REBUFF TO LEFT

CPM IN POWER IN BENGAL, NOT IN AUTHORITY


By itself, the result of a municipality election offers little or no indication of which way the political wind is blowing in a State. However, when the result reflects a particular trend established over successive elections across the State, it does say something about the prevailing popular mood. It is in this context that the result of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation election should be viewed. It was widely expected that the CPI(M)-led Left Front, which has controlled this local body for decades, would suffer erosion, as it has elsewhere in the State over the past year. But perhaps even the diehard supporters of the Left as well as its committed cadre did not quite expect the drubbing which the Communists received in this poll at the hands of the Trinamool Congress and its ally, the Congress. There are three reasons why the Left’s stunning defeat — it could win in only 17 of the 47 wards, compared to the 36 wards where it had won in 2004 — has come as a surprise. First, Siliguri has a large ‘refugee’ population (Hindus from erstwhile East Pakistan and later Bangladesh) which has traditionally voted for the Left as the Congress has been seen to be soft on Muslims and illegal immigrants. Second, Siliguri has for long been the centre of trade union politics linked to the tea gardens of Darjeeling as well as the Dooars region, with which the CPI(M) has been intimately involved. Third, the CPI(M) has till now held sway over both trade and industry in what is West Bengal’s second largest urban centre, deftly using its connections with traders and industrialists as well as employees’ unions to create a command-and-control system which has served the party well in election time. As much was evident during the 2006 Assembly election. Yet, these factors have seemingly ceased to matter in the latest vote to test popular will: The Marxists and their camp-followers in the Left Front have been roundly rejected by what could be described as their core constituency.

The Left’s rout in Siliguri comes in the wake of its defeat in the Lok Sabha poll; it has also ceded ground to the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine in other local elections, including panchayat polls. In a sense, although the Left Front is in power in West Bengal, its influence really has shrunk dramatically and for all practical purposes, it is the Opposition which rules the roost. In effect, it no longer has the authority without which a State Government is a toothless institution and whose writ does not run beyond the confines of the secretariat, in this case Writers’ Building. The CPI(M) is aware of this reality and appears to have given up the fight to regain voter confidence; the fatigue of 30 years in power has begun to show, as has the political bankruptcy of the party. Such is the listlessness that afflicts the Government that Ministers are merely biding time; Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has made himself conspicuous by absenting himself from work and party meetings. All this has only contributed to the Opposition’s surge — the Left’s loss is Ms Mamata Banerjee’s gain. In such a situation, it makes little sense for the Left Front to remain in power till the next Assembly election is held in 2011, which it is bound to lose. Perhaps a far better dignified exit for the CPI(M) would be to call a mid-term election — that would be the morally right thing to do.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

STEALING AMERICAN AID

THAT’S HOW PAKISTANI ARMY SUSTAINS ITSELF


It is absolutely flabbergasting that all that the US could say in response to former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s admission that American aid given to Islamabad to fight terrorism was diverted to strengthen his country’s military capability vis-à-vis India is that it is taking the revelation ‘very seriously’. Apparently, the US takes ‘very seriously’ allegations of misuse of aid given for a specific purpose. Nonetheless, despite its ‘very serious’ concerns over the matter, the Obama Administration is yet to formulate ‘serious’ corrective action. Neither has it indicated that it will do so sometime in the near future. The truth is that there is very little that the US can do about it. This is because Washington, DC, has been cornered by its own policy on Pakistan. It can neither afford not to provide civilian and military aid to Islamabad nor prevent the misuse of that aid. In his interview with a Pakistani channel in which he admitted to re-directing US military aid to shore up Pakistan’s anti-India defences when he was his country’s President, Gen Musharraf did not have even and iota of concern about the consequences that his admission would have on future American aid to Islamabad. This in itself is proof of how helpless the US is on the issue.


The Americans have only themselves to blame for the state of affairs. If Pakistan can divert US military aid with such impunity, given that institutions like the ISI and the Pakistani Army have no dearth of jihadi sympathizers, there is every possibility that American guns are falling into the enemy’s hands. If this is truly the case, which it could very well be, it would give us another explanation as to why the war on terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan has hardly shown any positive results. As far as India is concerned, it has been aware of Pakistan’s nefarious designs for quite sometime now. New Delhi must take every measure possible to counter Islamabad’s tactics. If the Americans are not pleased about our counter-measures and think that they amount to an arms race in the region, we should tell them where they get off. For, in case the US continues to provide Pakistan with unbridled aid — a $ 7.5 billion civilian aid package coupled with a $ 2 billion military aid fund is in the pipeline — the Pakistani Army and the terrorist groups that it sponsors will be able to acquire some significant military hardware. Unless New Delhi makes it clear to Washington, DC, that Islamabad’s duplicity will have consequences that will jeopardise its interests in the region, there is no hope for change. The US has to monitor the aid that it gives to Pakistan far more tightly than it does today. Also, it must re-orient its Pakistan policy to wean Islamabad off the aid that it gives. The sooner Washington, DC, realises the folly of its present policy the better it will be for all.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

RHETORIC IS BEST AVOIDED

G PARTHASARATHY


One abiding feature of our relations with China is our propensity to swing from elation and ecstasy to despondency and despair. Shortly after the visit of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to India in April 2005, our media, China scholars and sections of our Mandarin speaking Mandarins proclaimed that the festering ‘boundary question’ with China was all but resolved. The Manmohan Singh-Wen Jiabao Declaration asserted that India-China relations had acquired “global and strategic significance” and that the two countries would establish a “strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity”.

 
An Agreement laying ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles’ for resolving the border issue said that while respecting the Line of Actual Control, India and China would reach a boundary settlement which shall “safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas”, while using “modern cartographic and surveying practices and joint surveys”. Our ‘scholars’ and media ecstatically proclaimed that the reference to settled populations in border areas meant that China had given up its claims to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. They were in for a rude shock. Within a year, China started regularly and aggressively asserting that the whole of Arunachal was a part of ‘South Tibet’.


While talks on resolving the border issue have continued regularly after the visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in December 1988, the problem of Chinese intrusions into our territory arises from the fact that while the Line of Control is defined and demarcated by mutual agreement between India and Pakistan in Jammu & Kashmir, the Line of Actual Control, which both sides have pledged to determine and respect, along the China-India border has never been demarcated. It was decided that the issue of demarcation would be addressed by India and China exchanging maps about the precise location of the LOAC and reconciling differences through negotiations.

 
But, while maps were exchanged on the Central Sector (adjoining Uttarakhand) and India provided its maps on the LOAC in the western sector (Ladakh) to China in 2002, the latter has refused to provide maps outlining its version of where the LOAC lies, either on the western sector or on the eastern sector (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh). In the face of this impasse, it was decided in 2003 that the two countries would seek a political solution to the border issue.


Despite having agreed in principle that there could not be any change in the status of populated areas in 2005, China is now insistent that it would expect territorial concessions in Arunachal Pradesh, if it is to agree to Indian claims in Ladakh. It is because of the importance of Tawang as a Buddhist Monastery town where the sixth Dalai Lama was born that China seeks control of this area to secure a fig leaf of legitimacy for its rule in Tibet.

India has firmly rejected Chinese claims to Tawang with senior Government leaders like Mr Pranab Mukherjee asserting: “Any elected Government in India is not permitted by our Constitution to part with any part of our land that sends representatives to the Indian Parliament”. Thus, as long as China remains insistent on its claims over Arunachal Pradesh, there can be no settlement of the border issue. India has also indicated that it intends to improve communications along its road borders with China, boost its military presence in Arunachal Pradesh and strengthen its eastern air defences.

 
The entire problem of border intrusions today arises because China wishes to keep its options open by not spelling out where in its view the LOAC lies so that it can continue to intrude into populated areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh at a time and place of its choosing and undermine public confidence in our border areas in New Delhi’s will and ability to defend our territorial integrity.


Apart from border issues, China has made every effort to undermine Indian security interests in recent years. Pakistan is being assisted by China in its boosting of nuclear weapons capabilities by supply of Plutonium reactors and reprocessing facilities. Chinese supplies of ballistic and cruise missiles to Pakistan continue, as does the supply of fighter aircraft and frigates. China assists Pakistan-sponsored terrorism by blocking moves in the UN Security Council for action against the Jamaat-ud-Dawa’h and the head of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed.


While pledging aid for hydro-electric projects in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, China sees to block assistance for economic development in Arunachal Pradesh in the Asian Development Bank on the ground that its status is ‘disputed’. More ominously, there is now evidence that China is using areas controlled by its protégés in the Kachin State of Myanmar to arm and train north-eastern insurgent groups in Manipur and elsewhere. In its Yunnan Province, China similarly seeks to undermine India’s relations with Nepal. Despite this, our Mandarins talk glibly of a ‘strategic and co-operative partnership’ with China.


There are areas like climate change, WTO issues and the development of a multi-polar world order, where India and China have shared interests. China’s actions along and across India’s borders and its efforts to undermine India’s regional influence by its policies in countries like Pakistan and Nepal will, however, remain sources of differences. We courted disaster in 1962 because we glossed over realities and misled public opinion, domestically and globally. Our Mandarins in South Block will do well to remember this when misrepresenting and avoiding a focus of attention on the realities of our relations with China.

 
We should, however, avoid resorting to rhetoric that escalates tensions. Rather than talking about how we propose to increase troop levels, or modernise our defences along our borders with China, we should upgrade road communications along our borders and expedite the long-delayed procurement of essential items like fighter aircraft and artillery, so that China and the whole world recognise our determination to safeguard our territorial integrity. In the meantime, there needs to be continuing dialogue with China to ensure that incidents do not occur along our borders that could escalate tensions.

 
We should remember that China still has festering disputes on its maritime boundaries with Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia and that China settles its border disputes only when a weakened neighbour succumbs to its pressures. The Chinese respect national power and will respect India only if our economic and military strength warrants respect for us as a people and as a nation.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

LET WASHINGTON RETHINK POLICY

MC JOSHI


This refers to the report, “US taking Mush revelations on aid diversion very seriously” (Sept 16). In his interview with a news channel, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has candidly admitted that military aid provided by the US to Pakistan for waging war against terrorism during his tenure had been used to strengthen defences against India. He even justified his action on the pretext of having acted in the “best interest of Pakistan”. For long India has been asserting that US military aid was being diverted by Pakistan to strengthen its military prowess vis-à-vis India. But hitherto the US administration was not convinced.

 
However, after Gen Musharraf’s revelation, a US State Department official has responded by saying that the allegations were not specific and as of now the US was not aware of any such violations. This is quite strange in view of the fact that a report published in the New York Times on August 30 said that the US has accused Pakistan of illegally modifying American-made missiles to expand its capability to strike land targets, which was a potential threat to India. The report further said that the charge was made in an unpublicised diplomatic protest in late June to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other top Pakistani officials. It was also reported that the US had accused Pakistan of modifying American-made P-3C aircraft for land-attack missions which was in violation of US rules on transfer of military hardware.


Regrettably, Gen Musharraf’s disclosure about misuse of American military aid and allegations made that had he not supported the US in the war against terror after 9/11 American forces could have entered Pakistan to capture its nuclear assets or that it could have led to a joint India-US attacked Pakistan, have not made Washington, DC, any wiser. It is still planning to pump in billions of dollars worth of aid into Pakistan in the hope that the latter will respond in a positive manner and use the aid to become a liberal, progressive Islamic state. The truth is that Islamabad sees India as its enemy No 1 and is willing to go to any lengths to mitigate this perceived threat.

 
It is in the best interest of India to put pressure on the Obama Administration to change its Pakistan-policy and stall the proposed $ 7.5 billion civilian aid package and the $ 2 billion security fund to Pakistan that are awaiting the approval of the US Congress.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

EROSION OF A TRADITION

INDIA HAS ALWAYS PRIDED ITSELF ON HAVING A DIFFERENT POLITICAL CULTURE AND OUR LEADERS ONCE LED AUSTERE LIVES. THAT AUSTERITY IS NO MORE TO BE SEEN, BUT MINISTERS ARE STILL EXPECTED TO BE SENSITIVE ABOUT THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC REALITIES OF THE COUNTRY AND NOT FLAUNT THEIR WEALTH

SHAILAJA CHANDRA


The right and the wrong of Ministers staying for extended periods in five-star hotels has been debated threadbare but more on an emotional plane. Here are four arguments why it is inappropriate conduct and what distinguishes a Minister from an average, moneyed man.


First, a Central Minister ranks among the top 100 people in the country, constitutionally and symbolically. Unlike other countries, where there is no adulation expended on leaders, in India, Ministers are treated with awe and deference. But on assuming office a Minister has to set the example he would like others to follow. He also forsakes the right to privacy after office, something which a civil servant or a judge can take for granted.

Accessibility to the public becomes a part of a Minister’s official duty and that is why the Government provides staff support to enable visitors to be received and telephone calls to be returned day or night. Theoretically and practically every telephone call, every visit and every letter is accounted for. Information on where the Minister goes, what he does, whom he meets, automatically falls in the public domain. Even the Minister’s staff car logbooks can be sought under the RTI because for a Minister there is no such thing as a private life. And to pay for cocooning oneself from the world is like paying for a privilege which has been renounced and then bragging about it.


Second point. A politician is expected to be austere and Mr Rahul Gandhi deserves credit for saying so at a time when flamboyance has become the norm. A five-star hotel automatically denotes opulence which can be purchased with money. Official status cannot be purchased with money and has therefore to be valued for its own sake but especially so by anyone fortunate enough to be conferred that special standing. Staying in a five-star hotel and paying for it with personal money signifies a wilful descent from a ministerial status exhibiting preference for a particular lifestyle.


Even if he eats the most spartan food and wears home-spun clothes, a five-star hotel denotes an atmosphere too far removed from the lives of those a Minister represents to go unnoticed. It is called professional decorum — a factor which prevents a Minister driving around in a BMW, gyrating on the dance floor or knocking back cocktails in a public place. It is just not done, howsoever rich and howsoever accustomed to a particular lifestyle he may once have been. If Caesar’s wife has to be above suspicion, a Minister’s life has to be above reproach.

Third, a Minister is expected to be conscious of and extremely disturbed by the inequities that beset his countrymen. He has to respect what the Government is capable of providing and by moving into a hotel he conveys disdain for the courtesies extended. True, nothing will be achieved by blindly accepting whatever is given but in the process there is the question of public perception. The city offers perfectly acceptable options which are easy to garner. The armed forces, the public sector undertakings and the State Raj Bhavans all have extremely well-appointed guesthouses which are both comfortable and secure. True, they are unlikely to have a sauna, a swimming pool or a state-of-the-art gym but when equally important Ministers of the Government are seen taking three rounds of Lodhi Gardens or sweating it out in a nearby health club, it should not become the end of the world for a select few.

In the UK there was a public furore when Ms Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary (Minister), admitted one of her four children into a special needs school at a personal cost of £ 15,000 a year because that child was dyslexic. Three of Ms Kelly’s children were already in state schools and she too was paying for the special school personally. But public perception was against her decision, provoking broadcasters and blogs to go ballistic.

And finally there is the question of political correctness. When Prime Ministers go on an occasional holiday to Manali or the Simla Hills they stay in a Government-appointed guesthouses or the Raj Bhavan. Staying at a private hotel automatically confers legitimacy on the establishment and gives the hotel high visibility and business, in preference over others. And when Ministers choose a particular hotel and live there on an extended basis, unconnected with official duty, it is perceived by competitors as dispensing favours.

 
India has always prided itself on having a different political culture from, say, Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines or Indonesia. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru took pride in a certain austerity, and even today Manmohan Singh and LK Advani, among others, are respected because they are seen to have led principled and simple lives. Of course, these standards have slipped, especially in recent decades. But even so it’s gratifying that India has never been run by someone like a Ferdinand Marcos or a General Suharto. In some ways the choice of Mr Shashi Tharoor and Mr SM Krishna represents an erosion of a tradition that — though often respected in the breach — is something Indians are proud of.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

SLAUGHTER IN CHINA

EXTERMINATION OF DOGS IN TWO CITIES IS SENSELESS CRUELTY

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR


A Government-sponsored slaughter on a mass scale has led to the killing of more than 30,000 dogs in Hanzhong in China. The methods used have been horrendously cruel. Pictures show several fluffy white dogs, being pulled out from makeshift cages, in which they had been trapped, with metal tongues and brutally beaten to death with a stick. They were then thrown into a pit to be burned, though some of them might have been still alive. The International Fund for Animal Welfare, which has been working tirelessly for the cause of animals worldwide, has been trying to prevent a similar massacre which was scheduled to have started by now in Qinhuangdao in China’s Hebei Province, where owners have been ordered to kill their dogs or else the latter will be beaten to death by the police and owners will be fined!

 
Unless it has been aborted in the last couple of day — which is most unlikely to have happened — the mass killing must be already under way. This means that, at the time of writing, dog death squads may well have begun roaming the streets, beating, stoning and killing the dogs right in front of their owners!


The reason for this massive exercise in savagery is reportedly a few cases of rabies death. Clearly, the authorities of both cities pay little heed to the fact that in its report, Technical Report Series 824, the World Health Organisation’s Expert Committee on Rabies, which met in Geneva from September 24 to 30, 1991, stated, “There is no evidence that the removal of dogs has ever had a significant impact on dog population densities or the spread of rabies.” The Technical Report Series 931, emerging from WHO’s Expert Consultation on Rabies, held in Geneva from October 5 to 8, 2004, clearly states, “Since the 1960s, ABC (Animal Birth Control) programmes coupled with rabies vaccination have been advocated as a method to control urban street male and female dog populations.and ultimately human rabies in Asia. The rationale is to reduce the dog population turnover as well as the number of dogs susceptible to rabies and limit aspects of male dog behaviour, (such as dispersal and fighting) that facilitate the spread of rabies.”


China has one of the worst records in the world in cruelty to non-human living beings. In the 1950s, it ordered the killing of all sparrows because they ate up crops. A massive proliferation of insects, that the sparrows used to eat, followed. These now devoured the crops causing a devastating famine. Significantly, China also has an atrocious record in treating political opposition and dissent. The crackdown on intellectuals that followed the ‘hundred flowers’ interlude in the 1950s, when critics were encouraged to speak their minds, is well-known; so is the savagery that characterised the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). The repression in Tibet and the manner in which the demonstrators at Tiananmen Square were mowed down in 1989 haunt people worldwide.


This is hardly surprising. Charles Patterson points out in his path-breaking work, Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, “Once animal exploitation was institutionalised and accepted as part of the natural order of things, it opened the door to similar ways of treating other human beings, thus paving the way for such atrocities as human slavery and the Holocaust”. Patterson further states, “...the enslavement of animals injected a higher level of domination and coercion into human history by creating oppressive hierarchical societies and unleashing large-scale warfare never seen before”.


The truth of Patterson’s observations hardly require elaboration. Not only China, which has a harsh, authoritarian Government — though much less so than earlier — but even democratic countries like India, Canada, the United States and Australia, have not markedly better records in treating animals. The mass slaughter of stray dogs in Bangalore in 2007 remains a national disgrace, as does this country’s treatment of elephants and the slaughter of stray dogs that, that periodically occur in different places, though on a much smaller scale than in Bangalore. The mass slaughter of seals and seal puppies in Canada, and the killing of wolves in Alaska in the US and Kangaroos in Australia, are all testimonies to the aggression that humankind’s treatment of animals has grafted onto its psyche.


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THE PIONEER

                                                        OPED

THE DARK SIDE OF THE KASHMIR VALLEY

INCREASING DRUG ABUSE HAS BEGUN TO CLAIM A HEAVY TOLL AMONG THE YOUTH, WRITES TANVEEN KAWOOSA


Today perhaps there is no part of the world free from the curse of drug addiction and drug trafficking. Closer home, Kashmir is emerging as a fertile ground. Its deceptively tranquil environs are caught in a vicious circle of drug abuse with the number of addicts increasing day by day.

 
The culture of drug abuse is not entirely new to the region. From time immemorial, charas, a local plant used for getting a ‘high’ was popular. Charas is resin from the flowering tops of poppy plants. After a simple treatment, this was smoked generally through clay water pipe called chillum. Sometimes charas was smoked in tobacco cigars or cigarettes. According to old tales, especially in district Islamabad, charas takayas (den of charas addicts) were well entrenched.

 
Hermits and faqirs or wandering minstrels, who remained outside the ambit of formal religious bodies and exercised their ‘freedom’ to find oneness with eternity, also smoked hashish, another addictive substance. The state of illusion it produced was touted as the ‘realised state’ being pursued by its protagonists. They remained alienated from the material world and immersed in this self-defined ‘sacred’ state of existence. According to renowned educationist prof Madhosh, during 1970s and 1980s, at least 42 places were identified in the district Islamabad as a seat of charas takayas.


Charas-smokers were somehow socially acceptable. Their philosophy and way of life remained confined within their groups which were on the periphery of society. Beyond these groups of self-proclaimed religious men, charas smoking did not have many takers in society. This can be gauged from the fact that only a miniscule of the youth population, nearly two to three per cent falling in the age group of 18-30, was substance abusers during that period. Sadly this changed and gradually drug addiction struck its roots almost in every part of Kashmir.

Though not widely prevalent, the insidious practice had found pockets in Kashmiri society way back in the 1960s and 1970s but remained much on the margins of society. Findings by noted psychiatrist of the Valley, Mushtaq Margoob, reveals that isolated cases of drug intake like diazepam were reported in the 1960s and 1970s. Cases of taking 30-40 sleeping pills (meprobamate) per day were reported.


In those days professional colleges in Kashmir attracted several foreign students where the abuse of mandrax, a stimulant, became rampant. In a later sample in 2002, Margoob observed that heroin abuse is the most common (73.61 per cent). With media reports that Jammu border is becoming the main transit point of international heroin smuggling, the nexus between drug-traffickers and drug-users becomes all the more apparent and a matter of grave concern.

 
A comparative study of substance abuse in 1980-88 to 2002 by Margoob reveals a disturbing trend of drug abuse in Kashmir. Now the practice is moving beyond the male bastions and females are now part of the growing drug takers. In 1980s only one female addict in her late 60s in the whole sample was addicted to a small quantity of raw opium. The picture over the decades has changed drastically. In a 2002 sample, women in their late 20s were found addicted to multiple psychoactive substances. At one of the hospitals that was tracked from March 2002 to November 2002, 72 patients with drug abuse-related problem visited the concerned department

One of the females in the sample was from rural background, educated up to primary level. It was found that she used to inject herself five to 10 ampoules pentozocaine almost daily for more than a year. She was also consuming 10 to 20 tablets of dextropropoxyphane, also a psychotropic substance.

 
With most drug users being in the productive age group of 18-35, the loss in terms of human potential is incalculable. The damage to physical, psychological, moral and intellectual growth of the youth is very high.

More recent studies serve to only reiterate this. The research study conducted by renowned educationist prof Madhosh in 2005 revealed the involvement of 25 to 30 per cent of male population in drug abuse. The report ‘Prevention of drug abuse among youth’, presented by senior SSP Anantnagh, on July 8, 2006 indicated 45 per cent involvement of male youth population.

 
“Addiction occurs here primarily in response to trauma, unemployment or the chronic lack of medical care,” says prof Madhosh.

 

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THE PIONEER

                                                        OPED

ISLAMABAD’S GREED AS OFFICIAL POLICY

SUCCESSIVE REGIMES HAVE SCHEMED AND PLOTTED THE MERGER OF NORTHERN AREAS

B RAMAN

 

Between 1949 and 1974, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was governed directly from Islamabad through Punjabi and Pashtun officers deputed from the federal Government services. In 1974, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto gave it a facade of an autonomous governing set-up through an Interim Constitution. He called it an ‘Interim Constitution’ because he contended that the Kashmiris would be given a final constitution after a plebiscite had been held under the UN auspices. Even now, it is ruled under this so-called Interim Constitution.

 
This Interim Constitution provided for a President of PoK as the head of state, a Prime Minister as the head of the Government and a Legislative Assembly, consisting of 40 directly elected and eight indirectly elected members. It also allowed PoK to have its own national flag and to issue its own passports to its residents. The PoK flag and passports were different from those of Pakistan. However, the PoK passports were not recognised by foreign countries. The inhabitants of the territory, therefore, travelled with Pakistani passports. The Interim Constitution also provided for a PoK National Anthem, an Election Commission, an Auditor-General, a Supreme Court, a High Court and subordinate courts.

 
The exercise of powers by this ostensibly autonomous set-up is strictly limited by the following provisions:

  Only candidates, who sign a declaration that Kashmir is a part of Pakistan, can contest the elections to the Legislative Assembly.

  Under Article 32 of the Interim Constitution, the Legislative Assembly cannot make any laws relating to the defence and security of the territory, currency, external affairs and trade.

  All important decisions of the PoK Government, including appointments of judges and senior officials, are subject to approval by a body called the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council, whose Secretariat is based in Islamabad and functions under a Minister of the central Government designated as the Federal Minister of State for Kashmir and Northern Areas (of Pakistan) Affairs. The Council is presided over by the Prime Minister of Pakistan and consists of five Federal Ministers nominated by the Prime Minister, the Federal Minister of State for Kashmir and Northern Areas (of Pakistan) Affairs, who is an ex-officio member, the President of PoK and the Prime Minister of PoK, or in his absence, one of his Ministers. This Council was not given any jurisdiction over the NA.

 
Even this facade of a separate set-up was denied to NA, which was incorporated into Pakistan as a centrally administered tribal area like the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas near the Afghan border. Like FATA, NA was also governed under what was called the Frontier Crime Regulations framed by the British during the colonial days for dealing with what they looked upon as the criminal tribes of the areas bordering Afghanistan. The people of the NA were not given passports and were not allowed to travel or migrate abroad. Every resident had to report to the local police station once a month and all movements from one village to another had to be reported to the police station. Collective fines were imposed on entire villages for crimes or violations of law and order committed by individual inhabitants of the villages.

 
Till Octobrer 1994, the people of NA had no right of adult franchise. The territory had no elected Assembly or even municipal councils and no representation in the National Assembly. Political parties were banned. In 1994, the Benazir Bhutto Government allowed political parties of Pakistan, but not of PoK, to extend their activities to NA and set up branches there. The PPP, the Pakistan Muslim League, the Muttahida Qaumi Party of Altaf Hussain, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Tehrik-e-Jaffria Pakistan, a Shia party, opened branches in NA. The ISI encouraged the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a Sunni extremist party which has been campaigning for the

declaration of the Shias as anti-Muslim, to expand its activities in NA to counter the activities of the TJP.

In October 1994, party-based elections to a 26-member council called the NA Executive Council were held. It was announced on March 31, 1995, that its members would have the same status, emoluments and privileges as the members of the NWFP Legislative Assembly, thereby giving it a facade of a provincial Legislative Assembly, but, in reality, the Executive Council was given only recommendatory powers and not legislative powers. Five of its members were designated as Advisers to the Federal Minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas (of Pakistan) Affairs, Mohammad Afzal Khan. He told the National Assembly on March 26, 1996, that the Advisers would have the same status and powers as the Ministers of the PoK Government. Even PoK Ministers have very limited powers, but even those limited powers were not given to the NA Advisers. The Minister’s statement was just an eye-wash.

 
NA continued to be ruled directly from Islamabad by the Minister of State For Kashmir and Northern Areas (of Pakistan) Affairs, with the help of six officers — all non-natives — deputed from outside. These officers were the chief executive officer, the commissioner, the deputy commissioner, the inspector-general of police, the judicial commissioner and the chief engineer, public works. While the posts of the CEO and Chief Engineer were generally filled by serving or retired Army officers, other posts were filled by officers taken on deputation from Punjab or NWFP. There was no right of appeal against the judgements of the judicial commissioner. The Pakistan Supreme Court had no jurisdiction over him.


These so-called political and administrative reforms introduced by the Benazir Bhutto Government failed to satisfy the locals and to reverse the process of alienation of the people, which had started in 1971.

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

(To be continued.)

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

TURNING ROUND NOW

 

A year has gone by since the fall of Lehman Brothers. This may be the time to recall the forecasts post-September 2008 about the global crisis biting harder in 2009. While the still-fragile world economy seems a good way away from a definitive turnaround, it's a relief that things aren't as dire as predicted. US authorities feel America's recession may be ending, though its economy will be feeble for some time. The IMF sniffs a global recovery, with Asia in the lead and the US and Western Europe showing signs of being on the mend. China, which claims its economy is on the upswing, has had good news in the form of expanded investment, industrial output and credit.

 
In India, there's been reason for cheer as well. That August's excise tax mop-up was up 22.5 per cent has reassuring implications for manufacturing, more so when taken together with recent index of industrial production figures. Factory output grew 8.2 per cent in June and 6.8 per cent in July. There's been an uptrend in manufacturing, including of consumer durables. Auto, cement and steel have been doing well. More recently, healthy second quarter advance corporate tax collections have not only boosted market confidence but also a debt-burdened government's coffers. In addition, there are indications that India Inc is back in hiring mode.

India may pat its back for having weathered the global crisis well despite not being decoupled from it. The evidence is to be found in better-than-expected growth in 2008-09 and this fiscal's first quarter. What's helped is a financial sector relatively insulated from the mayhem in recession-hit countries, thanks to its relative lack of exposure to complex financial instruments that did many a financial giant in. At the same time, well-coordinated fiscal and monetary measures helped keep the economy afloat.

 
It is, however, too early to think about rolling back incentives meant to boost economic activity, be it fiscal concessions or lowered interest rates. The RBI has done well to resolve to stick with eased monetary policy for now. Since the picture is yet unclear about the capricious monsoon's impact, the pick-up in industry needs support. In India or elsewhere, monetary and fiscal stimuli must be wound down carefully. If done too early, it may impact the pace of recovery; if too late, it may put inflationary pressure on convalescing economies. For now, policymakers should focus on nurturing green shoots towards a full-fledged recovery.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

WE CAN WORK IT OUT

 

Recent reports in the Indian media make it appear that India and China are on the brink of confrontation over the issue of Chinese incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Officials from the foreign ministries of both countries have denied any heightened activity along the contested border but the media din refuses to die down.

China's foreign ministry, in response to a questionnaire forwarded by this paper, has said that the relationship between the two countries is stable and that "the mutual trust is growing". It goes on to say that the time is now actually favourable for resolving the border dispute once and for all. These positive sentiments find resonance in South Block with external affairs minister S M Krishna saying that the border with China is "peaceful". It's welcome that Beijing has indicated its inclination towards settling the decades-old territorial row. Now, New Delhi must take this further. India and China both have great ambitions to grow rapidly and it does not serve either well to be constantly distracted by a prickly situation, which could be solved with some give and take from both sides. The various points of tension between the two countries eventually centre on the border issue. It therefore makes sense to focus energies on unravelling this knot instead of frittering them away in a game of diplomatic one-upmanship.

 
As of now, there is no agreement on the boundary between the two countries. It's time now to settle the issue in keeping with the guiding principles the countries agreed upon in 2005. Of course, that's easier said than done, but cynicism is not the currency we need to circulate now. One of the main points of the 2005 agreement was to leave settled populations along the LAC undisturbed while working out a solution. If the two countries honour this commitment, it should take care of India's concerns about Arunachal Pradesh. India too must revisit its position and be more flexible in accommodating China's concerns if Beijing is willing to make reciprocal concessions.

To this end, the Indian government must take the opposition into confidence and revisit the parliamentary declaration of 1962, which stated that India would recover every inch of land ceded to the Chinese during the war. This futile exercise has led us nowhere so far, and it's best now to turn the page. The media could help this process of reconciliation - which is bound to be tricky and long-drawn - by toning down hawkish rhetoric and pushing a more pragmatic agenda. Let's not drive the core issue out of focus.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

A STRANGE MEETING

 

A village in district Barabanki is a microcosm of the struggle between the Barelvi Sunnis and those with Wahhabi inclinations. The town's population is largely Sunni with a Shia minority. Before partition, the rulers of the estate were Shia and were a collateral branch of the Mahmudabad family. Mahmudabad's Muharram processions are famous all over India and in some parts of the world. When processions were banned in Lucknow, people flocked to Mahmudabad. Bilehra always had smaller processions but the thing that stood out was that most of the crowds were Sunni Muslims.


With the arrival of funds from some Middle East countries as well as returning migrant workers, some of whom had spent years away from home and were influenced by their surroundings, Bilehra gradually saw the rise of Wahhabism. The crowds in Muharram diminished and the number of people who attended prayers at the Barelvi mosque also fell. According to one young man, for a number of years the people who subscribed to the Barelvi school of thought would outwardly show loyalty to the Wahhabis.

 
The Wahhabis - with their puritanical behaviour and insistence that some Sunnis and all Shias are essentially infidels - have polarised Muslim societies worldwide. Their literalist interpretation of the Quran is reductionist and does not allow scope for debate, analysis or a contextual, historical and consequently nuanced understanding. They strictly forbid music, religious or spiritual, and veneration of holy men amongst many other things.

 
A number of urs, gatherings around the tomb of a Sufi pir where music is performed and poetry is read aloud in remembrance of the Prophet, his family and the pir, are held in and around Bilehra. People who attended these functions are now subject to the taunts of students at the Wahhabi mosques. During Muharram, people would be afraid of going to processions or keeping a tazia, a paper replica of the shrine of Imam Hussain in Iraq, in their houses since these acts would also mark them out for heckling and jeering. The less powerful Barelvis could not match the money or resources thrown at them. But it is not power or money that has shaken or caught by surprise the Wahhabis.


Earlier this year an individual ignored and labelled a madman who roamed the streets of Bilehra became the crucial factor in the resurgence of the Barelvis. Mastaan Baba was homeless. People remember him wandering around, sleeping under trees, eating what little he was given and never trying to gather any worldly possessions. About six months ago, he was asleep as usual underneath a mango tree in the fields adjoining the Kerbala, where the tazias are brought after the processions and buried. A little girl came and lay down next to him and when he noticed her he got upset, pushed her and asked her to go away. Apparently, when she got up, her back had straightened and she was no longer a hunchback

.
People flocked from villages all around to see the girl and to see this man. He continued to wear what he had always worn, a dirty white kurta, a black lungi or cotton towel wrapped around his legs like a sarong. He carried a little satchel tucked under his arms. The little brick room in which he sometimes slept has now become a beehive of activity. People have set up shops around the room, a power cable that was meant to be laid a long time ago is now finally in place and there is a constant throng around him.

 
Politicians, IAS officers and many other officials have all come to him in different capacities. Since that night he hit the girl, there have been more stories about his powers and how he has changed people's lives. Hindus and Muslims both are seen around him. This article is not about whether following him is permissible in Islam. It seems that people are desperate to seek out men who have not been 'corrupted' by the material world. The rise of Mastaan Baba in Bilehra has had an inadvertent effect on Bilehra's Muslims.

 
People who had gone over to the Wahhabi mosque and others who had hidden their true sympathies with the Barelvis have started to drift back. Whereas the Barelvi mosque used to be nearly empty with about 30 people, recent Eid prayers saw close to 300 people in attendance. Wahhabis in Bilehra who openly condemned anything involving the veneration of living or dead men as innovations in Islam, have found themselves drawn to a quiet, wandering man. A few refuse to acknowledge Mastaan Baba but, according to people who live there, their wives and daughters regularly and secretly go to visit him!


It seems there are now a couple of more people in Bilehra who claim to be Mastaan Baba. Regardless of whether this man is genuine or not, it seems he has managed to single-handedly and unintentionally stall the rise of Wahhabism, in and around Bilehra.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

GOOD CANDIDATE FOR GI STATUS

 

After Darjeeling tea, champagne and Florida oranges it's the turn of Tirupati laddus to get a geographical indications (GI) patent. The term GI, which comes from the World Trade Organisation's rules on intellectual property rights, is defined as a marker that identifies a good as originating in a particular region or locality. The product's geographical location is seen to contribute to its quality and reputation. In India, GI is governed by a national legislation.

 
The Tirupati laddu is an apposite candidate for GI status. It is identified with a particular place and is made from ingredients put together in a specific manner. A Tirupati laddu is not any old laddu made by the local halwai. It is a brand that has global recognition and people are willing to pay a premium for that, much like Darjeeling tea or Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.

 
Indeed, that is the rationale behind GI. It is meant to promote and brand items that are inextricably identified with a particular area. Moreover, it is meant to discourage products that want to masquerade as the real McCoy. There's no reason why laddus made by confectioners elsewhere should capitalise on the famous Tirupati brand name.

GI is also essential for combating attempts to patent items like basmati or products such as neem or turmeric that have medicinal qualities. Over the past few years, this issue has become contentious with patents being filed in the US for several such traditional Indian items. One of the reasons behind the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act in India was to ward off such attempts of bio-piracy. The Indian government challenged the patent on basmati by an American company on the grounds that it is grown in a particular region of north India.

 
GI for Tirupati laddus is somewhat different from other items that have got similar status since it is normally associated with a temple and not an entire region. But that should not be a bar to GI status. Indeed, its several million consumers would vouch for the uniqueness of Tirupati laddus. The GI status merely confirms that.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

A LADDU IS A LADDU IS A LADDU

 

What's so special about the Tirupati laddu? According to a temple official, these laddus are not produced anywhere in the world and are unique in terms of quality, reputation and other characteristics which go into its making. But these are not convincing reasons to claim that the Tirupati laddu is an exceptional item like the Darjeeling tea or Goan feni to have geographical indications (GI) patent rights. Place names are pre-fixed to these commodities and special status claimed for them because geography influences their quality. The climate and soil of Darjeeling are prime reasons why Darjeeling tea is special. Ditto for Goan feni. Tea from Nilgiris can't be anything but Nilgiris tea because the conditions under which it is produced are different from that of the Darjeeling variety.

 
The laddu marketed by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam has nothing to do with Tirupati's geography. This case is unlike that of Doon basmati or Darjeeling tea. So, issues of bio-piracy are irrelevant in the Tirupati laddu's case. The devasthanam can at the most claim that its recipe is unique. Laddu did not originate in Tirupati. Like most food articles, the laddu also has a hoary origin. And, like most food items, it's part of the commons. Many cooks have worked on the laddu, modified it to their tastes and called it different names. No one has so far claimed exclusive rights over any of these laddus.

 
So, what is that makes the Tirupati laddu special? Clearly, it is not because the laddu is made in the town of Tirupati. It is not even because the recipe is special. Tirupati laddu is popular because Tirupati Balaji is popular. The laddu is served as the prasadam of the lord beloved to his millions of devotees. If tomorrow the temple serves idli instead of laddu as prasadam, as many people who queue for the laddu today are likely to do so to buy the idli. The brand is not really the laddu but Lord Venkateswara; the mass of flour, ghee and sugar is merely riding his fame. Let's not miss the woods for the trees.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

SUBVERSE

IT'S THE AUSTERITY, STUPID!

BACHI KARKARIA 

 

It was said that aspirants to the White House were terminally precarious because Americans expected from their Presidents the kind of perfection which English women only dared to hope for in their butlers. An Indian version has just surfaced: 'We expect not to see in our politicians the kind of ostentation we insist on for ourselves.'

 

Ever since Pranab-babu rapped the minister for external affairs and his younger, suaver MOS for their five-spa residential arrangements, the austerity debate has raged in Delhi salons and TV newshours, both of which seem to suffer from the same guest list. 

 

Despite the sniffy dismissal of 'conspicuous tokenism', I think the insistence on ministers flying Economy is going to make a huge difference. Not to the drought, but to us, the rightful and choiceless occupants of those seats.

 

Flying was sick enough without politicians muscling in and crowding the general wards. We were afflicted by congestion of the air passages, chronic and declared incurable. Then, all last week, we reeled under an acute attack of  Jet pilot deficiency. And, last Monday, there was Madam herself in bed 10A, making the nursers and pursers so nervous that they spilled everybody else's lime juice. 

 

When Sonia-ji put her money where her mantra was, and flew in J for janata class from Delhi to Mumbai, she caused exactly the kind of turbulence expected when a VIP hits an Air-India pocket. Knocking off the spectacles of their co-passengers, and crushing their toes, people jumped up to capture the historic occasion on their cell cameras.

 

Of course, even on the most routine flights, no one ever obeys the safety announcement to 'please remain seated till the fasten seat belts sign is switched off and refrain from using your  mobile phones till you have disembarked'. So, when we find the otherwise remote powerati amidst us, how can anyone waste the opportunity?
 
Sharad Pawar's reason for flying Business  was as valid as Shashi Tharoor's for staying five star. Both cited the vital privacy which neither cattle class nor Kerala Bhavan can be expected to offer. Yes, please keep them ensconced in their privileged spaces so that the rest of us  are not deprived of our  paneer tikka simply because the cabin crew can't get their trolley past all those passengers jamming the aisle waiting to supplicate Shri Mantri.

 

Horror! Will airline menus also start catering to  this new segment of austerity-driven passengers? Drought-grade meals will do this lot no harm, but why should the rest of us be inflicted with parched grains instead of the aromatic basmati, and butter-steeped pav bhaji giving way to sprouted pulses. 'They representing the green shoots of recovery', the air hostess will sweetly say.

 

Messrs Goyal, Mallya and even Praful Patel are sly enough to seize this high command-sent opportunity to tone up their south-bound bottom-lines. Just like the other corporates who used the downturn to downgrade salaries and sack many more employees than 'financial rectitude' really required.

 

It'll get worse. Since austerity doesn't cancel out security, mantriji will get  an airlines bus all to himself,  while we swelter on the terminal steps. (I've seen Uddhav Thackeray get this privilege, even though the only public office he holds is in his own baap-ka-party.)

 

And a time may well come when the dulcet tones will waft through the terminal building, saying, "ABC Airlines regrets to inform that only those holding Business Class tickets  may board  Flight XYZ. The entire Economy section has been sanitized for the VIP travelling in it. Jettisoned passengers are requested to wait indefinitely for a further announcement. The inconvenience caused is deeply repeated.'

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

POWER STRUGGLE

LIGHTS OUT

 

In our country, there is a huge gap between the ever-increasing demand for electric power and its generation and supply. This gap is widening. That, combined with large scale power theft and major transmission losses unheard of in most other countries, a poor maintenance regime, inefficiency, widespread corruption and a chalta hai attitude, results in perennial outages and cuts in almost every part of the country. Chronic power shortage has a crippling effect on almost everything from industrial output, agricultural production, railways, hospitals, businesses, offices and homes. Nothing remains unaffected and it paralyses all productive activity partially or fully throughout the year, each year.

 
Summer months in north India truly highlight this acute shortage. With indoor temperatures reaching new highs, from April to September life without electricity becomes miserable. You sweat hopelessly all the time, feeling uncomfortable and exhausted even without doing any physical work. How can anyone expect optimum performance and output from any individual in such adverse working conditions? No wonder the per capita output in our country remains abysmally low as compared to other, cooler countries. The absence of monsoon rains, abnormally high humidity and temperature make it all the more uncomfortable. Homes and offices are turned into torture chambers. Ordinary inverters cannot cope with such frequent and prolonged cuts and fail frequently. One needs to keep candles handy as a standby along with a back-up inverter. Power trips without any notice all the time. A call to the helpline always brings the standard response: ''It is a cut, Sir'', said so gleefully as if it is an offer for a cut in some underhand deal which one must not refuse. I sit near a candle writing this sad story, sweating profusely, and cannot help but wonder how India can ever shine with such a gloomy power situation and then emerge as the next superpower. Does a nation that cannot provide 24-hour uninterrupted power supply and fresh drinking water to its entire population, really deserve to even aspire to be a superpower? It is sad that our political parties remain preoccupied with their own power struggles, rhetoric and empty slogans, while the common man struggles to survive a life without electricity and water.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT’S A PHONEY SITUATION

 

Calls drop because of clogged telephone networks. No other reason. Blame the government for the traffic jam in the sky — there is not enough radio frequency going for the dozen-odd telecom companies offering cellphone services in India. And blame the companies for the last mile gridlock — they have not put up enough cell towers and gear to carry the voice and data of their burgeoning list of subscribers. India’s telecommunications have exploded since they were opened up to private players in the 1990s, but inadequate resources and regulation threaten to stunt the growth of an industry that is barely in its teens. Telecommunications form the backbone of the service economy in much the same way highways work for industry. A country in the midst of a services revolution cannot afford an anaemic telecom network.

 

The way we went about parcelling out radio frequency for mobile telephony contains within it the seeds of the industry’s present problems. Instead of auctioning spectrum to the highest bidder, India opted for licences. The players initially on the scene, like Bharti and Essar, had little to begin with — they started with a fifth of the spectrum their counterparts in the West had. And as the number of operators rose, the airwaves shrank. The frenzy among telecom companies, which added 14.4 million new users in July, is fed by a policy of allocating more radio frequency as an operator’s customer list swells. The ensuing price war — call rates in India are among the lowest in the world — is taking its toll.

 

Networks, too, have not kept pace with the galloping subscriber base. The towers and gear needed to carry traffic from the 445 million cellphones in the country are, by some estimates, blanking out one in five calls. Not enough of the $21 billion Indian telecom companies spent in 2008 is going towards building grid capacity. A big chunk of future investments will go into buying radio frequencies for high-speed voice and data networks that are coming up for auction later this year. A Rs 5,000-crore bid for spectrum needed for nationwide “third-generation” services could set a mid-sized telecom company back by as much as 20 per cent of its market capitalisation. The costs of acquiring new subscribers and radio waves are wracking the service quality on offer. It’s time the Indian telecom industry realised there are only so many dropped calls before the customer switches off.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

TO BATHE OR NOT TO..

.

It is the worst thing we can think of ever since the hapless protagonist of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho found herself confronted by a deranged Norman Bates — clutching a knife and dressed up like mummy — while in the shower. Now, if researchers from Colorado University are to be believed, the next time you step into the shower for that invigorating spray of water, what you will get instead is a stream of dangerous pathogens.

 

Showerheads are, we gather, the breeding ground for such lethal organisms. And with that we can truly throw the baby, bathtub, shower and sponge out of the window. Given the choice between living to a ripe old age and smelling ripe, most of us would plumb for the former. Avoiding showers could change interpersonal relations as we know it. “Not tonight darling, I’m not feeling too smell,” could be something we might hear in future. Those with a pathological aversion to hygiene will, however, rejoice at this finding. In fact, they will take to being unwashed not quite as ducks to water. This could lead to some ingenious solutions. Perhaps we are looking at the day when we can dry clean ourselves. Already we have been told that a long soak in the tub only results in our own germs re-entering our bodies like the Voyager coming back home. And now a shower could see you throw in the towel.

 

So perhaps we should stick to the trusty bucket bath. But, rest assured that some shyster researcher will find a colony of bacteria lodged in them. In which case, let us deodorise ourselves, oops sorry, that would add to the CFC content in the atmosphere. Well, we’ll just have to keep our noses to the grindstone, bath or no bath. And that’s nothing for you to sniff at. That’s just the odour of things to come.

 

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 HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

PROMISED LAND

SAMRAT

 

There’s a truth about Kashmir most of India either doesn’t know or doesn’t acknowledge: that a large number of ordinary Kashmiris want independence, not India or Pakistan.

 

I went to Kashmir for the first time a month ago. In my head, I had the standard version of Kashmir, constructed from years of reading and watching news reports and the odd Bollywood movie. It was a beautiful place, with snow-capped mountains around, and green valley, and quaint houses. There were shikaras on the Dal Lake and, sadly, lots of soldiers. Evil terrorists from Pakistan lurked around waiting for a chance to blow something up. The local people, good, gentle folks, were caught in the crossfire.

 

That was what I thought.

 

My tryst with a different reality began the moment I emerged from the aircraft in Srinagar. It was sweltering hot, close to 35 degrees Celsius. But this is Srinagar, I told myself in surprise, and looked around for any sight of snow-capped mountains. There was not even a hill in sight.

 

The road back from the airport was lined with swank new bungalows that my very knowledgeable driver said were worth over Rs 1 crore each. There is no property to be had in Srinagar for less than Rs 25 lakh, he said. He was apparently right. Other people later confirmed this.

 

The city itself was bustling. Traffic moved slowly at many places, pedestrians rushed along the pavements of Lal Chowk, while shopkeepers did brisk business. I had only heard of Lal Chowk as a site for militant attacks. It seemed strange to find that many shops here stayed open till past 9 p.m. In North-east India, at least two state capitals — Imphal and Kohima — pretty much shut by six.

 

Srinagar looked like a normal town. There were football games between neighbourhoods at the local stadium, couples sat demurely in corners in restaurants and coffee shops, students streamed out from schools. The security presence was strangely heavy around government buildings, but otherwise no more visible than in Delhi.

 

I met Jaan at a coffee shop. He wore jeans and tees, a full Islamic beard, and a big smile. His friend, who I knew, had called him there. I was looking to interview young people in Srinagar who dated regularly. Jaan, a 27-year-old restaurant supervisor, was apparently one of those. “He has a beard, but he also has a girlfriend”, his friend joked.

 

We spoke about romance in Srinagar, though he was shy. Things were no different than in Delhi, he said. Yes, people dated, but discreetly. The conversation meandered, as it always does in Kashmir, into what they call the ‘Kashmir masla’ — the issue.

 

“Keep us this side or that side, how does it matter, we just want to get on with our lives,” said Wasim, a builder. No one responded to this. Sometime later, Jaan got up to go. He shook my hand warmly, smiled, and said, “I hope next time you come here, it is with a visa.”

 

 

For the rest of my four-day stay, I meet several young men, completely regular guys in every way, who do not believe Kashmir to be part of India.

 

There’s another truth about Kashmir a lot of Kashmiris and Pakistanis don’t acknowledge: that India is not going to simply walk away, and cannot be forced out by a few random acts of terrorist violence. If that had to happen, it would have happened by now.

 

In a room in Delhi’s South Block, whose door locked with a click and opened when the Army officer sitting across from me pressed a button, I heard this side of the story. It was told expertly in geographical and military terms, aided by maps and a PowerPoint presentation that bristled with abbreviations: LoC, LAC, AGPL, PoK…LAC is the Line of Actual Control, the 4,057 km-long effective (and disputed) border with China. AGPL is the Actual Ground Position Line, a 150-km stretch along the Siachen glacier where India and Pakistan haven’t agreed on where to draw the line.

 

They — Pakistan and the militants backed by them — had expected that ‘soft State’ India would take a beating in Kashmir and run, the soldier said. “By now, they know it will never happen.” The Indian-State had proved its hardness in Kashmir.

 

He showed me neat charts of casualties: civilian, security forces and terrorist deaths in separate columns. The numbers had fallen in the past two years, though there has been a spurt in violence in recent weeks. Terrorism has been eradicated from the cities, he said. There are a few terrorists in remote jungles and mountains. The official estimate is 600 to 800 of them, mostly Kashmiris rather than foreigners.

 

Some of the militant groups were facing a fund crunch, he added. They had also been badly mauled by loss of cadres.

 

He didn’t say so, but India can take the losses. The brutal fact is the country has a big enough population, and enough money. It will take the body bags for as long as needed, and stay put. It can’t be forced out by guns and bombs or chased away by stone-pelting mobs.

 

Anyone who’s ever bargained over anything, whether it’s a trouser or an auto fare, will know that there is no deal if both parties stick unbending to their stands. A deal can happen only when one side agrees to give more, and the other agrees to take less.

 

The future of Kashmir rests on this.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

THE BUCK STOPS HERE?

RAJESH MAHAPATRA

 

This is not the first time that a government has gone on an austerity drive. The first call for austerity dates back to the time India went to war with Pakistan in 1965 and suffered a devastating drought the following year.

 

Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri called upon people to “miss a meal” and urged them to cut guest lists at wedding parties so that the country could tide over a food shortage. Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ (banish poverty) campaign was perhaps one of the most successful acts of symbolism that nudged politicians to avoid conspicuous consumption.

 

When P.V. Narasimha Rao was prime minister in the early 1990s, he appointed an austerity panel under Orissa Chief Minister Biju Patnaik. Patnaik recommended a slew of measures

 

— from downsizing government to freezing salaries of officials — in what could be described as the first comprehensive attempt to cut wasteful expenditure.

 

Each time fuel prices shot through the roof, we have heard of government orders asking officials and ministers to go short on travel — although there is no empirical evidence if those orders ever worked.

 

That said, never before has a call for austerity from the ruling coalition generated as much drama and hype as we are seeing today. Rahul Gandhi’s travel in the Shatabdi Express from Ludhiana to Delhi was a nightmare for security officials and may have actually cost the government much more than the Rs 10,000 saved by the economy class rail journey.

 

A visible flaw in the campaign is that ministers and officials are being encouraged to fly economy class, while a previous government order requires them to travel by only Air India that is often more expensive than other airlines.

 

But nothing undermines the campaign more than the Cabinet’s decision last week to increase the dearness allowance (DA) by 5 per cent. The

 

hike would cost the exchequer Rs 2,300 crore in a full year — nearly 10 times the money the government would save annually through a 10 per cent cut in travel expenses of ministers and bureaucrats.

 

In a broader context, the scenario is not very different. The government has done little to keep its non-plan spending under check — namely salaries and subsidies that have ballooned in recent years and taken the fiscal deficit to an alarming level. The money saved through the ‘austerity drive’ may at most add to some hundreds of crores — a flash in the pan given a fiscal deficit of about Rs 4 lakh crore.

 

So what is all this ‘austerity’ brouhaha now about? The only major elections that are round the corner are in Haryana and Maharashtra, where voters care little about what their politicians wear, eat or do with their money.

 

One theory has it that the ‘austerity campaign’ has snowballed from an action that was intended to nix the embarrassment caused by news reports on how some ministers opted to stay in five-star hotels because the government had not been able to allot them houses in Lutyens’ Delhi. This is too naïve a view to take seriously.

 

That leaves us with one other conclusion: that there is no method to this madness.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PRICE, RUPEE, RATES

 

Everything that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the conference of DGs and IGs of police on Tuesday points to the impression that UPA-II has grasped the need to fill the lacunae in UPA-I’s handling of internal security, particularly its studied reluctance to improve and enhance our security forces’ strength and performance. This difference has also been evident in the functional and rhetorical contrast between the current home minister and his predecessor. One cannot overstate the need to equip, train and accommodate police and paramilitaries adequately. With several states ravaged by the Maoists, as well as the persistent terror threat that India faces, police reform cannot wait. The Union and state governments must hereon display the political will to realise police reform, ensuring the advent of “new age” police personnel whose professional and motivational standards, as well as training, equipment and empowerment match the challenges they face.

 

Last month’s chief ministers’ conference on internal security asserted the need for overhauling intelligence gathering; and the PM has just emphasised the need for capacity-building from the police station upwards. Indeed, grassroots policing (typified by the beat constable) is the beginning of intelligence gathering. That could pre-empt many disruptive acts. Increasing the number and personnel strength of police stations, raising the currently dismal police-population ratio, as well as procuring state-of-the-art arms and forensic technology are imperative. All of this, coupled with a networked national criminal database, would better check regular crime and multiply police firepower against insurgents. Andhra Pradesh has already showed how carefully-gathered local intelligence and a dedicated crack force can curb Naxalite reach.

 

As the deaths of 30 securitymen in Chhattisgarh in July or the Nalco siege in Orissa in April demonstrated, India has been failing its paramilitary and police consistently. Nalco exposed their subhuman living and working conditions. Insurgency and terrorism cannot be battled on the cheap. For the sake of civilian security, India must upgrade its police forces many times over. It should begin by enhancing their battle-hardiness and operational safety.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THICK RED LINES

 

Everything that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the conference of DGs and IGs of police on Tuesday points to the impression that UPA-II has grasped the need to fill the lacunae in UPA-I’s handling of internal security, particularly its studied reluctance to improve and enhance our security forces’ strength and performance. This difference has also been evident in the functional and rhetorical contrast between the current home minister and his predecessor. One cannot overstate the need to equip, train and accommodate police and paramilitaries adequately. With several states ravaged by the Maoists, as well as the persistent terror threat that India faces, police reform cannot wait. The Union and state governments must hereon display the political will to realise police reform, ensuring the advent of “new age” police personnel whose professional and motivational standards, as well as training, equipment and empowerment match the challenges they face.

 

Last month’s chief ministers’ conference on internal security asserted the need for overhauling intelligence gathering; and the PM has just emphasised the need for capacity-building from the police station upwards. Indeed, grassroots policing (typified by the beat constable) is the beginning of intelligence gathering. That could pre-empt many disruptive acts. Increasing the number and personnel strength of police stations, raising the currently dismal police-population ratio, as well as procuring state-of-the-art arms and forensic technology are imperative. All of this, coupled with a networked national criminal database, would better check regular crime and multiply police firepower against insurgents. Andhra Pradesh has already showed how carefully-gathered local intelligence and a dedicated crack force can curb Naxalite reach.

 

As the deaths of 30 securitymen in Chhattisgarh in July or the Nalco siege in Orissa in April demonstrated, India has been failing its paramilitary and police consistently. Nalco exposed their subhuman living and working conditions. Insurgency and terrorism cannot be battled on the cheap. For the sake of civilian security, India must upgrade its police forces many times over. It should begin by enhancing their battle-hardiness and operational safety.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SURVEYORS OF INDIA

 

News that the appointment of heads for major research and outreach institutions in the humanities and social sciences has been stalled is sadly unsurprising. The delay comes after the prime minister — who currently handles the culture ministry — asked in January that for institutions of national stature, such as the National Library in Kolkata or the National Museum in Delhi, directors be found who did not have to satisfy the endless red-tapism that marks the UPSC “qualification-based” method. Instead, a modern search committee, looking for those of rare achievement and ability regardless of age of background, should be used.

 

Of course, this has run into objections — from the hide-bound department of personnel, among others. Not going the UPSC route would mean, after all, that a couple of such institutions might not wind up headed by bureaucrats or by “academics” primarily known for successfully negotiating political connections.

 

But the PM and the culture ministry must persevere. We need to be creative as to where we get our cultural administrators — and we need to look for vision, not just administrative experience. Consider America’s National Endowment for the Arts: great things are expected of its new head, the Broadway producer responsible for The Producers. (He took over from a corporate executive-turned-poet.) Britain is as rich as India in underemployed bureaucrats; nevertheless, their National Archives are headed by a former McKinsey consultant. In both countries, as across Europe, national museums, galleries, archives, and state research institutions are run by museologists and art historians; India has dozens who are as distinguished, affiliated to no party, working both here and abroad. All that keeps us from bringing in new blood is bureaucratic resistance and political spinelessness. Five big spots are empty: this is a big chance to make a difference.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

PEOPLE UNLIKE US

SEEMA CHISHTI

 

Marie Antoinette’s exhortation to hungry French peasants to “eat cake” as there was no bread is too trite to be brought up again. But it is a tempting cliché, as urging people to eat cake caused the monarchical cookie to crumble and was, in part, responsible for ushering in the Revolution. The Palace of Versailles outside Paris is still a shining example of how rulers should not live. And certainly not elected ones.

 

It is perhaps an indicator of how far removed our leaders in India today are from the aam citizen that Austerity is threatening to become a bit of a farce. A historical recap should put the current debate in a better perspective.

 

Several people still wonder why a well-dressed Bar-at-Law like Mahatma Gandhi shed his western togs for a loincloth and acquired an obsession with khadi? In fact Shashi Tharoor, in his excellent book Nehru, The Invention of India, displays a very lucid understanding of the Mahatma’s magic when he writes of how, “to put his principles into practice, the Mahatma lived a simple life of near-absolute poverty in an ashram and travelled across the land in third-class railway compartments, campaigning against untouchability, poorer sanitation and child marriage... that he was an eccentric seemed beyond doubt; that he had touched a chord amongst the masses was equally apparent; that he was a potent political force, soon became clear.”

 

Being seen to be someone who lives by what he preached, even behind closed doors, is what established how trustworthy any leader was. Later, it became a uniform, indeed the de rigueur white kurta-pyjama grew to be a symbol of much-detested neta-dom in unsympathetic movies. As Rajmohan Gandhi also writes in his portrait of his grandfather, Gandhi’s choice of simple, self-woven khadi at a time when the ruling class was seen to be an alien elite was a master-stroke — it evoked a sense of camaraderie with poor Indians (an overwhelming majority then) and brought him closer to the image of Indian icons “like Kabir and even popular weaver-poets like Thiruvalluvar”.

 

Nehru too, though imbued with much more of the “sahib” image than Gandhi, was clear on the importance of symbols like Indian clothes and was conscious of avoiding too much pomp and puffery as he went about his job. Writing to his daughter Indira from London in October 1948, he speaks of the “disintegration of a great and famous nation” in the context of France when he says: “The foreigners here, including us, lived in luxury, and sumptuous food and wines were abundantly provided and wasted when vast numbers of people were in great trouble.” The sense that when “people” are seen to be in some sort of trouble, conspicuous consumption — even on the part of those who can afford it — is in poor taste, was very much an Indian idea.

 

Lal Bahadur Shastri, too, despite his brief tenure, made his mark when it came to potent symbols of being one with the masses: after two droughts in quick succession in the mid-sixties, his “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” cry, exhorting people to skip one meal once a week in solidarity with those for whom life was not so good, struck a chord.

 

In more recent times, Ram Manohar Lohia (though no Gandhian, but seen to be “like a common man”), JP and then George Fernandes (with his trademark un-ironed kurtas) seemed to epitomise the “common man” or “equality” principle in the way they lived (“simple” and visibly so).

 

Mamata Banerjee, with her hawai chappals, Lalu Prasad, and — to an extent — Mulayam Singh Yadav in his early days projected themselves as one of “us”; they had a cultivated sense of what was “common” and had a connect with their prospective vote-base . The Left, despite having been in power for more than three decades in Bengal, has made it a point to retain its party office in Alimuddin Street, where they set up first, bang in the middle of thickly-populated, bustling Calcutta. Conversely, Jayalalithaa and her companion Sasikala’s gold jewellery and the marriage of the latter’s son played a big role in creating an impression about the leadership of the AIADMK which has been difficult to shake off.

 

So, appearing “austere”, which at its best means someone who rejects the frills that celebrity-hood and power offer, and “one of us-ness” (standing in queues, experiencing the daily traumas of the vast majority, such as waiting and waiting some more for things to happen) have great appeal even today — especially as the distance between voters and those they elect is growing. Even in politically-aware Uttar Pradesh, the number of Black Cat commandos a neta has, decides his/her pecking order in the state’s hierarchy and is a status symbol: the only time a neta mingles or visits a bazaar, buys vegetables or books or has chaat like anyone else is when elections come calling.

 

The exact mix is for each member of the political class to find, an exercise in identifying with the context which elects him. There is a firm grip on the Indian imagination of the one who renounces power — a Buddha who can leave his palace in Kapilavastu and look for a higher truth. But for even those, in the next category, those in whom we repose our trust to rule us, there are high standards. Not standards that can be necessarily measured by the price of an economy ticket. The aam janata in today’s rapidly changing times would not expect leaders to wear the Gandhi topi but to behave responsibly and convey some hope that they can manage the taxpayers’ money judiciously. It is those symbols of responsibility that the discerning, silent voter looks out for, not for the right boarding passes or Khadi Bhavan labels. So politicians would do well to not insult the intelligence of the middle classes (who actually work quite hard to be able to afford an economy class ticket) and look for more meaningful symbols to reflect good sense.

 

When Gandhi did what he did, it was a brand new idea. We need a new khadi for 2009, if it is to not just melt into another token symbol.

 

seema.chishti@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

JINNAH’S DOUBLE WHAMMY

TAHIR MAHMOOD

 

Jinnah is once again changing the course of Indian politics. Ever since 1947, he has been seen in India as the sole architect of Partition, communal in his outlook through and through. Now political heavyweights from unexpected quarters have ventured to discover his hidden secular credentials, and project him as just one of the co-players of the melodrama that brought about the catastrophe of Partition. The idea that Jinnah alone was not responsible for Partition is neither absolutely baseless nor has it been put forth for the first time. But it is rather incredible that its new supporters have set on this politically volatile voyage with a view to breaking the tradition that persists since 1947 of blaming Muslims exclusively for the six-decade-old calamity. And yet: if anyone thinks that piling encomiums on Jinnah will in any way please the Muslims of India it would be nothing short of an atrocious abomination.

 

Agreeing to Partition was undoubtedly as much a blunder as demanding it, but this does not in any way reduce the guilt of those who originally propounded the idea — whether as a political strategy, as is now being said, or otherwise. Vociferously advocating the pernicious two-nation theory for years together, Jinnah demanded bifurcation of the country; but no sooner was the country partitioned than he abandoned it through his oft-cited declaration in the new nation’s Constituent Assembly that all citizens of the country would be just citizens and not Hindu or Muslim. This was nothing short of an admission that his advocacy of the two-nation theory was based on political ambition. Who is, then, to be held responsible for the devastating consequences of Partition?

 

Were not the Muslims of India indeed the worst sufferers? Hindus and Sikhs across the artificially created borders migrated to India en masse, but Muslims had to face a cruel division — parents separated from children, sisters from brothers, the elderly from the young. And it is the Muslims who have been the biggest victims of ever-changing Indo-Pak relations since, facing on one hand the pangs of separation from family at times of sorrow and joy, and on the other mistrust of their fellow-countrymen even for wishing to do that. The 450 million Muslims of the subcontinent are today torn apart between three different not-too-friendly countries. If they were citizens of a single peaceful country, would they not have been a much greater force to reckon with at home and abroad?

 

Another gift from Jinnah to India’s Muslims came in 1937. Various judicial regulations from 1872 onwards directed courts to prioritise local customs over religious tenets in deciding family-law cases. These customs were at great variance with Muslim law (in not recognising any female property/ inheritance rights, in putting no limitations on a man’s power to totally disinherit lawful heirs). A bill demanded by community leaders providing that Muslims everywhere be governed by Muslim law was eventually moved in the Central Legislative Assembly. Jinnah, then a member, proposed that individual Muslims be allowed to choose between religious law and local custom. He was trying to protect the interests of zamindars who did not want to give up their absolute freedom to dispose of property. Muslim leaders in the Congress opposed the proposal, so a via media was then thought of: making Muslim law selectively applicable to some subjects only and giving an option to individuals to continue following medieval Indian customs in respect of other family matters. Jinnah’s political stature ensured dissent was stifled and the bill in this mutilated form became law in 1937. Popularly known as the Shariat Act, it remains intact in India till this day — while in Jinnah’s own land it was replaced soon after his demise with a new, unmutilated act.

 

As regards Jinnah’s legacy of Partition, everybody in India and many across the border realise that it was indeed a historical blunder. I strongly feel that it is high time efforts were made to reunite the subcontinent. Germany and Yemen have managed a happy reunion. Can the people of the subcontinent — which not too long ago was a single nation united by common bonds of history, geography, religion, language and culture — not tread the same path of sanity? As to Jinnah’s other legacy, unfortunately Muslim religious leaders of the day, always shouting from the rooftop that personal law in its entirety is an inalienable part of their faith, would not let the badly distorted Shariat Act of 1937 be amended so as to remove its anomalies and discriminatory provisions.

 

So, Jinnah’s dual legacies — the division of the subcontinent’s Muslim families between two (now three) sovereign nations not always on friendly terms and a mutilated Shariat Act which keeps countless Muslims, especially women, divested of their rights under Islam — remain fully intact. Who can expect any Indian Muslim to have a soft spot for the man?

 

The writer is chairman of Amity University’s Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and a former chairman of the National Commission for Minorities

 

express@expressindia.com

 

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

TURNING A DEAF EAR

ARUN SHOURIE

 

As usual, Gandhiji’s rules, sprinkled throughout his writings, speeches, letters, are an excellent guide, even though for us pygmies, trying to abide by them taxes one to the limit.

 

“I do not read newspapers as a rule, but look at the enclosed in The Leader...” writes Gandhiji answering a series of letters from C.F. Andrews against the Khilafat movement that Gandhiji has launched. Those first few words — “I do not read newspapers as a rule.. .” — are the gem that should be our first rule! For one thing, it is not just that the rule is much easier to follow than the others, it is something to which the media itself pushes us these days. In Gandhiji’s case the reason, of course, was that the newspapers dealt with matters so ephemeral that they had little bearing on his quest — of freedom for India, of the inner search. Today, obsessed with the “breaking news” of the moment; obsessed with any and everything that they can inflate into the sensation of the moment, the media deals in even more evanescent flickers.

 

Second, as for calumny, Gandhiji never answered it, his rule being, “Public men who wish to work honestly can only rely upon the approbation of their own conscience. No other certificate is worth anything for them. . .”

 

Third, as for criticism, a letter from him to Rabindranath Tagore at the height of the agitation against the Rowlatt Acts has a typical gem. It was well known that Tagore had not been well disposed towards the new methods that Gandhiji was introducing into Indian public life. Tagore had not been well. But Gandhiji had just learnt that he was giving lectures at Benares. Hence the letter requesting a message: “...I venture to ask you for a message from you — a message of hope and inspiration for those who have to go through the fire. I do so because you have been good enough to send me your blessings when I embarked upon the struggle. The forces arrayed against me are, as you know, enormous. I do not dread them for I have an unwavering belief that they are all supporting untruth and that if we have sufficient faith in truth it will enable us to overpower them. But all forces work through human agency. I am, therefore, anxious to gather around this mighty struggle the ennobling assistance of those who approve it. I will not be happy until I have received your considered opinion in regard to this struggle which endeavours to purify the political life of this country. If you have seen anything to alter your first opinion of it you will not hesitate to make it known to me. I value even adverse opinions from friends for though they may not make me change my course, they serve the purpose of so many light-houses to give me warnings of danger lying in the stormy paths of life. . .”

 

As for misrepresentation, Gandhiji’s rule is prudence itself. “I am used to misrepresentation all my life,” he writes in Young India in a typical passage. “It is the lot of every public worker. He has to have a tough hide” — and then the operational rule: “Life would be burdensome if every misrepresentation has to be answered and cleared. It is a rule of life with me never to explain misrepresentations except when the cause required correction. This rule has saved much time and worry.”

 

Insulating circumstances

 

Given what we might call their “status”, the party spokesmen must have been mighty thrilled at the strong words they were launching. As the words I have used in the preceding part — “swine,” for instance — themselves indicate, I am as yet far from adhering to Gandhiji’s rules. Even so, the pejoratives of the spokesmen had absolutely no effect. And that for a reason. Since I began writing in India thirty-five years ago, at every turn, smears have been hurled at my associates and me: the result is that I no longer care for them. But it isn’t just that I have become used to them.

 

To begin with, I wear two thick layers of insulation.

 

The first insulation — the impenetrable one — is that very child; and his love which has made him the centre of so many lives; and his laughter which you can hear three houses away. I lose a job? I have but to compare my circumstance with that of our son — and I at once see the occurrence to be a trifling one in comparison. Someone hurls abuse? I have but to ask, “Does it affect this child’s love for all of us? Will it dim his laughter?”

 

Second, because of our circumstances, my wife, our relatives, and I lead cloistered lives. We get next to no magazines. As for Indian newspapers, we get just two, and we just about skim through them. We don’t, therefore, get to hear of or read most of what commentators and others have said. On occasion, some well-wisher will ring up and say, “Have you seen the vicious piece X has written about you? You really should read it.” But why should I? I am not looking for a job that I should worry about what prospective employers may think after they have read the piece. One of the greatest beings of our times, the Dalai Lama provides an excellent example even in so mundane a matter. In his instructive book, The Wise Heart, the American Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield narrates:

 

“A reporter once pressed the Dalai Lama about his oft-quoted statement that he does not hate the Chinese communists, in spite of their systematic destruction of Tibet. In reply, the Dalai Lama explained, ‘They have taken over Tibet, destroyed our temples, burned our sacred texts, ruined our communities, and taken away our freedom. They have taken so much. Why should I let them also take my peace of mind?’...”

 

When the Dalai Lama will not let even the Chinese communists rob his peace of mind even after the horrors they have inflicted, why should we let mere mouthpieces ruffle us with mere adjectives?

 

Mention of the Dalai Lama, of what has been done, and is being done to his people and culture and religion leads one to the next antidote: a sense of proportion, of humility. Recall for a moment the lives of the Buddha, of the Lokmanya, of Gandhiji, of Solzhenitsyn, of Mandela, of others who stood up. The worst kind of smears were hurled at the Buddha: those whose grip was being loosened by his teachings even got a young girl to say that the Buddha had made her pregnant; at least two attempts were made to kill him. The Lokmanya was not just traduced and reviled, he was sent off to Mandalay to spend six long years in solitary confinement, years that broke his health — so much so that when at long last he reached his abode, the watchman would not let him in, so unrecognisable had he become. The years and years that Solzhenitsyn and Mandela spent in prison, in the former case in deathly labour camps. Jesus and Gandhiji were not just reviled, they were killed. When this is what has been done to these giants, who are we ants to complain, and that too just because some adjectives have been flung in our direction?

 

A bit of conceit also helps! As the pejoratives are hurled one’s way, we are bound to ask, “Who are these persons who are saying all this?” Are they the Seervais of their field, of any field? That is, are they scholarly authorities so that one has to take their opinion seriously? Is a Baba Amte saying, “No, this was not expected of you?” — for then one would naturally have to reflect on one’s conduct. Quite the contrary. So many of them are lawyers — who will argue either side of the case, if the reward is right! Most of them are official spokesmen for political parties — they take it to be their duty, ex officio, to twist facts and turn out opinions that the party’s convenience requires. And when parties make lawyers their spokesmen? We are entitled to feel doubly secure!!

 

This time round, their mettle was put on display sooner than I could have expected, for they had but to hurl their epithets, and the unexpected happened! Shri Mohan Bhagwat, the sarsanghchalak of the RSS, came to Delhi. The BJP was reeling from the aftermath of Jaswant Singh’s expulsion and the ban on his book. My interview with Shekhar Gupta had been broadcast. Newspapers predicted “strong action” against me; some forecast expulsion from the party. The RSS office announced that Shri Bhagwat would address the press. Hosts of journalists from TV channels and newspapers were present. It was one of the most widely watched press conferences. In my case, Mohanji was asked as part of a question, “. . .do you think it was appropriate for a senior leader of any party to speak in the language that he used against his colleagues?” The expectation — in several quarters that I know! — was that the sarsanghchalak would express strong disapproval, and that would give grounds for the leadership to act. To their great confusion, the head of the RSS pronounced, “You see, Arun Shourie is a very respected, senior intellectual. So I don’t want to comment on what he has said about others, he should think about that.” That certainly was not what the spokesman had been anticipating. Hence, their resolve to give me the opportunity for martyrdom, suddenly deferred! Should we be in awe of men with such stern resolve?!

 

There are two further facts that give one heart. First, people do not go by a single deed, and most certainly not by the single smear. If, after decades of work, the credibility of a writer is so fragile that a sudden smear can shatter it, then it isn’t worth worrying about in any case. On the other side, can the smearing of the one who has revealed the facts, suddenly burnish the image of ones whose misdeeds have been in the public eye for decades, the consequences of whose negligence are before everyone at that very moment? Second, even in a society like ours — one in which so many want to believe the worst about everyone else; one in which the media broadcast anything anyone says about anyone — people must at some stage see that smears do not refute facts.

 

For all these reasons, smears have little effect. I have come to conclude that, till we can learn to follow rules such as the ones Gandhiji prescribed, the best response to smears is the one that I was once told was the stock answer of a Marathi writer to his detractors’ vituperations: Believe every vile thing that they are saying about me, he would say; believe the worst about me, the very worst they say, the very worst you can imagine about me — but what about the facts?

 

Hence, to begin with, we must be right on the facts. Second, we must have that thick hide so that we are not distracted by calumny. Third, as the ones we are exposing are definitely going to strike back — on the count of my friend, S. Gurumurthy the number of cases, inquiries, raids, prosecutions, actions of various kinds that Rajiv Gandhi’s government instituted against The Indian Express exceeded three hundred and twenty — our conduct must be, it must for decades have been, immaculate. And the reason is not just that the Empire will strike back. The even more vital reason is that the issue will be decided in the public mind not so much by the minutiae of evidence as of the relative reputation of the writer and the ones he has written about. That is why we should always bear in mind Vinoba’s warning: “A single hole makes the pitcher unfit for holding water.”

 

But there is an even more significant positive reason also.

(To be continued)

 

The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THIS HAND OF GOD HOLDS A RACQUET

KUNAL PRADHAN

 

My first memory of live football on TV is Diego Maradona. Not the 1986 World Cup, not Michel Platini’s missed penalty, not Rudi Voeller’s equaliser in the final, not even the through ball to Jorge Burruchaga. Just Maradona.

 

It was a year that taught a generation of Indians to celebrate the world’s greatest game. A season when it became clear why Swami Vivekananda had chosen these words to illustrate his philosophy on education: “You will be closer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gita.” It was a time when the most charismatic sportsman of all time was at his most charismatic.

 

Few other international sportsmen, before or since, have hit levels of perfection like Argentina’s Maradona did in the ’80s. One of them, Roger Federer, was stunned this week in the final of the US Open by Maradona’s countryman Juan Martin del Porto — a result that will remain significant for years to come, even if the match may not have been one for the ages.

 

Del Porto was born to a veterinarian father and a teacher mother in Tandil, a picturesque hillside town in western Argentina, three years after the World Cup in Mexico — a time when Maradona was preparing to captain the national team to Italia ’90. He grew up as a Boca Juniors fan — the club where the Maradona legend began — and when he was nine, the ‘Maradonian Church’ was set up by fans. As a boy, he naturally preferred football to tennis. “I played soccer better than tennis. I don’t know what I am doing here,” del Potro said after winning in New York on Monday.

 

Ironically, his victory has brought at least momentary succour to 40 million Argentinians who are now staring at the possibility of missing the World Cup finals for the first time since 1970, that too with Maradona at the helm as the team’s manager.

 

Del Potro hasn’t made a small dent in tennis’s world order. He has the game — unlike 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, unlike Britain’s new hope Andy Murray — to shake it up forever. The six-foot-six baseliner’s whipping groundstrokes are getting more aggressive, his serve changed dramatically in potency as the year progressed — 7.8 aces per match at the Australian Open, 9.8 at the French and 11.7 this past fortnight — and his return of serve truly sets him apart. At the US Open, for example, he had 364 return winners in all — 185 of them off the opponents’ first serves as compared to 158 by Federer.

 

But no matter what del Potro achieves over the next year — like Angel Cabrera did by winning golf’s US Open and Augusta Masters — it will mean only little to a proud football nation obsessed with Maradona and concerned only about how la seleccion fare next month against Peru and Uruguay as they sit in the fifth playoff spot for South Africa 2010.

 

A failure to qualify, not inconceivable anymore, will be catastrophic. It will also, once and for all, tarnish Maradona’s image of not only being one of the game’s greatest players but also its greatest general who could spot chinks in the entire defence as he ran with the ball. Without him, the Albicelestes (light blue and whites) would have been an ordinary team at Mexico and Italy; with him as the conductor, they surged forward like a jazz symphony.

 

Even towards the end of his career, Maradona started emerging as a hopeless drug and alcohol addict whose frequent excesses put his life in danger more than once. But the “I am Maradona and I can do what I want” catchphrase was encouraged by worshippers who believed in his divinity, and in his hand of God. When general manager Carlos Bilardo was asked this week if Maradona could be replaced before the last leg of the qualification campaign, he replied: “If Jesus Christ returned, or the Virgin Mary, I’d accept it. Otherwise, no.”

 

Imagining a World Cup without Argentina is the same as presuming that a 20-year-old tenista can whip Federer in the fifth set of a Grand Slam final. That happened this week; could Maradona’s heartbreaking fall from grace follow?

 

kunal.pradhan@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

VIEW FROM THE RIGHT

SUMAN K JHA

 

The editorial in the latest issue of Organiser, titled “Politics of Environment Protection”, says: “The union environment ministry is behaving like the proverbial cat on the wall. One never knows which way it will jump. The ministry headed by Jairam Ramesh, famously being called the ‘mentor’ of Rahul Gandhi, has already taken three U-turns on the issue of the NOIDA park, being built by Mayawati as her ‘historic’ contribution to the society. That the main attraction of the park are [sic] the statues of her mentor, herself and a few others is objectionable enough. What has added coal to this extravagant insult on the society is the number of trees felled and the acres of land cleared, all belonging to the poor public. The UPA governments, both I & II, have been using environmental clearance for projects as a political tool. Bestowing it upon their allies and denying it to their adversaries. Hence the DMK-sponsored projects in Tamil Nadu, be it highways or Sethusamudram, were accorded clearance in record time. Whereas when J. Jayalalithaa as chief minister wanted to build a new secretariat, the ministry, then held by T.R. Baalu, stopped it. The alibi being environment protection”.

 

It adds: “In the NOIDA park case, the minister, it seems, has been unable to pick up the political cue. And hence the triple U-turn. The Supreme Court hearing the petition on the NOIDA park constituted a central empowered committee (CEC) to inspect the area and report to the court. The CEC in May 2009 told the court that the project would require clearance from the ministry of environment and forests. The ministry, in its submission before the CEC on August 24, 2009, had taken a position that prior environmental permission was not necessary for the project as it was not a notified forest area”.

 

The editorial concludes: “Thousands of trees all over the national capital region have been felled in recent months in the name of the commonwealth games and metro rail. It would be longer lasting and a better gesture to plant trees in the name of leaders rather than statues. One has to only look at the status of the statues installed on the main ways of Delhi. They are filled with bird droppings and dust and grime of traffic. They get their compulsory once or twice a year cleaning on the birth and death anniversaries of the personalities, depending of course on their political relevance to the then dispensation. But then politics has never been about reason and public good”.

 

Sangh for all

 

A news item titled “Sarsanghchalak in Karnavati; Doors of Sangh are open for all, says Mohan Bhagwat” says: “ ‘There is no ban on the entry of anyone whether he is Hindu, Muslim, Christian or any other else, in the sangh. Everybody born and brought up in this land is Hindu. Just a change in dress, language, traditions and way of worship does not change the ancestors and the culture. All people living here have the same Hindu blood. They all are inspired by the Hindu samskars and culture. The day everybody understands this fact, all disputes will be over. The sangh has been working for organising such people, and the doors of the sangh are open for all,’ said RSS Sarsanghachalak Shri Mohan Bhagwat. He was speaking at a function held in Karnavati [Ahmedabad] on September 6.”

 

The news item adds: “Shri Bhagwat further clarified that those who see the sangh from outside do not understand it properly. ‘When they see the swayamsevak doing exercise at the shakha they feel it a military organisation, when they see our ghosh varga they feel it a music concert and when they see our intellectual discourse they feel it a political organisation. Sangh cannot be understood from a distance. If one has to understand the sangh, one will have to join it. Seventy eight per cent people of the country agree with the sangh ideology. They recognise it as the most disciplined and service-oriented organisation. The swayamsevaks are running more than 1.5 lakh service projects across the country,’ Shri Bhagwat informed. During his tour Shri Bhagwat also visited Swaminarayan temple at shahi bagh in Ahmedabad where he was received by Pramukh Swami of the temple. Later, he visited the Sannyas Ashram at Ashram road where he was received by Mahamandaleshwar Swami Vishwadevanandji. Shri Bhagwat also visited the family of Major Rushikesh Ramani who sacrificed his life fighting against terrorists in Kashmir recently.”

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TWO COUNTRIES, ONE COMPANY


The proposed $23-billion merger between Bharti and MTN has now raised the issue of dual listing. The first point to recognise is that the South African government’s proposal for dual listing of the two companies is, at the least, partially a bargaining counter for MTN, which has a strong national identity in that country. The second point is that policy-wise, dual listing raises a lot of questions. It calls for a policy change on full capital account convertibility (CAC). CAC is a good thing. But this is not the reason for it. Dual listing also requires changes in the Foreign Exchange Management Act and domestic trading in shares denominated in foreign currency cannot take place without the permission of RBI. An amendment to the current regulations will also require an agreement among various regulatory agencies, like RBI, Sebi and finance and corporate affairs ministries. Currently, India allows only foreign firms to issue Indian Depository Receipts, while Indian companies can issue ADRs and GDRs. But these are consequential changes. The main issue is the optimality of dual listing. This involves merger between two companies in which they agree to combine their operations and cash flows, but retain separate shareholder registries and identities. Dual listing structures have a long history with Royal Dutch Petroleum and Shell way back in 1903 and Unilever in 1930. From 1980 to 2000, there were seven dual listing companies, but six of them were disbanded because of the lack of investor interest, as they failed to understand the complex structure. Investor interest in dual listings has also diminished over the years, as it has become easier and cheaper for them to trade in foreign markets.

 

Global experience suggests that companies at times choose the dual listing structure to avoid capital gains tax that results from a conventional merger. Many a time, complicated cross-border mergers require various forms of official approvals, and dual listing can preserve the existence of each company. Dual listed companies also require special corporate governance requirements. Often, management of the two companies believes that the merged company will have better access to capital if it maintains listings in each market, as local investors are already familiar with their respective companies. However, the fact that most cross-border mergers do not take the dual listing route suggests that the existence of two separate companies may result in less equity market liquidity than would have been if there were a single larger company. The existing contractual arrangements of the companies may cause various kinds of rights, like options in debt contracts and rights of other companies involved in joint ventures. The dual listing schedule also means that the two companies follow the accounting standards of two different countries. So, in terms of corporate optimality, dual listing poses some serious questions. Any company must start with considerable sceptcism when assessing this option.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

IS A SUPER REGULATOR A SUPER IDEA?

KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN


Exactly one year has passed after the Lehman collapse that triggered a global economic crisis. At the anniversary of this unprecedented crisis, politicians and policy makers across the globe are compelled to institute changes that may avoid a crisis of this magnitude in the future. Seen in this context, the Finance Ministry’s plan to set up a super watchdog for the finance sector as a whole—the Financial Stability and Development Authority (FSDA)—is worthy of deep investigation and debate. By bringing the existing regulators—Sebi, IRDA, PFRDA and RBI—as equal sectoral regulators under its purview, the FSDA would become the super regulator responsible for the banking, insurance, securities and pensions sectors. I fear that though the issue is vexed, the need to bullet-list concrete steps taken in the wake of the crisis may lead to the creation of the FSDA regardless of whether or not the single regulator model is optimal for India.

 

The change is potentially quite significant. Over the last decade, many banks and financial institutions in India have transformed into financial conglomerates that are involved in banking as well as securities and insurance markets. Similarly, the financial products that have evolved have features that straddle these three markets. Such financial conglomerates add another layer of systemic risk to our financial system.

 

Nevertheless, policy makers need to guard against haste leading to waste. Some political constituents may see this as an opportunity to increase their influence in the regulation and supervision of the financial sector. Such constituents may utilise the momentum generated by bringing the proposal into the public domain to push through this change before the balance of power and opinion shifts against such a step. A rushed change may lead to the creation of the FSDA without clear objectives, with a low degree of independence, without adequately skilled personnel, and without a method to minimise turf wars that may ensue between the current watchdogs.

 

The worry arises because the question whether one watchdog is better than two, three or four is a particularly difficult one. Even after combing through the existing research in financial economics relating to this question, I do not find studies that convince me of the causal effect of such a change on better financial regulation and a more stable financial system. Existing studies document weak associations between the single regulator model and some measures of the quality and consistency of financial supervision. Needless to say, the gulf between a correlation and a causal link is a wide one, particularly so when the correlation spans countries that may differ along several unquantifiable dimensions. In the absence of convincing causal evidence favouring one model over the other, we need to rely on a comprehensive understanding of the pros and cons of a single, integrated regulator vis-à-vis having separate sectoral regulators. Given the intricate issues that are involved, we will undertake this exercise in multiple parts. We will survey the arguments for and against the integrated supervisory model. We will then assess the risks that are involved in the integration process and how these risks could be mitigated. In these exercises, we take the help of any existing evidence that provides associations favouring one model over the other.

 

Let us start by categorising the various financial regulator models that have been employed across the globe. A fully integrated supervisory agency akin to the FSDA is one that is in-charge of supervising at least three principal financial sectors, namely banking, insurance, and securities markets. In contrast, partly integrated supervisory agencies (which are in charge of prudentially supervising two of the four segments) and sectoral supervisors (which supervise only one segment) do not qualify as integrated supervising agencies.

 

Historically, the first countries to embark on integrated supervision were Singapore in 1982 and Norway in 1986. In the following years, integrated agencies were established in Australia, Korea, Japan, and other countries. As of the end of 2004, 29 countries had fully integrated supervisory agencies worldwide, about half of which were in Europe. National differences in the model that is adopted reflect a multitude of factors: historical evolution, the structure of the financial system, political structure and traditions, the size and level of development of the country and its financial sector. The fully integrated supervisory model can be found in a range of financial systems, from very small (e.g. some of the offshore financial systems) to large and complex (e.g. Japan), from very concentrated financial sectors (e.g. Estonia) to relatively dispersed ones (e.g. the United Kingdom), and from countries that suffered a systemic banking crisis prior to integration (e.g. Norway) to other countries with no such systemic banking crisis.

 

The author is an assistant professor of finance at Emory University, Atlanta, and a visiting scholar at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SAVED BY CHANCE, NOT DESIGN

MADAN SABNAVIS


Just as September 11 was a wake-up call for the battle against terrorism, September 15 has become symbolic of vaulting greed, something which may be likened to Macbeth’s vaulting ambition, which “overleaps itself, and falls on the other”. The newspapers are flooded with a retrospective on Lehman and its aftermath, all of which have been traced to the inherent ills in capitalism. Tellingly, even months after the rescue packages were announced, some bankers still have had the temerity to hike their bonuses and stock options, which is the ultimate arrogance of capitalist behaviour.

 

Over here in India, RBI has marked the one year anniversary of Lehman with self-eulogies. The question to be posed is whether at all RBI actually expected the eventuality of the crisis. The answer is that no, no one did anywhere in the world. Otherwise 2008 would have been anticipated after 2007 when Bear Stearns and Northern Rock stumbled. The truth is that while we all knew that something was amiss, no one knew where the cracks lay.

 

Now, when finance from banks is routed to any activity which is price-sensitive, and there is an upsurge in prices, commonsense would say that when prices fall there would be a problem. Therefore, overvalued markets always run this danger. But when is a market overvalued and when will the downturn happen? The answer is that no one can be certain. As Schumpeter had stated a long time ago, capitalism involves a continuous process of creative destruction and we get cleansed and learn as we got through these crises.

 

Should RBI be applauded? To begin with we need to differentiate between the financial crisis and the liquidity crisis which resulted from the former. There was no financial crisis in India, as no institution had failed. Banks did not fail because none took the risks that were taken by their US counterparts. Besides, our system never dealt with sophisticated financial instruments and financial engineering remained confined to text books.

 

In fact, it was quite ironical in the mid-1990s when the first capital market scam emerged, we didn’t know what the banker’s receipt was! Banking has, by and large, been conservative in its operations. Of course, this is a viable model which has been executed very well by RBI. The result has been the emergence of a strong system where risk is low but growth is normal. Innovation has been minimal.

 

In fact, none of us really knew about securitisation and CDOs; and any such knowledge was restricted to textbooks or seminars conducted by professors from US universities. Therefore, to say that we did not encourage such operations is not convincing because we were not sure how they worked and preferred to keep away from the unknown.

 

Curiously, even today, the working of, say, the commodity futures market is an enigma and the differentiation between volumes traded and open interest created is not understood. Foreign exchange futures and IRFs have come in only in late 2008 and 2009!

 

A banking system where over 30% of assets are locked in government securities and lending to another 40% is directed by the central banks cannot really face a crisis. The biggest potential default lies in the area of agriculture when monsoon fails but we always have governments coming up with bail-out programmes and hence failure is not possible. Further, banks have limited exposure to capital markets or other ‘sensitive’ sectors such as commodities and real estate.

In India, we have never had bank failures, and when systems were challenged in mid and late 1990s with stock market related issues, it was more in the nature of fraud. The financial crisis in the West was not about fraud but clearly a case of financial engineering multiplying the possibilities of lending which was to be backed by spiralling prices.

 

And when the prices crashed and defaults resulted, all those who were part of this onward lending spiral suffered losses. It did not have traces of crony capitalism of the East Asian variety. Indian banking has never really been on this line and has been confined to plain vanilla lending. In fact, the only aggressive and dynamic forays have been made by ICICI Bank and it is hence not surprising that our banks do not really feature in the global top league.

 

RBI has done a great job in managing liquidity. However, there is little cheer in a parent feeling one-up on another because his/her children did not get hurt as they never went and played the game. The worry now is that financial reforms could take a back seat under these circumstances with caution being superseded by over caution.

 

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

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

THIS MOTHER IS THE BEST

GEETA NAIR


Kim Clijsters is the new poster girl. And not of the Anna Kournikova pin-up kind. Clijsters’s victory at the US Open 2009 was indeed incredible. To come out of a two-year retirement, which included giving birth to a child, go into a tournament unseeded and end up lifting the trophy, is unbelievable. The fact that this has happened only twice in Grand Slam history indicates how tough it is. This makes her only the second mother to win a Grand Slam. The first was Evonne Cawley in 1980.

 

It was a fairy tale tournament for Clijsters. But behind it was a lot of hard work, steely determination and a lot of self-belief. She had to be at peak physical fitness level and have tough mental strength to go through a gruelling day tournament and win it.

 

The Clijsters comeback story should be an inspiration for many women. It should give a lot of hope to women who take a career break and want to return to work and also to those who do not take a break out of fear of losing out to a hungry younger lot of competitors.

 

This is a dilemma for many women who have to make a choice between pursuing their ambitions and taking a break to start a family. There are many women who manage to do both and reach the top of the corporate ladder while also have a family without having to make either this or that choice. But this is unfortunately still the exception and not the rule.

 

A lot of potential talent is lost because of the tough choices women have to make. Lack of support systems, disapproving extended family and spouses who are not supportive are also a reality. Many organisations in India are not sensitive to these special needs of the women and frankly don’t care.

 

Some corporate groups are however trying to change, which is welcome. The Tatas have launched a programme to encourage women to get back to work. IT companies are also more amenable to having such encouraging polices. More need to follow.

 

At any rate, Clijsters’s mother of all comebacks should encourage more women to get back into the race.

 

geeta.nair@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

A WAKE UP CALL

 

Nearly six years after being allotted the 19th Commonwealth Games, Delhi is racing against time to meet the deadline of October 3, 2010. If the critical evaluation of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), coupled with that of the Commonwealth Games Co-ordination Commission, is to be believed, things could not have been worse than they are at this juncture. There is just over a year left for the agencies to deliver the biggest ever multi-discipline games India will have hosted. On the other hand, there is a quiet confidence in the approach of Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit to the huge challenge. At stake will be the country’s prestige and its ability to organise an event of this magnitude, with an eye on a possible Olympic bid, amidst the economic slowdown and mounting security concerns. Grappling as they are with construction delays in at least 13 of the 19 sports venues, the authorities could have been spared the embarrassment of a scathing complaint by Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president Michael Fennell, who has sought the Prime Minister’s intervention in a “recovery plan.”

 

There is concern, of course, over the escalating costs. The projection of the organisational expenditure has jumped from less than Rs.70 crore in 2003 to Rs.1,600 crore and the estimated sports infrastructure costs have shot up from Rs.136 crore to Rs.3,934 crore. There is no clear estimate yet about what the city could end up spending on the civic infrastructure. Every rupee will be well spent if New Delhi manages to pull off a memorable Games, as it did 27 years ago, under Rajiv Gandhi’s helmsmanship, when it hosted the Asian Games. But this will require, first of all, an end to the bickering within the Organising Committee, which also needs to be strengthened by inducting a few senior administrators with proven track records, as was done in 1982. Secondly, it is clear that decentralisation will lead to quicker implementation. Thirdly, a way must be found to achieve better co-ordination among multiple authorities handling Games projects. Fourthly, revised targets must be set and trial events held to rectify defects and assess organisational capability. The CGF would do well not to intrude too much on the host’s prerogatives. Denied an opportunity to train at Games venues well in advance, India’s sportspersons need to be provided with the best of facilities as they prepare for the 17-sport Games. China not only set new benchmarks in infrastructure and organisation during the 2008 Beijing Olympics; it also won a record number of medals. That is the kind of perfection New Delhi should be aiming for.

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THE HINDU

            EDITORIAL

JAPAN’S IMPRESSIVE NEW TEAM

 

On August 30, the Democratic Party of Japan, ably led by Yukio Hatoyama, won a landslide election victory to end more than half a century of Liberal Democratic Party rule. Given the DPJ’s promise of sweeping reform, Mr. Hatoyama’s cabinet selection is significant. Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii, a former LDP member and bureaucrat, has the hard job of downsizing the current ¥15-trillion stimulus package in the midst of recession. Mr. Fujii must nevertheless fulfil manifesto promises on childcare and other social spending; Japan has the world’s highest proportion of citizens aged above 65 and the lowest of those under 15. Deputy Prime Minister Naoto Kan will head the new national strategy bureau, which, in response to public disenchantment with long-entrenched insider politics, is intended to curb policy-making by a hidebound bureaucracy. In keeping with the DPJ’s progressive world view, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada will be expected to work for greater equality in Japan’s relationship with the United States. In particular, he will need to deal with tensions over the status of American bases in Japan and over Mr. Hatoyama’s plans for an EU-style East Asia with a single currency and regional political integration. In addition, the new government has committed itself to a 25 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, in comparison with 1990 levels.

 

The Hatoyama administration faces other tough tasks. It must reconcile income guarantees for farmers, who voted handsomely for the DPJ, with the promised removal of cuts in rice production, which could depress farm-gate prices further. That challenge faces Hirotaka Akamatsu, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. Further, while the DPJ has won 308 seats in the 480-seat lower house of the Diet, it has no majority in the upper house. Therefore, two small parties — the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the People’s New Party (PNP) which hold five seats each in the upper house — have been given cabinet posts. PNP leader Shizuka Kamei is charged with reversing the privatisation of the postal service and persuading the banks to relax their current restrictions on business loans. SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima has a wide-ranging responsibility for consumer affairs, the declining birth rate, gender equality, and social affairs. Mr. Hatoyama’s team selection shows astute judgment and a forward-looking spirit. He must seize the moment and demonstrate strong leadership qualities to justify the faith of a people who have given him such an overpowering mandate that he can have no excuses for non-performance.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

MEDDLING WITH PUBLIC SECTOR BANKS

 CENTRAL BANK OVERSIGHT HAS ENSURED THAT THE INDIAN BANKING SECTOR IS IN GOOD SHAPE. BUT IN A STRANGE POLICY TWIST, THE GOVERNMENT HAS APPROACHED THE WORLD BANK FOR A LOAN TO RECAPITALISE THE NATIONALISED BANKS THAT MAY WELL COME WITH CONDITIONALITIES FOR EXTENSIVE FINANCIAL DEREGULATION.

C. RAMMANOHAR REDDY

 

As the world commemorates the first anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, it would be useful to remember that India was one of the few large economies where banks did not run into trouble.

 

We do know how banks in India escaped the scourge of high finance. A refusal by the central bank to allow banks to deal in exotic/toxic instruments, introduction of regulations that required greater provisioning against risky lending and the creation of stricter controls on loans to commercial real estate were some of the measures that helped to keep financial institutions safe in India. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s explicit mention in the 2009 budget speech of the role played by bank nationalisation was an acknowledgement of what we did right.

 

Now in a strange twist of policy, the government is in the process of finalising a multi-billion dollar loan from the World Bank to augment the finances of the public sector banks (PSBs). In January, the government announced in the second stimulus package that it would recapitalise the PSBs to help them expand lending in 2009-10. Soon afterwards the World Bank announced that as part of its expanded assistance to India during 2009-11 it could consider assisting in the recapitalisation of the PSBs but that the matter was “yet to be discussed with the government.” By early May, officials of the Finance Ministry were informing the media that a proposal had been sent to the World Bank for a loan of Rs. 16,000 crore-Rs 17,000 crore ($3 billion plus) to inject capital into the PSBs. And although Parliament was informed in July that the government was yet to finalise the loan, what was definite was that negotiations were on, with the World Bank and for capitalisation of the PSBs.

 

Why is the Finance Ministry looking at a $3 billion loan from the World Bank to recapitalise the PSBs at this point of time? All official and independent evaluations indicate that the nationalised banks and the banking sector as a whole are in good shape.

 

According to international norms (the Basel standards), the capital to risk-weighted assets ratio (CRAR) of banks — the summary measure of the amount of capital that is necessary to cover unexpected losses — should be a minimum of 9 per cent. The CRAR for all Indian banks stands substantially higher than this minimum and has steadily improved over the years. It was 12.3 per cent as of March 2007, rose to 13 per cent in March 2008 and further to 13.2 per cent in March 2009. This measure of capital adequacy is higher than what the banking sector in the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan now possess. Note also that even as the banks in the advanced economies were floundering in 2008 and needed a massive input of resources, their counterparts in India were improving their CRAR without any capital infusion. Only two banks in India — one an old private sector bank and the other a foreign bank — had a CRAR of between 9 and 10 per cent. Capital adequacy in the PSBs as a group is itself well above the norm: it was an average of 12.5 per cent as of March 2008.

 

The Committee for Financial Sector Assessment, the high-level Reserve Bank of India-Government of India evaluation of the financial sector that was completed earlier this year also noted that going by a number of “financial soundness indicators” — capital adequacy, asset quality and profitability — banks in India were in good shape at the end of 2008.

The PSBs may be adequately covered today but does that mean they have sufficient capital to cover a growth in lending in the future? Indeed, the argument on the need to recapitalise the nationalised banks is just that. As the CFSA noted, if the growth of lending by Indian banks is going to be substantial, then the requirements of recapitalisation will also be substantial.

 

Until now, the requirements of recapitalisation have been met by the government. If the government now feels that it cannot provide resources for the banks it owns, then it must look elsewhere — to the World Bank. (For at least now, recapitalisation by privatisation of the PSBs — another route for capital infusion — is not on the agenda. Or is it not?) This is likely to be the justification for the $3 billion application to the World Bank.

 

There are two problems with this “external funding is the only option” argument.

 

First, assuming — and this must be an assumption — that the PSBs do need an infusion of capital and that this is beyond their capacity to mobilise on their own, is a loan from the World Bank the only option? There are other options. Consider how China recapitalised its big three banks in the first half of this decade (the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the Bank of China, and the China Construction Bank ) and again as recently as in November 2008 a fourth large bank, the Agricultural Bank of China. The government through the Central Bank of China injected capital by using an unusual financing mechanism: foreign exchange reserves of upwards of $ 40 billion were routed through the state-held Central Huijjin Investment Corporation to hold equity in the commercial banks. This way the banks received additional capital and they remained in government hands.

 

India does not have to think of such a large transfer. The relatively trifling amount of $3 billion that it is said is needed for recapitalisation can surely be transferred (out of the current total foreign exchange reserves of $265 billion) to the PSBs, just as China did with a much larger amount. Such options should also surely be a less expensive option than taking a loan from the World Bank that will come with conditions. Perhaps because we take our intellectual counsel and policy advice from institutions based in Washington, we are unable to think of alternatives.

 

The second problem with the “World Bank loan is the only option argument” is that it may be hiding more than it reveals. It is quite likely that the real reason for the government wanting to go to Washington for a loan to fund recapitalisation is something else. Over the past four to five years we have had this tussle between the Finance Ministry and the Reserve Bank of India over the content and pace of financial liberalisation. It was a tussle in which fortunately for the economy the central bank by and large got the better of the argument. But the demands and desires of New Delhi have not ceased. We have had two high-powered groups on banking and finance (both set up by the government and not the central bank) — the Raghuram Rajan and Percy Mistry committees — both of which made recommendations, that can largely be described only as “market fundamentalist” and called for a significant liberalisation of the financial sector in a number of areas. The government has so far not found it easy to push through implementation of these recommendations. What better way to do so than to bring in at least some of them through World Bank conditionalities? And what better opportunity for the World Bank to meddle with India’s financial sector? While a lot is often said about conditionalities being forced on to governments, an unspoken practice in a number of countries is for domestic “reformers” to shoot from the hip of international organisations to overcome domestic resistance.

 

True, the loan now under negotiation will only provide funds for the PSBs and will not cover the financial sector as a whole. To that extent there will be limits on how much of deregulation can be effected in this manner. The conditions of the loan (partial disinvestment? bank consolidation? what else?) will be restricted to the functioning of the PSBs. It is, however, not unknown for the World Bank to bring in larger policy changes in a sector through narrow loans. An externally-aided bank recapitalisation package that comes with conditions will also be a good way of sidestepping the resistance of the RBI.

 

India escaped the worst of the 2007-09 financial crisis by following its own path, even if the overarching approach remained one of global integration and gradual financial liberalisation. It did seem that Washington and London could even learn from India on how not to blow a bubble that would bring banks to their knees. Is our government now preparing to do the opposite of what stood it in good stead?

 

(The author is Editor of the Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai.)

 

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THE HINDU

OP-ED

POKHRAN-II THERMONUCLEAR TEST, A FAILURE

A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE TECHNICAL FACTS CAN LEAD TO NO OTHER CONCLUSION. BARC MUST LEARN TO TELL THE NATION THE TRUTH.

K. SANTHANAM AND ASHOK PARTHASARATHI

 

Several inaccuracies in the claims made by BARC and in the articles published in the press, including The HinduPokhran-II need to be corrected. We have hard evidence on a purely factual basis, to inform the nation that not only was the yield of the second fusion (H-bomb) stage of the thermonuclear (TN) device tested in May 1998 was not only far below the design prediction made by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), but that it actually failed.

 

All the five nuclear tests conducted in May 1998 were undertaken through a joint BARC and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) team. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and R. Chidambaram assigned the DRDO team the critical responsibility for all the field instrumentation to record seismic data from all the tests: this was vital in estimating the yields. The seismic sensors were placed at many points in the device shafts and out to a radius of 2.5 km. The sensors and instrumentation were calibrated several hundred times and perfected. They fully met international standards and were acknowledged to be so by BARC.

 

The DRDO was thus deeply involved in all the seismic measurements and was fully aware of the BARC-projected readings vis-À-vis its own measurements. One of the authors, Dr. Santhanam, was personally aware in detail from key BARC scientists of the core designs and hence the projected yields. Consequently, the reference in a report published by The Hindu on August 28 (headlined “’Fizzle’ claim for thermonuclear test refuted”) attributed to a “former senior official of the Vajpayee government” that I was “not privy to the actual weapon designs which are highly classified,” was incorrect.

 

The DRDO also designed and conducted numerous tests of the High Explosive (HE) Trigger of the TN test. BARC scientists witnessed these tests, took copies of test records, and expressed satisfaction with the DRDO’s work.

 

Over May-October 1998, DRDO produced a comprehensive report of actual seismic readings vis-À-vis values predicted by BARC, mentioning why the former showed considerably lower yields than the latter.

 

The DRDO report was discussed at a meeting called by National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra in late 1998. The meeting was attended by Dr. Chidambaram and Dr. S.K. Sikka, the scientific head of the BARC team; Mr. Kalam, the Director-General of the DRDO; Dr. V.K. Aatre, the Chief Controller of the DRDO, Dr. Santhanam, and the Chiefs of the Defence Services. Despite a long discussion, largely between the DRDO and BARC, both stuck to their positions on the TN device yield. Thereafter, the NSA took a ‘voice vote’! This was highly unusual because the matter was technically very complex and the services were ill equipped to give an opinion on yields. Most surprisingly, NSA concluded saying government would stand by Dr. Chidambaram’s opinion.

 

Dr. Chidambaram’s claims and those in Atomic Energy Commission statement reported on September 16 under headline “No reason to doubt the yield of 1998 nuclear test: AEC” are wrong.

 

BARC basically argued that the geological structure of Pokhran was different from test sites elsewhere. However, the DRDO and BARC utilised the same published information in their calculations of TN device yield. BARC accepted the DRDO’s yield estimates of the fission (A) bomb, but not of the TN device, although the latter’s shaft was situated only a few hundred metres from the former’s shaft. Globally, geological structures do not change dramatically at such small separations. So BARC’s argument to “explain” a lower TN yield is untenable.

 

Dr. Chidambaram’s statement that “the post-shot radioactivity measurements on samples extracted from the test site showed significant activity [levels] of radioisotopes Sodium 22 and Manganese 54, both of which are byproducts of a fusion reaction rather than a pure fission [device]” is incorrect. He should indicate the exact level of activity instead of merely saying “significant activity” as the activity level determines whether a fusion reaction of the magnitude claimed by BARC actually occurred.

 

Dr. P.K. Iyengar, a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and a former Director of BARC, informed me that trace levels of these same isotopes were detected in Apsara, a pure fission reactor not involving any fusion at all. This is the exact opposite of Dr. Chidambaram’s claim.

 

Dr. Chidambaram’s statement that “from a study of this radioactivity and an estimate of the crater radius confirmed by drilling operations at positions away from the shaft, location, total yield and break-up of fission and fusion components, could be calculated” is extremely surprising. First, after the TN test, its shaft remained totally undamaged: if the fusion stage had worked, the shaft would have been totally destroyed. Secondly, the A-frame sitting astride the mouth of the shaft, with winches to lower and raise personnel, materials and so on, also remained completely intact. If the fusion stage had worked, the ‘A’ frame would also have been totally destroyed.

 

As for radioactivity levels, senior BARC radiochemists who undertook radio-assay of fission products in samples similarly drilled at Pokhran-I (of May 1974) told Santhanam that the yield announced to the media was substantially higher than what they had submitted to Dr. Raja Ramanna. Dr. Chidambaram must publicly substantiate any claim that it did not occur in the TN test along with justification data.

 

Dr. Chidambaram states: “BARC scientists worked out total yield of TN device as 50 +10 kt — consistent with design yield and seismic estimates.” However, he subsequently asserts: “BARC experts established DRDO had under-estimated yield due to faulty seismic instrumentation.” BARC cannot eat the cake and have it too.

 

The fission bomb yield from the DRDO’s seismic instrumentation was 25 +2 kiloton and left a crater 25 metres in diameter. If the TN device had really worked with a yield of 50 +2 kt, it should have left a crater almost 70 metres in diameter. Instead, all that happened was that sand and mud from the shaft were thrown several metres into the air and then fell back, forming a small depression in the shaft mouth. There was no crater.

 

This factual analysis reveals India’s decade-long, grim predicament regarding the failed TN bomb and so our Credible Minimum Deterrent (CMD). No country having undertaken only two weapon related tests of which the core TN device failed, can claim to have a CMD. This is corroborated by fact that even after 11 years the TN device has not been weaponised by BARC while the 25 kiloton fission device has been fully weaponised and operationally deployed on multiplate weapon platforms. It would be farcical to use a 3500-km range Agni-3 missile with a 25 kiloton fission warhead as the core of our CMD. Only a 150 – 350 kiloton if not megaton TN bomb can do so which we do not have.

 

(K. Santhanam was Project Leader, Pokhran-II. He worked as a physicist at BARC for 15 years. Later he was Chief Adviser (Technologies) in DRDO for 14 years and was then also Director General, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Ashok Parthasarathi, the co-author of this article, was S&T Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and deeply involved in Pokhran-I, of May.)

 

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THE HINDU

OP-ED

CHINA’S ‘IRON MAN’ AN UNDYING LEGEND

 

Watching the new film “Iron Man,” Tan Lei, a sophomore from Daqing city of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, has tears in her eyes. “The ‘iron man’ shall never be forgotten,” Tan said. “He sacrificed all he had for China.” China’s “Iron Man” was an oil driller named Wang Jinxi.

 

In September 2009, nearly 39 years after his death, Wang — who drilled the first well of China’s largest oil field in Daqing — was voted by the public one of the 100 most notable figures in New China’s history.

 

In January, Wang was selected as one of the country’s 10 most influential figures in the past 100 years by China Comment, one of the country’s leading magazines.

 

Wang, as the first national role-model in China’s industrial sector, inspired numerous people in China’s vast work force, the magazine wrote.

 

“I felt blessed to have the opportunity to represent the heroism that touched the whole country,” said Wu Gang, who plays Wang Jinxi in the film.

 

Wu said he lost 10 kg of weight for the film and had been almost blinded by rocks in shooting mud. But “the hardship I experienced was nothing compared to that of Wang Jinxi,” said Wu.

 

“I would give up 20 years of life so China can produce oil on its own land,” Wang said when he first arrived at the the oil field in Daqing, then a patch of uninhabited wetland. He seemed to have a premonition of his destiny.

 

Cranes were unavailable and water pipelines unconnected when Wang and his team started their work. None of those difficulties stopped them.

 

Wang and 30 others manually carried 60 tonnes of equipment from a railway station to the oil field. They broke the ice of a nearby pond and fetched water to cool the drill. In five days, they transported more than 50 tonnes of water.

 

“We have to do everything possible. And we have to make the impossible possible,” Wang said to his co-workers. Now the words are a motto for Chinese from all walks of life.

 

Such a heavy workload damaged Wang’s health. After years of intense toil, the “iron man” died of stomach cancer at the age of 47 in 1970.

 

Wang’s No. 1205 Drilling Team inherited his spirit and continued the legend. The team was the first to drill more than 1,000 oil wells in China. It set the records for the number of oil wells drilled for each month and year in the 1970s. Wang’s spirit has also been brought to life in the 11.6-hectare Iron Man Memorial Museum where visitors learn about his life and career through his clothes, tools and diaries. The museum receives 3,000 visitors a day. “The Iron Man spirit is the essence of Chinese ethics, philosophy and the soul of the Chinese people,” said Liu Bingjun, a visitor from Beijing.

 

Ying Shukun, 63, is a retired oil worker. Walking on the streets of Daqing, he stops from time to time before Iron Man statues spread across parks, squares and schools.

 

“When I meet difficulties, I always ask myself what would Wang Jinxi do,” Ying said. September 26, 2009 marks the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the Daqing oil field. As the anniversary approaches, residents and visitors from across China are coming to Iron Man Square and surrounding the statue of Wang Jinxi, the spirit of Daqing, with bouquets.

 

— Xinhua

 

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THE HINDU

OP-ED

IS MOTHERHOOD A BOON FOR THE BODY?

THERE IS AN INCREASING BODY OF EVIDENCE THAT THE BIOLOGICAL CHANGES OF PREGNANCY MAY IMPROVE BOTH PHYSICAL AND MENTAL PERFORMANCE.

CLARE MURPHY

 

Kim Clijsters made a fairytale comeback by winning the U.S. Open on her return to Grand Slam tennis after giving birth to her daughter. Could child bearing actually be good for both body and mind, and should all new mothers be reaching for their rackets?

 

Clijsters’ success has been seen as adding fresh credence to the theory that pregnancy can in fact enhance sporting prowess, at least among those who had some to start with.

 

She joins a short, but growing list of elite sportswomen who have pulled off impressive athletic feats not long after becoming mothers.

 

Few doubt that the demands of motherhood focus the mind as priorities are juggled.

 

But there is an increasing body of evidence that the biological changes of pregnancy may improve both physical and mental performance.

 

Blood supply

 

Pregnancy is itself a physical test.

 

Almost every organ of the mother’s body works harder to accommodate the needs of the growing baby, and blood volume increases dramatically to carry oxygen to the womb.

 

Once the baby is born, the red blood cells created — rich in haemoglobin — remain in the woman’s body for some time, potentially improving oxygen flow to the muscles.

 

This, in theory, could improve her stamina and the ability to train for longer.

 

At the same time, the hormone relaxin loosens the hips in preparation for childbirth, but may also give the athlete added flexibility, according to Dr. James Pivarnik of Michigan University, who has studied pregnant athletes.

 

While the exact mechanisms and their impact are still the subject of investigation, the suggestion that pregnancy may have this effect is not new.

 

In 1988, the First Permanent World Conference on Anti-Doping in Sport included ‘abortion doping’ on its agenda.

 

This followed allegations — never substantiated — that East European athletes were being encouraged to get pregnant and abort their foetuses to improve their performance.

 

The ethics and anti-doping section of U.K. sport has also raised the issue of pregnancy as a means to legally increase the level of performance-enhancing hormones.

 

There is also the suggestion that the agony of childbirth increases the pain threshold, boosting the mind’s ability to cope amid intense physical adversity.

 

This sounds plausible, although the jury is still very much out in this area. Some research has found that while the threshold may increase dramatically during labour, it returns to original levels in the aftermath.

 

A study from Bath University found women were wimpier than men when it came to pain. Females felt it sooner, and were able to withstand it for a shorter period.

 

Indeed it has even been suggested that it may be motherhood itself which makes women more attuned to pain, acutely conscious of any impending problem which could compromise their ability to care.

 

But on a similar note, it has been suggested that motherhood sharpens mental agility, making a woman more vigilant and alert — key skills on the court.

 

‘Baby brain’ or ‘preg head’ may be a convenient excuse for forgetting names and numbers, but in fact the hormone fluctuations during birth and breastfeeding appear to increase the size of cells in some areas of the brain.

 

Becoming Kim

 

For some new mothers feeling fatigued and fat, the suggestion that their bodies are now supercharged may seem risible.

 

A major review of studies published this summer found — at least when it came to losing weight — sensible eating rather than regular jogging was the key to getting back into shape.

 

But the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation says it hopes all mothers can draw some inspiration from Ms Clijsters.

 

“Our research shows that it’s time pressures that stop women taking the exercise they want to,” said Harriet Foxwell.

 

“At one level we need more sports facilities to provide child care. But we also need to find more activities to do with our children — swimming for instance is a good example.

 

“What was particularly moving was seeing Kim on court with her daughter. Exercise is something we should be able to do together.”

 

— © 2009 The New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

OP-ED

AFRICA COMES TO TERMS WITH GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS

 PROJECTIONS INDICATE THAT AFRICA WILL BE GRAVELY AFFECTED BY THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS.

LEAH MCMILLAN AND HANY BESADA

 

One can’t open a newspaper or tune into the 6 o’clock news these days without being met with another development with regard to the global financial crisis. Two years ago, there was another crisis inundating our news media in much the same way. The global food crisis — a rise in the price of cereal, foodstuffs, perpetuated in part by the ever-increasing droughts and floods characteristic of climate change — alarmed us all that in the poorest parts of the globe, hunger levels were escalating.

 

But in the summer of 2008, focus on the global food crisis diminished as stories of the global financial crisis began to emerge. With unemployment and factory closures impacting numerous countries throughout the developing world as in the West, the world’s attention has quickly turned to the worst economic situation since the Great Depression.

 

Projections indicate that Africa will be gravely affected by the global financial crisis. The IMF predicts that growth in Sub-Saharan Africa will decline from 5.25 per cent in 2008 to a mere .25 in 2009, increasing financing needs of the region. Already there has been an 11 per cent reduction in per capita income. At the same time, the food crisis continues, leaving financially devastated countries to simultaneously bear the cost of increasing food costs and starving populations. Without doubt, the food crisis was the overture that set the stage for the global financial crisis’ devastating crescendo.

 

In Africa, where the majority of countries primarily rely on agricultural production and mining, falling world prices have meant a gross reduction to gross domestic products (GDPs) and per capita incomes. The global food crisis may have led to the increase in foodstuff prices, but the global financial crisis is now reducing GDP levels and making it near impossible for Africans to afford food necessary for their own survival. For example, in Tanzania, though the average 7 per cent GDP growth rate has not declined, inflation rose by 10.3 per cent between 2006 and 2008. Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, the national inflation rate is approximately 30 per cent, with the food inflation rate being at least 6 per cent higher. In both countries, families are now paying more for dietary staples like starch foods, cereal, and vegetables.

 

As African citizens, 206 million of whom live on less than a dollar a day according to the FAO, attempt adjustments to ensure that they can sustain their livelihood, an odd catch-22 surface: Global demand for their exports decreases as western governments seek greater protectionist policies, forcing farmers to sell their products domestically at higher prices. This reality, coupled with escalating import prices, increasing domestic pricing. For example, real GDP is expected to drop in Burkina Faso from 5 to 4.5 per cent, in Niger from 8.8 to 5 per cent and in Benin from 4.8 to 3 per cent between 2008 and 2010, according to the IMF. These declines are especially owing to falling demand and price of cotton (projected to decline by 5.5 per cent by the end of the year) — the primary exporting commodity of these three countries.

 

This is one situation in which competitive pricing is not helping anyone. Perhaps the most daunting reality of all is the way in which the stand-by alternatives have also been affected by the global financial crisis. Remittances have traditionally been a quick-fix solution in desperate times. But with economic turmoil hitting the globe, remittances to Africa have been reduced to unprecedented rates, leaving needy families without the ordinary support of emigrated relatives. According to World Bank Chief Economist of the African Region, Shanta Devarajan, almost $12 billion in remittances was received throughout Sub-Saharan Africa in 2007. The World Bank predicts that this will decline by 8.3 per cent by the end of 2009. Since the majority of remittances are transferred from emigrants to relatives, this large reduction will impact the purchasing power of families the continent over.

 

Earlier this year, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade admonished that “the amount of investment needed to feed people and create jobs in Africa is a fraction of the money being spent on the global financial crisis.” While northern countries focus on finding immediate solutions to the effects of the global financial crisis within their own borders, African governments must grapple with the harsh reality that there is no immediate solution for them. That is at least not if they are left to their own defences.

 

At the Gleneagles Summit in 2005, the G8 committed to increasing official development assistant (ODA) to Africa by $25 billion by 2010. Yet if projections are accurate, ODA could decrease by 40 per cent by the same year. If the global financial crisis truly is global in scope, then solutions must also be global — intended for all countries, not simply the West. Faced with the consequences of both the food and financial crises, the African continent needs the international community to follow through on its aid commitments — not because Africa is a charity case, but because the continent is part of the so-called ‘international community,’ too.

 

(Leah McMillan is a PhD candidate at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and a Balsillie Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). Hany Besada is a senior researcher and programme leader at CIGI.)

 

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THE HINDU

OP-ED

U.S. POWER WANING: REPORT

IT NEEDS FRIENDS, SAYS THINK TANK.

RICHARD NORTON-TAYLOR

 

The election of Barack Obama and America’s declining economic power and authority are forcing the U.S. to seek regional alliances to cope with world crises, a leading think tank said on Tuesday.

 

The Obama administration has recognised this in Afghanistan, where it said Pakistan was the key, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said. But the US should engage regional powers elsewhere, including the Middle East, over the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, and in Afghanistan.

 

Launching its latest annual Strategic Survey, John Chipman, the IISS director general, said the US and its western allies needed to create “coalitions of the relevant” — groups of countries with vested interests working jointly on issues in a way that cuts across traditional alliances without isolating them.

 

Limitations on western intervention would become more apparent while Asian powers would be reluctant to intervene in their place, said the IISS.

 

Building “coalitions of the relevant” would involve states neighbouring Iran who would lose out if Iran had nuclear weapons, Chipman said. “It would make sense to involve key Arab states in the engagement with Iran,” he said.

 

The Israeli-Palestinian issue left Arab states unable to ally themselves with Israel, the IISS said. Yet a two-state solution could legitimise Israel in the eyes of moderate Arab public opinion and allow Arab states to work with Israel against “continuing threats from Iranian-supported regional groups.”

 

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

IS CASTE CENSUS A GOOD IDEA NOW?

 

The caste census had been left behind in 1931, when the British were still around, but casteism continues to be a malign presence in Indian life. After the political tremors caused in the late 1980s and the early 1990s in the wake of the conceptual understanding flowing from the report of the Mandal Commission (which lay in cold storage for years), recent developments suggest that there could possibly be a renewal of debate on the status of backward castes and classes, and a revival of the enumeration of population on a caste basis. This has the potential to cause introspection within parties, and also possibly ruptures. At the end of the colonial era, India adopted the democratic charter for itself because that was seen as the way to bring the idea of a reasonably decent life to all sections of people in a country that was mired in poverty and superstition, and deeply segmented along lines of caste. Since the notion of caste in the Hindu structure is descended from religious sanction, casteism is unlikely to be eliminated as a thought category or as an arena of social activity. However, antagonisms as between castes — especially between the so-called upper castes and those that come lower down in the traditional hierarchy — can be substantially eased or even be removed if economic benefits are spread across the spectrum. That is apparently the idea behind the proposal to revive the caste census made by law and justice minister M. Veerappa Moily in a recent letter to the Prime Minister. However, issues of this nature are seldom not contentious.

 

It transpires that the official Rural Households Survey of 2002, which has only recently been published, places the population of OBCs residing in the rural areas at 38.5 per cent. This cannot be the total OBC population in the country, but villages clearly should have the overwhelming bulk of backward caste people. This is broadly in accord with the 35 per cent indicated by the National Sample Survey. However, the Mandal Commission estimates, which were projections of the 1931 census, posited that 52 per cent of India could be classified as backward caste. Since political battles on the backward caste issue were under the Mandal Commission banner, the benefits to these sections that accrued in terms of reservations in employment and university enrolment were also guided by this statistical understanding. Since then court rulings have accepted the 50 per cent mark as the upper limit for reservations. If a figure lower than this is proposed, those currently enjoying the benefits are likely to be aggrieved, and this can show up in the stance of political parties and various interest groups. That would be a sad day indeed. Probably, that is why Mr Moily’s suggestion of revival of a caste survey through the 2011 census might have some practical benefits.

 

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

GREAT INDIAN ‘NOC’ TRICK

THE AGE DEBATE

ANOTHER WAY TO SHIELD THE CORRUPT

 

The provision of granting sanction for prosecution of higher officials allegedly involved in corruption cases should be diluted. In the current period, when corruption has become a menace, the logic of defending the higher officials from unnecessary harassment - by way of the provision under discussion - no longer holds good. It probably served some purpose 20 or 30 years ago.

 

The provision in itself may hold some merit, but the delay in granting sanction for prosecution has become a sure way of shielding the corrupt. If one visits the website of the Central Vigilance Commission, one would realise that there are hundreds of cases pending because the sanction for prosecution has not been given for as long as a year or longer.

 

What is the point in keeping the decision pending? This only means that those responsible for giving the sanction are not applying their minds, the idea being to kill the case. Ideally, there should be a time-bound provision for granting sanction. I think one month is quite enough. To be on the safe side, three months should be considered adequate.

 

The authorities concerned should either grant or refuse permission and, in the latter case, state the reasons in writing. Grounds for refusal should be accessible under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. If the permission does not come within the stipulated period, it should be assumed that sanction for prosecution has been granted.

 

At the root of the misuse of this provision is the nexus between corrupt officials and politicians. There is always a soft corner on the part of the higher ups to shield their juniors, which is displayed through a misplaced sense of fraternal consideration.

 

I would suggest that as far the all-India services are concerned, the question of jurisdiction should be removed. If, for example, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) finds evidence against an IAS, IPS, IRS officer, or one from any of the all-India services, it should be allowed to register a case without seeking the permission of the government of the state where the officer may be posted. The logic should be: You are from an all-India service and we (CBI) are an all-India organisation with a countrywide jurisdiction. Therefore, there is no need to refer to the state government.

 

The menace of corruption has increased so much that these days youngsters are getting attracted to the civil services because they see the possibility of making money on the sly. Just take a look at the assets of many such officers even at an early stage of their careers, and it would become clear that there is an urgent need to prevent corruption. Why have a provision which virtually gives such people a ticket to do whatever they want without the fear of being prosecuted?

 

Prakash Singh, former Director-General, BSF, and former DGP,Uttar Pradesh

 

It protects officers from harassment

The provision of granting sanction of prosecution is primarily to ensure that a public servant who, in the course of his duty, does anything bonafide that may infringe upon some rights and/or obliquely infringes a law, needs to be protected. The underlying is the course of bonafide action.

 

This isn't a shield against lawlessness. So, whenever there is a bonafide infringement of the provision of laws in the course of performing statutory functions, then the requirement of sanction of prosecution must be maintained. However, when there is a criminal act committed, or there exists an evidence of corrupt practices, neither is sanction of prosecution necessary nor should there be any protection.

 

No lawful duty requires infringement of laws; nor does it permit making of personal gains. Such acts are not covered and must not be covered by the requirement of departmental sanctions.

 

In a specific case of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act, where there is material collected by the investigating agency and placed before the court for prima facie sanction, the course should not be stalled by lack of departmental sanction if the material is found to be sufficient.

 

The law that gives protection is only for bonafide actions of the government servants in the course of their lawful duty.

 

A government servant must be protected from malign prosecution and abuse at the hands of mischievous or disgruntled elements in society.

 

However, he/she must not and cannot claim to be exempted from a trial for want of sanction when there is material on record to show that his acts are violative of the law of the land, be it as corruption or normal criminal offence.

 

There are umpteen number of corruption cases lying in various courts, including high courts and the Supreme Court, for want of sanction of prosecution from the concerned department. These cases have been lying for decades. In most of these cases, sanction has either not been granted, or, if granted, it is defective and cannot be rectified.

 

The sanction clause in all acts is strictly to include only those acts which need protection, and it must be ensured that this protection is not being misused.

 

The sanctioning authority should satisfy itself that there is a prima facie case, and record its reasons for launching prosecution and specify that it is necessary in the public interest.

 

The sanction order should be factually correct and complete in all respects and should satisfy the requirements of Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

 

Justice R.S Sodhi is a former judge of the

 

Delhi high court

 

(As told to Suchitra Kalyan Mohanty)

 

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

COSMETIC AUSTERITY

ANTARA DEV SEN

 

Cosmetics have their uses. They can help you look better, even younger and healthier. Of course they cannot actually make you younger or healthier. In fact, they can be really bad for health, ruining your skin and hair and eyesight, triggering allergies and even slowly destroying your life, like with Michael Jackson.

 

Sadly, our government is unaware of this. Always excited about cosmetic enhancement, it has now turned to a flamboyant austerity drive that is doomed to fail, instead of long-term cost-cutting measures or curbing corruption — that frightful drain on public resources that impedes governance and sucks the lifeblood out of the poor.

 

But being obsessed with ostentatious lifestyles and cosmetics is part of Delhi’s charm. You get used to it, especially to the expensive, diligent, posh make-up that offers the "natural" look. I grew up in blood-red Bengal, where there was no need for austerity — there was no ostentatious spending, the Communists lived simple lives in simple homes even if they did enjoy their Scotch in private moments. They came largely from the upper strata of society, usually had a bar-at-law degree from England, and tried hard to be one with the masses. That has not changed very much even now. And the new challenger to the throne of Bengal proudly flaunts her lower-middle class identity in her ordinary cotton sari, rubber chappals and jhola. Neither group needs to call for austerity. Yet both are guilty of seriously wasting public money — through bad governance, apathy, bandhs, destructive protests and, of course, corruption.

 

In short, if we wish to end the waste of public money, we need more than cosmetic changes. The austerity drive is fine for local colour, pretty much like lipstick or kohl, but we could do with some real change. And the political will to end corrupt customs, clean the system and plug loopholes that drain public funds. Like home minister P. Chidambaram’s call for police accountability in the face of muscle-flexing by the state governments.

 

"It is a matter of deep regret that many police officers have been reduced to a football, to be kicked here and there, from one post to another", said Mr Chidambaram at a meeting of senior police officers this week. But he did not see the police as victims. "Why do you remain silent when arbitrary postings and transfers are made by the state government? Is it not your duty, as police chiefs, to raise your voice not only on behalf of your officers but also on behalf of the people that you are duty-bound to protect?"

 

Meanwhile, law minister Veerappa Moily was also protesting state interference in the delivery of justice. It was about the fake "encounter killing" of teenaged Mumbai student Ishrat Jahan and others by the Gujarat police in 2004. After metropolitan magistrate S.P. Tamang ruled that Ishrat Jahan, Javed Ghulam Sheikh, Amjad Ali and Jisan Johar Abdul Gani were not linked to any terror group and were killed in cold blood, the Gujarat high court stayed the order, accusing Tamang of overstepping his jurisdiction. "This is the first time a government has found fault with a report given by a magistrate and has sought a stay", said the law minister. "He was also transferred the next day. I am concerned with the course of justice. Which judge can work with independence when there is so much interference?"

 

Political interference diligently keeps governance at bay, and usually through the police. One can hardly expect justice when the police are corrupt and working as the private army of politicians. Factor in political influence on the judiciary, the trickledown effect of corruption at every administrative and judicial level, and you have a system so unhealthy that you need surgical masks to protect yourself. The privileged classes can access the mask. The underprivileged quietly succumb to this festering systemic disease. This is the real "swine flu" that we need to guard against.

 

Police reforms have been pending for decades, there is no political will to make the police independent or hold them accountable. We are still governed by archaic British laws that look upon citizens of this democracy as subjects to be controlled. Combined with political influence, false cases, fake "encounter" killings and rampant corruption, it makes the police not the protector but the enemy of the people. The less power you have, the more you are exploited and harassed by the police.

 

In fact, protesting police violence has often led to the consolidation of forces against the state and strengthened the hands of Maoist rebels. Traditionally, the Naxals supported the weak against the unfair demands of the powerful and tried to straighten out social justice through the barrel of the gun. In areas where government failed, Maoists replaced the police. And soon replaced police atrocities with Maoist atrocities.

 

For some years now, our government bosses from the Prime Minister down have been complaining about Maoist violence being the biggest threat to Indian security. Unfortunately, it stops at the complaining and is countered only by more force. To complicate matters further, we are stuck between the Centre and the state and a lot of jargon. Because security comes under the Centre, but law and order and the police are state subjects. And without proper policing we cannot aspire for reliable internal security.

 

Three years ago, in September 2006, the Supreme Court had delivered a historic judgment in Prakash Singh vs Union of India, that laid down practical mechanisms for police reform. If state governments had honoured the court’s directives it would have given some functional autonomy to the police, through basic professionalism like security of tenure, transparent and streamlined appointment and transfer processes, etc, and could have brought in police accountability, both for collective and individual misconduct. The court’s directives were to be implemented by December 31, 2006. Unfortunately, though some states attempted to obey the court, many did not.

 

States like Uttar Pradesh, for example, believe that the police and bureaucrats are part of the chief minister’s feudal staff and personal militia. Senior civil servants are shuffled at whim, transferred for not being respectful enough, sidelined for doing their duty. States like Gujarat have the police killing citizens — especially if Muslim — either in fake "encounters" like Sohrabuddin and his wife or Ishrat Jahan and her friends, or by tacit assistance to the mob in engineered "riots" like in 2002.

 

Hopefully, Mr Chidambaram’s call for police accountability will trigger real change. We need that far more urgently than beauty aids like the austerity drive.

 

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at sen@littlemag.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

MADE-IN-TAIWAN GAMES PLEASE CHINA

S. NIHAL SINGH

 

In sentencing former President Chen Shui-bian for life on corruption charges, a Taiwan court has deepened the divisions on the island between those who support the present holder of office, Ma Ying-jeou of Kuomintang (KMT), and the supporters of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). And these differences centre round one idea: the Taiwanese identity.

 

Mr Chen’s is a rags-to-riches story and among his accomplishments has been the first democratic change of power in the Chinese world. The long-ruling KMT, which governed the island since Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland in 1949 after losing the civil war, was typically authoritarian. Indeed, the transition from a dictatorship was in itself a signal achievement.

 

Although most Taiwanese believe there is some substance to the corruption charges, the severity of the sentence on him and his wife — the latter too sentenced for life — and the legal process have been called into question. His wife is wheelchair-bound since a truck repeatedly ran over her in 1985 in what was widely interpreted as an attempt to kill Mr Chen by the then authoritarian regime. He has been held in solitary confinement since last November and changing the panel of judges revoked the bail twice granted him by a judge.

 

One of the judges who sentenced Mr Chen was the one who acquitted President Ma of corruption charges during his mayoralty of Taipei. Taiwan’s press is divided between those who hailed the judgment as "a milestone" and others who said the process was flawed. The sentiment of Mr Chen’s supporters was best expressed by the Taipei Times, which said: "Chen’s enemies in the KMT will celebrate tonight, comfortable in the knowledge that the man most responsible… for furthering the agenda of an independent democratic Taiwan has been taken out".

 

Mr Chen was the first Taiwan-born ruler of the island and did much to give voice to the urge for maintaining the Taiwanese identity. Relations between Taiwan and mainland China, which claims the island as its territory, had been prickly for most of the eight years of the Chen administration and even Taipei’s relationship with Washington often became strained because the latter was not in favour of provoking Beijing. Although Mr Chen realised that declaring de jure independence was not practicable — sometimes he came perilously close to it — he became a symbol of what most Taiwanese want: the status quo of de facto independence.

 

But the Taiwanese tired of Mr Chen’s histrionics and voted Mr Ma’s old KMT back to power in legislative and presidential elections last year. President Ma has been careful in avoiding the explosive political issue of the island eventually joining the mainland. It was a Japanese colony before Chang Kai-shek landed his remaining troops and much of his treasure on the island after the Communists won power in 1949. Since then the Chinese authorities have made the "one China" policy denoting the inclusion of Taiwan as a touchstone in their relations with the world.

 

But there has been a dramatic tactical shift in Beijing’s approach to Taiwan since the days it threatened to take the island by force, necessitating the United States to send warships to the region at one stage under the Clinton administration. China is now adopting a softer approach even while retaining batteries of missiles aimed at Taiwan, and welcomed President Ma’s own desire for better relations with open arms.

 

 

The result has been a flurry of activity. There are now for the first time direct flights and shipping links with the mainland. Chinese traders, tourists and officials have been welcomed to the island and while these measures have been popular with the Taiwanese, an undercurrent of unease has crept in over the pace of changes and Beijing’s agenda behind them. The Taiwanese have invested billions of dollars and run factories on the mainland, with a substantial expatriate Taiwanese community residing there.

 

President Ma has, indeed, been acting as if he was on a song, until Typhoon Morakat arrived killing more than 600 people, causing uproar over the administration’s slow response. The Prime Minister has now taken the rap by resigning but President Ma’s spell has been broken. Apart from accepting his Prime Minister’s resignation, he yielded on another count: agreeing to let the Dalai Lama visit the island to console the island’s victims at the risk of incurring Chinese displeasure. The demand for the spiritual leader’s visit, initiated by supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party, had earlier been rejected by the Ma administration.

 

Whatever the truth in the corruption allegations against Mr Chen — both he and his wife are expected to appeal — the court drama has connotations for the future course of domestic politics and the island’s relations with the mainland. Will DPP supporters take to the streets to protest against the treatment meted out to their leader? Can the opposition party draw a line under the Chen phenomenon to retain the support of moderate elements in its support base?

 

The larger question relates to Taiwan’s relations with the mainland. Before assuming presidency, President Ma had given a public undertaking that the question of the island joining the mainland would not be on his agenda during his administration, which can extend to a second four-year term. But the concern among many Taiwanese is that the speed and intensity of the economic linkages taking place will smother the island in an unwelcome Chinese embrace.

 

Significantly, in criticising the Dalai Lama’s Taiwan visit, Chinese ire was directed at the DPP initiators of the invitation, rather than President Ma, who did not meet the spiritual leader during the visit. Mr Chen, for his part, is reported to have penned a third book during captivity — his first two books topped the popularity charts. President Ma has still to convince his people that the trial and sentencing of Mr Chen and his family were not politically driven to please Beijing.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THREATS TO SECURITY

PM HINTS AT NUANCED STRATEGY

 

Dr Manmohan Singh has been candid while acknowledging that the naxalite threat continues to be perhaps “the gravest internal security threat” for the country. Addressing a gathering of chiefs of central and state police forces on Tuesday, he lamented that “despite our best efforts, the level of violence in the affected states continues to rise”. Indeed, the Maoist violence has increased to such a degree that they are responsible for 90 per cent of the violence in the country, with as many as 220 districts afflicted with Left extremism. Things have come to such a pass mainly because adequate attention had not been attached to the growing threat in the past, with former Home Minister Shivraj Patil even saying once that the situation was not all that serious. Maoists meanwhile made quiet inroads into newer areas and are now well entrenched in a large part of the country. They have sleeper cells in an even wider area, where more trouble could be breeding.

 

The key to tackling them lies in the Prime Minister’s assertion that it is not just a law and order problem. That is why it is necessary to adopt a nuanced approach. While on the one hand, there should be coordinated armed offensive against them, on the other there is need to improve the lot of the poor people who are so distressed that they willy-nilly come under the influence of the Maoists. A holistic approach can defeat the nefarious designs.

 

The Prime Minister has laid equal stress on tackling the external threat. Infiltration of terrorists into the country has been growing through the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, Nepal, Bangladesh and 7,500 km of coastline. Militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir are once again trying to make common cause with outside elements. That is why the Prime Minister underlined the need for rigorous police training which is on a par with the best practices being followed in the world. While the PM’s address clearly brings out the nature of the threat to security from elements inside the country and outside, the states have also to contribute to the fight against it. Unfortunately, they are lagging behind in this respect.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MELBOURNE’S SHAME

RACIST ATTACK SETS THE CLOCK BACK

 

MUCH though the Australian government has been trying to repair the damage caused to Indo-Australian relations in the wake of incidents of attacks on Indians in that country, the latest incident of four Indians from Punjab being brutally assaulted in the parking lot of a bar in Melbourne is appalling. That this attack was witnessed by 40 to 50 people and the attackers shouted “You Indians, go back to your country” while some others joined in making racist comments strengthens the surmise that racism is rampant at least in some pockets in Australia. That the attack occurred as Victoria’s Premier John Brumby was preparing to go on a mission to India to help repair Australia’s reputation shows that the Aussies have work to do to control this menace before they can claim to the Indian government that they have a grip over the situation.

 

Significantly, two of the victims were Australian citizens while another was a permanent resident. The fourth had recently gone to Melbourne on a spouse visa since his wife was a student there. The victims were engaged in a typically Australian form of entertainment — playing pool in a bar. Evidently, these were people who were emotionally at peace with the Australian milieu. Yet, they were assaulted and abused.

 

Clearly, while the Australian government has been professing to do everything to stop racial attacks, the authorities in general are not meting out deterrent punishment to the perpetrators of such crimes. In Saturday’s incident, the four attackers were arrested but later released pending further investigation. The police has denied that it is being soft on the offenders but such a conclusion is inescapable. It is now incumbent on the Indian government to take this matter up strongly with its Australian counterparts. Indo-Australian trade is on the upswing and Indian students are increasingly going to Australia but if this is the level of security they would get, there can hardly be any long-term hope on building on the edifice.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

WHY THE DEBT RELIEF ?

AKALIS CAN’T HAVE EASY WAY OUT

 

FOR years Punjab politicians have been pressing the Centre to waive the state’s militancy-related debt. The Akali leadership has also been demanding a higher share from the Central tax collections. In the latest round of talks with the 13th Finance Commission Chairman, Mr Vijay Kelkar, on Tuesday, Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal reportedly pointed out that between 1987 and 1992 the state was under Central rule and instead of raising taxes, the then Central leadership had saddled the state with special-term loans amounting to Rs 5,800 crore. How ironical!

 

The Akali Dal government, which has often shied away from imposing or raising taxes to meet its financial commitments, is complaining why the Centre had not levied new taxes then. The present Akali government is set to borrow Rs 5,000 crore in a single year, but it deplores the Central leadership’s resort to a debt of Rs 5,800 crore during the five years of President’s rule, that too with the additional engagement of fighting militancy. The successive governments in Punjab have preferred taking loans to raising taxes or cutting expenditure. That despite crass populism the ruling parties had lost elections is another matter. Years of bad governance and profligacy will push the state’s debt to Rs 63,216 crore this fiscal. The future generations of Punjabis will pay for the follies of present-day leaders.

 

Reports suggest the 13th Finance Commission may set pre-conditions if it agrees to give the state debt relief. These may include the introduction of user-charges on power and water for the farm sector and the imposition of house tax and property tax. These make eminent sense, given the state’s precarious financial condition. But these may not find favour with the ruling Akali Dal. Only recently at Shimla the party had decided to continue to tread the road to ruin despite the alarm raised by the state Finance Minister.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

WHY BORDER INTRUSIONS?

CHINA WANTS TO KEEP ITS OPTIONS OPEN

BY G. PARTHASARATHY

 

ONE abiding feature of our relations with China is our propensity to swing from elation and ecstasy to despondency and despair. Shortly after the visit of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to India in April 2005, our media, China scholars and sections of our Mandarin-speaking mandarins proclaimed that the festering “boundary question” with China was all but resolved. The Manmohan Singh-Wen Jiabao Declaration asserted that India-China relations had acquired “global and strategic significance” and that the two countries would establish a “strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity”.

 

An agreement laying down “Political Parameters and Guiding Principles” for resolving the border issue said that while respecting the “Line of Actual Control”, India and China would reach a boundary settlement which shall “safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas”, while using “modern cartographic and surveying practices and joint surveys”. Our “scholars” and media ecstatically proclaimed that the reference to “settled populations” in border areas meant that China had given up its claims to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. They were in for a rude shock. Within a year China started publicly and aggressively asserting that the whole of Arunachal was a part of “South Tibet”.

 

While talks on resolving the border issue have continued regularly after the visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in December 1988, the problem of Chinese intrusions into our territory arises from the fact that while the Line of Control is defined and demarcated by mutual agreement between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir, the “Line of Actual Control” (LOAC), which both sides have pledged to determine and respect, along the China-India border, has never been demarcated. It was decided that the issue of demarcation would be addressed by India and China exchanging maps about the precise location of the LOAC and reconciling differences through negotiations. While maps were exchanged on the Central Sector (adjoining Uttarakhand) and India provided its maps on the LOAC in the western sector (Ladakh) to China in 2002, China refused to provide maps outlining its version of where the LOAC lies, either on the western sector (Ladakh) or the eastern sector (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh). In the face of this impasse, it was decided in 2003 that the two countries would seek a “political solution” to the border issue.

 

It is evident that despite having agreed in principle that there could not be any change in the status of populated areas in 2005, China is now insistent that it would expect territorial concessions in the populated eastern sector, if it is to accommodate Indian claims in Ladakh. Because of the importance of Tawang as a Buddhist Monastery town, where the sixth Dalai Lama was born, China seeks control of Tawang to secure a fig leaf of legitimacy for its rule in Tibet. India has flatly rejected Chinese claims to Tawang, with Mr Pranab Mukherjee asserting: “Any elected Government in India is not permitted by our Constitution to part with any part of our land that sends representatives to the Indian Parliament”.

 

Thus, as long as China remains insistent on its claims in Arunachal Pradesh, there can be no settlement of the border issue. India has also indicated that it intends to improve communications near and along its land borders with China, boost its military presence in Arunachal Pradesh and also strengthen its eastern air defences. The entire problem of border intrusions today arises from the fact that China wishes to keep its options open by not spelling out where, in its view, the LOAC lies, so that it can continue to intrude, at a time and place of its choosing, into populated areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh and undermine public confidence in our border areas, in New Delhi’s will and ability to defend our territorial integrity.

 

Apart from border issues, China has made every effort to undermine Indian security interests in recent years. Pakistan is being assisted by China in boosting its nuclear weapons capabilities by supply of plutonium reactors and reprocessing facilities. Chinese supplies of ballistic and cruise missiles to Pakistan continue, as does the supply of fighter aircraft and frigates. China assists Pakistan-sponsored terrorism by blocking moves in the UN Security Council for action against the Jamat-ud-Dawa and the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hafiz Mohammed Sayed.

 

While pledging aid for hydro-electric projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, China seeks to block assistance for economic development in Arunachal Pradesh in the Asian Development Bank, on the ground that its status is “disputed”. More ominously, there is now evidence that China is using areas controlled by its protégés in the Kachin State of Myanmar to arm and train our north-eastern insurgent groups in Manipur and elsewhere, in its Yunnan province. One sees similar actions by China to undermine India’s relations with Nepal. Despite this, our mandarins glibly talk of a “strategic and cooperative partnership” with China.

 

There are areas like climate change, the WTO talks and the development of a multi-polar world order, where India and China have shared interests. China’s actions along India’s land and maritime frontiers and its efforts to undermine India’s regional influence by its policies in countries like Pakistan and Nepal will, however, remain sources of differences. We landed ourselves in disaster in 1962 because we glossed over the realities and misled public opinion domestically and globally. Our mandarins in South Block will do well to remember this when misrepresenting and avoiding a focus on the realities of our relations with China. We should, however, avoid resorting to rhetoric that escalates tensions.

 

Our Ministry of Defence unfortunately delays action on the acquisition of crucial equipment like fighter aircraft and artillery. Actions speak louder than words. Rather that talking about how we propose to increase troop levels, or modernise our air defences along our borders with China, we should act to expeditiously strengthen defences and road communication networks along our borders. In the meantime, there should be a continuing dialogue and exchanges with China aimed at ensuring that incidents which escalate tensions do not occur along our borders.

 

We should remember that China still has festering disputes on its maritime boundaries with Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia and that China settles its border disputes only when a weakened neighbour succumbs to its pressures. In the meantime, China does not hesitate to assert its presence across disputed boundaries with militarily weaker neighbours the like Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Chinese respect national power and will respect India only if our economic and military strength warrants respect for us as a people and as a country.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

A FRONTIER JEEVES

BY RAJ CHATTERJEE

 

Mahmud was an excellent bachelor’s servant. His cooking was superb. He looked after my clothes with the fastidious care that they have missed since we parted company, sorrowfully, in 1947, and he was discreet.

 

I has engaged him on the strength of a recommendation from a former civil surgeon, also a bachelor. It was one of those chits that you see by the score, except for one rather odd remark in it.

 

The Civil Surgeon has said that the bearer of the note has helped him, on several occasions to, “uphold the dignity of the Service”. I was puzzled and amused. Later, I was to discover the significance of the remark.

 

Mahmud was a particular about his own appearance as he was in regard to mine. He insisted on being supplied with the four sets of uniforms — two khaki, that he wore while travelling and the other two white that he changed into when we halted and he had had a bath.

 

In the car as we jogged along with dusty roads, he always tied a large, gaudy handkerchief on his head. With his “dress” uniform he would don a white muslin pugree, wound on a gold-threaded cone with a heavily starched and pleated and sticking out at least six inches, like an ostrich feather. His thick, black moustache stood up at both ends, helped, no doubt, by a liberal application of beeswax.

 

Soon after Mahmud entered my employ, I was transferred to Lahore and assigned the north-western part of the branch for my touring. That was in June, 1938, not the most salubrious time of the year! Those were the hectic days before the War when a little skirmishing on the Frontier was looked upon as good, clean fun.

 

That summer the Mohmands were a bit annoyed with the Yusufzais over the disappearance of a few head of cattle. Non-alignment was all right as long as you stayed within the barbed wire security of a cantonment, but my work involved a great deal of touring. I was in Peshawar one day, Bannu the next and Razmak the day after. It was a great relief when the Company, realising the danger to its staff, stopped all touring on the Frontier.

 

The highways were patrolled from 5 a.m. to noon each day by the tribal militia but frequently, I had to go off the beaten track and visit places like Miranshah, Ghaznikhel, Thal, Mardan and Mianwali. On such occasions, one could only hope that the rifles with which the tribesmen fired were locally made and not purloined Martinis and Lee-Enfields. Fortunately, the Company’s driver in this area was a Pathan who knew the roads and could speak the lingo.

 

One morning in July 1 left Thal at dawn to get to Parachinar before noon. The place is at a slight elevation, and I was looking forward to a night’s relief from the scorching heat of the plains. We had hardly gone 10 miles when the driver swerved to avoid a stray dog and hit a tree before he was able to pull up.

 

We got out to examine the damage. The front nearside tender was buckled rather badly. As we tugged at it with our combined strength, we heard the crack of a rifle followed by the whine of a bullet that made a clean hole in the safety glass windshield and went out through the rear window.

 

Our reactions to the interruption were not at all alike. The driver swore violently in Pashtu calling down divine wrath on the hidden marksman and his progeny for several generations to come. I made a dash for the back of the car and lay flat on the ground. Mahmud stood rooted to the spot, a look of utter disbelief on his face. Later, I heard him open the door of the car and get inside.

 

Nothing happened for half-an-hour, so we drove on. That evening, as I came out on the verandah I was surprised to see Mahmud impeccably dressed, moustache ends freshly waxed, waiting to give me a drink. As he was pouring it out, I asked him why he had not taken cover immediately when he heard the shot that morning.

 

He coughed deferentially and said: “Knowing that the Protector of the Poor was taking shelter from the heat of the sun, I considered it my duty to stay with the driver. You see, Huzoor, our izzat was at stake.”

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

GROWTH WITH EQUITY

TIME TO TAP TECHNICAL PROFESSIONALS

BY CHANDRA MOHAN

 

THE global meltdown has brought out many glaring weaknesses in the thrust of our accelerated economic growth during last decade. The biggest casualty has been the mass hope placed on the export of IT and BPO services. Plush air-conditioned offices, fancy pay packages, rapid career-jumps and opportunities for foreign travel had raised IT & ITES into the national be-all of the new generation; computers & IT becoming the sole mission of every child.

 

Fuel to that fire had been added by the government calling it a knowledge industry. It must be remembered that computers are only a tool. Their advantage is that they can store and process massive amounts of data at the click of a button for the analysis and use of managers. Benefit comes only out of the end-use in practice and that alone is knowledge. All that massive data and miles of computer reports are otherwise pure garbage-in and garbage-out.

 

That infinite mass dream-run is over. Because of turbulence, the global market has now moved to teams of domain specialists and specific tasks. Assignments are for limited terms.

 

An outcome of the exponential growth of the globally mobile, computer-savvy affluent middle-class was a market for world-class products. Since quality and R&D capability of protected Indian industry lagged far behind, this market was gladly lapped by MNCs saddled with massive over-capacities in the stagnating markets of the developed world.

 

Our liberal policies on capital investment and permitting high import content facilitated their entry. The success of Honda, Hyundai, LG, Samsung and Nokia illustrates this. The burgeoning service industry to reach and service these new generation products followed as a corollary.

 

Gross under-investment in infrastructure like power, roads; ports, rail-roads and urban services is hurting every facet of the economy-manufacturing industry in particular. Power is the worst criminal. Private investment in standby gen-sets runs into astronomical figures. The daily penalty on running them and the atmospheric fouling they create via emissions and noise adds to the woes.

 

The benefits of the economic boom remained confined to 30 per cent English-speaking urbanites at the top of the pyramid in cities. They completely bypassed the bottom third of the pyramid in villages and slums. Direct social programmes like NREGA and JNURM alone made an impact on their uplift. And, that is the reason why clamour for such programmes has increased.

 

It is thus amply clear that the post-1991 measures for facilitating foreign investment and monetary policy have not been able to address our societal concerns effectively and a fresh look is essential for achieving non-bumpy growth at high rates in the coming years.

 

Everyone knows that investment in social programmes and infrastructure entails extended gestation and returns are slow. Therefore, unless these investments are made out of revenue surpluses and savings, they lead to inflation which hurts everyone the poor the most.

 

 

On the economic front, liberalisation over the last two decades has primarily focused on trade and foreign investment coupled with periodic adjustment of monetary policies like CRR, PLR etc. The reesult has been periodic cycles of boom and burst markets. The biggest sufferer of that pendulum swing is the domestic manufacturing industry. It shakes its faith in investment for growth, and continuous investment is critical for survival in today’s global competition.

 

Fears of inflation and tightening of interest rates in the coming months have already begun to stalk the aam admi thrust of the recent budget, which could raise the deficit to beyond 6 per cent of the GDP.

 

Another harsh truth which we seem to forget is that investment, whether global or domestic, flows to most attractive returns involving minimum risk. An investor’s interest clock also begins to tick from the word GO; every second counts. Delays and long gestations are negatives. Global investors continue to prefer China; democracy, the rule of law etc. are hogwash for sloganeering.

 

In this gloomy scenario, the question is: How do we achieve accelerated growth which is also equitable?

 

Global experience firmly establishes that productivity, quality, technology and entrepreneurship alone ensure sustained growth. In our case, it is equally important that the initiative reaches deep into rural India. New doors are always opened by entrepreneurs and they are also the instrument for long-term progress.

 

The railways with their well-oiled managerial network serving 11,000 railway stations emerges as one such organisation. Like Kennedy’s Mission to the Moon which transformed the USA in the sixties, goals which raise railway operational efficiency by leaps and fire public imagination simultaneously could be:

 

Raise train punctuality to better than 1 minute. The 1-second goal for punctuality was achieved by Japanese National Railways half a century ago when there were no computers and electronic automation. Make all railway land within station limits litter-free and clean. Dispose of all junk and surplus.

 

Paint and maintain all locomotive exteriors in sparkling shape maintain all passenger train exteriors in sparkling shape.

 

Success with such goals will set an example for everyone to emulate and set India on a new trajectory. It will certainly demand new thinking; new processes. But given the will, these goals can be achieved and quickly. Other candidates with similar potential, though diffuse in management and more difficult to handle, are state transport undertakings and electricity boards.

 

Today, 800,000 technical graduates in diverse disciplines are being turned out annually by 20,000 professional institutions spread across the country. There could be no better candidates for entrepreneurship than fresh technical graduates. It should not be difficult to select prospective entrepreneurs and re-orient education and training.

 

Young graduates are straining to get off the mark. The present job scenario is hurting their pride. They have basic technical knowledge. Interest of some is also deep and practical. They have no liabilities. They can take risk, can easily forge cross-functional teams from their circle of friends and can easily find mentors within faculty, industry or professionals.

 

Voluntary organisations like The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) with its 4,000 plus entrepreneur members in over 20 chapters with its global associates is another excellent voluntary resource. Mentoring by experienced entrepreneurs is TiE’s sole objective and charter.

A close link of their technical institution to their bankers is another advantage for financial assistance to the new

ventures. Basic guidelines for projects which could help are market for the initial phase should preferably lie within 100 km. Teams of two friends with complementary capabilities are ideal. More is a crowd. One of them must be an extrovert and a net-worker.

 

It is high time that we as a nation realised that wishful thinking and lofty enactments alone will not usher that change. Isn’t time lost in endless debate and file-notes an antithesis of modern management whose essence is speed and first tenet; delegation coupled with accountability?

 

Similarly, the appointment of a Secretary, Performance Appraisal, in the PMO for monitoring projects seems totally incongruous to today’s lean structures. It is time we recognised that molly-coddling has to stop. Without determined and sustained thrust on quality, productivity, efficiency and time, global eminence that we seek will remain elusive.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

TRACKING WATER CONSUMPTION

BY KARI LYDERSEN

 

WATER management is serious business in areas, where precipitation is scarce, irrigated agriculture is a major industry and new housing subdivisions spread across arid landscapes.

 

"If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," water officials are fond of saying. But measurement — trying to determine how much water is diverted from rivers and how much is pumped from hundreds of thousands of wells — has been an inexact and expensive science.

 

Now a tool developed by the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the University of Idaho is changing the face of water management and conservation by efficiently offering specific measurements of the water consumed across a large region or single field.

 

Using surface temperature readings from government satellites, air temperature and a system of algorithms, the new method lets officials measure how much water is "consumed" on a certain piece of land through evapotranspiration.

 

Evapotranspiration is a combination of the evaporation of water into the atmosphere and the water vapor released by plants through respiration — basically, a measurement of the water that leaves the land for the atmosphere, not water that is diverted or pumped onto land but then returned quickly to the water table or river for other users.

 

Water resource management agencies in Idaho and other states see this as the best way to measure water consumption, since it is a more exact definition of how much water is being removed from the system by a given individual or entity.

 

The program, called METRIC for Mapping EvapoTranspiration with High Resolution and Internalized Calibration, was launched in 2000 with a NASA/Raytheon Synergy Project grant and is used by 11 states. (Though researchers do measure the evapotranspiration rates of residential developments, the method is mainly relevant to the management of agriculture, fish farms and forest or wetland conservation.)

 

"There's not enough water for all uses, so you use METRIC to see exactly where water is being consumed," said Tony Morse, manager of geospatial technology at the Idaho Department of Water Resources. "How much for agriculture, how much on the Indian reservation, how much by native cottonwoods, how much by saltcedars."

 

METRIC uses images from the two Landsat satellites, which orbit Earth every 16 days, meaning an image of a given field is available every eight days unless cloud cover interferes. Until this year users had to pay the U.S. Geological Survey $600 for each 185-by-180-kilometer "scene." Starting in 2009 the government satellite images, which are also used for Google Earth, are free to the public. METRIC developers have published their algorithms for anyone to use, though agencies must write their own computer codes.

 

The data have already been used to help settle a century-long fight between Colorado and Kansas over water in the Arkansas River and a dispute between Idaho irrigation districts. Previously, officials had to look at well-pumping records and electricity use to estimate each irrigation district's usage. Water managers say the data help to settle and avoid litigation.

In Oregon, METRIC data helped conserve water in Klamath Basin salmon habitats by helping scientists work with ranchers to withhold irrigation from certain cattle pastures. In California, the program eased fears that water transfers to Los Angeles and San Diego would increase the salinity of Imperial Valley farmland. In Texas, METRIC revealed that invasive saltcedar trees were using less water than expected, indicating an expensive eradication of the trees was likely not necessary.

 

The system can allow irrigation districts or other entities to conserve water and save the surplus for drier times. The same principle applies to farmers who can "bank" their rights to consumer water and lease or sell those rights to other users. The data are also crucial to government programs that buy back water rights — essentially paying farmers to let their land dry — so the water can flow into streams where steelhead trout and salmon spawn.

 

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

 

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THE TRIBUNE

HEALTH

DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH

BY VICKY HALLETT

 

MY favorite thing about yoga classes — other than the part at the end when you get to lie down and act like a corpse — is that the instructors always remind me to breathe. Pretty much without fail, whenever I get the cue "Don't hold your breath," I am. And as soon as I go for a deep, belly-expanding inhale, I feel amazingly able and at ease.

 

It's no mystery why this happens. Stress causes us to tense up, while breathing brings oxygen to the muscles and allows us to relax. "It helps with concentration. It increases endurance. It slows your heart rate," rattles off Alvaro Maldonado, co-owner of a FIT personal training gym in D.C. In short, full lungs do a heck of a lot more than just keep you alive, especially during strenuous physical activity.

 

Any personal trainer worth his spandex knows the basic rules: You want to exhale on the exertion part of a movement, and inhale on the recovery. During cardiovascular exercise, short breaths are a clue that you're overdoing it. And if you can develop a pattern for your breathing, you're likely to last longer.

 

But much of the time in gym settings, the breath takes a back seat to other concerns: what we're lifting, how we're squatting, when we're leaving. That may be why when Karen Sherman, a senior investigator at Seattle's Group Health Center for Health Studies, looked into treatments for chronic low-back pain in 2005, weekly yoga classes plus home practice appeared to be slightly more effective than weekly sessions of aerobic, strengthening and stretching exercises plus home practice.

 

"What's the active ingredient?" asks Sherman, whose results were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. No one knows why yoga was more effective than the other exercises, but Sherman believes part of the answer is attention to breathing.

 

"It's not that people don't think about breathing, but they don't give you the same language and imagery that creates more awareness," she says. "For someone with back pain, one of the possibilities is they haven't been paying attention to their bodies." If you're doing more-vigilant surveillance, there's a better chance you'll notice that you should stand straighter or move differently, and those tweaks could provide the treatment you really need.

 

That bodes well for the future of the Mindfulness Center, a studio opening in Bethesda, Md., next week. The concept is to blend meditation and fitness to create classes that focus on "mind, body and spirit, not just body," explains the center's founder, Deborah Norris, who is American University's psychologist-in-residence and a specialist in behavioral medicine. "You need to put it all together and pay attention to the fact that they're all connected."

 

Scheduled classes include such offerings as "Mind Body Sculpt." Instead of merely telling students to lift a weight, Norris will tell them to also lift their hearts. Then she'll prod them: "Notice how it feels? How are your energy levels shifting?" "It's the workout of a traditional class, but mentally it's clarifying and puts you at ease," she says.

 

And part of that is done with — you guessed it — breathing. "When you focus on the breath, the brain focuses inward, and that seems to be good for us," Norris says.

 

So, let this be a reminder to you — and me: Don't hold your breath.

 

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

GREEN REVOLUTIONARY

 

Those who named it The Green Revolution clearly did not use the phrase in its contemporary sense. Today green embodies the colour of ecology. Ironically, its proponents criticise the ‘father’ of the so called Green Revolution, Dr Norman E Borlaug, who passed away on September 12 at the age of 95, for having caused more ecological problems than he solved. There is more than a ‘grain’ of truth to this, for the hybrid strains of high yielding and disease resistant varieties of wheat that Borlaug developed completely destroyed traditional and sustainable agricultural practices in favour of less eco-friendly ones. But neither Borlaug, nor the world in the 1960s, had any choice of alternatives. That was the post world-war era of population explosion, with food output, particularly in developing countries, desperately struggling to keep pace with the growing number of mouths to feed. It had been either use of scientific innovation to dramatically raise food production, or confront the spectre of wide ranging famines in areas such as Latin America, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. Borlaug’s success with high yielding varieties in Mexico having attracted international attention, it was but inevitable that he would be drawn into the tussle at a global level. His zealous commitment enabled him to overcome resistance even from the proverbially negative bureaucracy of India, one of the many countries that gained enormously from the fruits of Borlaug’s toil.


In fact, towards the latter part of the 1960s, after using varieties developed by Borlaug, so bountiful Indian wheat harvests became that there was no space where to store the produce. Having become self-sufficient in grain cereal production, the nation had no need to import food or look for handouts from the more opulent countries. Thus, indirectly, the plant scientist had a huge role to play in fashioning the new image of India in the twenty first century, of a self-reliant and self-confident nation with a fast growing economy. It is said that about half the world’s population goes to bed every night after consuming grain descended from one of the high yield varieties developed by Borlaug and his colleagues. Aptly, he received the Nobel Prize in 1970 not for a scientific discipline but for Peace. The citation had read, “More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.” It is, of course, difficult to correctly gauge the impact of the revolution ushered in by Borlaug, for there are many imponderables to his legacy. Its colour might not quite be green, yet there can be little doubt that by averting catastrophes of the moment he changed the course of history and armed the world with optimism to strive towards a better future.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FAMILY PLANNING


N
otwithstanding some positive developments taking place in the health sector, a sizeable section of the State’s women living in char (riverine) areas continues to suffer for lack of access to health care and even the basic awareness about family planning. A case in point is a settlement on the Moabari embankment near Moirabari in Morigaon district on which this newspaper carried a news feature. The women are compelled to lead a life of perpetual drudgery, with the bane of early marriage and child-bearing at close intervals haunting them for a good part of their lives. All the families have on the average six to eight children, most of them suffering from malnutrition. All this is more surprising given that the area is not exactly remote, with a government hospital located nearby. The grim reality, therefore, is that the much-hyped government interventions on health care, especially for women and children, remain a non-starter in the area. It is regrettable that a crucial area like family planning – something inextricably linked to woman empowerment as well as long-term socio-economic progress – should be neglected in this manner. Moabari is not an isolated episode, and there would be scores of such areas across the State where government-sponsored welfare schemes exist only on paper.


For meaningful implementation of any welfare project, the Government will have to accord thrust on reaching out to the most needy and vulnerable sections. Recently, the Government introduced several programmes aimed at ensuring family planning, institutional delivery, etc. Places like Moabari need to be accorded special focus for success of the projects, as doing things as a matter of routine will lead us nowhere. Along with health interventions there is an urgent need for creating awareness in the backward areas having a high incidence of illiteracy and poverty. A sustained motivational campaign with support from voluntary organisations could help in freeing the minds of the targeted beneficiaries from the deep-rooted social dogmas and prejudices that shackle them. In places like Moabari, women are made to believe that early marriage and child-bearing are their bounden duties. The Government spends crores of rupees on adult literacy every year. The point is why such campaigns fail to reach the areas which need such interventions the most. The Government would do well to realise that drumbeating its perceived successes amounts to living in a fool’s paradise when the reality presents a picture in stark contrast. The abysmal human development indices for women will continue to make a mockery of all tall claims by the Government.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TALKING SENSE AT LAST

PATRICIA MUKHIM

 

The three-day DGP’s conference held in New Delhi has seen some plain speaking by Home Minister P Chidambaram. He has minced no words in saying that armed insurrection will not be entertained within the Indian State. This does not need further amplification. Groups like the NSCN (IM) and K and a plethora of other gun-totting mercenaries should now get the message loud and clear. Anyone having even the faintest notion of trying to dismember the nation-state, their ‘unique’ histories notwithstanding, stands in grave danger of being treated as enemies. And the Indian State is neither very forgiving nor tolerant of enemies.


However, the Home Minister has also given ample scope for groups to bring their grouses to the negotiating table since there is nothing under the sun that cannot be negotiated without the booming of guns in the background. Militant groups from the North East should get some straight messages from the new Home Minister. Never before has the Home Ministry made as much news and seen to be taking the bull by the horns as is happening today. Even as Finance Minister, P Chidambaram was never as feted as he is today. He is delivering and it is gratifying to note that our jungle warriors have abandoned their bravado and some have already surrendered their arms, to walk the straight and narrow paths of common citizens.


The three day conference in New Delhi is addressing terrorism, extremism and the North East conflicts which perhaps overlap both categories and spills over into more domains. For how do you define the conflicts in Manipur? That State and its people are living in a confused, chaotic scenario of street protests every single day even while the security forces are unrelenting in their attempt to finish off the extremism/insurgency/terrorism/extortionism and what have you in the State of Manipur. While citizens are grappling with State-high-handedness after Sanjit Singh, a reformed militant was brutally shot at by the Manipur commandos, the militants are having a field day because they are left to their devices each time the uniformed personnel are on the back foot.


It is a peculiar situation that civil society has never been vehement when militants have bumped off chosen targets. Perhaps it is due to fear of reprisal. Politicians and security forces are soft targets that can be held to ridicule and be publicly reprimanded because they are easily identified. But why are there no spy cameras to photograph militants while on their killing spree? Are we missing something here in our bravura to hail the secret camera person? It takes an uncanny accuracy to be at the scene of the crime to record what is defined as ‘State-sponsored terrorism’. Perhaps there is more here than meets the eye. Granted that we have the best mobile telephony gadgets and spy-cams but to be in the right place at the right time is nothing short of a million dollar breakthrough.


But like it or not, this very incident has catapulted the North East yet again into the national limelight. A Delhi-based television channel did a thirty minutes feature on the horrors of Manipur and how people there live life on the edge. Those who constantly moan that the North East is nearly always falling off the Indian map will be happy that they are now in the news, albeit for the wrong reasons. That even the students of journalism should be fed with this clichéd gripe that the national media does not give enough space to North East news. For goodness sake why is it so important to be seen on ‘national’ television or ‘newsprint’ unless we suffer some sort of congenital orphan syndrome. Does it affect us when we see farmers in Andhra committing suicide? Don’t we just discuss and forget about the issue? And don’t our power packers in Delhi do the same thing? So why bother about ‘national’ media anyway? Like somebody has rightly remarked there is not such thing as a national media. NDTV or CNN-IBN are Delhi based channels and very metro-centric in their discussion of important issues. We should ask ourselves why we watch them and increase their TRP ratings?


So much for national attention! Let me now come to the point with which I started this article. The North East now needs major infrastructural investments and these will only come in a climate of political stability and economic viability. No one is going to spend his hard earned money here to pay off militant groups. Those who have done so have recovered the profits from us the citizens. It is time now for those who have a stake in development – human, physical, economic, ecological and political to put their heads together and find out means to strengthen the State mechanism that is fighting terror, instead of constantly bailing out hard core militants with our misplaced sympathies and skewed human rights slogans.


Two or three or five decades of violence have taught us enough lessons in adversity for us to want to continue with this lose-lose phenomenon and to look at win-win scenarios. P Chidambaram has hit the nail on the head when he calls the problem by its name. We have fooled ourselves by supporting ‘our ULFA boys’ our ‘Naga National Workers’ our ‘Khasi Freedom Fighters’ and the thirty odd extremist groups in Manipur. In fact I think we have conceded defeat by leaving our living spaces and looking for safe spaces to live in, instead of roughing it out in those theatres of violence. Sadly, after having left our hearths and homes we then become the most vociferous proponents of human rights. This is pure and simple hypocrisy. Those who want to change the world cannot live in heaven. They have to be in the world and with the world. Sadly, Delhi has become the safe haven for all human rights activists of the North East.


We have to get real if we want to get somewhere. The time to begin is now.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

REGIONAL TRADE AND ROLE OF CHITTAGONG PORT

DWAIPAYAN

 

There will probably be no understatement to say that the economy of Assam is still in a moribund State, and that there is seldom any sign visible of it turning vibrant or resilient in the foreseeable future with its fast-growing expenditures on wrestling with the insurgency and the post-flood scenarios in particular. Under these compelling circumstances, had the agriculture sector, the key revenue-tax earning source of the State, fared as well as a few years before, it would have been a little but rewarding. But ironically, this sector is seemingly turning out to be unpredictable. Whether it is for lack of sound irrigation mechanism, elusive monsoon or flash floods whatsoever, is an altogether different matter.


This year, for example, the far-below the expectation agricultural output can without hesitation be attributed to the erratic rain and the near drought-like situation developing in the five districts of the State. But what about its performance the previous year? It was not too amusing with rain being normal in most parts of it.

The tea industry in the State that has over the decades bolstered its economy substantially, besides providing employment to a fairly good number of people in the State, to cite an example, is currently passing through a bad patch. The situation turned worse when its production dropped 15 per cent during the first quarter of 2009. Resultantly, its exports too, fell to 50.26 million kg in the same period from 63.70 million kg a year ago.


Shortfall in tea output and deterioration in its quality is a phenomenon that has been a core concern for the State's tea industry for quite a long time now. The long persistence of tea bushes over larger uneconomic and unproductive areas, say for over 50 years, if not less, lack of proper planning and initiative in bringing about a transformation in the existing technique of plantation and replantation are largely responsible for this problem. At a time when the new players, namely Kenya and Sri Lanka, are gradually making their presence felt in the international market with their offer of good quality tea at affordable or reasonable prices, what Assam urgently needs is outstrip them with high quality export brand it has to develop, so that it can regain its waning stranglehold over it. Indeed, it is amusing that this problem is now being addressed through replantation with the recently-raised Special Purpose Tea Fund (SPTE).


With all these ills of the State keeping its economy from healthy and strong over the decades, its accelerated growth is possible if the people of Assam are provided with a break to do regular and large volume border trade without interruption with the Asian countries nearby. For this to happen, there is the need for an all-weather route, not like the road at Nathu La pass which remains closed for a better part of a year due to rough weather. There was, for example, no transaction through this border road in the months of May and June this year due to landslide.

Indeed, a mere opening of a route for border trade will not serve any purpose unless officially-notified exchangeable items are modern and of day-to-day use. If the India -China border trade via Nathu La pass is today flat it is largely because of the items, only 29 good to be exported from the Indian side and a meagre 15 items from the Chinese traders, having been obsolete and of no commercial value. Which is exactly why traders from both sides have been insisting on the revision of these commercial items. Therefore, if an alternative trade route is identified in the near future across Assam-South-East Asian nations border, the issue of exchangeable items should be taken into account at any cost.


A sustainable economic development of Assam and the other north-eastern States of the country could be an easy job if they had the privilege of conducting trade with Asian countries and China through the Stilwell road because the cities of these nations including Kunming, capital of China's Yunan province, and Bangkok, to name a few, are much closer to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in particular than they are to mainland India. Frankly, the 1726-km long road at Ledo connects Assam to Kunming after touching almost all the important Southeast Asian metros. The opening up of free and special trade zones between South Asia, Assam and other NE States as well as Asian countries that could be facilitated by the reopening of the Stilwell road will serve to connect the NE region with the ever-expanding global trade regime for markets and profits. Notably, the Look East Police, was formulated only to facilityate providing opportunities for it.


Even though economically underdeveloped, the entire region is resource-rich. There are many exportable items available in plenty here. Think of Assam, it has huge deposits of crude oil and natural gas. It accounts for 50 per cent of the tea produced in the country. It also has good quality Eri and Muga. But all it needs urgently is an opportunity for a good access to and trade engagements with all these countries, which was all in the Stilwell route.

But, after a little over a decade of anxious waiting, it was of late informed that the plan of its reopening has been put on shelve following objections from Myanmar. This has expectantly triggered resentment among sections of people in Assam. The Centre has naturally drawn flak from the AASU on the issue.


However, amidst this depressing event, one good news is that Bangladesh's Sheikh Hasina government known to be pro-Indian, has of late expressed its willingness to trade with the North East. The news report that has been the headline stories in most leading dailies in the region says that the country may offer India the facility to use its southeastern Chittangong Port to transport goods from the land locked North East. This was recently divulged by the Bangladesh Commerce Minister Faruk Khan while talking to the newsmen at Dhaka after participating in a function to herald the launch of his country's brick export to Tripura at Akhaura border check-post complex.


Another amusing information is that along with the south-eastern Chittagong seaports, south-western Mongla seaport could also be expected to be offered for use by the neighbouring countries to help boost regional trade in line with the ruling Awami League's election manifesto, as said by the minister. If they are really put to use, the people of Assam and the rest of the region can find and receive the supply of the essential food items such as sugar, potato, dal, onion etc, in their retail markets at reasonable prices which are at present selling at most open markets of Guwahati and many other cities and towns in the State and beyond at alarmingly higher prices. Indeed, it can materiatise once mainland India agrees to use these ports to supply these goods to the region. Should it consent to the use of them Assam can gain economically by transporting its export items to Bangladesh. The State is much closer to it than Assam is to the other Asian countries such as China and Bangkok. The all-important is the upgradation of the ports.


Bangladesh will also be equally gainer from trade with the North East. This perception is further confirmed when Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty earlier said that the country could earn revenue between $ 1.5 billion and $ 2 billion by providing the region Chittagong Port for regional use.

Undoubtedly, it is a golden opportunity for Assam in particular, if it comes its way, to its rapid economic growth. Therefore, under no circumstances can it be allowed to go unutilised. For the much-needed border trade to materialise, there is the need for a bilateral agreement between India and Bangladesh on the use of the seaports all the year and trade. Assam should now excrt pressure on the Centre to take up the issue with Bangladesh to reach a broad consensus at the earliest.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE

DON'T COMPLICATE THE DEAL

 

India has received a request to consider key changes in its laws and regulations to facilitate a dual listing of the new entity born out of the cross-border merger between Bharti Airtel and the South Africa-based telco, MTN. The South African government has sought finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s help in making this happen. The FM said on Tuesday that India could look at its current laws to see whether dual listing can be facilitated. For any discussion on the question of dual listing, it is necessary to first understand what dual listing is all about.

Simply put, a dual-listed entity involves two companies incorporated in different countries contractually agreeing to operate their businesses as if they were a single enterprise, while retaining their separate legal identity and existing stock exchange listings. You could call it a virtual merger of sorts.


The shares in each corporate entity reflect the combined economics of the two companies and the operations of the companies are managed through a common governance structure. On the face of it, this may seem a very complicated exercise. However, the South Africans, who are keen on retaining the identity of MTN as a national symbol, are suggesting that this framework will actually help avoid the complexities involved in an actual physical merger.


But there are several hurdles on the Indian side that may have to be crossed for dual listing. First, government policy must allow dual listing. At the moment no such policy exists. The stock exchanges of both countries should have similar rules.


One will also have to resolve the issue of capital account convertibility involved in such an exercise. For instance, if South African shareholders are allowed to sell Bharti shares on their domestic bourse it will amount to stake sale in a foreign denominated currency. This may entail some relaxation of capital convertibility norms. The question is if an exception can be made for one company only by the India.


Surprisingly, the dual listing request has come up at the eleventh hour and one is not sure why MTN and the South African government would want to complicate matters. If the idea is to just maintain the national identity of MTN, it can surely be achieved in other ways.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TACKLING LEFT EXTREMISM

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remarks on evolving a nuanced strategy to tackle left-wing extremism suggest the government might finally formulate and implement a strategy that reverses the political and security failure on the Maoist front.


Indeed, as the PM observed — at an annual conference of top police officers — not only has Maoist violence in the affected states risen despite the governments efforts, but it also retains influence among significant sections of civil society.


That, in no small measure, has happened due to the absence of a coherent plan to tackle the Maoist threat. A plan that not only tackles the menace at the law and order level but also delivers socio-economic development and envisages a political engagement with the people. Lalgarh, for instance, illustrates the inadequacy of dealing with the problem militarily without an attendant political programme.


Despite the massive campaign, violence continues in the area. For, given non-inclusive development, the Maoists step in where the state has effectively retreated, and they then seek to instigate the idea among the dispossessed that the state simply can’t work.


And combating this extremism then ceases to be a question of restoring law and order. It becomes a vicious cycle of abysmal development and Maoist violence, which in turn doesn’t allow any developmental schemes to be implemented.


Seeking to counter the challenge by creating and using groups like the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh only worsens the situation. Chhattisgarh, in fact, demonstrates that the crisis of sovereignty the Maoists represent for the Indian state can’t be dealt with by virtually abdicating state responsibility.


What is needed is for the Centre and the concerned state governments to work closely together to evolve a comprehensive plan to tackle Maoist insurgency. One main aspect of that would entail making the security forces more efficient and providing them better training and equipment.


Another would be to correct a skewed, non-inclusive vision of development that leaves out entire sections of society. The PM has said just the right things. The real task now is to actually implement them holistically.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FASHION WEAK: LESS SHOWS, MORE SUBSTANCE

 

Fashionistas in India can be forgiven for feeling a trifle dizzy this past month. How in the world are they supposed to be on top of the couture scene if there are more fashionweeks per month than the Gregorian calendar can possibly accommodate? Besides runway collections for men and women in the two major metros, now every city in India has or wants one of its own, as if it is a coming-of-age rite.


While these may offer great platforms (or runways, to be precise) for local talent to get recognition and a modicum of media coverage, what it achieves in terms of business generated is debatable. More often than not these occasions simply become social get-togethers for the friends and family of the small designer fraternity.

Things can get a bit complicated, however, if someone has too many designer friends, that too those who take part in all the fashionweeks that come up. Their designer friends’ wanting to blow airkisses to known faces and muses in the front row can prove pretty taxing for a fashionista, what with sudden airline strikes, bad weather and traffic jams in major cities.


Right now there are about a dozen fashionweeks staged in cities round the country over the year, some due to splits in the governing bodies, some even due to rival brands competing to see their names attached to the fashion story.


The problem is that while fashionweeks proliferate, the same key designers remain common factors as the main draw for the crowds amid city-specific rookies. That, of course, poses enormous logistical problems for fashionweek regulars when it comes to being seen at the right shows, in the right rows.


Nor would it do for the fashion-forward to absent themselves from any of these events, because then questions might arise about the state of their finances. So the dizzying merry-go-round continues. It is time fashionweeks and fashionistas decide to get real. Surely, less quantity and more quality would be the best answer, both for beleaguered designers and their fashionista friends.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE GDP FETISHISM

 

Striving to revive the world economy while simultaneously responding to the global climate crisis has raised a knotty question: are statistics giving us the right “signals” about what to do? In our performance-oriented world, measurement issues have taken on increased importance: what we measure affects what we do.


If we have poor measures, what we strive to do (say, increase GDP) may actually contribute to a worsening of living standards. We may also be confronted with false choices, seeing trade-offs between output and environmental protection that don’t exist. By contrast, a better measure of economic performance might show that steps taken to improve the environment are good for the economy.


Eighteen months ago, French President Nicolas Sarkozy established an international Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, owing to his dissatisfaction — and that of many others — with the current state of statistical information about the economy and society.


The big question concerns whether GDP provides a good measure of living standards. In many cases, GDP statistics seem to suggest that the economy is doing far better than most citizens’ own perceptions. Moreover, the focus on GDP creates conflicts: political leaders are told to maximise it, but citizens also demand that attention be paid to enhancing security, reducing air, water, and noise pollution, and so forth — all of which might lower GDP growth.


The fact that GDP may be a poor measure of well-being, or even of market activity, has, of course, long been recognised. But changes in society and the economy may have heightened the problems, at the same time that advances in economics and statistical techniques may have provided opportunities to improve our metrics.

For example, while GDP is supposed to measure the value of output of goods and services, in one key sector — government — we typically have no way of doing it, so we often measure the output simply by the inputs. If government spends more — even if inefficiently — output goes up.


In the last 60 y ears, the share of government output in GDP has increased from 21.4% to 38.6% in the United States, from 27.6% to 52.7% in France, from 34.2% to 47.6% in the United Kingdom, and from 30.4% to 44.0% in Germany. So what was a relatively minor problem has now become a major one.


Likewise, quality improvements — say, better cars rather than just more cars — account for much of the increase in GDP nowadays. But assessing quality improvements is difficult. Health care exemplifies this problem: much of medicine is publicly provided, and much of the advances are in quality.


The same problems in making comparisons over time apply to comparisons across countries. The United States spends more on health care than any other country (both per capita and as a percentage of income), but gets poorer outcomes. Part of the difference between GDP per capita in the US and some European countries may thus be a result of the way we measure things.


Another marked change in most societies is an increase in inequality. This means that there is increasing disparity between average (mean) income and the median income (that of the “typical” person, whose income lies in the middle of the distribution of all incomes). If a few bankers get much richer, average income can go up, even as most individuals’ incomes are declining. So GDP per capita statistics may not reflect what is happening to most citizens.


We use market prices to value goods and services. But now, even those with the most faith in markets question reliance on market prices, as they argue against mark-to-market valuations. The pre-crisis profits of banks — one-third of all corporate profits — appear to have been a mirage.


This realisation casts a new light not only on our measures of performance, but also on the inferences we make. Before the crisis, when US growth (using standard GDP measures) seemed so much stronger than that of Europe, many Europeans argued that Europe should adopt US-style capitalism. Of course, anyone who wanted to could have seen American households’ growing indebtedness, which would have gone a long way toward correcting the false impression of success given by the GDP statistic.


Recent methodological advances have enabled us to assess better what contributes to citizens’ sense of well-being, and to gather the data needed to make such assessments on a regular basis. These studies, for instance, verify and quantify what should be obvious: the loss of a job has a greater impact than can be accounted for just by the loss of income. They also demonstrate the importance of social connectedness.


Any good measure of how well we are doing must also take account of sustainability. Just as a firm needs to measure the depreciation of its capital, so, too, our national accounts need to reflect the depletion of natural resources and the degradation of our environment.


Statistical frameworks are intended to summarise what is going on in our complex society in a few easily interpretable numbers. It should have been obvious that one couldn’t reduce everything to a single number, GDP. The report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress will, one hopes, lead to a better understanding of the uses, and abuses, of that statistic.


The report should also provide guidance for creating a broader set of indicators that more accurately capture both well-being and sustainability; and it should provide impetus for improving the ability of GDP and related statistics to assess the performance of the economy and society. Such reforms will help us direct our efforts (and resources) in ways that lead to improvement in both.


(The author, Professor at Columbia University, served as Chairman of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. ) (C): Project Syndicate, 2009.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MINDFUL EATING HELPS BODY AND MIND

MARGUERITE THEOPHIL

 

It’s no longer considered abnormal to eat and run, or even to eat on the run. Multi-tasking has its place, but most of us would do much better if we practised eating mindfully. Mindfulness is simply moment-by-moment awareness of life. But we so easily get enmeshed in self-talk, projects and problems, barely aware of life as it moves by.


I am looking forward to my time at the retreat centre I am on my way to, in Mae Rim, Thailand. Among the many gifts of this rejuvenating stay is our mealtimes. Sitting on the floor before a low table on the open-air platform, the simple, nutritious food, locally grown, mindfully prepared, is a feast for all the senses. The afternoon meal is in complete silence. To most people this is hard only on day one. After that, we are relieved to be free of any distractions, able to savour each physically and spiritually nourishing mouthful, aware of the grace of the moment.


After all have served themselves, we ring a small bell, settle down, and one person reads or recites these lines that come from the Vietnamese monk, Thich Naht Hanh: “This food is a gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky and much hard work. May we eat in mindfulness so as to be worthy of it. May we transform our unskilful states of mind and learn to eat in moderation. May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness. May we accept this food to realise the path of understanding and love.”


After hearing or speaking these words, the meal we partake of cannot be something to gobble and run. Chewing slowly, tasting every mouthful, this, we realise, is what ‘enjoying food’ is really about. And though a setting in beautiful natural environment is a big help, with practice we could learn to be attentive to eating in all kinds of settings.

Finishing our meal, we don’t rush to wash the dishes or quickly move on to whatever next thing awaits, but take a few moments to notice that we have finished, our bowl is now empty and our hunger is satisfied. After about twenty minutes of silent eating, the bell sounds again. We may then start a conversation, but I notice most people want to stay with the quiet feeling as they begin to get up from the table.


Anyone who tries eating mindfully will notice a difference. Even if you choose not to practice this all the time, maybe just twice a week, it can make you more aware of your eating habits, find newer wholesome ones, become less stressed and more connected to your own nourishment, both physical and spiritual.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BEWARE OF BANK CONSOLIDATION

T T RAM MOHAN

 

One outcome of the present global crisis is that large banking monsters have come to be feared. That is why the recent death anniversary of Lehman Brothers drew a barrage of comment. And Lehman wasn’t even a bank, it was an investment bank. We worry now not just about large banks but about ‘systemically large’ financial institutions.

Economist Joseph Stiglitz and many others want banks to be limited either in size or in scope. Stiglitz wrote recently, “We need to break up the too-big-to-fail banks; there is no evidence that these behemoths deliver societal benefits that are commensurate with the costs they have imposed on others.”


Stiglitz’s views are echoed by several others, including Henry Kaufmann, a much respected figure on Wall Street. It’s a different matter that Mr Kaufmann has woken up to the dangers of bigness rather late in the day: he happened to be on the board of Lehman Brothers.


In contrast, here in India, there is a revival of the clamour for bank consolidation. The chairman of SBI, Mr O P Bhatt, wants Indian banks to grow bigger. Mr Bhatt has been quoted as saying: “The size of Indian banks is not good enough, we need to consolidate....Even SBI is not large enough to serve Indian corporates”. Mr Bhatt thinks there should be at least two to three banks bigger than SBI and half a dozen banks the size of SBI in the country.

Can Indian banks get a lot bigger quickly? Should they do so? Do we need bigger banks at a time when others want their banks to shrink? In the first place, Mr Bhatt’s suggestions do not appear feasible, given the present sizes of Indian banks. Yes, we can have banks bigger than SBI by merging SBI with its subsidiaries or with other banks.


But having two or three banks bigger than SBI or half a dozen banks the size of SBI is almost impossible. To get just one more bank the size of SBI, we would have to merge the four biggest public sector banks (PSBs) after SBI. Mergers of private banks with PSBs are difficult to contemplate and even these will not produce banks bigger than SBI.


That apart, the arguments typically made for bank consolidation in India lack substance:


Indian banks are much smaller than global giants: True. In 2007, SBI was not even one-tenth the size of the tenth largest bank in the world. But this also means that no amount of consolidation will give Indian banks a global size in the foreseeable future.


Bigger size is needed for scale economies: Yes, scale economies are useful. But beyond a certain size, the benefits of scale taper off and tend to be offset by growing complexity. Internationally, studies have shown that a size of around $20 billion is optimal. India’s top ten banks meet this size requirement.


Our banks need to be bigger in order to meet the needs of large corporates: Why should one bank meet the needs of any large corporate on its own? From the point of view of risk management, consortium financing is preferable. Some large requirements of corporates, such as overseas finance, cannot be met by Indian banks, however large they may become.

There is too much competition in the Indian market: Concentration in the banking market works to the detriment of customers. Fragmentation is bad for banks. You need to strike a balance. A good way to see where a banking system stands is to compare the share of the top five banks in assets. In India, the figure is 44%, which comes somewhere in between the 60% for France and 30% for the United States.


Not only are the arguments for bank consolidation not persuasive, there are a number of compelling arguments against bank consolidation.


First, large banks are harder to manage and create greater disruption when they fail. That Indian banks are smaller in absolute terms than global giants is no comfort. When it comes to systemic risk, the relevant measure is balance sheet size relative to GDP.


Secondly, merger is required where the potential for profit growth is limited. This is emphatically not true of the Indian market. In a normal year, one can expect commercial credit to grow at 20-25%, with a net interest margin of around 2.5%. Not many markets in the world can boast of a similar potential.


Thirdly, mergers make huge demands on HRD capabilities. This is precisely the weak spot for PSBs. Most PSBs face a decimation of their top management in the next three to five years. So this would be quite the wrong time to attempt consolidation. Instead, PSBs should concentrate on delivering better performance at their present sizes. If you cannot get the most out of assets of Rs 250,000 crore, you are unlikely to do better with Rs 500,000 crore of assets.


As India returns to a growth rate of 8% and sustains it over a decade, our banks will attain a globally respectable size. There is no need to leapfrog the process through consolidation. The motto for Indian banks should be one that applies universally: don’t grow too big for your boots.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IS CASTE CENSUS A GOOD IDEA NOW?

 

The caste census had been left behind in 1931, when the British were still around, but casteism continues to be a malign presence in Indian life. After the political tremors caused in the late 1980s and the early 1990s in the wake of the conceptual understanding flowing from the report of the Mandal Commission (which lay in cold storage for years), recent developments suggest that there could possibly be a renewal of debate on the status of backward castes and classes, and a revival of the enumeration of population on a caste basis. This has the potential to cause introspection within parties, and also possibly ruptures. At the end of the colonial era, India adopted the democratic charter for itself because that was seen as the way to bring the idea of a reasonably decent life to all sections of people in a country that was mired in poverty and superstition, and deeply segmented along lines of caste. Since the notion of caste in the Hindu structure is descended from religious sanction, casteism is unlikely to be eliminated as a thought category or as an arena of social activity. However, antagonisms as between castes — especially between the so-called upper castes and those that come lower down in the traditional hierarchy — can be substantially eased or even be removed if economic benefits are spread across the spectrum. That is apparently the idea behind the proposal to revive the caste census made by the law and justice minister, Mr M. Veerappa Moily, in a recent letter to the Prime Minister. However, issues of this nature are seldom not contentious. It transpires that the official Rural Households Survey of 2002, which has only recently been published, places the population of OBCs residing in the rural areas at 38.5 per cent. This cannot be the total OBC population in the country, but villages clearly should have the overwhelming bulk of backward caste people. This is broadly in accord with the 35 per cent indicated by the National Sample Survey. However, the Mandal Commission estimates, which were projections of the 1931 census, posited that 52 per cent of India could be classified as backward caste. Since political battles on the backward caste issue were under the Mandal Commission banner, the benefits to these sections that accrued in terms of reservations in employment and university enrolment were also guided by this statistical understanding. Since then court rulings have accepted the 50 per cent mark as the upper limit for reservations. If a figure lower than this is proposed, those currently enjoying the benefits are likely to be aggrieved, and this can show up in the stance of political parties and various interest groups. That would be a sad day indeed. Probably, that is why Mr Moily’s suggestion of revival of a caste survey through the 2011 census might have some practical benefits.

           

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MADE-IN-TAIWAN GAMES PLEASE CHINA

BY BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

In sentencing former President Chen Shui-bian for life on corruption charges, a Taiwan court has deepened the divisions on the island between those who support the present holder of office, Ma Ying-jeou of Kuomintang (KMT), and the supporters of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). And these differences centre round one idea: the Taiwanese identity.


Mr Chen’s is a rags-to-riches story and among his accomplishments has been the first democratic change of power in the Chinese world. The long-ruling KMT, which governed the island since Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland in 1949 after losing the civil war, was typically authoritarian. Indeed, the transition from a dictatorship was in itself a signal achievement.


Although most Taiwanese believe there is some substance to the corruption charges, the severity of the sentence on him and his wife — the latter too sentenced for life — and the legal process have been called into question. His wife is wheelchair-bound since a truck repeatedly ran over her in 1985 in what was widely interpreted as an attempt to kill Mr Chen by the then authoritarian regime. He has been held in solitary confinement since last November and changing the panel of judges revoked the bail twice granted him by a judge.


One of the judges who sentenced Mr Chen was the one who acquitted President Ma of corruption charges during his mayoralty of Taipei. Taiwan’s press is divided between those who hailed the judgment as “a milestone” and others who said the process was flawed. The sentiment of Mr Chen’s supporters was best expressed by the Taipei Times, which said: “Chen’s enemies in the KMT will celebrate tonight, comfortable in the knowledge that the man most responsible… for furthering the agenda of an independent democratic Taiwan has been taken out”.


Mr Chen was the first Taiwan-born ruler of the island and did much to give voice to the urge for maintaining the Taiwanese identity. Relations between Taiwan and mainland China, which claims the island as its territory, had been prickly for most of the eight years of the Chen administration and even Taipei’s relationship with Washington often became strained because the latter was not in favour of provoking Beijing. Although Mr Chen realised that declaring de jure independence was not practicable — sometimes he came perilously close to it — he became a symbol of what most Taiwanese want: the status quo of de facto independence.
But the Taiwanese tired of Mr Chen’s histrionics and voted Mr Ma’s old KMT back to power in legislative and presidential elections last year. President Ma has been careful in avoiding the explosive political issue of the island eventually joining the mainland. It was a Japanese colony before Chang Kai-shek landed his remaining troops and much of his treasure on the island after the Communists won power in 1949. Since then the Chinese authorities have made the “one China” policy denoting the inclusion of Taiwan as a touchstone in their relations with the world.


But there has been a dramatic tactical shift in Beijing’s approach to Taiwan since the days it threatened to take the island by force, necessitating the United States to send warships to the region at one stage under the Clinton administration. China is now adopting a softer approach even while retaining batteries of missiles aimed at Taiwan, and welcomed President Ma’s own desire for better relations with open arms.


The result has been a flurry of activity. There are now for the first time direct flights and shipping links with the mainland. Chinese traders, tourists and officials have been welcomed to the island and while these measures have been popular with the Taiwanese, an undercurrent of unease has crept in over the pace of changes and Beijing’s agenda behind them. The Taiwanese have invested billions of dollars and run factories on the mainland, with a substantial expatriate Taiwanese community residing there.


President Ma has, indeed, been acting as if he was on a song, until Typhoon Morakat arrived killing more than 600 people, causing uproar over the administration’s slow response. The Prime Minister has now taken the rap by resigning but President Ma’s spell has been broken. Apart from accepting his Prime Minister’s resignation, he yielded on another count: agreeing to let the Dalai Lama visit the island to console the island’s victims at the risk of incurring Chinese displeasure. The demand for the spiritual leader’s visit, initiated by supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party, had earlier been rejected by the Ma administration.


Whatever the truth in the corruption allegations against Mr Chen — both he and his wife are expected to appeal — the court drama has connotations for the future course of domestic politics and the island’s relations with the mainland. Will DPP supporters take to the streets to protest against the treatment meted out to their leader? Can the opposition party draw a line under the Chen phenomenon to retain the support of moderate elements in its support base?


The larger question relates to Taiwan’s relations with the mainland. Before assuming presidency, President Ma had given a public undertaking that the question of the island joining the mainland would not be on his agenda during his administration, which can extend to a second four-year term. But the concern among many Taiwanese is that the speed and intensity of the economic linkages taking place will smother the island in an unwelcome Chinese embrace.


Significantly, in criticising the Dalai Lama’s Taiwan visit, Chinese ire was directed at the DPP initiators of the invitation, rather than President Ma, who did not meet the spiritual leader during the visit. Mr Chen, for his part, is reported to have penned a third book during captivity — his first two books topped the popularity charts. President Ma has still to convince his people that the trial and sentencing of Mr Chen and his family were not politically driven to please Beijing.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A SUNNY DAY PROMISES MORE THAN JUST A TAN

BY BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

Applied Materials is one of the most important US companies you’ve probably never heard of. It makes the machines that make the microchips that go inside your computer. The chip business, though, is volatile, so in 2004 Mike Splinter, Applied Materials’ CEO, decided to add a new business line to take advantage of the company’s nanotechnology capabilities — making the machines that make solar panels.


The other day, Splinter gave me a tour of the company’s Silicon Valley facility, culminating with a visit to its “war room”, where Applied maintains a real-time global interaction with all 14 solar panel factories it’s built around the world in the last two years. I could only laugh because crying would have been too embarrassing.
Not a single one is in America.


Let’s see: five are in Germany, four are in China, one is in Spain, one is in India, one is in Italy, one is in Taiwan and one is even in Abu Dhabi. I suggested a new company motto for Applied Materials’ solar business: “Invented here, sold there”.


The reason that all these other countries are building solar-panel industries today is because most of their governments have put in place the three perquisites for growing a renewable energy industry: 1) any business or homeowner can generate solar energy; 2) if they decide to do so, the power utility has to connect them to the grid; and 3) the utility has to buy the power for a predictable period at a price that is a no-brainer good deal for the family or business putting the solar panels on their rooftop.


Regulatory, price and connectivity certainty, that is what Germany put in place, and that explains why Germany now generates almost half the solar power in the world today and, as a byproduct, is making itself the world-centre for solar research, engineering, manufacturing and installation. With more than 50,000 new jobs, the renewable energy industry in Germany is now second only to its auto industry. One thing that has never existed in America — with our fragmented, stop-start solar subsidies — is certainty of price, connectivity and regulation on a national basis.

 

That is why, although consumer demand for solar power has incrementally increased here, it has not been enough for anyone to have Applied Materials — the world’s biggest solar equipment manufacturer — build them a new factory in America yet. So, right now, our federal and state subsidies for installing solar systems are largely paying for the cost of importing solar panels made in China, by Chinese workers, using hi-tech manufacturing equipment invented in America.


“About 95 per cent of our solar business is outside the US”, said Splinter. “Our biggest US customer is a German-owned company in Oregon. We sell them pieces of equipment”.


If you read some of the anti-green commentary today, you’ll often see sneering references to “green jobs”. The phrase is usually in quotation marks as if it is some kind of liberal fantasy or closet welfare program (and as if coal, oil and nuclear don’t get all kinds of subsidies). Nonsense. In 2008, more silicon was consumed by solar panels than microchips, said Splinter. “We are seeing the industrialisation of the solar business”, he added. “In the last 12 months, it has brought us $1.3 billion in revenues. It is hard to build a billion-dollar business”.
Applied sells its solar-panel factories for $200 million each. Solar panels can be made from many different semiconductors, including thin film coated onto glass with nanotechnology and from crystalline silicon. At Applied, making these complex machines requires America’s best, high-paid talent — people who can work at the intersection of chemistry, physics and nanotechnology.


If we want to launch a solar industry in America, big-time, we need to offer the kind of long-term certainty that Germany does or impose the national requirement on our utilities to generate solar power as China does or have the government build giant solar farms, the way it built the Hoover Dam, and sell the electricity.
OK, so you don’t believe global warming is real. I do, but let’s assume it’s not. Here is what is indisputable: The world is on track to add another 2.5 billion people by 2050, and many will be aspiring to live American-like, high-energy lifestyles. In such a world, renewable energy — where the variable cost of your fuel, sun or wind, is zero — will be in huge demand.


China now understands that. It no longer believes it can pollute its way to prosperity because it would choke to death. That is the most important shift in the world in the last 18 months. China has decided that clean-tech is going to be the next great global industry and is now creating a massive domestic market for solar and wind, which will give it a great export platform.


In October, Applied will be opening the world’s largest solar research centre — in Xian, China. Gotta go where the customers are. So, if you like importing oil from Saudi Arabia, you’re going to love importing solar panels from China.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

GREAT INDIAN ‘NOC’ TRICK

BY PRAKASH SINGH

 

The provision of granting sanction for prosecution of higher officials allegedly involved in corruption cases should be diluted. In the current period, when corruption has become a menace, the logic of defending the higher officials from unnecessary harassment — by way of the provision under discussion — no longer holds good. It probably served some purpose 20 or 30 years ago.


The provision in itself may hold some merit, but the delay in granting sanction for prosecution has become a sure way of shielding the corrupt. If one visits the website of the Central Vigilance Commission, one would realise that there are hundreds of cases pending because the sanction for prosecution has not been given for as long as a year or longer.


What is the point in keeping the decision pending? This only means that those responsible for giving the sanction are not applying their minds, the idea being to kill the case. Ideally, there should be a time-bound provision for granting sanction. I think one month is quite enough. To be on the safe side, three months should be considered adequate.


The authorities concerned should either grant or refuse permission and, in the latter case, state the reasons in writing. Grounds for refusal should be accessible under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. If the permission does not come within the stipulated period, it should be assumed that sanction for prosecution has been granted.
At the root of the misuse of this provision is the nexus between corrupt officials and politicians. There is always a soft corner on the part of the higher ups to shield their juniors, which is displayed through a misplaced sense of fraternal consideration.


I would suggest that as far the all-India services are concerned, the question of jurisdiction should be removed. If, for example, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) finds evidence against an IAS, IPS, IRS officer, or one from any of the all-India services, it should be allowed to register a case without seeking the permission of the government of the state where the officer may be posted. The logic should be: You are from an all-India service and we (CBI) are an all-India organisation with a countrywide jurisdiction. Therefore, there is no need to refer to the state government.


The menace of corruption has increased so much that these days youngsters are getting attracted to the civil services because they see the possibility of making money on the sly. Just take a look at the assets of many such officers even at an early stage of their careers, and it would become clear that there is an urgent need to prevent corruption. Why have a provision which virtually gives such people a ticket to do whatever they want without the fear of being prosecuted?

 

Prakash Singh, former Director-General, BSF, and former DGP, Uttar Pradesh

 

IT PROTECTS OFFICERS FROM HARASSMENT

BY R.S. SODHI

 

The provision of granting sanction of prosecution is primarily to ensure that a public servant who, in the course of his duty, does anything bonafide that may infringe upon some rights and/or obliquely infringes a law, needs to be protected. The underlying is the course of bonafide action.

This isn’t a shield against lawlessness. So, whenever there is a bonafide infringement of the provision of laws in the course of performing statutory functions, then the requirement of sanction of prosecution must be maintained. However, when there is a criminal act committed, or there exists an evidence of corrupt practices, neither is sanction of prosecution necessary nor should there be any protection.

 

No lawful duty requires infringement of laws; nor does it permit making of personal gains. Such acts are not covered and must not be covered by the requirement of departmental sanctions.


In a specific case of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act, where there is material collected by the investigating agency and placed before the court for prima facie sanction, the course should not be stalled by lack of departmental sanction if the material is found to be sufficient.


The law that gives protection is only for bonafide actions of the government servants in the course of their lawful duty.


A government servant must be protected from malign prosecution and abuse at the hands of mischievous or disgruntled elements in society.


However, he/she must not and cannot claim to be exempted from a trial for want of sanction when there is material on record to show that his acts are violative of the law of the land, be it as corruption or normal criminal offence.


There are umpteen number of corruption cases lying in various courts, including high courts and the Supreme Court, for want of sanction of prosecution from the concerned department. These cases have been lying for decades. In most of these cases, sanction has either not been granted, or, if granted, it is defective and cannot be rectified.


The sanction clause in all acts is strictly to include only those acts which need protection, and it must be ensured that this protection is not being misused.


The sanctioning authority should satisfy itself that there is a prima facie case, and record its reasons for launching prosecution and specify that it is necessary in the public interest.


The sanction order should be factually correct and complete in all respects and should satisfy the requirements of Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Justice R.S Sodhi is a former judge of the Delhi high court

(As told to Suchitra Kalyan Mohanty)

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

COSMETIC AUSTERITY

BY BY ANTARA DEV SEN

 

Cosmetics have their uses. They can help you look better, even younger and healthier. Of course they cannot actually make you younger or healthier.


In fact, they can be really bad for health, ruining your skin and hair and eyesight, triggering allergies and even slowly destroying your life, like with Michael Jackson.


Sadly, our government is unaware of this. Always excited about cosmetic enhancement, it has now turned to a flamboyant austerity drive that is doomed to fail, instead of long-term cost-cutting measures or curbing corruption — that frightful drain on public resources that impedes governance and sucks the lifeblood out of the poor.


But being obsessed with ostentatious lifestyles and cosmetics is part of Delhi’s charm.


You get used to it, especially to the expensive, diligent, posh make-up that offers the “natural” look.
I grew up in blood-red Bengal, where there was no need for austerity — there was no ostentatious spending, the Communists lived simple lives in simple homes even if they did enjoy their Scotch in private moments.
They came largely from the upper strata of society, usually had a bar-at-law degree from England, and tried hard to be one with the masses. That has not changed very much even now.


And the new challenger to the throne of Bengal proudly flaunts her lower-middle class identity in her ordinary cotton sari, rubber chappals and jhola. Neither group needs to call for austerity.


Yet both are guilty of seriously wasting public money — through bad governance, apathy, bandhs, destructive protests and, of course, corruption.


In short, if we wish to end the waste of public money, we need more than cosmetic changes.


The austerity drive is fine for local colour, pretty much like lipstick or kohl, but we could do with some real change.


And the political will to end corrupt customs, clean the system and plug loopholes that drain public funds.
Like home minister P. Chidambaram’s call for police accountability in the face of muscle-flexing by the state governments.


“It is a matter of deep regret that many police officers have been reduced to a football, to be kicked here and there, from one post to another”, said Mr Chidambaram at a meeting of senior police officers this week.


But he did not see the police as victims. “Why do you remain silent when arbitrary postings and transfers are made by the state government? Is it not your duty, as police chiefs, to raise your voice not only on behalf of your officers but also on behalf of the people that you are duty-bound to protect?”


Meanwhile, law minister Veerappa Moily was also protesting state interference in the delivery of justice. It was about the fake “encounter killing” of teenaged Mumbai student Ishrat Jahan and others by the Gujarat police in 2004. After metropolitan magistrate S.P. Tamang ruled that Ishrat Jahan, Javed Ghulam Sheikh, Amjad Ali and Jisan Johar Abdul Gani were not linked to any terror group and were killed in cold blood, the Gujarat high court stayed the order, accusing Tamang of overstepping his jurisdiction. “This is the first time a government has found fault with a report given by a magistrate and has sought a stay”, said the law minister. “He was also transferred the next day. I am concerned with the course of justice. Which judge can work with independence when there is so much interference?”


Political interference diligently keeps governance at bay, and usually through the police. One can hardly expect justice when the police are corrupt and working as the private army of politicians.


Factor in political influence on the judiciary, the trickledown effect of corruption at every administrative and judicial level, and you have a system so unhealthy that you need surgical masks to protect yourself.
The privileged classes can access the mask. The underprivileged quietly succumb to this festering systemic disease. This is the real “swine flu” that we need to guard against.


Police reforms have been pending for decades, there is no political will to make the police independent or hold them accountable.


We are still governed by archaic British laws that look upon citizens of this democracy as subjects to be controlled.


Combined with political influence, false cases, fake “encounter” killings and rampant corruption, it makes the police not the protector but the enemy of the people.


The less power you have, the more you are exploited and harassed by the police.


In fact, protesting police violence has often led to the consolidation of forces against the state and strengthened the hands of Maoist rebels.


Traditionally, the Naxals supported the weak against the unfair demands of the powerful and tried to straighten out social justice through the barrel of the gun.


In areas where government failed, Maoists replaced the police.


And soon replaced police atrocities with Maoist atrocities.For some years now, our government bosses from the Prime Minister down have been complaining about Maoist violence being the biggest threat to Indian security.


Unfortunately, it stops at the complaining and is countered only by more force.


To complicate matters further, we are stuck between the Centre and the state and a lot of jargon. Because security comes under the Centre, but law and order and the police are state subjects. And without proper policing we cannot aspire for reliable internal security.


Three years ago, in September 2006, the Supreme Court had delivered a historic judgment in Prakash Singh vs Union of India, that laid down practical mechanisms for police reform.


If state governments had honoured the court’s directives it would have given some functional autonomy to the police, through basic professionalism like security of tenure, transparent and streamlined appointment and transfer processes, etc, and could have brought in police accountability, both for collective and individual misconduct. The court’s directives were to be implemented by December 31, 2006.

Unfortunately, though some states attempted to obey the court, many did not.

States like Uttar Pradesh, for example, believe that the police and bureaucrats are part of the chief minister’s feudal staff and personal militia.


Senior civil servants are shuffled at whim, transferred for not being respectful enough, sidelined for doing their duty. States like Gujarat have the police killing citizens — especially if Muslim — either in fake “encounters” like Sohrabuddin and his wife or Ishrat Jahan and her friends, or by tacit assistance to the mob in engineered “riots” like in 2002.


Hopefully, Mr Chidambaram’s call for police accountability will trigger real change. We need that far more urgently than beauty aids like the austerity drive.

 

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at sen@littlemag.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

RAPPING JOE’S KNUCKLES

BY BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

Joe Wilson, Congressman, argued that Joe Wilson, chucklehead, should not be formally rebuked. It would be a waste of time, he asserted on the House floor where, six days earlier, he had committed his conduct most unbecoming.


Other Republicans stepped up to the microphone to agree that this was a distraction from the important things they could be doing. (Like stepping up their effort to kill President Barack Obama’s attempt to provide healthcare for the have-nots in society?) “When we are done here today”, said the man who accused the President of lying, “we will not have taken any steps to improve the country”.


Actually, Wilson is dead wrong again. When House Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, reprimanded the Congressman on Tuesday evening for refusing to apologise to his colleagues for breaking the rules, it was quite a wonderful way to improve America.


It was a rare triumph for civility in a country that seems to have lost all sense of it — from music arenas to tennis courts to political gatherings to hallowed halls — and a ratification of an institution that has relied on strict codes of conduct for two centuries to prevent a breakdown of order.


“When you look at the various incidents of misbehaviour all across the spectrum”, Representative James Clyburn, the highest ranking black lawmaker in Congress who had pushed for the reprimand, told me afterward, “the one place we ought to be able to say that such conduct is not acceptable and just cannot be tolerated is in America’s classroom, as I call Congress. Students are looking at us, and they ought not to be able to ever feel that such bad behaviour would be condoned”. It was a powerful showdown between two Congressmen from South Carolina, one black, one white; one Democrat, one Republican.


Joe Wilson and Clyburn started off on friendly terms long ago when Clyburn was on the board of a national bank and Wilson was on the bank’s local board in West Columbia. “Frankly”, Clyburn told me, “I supported him financially the first time he ran for office”. Over the years, Clyburn tried to “look past” things that bothered him — Wilson’s “membership in some groups that call into question his feelings about his whole notion of white supremacy” and his defence of the Confederate flag flying above the Columbia, South Carolina, Statehouse. Clyburn said he was “bothered a great deal” by the “real nasty things” Wilson said about the black woman who turned out to be Strom Thurmond’s daughter.


In August, Clyburn picked up a newspaper to see that Wilson was holding his first town hall meeting in Clyburn’s district, three minutes from his house, at the high school Clyburn’s children went to — an “in your face” breach of Congressional protocol.


“He was being confrontational and combative”, Clyburn said. “And Wednesday night was just bringing his town hall meeting antics to the floor of the House of Representatives”.


The black members of Congress were fed up, after a long, hot summer of sulphurous attitudes toward the first black President. Clyburn privately pressed Wilson three times to apologise for breaking the rules — Wilson’s own wife asked him who the “nut” was who was hollering at the President — but the Republican was getting chesty with his unlikely new role as king of the rowdies.

He was regarded as a hero at the anti-Obama rally in Washington last weekend that featured such classy placards as, with a picture of a lion, “The Zoo has an African and the White House has a Lyin’ African”; “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy”; “We came unarmed (this time)” and “‘Cap’ Congress and ‘Trade’ Obama back to Kenya!”


A camera also caught Wilson signing for a fan a picture of himself confronting the President, and he has raised $2 million in the last week. Former President Jimmy Carter told NBC News on Tuesday: “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man”. He said he felt that was true in the South and elsewhere.


Clyburn won the manners round, but Wilson was back Tuesday night tweeting his rude new fans, people who, as the minority leader John Boehner put it, are “scared to death that the country that they grew up in is not going to be the country that their kids and grandkids grew up in”. It’s not. That country is gone. And in terms of biases that have faded, that’s a good thing. But partly due to the Internet, the standards of behaviour in this new country are terrible.


If Beaver and Wally were around today, they’d likely be writing snarky, revealing blogs about June and Ward.

 

By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SOTHEBY’S TO SELL LOST INHERITANCE OF THE ROMANOVS 

PRESS TRUST OF INDIA


LONDON, 16 SEPT: Extraordinary and rediscovered collection of personal and rare objects of the Romanovs that evoke the grandeur and sublime taste of Russia's erstwhile imperial dynasty will be auctioned here in November.


This is for the first time that these objects will be brought to the market, the auction house said.
The sale includes many exquisite pieces of Faberge, which belonged to Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (1854-1920) and her late husband Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1909) ~ son of Emperor Alexander II and brother of Emperor Alexander III.


Deposited at the Swedish Legation in November 1918, the month Sweden broke off diplomatic relations with the Russian revolutionary government, the existence of the trove was unknown for 91 years and recently surfaced among diplomatic holdings in Stockholm.


Sotheby's has now been asked to sell this collection which is expected to realise nearly US$ 1 million.
The sale of this previously unknown and private collection will comprise around 100 lots of cigarette boxes and an extraordinary array of cufflinks, including many fine pieces of Faberge, that bear ciphers, imperial inscriptions and coats of arms and even photographs of the Vladimirs and their immediate family.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CAMPUS CHAOS

 

TWO campus flare-ups in Sikkim and Meghalaya about the same time early this month, apart from muddying normally peaceful waters, also exposed the darker side of the relationship between locals and external students. Following clashes between boarders and day scholars, the authorities at the Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology at Mazitar, 44 km from Gangtok, ordered a closure until further notice as a means for restoring peace. The trouble is said to have started over a friendly volleyball match during which a “foul” was objected to by the rival team. Reports suggests that timely police deployment brought the situation under control but on the third day when a policeman was injured by a thrown brick, a lathicharge was resorted to and teargas was fired, resulting in injuries to eight students. The next day faculty members escorted more than 100 outstation students up to Siliguri. It is unthinkable that such a minor incident should snowball into a major fracas, raising the suspicion of there being more to it than met the eye.


In Meghalaya, an Assamese B Tech student was allegedly assaulted by some students of the law department on the North East Hill University campus in Shillong. According to some, it was a “purely personal altercation” and had it not been for the involvement of an Assamese student it would have passed off as insignificant. Many have rightly blamed the electronic media in Guwahati for giving it a communal twist. The powerful Khasi Students’ Union’s promise to ensure academic harmony is reassuring. Since Sikkim and Meghalaya are becoming popular destinations for students from other North-east states, it is only fair to expect that locals and external students work together in the interest of campus peace.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

NORTHERN COMFORT

 

Almost reminiscent of the Lok Sabha election result, the Trinamul Congress is as overawed as the leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) shake their heads in consternation. Even the diehard Left sympathiser will readily concede that the Congress-Trinamul mahajot has scored a grand victory. As critical as the CPI-M losing the Siliguri municipal corporation after 28 years, is the convincing inroad made by the Trinamul Congress in North Bengal. The party’s tally is up from 5 to 14 and by itself it emerges as one short of the CPI-M’s own 15 despite the region never having been on Mamata Banerjee’s campaign circuit. The Left’s total strength is down to less than half ~ 17 from 36 in a 47-ward corporation.


So shattering indeed has been the impact that the leading lights of the ruling party appear to be disillusioned about its development agenda, its singular plank of governance since 2006. To intensify the confusion, hoi-polloi has been kept guessing about the party’s opposition to what Nirupam Sen calls the “Washington model”, which perhaps was more relevant in the national context than in Bengal. The acknowledged limitations of the development model must be astonishingly ironical in the context of Siliguri which is generally regarded as one of the few municipally developed towns in Bengal. The loop of serial setbacks merely lengthens and it lengthens alarmingly. To the extent that it will be an almost incurably incapacitated ruling party that will face the 2011 assembly elections... with or without a Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) as a belated backup unit. A stark reflection after 33 years in power and one that is the resounding message from Siliguri. Never since 1967, when Bengal voted out the Congress, was the anti-incumbency factor so potently manifest. Development, as the Marxists now reckon, is of relatively lesser moment.


Gorkhaland is scarcely a municipal issue, and the CPI-M indulges in obfuscation when it pleads that this plank ~ which worked to its benefit during the Lok Sabha election ~ didn’t click. Psephologically, the Siliguri votes, that went in favour of the CPI-M in the parliamentary poll, have now swung towards another remove. The fact of the matter is that the voters in the plains of Darjeeling district had united against an issue of national import ~ the demand for a separate state, including Siliguri and the Dooars. No such underpinning influenced the civic election; the CPI-M ought to have got the message in June when the Congress captured three of the four panchayat samitis in the election to the mahakuma parishad, Siliguri’s equivalent of a zilla parishad. Small wonder why minister Ashok Bhattacharya, the party’s MLA from the town and the pointman in the Hills, has thrown in the towel. The result lends no scope for disgusting sideshows ~ the industries minister’s swipe at the media and the Trinamul union minister, Mukul Roy’s barb that the Chief Minister had extended his stay in Mongpong to “supervise the rigging”.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

‘DR’ CHIDAMBARAM 

 

NOBODY can deny the energy P Chidambaram has injected into the home ministry, though the favourable impression could be exaggerated by the inertia of his predecessor. Nor can anybody ignore how he, or maybe the events of 26/11, put police reform high on the national agenda. Yet scrutiny of the fruits of his effort will confirm they have been limited to organisations and systems directly under the central government. Admittedly, with law-and-order being a state subject and a field upon which the states will permit no encroachment, his writ is constricted. Yet if an effective programme of police upgrade is to be implemented it cannot remain confined to central organisations. Tackling terror, or insurgency, cannot be isolated from controlling criminal activity and what is undervalued as “routine” police activity. Not only are the local police first in firing line in a terror strike, they provide the eyes and ears on the ground that make “actionable” the intelligence inputs from the central and state snoop services. Reform has yet to trickle down, so thus far what Chidambaram has provided is icing on a poor-quality cake. The results will be marginal. The home minister appears to be short of both the political clout and the persuasive capacity to get the states “on board”. That, if not a failure, is a shortcoming that must be recognised. Else we will continue to be served with a string of sermons from North Block that often raise the hackles of non-Congress states, and which are generally ignored by those where Sonia Gandhi, supposedly, calls the shots. Rather than point accusing fingers, the home ministry must strive to inspire: there is no other way out.


Chidambaram will earn little more than a few claps for his contention that senior police officials hardly resist being kicked about like footballs. For what protection will he provide those who protest the conduct of their immediate political masters? Putting a “cushion” in place for the union territories is hardly a panacea. And sailing a party-influenced collision-course will have no positive results. If the minister would care to reflect on the possible fallout of his citing a legal luminary’s observation that “when there is a duty to speak, silence is culpable” he might understand it is somewhat akin to Jayaprakash Narayan’s calling upon the police “not to obey illegal orders”. What followed was the darkest chapter in Indian democracy.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

THE BLUE PLANET~I

SAUMITRA MOHAN


There is a wide consensus that the problem of climate change stemming from the increasing concentration of green house gases (GHG) in our atmosphere will be the biggest challenge to the existence of life on this Blue Planet. It is also generally agreed that we will procrastinate the solution to this problem only at our peril.
The rise of even two degree Celsius shall mean the collapse of the global ecosystem. The global temperature has already risen by 0.6 degree Celsius since the beginning of the 19th century. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fears that global temperature will rise between 0.5 and 2.5 degree Celsius by 2050 with an estimated rise of 1.4 to 5.8 degree Celsius by 2100. An estimated 10 billion metric tons of carbon is pumped into our atmosphere every year.


Even if we go by the most optimistic scenario, the global temperature, because of the sustained anthropogenic emissions and other cognate reasons, is likely to rise between 1.1 and 2.9 degree Celsius by the end of this century. The loss in terms of the global GDP will be between one and five per cent. The sub-Saharan countries are likely to be the most affected. The risk of their economies being devastated is substantial.
Melting ice cap


THE melting ice cap of the snow-clad mountains and the melting ice sheet over Antarctica might lead to a gradual rise in the sea level. The IPCC assumes a sea level rise between seven and 23 inches by 2100. Should that happen, it might displace millions of people in the littoral and riparian areas, giving rise to the phenomenon of environmental refugees. Every one centimetre rise in the sea level results in the displacement of about one million people.


A customized relief and rehabilitation programme needs to be devised for such people to pre-empt the impending catastrophe. The consequent migration would also exacerbate international tension and discord. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) needs to gear up well in advance in order to face the challenge. The phenomenon of environmental refugees may turn out to be one of the biggest human catastrophes of all time.


Global warming is also likely to result in erratic climatic behaviour including irregular precipitations as is already visible in India in the form of a deficient monsoon. The meteorological and climatogenic changes will lead to myriad problems. And these problems will vary from flash floods stemming from abnormal precipitations to storm surges and drought-like conditions. The patterns of rainfall shall change forever. So too will the soil composition, adversely affecting agriculture.


In the net, there will be a decline in crop production or crop failures, leading to a food crisis with very serious implications for the nutritional security of the world’s 6.75 billion people. It has been projected that India may be freed from the clutches of poverty, hunger and malnutrition and will become an environmentally safe country by 2030 AD. However, we should not forget that there are about 200 million under-nourished and 300 million people subsisting below the poverty line in this country. One only hopes that our National Food Security Mission succeeds in realizing its objectives.


We are also likely to countenance a severe water insufficiency as a result of the erratic rainfall. Abnormally high precipitation doesn’t mean a high water table. A substantial part of this hydrological bounty is likely to be drained out as a result of the increased run-offs, the reduced holding power of the soil and the dwindling forest cover. The melting ice cap or ice sheet shall deprive our rivers of a perennial source of water. Rivers are likely to become seasonal, thereby intensifying the water scarcity.


The dreaded rise in the sea level will mean that brackish water will not only encroach upon the agricultural land, but shall also infiltrate the freshwater aquifers thereby further threatening the source of potable water. The resulting water stress or water crisis could be serious enough to engender water-related battles, even wars among nations. A water management policy is, therefore, imperative. There is need for the end-users to use the water as efficiently and as sparingly as possible.


Besides, a serious health emergency may arise if we fail to respond to the challenge in time. There could be an outbreak of vector and water borne diseases, not to speak of dermatological and hyper-thermogenic disorders disorders. The climatic changes are also likely to affect our rich bio-diversity and physical geography. It is believed that millions of plant and animal species, many thousands already endangered, shall become extinct forever.


The poor and the most vulnerable sections of the society are likely to be the worst affected by the climate change. This is because of their limited capacity, capability and resources at hand. They will have to be provided with alternative livelihoods. They will not only lose their hearth and home; they will be bereft of any resource or capacity to cope with the impending calamity. It is imperative to ensure that the millennium development goals (MDG), including the reduction of the global poor by half by 2015, are realized well in time.
Health & hygiene


Better hygiene and sanitation, health services, basic education and safe drinking water are among the other important goals which are intricately linked with climate change. A healthy and better educated human resource can cope better with the problem at hand. After all, poverty is known to be one of the biggest reasons for pollution and global warming. All-round development is the best antidote. One recalls the words of the famous social scientist, John Rawls: “Justice consists in maximizing the welfare of the worst-off individuals.” Governments all over the world need to coordinate their actions to ensure that a suitable disaster management plan is in place to deal with any such situation.


But herein lies the nub of the problem. Despite a series of meetings on the various aspects of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the developed North and the developing South are yet to reach a consensus on how to deal with the crisis. While the developing countries, including India, argue that since it is the West which has caused the problem, hence, it is the West which should share the major burden of meeting the challenge.


Even today, the per capita emission in the United States is four times than that of China and 20 times that of India. China surpassed the United States in terms of emission of carbon dioxide in 2006. India has proposed that 0.5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the developed countries (reasonably less when compared to the 0.7 per cent recommended by the South Commission during the 1960s) be contributed to an Adaptation Fund. This is on the lines of a Green Marshall Plan that can be be utilised for helping the developing countries in meeting their sundry responsibilities arising out of climate change.


(To be concluded)

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

WILL TO CHANGE

 

The desire for change continues to define the current spell of politics in West Bengal. The results of the civic polls in Siliguri show that the people in the state vote on political lines, irrespective of issues and areas. The big swing away from the Left that began with the rural polls last year has been confirmed in all subsequent polls. So strong is the popular mood for a change that it seems to override all other factors. The winners obviously attribute their victories to the many failings of the losers. But an overwhelming popular surge can make issues such as governance and development inconsequential for an electoral contest. Siliguri is one of the few towns in West Bengal that had seen steady improvement in civic facilities over the past two decades. Most people agree that much of the credit for this should go to Asok Bhattacharya, the minister for urban development who hails from the town. He, of course, is not the first champion of development to realize that elections are ultimately all about political perceptions. The Congress leader, Subrata Mukherjee, won the hearts of Calcuttans with his development work during his tenure as the city’s mayor, but his party lost the civic board in the 2005 elections. And, for all his drive for development, the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, now presides over a possible end to the Left’s long reign in the state in the 2011 assembly elections.

 

True, the alliance between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress provided a winning formula against the Left. But in striking and then nurturing the alliance, the two parties have only reflected the popular will. There have been other occasions when the Opposition parties in the state tried to unite against the Left. But, if those attempts did not work, it was mainly because the popular mood for change was not as strong as it is now. Mamata Banerjee has reasons to be particularly happy about the wind of change reaching north Bengal. The vote in Siliguri marks the first big foray by her party outside its area of influence in south Bengal. It is not as though her party did not have its presence in the northern parts of the state, but the Congress has always been the principal Opposition party there. But all small, partisan lines of control are obviously being redrawn by the dominant political sentiment in the state. The Left seems to be powerless to come up with any strategy to reverse the trend.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

SHOE BITE

 

At least three others have done it so far, yet none has complained of being tortured in captivity. It all began with Muntadhar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist, who had hurled his shoe at George W. Bush last year. Soon afterwards, the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, got a boot in the face at Cambridge University, followed by the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, who was hit by footwear in Stockholm. In India, a reporter with a reputed daily aimed his sneakers at P. Chidambaram when the latter dodged a controversial question at a press conference. Dissent, when expressed in such a preposterous manner, deserves unconditional censure. But what follows once such incidents have taken place may turn out to be even more insidious. While the Indian home minister’s ‘attacker’ was summarily sacked by his employer, a more sinister fate awaited Mr al-Zaidi: he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Recently, Mr al-Zaidi earned his freedom after the term was reduced to nine months. The Iraqi scribe received a hero’s welcome not only from his community but also from the rest of the Islamic world. Hundreds of fathers have offered up their daughters for marriage to this young Iraqi. Muammar Gaddafi has invited him to reside in Libya for good, while Hugo Chávez has topped up the same offer of citizenship with an additional $100,000 to help Mr al-Zaidi settle down in Venezuela. His bosses, too, have got him a brand new car and a four-bedroom apartment.

 

But Mr al-Zaidi has little reason to feel cheerful. Having emerged from prison with a missing tooth, fractured ribs and an unhealed broken foot, he claims to have suffered regular beatings, electric shocks and whipping. Although a free man now, he fears the retribution of American secret service agents. It is revealing that among four perpetrators of the same kind of crime, only one was singled out for such unique mistreatment. Is it because he was tried by the judiciary of a country, which his target, the former US president, had left after installing a mock democracy and with a big grin on his face? Mr al-Zaidi said that by throwing his boot he wanted to counter the way the United States of America had humiliated his homeland by placing it under its boots. Perhaps this ‘crime’ of turning the tables on the world’s most powerful man had incited the ire of the puppet prime minister Mr Bush had entrusted Iraq with.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE GIFT OF DARKNESS

TWO PHOTOGRAPHERS AND A BLIND LIBRARIAN

AVEEK SEN

 

An old Man with a steady Look sublime —/ That stops his earthly Task to watch the skies — / But he is blind — a statue hath such Eyes — / Yet having moon-ward turn’d his face by chance/ Gazes the orb with moon-like Countenance…/ He gazes still, his eyeless Face all Eye —/ As ’twere an Organ full of silent Sight,/ His whole Face seemeth to rejoice in Light/ Lip touching Lip, all moveless, Bust and Limb,/ He seems to gaze at that which seems to gaze on Him!

S.T. Coleridge, “Limbo” (1811)

 

This photograph of Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires, made by Daniel Mordzinski in 1978, fills me with what I must call love. Full of awe and fantasy, it is an emotion I would allow myself to feel for a great and elderly writer who also embodies, in my eyes, an unfathomable grace. Recently, while watching a film on the 98-year-old artist, Louise Bourgeois, I felt something similar. It was a love built on the idea of selfless service. I felt I could do anything for her, from the most menial to the most exalted, and the self-effacement seemed idyllic. Such a feeling is at once perverse, fantastical and real. It is premised on impossibility, but it is also the welling up of a genuine response to greatness.

 

I have felt it for Tagore, and for Chaucer, Shakespeare and Henry James. Unlike Chaucer and Shakespeare, who died in their fifties, James and Tagore lived until 73 and 80 respectively; Borges was 79 when this picture was taken, and died eight years later. So, old age — what the late Edward Said called lateness — was essential to the terminal image of their genius. Tagore and Borges (but not James) were also blessed in their last years with a band of men and women whose vocation seemed to have become the care of these great, old men. Borges inspired in both Norman Thomas di Giovanni (his American biographer, translator and frequent co-traveller) and María Kodama (assistant, companion and, in the last year of his life, his wife) a devotion that was as proprietorial after his death as it was absolute while he lived.

 

I find myself imagining such devotion in minute detail — its mortal, bodily demands, its intellectual rigour. But what gives to Borges’s old age a mythic, and almost allegorical, dimension — lacking in, say, Tagore’s — is the blindness. To have read to him (as Alberto Manguel had done as a boy) or to have been his amanuensis, must have felt like an election. And this is what Mordzinski’s photograph brings out to startling effect. It makes us see Borges at the end of a line of blind poets that goes back, through Milton, to Homer, in whose figure history merges with mythology. Seated in darkness, yet surrounded by the tools of vision (a studio light on a stand, a hand holding what looks like a camera lens) and a strong light falling on his face and hands, Borges seems to be caught at a crossroads. A mysterious hand points in one direction, while another giant finger-like shape points in the opposite direction, the two marking the two edges of the picture. They seem to belong to the “enigmatic god” who conducts a “game” that the blind man “doesn’t understand”. This was how Borges had written about the “blind man in a hollow house” in “A Saturday”, a poem that is part of his History of the Night (1977). In this photograph, the “hollow house” could also be Borges’s own garden of forking paths, or the castle of crossed destinies that Italo Calvino could not have been able to imagine without him. Having just read Calvino’s Cosmicomics, I see Mordzinski’s Borges as Calvino’s narrator, Qfwfq, a historian of the universe who is as old as the universe itself. In my imagination, Qfwfq sits like Borges, somewhere between outer darkness and inner mystery, his hands clasped over a walking stick firmly planted on earth, his eyes seeing everything and nothing.

 

Almost a decade before this photograph was taken, Diane Arbus made a frontal portrait of Borges in New York City for Harper’s Bazaar. With the bare trees of Central Park behind him and their forked shadows on the ground, Borges holds his walking stick in exactly the same way as he does in Mordzinski’s photograph. But his gaze is both divided and frighteningly direct, each eye turned in a different direction. The forking paths seem to be coming out of Borges himself, out of his sightless eyes towards, and away from, the viewer. To love Arbus’s Borges is to be pulled both apart and within by those crossed, inwardly turned eyes.

 

Yet, Mordzinski’s photograph seems truer to what Borges had called “my own modest blindness” in a lecture delivered in the Teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires in 1977. His blindness was modest because it was total in one eye, but only partial in the other. This put him, not in total darkness (that, strangely, would have been more comforting), but in a world of a few dimly, yet perpetually glimmering colours that did not desert him even in sleep — yellow or “the gold of the tigers”, blue, green, white and grey. But his destinies crossed more dramatically when the “slow nightfall” over decades finally became blindness in 1955, the same year that he was made director of the Argentine National Library, which, by another incredible turn of the screw, got its third blind director with the appointment of Borges. That enigmatic god, he wrote in his “Poem of the Gifts”, “with such splendid irony/ granted me books and blindness at one touch”.

 

For Borges, blindness was both “a literary destiny” and a gift, with that mix of liberation and confinement that true gifts always bring. The freedom it brought was not only a freedom from “the inconsequential skin of things”, but a curious freeing of space itself, both within and without. Mordzinski captures this by placing Borges at the heart of an expansiveness that seems to be eternally gesturing beyond itself. “In this dark world and wide”: Milton’s phrase from the sonnet on his own blindness precisely described to Borges “the world of the blind when they are alone, walking with hands outstretched, searching for props”. This was also the vertiginously opened up space that Shakespeare’s blinded Earl of Gloucester learnt to feel his way through in King Lear.

 

The theatre of the blind is at once baroque and absurd. Yet, its tragic groping turns into something else at the end of Borges’s 1977 lecture. As they abandon their search, what the outstretched hands learn to claim for themselves as a newfound gift is the emptiness itself, in which “everything near becomes far”. Blindness becomes a metaphor once again, the way towards understanding the “supreme solitude” that is truer for Borges than his own blindness. Faced with this last solitude, the language of blindness, of the slipping away of the visible world, must give way to something simpler and more absolute: “All things go off, leaving us.”

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

OLD ORDER RETURNS

CHINA DIARY -NEHA SAHAY

 

Sixty years ago, China, under Mao Zedong’s leadership, became a new country, free from foreign as well as feudal rule. The poor peasants, whose centuries’old oppression rivalled the plight of India’s Dalits, became the new masters; the old elite bore the brunt of Mao’s policies. It wasn’t uncommon for rich landowners to be humiliated and even killed by the ‘vanguard’ of the revolution — the liberated peasants.

 

The wheel has come full circle now. Sometimes, it seems the old order has completely taken over. Incidents wherein the poor are humiliated and even killed for no fault except their refusal to cow down are being reported. Government officials — all of them members of the communist party founded by Mao — are the ones most frequently involved in beating up low-level workers who stand up to them.

 

The attempted rape of a waitress by two officials — one of whom was stabbed to death by her — has already been reported in this column. In another incident, officials beat up a waiter who refused to give them a discount on their food, insisting that the discount card they had did not apply to that establishment. The angry officials pushed him out of the restaurant and kicked him repeatedly even after he fell. When a waitress went to his rescue, they punched her too. All this was caught on the restaurant’s surveillance camera.

 

But now, even private citizens feel emboldened to pounce on the poor. Last month, a woman was beaten to death in Chongqing by a hotel owner and his employees because she had dared to save her three-year-old son from them. The woman was in the hotel lobby, trying to find customers for the mini-taxi service run by her husband. Meanwhile, her little boy picked a plastic flower from a bowl. He was immediately berated by a female staffer and sent out of the lobby. The mother intervened; it soon degenerated into fisticuffs.

 

Bloody exchange

 

The woman and her son left the place, but were seen late at night, outside the hotel. The woman was again soliciting passengers. At that point, the hotel owner, accompanied by four female staffers, came out and all of them began beating her up. She fell down and was rushed to hospital by her husband who works as a counter clerk at the railway station opposite the hotel. Three hours later, she died. The owner turned himself in the next morning.

 

A week later, the husband received 2,85,000 yuan in compensation from the owner’s family in return for agreeing not to press criminal charges. The couple, migrants from a nearby province, had another child, aged six. The husband hopes his wife’s killer would be punished; but lawyers feel the punishment would be light because he turned himself in and paid compensation.

 

The latest incident of this kind involved Wal Mart employees, and hence has sparked mass outrage. Five employees — four males and one female — of the US giant beat up a customer whom they suspected of shop-lifting. They followed her out of the store and demanded to see her receipt. She did show it to them; but seeing that they were not in the Wal Mart uniform, she snatched it back. That set them upon her. She managed to call her family. Her home was close by, and when her family rushed to the scene, she was already coughing blood. The assailants disappeared as the woman was rushed to hospital. She died two days later. Her brother revealed that she had been a hotel-room cleaner for the last four years, cleaning 16 rooms a day, and was in good health.

 

Wal Mart initially said that the “cause of death was under investigation”, but later offered 500,000 yuan as compensation, mostly as an “allowance” for the woman’s child. The police arrested all five assailants, but released three of them.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

FORWARD AT BREAKNECK SPEED

 

Indian scientists have earned a prestigious place in the world’s scientific community in the effort to recreate the Big Bang, writes Bikash Sinha

 

One has been in the business of science for a little over 40 years — and one has lived with science in many parts of the world: Cambridge, London, Copenhagen, California, Germany, Bombay and lately Calcutta. Most of the early part of one’s life has been spent as an individual scientist working with a group of scientists, essentially exchanging ideas and nothing more. At least, in the 1970s, that was the tradition in Europe. America was different, the telephone was used quite abundantly and some kind of wireless collaboration started evolving.

 

What matters, of course, is the kind of people around you. The Neils Bohr Institute in Copenhagen is very different from, say, London. With Aage Bohr, the son of Neils Bohr, already a Nobel laureate, and with a continuous traffic of exciting, extremely bright scientists from all parts of Europe and America, the atmosphere at Bohr institute was electric. Thus, as a theoretical physicist one was more dependent on brain than brawn; the company one kept acted as a spark for new ideas.

 

International collaboration, particularly large-scale collaboration of any kind, just did not exist. In India, except a relatively small but pioneering effort from Bombay working at CERN (LHC and Big Bang legend now), international collaboration was an unknown concept. Even marginal reference to international collaboration met with downright disgust, disregard, suspicion and ultimately rejection. “We have to build everything in India,” was the slogan. A fine spirit of patriotism, surely, but “we cannot build a CERN,” one argued, it is way beyond the financial resources of one country. “Then forget about CERN,” the elderly pundits asserted with dismissive gestures.

 

It was, however, getting abundantly clear that international collaboration was turning out more the norm than the exception across the world, particularly so when large scale computing was necessary. It was not just a coincidence that the concept of so-called globalization was being debated with a mix of tentative optimism and violent opposition. That was in the early Eighties of the last century.

 

In our anxiety we were faced with two “panic” signals. One is simple — if we do not take part in the international collaboration we are surely going to miss out on the high-quality, cutting-edge original science, on path-breaking discoveries, even the faintest possibility of a Nobel. The other “panic” signal was that the best will go abroad and nothing will progress in India.

 

We took the plunge, nevertheless; our first target was CERN in Geneva in search of a new state of matter, quark gluon plasma. The most fundamental particle, to date, is quark, three quarks make either a neutron or a proton; protons and neutrons with exchanging mesons make an atomic nucleus, the nucleus is at the centre of an atom; many atoms make a molecule, many molecules make enzyme protein and ultimately us, the homo sapiens.

 

We wanted to “see” the light from the quark gluon plasma. Initial efforts to get a financial grant got nowhere; the idea was rejected outright. Nobody had heard of quark gluon plasma and that too at CERN, within a time frame — impossible, they said. Besides, what about our enormous efforts in India? — they barked.

 

It was a heartbreaking, almost no-go situation. After struggling relentlessly, the government-appointed committee at last conceded us some “seed” money. The wonderful business of “seed” money is that once you get some, even a little, nobody can stop you that easily in future. Bingo! We started to build the now famous Photon Multiplicity Detector for CERN in collaboration with my good friend, Hans Gutbrod, already at CERN. In the beginning, even at CERN we were not taken very seriously — CERN is used to individual scientists coming to work from India and helping the efforts of CERN; CERN was not used to a whole group taking over, at that time.

 

The detector was built and got finished before its schedule. The young workers from all over India came and finished the job in record time; initial tests of the detector proved very encouraging.

 

After the first run at CERN and the discovery of “flow” in quark gluon plasma, the world and, of course, India, sat up and recognized our contribution. This was immediately followed by talks in conferences, awards and the usual laurels. The impossible, so to speak, had been made possible and the glory goes not to an individual but to the entire team, a new phenomenon in India, a paradigm shift in our outlook. The cynics and “no-no” types suddenly disappeared from the scene.

 

There was no looking back, we went across the Atlantic to the Brookhaven National Laboratory and set up a similar but more sophisticated detector, STAR, at the famous Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider; new discoveries poured in and the prestige of the group went up beyond all our expectations.

 

What about the “panic” on homeground? Curiously enough, the discipline, commitment and tight schedule that we had to adhere to flowed over, as it were, to our domestic efforts; performance levels went up, the desire to do well and do it in time suddenly became the rule and not the exception. Even the overall efficiency went up. The international effort helped the national effort and the national effort became the backbone of the international effort.

 

Almost overnight India had become a world player in this field, the incredible synergy between the national and the international effort tore apart national boundaries. From a cog in the wheel India became the wheel, from SPS at CERN to ALICE at Large Hadron Collider at CERN, exploring the wonderland of quarks, from the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven to Anti proton facility at Germany; here at home, from room temperature cyclotron to superconducting cyclotron to the medical cyclotron, the wheel turning at breakneck speed to move forward; at the end, there is very little doubt we shall be at the top, and have a brilliant peep at the Big Bang of the very beginning of the universe when the two nuclei collide at the Large Hadron Collider, very soon. After all we have the brain of five hundred million young people.

 

The author is director, Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, and member, advisory council to the prime minister

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

PRISONER OF THE PAST

FOR POLICE REFORMS TO WORK, LEGAL AND POLITICAL SYSTEMS MUST CHANGE

 

The Human Rights Watch report on the Indian police, titled Broken System — Dysfunction, Abuse and Impunity in the Indian police (August, 2009), is a slashing indictment of the police system. It exposes the ills afflicting the police and details instances of brutality, especially against the downtrodden. The abuses highlighted are well-known, but little action has been taken to set things right.The report highlights the poor conditions in which police officers work and the woeful lack of amenities in police stations and outposts. Many police stations in rural areas lack electricity. Long working hours without overtime allowance, absence of recreational facilities and sorry housing conditions demotivate the police.

 

The National Police Commission dealt with the problem of police housing in its first report (1978). Of late, both the Central and the state governments have taken some steps to improve housing facilities for the police, but these remain drops of relief in an ocean of distress. The report details the lack of a human-rights culture in the police. The National Human Rights Commission receives on an average more than 70,000 complaints annually, and half of these are against the police. Victims of police highhandedness are mostly from marginalized groups.

 

The report is not correct in saying that there is total lack of accountability. In 2007, disciplinary inquiries were initiated against 19,187 personnel and 665 policemen were either dismissed or removed from service. Major punishments were awarded to 4,650 and minor punishment to 15,275 personnel.

 

The HRW report emphasizes the lack of political will to reform the police. Comprehensive reforms of the police have been on the national agenda for years. The NPC recommended comprehensive structural reforms, but the government did not implement them. The Supreme Court in the Prakash Singh case issued a seven-point directive to Central and state governments to introduce some of the major reforms recommended by the NPC. The HRW report also mentions how Central and state governments are dragging their feet.

 

The report deplores the lack of training among the police in investigative skills and techniques. This is not strictly correct. Professional training for crime investigation is given to senior and junior officers in police training institutions. There are capable investigating officers in state police forces, but the pressure to produce quick results and the malfunctioning of the criminal justice system are behind coercive investigation. Police reforms will not be possible without reforms in the criminal justice system.

 

HRW recommends change in the police manual to make failure to register a first information report ground for disciplinary action. While this holds true even now, HRW fails to note that the rub lies elsewhere. The performance of the governments in maintaining law and order is judged in state assemblies and Parliament. Any chief minister will frown upon free registration of cases, indicating a sharp escalation of crime, which shows the state in a poor light. No police officer will dare incur the displeasure of the minister.

 

The NHRC recommended the establishment of district complaint authorities to ensure speedy response to complaints against the police. But both the state governments and the police leadership are unwilling to establish such mechanisms on the specious plea that these will demoralize the police. They forget that an accountable police will command greater respect from the public than an unfriendly police. The report does not mention that there are many upright officers across the ranks rendering yeoman service against titanic odds.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

A BITTER WAR BY DRUG INDUSTRY

GSK, NOVARTIS, AND SANOFI STAND TO EARN BILLIONS THANKS TO MASSIVE DEMAND FOR A(H1N1) FLU VACCINE.

IGNACIO RAMONET


The conclusions of the final European Commission report on competition abuses in the pharmaceutical industry, released on July 8, are shocking and have wide-ranging ramifications.


In brief, the report found that in the pharmaceutical sector, competition is simply not working, and major pharmaceutical companies resort to any kind of underhanded tactic to prevent more effective medicines from reaching the market and especially to disqualify the production of generic versions, which are far less expensive.

The consequence is delays in consumer access to generics that means major financial costs not only to patients but also to government social assistance programmes, and consequently to all tax payers. This in turn provides arguments for proponents of privatising government healthcare systems, condemned as being sinkholes in the government budget.


In terms of their active ingredients, dosage, pharmaceutical form, safety, and efficacy, generic medications are identical to the original product initially produced exclusively by the major monopolies. A drug patent gives a company a 10-year period of exclusive manufacture of a given medication. After that, other manufacturers have the right to produce the drug generically and sell it at a 40 per cent lower cost.


The World Health Organisation and the majority of governments recommend the use of generic drugs because their lower cost makes access to them more equitable for populations exposed to avoidable diseases.


A STRONG LOBBY

The objective of the major drug companies, therefore, is to delay the date their patent protection expires. The world drug market is worth about 700 billion euros. A dozen large firms, including the so-called ‘Big Pharma’ —Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Merk, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, and Sanofi-Aventis — control half of this market. Their profits exceed those of the military-industrial complex.


For every euro invested in production of a brand-name drug, the monopolies earn a thousand from sales. Three of these firms, GSK, Novartis, and Sanofi, stand to earn billions of euros in the next few months thanks to massive demand for the A(H1N1) flu vaccine.


Such massive quantities of money give the Big Pharma firms absolutely colossal financial power, which they use particularly to ruin, through multiple million-dollar court judgements, the modestly-sized manufacturers of generic drugs. Their innumerable lobbies are a permanent fixture at the European Patent Office  based in Munich, furiously working to delay any grant of permission for sale of a generic drug. They also launch misleading campaigns against generic drugs to frighten patients.


As a result, citizens have to wait an average of seven months longer to have access to the generic version of a drug. Over the past five years this has translated into about 3 billion euros in unnecessary spending by consumers and a 20 per cent increase in costs to public health systems.


The drug industry’s offensive knows no boundaries. It has even been implicated in the recent coup against Manuel Zelaya, president of Honduras, a country that imports all of its drugs, most of which are produced by Big Pharma. Since Honduras entered ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of America) in August 2008, Zelaya has been negotiating a trade accord with Havana to import generic Cuban drugs in order to reduce spending in Honduran public hospitals.


Moreover, at the Earth Summit of June 24 last year, ALBA presidents committed to “revising intellectual property doctrine,” challenging in particular the existing system of pharmaceutical patents. These two efforts, which directly threaten the interests of Big Pharma, drove the giant drug multinationals to forcefully back the movement that overthrew Zelaya in a coup last June 28.


Similarly, Barack Obama, hoping to reform the US health system which today leaves 47 million Americans without health coverage, is facing the wrath of the pharmaceutical industry. The sums in play are mind-boggling and controlled by a vigorous lobby of private interests that includes, in addition to Big Pharma, the major insurance companies, private hospitals and clinics. None of these elements wants to lose its extravagant privileges. And so, putting pressure on the media and the Republican Party, they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on misinformation campaigns and scurrilous attacks against necessary healthcare reform.

It is a crucial battle, and it will be momentous if it is won by the pharmaceutical mafia, which would thus have doubled its power to fight the release of generic drugs and dampen hopes for a more solidary and less expensive healthcare system.


IPS

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

ADVENTURES OF CYCLING

YOU DON’T FORGET CYCLING, YOU ONLY NEED CONFIDENCE AND A GOOD CYCLE.

SUDHA MADHAVAN

 

My anticipation about the trip to Mahabaleshwar this time was fraught more with anxiety than exhilaration as I had this sword of Damocles dangling over my head, thanks to my daughter. “You better brush up your cycling this time when we get there. We are going to do a lot of it!”


“But I am not sure I can...” I trailed off, trying to build a feeble defence against a forceful opponent. “You don’t really forget cycling...!”, goaded a greedy inner voice, dangling a dangerous carrot. Also my earlier erratic efforts at sudden spurts of cycling in Kodai and Mahabs had surprised me in a positive way.


“No, I won’t take no for answer!” spoke my bulldozing progeny and the argument was closed. “One must test one’s endurance levels as one grows older,” the dangerous inner voice went again. “Come on! push the envelope!” So, I decided to push... er... the pedal.


And there I was the next morning, at the centre of the market place, eyeing the old shop with cycles on hire. The shop fellow gave me a surprised look and got a reassuring smile in return.


Out of a motley collection of bicycles for the dainty(?), in various stages of disrepair, I went for the worse one, since we were both taller than average. It was no doubt, a wise choice. My daughter had opted for a broad wheeled roadster since cross bars weren’t a bar!


I took care to steer clear of the market place beginning to hum with early morning business. Once on the road, branching off to the Venna lake, I got on to the bike, carefully going through the rule book procedures. All good cyclists do.


My intelligent choice of the bicycle seemed to be a wizard! Put together specially for carrying the likes of me. The wheel made interesting noises. Try as I might, I could not put a finger to where they came from. The seat was far from comfortably supporting my derriere. The brake had obviously been laboured on for years on precarious downhill rides and was at the end of its tether. The handle bar and the front wheel clearly did not see eye to eye!


We trundled along warily, the bike and me. Any oncoming vehicle brought a warning shout from my daughter. The choice was between gracefully taking to the side of the road and an unladylike scamper for the ditch. I chose the latter.


Looking out at the panoramic valley view, I was overcome with quiet waves of foreboding at the thought of return... Uh! Though my daughter did not voice it, I think she thought it better not to belabour the experiment any more. We stepped out in a quiet mood and got onto our respective ‘vahanas’ and presto! I had my seat in my hand!


Well, to make a long story short, we had a rather introspective walk of an approximate 4-km back! Dragging our cycles, of course!

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

GOLDENROD TIME

BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG

 

Somehow my internal timekeeper failed this summer — broken down, perhaps, during the utterly sodden month of June. Time passed, and all the natural events that happen on this farm happened in order. But when the goldenrod began to bloom a few weeks ago, I failed to make a connection between the two.

 

The goldenrod ripens with nearly the same power as the leaves turning. It’s one of the strongest temporal clues I know, and I usually respond to it the way I respond to most signs of a shifting season: with an inward emotional tug.

 

This year, I seem to be absent, or perhaps I’m just resting in the lull of late summer. Or perhaps I’ve become just another of the creatures on this farm.

 

I don’t suppose the bees answer the blooming goldenrod with a rush of emotion. They’re acutely aware of the sun’s position. They’re connoisseurs of ripeness, that moment of nectareous perfection in each blooming species.

 

In the life sequence of the hive, bees certainly know the order in which things are done. But it isn’t — or so it seems to me — a nextness that reaches beyond the very task at hand. And yet what could all that honey mean except an awareness of the future?

 

What I needed, besides the goldenrod, was a few cool nights. And now that they’ve come, I feel my clock restarting. The goldenrod is pointing headlong to September’s end, and soon the world around me will be turning copper, deepening the blue overhead. I moved to the country, long ago, in order to live with time. I believed it was something happening around me. Now I know that it’s passing in me.

 

VERLYN KLINKENBORG

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

POLITICS AND THE STATE POLICE

 

New York’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, has uncovered a disturbing amount of political favoritism in the upper ranks of the supposedly independent New York State Police — yet another illustration of Albany’s shameful political culture.

 

In the first report to emerge from an 18-month investigation, Mr. Cuomo — whose inquiries are continuing — found no evidence of rank-and-file misbehavior and no rogue political unit, as some critics had feared. The attorney general did discover repeated instances where top officials used their power to protect or otherwise assist prominent politicians.

 

In one case, a police superintendent ordered subordinates to create a fake police report to erase evidence of a domestic violence dispute involving the former Republican Representative John Sweeney. In another case, Mr. Cuomo found that aides to former Gov. George Pataki pressured an official to appoint one of the governor’s biggest campaign contributors, David Mack, to the uniformed post of deputy administrator. Mr. Mack had no law enforcement experience.

 

The report also cites repeated instances of allegedly inappropriate behavior by Daniel Wiese, a former State Police colonel who worked closely with Mr. Pataki and, later, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Mr. Wiese ran a unit that was supposed to provide protection for top state officials. The report says it was also used to investigate a break-in at the Pataki campaign headquarters and to provide protection to the former baseball player Darryl Strawberry, a friend of Mr. Wiese’s.

 

Mr. Cuomo is also investigating whether Mr. Wiese, and perhaps others, obstructed the inquiry by deleting e-mail messages and destroying documents.

 

Reform and new rules are obviously called for. To start with, no governor should be allowed to make political appointments to the State Police, and the system must ensure that politicians cannot use police officers to further their own ends. The State Police is in business to enforce traffic laws on state highways, protect people (including high-ranking officials) and property and assist in criminal investigations. These roles are too important to be interfered with by self-seeking politicians.

 

To avoid any possible conflict of interest, Mr. Cuomo correctly assigned independent investigators to examine police operations during the years his father, Mario Cuomo, was governor. So far, they have found little of concern during that time. But the attorney general is obliged to take this investigation wherever it leads him.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

VISAS AND SPEECH

 

It has been nearly 20 years since Congress repealed the provisions used during the cold war to deny visas to prominent foreign intellectuals, artists and activists because of their left-leaning politics, including the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and the British novelist Doris Lessing.

 

The Bush administration eagerly revived the practice, barring numerous people from entering the country for speaking engagements or conferences or to teach at leading universities — all under a flimsily supported guise of fighting terrorism.

 

Adam Habib, a well-known intellectual, professor and human rights activist from South Africa, was interrogated for seven hours and told that his visa had been revoked when he tried to enter the United States in 2006 for professional meetings. He was later told that his exclusion was based on terrorism-related grounds. He is challenging the action in court, but the government has yet to explain its precise legal or factual reasoning.

 

In 2004, the Bush administration revoked the visa of Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss national and Muslim scholar, who was to become a tenured professor at the University of Notre Dame. It again denied him a visa in 2006. Two months ago, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan unanimously reversed a lower-court ruling allowing the government’s move.

 

The government cited evidence that from 1998 to 2002, Mr. Ramadan contributed about $1,300 to a Swiss-based charity that the Treasury Department later categorized as a terrorist organization. Mr. Ramadan said that he believed the group was involved in humanitarian projects, and that he was not aware of any connections between the charity, the Association de Secours Palestinien, and Hamas or terrorism, which, he said, he condemns. The evidence suggests that Mr. Ramadan’s strong criticism of United States foreign policy is what really triggered his exclusion.

 

Months ago, a group of free speech advocates, including the Association of American Publishers, the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union called on the Obama administration to end ideological exclusions and to review dubious visa denials. We hope Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton takes heed.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

 

Congress and President Obama face a test Thursday of their commitment to freedom of the press and to holding government accountable. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to consider a proposed federal shield law that would protect the public’s right to learn vital information about the workings of its government. But some senators are trying to weaken the bill, and the White House has sent mixed signals.

 

It is critical that the committee approves a strong version of the law to ensure that the news media are free to report news obtained from confidential sources.

 

Without the ability of reporters and news organizations to protect confidential sources, many important reports about illegal, incompetent or embarrassing behavior that the government is determined to conceal would never see the light of day. In recent years, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the secret C.I.A. prisons in Eastern Europe for terrorists and warrantless wiretapping all came to light through the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

 

If reporters can be hauled into court and forced to reveal their sources, it makes it hard for them to gain the trust of people who have information that the public needs to know, and it makes it hard for their news organizations to publish or broadcast those reports.

 

The bipartisan bill is backed by Senators Arlen Specter, Democrat of Pennsylvania; Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York; Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina; and others. It would establish a calibrated right of reporters not to reveal the name of confidential sources. It already contains many conditions and qualifications to protect national security. For example, it expressly does not cover information gained from terrorists and agents of foreign powers.

 

A question for the senators in committee is whether to retain a balancing test on national security. A draft version of the bill provides that in leaks of information related to national security, a judge must weigh the security interest against the public’s interest in learning the information. The news media would not always prevail, but it would give them a chance to make the case before a judge that their sources should be protected.

 

As a senator, Mr. Obama was an outspoken supporter of a federal shield law, and he co-sponsored a strong bill. On the campaign trail, he said a shield law was important to ensure that there is appropriate oversight over the government. Judges, he said, are generally pretty good at weighing the competing interests.

 

As president, Mr. Obama’s position has been harder to discern. He has been disappointingly protective of executive branch prerogatives on issues like detainee policies and the state secrets doctrine. The administration has been sending mixed signals on the shield law, but there have been recent indications that it may yet weigh in with senators in favor of a good bill.

 

We hope it does. Many believe that the First Amendment and the right to free speech are all that are necessary to ensure a robust press and the free exchange of ideas. But the right to collect important information, and to protect the sources who provide it, is also vital.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

SOMEDAY, A BILL WILL PASS

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

Let’s listen to the sound of the House of Representatives debating student loan reform on Wednesday:

 

“I don’t want a single-payer health care system, and I don’t want a single-payer student loan system!”

 

“We’re not talking about health care today, but perhaps we should be!”

 

“The big gulp of the public option swallowing the private option!”

 

I think we have a pattern here. Last year, it seemed as though the whole world was a derivative. This year, no matter what the subject, there’s a death panel lurking behind every bush.

 

The student loan bill actually has very little in common with the great hairball that is known as health care reform. For one thing, so far, it seems to be moving through Congress rather nicely.

 

For another, it’s pretty easy to explain. It would simplify the federally guaranteed loan system, save an estimated $87 billion over 10 years and use that money to increase aid to low-income students, improve community colleges and raise standards for early childhood education.

 

Let us stop here and recall how the current loan system works:

 

1) Federal government provides private banks with capital.

 

2) Federal government pays private banks a subsidy to lend that capital to students.

 

3) Federal government guarantees said loans so the banks don’t have any risk.

 

And now, the proposed reform:

 

1) The federal government makes the loans.

 

Wow. You really do wonder why nobody came up with this idea before.

 

“We thought about this for a long time,” said George Miller, the chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. “Before, we never had the horses to do it.”

 

It is a tad depressing to imagine all those committees of yore, sitting there and saying: “Gee, it sure would be nice to improve Pell grants and community colleges. But everybody says we need that money to give to the banks.”

 

The House Republicans have a different proposal. Which, as Representative John Kline of Minnesota explained, is to leave everything the way it is and “convene a nonpartisan commission.”

 

 

Perhaps there will come a time when the words “convene a nonpartisan commission” do not cause people to topple over in depression and despair. But it may take a while.

 

Just hours before, Senator Max (Futility is My Middle Name) Baucus had unveiled the long-awaited product of his blue-ribbon, bipartisan committee on health care reform. You will remember that the whole legislative world came to a screeching halt so Baucus’s group could do its work. All summer long, the members floated above tawdry political concerns and labored on a meeting of the minds. Now the final product has landed, its wishy-washiness exceeded only by its total lack of bipartisan backers.

 

“No Republican has offered his or her support at this moment,” said Baucus, ever cheerful, ever hopeful.

 

But never mind. Just when you begin to think that these people are never going to be able to do anything, ever, here comes student loan reform, scampering down the aisle, wagging its hopeful tail.

 

The bill actually got a couple of Republican votes in Miller’s committee, which is two more than Baucus has gotten on anything so far. When it gets to the Senate, the Democrats plan to do one of those reconciliation maneuvers that allow them to pass a bill with a mere majority of votes, radical as that might seem.

 

If it all works out, Congress will have come a way toward fixing this problem, at least when it comes to federally financed student loans. There’s already a new law that forgives part or all of the debt for graduates who go into careers in public service. Terms will be easier for low-income debtors.

 

But there’s a lot longer way to go. The central problem with financing higher education is that tuition keeps running ahead of the rate of inflation like Secretariat closing in the Belmont. The assumption that kids can just pay the bill with borrowed money has to be one of the reasons schools aren’t feeling more pressure to control costs.

 

“That’s a very serious subject of conversation on my committee. We have not come up with a good answer. We’ve come up with a lot of gibberish,” said Miller, with winning candor.

 

Two-thirds of college students now borrow to pay for college. They have a sympathetic ear in the White House. Back during the presidential campaign, there was nothing Barack and Michelle Obama talked about with more passion than the burden of student loans. Really, there’s nothing like the memory of $80,000 in debt to put fervor in your delivery.

 

There was a time when the Obamas doubted they’d ever get out of hock. Then Barack became a world-famous political figure, sales of his memoir skyrocketed and the family was able to pay off all the student loans.

 

Unfortunately, this is not a financial plan that many other people can replicate.

 

Nicholas D. Kristof is off today.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

HEALTH REFORM’S MISSING INGREDIENT

BY RON WYDEN

 

“MY guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition,” President Obama said last week in an address to Congress on health care reform. It’s a good principle, one that may determine the ultimate success or failure of reform, but unfortunately it’s not really guiding the Senate bill unveiled on Wednesday or any of the other health reform legislation now under consideration in Congress.

 

Under the nation’s current employer-based system, most people have little if any choice about where they get their insurance. They just have to accept the plan that comes with their job. That insurance company, in turn, is provided a captive group of customers, so it has no incentive to earn their loyalty.

 

Empowering Americans to choose from a broad selection of health plans would turn the tables. Those insurers that charged affordable rates and provided good coverage would attract more customers, while those that treated customers badly would be forced to change their ways or go out of business. To stay competitive, insurers would need to follow the example of places like the Mayo Clinic and offer good, low-cost coverage.

 

The various bills making their way through Congress would, as the president explained, provide some consumer choice by establishing large marketplaces where people could easily compare insurance plans and pick the one that best suits their needs. Companies participating in these insurance exchanges would be required to offer coverage to anyone who wants to buy it, regardless of their age, gender or health status, and they would be barred from charging someone more for having a pre-existing condition.

 

The problem with these bills, however, is that they would not make the exchanges available to all Americans. Only very small companies and those individuals who can’t get insurance outside of the exchange — 25 million people — would be allowed to shop there. This would leave more than 200 million Americans with no more options, private or public, than they have today.

 

I understand the president’s fear of overreaching. Past reform efforts have failed in part because of the public’s distaste for government-imposed change. But walling off most of the health care system from choice and competition could create greater problems — enough to doom health care reform.

 

I believe there is a way to work with the present employer-based system to guarantee that all Americans have choices, and I am proposing it in an amendment to the latest Senate health care bill. My amendment, called Free Choice, would let everyone choose his health insurance plan.

 

It would impose only one requirement on employers — that they offer their employees a choice of at least two insurance plans, one of them a low-cost, high-value plan. Employers could meet this requirement by offering their own choices. Or they could let their employees choose either the company plan or a voucher that could be used to buy a plan on the exchange. They could also simply insure all of their employees though the exchange, at a discounted rate.

 

All payments that employers would make, whether in the form of premiums or vouchers, would remain tax-deductible as a business expense. Reinsurance and risk adjustment mechanisms already in the bill would balance the costs of employers who end up with disproportionately sick pools of workers, and this would avoid any disruption to existing employer coverage. Any employers that did not offer either their own choices or insurance through the exchange would be required to pay a “fair share” fee to help support the system.

 

My plan would actually strengthen the employer-based system by making it possible for even more employers to afford coverage than can today. Employers who offer high-quality health insurance to attract first-rate employees could continue to do so. And employees who like the coverage they have could keep it. Those who don’t, however, would be able to shop elsewhere.

 

According to one estimate, injecting this kind of competition into the employer-based system would save people and businesses more than $360 billion over 10 years. At the same time, it would improve the quality of health care.

 

Americans could take advantage of this change, or ignore it if they like; it would not be forced on them by government mandate. Ultimately, by empowering people to select the health insurance that makes the most sense for them and their family, we could end up with a system that works better for everyone.

 

Ron Wyden is a Democratic senator from Oregon.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

JUSTICE IN GAZA

BY RICHARD GOLDSTONE

 

I ACCEPTED with hesitation my United Nations mandate to investigate alleged violations of the laws of war and international human rights during Israel’s three-week war in Gaza last winter. The issue is deeply charged and politically loaded. I accepted because the mandate of the mission was to look at all parties: Israel; Hamas, which controls Gaza; and other armed Palestinian groups. I accepted because my fellow commissioners are professionals committed to an objective, fact-based investigation.

 

But above all, I accepted because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm.

 

In the fighting in Gaza, all sides flouted that fundamental principle. Many civilians unnecessarily died and even more were seriously hurt. In Israel, three civilians were killed and hundreds wounded by rockets from Gaza fired by Hamas and other groups. Two Palestinian girls also lost their lives when these rockets misfired.

 

In Gaza, hundreds of civilians died. They died from disproportionate attacks on legitimate military targets and from attacks on hospitals and other civilian structures. They died from precision weapons like missiles from aerial drones as well as from heavy artillery. Repeatedly, the Israel Defense Forces failed to adequately distinguish between combatants and civilians, as the laws of war strictly require.

 

Israel is correct that identifying combatants in a heavily populated area is difficult, and that Hamas fighters at times mixed and mingled with civilians. But that reality did not lift Israel’s obligation to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians.

 

Our fact-finding team found that in many cases Israel could have done much more to spare civilians without sacrificing its stated and legitimate military aims. It should have refrained from attacking clearly civilian buildings, and from actions that might have resulted in a military advantage but at the cost of too many civilian lives. In these cases, Israel must investigate, and Hamas is obliged to do the same. They must examine what happened and appropriately punish any soldier or commander found to have violated the law.

 

Unfortunately, both Israel and Hamas have dismal records of investigating their own forces. I am unaware of any case where a Hamas fighter was punished for deliberately shooting a rocket into a civilian area in Israel — on the contrary, Hamas leaders repeatedly praise such acts. While Israel has begun investigations into alleged violations by its forces in the Gaza conflict, they are unlikely to be serious and objective.

 

Absent credible local investigations, the international community has a role to play. If justice for civilian victims cannot be obtained through local authorities, then foreign governments must act. There are various mechanisms through which to pursue international justice. The International Criminal Court and the exercise of universal jurisdiction by other countries against violators of the Geneva Conventions are among them. But they all share one overarching aim: to hold accountable those who violate the laws of war. They are built on the premise that abusive fighters and their commanders can face justice, even if their government or ruling authority is not willing to take that step.

 

Pursuing justice in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above the law. Western governments in particular face a challenge because they have pushed for accountability in places like Darfur, but now must do the same with Israel, an ally and a democratic state.

 

Failing to pursue justice for serious violations during the fighting will have a deeply corrosive effect on international justice, and reveal an unacceptable hypocrisy. As a service to the hundreds of civilians who needlessly died and for the equal application of international justice, the perpetrators of serious violations must be held to account.

 

Richard Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor for war-crime tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, is the head of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.

 

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I.THE NEWS

DITORIAL

BEYOND BELIEF

 

Sometimes we are asked to believe the truly incredible. This time we are told a young Christian man, aged 18 or 19 years, hanged himself to death in his cell using the cord of his shalwar attached to the latch of his cell door. Anyone with half an iota of common sense would realize it is extremely hard, indeed almost impossible, to accomplish such a feat. Hanging is no easy matter. Doing so from a small attachment fixed to a vertical surface even harder. We have not been told either why he should have chosen to take his own life. But the police officials who claim the teenager committed suicide, a day after being sent to the Sialkot jail on judicial remand following charges of blasphemy, obviously lack both brains and morality. It seems quite apparent that the boy was killed. The failure to penalize those responsible for the murder in their jail cells of people who may not have committed any crime has been directly responsible for this latest death, claiming the life of a youngster from an impoverished family whose sufferings will increase as a result of this tragedy. The Christian community in Sialkot, Lahore and other towns has been protesting. Shops have been burnt, property attacked. The relatives of Robert Masih say he was tortured to death. For the moment their tale, for all its horror, seems entirely plausible. The official explanation does not. The record of our police does nothing to persuade us that they are telling the truth. This is all the more true given the victim was a non-Muslim and as such, in the grotesquely distorted society we have become, more liable to suffer such abuse.


The blasphemy pretext, even though it was entirely unproven, has been used to take away another life. It is becoming hard to keep track of how many needless deaths have been caused by those bandying about the blasphemy charge and then acting as judge, jury and executioner. It has to be said, for the umpteenth time, that the simple fact that we are all humans demands that the blasphemy laws be reviewed to discourage such barbarity. The minister for minorities has promised a transparent probe into the latest death. He would do well to also set up a body to determine what can be done to prevent further mayhem. So far the government has only reacted to the spate of recent incidents that have taken place. Will this new outrage prompt the government to take more proactive measures to prevent the abuse of minorities and to tackle the bigotry that underpins it?

 

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I.THE NEWS

DITORIAL

MISUNDEREPORTED

 

Few would be surprised if the government issued a directive that henceforward the word 'up' would be known as 'down' and vice-versa, and that 'come' would now mean 'go'. Affirmation would become denial and no statement, whoever's mouth it comes from, will ever be susceptible to a literal interpretation. The latest exercise in semantic gymnastics that is managing to confuse all and sundry is around the interpretation of what ex-President Musharraf did or did not mean or say in his remarks about the use of American aid money to bolster the defences against India. The money was supposed to have been used to 'fight extremism' – but (allegedly) found itself diverted to other parts of the military establishment. Clarity could have been brought by the ex-president himself, but he has chosen to remain silent and leave the business of bamboozling the population to trusted spokespersons and media commentators.


Our high commissioner in the UK casts doubts on the ex-presidential word by calling the statement 'foolish' and that it will damage the image of the country. The American State Department has reacted cautiously to the news that Pakistan had (allegedly) used 'War on Terror' dollars to beef up the defences to the east rather than fight the battles to the north and west. The Indian media are having a field day as they crow at the confusion. Our own analysts and news anchors are trying to extract a grain of truth from the mouths of professional obfuscators - mostly unsuccessfully - and the man who left the presidency over a year ago still has the power to rock the ship of state. Fighting something of a rear-guard action, a Mr Kelly, speaking at a regular State Department briefing and in answer to the question if Pakistan could use US military aid for defending itself against India, said this… "Well, I think anytime that we sell arms or provide the means to sell arms …we put in place safeguards and monitoring mechanisms to make sure that these weapons are used for the intended and agreed-to purpose. And this is the same for Pakistan as well." This is the closest approach to a sensible answer, on the record, that anybody has made thus far. And does any of this really matter? Probably not, but it keeps a lot of diplomats, analysts, media persons and newspapers all gainfully employed – as well as a wily ex-president firmly in the limelight.

 

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I.THE NEWS

DITORIAL

LOANS FOR THE POOR

 

The president has launched an ambitious new programme by offering a loan of Rs300,000 to set up income generation for the poor. The money, to be paid back over a 12- or 15-year period, will be offered only to those who constitute the least well off. Every effort to ease the poverty we see everywhere in society must be welcomed. The government should be given credit for any endeavour to help those it represents. For many, the PPP remains the party of the poor. It is encouraging that it does occasionally offer some hint that it has not totally abandoned them. The suggestion from the president that tax-free taxis be brought in to be bought by those benefitting from the scheme is also worthy of consideration.


Our economic planners need to examine a few other realities. Micro-credit, on the pattern of the loans now to be extended, has merit. It has, around the world, had a role in changing lives. But the ocean of poverty that yawns across our country is so vast that it may take far more drastic action to leave any lasting mark. Attention needs to be directed towards unemployment and underemployment which contribute so heavily to poverty. What we need are big schemes that can offer people jobs. These include construction work on roads and other development projects. Other measures to create employment must also be considered. The government must make addressing the problems of people its key priority. There has so far been little evidence that it is willing to do so.

 

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I.THE NEWS

COLUMN

ASSESSING WALKABILITY IN KARACHI

ARIF PERVAIZ


Walkability refers to 'the safety, security, economy, and convenience of traveling by foot'.


The extent to which pedestrian infrastructure allows people to walk with ease and safety determines quality of the pedestrian environment and the overall transportation network. Beset as we are with myriad problems including those of an existential nature, it might appear a luxury to be concerned with pedestrian infrastructure.

To put the matter in perspective: almost 21 per cent of Karachi's population walks as part of their livelihood, social and recreational activities. Nearly 66 per cent of the commuters use different modes of public transport, a majority walk some or large part of their daily commute - nearly all trips made by people entail some walking, either directly to a destination or to another mode of transport.


The pedestrian infrastructure in Karachi is, putting it mildly, highly inadequate. Pedestrian convenience and safety are often a blind spot or a low priority for authorities, and recent investments by the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) bear this out.


To accommodate the ever-increasing number of vehicles in Karachi, authorities embarked on upgrading and expanding road infrastructure as a way of dealing with growing traffic congestion – in itself a failed strategy, but more on this another time. These investments have mostly ignored the importance of road user education – often the primary cause of chaos on our roads -- and basic pedestrian mobility and safety features.


Recent road building and widening projects have reduced the width or simply removed footpaths in a number of places. In other instances, flyovers, bridges and underpasses have created new pedestrian accessibility and safety issues. Signal-free corridors have eliminated at-grade crossings, making it difficult and dangerous for people, especially women and children, to cross.


Generally, road crossings are badly designed and often not marked, meaning vehicles rarely ever give right of way to pedestrians (note: a very high number of pedestrian casualties occur while attempting to cross roads). Footpaths do not follow a standardised design and are for the most part decrepit, poorly maintained, encroached upon by cars, vendors, shop keepers, poles, transformers, telephone boxes, postal boxes, signage and the like. All of this makes for a chaotic and unpleasant walking experience for millions of people every day.


People walking on city roads in developing countries are much more at risk of injury or death than they are in developed countries – according to one study, between 86 and 172 per cent greater risk. In Karachi, road accidents kill and maim thousands of people each year and the numbers are growing.


Figures compiled by the Road Traffic Injury Prevention and Research Centre at JPMC show that during 2008, there were 32,497 injuries resulting from road accidents in Karachi. Of the total number injured, 60 per cent were those riding on bicycles and motorcycles and 22 per cent were pedestrians. However, of the total fatalities (1,185) 37 per cent were bicycle/motorcycle riders, and pedestrians 39 per cent.


The comparison of data on pedestrian injuries and fatalities between 2007 and 2008 shows an increase of 21 per cent (from 1,355 to 1,628) and 50 per cent (from 304 to 457) in the number who were seriously injured or died as a result of road accidents. Pedestrians suffered the second highest number of injuries (both minor and serious), but had the highest rate of fatalities.


During the first quarter of 2009 alone, over 145 pedestrians lost their lives in road accidents. This is nearly half the number of all deaths in road accidents for the period. The first quarter figures show a 40 per cent increase in the death of pedestrians over the corresponding period in 2008.


Beyond death and injury, an unsafe and inconvenient pedestrian environment impedes social and economic mobility of poor people. Walking everyday in a chaotic road environment like that of Karachi can be both unpleasant and unsafe. Moreover, it reduces the time and energy that people could otherwise devote to work, family and other productive activities. The absence of an enabling pedestrian environment also reflects poorly on the dignity and respect accorded to citizens by the state, and on how outsiders (potential investors) view the city.

The former mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Penalosa, argues that inadequate and poorly maintained road and cycling infrastructure is a sign of a lack of democracy in a society: "it says that those who walk or cycle are not equal citizens to those who ride in cars". He believes that the "importance of pedestrian public spaces cannot be measured, but most other important things in life cannot be measured either: Friendship, beauty, love and loyalty are examples. Parks and other pedestrian places are essential to a city's happiness." In congested, low-income housing settlements in Karachi, footpaths and surrounding land serve as places for social interaction. Developing and expanding these spaces, besides giving immediate benefit to poor communities, would give citizens a sense of pride and ownership in the city.


In July 2009, this author along with architecture students from Indus Valley School, Karachi and National College of Arts, Lahore voluntarily undertook a survey of 'walkability' in Karachi. The survey was conducted using the Global Walkability Index (GWI), a standardised field survey tool, developed by the World Bank, designed to evaluate the quality of pedestrian environment in a city. The Index looks at safety and security, and convenience of traveling by foot.


The object of the survey was: (a) generate awareness of walkability as an important issue for millions of citizens; and (b) mobilise stakeholders to work with authorities concerned to improve planning for and increase investments in pedestrian infrastructure and related road users education .The survey was carried out in four commercial/residential sites, Clifton, Tariq Road, Gurumandar and NIPA. Each of the areas measured 250,000 square metres and covered 36 main roads with a combined length of 20.58 kilometres. The survey was conducted during the early part of evening peak hours of traffic. The main findings of the survey were:


* In terms of city wise comparison, the walkability index of Karachi is 50, which is much lower than 121 for Bangkok.

* Tariq Road has a high walkability index as it has a high number of pedestrians and the quality of infrastructure is better than in the other three areas. Tariq Road also has the highest numbers of pedestrian users. Still, the walkability index of Tariq Road is lower than that of Bangkok.


* The width and quality (that is., measured in terms of temporary and permanent obstacles) of sidewalks and its access for disabled people is the biggest barrier in improving walkability. The second biggest concern is the availability of number of crossings. The survey shows that road crossings are few and, where available, are not properly marked and/or considered safe.


* NIPA has the lowest infrastructure rating among all locations. However, it gets the highest priority, as the walkability index is the lowest and pedestrian demand high.


* Gurumandir and Clifton have a varied index. When both supply and infrastructure is considered, Clifton has better results than Gurumandir but when only infrastructure is considered Gurumandir has better ratings than Clifton.

* There was no observed consistency in design (width, height, continuity) of footpaths or road-crossings.

Civil society organisations and concerned university departments in Karachi have been invited to take this initiative forward.

 

The writer is an environment and social development specialist. Email: arifpervaiz@gmail.com

 

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I.THE NEWS

COLUMN

ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SOLDIER

IKRAM SEHGAL


There is nothing complicated about being a soldier. You serve your country with a simple-minded purpose, to die for your country if so required. No other profession in the world can equal the commitment of the soldier to his (or her) call of duty, the acceptance that your life is forfeit to the nation when the nation calls for it.


Whether you are an ordinary sepoy or an officer in any of the fighting arms, infantry, armour, artillery and, one daresay, engineers, you awaken with the morning reveille, and land on the parade ground, whether to do Physical Training (PT) or drill depends upon the schedule. The first sense you get, even as the rising of the sun heralds the dawn is one of camaraderie, up and down the ranks.


As you go through the individual paces of PT or drill, the sweat and strain does not matter; what matters is that you should not stand out as someone who could not cope. The fatigue that sets in is an individual challenge, the mass formation compromising individuals meets it single-mindedly as one unit. A group without discipline is called a mob, acting on command as a one entity differentiates an army from a mob.


The after-breakfast routine is to return most days to the parade ground, to learn the implementation of the facets of soldiering and to do practical training in its many disciplines. The basic infantry soldier would be familiarised with his constant companion, the basic weapon, till it becomes an extension of your own body. You learn to strip and assemble it, with speed, till you can do it blindfolded. The reason for this is simple, when you are in the battlefield, under fire during day or night, this is not a luxury but a dire necessity. You do not want your weapon to jam during combat, and if it does jam, your life depends upon how soon you clear the gun of the obstruction.

Other than learning all the small arms in the inventory, the time during the training period is spent learning and honing other skills, in some you must specialise, in others you must have working knowledge. All arms must know how to read a map and use the compass. For the infantry the additional knowledge must include (1) signals platoon, in which one learns communications, how to use the radio sets and how to converse with each other, (2) mortar platoon, both the smaller version, 60 mm (or equivalent) with the company, and the 81mm (or equivalent) at the mortar platoon level (3) engineers platoon, how to handle explosives of all kind and to improvise to overcome obstacles, and (4) how to handle weapons like recoilless rifles and heavy machineguns. For infantry, armour, artillery and engineer units it would also include the tools of their trade, tanks, heavy guns, explosives and bridges. And when one has begun to have a fair idea of all this, one has to learn how to employ them in the field.


Once the men are off the parade ground, on or about midday, the officers go to the offices to cope with the administrative matters pertaining to the men under their command. Invariably this period until lunch is also used many times a week for further officer training, not only about one's profession but also to build awareness of the situation within the country and the world. Maybe two (or even three) times a week the officers of each company will go and check the food in the cookhouse, it is important to ensure the correct quantity and quality of meals being given to the men.


Good Commanding Officer (COs) like to call in the young officers at least two-three times a week to check on the progress of their military education and training. Good young ensure that the COs do not call them in for "dressing down" because of acts of omission or commission on their part.

During summers, there is the luxury of an afternoon nap after lunch, and than back to the sports ground. This "afternoon nap" does not happen during winters. Games are an important part of military training, you build up teamwork, team spirit and camaraderie on the playing field.


Many qualities come on display, particularly the negative ones such as selfishness, lack of cooperation, hesitation, etc, positive qualities of leadership, courage, dedication, etc also come out for all to see. Sports is a most important ingredient for all those in uniform in building up character as well as making assessment of individuals. The British used to say that "the battles in Europe are won or lost on the playing fields of Eton and Harrow." Consider the games session as "a battlefield without weapons."


Good units treat dinner as an occasion where the bachelors have a chance to interact with each other, usually joined by a senior married officer on rotation at least once a week. This is necessary "bonding" that builds up trust and friendship, it is by itself a learning process for young officers. The after-dinner routine is to unwind, take a walk, and mentally prepare oneself for the next day. Decisions or opinions one has taken during the day or will make next day can be discussed frankly with one's fellow officers. This helps in sorting out the doubts in one's mind and make positive changes, if and when necessary.


Given the rigours of the day and the fact of an early rising, one tends to sleep at 10, or soon after. Some do reading before going off to sleep. Many thoughts flow through one's mind, most of it pertaining to family and profession. The tiredness of the day creeps into your body, and permeates your soul. The enormity of wearing the uniform of your country is not lost on you as you drop off into a deep slumber. The last conscious thoughts of any good soldier is to thank God for the life he is privileged to lead, for the country that he is privileged to be born in, for the privilege of being able to serve it, and maybe one day, the privilege to die for it.


(This article was first published in the armed forces' monthly magazine, "Hilal.")

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

 

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I.THE NEWS

COLUMN

DESTABILISING DEMOCRACY

NASIM ZEHRA


There are revelations galore, mainly by former spooks and former army chiefs, which may have generated grist for the propaganda mill and produced endless media stories and programmes. Yet, beyond reviving sagas associated primarily with Pakistan's blundering establishment, and some with faulty politicians, the revelations have really not dented the democratic setup. If there are issues of the current government's stability, they have more to do with the government's own mistakes, lapses and blunders.


Today the democratic government is functioning in a relatively secure environment. Six illustrations of the politically supportive environment in which the government is functioning are noteworthy. One, the government is not facing a tough political opposition. Contrary to the democratic era of the nineties, the opposition is not one that is conspiring with the establishment. Even what may appear to be big-ticket items which can destabilise the NRO and the Musharraf trial, are not issues that the opposition will press ahead with.


Two, if the two big-ticket items of Pakistan's politics, the trial of General Parvez Musharraf and the NRO, are unlikely to snowball into a national crisis, the Supreme Court too sees its role as one of overseeing credible functioning of democratic institutions, not destabilising the country.


Three, the government has managed to keep the ruling coalition intact and the PPP is a partner in all the provincial ruling coalitions. Four, the PPP holds all the important posts in the federation: the president, the prime minister, the speaker of the National Assembly and the chairperson of the Senate.


Five, the army poses no threat. The army fully understands that no direct or indirect adventure against the democratic system will be acceptable, even by the leadership of Pakistan's main political opposition, the PML-

N.

Six, on security matters within the country the political leadership and the security establishment are generally "reading from the same page." Differences on issues ranging from anti-terrorism policy to the US and India policy are generally debated through among the top political and military leaderships. The only grey area, of course, remains the reported expanding presence of private US security agencies.


To the government's credit, it has used this political power positively in certain areas. For example, on dealing with the Swat crisis, opening the inter-provincial debate on the NFC, addressing the country's most serious political and constitutional issue of Balochistan.


There is no force in the country whose political agenda is destabilisation thereby providing the government an opportunity to focus on good governance and on ensuring the credible functioning of state institutions; of the bureaucracy and of the state-run public corporations. Yet, it is in these areas that serious allegations against people in high positions that have surfaced. These range from the Rental Power Plants (RPPs) to the hoarding of sugar by political influentials, soaring sugar prices, the controversy around the Steel Mills, the expanding activities of the land mafia, including its attempted takeover of KPT land. For example, in the RPPs the president's cronies, including Iqbal Z Ahmad and Malik Riaz, have allegedly been the beneficiaries. the government has given the clearance on some of the RPPs despite widespread criticism that the expense incurred in them is not financially viable.

Clearly, the most serious questions are raised around the hiring and firing of top guns in public-sector institutions. Against this backdrop several businessmen have left the country because of harassment by government functionaries. There have been accusations by them personally to this scribe of the direct involvement of the president and his cronies in an attempt to acquire their business assets. These include Hashwani and the Deewan group.


Similarly the sugar scandal has also brought into focus the involvement of the government's top men. Politicians from Punjab to Sindh own the majority of sugar mills. Names that are reportedly doing the rounds include the Sharifs, the Speaker and the Sindh home minister and the president himself


Similarly, at the local level endless stories of corruption against the PPP leadership have surfaced. For example, Karachi's PPP workers who have through generations supported the PPP are now being asked for six-digit bribes to either get people reinstated in jobs or for getting new jobs. These PPP jiyalas who have been victimised by the Zia regime and subsequently by the MQM governments are now expected to pay bribes, to their party leaders, to get jobs. They accuse Jehangir Badar, the secretary general of the PPP, as soliciting money to get them jobs. In a recent meeting a PPP MPA fairly senior in the PPP provincial hierarchy conceded that the situation within the PPP in Karachi is "disastrous."


Of the three-dimensional challenge that Pakistan must deal with--one, ensuring the survival of a functioning parliamentary democracy; two, ensuring good governance; and, three, the accountable and credible functioning of state institutions–the country is now doing well on the establishment of parliamentary democracy.


Nevertheless, the challenge is to deliver on all three dimensions simultaneously. Unless this can be done the government in power cannot deliver on people's constitutional rights, which include the right to life, to economic security and all other freedoms the Constitution guarantees.


Clearly substantive progress has been made on establishing parliamentary democracy. Cumulative blunders and their disastrous consequences have produced the widely acknowledged and widely owned wisdom that there is no system better than parliamentary democracy for Pakistan.


How effectively is a democratic government able to deliver on people's rights and on its other constitutional responsibilities is a statement on its quality of governance. Clearly, at present the biggest curse for the people of Pakistan is bad governance. Decode the term bad governance and it translates into elements including corruption, nepotism, non-transparent government deals, the political class reportedly promoting its business interests and blatant violation of many established rules of business.


Ultimately, the three-dimensional challenge has to be addressed with as much seriousness as the issue of terrorism been in recent months. Indeed, many factors, including the destruction devastation caused by suicide bombers and the external factor, finally prompted effective state action against terrorist forces. The fact is that the cumulative impact of bad governance and non-credibly and ineffective functioning of state institutions is creeping towards a dangerous and destructive direction.


Multiple factors are contributing towards the making of an explosive political situation triggered by none of the usual players from within Pakistan's power construct. All those players are seeking stability. The list of these factors is endless--it includes denial of people's basic rights, their rising anger, their exposure to the corruption and nepotism of the ruling classes, rising inflation, the saga of influential sugar and flour hoarders the proliferation of small arms.


This season of people's rising discontent will yield instability. Especially when juxtaposed with reports of senior ministers acquiring expensive properties abroad. A recent report claimed that the minister of water and power bought a multimillion-pound flat in London. Similarly, another high-profile minister is reportedly acquiring a four-star hotel on Edgware Road in London.


Pushed to the wall people will now increasingly opt for anarchic ways to protest against democratically elected leaders who maybe, at this stage be faulted both for not solving people's basic problems and for filling their own coffers. Frustrated and angered people's power makes for extremely combustible factor in popular politics. In times of scarcity and of rapid circulation of information the wages of discontent multiply rapidly. It is this source of destabilisation on which the federal and the provincial governments must urgently focus.

The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst. Email: nasimzehra@hotmail.com

 

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I.THE NEWS

COLUMN

BITTER PILLS AND SWEETENERS

SYED ANWAR MAHMOOD


I am stunned. I am shocked. I am dismayed. I am distressed. Why? Because the finance minister of my country expresses complete helplessness in the face of blatant manipulation by the sugar barons when he says:: "The sugar baron lobby, occupying both the treasury and opposition benches, is too powerful owing to which a probe against the swindlers who created artificial sugar shortage appears impossible. The country has enough sugar, but the mill owners, who are holding the stock of the government, are not allowing the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) to lift the stock as per the requirement just because the sugar barons want to bring the price of domestic sugar at par with international level" (The News, September 3).


If the finance minister laments that there is little he can do to hold accountable those who have manipulated a one hundred per cent increase in price of sugar in the span of a few months, what can the lesser mortals do? I, however, do appreciate the candid manner in which the minister has held both the treasury and the opposition responsible for this.


With the price of wheat flour already sky-rocketing, and men and women standing in line for hours to get atta, with prices of petrol, diesel and kerosene increasing almost every month, with power rates jumping as a result and with public transport fares rising as well, the sudden and huge rise in sugar prices has really robbed the poor of whatever little joy was left in their lives.


We read of a boy killed in Thatta trying to get a bag of atta and an old man meeting the same fate in Murree also in pursuit of atta. I know my domestic help who spent a whole day last Sunday in pursuit of a kilo of sugar for her children and came back empty-handed. My driver met the same fate.


What is being endured by the poor causes ripples anywhere. Unfortunately, this has been the norm, hence we hear very few voices of protest. The political elite are too engrossed in other issues. Thus, when the executive is unable to perform a function, someone else will – case in point, the suo moto action by the Lahore High Court. Within hours of the decision of the Lahore High Court (LHC) came the announcement by the provincial government ensuring that sugar is sold at Rs40 per kilo across the province. Why did the government wait for the judicial intervention? If it can ensure the sale of sugar at Rs40 per kilo now, why could it not do so earlier? The chief minister, known to be a hard task master, must put this question to his administration.


My two previous columns on this page generated many comments. The general refrain is lack of accountability and transparency. And that is understandable. A newspaper report claims that the sugar barons made a hefty Rs25 billion by the recent manipulation of sugar prices. There are reports that the ECC's decision to import sugar was not implemented as part of the same manipulation. In his column 'capital suggestion' in this newspaper on August 30, Dr Farrukh Saleem wrote: "On April 13, 2009, the USDA published the Pakistan Sugar Annual 2009. According to the report, Pakistan's MY 2009/10 sugar production is forecasted at 3.65 million metric tons. Consumption is forecast at 4.35 million metric tons and imports at 730,000 tons. When the whole world knew that Pakistan had a sugar shortage, why did the government fail to import the commodity? And, when the price of sugar in Pakistan skyrocketed a full 100 per cent, who really benefited from it? Importing sugar now at nearly Rs65 per kg when the price at the time of the ECC decision was Rs42 would cause a major financial blow to the government. That too will be at the cost of the poor.


The other issue attracting criticism from a section of the media is that of rental power plants. I, for one, understand and appreciate the need to fill the energy gap to stop further damage to our industry, manufacturing, exports and growth. I also understand that this is not and cannot be a permanent solution. It is only an emergent solution to a crisis and should be and will be replaced by regular power plants in a span of three to five years. However, since doubts have been expressed, it will be advisable for the government to set up a commission representing all major parties in the parliament, including a few professionals to scrutinise the process of award of licences for rental power plants. Its proceedings should be completed in weeks, not months. If the process has been manipulated, as is being alleged by some, the committee should be able to find out. If not, the finding would put to rest all controversies on the subject.


As for the sugar crisis, I believe this provides President Zardari with a great opportunity to rebuild the image of the government. What appears to be a very bitter pill today will turn out to be the best sweetener for him tomorrow. That will inspire confidence in his government, inject new life in his party and increase popularity. And to the world it will send a new message that the government in Pakistan means business.


The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: sanwermahmood@hotmail.com

 

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I.THE NEWSE

COLUMN

THE BUSINESS OF LAND

KAMILA HYAT


So far in 2009, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, 50 million acres of farmland has been sold or negotiated for sale or lease. More deals are due to be finalised within months.


The trend is reported by analysts to be accelerating rapidly, with rich countries buying up arable land in poor nations to ensure their own food security. The food crisis of 2008, when unexpectedly large resources had to be used to acquire food, is a factor in triggering what some believe is the largest land grab since the colonial era. There are also apprehensions that it could have a similar impact, depriving impoverished people of control over their own resources and potentially expanding hunger in nations which themselves lack food security.


Sudan is one example of this. Despite being one of the least food secure nations in the world, it has sold or leased some of the largest tracts of land. Severe resource shortages are obviously a factor in this. South Korea has acquired 700,000 hectares in the country and five other countries have bought large holdings where they will grow food crops or raise livestock to ensure adequate supplies for their own people. The millions of hungry people in Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and even Ethiopia may find that, as a result of these deals which often involve land with the best water supplies or access to roads and ports, they may have even less food available to them than before. The people of Pakistan may face exactly the same situation.

Talk of an agreement to lease land to Gulf countries has been heard since 2007, when the idea was first floated as a means to raise revenue – even if it meant a depletion of the increasingly meagre cupboard of valuables Pakistan has left to sell. Protests voiced at the time seem to have led to the deal being put on the back burner, though low key talks apparently continued. The PPP government – eager to put the interests of the Saudis ahead of those of the people who voted it to power -- has moved ahead with the deal, with talks on in earnest with the Saudis to lease out 500,000 acres of land which with help the desert kingdom, heavily reliant on food imports, to secure food security for itself. The Saudis have already bought or leased land for similar purposes in Africa and have reportedly abandoned projects aimed at providing enough water to grow wheat and other crops at home, preferring the cheaper option of simply growing them elsewhere.


At the farmlands, to be acquired in all four provinces in Pakistan, special security forces would be deployed around the lands – which would be converted by high-tech agricultural inputs into waving seas of food – to 'protect' them and also to prevent local people from reaching the abundance in their midst. Presumably, these people, many of whom struggle to acquire a single meal a day, would watch helplessly as food grown on land which should, by right, feed them is whisked away. The verses of Iqbal about people rising up to burn land which does nothing to silence their pangs of hunger come to mind. Since the days of Iqbal, hunger has not abated. It may instead have expanded. In its most recent Global Hunger Index, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute ranked Pakistan as a nation where levels of hunger were 'alarming'. Findings which confirm the hunger everywhere in our nation are, sadly, seldom seen as 'newsworthy' by the media.

It is not yet known if land which was already under cultivation will be handed over to the Saudis, though this is possible in a country which bears so heavy a burden of population and where there are so many landless farmers. Pakistan has already stated that it plans to lease still more land to Middle Eastern countries. The UAE and Qatar are both stated to be in the queue to acquire agricultural estates.

The land lease deal, supporters hold, would introduce modern farming technologies to Pakistan, increase investment thus offering the economy a badly needed boost and lead to an increase in employment as Pakistani staff is hired. It would also help cement ties between Islamabad and Riyadh, adding to the solid alliance between the two nations. Saudi Arabia has after all baled Pakistan out from difficult situations more than once. These arguments cannot be dismissed entirely. Indeed the fact that they do exist is one explanation as to why the new trend has taken off so swiftly across the globe, catching almost everyone by surprise. But the intensive agricultural practices that will take place on these lands will also deplete them, leaving behind a poorer soil. Rich nations can of course move on and simply buy 'new' lands elsewhere. Countries like Pakistan may be left with vast tracts of land infested with chemicals and with available water supplies reduced to them as the acquifer is sucked to supply the foreign farms. Will this, in time, mean more hunger? More starvation? More ecological and human devastation? These are the questions that must be asked and answered.


But these are not the only questions. The possession of lands owned by other governments and corporations within any country will have an inevitable impact on its sovereignty. If there is any doubt about this, the example of the US-based United Fruit Company in Latin America – involved since the 1800s in the ruthless exploitation of labour, the decimation of forests, bribery to safeguard it own interests and political interference at various levels – should illustrate how this works. Anger directed against the corporation simmers on; some hold it responsible for rampant corruption and instable governments. In the case of the Saudis, it is also worth keeping in mind that for all the expression of love and affection, relationships at the tier of the people have quite often been troubled. Hunting parties and other groups from the Middle East have in the past been accused by local people of arrogance, uncouth behaviour and harassment. They may be no truth behind such accusations, but they do suggest some of the problems that could arise in a situation where a large number of people from outside are brought into a particular area.


It is unfortunate that even as deals that involve land which should belong to the people of Pakistan are struck, there has been so little public debate about the plan. We need to be informed of what is planned. Protests need too to be mobilized. In the prevailing political environment of Pakistan, the people who stand to lose the most have almost no spokesmen. It is up to civil society groups to fill this gap. The global land sales and leases have caused disquiet at many forums. But so far they have not triggered an outcry on the scale that would have been expected – raising fears of a further tilting of the odds against the poor people of the world in the years to come.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

 

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I.THE NEWSE

COLUMN

BALOCHISTAN CRISIS

SALIM SAIFULLAH KHAN


Balochistan is the most serious crisis confronting Pakistan today. The grievances of the Baloch are well known to all, and yet no strategy has been adopted to remove them.


One word that defines the Gilani government is procrastination. On assumption of power in March last year, he offered the nation his 100 days plan, in which he also promised that the Concurrent List would be abolished within 12 months and the provinces would be given autonomy in accordance with the Constitution and the provinces and rights over their own resources. It is 18 months since then and no real movement has been made in any direction with the result that the patience of Baloch leaders is wearing thin and extremist elements are replacing the moderate leadership.


The tardy manner the issue is being addressed shows both the government's ineptitude and its inefficiency. Each passing day is making the problems more intractable.


Recently, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar assured the nation that "a serious rethinking is already under way." On April 22 last year, Zardari had also set up a National Reconciliation Committee for Balochistan. Its mandate was to have an in-depth study of issues such as provincial autonomy, Balochistan's share in national resources, good governance, poverty-alleviation, an end to political persecution, tracing of missing persons, rule of law and relations between the province and the federation. The committee held only one meeting and lapsed into oblivion. I hope the present exercise doesn't meet a similar fate.


It is unfortunate that the present government, with the largest cabinet in Pakistan's history, has not yet appointed a minister for inter-provincial coordination. In the past inter-provincial coordination was considered an important portfolio. PPP stalwarts like Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Rafi Raza held this portfolio. As minister for inter-provincial coordination during the last government, I had the opportunity to deal with the Balochistan Issue in all aspects and based on my personal knowledge, experience and contacts with Baloch leadership I can say confidently that the Baloch question is not intractable and can be solved if there is political will.


This brief account amply show why the Baloch leadership is so frustrated and doesn't trust Islamabad. In the last 18 months the Baloch leadership has received only pious words and expressions of good intentions, which were not followed up by action. Time is of the essence. Governor Magsi has rightly warned the government that "the province will get out of control if the federal government did not take immediate corrective measures. How the situation is taking an ugly turn is evident from the unilateral "Declaration of Independence of Balochistan" by Prince Dawood Sulaiman, the Khan of Kalat, August 11.

 

The writer is a senator and a former federal minister.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSEVER

EDITORIAL

POSITIVE STEP FOR POVERTY ALLEVIATION

 

FOR the first time in many months, the present Government has launched an initiative, which has the potential to address the chronic problem of abysmal poverty. Successive Governments have wasted huge national resources in the name of poverty alleviation as the schemes introduced by them made almost no contribution towards durable solution of the problem.


The initiative — Waseela-e-Haq — launched by President Asif Ali Zardari can surely go a long way in realizing the objective of poverty alleviation if implemented in a transparent and non-partisan manner. Interest-free advance of Rs 300,000 could definitely make a difference in the life of a destitute if the recipient utilizes the loan on income generating means. This would break the vicious cycle of poverty and enable families to lead an honourable life. While the President deserves appreciation for launching a beneficial scheme, we hope the Government would be able to muster international support for the programme. The Government must have given thought to different aspects of the scheme but in the absence of relevant details one may ask several pertinent questions: Beneficiaries of the scheme would be those who are already covered under BISP, which effectively means lady member of the family. Obviously the objective is to empower women and no one would object to that. But in our environment, an overwhelming majority of women cannot run any type of income generating scheme except doing house chores. Under these circumstances, how such recipients would utilize the advance in a productive manner to pay back the advance. It needs clarification whether lady member of a family can receive the advance to be utilized by some other member of the family on an income generating activity? Similarly, there are serious flaws in the BISP as many non-deserving people have made their way to the programme due to political connections while countless genuine destitutes are out. There should be a process of rechecking of the beneficiaries under BISP, so that the deserving women are not left out and to make it more transparent. After all this is taxpayers’ money which should not be doled out to political favourites. Waseela-e-Haq scheme itself is an innovative idea but we hope deserving people would have access to it.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSEVER

EDITORIAL

CH NISAR RAISES POLITICAL TEMPERATURE

 

LEADER of the Opposition in the National Assembly Ch Nisar Ali Khan has, in his usual youthful style, lambasted President Asif Ali Zardari for making an exit deal with former President Pervez Musharraf. His Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif has given a cautious and somber reaction by expressing dismay over the ‘revelation’ of the deal but in an emotional statement Nisar has not only strongly condemned it but also described it as breach of national sovereignty and indirectly criticized Saudi Arabia too.


The admission of President Asif Ali Zardari about the presence of a deal has, no doubt, caused a stir in the national politics. It was understood that the transfer of power took place following some sort of undisclosed understanding between the PPP and the then President and also that there were international guarantors to that arrangement. President’s statement has removed ambiguity, if any, and caused anger in certain circles. Ch Nisar Ali, as Leader of the Opposition, is well within his right to criticize policies and decisions of the Government and raise the issue on the floor of the House, which is the most appropriate forum for this purpose. However, the way he has criticized the President would definitely raise the political temperature once again. His earlier statement about MQM embittered the national political atmosphere and the dust raised by allegations and counter allegations has yet not settled down. It is also a fact that the Government is wrongly or rightly under fire because of charges of corruption, mismanagement and unprecedented price hike, yet it must complete its tenure so as to make an honest assessment about its performance. Political turmoil, if prolonged, could lead to yet another intervention, which would not be in the interest of any one. We also regret statement of Ch Nisar that his party cannot be forced by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to accept a particular line of action about trial of the former President. Saudi Arabia is our strategic ally and most trusted friend. Its advice is not person-specific but motivated by the desire of House of Saud to see a strong, united and prosperous Pakistan.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSEVER

EDITORIAL

EMPOWERMENT OF GILGIT-BALTISTAN

 

PEOPLE of Gilgit-Baltistan started reaping the first harvest of empowerment and self-governance package with Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Information Qamar Zaman Kaira taking the oath of Governor on Tuesday while elections to the legislative assembly would be held on 12th November that would in turn elect the Chief Minister. This is a praiseworthy approach in the present fragile political situation of Pakistan and has been welcomed by people at large.


No doubt PPP Government has gone a long way to meet the demands of the people. Now their elected representatives will legislate laws, make budgets and elect the Chief Minister who will enjoy autonomy to run the affairs of the territory on democratic lines. Under the Ordinance issued by President Asif Ali Zardari, Gilgit-Baltistan will have complete autonomy while women and technocrats would have reserved seats in the Assembly. The Supreme Court is already in place while number of judges would be enhanced in the supreme appellate court for access to speedy justice. A Public Service Commission would be there to select local people for Government jobs on merit. The new Governor while talking to media persons stated that the PPP had always worked for empowerment of deprived people of Gilgit-Baltistan and announced establishment of new FM Radio stations and TV boosters to enable the people to have access to information, education and entertainment through electronic media. It was satisfying to hear from Mr Kaira that an independent election commission has been set up to hold elections but we would stress that as a proof of their real empowerment, there should be no canvassing or address to rallies by the leadership of political parties in Pakistan. At least first elections under the new system should be left to the local chapters of the parties so that there was no element of any interference from outside. At this point, it is also appropriate to suggest that the Government should move ahead without wasting much time and extend the scope of autonomy to the Provinces including Balochistan to remove the sense of deprivation in the smaller Provinces, as this is the proper way to strengthen Federation.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSEVER

COLUMN

BUBBLING CAULDRON OF BALOCHISTAN

ASIF HAROON RAJA


Balochistan is the largest province covering 48% of Pakistan territory. However, its population accounts for only 5% of total population of Pakistan. Balochis, Brahvis, Pathans, Hazaras, settlers and Mekranis living along Mekran Coast inhabit Balochistan. Population of settlers is more than others; they have contributed a lot in development of province. There are several Baloch nationalist parties with differing agendas but all are secular. There is no single party that represents Baloch voice or any worthwhile leader who can galvanize the people. Contrary to Baloch inhabited areas which are restive, the Pashtun belt is peaceful since Pathans are relatively more educated, they are religious minded and are involved in business. They have kept the militants of Waziristan and Taliban at bay.


Mekran belt was also peaceful but of late has become restless. Neither Pashtuns nor Hazaras share the idea of separation for they know that they would be biggest losers in independent Balochistan ruled by Baloch. Low level insurgency is raging since January 2005 and is gradually assuming dangerous ramifications. Balochistan is bubbling because of vested interests of foreign powers. Among several Indo-US-Israeli objectives, one of the objectives was to destabilize Balochistan by fomenting insurgency and creating conditions for its detachment from Pakistan. Balochistan with Gwadar deep seaport lies within the envisaged energy corridor for shipping gas and oil from Turkmenistan to Arabian Sea via Afghanistan towards western shores. Gwadar lies at the opening of Strait of Hormuz through which over 40% of world oil passes. US Navy together with Indian Navy are already jointly working towards achieving complete dominance of sea lanes in Indian Ocean. China too gets attracted towards Gwadar since it provides shortest route to Indian Ocean. Iran views it unfavorably since it has the potential to undermine Port Chahbahar. Russia would not like trade from Central Asia shifting southwards and therefore would like to keep Afghanistan and Balochistan turbulent. Mineral resources particularly black diamonds in Balochistan and its geo-strategic location are other reasons for the US to evince profound interest in that province. Balochistan also provides CIA an excellent launching pad to launch covert operations against Sistan-Balochistan in Iran. Nawab Akbar Bugti was induced to work towards making Balochistan independent through armed insurgency. He was promised huge funds, arms, ammunition, explosives and wherewithal for training of terrorists to conduct insurgency initially in rural Balochistan and later extended towards urban areas. An advanced insurgency infrastructure complete with printed material in Urdu and English, audio and video tapes and propaganda in local dialects was prepared inside Afghanistan and smuggled to Balochistan. People were instigated on the themes of extreme economic deprivation, political victimization and thievery of their natural resources. After raising hue and cry over development of Gwadar Port and other mega projects in 2004, Nawab Bugti picked up arms in January 2005.


By that time he had received huge stocks of weapons of all hues and cash from his mentors and was in good position to inflame Dera Bugti. Government of Balochistan in exile was established by militants in April 2005 with its HQ in Jerusalem. A short military operation had to be launched in troubled areas of interior Balochistan in 2006 which destroyed more than fifty terrorist camps and forced Bugti to flee to a hideout in inaccessible mountains. He died in the cave in which he was hiding due to artillery shelling. He was eulogized as a leader of Baloch who had died fighting for their cause and was turned into a hero. Insurgency which was confined to Dera Bugti-Sui-Kahan spread far and wide and enveloped settled areas of Mekran, Sarawan and Jhalawan Divisions. Apart from frequent attacks on gas pipelines, grid stations, power transmissions, security check posts and military convoys, kidnapping and target killings of settlers and Hazaras are on the increase. So far, about 30 killings of Punjabis and Hazaras have taken place in 2009 forcing settlers to migrate.

Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), initially created by KGB in 1980s was resurrected and the mantle given to Balach Marri. After his death in Afghanistan in 2007, Brahamdagh Bugti took over. BLA was headquartered at Kandahar with the active assistance of RAW and CIA. Brahamdagh has been spitting poison against Pakistan and is involved in a series of kidnappings, targeted killings, sabotage and attacks on forces and installations in different parts of the province. He has threatened to kill all non-Baloch in Balochistan. Some other terrorist outfits like Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Baloch Republican Party (BRP) and Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF) have also cropped up. In reality, only BLA is operating while others are phony. All four names have been coined by RAW and fed to Brahamdagh for propagation to give an impression to the world that the separatist movement in Balochistan is wide based. BLA doesn’t represent aggrieved Baloch people and has a very narrow support base amongst disgruntled elements. These shadowy outfits proudly accept responsibility of criminal acts. Since none of the Baloch nationalist parties took part in February 2008 elections, they have veered towards the separatists.


People of Balochistan are suffering pangs of economic deprivation and political victimization. Exploitative Sardars and successive governments are equally guilty of keeping the province under developed since latter appeased Sardars instead of uplifting the province. Their grouses and demands are maximum provincial autonomy bordering independence, release of detained political activists, whereabouts of missing persons, military cantonments in interior Balochistan, withdrawal of security forces, control over natural resources and mega projects, larger job quotas in federal services and within the province. Baloch nationalists are now openly talking of independence and feel no compunction of their links with India and other foreign powers. Brahamdagh has publicly asked India and other countries to help them fight Pakistan and gain independence. Attaullah Mengal said that he would even accept the devil’s help against Pakistan. On the occasion of 3rd anniversary of Akbar Bugti on 26 August, the province virtually came to a grinding halt. Baloch Legal Fund (BLF) has address originating from Washington DC. It is ironic that champions of global anti-terrorism who promptly ban any religious outfit on slightest suspicion and freeze its funds have closed their eyes to BLF. Likewise, Brahamdagh and his team based in Kandahar indulging in covert operations in Balochistan are being patronized by RAW, Mossad, MI-6 and CIA. Indian Consulates in Zahidan, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandahar bordering Balochistan are providing all forms of support to the insurgents with full connivance of USA. Arrest of Gazin Marri in Dubai in March 2006 for channeling funds to BLA from Dubai proved Indian connection. Anti-state activities of London based Mir Suleiman Dawood; Khan of Kalat is an open secret. He has been holding international rallies and carrying out propaganda that Balochistan had been forcibly annexed by Pakistan.


In an interview with Indian Daily he said the Gilani-Manmohan declaration in Sharm-el Sheikh helped in highlighting Baloch issue internationally and would pave way for international intervention in Balochistan. British government has neither taken any action against him nor extradited him to Pakistan. Likewise, Harbayar Marri based in UK was caught indulging in covert operations against Pakistan. He was arrested but later on released.

Export of terrorism from Afghan soil into Balochistan and FATA and Swat was brought to the notice of USA, Afghanistan and India several times but none has ever heeded to our complaints. Balochistan cauldron will continue to fester as long as we tolerate intrusion of foreign agencies and treat our enemies as friends. Anti-social and anti-state elements must be punished and efforts made for repatriation of Brahamdagh. Proposed All Parties Conference should be convened at the earliest and practical measures taken with utmost sincerity to remove sense of deprivation of people of Balochistan.


The writer is a Rawalpindi-based defence, political analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSEVER

COLUMN

INDIA’S DUBIOUS ROLE IN MUMBAI PROBE

WAQAR AHMED


India is not in a mood to let the Mumbai probe go in a smooth fashion. Earlier, on the request of Pakistan to provide necessary information regarding the incident, India has been sharing the information with Pakistan in bits and pieces. As a result, fourth folder has been handed over to Pakistan few days back. If the information was provided to Pakistan in one go, the results of the investigation could have been much different. Besides, India has been trying to create all sorts of hurdles in the court proceedings.


For example, A key witness in the 26/11 attacks case who had given statement against accused Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed at the trial failed to appear before the court on 28 August 2009 with the prosecution saying that he was “missing”, the Indian Express of 28 August 2009 reported. In his previous statement, the witness Nurudin Sheikh, told the court that the accused – Faheem and Sabauddin – had met him in Nepal and they discussed the maps of some locations in Mumbai. Special Public Prosecutor Ujjawal Nikam told the court that Crime Branch officials had gone to the witness’s residence, but his wife had said that Sheikh had left home early morning, saying that he had to go to the court. This clearly indicates that after obtaining the initial statement, the witness has deliberately been sent underground to create a delay in the judicial proceedings.


Despite Pakistan’s repeated demands, India has failed to supply solid information in relation to the culprits of Mumbai mayhem which occurred on November 26 last year. Instead of providing any evidence, New Delhi has only been propagating that the gunmen who conducted terrorist events in Mumbai came from Pakistan. Surprisingly, on July 21, Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon ruled out talking to Pakistan on any issue other than terrorism. Shankar further explained, “Our only issue with Pakistan is terrorism. We demand the perpetrators of terror be brought to justice” and Pakistan should “end infrastructure of terrorism on its soil.” It reminds the statement of PM Singh who had remarked on January 6 this year that Pakistan was using terrorism as state policy. Indian contradictory strategy could be judged from the opposite statements of some other important Indian personalities. For instance on February 8, Gujrat Chief Minister Narendra Modi revealed that the Mumbai terror attacks could not have been carried out without internal help from India. On February 12, the Mumbai police Chief Hassan Ghafoor also admitted that two Indians who were arrested by the Indian police had been involved in the Mumbai carnage.


Confused statements by the Indian high officials show that New Delhi has been making deliberate efforts to entangle Pakistan in the Mumbai tragedy through fabricated stories and India is not serious in Mumbai probe. The aim is to conceal the involvement of Indian terrorists and the role of its secret agency RAW which is behind Mumbai drama. During attacks in Mumbai, the death of Anti-Terrorism Squad Chief Hemant Karkare left sufficient proof that Indian intelligence agencies had themselves planned the scheme. Narayan Rane, an Indian-Hindu leader of the Congress, disclosed on December 16, 2008 that Hindu politicians provided logistical and financial support to Hindutva terrorists for killing Karkare. While, Indian Minority Affairs Minister Abdul Rahman Antulay who had changed his statement after pressure from Congress had clearly revealed in the Lok Sabha that the killing of Anti-Terrorism Squad Chief Karkare in Mumbai was a conspiracy, saying that Karkare was assassinated owing to his leading role in the investigation against Hindus regarding the 2006 Malegaon bombings which killed eight people outside a mosque. He further elaborated, “Anyone trying to go to the roots of terror has always been a target”, calling for a separate inquiry into Karkare’s death.


In wake of a continued debate and rising tension between the two South Asian nuclear states in connection with the culprits of Mumbai tragedy, Pakistan has proved itself as a responsible state actor. On February 12, 2009, Islamabad not only submitted its report to India after lodging FIR against the nine suspects and taking six accused persons into custody, but also repeatedly offered joint investigation to get hold of the real culprits. The fact of the matter remains that Indians were well-aware that any joint inquiry would have exposed the identity of Hindu terrorists and Indian militants. It would have also exposed the killing of Anti-Terrorism Squad Chief Karkare during Mumbai events and the arrested Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit who was found involved in supplying high-grade explosives to the Hindu fundamentalists—played a key role in setting the Samjhota express on fire.


Setting aside Islamabad’s offer for joint investigation, New Delhi has also failed in providing reply to the questions asked by Pakistan in relation to the death of Karkare, progress regarding investigation of Purohit—and particularly about the first statement of the lonely-arrested gunman, Ajmal Kasab regarding the Mumbai events. Notably, in the recent past, Ajmal Kasab had disclosed in an Indian court that the police had forced him to give statement against Pakistan and ISI. He has also been forced to change his previous statement. On July 20, he confessed in the special court that he is Pakistani, and that five men who were involved in the Mumbai carnage also includes key operatives of the banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). Backing out of his initial statement clearly proves that Indian intelligence agencies, especially RAW has kept him under continuous torture and thus forced him to show the involvement of Pakistan and ISI. The main aim behind is to conceal the real culprits who are Indian terrorists trained by RAW. In its latest dossier, sent to Islamabad, New Delhi has declared Hafiz Saeed as mastermind behind the incident, while earlier; Kasab was announced as the mastermind. Nevertheless it is another major contradiction in the matter.


As a matter of fact New Delhi wanted to achieve a number of goals through self-arranged Mumbai tragedy as its aftermath proved. First of all India suspended the Indo-Pak composite dialogue in order to use the incident to avoid the solution of Kashmir. Second, it tried its best to get Pakistan declared a terrorist state with the help of US-led western countries.


Third, it intended to isolate Pakistan diplomatically in the comity of nations. Fourth, India wanted to distort the image of Islamabad through a propaganda campaign that Pakistan is officially sponsoring terrorism in India and Afghanistan. After its failure in isolating Pakistan diplomatically, at present its leaders have been acting upon a hollow strategy which is based on opposition for the sake of opposition in order to conceal the Indian home-grown terrorism and the hand of RAW in Mumbai tragedy.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSEVER

COLUMN

LEADERSHIP BETTER MEND WAYS

DR HUMA MIR


This year the Independence Day and the Defence of Pakistan Day were celebrated with an unusual and spontaneous people’s participation. A lot of people and intellectuals kept wondering, why such spillover of national emotions and joy on the streets and elsewhere. Has the governance improved, has the economy improved bringing more jobs and prosperity for the people, has the price hike been checked, has corruption declined, has justice reached doorsteps of people, absolutely nothing of the sort, Governance is all a mess.


The government was at best Lukewarm to this national event to the extent that the ceremony marking such formal occasion was delayed by an hour. The portrait of Quaid-i-Azam was nowhere to be seen, even the national flag had been in a way desecrated by the ruling party stalwarts by putting party colors and photographs of their leaders. Why than this unprecedented outpour of joy and nationalism? A serious group of analyst reached the conclusion that the nation’s mood was changed only and only due to success of the Army in its fight against the Taliban. Only a few days back, there was total depression all over. With bomb blasts in main cities and Taliban taking over Swat and Buner, International and own media drove fear in everyone that the Taliban were on the roll and it was a matter of days before they take over the country. There was despondency, people were looking at immigration abroad, businesses were closing down and national moral had plunged to the lowest. The Army as usual was there to take the people out of this morass, our brave soldiers shed their blood to give us the confidence to celebrate our independence day. The Army continues to do its job to secure the future of our new generation from the menace of extremism and Talibanisation.


It has been more than two years of political and terror related mayhem in the country. There hasn’t been a dull moment for the political actors, the ‘Awam”, the law enforcement apparatus and the Pakistan watchers alike. A soft military leader has gone with his team of political misfits and replaced by an elected political government with an all powerful elected President. The lawyers movement saw another element of power being introduced among the pillars of the state, the lawyers achieved what they set to seek, the chief justice stands restored. With democracy in full effect and independent judiciary, the least the people expected was good governance, political stability and rule of law. Nothing good is happening, I think we as a nation are adrift with no sail and no anchor. The national political culture of blaming all ills on the previous leadership continues, the same old game of settling scores at the cost of national development and diverting all energies and digging graves continues.


Pakistan Army is considered a disciplined force with high ethics and moral values. While it is an expected norm for politicians to throw accusations and filth at each other, such behavior is considered unbecoming of military officers, its no longer so, there is a beeline of ex military officers not only attacking each other but also attacking the institution of the army which has made them what they are today. Politicians and elements in the media continue to play their games and exploit these officers. A new trend has been introduced with politicians and media using ex military and intelligence officers for character assassination of national figures. Knowing our corrupt political culture, there is plenty of material with these fired cartridges to tarnish anybody’s image.


In fact after the revelations of these military squealers, it is extremely difficult to find a single politician of any moral standing. Unfortunately, it appears there is no law which prevents these retired soldiers to open their mouths on acts they performed in Line of Duty, does the military have such a law of “Silence” or not?. Similarly, there appears no sobering moral conventions which prevent the media from exploiting such characters. It’s so irresponsible and the whole game is so sickening that no decent person would want this to continue, it doesn’t help anyone nor the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It must stop.


Pervez Musharraf’s resignation and the restoration of the Chief Justice may be huge victories for democratic ideals but what have we the people of Pakistan got to celebrate or cry over in our proud new found political dispensation. The governance is factually not at its worst, it is simply not there. Corruption has crossed all bounds. Today on the streets, people are not asking the price of sugar and Atta but are running from shop to shop just to find out where these vital commodities were available. Those who discover the commodities are baton charged and slapped and kicked in the holy month of Ramadan for asking for Atta and Sugar. People are dying for Atta and Sugar in our country which has an Agro based economy, what a shame. 18 Poor women lost their lives only yesterday in Karachi in quest of free food. Unfortunately, the route to these artificial shortages does not take one to the backyard of a deposed military dictator but its no secret that more than 50% of sugar and flour mills and the Arath of vital commodities is in the hands of the political leaders of all shades, both in and out of government. If these commodities are being hoarded to the benefit of our worthy leadership, who is going to bring them to justice?


Although, our founding fathers idealized democracy but having been crushed under the weight of our peculiar political culture, the people today are again looking at the army to relieve them of this mess. The other day in the press club, I came across a group of the people including women from the interior Sind who were agitating against forced takeover of their land by some influential landlords.


I got into discussion with them, and to my surprise, these Haris actually wanted military rule to come back. They clearly said that they can do without democracy and without the politicians. They said unlike the politicians no General has ever grabbed the lands of the Haris, No General owns sugar and flour mills which are hoarding Sugar and Atta, no General owns Sugar Mills which are not paying to the growers. Believe me and I dare say that, if the political leadership does not mend their ways, the people would be clamoring for the army to take over in a very few days.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSEVER

COLUMN

PAKISTAN A PEACEFUL COUNTRY

DR HUSSAIN THABAL


As the year 2005 was dragging itself to an end, the whole world was ready to welcome the happy New Year. The entire country was engulfed in the dam debate. On December 14, President Pervez Musharraf was visiting the head of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, in northern Balochistan Kohlu, Naushki. A rocket attack was done by some regional militant groups. The rockets were landed near a camp of the Frontier Corps and a few days after the two top officials of FC had been injured in another attack on their helicopter. Afterwards paramilitary law enforcement agencies started an operation against miscreants in Kohlu.


The paramilitary forces had also recovered arms and ammunition from the apprehended persons. The violence escalated in Balochistan has led to a series of bomb blasts. According to statistics, some 244 bomb blasts and 766 rocket attacks were occurred in a year 2005, that killed and injured many people, which often targeted and damaged national property, strategic installations, including gas distribution networks, railway tracks, water pipelines, power stations and telephone exchanges etc. The chief minister’s house was also attacked by a car bomb blast.


No government can allow creation of such an atmosphere where the functioning of the government suffers. It is a collective responsibility of the federal and provincial governments to take steps for restoration of peace when and where required. It was in the middle of 2004 when Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Yousaf revealed that India’s secret service RAW had been operating 30 to 40 terrorist camps at various locations in Balochistan, paying each terrorist approximately Rs 10,000 per month. On December 29, 2005, President of Pakistan also referred to a neighbourly country’s involvement in Balochistan. He has been revealed that India is interested in managing rather than resolving the conflicts.


According to reports, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is a pro-Moscow underground militant organisation which has the backing of RAW agents. The government of Balochistan reported that Indian agents are carrying out operations throughout the province. Officials say that RAW operatives have established terrorist camps in the province to fuel the activities of Baloch insurgent nationalists, and are aimed at provoking a full-blown insurgency leading to the eventual break-up of Pakistan. Some reports indicate the BLA comprises of charged-up Baloch youth who get money and weapons from India’s secret service RAW.


Under the garb of a free hand to the extent, the transportation of explosive material by India is being used for sabotage activities in Pakistan, especially in sindh and Balochistan. According to some reports, for this purpose, secret routes of arms smuggling from India to Balochistan are being used. A small Indian town near Shahgarh and Kishangarh — is a supply depot, a training center and a logistics support that maintains contacts with militant training camps in Pakistan, including Balochistan. This depot also serves as launching pad for the Indian supplies and experts. The method of transfer is simple. Arms, equipment, heavy machine guns, mortars, land mines, ammunition and communication equipment are transferred from Kishangarh and Shahgarh to Pakistani side on camel back and then they are shifted to goods trucks, with some legitimate cargo on top and the whole load is covered by tarpaulin sheets. The trucks are unloaded at Kohlu. The recovery of arms and ammunition from different areas of Balochistan in a huge quantity, in the past years is an example.


In February 2006, Pakistan Army’s spokesman Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan stated, “I believe that that RAW is definitely involved in terrorist activities in Balochistan”. While, reiterating his claim about the alleged involvement of RAW, Balochistan Chief Minister, Jam Yousaf said, “None of the Sardars has the amount of money that could actually enable him to maintain and sustain an army of 10,000 men under arms on a salary of Rs 6,000 to Rs 10,000, so, they are definitely getting money from India”.Both the countries were gradually enhancing the scope of their bilateral trade, exchanging lists of their respective nuclear installations and facilities, discussing on bilateral political issues, and Pakistan was keen to resolve all conflicts by conversations and peaceful manners, but to this end, it can be argued that India is still stuck in competitive bargaining instead of distributive bargaining, which can offer both sides a win-win situation. In the mean time, by the end of December 2005, India’s Ministry of External Affairs took a swipe at Pakistan on the Balochistan issue saying that New Delhi was concerned over the military action in that province and hoped that the situation could be resolved through a political dialogue. Pakistan showed strong reaction and countered the Indian statement by saying that our country is intrigued by this provocative statement.


Other analyses coming out of India suggest that New Delhi has taken the decision not to sit back and let Pakistan take pot shots at India for human rights violations in Indian-held Kashmir. The linkage between India’s concern over Balochistan and Pakistan’s position on Kashmir, it is clear that Balochistan is not a disputed territory but Kashmir most certainly is. Kashmir’s disputed nature is reflected in legal instruments from UN Resolutions.

Kashmir does not fall into this category of India’s own internal affair. But on the other hand there are several insurgencies going on in India’s periphery but Pakistan sees that matters as India’s own internal affairs.

A s a matter of fact, Pakistan is a peaceful country and wants to live in peace with neighbouring India. And the steps being taken by Pakistan for its security are its right and on this no Pakistani would entertain outsiders’ views. If India wants to be a big power, it should get rid of the pathology of a small power.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSEVER

COLUMN

A LIE CALLED SICK LEAVE..!

ROBERT CLEMENTS


Pilots go on sick leave; flights hit Hey dad? You’re not flying today?” “I’m on sick leave son!” “You don’t look sick dad!” “You don’t need to be sick to go on sick leave son!”


No?” “No!” “So what do you have to be to go on sick leave dad?” “You’re asking too many questions son!” “Dad, when you fly that big ship in the sky do all the people trust you?” “Of course they do, if it wasn’t for me the plane would crash!” “And when you hit an air pocket?” “They know it’s okay!”


Why dad?” “Because they know I’m there my son, I’ll take them out of danger and back to a stable flight!” “They believe in you right?” “Right!” “Would they suddenly have doubts?”


They wouldn’t!” “Why not?” “Because they know I’m a pilot! A man who’s clocked hundreds of hours flying, who’s done so many courses, flown so many planes..” “That’s what you say!” “What do you mean?” “Maybe they wouldn’t believe you anymore, since they know you’re a liar? Maybe next time your plane hits an air pocket they’ll have fear in their eyes, they may ask to see your flying license dad before they board your plane the next time..”


I’m fighting for a cause dammit, I’ve told a lie because I’m on strike!””Your strike is illegal dad! The courts have said so!” “Whose side are you on son?” “The truth dad, and the truth is that you are not sick and you say you are sick, you can’t go on strike and you’ve gone on strike! The truth is you are lying dad!” “Son..”


Dad what would happen if the instruments lied to you when you were on flight?” “We would crash son!” “So you’ve got to see that the altimeter and all the other meters are set right isn’t it?”


Yes my son!” “I think you need to check the altimeter within you father, it seems to be veering on the side of falsehood and you know that leads to a crash, a huge crash of character dad..!”

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

COURSE OF TRIAL

 

The government has decided to follow the opinion of the Appellate Division in the case of the BDR mutiny that killed at least 73 people including 57 army officers on February 25 and 26, this year. The opinion is in favour of holding the trial under the BDR Act and the Penal Code. The mutiny part will be under the BDR Act, while the other crimes like murder, rape and subversive acts will be tried under the Penal Code. Apparently the reason for invoking two different acts is that the BDR Act is inadequate and covers only mutiny and has no provision for other acts which are tantamount to criminal offences of graver sorts like homicide and arson.
Yet, it was not that simple to come to this obvious conclusion. When the mutiny occurred or rather when it was quelled, the main predicament facing the government was what law should be applied to try them. Apparently, the BDR laws were too scanty for this. The only crime that was covered by the BDR Act was mutiny and the maximum punishment prescribed, was seven years' of rigorous imprisonment. Obviously this sounded very light given the scale and degree of the carnage committed in cold blood. Against the backdrop of the political bickering, the government had to make a decision, which, if not fully insulated from opposition criticism, was at least legally defensible.


The government was innovative and referred the matter through the president to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for its opinion. The Supreme Court was even subtler - it engaged 10 of the seniormost lawyers of the country as amici curiae or friends of the court and got an opinion, which they then passed on to the administration. It was political wisdom and hopefully we will see more of such skilled finesse from the government in the days to come.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

MANPOWER EXPORT

 

One of the unwelcome consequences of the global economic recession has naturally been drastic fall in manpower export from Bangladesh. Replying to a question in the Jatiya Sangsad, Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Khondoker Mosarraf Hossain only confirmed this and also added that as many as 3,42,409 workers from the country had received fresh appointment in several countries over the past eight months and another 2,50,000 are in the pipeline. While this is heart-warming, the mass return of our migrant workers from the more traditional destinations is certainly a cause for concern. Admittedly, the overall manpower export has come down by almost half.


This is exactly where the disquieting development is going to hurt the country's economy. What is so galling is that the note of warning sounded earlier by economists and others through newspaper columns and news analysis fell on deaf ears. The government has just started contemplating the possibility of increasing, belatedly though, the number of employees, which it says is now insufficient, at different embassies. Early diplomatic forays aimed at neutralising any move towards termination of jobs of Bangladeshi workers from countries such as Saudi Arabia, where economy is going strong, could have saved the day for the workers.


The same applies for exploration of new job markets for workers. It is good to know that the government is going to open embassies in several countries with prospect for jobs for Bangladeshi workers. Had the initiatives been taken a little earlier, we would have got our new diplomatic missions by this time. We urge the government to complete the necessary formalities so that we have full-fledged embassies there with strong manpower cells capable of dealing with all kinds of problems facing migrant workers and also advancing their welfare cause.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

YES, BOSS…!

 

"….Modi is Gujarat cricket boss…" Hindustan Times, Sept 16th

 

For the life of me I can't figure out why politicians are so keen in getting into the cricket arena! And Gujarat now has a new cricket boss. "Boss you have said you want the final say in picking the cricket team? Here is the list boss!" Asks the boss, "Who are these two?" Reply comes, "One is an excellent batsman and wicket keeper and the other a seam bowler who can annihilate any team and bring laurels to our…" Boss repeats, "I asked who are these two?" Defensive reply, "Yes boss, one is an…" Boss insists, "I asked who are these two?" Answers, "I am sorry boss, now I understand, they are from the minority…" Boss definite, "Strike them out!" Crestfallen, "Yes boss! Anything else boss?" Boss, "Yes about the security in the stadium?" Assistant, "We are working on it boss!" Boss, "I want all spectators to wear armbands! Red armbands for the majority and green for the you know who!" Assistant, "Yes boss!" Boss, "All police to be posted with guns cocked and ready and turned on the green armbands! Any unseemly behaviour, any loud cheers, shoot!" Reply, "Yes boss!"


"There will be no umpires; leg umpires or third umpire!"


"That is very unusual boss?"


"All outs, catches and LBW decisions will be decided by me! Okay?"


"Yes boss, and what if you can't attend the match?"


"I will see the action replay during the night and give my decision the next day!"


"Would you want to consult some experts before making such decisions boss?"


"I am the expert!"


"Of course boss, of course!"


"I would also like to motivate the players a bit, something to make them play a little harder and win a bit more!"
"An excellent idea boss!"

"So, announce that the winning side will be given complete permission, to loot, rape, and burn the losing side's possessions, enter their homes and rape, molest and assault their women and children! Police will look the other way!"
"As always boss!"

 

"As always, as always! Gujarat will teach the world how to play cricket, just as we've taught the world many things this last seven years! Right?"

 

"Yes boss…!"

bobsbanter@gmail.com

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

STRIKING A BALANCE ON WORKPLACE LAWS

THE POLITICS OF IR REFORM ARE HARDER THAN THE ECONOMICS

 

AS the government pursues its retrogressive industrial relations agenda, Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey have no choice but to sit on the sidelines and watch. The unpopularity of John Howard's Work Choices, the skill of Labor and the unions in reinforcing public anxiety and a climate of relatively low unemployment have effectively neutered the Coalition on the subject. Protecting two decades of reforms which have made that low unemployment possible in the middle of a global recession is vital to Australia's future prosperity. But the IR reform debate is not one the opposition can win until the consequences of a more rigid workplace system become apparent.

 

Decentralising the wage system and introducing greater flexibility in individual workplaces have been crucial in boosting Australia's competitiveness. The opposition needs to recognise, however, that at some points in the political cycle, reform is politically unpalatable. In reality, the Coalition is not planning another wholesale rewrite of the nation's workplace laws, but is looking towards a policy that would add flexibility. Campaigning on such a platform in the current climate will make them vulnerable to a scare campaign from Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard about secret agendas and the prospect of Work Choices Mark II. Mr Turnbull can do little more than make it clear that while he recognises the advantages of flexibility, he accepts the electorate's verdict and there is no going back to Work Choices.

 

It is inevitable, however, that the issue will need to be revisited at some time, probably under more painful economic conditions. Once the rigidities of the government's Fair Work system set in, employers, especially small businesses with low margins, will find it harder to retain large numbers of low-paid, unskilled workers. The Deputy Prime Minister has already been forced to intervene to create special provisions in the fruit and horticulture, restaurant and catering industries. But under the award system, it makes no sense that workers in remote and provincial towns, for example, should be paid the same money as those in cities where living costs - as well as the costs of doing business - are higher.

 

Should jobs be lost, young people will be hit hardest. The government and unions should not forget that under the rigid award systems of the past, unemployment for 15 to 19-year-olds peaked at 35 per cent in 1992. The problem, which for years seemed intractable, was one incentive that drove the Hawke and Keating governments down the reform path in the early 1980s with the prices and incomes accords. Accord 6 in 1991 saw a shift to a more decentralised IR system, and five years later the first round of Howard government reforms made individual common law contracts a useful addition. While loathed by trade unions, whose influence they usurped, contracts caused no public backlash until the Howard government overreached in its fourth term, crucially by abolishing the no disadvantage test under Work Choices.

 

The rest is history. The Howard government was voted out in part because Work Choices was seen as a bridge too far. Never mind that the flexibility introduced by 20 years of reforms brought unemployment down to a 34-year low of 3.9 per cent, in February last year. Freer labour markets left unskilled workers, in particular, vulnerable to lower wages and poorer conditions.

 

An important principle has become lost in the noise of debate, however. The moral responsibility for supplementing the living standards of the poor rests not with employers, but with government. The Howard government, for political reasons, chose to compensate low income earners through welfare churn. In doubling family assistance and cutting taxes, it ensured that the poorest and richest 10per cent of Australians received about the same income boost, about 24 per cent, between 1996 and 2006. A far better and more direct solution would have been to use the tax system, including negative taxation, as a way of helping low wage earners.

 

A flexible labour market offset by compensation for the lowest paid offers the best chance of making Australian workplaces internationally competitive, maximising employment and improving living standards. Labor market reform helped set Australia up to enjoy unprecedented, sustained prosperity. In the future, such reform will again be a central issue on the hustings, but that time is yet to come.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

THE REAL REVOLUTION

WE NEED EQUAL EDUCATION OPPORTUNITY, NOT EQUAL OUTCOMES

 

EDUCATION is about the teachers, the curriculum and a society's shared expectations about what schools should deliver. It is not about the buildings and it is not about equipment - although good infrastructure ought to be a given.

 

So we understand when historian Geoffrey Blainey suggests the federal government drop the education revolution terminology attached to its stimulus spending. Any revolution in our system is likely to come from national curriculums and testing, not from building a school hall. It is unfortunate that the Rudd government's commitment to improving education has become confused with its commitment to maintaining jobs in the wake of the global financial crisis. And a pity also that Kevin Rudd was ever photographed clutching a laptop computer and suggesting it was the tool box of the 21st century.

 

Yet in its own way, the government has been more revolutionary than Professor Blainey credits. Minister for Education Julia Gillard has been steadfast in arguing the need for testing, standards and national curriculums. She has led from the front by trying to push teachers' unions - which have been the real stumbling block for decades - into change. The tragedy of education in this country is that after being ahead of much of the world in the 19th century, we should now so badly fail some of our children in the 21st. As Professor Blainey points out, the 1873 introduction of free, compulsory education until the age of 13 or 14 meant that pretty soon Victoria, South Australia and NSW were well ahead of most European nations in primary education. Many older Australians were the beneficiaries of a system that may not have given them much high school learning in the 1930s, 40s and 50s but did give them several years of excellent primary tuition in which they probably learned more about the world than their great-grandchildren do today.

 

Australia is not alone in allowing our education system to lose its way in the past 50 years. The shift away from education based on equality of opportunity to one that aims for the unachievable goal of equality of outcomes has been a worldwide phenomenon that has short-changed a generation. But it ought to be particularly salutary for Labor politicians and voters that education, so long the central plank of the Left's belief in upward social mobility, has been hijacked in this way. At least Ms Gillard seems to get the point: education aimed at social leveling that dumbs down to equalise outcomes in a varied population does no one any good.

 

There is much in our education system of which we can be proud, including the professionalism of many teachers, who daily cope with demanding situations. But their state education departments and unions have too often failed them, and their students, by a refusal to countenance transparency and a misguided commitment to an equality based on mediocrity.

 

Professor Blainey says the education revolution label needs to be quietly buried because it distracts from the real challenges. Perhaps. But we surely need a revolution, one in which teachers are accountable, with the good ones rewarded and the rest encouraged to improve. We will know there has been a revolution, too, when all parents have the right to choose the school for their children and are well informed about standards and outcomes. The problems are profound, the solutions radical. Nothing short of a revolution in thinking and practice is needed. Which is why we are inclined to say, bring it on.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

AND ANOTHER THING ...

 

MAGDA Szubanski is a national icon. Kyle Sandilands is not. The shock jock should have known better than to call her fat, especially since she has very publicly shed 25kg. Throwing in a gratuitous reference to concentration camps doubled the offence. Australians like Szubanski's accessible persona, and public reaction to the Holocaust allusion was acute as advertisers pulled revenue from his station, 2Day FM. Sandilands had already created a furore in a July interview with a 14-year-old, who revealed on air she had been raped. This week, his ratings for that period dropped. We must wait for audience reaction to the latest incident, but it looks as if, despite the calls for regulators to control culture, the market is quite able to sort it out.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

SPLIT TELSTRA FOR A FAIRER MARKET

THE MOTIVES MAY BE MIXED BUT THE VISION IS RIGHT.

 

TELSTRA is a strange beast. The once publicly owned monopoly provider of telecommunications services was sold off in stages under the Howard government, but in the process did not lose a privileged status in the market. On the contrary, as the owner of the transmission networks on which its new retail competitors depended it had clout that they could not rival, and its entry into the mainstream media as part-owner of Foxtel further enhanced its standing. If the telecommunications market was ever to resemble a level playing field, the case for forcing Telstra to choose between its wholesale and retail operations, and perhaps to divest itself of other media interests, too, was a powerful one. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has now announced that the Rudd Government intends to do just that, and tame the beast. The question is why it has taken Australian governments so long to reach that conclusion - or rather, why it has taken so long to do what obviously needed to be done.

 

Under the plan laid down by Senator Conroy, Telstra will be divided into a retail company selling services and a wholesaler selling access to the lines. The retailer must compete with other service providers by buying network access, and if Telstra does not comply, legislation will be introduced to force it to do so. The telco also faces a demand that it sell its 50 per cent stake in Foxtel to gain access to the spectrum required to expand its wireless broadband service. The inducement - if inducement is a word that can be used to refer to what is essentially a set of Government dictates - is that by complying with all this Telstra can deal itself back into a role in the Government's $43 billion national broadband network (NBN).

 

It was Telstra's withdrawal from the tendering process for the NBN, a decision made under now departed chief executive Sol Trujillo, that sealed its fate. By turning its back on the biggest infrastructure project in Australian history, apparently in the hope that the Government would beg it to reconsider, the beast displayed both the arrogance that comes from market dominance and the foolishness that goes with overreaching. The Government chose to go it alone, and now it is going after Telstra.

 

But although Mr Trujillo's successor, David Thodey, says he is disappointed with Senator Conroy's demand for ''structural separation'' of Telstra, the beast is not going to be entirely defanged, and the Government's actions are not entirely driven by a noble desire to ensure fair competition. The reality is that by enticing Telstra back into the fold on the NBN, the enormous cost of that project may be reduced. The fibre-optic NBN doesn't require Telstra's wires, but gaining access to the ducts that carry them, and to Telstra's customer base, is a different matter.

 

The break-up of Telstra will inevitably cause anxiety among shareholders - the initial market reaction to Senator Conroy's announcement stripped $1.75 billion or 4.3 per cent from the company's value - but the long-term prospects of even the tamed beast remain bright. A split Telstra will not be the behemoth that Mr Trujillo led, but it will be better placed to participate in the emerging telecommunications market. Whatever mixed motives may explain the Conroy plan and Telstra's apparent willingness to comply with it, Australians are going to get a market structure that benefits consumers by promoting real competition. It's long overdue.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

ROT GOES BEYOND BRIMBANK

 

THE State Government has finally acted on the damning findings of two investigations by sacking Brimbank Council. Ombudsman George Brouwer's report in May prompted the appointment of municipal inspector Bill Scales, whose report this week came to essentially the same conclusions: the council was dysfunctional and incapable of reform, a majority of councillors abused their positions and the ALP improperly influenced the council.

 

Mr Scales reported that the problems identified by the Ombudsman were deep-seated and ongoing. Six of 11 councillors elected last year had been or were under investigation. Councillors showed ''little if any commitment to meeting these basic [governance] requirements or to understanding why they are necessary''. His report left the Government with no choice but to suspend the council.

 

Why did the Government take so long to act on disgraceful conduct that had been an open secret in ALP circles, but which was only made public after the Opposition urged the Ombudsman to investigate? Despite years of complaints from Brimbank residents, including direct representations to ministers in the Bracks and Brumby governments, the State Government turned a blind eye. It could do so no longer once Mr Brouwer found senior Labor MPs had improperly influenced the council. Mr Scales cited an attempt by an ALP branch to influence decisions as evidence of a ''destructive culture''.

 

Yet Local Government Minister Richard Wynne, while accepting the recommendation to sack the council, has denied any connection between councillors' behaviour and the ALP. His inability to admit a matter of fact demonstrates how compromised the Government is by a culture of influence peddling that is deeply embedded in the ALP.

 

It is, of course, bad enough that non-elected people such as Andrew Theophanous and Hakki Suleyman, as well as long-serving Labor MP George Seitz, should have wielded influence over the decisions of councillors elected by the people of Brimbank. Key players named in the reports on the scandal do not, however, confine their activities to Brimbank. The Ombudsman's report detailed a web of links between ministerial offices and meddlers in the affairs of the council. The influence of these factional players can be seen throughout the Victorian ALP. Indeed, many members of the Government owe their positions to factional deals and branch stacking engineered by the same people who used their political clout to influence Brimbank councillors.

 

Yes, the Government has acted against one council and changed the law to end the conflicts of interest that arose when councillors were employed by MPs. But as for the wider problem, the corrupting influence of factional warlords across the ALP, the minister's denial of reality offers little hope that the Government is up to the urgent challenge of root-and-branch reform.

Source: The Age

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

TIMED CALL FOR TELSTRA

 

THOSE ''mum and dad'' investors who put their savings into the three tranches of Telstra share floats over the last decade, and still keep them there, will be wincing at the dip in the Telstra share price after Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's dramatic break-up order on Tuesday. But as consumers they should be happy, and even as Telstra investors, they should not be gloomy.

 

Senator Conroy's announcement shouldn't have surprised anyone watching the telecom sector, since a split between Telstra's fixed-line telephone and cable network and its consumer service operations was signalled six months ago when the Rudd Government announced the results of its tender for a national broadband network. Telstra, it will be recalled, had arrogantly refused to make a bid, on the assumption the Government would come begging for its participation.

 

Now Canberra is out to corral a Telstra under less heavy-handed management into co-operation with its plans. The carrot is a share of an optical-fibre network that will steadily make Telstra's existing copper-wire system obsolete. The stick is denial of radio spectrums for new wireless services if it doesn't co-operate. Going willingly or not, the Government wants a deal by the end of the year.

 

Telstra has little choice, but it should not feel too hard done by. It will continue to make a lot of money by selling access to the separated copper network in the interim, and selling access to its tunnels and cable ducts to the new broadband scheme. Its separated retail arms include the country's biggest mobile-phone and broadband service customer base and half of the dominant cable TV network, Foxtel. Some analysts think the value of the parts will eventually add up to more than that of a vertically integrated Telstra.

 

For consumers the break-up of Telstra means that no one retail service provider will control the delivery system for its commercial rivals. It also means that a natural monopoly - in a country with such a widely dispersed population as Australia's - will remain under public ownership and control. At the same time, it keeps public-sector employees in the background utility sector where they belong, not in frontline service delivery to retail customers.

 

The coercion in Senator Conroy's approach is hardly surprising given Telstra's history of intransigence and his government's political need to get its broadband project launched before facing an election. With the Nationals reverting to agrarian socialism, at least in the telecom sector, it should get through the Senate. The Australian public is sick of telecom carriers making multibillion-dollar profits off second-rate internet services.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

PUNISHMENT WITHOUT END

 

Is pedophilia the one crime where punishment has no end? Is there no rehabilitation for convicted pedophiles who have served their sentence? Dennis Ferguson has served a 14-year jail term in which bashings from fellow prisoners were an extra. Already Mr Ferguson has been chased from communities in Queensland because of his conviction for child-sex offences committed 21 years ago. Now he is being pressured out of his latest home in Sydney, with every prospect that the same thing will happen again wherever he settles.

 

Yesterday, there were reports of a petrol bomb being placed outside his residence and of angry male voices calling out abuse throughout the day. He has threatened to sue if he is forced to move again. The State Government has thrown up its hands. It remains in all a scene of great confusion and fear and anger.

 

The concern of parents in Ryde, where he was settled two weeks ago, is understandable. Recidivism is high among pedophiles - it is after all based on a sexual urge. But Mr Ferguson is now in his 60s. And even without a known or one-time pedophile in their neighbourhood, parents still have to be vigilant against yet-undetected predators.

 

Our ability as a society to deal rationally with pedophilia is hampered by the deep emotions it stirs. Righteous anger is unattractive. At its worst, it characterises the lynch mob and the witch-hunt. Yet it is tacitly indulged when directed at pedophiles. Why?

 

Certainly pedophilia seems beyond common understanding - unfathomable, thus monstrous - and the idea of treating it as a subject to be understood, or as a treatable psychological illness, is anathema to many. Furthermore, those traditional institutions - churches, schools - most likely to plead forgiveness or understanding are themselves tainted by the suffering their toleration of child abuse has caused, and so have earned the public's hardening distrust, if not their outright suspicion.

 

Even if Mr Ferguson did appear in clear light as precisely the embodiment of that monster who stalks the shadows, pursuing him from one bolthole to the next will do nothing to rid society of pedophilia. To think that is to keep repainting the front door and ignoring the secret in the basement.

 

Pedophilia is a subject in need of elucidation. For that it needs cool heads, open minds and steady heart-rates. Hysteria does less than nothing. The events in Ryde will not have encouraged a potential offender wrestling with such urges to seek help. Besides, society has a duty to offer all criminals who've served their time a chance at redemption.

 

 

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THE GURDIAN

EDITORIAL

OIL WASTE SCANDAL: THE POLLUTER MUST PAY

 

Trafigura, according to a statement on its website, is a company committed to the "long-term support of the communities in which we operate". The British oil trading business likes to promote itself as a decent global citizen. It funds a charitable foundation and sponsored the recent British & Irish Lions rugby tour of South Africa. It employs a top public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, to guard its reputation and it has made energetic use of libel lawyers Carter-Ruck to stop critical articles being published. All this has helped restrict coverage of Trafigura's part in one of the most grotesque environmental scandals of recent times, the uncontrolled dumping of hundreds of tonnes of highly toxic oil waste around Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, in August 2006.

 

Today the Guardian has published, online, emails which tell the story of Trafigura's responsibility for this terrible and avoidable incident. They also put into context the company's aggressive attempt to cover up its role. The emails are worth reading in full, enraging in their casual contempt for the human and environmental consequences of the oil traders' search for profit at any cost.

 

Tens of thousands of people went to hospital shortly after Trafigura's noxious slurry was poured into sites around the west African city. An unknown number may have died. Yet Trafigura's lawyers confront anyone who questions its version of events, claiming the waste slops were not toxic and that their disposal was entirely a matter for a local contractor. Trafigura launched a libel case against the BBC2's Newsnight programme, demanded the Guardian delete online articles about the scandal and issued legal threats against journalists in Norway and the Netherlands. This attempt to hide from the truth fell apart yesterday when Trafigura offered to reach a settlement with the 31,000 people who have been suing in the British courts for compensation – one of the biggest group actions in history.

 

This awful story has its roots in the competitive nature of the oil trade, and growing regulation to control its environmental consequences. In 2005, the secret internal emails show, Trafigura's traders saw an opportunity to buy up "bloody cheap contaminated petrol" from Mexico and reprocess it using caustic soda to absorb sulphur contaminants – a polluting method banned in most developed countries. "Each cargo should make 7m!", one trader wrote. From the start, the company knew there would be a problem disposing of the foul waste that would be produced. It rejected a Dutch company that would burn it as too expensive. As the emails show, the oil traders came up with a plan to hire a rundown tanker, ready for scrapping, and treat the waste on board. "I don't know how we would dispose of the slops and I don't imply we would dump them, but for sure there must be some way to pay someone to take them," one wrote.

 

That person was found in the Ivory Coast, but had no experience in chemical treatment. The caustic slops were carried off in tanker lorries and dumped in landfill sites around the city. The consequences were horrific and long-lasting. Trafigura's response was to embark on an extraordinary attempt to bully the media using the British courts. This week the company, which last year made a profit of $440m, even objected strongly to the publication of a report from a UN human rights special rapporteur that criticised Trafigura for potentially "stifling independent reporting and public criticism".

 

If the settlement is agreed, victims who have taken part in the class action will now get compensation. Greenpeace and Amnesty International are calling for Trafigura to be prosecuted for homicide or grievous bodily harm in the Netherlands. Slowly, the company is being brought to justice, despite its denials and disgraceful attempts to hide from what it has done.

 

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THE GURDIAN

EDITORIAL

ISRAEL AND THE ARABS: DANGEROUS REAL ESTATE

 

In most countries, housing starts are a statistic for the back of the business pages. In the West Bank they are the stuff of war and peace. Never more so than at this moment, when President Obama is trying to get serious negotiations under way again between  Israel and the Palestinians. His special envoy, George Mitchell, has been made dizzy by the arcane distinctions the Israelis make between apartments not yet begun and those allegedly requiring just one more visit from the plumber or the electrician. The Israelis seem to have wilfully confused their own planning laws with the requirements of peace, and a retreat on their part, perhaps with a little fudging from the Arab side, is badly needed.

 

One thing is clear: the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has approved in advance more housing units in the occupied territories than were built annually before limits were placed on construction, and before the Americans asked for a freeze on settlement building. In his view he can now safely accept a freeze, because he has got at least a year's worth of building in the pipeline. This may have solved the difficulties he has within his party, his coalition and the Knesset, but it is once again an example of Israel negotiating with itself rather than with the Arabs.

 

The symbolic importance of a settlement freeze is critical for both sides. Palestinians and other Arabs would undoubtedly interpret a freeze as an admission that the whole settlement enterprise is illegitimate. Prince Turki bin Faisal, for example, recently accused Israel of "stalling as it adds more illegal settlers to those already occupying Palestinian land". Above all, Arabs want to see American strength used to make Israel do something it does not wish to do. The Israeli government, accustomed to being the tail that wags the dog, very much wishes to avoid that precedent. It wants good governance and order, as delivered by American-trained security forces, established in the West Bank before it makes any real concessions, and, even then, its idea of the powers and prerogatives of a Palestinian state falls well below Arab expectations.

 

The Israelis have also upped the ante by linking progress toward peace with relations with Iran. What they appear to be signalling, is that if the United States and other western countries put real pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Israel will move on the Palestinian issue. If not, the implicit threat is not only that there will be no movement on Palestine, but that the Israelis will strike Iran militarily, which, among other things, would leave Obama's Middle Eastern policy in ruins. That way lies madness.

 

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THE GURDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF… HAZEL BLEARS

 

There are many reasons Hazel Blears is in trouble. Labour   members find it hard to forgive the deliberately disruptive timing of her resignation, the day before European elections. Taxpayers have been shocked by her expenses and the ostentatious waving of a  cheque  repaying money. Some dislike her brand of continuity New Labour. So it is no surprise that some Salford voters think she should stand down as their MP. Last night in Eccles, the independent former MP Martin Bell spoke at a meeting of the Hazel Must Go campaign, which wants to remove her. That is a perfectly reasonable aim. If Salford doesn't want her, local people should elect someone else. Nonetheless, there is something unsettling about the way she is being singled out for criticism. It is as though Ms Blears is being asked to carry the whole weight of public opprobrium over expenses and New Labour's decline on her shoulders. Perhaps her mistake was to be an outspoken woman in a political culture where dreary invisibility brings bigger rewards and greater security. She has, as Martin Kettle pointed out earlier this year, "authentic political roots, an aspirational life story that image-makers dream of, a clear sense of where she's coming from, an irresistible confidence in her own instincts, a clear set of convictions". That was in May, when she was an outside bet to replace Gordon Brown as prime minister. Now her career is imploding. Spare a bit of sympathy for the speed of her fall, even if you disagree with her on most other things.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NEW GOVERNMENT OUT OF THE BLOCKS

 

Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama became Japan's new prime minister Wednesday as the Diet voted him in to the post, ending the long rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power almost continously since late 1955. In an interesting historical twist, the new prime minister's grandfather, the late Ichiro Hatoyama, served as the first prime minister of the LDP.

 

True to his determination to give Japan a solid new start, Mr. Hatoyama has placed party heavyweights in key Cabinet positions: former DPJ chief Naoto Kan, as vice prime minister, is in charge of the National Strategy Bureau directly under the prime minister and must work out a vision for Japan and a budget outline; former party chief Katsuya Okada is foreign minister; former party head Seiji Maehara is infrastructure and transport minister; and former finance minister Hirohisa Fujii is assigned to the same portfolio.

 

Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima is state minister in charge of consumer affairs and child-rearing support, and People's New Party (Kokumin Shinto) leader Shizuka Kamei is state minister in charge of financial and postal services.

 

The formation of the Hatoyama Cabinet comes at a time when Japan finds itself with many difficult challenges. Mr. Hatoyama must lead Japan as it has at least 3.59 million jobless people and enormous public debt amounting to nearly 1.7 times the nation's gross domestic product, plus such problems as the pension records fiasco, deteriorating medical services, and the graying and dwindling population.

 

It is hoped that the Hatoyama Cabinet and the three parties in the ruling coalition will make untiring efforts to ameliorate the causes of people's anxiety about the future.

 

The DPJ declares that taking the initiative for policy development from the hands of bureaucrats is its main political goal. While this is a worthwhile cause, it has so far failed to offer a grand vision of future Japan. Beyond individual policy matters, Mr. Hatoyama and his administration need to make clear what kind of nation they want to build amid the financial impasse and the transformation of population demographics.

 

It will be difficult to revive the high economic growth of the past. But the new administration should heed people's desire to see a clear strategy that will help stabilize the economy and build new industries that utilize people's ingenuity, thus creating new jobs. If Mr. Hatoyama cleverly handles his call for a 25 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, this could become an important part of such a strategy.

 

By utilizing the National Strategy Bureau, creating an administration reform conference to detect wasteful use of public money and dispatching some 100 lawmakers to government ministries, the DPJ aims to take the policy development initiative from the hands of bureaucrats and develop policies on its own. In doing so, the Cabinet and the party must avoid both intimidating bureaucrats and being duped by them. They need to develop a system that sets clear policy goals and encourages bureaucrats to cooperate with full understanding of the Cabinet's intentions and do their utmost to execute its policies.

 

The foremost task of the National Strategy Bureau should be prioritizing policy measures. Given the limited availability of funds, such prioritizing and full explanations about why particular policies are given funding priority will be extremely important. The bureau also should make the decision-making process transparent to gain public support and understanding. The new administration and the DPJ also must prevent lawmakers with vested interests from making deals with bureaucrats behind the scenes.

 

The new administration may become unable to fulfil some campaign promises because of a shortage of available funds. However, full disclosure of information concealed by bureaucrats will be useful not only for identifying problems in the workings of the government and working out solutions, but also for exposing how the "iron triangle" of lawmakers, bureaucrats and industries worked in the days of the LDP politics. The DPJ should not hesitate to invoke the Diet's right to "conduct investigations in relation to government" as guaranteed by Article 62 of the Constitution.

 

On the diplomatic front, Mr. Hatoyama needs to take utmost care that his coalition government does not send confusing signals to the international community. The new administration especially should strive to strengthen Japan's relations with the United States. Stable ties will be the basis for Japan's making any frank and new proposals to the U.S.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WITH CHEN BEHIND BARS, TAIWAN SET TO HEAL

BY SIN-MING SHAW

 

BANGKOK — Last week, a Taiwanese court sentenced Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's president from 2000 until 2008, to life in prison for corruption. Chen had embezzled millions of dollars of public funds. He did not act alone. His wife, children and other relatives all helped to hide the stolen loot in overseas accounts. Taiwan's former first family turned out to be a den of common thieves.

 

Chen and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party camouflaged their personal and parochial financial interests behind the patriotic mask of ensuring the survival of a democratic Chinese society in an independent Taiwan. For years, Chen was perceived as a brave David fighting the communist Goliath, and attracted many admirers around the world.

 

Presenting himself and his party as champions of democracy, Chen sought to create the impression among Taiwan's voters that their freedom would perish in the hands of the Nationalist Party (KMT) or any party other than his own. But in fact, it was the late President Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, who instituted the unprecedented democratic reforms that paved the way for the eventual electoral triumph of Chen's formerly banned DPP.

 

Chen's personal wealth grew conspicuously shortly after he assumed office, but no one could produce hard evidence of his corruption back then. His political supporters initially brushed aside the rumors of his self-enrichment as opposition KMT propaganda.

 

But, one by one, most of the DPP's founding fathers all left the party, accusing Chen of corruption and autocratic behavior even within his own party.

 

In fact, Chen was always more concerned with consolidating his own power than with defending Taiwan. His most controversial political moves were aimed at his domestic opponents, not the Chinese government on the mainland. He led a vicious campaign to portray all Taiwanese with mainland Chinese roots, even if born and bred in Taiwan, as untrustworthy carpetbaggers or "not native people" — as if they were aliens from a different culture.

 

This official effort to portray native "Taiwanese" as a separate ethnic group, with scant relation to Chinese culture, was extended to language, as Chen favored using the Fujian dialect in lieu of the Mandarin spoken by 1.3 billion Chinese and taught all over the world. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education sought to expunge all references to China in school textbooks.

 

So insistent was Chen's campaign that it reminded some people of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, a time when Chinese were divided into "us" and "them." Indeed, under Chen's policy, Taiwan nearly became a rigidly divided society, where "local" and "not native" Chinese lived as potential enemies.

 

Taiwan's sole aboriginal parliamentarian once provided the logical rebuttal to Chen and the DPP, delivering a speech to a packed Congress entirely in his native tongue, which nobody else in the chamber could understand. The message was obvious: his was the only group with a legitimate claim to being native Taiwanese.

 

 

In the end, Chen's effort was as futile as it was foolish. The Chinese culture embodied in the daily lives of 23 million Taiwanese of whatever political beliefs was not so easily eliminated by decree. Moreover, the attempt to do so angered the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese, who finally understood the stupidity of Chen's policy, particularly how it led to economic stagnation at a time when China was booming.

 

Indeed, Taiwanese capital and knowhow built much of China's high tech industries, and well over a half-million Taiwanese live and work near Shanghai in a virtual replica of Hsin Chu, Taiwan's Silicon Valley. But in Chen's Taiwan, domestic squabbles took precedence over economic development. Chen invariably blamed the KMT for blocking sensible economic plans, but even some of his moneyed supporters knew better.

 

When it was finally proved that power had turned Chen into a common criminal, the KMT was voted back into power. But, while Chen's legacy of lies and corruption has ended, the reborn KMT under President Ma Ying-jeou has much to do to convince a cynical public that Chen's ways, reminiscent of KMT's own darker past, have not become embedded in the system.

 

Chen's jail sentence should also serve to remind the DPP that it must become a party for all Taiwanese, "local" or not, if it is to have any chance at a revival. Taiwan's people know that they cannot prosper as a democracy if ethnic divisiveness is allowed to hold sway.

 

Sin-ming Shaw is a former visiting scholar of history at Oxford and Harvard. © 2009 Project Syndicate

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

OPED

FOREIGN POLICY AND THE DEMOCRATIC PARADOX

BY DOMINIQUE MOISI

 

PARIS — Elections stolen in Iran, disputed in Afghanistan and caricatured in Gabon: Recent ballots in these and many other countries do not so much mark the global advance of democracy as demonstrate the absence of the rule of law.

 

Of course, elections that lead to illiberal outcomes, and even to despotism, are not a new phenomenon. Adolf Hitler, after all, came to power in Germany in 1933 through a free, fair and competitive election. Moreover, problematic elections constitute a specific challenge for the West, which is simultaneously the bearer of a universal democratic message and the culprit of an imperialist past that undermines that message's persuasiveness and utility.

 

In a noted essay in 2004, for example, the Indian-born author Fareed Zakaria described the danger of what he called "illiberal democracy." For Zakaria, America had to support a moderate leader like Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, despite the fact that he had not come to power through an election. By contrast, Zakaria argued, Venezuela's populist president, Hugo Chavez, who was legitimately elected, should be opposed.

 

In our globalized world, the potential divorce between elections and democracy has assumed a new dimension. With instantaneous communication and access to information, the less legitimate a regime, the greater will be the temptation for it to manipulate, if not fabricate, the results of elections. The "trendy" way is to manufacture a significant but not too massive victory. Today's despots view near-unanimous Soviet-style electoral "victories" as vulgar and old fashioned.

 

But another new aspect of this phenomenon is opposition forces that are willing to attempt to negate such machinations by the party in power.

 

Confronted with this dual process of illegitimacy, the West often finds itself condemned to sit between two chairs, and to face criticism whatever the outcome. Those in power, as in Iran, accuse Western governments of supporting the opposition, and those in opposition accuse the West of supporting the government, as has happened to France in the case of Gabon.

 

So what lessons should we draw from the messy nature of elections in countries where there is either no middle class or only a rudimentary one, and where a democratic culture is at best in its infancy?

 

The time has come for the West to reassess its policies in a fundamental way. It cannot switch from "activism" at one moment to abstention the next. A refusal to act, after all, is also a political choice.

 

Of course, the temptations of isolationism are great, and will continue to increase. But the West has neither the

moral right nor a strategic possibility of withdrawing into an "ivory tower," something that in most cases does not exist. It is impossible to say to Afghanistan, for example, "You have deeply disappointed us, so, from now on, you must clean up your own mess." In Afghanistan, Gabon, Iran, Pakistan, and elsewhere, fundamental Western interests are at stake.

 

 

In Afghanistan, the danger is that a terrorist haven could be reconstituted. The risk in Iran is an ever more hostile regime armed with nuclear weapons. In Gabon, the priority for France is to transcend neocolonialism without losing its important links to the oil-rich African nation.

 

But, in pursuit of these difficult objectives, the West must get both its ambitions and its methods right. Democracy is a legitimate objective, but it is a long-term one. In the medium term, the absence of the rule of law constitutes the most serious problem for the countries in question.

 

French TV, for example, recently aired a report on Haiti, where a local judge, without bothering to hide his actions, was protecting a narcotics dealer from the country's own French-trained anti-drug force. Corruption eats away at a society from within, destroying citizens' trust in a future based on a shared sense of common good.

 

It is the West's acceptance of corruption — either open or tacit — that makes it an accomplice to too many nefarious regimes, and makes its espousal of democratic principles appear either hypocritical or contradictory. On the other hand, setting the rule-of-law standard too high will also misfire. Singapore-style incorruptible one-party state bent on modernizing society is probably a far too ambitious goal for most nondemocratic regimes.

 

The distance that separates the West from countries that rely on sham elections is not only geographic, religious or cultural; it is chronological. Their "time" is not, has never been, or is no longer the same as that of the West. How can they be understood without being judged, or helped without humiliating paternalism or, still worse, without an unacceptable "collateral damage," as in Afghanistan?

 

The West's status in tomorrow's world will largely depend upon how it answers this question. It cannot afford to ignore the issue any longer.

 

Dominique Moisi is a visiting professor of government at Harvard. © 2009 Project Syndicate

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

SETTING UP NEW GROWTH CENTERS

 

A month after Malaysia launched its first special economic zone (SEZ) on the east coast of the peninsula, the East Coast Economic Region, modeled on Shenzen in China and touted to be Asia’s biggest, Indonesia has established only a legal foundation for such a development model.

 

After a delay of almost three years, the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a law on SEZs, an enclave or special region with streamlined procedures for business licensing and the hiring of expatriates, flexible labor regulations, tax breaks, customs duty exemptions and good infrastructure to woo investors in export-oriented industries.

 

The long wait is, however, justified, given the experiences of China, Vietnam and India, which have successfully developed their own SEZs as growth centers.

 

Given the government’s inadequate institutional capacity to enforce a new law, especially this one that requires inter-ministerial coordination and cooperation from regional administrations, the first SEZ may begin development only later next year, when all the regulations on SEZ technical details are issued and the necessary boards of policy and management are set up.

 

But the agreement Indonesia and Singapore signed in June 2006 for cooperation in SEZ development could help accelerate preparations, notably regulatory and basic infrastructures, for SEZ projects. After all, Singapore has built up much experience in building SEZs in China, Vietnam and India. Indonesia’s SEZ will include various types of economic zones, including free trade zones (FTZs), export processing zones and special industrial estates. So far, 22 regions in Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua have shown an interest in taking part in SEZ development.

 

But the government will give top priority to regions that already have adequate basic infrastructure, easy access to international trade, and whose administrations, including local legislatures, have strong commitments to supporting such a liberal concept of development.

 

Even though some critics say the SEZ concept will simply divert investment that would otherwise flow in anyway, SEZs are still considered one of the most effective ways of strengthening Indonesia’s economic competitiveness by establishing islands of competence.

 

The idea is that instead of making only incremental progress through an overall reform simultaneously in all areas that could take several decades to accomplish, it is more effective and efficient to start with bold moves in particular areas (islands), selected for their strategic role, to establish showcases of success, thereby building confidence.

 

An SEZ essentially calls for the development of enclaves or islands with streamlined licensing procedures, good physical infrastructure, flexible labor regulations, superior logistical efficiency, which is anchored on the fast flow of goods, labor and documents, efficient tax administration and customs and immigration services.

 

The experiences of China, India and Vietnam show that SEZs have been quite effective in attracting a lot of investment and generating many jobs. Hence, the Malaysian SEZ, for example, is designed to create directly half a million jobs and attract US$25 billion worth of domestic and international investment by 2020. But SEZs also will contribute greatly to expanding exports and, through economic linkages, will serve as growth centers for surrounding areas.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

 EDITORIAL

RELIABLE OPPOSITION

 

The Democratic Party has set its sights on two of the four parliamentary seats that are up for grabs in the by-elections scheduled for next month. There is no denying that each additional seat will count plenty for the opposition party in its uphill battle against the ruling Grand National Party.

 

But no less crucial than the immediate goal is the longer-term issue of convincing the electorate that it is a viable force waiting in the wings to replace the government at the next presidential election. But that will prove to be a Herculean task for the party, which has lived in its cocoon - the legacy of fighting for democracy - for too long and made little effort to reinvent itself for a different post-democratization role required of itself.

 

That mistake is acknowledged by Rep. Chung Sye-kyun, leader of the Democratic Party. He says his party, a Jeolla-based one led by former freedom fighters, needs to grow out of its outdated "democratic and regional union" and build a new one focused on the improvement of people's lives.

 

In a book compiling his political essays, he says his party needs to proceed with a reformist and progressive political philosophy, focusing on specific programs of better feeding, clothing and sheltering people. He says, "A union designed to improve the lives of people will free our politics from regionalism."

 

He is right to criticize radical leftists in and outside of his party, who he said wanted to launch a campaign to overthrow President Lee Myung-bak's administration when they staged a candlelight protest against U.S. beef imports last year. He accuses them of being irresponsible for insinuating "candlelight was capable of replacing representative politics."

 

His candid reflection may deserve public recognition. Yet he cannot be exonerated of the recklessness he demonstrated when he tendered a letter of resignation as a lawmaker in protest against the railroading of media-related revision bills a few months ago.

 

Now Rep. Chung says he is sorry to his electorate, while hinting at resuming his role as a lawmaker soon. No matter what, great damage has already been done to his public image. He will find it difficult to make himself trustworthy as a cautious political leader.

 

Nor will it be easy for him to improve the image of the Democratic Party under his leadership, which he admits has often voiced opposition to government policy for the sake of opposition. But the party cannot afford to stay the course. It needs to change itself and develop viable alternatives to government policy if it wishes to survive its competition against the ruling party.

 

But it is easier said than done. The problem is it has little room to maneuver because it forfeited many of its policy ideas.

 

Until recently, President Lee has been accused of championing the interests of the well-to-do. But now he has embraced what he calls "centrist pragmatism" in favor of the middle and lower classes, undermining the Democratic Party's traditional base of support. In accordance with the shift in policy, Lee has selected for the post of prime minister Chung Un-chan, an economist by training, who was vocal in his criticism of Lee's earlier policy. Those measures have apparently helped Lee gain in his popularity.

 

Apparently of immediate concern to Rep. Chung is to persuade two heavyweights, namely former party leaders Sohn Hak-kyu and Kim Geun-tae, to abandon their lost constituencies and move to newly contested ones for by-elections. He also needs to bring in as many like-minded influential politicians as possible to make the party stronger.

 

Ultimately, however, it will have to win over the electorate by developing viable policies on the nation's key longer-term agenda, ranging from growth and social welfare to constitutional amendment and the rezoning of administrative regions.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

 EDITORIAL

STRENGTHENING WON